One of the better previous generation Norwegian ships - eclectic decor, many dining options, good entertainment
Best For People Who Want
Best for People who Want: a flexible cruise experience, including flexibility in dining times, and a variety of selection for dining venues.
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Should be Avoided By People Who Prefer: traditional assigned dinner seating and dining times, suggested dress codes with formal nights, and public address announcements regarding shipboard activities.
While I always considered myself to fall into the "traditional cruiser" category, my last two cruises, on NCL, and it's "FreeStyle" experience, have made me a believer. The Freestyle program is particularly effective on busy, port intensive itineraries.
While today's modern cruise ships are often referred to as floating resorts, no other cruise lines offer a product as close to that reality as that offered on the Jewel. The "Freestyle" program onboard is built around the multitude of dining choices offered, with no set dining times, or assigned seating.
The design, and layout of this ship's public areas is quite different from that you'll experience on the ships of other cruise lines of similar size. From outdoor pool decks, to bar and lounge areas, to public use corridors, the ship is designed to maximize useable space from the limited space available.
The core of the ship's interior "life" for passengers is on Decks 6 & 7, with only one wide corridor passing from stern to bow for passenger traffic on one side of the ship, rather than more traditional design of a corridor on each side. This design creates a "main street" within the ship, with access to most of the restaurants, bars, lounges, and casino along the route. And the heart of this "main street" is Bar City on Deck 6, sectioned by four different bar themes that flow together covering one large area. Bar City is the perfect location for pre or post dinner drinks, and people watching; and as the social heart of the ship's interior also allows you to accidentally run into familiar faces much more frequently than is the norm on ship's this size.
The heart of the outdoor decks is the area surrounding the Sapphire Pools on Deck 12. Within this area, there's a child's play area, an adult's pool (with waterfall), a central stage area, a water slide, a family pool, and on the sides under the overhangs of the deck above, a multitude of tables and chairs for al fresco dining during the day, card playing, or just sitting around a table socializing. On sea days there's even an area for casino games pool side.
On the Jewel, the cruise truly begins at sail-a-way with an enormous pool side barbeque (using large Weber style grills), while the band kicks off the cruise, and the drinks flow. Adding the barbeque to the traditional sail-a-way party serves to draw many more people to attend, and truly jump starts the liveliness of the cruise.
These barbeques are repeated several times during the cruise -when the ship is sailing early from ports of call.
On the deck by the Sapphire Pools one might think they are at a theme park, with covers over the Jacuzzi's and band stand, designed to look like carousels at the faire. Combined with lighting designed to look like large palm trees, it creates a very festive atmosphere.
Along the overhang poolside NCL also has misters, which occasionally expel a light cool spray of water, similar to what you'll find poolside at luxury land based resorts. The cooling spray is welcome on hot sunny days when the temperatures are rising, and the first I've seen on a cruise ship.
The choices for style of cruise onboard are broad. Traditional cruise dining fare, with menus changing daily is offered in two dining rooms (both with the same menus), and we found the quality to be quite good the evenings we dined there. But with seemingly unlimited choices of other restaurants to try, we found ourselves only "making time" for the traditional dining rooms 3 times on a 12 night cruise.
The best food on the ship could, not surprisingly, be found in two of the ship's alternate restaurants, where a surcharge applies - La Bistro, offering French cuisine, and Cageny's Steak House.
Mama's Kitchen, one of the cost included alternate restaurants, features an Italian menu, with an antipasto card carrying choices to begin your dining experience, pastas, pizzas, entrees, and deserts is a wonderful alternative choice, that is a must try during your cruise.
Another of the ship's alternate surcharge restaurants, Asian themed Chin Chin, offered delicious dishes, and enormous portions; order 2 dishes per person, and you have enough food to serve twice as many people. When ordering plan on sharing dishes.
We found the quality of the food in all of the restaurants we managed to sample to be of very good quality, and taste. Perhaps the biggest surprise were the excellent breakfast and lunch choices we sampled in the Garden Café, the ship's buffet dining area.
$10 per adult per day and $5 per child are added to your folio automatically. Fifteen percent is automatically added to bar bills and spa services. NCL suggests that concierges and butlers be tipped separately in accordance with the services they provide.
Bar City (one Deck 6), a continuous series of bars, including Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar, Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar, Magnums Champagne & Wine Bar, and the Corona Cigar Bar, is the gathering point to kick off the night life onboard. A pianist entertains at Magnum's, which provides background music for all of Bar City.
