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Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Jewel

February 23, 2014 – March 2, 2014

This was a 7 day Western Caribbean Cruise out of New Orleans.  This was my first time taking a cruise from New Orleans and it was a refreshing change. This was the first Annual West Coast Line Dancers cruise that is led by our very own Mandi Muscolo.  She has been leading Line dancing cruises for several years with another co-instructor, but this year decided to branch out on her own.  Since Bill & I are both avid line dancers, we always knew at some point we would join Mandi on one of her cruises, this was the perfect opportunity because she was also in need of some back up help with the instruction of the dances.  I did teach 4-5 dances during the course of the week to the group. 

 

 

 

 

The airport is located about 25 minutes away from downtown New Orleans and the Cruise Terminal is about a 5-10 minute cab ride from any of the downtown hotels.   We flew in the night before the cruise and landed around 6pm, but by the time we got our luggage and car, we got to our hotel around 730pm.  The main time delay is that we arrived in the heart of the 2 week span that is Mardi Gras!   It was planned this way.   Fortunately, we stayed at a hotel that our driver was able to get to, we had a group of people on this cruise and several stayed at other hotels and had to be dropped off 2-3 blocks away and schlep their bags through the crazy streets of Mardi Gras celebrations.   I should note that my hotel pick was solely based on where I could use points, the others had all booked a hotel package with the cruise line and it’s unfortunate that the cruise line could not have offered a hotel where people could get more door to door service.

 

We spent the 1 night at the Westin Downtown New Orleans.  Our check-in process was very quick and it didn’t take long to know that we were in the South of the USA- I stopped counting “Y’all” after I reached 10 times  in the first 30 minutes.  There is nothing like Southern hospitality.   Our room was very clean and spacious and they had upgraded us to a Deluxe room.  I must note that the perks of being a Starwood Preferred Gold member are quite amazing- we have been upgraded just about every time we have stayed at a Starwood hotel.  We became Gold members when we bought into a time share program with Starwood and have to say that we have been very happy with the added perks.   We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was really more of a bar with a few tables for snack ordering.  We were able to make do with the options and then we retreated back to our hotel room- we were both very tired after a long travel day.    I would definitely recommend this hotel- very clean and close to everything that is on the “must see” list for New Orleans.   

 

We decided to sleep in and by the time we got going  it was about 1pm when we left the hotel, so unlike us- however, since the cruise ship was so close, we did avoid the crowds at check-in and once on board our room was ready, so we didn’t have to drag our bags all over the place for a few hours.  Now the down side to this, that is usually when I take pictures of the public areas of the ship for these reviews.  So my album for the Norwegian Jewel will not be a complete depiction of the ship, but if you look at the album for the Norwegian Pearl, you will basically see the same ship, they are sister ships.  Once on board the ship, they have the red carpet rolled out, music playing and a line of staff welcoming you on board.  A great way to set the stage for a week of cruising vacation.  We did go straight to our cabin to drop off our bags and then up to get some lunch at the Garden Café (buffet restaurant).  Now if you are in a Suite category, you are able to go have lunch in Cagney’s for a sit down, more personalized dining experience.  In fact, all week long Suite guests can have breakfast and lunch at Cagney’s if they wish.   We did not have a suite, but Mandi did and they enjoyed their special meals in Cagney’s. 

 

Our Cabin-

We had our coveted Aft-Facing Balcony again and I felt like I had come back home!  I really did miss having the balcony on our last cruise.  We had cabin 10668 and quite honestly the best view in the house!   The cabin itself was very spacious with our Queen Bed, a sofa that would pull out for a third person if needed, two corner table areas- one equipped with a hair dryer that was already plugged in to a special outlet so that you could use the other outlet for something else.  The closet was decent sized and there were shelves along side the closet that served as extra clothing storage.  There were only 4 drawers for clothes and they were fairly deep.   This particular cabin also had a 4th bed, which if pulled down would block access to the balcony door.  Two great things to point out about this cabin- the size of the balcony and the size of the bathroom:  the bathroom had a very large shower by cruise industry standards- you could stand two people in there and it was a real side to side sliding door.  Now you really would not function well with two people in the shower together- but it is large enough if you needed to do this.  Especially for families with small kids who might need a parent to shower with them.  The balcony, also very spacious- we had one full size lounge chair, a small table and two other chairs and there was room to move around them.  Not the largest balcony we’ve ever had but probably the second largest.    Our cabin was in decent shape, a few areas  of wear and tear- but this ship is going into dry dock this coming April, so those signs will be taken care of very easily. 

