About Us: This was a last-minute decision made to get us out of the Midwestern winter for a week. We are baby boomers, married couple, and this was our 11Th cruise...all have been with NCL. We started cruising in June 2002, fell in love with cruising, and especially find the flexibility/freedom of Freestyle cruising perfect for us.
Air fare was bloody expensive..last minute. We flew in night before cruise to FLL and had prearranged transportation shuttle with SAS. We'd used them the past 3 cruises and find them prompt, polite, providing clean, nice vans and paid $15.00 per person from FLL to our Miami Hotel. We were in communication with them by phone as the plane landed...so easy. (Also used them going home from POM to FLL airport for the same rate. Highly recommend.
One night pre-cruise at Miami Hyatt downtown..Very large, clean room overlooking front of facility. I named my own price and got a deal. Nice breakfast buffet that also included made-to order omlettes, coffee and fresh orange juice for about $36 for two. Excelllent service. Much better than the one we had in October at the Intercontinental. Courteous staff. No surprises on our bill at check out.
First of all, it was one cold cruise! Weather down to 59-60 degrees a couple of days! Calm seas, though, with some wind now and then. People lazing around the pool anyway, dressed in long pants, sweatshirts and wrapped in towels with their little faces pointed to the sky in search of that tan. Me included. Hubby went back to the cabin to get his polartec fleece! "We're on vacation, I'm going to sit by the pool...." But, it was sunny, no snow, and other than the fact that I couldn't wear some of the clothes I'd packed because they were more for 85 degree weather, it didn't matter. I found a nice NCL warm hoodie in the gift shop. Next time I will be prepared.
Embarkation: Arrived at POM at 10:30..on the ship by 11:30. Check-in painless. We the first to board in group #1. No bubbly, didn't care. No escort, didn't care. Lunch at Garden Buffet..not yet crowded...salad bar, breads, chilled fruit soups outstanding. More later. Cabin ready at 1 and I think our luggage was delivered by 3 or 4. Muster drill without taking life jackets..ours was in Chinn Chinn restaurant and lasted about 10 minutes, tops.
Cabin: AF Mini 11046 deck 11. forward, starboard. Quiet cabin. No noise from above, below or from the hall. Large fruit basket awaiting us. Steward Edguardo working alone to manage 17 cabins provided excellent care..our cabin was spotless. He was friendly, smiling, and called us by name after first meeting and met every request promptly. Towel animals every night. No more pillow chocolates or paper coasters with goodnight written in several different languages...kind of miss that, but it's been talked to death...so..... Couldn't ask for more. I don't like the configuration of the closet in the mini as much as a regular balcony, but we knew that going in. Plenty or storage for 2. Equipped with hairdryer, coffee maker, fridge, Elemis products in the bath: Sharp shower gel, Elemis aromapure shampoo, Elemis vitamin-rich lotion in small bottles, and a new addition, a round bar of Elemis soap. Bathtub with glass doors. Toilet in bath secluded also behind glass door. Never any sewerage odor.
Ship: Not our first cruise on the Jewel... I continue to love the colors and the general feel of the ship. She was clean and I saw precautions I'd not noticed on other cruises...Edguardo was sanitizing the door handles of the cabins in his area. When I inquired if there was a problem, he said "No, we just take precautions." I noticed someone dropping tongs on the floor at the buffet 3 times...and 3 times they were quickly retrieved by staff and chucked in the soiled dishes bin. Crew was busy with upkeep...painting the lounger in the hydro pool in the spa, painting the main pool...railings, etc. From our experience we witnessed no broken equipment throughout the cruise.