One deck above, on Deck 7 is the FYZZ Cabaret Lounge and Bar, where karaoke is the held each evening, and there's several private karaoke rooms which can be booked for small private group parties. During the day this lounge is used for several activities, including trivia games. One day as we passed by, we even saw people bowling, using the popular WI gaming system on the big screen.
The Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 12, is the ship's disco, as well as alternate showroom. Any of the late night "theme parties", like the 50s dance night are held her, as well a late evening performance of the Second City Improv Troupe, comedy, or close up magic.
Also on Deck 12 is the Star Bar, a more intimate lounge, with a duo entertaining each evening. The atmosphere is relaxing and elegant, and it makes an excellent spot for pre-dinner drinks prior to dining at Cagney's SteakHouse next store. Likely due to it's location, The Star Bar is the quiet lounge onboard, so it's an excellent spot to use if anyone is planning get together with fellow CruiseMates met online.
The Java Café, is located in the expansive lobby area on Deck 5, across from the Guest Relations desk. Specialty coffees, and pastries are offered here, and each evening a quartet entertains with easy listening music.
The Internet cafe, open 24 hours a day, features eight computer stations. After an account activation fee of $3.95, the basic charge is .75 per minute. Frequent users do better with package rates: 250 minutes for $100 or 100 minutes for $55. Shorter plans the last day of the cruise include 15 minutes for $8.25 and 30 minutes for $12.
The ship also features wireless hot spots in public areas for guests bringing along their own laptops. In cabin service is available, but you'll need to bring along your own Ethernet cable for hook up.
The wood burl shelves of The Library groan happily beneath the weight of a good selection of self-help, sports, travel, science, history, fiction and children's books in multiple languages. Passengers can check out three at a time.
The Casino on the Jewel is located forward on Deck 6, just aft of the Star Dust Theatre. It is an expansive space, decorated in enough bright colors to keep even sleepy passengers wide eyed as they try their luck with games of chance. There's a multitude of slot machines, in all increments, as well as huge selection of table games, from the standard Caribbean Stud, and Blackjack, to tables for Texas Hole ‘Em.
The two main dining rooms, Azura and Tsar's Palace, seat 310 and 552, respectively. The very attractive Russian themed Tsar's, all royal burgundy, green, and gold, with chandeliers, marbled pillars and faux Faberge egg balustrades, is two stories tall, with fabulous huge windows aft. There are seldom lines, except for peak dining times (which can vary by cruise and itinerary) for either Tsar's or the smaller, sleeker, pop-art-decorated Azura. Reservations are not allowed at either of these two dining rooms, so it's first come, first served. Menu's change daily, but are the same each day in both dining rooms.
Either Tsar's or Azura is open for breakfast and lunch.
The Garden Café and Great Outdoors buffet areas offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are always varied, occasionally with a culinary theme. Multiple serving stations are surprisingly efficient to preclude crowding, even on days at sea. Serving stations for breakfast include custom-made waffles and omelettes, while lunch and dinner feature pastas and sauces in the combination of your choice. The layout works so effectively that even when crowds were long, queuing for line ups was never necessary.
Le Bistro, the line's signature alternative restaurant, does French. Each of the other four other restaurants has its own specialty. Cagney's does steaks, Tango's Tapas does Tex-Mex; Chin Chin does Chinese, Teppanyaki, Shabu-Shabu and sushi; and we'll let you guess what Mama's Italian Kitchen does. Neither Mama's nor Tango's levies an extra charge. The others charge a modest $10 to $20. All are open for dinner. Cagney's, Chin Chin, and Le Bistro all halve their cover charge between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Le Bistro and Cagney's also offer a special "tastings menu" for an additional $10 per person.
On Deck 8, across from Tapas is the Blue Lagoon. Open 23 hrs. a day, for casual dining choices like burgers, or fish and chips.
In an impressive leap forward in the art of free-style dining, NCL's all original and innovative reservations system lets guests book tables 24 hrs. in advance for the all restaurants other than Tsars and Azura dining rooms.
Those who prefer to play it by ear will rejoice in the presence of more than a dozen television monitors indicating which restaurants have tables available at any given moment. Upon making a selection, the party is given a beeper, allowing them to wander the ship until their table is ready.
The multi national staff on the ship is friendly and attentive in all service areas. We found everyone we encountered, from food service areas, guest relations, and officers (seemingly always visible on deck) attempted to make the extra effort to offer a smile, and a chat while offering top grade service.
