My husband and I (30s) traveled with my parents (50s) and our 14 month old daughter. We have been on six or seven cruises. This was our second NCL cruise and will be our LAST! We took the Dawn out of NYC in Sept/Oct 2004 and we loved it! ALOT has changed in 3 years. NCL has clearly cut costs and quality and it shows! This cruise was rather disappointing.
THE SHIP: We got some inside information from one of the crew members. When they built the Jewel, they eliminated many of the entertainment areas so that they could make more money with more staterooms and things like a bigger spa.
There are some obvious things that are missing from the Jewel that the Dawn had. The Dawn had a beautiful Grand Atrium with glass elevators. This has been replaced by a less than impressive, low ceiling reception area. The Dawn had an indoor pool that was eliminated in the Jewel. Many of the restaurants have been downsized. On the Jewel, they jammed three restaurants (Tango's/Tapas & Blue Lagoon) in an area where one used to be (Salsa). The Garden Cafe on the Jewel is half the size it was on the Dawn. On the Dawn the Garden Cafe was spacious taking up both the port and starboard side. On the Jewel, it is only on the starboard side. The pools are much smaller on the Jewel and it's nearly impossible to get a lounge chair by the pool whereas on the Dawn there was a whole platform of lounge chairs. Another poor design of the Jewel is that the basketball court is above a portion of the Garden Cafe, Mama's and the Great Outdoors so very often you felt like someone was stomping on your head.
EMBARKATION: Since we are Latitudes members, we got through rather quickly, but it wasn't as pleasant an experience as it was in NYC. The agents were really not knowledgeable and you had to go up one floor to get your keycards. It seemed rather useless to employ more people to just give you a keycard. The process could have been streamlined if the first agent just gave you your keycard and sent you on your way. Prepare yourself to be sprayed with rubbing alcohol (sometimes in your eyes) every time you come aboard the vessel. By the end of the cruise my hands were dry and flaking.
We stayed in our room for the boat drill and no one ever knocked on our door.
STATEROOMS: Two days before the cruise, we were offered a penthouse upgrade. When we called back the agent, she told us she had given it away. That left a sour taste before we even got on the ship. We had two mini-suites. Even though I requested connecting rooms, they didn't connect. We had 11526 and 11528 and for some reason 11528 was smaller. About a foot narrower. The man in the penthouse 11524 smoked cigars day in and day out so we very rarely were able to open our balcony or even sit out there because we were choking on the smoke. The carpeting is beginning to show wear and tear and something in the cabins made my husband and daughter cough. Once we got out of the cabin, they were fine. I think the carpeting may have been moldy.
CRUISE DIRECTOR: Julie had no presence. She is the worst cruise director we have ever had. Most of the time, the assistant cruise director did her job for her.
ENTERTAINMENT: They basically stopped getting professionals and gave some former waiters and waitresses a microphone and some musical instruments to hang out in the lounges. Fusion Wave and Caribbean Wave and the Spanish guitarist that doesn't speak any English are just awful! The Jean Ann Ryan Company is a bunch of amateurs. The dancers do not even dance in-sync. Andre and Cirell are offensive. They mock Japanese people and those who are deaf. Tambye Harvey was dreadful! You won't miss anything if you skip Second City. Keelan Leyser was very entertaining and Edge's first show was good. Le Cirque Bijou was a highlight from the Jean Ann Ryan Company even though the guys that were hanging in the audience messed up several times and weren't in-sync. I wish they would scratch the fairy dressed in white.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: This desk is run very poorly. They are only open for two hours out of each day, making it very difficult to speak to a real person. They rely on a drop box. Emilie is a bitch. She treats the guests as well as her colleagues with much disrespect. In Barbados, she refused to go through security and walked right onto the ship as if she owned the place. The security guys were just shocked and didn't know what to do. Not very comforting in these dangerous times we live in.
