Our group of 12 was on the NORWEGIAN JEWEL from December 23 -30, 2016. The group was my wife and I (4 other cruises) in an Oceanview stateroom, my 29 year old son and his girlfriend (first cruise) in an Oceanview stateroom, my 24 year old daughter and her boyfriend (3rd cruise) in an Oceanview stateroom, my daughter’s boyfriend’s parents (2nd cruise) in an Oceanview stateroom, our son’s girlfriend’s aunt and the girlfriend’s 10 year old son (1st cruise) in a balcony stateroom and the aunt’s sister and husband (2nd cruise) in an Interior stateroom.
Whew! Confusing group, I know. Main point is that we had a variety of ages and experience. The aunt and her sister were both renting scooters and had some mobility issues. But EVERYONE had a great time. Different takes from everyone, but I’ll focus as best I can on the overall experience, but understand that not everyone did everything I talk about here.
EMBARKATION: This was a disappointing mess. My wife and I plus a few others in the group arrived in LA that morning. It was pretty fast (30 minutes) to get from LA to the port, and we used a VERY nice van service. There are lots in a city that size…our group of 8 was big enough (with all the suitcases) to get our very own van, but at no extra charge. We arrived at the port and it took forever for the porter to take our bags. Yes, we had a lot, but it took longer than it should have. Then a port representative met us to help with our family member who needed a wheelchair. One family member was allowed to go with her, but that meant having her niece leave her little boy with us…and as we aren’t his family members, we couldn’t bring him on the ship. What a mess! Finally, our son, the boy, the niece and the aunt all went off and my wife and I fended for ourselves. We were glad to see a line for “repeat” customers (we’re bronze…lowest level) but it saved no time. We all ended up at the same check-in counters. The wait was 45 minutes. In the end, we were the last folks on the ship from our whole group. Normally we are on by noon or 1. It was after two, and cabins were already available, so the ship was a madhouse.
I’ll start with THE GREAT OUTDOORS. This was where we met up with most of our group as we waited for muster drill. As always, this is a great spot to look around at the views, grab a drink, get some food and NOT have significant crowds. You have to walk all the way through the very long cafeteria to get to it, and I guess a lot of folks just won’t bother. The buffet doesn’t have as many choices as the main buffet, but it still has PLENTY to choose from. The atmosphere is just so much more relaxing. We spent time in the late evenings as well (once we were in Mexican temps…it was a little chilly in SoCal!). Buffet is open late, the bar is pouring and the sound of the ship moving through the ocean is relaxing. You can have a party atmosphere here or a calm one.
Our first couple of dinners, we did as a group of 12. With the Christmas holidays, I had to reserve seats for Christmas Eve (formal night) as well as Christmas brunch and then Christmas night dinner. Our first night (the 23rd) we tried out Tsar’s, the more “formal” or “traditional” of the two MDRs. We were seated quickly and the food and service was very nice. The following night was good as well. Folks were seldom truly formal (saw a small smattering of tuxes), but there were plenty of suits. I don’t know if Christmas Eve just brought out a larger selection of dressier folks. Not every meal everyone had was a homerun, and there were a few uneaten appetizers or entrees…but I liked everything I had for the most part. On the first night, I had the prime rib and it was very tasty. (I had prime rib on EXPLORER OF THE SEAS 3 months prior, and that was quite tasteless.) Anyway, when Christmas brunch came around, things fell apart a bit from a service perspective. So much so, they gave me a free bottle of wine. Very slow. Wrong items arriving. Half the table receiving their entrees and the other half waiting forever. It was not good, so after that, our party never had dinner at Tsar’s again. We made the move to Azura that night and while, to be honest, I like the formal Tsar’s a bit better…everyone seemed to feel more at ease, so I was happy. The service was good too. Food is the same as at Tsar’s…but the more contemporary atmosphere is quite different. I recommend you try both. They each have something nice to offer. (By the way, Tsar’s is open for breakfast, and I highly recommend it. You can often get a table by a window and have a lovely view of the ocean while you gorge yourself!).
We had lunch on the 24th at CHIN-CHIN, the included Chinese place. For lunch, it is a noodle house…and it was quite tasty!! A couple of the older members of our group were not so enchanted by the unorthodox food…but most of us loved it. (If you wanted an alcoholic beverage, though, you had to run down a level and get it from one of the bars. We had no bar service there, as for some reason, the bar at the sushi joint was closed at lunch time.)
We only tried the main buffet one for breakfast and once for lunch. It is fine. Crowded but fine. We ended up having several breakfast’s at O’SHEEHAN’S, the delightful “open almost all the time” sit down place with a large, Irish-themed bar adjacent. The have a limited menu of things like burgers, fries, tuna sandwich, etc…but for breakfast, they have essentially the same choices as Tsar’s and it’s a bit more casual. (A great place for a pre or post-hangover dose of protein, too.) Service, to be honest, was always a bit indifferent, but it was efficient, so I was happy enough.
