We were on the March 6 10-day sailing to Greece, Turkey and Naples. We chose this cruise because it fit our pre-existing plans to visit Rome.
We did not use NCL's transfer service as it was at least twice as much as other available shuttle services.
We arrived in Civitavecchia at about 12:30pm in pouring rain. It was chaos at the luggage drop-off, as people had forgotten to put on their luggage tags (not NCL's fault); ours had gotten soaked in the rain but were still on the luggage (this is something that NCL might want to improve; although I appreciate the ease of printing off the luggage tags at home, they were not sturdy enough to withstand the rain and it might be better for NCL to mail sturdier luggage tags.)
Once the luggage was dropped off, we were directed to check-in, which was pretty empty, and did not take long. When we asked the check-in agent whether our cabin would be ready, she said "maybe, but probably not until 2:00pm." To our delight, the cabin was ready. (I later read online when we got home that cabins are generally ready by 12:30pm.)
Our balcony stateroom was aft, close to mid-ship, and not far from the mid-ship elevators. The cabin was a nice size, with plenty of drawers and closet space for clothes. The bathroom had a full tub/shower, shelves for storage, and plenty of hooks for hanging robes, or drying clothes. We were very pleased to see that there was a built-in clothes line above the tub to hang wet bathing suits or for hand laundry. A passenger self-service laundry is not available on the ship, and sending clothing for laundering by the ship is not cheap ($2.95 per piece of underwear!). On shore days, there were laundry "specials" but still not cheap.
There was typical buffet food available on Deck 12 (let's call it the "Lido" deck, as it's the deck with the pool) in the Garden Cafe. Food in the buffet was fine, but nothing special. However, there was nowhere near enough space in the Garden Cafe for all the passengers. NCL does open up "Papa's Kitchen" - the same-deck "specialty" restaurant -- for extra seating during the day, but it was still a challenge to find a table. And, once you find a table, if it's not near the main buffet, it's a trek to go back and forth for drinks, seconds, etc. The wait-staff does NOT bring water, tea or coffee, so it's a lot of getting up and down and around. I was using a cane and there was only one table reserved for handicapped seating (for wheelchair passengers), so anyone with mobility issues would have a hard time if they don't get a table closer to th buffet.
My luggage was delivered fairly quickly -- my husband's was not delivered until after dinner -- and apparently NCL personnel had replaced the rain-soaked luggage tags with new ones - so all was well there.
The Jade has free-style dining. There are 2 main dining rooms -- Alazar and Grand Pacific, with the latter being more elegantly furnished than Alazar. We went to Alazar the first night and it was a disaster. Long wait. Service was abysmal -- slow, if not almost non-existent. The wait-staff seemed intent only on moving people in and out, not on really service. To our surprise, they served Surf & Turf the first night! The lobster was good, but the steak was grossly undercooked. We both asked for "medium" and what we got was still "mooing" on the inside. I ate around the edges and left most of it on the plate. Also, one thing we realized about "free-style" dining is that, when you don't have scheduled 'seatings', then the wait-staff is constantly clearing and resetting tables, which makes for a LOT of background clanging noise. We could barely hear ourselves talk. All in all, it was a bad first impression as far as dining was concerned.
To make matters worse, the weather was so bad that the ship was really rolling. We saw one poor young man sitting on the floor outside the dining room looking absolutely green.
The first evening's introductory entertainment was fine -- ship's cast members had good voices and the show was only 45 minutes which was also fine -- we still had unpacking to do!
Our next day was a sea day, but the weather was still horrible and we were still rolling a lot. Pool was not an option. We mostly spent the day getting acclimated to the ship, visiting the ship's store -- a nice, large, almost department store quality -- the art gallery and doing our favorite activity -- trivia! (More on that later.)
The entertainment the second night was fabulous -- guest group called "Classical Graffiti" that was really excellent. Great for the entire family.
The next day was our first port stop -- Katakolon/Olympia -- and that's where the cruise turned weird. At about 7:30am we heard two calls for medical personnel to go to Deck 4. We didn't think anything about it until got to the elevators and an NCL crew member said we had to use the stairs due to the "incident." We took the stairs and when we disembarked (very easy, by the way) and saw several officials and an ambulance. A crew member apparently had gone overboard and had not yet been found. But everyone was "mum" about it. (More on that later, too.)
