My husband and I are frequent cruisers, and our first cruise experiences were with NCL. We always had a great time, but felt as though they liked to "nickel and dime" passengers a bit too much with promotions. Nevertheless, we decided to cruise on the Jewel to the Mexican Riviera and give them another try.
We used an NCL provided bus from LAX to get to the port, as San Pedro (port location) is over a half hr. from the airport. NCL provided an easy bus transport for the best price I could find. Since it was Sunday, traffic was light, too. We made it to the port in good time. That's where things started going south.
We had booked a Penthouse Suite, which includes a lot of bells and whistles, obviously, since any cruise passenger wants to get what they pay for. One of those things is priority boarding and VIP treatment on-board. In fact, whenever we've been in a Suite on NCL in the past, we've always been escorted onto the boat with a Rep.... sometimes even a ship officer. Well, the moment we entered the port, we were "herded" like cattle into a "holding area". We looked around and didn't see any signs for VIP's or Suite Passengers. When we showed the first NCL rep our tickets, we expected to be shown to a VIP area. Nope. The lady very gruffly sent us into a cattle chute with long lines and we waited for a good 20-25 min. until we got to a rep at the desk. Again, we were unimpressed, as he was non-committal and didn't even welcome us with a "hello". Since we were both a little perturbed by that time, I explained that we may have been sent to the wrong line, that we were Suite passengers. Well, his eyebrows finally went up, and he told us to wait where we were. We watched him walk clear across the terminal (huge building, by the way) and we were left standing there, thinking... "He's going to the VIP area, because that's where our key-cards are! We were right. He came back with our cards. Then he sent us over to where he'd gone.
Finally, we saw the VIP/Suite area, clear across the enormous terminal and not well designated with signs. Immediately another rep saw us and asked us to sit outside the VIP area in another "holding pen". I went to another Rep... a lady outside the VIP/Haven welcome center and showed her my key-card. I told her I was a Suite passenger. She was very nice, but informed me that I still needed to sit in the "holding pen" and wouldn't be given access to the VIP area.
When we finally boarded the ship, the security officer couldn't get our key cards to even work! Our first stop on board was in yet another (fortunately short) line to get new key cards. Here's where I have to say how wrongly we were treated for what we paid as Suite passengers. We didn't know it at the time, but all passengers have color-coded key cards and they'd given us the wrong color. Now you'd THINK that maybe one of the on-board service reps like the one behind the Guest Services desk would catch that mistake? Nope. So up until Day 5 of the cruise, we had the wrong colored cards, not designating us as Suite passengers.... after PAYING EXTRA for the privileges associated with VIP's! On one of the port stops, we were supposed to receive Tender privileges. When I came back from my shore excursion, I showed the attendant my card, asking where the Suite/VIP line for boarding the Tender was. He looked at me like I was from Mars, since I had the wrong-colored card at the time. At that time, I didn't realize a big mistake had been made, and at least he was nice enough to check and got me on board one of the boats without a wait.
It was our sweet Butler... a very kind lady who caught the card/identity mistake on Day #5 of the cruise. She got us new cards and apologized, though there were only two days of cruising left. THEN, the head Concierge made a huge deal of it the next morning at breakfast, "touching base" with us to make sure we were enjoying our cruise. A lot of good THAT did. We'd already received rather poor service up until that point, and the trip was almost over. No bottle of wine or "consolation" except his verbal "touching base" was offered us. Spending the extra money on the Penthouse Suite had been a HUGE disappointment.
We had read that the Jewel was an "older ship". However, we've sailed on plenty of older, well-maintained ships, and have always been very impressed with the upkeep and maintenance. Until March 27, that is. When we finally made it to our cabin, both of us were shocked. There was a quarter sized HOLE in the hall carpet, the bed-skirt was dingy, wrinkled, and worn. The fabric on the two lounges on our balcony had moldy spots and obviously hadn't been cleaned in months. Even the balcony curtains were snagged in places and just very tired and worn-looking. This was a Penthouse Suite.
