Firstly us. We are a retired couple, an engineer and bookkeeper who have travelled extensively both independently and with travel organisations. We have only cruised three times before this, twice on the Thomson Spirit around the Mediterranean and Adriatic and to the Norwegian Fjords on the Grills on Queen Mary 2
This cruise was arranged around six or seven weeks beforehand using a mixture of NCL and Thomas Cook. The booking was painless and we got more or less what we wanted. Because of time limits at either end of the cruise, we opted for a fly-cruise using NCL for flights both ways from and to London. Ideally we would have chosen Heathrow over Gatwick, but there were no NCL Heathrow seats left when we booked.
Not wanting to get up in the middle of the night to circle the M25, we opted for the ease of using the Gatwick Sofitel because we could just leave the car there and just walk over the bridge to the booking hall on the Saturday morning. The Sofitel system was superb and well worth the money -- a good choice. There was a minor irritation with the NCL flight booking system because you cannot book on-line and we were a little confused as to where exactly to go to book in, but we managed and shortly after we had done it there was an NCL representative in the booking hall for any lost souls!
The flight was mercifully short and the airport transfer system appeared a bit confused with itself, but it worked well enough and we were soon on the coach for the short journey over the causeway to the cruise terminal. Bags dropped off at the hole in the baggage hall and off round to the main boarding terminal. We were booked into an aft-facing Penthouse Suite and so we had the advantage to priority boarding and we were whisked off to the ship and were soon enjoying the first of many excellent lunches in Cagneys. This was but the first of many of the extras that the suite passenger enjoy. A quick introduction to Lucky, our Butler and Concierge Carlos and we were certainly good to go.
Stateroom 10166 overlooks the stern of the ship and has an excellent balcony and floor to ceiling glass doors that meant that we could benefit from the fresh air irrespective of whether the ship was docked or moving forward at speed. The Queen-sized bed was very comfortable and there was plenty of room to move around. There were loads of draws and cupboards and a large walk-through wardrobe with plenty of hangers. The expresso machine got lots of use and we were also able to use the hot water from it to make tea whenever we wanted. There was a variety of tea bags provided and these were replenished when necessary.
Carlos had a small get together for us so that we could get to know one another and he was able to tell us what to do both on board and when going ashore. It was the beginning of a productive relationship. Carlos is perfect for that job. He has a pleasant manner and made sure that we felt that we could ask him anything at all and at any time at all as well. He gave us all, of the information about NCL shore excursions, but also gave help to those of us who wanted to do our own thing, including maps and local information. Getting to know all of the wrinkles about a cruise ship when you are only on it for a week can be a bit of an issue and whatever the cruise company provides, it is still possible to miss something, be it how to book meal times or how to find some nooks and crannies. That did not happen on this cruise because Carlos was our ship's memory and experience rolled into one very pleasant and useful bundle.
Breakfast and lunch in Cagneys was a super benefit because it enabled us to get to know the servers and have a very pleasant and leisurely start to each day. The menu was perfectly adequate for a week-long cruise, but I can imagine it starting to appear a bit repetitive over a couple of back-to-back weeks. This was a common feature of the whole ship and maybe there would be benefit in having at least two menu cycles.
We decided on a late-ish dinner on the first night and so chose to go to the Alizar. The normal system when it is a bit busy is to give you a pager and to send for you once a table is available. In our case the system failed for some reason and our pager didn't work. After about 45 minutes we checked with the desk and the problem was solved immediately, along with an apology and complementary wine with the meal. We ate in Alizar most nights and never had any more problems thanks to being able to get Carlos to book us a table whenever we wanted to go there.
We only had one speciality meal and that was in the Moderno. The salads were fabulous and we could only manage six or seven of the ten or so meat offerings. The meats were well seasoned and all very tasty, but by far the best was the pineapple! A complete pineapple rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon then roasted and carved at the table. Definitely going to try that one on our next BBQ at home.
The entertainment on the Jade is superb most nights and the final night Elements show was great. The parade of the ships officers and many of the backroom staff singing on stage was a really great touch and it definitely made us feel a part of the family. I have to say that the staff were excellent and always seemed to be happy to be providing us with what we wanted from the cruise. They always seemed happy to be there and were a great credit to the captain in particular and the company in general. Cruise Director Gary was very good without being over-the-top. He was able to manage everything in at least four languages and always well worth listening to.
We love the Adriatic and the two Croatian ports of Dubrovnik and Split were fully up to our expectations. The palm-lined promenade in Split rivals anything we have seen anywhere and sitting in one of the many cafes along there is a real afternoon treat. We have not sampled Piraeus for many years, but it is now a very pleasant place for a working port. My first comment when arriving there was "how on earth can anyone make a mess of life in this place?" Just goes to show.
Izmir is also a very acceptable port. The excursion to Ephesus was well organised and the use of the little headphone receivers made it very easy to follow the guide. It was very hot indeed and the place itself was very crowded, but Ephesus is probably one of the few places where you do not need a fantastic imagination to see how it would have been in Roman times. There is even a place to buy "Genuine Fake Watches" at the end-gate market!! Ephesus was well worth the visit and quite good value for the cost as well. The obligatory trip to the carpet production place was actually quite interesting and without the wife to even look as though she would buy anything, the sales patter was not too oppressive. After all, everyone has to make a living somehow.
Disembarkation was a breeze, again thanks to Carlos. The typically Italian atmosphere in the air terminal was not too difficult to get through at the airport. Probably the worst part of the whole trip was the shambolic arrival at Gatwick. An overcrowded immigration hall with some of the lousiest signage I have ever seen and despite the wait in there, a further ten-minute wait milling around in the area just after the booths to see which way to go to the baggage claim. How this lot is going to get all of those travelling to the Olympics through, I cannot even begin to understand.
Overall comments. The cruise was good value for what we got and I can see exactly why people have said that you would not want to go without the suite privileges again -they are well worth the extra money. Obviously, NCL do lots to get your money off you on the ship, but we didn't find it in any way overpowering and it did not have any detrimental affect on our enjoyment. We used the Internet wi-fi in the suite and although it was not cheap, it worked very well and seemed quite quick. Speaking to the IT engineer who was on the ship, it appears that we were the lucky guinea-pigs of a new updated and much better network link that will apparently be rolled out fleet --wide once it proves satisfactory on the Jade.
How did Jade compare to the QM2? The main difference we found was that the free dining doesn't enable you to build a relationship with the restaurant staff. That said, the waiting staff in the Jade are a happy bunch and they do their best to help you to enjoy the meals in a friendly but professional manner and the Cagneys privileges are quite comparable to those on the QM2 Grills for breakfast and lunch. The main ships meals are not fine dining by any means, but nevertheless they are well prepared and, on the whole, quite tasty. The decor is very much a matter of personal choice, but we found the Jade colours quite refreshing. There was slightly more movement on the Jade, especially during one spell of Force 9 winds on the way to Izmir, but it was still only a slight side-to-side rocking which wasn't too much of a problem, even on deck 10.