We embarked on the Jade in Venice on June 22. We had flown into Venice 2 days earlier and took a cab from our hotel (Hilton Garden Inn in Mestre). We were 5 adults and a baby with a ton of luggage (entire vacation was 3 weeks with luggage to match) and it was a little difficult to get all the luggage to the embarkation area, and it was very hot, but helpful staff alleviated some of the early confusion. I enjoyed seeing the large sign as we walked into the embarkation area: Relax - You Are On Vacation! Good reminder.... Since we were in a suite we had the priority embarkation so we were brought to a separate area after getting our cruise cards, and then brought up to the concierge area.
I, my husband, and adult son were in a 2 bedroom suite, and my married son, his wife and 1 year old baby were in the connecting mini-suite. Since they were with us they were allowed to join us for the priority embarkation and debarkation which made things much easier. The suite was wonderful - it was the first time, in over 40 years of traveling, that we had enough room for all our toiletries and clothes. And since we are inveterate overpackers and it was a 3 week trip, that's saying a lot. Loved the bathroom with it's multi-head shower. We had wanted a Haven suite but none were available at the time of booking, which turned out to be a blessing. If we had all squeezed into the suite, (which was the original plan, since it is supposed to sleep 6) it would have been a disaster. So the family suite with connecting mini-suite was just perfect. My younger son (age 27) was perfectly happy in the small bedroom, and the young family had their privacy in the connecting room. We were located on the port side very near the front of the ship, but seas were very calm, so movement wasn't a factor. And I didn't hear any noise whatsoever from the gym which was the floor above us.
Later in the week we went to the cocktail party with the Captain and officers for the suite guests in the Haven - mostly because I wanted to see what we were missing by not staying in it. I was spectacularly unimpressed. It's a very small area with a tiny pool and some chairs - not even loungers (although perhaps there had been some that were removed for the party). Two exercise machines (I believe a bike and treadmill) were just off the courtyard in an un-airconditioned and thus barely usable space. I was pretty glad that the suite we wanted turned out to be unavailable for us, since if we were all squeezed into that suite and the main benefit was that tiny courtyard it would have been a huge disappointment.
On that first day we ate lunch in the buffet which was busy but not distressingly so. Lots of choices there so we all found something we liked. Dinner was in Alizar, and it was fine. Not gourmet, but good and plentiful.
First port was Dubrovnik, which we did on our own. The ship provides shuttle buses to take passengers into town about 15 minutes from the dock. It's easy to just wander around the walled city area. The next day was a sea day which was very relaxing. As mentioned previously on this site, its not easy to get a lounger near the pool, and we were there in the afternoon, but we eventually found somewhere to hang out. The pool area is one of the problems on this ship. The adult pool is small, and deep - shallowest area is about 5'9" which is way over my head and since I'm not much of a swimmer it pretty much made the pool something for me to use to get wet (briefly) and nothing more.
We never got to any of the shows, with the exception of the final one which I attended alone since no one else in the family cared. It was ok, but nothing special. Several singers in various lounges were around every evening, and they were fine. We weren't there for entertainment anyway - we live in New York and can see shows any time if we so desire. We were there for the itinerary and for relaxing with family - and this was definitely accomplished.
I found the ship to be a perfect size - anything larger would be unmanageable, especially with a 1 year old, but it was large enough that it did not seem crowded. Freestyle cruising is perfect for us, since we hate to decide when or where to eat in advance, and especially with a baby, we were somewhat dependent on when he napped.
For Athens, we had our travel agent arrange a private tour, since as a family it was easier and more cost effective. This worked out fine, and we saw the Acropolis and Parthenon, and Zeus's temple, all at our own pace. It was hot, but not unbearably so, and we had a late lunch before going back to the ship.
We did the same thing at Izmir, arranging a private tour to Ephesus. I wish these 2 weren't back to back, since they were both exhausting and it would have been nice to have a relaxing day in between, but geography being what it is, that wouldn't have been practical with this itinerary.
