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Steve Larson

Age: 52

Occupation:Public Land Manager

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Jewel

Sailing Date: June 12th, 2007

Itinerary: Istanbul - Barcelona

Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Jewel Cruise Review
Istanbul - Barcelona

Steve Larson

My wife and I took the Jewel across the Mediterranean for our first cruise and first trip to Europe.  The itinerary was excellent, and the trip made for a great introduction to Europe.  Other aspects of the cruise were very nice - but not outstanding.  We don’t have any basis for comparison, other than what we have heard from our kids (who have cruised on Holland America) and other passengers (comments we heard were that the Jewel beat the tar out of Costa Cruises, and was comparable to Royal Caribbean).

Getting There

I booked the cruise and air reservations directly with an NCL agent.  He was great, but there were some big problems.  We booked in March 2007 for a June cruise, and in spite of my repeated requests I didn’t receive any documents until May.  I believe they have switched over to a more automated on-line booking process since then. 

We arranged our flights so that we would arrive a day early in Istanbul, and stay 3 days after the ship docked in Barcelona.  When I was e-mailed the airline ticket “confirmation”, I thought it was actually a confirmation (maybe because it was labeled “Confirmation”).  It wasn’t.  My NCL agent told me that I had to confirm the confirmation (huh?) if it was correct.  I did so by e-mailing my approval/agreement of the confirmation to my agent.  Unfortunately, although the NCL “confirmation” says one must notify NCL (which I did), it also provides a specific e-mail address which one is requested to use.  I failed to do this.  Although I didn’t see this request, my NCL agent forwarded my consent to the proper place. 

This would have been fine – if they hadn’t lost the confirmation.  In late May, two to three weeks before the cruise, I was still trying to straighten out some glitches in the NCL reservations, when I learned that they had cancelled the airline “confirmation” because they said I had failed to respond.  In trying to clear up the problem, I was told repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that the fault was entirely mine. Finally after e-mailing them a copy of the consent I had sent to my NCL agent, the NCL Premium Air representative relented and said that it wasn’t NCL’s fault – it was the fault of their computer.  At one point I was told that the next flight I could arrange to Europe was in July – 2+ weeks after the cruise ended.  After a great deal of stress and after spending a solid 5-6 hours trying to fix the problem, I received a call from an NCL Premium Air contact who was able to book another flight on the dates I had requested.    I don’t recall receiving any apology from the Premium Air staff, and certainly received no compensation for my time or stress.

We stayed at one of the NCL arranged hotels at Istanbul – the Conrad Istanbul - arriving a day before the cruise loaded.  It was a nice hotel, but appeared to be overpriced and was far removed from the city’s main attractions.  I would recommend others make hotel arrangements themselves.  It was nice to have transportation from the airport to the hotel, and the hotel to the cruise ship – that all worked very nicely.  But taxis would have worked just fine.

On Board

The stateroom on the ship was great.  We were on the 11th deck and had a balcony.  It was a great arrangement.  I would recommend avoiding anything on the 4th deck, as that is where everyone embarks and disembarks for shore excursions.  The halls on that level were often packed with people in the morning.

Stewards were great.  I know some people have complained about the NCL tipping policy, but it worked fine for us and we didn’t feel any pressure or resentment from staff.  A couple of times I tried to add a tip to room service, but the stewards declined it.

The ship is very clean and still seems very new.  Nothing seems dated or run down.

Eating
       
The food was good, but not outstanding.  I may have expected a bit too much after hearing my kids talk about Holland America. 

Someone in another review said the Garden Café reminded them of college dorm food (dang – I wish I had gone to school where they did!);  it was good but the dinners became very tiresome.  It is a great place for breakfast. 

It is a little irksome to have to pay extra for the good food at the better places, but it is still a good buy.  The food was excellent at Cagney’s ($60 extra for two people);  the filet mignon was excellent, the tuna steak very good, and their chocolate dessert is to kill for.  The chateaubriand at Le Bistro ($30 or so extra, I think) was very good.  We also had an excellent meal (sole, as I recall) at Chin Chin’s.   I was very pleased with the Tsar’s Palace as well – good variety, excellent presentation and flavor.  Mama’s Italian offered a huge quantity of food – some people liked it, and others we spoke with didn’t.  We never had any trouble getting reservations or eating whenever we wanted (we tend to eat early).  We very much liked the ability to eat when we wanted, with whom we wanted. 

The 12 day cruise only had one formal dinner night – and we missed it.  We never saw or heard any news saying when it would be – if it was in the daily newsletter, we didn’t see it (we did see an article that answered hypothetical questions about formal night).  It didn’t matter though, because my wife was sleeping like a baby all that evening!

