Trip of a Lifetime!: Norwegian Jade Cruise Review by MileHighMama

Norwegian Jade 5
Member Since 2009
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Overall Member Rating

Trip of a Lifetime!

Sail Date: March 2010
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Embarkation: Barcelona
My main reason for choosing this particular cruise was the ports of call. Rome was the initial temptation (I have always wanted to see the Colosseum), but Athens and Egypt were the clinchers. I, too, pored over the reviews for this ship and this particular cruise, writing down pointers as a first-time cruiser and trying to take the bad reviews with a grain of salt. Overall, we looked forward to this trip with great anticipation, but didn't set our standards too high as we didn't want to be disappointed.

We booked our own airfare as booking through NCL seemed quite excessive. I understand that the price includes transport to/from the airport or hotel, but we figured it couldn't be that difficult to make our own arrangements. We saved a bundle on airfare this way (found 2 RT from Denver to Barcelona with one stop for $700 each). We arrived in Barcelona the day before the cruise embarked and managed to easily find the right aerobus to take us to the Plaza Catalunya, an easy More walking distance to our hotel. The Hotel Continental Barcelona is located at the upper end of La Rambla. It is rather old and quaint, but comfortable and pleasant, and we wanted something close to La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter. The front desk service was very friendly and helpful, and we would recommend staying here for the price and location. Your rate includes a breakfast and dinner buffet (nothing special, but decent), and complimentary wine, beer, juices and coffee at all hours of the day.

We spent that first day in a rather zombie-like state, having had almost zero sleep in the past 24 hours. We walked along La Rambla after checking into our room (they had a room ready for us even though it was only 9:30 a.m. and check-in isn't until 2:00), napped a little in the early afternoon, then took the metro to see Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. BTW, the metro is pretty easy to understand and get around in, and this is coming from someone who has never had to deal with this kind of transportation before (especially in a foreign country). Walked La Rambla some more, ate at a Tapas Bar and sipped sangrias, meandered through the Gothic Quarter and found some random music and dancing, bought some pastries, enjoyed the atmosphere, then went back to the hotel to collapse for the night.

The morning of embarkation, we were planning on sharing a cab with two ladies (a mother and daughter also staying at Hotel Continental and cruising on Jade) to get to the ship. Found out there was a marathon taking place that included La Rambla, so the whole area was cordoned off and no taxis allowed anywhere near. So the four of us hoofed it to the metro (lugging all our luggage) and made it to the Columbus statue where we found the blue bus that took us to the ship. It really didn't end up being that inconvenient to do it this way and we saved a bundle of money (turns out the taxis that were running had to drop their fares off at the statue instead of being able to take them directly to the ship due to the course of the marathon).

Embarkation was a breeze, and we were there before noon. The short lines that formed went rather quickly, and next thing we knew we were on the ship. They were very quick to inform you as to where you could safely stow your carry-on bags (the big suitcases were left at the port entry) so you are free to wander the ship and/or grab lunch at the Garden Cafe until your cabin is ready. I was very impressed with the timeframe between boarding and being able to go to our cabins, as well as the quick delivery of the rest of our luggage.

We booked a balcony cabin on the 9th deck. I came prepared (having read other recommendations) with an over-the-door hanging storage (which I didn't end up needing) and extension cord with extra outlets (which I did end up needing). Otherwise there was plenty of space and storage in our room and the closet came with enough hangers (although I brought extra and used a few of them anyway). I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the cabin and especially the bathroom and shower. And the beds were exceptionally comfortable. LOVED having the balcony for the extra light, fresh air, view and privacy.

No complaints about the ship overall. It was clean and well-maintained. Easy to maneuver and figure out where you are and where you're going. The Garden Cafe had decent food and pretty good selection (we ate most breakfasts there except for room service on excursion days and once in the Grand Pacific). The Blue Lagoon has passable fare but the service is mediocre at best. We ate almost all dinners in either the Grand Pacific or the Alizar and liked both atmospheres. The food was good-to-great (only once did they overcook the fish). It felt weird the first night to have a three-course dinner in a nice restaurant and then just get up and leave (instead of waiting for the bill). We splurged one night at Le Bistro (it was part of our anniversary package), and really enjoyed it. We would recommend at least one meal there even if you don't do one of the romance packages. Our biggest complaint about the restaurants (Alizar, Grand Pacific, Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon) is that the service really went downhill the last two days on the ship. Longer waits before orders were taken and between courses (Grand Pacific and Alizar), servers in the Garden Cafe were slow to help you (they served the food the last two days rather than letting you help yourself -- mostly because of the small virus outbreak after visiting Egypt), and the already mediocre service in the Blue Lagoon became almost non-existent!

The nightly entertainment in the Stardust Theater was pretty good. We enjoyed the Spanish ballet and Extreme Vegas, and caught the comedy act and danced the night away in the Spinnaker Lounge. There was lots of entertainment available, but we chose to relax on our balcony, enjoy the live music by the pool, soak in the hot tubs, partake of the many alcoholic beverage tastings (very worth the $15 pp), chat with new acquaintances (most especially the two ladies we met at our hotel in Barcelona) or play gin rummy on our days at sea. For budget reasons, we didn't spend any time at the spa. Less

Published 04/09/10

Cabin review: B29660 Family Balcony

Loved the balcony cabin, more spacious than I expected, more than adequate space in the bathroom/shower, plenty of storage, remarkably quiet -- no real disturbance from the hallway or adjoining cabins.

