We recently sailed on the NCL Jewel to the Caribbean. The dates of the cruise were March 11th through the 18th, and it was our second "Freestyle" cruise.
We had previously cruised with NCL (on the Sun) to Alaska and loved the flexibility that Freestyle cruising offers. When we go on vacation, the idea of any kind of schedule goes against the grain. Also, we no longer enjoy formal attire and prefer casual clothing; dressing up means Dockers and a golf shirt for him, and slacks and a blouse for me. On NCL, while you are very welcome to dress formally in the evening, it is not a requirement.
The Ship The Jewel is lovely, with bright, bold colors. However, we missed the beautiful and dramatic staircase and the rear-glass elevators the Sun offers. Since we are in our sixties, and prefer sedate surroundings, we were a little concerned about the number of children on board and how that might affect our "solitude" – but between the parents and the NCL staff dedicated to caring for the children – it was never an issue at all.
The Restaurants The many restaurants (and the variety of food offered) on the Jewel are outstanding – and better than the Sun. Of the two main restaurants, we both favored Tsar's over Azure. The food is the same but there was a significant difference in the level of service provided. Our favorite restaurant – both in terms of the food and the superior service – was Cagney's. Our server was Philip Gonzalves and anyone fortunate enough to be seated in his area is in for a real treat. We enjoyed the sushi bar, too and it offers a great value to sushi lovers – all you can eat for $15.00 a person. The sushi is a little different from what we've become accustomed to, but delicious nonetheless. The buffet was always an option when hunger pangs struck – and the food was always very good.
Service If we compare the service level of the Jewel to that of the Sun, the Sun wins. The overall service we received on the Jewel, with a couple of exceptions, was very good – but on the Sun it was outstanding. On two different evenings, both at dinner in the main dining rooms, we found the service, while not poor, definitely lacking. Our room steward – Ador Capistrano – was excellent and we loved the animals formed from towels that we found on our bed – or in one case, hanging from the ceiling - in the evenings!
Itinerary and Shore Excursions Our ports of call were San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. John's, Antigua, St. Thomas and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. Though we had signed up for shore excursions for both San Juan and Antigua, the weather conditions prohibited them and they were canceled. As a result, we didn't see very much beyond 10-square blocks near the dock area in those ports. In St. Thomas we went to Megan's Bay. The weather was threatening when we first arrived at the Bay, and we even had a little rain, but the sun finally broke through and it was a lovely morning.
On the way back to the ship we were offered the option to be dropped off at an open air souvenir market, which we chose to do. After shopping for a short time, we walked back to the ship. It was a far longer walk than we'd expected and we would elect to take a taxi if we did that again; our beach sandals were not made for 2 mile walks. On the positive side, we got some great photographs on the walk! Our last port was Great Stirrup Cay, in the Bahamas, which is NCL's privately owned island. The island is small but it is quite beautiful. Once again, the weather worked against us, however. We took a tender from the ship to the island and back. (We would recommend anyone wishing to go ashore get their tender tickets early as there are only two tenders and hundreds and hundreds of people wishing to get on them.)
The day itself was sunny and lovely but the winds made the sea quite rough which made transitioning from the ship to the tender or visa versa far more difficult. The crew became concerned as the sea became progressively rougher and as a result, the time we spent on the island was cut short.
There certainly seemed to be amply activities for the passengers, though we usually opted not to participate. Though I love to read and normally take several books with me when I travel, I was personally delighted that they also offered a lovely library on board.
Neither of us would choose to repeat this particular itinerary, but we most definitely have become loyal to NCL, and would return to the Caribbean in a heartbeat.
Our cabin was small(pictures will be posted shortly in the gallery) and it was a tight fit with beds put together. The bathroom was ok but you do not get a bar of soap unless you ask the steward for one. NCL uses the dispensers in the shower and by the sink. They dispense shower gel and shampoo but no conditioner.
Because my in laws had concierge service, we were able to get V.I.P. treatment on both embarkation and disembarkation. A tip of the hat to Alex who made that part easy going.
Food- Basically, that was pretty good in most cases. As to the specialty restaurants, Le Bistro was tops, followed by Teppanyaki, Cagneys Steakhouse. We ate in those because the rule on ship was that if you were seated before 6:30pm you paid half fee. A policy that pleased us.
We also ate at Mamas Italian and Tangos Tex/Mex. be forewarned that portions at all restaurants are not huge but you can always order more. NCL got smart and realized that much food was being wasted with big portions. Also be aware that a dish on the menu may not come out looking or tasting as you would expect here in the states. Monday night was lobster night so we ate in the Tsars dining room. I had a nice steak while the rest of the table ate 3 lobster tails each. Smallish but good. The Blue Lagoon was a nice place to stop off in the afternoon for a snack of fish and chips, or chili or potato skins. The Garden Grill up on 12 was very good for breakfast and was never really crowded.
We were given a gift of a soda card that goes for $40. Usually when the waiter saw an empty glass they refilled the soda without asking.
Tours- This was the sticking point because no matter how much we read, we were abashed by the higher than expected temperatures (90 each day), and the amount of walking, even on tours rated a 2. We did the half day Mt Etna tour in Messina, but be aware that it is 2 hours up the winding round on the bus and the same coming down. We did the half day tour of Herculaneum in Naples. This was very enjoyable but its tough walking on the cobblestone streets that are 60 feet down from current street level. For Rome we took the classical tour which took in the Colisseum, Forum , and after lunch, St Peters. Street vendors and peddlers annoy you as the tour walks along. Florence was beautiful but our tour guide was flying and it was hot.
When we first landed in Barcelona that first Sunday, the bus took us on a 3 hour tour of the city. This was done because we could not get on the ship until about 11am anyway and we saw a lot. We were staying over one day after the cruise and we booked the Hotel Colon in Cathedral Square. This was a good central point. Since we were so tired each day, we only saw one show-- Second City.
When we left Naples the Captain said we will be passing the island of Stromboli with its active volcano. On this night there was no lava flow but we saw orange flames at the top.
The happy ending to this was that on Monday at the art auction I won the raffle. I ended up with a nice lithograph by Sherri Bohlman and it cost only to have it shipped with a new frame and matting.
NCL does not spend the first day pushing its tours in the theater. Everything you want to know is on the TV.
Overall, it was an enjoyable but tiring week.