This was our fourth cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL): we had sailed on the Norwegian Wind in 1998 to the Caribbean; on the Norwegian Dream in 2002 to South America through the Magellan Straits; and again in 2002 to Hawaii and Fanning Island, Kiribati on the Norwegian Star. We found that the Norwegian Jewel is very similar to its sister ship the N. Star in many ways. The extensive use of fine woods and the implementation of bold primary colors is also evident on the Jewel. There is nothing old fashioned or pastel about her, no mauves or pinks here, but rather striking jewel tones like emerald green interspersed with fuchsias and royal purples.
The Freestyle manner of cruising allows passengers to create their own daily schedules, and it seems to be very popular with cruisers. No more are there one or two formal nights --- rather each passenger may have a formal night any night, or just skip the whole rigmarole and go casual for the entire cruise. On NCL we are all free to cruise the way we prefer.
EMBARKATION Miami on Sunday is the best day to sail, if not traffic can be horrendous. We arrived in port at noon and dropped off our luggage with no trouble. We went straight to the check-in counter for suites, which was quick. We then had to wait twenty minutes for a steward to push the wheelchair on board. It was good we waited, since the distance from check-in was almost the length of the ship over a noisy metal ramp. Once in our mini suite, we realized the first difference between NCL and other lines is we can skip a visit to the Maitre D' since there is no need to choose a table for every night in the dining room. Our boat drill assembly station was the Tango's Restaurant, Deck 8 midship, so we also had the opportunity to make a week's worth of dinner reservations at the onset of our cruise. Reserve early and choice of times and venues across the ship will be yours. (More on dining later under FOOD & SERVICE).
SHIP The Norwegian Jewel is just over one year old. She entered service August 2005 and made her maiden voyage on Aug. 10, 2005. She is 965 feet long and beam is 106 feet, which makes her Panamax. Her draft is 28 feet and gross tonnage is 93,502. She is powered by Diesel Electric Generators, propelled by Bow Thrusters, fixed propellers and 2 ABB Azipods, which give a great maneuverability to the ship. There are 12 guest decks and guest capacity is 2,376 double occupancy with a crew of 1,185. This is a very good passenger to crew ratio of about 2:1. The ship's cruise speed is 25 knots. This trip we spent some of our most uncomfortable days on the Atlantic Ocean ever, due to high seas (7 to 12 ft.). First night on -- Mary was ill, and the next day we missed the Loyalty party for Latitudes members. The Jewel has cell phone service and Freestyle dining, which promotes open seating; thus, there is no longer early or late seating, but rather anytime seating for meals.
The following is a quick overview of the ship; unfortunately details of artists and their decorative works were not available to us, but several specific items are so beautiful they should not be missed, so we will mention them here.
Decks 1 through 3 are not public.
Deck 4 has the Medical Center and staterooms. This ship is very health conscious with sanitizing equipment (balls with antibacterial solutions for disinfecting hands) placed everywhere: at the entrance to elevators, restaurants, the theatre, public rest rooms and anywhere passengers congregate.
Deck 5 has staterooms and forward the Stardust Theatre --- a lovely opera style room with balconies on Deck 6 & 7. Deck 5 has wheelchair reserved seats in the rear, but we preferred Deck 7 in the rear, near the exit.
Deck 6 is all public areas --- forward is the Stardust, going toward midship is the Jewel Club Casino --- by far one of the roomiest casinos afloat, no crowded tight areas here. Next is the Corona Cigar Club, which accommodates up to 11 people --- hand rolled cigars, fine cognacs and liquors. Then, there is Le Bistro French Restaurant. This room is a mini art gallery with copies of works by Renoir, Degas, Matisse etc. There is a life size bronze statue of a French woman leading the people to victory, inspired by a famous painting of the French Revolution. Behind our table was a celebration picture of crowds marching down the Champs Elysee: a veritable explosion of the tricolor: red, white and blue!
