We are a family of five. The kids are 15, 12 and 10. We are avid cruisers (at least one or two a year). This is our first European cruise. For the most part we have been very loyal to NCL. This is our tenth NCL cruise. We have also sailed on Celebrity, Carnival, Holland America Royal Caribbean and some others that are no longer around. We are big fans of the Freestyle concept. We booked this cruise almost a year in advance and booked the flights seven months in advance.
I research everything in advance and greatly enjoy both cruise critic and trip advisor. I feel I owe it back to the online community to write reviews of our trips. I try to be as detailed as I can. Feel free to ask any questions.
Left from Nashville to Washington DC then onto New York's Kennedy airport for our transatlantic flight to Barcelona. We discovered shortly before leaving Nashville that our transatlantic flight was delayed by 90 minutes. This made a long travel day even longer. Five hours to kill at JFK. Can they really charge 5.00 for a deck of cards?
We took the Aerobus from the airport to Placa de Catalunya and walked the short one block to our apartment rented through Lovingbarcelona.com. We called the greeter prior to leaving the airport and when we arrived at the apartment it was still being cleaned from the prior guests. This was about 11 am and check in was not until 3 pm but they were kind enough to allow us to hang out and rest from the flight while they cleaned. I will say that I was worried about the rental apartment because you can never tell from photos as they can be very old. The photos were adequate representations of the apartment condition and we were very pleased with the overall experience. It was a great price and great location for the five of us. Three bedrooms, living room, kitchen , etc on the fourth floor. Wifi, DVD player, everything we needed for our three day stay. About 450 Euros.
After resting for a while, we walked through the Barri Gotic and had our first dinner in Spain at Taller de Tapas. Very good food, but kind of pricy at about 80 euros for dinner.
On our second day, we woke up two hours late but caught the metro from Placa de Catalunya to Placa de Espanya. (bought the Trans Montserrat tickets the day prior at the tourist information center). From there we caught the hourly FGN train to Montserrat where we took the Aeri car to the mountaintop. This was an amazing experience with incredible views. The train ride to Montserrat was about an hour and the Aeri car about five minutes. We walked around, had lunch in the cafeteria (which was quite reasonable in price) explored the Basilica and then took the funicular to another mountaintop with even better views. This was all included in our ticket price. Including travel, we spent about seven hours on this excursion and it was well worth it. After arriving back in BCN we walked around and did some shopping. Had dinner at Pans & Company, a local fast food chain that serves baguette sandwiches. This was an inexpensive meal.
On our third day, the kids wanted to go to a beach, so we walked from Catalunya to the beach adjacent to Barceloneta. A long walk but very enjoyable down Las Ramblas. The water was rough but the kids enjoyed playing in the surf and giggled at occasional boobies walking by. Their first experience with a topless beach. After ninety mins or so we walked bAck up Las Ramblas, had lunch at a small cafe, then caught the #24 bus hoping to go to Parc Guell. We ended on on the wrong direction and soon came to the termination of the route. The driver made us pay another fare to go back the other way (on the same bus). This added about forty mins to our trill, but we eventually made it to Parc Guell where we walked around and looked at the Gaudi architecture for about an hour. From there we walked about 800 meters downhill to the Lisseps metro stop and caught the metro back to the apartment. Thanks to the good advice in taking the bus to Parc Guell, we saved a horrendous walk uphill.
The following morning we said goodbye to our apartment and walked from Placa Catalunya to the bottom of Las Ramblas where we caught the cruise ship shuttle for two euros per person. Not a bad walk normally, but it was raining and we were loaded down with luggage, sodas and wine purchased at Cortes Ingles for the cruise. In hindsight, a couple of taxis would had bend better. But hey, we saved about sixty euros.
We arrived at the port, checked in through the suite checkin line and we were escorted to a waiting room where we were introduced to the concierge Monica and our butler Arnie. This was our first suite experience, and I must say, it is amazing how different you are treated being a suite passenger. We were escorted to the room by Arnie
Category AB Penthouse
This is an amazing room, especially for a family of five. 450 something square feet, two bedrooms, one with a large bed for two, and the other with a double and an upper bunk. The kids bedroom was complete with closet space, television, bathroom, shower, etc. There was a living room with large couch, large flat panel tv, DVD player, a dining area with a bar, Lavazza expresso machine, refrigerator. The master suite had an amazing bathroom with a full size tub overlooking the ocean, a separate shower, also overlooking the ocean. The shower had all of the different sprayers and nozzles to wash all those body parts. Full vanity with double sink and Elemis toiletries. After experiencing this suite, I am not sure we can ever return to a regular stateroom.
