Jewel Jan 3, 2010 - Jan 10, 2010
This was my 5th cruise, 4th on NCL having previously sailed the Sky (before she was the POA), the Dawn & the Gem. It was DH's 2nd cruise, all on NCL. We had gotten engaged on the Gem two years ... Read More
Jewel Jan 3, 2010 - Jan 10, 2010
This was my 5th cruise, 4th on NCL having previously sailed the Sky (before she was the POA), the Dawn & the Gem. It was DH's 2nd cruise, all on NCL. We had gotten engaged on the Gem two years earlier and were on board to celebrate that anniversary.
Embarkation was awful. We arrived at the pier around 1 pm hoping to be behind all those people who had to be first on board. Usually that is a good time to arrive but not this time. The line still snaked out of the building. We made it through the 1st turn but the man ran out of the health questionnaire forms and said we could get them inside. When we got inside the reps were annoyed because we hadn't filled out the forms we didn't have. When we were about 10 people away from the x-ray machines the system broke down. All we were told was that there were problems with the computers. We could see people milling about down the hall but that line wasn't moving either. It took about 45 minutes -1 hour to straighten out. To TSA's credit they were letting ship's personnel through and were letting people through to the bathrooms but you had to come back out again. They also relaxed the no cell phones rule but still wouldn't let you take pictures.
Later at our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet I asked the hotel director, John O'Hara, what happened. He explained that the Jewel usually follows another NCL ship that ports on Saturday but there was a problem and an RCL ship used that space the day before. That must have been fun for the RCL folks to see all the NCL fishes & signs for freestyle everywhere. Anyway, according to him, the RCL folks sailed off with the computer cables. While I enjoyed meeting John his explanation didn't make much sense. They had obviously already boarded several hundred passengers so what cables did they use for that and why did the system suddenly stop? A fellow passenger who had gotten on board said they were having problems earlier too and only had 5 computer stations open for distributing sign and sail cards and setting up the on board accounts. We felt bad for the harried staff but the passengers were very cooperative the whole time, at least that we saw. Those lucky few who made it through got to have the ship all to themselves for some extra time.
This was our 1st experience with the "new" liquor / corkage policy. When you go through the detectors, if they see a bottle in your carry on you are directed to a table off to the side. There you show the staffer your bottles & they write out what you have & charge you corkage billed to your cabin but you keep the bottles. It appears as a dining room charge. This was much better than having ships personnel cart them away and return them later. Previously I was unable to get my champagne back for sail away so I stopped trying to bring any on board.
Especially, after the annoying embarkation, we were surprised that there wasn't champagne waiting. It wasn't until we came back & read the boards here that we learned that NCL stopped the complimentary welcome glasses. What a shame.
The ship itself:
The dEcor looked like every other NCL ship . . . same furniture, similar carpets, identical wood veneer. Our balcony cabin could have been on the Dawn, the Gem or the Jewel. The layout was also the same. If you have been on one, you can find everything on the Jewel. There is no rock wall or bowling.
The beds were comfortable. The bathroom is large enough. They have a nice feature where you can slide a door to the toilet so even though it's tiny 2 people can use the bathroom at the same time. I wish they would add a drawer for papers under the vanity. The lighting in the cabin is also too yellow for applying makeup.
We do like the wheel attached to the cabins. You can use it to ask the steward to make up your cabin, turn it down or leave you alone. The steward also spins it back to welcome when finished. Our cruise had lousy weather so we were in the cabin a lot. I only saw the stewards twice in the hall but when I left them notes, they provided what we requested: ice, a corkscrew, more room service menus etc. They were kind enough to make 3 towel animals for us; the monkey hanging from the ceiling scared me when I opened the cabin door that night (lol). I don't understand why they shut the blinds every time.
The food was OK. I'm a food snob so it's hard to make me say Wow!
Room service was served as hot as possible (meaning warm when it got there) but they were prompt. I didn't appreciate the server who insisted that she come into our cabin to set the tray down. I made my husband answer the door after that & when he said "my wife is still in bed" they simply handed him the tray. The fruit all over the ship was out of season & less than succulent but that's Mother Nature not NCL.
We ate in the two main dining rooms. Tsar's Palace was nicer and more elegant but Azure was simply more convenient.
The only specialty restaurant we tried was Le Bistro. I liked the old menu better. My duck confit was tough which was disappointing. I wish they would bring back the braised beef ribs; I loved that! We had been sent a bottle of wine by an officer and they gave us the "complimentary" wine list but we couldn't find a wine to agree on so I asked for the real wine list. Previously, on other ships when we did that they just deducted $25 or $30 from the price of our better / more expensive bottle but this time they charged us full price. It was still an amazing bottle of wine that had aged beautifully on board & was magnificent for its age as a result so I can't really complain.
The action stations at the buffet in the Garden Cafe were fine. They had the same food on both sides of some but there were differences on the others. NCL did go a bit cheap on the cheese. There were now only 2-3 kinds of cheese & neither was flavorful. You could also only get hot dogs and hamburgers out by the pool. On the other cruises they served pizza and sandwiches there too and we missed that because we didn't always want to walk all the way to the back of the ship from our cabin all the way forward to get a snack.
I guess my biggest complaint were the desserts, they just weren't as good as past cruises. Even the ice cream tasted more like ice milk to me. Also the chocolate buffet was not great; they had about 7-10 different desserts but that was it. The few sculptures were smaller than before but they were intricate & beautiful. I actually liked the smaller ones because I always though that was a waste of food. There were rarely any other food carvings.
