Norwegian Jewel 11/29/2009 - 12/06/2009
Embarkation: Since we drove in the night before we arrived at the Port of Miami at around 10:00 am. We were about the 10th passengers on the line for check-in and passing through security was very easy and smooth. Once through security, it was on to the check-in counter to receive our keys and then to the "staging area" where you wait to board. One thing I found annoying about the way NCL boards their passengers is that even though you may have arrived at 10:00am, a passenger who arrives at 11:30 but is booked in a suite will be boarded before you.
An announcement was made by Q the cruise director at 11:30am that boarding would now begin, and to feel free to visit the buffet, or Tsars Palace for lunch while we wait until 2pm for our rooms to be ready. On other cruise lines we have been able to go straight to our cabin to see if it was ready however this was not the case on the Jewel as they set up ropes so that you will not enter the passageways. We didn't mind anyway as we had very few carry-on items and were hungry for lunch.
Our first impression of the overall appearance of the ship was that it was beautiful. We also noted that even though it was a few years old it was exceptionally maintained.
After receiving our complimentary champagne (OJ for the kids), we opted for Tsar's Palace for lunch since we usually find the buffet way too busy on embarkation day and we really wanted wind down and relax for a little while after our long drive. Lunch in Tsar's that day was lovely, and we assumed all our meals to follow would be served with the same impeccable service we had received then. Wrong assumption on our part, more to follow...
Off to the Splashdown Kids Club to sign the kids up. Our kids have always enjoyed this part of cruising! Sign-up took only a minute and we were able to meet some of the staff and get a schedule for the week's planned activities.
Our Cabin: Traveling as a family of four, including myself, my husband, our daughter who is 9 and our son who is 6, we figured that we would book a mini-suite for our voyage so that we would have a tad more space as well as a tub if we needed it for the kids. At 2pm an announcement was made that we could now go to our cabins so, we headed down to our mini-suite #11548. The mini-suite in reality is little more that a glorified balcony but, it was immaculate and nicely acquainted. I will say that I found it strange that our cabin steward, Rezaldo did not have it prepared for 4 occupants (extra towels and such) as the stewards are always aware in advance of how many people will be in a cabin. I will also say that throughout our cruise, we noticed continual little things that Rezaldo missed. Small things like providing ice daily, an empty tissue dispenser and leaving dirty glasses after he'd serviced our cabin left us feeling that Rezaldo was not measuring up.
The Cruise: Sea days were very pleasant and you could choose to be as busy or not busy as you wanted to be. We spent most of our sea days by the pool. I've often heard many complaints about lounge hogs but I really did not encounter many of them. There seemed to be plenty of lounges but they could use more little tables for holding drinks. The music by the pool was also festive and pleasant. My one poolside gripe would be that the bar staff is a little pushy and annoying at times.
Our ports of call were Roatan, Belize City, Costa Maya and Great Stirrup Cay. All of the ports were enjoyable to us, but since we booked our excursions privately, there's not too much to review pertaining to NCL. In both Roatan and Belize City the tendering process could really use improvement. You must go to an assigned location to stand in line to wait for tender tickets. For our cruise on the Jewel this was the Photo Center. I would not mind the requirement of a ticket at all, if NCL actually required the tickets to board a tender. However, our tender tickets were never requested (nor were anyone else's) and in fact, many people who did not have tickets boarded the tenders anyway.
Great Stirrup Cay has probably seen better days. We've visited the private islands of Costa, Carnival and Royal Caribbean and all of them could run circles around NCL's private island. As we viewed the island aboard the first tender, we saw what seemed to be a large amount of lounge chairs, but once the island was full of passengers, it became quite clear that there were not enough. Beach umbrellas were an extremely rare commodity; I would say that there was maybe 1 umbrella per 40 lounges. After 6 days of Caribbean sun, there were many red vacationers scavenging for beach umbrellas. We found that some of the buildings such as the buffet and some of the bars were looking fairly run down. We were also disappointed with amount of trash in the sand. We saw straws, forks, and many, many rusty bottles caps. One other thing that may not have affected my family personally but we still find rather awful was that NCL actually ran out of potable drinking water for about 2 hours on the island. I'm not talking about bottled water which you could buy; I'm talking about free potable water. Talk about terrible customer service, I find it hard to believe that with as many stops as NCL has made over the years to their own island they wouldn't know how much drinking water needed to be brought ashore. This is just an assumption of course but perhaps beverage sales were down and they needed to make some up?
