And here we are...back from yet another fantastic cruise on NCL!! This time it was the December 13th 2009 sailing of the Jewel out of Miami. There is sooo much to say, but I'll try to keep it short and sweet and hit the main points. (As for other information...I reserve the right to remain silent!!!)
Embarkation was a unique experience for us this time. Normally we process thru the balcony or mini suites window for Latitudes members and it usually goes without a hitch. But this year, one of our group was in a wheelchair, so upon ascending the stairs from the street to the entrance, we found a coral of wheelchairs ready and waiting right there. I hadn't even put my hand on the handle, when I was immediately met by a NCL crew member there to help. He stayed with us the whole time as we cleared security, and then whisks us around alllll the other lines to a special line so that we could process quickly and use the elevator to ascend to the embarkation area. One quick stop for the photo op and we were on the ship with a glass of champagne in hand!!! From arrival at the street to sipping champagne was maybe 20 minutes. Even those in our group that didn't arrive via the "handicap express", said that checking in was fairly easy. The key here is PREREGISTER online and bring a copy of that with you. If you are a Latitudes member, you can use that express line. Suite holders also have their own special lines for those special guests. Disembarkation was handled with equal ease and simplicity. After we finished yet another wonderful breakfast, we made way to the Fizz Lounge where wheelchairs with crew members waited to escort us off the ship, thru immigration, to the luggage area where we collected our bags.
I traveled with my group of 9 that became 11, that sometimes swelled to 12, 14 and 20 at times...and a great time was had by all.
We had been on the Jewel before, and she is a lovely ship! The ship was very clean and well kept, as is typical of the NCL line as a whole. We all had balcony rooms this time, complete with safe, mini fridge and bathrobes. Our cabin was a handicap cabin, and it was roomy and spacious with plenty of room for the scooter. Our room stewards were kind and efficient. Richard and Joselito are two very sweet guys that were always there when we needed something. The towel animals are always a treat, especially when my constantly being lost sunglasses would miraculously reappear on the towel animals head!!
The first thing we did was haul our bags to our cabins. Generally the cabins aren't quite ready, but the room stewards were more than accommodating to let us drop off our bags and roam the ship a bit til the cabin was ready.
Second stop was a cocktail at the martini bar by Magnum's Champagne Bar. The VERY BEST BARTENDER on the ship is Edgardo and he's in charge of the martini tastings. Not only does he make the BEST martinis on the ship, he's a hell of a dancer too!
Next stop was making dinner reservations. You can always access the dinner reservations attendant on the far right of the registration desk (as you face it). They are very helpful and bend over backwards to accommodate your party and requested meal times. You can book the day you are in and the next night without any trouble. If you have a balcony or mini-suite, you can book the following day as well. The larger suites can book any days ahead that they want. Maracar was working the desk most days, when she wasn't hostessing at Chin Chin's and she is by far simply the most accommodating hostess you'll ever meet. She would go so far as to hunt me down to make sure I had my next reservations made, and then call my cabin to confirm the reservations she'd made for me. We were a large group and had no trouble getting in anywhere we wanted. Sometimes we had to juggle our times here and there, but the crew bends over backwards to accommodate you.
I just can not say enough about the food. We did the Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon for simple breakfasts before our excursions. Lunches would be there too, along with grazing at the poolside buffet for quick mid day bites. This year the Jewel tried out two specialty lunches. I didn't make the Jazz Brunch, but we did try the Indian Buffet lunch held in Le Bistro. This was a $15 surcharge and worth the price for generous selections of well prepared authentic Indian dishes. Every dinner we dined at the specialty restaurants. WELL worth the surcharge!!! Don't let those fees scare you off, it's TOTALLY worth it.
Things you MUST eat: BBQ Pork Ribs, Dirty Noodles, Lamb Medallions - Chin Chin Restaurant Escargot, Chicken Coq Au Vin, and anything on the menu - Le Bistro Lobster, yes lobster! - Teppanyaki Combination Pizza - Mama's Italian More lobster, Rib Eye - Cagney's
The spa prices are pricey as always. But watch your Freestyle Daily for specials. Also physically GO to the spa and talk to the spa crew. They will work special combo deals for you that are listed on the menu of services. You can make an appointment for a treatment and usually negotiate a little extra freebie such as a free Eye Treatment while at the desk. Best Spa Deals: the 10/20/30 plan - 10% off first treatment, 20% of 2nd, 30% off third...combine those with bartering at the counter for a freebie. The other thing I would HIGHLY recommend is the Spa Pass. You pay a flat rate (was $99 for single of $125 per couple for the 7 day cruise or $20 per day individually) and you have access to the mineral baths, hydrotherapy pools, sauna, steam room, stone therapy lounges, cold plunge and the private locker area for the entire cruise. You also have access to the very restful lounge area that sits at the very FRONT of the ship with full glass panoramic views out the bow.
