Travel to Embarkation: Train from Sheffield to Manchester airport and overnight stay in Travelodge, using the hotel shuttle to the airport for an early flight next morning. We had to change planes at Amsterdam before arriving at Barcelona, where we were met by NCL reps and taken by coach to the port. We were very impressed by the huge entrance hall, organisation and free soft drinks. This was 3.45pm and within half an hour we were on board.
Ship: It was love at first sight as we thought the Jade was a beautiful ship and so huge! Inside was very clean and well appointed, if a little bit gaudy, due to the ship's past history, we were told.
Cabin: We were in the inside disabled 4604, as it was the only one left in our category, and we were pleasantly surprised as to how spacious it was, with plenty of storage space and with a large bathroom. There was a sofa, table and two chairs (very handy for room service) and the twin beds were so comfortable that I slept better than I did at home. It was situated at the end of a corridor, near the lifts, stairs and medical room and was very quiet. We appreciated the TV with outside web camera channel as our cabin was inside. Our cabin staff were very pleasant and helpful, as were all the staff and crew all over the ship. A nice touch was the champagne and cake, for my friend's birthday, which welcomed us in our cabin.
Dining: We ate in the 'free' restaurants, and had no complaints with the food, or any trouble waiting for tables. The Garden Cafe was great when we were rushed and for more variety, while the Alizar and Grand Pacific were perfect when we had more time or wanted to dress up a bit more. We enjoyed the food in them all and even liked the fish, chips and mushy peas in the Blue Lagoon, the 'comfort food' restaurant. The Ice Sculpture and Chocolate Buffets were very impressive.
Activities: The activities and amenities were far too numerous to mention and we couldn't possibly use them all. We did love the history lectures, which tied in nicely with the shore excursions, also the theatre, shops, art gallery, art seminar, line dancing and just walking round the decks. It was a bit cool for sitting, but we did go in the pool, although it was too deep for me and I couldn't leave the side! My friend used the Spa and thought the treatment and equipment was very good.
Entertainment: We loved the marvellous, full size theatre and thought the performers were all very talented, liking the tenor, the violinist and the Flamenco Dancers the best. We found the musical content not to our taste as a lot of it was too obscure and unknown to us. Perhaps this was better for the American travellers as the majority on board were from the USA or Canada. We also liked the piano bar, the Spanish guitarist and the comedian. Our main complaint was that the air con in the theatre was turned up too high and it was very cold in there. Every night we had to take warm fleeces in to put on our legs and on the air vents that were on the back of the seats in front of us.
Port Shore Excursions: We went on the Jade's own excursions, because we were two women first timers and a bit nervous. Although they were very expensive, especially the Egyptian one, they were marvellous and very well organised, and we loved them all. Disembarkation. We collected our cases on the dock at 9.30am and caught the ship's coach to the airport. There were no problems and everything went smoothly. Although we had to wait a long time for our flights we didn't mind as we were safely at the airport. After two flights, a train and the last tram we were home for midnight, tired but happy.
Summary: For us it was the trip of a lifetime, taken for the excursions but we thoroughly enjoyed the cruising and the sea days. They gave a much needed break from the hectic but wonderful excursions that we did. We thought the ship's own excursions were unbeatable, if only they were not so expensive! We spent a lot on the trips we took, so had to cut down elsewhere, such as alcohol. This meant that we didn't go in any bars or nightclubs and only to free events and restaurants but this in no way spoilt our cruise as we wanted to be up early for the excursions and prefer the theatre to the bars. We love the Freestyle on the Jade and the dress code and food suited us. We disagreed with the enforced gratuities and would have preferred to have done our own tipping but the queues were always too long when we tried to alter this so in the end we gave up. It was so nice to be looked after and the daily newsletter and chocolate were a welcome treat. Our cabin was better than we expected, we loved the ship, staff and wide choice of activities and entertainment. I have booked another cruise on the Jade and this time I'm taking my husband along.