Next is Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar (with tiny bubbles changing colors.) The rest of Bar Row is Shakers for cocktails and malts with a huge copper still. Mid ship is the Azura Restaurant and aft is the most beautiful room on board, the Tzar's Palace Main Restaurant. This room is reminiscent of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The green Malachite Columns, the white and gold walls and a portrait series of long gone Tzars and Tzarinas all culminate in a lovely atmosphere. The finials on the balustrade are Faberge eggs and add charm. But, of course in Quarenghi's reconstruction of the Malachite Room at the Hermitage in the 1790's, all the real malachite was gone, except for the magnificent fireplace and it huge vases and the grand pedestal malachite bowl in the center of the room. Thus, the Jewel's green columns are fine replicas of the ones now in the Hermitage.
Deck 7 forward is the Stardust Theatre, the Karaoke Rooms; midship is the Fyzz Lounge and Chin Chin Asia Restaurant. At midship going toward aft is the Crystal Atrium with its two huge tusk shaped crystal sculptures with scrimshaw like carvings (very apropos, since sailors first did these types of carvings on whale bones and ivory). There are two smaller ones over the Reception Desk. The ceiling has icicles hanging like crystal stalactites, it is very interesting and complements the standing crystal tusks. There is a huge screen on the upper far wall over the Java Cafe` Bar, which projects constantly changing touristic scenes from around the world. This is a nice meeting place, due to its central location and the bar offerings of coffee, pastries and a variety of drinks. Going toward aft, there is the Photo Gallery, the Art Gallery and the Internet Cafe and finally the Galleria Shops --- reasonably priced.
Deck 8 is mostly staterooms, except from the mid elevators to the rear elevators, where the Blue Lagoon ( great fish & chips and crispy potato peels) and Tango's Tapas Latin Restaurant are located.
Decks 9, 10, and 11 are all staterooms, mini suites and suites.
Deck 12 & 13 are all public areas: i.e., the Garden Cafe` Buffet with so many service islands, that there are hardly any lines at all. Here are also the Teen Club Underground, Video Arcade, and the Splashdown Kid's Club. Toward aft here is the Ice Cream Bar (Vincent's favorite haunt) and Mama's Italian Kitchen (the decor is nice, but the food is still being tweaked after the menu change).
In the Garden Buffet there is a section reserved for children; let it be said, the child size accommodations do nothing for the prestige of a whole adult family sitting down there with one 12 year old child the size of an adult. Forward are the pools, and the Top Sider Bar. Also located here are located the Card Room and the bright Library, with comfortable yellow chairs and huge copper vases with green cymbidium orchids, but alas, it is only open with access to books from 9 - 11 am.
Deck 13 has Basket Ball and Tennis Courts and a lovely chapel with stain glass windows which seats 24.
Decks 14 & 15 have the very private Courtyard Villas and Suites.
There are a total of 10 Restaurants, 13 Bars & Lounges, 2 Swimming Pools and 6 Hot Tubs.
FOOD & SERVICE Captain Tommy Stensrud has a very informative and gracious staff. Hotel Director Calvin Lodge cordially spent some time with us discussing the Jewel and her amenities. He arranged for us to meet Executive Chef Markus Reichl, from near Heidelberg, Germany, who is responsible for implementing the new menus. This is a huge task and he is doing a great job. We are fortunate to see these changes in NCL early on. We also met the very accommodating Restaurant Manager Victor Da Silva, who literally travels back and forth between all ten restaurants, plus several other venues like the snack bars, grills and coffee shops. He certainly knows his ship's offerings. We also spoke with Food & Beverage Director Denis Prguda. All of these very busy men kindly took time to discuss on board facilities with us. We really appreciate them all.
We feel that the new menus are just coming together and there are still some kinks to work out, but we have the feeling that there is great improvement in the right direction. There were flashes of brilliance, like the Gnocchi with Gorgonzola, arugula and watercress, and the apple fritters for dessert in the Tzar's Palace (seats 552) at lunch. The Azura Restaurant on Deck 6 (seats 310), it is a modern hotel style dining room, but it lacks the charm of the Tzar's Palace.
