NCL- JEWEL 9 day Caribbean review- 2nd Time around
I found it cheaper to fly into ft. Lauderdale (there was four of us), we got a private car at the airport to take us to the port, this was the cheapest way much, easier and less costly than the shuttle or a cab and easier then the light rail. Spit four ways it was $20PP including tip.
Embarkation: A piece of cake. NCL has online registration that includes e-tickets. You just print out the forms and have them checked at the pier inside the main building. At check-in I used the Latitudes line – it was short and moved fast. You go in the main terminal to hand in your pre-registration form and you will get your actual room key card, you then have a very short wait to get your photo taken upstairs and then you board the ship. I arrived at the pier at about 11:00am and was on board in less than 30 minutes, everything moved very fast. They welcome you on board with FREE champagne and OJ.
Cabins: I had an Inside Cabins on deck #9 in the aft(got a great price and saved a ton). It was a little smaller than other ships I have sailed, but well laid out and quiet; I did not notice any difference in the new 2.0 freestyle mattress upgrade. There where very few announcements piped into your cabin. The cabin was equipped with a small fridge, a combined his/her’s closet which I did not like as I enjoy the separate closet arrangement, and an easy to use room safe. There was a TV but it showed limited programming and had very poor selection. I missed the TV feature (on other lines) of being able to view my room bill and the daily dinning menu. The cabin bathroom was nicely laid out however; the “Commode” will be a problem if you are over 6ft tall as it sits at an odd angle. The shower was spacious (for a cruise ship) and it had a door instead of a curtain, which was also nice. You are supplied dispenser soap and shampoo but NO other amenities such as toothpaste, shaver, etc. (NCL should consider supplying the toilet accessories as they add a very nice touch).
Dining/Food: “Freestyle” cruising is the concept that NCL promotes and the idea is that you can dine wherever, whenever. What you need to know is that all this “Freestyle” comes with a not-so-FREE price tag. The only for free restaurants are the; garden café buffet (which has a SUPERB lunch selection that is the BEST of any ship I have ever sailed), the two main dining rooms (which have identical menus, just different décor/I thought the food in the dinning room was well above average and the service excellent except for the second night ( you have been warned) and the small blue lagoon snack area which is a hidden gem especially for breakfast. For any other restaurant you have to pay a fee, so much for FREEstyle. You have a choice of an Italian $10 fee (I did not eat there but all the reviews from fellow passengers said the food was not worth it. A Spanish/Mexican Tapas restaurant $10 fee (I ate there one night and it was not that good and not worth the cost, well below average) but the Margarita drinks at the tapas bar are good. For a cost of $15-$25 + per person you can eat at your choice of five other specialty restaurants (Le Bistro-French $20, Cagney’s-Steak house $25, Chin Chin-oriental fusion, a Sushi bar and a Japanese Teppanyaki place $20). Depending on what you order in these restaurants there may be an additional charge for the “upscale menu”, so your bill could be $45+ per person. I ate at Cagney’s the first night, it was very good and one night I ate at Le Bistro (I thought the food at Le Bistro was fabulous and the only one restaurant on board that might be worth the fee). The rest of the nights I ate at the dinning rooms, I would suggest perhaps one specialty restaurant and the rest in the main dinning rooms, just personal choice but this “for a fee” rubs me the wrong way, yet it is anytime or whenever but pay us. You can say all you want about a nice restaurant, but I paid for a cruise and do not want to get stiffed again. If you arrive in any of the main dining rooms between 6:30-7:30pm which are peak times expect to wait about 15 minutes, once again except for the 2nd night which had very long wait times in excess of 45 minutes. NOTE FOR PARENT WITH CHILDREN; there where about 400 kids on this sailing and the age range was 2-6 yrs old, PLEASE be considerate of other guest when bringing your kids into the dinning room and specialty restaurants, shame on the parents who allowed their kids to run around disturbing other guest and for us having to listen to kids scream, I also blame NCL who refused to press the good behavior required in the eating establishments, Enough said!
Public Rooms: Simply beautiful and YES Non-Smoking with the exception of the casino. This was my second visit to the Jewel and it was in tip-top condition. There was plenty of space to move around and you never felt crowded even with a full ship. The ship was designed with the 6th and 7th decks as the main hubs of activity, i.e. shops (located in the aft area), lounges, photo gallery, reception, etc. The Casino is located on deck 6 mid-ship, however unlike other ships where you have to walk through the casino to get to other public rooms, the casino has one entrance in and out, so if you are walking down the hall, you can enter the casino or choose to keep walking past it. Additionally, there is also a high wall blocking the casino from passenger view and preventing the smoke from filtering outside. The duty free shops on board were well stocked and I enjoyed window shopping. The gym was open 24hrs, but to use a sauna or a spacious bathroom you had to pay for the one to use in the spa – $20 per day! I found it outrageous that to use a sauna I have to pay a daily usual fee, so much for FREEstyle. Note: internet service prices are VERY high on the ship – $.75 per minute!