 

Dining-

Norwegian is the Freestyle Cruise Line and you have the option to dine when, where and with who you wish and there are a variety of options.  We do like having the Specialty dining options, though some people do not like to pay for them.   We dined with our group in the Tzar Dining Room (included in cruise cost) on both the first and last nights.   The group had a standing 530pm reservation for those who wanted to dine as a group.   Dining room staff was very attentive, even going to get a special dish from the buffet for my husband on both occasions.   I think that you are getting better service in the main dining room because they do not have a dining room full of people at one time like you would with a Traditional Dining seating on some other cruise lines.  People stagger in at various times during the night.

 

Our other nights we dined in La Cucina, Le Bistro, Teppanyaki, Moderno Brazilian Steak house and Cagney’s Steakhouse.  Have to say that every meal was excellent, service was top notch and we had very good dining experiences in all of the restaurants.  You do pay the service fees and it’s advisable to make reservations ahead of time if you really want to do one or more of these specialty restaurants.  You can cancel with 24 hours notice and receive your money back.  Some cruises these restaurants will fill up and on others, they won’t at all.  We never saw any of these fill up except for the Teppanyaki- but they can only take 32 people at a seating and they have 4 seatings per night.   We never had trouble changing our reservations.  The only special restaurant that we did not experience was the Chin Chin Chinese restaurant which is also next to the Sushi Bar & Sake Bar. 

 

Most of our breakfasts were in the Garden Café, plenty of choices and plenty of chairs.  We did order room service breakfast one morning before a shore excursion- only complaint is that we checked the 730a-8a time frame and they came at 7am!  They do call before coming, but I think a 30 minute window should be adhered to- especially since we were ordering continental which did not require hot delivery.  As for lunch, we would usually pick up something at the outdoor grill or inside the Garden Café. 

 

The staff is very good about making sure everyone sanitizes when they enter any of the dining venues.  They have someone stationed at the entrances of each restaurant tending to this.  I’m very happy to see a cruise line take this so seriously, nobody wants to get sick with Norovirus on their cruise.   And to keep with that clean theme- we did notice a staff person going down the hallways one day and disinfecting all of the door knobs going into peoples cabins.

 

Entertainment-

Sadly, I did not get to enjoy many of the ship’s shows because we had a standing dance lesson/open dance scheduled every night with our group from 730pm-10pm.  Most nights we were at our dance venue, but because of our dining schedule we would arrive later and join in and then on the last night we made it a point to go to the show which meant a quick stop at the dance venue for a few dances and then we got to the show which was all singing and the performers were all very talented.  We had heard very good things about all of the other shows and the performers.   Bummed that we missed that, but we were having our own fun.  We did make it to the late night Adult Comedy show one night and he was very entertaining and not very dirty- sometimes with the late night adult only shows, you can get some that are pretty vulgar but this guy still kept things relatively clean.   The ship did have Karaoke every night in one of the venues.   They seemed to draw a good crowd for  Karaoke, but I personally would have liked to see them use this space  (The Fyzz Lounge) for more of a variety of entertainment.  Your night choices were either Karaoke at the Fyzz or whatever was going on in the Spinnaker Lounge.  Most nights in Spinnaker would start off with some sort of Audience participation game show (Quest, Newleywed Game, etc.) and then it would turn into the disco- sometimes with the band starting and sometimes just DJ the entire night.

 

DJ Felix was a very good DJ- he definitely had his set playlists and if left to his own devices would play most of the same music every night, but if you made any requests he would play them right away- so that was very good and as a result we did get our group out to dance in Spinnaker a few times with songs we had requested.    The dance floor in Spinnaker is in need of a major overhaul, but again that will be addressed with the upcoming dry dock.  It’s a great venue otherwise and we were lucky to have two sessions of our dance lessons in this space.  The Fyzz dance floor was smaller and it’s an open space, so you can’t really have any private affairs in this area without anyone else on the ship stopping by to watch.  Of course, being the dancing crowd that we were, if a Karaoke performer was doing a song that we had a line dance for, we’d jump up on the floor and dance.  There were a few of us from the group that even dared to get on stage and sing. 