Maltings became our favorite bar. We were able to watch all the football games, see the comings & goings, as well as enjoy from a distance the band near Magnums on the other side of Bar City. I wish they had shown some of the games on the jumbotron in the main lobby above the Java cafe because the 2 big screen TVs at Maltings just weren't big enough. Big Al, the bartender, was wonderful and although I was never able to catch his name the waiter is Maltings is a doll. He has an infectious smile & a dry sense of humor.
The Western Caribbean ports were what I expected and I didn't care for them. We booked independently and just had the worst luck. I was pleasantly surprised in Costa Maya. Somebody explained that they were still rebuilding after a previous hurricane. They did a terrific job. There are shops & a piazza. Inside there is a wonderful pool, with a swim up bar. They also built a "beach" area with lots of day beds, some hammocks etc. We couldn't quite figure out if you could get in and out of the water but it was still a lovely idea for those who would like to get off the ship but who don't really want to take an excursion. Other ports of call should take lessons.
Our cruise was filled with college students. For the most part they were fun, energetic, polite, young people who were enjoyable to spend time with. We did see one unfortunate boy who seriously over indulged in Costa Maya. He was transported back to the ship unconscious where he was met by the ship's doctor. He managed to vomit just outside the gangway so we know he lived. Although they were vertical, his friends weren't in much better shape. The last two days we had some rough sailing due to the weather; I'm sure those kids were rather miserable.
The Jewel offered a Pub Crawl. For $25 per person you visit 5 bars & have 6 drinks. They usually get about 25-30 people to participate. Given this demographic they had 96 participants which shocked even NCL. It was a boisterous group. It was so much fun they even had a reunion! I was surprised that I didn't hear more complaints about this. We got noisy. At various points, two different musical acts aboard ship stopped playing because the pub crawlers drowned them out. We saw a few unhappy faces on a few parents when the pub crawl invaded the normally PG rated karaoke in the Fizz lounge. Overall Dan Olsson, our host for this event, and his assistant, "Tequila Chat," did a fantastic job keeping this group together. Some of the trivia they asked was hard. To keep people from shouting out answers rather than being called on, "violators" had to do 10 push ups or pay $10.
I understand the White Hot Party was a blast. I packed and wore a special outfit but wasn't feeling all that well the day after the 1st Pub Crawl (go figure) so I conked out before it began. My husband had a great time.
The on board comedian, Tim Kaminski, is very funny. I don't generally like comedians but went to his show for my husband. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. As part of his act Tim makes fun of a previous passenger who helped herself to the entire serving bowl of broccoli at the buffet; I don't want to spoil the rest of it for you. Being the prankster that he is, my husband along with a little help from the Hotel Director, John O'Hara, arranged for a large bowl of broccoli to be delivered to the comedian at 4 a.m. Via e-mail we understand that this "tradition" is continuing Poor Tim.
We didn't get to see the Circus show because we didn't get there early enough. Even the standing room was packed, so we left. At one minute to show time, the VIP section was still completely empty. We think they should have let the passengers in attendance use it at that point.
Cat's Pajamas is a wonderful acappella group that even manages to sound like the instruments. It turns out we had previously had dinner at Tapanayki with Grant Hendrickson from the show on our Gem cruise in January of 2008. It was nice to see him again and we wish him & his fellow performers well on their upcoming tour in Branson, MO.
Que Hundermark, the Cruise Director, is also very funny. He & Tim look a bit alike so they use that to their advantage. Normally I find Cruise Cirectors to be over bearing and I spend my time aboard avoiding them. Que wasn't obtrusive at all. He does make this weird sound - chica chaca - when he ends his announcements. That got old fast; I can only imagine how grating that noise must be to his fellow crewmates who have to hear it week after week.
There were a few downsides.
They have a "new" towel policy. No more honor system. You get two pool towels in your cabin & that's it. They will replace them as needed but they will charge you if they aren't there at the end. You also have to sign out towels if you want extras.
They raised the prices of the specialty restaurants and no longer offer 2 for 1 specials for late night diners. The last night the waiters from Le Bistro, which was empty, were bargaining with passengers at Bar City for reduced covers. NCL also added covers to the Mexican place and the Italian place. That is the cheapest food ever but NCL wants you to pay. It's not worth it to me especially since the Italian food is sooooo bland. If they had garlic on our cruise it certainly didn't end up in my food. The best flavors were the Indian and Jamaican dishes.
They now hold the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater in a for pay restaurant so even that is not free anymore.
The new "BAGS" program where for $19.99 per bag they will deliver your bags to your airline still has a few kinks. One of our Cruise Critic friends lost her luggage but between NCL & her airline they finally found it. She did say NCL offered to send somebody to the airport to help look which was very proactive on their part.
I suppose the worst thing was the ports & shopping stuff. It was such a scam. They were pushing the same jewelry and the same stores all the time. We really want to know how much of a kickback NCL gets from these recommendations. If they aren't getting paid we can't think of a valid reason to continue to annoy passangers like this. It is very obnoxious but with a little effort not too hard to avoid.
Disembarkation went as smoothly as possible. It's never pretty. Once outside we met a great lady who runs a bus company. Her name is Harriet Quarles and her company is Harriet Quarles Transportation. Google her for contact information; cruisecritic gets picky about direct recommendations. She took us to the AP for $10 per person rather than the $25 plus tip a cab would have cost, so no matter if you are traveling alone, as a couple or with a group (for whom she will negotiate an even better price per person) and need to arrange transportation from the port to the airport consider giving her a call ahead of time. On our way out of the port we did pass two taxi accidents. We were happy to be in a bus. Read Less