Cagneys Restaurant for suite breakfasts and lunches.
In my opinion, this is probably the greatest suite perk available. We tried to take advantage every chance we could. He steak (filet mignon) and eggs for breakfast was the best. Lunch was equally wonderful.
We arrived in Monaco about thirty mins late due to rough seas. In all our years of cruising, this was by far the roughest seas ever. Tropical storm force seas and winds. Many passengers and even crew getting sick. They even had concerns that we would not be able to dock. We were among the first off the ship and we had pre arranged a private tour with Sylvie DiCristo who met us promptly at the Stars and Bars restaurant. We shared the tour with three others we met on CC to save costs. The weather greatly Improved throughout the day, but was still windy and chilly. We toured many off the beaten paths areas of the French Riviera including Eze, Cannes and Nice. Sylvie took us to a Creparie in Eze for lunch. I didn't have the heart to tell her, but it was simply mediocre and way over priced. Come on...over sixty euros for four crepes and five drinks??? We had a wonderful time with Sylvie and all in our party agreed it was as if a close friend or family member was showing you around their town. This was a bit on the expensive side bit worth it in my opinion especially since we have never been to this area. Sylvie has us back to this ship about ninety minutes before departure.
Livorno (Pisa and Florence)
We had pre arranged all of our Italian port tours through Rome in Limo and found tour mates through cruise critic. We were given a fifty euro discount in each port since we booked all three ports with them. Our driver Giovanni (who introduced himself as John ) was waiting for us when we disembarked. He was well presented as was his eight passenger Mercedes van. He also used a mic so those in the back seats could hear well. His English was very good and he was very personable. Honestly after reading the reviews, I was expecting so much more. He dropped us off in the Square in Pisa and gave us thirty mins to look around. He didn't explain anything about the area or much about what building was what. Nor did he offer to get tickets to climb the tower or anything else that I've read about in the reviews. This was a bit disappointing. After Pisa we drove to a small olive oil plant and gift shop and then on to Florence. Again, he dropped us off in a square with little explanation. He tried to take us to a restaurant in one of the main tourist squares, but as we were entering, I noticed that the prices were 14 euros a plate and a couple of us asked if we could eat in a non tourist area. John agreed and took us to a nearby restaurant that was much more reasonably priced at 8 euros a plate. John just dropped us off and didn't spend much time explaining the Italian menu. Luckily the waiter was able to explain most things even though he had difficulty. Our guide didn't stick around. From lunch we went to the main plaza in the Duomo area and again John just dropped us off leaving us an hour to explore on our own. As I am writing this we have just completed our third day, and maybe I was just expecting too much from Rome in Limo. The next two days will be the true test as we experience Rome and Naples with other Rome in Limo guides.
It was still a very nice day in Italy. The weather was perfect!
After a wonderful breakfast at Cagneys we headed out to meet our Rome in Limo tour guide. He was waiting with a sign just off the gang way. Mauro was an older gentleman and we greatly enjoyed our day with him. I am amazed on how much know knowledge of the Roman Empire he has. He zigged and zagged throughout the backstreets of Rome avoiding as much traffic as he could. We opted for the Ancient Rome tour skipping a tour of the Vatican. No one in our group was catholic so we did not want to spend much time there. (our tour did take us to Vatican city and we were able to spend some time in St. Peters square. By the way, the trip from the ship to Rome was about one hour fifteen minutes. We got to see all of the ancient sites Inc,using the catacombs, (5 euros pp), and the coliseum (12 euros pp). The guide was able to buy the tickets for us, and we skipped the massive entrance lines walking right in. Not sure of the name of the restaurant we were taken to, but I know it was right off of Vatican City and it translated to "the Popes restaurant". Mauro ordered for us and from what I understand the price was a single pp price and Included wine, many appetizers, two different pizzas and two different pastas. Topped off with the traditional lemoncello. A little bit of sticker shock when the bill came because we really had no idea. The price was 22 euros per person or 110 for our family Including kids. Yes, the kids were served wine AND lemoncello. When in Rome... (you know the rest). It was a fantastic meal and we were able to experience many traditional roman dishes. Surely our most expensive meal so far though. The weather today was absolutely wonderful. Cool, but not cool enough for a sweater. As I sit here on the balcony writing this review it looks as if a storm is headed in. By the way, there are eleven cruise ships docked here today. I understand from the butler that this is a lot even for this port.