The only specialty restaurant we did was TEPPANYAKI, as a group of 12 on the 28th. We had a blast, and the food was terrific. Fresh and tasty and plentiful. There is an extra charge, which I think is a bit high (about $30, I think)…but if you can do a splurge, this is a fun time. Only gripe was that they were 15 minutes late seating us, so we were a bit pressed for time to catch the show in the theater. We did not try other specialty places this time, as we enjoyed having dinner with our kids and their SOs. The older folks in the group did try some other spots and gave glowing reports about Cagney’s and less-than-enthused about the Italian spot.
BARS Many of us had selected the drink package as one of our ad-ons (part of the special), and we sure got our money’s worth. It was the holidays, and for most of the trip, the weather was warm and sunny. So we indulged a fair amount. The limit was $15, and we seldom exceeded it. And not everything needed to be well drinks, either. Jack Daniels, Johnny Black, etc. were all covered. I saw no real “generic” names. Strangely, Dark and Stormy’s were more than $15??!! I was able to order a Moscow Mule with dark instead of white rum…so that was just a little odd. I can’t speak much about the wine…we had very little of that, but my kids often got a glass at dinner and seemed satisfied. They are not very knowledgeable, though! Beer was the usual disappointing array. A couple of places had Heineken on draft, but overall the selection was poor. I was pleasantly surprised to find they had a Pale Ale from Lagunita’s though. That seemed like a random (but nice) choice to pop up in a sea of Budweiser, Coors & Sam Adams lager.
The bars themselves all had various things to offer, but most really had the same stuff as anyone else. The notable exception was the Mojito Bar (connected to Cagney’s Steakhouse) which poured some really unusual and tasty mojitos you couldn’t get anywhere else. They have more limited hours, so make plans to drop by. It is a bit more “elegant” than many of the bars and they actually serve a chex-mix type of thing to encourage lingering. So you might feel out of place stopping by in your swim trunks and flip-flops. Otherwise, it’s a standard selection of pool-side bars, bars in the two clubs and a smattering throughout the ship. Each bar was nice and the service was generally good. I was always able to order two drinks with just one card. And ordering doubles was never an issue. Frankly, some of these guys poured with a very heavy hand. I ordered a double Cape Cod for my wife, and they basically filled the glass with vodka and then splashed a smidgen of cranberry juice on top. Watch out!
ENTERTAINMENT As with all other cruises we’ve done, this was a bit hit and miss. The Norwegian Jewel cast was actually pretty good and we enjoyed BAND OF THE RUN, essentially a collection of songs from the 70s / 80s. High energy, fast moving and the live band was great. In fact, most of the shows featured the live band, and they were always a pretty tight ensemble. Yes, they stared hard at their cheat sheets and weren’t terribly charismatic…but they sounded really great. We enjoyed ourselves overall at these shows. We didn’t spend much time with the other entertainment on the ship, except occasionally a song or two in Spinnaker’s, the bigger of the clubs, with a dance floor and lots of seating. Spinnaker’s is the site of many daytime “games” as well. This place gets a lot of use, but when it is not in use, there is no better spot for some quiet time reading or looking at the sea.
MISC: We spent some time playing board games in the game room. It’s so nice that they have that. It’s a simple little feature (right next to the library) but on this family oriented cruise…it was packed!
Speaking of family oriented…THE QUEST game show, which is usually for adults only, was REALLY for adults only. It is held in the Spinnaker, which makes it possible for more people to get involved (compared to, say, the Ice Arena on a Royal Caribbean ship, where you can just watch and laugh if you want). The challenges got quite racy at the end, and as my son said once “I definitely saw some nudity.” So be warned. We laughed our butts off, but I was a little surprised as well. Spinnaker also hosted White Hot night, because the weather had gotten very blustery. Being indoors dampened this event, and it was a bit of a flop, I would say. We had looked forward to it, but somehow, being inside just wasn’t as fun as spreading out over the two levels around the pool, tropical drink in hand, dancing like fool.
The 10 year old with us spent LOTS of time on the sports court. Soccer tournaments, basketball, etc. He enjoyed the Kids Club (can’t remember the name) and was immediately ready to do another cruise!
CABIN: We had an oceanview room on deck 5, so this featured a picture window, rather than a porthole. It was a perfectly serviceable cabin…just like any other. If you’ve cruised before, you know what I mean. If not…just expect something that looks like an inexpensive hotel room, but much smaller. Store your suitcases under the bed. Bring handing cosmetic bags as there is essentially no counter space. (I will say, though, that the room had perhaps a little bit more storage space than we’ve had before. We actually had an unused drawer!
Our steward was fine…nothing special, but our room was always clean and towels always stocked and ice always provided. We didn’t see him much, but didn’t really need to.
DISEMBARKATION This was essentially a breeze, although we had to wait extra for the two wheelchairs we needed. This made us amongst the last to debark, but everything was smooth. You can still get a lovely breakfast in Tsar’s and I recommend that. One last shot of really nice, tablecloth service! (One tip…we had rented a couple of vehicles from the Enterprise dealership in San Pedro. Their shuttle took us there and then my son and I had to wait for over an hour to get cars. It was SO terribly jam-packed. The staff was overwhelmed. It’s a tiny office and you actually have to wait outside. Find another solution!! Take an uber to a neighboring town for a rental car. (We had to spend about 8 hours in LA before our flight, so we wanted a bit of freedom to move around.)