Entertainment: Our Cruise director was Paul Baya who reports he will be on the Jewel until March 28th, then off for 6 weeks, then not sure where he will be. He was the CD on our first cruise on the Sun in 2002. Loved him then. Still love him. The Jean Ann Ryan productions on this ship are absolutely fabulous: Band on the Run...high energy 70's music. Country Gold...an array of country music, and Cirque Bijou which featured gymnasts/aerialists/acrobatics as well as music. I liked it that in our Freestyle Daily we had a flyer called JewelBill that profiled the artists with the Jean Ann Ryan group. Massimo Bulbarella and Alesia Pakhodzina were part of the Jewel's inaugural cast in 2005 and are back on the ship. They are amazing and performed moves I've never seen and wouldn't think are even possible. Someone said she must be double jointed to be able to do what she does. Simply amazing entertainment. Principal singer Scot Napier who has been a soloist with the Boston Pops was also amazing. Other singers worth a special recognition were DJ Oliver, Betsy Padamonsky and Jessica Quarles. I could go on and on about their performances, but enough said. Barry John had a nice juggling show...great sense of humor appropriate for all ages...we'd seen him before and enjoyed his show again. The audiences we were with seemed to really engage with the entertainers...clapping along, standing O's...high energy.
On the weak side, IMHO, was the pool band. Didn't play much and didn't seem to be as good as the group we'd heard on the Pearl. Guitar and keyboard not tuned to each other...ouch. Not a lot going on at the pool. Even when the band wasn't playing, it seemed like there was some sort of low volume tecno music faintly playing in the background and it sounded like the same thing over and over. Didn't get it.
Ports: Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya, Great Stirrup Cay. Won't say much here. We'd been to all the places before...didn't do any excursions except for Maya Chan in Costa Maya and it just didn't work for us..cold that day and we knew we wouldn't be doing any water sports, so we left early, but others have loved it. We were sad to see the destruction left behind from the hurricane, but there is a lot of building going on. We did get off the ship and walk around a bit at each port...had no problems. Tender to Belize was the fastest I'd ever been on. As "Gold" members, we received a priority tender ticket...it was a really nice perk.
Service/crew: Exceptional service this time around. Crew seemed happy. Smiling and friendly. The pool deck people selliing drinks were there if you needed them, but not "in your face." I didn't feel hounded. Also, I have soy allergy and NCL went above and beyond to help me. We went to Tzars, and I met with 2 people, Elena and Junior, who brought me menus for the next day...took my order..made dinner reservations for me. Ate at Mama's twice...the Assistant Maitre'd, Alex, checked and double checked with the chef...no problems. Elena and Alex basically said, "Tell us what you need/want...we'll make it happen." And they did. In the Garden Buffet, Chef Angelito Santos would walk down the rows of food with me...telling me if the food was on my "safe" list. The Omlette cook, Vadamodula Srinivasa Rao made fresh egg omlettes for me every day...remembering the ingredients I liked. I was impressed by their interest and efforts to help me.
Spa: We bought a couples pass for the week for $169 and I went to the relaxation room every day and it was heavenly. I won an Oxydermy facial at the spa raffle drawing and it was amazing. I'd never had a facial. My therapist, Katie, was absolutely excellent. I also took advantage of a port day special and had a Elemis Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage. I Did Not get the "hard sell" from either therapist. I was told what was used during the treatments, what was available to buy....it was all very low key/brief. Much different than what I've experienced in the past. Don't know if they've finally heard our complaints, or what, but I was surprised and relieved... and as their reward I did purchase 2 products Katie used during my facial! Go figure.
Fellow Passengers: Spring Break...had about 140 kids from Villanova who seemed to have a good time and didn't get down and out rowdy or obnoxious. Nice mix of people of all different ages/nationalities. Families with kids and babies. 700+ from Canada, per Paul Bay-ah. We talked with several NCL newbies who reported liking laid-back Freestyle style.