Concierge service is available to those in Mini-suites and above, to assist in arranging your dinner reservations, or priority tender tickets where necessary.
The main entertainment venue, the Stardust Theatre, customarily packed, presents nightly Broadway and Vegas-style productions, comedy and magic acts, and a Cirque du Soleil-style aerial thriller, Cirque Bijou, including gymnasts, acrobats and bungee jumpers. Or you might prefer the justly celebrated Second City Troupe, which has produced many of North America's best-loved comedians the past few decades, including Martin Short and Rick Moranis.
Evening and late-night attractions include a 50s/60s dance and comedy show, the Not-So-Newlywed Game. and Liar's Club. On karaoke nights, the Fyzz lounge is a big favourite of families.
The visually busy casino's two hundred video games and slot machines include penny slots; to the delight of serious players, the craps tables offers Las Vegas betting odds. For the casino regulars, NCL offers a Casino At Sea program where players earn rewards or cash back based on their play. Just see one of the casino hosts onboard.
The ship has 1,188 cherry wood-finished rooms broken down into 32 categories, a positively dizzying range best considered group by group. The largest group, with 1,008 rooms, includes inside rooms at 143 sq. ft.; ocean-view rooms at 158-166 sq. ft.; and ocean-view rooms with balcony at 205 sq. ft. All have safes, hairdryers, TVs and refrigerators, beds that convert from queen to twins, and the beds are wonderfully comfortable, and high enough to allows guests to easily slide luggage under the bed for storage during the cruise. High quality bedding, and duvets add to the creature comforts one enjoys in these cabins.
In standard cabins there's certainly enough closet space for two people on a seven-night cruise, though drawer space is minimal.
The only weak areas is the bathrooms in the standard cabin categories, and lack of a real desk. The bathroom, though well designed, broken into three areas, with the toilet separated by a sliding door to the central wash basin, and the shower on the other side; is small to the point of feeling cramped.
And though there's a table, and a small vanity desk and mirror, we missed a desk area with drawers, where we could store odds and ends, and electronic gear passengers normally carry with them.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the two groundbreaking Garden Villas, 4,390 sq. ft., have living rooms, dining rooms, sun decks and three separate bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. Each Garden Villa sleeps up to six adults, two kids/adults in rollaway beds and three infants in cribs -- great for a big family. The smaller (574 sq. ft.) 10 Courtyard Villas share a central courtyard with its own pool and small gym.
For those wanting something between the wonderful Villas and the regular inside/outside rooms, there are 168 Owner's Suites, Penthouses, Romance Suites and Mini-Suites.
Body Waves Center, Deck 12, open 24/7, has 14 treadmills with their own TVs, more than 25 other pieces of fitness equipment, abundant free weights, and a large workout area with lots of aerobic equipment, such as steps and balls. The Bora Bora Health Spa and Salon, operated by Mandara, has 20 treatment rooms for such exotic treatments as algae detox, lime and ginger salt glows, coconut rubs, and milk ritual wraps, including three for couples. Men's and women's sides are set up with stream and sauna rooms, whirlpool, indoor lap pool, jet-current exercise pool, hydrotherapy pool, and Jacuzzis.
Norwegian Jewel is wild about them, as witness: interconnecting cabins, a kids-only pool and water slide, and the Splashdown Kid's Club, featuring a kid cinema and video arcade. Where most at-sea children's programs turn their backs on the under-threes, NCL welcomes even those in their terrible twos.
One of the two main central Sapphire Pools on Lido Deck is designated adults only.
The complimentary Kid's Crew program is organized by age group: Junior Sailors (2 - 5), First Mates (6 - 9), Navigators (10 - 12) and Teens (13 - 17). Families can gather in the Card Room for a game of Monopoly or Clue, sing together during family karaoke night, or compete in a "Family Feud" game show.
Determinedly casual, though T-shirts, shorts, and tank tops are forbidden in the dining rooms after 5 p.m., except for the Garden Café//Great Outdoors. There are "optional formal nights" held, and noted in the ship's daily. We were almost surprised to see perhaps as many as 20% of the passengers dressing formally on those designated nights.
Of course the temptation to leave the formal wear at home is great. Particularly with the airlines current weight limits on passenger luggage, if flying to the cruise, it makes packing and travel so much easier leaving the formal clothing at home.