We cruised to the Eastern Caribbean from 1/29/06 to 2/5/06 on the new Norwegian Jewel. It was our second cruise on this beautiful ship, the first having been to the Western Caribbean in November 2005. Whereas our earlier cruise was with members of Kim's family, this one was with two of my brothers and their wives plus a long-time family friend and his dw. We had booked 4 inside cabins on Deck 9 and, like our previous Jewel sailing, the ship was full to capacity (2,500).
EMBARKATION... We drove to the port of Miami in two cars, from Orlando and Fort Myers, and arrived at the pier about 12:15 pm. After dropping off our luggage and parking, we proceeded to check-in where the very efficient process was quick and painless. We were on board in our cabins by 1:00 pm. The outside parking lot is directly across the street from the ship, requiring a walk of less than 5 minutes. (Note: vehicles with handicapped tags or plates park for free at the Port of Miami). We enjoyed lunch in the Garden Café¬ and our luggage was delivered to our cabin before 3 pm. The always-enjoyable boat drill took place at 3:30, and involved going only to our assembly area in one of the lounges. We were not required to assemble at the boat stations, as had been the case on most of our previous cruises. Good for NCL!
THE SHIP... The Norwegian Jewel began service in August 2005, and is NCL's fourth purpose-built ship for Freestyle Cruising. A bit larger than the two earlier vessels in her class (Star and Dawn), the Jewel features all of the popular attributes of her sisters including their speed, number of restaurants and family-friendly accommocations. The Jewel sports a passenger/crew ratio of about 2:1, and features added luxury such as two 4,390 sq. ft. garden villas, four 790 sq.ft. owner's suites, plus huge courtyard villas and penthouses too numerous to mention. There are 12 passenger elevators and 10 service elevators for guests and crew. A new NCL concept, Bar Central, is located on Deck 6 between the casino and the main restaurants, featuring: a beer and whisky pub, a martini bar, and a champagne and wine bar (connected in location but with three very different "personalities"). All in all there are 13 bars and lounges, including the Corona Cigar Club.
CABIN... Our inside cabin, although rather small at 145 sq. ft., was very attractive with rich cherry wood finishing throughout. Included were a built-in refrigerator and safe, coffee/tea maker, hair dryer and a wonderful large shower with sliding glass door and plenty of water pressure. Delightful! There was plenty of storage space and a large hanging closet. Bathrobes were available upon request, and the bathroom towels were big and soft. We happen to enjoy sleeping late in the morning, and frequently book inside cabins so as to avoid the sunlight which would awaken us earlier than we would prefer. And for some reason, we have seldom taken advantage of a balcony even when we had one. Chaque a son gout!
Our cabin attendants, Sr. Steward Athena and Steward Gregorio (both from the Philippines) were friendly and very efficient. Our ice bucket was always full and the attendants managed to keep our cabin clean and resupplied without disturbing us at any time. And they they made great towel animals (including a monkey hanging from a clothes hanger).
DINING... We took breakfast in the Great Outdoors buffet each day, an alfresco venue located at the stern on Deck 12. The food was tasty and varied, just about everything you could want for a good breakfast, and the service was good as well. The weather was terrific for the entire cruise, and dining outside every morning was something we looked forward to with great pleasure. And there were always plenty of tables available, no matter what time we chose to dine.
For lunch, we usually chose the Garden Café ¯n Deck 12 as well. It was a buffet unlike most buffets on ships, being composed of numerous "islands" each featuring a course (such as salads, soups, hot foods, cold foods, sandwiches, desserts, meat carving, etc.) There was a separate area for beverages and ice cream. We never felt like we had to wait in line, because as a matter of fact we didn't! We could take our meal to the table and then return for anything we had missed, without having to cut into a line.
For dinner, we decided to avoid the "pay" restaurants (three out of the ten) completely on this cruise. We dined in the Azura main restaurant three times, the Tsar's Palace (main) once, and Mama's Italian Kitchen twice. Althouth the two main restaurants feature identical menues each evening, we favored the Azura because we found the service to be much better there than at the Tsar's Palace. We had no idea why, but that was our impression (on both of our cruises, actually). The food in both restaurants was of excellent quality with a reasonably good selection, as was the food in Mama's Italian where we had the best pasta and chicken dishes that we have enjoyed on any ship. Their chicken parmagiana was the tastiest I've had in a long time, even in our favorite Italian restaurant back in Orlando.
There was a wide choice of desserts in all of the restaurants, and the ones we tried were all very tasty and nicely presented.
ENTERTAINMENT... Here's a place where the Jewel really shines! All of our party agree that we were witnessing the absolute best performances we had ever seen on any of our (combined) 40 cruises. Two of the production numbers in the Stardust Theater ("Band on the Run" and "Cirque Bijou") were in the realm of "spectacular". The former took us back to the music and dance of the 70s, and the Jean Ann Ryan Company was at their very best. The latter was an artistic & awe-inspiring aerial ballet, with the quality of gymnastics and acrobatics approaching that which we've enjoyed at the renowned Cirque du Soleil. It was that good!
The other theater performances on our cruise were also exceptional, especially the comic juggler (the wonderful Romano Frediani, in his final performance on the Jewel) and the funny yet mystifying Gossamer Magic show. We also enjoyed the improv talents of The Second City, the famed Chicago troupe which produced so many of today's stars.
Finally, there were some talented and entertaining Russian pianists in the bars and lounges, Michaiel Polak and Vladimir Kirivan. There was no lack of good entertainment whatsoever on board the NCL Jewel.
PORTS... We took only one excursion during this cruise, that being with Lawrence of Antigua when we arrived at that lovely island. Our tour was led by Lawrence's right-hand man, Christopher, who did a marvelous job of showing us the high points during our 3+-hour excursion from the port (St. John's) in the northwest to the interesting and scenic areas of Falmouth and English Harbours to the south, including Nelson's Dockyard and the lovely vistas of Shirley Heights. It was both a scenic ride and some interesting history of the British military and social presence of many years ago. Very enjoyable!
We did walk around San Juan a bit, and we performed our ritualistic shopping tour on the island of St. Thomas. Our final stop was at the NCL island in the Bahamas (Great Stirrup Cay), where we stayed on the ship this time.
DISEMBARKATION... NCL does this as well as or better than any cruise line we've sailed on. They use a color-coded system which is easy to understand and which works well. Best of all is that you're welcome to remain in your cabin until your color is called, at which point you simply walk off the ship to recover your luggage and sail through the Customs inspection. We debarked by 9:15 am and were into our cars about 20 minutes later. Smooth!