After enjoying our January 2011 cruise on the NCL Jade Holy Lands Cruise which unfortunately was diverted at the last minute from a scheduled visit to Egypt, my wife and I booked the same Haven Cabin in hopes of experiencing the Pyramids in December 2012.
Our dreams of an encounter with the Pyramids were dashed 2 months in advance of the sailing with NCL's decision to cancel Egypt stops starting in December (but they continued to visit Egypt through November). In retrospect, we probably would have found ourselves diverted from Egypt anyway with the political unrest that accompanied the constitutional crisis which developed during our sailing. NCL scheduled substitute stops in Crete and Naples instead of Egypt - and I thought the excursion to Popeii from Naples turned out to be a highlight of the trip.
In any case, we found our beloved Haven Cabin 14010 was exactly as we left it from our January 2011 stay. Between the luxurious and spacious cabin, the relaxing Haven with its retractable roof (mostly closed during the cold December weather), and fine service from our cabin stewards and butler, I could not imagine better accommodations. We have sailed in a PS suite on Princess and found NCL's suites more appealing even without the Haven facilities - dining tables, pod using coffee makers, twin baths, tubs with ocean view windows, spacious baths...the list goes on and on. We liked the view from our balcony although the cold weather prevented extended use.
One pleasant change between the two sailings was an upgrade in the standard dining room food. The Jade started having comment cards in the dining areas and it appears NCL is listening. Both in the buffet and main dining rooms a significant improvement in fruit and vegetable quality was noted. Most of the dining entrees were good, although there was a significant different between the steaks served at Cagney's (where suite dwellers enjoy breakfast and lunch) vs main dining room steaks. If you want a good steak, treat yourself at Cagney's - while not necessarily true on other cruise lines, there is a significant difference on the Jade. Once in a while the kitchen served a dud for dinner, but there were more hits than misses - highlights included the Turkey, while my wife had to return her mahi-mahi. NCL has been criticized for its lackluster desserts although they boast two exceptional do not miss desserts - the chocolate brownie/macadamian nut ice cream at Cagney's and the tiramisu with kahlua which was a daily special in the main dining room. In general the buffet had excellent food - the fruits were superb, the pasta bar was delicious, and the pizza was good. The omelet station was great for breakfast, and we grabbed breakfast at the buffet rather than go to Cagney's on most days.
Jade entertainment is a cut above any other cruise line. It starts with their legendary cruise director, Gary Glading who served on both of our voyages. His talents and work ethic are well known and well documented in the forums - suffice to say you will never meet someone who does the job better. He will sing at the specialty restaurants, lecture on life in Italy, perform in the evening theatre, ballroom dance with guests, and greet you daily while leaving and returning from excursions. The Jade shows on both sailings included cirque du soleil type aerialists (pretty amazing considering they are doing it without nets on a moving ship), a talented magician, and the well known Elements show which really sets a standard for cruise ship entertainment that we have never seen on any other cruise. In addition to all that, the Jade has a group called 4Ever that frequent the ship and they are probably the best singers I have seen on the seas or land.
The Jade has the usual activities found on other cruise ships - handicrafts like origami, juggling and circus lessons, casino tournaments, and trivia contests. I thought they were a little light in the lecture department especially since we were visiting areas witch such an incredible history. Gary gave a great lecture on Italy, but other than an overview of the excursions available to the passengers, we didn't get much history on the Holy Lands. The Jade has a great outdoor running track on the sports deck to supplement the promenade deck for walkers. The gym was very well equipped and lightly used during the cruise.
With the improvement in food quality, the Jade's biggest deficiency noted in our previous cruise was addressed. Given the amazing destinations (even without the Pyramids) the Jade remains my favorite cruise!
Our January 2011 sailing (after the Egypt diversion) ended up visiting Rome, Athens, Izmir, Istanbul, and Malta. Our December 2012 sailing (including the Egypt cancellation and a last minute change from Alanya to Antalya-Turkey due to port conditions) visited Antalya, Limassol-Cyprus, Haifa-Israel (the ship did not move to Ashdod as scheduled due to Gaza conflict), Crete-Greece, and Naples. While each land was remarkable in some way, the highlights of these Mediterranean ports had to be Rome, Istanbul, Naples (visiting Pompeii), Jerusalem (from Haifa), and Ephesus (from Izmir). This is not to say stops at Athens or Malta weren't amazing, but they have some pretty stiff competition!
Of course Egypt remains elusive, and will ultimately lead to a third voyage on the Jade someday...