We've recently returned from our 10 night eastern med cruise with NCL aboard the Jade, having booked about 7 months prior to departure. A week before we were due to leave, we still hadn't received any documentation or tickets, so, rather concerned, we phoned them and were told that they no longer post such items, as it's all sent via e-mail..we print the items required.
Fair enough...but on the Saturday before our flight, we still hadn't received anything, so we phoned Iglu again.
This time we were told that as part of the package was customised (we changed our return flight from 10.30pm to 1.00pm...pointless waiting round an airport for 12 hours) and the customised team didn't work weekends, we'd need to phone back Monday...bearing in mind the flight was due to leave at 6.30am on the Wednesday! We phoned first thing on Monday, and spoke to someone who said they'd posted the documents(?), and also by e-mail....hmm...but, after the 5th call, they 're-sent' the documents by e-mail, so at least we now had the required paperwork..phew!
If you're new to fly-cruise packages, and you see a discount price advertised, worth enquiring about the flight times, because you'll normally need to depart way before the dawn chorus and return around midnight...changing either of these flight times will bolt a considerable additional amount onto your final holiday price.
So, on Wednesday the 27th, we left home slightly knackered at 2.30am to get to Heathrow for the 6.30am flight. All went smoothly..baggage checked in, and sat down with a coffee. The flight went without a hitch, and I remember thinking how nice it was to be offered a choice of in-flight drinks and a packet of bread stick snacks free of charge.
We arrived on-time at Rome airport, collected our luggage, and went to find the transfer coach to get to Civitavecchia port. We were guided to an old beaten-up Luton Transit, with a couple of dodgy looking Del and Rodney characters who threw our cases into the van, then pointed us towards the coach.
A little concerned, we boarded, and within around an hour we arrived at the port.
Embarkation was smooth, and soon we were on board the Jade, which felt like seeing an old friend, as we'd previously sailed with her 3 years ago on a cruise along the Amalfi coast.
Many different packages or bolt-ons are available on NCL's website, including the unlimited soda package (draught Pepsi, 7 Up etc) which we always buy, as we drink far more soft drinks than alcoholic ones!
The only problem with this, is that they give you two tall plastic thermal beakers which you have to carry everywhere, and ask them to be refilled as and when...the downside is that, as the drinks staff are obviously on commission, as soon as they clap eyes on your drinks mugs, you're avoided like the plague...not once did anyone ask if we'd like a drink, and going to the bar with our mugs normally resulted in a somewhat surly service. We got around this by day 4 by leaving the mugs in the room, and asking for a fizzy drink by showing our cards...then we were given the drinks in flimsy throw away plastic glasses!! Why?
I'll have to draw parallels between our first cruise aboard the Jade, and this one.
Back then, the staff were always pleased to help, the Entertainments Director (Gary) was slick, polished, and very knowledgeable, with every show being a real 'must-see'...we looked forward to them, and saw every one. He was like a warm-up man, and knew how to work a crowd.
Gary 'left' a few months before (no-one wanted to talk about it...some even said 'Gary who?' even though he'd been with the company for some considerable time).
So, to our surprise Jill, the new Entertainments Director appeared, made herself known, and appeared at the end of every show to announce what was lined up for the rest of the day or evening (normally with a fair degree of sarcasm when people didn't give a wild round of applause when it was announced that activities involved such events as napkin folding or line dancing tuition).
These, and other similar 'entertainments' were few and far between...almost everything else involved raiding your wallet...art auctions galore, $20 a time bingo, even game shows had to be paid for (Deal Or No Deal) Paradise Lotto...even the evening shows you were a captive audience to staff pushing $20 instant win cards, ice cream, and drinks....then of course there were the usual pestering photographers, stalls of various over-priced tat, expensive (very, very expensive) wines, etc. The cheapest bottle of nothing-special Californian house white wine worked out to just shy of $30 with gratuities, whilst 2x half-pint bottles of no-name Belgian Lager cost just shy of $14....or $28 for two pints of beer. Yep.
Every drink ordered has gratuities added on...this is on top of the $12 a day per person gratuities automatically charged to your account,
The evening shows were fair, but nowhere near as good as our first visit...no comedian, the same stunts being shown on 3 occasions, and a 'boy' band (4Ever) appearing on two nights. I say boy band...they were all at least 40 years old, and crucified the classics with gay abandon.
Musicians around the ship were also sparse...I didn't once see a 'proper' band (lead guitars/ vocals, bass guitar, drummer, keyboards), and as our tastes centre around rock music, line dancing lessons and boy bands didn't appeal, but each to their own.
The ship is still looking great...clean, tidy, functional, and with a feel-good factor all her own.