I am amazed in the driving ability of our driver Mauro. I cannot imagine even attempting to navigate the streets of Rome as an American driver. Pedestrians everywhere. I guess the custom is that if they don't get out of the way, you just bump them and they will move as we saw Mauro do once. Can you imagine that in the US? You'd have three ambulances and three lawyers there handing our business cards.. Mauro says Naples is even worse....
I guess I didn't mention it earlier, but there was a lot chatter on the boards about pickpockets, both in Barcelona and Rome. While I did see some people I thought may be up to something, we didn't have any problems at all. I carried a pac safe metrosafe bag on my belt as well as a money belt. Also carried a pacsafe backpack in barcelona. I consider myself pretty vigilant and we had no problems. I am sure the problem exists, but I wouldn't stress over it or let it ruin your trip. Just be aware of your surroundings, especially when using an ATM. I did notice a lot of police presence just about everywhere we went including even a police dog on the metro in Barcelona
On board the Jade
Having the Penthouse Suite has caused us to spend a lot of time in our suite. We are in day four of the cruise and we have yet to Attend any of the entertainment so I cannot comment on that. So far we have had dinner served in the suite once from the MDR. We also had dinner at the Asian fusion restaurant. I had loads of sushi which was fantastic, and my wife had the spicy lamb, also one of her favorites there. Last night after, after a big lunch we opted for tapas at the tapas bar. Also very good and free with the price of a couple of drinks. We have gotten snacks from The garden cafe a couple of times and it also was fine. No complaints at all regarding the food so far. (my reviews are often pretty critical of the food as this is one our favorites parts of cruise vacations). So, safe to say, the food on board has been very good.
Another thing I will mention is the overall attitude of the crew. All we have encountered have been extremely friendly making every attempt to learn our names. I haven't noticed this on previous cruises, so I am guessing this has something to do with being in a suite.
One thing I should probably mention is that for on board purchases, there is an 8% Spanish tax on all food purchases and restaurant cover charges. All other purchases from the shops, etc have a 17% tax added. The cruise line has nothing to do with this. I am told that when the Jades itinerary changes in a couple weeks, this tax will go away. Something to do with visiting a non EU country during the cruise.
Naples (Pompei, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast and Positano)
We docked very early in Naples at 7am, so we had breakfast delivered to our suite at 615am. It was a little rainy when we first disembarked, but quickly cleared up into another beautiful day. We had to walk a little bit to meet our guide Tony. Again, Rome in limo didn't disappoint. Tony was very personable and thoughtful. He had us well stocked with water, some Italian snacks and some post card books. He was the only one of our three guides to supply us with any water or snacks in fact, when The day was done, he gave each party a bottle of lemoncello as a gift. This was very thoughtful and so appreciated.
To start off our day we headed to the ruins of Pompei. We got there a few mins before it opened. We opted to tour own our own as a private guide was an additional 100€ above the 11€ entrance fee. They also rent audio guides to use as well. I saw one woman who apparently downloaded a guide on her iPod and was using that. That is a brilliant idea I wish I had looked into. Anyway, this site was fantastic and all of us including the kids enjoyed it. I am amazed on just how large and well preserved the site is. You can really get lost in the ancient streets. We spent two hours wandering along a route recommended by the guide.
After Pompei, we headed for Sorrento (where our guide Tony was from). We stopped a couple of times for photos. Just like being in a post card. Truly amazing to see arriving in Sorrento, Tony dropped us off and allowed us one hour to walk around before meeting at a pizzeria restaurant he recommended and made reservations for us. The cost of lunch this time for the five of us (four pizzas and a salad with bottled water, bread and lemocello) was 48€.
