We, (my husband and I aged 56 and 55, British) originally booked the NCL Jewel cruise because of the itinery. We have previously sailed on the QE2 and so were unsure how "Freestyle" cruising would suit us. From Heathrow to Istanbul (remind me never to fly from HR again!) we docked at Izmir for Ephesus, Dubrovnik, Venice, Naples, Rome and Barcelona. We flew back to the UK from Barcelona.
First impressions were good -- the ship looked colourful and huge. Embarkation was fine and our cabin (inside on deck 9) though quite small, was adequate and clean. The bed was comfortable and suited us although we had to request additional softer pillows. The shower was powerful and spacious and although other critiques had said the hairdryers on the ship were powerful, I was not convinced they would be -- I thought they would be those silly little piped in dyers you get in some hotel rooms. However, the dryer was great -- almost professional!! Small things make me happy…... There was also a launderette on our floor and I think, a couple more dotted about on the ship. Four quarters for soap powder and then free use of washing machine and dryer -- there were also 2 x irons and boards. The rooms are small and always busy -- pick a shore day to use.
Customer base ranged from families -- there were quite a few teenagers and a couple of dozen younger children -- to couples of all ages. I was really quite surprised by the average age profile -- younger than I expected. There seemed to be many different nationalities on board but mainly Americans and Brits.
Lounges and Bars Bar City was a nice place for pre dinner drinks. Quiet and in a position to watch the comings and goings of our fellow passengers. It got a bit more buzzy after dinner and when the shows were finished. Never went to Fizz, the Karaoke bar but the Star Bar was OK. The Spinnaker lounge seemed to eb where it all happened later in the evening. We went a couple of times and enjoyed the 60's music night.
Entertainment We never went to the theater to see the shows. Not our kind of thing -- reports ranged from excellent to abysmal -- personal taste I suppose. The individual entertainers and bands dotted around the ship in other lounges were professional and very good.
Restaurants There's always more to restaurants than the food but the main free restaurants, Tsars Palace and Azura were fine. Tsars was impressive in a Hollywood sort of way -- lots of glitz, big and noisy. Azura was more contmporary, smaller and noisy.
We tried a few of the optional restaurants.
I felt The Bistro was pretentious, nicely fitted but kidding itself on that it was a quality restaurant.
Cagneys: We had the best steak ever there and went back a second time.
Sushi was good and the chefs were happy to advise.
Tepannyaki, the Japanese restaurant is worth a visit to enjoy the entertainment provided by the chefs.
Mama's Italian place always seemed to be busy but we managed to get in one night and it was disappointing. We couldn't get in the main restaurant and so sat on the deck outside at what was The Great Outdoors through the day so maybe we didn't get the full experience and atmosphere.
Speaking of The Great Outdoors -- it was, for us, the best place for lunch and/or afternoon tea.
The Food Apart from Cagney's, Teppanyaki and Sushi, was average -- up-market canteen food, which is not a bad thing necessarily -- they are catering for thousands of people after all but don't expect haute cuisine. Most of the food was pre-processed -- for instance in the majority of the restaurants, all the chicken, veal, lamb, steaks etc came with those stripes on them that are supposed to be barbecue grill marks. Yeah right.
I was looking forward to some great puddings -- New York cheesecake etc, again all was pre-prepared and the cheesecake was like marshmallow with sponge base. -- not my taste. However, all were nicely presented with drizzles of coulis and flakes of chocolate.
Breakfast, however, in The Garden Cafe was superb. Lots of fresh fruit, cereals, freshly made to order omelettes, waffles, pastries, bacon, sausages, hash browns, beans, cream cheese, pickled herring. You say it the buffet probably had it. Something for everyone and well presented.
Drinks Drinks -- Iced water on the ship was free at cafés and restaurants. Half liter bottles of water were around $3.60. Some drinks were expensive -- cheapest wine for instance was around $7.50 a glass for, I think, 125ml. The cheapest bottle of wine averaged $32 and rose to $00's. Cocktails could work out cheaper but not many were mixed by the barman - many came from pre packed cartons. The champagne cocktails were good!
Spa Spa -- I only went once -- on a ship day when there was a special on offer -- 3 x treatments for $99. Hot stone massage, neck and shoulder massage and foot and ankle massage. It was very relaxing. The spa treatment rooms are great. Lots of aromatherapy candles, tinkling music and birdsong, plants, low lighting and fluffy towels. Elemis products.
Summary Summary -- we had a great value for money holiday with no real complaints, but not necessarily one we would repeat soon. Lots of comments on board about NCL trying to get you to part with ever more money (soft drinks, cost of excursions, photos, extra cost for certain restaurants) and I would agree to a certain extent, but you don't need to spend it.