We went on the Jewel leaving out of Miami (4/3/09) to the 9 day southern Caribbean. I'd cruised with NCL twice before and I have always loved it. My family and I went in one cabin and my elderly grandmother and aunt went in another. Their first time with NCL. Leading up to the cruise many people told us NCL was bad, good luck with the cruise, etc. We couldn't understand why, since my family and I have always had a positive experience with NCL in the past. Another cruise with NCL is something we're definitely not planning anytime soon!
Embarkation- Amazing! The process usually takes anywhere between 30-60 minutes and here it took about 20 to get through everything and get to the ship. When we got to the ship the bubbly was waiting and we had to stay in the lobby for about 5 minutes because the cabins weren't ready. When the announcement was made that the cabins were ready, we proceeded to the cabin. Small cabin, but we knew this since we've cruised with NCL. Gorgeous balcony though. The ONLY downside is that there was dust EVERYWHERE (and I don't mean light dust, I mean layers of dust). There were sand and coke stains on the floor of the cabin, the bathroom, and the balcony. We had to clean the toilet from how filthy it was. We went down to the purser's to ask them to send someone to clean the cabin. Did this twice and no one came. We found the head of housekeeping for our floor and he said he'd send someone to clean it after the lifeboat drill. NEVER Happened. I took pictures, forwarded them to my T.A. and to NCL as well. Great selection of food and amazing quality of it as well at the buffet and at Tsar's.
Debarkation- The ship got to every port before it was suppose to including Miami. However, the ship took longer than expected to clear and begin debarkation. Long line for debarkation, but once it started, the line moved rather quick.
Ports of Call- The actual islands were beautiful. Breathtaking views, great pictures. In Samana, I suggest the hike to the waterfall. It's about 15-20 minutes and you have to cross a small river (there are people there to help) but it's worth it. Also, if you don't get a tour from the excursion desk, don't freak out, there are people by the ship who are selling tours (we got our tours for $20 pp on each island, and we went to the same places as the ship's tours did)
Entertainment- The Cat's Pajamas were amazing! They give it their all and it reflects in their performances. I loved their version of "In the Jungle" in which they used the audience to help make the animal noises. The Jean Ann Ryan shows are not to be missed! The best show of all is Cirque Bijou. Amazing show with acrobatics, dancing, singing and lots more. You need to get there early and get your seats. Both shows were packed and the staff closes the theater down for the safety of the performers prior to the show (you'll understand once you see it). The show ends with the crew members gathering on stage singing the "Norwegian Way" song. I went to the hypnotist's show in Spinnaker. Funny show, nice guy. The White Hot party is one that you cannot miss. The Jean Ann Ryan dancers kick it off with a performance, and then the crew and guests hit the dance floor. At times foam sprays everyone on the dance floor.
A word about Bingo-it was okay. It starts off somewhere around $16 to play, but at times it can go up to almost $200 (depending on the deal you want to purchase). When you buy a game of bingo, you are automatically entered in their raffle (they give out prizes from Del Sol, the Spa, the Casino, Colombian Emeralds, etc.) The best bingo day was the last day @ sea, in the first of the 2 bingo sessions (the cruise raffle bingo, not the jackpot bingo). For only $25 you get an NCL bingo t-shirt, the NCL tote bag, 5 $5 instant wins, 6 cards for the jackpot bingo round, and 30 tickets for the cruise raffle. The second bingo session was in the afternoon and the prices to play bingo got steeper.
Spa/ Casino- The spa is nice, and I found it worth $20 for the daily pass (you are at sea for 3 full days and for me it was worth it to pay $40 to enjoy the spa for 2 full days than to pay $119 and enjoy it partially for 9 days). It is very peaceful and relaxing. In the casino I recommend signing up for the casino rewards @ sea program. In the booklet they give you come all sorts of coupons where you buy a certain amount of slot credits or chips and the casino matches or doubles it.
Tendering Services- Tendering process is chaotic! My elderly grandmother needed to take the service elevator since she cannot be going down the stairs because of her legs. They called the elevator but she had to stand for 25 minutes waiting for the elevator. When the elevator came the lady inside told her that she had other priorities before us (in a very rude tone). When we got to the 4th floor, our tender had already left and another crew member told us we would have to wait until they could find us a tender (we waited about 15 minutes there before anyone could get us a tender. We asked for a wheelchair or at least a chair for my grandmother and a crew member told us that she could not help us and pointed to another crew member that would help us. The gentleman suggested we sit her on the steps or lean her on the railing. We told him that was not an option since she could sit, but getting up was the issue. One of the CD staff members, Peter, was kind enough to get her a chair, and he helped get us a tender to go ashore.
Cleanliness- Not good @ all! Other guests in the spa were speaking about this happening to them as well. They found their cabins filthy and the majority of the crew members were unhappy. For us, it took 4 days for the cleaning issue to get resolved, and it only got resolved when we asked to see the head of housekeeping for the ship (she sent one of her assistants to see the room). It was unbelievable and I hope no one has to ever go through that again.
Overall- The itinerary for the cruise is wonderful, the ship is beautiful, great shows, but when it comes to cleanliness, friendly crew, and tendering all I can say is improvement is needed.
Tiny closet but great balcony. Filthy and dusty cabin upon embarkation, but it eventually got resolved.