This is my 6th cruise and 4th with NCL. We have sailed the beautiful Jewel-class Jewel before, and like the mid-sized ships with about 2,200 pax.
Embarkation was easy, the lines moving smoothly beginning about 11 a.m. with eager vacationers allowed to board at noon. We need wheelchair assistance, and have found it is better to wait until closer to noon, when attendants and WCs are released to pick up guests. There was a special, shorter line for those using canes, walkers and rollators, which proved a big help.
Our first lunch was in Tsar's main dining room, rather than braving the super busy Garden Cafe buffet on deck 12. Daniela proved the excellent service NCL is known for, and we noted a new luncheon menu in the past couple of months. Scallops, Caesar Salad and cheeseburgers proved tasty and filling as we waited for the announcement that cabins were now ready for us.
Muster is a short process without need for life vests, and then it was time to be underway. Well, at least that is the information in the ship's Daily newsletter. We had plans to meet with others in our robust Cruise Critic roll call for a Sail Away party, and I was looking forward to getting some great shots from Port side as we slowly cruised past the French Quarter.
In one of the Jewel's few 'oops' moments during our 13 night modified Panama Canal repositioning cruise, no one owned the PA to inform us that due to the double length of our cruise, from the Jewel's more typical 7 night Western Caribbean run, and with the addition of a 2 week dry dock now tacked onto the end, lots and lots and lots of provisions and building supplies would be needed to see us through. This delayed Sail Away by 4 or 5 hours beyond that posted...not a major disappointment, but one that could easily have been explained sooner rather than later.
Our first of many Sea Days, the Group Event Coordinator had helped to set up our Meet & Greet, with at least 70 CC members in attendance. There was a full compliment of department managers, with Hotel Director Richard Janicki introducing the friendly officers and fielding some spirited Q&A with a bit of extra information about Jewel's planned dry dock.
As several CC members in the know had speculated, Blue Lagoon would become transformed into the 24/7 Comfort food and bar, O'Sheehans, also taking over space from the starboard side of deck 8 mid ship Moderno's Brazilian Grill. Moderno's would move up to Deck 13, in the annex portion of Cagney's Steak House near the Star Bar.
A well-needed facial recognition system was being installed in the Photo Department, so no more hunting and stooping and surveying thousands of photos for your own special bunch. It would also save on both chemicals, paper and so forth, a win-win situation all around!
Besides the usual Dry Dock refurbishments, a special deck 15 penthouse of the Haven type, was being included, and we were all thrilled to be reassured that the Spinnaker Lounge with the great ceiling to floor Forward windows, would be retained.
I'd asked for a special room set-up to better the interaction between roll call members and we also enjoyed light refreshments and the feedback that our opinions were valued. Janicki did remark, "We read Cruise Critic, but I must say sometimes reading a particular review I must wonder if we were on the same cruise as someone saying it was dreadful."
We divided our meal time between the more opulent Tsar's and the smaller, more frentic Azura main dining rooms. The menus are the same as ones introduced in 2011, with one side being 'always available' standbys such as strip or rib eye steaks, burgers, baked chicken, salmon, lanmb shank, spring rolls, mushroom quesadillas, a variety of pastas and salads.
Service continued above average throughout, and it was of interest to note a Surf & Turf night featured real Maine lobsters vs the wimpy rock sort previously offered. The noise level is increased in the more casual Azura, whose hot pink and orange color scheme create a different vibe than the cream, sage green and gold of Tsar's. The lowered ceiling also influences this and of note, the chairs in Azura's are rock hard and not comfortable at all, which should help ensure more rapid turnover of diners.
We sometimes selected Garden Cafe buffet for a quick breakfast and tried the poolside Grill a couple times for burgers, very good hot dogs and more. A special Bavarian feast was held toward the end of our cruise, and Messiah Ritzinger's Free State of Bavaria touches could be seen through the variety of sausage, schnitzel, kraut and Bavarian cream pastries...very well done!
We enjoyed Blue Lagoon, just a few steps from our cabin, for breakfast and lunch or late evening snacks.
Besides the burgers and chicken wings, the fried fish and Chef Salad were good, not to mention the cheese cake and brownie sundae. It was always nice to be able to whisk covered dishes back to our digs, and the small refrigerator helped with any midnight munchies. We did not try room service or the option of the always available anywhere $5 pizza.
We dined at several of the specialty/fee restaurants including Moderno's, Le Bistro, Chin Chin and Mama's/La Cucina. A favorite senior waiter, Sheddy, attended us at Moderno's and Cagney's, while another favorite Assistant MaitreD and also a special senior waiter, (Rizaldi), had us coming back to the Asian Fusion spot a second time for succulent lamb curry, broccoli beef, chow fun noodles, BBQ spareribs, deep fried calamari and the wonderful pancakes with bananas, caramel syrup and coconut ice cream.
We used the Card Room and back portion of the buffet between meals for our group's Farkle games and variety of card games and enjoyed musical serenading in the Crystal Atrium and deck 6 lounge area outside Le Bistro. Several of the CD led audience participation game shows could be seen re-played on our 24" LCD TV, as well as a half dozen first run movies including Frozen, The Hobbit Part 2, Desolation of Smaug, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity and so on.
Our cabin was located on deck 8 midship, a great location close to so much. Since the ship's tenders are strung up outside the windows here, the category is Oceanview Obstructed. Luckily the tender was strung several feet lower outside rooms 8100 and 8102, so that we had a good view, at least 60% at all times.
Perhaps due to approaching dry dock, there were only 2 incidents of crew walking past our window, and no surprises or loud banging or maintenance overall.
This accessible cabin has 36" no threshold outer and bathroom doors, with light switches and climiate control about 3 feet from the floor. Both the hanging rod in the closet and oversink mirror in the bathroom have easily grasped cords to lower them to wheelchair or scooter height, a definate plus. The room is about 20% larger than non-accessible sideways cabins, and the hallway on deck 9 actually is partially over these rooms; perhaps the dearth of small ones on the PC itinerary accounts for the fact there was little to no noise of running or stomping feet?
We did need to call Guest Services desk several times during the cruise and the interaction was all right.
Our immediate needs were attended to and we were able to get questions answered without making the trip down there again and again.
We didn't attend any of the large production shows due to (chronic) health issues and decision to grab as much restful sleep as we could. Luckily, on NCL, there is never a need to do anything but exactly what we'd like...in that respect, our vacation was tailor-made to suit our interests and needs.
The itinerary was changed as we would no longer be disembarking in Los Angeles, which was a big part of our choice in this cruise; we'd be just a short flight from our West Coast home. We also lost 2 ports, one of them the highly anticipated Costa Rican port, the other of less interest. This gave us more sea days and the choice of disembarking in either San Diego or San Francisco. NCL considered San Diego an additional port-true if you were taking the full 15 days, but not the case if this was your disembark point.
We decided to take the shorter version since our nonrefundable plane tickets were at LAX. We now had a 4, rather than 2, day stay in Southern California, totaling 3 weeks in all. I think it would have been best with the original mix of port and sea days and the Los Angeles disembark, but the entire Jewel crew made us forget the small quibbles and feel pampered to the max. It also helped that we were traveling with such a wonderful bunch of CC members as well!
Excellent location, very close to aft elevators and stairs and nearby restaurants and activites.Due to placement of the tenders, you have good side to side vision and at least 60% top to bottom sight lines; sitting on our beds, we saw just sea and sky or land and sky rather than tender or riggings. Our accessible cabin is perfect for wheelchair or scooter, especially if you set up you beds in an L formation against the outer and side walls.