After sailing on Carnival twice, Holland America once, this was our first time on NCL and we were not disappointed.
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the pier at 11:30 AM via an off site shuttle service (United Parking - near MIA)...it was half the price of parking at the Port of Miami and stress free. The port parking area is under construction and is crazy on cruise days. NCL seemed very organized in their systems and we were on board by 12:30.
Dining.....Probably our only disappointment with this cruise. In the past, we have always been impressed with the main dining areas. We ate at Tsar's Palace, which certainly had a great feel for a formal dining room, however since it was "freestyle", there was never a themed evening in the dining room. No waiter performances, no piano playing, no Captain's dinner. We like those features, so not having them was a disappointment. Also, the meals were just OK, nothing spectacular. Our theory was that the "cover charge" places had to be worth the price, so maybe that is why the "free" areas like Tsar's Palace and Azura were just OK. I read some other reviews about long wait times...but we did not experience this at all and it was a full cruise for Christmas. NCL does a nice job with the TV screens letting you know how crowded each location is.
The Garden Cafe has great selection.....Breakfast and Lunch were always great. Many stations, many options. We also went to the Blue Lagoon quite a few times....kind of like a TGI-Friday's kind of menu.....not bad........Wings, Chicken Fingers......."Comfort Food" they call it. It's open 24 hours. We never went to any of the "cover charge" locations, but other guests said they were great.
Entertainment - We went to every show....all of which were pretty good. Again.....not spectacular...but enjoyable.
Dressing Up? Part of "freestyling" is letting you wear what you want, when you want. Ofcourse there are some dress code rules, but as a guest, you have many options. My wife and I brought some dressier clothes, thinking there would be a formal night/Captain's Dinner, but there never was one. Some choose to get dressed up really nice and others opt for some jeans and more casual look.
NCL does a tremendous job of keeping the Jewel sparkling clean. The staff is not intrusive at all and made a great impression.
Disembarkation was the best I have ever been a part of. They let you pick the time you want to exit the ship. No feeling rushed off, nor do you feel like the service changes on that final morning.
Ports of Call......since we had already done these stops before (Grand Cayman and Cozumel) we didn't book excursions through the ship. You can get great deals as soon as you get off the ship.
Cabin - We had a balcony for the first time and loved it. Spend the extra money, it's totally worth it. Great Cabin and the bedding and shower live up to all of the hype.
All in all......NCL's Jewel is a great ship. I had to chuckle at the post before discussing the "chair hogs". Very true. If you want a chair on a "Day at Sea" you are going to have to send your spouse up to Deck 12/13 pretty early...Otherwise, you will be out of the sun. Their so-called "30 minute" rule is not enforced. Chairs were covered in towels, yet they remained empty for the majority of the time.
Since there is no pier at GC, you must take a "tender" onto shore. NCL had pretty good size boats take you to shore. Other lines use their life boats. I was very impressed with how fast this process worked. When you get off the ship, there will be a ton of people offering you a taxi ride to the beaches. $5.00 is the going rate to get you to the beach. We went to the Royal Palms resort. You can get a beach chair for the day for only $5.00. Very nice place.....you could eat/drink there too if you wanted. For us, rain came so it was a quick visit.
Again, if you are thinking about doing an "All-day" Beach Pass, get it off the ship. We ended up going to the Wyndam Resort...it was awesome! The locals are very nice in Cozumel. Prepare for a million offers to take you to the beach, snorkeling, or into their shops. Great bargains to be had.