There were four of us on this cruise: husband/wife in 30s, grandma in 60s, and a 2 year-old.
Our mini-suite cabin was great. We liked our steward, and we were very comfortable.
The food was majorly disappointing on this cruise.
The organization of port days and shore excursions was not great.
Some staff members (restaurants, BINGO) made it a memorable cruise for the WRONG reasons.
Kids' activities for an active 2 year-old are not great. This is an under-served population.
Staring with the food...
We ate at The Garden Cafe a lot, and they had some good dishes, but the best part about this restaurant (which was always packed for every meal) is that you can go back and get something different if you don't like what's on your plate. So, your odds of leaving with a full-enough belly are pretty good. Breakfast is the best meal of the day, so fill up! It's also nice that they have cartons of milk at breakfast, so if your kid turns out to be like mine (he stopped eating on the cruise, and basically drank 5 bottles a day for sustenance), stock up your mini fridge.
We at at Tsar's Palace once. The fried chicken was not hot, and the panko crust was soggy on the bottom, as if it had been sitting in a steam tray. One of our pieces of fried chicken (leg/thigh quarter) was raw. Good thing we cut it open first! The server wasn't terribly apologetic or concerned. Just asked if we wanted anything else, and walked away when we said we didn't.
We ate at Azura twice. The first time was awesome. Our server was excellent, the food for three of us was excellent, and we were almost all very happy all around. Only my husband was disappointed with his 'striploin steak,' which was extremely fatty, not cooked properly, and cold. The second time was just OK, and we also had a creepy server who kept hovering between our table and our neighbor's, staring at our son. We were very used to extra attention over our little boy, and it was usually very sweet and welcomed, but this was extra creepy. Grandma told us not to worry about it at first, but then the guy just stood there for many, many minutes, staring and not saying anything, and not working... and finally, Grandma was swayed into thinking he was creepy, too. Plus, the food was not great -- the meat in the lasagne tasted like it was chopped up leftover previously-cooked steaks from the night before. (In fact, beef would be a continual disappointment on the cruise. We just didn't know it yet.) Desserts on both nights were pretty good!
We ate at Cagney's Steakhouse once, thinking we were in for a treat (at least that's what all the marketing would have you believe!). Well, their menus say they use "Certified Angus Beef," and then try to explain that it's "a cut above" Choice, Select and Prime rated cuts. Well, it must be a literal note about where the cuts come from on the cow, because they were not good steaks, and certainly not better than even Outback steakhouse (I wouldn't even begin to compare with Ruth's Chris, or other even better steakhouses out there). Once again, my poor husband had a super fatty ribeye, which was cold. My filet mignon, which I ordered well-done (and I'm used to being asked if it can be butterflied, and I'm familiar with the fact that steak lovers think I'm an idiot right now. You can have your opinions, but I don't like undercooked meat)... was served to me cooked RARE. I even took a picture, because I was so shocked. My husband, who orders all steaks medium-rare, was kind of grossed out by my steak. It was difficult to get someone to come to our table to check on us, but I eventually got the manager's attention and they took my meal off the bill. During dessert, the waiter came and asked my husband for his room card, so he could process our bill. My husband was eating an ice cream sandwich, and had ice cream on both hands. I told the waiter, "This isn't really a good time." And the water replied, "Take your time," and proceeded to stand right next to our table, staring at my husband. He fumbled for his card just to get the weirdo waiter to go away. I ordered oreo cheesecake for dessert, and it was a huge portion, but didn't taste great.
Also of note: every restaurant on this ship is 'all you can eat', and so you'd assume the same would go for these "specialty" restaurants, since they just say you're paying a "cover charge." However, at Cagney's, there's a note on the menu saying that each additional entree will come with a $10 charge. The first steaks aren't worth the $30/pp, folks, so don't bother ordering a second or a third. The side dishes were pretty good, and since those are limitless (and tiny portions), just order more of those if you feel you must try this restaurant.
