Room With a View

Courtyard Villas new on the Norwegian Jewel

By: Anne Kalosh

A secluded level of suites surrounding their own courtyard, a large mix of interconnecting family staterooms, 10 restaurants and eye-popping private karaoke rooms are among the flashiest features of the Norwegian Jewel.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest Freestyle Cruising ship also brings fresh European itineraries that should appeal to West Coast customers, said Andy Stuart, NCL’s executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services.

“NCL’s never had a brand-new ship in the Med. There’s a big market from the West Coast and now they have a quality choice with this ship,” Stuart said.

After debuting in Europe in August, Norwegian Jewel operated New England/ Canada cruises before moving to its winter homeport of Miami for weekly Caribbean sailings. The ship returns to Europe in the spring for a season of seven-day Western Mediterranean voyages capped by four 12-day cruises, two pairing the Greek Isles and Egypt.

The Jewel is a modified sister to the Norwegian Star and Dawn. Among its most talked-about innovations are the Courtyard Villas, perched high on Deck 14 near the pair of reconfigured Garden Villas.

The Courtyard Villas surround a tranquil oasis that features a pool, hot tub, Balinese lounge beds, teak chairs, lanterns, potted plants and statuary. Butlers serve continental breakfast, refreshments throughout the day and canapes and drinks before dinner.

According to hotel director Klaus Lugmaier, a “Melrose Place” atmosphere of beautiful people enjoying each other’s company typically develops in the exclusive environment of the courtyard.

“You have total privacy. It’s your own hideaway,” he said.

The more than 570-square-foot Courtyard Villas themselves offer a living area with balcony, dining area, a bedroom with queen bed, separate children’s bedroom and a spacious bathroom with whirlpool tub and separate shower.

At 5,570 square feet with three bedrooms, NCL’s Garden Villas are still the largest accommodations afloat. The Norwegian Jewel version of the Garden Villas contain a private garden in the center of the space, as well as a roomy private sun deck.

Garden Villas command about $25,000 a week. And they nearly always sell, said Colin Veitch, NCL president and CEO. In fact, it was the popularity of the Garden Villas on Norwegian Star and Dawn that led NCL to develop the Courtyard Villas, providing another choice of deluxe accommodations.

Who books these extravagant suites?

“All kinds of people,” said Veitch, citing families, family reunion leaders, groups of friends and tour leaders, as examples. Also, “There is a market for people who just want the best you have.”

The addition of the Courtyard Villas partly accounts for the increased number of total cabins on the Norwegian Jewel (1,188) compared to 1,112 on the Norwegian Dawn. Seventy percent of the cabins offer ocean views. Almost 600 cabins interconnect to create family-friendly complexes of up to five bedrooms. The interconnecting rooms consist of a wide range of categories, including suites. Often, different categories connect.

Ian Barnett of CruiseOne in Agoura Hills, Calif., was impressed with the suites in general but disappointed in one feature: the Penthouse-category balconies.

“It’s a detriment to people who are spending $10,000 to have the same size balcony as people spending $2,000,” he said.

In Barnett’s opinion, the Norwegian Jewel is “a pleasant, mid-market ship” with “excellent dining choices.”

“It’s actually sold me on Freestyle Dining,” he said.

With a new electronic restaurant availability information system, Freestyle Dining is smoother than before. If passengers can’t get the seating they want when they arrive without reservations, they can add their names to a wait list and be notified by pager when a table opens. Or they can consult the electronic dining info system for availability in other venues.

There are 10 dining venues on Norwegian Jewel. The two main restaurants offer traditional dining but sport dramatically different decor. Located aft with large windows, Tsar’s Palace is an opulent room of green-marbled pillars, chandeliers and balustrades inspired by Faberge eggs. The contemporary Azura restaurant provides a sleek venue with pop art rendered in backlit glass.

The ship’s specialty restaurants include familiar favorites, such as Le Bistro, (French cuisine), Cagney’s Steak House and Chin Chin, the Asian venue, offering a sushi and sake bar, tep-
panyaki grill and table seating for a varied menu.

Island stations replace the cafeteria-style lines of earlier NCL ships in the casual Garden Cafe. The nearby Italian restaurant is now a venue in its own right. Trimmed in rustic bricks with shelves of copper pans, Mama’s Italian Kitchen serves calamari, pizza and lasagna to diners seated at long, family-style tables.

Other options include the ever-popular Blue Lagoon, a 24-hour venue for snacks and light meals such as fish and chips and chicken wings. Across the way, Tango’s serves tapas and Tex-Mex.

The Norwegian Jewel is fully equipped with every contemporary cruise “must” a large casino, cigar bar, coffee bar, shops, library, chapel, meeting rooms. The youth facilities are ample, including Splashdown Kid’s Club, a children’s pool and, for teens, Club Underground.

Two pools and a water slide spread out across the redesigned Lido Deck, which eliminated the terraced levels of earlier ships. And there’s a volleyball/basketball court, a fitness center and Bora Bora Spa, run by Mandara.

One area where the ship really sparkles is entertainment. Production shows roll out in the enormous, two-level Stardust Lounge. At night, the Spinnaker Lounge observation room transforms into a dance club with live music. Fyzz is a new nightclub lounge with three private karaoke rooms, each in startling shades of red, blue and green.

Also new, and a big hit on the Norwegian Jewel, is Bar Central, a string of three connected but distinct bars. Magnum presents champagnes and wines, while Shakers serves martinis beneath a screen that broadcasts sexy silhouette dancing. Maltings pours beer and a wide assortment of whiskies. (Pssst! It’s the Scottish-born Colin Veitch’s favorite spot on the ship.)



Company: Norwegian

Cruise Line Ship: Norwegian Jewel Size: 93,500 tons

Capacity: 2,376 (double occupancy); 2,846 (total)

Year Entered Service: 2005

Plugging In: Cabins have 110-volt outlets, and hair dryers and tea/coffee makers are provided. There’s an Internet cafe, and Wi-Fi access is available. Passengers may use their cell phones, paying roaming rates set by their home carrier.

Hits: Shows by the talented Jean Ann Ryan Company are tops. Instead of bland Broadway revues, think bold and imaginative productions.

Misses: Over-amplified lounge music sometimes interrupts conversation in nearby dining venues.

Itinerary: Alternating seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises sail roundtrip from Miami through April. From May to early September, seven-day Western Mediterranean cruises sail roundtrip from Barcelona. Ports of call are Messina (Sicily); Naples, Civitavecchia (for Rome) and Livorno (for Florence/Pisa) in Italy; and Villefranche (for Nice), France. In September and October 2006, two 12-day Mediterranean cruises sail between Barcelona and Istanbul and two 12-day Egypt/Greek Isles voyages sail between Piraeus (for Athens) and Istanbul.

Price: Rack rates start at $579 for Eastern Caribbean and $629 for Western Caribbean cruises; at $999 for seven-day Western Mediterranean cruises; $1,899 for 12-day Classic Mediterranean cruises; and $1,949 for 12-day Egypt/Greek Isles cruises.

Commission: Commission starts at 10 percent.