Cruise Review – NCL’s Norwegian Jewel

You can read more about this topic, as well as many other family cruising topics, in our new book–Cruising With Kids: A Guide To The Perfect Family Cruise Vacation. Visit our dedicated Cruising With Kids website for more details.

In our reviews, we attempt to cover all aspects of the cruise in a fair, but candid manner, pointing out the good, the bad and the ugly.  Each category will earn a Rating from A+ through F; our overall score will reflect a weighting of each category score.  Each review and rating is done from a families point of view, so if you are single or a couple traveling without kids, your priorities may differ.  At the conclusion of our Cruise Views Marathon, we will crown the most family friendly cruise line (only Carnival, Disney and NCL are being evaluated) in several categories and then overall.  At some later date, we will be posting reviews from Royal Caribbean and Celebrity that were not part of this event.  Now, on to the review.

Norwegian Jewel

Ever since our first child was born four years ago we’ve been on a quest to find the most family friendly cruise line.  Having sailed on 30 cruises, we had a few ideas of where to start, but it would be an interesting journey.  This was our 4 year-old’s fifth cruise and our 19 month old’s fourth cruise.  My wife and I had sailed on NCL many years ago and were extremely excited about the new Nickelodeon themed program.

We spoke to over a dozen families during this cruise and their comments and sentiments fairly reflected our experiences.

Reservation/Documents

Rating:  B-

Norwegian Jewel Mini-SuiteWe reserved our 7-night Bahamas cruise through our normal online travel agency where we were able to get a 10% reduction in the base price of the cruise fare.  We opted for a Category AF Mini-Suite with a specific cabin assignment.  Normally we would choose a guarantee, but because these suites are on Deck 11 (below the pool and Garden Cafe), choosing a cabin in the quiet part of the ship (below the Library) was important. After several price changes during the week we were trying to reserve, we finally were able to get our reservation locked, although at a higher price than originally quoted. The issue with NCL is that pricing can change several times during the day and there is little reasoning from a passengers perspective as to how and when pricing changes. This oddity made making this booking rather frustrating and resulted in a lower rating for their part in this ordeal.

The online check-in process was fairly easy. We received a booklet in the mail that included our luggage tags about 45 days prior to sailing. 

Pier Check-in/Embarkation

Rating:  B-

NYC Cruise Terminal ParkingGetting to the pier in Manhattan is a bit of a challenge, even on a Saturday. Convenient parking is available on the top deck of the cruise terminal for $210 for a 7-night cruise. This is New York and the porters were a bit rough (we do not blame NCL). We finally made it inside the terminal around 12:15PM where we waited in line for about 30 minutes. There were several areas to check-in depending on your status and location on the ship. We were directed to a suite-only area that was as long as any other.

Once our turn arrived, we quickly understood why it was taking so long. A process that had taken us 3-4 minutes in Port Canaveral took us twice as long here. Why…I have no idea, but our agent seemed quite disorganized.

Embarkation was quick and we were able to drop our luggage a little after 1PM without being scolded. Although, alarms did sound when we opened the fire doors; there was no way we were waiting until 2PM!

Overall, when cruising from the New York area, we prefer to cruise from Cape Liberty in Bayonne as getting there, parking and checking in is much easier.

Accommodations

Cabin Rating:  B-     Cabin Service Rating:  A-

Norwegian Jewel Mini-Suite BalconyOn this sailing we opted for a mini-suite due to its affordable price and our desire for a larger room where the kids could spread out for 7 nights.  The standard cabins on this ship are only 143 square feet, but our mini-suite was 285 square feet, including the balcony. The balconies are large enough to comfortably fit two chairs and a small table with extra room to walk around; I wish I could say the same about the interior of the cabin. With the beds together, there was about 18 inches between the bed and closet on one side, 18 inches between the bed and sofa on the other and about a foot or so in front of the bed (to the wall). After entering our cabin on the first evening, we quickly asked the cabin steward to convert the sofa from a bed back into the upright position as it was taking up the last bit of space in the cabin. The coffee table did tuck nicely away next to the bed, which allowed us free space between the sofa and desk area.

Norwegian Jewel Mini-Suite Bedroom

As a result of a larger bathroom, the hallway was long and without closet space. We later decided that this cabin was more narrow than those on other ships, but longer, which made it feel more confined. Norwegian Jewel Mini-Suite BathroomThe bathroom was spacious (as shipboard baths go) with a tub and separate toilet areas with a sliding glass door (only part frosted). Unfortunately, there was only one sink, which made its functionality for multiple people limited.

The cabin was also equipped with a bulky television (with movies, limited Nick programming and a few cable channels), desk telephone (not kid friendly), basic toiletries (in dispensers), a safe, refrigerator and a hairdryer.  Storage was a bit tight for a 7 night cruise. There was a two door closet, four large draws (some too deep to be practical) and three small draws (in the desk). The remainder of the space was filled with life jackets. We ended up placing much of our clothes on the top shelf of the closet.