The rest of the ship seemed in fairly good condition, aside from some of the wooden decks which looked like they could use a good re-finishing... really bleached out.
We are big Bingo players, one reason we've always enjoyed NCL, since Bingo is a big deal on board their ships. However, even Bingo was a disappointment. For those people lucky enough to win, the pay-offs were the lowest we'd ever experienced on an NCL boat. The last Bingo payoff on the last day of cruise is typically the largest one... aboard the Jewel it was a mere $700. I can tell you that for the amount they charged to play along with the hefty number of passengers playing, that payoff should have been significantly more on the last day of the cruise!!!
For the most part, we just felt service wasn't all that great. On past NCL cruises, usually two people cleaned our room, daily, even when we only occupied an Ocean-view room. On the Jewel, one lady cleaned our Suite, and bless her heart, she always seemed harried and exhausted. I really felt sorry for her. Even wait staff wasn't as attentive. Most of the time, I had to ask for another drink, as staff wasn't attentive to water being low in a glass or a wine-glass being almost empty. I've already mentioned the brusqueness of the Port staff. It goes without saying that when someone pays good money, especially for a SUITE, that service should be stellar. Our best and most impressive contact on board was our Butler. She was FANTASTIC.
Two of our Shore Excursions were canceled. We had to come up with a different plan twice, but it worked out okay. Overall we enjoyed them, aside from the gratuitous "shopping stops" at jewelry stores and even a furniture market! Good grief, who goes on a Cruise to buy FURNITURE??????????? Still, we enjoyed the Mexican culture and the guides were all very friendly and sociable. It was interesting seeing some of the real Mexican villages in Mazatlan and our guide staff in Puerto Vallarta was the absolute BEST we'd ever experienced. So bravo, there!
The other highlight was the food. We did receive Suite dining privileges for Breakfast and lunch in a specialty restaurant, and we made SURE we got to use those!!! Though the service wasn't always the best, the food was dynamite. My husband is a carnivore and loves steaks. Cagney's served up a super Filet Mignon and he was overjoyed to get to have that for breakfast daily with eggs. My favorite meal had to have been the Lobster at Le Bistro. Very tasty. In fact, it was so good, we returned to that restaurant our last night of the cruise, only to find they were out of the lobster. Also, Le Bistro's take on fondue was mighty sweet. We were very thankful the food was so good, since some of the wait-staff barely cracked a smile when serving us. Honestly, I felt like they may not have been treated very well by management and short-staffed. They just didn't look happy like other staff we've experienced on board other ships.
Disembarkation went a lot better than our embarkation. We took a tour of LA, so we met inside the Stardust Theater. The Theater is beautiful and spacious. We did one show that really impressed... based on Circque de Solais. It was very professional and enjoyable.
Sadly, the hassle and poor service we experienced on board the Jewel, as well as the very poorly appointed Penthouse Suite in such sad condition has made it highly unlikely that we'll never to sail with NCL again. I certainly hope that readers here on Cruise Critic will have a better experience than we did.
Worn, poorly appointed. Bed skirt was old, dingy, and wrinkled. Carpet had a quarter-sized hole in it, and the curtains were dusty, snagged, and tattered. Cushions on balcony furniture were filthy. They had dark stains that resembled mold. On our last night, they were removed for cleaning, I assume, since they left the old foam pads in plastic bags INSIDE OUR SUITE!!!!!!!! A real classy touch. Ugh.
The Farmers Market is vastly over-rated.
Camel ride was disappointing, but the food was fantastic and so was the guide. Enjoyed his info. on flora and fauna... especially the saguaro cactus!
Guide was very nice and friendly. A true Mexican gentleman. The jewelry store stop was ridiculously gratuitous, as was the furniture market stop. Who on earth buys furniture while on a cruise????
Best shore excursion guides/staff we've ever experience. Funny, talented, caring, friendly. These guys were the whole package deal. Great snorkling and kayaking, too!