Our parents have taken numerous cruises in the past and have raved about the sites they got to see and the experience of travelling to several different countries during one trip. It began as a bit of a joke, teasing our parents about taking a big trip before their daughters got too old, but it worked!
Our parents have loved taking NCL cruises in the past because they don't like to be tied to a dining schedule. In their experience, the "freestyle" way of cruising worked best. We decided to take the 12-day Mediterranean cruise travelling from Istanbul, Turkey and ended in Barcelona, Spain. The big attractions to making that decision resided with Greece and Croatia. The rest of it, truthfully, was going to just be new places none of us had seen.
We arrived in Istanbul after a VERY cramped and uncomfortable flight aboard American Airlines and stayed for one evening in a little hotel in the old part of Istanbul. Surprisingly, Istanbul quickly became one of our favorite places! The people were extremely friendly, everything was affordable thanks to Turkey retaining their own currency, the city was very clean, and the food was wonderful. The only downside? The extremely sudden calls to prayer throughout the day. Make sure your hotel isn't located next to a minaret that carries the calls to prayer over the loud speakers attached. It can be quite startling to wake up to early in the morning!
After touring the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar on our own, we caught a taxi from our hotel to the port for boarding of the Norwegian Jade. It was a little confusing trying to determine where you placed your bags for transportation onto the Jade due to a lack of signs posted. However, upon inquiring with the staff, they were extremely helpful and assisted our family in getting the bags to the correct doorway.
Queuing up to get onto the ship was long, however, it wasn't NCL's part that caused the delay. In the port of call entrance, there was only one security station through which everybody had to pass with their overnight bag. How quickly some people forget that you can't wear belts, some jewelry, or your sunglasses through a security gate!!! After going through security, we were amazed at how well-prepared the NCL staff were. There must have been 15 stations of "operators" checking everyone onto the Jade.
Once onboard, we found our room and were quickly impressed with the size of our cabins. Since we knew we would be spending most of our time outside of our cabins, we decided not to pay extra for balconies or suites. We decided on a cabin on Deck 5, in the middle of the boat and were very happy with our decision! The cabins were extremely clean, the beds were incredibly comfortable and we were all surprised at how roomy the bathrooms were. I had heard nightmare stories from friends who had travelled on other cruise lines about the miniscule amount of space given for the shower, so I was prepared. However, even though I am six-feet tall, I even had plenty of room to shave my legs in the shower!
Instead of eating in the buffet dining area with most of the people on the cruise ship, my family decided to eat in the formal dining room for every meal we could. First, it was a very nice place to sit and relax. The staff were, for the most part, extremely nice and pleasant to deal with. There was an incident we had with a woman that did not speak very good english and it was creating some communication problems. However, upon advising the gentleman that was in charge of the room, he changed servers for us and all was wonderful from then on. Another wonderful perk to the "formal" dining room is that they do not allow jeans after 5:00 p.m. How wonderful to actually be around people that were dressed nicely!
We did try the steak restaurant, Casey's, as well as Teppanyaki. Although both of those were an extra cost, it didn't deter our decision. With everything else on the boat we had access to at no additional charge, it wasn't that big of a deal to pay for something different. The service in the steak restaurant definitely left something to be desired. Not sure if the gentleman was just having a bad evening or not, but he wasn't too attentive to us, and his tip (or lack thereof), reflected that. The chef in the Teppanyaki restaurant was entertaining, as was expected, and the food was wonderful... definitely try the shrimp!
Everyday there were at least 30 different activities from which to choose: everything from bridge tournaments in the card room, Wii bowling tournaments in the Medusa Lounge, shopping specials in the gallery, to art auctions. Most of our free time, however, was spent reading on the pool deck, eating or sleeping. Our family decided to take advantage of our time off the ship in each port of call with excursions chosen for all but one of our destinations.
Overall, our excursions were wonderful. The main critique about the excursions actually stemmed from the NCL staff. Whomever was in charge of the excursions did not time anything right at all. For each of our excursions, our ticket told us what time we were to meet and where. For every excursion we had, the tickets told us to meet in the Stardust Theater. We would arrive in the theater and find it almost full everyday. No problem with that, but the problem came in when you looked at everyone's meeting times: 7:45 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 8:15 a.m.,etc... Not only could they not get everyone to leave the theater for any of the excursions on time, but then you had to listen to the young lady in the front of the theater repeating instructions over and over and over again. It got very annoying by the time we departed for our third excursion.
In Venice, we had to take water taxis to get from the Jade to shore. Rather than figuring out how many people each of the taxis could hold, how long it took a taxi to do a full round trip, and how many passengers wanted to take an excursion, it was just a hodgepodge of making us gather, stand and wait. That part of the service definitely needs some work!
Overall, however, our experience on the NCL Norwegian Jade was very positive. We have even chosen our next cruise itinerary and will be taking it with NCL again....