This was my second time on the Jade, and my partner's first cruise ever. We were both generally very happy with the ship (activities, food, service) and the itinerary. We had wonderful sunny skies, mild temperatures, and calm seas for all but the last two days of the cruise, so we were very lucky there.
We stated overnight in Rome and took the train to the port around 11am the next day. We had a short walk around Civitavecchia looking for some bottled water to take on board, then took the port shuttle to the ship. Check-in was fast and efficient, and we were on board in no time, and our stateroom was ready. Our suitcases didn't arrive until almost dinnertime, however.
We had booked an obstructed oceanview guarantee and got the dreaded "upgrade" to a deck 4 forward porthole. It was fine. We didn't notice any crew or mechanical noise. We could hear the waves on the last couple of nights, and in some ports people would be walking right outside our window, but we thought it was funny. The room was a bit out of the way for some activities, but convenient for the theater, the fitness room, and for getting on and off the ship at most of the ports. It was especially practical on disembarkation day, since we did the easy walk-off and just had to roll our suitcases down the hall and off the ship.
This was a Christmas cruise, so there were decorations everywhere, and holiday music playing all the time. There were a few special events and menus for the occasion, and on Christmas morning the Captain and Cruise Director dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and gave gifts to all the kids. And there were a lot of kids. I think NCL had trouble selling this cruise, so the prices dropped way low in the last couple of weeks and the ship filled up with lots of local Italian families.
We didn't see the Captain (Lars Bengtsson) a lot but he seemed like a really funny guy. We saw quite a lot of the Cruise Director (Jill) but I'm sad to say we didn't like her style. Her shtick of constantly pretending not to be able to speak Italian was particularly irritating. The rest of the cruise staff was fine. There weren't that many organized activities that we were interested in, but the trivia games were fun and well-attended (the prizes, however, were crappy haha).
We enjoyed some of the shows, especially 4Ever (who I believe have now moved to a different ship) and Elements (despite the horrible magician Cripton with his "I'm evil and I hate you, or maybe it's just indigestion" face). There were two separate juggling acts, which seemed a bit excessive to me…
The food on board was mostly very good. We usually went to the dining rooms, but it was always nice to wander through the buffet to see all the variety, and inevitably get temped to have a little taste of something. They did some poolside cooking on some days, which was fun to watch. There was a special menu for dinner on Christmas Day. We went to the 24 hour comfort food restaurant a couple of times, and we did Moderno Churrascaria one night (excellent). We also did the Chef's Table, which was interesting but not worth the $89/pp (they were very generous with the wines, but we already had a beverage package with unlimited wine), and I wish they hadn't scheduled it for Christmas Eve and caused us to miss the last few hours in port in Istanbul.
The ports themselves were great, and we did most of them on our own, so I won't write about them here. The only excursion we took with NCL was the "Behind the Scenes" tour of the ship itself. At $55/pp, this was seriously overpriced, considering what it costs them to run it, and it was also scheduled at an awkward time (Christmas morning), but we enjoyed visiting the laundry room, the bridge, and the food storage/preparation areas.
On my previous cruise, I really liked the Thermal Suite, but the price has gone up ($159/pp for the 10-day pass), so we just used the regular whirlpools and the small steamroom in the fitness room. The fitness room was often crowded with unaccompanied children and several of the machines are in need of repair.
We don't gamble or buy jewelry and artwork, so our major expense on-board is alcohol. We bought the UBP on the first day and I think we broke even somewhere around Day 8. Some of the bar staff are still poorly informed about what is and is not included, and the whole thing seems like it could be made a lot simpler, but in the end everything we ordered was included, and we ordered plenty. Bar service can be quite sluggish in the dining rooms and restaurants.
Disembarkation was very easy: no lines, no wait, off the ship and onto a shuttle to the airport.
I am sure we will cruise on the Jade again, since NCL doesn't offer that many other choices in Europe. I hope, in fact I fully expect, that our next cruise will be as enjoyable as this one was!