Four of us went on the Norwegian Jade for a 10-day Mediterranean cruise to celebrate my daughter's graduation. Late October to early November 2012. Rome, Italy (Civitavecchia) ? Olympia, Greece (Katakolon) ? Athens, Greece (Pireaus) ? Ephasus, Turkey (Izmir) ? Cairo, Egypt (Alexandria). I would say we were all very pleased. The weather was mostly very good (Not too hot, not too cold). The time of year and the number of sea days vs. port days I think was just about perfect. Since this trip was mainly to historical areas, we made an attempt to see the main historic sites.
We were coordinating from 4 different U.S cities. We were able to get flights that all met up at JFK airport in New York about the same time. We were so blessed to just beat hurricane Sandy. By the time our flight took off, 19 of 30 incoming flights on the board were cancelled. There were already evacuation notices for beach communities. No outgoing flights were scheduled later than 4 hour after our actual take-off (the airport was already apparently shutting down).
We wisely chose to get to Rome a couple days early. Our flight from JFK was almost 4 hours late. By the time we arrived at Fiumicino Rome airport, took the train into the Termini station (I think about 14.50 Euros) got Roma Passes (can be a good deal if you are there 2-3 days), and walked to our hotel, we wound up arriving 15 minutes too late to enter the Coliseum (they had just changed to winter hours... you had to enter by 3:30 p.m. I think). But we got gelato, walked around that whole area, and then took a long walk to many of the popular squares: Dinner near the Campo Fiori, then to Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Piazza Colonna, Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Spagna.
The next day we took the Metro first thing in the morning to the Vatican. We missed reserving a decent time for the Vatican Museum, so we stood in line about a half hour to get into the museum. From there it was the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, Castel Sant' Angelo, got more gelato, got to the Pantheon early enough to get in (we were too late the night before), and got dinner near our hotel.
The day of our cruise we went at opening time to the Coliseo metro stop and got a quick panini get us by until we got to the ship. We toured the Coliseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill. Then we went back to our hotel, got our luggage, and took the train to Civitavecchia, arriving a little past 1:00 p.m. We then walked about 10 minutes in the rain (our first bad weather on the trip) to the shuttle bus at the port. Some regretted not getting out a plastic garbage bag or a poncho to cover their suitcases because their things got a bit wet. The bus driver was lame and did not even get out of the bus to load people's suitcases, but he had a tip bucket in his bus. Needless to say, nobody tipped him. We later found out he worked for the port, not for Norwegian.
DAY 1 - EMBARKATION: We probably got the check-in area around 1:30 p.m. I think we were supposed to check-in by 3:00 for a 5:00 or 6:00 departure. When we got there the baggage handling was a bit disorganized, but fortunately not too busy. The rest of the check in process was organized, and included filling out a questionnaire as to whether you are currently sick, then checking in your passport, committing a credit card for your account, taking a picture for their security access, and being issued a card that is the key to your on-board life. It is a room key and your on-board charge card, and your ID for disembarking and embarking at each port. Then we got on board with a nice welcome. We had all decided not to get professional pictures, so we avoided the cameras. Once on the ship we checked our room, got our daily schedule there, and wandered around to check out the amenities. It was raining pretty hard by then, so we really did not check out the cast-off from port much. Every ship is required to have an emergency drill. Theirs was pretty lame. They seemed a little disorganized getting us to our muster point (ours was in one of the restaurants) and all they did was to show us how the life vests worked. They really did not give as an understanding the emergency process, nor of life boats and life rafts.
DAY 2 -- At SEA: Our first day was pretty rough seas (even the crew said it was one of the roughest they had been in). But the ship is so huge, it really was not bad. None of us got sea sick even though two have a tendency to get car sick. After a day of flights, and two days of rush-rush to see the sites in Rome, it was nice to relax, hot-tub my tired bones, get acquainted with the ship, see a show, work out in the fitness center, and read up on our plans for our trip. We were able to see the active volcanoes at Stromboli, and Etna (although Etna bit of weather at the top, so we did not see the smoke until the return trip). The straight of Messina was interesting.
DAY 3 -- KATALOLON / OLYMPIA, GREECE: - We had a relatively short day in Katakolon. In pre-trip preparation, I was a bit confused about the train (I think it would have be a great, economical way to go in retrospect), so I pre-booked a local taxi tour service. We could not have been more pleased for a way to start the trip. We used email@example.com. They were very responsive on the internet and set us up with a local gentleman (Christos) who spoke great English, and gave us a full day of relaxing fun, including going to the Olympic site and museum, to an old amphitheatre in very good shape, on a winery tour (different one than the tour buses so we were not dealing with crowds). We went to lunch in the town of Olympia, and took back roads back to port with just enough time to shop 15 minutes at near the ship before we had to be on board. All in all, a great choice for us.
