We bought a late booking to travel on NCL's Jade on the Greek islands itinerary for seven nights from Venice. We travelled in a forward mini-suite with balcony on deck 11.
Embarkation at Venice
We booked independent travel from the UK to Venice (Marco Polo airport) travelling on departure day, a Saturday in June. We used the ATVO coach to Piazzale Roma, had to let the first one go as it was already full and wait 30 mins for the next one. Our coach was full about 5 minutes before departure time but the driver waited till the official time before leaving. At Piazzale Roma we used the people mover to Maritima and then dragged our cases to check-in (which for our departure was at terminal Isonzo 1 / berth VE20, the furthest from the dock entrance, although most Jade departures are from other terminals). With hindsight it might have been worth the c50 euros taxi rather than the 14 euros it cost us for coach and people mover.
Once we got to the terminal, NCL handled the embarkation very well. The Isonzo terminal building is fairly modern and seemed well equipped for the job it has to do. Maybe we benefitted from getting to the terminal at 13.30 when check-in had opened at 12.00; there was very little delay at check-in desk, a wait of about ten minutes before our embarkation number was called, and our cabin was ready when we got onto the ship. Lunch was still being served in the Garden café and there was time for a drink before the compulsory evacuation drill. Our three bags were delivered to our room by 16.00.
See our separate review of Stateroom 11016. It as very good, but it is sold as capable of containing up to 4 people as the room has a sofa bed as well as the double or twin - I think it would feel uncomfortably cramped with four people using it. Our stateroom attendant was competent but we weren't knocked out by the service we received from him.
Overall a good experience with the facilities on the ship.
Our first cruise on NCL was with Gem on the cruise itinerary from Venice that includes Piraeus for Athens and Izmir for Ephesus, taken in 2010. We think the food arrangements have improved since then.
Jade's Garden café buffet is better laid out than Gem's was, and we never failed to find space to sit at breakfast and lunchtime because we aimed to sit in the adjacent Papa's Italian restaurant seating area. The café area is very busy, I'm surprised more people haven't latched onto the availability of seating elsewhere.
The main dining room menu seems to have improved in 2013; the two inclusive restaurants, Aliazar and Grand Pacific have different "feels" to them. They have slightly different "standard" menus (unchanged during the cruise) but share a daily specials menu of three different starters, four main courses and three deserts. We preferred the environment in Aliazar which seemed more cozy and initimate; Grand Pacific is slightly more formal (Gents have to wear long trousers) and as the restaurant occupies the entire width of the ship you sense just how big it is.
Arriving to eat between 7pm and 8.30pm we were taken straight to a table on three out of six nights; the other three we were given pagers to take away until a table was available. Twice we barely had time to buy a drink at a bar; only once was the wait longer than 15 mins.
On the final night we chose the Moderno speciality restaurant; to be honest, we didn't enjoy it as much as the main dining room experiences.
The opening night and second night theatre shows were good, but the remaining nights didn't appeal to us. There were a number of different musical groups to be found in the bars and club areas. For us the only one that was worth-while was the Jade orchestra who played New Orleans Jazz one evening in the Atrium and Big Band sounds on the last night in the Spinnaker Lounge. Looking at other reviews it is obvious that people have different tastes in entertainment; we didn't rate some of the smaller groups that others have raved about.
Itinerary & Excursions
See separate reviews of the excursions we undertook. The four ports of call at Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos and Katakolon for Olympia were a reasonable mix, and made for relaxed cruising (Jade never had to travel at maximum cruising spped to cover the requied distances, which I guess adds to the comfort on-board).
Disembarkation at Venice
This was also very smooth. The timed bag labels worked well although people crowded round the exit point well before their colour was called. Finding our bags was easy in the departure hall.
With a late flight home we wanted to leave our luggage somewhere and spend till late lunch visiting Venice. The left-luggage facility within the maritime terminal (we came back to terminal 117) cost 4 euros per bag and was open till 5pm that evening. This was so much simpler than the option of taking the bags to the left luggage in Piazzale Roma or the train station (where you pay 7 euros per item anyway). Mid afternoon there was no shortage of taxis waiting at the terminal when we returned to collect the bags and get out to the airport.
Value for Money
As a last-minute booking in the mini-stateroom the cruise cost about £2100 for two of us including pre-paid service charge. I suppose that's not bad for seven nights all inclusive accommodation and travel. What we didn't appreciate is the very high costs of NCL's organised excursions, nor the on-board alcohol charges; and we wish on-board internet access costs could be reduced. For 2014 Celebrity are offering all-inclusive drinks packages, and already have them on some itineraries in 2013. Let's hope that's the way NCL will go.