To begin, I should say that of all the cruise lines currently operating on the seven seas, NCL would have been the last choice. It seemed to be too gaudy, too nickel and diming, too 'inyourface' for my 'casual elegance' preferred style of cruising.
I am here to tell you that I was so wrong!!!
My 22 yr old son and I have cruised together off and on through the years, lately almost exclusively on Christmas vacation cruises. He attends college plus plays hockey both of which force me to be on a rather limited budget for cruises. That said, although I won't ever choose an inside cabin again, I still try to get as much bang for my buck as possible. As I was trying to find a cruise that went somewhere sunny, I was limited in the port of departure options so I - reluctantly - "settled" for NCL's Jewel. I chose the Jewel over the Gem simply because the Jewel allowed us to have Christmas Day on board, whereas the Gem returned to home port on Christmas Day. I will always be thankful that I made that decision.
I had originally booked a Mini Suite at an extremely affordable rate I might add, but thanks to comments I had read on this site, I kept checking the NCL website to see if the rates went down as we grew closer. So glad I did! When I noticed they had gone down by $50 per person, I contacted my TA and he got me upgraded to a Penthouse Suite at no additional cost. They also gave me an on board ship credit which proved to be invaluable! Therefore we were set to sail in a considerably upgraded suite that included a butler and a concierge!
The embarkation and disembarkation were quick and seamless. One of the main reasons I started booking suites was the VIP embarkation process as I cannot stand for any length of time. They ushered us to the VIP check in and we were whisked onboard with barely enough time to catch our breath. Ditto the disembarkation.
The 'PH suite' (8130) wasn't really a suite, per se, but it was roomy enough for both of us to live in for the week. There was a fresh flower arrangement, a complimentary bottle of wine (from the TA) and a large bowl of fresh fruit waiting for us in the suite. There was plenty of cupboard and drawer space for the two of us, two wall safes, a loveseat and a small table with four chairs. It also had a small vanity I could sit at to do my makeup along with a roomy bathroom and tub/shower. However the veranda was very small by anyone's standards as one could just barely fit two chairs and a small table on it, and one of the chairs could only face sideways as the verandas curve precluded it from facing aft. Still we were content. I had brought along a short extension cord with extra outlets which proved to be very handy.
I should point out that these suites only have Queen beds, which cannot be separated, so my son had a roll-away bed while I got the entire luxurious bed to myself. And I have to say this was one of the most comfortable beds I have EVER slept in... It was heaven! I ended up spending a lot more time on it than I had planned, simply because it was so heavenly! My son's roll-away was also extremely comfortable, albeit very narrow.
I took the suggestion of adjusting my "automatic service charge added daily of $12 per person" by going to reception and asking them to adjust it. We cut it in half as we hadn't dined in the MDR and I wanted to particularly single out the people who had been so good. One note: I had read a suggestion by another Cruise Critic member to offer International Calling Cards as part of a tip. That might have been a good idea at one point, but now, with Skype and internet cafes, that is outdated. I wasted $60 buying them and ended up bringing them home with me. As they are non-refundable, I don't know what I will do with them. Bottom line... Cash money is best.
When we first arrived in the cabin, I thought we were in the wrong cabin as there was no 'corner' view.... I had purposely picked an Aft cabin because I had read that one got the best view as the corner suites had a side and aft view. Unfortunately the Jewel is not configured for that. The aft cabins face aft... Period. I think they missed the boat (no pun intended) in their design of the aft corner cabins because at the very least they could have put a window on the side portion, instead of a blank wall. Nonetheless we were very comfortable there and I grew to appreciate the fact that there was a considerable walk from almost anywhere on the ship to our cabin... I didn't feel so guilty when I had those scrumptious desserts as I was going to walk them off!
