Being a first time cruiser I really did not know what to expect initially. Friends of mine had sailed on Norwegian Lines before and had nothing but great things to say.
I had found a great deal online for a 7 day cruise on the Jewel. The ship departed New York for Cape Canaveral Florida - Great Stirrup Cay (Private Island) - and Nassau Bahamas. I was able to convince a few friends to join me on this first time adventure, totaling a group of 8. Three of us were first time cruises, the rest had cruised before on other lines.
For any first time cruisers out there I can tell you that boarding process is similar to that of an airport. You must surrender your carry-on luggage to have it x-rayed and you must walk through a metal detector. You are then sent to a queue which leads you to an agent that sets up your room key and onboard account. You must provide them a major credit card or a bank card with a Visa/Master Card logo. They use that to set up your onboard credit account. Everything you buy from drinks to additional services is charged to your onboard account. You cannot pay cash for anything. They link your account to your room key, so guard it as you would money. The entire boarding process took around an hour, at least for us. Granted we were all prepared with one carry on, ticket and passport in hand. We arrived at around 1pm and were on the ship just before 2pm.
Upon boarding the ship our cabins were not ready so we all headed to the "Garden Cafe" on Deck 12 for lunch. We came to find that this was an enormous buffet. My entire travel group had a hardy lunch and headed to the boat deck to watch the ship pull out of the NY Harbor.
Once sea bound we made our way below decks to our Cabins - 9122 & 9127.
Being this was our first cruise we decided to try an inside cabin. I specifically choose cabins 9122 and 27 as they were laid horizontally on the deck plan rather than vertically, like all the rest of the inside cabins. I assumed that they would be a bit bigger, and they were; or I should say felt bigger as the configuration of the room was a bit different. All of us were completely satisfied with the accommodations. The rooms were of adequate size and were clean. This is my personal opinion, but for the amount of time I spent in the cabin, which was to shower, change, and sleep it was perfect. Who wouldn't want a balcony suite? But for the money you pay and the time spent in the cabin, my opinion is it's not worth the extra money.
As for the restaurants and dinning rooms, for the most part I was extremely impressed. Tsars Palace on Deck 6 was by far my favorite dining room. There was never a wait even in the evening past 7pm, the service was wonderful and the food was out of this world. Tsars is more of an upscale environment. The dEcor alone makes you feel like you're dining at the Plaza in New York City. The dress code is relaxed but it is expected that you wear shoes and a collared shirt when you're dining.
Azura on the other hand is more of a relaxed environment. I found the food to be ok, nothing amazing. One evening we all ordered steak and the meat was over cooked and like shoe leather. I also noticed that there were a lot of younger people who dined as well. The Azura is visually appealing with its contemporary style and furnishings. Unfortunately my first visit was my last visit.
I had the great pleasure of dining at "Tappanyaki", which is a small Japanese style Hibachi. The cover charge to get in was $25.00 per person and included everything but soft drinks and liquor. The chef was very entertaining and made all of us laugh. The food was very good, but if you are on a low sodium diet I would not suggest this restaurant. Like any hibachi I have dined at they tend to use a lot of salt in their food. The overall experience was great and I do recommend it, especially if you have a large group you're traveling with as it's a dinner to have together.
On a separate occasion I dined at "Mammas Italian Restaurant". The dEcor, layout and food are similar to that of an "Olive Garden" and carries a $15.00 cover charge. I noticed a lot of families with small children there, as their menu does cater a bit more to children as well. What kid doesn't like spaghetti and meatballs, right? I found the food to be just ok. Being Italian and from the New York Metro area it's more of a commercial style food. Their portions are hardy, so you don't leave there hungry. I personally would not dine there again. I would save my money and enjoy another meal at "Tsars Palace".
If you're in the mood for a huge selection of food then go to the "Garden Cafe" on Deck 12. You will be greeted by a friendly crew member who sprays your hands down with sanitizer. Their coined phrase of "Washy Washy - Happy Happy" was a funny and cute touch to the experience. It's nice to see that they are trying to control the spread of illness by keeping the passengers clean. You'll notice that on every deck there are sanitizer dispensers. I recommend using them. I'm sure you don't want my germs and I certainly don't want yours!
The variety of food at the Garden Cafe is extensive and does change from day to day. I personally found the food to be very tasty and good. I had read reviews that the food was "Gross" - "Tasteless" - in my opinion these statements are all FALSE. The food was like what you would see at any buffet. Is it gourmet, no, but it's defiantly appetizing.
For breakfast they have a chef making you whatever kind of omelet you want. A vast assortment of fruits and yogurts, along with staples like pancakes, waffles and french toast. Lunch and dinner also come with a very wide variety of food, you will not be disappointed. The only thing that can be frustrating is the lack of seating. For a big buffet they have a lot of seats but they do fill up. A tip is to bee line it to the very back where they have outdoor seating at the stern of the ship, or over to "Mammas" where they have additional seating as well. After a while I knew to just go over to Mammas and eat, as I gave up trying to hunt down a table. Also, at night they have a huge dessert presentation and on several nights have a chocolate bar - defiantly worth checking out!
The ship also has a 24 Hour restaurant that is free as well called the "Blue Lagoon". Their menu is pretty simple and never changes. You can get basic breakfast foods and standard lunch and dinner items - chicken fingers, hamburgers, etc. If you're looking for a late evening dessert and coffee fix then you should check out the Blue Lagoon.
Now let me touch on the topic of "bars" and "alcohol". They have a large assortment of bars and lounges on board, so you will find your hang out after a day or so if you're into that kind of "bar scene". One thing I will warn you about is the cost of the liquor is expensive. A glass of their house wine is $6.50 US plus they charge you a 15% gratuity on all alcoholic beverages. Keep that in mind as 15% can add up depending on what you buy. Granted, it's only around a dollar for a six dollar glass of wine, but that will catch up with you if you're ordering rounds of drinks. This is one thing I am going to recommend you factor into your travel budget. If you are a drinker or enjoy a few drinks it will in the end cost you.
As for entertainment onboard, I didn't spend much time in the showroom. My parents who were part of my travel party did go nightly and enjoyed the shows. Now mind you, these are not "Broadway" caliber performances, but if you're looking to be entertained the Stardust Theater will provide you with that. I will recommend seeing their acrobatic show and the magician, especially if you have kids. Those two shows were very enjoyable.
If you enjoy piano music then look for Lisa who performs at "Bar City" most evenings. I always referred to Bar City as the "Piano Bar", mainly because it reminds me of a piano bar. Nevertheless, she puts on a wonderful show. She has a great selection of songs and takes requests. If Lisa doesn't have the music to a song you're requesting, she will manage to find it and play it for you the next day. It was a joy sitting in the lounge before turning in and seeing her perform.
The ship also has a guitar quartet that performs in both Bar City and the Atrium. They are defiantly worth seeing as well.
All in all as a first time cruiser I enjoyed my week aboard the Norwegian Jewel. I had a great time and relaxed. To my dismay there are a lost of negative reviews of this ship. I gather they were written by a bunch of bellyachers who are difficult to please, or are trying to hustle some free goods from the cruise line. I assure you, do not let these peoples adverse comments persuade you. For what I spent for this trip and what I received I was more than satisfied! I plan on cruising with Norwegian Lines again have and will continue to recommend this Jewel to friends and family.
Frankie & the Cruzers'2010