We're a couple in our late 50's living in Portland, OR. As a native Californian, I need to get away in the winter and escape the rain, dark and cold. After two cruises of the Mexican Riviera onboard the NCL Star, we were ready for a change. We chose the Jewel because it is newer, and chose this itinerary because it was less expensive than an eastern or southern Caribbean cruise and also less expensive than cruising mid-February (when we usually go).
We made our own travel arrangements, using Alaska Air miles for our tickets and booking our pre- and post-cruise hotels. Saturday night, 1/23/10, we stayed at the Quality Inn at Miami Airport. They provided a free shuttle from the airport and then arranged a shared shuttle to the port ($10 per person) to embark Sunday morning. We arrived at the port around noon, and embarkation was easy. We had a nice lunch in the smaller main dining room, Azura.
We were not disappointed! The Jewel is lovely, and the Star really shows its age in comparison. One thing we did miss from the Star, however: the private adults-only swim pool in the spa. The Jewel does have the therapy pool in its "Thermal Suite" (for an additional charge) but it's not a swimming pool.
Our cabin wasn't any bigger than on the Star, but the bathroom had wall shelves which made storing toiletries easier. I would have appreciated two more wall hooks for robes and such.
Our cabin stewards, Richard and Joselito, were wonderful! They addressed us by name from the 2nd day, and were always willing to work around our schedule of using the cabin, and promptly responded to our requests for additional robes, towels, whatever. We also had the charming towel "animals" on several nights, and amassed a menagerie by the end of the cruise. We impressed enough to tip each of them an additional $10 before disembarking.
Several reviewers complained about the food quality in the Garden Court Buffet. I'm a former foodie from San Francisco, and believe me when I say that I found nothing to complain about! We had excellent food in the main dining rooms, and only ate once at a surcharge restaurant (Le Bistro) on our last night. We did note some "anomalies" with the food, however. We had a lovely rack of lamb in Azura, and then were offered mint jelly (clearly straight from a jar) to accompany it, rather than a true mint sauce. We had a hard time finding peanut butter at any of the buffet stations, especially at dinner. On the other hand, the omelet station was wonderful! A "hidden gem" is the breakfast set-up at The Great Outdoors on deck 12 aft. Also, you can brew your own espresso-style coffee: look for the machines that have both regular & decaf spouts and say "cafe crema." Great!
We weren't impressed by the Western Caribbean ports, or the late January weather. While it was warm, the skies were often overcast, and the seas were choppy. We were unable to kayak at Costa Maya because of bad weather, and the stop at Grand Stirrup Cay was canceled due to problems with the tenders. All in all, we liked the ship (my in-laws love it!) but our next cruise will be an Eastern Caribbean itinerary on the Epic.