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Norwegian Jewel - NCL Norwegian Cruise Line - cruise ship review and photos

If it's Sunday, this must be the Dominican Republic! Norwegian Jewel drops anchor off the sleepy town of Samana well before her scheduled arrival time, but strong winds prevent the use of one of her tender ports which makes getting 2,800 people off and on the ship considerably more challenging. 

The ship's tenders are lowered Seen from water level, this is one huge ship!
The tenders are lowered   Our great ship

Lucy and I have booked a shore excursion from the comfort of my laptop computer back home. NCL has a great booking engine for excursions and when we got on board in Miami the tour tickets were already waiting in our cabin.

Samana, Dominican Republic
Samana, Dominican Republic

For guests on tours, the tender process is very straightforward and is done in record time. We meet in the Stardust Theater, are herded down to deck 4 where we board a local open 20-seat speedboat. Under clear blue skies, we cross the Bay of Samana at top speed - an exhilarating 30 minute ride. 

Los Haitises National Park Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises National Park   Los Haitises National Park

Directly across from Samana on the south side of the bay is Los Haitises National Park, one of the most important national reserves of the Dominican Republic. The long stretch of coastline is made up of mangroves, coves, bays and inlets and is home to more than 100 species of birds.

Racing around the National Park in our speed boat Indian rock drawing in Cueva Arena
Los Haitises National Park   Indian rock drawing

As this national park is almost impossible to reach by road, our excursion gives us a rare glimpse at this fabulous place. Our speedboat criss-crosses through the maze of islands and inlets as our guide tells us all about the amazing bird life here.

Beautiful coastline
Beautiful coastline

After a hands-on exploration of the mangrove jungle, our speedboat heads inland through a narrow passage and docks at a beautiful spot which once was a pirate hangout. From here we walk to the Cueva Arena, a grotto with Indian rock drawings (and  the odd bat hanging suspended from the grotto's  roof).

Cueva Arena grotto Indian rock carving at the entrance of the San Gabriel grotto
Cueva Arena grotto   Indian rock carving

On we go to the grotto of San Gabriel. Here we are welcomed by a small but spectacular tropical beach, Taíno Indian faces carved in the rocks and a cool glass of Coke. Under swaying palm trees, we gaze out over the deep blue bay and our ship on the horizon. This is truly a magical place!

Norwegian Jewel anchored off Samana
Norwegian Jewel anchored off Samana

With the winds picking up, the trip back across Samana Bay becomes somewhat of a thrill ride. As the odd spray of sea water acts as much-needed refreshment, we speed towards our next stop: Cayo Levantado. 

 

As our speedboat approaches the island of Cayo Levantado, we can only gasp and grab our cameras. Click! Zoom! Ahhhh....

Arriving at Cayo Levantado
Arriving at Cayo Levantado - spectacular!

Located close to the town of Samana, Cayo Levantado is also known as Bacardi Island. Focal point on the island is the 195-room five-star Gran Bahia Principe resort, surrounded by the most beautiful of tropical beaches. 

Cayo Levantado Gorgeous beach at Cayo Levantado
Cayo Levantado   Cayo Levantado

We are dropped off at the island's jetty and are free to do our own thing for the next couple of hours. Having skipped lunch (a sin on any cruise), we head for the first available hut and order a chicken sandwich and some fries.

Still life with lounge chairs
Our ship is waiting on the horizon

It's all so very easy-going here and the staff is very friendly. But the gorgeous azure sea beckons and it doesn't take us long to take an invigorating plunge. With lounge chairs galore and only a few people around, we feel like we have stranded on a beautiful desert island.  

Cayo Levantado Cayo Levantado
Cayo Levantado   Cayo Levantado

Too bad our dream comes to an end as departure time approaches. A final dip in the sea and off we go - back in the speedboat which brings up back to Norwegian Jewel. Completely drenched but with a happy smile on our faces we arrive back on board. What an incredible day in an equally incredible place. We will be back! 

 

From our balcony, drinks in hand, we watch the tenders being pulled back on board. Once we have cleared the Samana Peninsula our ship picks up speed. This is a demanding itinerary for Norwegian Jewel and we often sail at 22 knots or more during this cruise. 

Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar Bar City
Pavillion Pool   Bar City

Our great day ashore is matched by an equally great evening on board. Dinner is excellent in the elegant surroundings of Czar's Palace, one of the main restaurants. 

Bar City with Chin Chin's Asian Restaurant Maltings Beer & Whisky Bar
Bar City   Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar

After dinner, we head towards the appropriately named Bar City. Located close to Le Bistro, Azura Main Restaurant and Chin Chin's, this is a very popular place. The "City" consists of  Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar, Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar and the cozy Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar. 

Lucy going wild!
Lucy going wild with her maracas!

Tonight Spanish-speaking entertainer José Manuel Rodriguez comes out with his guitar and his maracas. The maracas are are used fanatically by the enthusiastic crowd, young and old. The mood is upbeat, casual and ... fun!

Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar
Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar   Shakers Martini Bar
     
 

Photos and text: © 2008 Bart de Boer - www.ShipParade.com

First published on May 12, 2008

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