The Norwegian Jewel (Official Site from Norwegian Cruise Lines)
Sailed February 2011
NYC –> Bahamas & Florida
Andrew (@AH) & Family (Baby 10mos.)
Some of the reactions I received when I told family, friends and fellow travel bloggers that I was going away for a week on a Nickelodeon themed cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel were very surprised. This was in fact a very different press trip than the ones I am used to taking. For starters I was not traveling alone. I decided this would be the ideal getaway for my wife and 10-month-old son to take with me.
My personal experience taking a Norwegian cruise was a little rocky, and it had nothing to do with the ship sailing through choppy water either. Upon arrival at pier 88 in New York City, I handed over my bags to a porter at around 1:30pm and the gentleman tagged each and told me they would be in my room before we departed at 4pm. Well one hour later we received three out of the four bags. That’s fine as my wife and I realized they have hundreds of bags to deliver and maybe bag number four is just going to show up in a few minutes. Another hour goes by and still no fourth bag.
With the cruise leaving in less than 30 minutes and the missing bag extremely important to us as it was filled with a week’s worth of baby food and formula, we decided to ask NCL staff for assistance. They seemed confused and unable to answer our inquiry. We explained that this missing bag is pretty important as our son will have no food until at least 48-hours from now when we park this big boat in Florida. One NCL worker informed me that bags often times get lost and get deliver anywhere from 24 to 48 hours later. Really? It happens often? Well that really didn’t sit well with us as this was not the way we wanted to kick off a week at sea. Minutes later an NCL worker knocks on our door and tries to hand us a red bag. Great, but we were missing a black bag. “Are you sure this isn’t the bag”, the NCL said to me. I responded, “yes it is not red, but a black duffel bag as I explained to you earlier.” Well finally at around 530pm, they found the missing bag and my wife and I felt a little better now that we knew our son would have food for the rest of the week.
This particular cruise as stated earlier was departing from New York City, which made it very convenient for myself and many other families that were not looking to hit the road or fly in the sky for their family vacations. Stops along the way included a day in Port Canaveral, with excursions to places like Universal Studios, a day at NCL’s private island Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas and a day in Nassau, Bahamas with two days at sea to start and end the week.
I will say that the cruise experience was definitely something new to me. While I did enjoy a media filled weekend on the Norwegian Epic last summer, this was truly the real deal as I got to interact with both press and regular everyday families going on a much needed winter vacation.
Food: Lots and lots of it. When you take a Norwegian cruise, chances are you will never have an empty stomach and you will come home a few pounds heavier. From the buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Garden Cafe to restaurants with cover charges that range from $10-$25, you will have plenty of places to park yourself and pig out. I enjoyed the breakfast buffet each day that included pretty much everything you could possibly think of having in the morning.
Staff: The workers on NCL do just that work…really hard and always with a smile on their face. The staff made our week and my son took a real liking to some of the waitresses that even remembered his name and yelled it out when they saw him walking through Garden Cafe or by the pool. My wife and I were especially thankful to the staff at Cagney’s that entertained the baby while we enjoyed an hour long three-course lunch each day.
Excursions: While we did not take full advantage of the excursions, I spoke with people on the cruise that felt they had plenty of time to enjoy a day at Universal in Orlando and some time in Nassau. We did enjoy our day at NCL’s Great Stirrup Cay private island. It is currently under construction as they are expanding the island. It will be complete by the end of this year. I highly recommend visiting early in the day as the island gets packed.
Accommodations: Our cabin included a king size bed, a couch and a bunk bed that came out from the wall. The bathroom was large and the terrace was roomy with three chairs and a small table. Plenty of room for 2-3 people to sleep in comfortably for a week without going mad and throwing someone overboard.
Additional Fees: When I am booking something called “All Access”, which this cruise was dubbed as part of the Nickelodeon theme, I do not want to encounter tons of hidden fees and other ways for the cruise line to shake money out of my wallet. For example soda cost $2.25 a can. However cola lovers could buy a special NCL mug for $60, which provided you with unlimited refills throughout the week. Really? $60? When was the last time you spent that much on soda in a month? Another gem, or in this case jewel, was the housekeeping fee that charges guests $12 per person per day to make your bed and vacuum your rug while you are slurping down pricey soda. More than one guest complained out loud about this hidden fee that could cost upwards of $48 a day for most families. That’s just madness. I was informed that you could haggle the price down, but why is this even in place? According to NCL it is there to help pay the hard working staff that cleans guest’s rooms. Hmm.
Not baby friendly: I was not the only one on this cruise with a baby. NCL tells you ahead of time that they offer high chairs, which they do, however good luck finding a tray for the chair. Yes they have hundreds of high chairs and from what one staff member told me only three trays…on the entire ship! Why? I saw angry parents trying to feed their little ones without dropping food into their laps. NCL workers attempted to just push the chairs close to the table, however that does not always work since some tables were too high and most were marble or plastic, which could hurt the baby if they drop their head suddenly. Parents would run over to our table when they saw us finishing up a meal as if it was a parking space in Manhattan. Then there was the crib in my room. NCL provided me with a rickety, jail-like metal crib that felt very unsafe. My wife used her MacGyver skills and wrapped some towels around the top of the crib so the little guy wouldn’t crack his brand new teeth on the cage, er I mean crib.
Pricey doctor’s visit: I understand how big companies “get you” with price gouging once they have you at their hotel, on their plane, in their arena or in this case on their ship. From $16 beers to $35 shirts to charging for internet, you always will encounter these tactics to make more money from guests. But when I am stuck on a ship for a week and I need to visit the doctor, it should not cost $105 to see him. One day on the cruise our son was acting up. He was in plain English pissed off. My wife and I noticed he was tugging at his ear. Normally we would have waited a day or two to see if he continued doing this before going to the doc, we felt a bit anxious on a cruise. Thinking if might be an ear infection, we made our way to the doctor on the ship. It will cost you $105 during office hours to see him, off-hours it goes up to $148. Oh and if you think it is funny that a ship’s doctor has office hours, you will find it hilarious that they are only from 5-6pm when the ship is at a port. This charge really had me scratching my head and really disappointed me that NCL would price gouge on something like a person’s health.
All Access…not really: Many parents, and their kids, were very disappointed with the lack of Nickelodeon character appearances on the cruise. I never got a chance to meet Spongebob Squarepants (I know tragic). While he was around the ship, many people felt that characters like Spongebob, Dora the Explorer and other “A-listers” should have been around more often on the cruise. I swear I saw the same three or four characters everywhere I went.
Checking out was a disaster: That might be a bit harsh, but that was the phrase I heard more than once from guests attempting to get off the boat when the cruise returned to the Big Apple. Even with my V.I.P. access, I have to say the departure process on this cruise was awful. Massive lines of very tired and unhappy looking people with luggage made for a very difficult to navigate deck seven. Once I got off the boat I was placed in a line for people with baby carriage. Here I waited with a very tired and impatient baby for an elevator to take me down to get my luggage. Forget going through the regular passport line, grab a porter and take the much faster moving line out of the pier.
Will I cruise again? Probably not. The idea of a cruise was never my ideal way to see the world, but as a traveler I wanted to experience it at least once in my life. However I can see it being a great way for many families to spend quality time together and see new destinations in the process. I was just turned off by the “nickel and diming” Norwegian Cruise Line did to guests that already forked over thousands of dollars of their hard earned money to spend a week at sea.