Having the balcony was a great bonus, especially when arriving and departing port. It also allowed plenty of natural light to enter the cabin, gave me a place to write at night and gave the kids an extra play space. Room darkening curtains kept the kids from waking when mom and dad were up at night.

Norwegian Jewel Courtyard Villas

There are only 3 cabin categories that are larger than the mini-suite, the Penthouse Suite (sleeps 5), Courtyard Villa (sleeps 5) and Garden Villa (sleeps 6+). I would not recommend sailing in a standard cabin with four people on the Jewel class of ships, although you may be able to squeeze into a balcony cabin (205 square feet).

Our cabin steward was extremely friendly and the kids loved him. His 30 years of experience showed in his interactions and flexible attitude. The cabin was always tidy, but there could have been a bit more cleaning of furniture and bathroom surfaces. Overall, he was the best crew member that we encountered throughout the cruise.

Food/Dining Service

Food Rating:  B     Dining Service Rating:  B-

The selection at the buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner consisted of an extensive array of standard American cuisine as well as ethnic specialties. Each day there were several Indian and Stir-Fry entrees and sides as well as other special ethnic selections throughout the cruise. You could visit the waffle station in the morning, pasta station during the day and pizza station anytime. They also offered several grilled food areas inside and on deck in addition to the frequent BBQ lunch buffet by the pool. Late night snack were basic and ice-cream shut off by 9:30PM or so. I did partake in the NCL Chocoholic Buffet, but desserts are not their specialty.

Norwegian Jewel Kids CafeThere is also a small Kids Cafe area at the entrance to the Garden Cafe. Featuring a kid friendly buffet and pint-sized seating, this was a great alternative for family lunches. Unlike the limited drink selection of water and iced tea elsewhere, the Kids Cafe also offered juices throughout the day. We also dined at the Great Outdoors on several occasions when it was nice outside and we needed to get away from the crowds. The buffet was more limited (and it was a hike from the main buffet), but it was quiet (except for the musical entertainment).

Ice Cream Sundae in Tsars Palace Norwegian JewelNCL offers Freestyle Dining, which allows you to dine anytime you’d like. You can make reservations (1 day in advance) or just show up and wait for a table. There are monitors throughout the ship alerting you as to the status of each restaurant. There are only four free dining areas on the ship – The Tsar’s Palace Restaurant (the nicest and largest dining room), Azura Restaurant (limited views and smaller), Blue Lagoon (small cafe style eatery with limited menu) and the Garden Cafe (buffet style). We sampled all of these during this cruise and found the food to be best in the dining room (especially dessert).

Waiting For Dessert With Grandma in the Blue Lagoon

Here is where it goes downhill pretty fast – there are eight specialty restaurants, which take up precious space on this ship. With cover charges from $10-$25 per person, we expected the food and service to be something special…think again. While in port, there was a 2 for 1 special at several restaurants, so we decided to go to Mamas Italian Restaurant. Interestingly, the food that we ate there appeared or had appeared on the buffet during the week. The food was very good and were treated to special breads, but little else was special.

Overall, I have to say that the food selection was excellent and the overall food quality was very good with the exception of desserts. However, the fact that there are steep cover charges for 2/3 of the restaurants creates a higher expectation, which they did not meet, causing them to earn a slightly lower score.

Breakdown At DinnerThe dining room service as well as the service at the buffet was fair at best most of the time. At the buffet, there was never anyone to help with your tray if you were struggling and the staff rarely kept the tables clean and clear. One day I even decided to bus our own table…needless to say, I still didn’t get a tip. In the dining room, the kids meals are served first only if requested. In the specialty restaurant, this was an impossible situation, which resulted in a rough mealtime experience for us and those around us. The first evening in the dining room, we waited almost 15 minutes for a high chair (after making two requests), our waiter could not find a kids menu and we waited so long for dinner that our 19 month old broke down and had to be removed for a nap. This, along with the experience in the specialty restaurant were the most trying – all on account of slow service.

Our conclusion is that NCL has a difficult time catering to kids in the dining room or in any dining venue for that matter. High chairs are never easy to find and getting one can take 3-15 minutes. Dining service was a frequent complaint from other families too. Capacity is also a significant problem. The Garden Cafe was often crowded and finding a table meant hiking a bit. There was rarely table space available on the pool deck. The lack of capacity in the complimentary restaurants also created a wait, even during periods that should be non-peak. These challenges take their toll on family dining.

Room service (24 hours) was supposedly available, but there was no sign of a menu or card in our room to order – again, we would spend enough time in the room to avoid the crowds, so we enjoyed getting out at mealtimes.

