This was our fourth cruise, all on NCL. We'd sailed before on the Sea (twice) and the Sun. We stayed overnight in the Biscayne Bay Marriot. The hotel was clean and convenient to the port the next morning. Our room was quite noisy due to the high winds that Miami was experiencing that evening, but we slept fine. We grabbed a bite to eat in the lounge and the service was quite slow but the food was good. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel (about $25) and again from the hotel to the pier the next morning (less than $10). Rating: B+
Embarkation: We got to the pier about 10:45 or so. We went through the non-latitudes line even though we were latitudes members as it was quite a bit shorter. We experienced quite a delay in getting checked in. There was either a problem with our passports when they scanned them, or a glitch in the NCL computer, but it kept trying to mix and match the information, such as birthdates, etc. between me and my husband. We finally got that settled, picked up our room cards, and grabbed a seat in the waiting room. We weren't allowed to board until about 12:15, so we did have about an hour wait. Rating: B-
Cabin: We were in an outside view, picture window cabin on deck 5, cabin # 5060. The room was fine for 2 people and also had a Pullman bed available. Well organized with plenty of storage space. A very nice hairdryer --- I didn't bother to take my own out of the suitcase. The bathroom was much larger than any of our previous cruises. There are sliding glass doors between the toilet area and the sink area, and another one between the shower and the sink area, so two people can use separate sections if necessary. The water was consistently hot with good water pressure. Our room stewards were very attentive and friendly, and we had towel animals on two different occasions. Rating: A
Food: The new menus hadn't been implemented for our cruise, so we were still working off the ones that came out in January, 2006. No chilled soups at dinner and not as many choices that appealed to us as on previous cruises. However, we always managed to find something that both sounded good and tasted wonderful. We ate all but one dinner in Tsar's Palace and joined some friends one night at Le Bistro. We also ate the majority of our breakfast and lunch meals in Tsar's Palace. There were only a couple of different breakfast menus, and probably more choice was available at the buffet. The lunch menus weren't particularly inspiring, but the chilled soups were available then. We ate at the buffet once for breakfast - very good waffles, and once at lunch. Overall, I'd rate the food a B.
Wait staff service: The service can probably best be described as inconsistent. We had one waitress who gave us excellent service at dinner one night, and ended up again with her at lunch the next day. We spent quite a bit of time visiting with her at lunch and requested her again for dinner twice. The second time was also fine; the third night was not good. We had a group of 8 of us from our roll-call dining together, and someone finally complained to the maitre'd after we'd waited for over 20 minutes, with dirty appetizer plates in front of us, and no attempt by anyone to tell us what was going on. I know that several of the Jewel's staff had been transferred to the Pearl and there were 120+ new crew members on board, which probably contributed to the inconsistent service. Overall, B-, but due primarily to the large number of new crew on board.
Entertainment: We thought this was by far the best entertainment we have experienced on a cruise. The Jean Ann Ryan performers were wonderful. We totally enjoyed both Band on the Run and Cirque Bijou. The performance by Edge was also enjoyable. Second City wasn't as good - just OK. Rating: A-
Ship: The Jewel is a beautiful ship. We were conscious of many crew members cleaning, painting, and performing maintenance during the week, which contributed to her appearance. The Stardust Theater was much nicer than either of the two previous ships we'd been on, with comfortable seats and good viewing throughout. I think the pool deck is a little bit small for that many passengers, but we don't spend much time up there. Our favorite place on the ship was the outside seating on deck 7. There are comfortable chairs placed around that deck, which is the promenade deck, and we spent a lot of time sitting there, in the relative quiet, gazing at the ocean, reading and doing puzzle books, and dozing. Rating: A-
Excursions: This was our first time to the Eastern Caribbean, and we're not terribly interested in spending a lot of time at the beach. We ended up doing island tours in almost all of the ports. In San Juan, we grabbed a taxi and were given a tour of both new and old San Juan. The taxi driver did a great job, and we loved seeing the old forts and church that he took us to. Rating: A
In Antigua, we'd arranged a tour through Lawrence of Antigua, along with many of the other members from our cruise critic roll call. We were a little disappointed at the beginning of the tour. While the rest of our friends were seated in his new bus, my husband and I were sent off to a second van, as the bus was full. As our reservations had actually been made by another couple who were seated in the bus, I don't understand his rationale, as I think there were other passengers who weren't part of our group. In his defense, he probably didn't realize that we were traveling as a group, but splitting up a reservation for 4 people still doesn't make sense. The tour itself was fine, and the driver of our van provided us with good information. I also thought the ride in the van was quite uncomfortable. The roads in Antigua aren't in good condition, there was very little padding in our seat, and my back was quite sore after the tour from the amount of bouncing. After the island tour, we went to Turner's Beach. The beach was beautiful, they had adequate restrooms, but the food service was lousy. Rating: C+
We'd arranged a shopping/island tour with Godfrey in St. Thomas. We were picked up right outside the ship (actually by Sunny Liston - they appear to work together), and dropped off for a couple of hours of shopping. We then met up with Godfrey and boarded his safari truck for some sightseeing. The island of St. Thomas is absolutely gorgeous. We didn't choose to spend any time at the beach, which is an option, but instead returned to the ship. Great excursion! Rating: A
At Great Stirrup Cay, the private island, we were on the second tender over to the island. We joined up with our cruise critic friends, who had located a spot in the shade, and had a nice time visiting. We did wade out into the ocean (we're not interested in snorkeling) and enjoyed the BBQ lunch. There were several water toys available, but we weren't interested in any of the floats, etc. Rating: A-
Upon our return to Miami, we took the Everglades tour that was also a transfer to the Miami airport. This was the only excursion we arranged through NCL. We loved the airboat ride through the Everglades, and enjoyed the show and alligators on display. Nice end to a wonderful cruise. Rating: A
Disembarkation: Since we were taking an NCL excursion, we reported to the Stardust Theater at 8:30 to join our excursion. Apparently the stevedores at Miami had decided they didn't want to report for work until 8 AM, so there was almost an hour delay waiting to leave the ship. One of the shore excursion employees tried to keep us entertained - maybe he's envisioning a job as a cruise director someday? Rating: B, but not NCL's fault.
Overall, we had a very enjoyable cruise. We had a group of about 40 people in our roll-call, and enjoyed getting together with them at the sail-away party and again at the meet and greet. I'm not a beach person, but we definitely enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and, more than anything else, the experience of the cruise itself. We found this cruise to be the most relaxing one we've ever enjoyed and came home feeling very refreshed. Little things like service issues don't really bother us that much, and definitely did NOT ruin our cruise. I continue to thoroughly enjoy NCL's freestyle cruising and will be returning as soon as possible for another NCL cruise. Overall rating: B+