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Dan Buchler

Age: 69

Occupation:Retired Engineer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Jewel

Sailing Date: October 9th, 2006

Itinerary: Mediterranean

Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Jewel Cruise Review
Mediterranean

Dan Buchler

This was our 2nd cruise (1st cruise to Alaska on Princess). My wife and I (in our 60s) traveled with my stepson and wife (in their 30s). hereafter referred to as “kids”. We traveled on the Norwegian Jewel which went into service during late summer, 2005. It is a beautiful ship, impeccably maintained and very clean.

ITINERARY

Overnight in Istanbul; Izmir for Ephesus; Athens; Dubrovnik – Croatia; Overnight in Venice; Naples for Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri; Civitavecchia for Rome; and Barcelona.

RESERVATIONS/CABINS

We had a “mini-suite” no. 11038 with a very private balcony and the kids had a cabin without windows, no 5021.

6 to 9 months before the cruise, we used www.cruisecompete.com to find a cruise agency. When you fill-in your cruise criteria, cruise compete solicits bids from cruise agencies. Often these bids are lower than you might get if you go to that agency directly. There is no cost to you for the service. From cruise compete we selected a bid from www.cruises-n-more.com, the low bidder. The mini suite cost $5,513 for 2 people and kid’s cabin cost $2,482 including all taxes

11038 was quite large. The sitting area between the beds and the balcony contains a foldout bed that could comfortable accommodate 2 adults. We used it as a couch or a place to flop during the day. A heavy curtain can be drawn to partition off the sitting area. Note the 21”(?) TV is in that sitting area. The sleeping area and the sitting area each have their own thermostats and the air conditioning, so it was necessary to adjust both thermostats to obtain very effective control.

The bathroom contained a tub with shower with a modern and very functional Grohe water temperature control. The WC and bathtub/shoer had a sliding door that helped in maintaining privacy when we both used the bathroom at the same time. It was like 3 separate areas!

The bathroom ventilation was very effective in dehumidifying. It took about 2 minutes for the mirror to dry off after a shower. The ship uses a vacuum flush system in the toilet that, though noisy, works well. Notices on the wall warn you not to throw anything but toilet paper in the bowl and that doing so will block as may as 50 toilets on the same branch. Someone, not us, must have done this, for on one morning, the flush stopped working, but was fixed by the time we came back from breakfast.

11038 was very quiet and we enjoyed our private balcony.

5021 was very small with no window. The bed occupied most of the floor space. The room had a small 13” TV, and a small, but adequate shower. The kids complained twice that they heard a clanging of some heavy door being repeatedly closed with loud clang during the night in the crew area below,

CABIN STAFF (STEWARDS)

The staff was excellent instantly responding to service requests and keeping the cabin clean and neat at all times. They worked an 8:00am to Noon and 6:00pm to 10pm shift. A turn-down service occurs during the 2nd shift. All stewards on the ship are taught to make various animal figures from a white towel that is left on the bed. A nice touch. (The ship holds a class in how to make these figures.)


EMBARKATION

NCL seemed to get everyone on board between about Noon and 3pm on day one of the cruise in Istanbul. There was somewhat chaotic porter service and security check on the shore followed by a line up in front of about 20 NCL clerks checking everyone in. Thee whole thing took about 20 minutes! Our kids were hoping to upgrade their cabin, but no upgrades were available.


RESTAURANTS/FOOD

Because of the fear of the Norwalk Virus, the ship really pushes minimizing the possibility of transmitting disease. At the entrance to every restaurant there is a machine that dispenses an alcohol-based cleanser with a crew-member exhorting one to use it. One finds the same dispensers when going ashore and coming abroad again.

Those who surf the web will note many complaints about the food on the Jewel (and other NCL ships). Believe me these complaints are justified. First of all TV monitors on all floors at the 3 elevator shafts give an indication of how busy are the main and specialty restaurants. This ship practices free-style seating which means you can eat where you want when you want, if space is available. In general the main restaurants were never full, but the specialty restaurants were full some of the time with 7:30 being the peak hour. Reservations made in advance have to be cancelled 24 hours in advance to avoid the surcharge.