The chocoholic’s buffet one evening was very tasty and impressive.  The room service selections were a bit limited, and not real impressive.  Another commenter noted the poor quality of the burgers at the outdoor BBQ.  I would certainly second that.  We didn’t get soft drink cards, even though we are Coke addicts.  It was a good move;  you would have to drink 6-8 cans of coke a day to break even.  We generally didn’t feel that we got enough to drink, unless we went to one of the restaurants.  At the Garden Café they offer water and tea as well as ice – but only provide 6 oz glasses.  Unless you ordered alcoholic drinks (about $20 a couple), it was hard to get a drink unless you wanted to stand in line at a bar.  We ordered ice several times from room service, and half the time actually received it.

Shore Excursions

We took NCL excursions in Istanbul, Izmir, Athens, Dubrovnik, Venice, Naples, and Rome.

The advantage of the NCL shore excursions is that you have staff on the ship to assist you, and of course if the excursion were to miss the boat for some reason, NCL would be responsible for getting you to the ship.  Since this was our first visit overseas, we liked the comfort of dealing with NCL, and not having to worry about how to get to shore or town.  Another advantage – on the day we traveled to Rome, there was a one day train strike, so transportation was at a premium; the NCL excursions went off without a hitch.

However, I recommend that people arrange excursions through other vendors.  The excursions were expensive, and many included stops that seemed designed to just occupy time.  The most horrific aspect though, was that we were repeatedly subjected to sales presentations.  In both Istanbul and Izmir we were taken to carpet factories/stores where we were a captive audience for carpet salesmen.  In Sorrento it was a cameo factory and orchard.  I began to speculate that the next excursion would feature someone selling time share condos.  And to think that I not only paid good money for this, but was missing an opportunity to see the countryside while I endured the presentations.  I don’t think you would have that problem if you arrange tours yourself.

We ditched our excursions in Dubrovnik and Venice.  That was a great move each time. 

We also signed up for a gondola ride in Venice.  That was a great experience, but I suspect we could have done it for half the price on our own.  The tour description noted that we would be serenaded – it didn’t say it would be by someone in another boat.  And they somehow forgot to mention that we would be sharing a gondola with another couple.  The gondola ride was very similar to the old boat ride at Disneyland - only more crowded.  But having said all that - the singing & accordion were great, the canals and buildings were beautiful, and the mood was romantic.  I am still glad we did it.

We noted a couple of times that the description of the tour we signed up for over the Internet had changed a bit by the time we got on the ship.  That was covered by a disclaimer – but be advised it really does happen.

The tour guides were generally good.  Some were difficult to understand, and some could have improved their skills a bit more.  But most were passionate about the topics they covered, and were very knowledgeable.  At Pompeii, the public restrooms cost ½ Euro to use, but their smell is free.  And overwhelming.  NCL had a restroom trailer there for its guests;  it was immaculate and air conditioned.  NCL scored a lot of brownie points for that one.

Other Comments

We were on the port side of the ship.  At Istanbul and again at Barcelona before we disembarked, they started the bunkering (fueling) process.  With the doors and windows shut, the smell was so overwhelming that my wife nearly got a migraine.  Maybe this is an unavoidable part of cruising, but be forewarned.

My wife loved the emphasis on sanitizing hands.  Toward the end of the cruise, some people tired of this and refused to allow their hands to be sprayed. 

The exercise room was nice, and at least at 6:30 AM, not too crowded.  However, since the treadmills face the side of the ship, the water moves from right to left as you run – this can be a little disorienting.  Also, at least if you are over 6’ tall, the windows are set so low that you can only look down at the water as you run – not straight out at a view.  There is a 1/8 mile “jogging track” on one deck. Unfortunately, it is only about 3 ft wide, and in many places it is the only corridor for people to move about that deck.  A few people tried to run a few laps, but there were so many people in the way that it was futile.

The pools were very nice, but rules were not enforced.  I saw kids in the adult pool a couple of times.  Although rules say that people are not allowed to “reserve” lounge chairs on the pool deck, this was commonly done.  People would come out at 8:30AM and throw towels over the furniture they wanted to use, and then disappear until 11AM or Noon.  This was commonplace.

Evening entertainment was good.  They had a good mix of comedians, magic, singing, etc.  Cirque Bijou was very enjoyable.  A couple of the other shows were a bit lame (a country western review was particularly poor – even for country western music!).

The ship has a money exchange desk.  After leaving Turkey I went there to exchange my Turkish Lira for Euros or dollars.  The desk clerk literally laughed at me, and in effect said “no way”.  Someone else said they had the exact same experience there. 

The disembarkation procedure was extremely smooth and fast – you are able to select when you disembark, and there is no wait in leaving the ship or difficulty in finding luggage whatsoever.  Once we had our luggage it was a bit of a wait for a taxi, but that is not the fault of NCL.

We stayed several days in Barcelona after disembarking.  I made these arrangements myself, and they all went flawlessly.

I know I listed a number of complaints and problems, but I didn’t mention the very many things that went well.  Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I am very glad we did it.  I would consider NCL again, and would certainly recommend the Istanbul to Barcelona itinerary to anyone.

 










 










 

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