Having previously only experienced free style cruising on one occasion, on a seven night Mediterranean cruise on Ocean Village Two, I was anxious to try it again with a different cruise line. I therefore found myself boarding NCL Norwegian Jewel at Dover for a three night mini cruise to Amsterdam.

NCL are the main players in the Free Style Cruising market and the Norwegian Jewel is one of 10 ships in the NCL fleet and at 91,740 tons is one of the larger ships, she can accommodate 2,376 passengers and with 1,000 crew has a passenger to crew ratio of 2.3 to 1. Facilities include a Casino with both gaming tables and slot machines, two outdoor swimming pools, no less than six whirlpools, a Spa and fitness centre, Internet Cafe and various bars and eating establishments.

Accommodation consists of 1,188 cabins, 783 of which have an outside view, 540 have private balconies and 27 cabins have wheelchair access. We were staying in an AF grade mini-suite on deck 11, there are 12 passenger decks in total.

On first appearance the ship can seem a little garish with its brightly painted jewels along the outside of the ship and the brightly decorated interior, however, the ship is nicely laid out and the decor grows on you after a while. Our cabin was reasonably spacious and had all the usual requirements of television, refrigerator, safe, hairdryer etc. we were also lucky enough to have a bath as well as a shower.

We were on board by 12:00 so went for lunch in the Azura Restaurant where we could choose from a very good range of hot and cold food from self service stations, we had a very leisurely lunch finishing off with coffee and cakes. The afternoon was spent getting to know the ship, unfortunately as this was August and proving to be a typical British Summer the weather was not good enough for us to use the outside facilities and as there was not an inside swimming pool we were limited to what we could do. On the subject of covered swimming pools, I do feel that this is something cruise lines need to address as if they are going to continue to increase the amount of ships cruising out of the UK outside of the summer season then we do need to be able to make use of the facilities. As it was, the only real entertainment we had this afternoon was the safety drill.

We were due to dine at 20:00 (as dining is free style there is no first and second sitting but you do need to book a time in the main restaurants). We were dining tonight in the Tsars Palace, a beautifully decorated room. Although this is free style dinning it is still waiter service in the main restaurants which is where NCL differ greatly from Ocean Village where everything is self service unless you pay extra for the speciality restaurants.
The food and service was of a very good standard and the ambience perfect.

The next morning we started with breakfast in the Tsars Palace where it was waiter service, you can also take breakfast in the Azura Restaurant where it is self service or to one of the smaller dining establishments where you have a more limited choice of food.

We left the ship at about 11:00 and walked into Amsterdam which took about twenty minutes, we strolled around the main shopping area and made our way to Anne Franks House, we were hoping to go inside the museum but as there was rather a long queue and it was raining we decided against it. We did however visit a little cafe next door to Anne Franks where we had a drink and planned our route back to the ship.

We took the canal route back to the main train station and then retraced our previous steps to get us back to the ship. We were back on board at 14:30 and went for a late lunch in the Azura Restaurant. After Lunch we went to the Spinnaker Lounge where Martin Roberts, from the TV property programme Under the Hammer, was giving a presentation on making money from property. The talk was interesting and entertaining and there was the opportunity to purchase copies of Martins book. After the presentation we stayed in the Spinnaker Lounge as it was a good vantage point to watch the ship pass through the lock that would take us out to the open sea, fascinating to watch.

After Dinner we went to the Stardust Theatre to watch Cirque Bijou a show featuring aerialists, rhythmic gymnasts, acrobats and bungee jumpers. It was an excellent show, very entertaining, after that we went to the Spinnaker lounge for what was billed as NCL’s White Hot Party, it was dancing to the resident band and then finishing with a disco, many of the crew attended and it had a bit of a party atmosphere.

The next morning and it was breakfast once again in the Tsars Palace Restaurant, we sat by the window looking out over Dover, the ship was already docked and passengers could now disembark. After a good hearty breakfast we returned to our cabin to get our luggage, we hadn’t had to leave our bags out for collection the night before which is common on cruises but were taking them off ourselves, as this was my first cruise with NCL I don’t know if this is usual procedure or if it was because it was just a three night mini-cruise so therefore passengers did not have much luggage.

Disembarkation was rather unusual in that, unlike on most cruises where you are given a time to disembark, we were all allowed to disembark at the same time. Unfortunately, this resulted in long queues to get off the ship which also meant that you had to walk almost to the end of the ship before turning around to join the end of the queue, then walk back the way you came to get off the ship. A little forward planning could have avoided this situation, however, all in all a most enjoyable weekend, you had the free style element but still had the option of waiter service in the restaurants, the best of both worlds.

Robert Lidster, January 2009