Cagney’s the Steakhouse serves marvelous Filet Mignon. You pay $15 each for the privilege of dining there ($7.50 before 6:00). Chin Chins serves a fair quality Asian menu for $10. The Bistro (A French restaurant with $15 surcharge) is supposed to be good. We didn’t try it, but our kids did and loved it. Chin Chins also has Japanese Teppanyaki area that was fairly good at $10 and up. Mama’s, the Italian restaurant, had no surcharge but was only fair in quality.

Tangos offered a no-surcharge Texarkana type of meal that was OK. One could go to Tangos at most times and make reservations for any of the specialty restaurants.

The Garden Café and Great Outdoors served cafeteria style Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner from 6:00am to about midnight. The quality was fair. The selection was fairly good (but not up to the standard offered on the Princess Cruises.) Examples – for dinner they have a carver served roast beef. Except for day one, it was always overcooked. Two omelet stations in the Garden Café make fairly decent Omelets to order Smoked salmon was available for breakfast most mornings and you have selections of most items one would expect for breakfast including Texas French Toast. The presentation was typical all-you-can-eat buffet. The food cooled off quickly and was often not replenished quickly

Soft ice-cream was always available

Ice tea, tea, coffee, juice (in morning) is free but one has to buy cokes and soft drinks at exhorbitant prices. Or you can buy an all-you-can-drink soft drink card for $20 that lasts the duration of the cruise.

The staff in the all of the above restaurants were very attentive and friendly at all times.

During the evening we were in Venice, the Garden Café put on what they call “Chocaholics Night” from 10:00 to 11:30pm. This consisted of a some beautiful displays made out of chocolate of items like the Venetian Bell Tower, the Eiffel Your and some Disney characters. They don’t allow you to eat the displays, putting them back in cold storage for use on the next voyage. The edible items consisted of a variety of chocolates and other deserts, chocolate ice cream and mousses. The quality was fair – nothing to write home about.

There were also pool-side restaurants and the Blue Lagoon with limited fair, but open all night and 24-hour free room service with limited menus. We did not use the room service preferring to bring food from the Garden Café to the room ourselves!

We, and most passengers, did not use the Main restaurants for breakfast or lunch.

The big problems lies in the Main Restaurants (Tsar’s palace and Azura) which are both serviced with the same menu from the same kitchen.

Compared to Princess Cruises the selection is very poor. We ate several times in the main restaurant and did not get one decent meal. True, the food presentation is marvelous and they encourage you to order multiples of everything except the entrée. The best way to describe the food is “bland”! Then on the menu are certain items identified as available all the time. Included are broiled chicken and steak. Between us, we ordered the chicken on 3 occasions and on 3 occasions it was an inedible piece of rubber. Two of us ordered steaks. These were a thin cheap cut which although cooked as ordered, were very poor. The wait staff were not attentive and very slow. With a few exceptions, they weren’t even friendly. The next effect on us was to choose not to eat in the main restaurants during the 2nd half of the voyage.

Optional Dress-Up was set for two of the 3 at-sea nights. In practice, few people dressed up and the number of tuxedos could be counted on one hand! The ship asks that persons entering all restaurants except the Garden Café and Great Outdoors after 5pm not wear jeans, shorts, etc. Most, but not all passengers respected this,

THE SHIP

The Jewel has the usual bars, casino (only open while at sea) and lounges. The Spinnaker lounge facing forward was used for multi-purposes. It offered bingo and other entertainment and had tandem recliners. The main “Stardust” theater seats about 1000 and offered a variety of entertainment. Despite complaints by other reviewers, we were satisfied with the quality of entertainment. Events that we attended and enjoyed included:
“Cirque Bijou – Jean Anne Ryan Co. Dancing and Aerial stunts over the audience.
“Lenny Windsor” – Benny Hill Show. Comedian.
“Edge” – Juggler and Comedian.

Most of the ship main facilities are accessed from Deck 7. Following a show, there was a mad rush to the forward elevators (there are 3 sets of elevators in the ship) making it necessary to walk to another elevator area if you didn’t want to wait.

A bridge viewing room, open while at sea, allows unrestricted viewing of the bridge. Several of the ships navigational instruments are replicated in the viewing room so one can see exactly what the officers on deck can see. It was amazing to me to see the level of sophistication of the ship’s electronics and navigation systems.

There was an unadvertised Self Service Launderette amidships on the starboard side of decks 5, 9, 10 and 11 (I think). Each facility was free and had 3 washers and 3 dryers. A machine dispensed 2 small packages of detergent for 4 quarters. The launderette does not appear on any NCL cabin plans. 2 tables with irons were also situated in each room. The on board pay-laundry was quite expensive!

