Just back from cruising the Jewel out of Miami on a seven day Western Caribbean itinerary. This was my second cruise with NCL and a bit better than the first but far from perfect.
Hotel: Booked 3 nights at the Beacon in South Beach independently. Top location but the room very small (about the size of an NCL mini suite, yes even the bathroom) and expensive for what it was. Decent staff and clean, but not a lot of amenities. Embarkation: this took quite a while, perhaps the longest of any cruise I've taken. Got there a little before noon and was on the ship by about 1:10pm. Still it wasn't that bad of an experience, I think I've just been lucky in the past and gotten on board quickly. The announcements were hard to hear and unclear; NCL should invest in a decent PA for their Miami terminal.
Ship Impressions: The NCL Jewel public areas were very clean and kept in good repair. I found the ship to be well-maintained, and for the most part, well-designed and easy to get around. The decor was good but just below Celebrity (for class) and Carnival (for glitz). Tsar's dining room was the most impressive common area. There was a lack of chairs on the promenade deck; given how often the main outdoor deck around the pool area was full this was a lost opportunity to provide guests with an alternative. All too often, there was a slight sewer smell on deck 11, and on a couple occasions it was even in our room. Not strong or frequently smelled enough to be a major problem, but had it been any worse it would have been.
Very beautiful island with amazing views in certain places. We took a tour with Victor Bodden who farmed us out to a cab driver who was nice and did a good job but the tour company did a poor job of explaining to him what our expectations, which had been set up in detail previously, were. Consequently we were taken to a glass bottom boat tour that was sold out and wasted a good 40 minutes on that wild goose chase and had to tell him "no, no shopping" and "no, no monkeys" when that should have been settled up front. The beach at the San Simon beach club was excellent. The food at San Simon was poor, but everything else was great so I'd still go back there in the future.
Belize has a fascinating collection of wildlife that the NCL wildlife excursion did a good job of showing off. This was a boat ride up the Olde Belize river and a trip to the Belize Zoo. The boat ride can be very fast and is a lot of fun. The zoo is not glitzy but the animals are definitely worth seeing if you like wildlife. The included lunch featured a roach in the salad; I did not eat any of it. Superficially, there did not seem to be much about Belize City itself to recommend it. The Wet Lizard bar after the excursion was just OK.
This port is still clearly hurting from hurricane Dean but the new tourist village is a good start to rebuilding. We went to Maya Chan beach on our own which I give five stars. Great food, great drinks, the trip's best service and nice facilities. The beach there is not the best as it's a bit grassy in the shallow water but whatever I'd go back in a heartbeat. The cabbies were late coming to pick us up which was a little nerve wracking but the resort people kept on it and made sure we were taken care of-no worries.