We had one breakfast and one lunch at Cagney's. Only the 3 of us in the suite were able to dine there for those meals, but it was not a big deal. We only did that on the sea days anyway, since we are not breakfast people and skipped breakfast on shore days anyway and on those days we ate lunch at the ports. We never even ate any other lunches or breakfasts on the ship.
The priority tendering at Split was helpful. We aren't early risers, so these tickets gave us the ability to get on the next tender whenever we got there, which made it quite easy to leave the ship at our convenience. Split is another place we did on our own, just wandering around.
We ate at several of the alternative restaurants. Cagney's was pretty good. Moderno was disappointing - just nothing really special, and the service was a little slow. Le Bistro was pretty good as well. My son and daughter-in-law went to the sushi bar which they described as "horrible". We know sushi, and eat it often, and it wasn't nearly up to par. It was so bad that they complained and weren't charged for the meal. We didn't bother with the Italian restaurant since we can get good Italian food all the time at home. For the same reason we didn't try the other Asian restaurants.
I had been somewhat concerned that the family, who are all foodies, might be disappointed with the food on the Jade, but apart from the sushi debacle, it was fine. My husband, who generally doesn't like buffets, liked the one on the Jade so well that we ate there one evening as well. My only issue with it was that we got there relatively late, and they closed it down promptly at 9 pm which I thought was rather early, and we had to rush through dinner to get dessert (I wanted the crepes for dessert, so I had to rush to get them before they closed the station, which was before I finished my main meal). I wish they had kept the buffet open later. We ate several meals later in the evening, at 8:30 or even 9:30, at the other restaurants. We're night people, and I wish there had been more late night options.
Overall it was a very good trip. And a very good value. There is no way we could have spent a week at a European resort for the whole family for anything like the price we paid for the cruise (and that was the other choice for this vacation). We saw some lovely cities and historical landmarks, and for my sons who are history buffs, this was the best part.
Disembarkation was relatively painless until we had to find a way to our second Venice hotel which was on the Lido. The only way was via water taxi, and it was difficult to schlep all our luggage around to finally get to the taxi area - I wish I had known this in advance, although it was probably unavoidable. Venice is unique and we enjoyed being there, but traveling around there with luggage isn't easy.
Gary Glading was an impressive cruise director. He really is fluent in all these languages (every announcement he made was in English, Italian, German, Spanish, and French - and he sounded like a native speaker in all of them to me, and in at least one of those languages, German, to my daughter-in-law who is a German teacher). He gave a very informative talk about Venice as we sailed away, and I attended another good talk he gave about the Greek gods before we visited Greece. He really knows his stuff, and he didn't appear to be phoning it in, although he clearly does this all the time. You can't miss him on the NCL channels talking about the shows, the restaurants, or while watching reruns of some of the shows, such as the "not so newlywed game" or "dancing with the NCL stars" which he ran. They were cheesy, but fun to watch.
The staff was outstanding. Always cheerful and helpful, and always happy to pay attention to the baby whenever they saw him. Our steward was excellent and every night we had a different towel animal on the bed, which I found adorable and charming.
I think I got a pretty good impression of the Jade from the reviews and comments on the boards at Cruise Critic. Is it spectacular? No. Is it comfortable, pleasant, and fun? Absolutely. I wasn't expecting a super-deluxe experience, I chose this ship for the itinerary and the relatively reasonable price. My husband enjoyed the coffeemaker in the suite, which was filled with coffee beans and ground them immediately before brewing the coffee. The balcony was not huge but more than adequate for getting some sun when the pool deck was crowded, and for stargazing at night. The bathroom truly was wonderful, and the towels were large and absorbent - and also there enough of them! That's been a chronic problem for us over the years - we like having 4 large bath towels and they were supplied without us having to ask.
Overall we enjoyed our cruise on the Jade. I didn't find the Hawaiian decor particularly inappropriate - it was kind of amusingly charming. The staff really makes or breaks any vacation, IMHO, and the Jade staff were excellent - friendly, helpful, and cheerful. We enjoyed being welcomed back to the ship after each port day with music, water, cold towels, and the ubiquitous washy-washy people. I would definitely recommend this ship and this itinerary.