We used an outside tour company rather than NCL for a tour to Olympia. Unfortunately, the Olympia guards chose that day to strike and the Olympia site was closed. But we all got to see the site from behind the fences and we actually had an enjoyable day.
Upon our return to the ship, we were met by NCL crew members with hot towels (a very nice touch), and a choice of ice water or tea. Then, the ubiquitous "wishy-washy" sanitation crew sprayed our hands with hand sanitizer before we embarked. But I do have to say that embarkation and disembarkation were very easy.
We made it back in time for afternoon trivia again and, to our surprise (and disappointment), the crew member used some of the same questions as the previous afternoon (different crew member). This happened many times during the course of the cruise and was very frustrating for those of us die-hard trivia fans who like to learn and compete. There was apparently no coordination among the cruise director's staff who were conducting the trivia games to compare which questions they were using.
Since we had such a terrible experience in Alazar the first night, we chose to go to the Grand Pacific dining room the second evening. Again, it was crowded and we had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated, and then we had to share a table, which was fine. (We noted that night that very few passengers seemed to be using the "specialty" restaurants, which carried cover charges. There was a board with availabilty listed and, except for Papa's Kitchen, the family Italian restaurant, everything else was open. This meant that the main dining rooms were being used to capacity, as was the Garden Cafe buffet. Everything was always crowded.)
Dinner in Grand Pacific was a little less "rushed" with better service from the wait-staff, but not by much. Throughout the cruise, it seemed to take several requests to get coffee, for example.
We left Katakolon as scheduled, but with no explanation provided by NCL or crew on the "incident" that left one crew member dead. Only at the end of the cruise, after one of the couples got access to Google, did we find out what happened. (More later.)
The next day was our port call in Piraeus/Athens, which was fabulous. Again, we chose the same outside tour company over the NCL excursions. There were about a dozen of us who had booked the same 4 tours with the same tour company and one of the couples figured that we had saved almost $700 over booking the same tours through NCL.
That evening, we ate in Grand Pacific again, this time at a private table. My husband ordered steak, but this time asking for "medium well" after our experience the first night. This time, it came back closer to "medium" but at least edible. I had the salmon, which was very good. However, in both cases the food was just put on a plate -- there was no effort at presentation. Everything was just "plopped" on the table.
Entertainment that night was the regular cast members doing an American Idol type show. It was just OK. There was a consistent problem throughout the cruise of passengers arriving late for the 7:30pm show and going down to the empty seats in the several front rows. This disrupted even the entertainers. Although we really disliked the disruptions every night, it was VERY difficult to get from dinner (with the slow service) to the first show and it might behoove NCL to consider changing the first show to start at 8:00pm instead of 7:30pm.
Next day was Izmir, Turkey, for a trip to the ancient site of Ephesus -- just magnificent! Great tour (again, with outside company).
We tried the Blue Lagoon cafe that night for dinner, which was very pleasant, although with a limited light menu. But at least we didn't have to wait, weren't rushed, didn't have to pay an extra cover charge, and the food was fine. (I do have to agree with another reviewer that, in NONE of the dining venues was the food ever served hot.)
That night, the Classical Graffiti group performed again, and they truly were wonderful. We both both their CDs. Loved the guest artists.
Next day was Istanbul, Turkey but we weren't arriving until 1:00pm, so everyone got to sleep in a little after 3 days of extensive touring and sight-seeing! We decided to have breakfast in Grand Pacific instead of going to the Garden Cafe buffet. There was no wait to get a table but, despite there being few passengers in the dining room, service was S-L-O-W!! And noone seemed to care that it was slow.
We took a cab to Topkapi Palace (which would be closed the next day) and, of course, ran into lots of other fellow passengers there. Each building in Instanbul is more magnificent than the next. Since we were going to be docked in Instanbul overnight, we were able to take our time getting back to the ship.
That night was, I think, the guest comedian, who was very, very good.
Dinner in Grand Pacific that evening was OK -- nothing special.
Next day we took our Instanbul excursion as our 4th tour with the outside company and it was phenomenal. Istanbul is not to be missed. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. The guides were all so knowledgeable and passionate about the history, architecture and artwork.
We returned to the ship exhausted, but met by the happy faces of the "wishy-washy" staff. That night, at dinner in Grand Pacific, the hostess said that everyone looked exhausted. After 5 straight days of port calls and sight-seeing, we were, in fact, exhausted and looking forward to two sea days.
I think that night's show was a marionette act that was only so-so. They were good, but very repetitive.
