I took my family on a cruise for Christmas this year. We all live in Texas, so leaving out of the Houston port was very convenient. There were 23 of us, ranging in age from 2 to 79. We had a good time, but there were some issues with the cruise that I'd like to share for future cruisers.
First of all, the positives. Embarkation and Disembarkation went very smoothly. The new cruise terminal in Houston was very nice and seemed organized. Parking out in front was very easy, but cost $80/week.
The NCL staff was very attentive for the most part. Our room steward was very sweet. And the wait staff in most of the dining rooms were friendly and helpful. We also found that the front desk staff was exceptionally helpful.
We all enjoyed the entertainment. My favorites were the Russian Duo Dance team and the comedian, David Naster. I didn't go to any of the other shows, but heard from family that they enjoyed them.
The cruise ship had plenty of options for the family... some went to the shows, some went to the kid's activities, some lounged around the pools and hit the hot tubs, some went to the casino and others to the disco/bars... I liked that there was something to keep everyone happy. Then we all met together every evening in the Tsar's Dining room for dinner.
I enjoyed Breakfast in the Garden Café, lots of choices, eggs, meats, fruit, etc. It was sometimes crowded, but we usually tried to find a group of tables in the same area for the family and we made it work. Also enjoyed several lunches at O'Sheehans' Pub and Grill, part of the complimentary restaurants on the ship... our favorite was their chicken wings.
I also used the Sauna/Steam room on the Jewel every day and really enjoyed it. The area was roomy and comfortable and very tastefully appointed. I was disappointed that it cost $149 for the week, but my kids bought the package for me and I did enjoy it.
We stopped in 3 ports of call and overall, the tendering and getting on/off the ship went smoothly.
Now for the negatives...
I have traveled on almost all the other cruise lines, and was very surprised at how Very Small the Balcony cabins were on the NCL Jewel. I bunked with 2 of my grandsons, so there were 3 of us in our cabin. When all the beds were pulled out for the evening I couldn't get to the Balcony or to the Desk and Coffee Pot in the morning. It was definitely not what I was expecting.
We also had several days of plugged toilets. The maintenance staff was quick to respond, but they had trouble finding the problem and it took several days and several calls before they fixed the problem. On one occasion the maintenance man had to ask me to help him by flushing toilet, etc... again, definitely not what I was expecting.
I said above that I enjoyed Breakfast in the Garden Café Buffet, but that's were the good review on the food ends. The lunch and dinner at the buffet was not very appetizing to me and often was not very fresh. Several times I tried the Hamburgers and found them to be dried out, also tried to get ice cream one afternoon and found that the Buffet only serves it for several hours each day. The complimentary room service menu was very limited and although I didn't order from it, I heard from other family members that the wait time often exceeded 30-45 minutes. The meals in the Tsar's Dining Room weren't much better. Our evening meal often drug out over 2 hours, even when the restaurant was half empty. And there weren't very many choices that seemed appealing to me... the chicken alfredo was made with rice and red sauce, the escargot was served in a brown gravy... again, just my opinion, but I found the meals served in the Tsar's restaurant to be lacking. We did eat one night in The Steakhouse (specialty restaurant) and the food was better, and the service was definitely 5-star. But even with the surcharge ($30/pp) you were only allowed one entrée... each additional entrée was $10... I find that to be very disappointing. In O'Sheehan's Pub and Grill I tried to order a milk-shake that was advertised on their digital menu but was told they didn't serve milkshakes. Again, definitely not the service that I was expecting.
I was very glad to be able to take the whole family on this cruise, but I would not sail with NCL again.
Clean, very quiet, but small...