My wife and I cruised on the Jewel from Anchorage to Vancouver. We have now cruised 27 times, mostly on Carnival, Princess, and Norwegian (six times). I occasionally post cruise reviews here, but only when the experience is pretty good or pretty bad. Our recent Alaska cruise on the Jewel qualifies in both categories. So here goes, starting with the good..
Fairly good cruise fare pricing for this shoulder season Alaska trip.
The best production shows we have EVER seen on a cruise ship. The Jewel shows were fast-paced, high-tech, well-choreographed shows with excellent sound and visual effects -- but virtually all the cruise lines and ships we have been on have the same in their shows. What set the Jewel shows apart were the singers and the show band. Usually on a cruise you expect maybe one very strong voice -- sometimes male, sometimes female -- with one or two so-so voices. On the Jewel they had FOUR superb singers. So the shows featured one great solo after another. And, needless to say, the songs that involved duets, trios, or even foursomes were simply wonderful. The show band featured a saxophone, trumpet, and trombone who were all of true professional quality. On some of the band tunes you could close your eyes and say “That is Kenny G!” Not that Kenny G is the be all and end all, lol, but you get my drift.
Our interior cabin was small, but updated and well laid out. The bathroom was quite nice, with a fairly large shower with a sliding door so no water on the floor. The bed did not sag, a definite plus.
As for the itinerary, the ship got so close to the massive Hubbard Glacier that we felt like we could reach out and touch it. This, of course, was just fortuity: Clear, calm weather, and a current that was pushing the ice flotsam away from the ship gave us this once-in-a-lifetime glacier experience.
Now the bad:
Norwegian nickels and dimes you for everything, including things as small as sqeezed juice at breakfast And these fees are generally higher than what other cruise lines charge for similar items. For example, $15 per person per day for the standard gratuity on the Jewel was higher than any other cruise line we have been on. Another example: Norwegian charges you a 3% fee to play slot machines using money from your sail and sign account. None of the other cruise lines we have been on charge this sort of fee. And then there is the auto gratuity of 20% Norwegian adds to purchases of beverages, specialty meals, and the like. Other cruise lines only charge 15% to 18% auto gratuities on these sorts of items.
In the past, we have enjoyed some of the specialty restaurants on the Norwegian ships, but no longer. On previous Norwegian cruises we have bought package specialty dining deals (four or more nights). But this past summer Norwegian jacked the prices on these packages, to upwards of $30 per person per meal!! Not worth it, particularly when the quality in these resaurants is not discernibly better than you can get on land for similar meals (e.g., comparing La Cucina on the ship with Olive Garden at home I will take Olive Garden!). The a la carte prices at the Norwegian specialty restaurants are even more expensive on a per-meal basis than with the dining packages. With the price increases the Norwegian Specialty restaurants now charge, on average, significantly more than other cruise lines charge for their specialty restaurants. My guess is that this big increase in prices is an attempt to get customers to buy the “free at sea” cruise packages, and then to view the included specialty meals as some sort of a great “free” deal. But for us the economics of all this just don’t make sense.
And that leads me generally to the food in the buffet and the main dining rooms. Not good. In the buffet it got to the point that I would take a tiny bit of 10 or 15 different items, hoping to find something I particularly liked, and then would dump my original plate and go back for the few items I liked. Simple things like rice (plain rice, chinese fried rice, or Indian rice) simply lacked flavor. Even the pizza and hamburgers were meh. The main dining room was also nothing to look forward to. I particularly remember the time I ordered cherry pie as a desert and got some sort of gelatinous red filling with no discernible fruit. On another occasions my wife ordered a dessert called “Pot De Creme.” yuck. It was closer to Pot de Cr*p. Oh, what a disappointment.
Which left my wife and I wondering if we will take another Norwegian cruise. If we knew that we could get similar production shows on other ships in the Norwegian fleet, I would say OK, definitely yes, yes . . . but we think maybe the Jewel shows were an anomaly. On the other hand, we doubt the poor food offerings in the buffet and MDR were an anomaly, given how badly Norwegian must want everyone to eat in their specialty restaurants. So, after a bit of debate, my wife and I decided not to put money down on the “cruise next” deposit, as we figured we just won’t be enticed to use it on another Norwegian cruise.
Nice Inside Cabin, small but well appointed. Nice shower! Location was underneath the La Cucina restaurant. We occasionally heard things rolling above us, but it was quite muffled and not troublesome.
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