Cagney's Steak House ($15 cover charge per person, seats 176) walls have pictures of Calamity Jane and Cagney as prisoner # 15595. It is striking with Black and Red leather decor and carpeting with red and gold bulls' eyes. Very large white Shonwald German plates with gold rims are used. Appetizers we enjoyed were Oysters Rockefeller and Jumbo lump crab cakes; the N.E. Clam chowder which was excellent, and so was Cardini's Original Caesar Salad served with extra anchovies. Mary ordered the Surf and Turf after the Maitre D' Ramona told us the lobster had just come on board and was alive and kicking! No frozen tails here. It was excellent as was the filet of beef. Vincent enjoyed his 12 0z. veal chop, cooked to perfection, and Cagney fries. Dessert was NY Style Cheesecake and Mocha Creme Brulee`. We had excellent service from Jason and Philippe.
Le Bistro French Cuisine ($10 - $25 per person, seats 129), has a lot of ambiance with the voice of French songbird, Edith Piaf ("the little sparrow") in the background. Appetizers included Terrine de Foie Gras, Lobster & Scallop Martini (Yes, it is served in a huge martini glass, but no gin in sight!) and Moules Mariniere (Steamed Mussels in Sauvignon Blanc). Vincent had the Watercress Veloute` with frogs legs; he said it was good and Mary took his word for it, but declined to share it. She stuck with the traditional French Onion Soup --- AhAh! When the entrees arrived the waiters counted : Un, deux, trois, "Viola`" and the plates were simultaneously uncovered! Vincent had the Filet Mignon and Beef braised short ribs --- excellent. Mary tried the Canard a` l'orange (Duck). Then, we finished with Creme Brulee` and Apple Tartin. All served by the friendly Daniel and Corina. Maitre D' Elena was so kind she said call me and I'll make room for you any time. But, there were so many venues yet to try, and not enough time in the week.
Teppanyaki ($20 per person, seats 32) Japanese cooking show is a nice way to eat light. Chin Chin ($10, seats 158) the Thai/Chinese food venue serves a great shrimp and vegetable tempura, Pot Stickers and Spring Rolls. The Chinese Corn & Crab Soup was delicious. We had Sweet and Sour Shrimp, Beef & Broccoli and Sea food Fried Rice and delicious Banana Spring Rolls for dessert. To complete the Taste of Asia dining venue there is also the Sake Bar, where sushi and sashimi are served.
We found that food and service around the ship to be very good. The choices of venues are so many that we rarely ate in the same venue more than once. Every day it was always something new and different.
CABIN Mini Suite #11070 has a long nice entrance; however, it is a bit smaller than mini suites on most of the ships we have been on. Entering on the right is a nice compact bath with a full tub with shower, and the commode is separated by a sliding door. There is a single sink with a lighted mirror and shelves for personal toiletries. Then there is a triple armoire; one section had drawers, the other two were with hangers. There is a queen bed with two night shelves with reading lamps. There is also a large hide-a-bed sofa and a coffee table.
When entering on the right there is a seascape painting, plus a very narrow full length mirror. There is a mural of exotic lilies and next a vanity/desk with lighted mirror and three drawers, one with a hair dryer, then a refrigerator and mini bar and a cabinet with a personal safe. The colors are maroon, green and pink, but the corker is the watermelon slice carpeting. The Stewards, Richard Espino & Vincent Ponce aimed to please. We asked Richard to remove the heavy (20 lb easy) white puff and to just put a top sheet on. We Floridians haven't used quilts in a Blue Moon. The balcony is narrow and deep with a recliner, a chair and tiny table. It is well covered with a broad over hanging roof.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Paul Baya (he has a nice voice and sings well) has all the usual balls in the air and juggles them well --- Trivia, Bingo, Casino Tournaments, Pool side games, etc.... The shows were on a par with other lines and some better. The Monday night show, "Band on the run", featured the wonderfully athletic Jean Ann Ryan Co. dancers. There was only one problem, the singing was much too loud, it hurt the ears. There were people covering their ears. We were in the last row of the balcony and still it was overwhelming. A sound check would solve this.
