I'll start by saying that we had an amazing experience on the Jade. I think part of that is due to the fact that we were in a Penthouse Suite. If you can afford the updrade to a Suite, go for it. The extra benefits are wonderful. We never once stood in a line up, which I think is often the biggest complaint from passengers. We also had a butler and a concierage. I can't say that we used them much but when we needed something, they came in handy.
The best part of the suite is that you can go to Cagney's for breakfast or lunch. No line ups and the food was good. Plus it was quiet there and made for a peaceful and relaxing dining experience.
I had read many negative reports about the food so was not expecting much but have to say overall most of our meals were good. We only ate the the Pacific Grand dining room 3 times and never did make it to the Alizar. Our favorite speciality dining experience was the Teppanyaki. We ate there twice and both times I had the lobster, scallops and prawn combo...really good. We also ate twice at the Italian restaurant and have great food there too. Our big disappointment was the suchi restaurant. We ate there the first night as we are both sushi lovers and were so disappointed we never returned. The fish was excellent but the rice was like eating glue. Sushi lovers know that the rice is the secret ingredient to good sushi so if you are like us and love sushi, just order the sashimi to avoid the rice.
The entertainment was good...not Broadway good but again we didn't have high expectations. Our one disappointment was the murder mystery dinner. We had signed up with 4 other friends but when we arrived to get our instructions, we were put with another table. Not that that was so bad but the murder mystery was totally lame. It was written in 1996 and based in Hawaii. Apparently they are working on a new murder mystery and they need it. There was alot of hype about getting a booking for this dinner but I would not recommend it at all. They even said that there was a free dinner provided but being that it was in the Pacific Grand Dining Room, I wasn't sure how they justified that as being free, when there is no cost to eat there. The other 4 people were lots of fun so we enjoyed the evening but it was not what we expected.
The internet was wireless in our cabin. The cheapest package that they have is 40 cents per minute. I can't compare to other cruise lines but it seems really expensive. They had a couple of bonus plans available during our 12 nights so watch your daily programs.
Also, be aware that if you want to change currency, they charge $10USD to do this. They even wanted to charge us $10 to break a 200 Eurpo note to smaller bills. This was a blatant cash grab...shame on NCL for this!!!!!
So, the best parts of our cruise were: 1. the ports of call and 2. the new friends we met
We joined cruise critic about 45 days prior to our sailing and that was a bonus. We attended the meet and great on Day 2 and connected with lots of fun people. We also offered our cabin on the cabin call so got to see lots of different cabins.
We didn't do any of the NCL shore excursions. They were all very expensive and the thought of travelling with a group of 50 was not appealing. There small groups were so pricey that I ended up researching local tour operators and found some great tours that I booked direct. The only downside of doing this is that if you are late returning to the ship, you might miss the boat, so to speak. We did have 1 close call in Egypt when we got stuck in a huge traffic jam and arrived to the ship 10 minutes before we were supposed to be back on board. It caused a bit of stress. In the end the ship was delayed by 1.5 hours as an NCL bus was late arriving back so all that worry was for not.
We also loved the Freedom concept. I never did wear my dressy outfits, which I was happy about. It was more of a smart casual experience. I heard some people complaining that they thought people should have dressed up more but we loved the less formal atmosphere. We also loved the fact that we didn't have to eat at the same time each night and at the same table. The average age was also lower than what we expected so maybe the Freedom concept appeals to a younger clientele.
I would have liked more 'educational' type seminars offered. They are still offering napkin folding which I think could be replaced with something more interesting. How about some digital photography or more info on the ports.
Make sure to go to the Dancing with the Stars night in the Spinakker Lounge. We laughed so hard that night. It was serious competition and very entertaining! The karaoke was fun too.
On some previous departures there were lots of people sick but that didn't seem to be a problem on the Feb. 14th departure. They even allowed passengers to serve themselves from the buffets for the last few days so hopefully the norovirus (or whatever it was) that was so serious on the previous departures is now a thing of the past. There were sanitary hand washing stations set up everywhere so use them often.
Although we didn't carry on any alcohol on board we talked to many that did and it was not taken away when they boarded. I did see lots of wine being confiscated when returning from shore excursions though.
Overall, I'd say our experience was very good on NCL but again that might have been in part to the Suite we had. Alot of people felt NCL nickled and dimed them to death but other than the currency exchange charge we didn't feel like that. I will say that their shore excursions are ridiculously priced so maybe they are making up for the lower priced cabins (compared to other cruise lines).