After lunch we headed for the Amalfi Coast (about twenty mins) and to Positano. Again, more stops for photos and some fruit along the way. Once in Positano, Tony dropped us off as close as he could to the beach and allowed us about thirty mins to walk around. The drive back to Naples took abider seventy minutes or so. Everyone was exhausted fro the day of exploring. This was a wonderful day and a great job by Tony and Romeinlimo. My wife enjoyed Rome the best. My vote is for this day. Incidentally, we didn't spend any time in or around Naples. Our guide highly recommended against it. He said the crime in the city and around the harbor has gotten very bad. We took his advice and passed on walking around the port area when we were dropped off.
All in all our experience with Romeinlimo was wonderful. Pricey yes, but worth it I suppose, especially being our first trip. All three drivers were very informative. Of course different personalities, but all good nonetheless.
It was a nice break having a day at sea before out last port. We needed rest. We had lunch in Cagneys and dinner in LeBistro. The food was terrific in both venues. Speaking of food, we also ate in the MDR and the food there was also good. So far, everywhere we ate the food was above par co paring to other NCL ships. The appetizers delivered to the cabin each day were not so good.. With the exception of the chocolate covered strawberries most selections were dry. Overall, we are very satisfied with the food on the Jade. You can always order something you don't care for, but they will gladly return it for another selection. Tonight we will try the Tex Mex restaurant as the coupon fro. Lebistro covers one cover charge.
Entertainment on board.
It is unusual for us, but we didn't experience much of the entertainment on this cruise. In fact, couldn't even tell you about the cruise director. I know her name is Jill, but that is all I can say about her. My wife watched the Spanish dance team a couple of nights ago and commented that they were excellent. I will say this however, the main production show titled "the Elements" is NOT to be missed. We've been on alot of cruises, and this show is probably one of the best, if not THE best we have experienced. Be sure to get there early and get a seat close to the front center. Absolutely fantastic! We didn't take oart in the bingo or other of these types of things. Nor did we set foot in the spa or gym this time around. Sorry, can't comment on those things this time .
Palma de Mallorca
The ship arrives very early and we were among the first off at about 7 am. We walked the decent distance to get out of the port area. We took the local bus and did not opt for the NCL shuttle which was ten dollars per person. You can walk right out of the main doors and there is a city bus stop. 1,25€ pp for the ride to placa Espanya where we caught he 8am train to Soller. This was a great experience. The train takes you first throughout the flat lands then up into the mountains and through many tunnels. Some incredible views. The train was empty and we had a carriage all to ourselves. The journey takes about an hour. In my opinion, o e of the highlights of the trip. Once arriving in Soller, we walked through the very quaint village and this was what I believe to be a true feel of a Spanish village without any tourists or tourist traps. There were so e street vendors selling everything to clothing, handbags, fruits and vegetables and local artwork. After an hour or so, we took the tram to port de Soller which was about a fifteen minute trip. Also, very picturesque. We got off at the seaside and walked along the port for a while. After exploring, we caught the TIB number 211 bus back to Palma. This was about a forty minute return trip which costs only 2,90€ pp. After returning to Palma we walked around for another hour or so before re boarding the Jade for our journey back to Barcelona.
We are told that you can begin self debarkation as early as 5:15 am, so I am thinking we should be fine for our 10am flight home. We plan on getting off by 6 and hoping our pre arranged transfer is waiting for us.. If not, I don't plan to wait around for them, and we will just take a taxi or two if necessary.
We self disembarked and walked off about 6am. Our pre arranged transfer through A2B Transfers did t show and we waited until 6:35. We ended up taking two taxis (because the wouldn't accommodate the five of us in a taxi van, four is the limit). We were at the airport In twenty minutes and through the long check in line at Iberia by 730. Needless to say we had plenty of time to make our 10 am flight. In fact, Iberia put us on a 930 flight to allow more time in Madrid to make the connection. Our flight from Madrid to Dallas left a few mins late because an elderly woman refused to move from her exit row seat, but made up the time in the air. It was a very long travel day, but made it home around midnight. All in all about 25 hours of travel.
In closing, the only real surprise is just how expensive everything is all through the ports we visited More so than i really expected We had a wonderful time though. Truly an amazing experience. Hats off to the officers and crew of the Jade. Once again, NCL didn't disappoint Already looking forward to our cruise on the Pearl in the Spring