Experiencing the Nickelodeon All Access Cruise on Norwegian Jewel
UPDATE: Since this review, Norwegian Cruise announced a revamp of their Nickelodeon fleets to include updated family/state rooms and kids club amenities. I have not experienced the new ships, nor have seen them beyond images provided, but Go Big or Go Home toured the new Norwegian Breakaway and provided info and images of the new ship, which looks way more kid-friendly and kid-focused.
When it comes to traveling with my family, there are a few things I take into consideration:
Accommodations-With a family as large as mine, five in total, it’s often difficult to find accommodations that don’t require an extra room, or charge an extra fee for the fifth person. We are a close family, but we still don’t like being on top of each other when we are in our rooms.
Location/Attractions-Being a New Yorker, I like to walk around. I like to venture out and see different things and have the option to do a lot, even if in the end I don’t do much at all. I would say the same is true for the rest of my crew. We’re pretty adventurous, and rarely just lounge around when on vacation. So, I look for places that offer tons to do and have lots to see, and where those things are easily accessible.
I also look for an experience that appeals to the entire family, not just the children. There are many families with kids that are happy to give up the vacation to the child and their only goal is the child’s happiness, even at the expense of their own. I, however, am not that selfless. I want to have a good time too.
Customer Service/Friendliness-I have pretty high standards when I travel. It doesn’t matter if we are roughing it, or if we are staying at an economy lodge, the minute I put my credit card down for payment, I expect quality service. Such is the case for most travelers. Families included. Most of us with kids have a hectic daily life. When we go away we want the red carpet rolled out for us. Maybe not literally, but we want to relax and have things made easy, have as much worry taken away as possible. I was recently called a “Diva” for having this standard, and I embrace it. I believe travelers should be courteous, considerate, and respectful of other travelers and their hosts, and in this sense I don’t fit the diva status, as I consider myself to be all of those. However, I believe when it comes to expectation of good service and getting the experience you were promised and paid for, every traveler should embrace their “Diva Traveler” and expect nothing but the best experience when they travel, with or without kids in tow.
Cost: I leave this one for last, because though I still have to consider it when we travel, I have learned that some things are just worth paying extra for. I recall a couple of years ago in a family road trip we decided on a last minute stop to rest. A hotel reservation needed to be made. My husband wanted to save money because he concluded “it was only for one night anyway” and booked a night at a Super 8 for $70. It was by far one of the most disgusting hotel experiences I have ever had.
I am not exclusively a luxury traveler, but I certainly am not the type of traveler who will spend a night just anywhere, especially when traveling with my kids. So, despite my family being larger, and sometimes costing more, I would pay it if I had to for a better guarantee that all of the above mentioned are covered during our travel experiences.
And it was with all these criteria in mind that I boarded the Nickelodeon Cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. This is my first cruise and thus, I had a lot to learn quickly about the culture of cruising during this trip. I have learned that the experience in cruising varies from cruise line to cruise line and can also differ depending on what the destinations are and even the time of year you go. Older travelers, or travelers without children tend to travel on the off seasons when families are busy with work and school, where as families are usually on board during school breaks and the Summer season. Luxury cruises also tend to attract a more sophisticated traveler, and might also be more demanding in the way you dress, the type of entertainment and services offered, and the sort of behavior that is, and is not, tolerated on board.
I went on the Nickelodeon All Access cruise with my three boys, without my husband, and during the kids’ mid-winter break. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was open to the experience. This was a first for us all.
This is the first time Nickelodeon has sponsored an All Access cruise on the Norwegian Line and it will host similar cruises two times a year, once from New York City and another from Barcelona. The seven-day cruise from New York City stops in the Bahamas and Florida’s Port Canaveral, and the seven-day cruise from Barcelona stops in Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy, Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, Naples, Palma, Majorca.
There are other Nickelodeon Cruises on the Norwegian Cruise Lines called Nickelodeon at Sea with the difference between those and the All Access cruise being that the “All Access” focuses on offering a larger dose of Nickelodeon throughout the entire duration of the cruise.
I and my son were complimentary guests on the All Access cruise from New York City, and I paid all expenses for my two other children. Even as media, I was able to experience the cruise as most guests did, and had the opportunity to speak to various guests, of all ages and demographics to get their feedback.
Nickelodeon Cruise “All Access” also means that guests have access to everything Nickelodeon offers, which includes meeting and taking photos with the characters, such as Sponge Bob, Dora, Diego, and other Nickelodeon cartoon favorites, as well as celebrities from shows such as Big Time Rush and iCarly. Guests have access to entertainment, games, and activities hosted by the Nickelodeon Crew.