The cabin stewards were friendly, polite and very helpful.... They remembered us by name as we passed them in the hall and quickly determined the best time to come in and service the cabin so as not to disturb us. The butler was pleasant and accommodated our requests, however the star of this whole cruise was our amazing concierge, Adrian. He was magical. There was nothing that he couldn't do, our wish was his command. I freely admit that he spoiled us rotten, so much so that we have both vowed that the only cruises we do from hereon will be with him. He MADE this cruise the best cruise we have done - ever! The PH Suites (and above) come with their own type of cell phone with which we could call our butler, our concierge (both pre-programmed into the phone) and any cabin. It was a boon to have and saved many steps. Wonderful idea!
The only negative in the suite was the water in the bathroom sink. If you wanted hot water, you had to turn it on full force and go away for five minutes (at least), by the time you came back, it would be tepid, and eventually get to warm. Then, the next time you used the sink, if you wanted warm water you were in luck, but if you needed cold water, you had to go through the same process all over again. I mentioned it to the cabin attendants and they sent an engineer but he wasn't able to make it any better so we just planned accordingly. For some reason the bathtub water faucet was not half as bad but it was difficult to reach if just wanted to wash your hands or get a glass of water as it had sliding glass panels as a shower curtain.
As to the food, we only went to the Specialty Restaurants, never one of the Main Dining Rooms so I can only comment on them.
Cagney's - the steakhouse ($25 pp surcharge): this was the one I was most looking forward to as on a Carnival cruise we had gone to their specialty steakhouse and had the best steak we had ever had in our lives. Unfortunately
Cagney's must buy their meat somewhere else. My rib eye was thin (half an inch?), gristly and lacklustre. Very disappointing.
Le Bistro - European cuisine ($20 pp surcharge): This restaurant quickly became our favourite. The Rack of Lamb was superb and they tried very hard to create a mint sauce for me, rather than the plain mint jelly. The waiters were exceptional, remembering our names and preferences immediately upon seeing us. I highly recommend this venue.
Chin Chin ($10 pp): we had both Japanese food and sushi here... Very nice, but not very memorable.
Tango's Tapas ($10 pp): excellent lobster tacos!
Tapanyaki ($25 pp): where you sit around the chef who performs admirably with his knives but whose food was just adequate.
Another bonus for having a suite is that for breakfast we could dine at Cagney's with other suite members. Thus we were dining with only 20 or 30 people max and with nice views and excellent service. We also learned near the end of the cruise that we could have ordered breakfast from Cagney's menu and have it delivered to our suite, rather than order from the regular room service menu. Cagney's offered more choices (than the room service menu) and - since it came from Cagney's kitchen rather than the MDR kitchens, it was nice and hot!
The Chocolate Lovers Buffet featured a large variety of chocolate items, cookies, cakes, pies, cheesecakes, sundaes, fondues, ice creams etc. etc. It was mobbed and not really worth the time, I thought.
Embarkation and Disembarkation was a dream for us. What I neglected to mention was that my son had left a bag with his shoes hanging from my wheelchair handles when we got in the cab to go to our hotel. We realized our mistake our when we got to the hotel. I promptly called the line and after a number of "overseas" calls (the ship is registered in Panama I believe), the Captain (yes I was given the number to the bridge accidentally!) patched me through to our indefatiguable concierge. After learning of the loss, he said he would find them and would email me. I really didn't expect much, what with the 3000 people getting off the ship and the 3000 people getting on, but within hours Adrian - that amazing concierge - emailed me that he had indeed found the shoes and would be sending them off to my son.
Bottom line.... I can't say enough about the ship and especially its crew. I would give Adrian a good 65% of the accolades, the beds another 20% and Le Bistro (specialty dining room) the remaining 15%.
It reminded me of how splendid cruises of yesteryear were - and could still be - with all the pampering and lavish attention to detail we experienced on this ship. I HIGHLY recommend her - as long as you travel in a suite and as long as Adrian is her concierge.
Bravo NCL! Bravo Jewel! Double Bravo Adrian!!!