Before I start this review, I need to preface it with a few disclaimers: My Husband and I are very happy with the basics of travel. I have no need or want for Butlers, Concierges or Suites. Food is subjective and my tastes will not be the same as yours. As long as it has good taste and there is some variety, we are very happy. Buffets are just great. No need to be waited on constantly. As long as we have clean towels, the room doesn't look like a hurricane just went through it and ice in the bucket, the steward has done their job. We had a balcony this trip, I really enjoy the balcony, but if an itinerary was good and if all we could afford or all that was available was an oceanview, we would be happy with that. The only reason we don't stay in inside cabins is that the spouse has some claustrophobia issues that could be brought up in an inside room.
In acknowledging all of the above, this review is based on our opinion of this cruise.
This was our first trip on NCL. We have sailed before on various lines, some of which are now out of business, such as Premier. I have never been on a bad cruise. I admit we have never sailed on the high end lines and never will. NCL had a checkered reputation for a few years there and although I never purposely avoided the line, I never booked passage on it either. I believe the devotion shown on Cruise Critic to the company took the risk of out trying them. We are now part of the devoted following.
The Jade is the perfect size . Not so new with shopping malls and cabins that look out over "Boulevards". Just great cabins and decks that overlook the real star of the trip -- the various Seas we sailed. Nothing in the world like blue water and a gorgeous breeze. If I want to look at streets and shopping malls, I will book a hotel room in Paramus New Jersey. Although there were over two thousand passengers onboard, we didn't find the ship crowded and always easily got to where we needed to go. Very international passenger list. All announcements made in various languages, which I liked. If you only want to hear your native language, sail closer to home. English speakers were still probably the majority on the ship, but not by much. The average age on this trip was probably fifties, but there were a lot of younger couples and the children were well behaved and we rarely saw them. The Kids Club on the ship must have really been doing their job. Again we don't hang out by the pool, which may have been a different story. The staff members on this ship were very upbeat and friendly, with a smile and a yes at all times. A lot of singing to be heard upon returning from shore excursions. Just people with great attitudes. The only other ship I have been on with crew this upbeat was the old Seabreeze of Premier Lines (now sitting at the bottom of the ocean) a great old style vessel with a professional, happy crew. A shame they went out of business as they had a very distinct market niche which I believe they could have expanded upon.
The itinerary and price for this trip couldn't be beat. We enjoy history and with Italy, Greece and Turkey as the destinations, we couldn't say no. We are not beach people or night life revelers. The destinations need to have jaw dropping sights and that wow factor. Istanbul will definitely make you go "wow". Also the weather we had that week must have been sent down from heaven. No rain except for a few drops in Naples. Temperatures in the 60's and 70's. Just perfect. We only did one tour on this trip, to Ephesus and this was done through Cruise Critic and organized by the lovely Mary. I think you really need to take a tour in this port to get the full history of the place and because it is further away from the port and hard to get to with public transportation. In the other ports we did DIY either alone or with friends we made on the ship. (Good ship for making friends) Public transportation is very accessible in most of the other stops. Please be smart when traveling and wear a money belt or a pouch around your neck under your shirt. YOU WILL BE THE TARGET OF PICKPOCKETS AND THEY ARE MORE CLEVER THAN YOU. GENTLEMAN THEY WILL GET THE WALLET IN YOUR FRONT POCKET, NO MATTER WHAT YOU THINK . Many men feel that no one can get to them. Yes they can. We were victims on our first trip, but luckily my Husband had listened to me and all they got was the spare money we had to buy small souvenirs. On this trip we were there when an American couple were pickpocketed on the Metro in Rome. The husband had his wallet in his front pocket of his pants and they took the whole thing -- money and credit cards. That is bad news so far from home. He also did not have a list of phone numbers for his credit cards or any of the digits for the cards. At least have written down and in some secret place a list of the phone numbers and the last four digits of your card. This will help the companies identify you and help stop the thieves from using them.
