Our first cruise after being invited by friends who themselves had cruised before. I had no real preconceived expectations for the cruise but after booking the tickets a year in advance, it was decided to read a few reviews about the Norwegian Jade and get an idea of what lay ahead of us. The cruise was a back-to-back in late May-early June 2013 in the Adriatic (Croatia, Greek Islands, Turkey) - 14 days starting and finishing in Venice.
We had stayed in Venice for two nights prior to the cruise start date and after taking advantage of the 12am check out from our hotel, we used the services of a porter to take our bags the short distance to the bus terminal where we then hired a taxi to the passenger ship terminal. While fairly busy in the terminal, we dropped off our main bags and checked in at the check-in counter without any undue delays. Make sure you have the NCL bag tags sent with your electronic tickets on your bags or you'll experience problems as we noticed with other passengers. At the counter we had our tickets and passports checked, a photo taken for the ship's records and our cabin door access cards issued (one per person). After a 20 minute wait, our deck number (#11) was called for boarding and we proceeded through security screening and then a 5 minute walk along the embarkation passageways to the ship. There we were greeted by ship's staff, swiped our ship/cabin cards and welcomed on-board. It was easy enough to find our way to our cabin (11546), a mid-ships mini suite with balcony. Here we were greeted by our cabin attendant (Francesco) who introduced himself and gave us a tour of the cabin and its features.
After a quick freshen up, we went exploring and as it was now about 2pm, decided to get something to eat in the Garden Cafe. More detail on the restaurants and cafes we ate in is provided below. While in the Garden Cafe, we signed up for the water package, one of the all you can drink soda (soft drink) package and 8 bottles of wine from the Aficionado selection of the Viva Vino wine package. By the time we got back to our suite at about 4pm, our bags were waiting for us.
Located mid-ships on deck 11 port side, the cabin (mini-suite with balcony) was a good size for two people; any more and I think it would start to be a bit cramped. The large king size bed was very comfortable and there was ample storage for clothes and shoes once our main cases were emptied; it should be noted that we had already been on holidays for the previous five weeks so had quite a lot of clothing needed to cover two sets of seasons while we were travelling through the UK and Europe. All our bags fitted easily under the bed out of the way.
The suite was nicely appointed, clean and in good condition. There was a desk area with two chairs, a couch that can open up into a double bed and a small rectangular coffee table. Two chairs (one with an adjustable reclining back) and a table were on the balcony which is accessed through a wide sliding glass door. Heavy duty curtains can effectively darken the room and there is also another curtain that can screen off between the main bed and couch/bed if so needed. A coffee making machine is provided and the coffee pods are renewed by your cabin attendant as required. A good sized safe is located in the shelf area near the desk, a small bar fridge with drinks (beer, wines, spirits, water) is on the floor near the desk and a TV on a shelf off to the side. Strangely, the TV was still an old style CRT design and not a flat screen. There are a couple of movie channels, news channels and the obligatory info channels about what's going on around the ship including navigation/ship position data and one dedicated to showing a camera view looking out over the bow of the ship. Power points at the desk were two USA and one UK socket type; there is also a hair dryer there. Two air conditioning outlets are in the cabin deck head (ceiling) and both are separately temperature adjustable by the suite occupants as required.
A nice touch is the set of dressing gowns that are provided, and a couple of swimming pool towels so you don't have to use the regular sized bath towels.
The bathroom is divided into three sections - toilet area with a glass sliding screen door, a large bath and shower with sliding screens, and the main area in the centre with mirror, wash basin and shelves. We had good water pressure and temperature in the shower and basin during the two weeks, and there was only one occasion over the two weeks when the vacuum operated toilet didn't work due to a system problem that lasted only 10 or so minutes.
The balcony is a good size and being located mid-ships under deck 12, has an overhang from the above deck. Some guests may find this annoying as it screens off the sun when it's high in the sky, but for those who are happy for shade, and from protection when it's raining, the overhang is fine.
The only concern we had about the cabin was some occasional noise from the above deck (pool deck) while ship's staff prepared the area in the morning when moving deck chairs around, but it wasn't overly intrusive or last very long.
There are three main complementary and eight 'cover charge' ($15 to $25 per person) restaurants to choose from and we ate in all bar one over the two weeks we were on-board. Additionally, there are two cafes that open for varying hours during the day and night. Throughout the ship, large screen monitors show the seating status of all the restaurants with a traffic light system - green meaning tables available, yellow for filling quickly and red for busy, there may be a short wait. Below is a quick overview of some of the eating venues we ate in.
GARDEN CAFE (complementary): A large relaxed buffet style that was well laid out with a very extensive selection of food available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try and avoid the peak times of the meal periods which, as can be expected, is very busy. Food was tasty, plentiful and freshly prepared and there was always salads and fresh fruit available. If seating and tables were at a premium during breakfast and lunch, staff would open up Papa's Kitchen for additional space - we found using that option to be better as it was quieter and didn't have the hustle and bustle of the main areas of the Cafe.
GRAND PACIFIC (complementary): Large restaurant at the stern of the ship with great views looking aft and with the Garden Cafe is the second of the two main large eating areas on the Jade. The quality of service varied from good to slow/poor for the three times we ate there but the food was nice. There were no delays in being seated for any of the meals. We were fortunate to be seated in a party of four with our friends every time. The dEcor is bold and grand with two deck high deck head (ceiling) and a double stairway from the entrance doors down to the main floor level.
