February 2015 - Norwegian Jade to Europe - Mediterranean
This was our 1st full scale cruise as a couple and our 2nd Cruise Line we had travelled on. Our previous experience was a simple 2 night cruise on the P&O Cruises Arcadia and we wanted something a little more flexible in terms of dining options and a more "casual" approach. The cruise was for my wives 40th Birthday
Pre cruise booking & preparation Our booking was made with the Agency Iglu Cruises approx 8 months before the Cruise. This was a pain free process with excellent communication and paid what seemed like a very reasonable offer. We decided to go with a night's stay in Rome a night before just for peace of mind. After registering our booking with the Norwegian Cruise website we were a little taken back by the on board prices for drinks and so opted to pre pay the soft drinks package for us both.
Embarkation & introductions to the ship This could not have been simpler and was quite simply a delight! Despite an embarkation time of 12:00 we arrived at 11:30 and had our luggage taken by the Porters straight away. The security process was a breeze (no more than 5 minutes) and we went straight to the desk attendant to check in. This took no more than 5 minutes to complete and we were ready to board straight away. On entering the ship we were welcomed by a ships' rep and a friendly Pirate. We were warned that our cabin may not be ready but nevertheless we went to check it out and to our delight found it all there ready for us. Please see our separate review of the cabin. We opted to take a guided tour by one of the cruise staff of the main areas of the ship as well as a more dedicated tour of the spa. Both were very concise and informative
The best thing about dining on the Jade is you can pretty much eat however much you want when you want wherever you want and it's the flexible approach that attracted us to this cries line in the 1st place. The Garden Cafe was our 1st experience open for buffet as soon as we boarded. Initially the choice is so overwhelming with at least 3 - 4 main food stations in the main area. Hygiene is the 1st order of the day here and all the restaurants with the staff constantly reminding us in a friendly "washy washy happy happy" tone. It takes a few minutes to take it all in but the variety is simply incredible. For those not opting for the soft drinks package there is plentiful choice of hot & cold drinks available on tap (water, iced tea, lemonade, fruit juice etc) though the cold drinks were VERY sweet! This restaurant is also the venue of choice for breakfast buffet and offers a wide choice of items hot & cold. You can also opt to eat "Al Fresco" in the aft section though it did mean the hot items did get colder much quicker though the plus side was there was always plenty of seating. Overall the availability of seating was easy throughout the cruise. Perhaps a little busier at peak times but nothing that caused too much concern. There was never a situation of not finding a table.
Our main gripe about the two main free dining restaurants Grand Pacific and Alizar was that their menus were identical. Surely there should be some kind of choice between the 2. The daily menus also appeared to be pretty similar every night. Having said that the quality of the food served is very good and well presented all bit it slightly small portions. (not really a serious problem though as we simply went upstairs later to the buffet if we were not filled up sufficiently!) the food was served reasonably hot and the restaurant staff were attentive, friendly and all too keen on pleasing you. I would say you do have to be clear when ordering. there was more than one occasion when I ordered my "regular pepsi" only to have diet brought to the table yuk! The other smaller cafe restaurant the Blue lagoon is probably our favourite service simply the most divine buffalo chicken wings. Again not much variety in the menu options but by far the best table service. Always tables free and available 24/7! There is also the option to have breakfast there but we found the level of replenishment on the buffet counter not very fast. Our only experience of the supplimentary restaurants was Teppenyaki at $25 a head extra. This was great fun with a a personal chef serving directly at our table providing the most entertaining session of cooking tricks as he prepared our food. They were simply excellent and the food tasted great. The let down for us with the whole experience was 1. the cleanliness of the floor (they hadn't cleaned up from the last session and the floor was simply disgusting) and 2. the time it took to seat us , take our orders and serve starters. It seemed about an hour before the personal chef came out to cook. As it was my wives birthday that night they added the nice touch of some personal tricks for her and a bonus free birthday cake brought to us at the end of the dining session which we took back to our room.
One final note on drinks. The prices are extremely expensive for drinks so we strongly advise to purchase the drinks packages. There is a cocktail of the day which if purchased is the best deal. If you can wait to later in the cruise they did sell some wines at half price which we took advantage of.
Service The majority of ships staff are extremely friendly and offer a great atmosphere. They are all knowledgeable about their individual roles and clearly show a passion for what they do. What is strikingly good about the ship is the cleanliness. It looks immaculate and almost new throughout. Our steward is mentioned in the cabin review.
Entertainment Surprisingly We didn't see too much of the live entertainment other than the opening preview night in the Theatre, a high wire act mid way through and a broadway/west end song session. These acts were passable to while an evening away but were by no means spectacular. That being said there was a good variety of small singers/ quartets in the bar areas which were probably more entertaining than the headline theatre acts. We were somewhat surprised at the lack of an in house dance troupe. other activities such as the quizzes and gameshows were a lot more fun & entertaining for us. The quizzes were varied and provided a mix of challenges. A nice touch was the rewards system in place even if you didn't win the quiz. Enough signatures gathered at the end of the cruise from participation alone ensured the collection of fun ship based goodies including tee shirts mugs & pens etc.
Excursions These although pricey were superb. we opted for 3 ship organised trips to Ancient Olympia, Ephesus and Istanbul. They were well organised, offered plenty of time for shopping and were all run by knowledgeable friendly guides & drivers. We never felt rushed or bored. A nice touch for the Turkish excursions was the free guides, gifts and postcards left on our seats. On this cruise we were disappointed not to have offered a tour to Ancient Corinth which as Christians was a must see activity when in docked in Athens. That being said we were again more than impressed with the speed of disembarkation if we chose to go it alone. The whole process of getting back on board was also a breeze wether going on organised excursions or touring alone.
Disembarkation Again the process of getting off was simplicity. We simply chose a preferred time and got off at our leisure. We never felt pressurised to get off like we had with P&O Cruises. Our main gripe was more with the Port facilities at Rome CIVITAVECCHIA. Our transfer was unfortunately delayed by 2 hours which meant a lot of time sitting in the terminal. Facilities for departing passengers were we felt extremely poor with almost no seating, no change facilities and no cafes. The only food & beverage option was a rather tired & dirty looking vending machine located right next to some rather dirty toilets which attracted more port staff than passengers. A rather sour end to an extremely pleasurable trip.
Overall Norwegian cruises and the Jade provided just the flexible cruise we were looking for We never felt out of place not matter what attire we wore wether smart, casual, scruffed or dressed to the nines. We would defiantly make NCL our 1st choice for cruising again.