The entertainment is always a great value as it's FREE!! I've been to many many Jean Ann Ryan Company productions and had the pleasure of meeting many of the performers, but this particular group was really something special. Not only are they talented and gifted they were so personable, unlike any other cruise I've been on. We would see the performers out and about on the ship and they were always friendly and welcoming, often times actually hanging out with us!! Make sure you see ALL their performances. By the way, if you get a chance to meet Richard (one of the male athletic performers for the JARC), please do so. His smile will light up your day, and his genuine zest for life is contagious. (Not to mention those 12 pack abs!!!) Don't miss the Crew Show. I don't think that the Cat's Pajama's will still be performing, but if they are make sure you see EVERY performance. They are spectacular young men whose acapela talents will mesmerize you. The Fizz Lounge is a great place to hang out and for karaoke, and the Spinnaker lounge seems to always have great tunes spinning.
Now I've never been one to generally attend the usual games and things that the cruise director staff puts on, but this trip was an exception. The cruise director Que Hundermark has taken these "game shows" to a whole new level. He single handedly (well not single handed he has a GREAT staff) as taken simple games like "The Newlywed Game", "Dancing With the Stars", and "Qwest" and made them into extremely well attended events on the ship. We attended many, if not all, of them and had the most fantastic time. We laughed til we couldn't breathe in some cases, and won a trophy in other cases. (Details will NOT be disclosed, so don't ask!! LOL ) We've met many cruise directors on our many cruises, several with NCL, and Que is the best yet!! He was always available, always friendly and made each and everyone of us feel like we were the most important person to him on the ship.
Speaking of being made to feel like you are important...I'd like to make a point to comment on John the Hotel Director and Mustafa the Food & Beverage Manager. These two men simply never sleep. Especially John O'Hara the Hotel Director. This man was up before I had breakfast and when I would leave the Spinnaker Lounge after dancing all night...he was still there, standing in the back, watching everything that was going on. John and Mustafa were out and about every evening greeting guests at the restaurants. We saw them literally every night, and every night they would stop at our table and visit. And not just stop by...they would chat with us leisurely as if there wasn't anywhere else they had to be. Now believe me, my group isn't all sunshine and smiles, there were a few of us that had comments to make about service from time to time. And each and every time these two gentlemen would listen attentively, take notes, make calls and voila...things happened.
Watch your Freestyle Daily for specials in the Duty Free Shop. Great deals on liquor on certain days, plus free tastings! Always, always, ALWAYS mention you are a Latitudes member and get an additional 10-20% off anything you purchase in the shopping area. Just cuz it says Latitudes on your card, doesn't mean you'll get the discount. So ASK for it.
NCL University offered all kinds of classes and tastings. Though usually we partake in many, this trips focus seemed to be on the martini tastings. What fun!! Edgardo, the head bartender, served each martini with complete recipes, fun facts about the history of that martini, while running a trivia contest amongst the tasters! One of the guests in our group presented him with a special holiday martini recipe, which he incorporated into the 2nd tasting and gave a complimentary sample to everyone. Do take part in these tastings. They are only $15 and with the 4 samples you'll get...an alcohol bargain on board!
Best Hostess - Maracar in Chin Chins Best Head Bartender - Edgardo in the Martini Bar and Spinnaker Best Room Stewards - Richard and Joselito on Deck 10 Best Officers - John Ohara, Hotel Director - Mustafa, F&B Manager - Que, Cruise Director Be sure to tell them the BEADBABE says hello
Though I did not really use the casino, some in my group did. They had a few issues which I'm sure they'll be taking up directly with NCL. Since I don't know much about gambling, I'll leave that segment for them to review. The consensus amongst the gamblers in the group was...that standard "casino" rules don't always apply on board. So make sure you know the "house" rules on the games before you start.
Despite that due to rough seas and winds, we missed our stop at Great Stirrup Cay, our Captain took us out to sea for an added a sea day....the entire crew bent over backwards to keep us fed, entertained and happy. Additionally, our beloved Captain invited the entire Cruise Critic group to a special tour of the bridge!! This was a very special treat. He allowed us to wander around and ask questions. He was infinitely patient and seemed genuinely interested in our questions. We weren't hurried at all and thoroughly enjoyed this little perk!
I can't say enough about this ship...the whole experience was awesome. If you want to know anything specific, I'm happy to answer questions!
We had a handicap room. It was spacious enough to house the scooter, while still giving us ample room to move about the cabin. The bathroom was large and easy to move around. It could use another shelf or two in the bathroom, but the storage areas in the cabin itself were aplenty!