GREAT OUTDOORS (complementary): As it suggests, this Cafe is located at the stern (back) of the ship on deck 12 leading out from the Garden Cafe. Serving a smaller selection and variety of food than the Garden Cafe, it was the ideal place to eat breakfast and start the day while looking out from the ship. Very popular during the peak meal times.
BLUE LAGOON CAFE (complementary): If you're just after a smallish meal from a small menu selection and want to get away from the smash and grab of the Garden Cafe, then the Blue Lagoon was the place to go. It was never busy when we used it.
TEPPANYAKI (surcharge): Our first dinner on the first night and we were not left disappointed. The food was exceptional and the show that our chef put on while cooking made the entire dining experience delightful. Some of the most succulent seafood I had had in a while.
CAGNEY'S (surcharge): If you like steaks then this is the place to go. A more formalised dining experience with excellent service, great food and delightful environment. The menu had some exceptional dishes to choose from ranging from starters to dessert. Well worth the visit and I wish that we had gone back for a second time.
MODERNO (surcharge): If lots of meat is your choice, then trying the Brazilian restaurant with its slow cooked meats served and carved at your table is an obvious decision. Take your time with the main courses and make sure you leave plenty of room - don't overdo the salads and starters before the main dishes arrive. Slightly disappointed with some of the meats being over cooked and a bit on the dry side.
PAPA'S KITCHEN (surcharge): A relaxed dining experience with a good range of Italian dishes to choose from. Pizzas are done in the 'traditional' style - thin base with minimal topping and flavoursome. The menu was quite extensive with a good selection of pasta dishes and other mains (entrEe). Service was good and we were well looked after.
LE BISTRO (surcharge): A French dining experience to dream of. Not necessarily a black tie affair, but you wouldn't look out of place if you did wear one. Would have to be the top restaurant on-board and you'll remember the dinner for a long time. We certainly have and we treated ourselves by going there twice during our cruise. The service was exceptional, courteous and attentive to our needs. The menu, although small in selection, offered some of the most delightful dishes which were well presented.
CHEF'S TABLE (surcharge): One of, if not the highlight of our dining experience on-board the Jade just pipping Le Bistro. The Chef's Table is only conducted once per cruise and requires a minimum of nine guests to sign up with a maximum of 12. The menu consists of nine, yes nine courses each matched with a particular wine. The Head Chef gave a quick description of each course as they were served and the Head Wine Caterer did the same for the wines. We were extremely privileged to be joined by the ship's Captain for the dinner and we found out from the Head Waiter after the dinner that such an occurrence had not happened for a couple of years. The dinner, held in Le Bistro, lasted nearly four hours and if you get the opportunity to attend one, I would strongly recommend you do.
OTHER SHIP ATTRACTIONS
There is a wide range of ships attractions that we availed ourselves to. These included the Spinnaker Lounge where not only were presentations about port visits or bingo games conducted but for night owls you could dance the night away to either live bands or a DJ. The Stardust Theatre was the venue where a number of very good stage shows took place and over the period of two weeks, I think we attended six different shows which we thoroughly enjoyed. And then there's a big selection of bars and lounges around the ship to sit back and enjoy a drink or two. Our favourite pre-dinner stop off was Tankards Beer and Whiskey Bar on deck 6.
Although we didn't use the pools which are located on deck 12, they were well frequented by other passengers and were quite busy especially when the weather permitted. The one thing that was unfortunately somewhat annoying was the loudness of the music, either live or recorded, that played around the pool areas. If you just wanted to be outside enjoying the fresh air, sun, a nice book and a beer or three, the music was far too intrusive and repetitive. It was almost as if the crew members working the bars were playing the music for their own enjoyment.
There's the usual other services and facilities that can be expected to find on-board a cruise ship such as shopping (utilised a lot!!), fitness centre, spa/hair dresser/beauty salon, library, casino and the list goes on. There's a jogging track on deck 13 and you can walk around the entire ship on deck 8.
The cruise experience was certainly made a delight due to the energetic efforts of the Cruise Director, Gary Glading. An extremely interesting man, he knew exactly how to involve the passengers and kept us well informed at all times. If he happens to provide one of his autobiographical presentations, you must go and listen to what he has done in his fascinating life.
Being a back-to-back cruise for two weeks we had eight port visits around the Adriatic. We used an NCL organised tour on five of those visits and were quite pleased with how they were put together starting with the centralised meeting and briefing in the Stardust Theatre in the morning before leaving the ship and meeting the tour guide. Some tours and port visits were better than others but I won't go into details here, other than to say we really enjoyed visiting Dubrovnik, Santorini and Mykonos.
The main bags had to be packed and ready for collection by the crew by 11pm the night before getting back to Venice. Different coloured tags are used depending on what time you wanted to disembark. Once your departure time is reached and the crew announce the colour tag, you can head off the ship. With a final key card swipe to check out and a farewell to the staff at the gangway we were on our way. Our main bags were available for immediate collection in the terminal and after finding a taxi a short time later we were on our way back into Venice and the rest of our holiday.
As previously mentioned, this was our first cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of it. While there were a couple of small concerns, there was nothing that made for a disappointing time on-board the Norwegian Jade. Although the ship still has a lot of its Hawaiian dEcor from when it was the Pride of Hawaii, it didn't detract from the cruise atmosphere and after the first couple of days it wasn't noticed. All the crew were very courteous and friendly and by the time the cruise was finished, we were being recognised by a few of the staff and being addressed by our names. Our cabin attendant couldn't do enough for us. I would highly recommend NCL, the Norwegian Jade and this cruise to any of our friends and relatives.