DAY 4 -- PIRAEUS / ATHENS, GREECE: We chose to walk to the Metro. It was a bit of a walk, maybe 15 minutes, but fine... pretty much along the port area. We took that directly to the Thiseio stop. From there was a short, easy walk along the lovely walkway to the Acropolis entrance. Great choice for us, we seemed to have gotten just ahead of most tourist groups. The Acropolis was beautiful. On that mountain is the only point of the trip where the heat was almost uncomfortable, so I'm glad we went early in the day and late in the year. After that we walked in a circle around that mountain and back to the same Metro stop to return. We saw Hadrian's Arch, the Plaka (and got gelato), saw the changing of the guard at Monastiraki, shopped around Agora square, and went into the Ancient Agora ruins.
DAY 5 -- IZMIR / EPHESUS, TURKEY: It sounded like it was confusing and difficult to get to the Ephesus site from the port of Izmir, so we actually booked an NCL shore excursion. It was basic, they just took us to Ephesus with a bathroom stop, guided us through it, and back. The bus ride was long (at least an hour), and I was impressed by the Turkish highway infrastructure. Ephesus was definitely worth it. They took us to a carpet weaving place, and it was actually nice and worth it. Of course they would like to sell you some of their great artistry, but they did not pressure. And a few people on my bus were very happy to have bought carpets or tapestry, so it was win/win. They did give us a drink (tea, cola, coffee, etc. and a snack, and had bathrooms, so it was good. Our guide (Tulay?) was excellent and humorous. I'm wondering if I should have sprung for a bit more money to see the house of the Virgin Mary or other options because all in all it seemed a bit short time-wise. But we took advantage of the extra time to shop for gift items at the supermarket across the street from the port entrance.
DAY 6 - AT SEA: After 3 days in a row of shore activity, this day at sea was just perfect to relax, enjoy the ship's amenities and activities, and to mentally prepare for Egypt.
DAYS 7 & 8 -- ALEXANDRIA / CAIRO, EGYPT: We did not feel comfortable planning to tour on our own to the pyramids. We originally planned a one day tour to the pyramids with one of the private companies (NCL was way too expensive), and then the NCL tour of Alexandria to make sure we got back in time (We heard traffic is horrible). Then at the last minute, we decided to feel safe enough to take the overnight tour to Cairo. The trade off was that with the overnight tour, we would not see much of Alexandria, but we got to stay in an beautiful hotel (the Mena House) near the Giza pyramids, got to see the night light show at sphinx, and got to go to the pyramids of Saqqara, including time to go into a small free one. As I mentioned before, the vendors are obnoxious, and at that entrance, there was a guy trying to charge to get in. But our guide was excellent about forewarning us. We also chose to do a short camel ride. That was interesting the way camel raises you up. Our cruise crew said that this would be the last or second to the last cruise to Egypt by NCL until they determine what affect the new elections in Egypt will have. So we feel blessed that this was a safe and happy experience. Our tour guide, Mohammed (Alex City Tours was the company) was excellent. And the bus driver was amazing. About the only negatives were the amount of pushy vendors that kind of detracted from the experience, the sadness of seeing some of the garbage build-up on the streets and in the river canals, and there really was bad traffic. But bus driver was incredible in negotiating it. The traffic really does flow. There are almost no traffic lights. It is just a matter of communicating with the other drivers your intentions, and avoiding the stalled vehicles and mule carts. And they use their horn wisely to show their intentions, not profusely like in Rome and Mexico City (and Chicago, LOL).
DAYS 9 & 10 - 2 DAYS at SEA: This was a perfect way to wind down the cruise, to relax, reflect, and enjoy the cruise amenities. It also allowed us to get our heads straight about planning our last day in Rome before flying out.
DISEMBARKATION: We chose the self disembark where we took off our own luggage. That was a perfect choice for us; completely flexible. We did not have to put our luggage out the night before, and did not have to claim it down on the docks.
Back in Rome, we had a reservation for the Borghese Gallery late in the afternoon. After taking the train to Rome (I think 5 Euros per person), we dropped off our luggage at our hotel, and then walked around the Villa Borghese Gardens until our appointed time at the Borghese. Even though we left the ship around 7:00 a.m., and did not have to deal with claiming our luggage, I'm glad our appointment at the Borghese was not until 3:00 p.m. I don't think we got to that area until 1:30, so we would have missed a 1:00 appointment. After the Borghese, we decided to walk back to our hotel area, have dinner and call it a night, since our flight out was early the next day.