Regarding the Garden Cafe (buffet) and restaurants on the ship, we found most of the food quite enjoyable. However the service left much to be desired. In the buffet, often there were empty tables but good luck waiting for them to be cleared. Aside from the buffet we dined in Tsar's Palace (main dining), Azura (main dining) and Mama's Italian Kitchen. In both of the main dining rooms the food was very enjoyable but it was always about halfway though the main course before our drinks would arrive. And once the main courses were served never did anyone stop by the table to see how things were going. Most nights we waited very long times before having to wave someone down to order dessert. I guess the caring attentive service is lost in the freestyle. We definitely enjoyed our dinner at Mama's Italian Kitchen and we did notice a big improvement in service there. But then, that was the one restaurant we had to pay to eat in.
Splashdown Kids Club: Our kids really enjoyed the activities. The staff handed out a schedule of planned activities which helps you with choosing if and when your kids will go. Our kids usually choose for themselves and I will say more often than not when we went to pick them up at the planned time, they wanted to stay longer! But there were instances when the scheduled activity never happened - our kids mentioned this because they were looking forward to them. We did mention this at the front desk at which point we were told "that the schedule is strictly followed" and that "our children must have been mistaken". I am one hundred percent sure that my kids would remember if an ice cream party had taken place or not and personally I believe these comments could only be taken as an insinuation that our kids had lied. Honestly, this was just the first instance of bad customer service at the front desk.
I'm not sure if this is an NCL issue or just a Jewel issue but it would appear that they make a lot of mistakes in regards to charges to On Board Credit accounts. While I heard several stories from fellow passengers regarding this, we had 2 significant instances of this but I'll just share the first. The first day on board we decided to by the kids' soda cards (bracelets for kids). The charge was $4.00 per day + 17% gratuities which should have resulted in a charge of just over $64.00. When we checked our account a few days later we saw that we had been charged over $100 by the Sky Bar! We explained the error to the front desk clerk (with receipt in hand) and were sent to see the gentleman at the Java Cafe. He had no idea why we had been sent to see him and in turn sent us back to the front desk. Once back at the front desk, the clerk then wanted us to go to the Sky Bar to clear this up. At this point I became a bit annoyed. What kind of customer service makes the customer chase down the right employee to fix a mistake that's not even their fault? I pointed this out and asked to speak with a supervisor but was told that that would not be possible as they were all in a meeting (I'm thinking you keep at least one supervisor available) but that she would forward the information and have it corrected. The second issue with our on board credit was also an overcharge issue (again we had the receipts) for which we received the same type of run-a-round to get it corrected. While many people will say that I should be satisfied that the issues were corrected, I find these mistake and lack of customer service something you would expect from amateurs not a company that has been in business as long as NCL has. I also wonder, for all the mistakes that are caught, how many are not.
Overall, we did enjoy our cruise but then, we would enjoy any vacation together. NCL (or any other cruise line for that matter) could never stop us from having a great family vacation. That being said, NCL could have made a great vacation more relaxing and comfortable. Poor customer service and lack of quality in certain areas would never detract from us having a good time but great customer service and better quality certainly could have enhanced it!
Disembarkation: We chose to disembark on our own. This process went extremely smooth and we were off the ship and in our car by 8:30am. As we drove out of the Port of Miami, we waved so-long to the NCL Jewel, and goodbye to NCL forever.
Not enough drawers