As a side note, we were advised from another passenger that they were often ignored by bar waiters when they had their soda program cups out. After a while they gave up and only had a total of 8 sodas (4 each) during the entire cruise, working out to about $12 per soda!

Activities/Entertainment

Rating:  B

So, NCL didn’t do a bad job with family friendly entertainment. In addition to the Nickelodeon program activities (we review this with the Kids Crew program), there were several shows that actually held the interest of kids. The best was Cirque Bijou, which was an acrobatic production with some dancing, music and interesting costumes. Unfortunately, they added a crew number to the end that really spoiled the continuity. They pretty much ignored the rule of leaving on a high note.

The comedic magic of Jean Pierre as well as the Second City Family Show was also entertaining for kids of most ages (more of a challenge for under 3). Of course, Slime Time Live was popular with all kids. So, we were able to attend about half of the shows – not a bad outcome.

NCL also worked at planning several family activities during the day. Family Pizza Making and Family Cake Decorating were abysmal activities run by an uninspired Kids Crew Staff, but the more engaging Family Charades, Family Dodgeball and Family Friendly Feud Game Show held more promise. We give NCL a kudos for the effort, but a thumbs down on the execution.

Overall, the entertainment and activities were more family friendly than the average mass market cruise line, but missed the mark on quality and execution.

Onboard Amenities/Features

Rating:  D

Norwegian Jewel Pool AreaThis is the most poorly designed cruise ship that I have been on since Royal Caribbean’s (stretched) Nordic Prince. Unfortunately there are four ships in this class, although the Gem and Pearl have a few more features than the Jade and Jewel. With over 2800 passengers on our sailing, there was little room to breath in most of the public areas. The Garden Cafe was always crowded, the pool deck was SRO (standing room only) during the day, the one usable lounge had permanently placed folding chairs for additional seating and the specialty restaurants, Shopping Galleria, outdoor sports courts and private deck areas ate up precious public space that could have been used much more wisely.

The length of half the ship on Deck 7 was open concept dining, bars and mini-lounges (Fyzz being the largest). Not only a bad design, but compound it with the fact that there is only one corridor (narrow) that spans that deck from the dining rooms to the theater (unless you want to walk outside). This area was an absolute nightmare in the evening.

Jewel Kiddie Pool Entrance to Kids CrewUnfortunately, NCL has opted to create money making spaces over open public spaces. The result is a lack of places for kids to go and passengers to relax. Compounding the problem is the placement of the adult-only pool about 10 steps from the family pool. Of course, this is only about 10 steps from the tiny area containing the Splashdown Kids Pool and hot tub (saw plenty of kids with diapers/swimmers). The pool deck is not a fun place to be; however, the kiddie pool area did become a sanctuary ( if you can believe that) – it turned out to be the best public feature for kids on the ship!

There is a water slide, more shallow in rise than most other ships, which allows younger kids to enjoy the slide. NCL also allows adults to go down with their young children, which was great in getting our 4 year old comfortable with the slide. However, due to the shallow rise, unless you were wearing a bikini or non-resistant bathing suit, you would get stuck and had to struggle to push yourself down. Needless to say, the fun wore out quickly.

Norwegian Jewel Sapphire Pool Slide

The only other features were a full basketball court with bleachers (rarely used), a golf driving cage (not kid friendly), a small video arcade and a few table games. The library did have a selection of children’s books and games, but hours were limited.

Norwegian Jewel Adult Only PoolFor mom and dad, there was a gym with treadmills, ellipticals and a couple of recumbent bikes, but the equipment was packed tightly together. Next door there was a spa, with some interesting offerings including Rasul and a VIP Thermal Suite Pass that included access to heated lounge chairs, indoor jacuzzi, hydro-therapy pool, Japanees plunge pool, sauna and steam ($99pp/$165cp). At the back of the ship on Deck 7 there was also the Galleria Shops that took up as much space as one of the main restaurants. Nearby were a very small internet cafe and art gallery.

NCL completely missed the mark with space allocation on this ship. You cannot enjoy Freestyle Cruising if there is nowhere to enjoy it! We would have given them an F, but for the Splashdown Kids Pool.

Kids Crew/Nickelodeon Program

Kids Crew Rating:  C- Nickelodeon Rating: B

A combined facility for kids aged 2-12, the Splashdown Kids Club located on Deck 12 had some cool features, but was inadequate for the number of kids and lack of counselors. Suffering from the same design problems as the rest of the ship, the club is split into sections – a main play area with padded jungle to climb through, an area with tables for activities, a movie room and then some transition space that adjoins the Teen Club Underground. Nearby is also a small video arcade.

The major problem with the Kids Crew program is the staff. Uninspired and downright rude at times, the staff seemed to be more interested in talking to each other than interacting with the kids. We also had several security concerns and the fact that they did not allow parents in the club at any time (even for transition) made us a bit apprehensive (especially in light of security concerns).