Ports of call: Rome. We were picked up at the ship and escorted throughout the day. On to a coach, for a 90 minute drive to Rome, with a short toilet/drink stop along the way. We had a very good, informative guide and soon we were seeing the sights of Rome all around us. The first stop was the Coliseum from outside, followed by a walking tour of ancient Rome to see fabulous ruins. We had a lovely 3 course lunch plus wine, in an Italian restaurant, followed by an afternoon at the Vatican City with St Peter's Square, magnificent Cathedral, with its breathtaking works of art. We had a little shopping time to ourselves and then were taken by coach back to the Jade. Athens. This one was an afternoon half day, so we didn't have to rush for an early start and were taken by coach from the ship to the Acropolis. There was a steep climb up to the Pantheon, with magnificent views all around. I just loved this place too and when the sky went black in the distance and it started thundering and lightening, it was like a message from the Greek Gods! It was so atmospheric and made for some dramatic photos, the lovely white ruins against the dark sky. Later we were taken on a coach tour of Athens and saw the Greek soldiers marching and had a stop at the Olympic Stadium before being taken back to the Jade.
Izmir for Ephesus. This excursion was my big surprise as I am ashamed to say that I had never even heard of Ephesus. After an interesting coach drive through Turkey, we first went to the Virgin Mary's House, which was strangely moving, as it was not the original one, we were told. Lunch was in a Turkish restaurant and it was very good to try the Turkish food. On to Ephesus a huge ruined Roman city. It is truly awesome and the quality and beauty of the ruins are stunning. An outdoor Roman play was performed for us, with audience participation. As well as being entertaining it was a welcome chance to sit down. On the way back to the ship we called at a carpet workshop and museum and took more colourful photos. After being thoroughly charmed by Turkey it was back to the Jade once more.
Egypt. This was the true purpose of the cruise, to see the other part of Egypt that I didn't get too before. We opted for the overnight stay in a Cairo hotel so this was our most expensive trip but I really wanted to do this. It was a three hour drive from Alexandria to Cairo and we went straight to the magnificent Citadel of Saladin and the Alabaster Mosque. The Cairo Museum was next and it was truly packed with many treasures including, Tutankhamun's Golden Mask, beautiful jewels and artefacts from his tomb. It was very emotional, gazing on the world famous mask, which looked as though it was made yesterday. I could spend a month, just in the museum alone. We lunched at the 5 star Grand Hotel and checked into our very sumptuous room. Later we went to a sound and light show and saw our first magical glimpse of the Pyramids and Sphinx. This was an experience not to be missed. It was so atmospheric that it made goose bumps on our arms.
Even later, we went on a Nile Cruise, for dinner and cabaret, which was very entertaining, and included, singing, dancing, Belly Dancer and Whirling Dervish. After a very long but wonderful day, it was off to our fabulous hotel and a good nights sleep. Next day, after a lovely breakfast, we were taken to see more wonderful, Egyptian monuments including the Step Pyramid, Temple of Ptah, Rameses Statue at Memphis and the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza, up close. All of it was truly magical, especially Giza, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I was so enchanted that I even had a camel ride, very unlikely event for me! Shopping in Egypt was a delight, bartering with the stall holders, who are so friendly and chatty, it is such fun. One of my best memories is of being chased across the sand by a young man swinging a beautiful turquoise necklace, all the way back to the coach, where I finally gave in and bought it, even though at the start I had no intention of buying it. Now I love the necklace and its fun memories! None of this was in any way threatening and my friend & I ended up with five Cleopatra wigs and three Cleopatra bags amongst other things. Such fun! I love Egypt! Eventually it was time for the long drive back to the coach and the Jade before she sailed.
Malta. Valletta is a very beautiful harbour to sail into and we were up on deck to view the mellow stone of the impressive, huge Bastions of Valletta as we sailed in. Once again we took the ship's tour and enjoyed walking in Valletta and hearing the history of the Island and Knights of Malta from our guide. We also went in the Magisterial Palace, St John's Cathedral, St Paul's Cathedral and to Mdina the Silent City. We really loved seeing the works of art and many historical artefacts in these places as well as seeing the beautiful buildings. It could have been a let down after Egypt but it wasn't and we really enjoyed our time spent there.