PORTS OF CALL: This was the ship's first time in the Caribbean so the Shore Excursions Desk could not provide any information about the ports because they had never been there. Very unprofessional. In Samana, the tender boats were not compatible with the ship and we waited until 12 to get off the boat.
SAMANA: We went to Cayo Levantado which was very nice. We were tendered from the ship to a private resort island with a beautiful beach and a view of Dominican Republic. Free rum punch when you arrive. Lounge chairs were free. Food is additional. Some handmade goods are available for shopping. Other guests had horror stories from venturing out into Samana.
TORTOLA: We were supposed to dock in the port, but apparently another cruise ship paid more to be in the port and we were once again tendered to the port. A total unorganized mess! A result of NCL not willing to open their wallets. We took Speedy's ferry to Virgin Gorda and went The Baths. Make sure to wear water shoes because you will have to climb through the rocks for about 10-15 mins but it's worth it.
ANTIGUA: The most aggressive taxi drivers. They follow you around town. We were turned off and just hung out on the ship.
BARBADOS: Disappointing beaches. Dead corals.
ST. LUCIA: Nothing worth seeing is in Castries. You have to go to Soufriere, which is about 1.5 hours away. We used the internet cafe and paid a fraction of the ship prices. We experienced a 7.4 earthquake while docked.
ACTIVITIES: Very limited and disappointing. Almost all the activities had an additional charge. Wii Nintendo is only offered about an hour a day. You have to pay for fitness classes or karaoke. Murder Mystery Dinner offered only once had a max of 150 guests. How is that acceptable on a ship with over 2200 guests?
FOOD: Absolutely awful. The quality of food has fallen considerably since we were on the Dawn. It is basically middle school cafeteria food, even in the restaurants. The specialty restaurants aren't worth it. In Cagney's, my filet mignon came cold. It's the same Ceasar salad as in the buffet. In Mama's, I ordered pasta and my dish had 15 pennes on them laid side to side like sardines. My husband's meal consisted of the smallest piece of flavorless veal and two shrimp. The sushi was worse than Costco pre-packaged sushi. No real chocolate at the Chocolate Buffet. Just really cheap cake. On the Dawn, there was a fondue station and it was held in the main dining room in the afternoon. On the Jewel, it's at 10:30 at night in the Garden Cafe. Prepare to be clobbered. One lady knocked me over and other one tried to drive her motorized wheelchair through the crowd. The chocolate displays are beautiful but you can't eat them. That's the only chocolate in the place. On the Dawn, they would often BBQ by the pool, chicken and ribs. Not on the Jewel! Just odd tasting, strange colored pork hot dogs and dry hamburgers in a chafing dish. Never saw a grill.
SERVICE: This is probably the nicest, most hard-working crew ever. They are always cleaning every corner of the ship. The staff would play with our daughter. Two of the nicest waitresses were Sekarini in Le Bistro and Sai Rose in Azura. There are of course a few bad apples. The sourest woman on the ship had to be Min Wang from Chin Chin. We were unfortunate enough to have her as our waitress twice and she is one of the rudest, unpleasant people I have ever met.
MEDICAL CARE: My father contracted gastroenteritis on the ship. We were not charged for the doctor's visit because it was an illness contracted on the ship. He was quarantined to his room for 24 hours.
DISEMBARKATION: Complete chaos! NCL was running an hour late in calling the colors. We were supposed to be called at 9am and were called around 10am. It took about 2 hours to get out of the terminal. Completely ridiculous! If you plan on cruising NCL, prepare to be nickel and dimed. They will charge you $25 if you lose a pool towel, $15 for a poor quality photograph that looks like it was printed out on a crappy home printer. $70+ for unlimited soda and you have to beg a waiter to get you a soda, $10 for a yoga class but you have to purchase 3 classes, $25 for karaoke, 75 cents a minute for the internet cafe. Just remember, you should only cruise NCL if you meet the over 80 year old age requirement and the weight restrictions of being over 300 lbs. If you are a young, energetic couple or you have small children, consider another cruise line. We will be. Never again will we go on a NCL cruise!