Norwegian Jewel Slime Time Live

We opted to observe the chaos from afar and ultimately chose not to subject our son to the program. Instead, we focused on participating in the family activities and attending most of the Nickelodeon activities. But for those events, this cruise would have been a challenge for the kids.

There was also an Under 2 play area in one of the conference rooms by the Stardust Theater. Although another good try, the execution was poor. We visited 3 times, but mostly to meet other families as opposed to actually playing. You can read our full review here.

Overall, although we did enjoy the Nickelodeon activities, they were only a small part of the cruise. Given that the Kids Crew was not a viable option for us due to lack of a transition and security concerns, we wouldn’t purposely choose to cruise NCL just for the kids programs.

Ports Of Call

Rating:  C+

Great Stirrup Cay BahamasThis 7-night sailing called at Port Canaveral, Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island).  Nassau is a great stop for kids as there are tons of activities.  This time we went to the Pirate Museum (really geared toward kids aged 6-13). We have gone to Blue Lagoon Island in the past and highly recommend it! In Port Canaveral we rented a car and spent some time at the beach and Dinosaur Store. Because you don’t dock until Noon, venturing to one of the Disney area attractions can prove to be a bit much with younger kids. Great Stirrup Cay was very crowded and with little shade, we were forced to enjoy the water most of the day – that was okay with the kids. Overall, for a 7 night cruise, this itinerary is a bit uninspiring. If NCL removed Port Canaveral and added Freeport it would be a bit more exciting.

Getting on and off the ship was a bit of a challenge in Great Stirrup Cay. The staff on the tender were not helpful and failed to assist passengers on and off the tender, even when they obviously needed assistance. We found the security staff to be less friendly than on other cruises.

Crew/Cleanliness

Crew Rating:  B-     Cleanliness Rating:  A-

In general, most of the crew that we encountered were indifferent, but several did provide excellent service (at least as compared to their fellow crew). This was a common sentiment amongst the passengers that we spoke with. Of particular note, Iain, the Cruise Director and the Nick Program leader did a great job…unfortunately, they are mere individuals in the sea of indifference.

I did have a brief conversation with the Hotel Director who seemed very open to feedback. Unfortunately, his staff failed to follow up with me, resulting in him chasing me down the gangway during disembarkation. He apologized for the mishap and offered to refund a portion of our service charges. I in turn promised to send an e-mail outlining our concerns.

Update – I sent a two-page e-mail within a week of our return detailing the issues that we encountered with specific examples.  As of August 2, 2010 the Hotel Director has yet to respond nor has NCL Public Relations made any attempt to contact me.  NCL did comp our onboard account charges (approx $400).  Such action on their part did not impact our review.

We found the ship to be clean and sanitary.  However, there were dirty dishes, that would pile up on tables regularly. The only area that could use a bit of refreshing in the pool area.

Disembarkation

Rating:  C-

The disembarkation process was the worst we’ve ever seen. NCL utilizes the traditional process of colored baggage tags and they call groups at certain intervals. This is New York, so disembarkation started a bit late, but those passengers walking off with their luggage (highly recommended here) had it the easiest. Once colored tags began being called, it was chaos. We queued up after the first two colors (before we were called) and we stood in line for almost 45 minutes due to congestion in the terminal. We attribute the chaos to an antiquated process, NCLs inability to process passengers in an organized fashion and the NYC porters and immigration staff. We didn’t get to our vehicle (parked above the terminal) until almost 11AM!

When sailing from the Manhattan terminal, always reserve later flights. Also, for those taking the bus, there is no rush to get off the ship as buses depart after Noon.

Conclusion

Overall Rating:  C+

Positive – Selection/quality of food, Nickelodeon program, family friendly entertainment.

Negative –Lack of public space, mediocre dining service, kids program concerns, compact cabins, NYC departure/arrival issues, inadequate pool area.

For those families wishing to sail on the Norwegian Epic (ie the other Nickelodeon ship), there is an excellent candid and comprehensive ship review to get you started.

You can read more about this topic, as well as many other family cruising topics, in our new book–Cruising With Kids: A Guide To The Perfect Family Cruise Vacation. Visit our dedicated Cruising With Kids website for more details.

Disclosure

No related posts.

33 Responses to “Cruise Review – NCL’s Norwegian Jewel”

  • kelly:

    you mention renting a car in florida..can you tell me how you went about this? was there a rental agency near the dock? wondering if we should rent a car to do universal or us the boats transport. same question for going to atlantis….suggestions? thanks!

  • It depends which port you are sailing from. Port Canaveral has several agencies that will shuttle you to their nearby location. In Miami and Port Everglades, cars are usually available on-site. Go to the major car rental agency sites and search for locations by city and you will find options for Port of Miami, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, etc.

  • Thank you for the comment. I do hope you had a wonderful cruise!

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