January 2014 - Norwegian Jewel to Caribbean - Western
This is the second time we have done this cruise out of New Orleans. Our first experience was on the Spirit in the summer of 2011. Embarkation was fairly, well, chaotic. Much worse than I remember our first cruise. I don't remember the exact layout of the New Orleans cruise terminal, but I seem to remember a much more organized and professional embarkation the last time. This time, it appears as though Carnival Cruise lines occupies the spot that Norwegian used to occupy. While the process was quick - it just seemed overly chaotic. Employees telling us to go somewhere (we were with a group of 7 people) and we ended up getting split up at check-in with other employees trying to shuttle us through like cattle as quickly as they could. Not the end of the world, of course - just not a good first impression.
We boarded the Jewel. If you're used to a ship that has a grand entrance and a 3 or more level main atrium like area --- you might be a bit disappointed with this one. Maybe it was the dock at New Orleans, but we boarded the ship and had to walk outside about a 1/3 of the way aft to the main entrance. Upon entering - it's a more simple and plain 2 story atrium area. Not a huge deal either, just not as initially impressive as the others. Our daughters (who had also been on the Spirit previously) were looking forward to the glass elevators and this ship does not have that.
The ship left New Orleans right on time and after many cruises - I still like New Orleans departures best. You get a bit of river cruising under your belt for several hours instead of immediatly departing into the ocean. I like either standing on the pool or sun deck (or balcony) watching the river action as we leave. You come very close to other vessels on your way out and it just amazes me that there is such granular control of such a huge vessel.
We used our first day at sea to check out and get used to the ship. We found it pretty easy to get around - three main stair cases and only a couple of those 'dead-ends' where you can't get from one end of the ship to another - most of which were at the very lowest levels. There are places to just sit all over this ship and we were very impressed with that.
Cozumel was our first port - and probably our least favorite. I have to caveat that with the fact that we did not do any of the excursions here because we were planning on hanging out at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville right at the end of the pier. The weather didn't cooperate for us this time around. However, we have done this on previous cruises into this port and it's a blast. Free swimming (and Internet) and the drinks were reasonably priced.
Belize was our next port and, while the weather was not great, it held up long enough for us to get our Altun Ha Mayan Ruins tour in. This tour gets an A+ from me. Altun Ha was approximately 1 hour away by bus on what could best be described as a one-lane back road by our standards. However, our guide was pointing out interesting things about Belize the entire way out there and we had a Mayan decendent deliver the last 10 minutes of the tour or so with facts about the ruins we were about to see. We didn't do anything else in this port and headed back to the ship with our memories and lots and lots of pictures.
Roatan was the next port. We chose the Maya Key excursion. The weather had been poor earlier in the week - so poor that the dock where our 5 minute boat ride was to leave from the port to Maya Key was damaged. This in itself was not too bad - but the communication to us was terrible. We heard what the problem was from another cruiser also on the tour - not from Norwegian or the tour operator. We ended up losing about an hour getting to Maya Key and, because they had to run busses through the city to pick us up instead of a constant 5 minute ferry operation from the island to the port, we lost 2 hours at the tail end of the excursion too. Standing there in the rain, I was getting more and more frustrated --- HOWEVER, once we got to Maya Key I was thoroughly impressed! Extremely clean, plenty of beaches, a pool, almost a mini-zoo (they had Puma's, Monkeys, Sea Lions, Crocidiles and many, many other animals), a replica Mayan Ruins, inexpensive drinks (compared to ship costs). Overall - even with the problems we experienced, the tour was simply fantastic. Don't miss this one as there is literally something for everyone here. I also visited Diamonds International - and I know people have mixed feelings about this place. For me, I was looking for a Breitling watch and I got what appears to be a real bargain here. So - Chalk me up on the positive side for Diamonds International - and, if you ask they have a local beer that they will give you for free as you are browsing.
Costa Maya - we love this port. There is a great pool with swim-up bars and plenty upon plenty of beach chairs. No need for an excursion here at all if you're looking to relax and soak up some sun. Senor Frogs and Carlos and Charlies (which seem to be related somehow) are both right there. There will be a guy going around selling open bar passes when you get there. He starts trying to sell them to you for $45. He will sell them for $25 if you bargain with him.
The Food on the ship was excellent - simply cannot say enough about it. We ate in main dining about 3 of the 7 nights and the buffet a couple of other nights. We had been grazing our way through the ship most of the week, so a few nights we ate at the Blue Lagoon (a comfort food 24x7) place to eat which is my absolute favorite. Buffalo Chicken wings that are to die for. The service in the main dining rooms was okay - seemed understaffed. Don't get me wrong, the service people were excellent - I just couldn't tell if they were naturally slow or just had too many tables. I think it was too many tables.
The slow service also seemed to be in the bars on the ship. Unless you could find a completely empty bar to go to, you were going to find yourself waiting. Especially at the pool bars. I mean, I actually felt bad getting in line to buy an overpriced drink because I knew the person behind the bar was working as quickly as they could. When I say person - I mean one person. Seemed crazy for a pool bar to have a single person working, but that was the theme for most of the bars on this ship.
Our state room was probably the largest we have had on any cruise we have been on. We had a balcony with adjoining doors for the room our adult daughters were in. The room was clean, modern and overall very, very nice. No complaints about the stateroom. Like most other Norwegian cruises I have been on - they run newly released movies on the TV. We had "Jobs" and "Planes" among the titles -- which all were just released to DVD at this time.
Overall - this cruise isn't a 5 star, but a high 4 star. Really enjoyed ourselves and would recommend to new cruisers and seasoned cruisers alike.