Background Information: This cruise was our honeymoon; we chose it for the unique itinerary (Normandy France, British Isles, Amsterdam, and Bruges). We saved up all year and splurged on a balcony room and specialty restaurants - both ended up being good decisions. The honeymoon package offered by NCL was a nice gift from our parents and saved us a fair bit of money and treated us to some experiences we may not have opted for otherwise.
Ship Info: The Jade was recently introduced to Europe from its original post in Hawaii. Her interior is decked out in a Hawaii/South Pacific theme. For us that just meant a Hawaiian cruise in Europe (best of both worlds). As it was explained to us, few ships are theme decorated and for better or worse millions of dollars were spent decorating the ship for Hawaii and it would take millions more to redecorate her to a more European theme. Also she may not always stay in Europe so it didn't make sense to completely re-do her interior for a temporary stay. It was colorful and we frequently enjoyed the ironic contrast of huge glass exotic flowers with a backdrop of the quiet and ancient Irish coastline.
Activities: The Star Bar was our favorite - quiet with classic Sinatra and a great view. We had hoped for more dancing - the Spinnaker had good music but as we were only among a handful of younger cruisers (the mean age on the cruise had to be at least 60) the dance floor was often empty. The White Party being the exception. The cruise director and staff (especially Red) did a great job of getting people on the floor and moving. The Medusa Lounge also had dancing but mainly tunes appreciated by those 1-2 generations older than us - that didn't stop us from getting up there several nights. And to their credit, we saw a lot of elder dancers with way more moves than I think we'll ever have. The Monte Carlo party in the Casino was fun. We actually won over a hundred dollars and I used it to get my hair cut and colored in the spa a few days later. Through the honeymoon package we got couples massage and then stayed to enjoy the spa facilities. I spent an easy 2.5 hours enjoying the view, the hot tub, steam room, sauna, plunge pool, AND the really cool unique spa showers. They have a "tropical rain" and "ice shower" function - I'd never done anything like it before - simply awesome.
As we were in Northern Europe it was usually too cool to take advantage of the pool. Though quite a few people (including us) used the hot tubs. On our second day at sea it was warm and we finally saw all the kids playing in the pool. It was great to see them enjoying themselves as it was otherwise quite an older adult oriented cruise. Trivia was fun - though several players argued to ridiculous lengths about answers. We gave the crew (Red) a lot of credit for managing such an unruly crowd. We never did play bingo.
Service: The staff was always very attentive but never pushy. We never felt rushed or had to wait very long. If anything, we often felt embarrassed by the treatment of the staff by some of our fellow passengers. Most passengers were polite and appreciative. But there were a handful that we witnessed repeatedly abuse the staff. I understand people come on a cruise to be catered to but that is no excuse for some of the shameful behavior that was on display. One particular instance that stands out in my mind was a woman who sent back her food 3 times - the eggs were too hard, they were inedible... She complained loudly to the waiter, the restaurant manager, and finally the officer in charge of all of the ship's restaurants was summonsed. He apologized to her for the staff (even though they clearly did nothing wrong - the kitchen was experiencing difficulties entirely unrelated to the wait staff), wrote off her entire party's bill, and then cooked their food himself. The woman was finally satisfied and loudly bragged that she had gotten away with the same thing in one of the other specialty restaurants the night before. We were so upset we nearly left the restaurant but didn't want to cause additional stress to the staff. If we saw any disconnect in service it was between Corporate and the ship staff. Corporate made a lot of promises I think the ship just couldn't practically deliver on - which put them in an awkward position. For example, every time we called NCL prior to the trip they listed off all the 2.0 upgrades before taking our call. Once on the ship we saw only a few of these upgrades in practice. We didn't mind but many other passengers were pretty incensed.
Shore Excursions: Thanks to our Roll Call group we participated in mainly private tours. We only did 2 NCL tours. One was canoeing and biking which we loved. The other was a glorified bus ride to Loch Ness which was disappointing. The private tours were usually 3-5 times cheaper and often included a longer or more in-depth tour. We were with a smaller group and as a result, all knew each-other. This made all the difference. For cities that were easy to navigate on ones own - which many of them were - we walked or shared a taxi in and explored it by foot or water taxi. For us this provided a far superior experience to the NCL tours. For example, in Bruges we shared a taxi in and then walked the medieval streets, quietly taking in its beauty, stopping into a remarkable church or unique shop. Admiring the art and architecture for as long or short as we wished before moving on. We selected a small bistro on a canal for lunch, talked to some locals, bought chocolate from several small vendors. In contrast, we saw large tour groups following their leader who held a number on a stick high in the air from predesignated points A-D and then back to the bus. We felt like they were missing so much. Cruise tours promise safety and no risk, but from what we observed the tours are subcontracted to secondary operators - who are very very nice and give nice overviews while on the bus - but at least on our NCL tours, the bus left at the set time on the dot - no head counting, no roster checked. So at least in our opinion, they was no less of a risk than doing it on your own. At least with a small group, it is easy to know who is missing. For example, we took a private tour with our Roll Call group to Giant's Causeway and Belfast. My husband and I both misunderstood the time we were to leave the Causeway. As the bus prepared to leave, our group recognized we were missing and the private guide came and found us eating lunch to let us know we had to go. If we had been on a NCL excursion with a large bus of strangers, I doubt anyone would have noticed and I doubt anyone would have come to find us. Granted, we had to sing to the bus as a punishment, but I'd take that any day to being left in the hills of Ireland to find our way back.