Read All Family Balcony (B2) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

We did the overnight in Cairo. As expected, Egypt is filthy and there is plenty of pollution in Cairo. We saw the pyramids as we entered the city limits, but by early afternoon it was too hazy to see them anymore.

Our first day was a near-disaster. The bus ride to Cairo is about 2.5 hours and the toilet on our bus was practically an emergency-only facility. (Our guide was a "modern" woman, an Egyptologist who was full of fascinating information and didn't sugar-coat her country's shortfalls, but also was very proud of its accomplishments.) Once we reached Cairo, our fist stop was to the alabaster mosque of Mohammad Ali. It is beautiful on the outside, but mosques are considerably less elaborate on the inside than Christian cathedrals. The first thing we realized about our guide is that it is imperative that you keep up with her as she plies you with information, then is off in a flash to the next point of interest, never looking back to see if her group is still with her! We had a few elderly people in our group, so this became quite a problem for them.

The Egyptian museum was quite impressive, although extremely crowded with people (I would hate to see how crowded it is during peak season!). We mostly took in the King Tut exhibit, which was incredible. Wish we had had time to see more of the museum.

Next: check into our hotel and have lunch. We arrived with the rest of the NCL tour buses slated to stay at this hotel (which was, BTW, an impressive, less than 1 year old 5-star hotel). There was a buffet lunch spread on a large patio and tables set up with bus numbers on them. Our group ended up with only two tables instead of four, so our guide had to scramble to correct the problem. Needless to say, we were all tired and hungry by this time (it was 2:30 p.m.), and not pleased by the seeming lack of organization.

We were allowed to rest until 5:30, then whisked away to our dinner cruise on the Nile (nobody was hungry since we had just eaten lunch!). This was a joke. Again, there was confusion as to where our group's tables were set up! No other bus was having this problem! Once situated, our tables had water but no drinking glasses. It took almost the entire cruise to have this rectified! The food was nothing special and the music that accompanied the traditional and belly dancing was excruciatingly loud. To end the Nile cruise, the musicians sang renditions of "Feelings" and "I Just Called to Say I Love You."

The papyrus institute was interesting and we didn't feel too pressured into buying (although we did purchase some prints).

The final stop for the first day was the Sound and Light show at the pyramids. I was tired by that time and I thought the whole thing was a little hokey.

The second day was so much better. We first went to Sakara to see the stair-step pyramids (older than the Giza pyramids). Then to Memphis to see the fallen statue of Ramses (very cool!) and other statues and sarcophagi found in the area. And then off to the Giza Pyramids and Great Sphinx up close. It was an amazing feeling to be so close to such ancient structures. Be prepared: the vendors and other profiteers in the area are very, very aggressive. They will try and offer to take your picture for free, then demand money to give your camera back. Or certain camel rides will take you out a ways and then demand money to bring you back.

If I were to do this again, I would choose two day trips -- one to Cairo to see the pyramids, Memphis and possibly the museum, and the other to explore Alexandria. You can skip the Nile cruise, sound and light show and Mohammad Ali's mosque.

I had heard from other reviews that Ephesus was the biggest and nicest surprise (I'm sure it gets overshadowed by the idea of visiting Athens and Cairo). I have to agree. The ruins are incredibly impressive, and it is amazing to think that the archaeologists who are excavating the ruins have only just begun! There is so much more to uncover in this area! Turkey was by far the cleanest place we had visited thus far (we already knew to expect Egypt to be very dirty), and our guide was a very nice man who offered a lot of background information (both historical and current) on Ephesus in particular and Turkey in general. Be willing to barter with the vendors at the tourist booths (as long as you are serious about buying). Much of the merchandise was priced a little high, but they are willing to sell if the price you are asking is reasonable. Also, be prepared for a little high-pressure sales at the rug factory.

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We chose to walk around Valetta on our own rather than book an excursion. After Egypt, we just wanted to do this on our own time rather than be herded around like cattle again. It is a small enough town and easy to maneuver. This place is so full of history and such a beautiful, scenic part of the Mediterranean.

We booked most of our excursions through NCL, primarily to avoid any complications with getting back to the ship on time. Rome was our first port of call. It would have been incredible if the weather had been better. Our tour guide informed us that there had still been some snow on the ground earlier that morning (it rarely snows in that part of Italy), but the remainder of the day was rainy, very windy and COLD. A lot of our tour was spent outdoors (the interior corridor of the Colosseum acted as a wind tunnel!). Despite the weather, the tour was worth it (we took Eternal Rome and the Colosseum) -- the ancient history of San Clemente Basilica, the impressiveness of the Colosseum and the surrounding area, and the elaborate beauty of St. Peter's Basilica. Our tour guide was wonderful and a wealth of information, and a real trooper for hauling a group of forty around in such nasty weather. I was a little disappointed in the very little time and opportunity to shop at the end of the tour.

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