Let me begin by noting that we first wanted a Silversea cruise that we were not able to make due to not being able to get seats on the right date. With that NCL was the only cruise line in the eastern med that had a great itinerary; Barcelona,Messina,Naples,Rome,Florence,Villafranche. Also I had cruised NCL once before on the Dawn and had a discount that ran out soon. So off we went.First the good; the Jewel is the newest of the NCL line and it shows-spotless, a new ship, the Gem is starting in October. But compared with the Dawn, which is showing the age of massive Caribbean cruisers, the Jewel is a Jewel. We booked an AG mini-suite and got a great rate. We spoke to others and they paid hundreds more.
We boarded the ship in Barcelona, after a nice flight, and were able to get on at 11:30 am, our suite was ready at 1pm, so we had lunch at the Garden Cafe; one of the buffets, the food was ok, simply a fallback option when we could not eat at the other restaurants, and also most mornings, since the shore excursions left so early 6:30 to 7:15. We were told that Tsar's palace would be open at 6:30, but never was open before 7Am. If you have the time a nice sit down breakfast in this grande room, is wonderful, imitating the palace at St. Petersburg, right down to the malachite columns. The food here is again OK, with the usual smoked salmon, poor eggs benedict, but ok nonetheless; it beat the sheer lunacy and crowded conditions of 1000 people trying to eat before excursions. The Garden Cafe had one of the best dishes I had on the ship, The cashew chicken at the asian bar, superb. Also has a great crepe station. That said the food is overall a good cafeteria with plenty of starch, and selections for everyone. The specialty restaurants are in themselves a great idea, also that you can eat whenever you want, the best is Chin Chin, great asian, I had Korean ribs and satay, excellent. The best deal is the Sushi bar, which opens at 5:30, you need a res, but the sushi is by far the best I have ever had-rivaling Nobu, and had a vast selection, with my favorites-no kidding. Skip Cagney's-overpriced and I had a better steak on the plane. Le Bistro is very good, we got it free one night in our Anniversary package, nice quasi-French food. Mama's Kitchen was a poor excuse for Italian, also had a very loud basketball game going on above, after court supposedly closed- great for dining after a long day. I finally called security and said I will go up and stop it if security did not- they finally did after 8 calls by myself and the staff-just kids playing, sounded like construction over our table. Which brings me to the bad points of NCL. Like the situation above the ship caters to KIDS. There were 300 children on board-I asked. That is 300/2400 cruisers. I thought since it was over a Labor day, there would not be many kids-I was wrong, there were all European. This is one of the sore points of NCL. I understand the need to include families, but these were loud, unpleasant, rude, mostly teenagers. One time we were in a elevator where a Portuguese teenager was banging on a Bongo drum, until I threatened him to stop. I speak 3 languages, my wife 4, so communication was not an issue, just rude children running and screaming. The pool areas were small, the one Adult pool swarming with kids-"we can't stop them", was their answer. A child jumped off the side and landed on my head-pure chaos most times-thank God we were on shore excursions most days. Also the pool chairs were an issue. It sates in the first newsletter that you CANNOT reserve chairs. Our first day we took two chairs covered with towels, as were all on deck at 10am. The people that put the towels there came back at 11am and asked why we were in "their chairs". I told him the policy-in his own language-Spanish, and he began to harass us. I stood up and in no uncertain terms told him what he could do. He called security, and 2 security men came over and did not know the policy-whereupon I showed them the newsletter, and they went away. Cheesy action on the part of security, and a representation of the pushy, bucket touring, cheap dressing, low class, eurotrash that was aboard this ship. I could say it no other way.
The shore excursions were nice, but pricey, if you can do it yourself do it. This was a last minute cruise, and we did the ship excursions. All were good, good guides,and on time. Skip Messina-stay on the ship, nothing to really see, unless you want to see Etna. I wanted very much to see Cinque Terre. The excursion included 2 boat rides, between the towns. On arrival to the first stop, we were informed that the boat rides were cancelled due to "rough seas". Having sailed for 30 years, I could not see the reason. The Med was calm and the weather perfect. No white caps, tranquil seas. Instead we took the trains, and we were told that we were "lucky" that we didn't have to take the boats; one of the reasons we took the excursions. They suddenly knew at 9am, that the boats were not running, the time we had arrived. The guide later argued with me concerning this issue, and we returned in a bus with no air-conditioning, in 95F weather. I complained at the tour desk, got a "so what" answer, and wrote a formal complaint, I later received a 20% discount-did not make up for the loss of the ocean views of Cinque Terre.
Cruise ships in general try to bleed you dry with high drink prices, cheesy pictures, and mediocre excursions. Norwegian is no different. The prices of lower class cabins have to be made up somewhere. Also you can opt out of the "mandatory tipping" by signing a waiver on the last day of the cruise. I did, and we tipped well the whole week on our own to people we thought deserved a tip. The wait staff in Aqua was particularly bad, the head waitress could have been a prison guard.If the crew needs the tips so badly, maybe the cruise line should pay them more. I do not like to be asked to mandatory tip someone. Also a tip is included on the drinks.
In short if you want a mediocre, hassled, lower class cruise option choose Norwegian. We will never cruise this line again. I will stick to more upscale cruise lines such as Silversea. The rates are high but you get a ship with only 350 passengers, all drinks included, with many other included amenities. This is your vacation, why waste the time and aggravation on a mediocre cruise? For some this was paradise, obviously people that don't get out much. we have been to 37 countries, are professional, and will pay for something much better.