Several of our group indulged in spa treatments at about $100 per shot. The exercise room had good equipment. Daily classes were offered in aerobics (no charge) or yoga.. Pilates and spinning classes were $10 on various days and times.

The ship, like all modern cruise ships has stabilizers which in the moderate seas (7’ to 10’ troughs) which we experienced, reduced the roll to small but definitely noticeable movement. A few souls with less hardy stomachs felt sick. The reception area dispensed free sea-sick pills.

A reception desk was staffed 24 hours a day and took care of problems, questions and money changing. The line-ups at the desk were often very long with long wait times! You could exchange dollars for euros, but don’t! A visa cash card is the way to go. On shore, with most cards you got the wholesale rate of exchange minus 2% This amounted to about 1.255 $ per euro during most of the trip. If you used the reception area on the ship, it would cost you 9% or more! The ship would not buy back Turkish Lira, a major inconvenience considering the ship spent 3 days in Turkey!

An ATM was available in the Casino but only dispensed dollars – singularly useless on a European voyage!

The ship had facilities for small children, a teen-club, a marriage chapel and other things we did not use.

SHORE EXCURSIONS

There was also a Shore Excursion desk next to the Reception desk and intermittently open, which was fine if you wanted to purchase one of the ship’s excursion which NCL was anxious to sell. If you wanted to do your own things at a port – forget the Shore Excursion desk. In many cases you would get misinformation. One example of this was Venice. Elsewhere on the Internet, I had found that a shuttle bus was offered to take you from the pier to/from Piazela Roma (saving a 20 minute walk). On enquiring about this, I was told one had to walk. In fact there was a shuttle bus. We used it 3 times and had to walk on the 4th occasion because the shuttle-bus stopped running after 5:30pm. Check with the bus-driver when the last one leaves or ask at an information desk at the pier.

In Venice, NCL arranged for a shuttle boat from the ship to Piazza San Marco at a cost of $25 for unlimited use. This was not useful to us as we wanted to go other places. Further, other cruise lines offered a free boat shuttle!

However, if you could find the right person at the reception desk, you could get useful information with maps, directions and general information.

My impression was that NCL was very poor in supporting any shore activity that did not make money for them!

The NCL arranged shore excursion were of pretty good quality but quite expensive. We and our kids took several but not always the same ones. The tour guides were nearly all locals which enhanced their knowledge, However, in many cases, their command of English and local accent made them difficult to understand.

We selected our excursions based on whether or not it would be easy to do our own thing and do it reliably enough to make sure one returned to the ship on time.

In Istanbul we had already stayed an extra night in a hotel (Avicenna, one block from the Blue Mosque and highly recommended) to make sure there was time to react to any lost baggage (there wasn’t any lost baggage) and also because doing so was less than half the cost of NCL arranged pre-cruise (and post cruise arrangements). Our itinerary allowed us to visit more sights in less time than NCL could offer. Advice: make sure you have exact change for taxi drivers! Don’t miss the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque!

We took the Bosphorous cruise arranged by NCL because it was impossible to schedule it any other way!

In Izmir, we took the Ephesus and the Virgin Mary tour. Excellent lunch and entertainment in a seaside town overlooking the Ocean.

In Athens we took the NCL Taste of Athens cruise to avoid hastle with the Athens Metro. The Parthenon is very majestic! Literature says tours involve physical exertion for extended periods of time. Terrain may be uneven or steep. Recommended only for physically fit travelers. With the Parthenon, they really mean it. It’s a long climb up!

In Dubrovnik we took the Croation Riviera Tour. Light lunch in a quaint country setting and a glimpse of breathtaking views in the country around. Dubrovnik is a beautiful city that has been completely restored following the siege in 1993 by the Bosnians. Dubrovnik was the only port that required “Tendering” – boat from ship to shore.

In Venice we did our own thing. Our kids took the Murano/Burano tour on the 2nd day and enjoyed seeing the glass factory. They nearly got left behind while engaged in negotiating the price of a piece of glass! We experienced a temporary set-back when all of about 5 ATM machines we tried on Sunday evening were out of money!

