This is an, I hope, honest appraisal of my first cruise on the Norwegian Jade from 8-15 June 2013 departing from and returning to Venice with stops at Dubrovnik, Split, Athens and Izmir. I will be honest straight away and say that we were very fortunate in getting a free upgrade from NCL which moved us from a 'mid-ship mini suite' to an 'aft facing balcony penthouse suite'. This has benefits beyond the bigger cabin (butler service, improved breakfast and lunch options, priority disembarkation) and is, in my opinion, well worth the extra cost. In order for this to be a fair review, however, I am trying to write this as if I had paid for it.
General impressions - Jade was built in the mid 1990s for the Hawaiian market. In some of the public areas (although not in my cabin at least, nor in any of the restaurants) this shows. The garish, Hawaiian style, decor isn't desperately appropriate for a tour of some of the world's most important archaeological treasures. The variety of carpets in the ship suggests to me that they are in the process of re-decorating. If they are planning on keeping the ship in Europe, I hope that this is the case. The whole 'freestyle cruising' ethos worked very well for me at least. I am, however, glad that I packed a jacket as it felt appropriate on a couple of occasions.
Travel - I decided to travel independently as, frankly, I thought that NCL's markup on airline fares was a bit excessive. I was wrong! Once you have added in the cost and hassle of transfers you are saving very little if anything. As an aside don't believe what the ATVO website tells you about the speed and convenience of the 'Aerobus' to Venice; it's not particularly quick, it's absolutely crowded (on a late Sunday afternoon in June anyway) and there is nowhere for luggage (on a bus between Venice and Venice Airport!) and it dumps you in the Piazzale Roma which is more than a short walk from the cruise terminal (the 'Tronchetto' is useless as well - it only takes you about a third of the way which, by the time you have queued for tickets and then for the train, would have been quicker to walk). That having been said, I was a little disappointed that NCL didn't lay on a courtesy bus from the Cruise Terminal to the Piazzale Roma.
Crew - I honestly could not find fault with any of the crew who were all helpful and attentive when required, but not in the least bit intrusive when they were not. Top marks!
Drinks prices -this was one thing that I had struggled to get information on before departure, but the reality was better than I had prepared myself for. A large (half litre) of draft Heineken was just over USD6 (including the compulsory 15% tip), about £4 at current exchange rates so about 20% more than I would pay in a pub in London and substantially less than I paid in a cafe in Venice a few hours after the cruise ended. Wine and cocktail prices seemed similar.
Currency - everything on Jade is priced in US dollars and, for European guests at least, charged to a pre-registered credit card. You will obviously need Euros for Italy and Greece. Just about every retail outlet in Dubrovnik also took Euros (the exception being the tickets for walking the city walls -they do take credit cards, however) but you can, if you want, pay in the local currency with the Kuna price being calculated from the Euro one. Interestingly, the situation in Split was almost exactly opposite. Nearly everywhere priced their goods in Kuna but would take Euros if you asked. In Izmir you will need Turkish Lira for everything except the city tour bus.
Food - I was more than happy with the quality and, generally speaking, the service. The only exception to the latter was lunchtime when we were at sea at the Garden Cafe/The Great Outdoors where the pressing need that everybody seemed to have to eat at once made it a bit of a bun fight. This is hardly the fault of NCL and can easily be avoided by eating at another time or place. The 'speciality' restaurants were also very good and the additional prices charged were, in my opinion, modest but it would not have bothered me to eat in the 'free' restaurants every day.
On deck - If you wanted a sun lounger in the forward part of the ship or at the stern by the sports deck, then you had to get up early and get your towel down. If you wanted one down by the pools, you had to get up even earlier! That is, unfortunately, the simple maths of there being 2000 people on board and a limited amount of deck space. Again, we were fortunate in being able to retreat to our balcony if we couldn't find a couple of sun loungers (which had the added advantage of being out of the sometimes strong breeze).
Power sockets - again, something that I struggled with finding correct information on before I left, with some suggestion on the web that they were European type 220v. For the record, there were 4 or 5 'spare' sockets in our cabin and they were all US type 110v so, if you are not from the US make sure you take the appropriate adapters.
Itinerary - Dubrovnik and Split are both must-sees, having the advantages of being interesting and close to the ship. Athens is, of course, full of things to see but getting from and back to the ship is not as easy. I had intended getting up early and getting the metro in to the city to avoid the crowds, the heat and the traffic, but we didn't get up in time; I wish that we had. As it was, we got the hop on/off tourist bus from Piraeus and were at the Acropolis by 9:30. At that time the queue for tickets was about 15 minutes. By the time we had got to the front it had doubled in length - don't be late! Izmir was very disappointing. The only thing worth seeing is the market and then only if you can stand the constant hassle of shopkeepers touting for business. With hindsight the fact that the municipal gasworks were one of the stops on the tourist bus route should have been a bit of a hint! We were back on board by midday wishing that we had gone on the excursion to Ephesus. NCL should, in my view, consider stopping elsewhere.
Entertainment - As 'variety' type entertainment isn't really my thing, I didn't bother withe the shows in the main theatre after the first evening. In my opinion at least, a far better alternative was provided by a gentleman called RJ Red who, accompanied only by his guitar, sang beautifully to a small but highly appreciative audience every evening in the Atrium.
Overall I had a great time and I was very sorry when it ended. The credit for this must go to NCL, who provided a great standard of service for a reasonable price, and to the crew of the Norwegian Jade. I know some people enjoy the formal aspects of cruising; for them this probably isn't the right cruise. For those of us who like to enjoy visiting interesting places without ceremony in a comfortable, friendly and relaxed atmosphere a cruise on the Norwegian Jade is, by me, highly recommended.