Restaurants/dining/food. Ok, here's my take, and it's all subjective, also talked to death. Tzars had a wait twice when we were there..the first time was the first sea day when they serve the lobster/mahi entree, and the second was Roatan. Both times it was from 6-7. We found the service in Tzars to be good to very good. The restaurant was busy when we were there and my husband said, "These people are working their XXXes off." I did try to make some small talk with a server one night, and she said, "Ma'am, I wish I could stop to talk with you but we are so busy I just can't right now." But she said it kindly and with no sign of resentment towards her work load. I thought the appetizers, soups, breads were best. The lobster/mahi dish was the best entree we had...and we each ordered an extra lobster tail...no problem...also served with drawn butter if you wanted. Husband had some scallops with cheese grits he liked a lot. Prime rib was just OK. Cooked to order, but just not great. Husband had a steak one night, ordered medium, came out well...he didn't complain or send it back...No more free cappuccinos/lattes, as has already been discussed. Nice food presentation. Meals served at proper temps. Different menu each night with always available selections remaining the same as in the past...If you follow a vegetarian diet you will have no problems finding something to eat. Overall, I would rate the food in Tzar's as good.
Garden Buffet: Breakfast was best here IMHO. Yes, cappuccino machines are gone. Made to order omelets and waffle station remain. Eggs Benedict every day. Fresh fruit every day. Breads remain as always and are excellent. At lunch, chilled fruit soups every day. I still think soups are a strong point for NCL. I thought the desserts were of higher quality than the past 2 cruises. Hamburgers, grilled chicken breasts both very good. Pizza needs work. Very nice salad bar. Pasta station remains...and I like their sauces. Deli station remains...sandwiches/wraps looked good. Stir fry station remains, as did a good selection of Indian food...lots of choices if you are vegetarian. Usually had some type of roasted chicken, and served lamb several times. Had steamboat round one night...baked ham...the salad bar offered sizable shrimp cocktail at least twice...fresh avacado, marinated artichoke hearts, asparagus spears....mussels on the shell. I actually like their coffee. Some of the machines grind the beans fresh and those make the strongest coffee. Others have already ground beans...and make weaker coffee. Crepe station remains. Soft serve ice cream remains. Chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate/vanilla swirl, and also at times vanilla/strawberry swirl. Cookies served every day and the white chocolate macadamia nut ones are the first to go. I rate the food in the garden buffet as good, overall. Yes, it can get crowded in there, but we just deal with it and avoid the busiest times. We always found a place to sit.
Specialty restaurants: We ate in Mama's twice and loved it both times. The cover of $10 is reasonable. First they bring some toasted bread rounds with sides of black/green olives and chopped tomatoes...and serve olive oil/balsamic dipping plate. The antipasto tray is so good. Marinated mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, marinated roasted peppers, mozzarella slices with tomato/fresh basil, several kinds of meats/hams/salami... really pretty to look at and very tasty. I had a rib eye dish twice, husband had lobster ravioli and also the steak. Very good. Desserts were very good. Service was excellent. Can't say enough about Mama's. Ass't Maitre'd Alex is worth mentioning....very good at his job.
Disembarkation: Was confusing for us this time around. As "Gold" members we received a special letter with luggage tags enclosed stating we could leave the ship whenever we wanted. Tags were yellow. In the past we have used express disembarkation and walked off with all of our luggage. This time we tried to walk off and were stopped by security when they found out we had tagged luggage. We didn't get it that we had to wait until the yellow tags were called. So, we waited. Next time, we will probably do express again...
We bought a future cruise deposit...and I'm now looking to book our next cruise. Overall, we have decided we prefer the Eastern or Southern Carib. to the Western. We hadn't done a Western in several years so changed it up.
It was a great cruise. Relaxing. Low key because that's what we made it. The Jewel is a lovely ship and the crew was outstanding. Highly recommend.
11046, deck 11, forward, starboard. Mini-suite. Nice balcony. Quiet location, heard no noise from above, below, from adjoining rooms, or from the hall. Had bath tub with glass-enclosed shower. Lots of storage. Closet was in awkward position next to the bed, but we knew that ahead of time. Good hairdryer, magnifying vanity mirror, fridge, coffee maker.