Entertainment: In the evening, you will a lot to keep you busy, from a piano and guitar player near the “Bar City,” to the highly popular and nightly “Karaoke” in the Fyzz Lounge(do not miss NCL idol contest), the disco played at the “Spinnaker ” on deck 13 at various times. There are also two other bands that played throughout the ship and supplemented the theme nights. The disco DJ was very accommodating in playing a variety of songs that I and other guest requested, so there was plenty to do and dance to. The shows on board were held at the very lovely Stardust theatre, however, as a frequent guest during all ship shows, I was very disappointed that I always had trouble getting a seat, I guess with a full ship you will need to get there early. Shows featured the usual dance musical, I did enjoy the comedian/juggler and the “cirque” show was a must-see! A nice new feature was on the last two sea days, open seminars hosted by the different performers where held, I attended the juggler seminar and learned a little, good and knowledgeable fun. In addition, I found the entire cruise staff very accommodating and just a fun group.
Excursions/Ports: I rarely take ship excursions, so I did all excursions on my own. Through Cruise Critic I met some wonderful people that I hanged with, about 43 of us went to ‘Playa Rincon” a very nice beach in Samana, do not waste your time with any snorkeling in Samana. In Tortolla many of us went to “The Baths” simple wonderful, and if you have a group of 10 you can rent a boat on the pier that will take you right to the beach for the same cost as “Speedy” which was a small hassle. The snorkeling at the Baths was fantastic and the island was great. In Antigua yet another group of us went kayaking and swimming at a private beach with South Horizons, very lovely place. In Barbados yet again some of us went to swim with the turtles with “Thriller” very interactive and everyone was talking about our experience, the other excursions in Barbados went to an area that was windy and not much visibility so they did not interact with the turtles. Finally in St Lucia, some us went with St Lucia Frank to the “natural mud Baths’ which where a hoot and then to Jalousie (think I spelled it wrong) where I might have experienced the best snorkeling in my life. To all the CC folks I met, I hope to see you all again it was a real pleasure.
Activities: A variety of activities are offered throughout the cruise. From the usual trivia to the very Expensive Bingo (Bingo on this cruise is more like a poor investment choice rather than a lighthearted numbers matching game – cards for the games start at $39 and get into the $100s). The popular not-so-newlywed game, liars club, margarita and martini tasting (great deal for $15), etc. were all good fun. NOTE: Many of the people I met and hung out with had kids in the children activities and said how happy their kids where. Drink prices on the ship started at$9+, I do not drink beer but some of the guests informed me that that was the only good deal. The dinner wine bottle started at around $30 for a bottle that would cost $8 state side, someone is making money.
Disembarkation: You leave when you want to depending on your connecting accommodations. Breakfast buffet is open till 9:00am. Prior to disembarking – a day before – you get to pick a specific luggage tags color based on your transportation connections, and then you wait in your staterooms until your colored tags are called. You can also choose to self-disembark where you carry your own luggage off and are the first off the ship – I prefer this method rather than searching through piles of luggage and putting my bags outside my door the night before. Everybody does need to be off the ship by 10:30 so you can’t hang around that long. My disembarkation was smooth and quick – we were off the boat in less than 30 minutes and easily found a cab that took us to the airport. Note: I flew out of Miami airport vice Ft Lauderdale due to ticket pricing.
Overall Thoughts: I loved this ship and it had an itinerary that is not to be missed, in fact I loved it so much that I that I sailed the identical itinerary and ship! NCL is trying to promote and reward the latitudes members, however I was very disappointed by the way NCL keeps talking about “FREEstyle 2.0” whenever/whatever yet is nickel and dimming passengers on every turn – shame on NCL when they could become tops in the industry. I personally LIKE NCL and I think this FREEstyle has something to it but I just think it needs to be better though out! Tipping at the end of the cruise follows the standard of it being automatically added to your room bill each day. All this talk about lack of service since tips are automatically charged to your room is just not true! The entire staff from the busboys to the officers seemed very friendly-everybody had a smile and was willing to help. Bottom line, I would not hesitate to recommend this ship or NCL to anybody, pack your bags and book this itinerary! Post your comments