"The Second City" ensemble was terrific in two shows of improvisation. Their work was witty; the puns and word spinning were excellent. "Cirque Bijou" (Jewel) is a newly introduced spectacular show with everything it takes for a hit: Beautiful dancing girls, Strong handsome men, excellent singers and awe inspiring acts. Bravissimi!
The musical entertainment throughout the ship has been great, from the pool side performances of the Caribbean Wave to the ballroom dance music of the "Jewel Show Band" and various piano bar music. The Star Bar featured Eric Lilley, who took requests willingly: Louis Armstrong, Henry Mancini and many others. Mr. Lilley is excellent on piano and has a nice voice. There is plenty to do on board and lots to do and see in the Ports of Call.PORTS OF CALL
Day 1. Miami, FL, USA Depart 4:00pm
Day 2. At sea
Day 3. San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive 12:30pm Depart 7:00pm A pod of dolphins were frolicking in the harbor all day between the Norwegian Jewel and RCI's Explorer of the Seas. An interesting excursion includes the visit to the Bacardi Rum Distillery and the San Juan city tour, with a stop at the San Cristobal Fort.
Day 4. St. John's, Antigua Arrive 9:00am Depart 6:00pm Several excursions are offered including 4x4 Island Safari, snorkel, swim with the Stingrays, Catamaran Sail, etc....
Day 5. St. Thomas, USVI Arrive 8:00am Depart 4:00pm This is a great place for shopping. For beach lovers it is imperative to go to Magen's Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Day 6. At sea
Day 7. Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas Arrive 8:00am Depart 4:00pm This is NCL private island with beaches, water sports and a barbecue. Parasailing is becoming very popular. From the balcony we admired people sailing 300 - 400 feet above the turquoise blue water of the cay. It must be a spectacular view from above.
Day 8. Miami, FL, USA Debarkation begins at 8:00am
DEBARKATION Concierge Alexander Forbes kindly sent us notices of perks all week; but, on debarkation day, he went one better and sent us a steward to help us with the wheelchair. This was greatly appreciated and made our landing perfect. Thanks! There is early debarkation for those who want to carry off their own luggage --- something to which we never aspire --- we like to find it by the exit and get a porter, if possible. Passport and customs were well organized, and we were off by 9:00am in only 30 minutes. NCL well done!
CONCLUSIONS The difference between a cruise on a NCL ship and one on ships of other cruise lines is mainly the Freestyle Dining. We had done Freestyle Dining before, but we feel that NCL is getting better at it: This time we did not see long lines of passengers waiting to be seated in any of the restaurants aboard the Jewel. Early reservations to any of the alternative restaurants allow the manager to better coordinate the service in all dining venues and allocate more workers where needed, thus, running a smooth program. Which system do we like, the freestyle dining or the traditional one? It is hard for us to choose, we like both of them. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It's to go with the flow and enjoy what is available and different on whichever ship we are on. This is the reason why we have never had a bad cruise, we enjoyed them all: eventhough, some cruises may have been more memorable than others.
The overall quality of the food has been much better than what we had experienced on earlier NCL cruises; however, there were some dishes which could be definitely improved; i.e., the gnocchi in Mama's Kitchen did not meet our expectation, they were heavy and chewy, while the gnocchi in the Tzar's Palace were lighter than air, just as our mothers used to make them, heavenly delicious! One excuse for this discrepancy was that new menus were introduced only a week ago, and the chefs are still new to some items. We suggest in this case that the chefs in Mama's Kitchen should contact their colleagues at the Tzar's Palace for improving their recipe for gnocchi.
Our next cruises will be in the Western Caribbean on the Queen Mary II, Dec. 9th 2006 and in the Eastern Caribbean on the Voyager of the Seas, Jan. 20th, 2007. Happy Cruising!