New concepts meet tried and true aboard NCLs Jewel

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If youre familiar with Norwegian Cruise Lines Norwegian Star and Norwegian Dawn, you have a pretty good idea of what the Norwegian Jewel is about -- lots of restaurants, a few bars, cabins and balconies, two really gigantic Garden Villa penthouses, pools, a spa and a casino.

But as Colin Veitch, NCLs CEO said, We dont like to do exact repeats. So Travel Weekly inspected the Jewel during its maiden call in New York and came away with a few impressions of NCLs tried-and-true as well as its new onboard concepts. Heres a sample:

Fyzz Lounge

The show is over. All 1,000 theatergoers exit the Norwegian Jewels Stardust Theater and head into the Fyzz Lounge just as an intrepid passenger gets up on its main karaoke stage for a rendition of Summer Wind. He misses his cue and is still snapping his fingers when he should be singing. Not a problem, so long as you dont mind half of the Jewels 2,376 passengers stopping by to gawk and guffaw. If youre more sensitive to these things, you and up to 15 of your friends can slip into one of three private karaoke rooms alongside Fyzz, and Fyzz will deliver the necessary confidence builders (i.e., cocktails). The room rents for $10 per person per hour, with unlimited drinks (premium liquor extra). Pull the curtains, pull out the songbook, set the TV to Bohemian Rhapsody and rock on.

Bar Central

Its like Grand Central: Hang out here in Bar Central long enough and eventually everyone you know onboard will pass by your bar stool. The concept: Three bars with different themes are connected in one long row. Each one has a diversion to match. Theres a flat-screen TV in Maltings, the beer and whiskey bar at one end. At the other end, chutes of bubbly water are built into the bar at Magnums champagne and wine bar. In the middle is the Shakers martini bar, where the TV screen shows an endless loop of a silhouetted dancing girl, kind of like a never-ending iPod commercial, one person noted. (This is actually the second dancing girl sequence shot by NCL; the first was deemed too risque.)

If youre a savvy traveler, you might recognize Maltings very modern decor. CEO Veitch said it was inspired by the Mandarin Oriental in London.

Atrium

NCL doesnt yet have a giant TV screen on its sun deck, but it does have a big one in the lobby that shows time-lapse videos of mountains and oceans. The Java Cafe on the main floor of the atrium is a great place to people-watch. The lobbys mezzanine holds a tapas restaurant on one side. On the other is a hip version of the formerly super-casual, super-crowded, 24-hour Blue Lagoon. Instead of taking your burger and beer on a barrel table in a converted hallway, as on NCLs previous builds, youre sitting on Eames-style chairs and overlooking the ocean via floor-to-ceiling windows. Tomato soup here gets an A-plus.

Chin Chin Asian restaurant complex

Suffice it to say there are lots of restaurants on the Norwegian Jewel. Theres the Le Bistro French restaurant, which is more upscale than bistro; the Mamas Kitchen Italian restaurant, which looks like it was imported from a Tuscan farmhouse; and the two main restaurants -- and kudos to NCL for making at least one of those main restaurants look more like a restaurant than a gigantic dining room.

But the Chin Chin Asian restaurant complex deserves to be singled out for two things. One is the Teppanyaki room, which has been a huge hit on NCLs other ships. This room has  been expanded to fit four teppanyaki tables (eight people per table), and the chefs fry the rice, veggies, chicken and beef at the table and do things like bang salt shakers around and flip them into their hats. Meanwhile, if you want to cook your own meal, you can go to the adjoining restaurant and cook Asian fusion on hot plates built into the table.

TV screens

Maybe people will wait an hour to eat at Olive Garden at home. But cruise passengers do not want to wait for a table at sea. And NCL doesnt want passengers to linger at the entrance to the restaurant when they could be buying a drink. So, voila! TV screens all around the ship now tell passengers how full each restaurant is, if theres a wait, and, if so, how long the wait is. If youre set on eating at Le Bistro and theres a 30-minute wait, the maitre d will give you a pager that works anywhere on the ship. One tip: Reserve way in advance for Teppanyaki. It does two seatings per night and its booked solid.

Courtyard penthouses

NCL operates in the contemporary big-ship category, but it goes all the way when it comes to the very top suites (a concept it borrowed from sister company Star Cruises, which gives its high rollers three-bedroom garden villas). The Garden Villas on the Jewel have been redesigned so the garden, with its outdoor whirlpool, bar and loungers, is in the middle of the suite. An upstairs sun deck has more than enough space to lie out.

The new concept on the Jewel is the Courtyard Villas -- 10 penthouses that ring a private courtyard done up Miami-style, with a giant canopied bed in the center of the courtyard and big lounge chairs. Theres a retractable roof for when the weather doesnt cooperate.

I checked out the Courtyard during a one-time-only predinner cocktail party and found the whole thing -- bed, plunge pool, loungers, bar, butlers, concierge lounge, et al -- to be pretty decadent. Also, I dug the penthouses themselves for the bathrooms with sea views and the second room for the kids. But given a choice, Id go straight for a Garden Villa.

Stardust Theater

NCL bigwigs persuaded me to go to the show Band on the Run by promising a big finale featuring songs from the rock band Queen. It included all kinds of 1970s shenanigans, mostly of the disco and rock variety, plus the Queen finale, a stirring rendition of We Are the Champions and audience participation on We Will Rock You (stamp, stamp, clap). I was back the next day for a peek at the Second City improv show. It had them rolling in the aisles.

To contact Rebecca Tobin, managing editor of the print edition of Travel Weekly, send e-mail to [email protected].

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