Thursday, January 8, 2015

Aye aye, captain

 "'The time has come,' the walrus said, 'to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax — of cabbages and kings.'" — Lewis Carroll

NOW THAT we’ve spent a few days on our ship, the Norwegian Jewel, let me say a little about our experience. 

The Norwegian Jewel

By way of background: this is just my third cruise and Paul’s second. My first was of some of the Greek Islands, continuing to Venice. Since it was paid for by Lee Iacoca as a reward to Chrysler dealers (I'd been dating one for a few years at the time), and Mr. Iacoca’s daughter was along for the ride (she and I shared an evacuation drill), you can imagine that it was first-class with no expense spared.

My second cruise was with Paul to the Bahamas out of Miami. We wouldn’t have gone except that it was free, a perk paid for by one of our vendors for selling their products. Although our only cost was getting ourselves to Miami, that expense didn’t seem inconsequential, so we almost passed on the offer. At the last minute, however, we thought, “Oh what the heck,” and jumped in the van and drove there.

Yes, we seriously drove from Des Moines to Miami, which is a very long trek. (Fortunately Paul and I like road-tripping together.) 

Since we were going all that way, we decided that we’d do more than take a little three-day cruise, so after the float to the Bahamas and back, we headed to the Florida Keys where we stayed in a cabin on the beach. 

That’s where we learned about Keys Disease. Keys Disease is when someone travels to The Keys for a temporary visit and kicks back so hard that they never leave. The proprietor of the restaurant we frequented almost every day because a) it was good and b) it was across the street from our beach home — told us that’s how she ended up owning a restaurant there. She went for a respite from a bad relationship, made a friend who said she could stay with her for awhile, and whammo blammo, she came down with Keys Disease.

The Keys, we liked; the cruise, not so much. In fact we pretty much hated it from start to finish. It was on Carnival, and I would categorically advise any and all to never take a Carnival cruise. It was loud (there was party music playing literally 24 hours a day everywhere on the ship — even in our room — that we could not shut off), it was adolescent, it was insufferable. And we had an interior room, meaning not even a window. It was a lot like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop.

Apparently it made an overwhelming negative impression because we’ve not cruised since. In the following years, however, we kept hearing what a lovely time various friends have had on cruises, so we decided to give it another try. When I say we, I mean me, because I was the one who hatched up this trip. 

I'm experiential by nature, never wanting to miss the opportunity to see another part of life, and our vacations have mostly been more to my taste, packed with lots of seeing and doing. Paul, on the other hand, has been pleading for years, “Can we please take a vacation sometime where we do nothing?” 

Poor guy. So this time around, I thought I would contrive a nothing-but-kicking-back vakay, and a cruise seemed to be a good way to enforce inactivity. There would be four days and seven nights of nothing but sailing the sea and three days on land, but only if we chose to go ashore.

Here’s my review (so far) of the ship, this cruise and Norwegian Cruise Line in general: 

We like it — which is a bit of a wonderment given that this ship, the Norwegian Jewel, is ginormous, something that normally would be an anathema (we avoid big hotels and densely populated everything), but strangely enough, we’ve been perfectly happy here. 

On deck.

Part of the secret is that we booked a balcony stateroom. I learned from our Bahama “cruise” — always, always get a room with a balcony. In fact I’d say, if you don’t get a balcony, don’t go. Even though there are theoretically plenty of places to hang out on board where you can sit undisturbed and watch the sea and land go by, it’s just not as pleasant, at least by our reckoning, having others around while you do. 

Trujillo from our balcony.

Paul has practically lived on our balcony as I was certain he would. Some of you may know that we own a small sailboat, and I knew he would absolutely love watching as much of the maneuvering and goings on as he could.

One extra cool thing for Paul: there’s a ship TV channel that broadcasts map details pinpointing exactly where we are en route and well as our headings, wind speed, relative wind speed, wave height, ship speed, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, latitude and longitude. He’s been geeking out the whole way.

We booked a midship room because the helpful people at said we’d experience less rocking and rolling if the seas got rough because we’d be the axis point, and it's proved to be good advice. The third night out we were in what the captain called a moderate gale, and we were fine. 

Neither one of us has had to rely on Dramamine or other medications. We have, however, been powering down the ginger which is a natural anti-nausea agent that’s as efficacious or more so than the anti-nausea drugs prescribed for pregnant women. (I read a double-blind, authoritative study a number of years back.)

Our home on the high seas.

There is a swimming pool, four hot tubs, a library, a fitness center with a full retinue of weight machines, free weights and tred mills, a casino, various shops, nine restaurants, a theater, bunches of bars and lounges of course, a spa and salon where you can get facials, massage, acupuncture, manicures, pedicures, hair cuts, coloring and styling, Botox, Dysport, Restylane and Perlane injections and teeth whitening procedures (I know; it’s a wonder I haven’t taken up residece there), a child care center, ping pong, shuffle board, a basketball court, a large theater, a photography studio and an art gallery where prints by Picasso and Chagall are for sale.

There are six additional-fee restaurants (French, Italian and so on), but passengers can eat in the buffet and the two main menu-dining restaurants at no cost because it's included in the price of the cruise. This might lead one to surmise that the part-of-the-package food and meals might be mediocre — Paul had in fact read some reviews of the food where passengers had rated the food as just “okay” — but we beg to differ. Every meal has been quite good from the morning breakfast buffet to the lunch and dinner buffets, and our from-the-menu dinners in the main dining room have been truly superb; honestly they would be $100 meals at home. Kudos to the chefs!!

And if you’d like room service, a menu of salads, soups and sandwiches is available 24 hours a day at no charge except from midnight to 5:00 AM when there is a $3.95 service feeor you can get a pizza for $5.00, and the pizza is surprisingly awesome. 

The twice-nightly shows, also at no additional cost, have been such a surprise because they're first-rate. Since Paul is a musician and I have logged by now thousands of hours of listening to small group and big band jazz, symphonic orchestra performances and Broadway shows, we were prepared to find the on-board productions lame. 

Not the case. The shows we’ve attended have all been as good as anything we’ve seen at the Des Moines Civic Center and better than some we've seen in Las Vegas. Last night for example, we were entertained by a Russian husband and wife acrobat duo and a troupe of singers and dancers who are every bit as professional as the ones we were just awed by at the Des Moines Symphony New Years Eve Pops concert. There are also two great house bands, but the lounge singers, I must say however, are universally bad.

One last item of significance: the staff is phenomenal. We have been looked after attentively, cheerfully, respectfully, thoroughly and thoughtfully. They must have one heck of a screening and training program.

So color us happy — very happy.

Ali Hasan has taken excellent care of us.

Ali made us a puppy dog from a towel and wash cloth.

The jury is still out on what this guy is. Paul thinks it's an elephant
sitting down with curled tusks and a trunk.

Swans a swimming with Paul having a bit of a lie-down.


  1. Sounds wonderful ! (especially considering our weather at the moment) I try not to nit-pick when I see a simple mistake but I wanted to point this one out because I got a giggle out of it @ "humorous restaurants"
    Donna Myers (FB)

  2. I appreciate anytime someone points out errors. The on-board minutes were so expensive (as much as .75/minute) that I had to try to type so fast and not proof and reproof like normal.