This two-week dream cruise for this reviewer, this reviewer's wife, and this reviewer's two adult sons and their wives was, well, not the dream we had expected.
Let's get the positives out front:
1) the housekeeping staff was wonderful and responsive. Kudos!
2) the "finale" on-board (at sea) entertainment with the Cirque-esq performers was outstanding. Lost the magician, though.
...and that's about it for the positives for a two-week sailing in Italy, Montenegro, the Greek Isles, etc.
Now the negatives:
1) Booking was a difficult situation, and the situation didn't get any better. We got a good price... but not what was listed as balcony prices on the Norwegian website. The Norwegian booking agent- Mr. Souza- was competent and professional, and referred us to his supervisor, Mr. Solis, who stated that: "This must be a website error. We do not have any balcony rooms at the price you see." This, after the reviewer sent a screenshot showing the price on the web!
Mr. Souza had sent a confirmation e-mail, stating that this reviewer could contact him anytime. Well, after week of e-mail correspondence and several unanswered telephone calls, this reviewer once again contacted the supervisor, Mr. Solis This time the reason for the "error" was that there was a fire near the Norwegian office, and that fire interrupted all correspondence.
2) The question- from the original time of booking- was about getting a dining reservation time. The family has cruised before on other carriers, and indeed, this was not an issue. All we got was that the Jade has "Freestyle Dining"- and never got a good description of what that meant. The message the family received was that one of our party would have to go to the maître d'hôtel EVERY MORNING to get a dining time for that day.
Not the way to have a relaxing vacation...and it turns out that this is indeed NOT the procedure for dining.
3) The "Freestyle Dining" concept- indeed, one needs to know that this is a marketing tool that Norwegian is using to try to differentiate their product and services from the rest of the industry. Indeed, this does differentiate. And the family did not like the concept.
Here it is: there are two "main" dining rooms that accommodate most guests. There are several "specialty" restaurants (some at a fee, some at a significant fee) that may be visited for dining. All of the restaurants are listed on a computer screen, with times and little colored boxes showing the demand for seats by other cruisers. Red colored box? Long wait, "...but worth the wait."
The "main" dining rooms have THE SAME MENU EVERY DAY. Oh, each day, there is a "chef's option" but do not expect an "Italian Day" or a "Lobster Day" or a "French Day." Nope! That's where the "specialty restaurants" (at a fee!) come in.
When arriving at the main restaurants, even when the computer shows "green" or "yellow" one will be in line with other travelers who have been watching the screens for availability.
"At Norwegian, we suggest sharing of tables. Please let us know if you are willing to share your table."
This is actually one of the reasons that the family cruises- to meet other people from other walks of life, and to develop over a week-long (or, in our case, two weeks-long) camaraderie with those other cruisers and the wait staff.
Again, NOPE! The wait staff could not "care" about those dining. The service was (relatively) quick and professional (but not up to cruise standards at other flagged vessels.) One son and his wife waited at one of the "options"- not a paid one, and one with a very limited menu- for 40 minutes just to get the salad course delivered.
This "Freestyle" may drive cruising guests to the more expensive "extra fee" specialty restaurants, but that is actually hardly a "Freestyle." Indeed, this is a marketing tool- call it what it is.
O.K., let's continue with the deficits, and the deficit at the dining experience.
4) This reviewer called the Norwegian Shore Excursions TO BOOK A MEAL. The Norwegian website was down for almost a month, but by golly, we cruisers kept getting e-mails asking for guests to book shore excursions and specialty dining...but then the guests were unable to do so online!
Finally, this reviewer was able to book a special meal at the Moderno Churrascaria Brazilian Restaurant for the Sunday in Venice (when the boat was offloading some guests from the previous week and taking on others for the upcoming week;s itinerary. This was to be the "Mother's Day" present from the family to the spouse of this reviewer.
Well, when that Sunday arrived, the Norwegian Jade informed the family that the Moderno was to be closed that night, and "they were sorry." The Moderno is not open on the first day of a cruise, it turns out (even though this was the 8th day for our family.) This reviewer went to the specialty dining reservation desk at the customer service area in the Centrum, and indeed, received another apology. The first available time? The next night, at 7:30 p.m. We took it.
When we arrived at the Moderno, another set of apologies, and the offer of a bottle of wine gratis from the wine list. A nice touch.
But the food? Awful. This was not like a churrascaria that one might experience onshore, at home. There is a very limited offering of meats, and the salad bar was about the size of one's kitchen table at home.
One of the sons tried to "make the trip better" by booking the family at another (for a fee) specialty restaurant- this one the Italian table. The food? Awful. This reviewer's wife could not even finish her food- the salt was overwhelming.
This reviewer's wife tried to salvage the dining experience by booking everyone at the Steak House. Again, what a appointment's. The service was mediocre and the food, well, at a Stateside Outback Steakhouse.
Not yet ready to throw in the towel, another of the sons booked the family at the Oriental Restaurant. The sushi (had to order "extra" in addition to the fee for this specialty dining experience) was acceptable to all- but the cuisine still did not meet expectations.
The salt was pretty much overwhelming the food throughout this cruise, by the way. Have a poor quality of food? Oversalt it!
The buffets on the 12th deck? Again do not look for significant changes in the menu offerings. The family actually took 4 of the evening meals at the buffet because the overall dining experience was so disappointing.
Norwegian takes this concept of the "Freestyle" dining to the extreme- at the last sailing night, the variety show (again, superb!) ended with the performers admonishing the guests to arise, clap hands, and sing: "We are all Norwegians now!"
Not this cruiser and is family. Never again, never with the Freestyle concept.
Check-in, getting on the ship, and disembarkation were without comment- pretty much the standard throughout the industry.
5) Here is one thing that really stuck in this reviewer's craw- if you want to change money (like dollars into euro) or cash a check or...well, anything financial. there is a US$10 fee for each transaction. Most travelers come to holiday/vacation with large bills, rather a a wad of small ones. Again, NOPE! Bring a wad of small bills, else you may have difficulty tipping ashore, negotiating with taxis, etc. This reviewer understand that having large amounts of currency aboard is a capital investment by Norwegian, but this is an investment that needs to be made!
6) Shore excursions? The best way to describe these is "O.K."- not spectacular. There was one (not enough room on this form)- in Katakolon (Olympia): "Best of Olympia" which was BY FAR the best shore excursion on this trip.
Overall, the family tried to "rate" Norwegian with other flagged carriers. Here is the very unscientific results:
Next- Royal Caribbean
Next - and really close to RCL- Carnival