 

My constant pet peeve with cruise lines still remains that that is the ambiguous end time listed on the daily program for night time activities.  Each night Karaoke would go from a starting time until “Close” and the DJ would be spinning music in Spinnaker from a given time until “Close”.  Now we never ran into the problem of the DJ packing it up for the night while we were still there ready, willing and able to continue dancing.  However, there were several nights when Eddie Spaghetti (yes that was his name on his name tag) would run Karaoke he would pretty much end when he was ready to end.  When I confronted him on this- he actually was very defensive to me and made it all about him and how he has to get up the next day for some other activities.  I tried to explain to him, that’s not the paying customer’s problem.   Programs should say  “Karaoke from 830pm until midnight” or whatever time they want to put on it and leave it like that.  Then everyone knows what to expect and nobody will be disappointed.   Interestingly enough, the next night Eddie seemed to avoid our group at Karaoke.  Too bad for him, because the cruise line will be made aware of this situation. 

 

The audience participation shows were all very good fun and full of laughs.  I’m glad we got to attend several of them. 

 

Kids- did not see a lot of kids on this cruise, partly I’m sure due to the time of year, but also its typically a good sign that the kids club is going a good job!   Norwegian Cruise Line has a partnership with Nickelodeon, so there are activities with Sponge Bob, Patrick, Dora and others.  I’m not up on all of my Nick characters like I am with Disney!   There were a lot of kids activities listed on the daily program.

 

Ports of Call:

This was a Western Caribbean itinerary and we’ve been to most of the ports before.  Cozumel is one of my favorite.  We decided to sleep in that day and then took a taxi into town and had lunch at a favorite spot of mine "Pancho's Backyard" and it did not disappoint.  I have been to this place about 5 times now and it's always been really good!   Honduras (Roatan) was another port and we stayed on board the ship since we've been there a few times before and then there was Belize- a new port of call to my list of Caribbean Ports!  We pre-booked an excursion with the ship to go swimming with the stingrays and nerf sharks.  It was a full day, with a boat ride to a smaller island (Caye as they are called), we got to the snorkel spot and the waters were a little rougher than I had expected.  I had visions of Stingray City in Grand Cayman, but this was not the case and I could not stand in the area which made the entire excursion a little difficult.  To see the sharks you had to swim a great distance to the reef and with the 3 strokes forward, 2 strokes back that I was experiencing, I said "forget it".  After the water part, they took us back to the Caye for lunch and we had a nice lunch, sipped Belizean beer and enjoyed conversation with locals.  LOVED the Belizean people!  It really was a great experience and I'd love to return to Belize someday- I don't say that about too many ports of call in the Caribbean.  This one had a great flavor!

 

Summary:

Overall, this was a really great cruise.  We enjoyed our dancing, we enjoyed the sunshine, we had a good mix of sea days and port days and good ports at that.   Service was really good, food nothing to complain about and I feel that we did vary our dining options to get a fair example of the ship.  I am becoming  more and more fond of Norwegian Cruise Line.  I do think that they, with Andy Stuart at the helm have turned things around and it is an excellent cruise choice.

 

To View pictures of the Norwegian Jewel, click here: Norwegian Jewel Album

To View more ship pictures of the Sister ship, Norwegian Pearl, click here: Norwegian Pearl Album

 

We did spend one more night in New Orleans after the cruise since it was 2 days before Mardi Gras and we arranged to have Parade Tickets in advance (this reserves bandstand seating).  We stayed at the W Hotel on Poydras, which was about 5 minutes by cab from the ship- you could see the ship from our hotel room window...later that day we watched the ship sail away down the Mississippi.   After speaking to the concierge we learned that even though we had 11am Parade tickets, the parade would not make it to the grandstand area until approximately 1pm.  This was great news as it gave us time to walk around the French Quarter, the French Market, watch some street performers who were really cool like this human transformer..he was amazing!!  Overall, a great experience - in moderation!