Norwegian Jewel, Feb 21-28 2009. My ninth cruise, third with NCL. It took something like 15-20 minutes from the time we took our luggage out of the car at the Miami Cruise Terminal until we got to our stateroom. That was the fastest screening, registration and embarkation I've ever seen! We had an interior stateroom, impeccably clean, but I was a little bit disappointed by the furniture. The rather small night tables looked like some sort of assemble-it-yourself shelves on a tubular frame, there was a 2x2 table we had to have the steward remove, because there was really no room for it. (Inside room, we get what we pay for!). The straight chair's upholstery was worn out on the edges. Mass-produced flat LCD TV's were just around the corner when they built the Jewel, so staterooms on this ship are equipped with conventional TV's. The mattress was OK to my standards, and I'm usually very fussy on that. The bathroom was of common size for a cruise ship, but the shower's glass sliding doors instead of a curtain along with the glossy turquoise ceramic floor really makes a difference in that small area. The 2 cabin stewards, one Philipino and the other from India, were very nice. They greeted us by our first names whenever they met us in the hallway. They must have a good memory, because NCL does not have that corny tradition of identifying stateroom doors with pax's names and the color code showing their status in the company's frequent cruiser club . (I wonder if the president of Princess would like to have his name plus the name of whoever accompanying him written on the door of every hotel room he checks into, along with a clue to the number of times he stayed at that hotel) About the food? When I saw all the quality and variety in the buffet, plus the elaborate dinner menus in the dining room, I then fully realized what a nightmare it was when I cruised on MSC Poesia at the beginning of the month. Quality, variety, presentation, service and smiles. NCL has it all. As in any other cruise we've been on, we didn't go to any of the specialty restaurants. Usually the main dining room restaurants offer enough quality options (and if one is not worried about his public image, he can order every item on the menu!!). That makes it a bit illogical to pay a supplement to eat elsewhere on the ship.
We took a couple of shore excursions, one in Roatan, one in Belize. Everything went smoothly, but the guide we had in Roatan was not the enthusiastic, proud-of-his-country type. His English was difficult to understand. The lady in Belize was OK, but was quite expeditive to get us out of the Altun Ha Mayan ruins. We had to negotiate to be allowed more than 10 minutes of walking around after the tour!
In Roatan and Belize, we were tendered to shore. While there is not a critical problem, I think NCL could fine-tune the process for tendering. To avoid congestion on the tendering deck, they give out numbered cards to those who do not take excursions. But some excursions have assembly point on the pier. What do those people do? And the people that do have the numbered cards hoard to and congest the nearest staircase to the tendering dock, regardless of their ticket number. In Belize, cruise companies rely on locals for tendering. If there were any life jackets on the boat we were on, there was no indication whatsoever. I looked around, and there was, in my opinion, no place for a hundred or so life jackets. Nothing on the ceiling, no compartments under the seats, no "in case of emergency" briefing, etc.. Gives us a creepy feeling. Entertainment-wise, we had 3 nights featuring the Jean Ann Ryan company with the ship's live orchestra. Other nights featured a stand-up comic, a comic magician, and a juggler. The final show of the week was sort of a talent show, but it was members of the crew: cabin stewards, barmen, mechanics or entertainment staff put up impressive acts, the last night featured a hilarious skit by the cruise director Paul Baya and some of his staff. (BTW, Paul is one of the best cruise directors I've seen) NCL has the nicest au revoir show I've seen. About a hundred crew, from all departments, plus all of the senior officers come on stage in their respective work clothes or uniforms to say goodbye and sing the "This is the Norwegian Way" song. Disembarkation was as hassle-free as embarkation. You got all your luggage with you? Don't bother with those colored tags and just get off whenever you want!