Travel to Port of Embarkation: British Airways was great.
Stateroom: Balcony - loved it. Loved watching the sunset from our own private space each night. Loved eating room service breakfasts out there each morning and watching the port as we pulled in. Loved being able to step out to see what the weather was like. Loved the photo ops constantly available just by stepping outside. We'd never had a balcony before and definitely spent more time in a room with one. Dining: Tried every restaurant on the ship. We always made reservations at least 24-48 hours ahead, got our first choice and never had to wait. Although I wish it weren't so the specialty restaurants were definitely the way to go. The food was appreciably a step above the dining rooms, as was the service (only,I think, because in the dining room there were that many more people to look after). They were in quieter, smaller spaces. Le Bistro was hands down the best - one of the best meals we've ever had. Our waitress Helen was amazing and remembered us throughout the cruise - even what wine I was drinking. She overheard it was our honeymoon, brought us a cake, and organized several waiters to sing for us. We loved the steaks, fries, and salads in Cagney's (the molten chocolate cake was the best dessert on board). Papa's antipasti was fantastic and their chocolate/spiced apricot cake was to die for (runner up dessert). Teppanyaki was really fun and delicious. The Jasmine was very good, as was Paniolos. We took advantage of the 2 for 1 deal (dine before 6:30pm) most times we went to the specialty restaurants and it was very much worth it. Also the Honeymoon Package comes with dinner in Le Bistro and a bottle of house wine or you can upgrade to a more expensive bottle for the difference in price. They will hold on to your wine - I had a glass every night for 5 nights (at 6-8 bucks a glass this was a real money saver). The chocolate buffet featured some amazing sculptures (ice and chocolate) but the desserts themselves weren't worth the calories. Save them up and get the chocolate fondue at Le Bistro! Le Bistro also had a Jazz Lunch which was amazing.
Children's Clubs: We don't have kids and therefore didn't use the clubs, but every time we passed the kids club we heard them laughing and playing - it seemed they were having fun. The teens on the ship quickly banded together - they looked like a pretty cohesive group and were very cute as they danced amongst the older folks, sat together at the shows, and without them the White Party would have been much less fun. Entertainment: We only went to a few shows. One of the best was Irish Step dancers and singers brought on while we were in Ireland. There was also a Scottish show while in Scotland but it started at 4:30pm on a port day. It think it is fabulous to have this kind of authentic cultural entertainment - the cost is they have to have very early shows as the entertainers perform prior to the ship leaving port (so they can get off before we leave). The magic show was very fun. Second City did an amazing job - especially given that they performed improv nearly every night from 8-11pm (on a 13 day cruise that must be very difficult). We saw Shout. It was cute and a bit cheesy but the performers had wonderful stage presence and powerful voices. The downside, again were passengers that showed up late and in several instances drunk and smoky that toppled over people to get to a free seat.
Disembarkation: A little harried in that the whole ship had to exit through one set of doors after picking up our luggage. Somehow the idea of a line just didn't gel with the masses and instead it was a bit of a free for all - people coming in from all angles and running each other over with their luggage carts. That said we all made it onto the transfer busses.
Summary: Amazing itinerary, our Roll Call group was fantastic and we really enjoyed hanging out with them. The private tours made all the difference in the world. We loved our balcony room - having breakfast out there each morning as we pulled into port - was invaluable. The specialty dining rooms had amazing food and wonderful service. The entertainment was cruise entertainment - fun but a bit cheesy - and on this cruise geared to the older crowd (which made sense as it was mainly older folks). The only downside were some cranky passengers that seemed to enjoy loudly and publicly humiliating staff or complaining to anyone in earshot. I wish everyone would appreciate that the staff are people, this is merely their job, and they live where they work. Often 4 bunks to a room and they are getting paid American dollars in Europe (as an example a burger and fries for 2 at a pub in London was $40 American). Above all, they did a great job and hardly ever got thanked for it. We found that learning how to say "Thank You" in the staff's native language helped convey how appreciative we were.