The first couple of days on board we were at sea making our way to Florida. It was hectic and terribly overwhelming. The kids club (not part of Nickelodeon) was bombarded with parents, and it seemed that there wasn’t much organization or preparedness for the influx of requests they received. In order to register children to the kids club – which is free to guests when ship is at sea, and costs $6.00 per child/per hour for first child and $4.00 per second child per hour during days when ship is docked for excursions – one must fill out a form, per child, that needs to be reviewed and approved before your child is given a wrist band and allowed access. By the time I got my applications in I had to wait at least 24 hours to hear back because of the backlog.
During the first couple of days my kids and I ventured through the ship together, but it felt chaotic and stressful. Lines for activities were long and events were crowded. Service at sit down complimentary restaurants was slow, and more than one Norwegian Cruise Line crew member made mention of how “they weren’t expecting so many kids”.
However, as the days went by it seemed that everyone, both the crew and guests, got a better handle on things.
My boys were able to get their pictures taken with their favorite Nickelodeon characters and we enjoyed a few of the shows as well. We never did make it to the character breakfasts as these were hosted early in the morning (7:30 to 9:00AM) and the lines were often long there as well. We didn’t always get a chance to take photos with other characters as these were scheduled and limited, and often crowded. We were turned away from a few because of the crowds, and eventually we just stopped trying.
Most parents I spoke to were disappointed that there weren’t more characters walking around the ship, and though there were activities planned throughout the day, a lot of people expressed frustration in that many of these were spread out leaving hours without anything to do for the kids. During breaks from character sightings or signing, we played in the sports deck or participated in whatever activities we could get in to or relaxed in the room.
A big hit was a show hosted by voice actor Tom Kenny – who is the voice of Sponge Bob – one evening. Every guest I spoke to felt he gave his all during his performance, and felt that this was a highlight of the cruise. I would say that when the Nickelodeon Crew was out and about entertaining guests, they gave it their all. They were fun and energetic, and related well with the kids. The children and parents had a blast. I could see smiles all around. I think if more of that was present throughout the cruise, both groups would have been happier. I also think that if more activities were planned continuously throughout the day it might have also helped with crowd control a lot better.
Once the kids club was better organized, it was a big hit. Luckily, my children loved the 2 to 5 year old kids’ club section. They cheered when I announced I would be dropping them off, and asked to go when I didn’t.
Another great experience for us were the excursions. In Florida we chose to go to Universal Studios, Orlando (about an hour away from Port Canaveral) and in Nassau, Bahamas, we chose to revisit Atlantis. My review for Universal Studios is here and for Atlantis Paradise island, here.
I highly recommend both these destinations when cruising. I would also suggest pricing outside of the cruise for tickets and transportation as it might be more cost effective. The excursions add a considerable amount to your travel, as you have to pay for admission to both of these destinations as well as transportation to both locations, but I believe that they complimented my experience significantly.
For Bahamas: once exiting ship, you will find taxi drivers readily available to take you to Atlantis, as well as tour guides. At the time of our visit the price for a ride to Atlantis from the port was $4.00 per person. Notice that taxis are not private, and drivers will usually wait to fill up the van before taking you to your destination. With this in mind, allot yourself enough time in case you have to wait, or prepare to offer more money for a private van and an immediate drive to your destination. Check the Atlantis website for fees to their various attractions. Water rides, use of pools, and use of beach all require a paid admission.
For Florida: Arrange for a private car service or shuttle through the cruise to your destination. Universal Studios is an hour away from port as are most Orlando destinations.
Also note, if you choose to arrange your excursions through the cruise line, I would advise you do these early on upon your arrival as they book up quickly.
One other excursion on this cruise is a stop at the Norwegian’s private beach, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. The ship offers a free boat out to the beach and lunch is included. There is an opportunity to scuba, snorkel, and participate in other water-fun activities for an extra fee. My advice is to schedule to be on the first boat out to the beach. Getting there early makes all the difference before the huge crowds from the ship arrive. It was peaceful and stress-free. By the time the larger crowds arrive to the beach it was a bit chaotic and not relaxing at all. I will say, the beach has the bluest waters I have seen in a long time. When not crowded it is quite beautiful. Early arrival is key.
When cruising, most people have a lot to say about the food. Eating is not a problem on a cruise. The Norwegian Jewel has several restaurants, both buffet or a la carte that are complimentary for guests. The food is good and there is a lot of it, but if you have dietary restrictions, such as vegan, vegetarian, or allergies, such as to dairy, your choices are limited and finding staff to accommodate your requests is difficult.
There are also restaurants the require a paid fee from $10 to $25 per person as well as a reservation. Our best for fee dining experience were compliments of our hosts and were at the ship’s Hibachi restaurant, Teppanyaki ($25 per person, reservations required). The food was amazing and plentiful.