Our kids took the Capri/Sorrento/Pompeii 10 hour tour seeing a lot more than one could probably accomplish by oneself. We chose to do Capri on our own using the same Hydrofoil that the Taste of Capri tour used at much less cost. We visited Anacapri, Villa San Michele, Gardens of Augustus and had a nice pizza lunch in a restaurant with a beautiful view. The 3:25pm Hydrofoil from Capri gets back at 4:05pm, providing plenty of safety factor to make sure one is back before the 7:00pm sailing from Naples.

From Civitavecchia, our kids took the Vatican Tour and we did our own thing. We were ready to get off the ship when it docked at 7:00am. NCL is required to provide shuttle busses to the port entrance from which there is about a 15 min walk to Civitavecchia railroad station. We missed a 7:38 train but caught an 8:08 train to Rome, arriving 9:40. The train fare is 4.10 euros one way per person. A little after 10, we took the #110 double-decker sight seeing bus to Piazza San Pietro (The Vatican). The bus offers an wonderful overview of the city providing earphones on which one can hear commentaries in various languages including English (though rather brief) about each site. The whole route takes 2 hours! One can hop on and off at any stop. The cost is 13 euros per person (An earlier blog reported problems with lining up for tickets and buses arriving full. I think this has been eliminated as tickets are purchased on the bus and they dispatch the bus from Piazza Cinquecento in front of the Roma Termini before each bus is full.)

There was a line all around the Piazza with people waiting for the Basilica security check! Previously I had booked a Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel tour with Odyssey tours (http://www.odyssey-tours.com/tours/museum.asp). We were led through the museum and the Sistine chapel by Erin, their tour guide, who is a Texan studying in Rome. She is an excellent tour guide and speaker! After visiting the chapel and the Basilica, we had time to visit the Trevi fountain and return to the Termini station to catch the 5:00 reserved seat EuroStar Express arriving Civitavecchia on time at 5:40. (Note that I reserved the seats with Trenitalia on-line! The cost was 14 euros per person for the reserved 1st class seat. This is 3 times the regular 2nd class fare. Whether it is worth is a matter of personal taste! We felt somewhat out of place surrounded by Italian businessmen in expensive suits! Being on this train is like traveling by air. They serve free pop and peanuts.) Most of the other Jewel passengers that went to Rome by train came back on the 4:30pm commuter train arriving at Civitavecchia at about the same time we did! We were in plenty of time for the 8:00pm sailing but got drenched by a thundershower walking back to the port entrance and waiting for the shuttle bus.

It is interesting to compare our tour with the NCL 9 1/2hour tour taken by the kids. They arrived at the Vatican at about 9:15 and had to wait in the security check line for the Vatican Museum for 75mins. We arrived at the Vatican at about 11:15 after an hour on the #110 tour bus, and stood in the security check line for the Vatican Museum at 12:00pm for 20 minutes. The kids had a good tour-guide, but he was difficult to understand. Our Texan guide was terrific. The tours of the Museum and the Chapel each lasted about 2 hours total, not counting security line time and the Basilica tour. After spending an hour and half in a hotel for lunch (much too long), the kids saw Rome briefly and had a quick stop at the Coliseum and a brief tour of Rome on the NCL bus. We all or course enjoyed the Sistine Chapel and were not rushed though it! Our tour and transportation cost each was $80 plus $7 snack and the kids tour cost $185 each.

DIS-EMBARKATION

NCL had an interest in getting people off the ship quickly in Barcelona (between 6:00am and 9:00am) so they can clean the ship and load passengers for the next cruise. They did this very well. If you carried your own luggage you could walk right off. No Spanish customs or immigration.

BARCELONA

This is a beautiful city. We allowed two days for sight seeing on our own and made extensive use of the “Bus Turistic”, a double-decker bus that allows you to hop-on and off at any stop. The cost is 22 euros for a two day pass. Commentaries were provided in English. We visited several buildings designed by Antonio Guadi. We stayed at the Regencia Colon Hotel and recommend it.

AMSTERDAM

On Monday, we flew back to Minneapolis with a 7 hour layover at Amsterdam. We took the train from the airport downtown (6.20 euros each return). Train runs every 10 minutes and takes about 15 minutes. We visited the Anne Frank Huis and walked a little bit around Amsterdam.

CONCLUSION

No ship is perfect. NCL provides a good cruising experience provided you are willing to work around the restaurant issues. We like the free-style concept. NCL keep things very “ship-shape”. NCL costs are somewhat lower than the competition. The itinerary was excellent.






 

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