The freestyle concept for dining is a great idea and we wouldn't want to go back to a specific dining time. This allows you to eat when you are actually hungry. Also dressing up is not required. We like jeans and being able to wear them to dinner is a great bonus. We are not talking about wearing t-shirts and baseball caps, but nice jeans and appropriate shoes and shirts. Really wonderful after a long day in port. We primarily ate in the Grand Pacific dining room for dinner. Never waited more than a few minutes to eat. Got the beeper and went out on the deck until it startled you with it's flashing lights and vibrations. The Maitre'D was a lovely young woman or a charming young man who always greeted everyone warmly. We like to dine alone and always got a table for two, mainly right near a window. The food is good and the portions are right so that if you want more, you can have it, but it cuts down on waste, and heaven knows how much waste there is on a cruise ship. Is the food the quality of a gourmet restaurant? (whatever that means) Probably not, but it is not Applebees, which I have heard people compare it to. I like Applebees, but the difference is in the style of food and not the quality. Comparing apples and bananas. The food we found to be good and served at the correct temperature. I have read other reviews about the food being cold, we never found that to be the case. There are changing menus every day and a set menu of items that you can get at any time. If I didn't find an entree I really wanted, I ordered a few appetizers instead with salad, and was really happy with that. One evening after we had dinner in the dining room, we went up to the buffet as I really wanted curry and of course they had it up there. You can always go to the buffet after dinner if you are not satiated with your meal. We went up there every evening to get coffee and ice cream. I really enjoyed the soft serve chocolate ice cream with the various toppings. Is it Ben and Jerry's? No, but it was cold and tasted like chocolate and was fairly creamy. The buffets themselves were varied and always had more things to choose from than I could ever eat in a year. Breakfast had everything from the standards of eggs and bacon to pancakes as well as lox and all the fixings. Lunch was just as varied with hot foods, sandwiches, yogurts and everything in between. The outside buffet on the aft deck usually opened a little later and had more ethic foods with a theme, such as one afternoon it was all German foods. Be smart when eating at the buffet, get your table first and then get your food. Don't hover holding plates of food that you might spill on someone's head. On that note, we always found a clean table in the area we wanted to sit in. Our preference was outside on the aft deck behind the buffet. Never really had trouble getting a table there, which was not true on other cruises we have taken, where the outside tables are just not available no matter when you go to eat. The staff is constantly cleaning and restocking. The concept of tables sitting dirty does not happen on the Jade. Sitting, looking at the wake while you sail past an active volcano, eating good food and having coffee is just about as good as it gets.
We did eat in Cagney's one evening. The food was good and I found it just fine. Was it out of the ordinary? No. My Husband is the true carnivore in the family and actually enjoyed the steak from the everyday menu in the Alizar restaurant better. Again our tastes may be different than yours.
The cabin we had was on deck nine, slightly forward on the port side. We received it through a guaranteed booking. Cabins were above and below us, so no noise whatsoever. We got really lucky. The best thing about the cabin? The sliding door to the balcony. You can leave it open, and we did every evening. Imagine sleeping with the sound, smell and the gentle breezes coming off the sea. That's worth the whole price of the trip. Again we were heaven blessed and the ocean during the entire ten days was extremely calm. Gentle wavelets as they were called. I get seasick in the bathtub, but I found I rarely needed any Bonine on this trip. I probably didn't need it at all, but I was still afraid not to take it. There were many, many times that you could not feel the ship moving at all. The rooms have a very smart designed bathroom which was far superior to other ships I have been on. The decor is soft and easy on the eyes and they had recently replaced the old standard TV's with new flat screens. Totally large enough for two people. Lots of storage and we always pack too damn much.
The public areas on the ship all seemed to be utilized for their designated purpose. There were usually people playing games in the card rooms. People reading in the library. Exercise classes in the room near the fitness center (which I did not use on this trip, too much walking with this itinerary.) The fitness center had quite a few high quality gym machines and never seemed crowded. The pool deck is crowded on any ship, let's face it. We never sunbathe, but I did take note of how the area seemed to be utilized. The main area around the pool was busy, but if you went up one level there always seemed to be open loungers up there and they seemed to be getting the same sun as surrounding the pool itself. The hot tubs were well used, but at night you could definitely use them if you wanted to.