Because our flight was early the next morning, we could not use the train to make it safely to the airport on time. I had arranged a shuttle with Romeshuttlelimousin.com prior to the trip. They were to pick us up at 5:00 a.m. at our hotel. When we got to the hotel, I had the desk call them to confirm, and also to verify our pick-up time would be still be o.k. because the airline had changed the flight time to 15 minutes earlier. I think the normal small taxi from Rome to the airport is a fixed fee of 45 Euros. But those cars are so small; I just did not see how they could fit the four of us and our entire luggage. So that is why I pre-arranged this shuttle. It cost 55 Euros, but they sent a Mercedes mini-van that easily held us all and our luggage with comfort and room to spare. The driver was prompt, and courteous.
More thoughts about the NCL- JADE:
STATEROOM: Knowing we would have lots of expenses for the flight, Rome, and shore excursions, we went cheap. We got interior rooms on the cheapest deck right next to each other. Everything was just fine, just two minor thoughts: (1) With no natural light, even on sea days we needed to make sure to set our alarm so we would not waste away the day. I don't think they provided an alarm so we used our cell phone alarms. Our cell phones were set to airplane mode, not data and no roaming to make sure we did not inadvertently get costly service. We were still able to take advantage of the WiFi on land. (2) One of the four of us was bothered by some interior noise at night. We all could hear it but it only bothered one of us during sleep. I think they had a working hallway in the middle on that deck, and were moving carts around. Other than those points, we have no regrets for the cheap rooms. We did not want to spend our time in our room anyway. And the rooms though small were comfortable enough.
DINING: We did not go to any of the paid restaurants, so I could not tell you anything about them. We pretty much did the buffet for breakfasts and lunches, and the two main restaurants for dinners. All was fine, but by the end of the 10 days, we were probably close to ready for a change. Some of us may have used the other free restaurants like the 24 hour place or the place by the pool. We did not use room service. We really appreciated that it was flexible dining with no set time, no obligations, and no requirement for dressing up. That worked perfectly for us, and allowed us to pack lighter. We were told by someone that you could bring a bottle of wine on board, check it in, and have it available for your dinner. They were pleased that it was there promptly. I did not find out if there was a corkage fee, but if you are interested you might ask.
BARS: Only one of us tried the bars and only once. I think he was satisfied of price-to-value. I know he had beer, but I could not tell you where. I think maybe they had a special beer tasting session.
ENTERTAINMENT: Every day there is a couple of evening sessions of entertainment in the Stardust Theater. They were all excellent. I don't remember what they all were or their names (I'm sorry, probably early stage dementia), but there was a Motown night (my favorite), an aerial acrobatics couple (incredible), the ship's cast of singers and dancers (awesome), a magic show (amazing), a homegrown review packaging all the on board talent including several notable crew members and the officers. And don't forget that the ship's orchestra and the technical people were behind it all making it great. Definitely worth going every night (I was too tired one night). There were plenty of other opportunities for music at the bars, lounges and atrium. Stuff like a singing pianist, a singing guitarist, etc. I did not hang out in those areas, but I definitely enjoyed their music as I walked by.
OTHERS: Free stuff that I took advantage of included:
- The fitness center.
- The card room.
- Nutrition talks (although he had two different topics every day, but it was all the same talk).
- The bridge viewing room with maps, GPS and ship statistics, and a movie on the ship and how it was built.
- The hot tubs!
- The pools. But I burned the heck out of my eyes in one. It was way too salty. And I am a regular ocean swimmer. So after that I never went back. Next cruise I will try to remember to bring swimming goggles.
- The water slide. I learned that you have to minimize cloth touching it and maximize skin touching it for a good slide. For me I slide on my back. For the ladies, they slid on their legs and leaned forward.
- Lots of educational talks in the lounges: Topics like Egypt, Q&A with the executive officers, etc. I missed a bunch but I did go to some and they were all worthwhile for my interests.
- Dance lessons! At various locations and times.
- Trivia competition.
- Talking with the crew. Always something to learn.
- I'm sure there was plenty of other good stuff also, but I think I'm done thinking.
Overall, a great cruise experience and a great itinerary! I will definitely try Norwegian again.
The only real critical feedback I have for NCL, is (1) Either give us a copy per person of the daily schedule per stateroom or make it easy to find out what is on the schedule (such as being posted by every elevator at every floor... or at least the floors that have activities). (2) Set the pool salinity to a humanly tolerable level (I'm serious, it burned my eyes so badly that even after flushing them with water and putting in eye drops, it pretty much ruined the rest of my evening).