To travel a roundtrip of almost 40,000 kilometres to sample a new ship you have to be very keen. As long time cruisers (over three dozen cruises between us) Maureen and I were very excited about travelling from Dover to New York aboard the brand new Norwegian Jewel.
This motivation was stoked by our experience aboard the better than excellent Norwegian Star in Hawaii the previous year and Norwegian Sea and Norway several years earlier. We also feel that NCL's Freestyle Dining product is for us preferable to the more traditional product offered by most other lines.
I am loath to say we were disappointed but sadly that is true. From the moment we boarded in Dover we were amazed at the totally visually dysfunctional interior design of the ship. We couldn't find one public room where the basic decor was in sync with what you would call pleasant while in most bars the seats were 'modern' to the point of simply being uncomfortable. Those in the library would bring howls of protests from a physiotherapist and were just too uncomfortable to sit in. Check them out on the NCL website and you will see what I mean.
This ship is the exact opposite to the beautiful and classy Norwegian Star. Jewel by comparison looks like a tarted up whore with a mix of ugly and garish colours that are nothing like anything we have ever seen on any other cruise ship anywhere. We mentioned this to many crew members and other passengers and most agreed. The only pax that seemed to not actively dislike the decor were first timers who sadly probably left the ship thinking that was the norm.
Bar City also simply does not work. The concept of puting most of the bars together only creates congestion and sadly NCL allows smoking at the bar itself which means that the smoke of just a very small minority (10%?) drifts endlessly through the entire bar area irrespective of where you sit.
Surely in 2006 it's time we moved on from catering for such a tiny minority and had no smoking ships or complete bars that were smoke free. On Star the bars and restaurants were well spaced out and individual and very pleasant, the direct opposite to Jewel.
Food quality was as always with NCL, very good and the upstairs buffet area worked well though again let down by terrible decor that looked cheap.
The shows are always a highlight on NCL and no exception on this cruise as was the very well designed, though garish theatre.
Our cabin, despite being one of the cheaper options, was excellent with the best bathroom and shower we had ever had though again the lovely light timber tonings were let down by a completyely garish carpet straight out of a Vegas casino.
NCL's attitude to bring-aboard liquor also needs to be rethought in comparison with say Princess or P&O. What on earth is the fear they have with you bringing on a bottle of champagne or spirits to be privately enjoyed in your cabin?
At the bar and wine prices charged these days there are few passengers who could surely even remotely consider that they are getting a fair deal when buying their drinks onboard. Some of the mark-ups we saw on Australian wines (of which we are familiar) were in the 500% category - there is simply no need for treating passengers this way and every line should remember that there is always an alternative cruise product out there.
I hate for this to sound all so negative but really NCL management needs to spend a day on Oriana or Aurora or its own Norwegian Crown to see what the word 'taste' really means. Jewel is sadly like a tarted up old whore and that's a great pity.