The next 2 days gave us all much-needed rest. We used the fitness facilities and had no problem getting a bicycle or treadmill to use. We thought the fitness center was quite adequate. We also did a couple of spa treatments, including a massage package, which we both enjoyed. The spa prices were extremely high, except for the "manager's specials." Everything else was way over-priced. An 18% "service charge" was added to each service provided. Although there was a line to add additional tip/gratuity, we did not.
On Friday, we arrived at Naples, and this is where our disappointment with NCL really hit home. The weather was cold and rainy. The only excursion that we had booked through NCL was for Naples, to see both Pompeii and to go to the top of Vesuvius -- an all-day excursion. We had received our tickets (pre-paid) on the first day of the cruise, and it required that we report to the theatre before disembarking.
In the theatre, the crew member in charge said that she would be calling each excursion by groups and everyone in that group would get a sticker and disembark and go to the bus at the same time. So far, so good. Then she announced that, because of the weather, the excursion to Capri had been cancelled and she offered those passengers who had booked that excursion either a full refund and/or an opportunity to book one of the alternative excursions, among them a morning tour of Pompeii. Again, so far so good. Those passengers who had originally booked the Capri tour then gathered up by the stage to make their choices or process their refunds. After that, the crew member began calling the various excursions. Ours was called last, and we proceeded to the bus.
After we were all on the bus -- and, since we were the last group called -- all the other busses/excursions had left -- our tour guide tells us that Vesuvius had 8 inches of snow, that the roads were blocked, and that we would not be going up to Vesuvius at all. We had not been told this in the theatre, when we could have changed our excursion to the morning Pompeii excursion, at half the cost. The guide did tell us that we would be getting a "partial refund". We set off for Pompeii, where the NCL guide sped us through with barely a chance to get photos. We were done by noon. Then, when we got back on the bus, we took the SLOW route back to the ship as she ostensibly gave us a bus tour of Naples. It was very disappointing. We could have stayed at Pompeii for a couple more hours instead.
The next morning, we discovered that, of the $150 pp cost of the tour, NCL had refunded a whopping $20. They canceled HALF the excursion and gave us $20 back? They knew in the morning that Vesuvius would be cancelled and did not tell us before we boarded the bus when we could have changed excursions. It was a total rip-off.
When we got back to the ship, one of our trivia-buddy couples with Internet access then brought us their google search of the man-overboard incident that had happened at our first port call at Katakolon. The news reports revealead that a crew member had been hit by a snapped mooring line, had gone overboard, was not wearing a life vest, and his body had been found several hours later.
On Friday, we learned of the disembarkation procedures. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that "independent" travelers, i.e. those who were not using NCL's transfer services, could disembark whenever they wanted to. We loved this feature but wish that this information had been provided on the website prior to the cruise. When we originally booked our pick-up shuttle, they had suggested an 8:00am pick-up. Since our experience on other cruise lines was that the "independent" travelers disembarked last, I asked for a later pick-up time. Had we known that we could have disembarked anytime after 6:30am, I wouldn't have changed it. As it turned out, disembarkation was a piece of cake. We didn't bother leaving our luggage outside our door the night before, we just took it with us and walked off the ship.
One final complaint -- on Friday, in Naples, we had decided to order room-service breakfast. NCL provides door-hangers for breakfast orders, and one just indicates what you want for breakfast and the desired time for delivery. We chose 7:00am. At 6:15am, when we were still in bed asleep, the phone rang with a "breakfast is on its way" -- 45 minutes earlier than requested. It was most inconvenient as we scrambled to dress. Yet another mark against the food service on the ship.
All in all, we did have a wonderful time, mostly because of the itinerary and the many enjoyable passengers from around the world that we met. The entertainment was good, but the food and food service was, in our view, way below par. The cabins were very nice and cabin stewards were efficient and attentive but, to be honest, the rest of the service staff has a long way to go to come up to the standards that we have seen on other cruises. We did not like NCL's nickel-and-diming everything -- although maybe every cruise line is going the way of the airlines -- and felt that the NCL excursions were grossly overpriced and their guides were not as good as the guides with the private tour company that we used at half the price. And we did not like how NCL screwed our entire busload of passengers when they canceled the Vesuvius portion of the trip without telling us before we boarded the busses.
Would we recommend this cruise? Yes, because of the itinerary. Would we recommend NCL? Not over other cruise lines.