This was our first time cruising with NCL so we were not too sure what to expect and whether we would like the 'Freestyle' concept.
We are 'young' seniors, British & Italian and have been living in Spain for 23 years.
There were also very mixed reviews regarding the ship, crew, food, cabins, etc. but fortunately we have always taken reviews by the average and therefore set off with our own level of expectations. I'm delighted to say that this was surpassed in virtually all areas!
Living on the Costa del Sol about 30 minutes from Malaga, our embarkation port needed no second thoughts. We arrived at the embarkation point at approx. 11.15am and by 11.35am we were checked in and on board. The NCL staff at check in were very polite and helpful making everything easy with clear explanations. I believe only about 300 people boarded in Malaga so it was all very tranquil. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our cabin was ready and we were able to unpack our hand cases before heading off to explore the ship and think about going for lunch.
We had a mid ship balcony cabin on deck 9. This was the only BA cabin available when we booked. I would have preferred deck 10 mainly because we were concerned regarding noise from the life boats below us. However, this was unfounded apart from one night when it was very windy and there was something rattling away. I would say though that at 4am it stopped and I believe that someone had been there to rectify the problem! The cabin was very nice with plenty of storage space, I really appreciated the coffee maker and used this most mornings. The 'old fashioned' television was fine for us as we very rarely watch it apart from checking ship information. Three down points were not having a bedside table on one side of the bed, would have liked better lighting in the cabin especially over the dressing table area and the bathroom which was very small, really hard to find room to dry yourself after a shower but especially small was the toilet cubicle which you could hardly move in. We took with an electrical adapter as people had recommended which was a sensible idea. Our room steward was a lovely young boy and he kept the cabin nice and clean and supplied us with beautiful towel animals every evening.
Perfect size ship for us. Clean and bright and we had no issues with the Hawaii theme! Lots of restaurants, bars, quiet corners for chilling, good shopping facility and plenty of deck space. I also liked the fact that by the pool area, staff were marking beds with towels on which were not occupied and if no one returned after 30 minutes the towels were removed, freeing up the beds again. I'm sure that in the summer (not so bad in March) this will be much appreciated by passengers who don't want to get up at 6am to reserve a sun bed!!
Must say that we have never seen so many smiling faces on a ship. This was the case from the Captain right the way down the line. Always polite, helpful with a cheery 'good morning' - 'everything ok?' -- 'how can I help you?, etc. One of my favorites was the 'washy washy happy happy' little girl in the Outdoor Garden who as well as keeping us sanitized, was always smiling, dancing and singing!!
We got to meet the Captain Mikael, Senior Officers, Cruise Director, Rashida and others who were kind enough to give up their time to come to the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet which I set up. They were very social and gave us good information which helped to enhance our cruising experience with them. Unfortunately it was not very well attended even though 26 adults and 3 children were registered to attend. I felt really bad because they had catered for us with drinks and lovely cakes and pastries which didn't get eaten. I would say, that if you do register for a Meet & Greet please go, as apart from the work and time involved, it's a bit sad when you have more crew members attending than Cruise Critic members!!! Thanks by the way for those who did come, it was nice to meet you.
This was our biggest surprise as we found in general that quality and presentation of food was excellent. There was enough choice of menu items to enable you to eat different things at every meal. Not early risers we tended to breakfast in the Great Outdoors, we generally did lunch where possible in the Grand Pacific (much quieter than the buffet) and we also did dinner in the Grand Pacific. We normally eat between 8pm and 8.30pm and only had to wait twice for a table. They give you a pager to let you know when the table is ready and the first time we were called in about 2 minutes and about 10 minutes the second time. Restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful and knew their job. You could eat at your own pace and there was no sense of anyone trying to get you to leave before you were ready to. I suppose that's the advantage of Freestyle as no one is waiting for you to leave to get the dining room ready for the next sitting!! The food was hot, well presented and very tasty and for us the portions were big enough. If you are still hungry, all you need to do is ask for more! We didn't eat in the Alizar but probably will try it next time. Specialty restaurants we tried were The Bistro (loved it) and the Moderno. We've been to lots of Brazilian style restaurants and didn't find Moderno exceptional but the food and service (and the buffet) again were of a very good standard. We will probably try some other specialty restaurants next time. Went to the Blue Lagoon a couple of times but apart from the New York style cheese cake (amazing) we weren't overly impressed. For me the most remembered dish will be the Smoked Salmon Benedict served for breakfast in Grand Pacific. They were so good that I made the effort to get up early another morning just to go back and have them again! Also just don't miss the Signature Chocoholic Buffet!
There was plenty to do on the ship to keep you busy all day long if you wanted to. Trivia, port talks, deck games, demonstrations, dance classes, movies, bridge, bingo, etc. There's also the Spa, gym and fitness area (which despite all good intentions we didn't get to!) Also there are some very useful seminars about health, weight and nutrition. Didn't go to the Casino as basically it was just too smoky to stay there.
Shows were on I believe every night. We went to Elements (excellent), Showdown (good fun) and Shout (not my favorite but ok). Music everywhere with piano players, really good guitarists playing in the Atrium most evenings and there was a really cool Dixieland Jazz band. Disco and themed party nights in the Spinnaker and just loved the White Hot Party.
Ports of Call
Due to a general strike in Spain on 29th March the Captain (very efficiently) rerouted out itinerary. Unfortunately we lost Santa Cruz but gained a stop in Cadiz instead. Living in Spain most of the scheduled stops we had been to before, so we pretty much did our own thing in each port.
On the strike day we docked in Madeira (Portugal) which is a beautiful Island where we hadn't been and certainly a place to be visited again. Here we did the Red HoHo bus which goes round the town and also out to some of the beach areas and Camara de Lobos. We took the cable car up Monte (which I always said I wouldn't do!) and then came down in the toboggan (which I also said I wouldn't do!!). It was great and if you're there you have to do it :-) One thing to note though, if you take the toboggan ride down independently, it stops half way down the mountain.(six kilometers from the town!) Once there you either have to wait for up to half an hour for the local bus or take a taxi which costs 15â‚¬.
We asked for a 9.30am time as we were being picked up by our daughter (not an early riser like the parents). This was given with no problem.
Had a leisurely breakfast, said our goodbyes and disembarked as smoothly as everything else had gone.
A really good time and great value for the money. The Jade is really well stabilized and despite some very strong winds and a few choppy hours I was fine (normally not a very good sailor but just love to cruise!) Shame the weather didn't allow for more outdoor time but at least it didn't rain so we can't complain. Also did not find the 'Hard Sell' that people have commented on to be anywhere near as bad as it was on our RCI cruise last October. In reality NCL give good cruise rates but like any business they need to make a profit from somewhere! We were impressed enough that we are going back on the Jade to the Med and Holy Land in November and all being well will try the Star to the Baltic in 2013. We send a big 'Thank You' to all at NCL and especially to the entire Crew of the Jade.