I never felt nickeled and dimed on this trip. No one soliciting you to buy drinks or really anything else. Could you spend a lot of extra dollars? Hell yeah, there are lots of bars with luscious drinks, bingo, art shows, lots of excursions, specialty restaurants of every type. All kinds of "sales" for the onboard shops. Photographers everywhere. But we never felt pressured to get anything extra that we didn't want. Other lines are constantly hounding you for drinks and games and etc. etc. I didn't feel that here at all. Oh they announce these things are available, but don't bombard you with it. But then we are not soft sells, ask any seller in the Grand Bazaar.
Getting on and off the ship was pretty easy. For embarkation in Civitavecchia, we got to the ship around 1:30PM and literally it only took a few minutes to get on the ship. Sign your papers, get you card and you are off. The most difficult part was once you got to the port (we walked from the hotel we stayed overnight in to the port) you had to load your luggage in the shuttle bus that took you to the ship, it was way too far to walk and I am not sure if they even let you. Of course everyone is trying to shove their luggage in at the same time, but another shuttle was coming in just moments. No need to push. The elevators on the ship never seemed crowded, not even on debarkation day, which can be very hectic. People on this cruise were pretty courteous to others. Not everyone spoke the same language, but I think everyone got their point across and helped each other. No knocking you over to get to the last olives in the tray at the buffet. (That actually happened to me on Carnival)
So what is there to criticize? I guess if I really had to pick nits and come up with something, I would say that the embarkation bus situation was problematic during the more crowded times. People tend to panic and struggle to get luggage in the hold and then grab a seat on the bus. If there was a representative there sorting this out, it would be helpful. The floorplan of the ship is a little choppy, but I don't think that can be avoided due to the need to locate the kitchen area close to the two main restaurants. Some people are upset by the decor that still says "Hawaii" but we could care less. Made it feel tropical and since we were in the Med, it was fine. Some people were upset that the line doesn't give you more port information, but the truth is they want to sell you a sponsored tour. They don't want you to be an independent traveler, that does not help their bottom line. You can't fault them for that. Most Cruise Critic travelers know enough to make prior arrangements and to at least do some research prior to the trip. Other people don't necessarily do this and are left floundering at the various stops. Could they have more drink choices that are included with dinner or the buffet? Yes they could. On the Jade for lunch or dinner your drink choices were Ice Tea or water. For breakfast, juices were available. They need to make their money somewhere, so they sell drink packages for more choice. We were fine with tea and water most of the time. The Husband bought Diet Coke in the various ports and brought it on the ship (only Pepsi available to buy on NCL) and if I wanted something else to drink, I bought it on the ship. Very reasonable policies, with the price of the voyage so inexpensive.
The evening entertainment was fine, not that we went to all of the shows because most nights were too tired from visiting every ruin known to man, but the shows we did see were professional and totally fun. There were singers of every kind all over the ship and we really enjoyed RJ Red who sang in the main atrium in the evenings. He sings folk and classics of the 60's and 70's and has the perfect voice for that type of music. I really didn't hear any complaints from anyone over a lack of music choices. Dancing was available at various venues, but since the Husband and I have danced once in all the years we have been together, I didn't get to partake on this voyage.
I have several things I can't comment on because we don't do these things. Never went to the Spa, bingo, Deal or No Deal, pool, hot tubs, art auctions, couples games,nightclubs or specialty restaurants other than Cagney's.
We REALLY loved this cruise and have been recommending it to everyone we know. If you want pampering, I understand that is available on this ship, but we found the service to be wonderful in just the regular cabins available. I really want to cruise NCL again and hope that will be possible in the near future.
Again, we are easy to please and we were definitely pleased.