There is a full gym, with plenty of machines and weights, as well as a sauna to burn all those calories off, and my teen made good use of the activities in the sports deck on board.
There are two pools, including one with a slide, as well as two hot tubs and a small kiddie pool. The larger pools are filled with salty sea water which I found overbearing and couldn’t tolerate for more than a few hours. Most kids on board didn’t seem to mind however, so it might just be something that requires getting used to.
At the time of our cruise, the cost was about $947.00 per person. This does not include taxes, nor does it include a $12 per day/per person service charge that is incurred on your bill each day you are on board. This service charge is not mandatory and you can request to change it to whatever you feel you would like to pay. Simply state so at reception at time of check out.
All charges for gifts, meals, child care, laundry, drinks (alcohol, soft drinks, and specialty coffee drinks such as espressos and lattes) are charged with your room key. If you want to buy a drink card (for soft drinks) it will cost you $60.00, no matter at what stage of your cruise you purchase it. Otherwise the average price for a soft drink is a bit over $2.00. Espresso, lattes, cappuccinos, are between $3.00 to $4.00.
I found the line item charging to be quite annoying actually. It’s frustrating to have every little thing charged separately. I think it would be a great improvement if the cruise would charge a higher fee and not charge for individual items such as soft drinks or Internet access. No traveler, especially one with kids, wants to worry about the details.
The cabin was a bit small for us and consisted of a king size bed, a chair that converted into a twin size bed, and a bunk bed that opened overhead. We had a balcony room, with a small fridge and a small bathroom. Once all beds were open there was not much to do but lay in them. Had I brought my entire family of five, I would have had to reserve a suite size cabin, which is about a few hundred dollars difference from the one I had and is much larger. The room also has a small t.v., and on Nickelodeon sponsored cruises there is a channel that plays Nickelodeon shows on a loop. There are no pay-per-view options, nor options to watch DVDs on the set, things that might come in handy on days when kids just want to hang out in the cabin, or you want to relax and watch the tube. This was the case for us when we needed a break from the crowds, or a couple of days when the waters were a bit choppy and we were feeling a bit light headed from the rocking ship.
Overall, it’s hard to make a final determination on the cruise. My children had a good time, but there were a lot of other times when they were bored, and I can’t imagine what my experience would have been like had I not done the excursions. I bonded with my three children during this trip in a way that we haven’t ever really done so before. I loved all the time we spent together, and I took advantage of the distance from daily distractions to admire what wonderful kids they are. Even though I was alone with them, I enjoyed it wholeheartedly and would travel the world over with them in tow without hesitation. In this sense it was truly a great experience for us.
I should also point out that there were people on the cruise who booked through Norwegian not knowing it was a cruise sponsored by Nickelodeon. (UPDATE: I was informed by NCL PR team that these guests did not book through the cruise’s directly, but rather through independent travel agents and they will be contacting those to correct this communication problem). One couple was told it is not mandatory for the cruise line to state who is sponsoring the cruises. This is important to note if thinking about booking a cruise, as you want to make sure you are in a cruise that has activities appropriate for your travel desires and needs.
This cruise, despite its price, felt like an “economy” cruise to me. The customer service wasn’t always up to par, though the crew was always friendly to the guests and kids. There was no real VIP service that I noted, even for the special guests who I saw standing on crowded lines with everyone else a couple of times, and other details, such as reaching someone from reception over the phone, was close to impossible. I was always on edge about what was included and what was an additional charge, and I really wish I didn’t have to worry about it during my stay.
The Nickelodeon aspect I think is wonderful and when active it was always well done and very much enjoyed. However, the Norwegian Jewel did not feel like a kid-friendly ship, and I think that Nickelodeon needs to establish a stronger, more frequent presence when they host a cruise.
Another reason why I can’t give this cruise a stellar review is because I heard too many complaints from guests on line, in the elevators, on the hallways. I have to honor their experiences as well.
I am hoping that a lot of the things that didn’t work out in this cruise are things that can be addressed and fixed, and that the Nickelodeon brand can be felt more profoundly in the upcoming cruises. This particular cruise has all the potential of becoming a popular cruise for families, especially those in NYC and the East Coast. The easy departure from the city is a reason many families I spoke to said they chose this cruise as a vacation option. For many families it was also a first time cruising either with Norwegian, or ever. This is also the first All Access Cruise in the line, so my hope is that the issues mentioned are all just growing pains that can be addressed quickly for future families to enjoy.
For more images on our cruise experience, please visit my Flickr page here.
Disclosure: I received complimentary boarding, including taxes and service fees, for me and one guest to participate in the Nickelodeon All Access Cruise on the Norwegian Jewel for the purpose of this review. Admission to Universal Studios and Atlantis were compliments of the respective entities. The views and opinions shared in this review are entirely my own.