We ate at La Cucina once. First, I'll say that the location of this restaurant was not the best, because it's right under some kind of sports deck. I would not recommend it for a romantic dinner -- we heard a group of people periodically trample loudly over our heads (basketball or running track, maybe?). In terms of food: for my son, I ordered the sausage and pancetta pizza, but minus the pancetta. The waiter told me the pancetta *is* the sausage. I had to politely explain to him that pancetta is not sausage, that it's an uncured Italian meat similar to bacon. When he continued to disagree with me, I firmly explained that " e pancetta" (from the menu) in Italian means sausage AND pancetta, so they're not the same thing. He finally wrote something on his pad and continued with our order. (End of discussion, I guess.) The pizza came out correct from the kitchen, but I wonder how a *specialty* Italian restaurant has waiters who don't understand the menu. Very frustrating. Once again, one of our party ordered a ribeye steak, and once again, it was super fatty, undercooked, and cold. It was returned by this person (who never, never complains about food), and the manager took the meal off our tab. At the end of the meal, we had to rush off to a show on the ship, and the manager was nice enough to send our desserts to our room so we could enjoy them later (after lecturing us about how there's normally a fee for the service -- at a restaurant you just paid for).
We had a reservation at Teppanyaki, but decided to cancel it the morning of, due to many factors (but partly because we weren't sure it would be worth $30/pp anyway), and we were not charged for the cancellation. This is a popular restaurant, so I'm sure they were able to fill our vacated seats.
Finally, on our last night, we ate at Chin Chin from the "free" (included in cruise price) menu. It was our favorite restaurant experience. The Char Siu noodle soup was a favorite, as were the pot stickers (fried or steamed) and sweet and sour pork. The orange peel beef was (you guessed it) strangely fatty and not great. The Kung Pao chicken was OK but too dry. The desserts we tried (coconut tapioca pudding with mango sauce, red bean and chestnut triangles) were very good. All in all, it was our favorite dinner experience. I'm actually glad we didn't get to go back -- we were able to end on a high note!
In terms of organization on the ship, as first time cruisers, we were a little bit clueless some of the time. So, here's a tip: listen to all announcements (channel 23 on our cabin's TV) and ready the Freestyle Daily cover-to-cover, or you could miss something. Restaurants were sometimes open for lunch, sometimes not. Their hours often changed daily. The Garden Cafe frequently closed as soon as everyone was getting back on the ship from a port. On our last shore excursion day, our disembarkation was delayed for an hour. And for that hour, hallways on the desk with a gangway were packed, and there were no cruise personnel acting as traffic cops. So, people were pushing/shoving in the elevator lobby. My husband grabbed ahold of my backpack so that we wouldn't be separated. Some random lady grabbed ahold of his backpack (oh jeeze, people!) and proceeded to pull him down backwards several times as the crowd moved us along. Where were the NCL people? Why wasn't there someone in the hallway saying that people needed to be orderly? Shouldn't they post personnel in the elevators, so that they prevent the lobby from being further cram-packed by panicked people on the elevators wanting to get off on the same floor? Shouldn't they have put people in a holding area until the whole situation was resolved? It was ridiculous, and to be honest, pretty scary. We were very disappointed with cruise personnel that day. Our cruise-sanction shore excursions ran over by an hour on two different occasions, so we were dropped off at the ship, and we had NO time to shop or do any individual sightseeing.
The BINGO games were another part of the cruise that were deeply disappointing. My mom won on one of the games (which is neither here nor there, but I call it out to show that we're not just bitter losers). The way they entice you to keep playing and buying more cards is their "big raffle" on the last day of the cruise. The prize is a free cruise for two (no other info was given). Many people were saying that it was very cheap of NCL not to provide any secondary/consolation prizes. How about a free towel folding DVD? How about a NCL Bingo shirt? How about a free latte? Honestly, we're not asking for a lot.. but why not make it more fun for more people? It all seemed very cheap.