We had a balcony stateroom which was clean, tidy, but rather compact..about half the size of an interior promenade balcony stateroom aboard RCI's Independence Of The Seas...VERY VERY small toilet cubicle....if you're not straight off the catwalk, you may struggle a little..but with a reasonably sized shower and wash basin.
Small flatscreen TV constantly runs onboard bombardment hard-sell, with only two other English speaking channels, this being BBC Worldwide, and a movie channel, playing more or less back to back very recent releases..I enjoyed a few of these before hitting the hay.
Two power sockets...110v and 240v, both U.S twin round pin type. We always travel with socket adaptors, and a 3 socket extension lead, so no problem there.
We later found out that having a travel iron was a no-no, as it'd be confiscated, but (surprise surprise) you could always hire one of theirs whilst yours has been confiscated...as could you avail yourself of their laundry room ($25 for one bag of dirty washing, returned fully laundered)...they even charge for a tour around the captains deck, or engine room. EVERYTHING has a price with NCL, right down to $10 for a pack of paracetamol, served by an unbelievably surly cashier in the gift shop, who was very rude to my wife when she dared to ask for our 10% discount on some clothing items (a bonus for NCL loyalty is a 10% reduction on certain items)
If you're a cruiser, then like it or not, you're probably a 'foodie'...we are! We enjoy our food!
The last time we sailed, The Garden Café (buffet dining room) was open 24/7...now it closes at 9pm.
The quality of the food has really taken a dive, as has the selection and availability of said items.
If you'd like a freshly sliced cut of turkey, beef, or pork, there's normally a joint there for you...just don't ask the carver for more than one thin slice, or he'll throw you a dirty sideways look.
Around 40% of the items were no longer offered.
In the main dining rooms, the menu remains the same, night after night, with only one, possibly two new main course alterations a night, and normally one dessert addition a night.
Here again, corners have been cut (bone dry, powdery obviously instant mashed potato, sinewy beef), with a drastically reduced waiting staff...the poor sods were working flat out to keep up with demand, carrying up to 14..yes, 14 main courses on huge circular trays at a time, with the inevitable consequences on a couple of occasions. But, credit where credits due, still head-and-shoulders above the 'budget supermarket own-brand slop that Royal Caribbean dish up), and generally served with a smile, even though on quite a few instances, we were still eating when our plates were taken away.
If you're going to cruise these days, pack a variety of thin shirts, as they all employ the same method of ramping the temperatures up to volcanic levels in the evenings and seadays, with the dehumidifiers working flat-out, to increase your bar tab...none more so than the Jade now, as we simply couldn't drink enough, always waking up with bone-dry parched mouths you could light a match on.
We normally do our own thing here for two reasons...firstly, we can go at our own speed, and the cost consideration. Example:- When we docked in Naples, we wanted to go to Pompei. Excursion price $100+ each...or...leave the terminal, fight off the herds of cabbies, and turn right. Walk for about 10-12 minutes, and find the coach stop. Pay 5.8 Euro each, return, in a modern, comfortable air-conditioned coach that go and return roughly every 20 minutes. Arrive more or less directly outside the gates at Pompei, and pay 11 Euro each to enter for the day. Total cost - 16.8 Euro, versus $100, and done at your own speed.
Virtually every European port has one of the hop-on, hop-off open top red bus services running, typically around 22 Euro each or less, and these are the preferred transport option for us, as you can get on and off as often as you like, are supplied with earphones that plug in to your seat, and have an enjoyable 'guided' tour around your destination. P.S:- The only sensible way to look around Rome, believe me.
We did take one ship excursion...visiting the Blue Mosque, mini cruise along the Bosphoros, and visiting the Grand Bazaar.
The Bosphoros cruise was excellent..very enjoyable indeed, and recommended. The tour guide, however, must have been a retired Olympian runner, as we all struggled to keep up with him on the way into the Blue Mosque (only 20 minutes allowed inside), followed by a sprint to the coach for 1.5 hours allocated to look around the 5,000 shops within the Grand Bazaar...and boy oh boy, prepare for a level of hustling so severe, it puts any cruise ship to shame. They do not understand the word no, and follow you forever, pleading and begging, with the price for the goods dropping by the second. 90%+ of the goods in the Bazaar are counterfeit...clothing, perfume, bags...all fake, so beware! As I say, we prefer to wing it, and at our own speed normally....
To sum it up, all in all a good cruise, but still sad to see a company and ship that I'd previously raved about to anyone prepared to listen to me slip to only acceptable.
We were promised the Latitudes reward Priority Embarkation...we didn't get this, and had to stand and queue.
The Latitudes Loyalty lapel badge...didn't get one, and when we asked, we were told they'd run out on the first day, and that if we wanted one, we'd have to write for one.
In short, I'm afraid it'll be Cunard or P&O for us in future.
Such a shame.