In addition, one of their BINGO organizers was extremely sloppy and over-the-top at the mic, and many people in the room were upset by him. He went on and on and on about wanting to hook up with a woman from the US or Canada, making it very clear that it was for immigration reasons. (He also commented multiple times on how cute one of the guys in the audience was, so I'm not sure he's really into women, ladies.) He was disparaging to NCL, saying that he and another woman had been assigned together on another NCL ship (the Epic, I think?), and how they'd had an awesome time on that ship. Then, when they found out their new contract was on the NCL Jewel (a ship which we were all paying customers on, at that moment), they were super disappointed. He also talked at length about how he didn't need to take these contracts with NCL, and how he had a better job back home. Twice during the blackout BINGO game he was calling, a new number would appear on screen, and he never said it out loud. I'm not sure the older/visually impaired audience members even caught them, which seems extremely unfair. Since he doesn't seem to care much about his job, or enjoy it, and since he's intent in making the experience miserable/uncomfortable for everyone else, I'd highly recommend that NCL relieve him of his duties.
Back on the topic of being cheap: I took my son to the Nickelodeon SpongeBob and Patrick "Meet and Greet" -- which is just an occasion for your kids/family to pose with these special characters, so that you can buy the pics from NCL. The NCL staff bring carts of Nickelodeon-themed merchandise into the room and repeatedly try to get you to buy it for "half price." The SpongeBob walkie talkies were being sold normally for $20, and "half price" for $10. I turned them over, and there was a ROSS (the "Dress for Less" store!) sticker saying the price was $10. So, NCL went out and bought second-run stuff from Ross, to resell on their cruise, for twice the price? That's such a ridiculous rip-off. They were unashamed. They were further unashamed about their hard sell tactics -- one NCL staff member went around to every KID in the room and tried to get them to buy an "autograph book." Behind me, he tried to pressure a little girl into saying she wanted one. He said things like, "Don't you want one? Are you sure? EVERYONE ELSE has one! Don't you want one? Everyone has one, so you don't want to miss out." He said it so many times that when I realized he was talking directly to a little girl of 7-8 years old, I turned around and said, pointedly, that my son didn't have one, so clearly, not everyone has one, and maybe he should leave the little girl alone. It was disgusting salesmanship.
Regarding kids' programs: I was led to believe that I would be able to take my child, who is 2 years old, into the "kids' activities" as long as I stayed with him, which was great, since I didn't want to leave him anyway. However, as it turned out, we were not welcome *at all* in the Splash Academy room, and there are no "open hours" when we would be welcome at all. We were only allowed to use the "Guppies Playroom," which is a TINY space next to the kids' pool. Note: When your 2 year old passes by a kids' pool, he's not interested in the playroom on the other side, anyway. However, if you can get him there, he will be thoroughly disappointed at the tiny size, dark lighting conditions, and baby toys available in that space. It's really a baby play room (under 18 months), where parents can go for a little quiet time, where babies won't be trampled by older kiddos running around. Note that toddlers over 2 years old (for most kids) constitute a hazard for infants. We found the Guppies Playroom to be completely disappointing. The Guppies activities involved crayons and chalk, so your mileage may vary, but my son was totally uninterested. He wants to climb, run and jump. He wants to play with loud cars and throw things around. If he's doing art, he wants it to be paint, because it's messier than crayons/chalk. He is a totally under-served demographic on the NCL Jewel. He did LOVE the kids' pool, but we didn't love it so much when there were older kids creating chaos there (with no parental oversight, which should have been enforced).
I filled out the survey that NCL emailed to me a couple of days after our cruise. They don't ask the right questions, so it's hard to give a truly honest answer (e.g. they ask a multiple-choice question about timing of port days, but not the level of organization, or how happy we were with the shore excursions themselves). They asked you to rate the kids' program (multiple-choice) but don't offer space to elaborate, not even when you give a low score. At the end of the survey, there is ONE open-ended section for further feedback, but it's limited to 1,000 characters, so it's hard to give this level of detail. I hope NCL pays attention to this review (and I'm sure there are others) and makes some updates.
For now, regardless of how nice our cabin was, how nice our steward was, how friendly the majority of staff were, I would be very hesitant to try Norwegian again. I would definitely try out other cruise lines first. Read Less