We have just completed our seventh cruise with NCL and it was our third time on the Jade. Combined with 4 cruises on other lines, for a total of 11 cruises, I feel qualified to make a review.
We choose NCL because of its freestyle concept. Take note: FREESTYLE does NOT mean FREE!! Freestyle applies most commonly to the dining experience. You can choose the time at which you have supper and you choose whether you share a table with others. In the main dining rooms, dress is resort casual (i.e. no jeans, shorts, t-shirts or sandals, and definitely no bathing suits) at dinner time, so, gentlemen, you can leave your tux or suit and ties at home, and, ladies, forget the fancy evening gown, shoes and handbags. You simply don't need any of it unless you WANT to wear it.
We also choose NCL because of the people who work on board. We have always had truly outstanding service from our waiters and stateroom attendants, and this trip was no exception, The Reception Desk staff also gave us tremendous service. In fact, every crew or staff member we encountered gave us great service. We were greeted with smiles from every employee we encountered on board. I don't understand why so many people complain about the terrible service they get on NCL ships; we've always found it professional, courteous and friendly. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for other cruise lines we've sailed with, however.
As on other cruise lines I've cruised with, there are specialty restaurants and they, like NCL, have nominal fees. Those fees cover the main menu, and if you want something a little more extravagant from the same menu a surcharge may apply. Alcohol is never included, and tips are not included. Specialty coffees may not be part of the price, and in fact, any alcohol, soft drinks or specialty coffees that you order anywhere on the ship are at an extra charge. If you read the information on the NCL site, in the brochure, or on the menu itself (they are available at the reservations desk for you to read and they are on display in the Crystal Atrium and near Teppanyaki) you will find this information in clear black-and-white print. No surprises.
Your cruise cost includes your accommodation on board, and includes meals you have in the main dining rooms, the Blue Lagoon and Garden Cafe. Room service is also included, but it is a good idea to tip the waiter/waitress who brings it to you stateroom. The cruise fare never includes alcohol, soft drinks or specialty foods/coffees anywhere on the ship. At dinner, certain juices, such as cranberry juice, may be an extra charge. Cruise fare does not include your airfares, pre- or post-cruise hotels, or transfers between the airport and hotels to the ship, unless you book a package that includes these items. All of this is clearly explained on the site and in the brochure, but you must take the time to read it. Your travel professional should also be able to provide this information to you, but you may have to ask for it.
NCL, like all cruise lines, offers shore excursions, spa/salon, photo and laundry services among others. As with other cruise lines, NCL charges for these services, so NCL is not out of line in doing so. How much you pay varies from company to company, but no one obliges you to buy anything on-board. It is your choice, so you can't complain about what you spend.
Keep in mind that your cruise, regardless which company you cruise with, becomes expensive due to your purchases on board. I know people who've spent over $US1200 on alcohol alone during their cruise. You can join them, or you can keep onboard expenses to a respectable minimum, or eliminate them altogether, by purchasing carefully and responsibly. No one forces you to buy anything on board, and no one scolds you if you don't. It isn't a fast-food restaurant that intimidates you into super-sizing. In this respect I am not a good client for cruise companies since I severely and radically keep such purchases to the absolute bare minimum, if I buy anything at all. To me, the point of cruising is to enjoy the ship and all it has to offer, and to visit the ports. I read the brochure and check the website, so I know what is included and what is not, and thus I make informed decisions about spending on board. Now you know, and now you, too, can make informed choices.
Everyone complains about the US$12 tip that is automatically charged to your on-board account each day. I have absolutely no complaints about it whatsoever. It saves me the trouble of calculating how much to tip and to whom I must give the tip. I usually tip individuals for the outstanding service they give in addition to the daily charge. Anyway, if you tip the traditional way, you'll pay that much or more, so why complain? To lower the tip rate is extremely cheap and petty, and not to leave tips at all is rude and inconsiderate. The choice is still up to you.
The food and beverage service I found to be top rate. Since I am on a sodium-free and cholesterol-free diet, the maitres d' and the chefs in the Grand Pacific were extremely accommodating in providing such a menu. Everything was excellent, and I am a particularly fussy eater anyway when it comes to food choices. So if I can find something good to eat, you can, too.
Except for "Elements!" I saw none of the shows. "Elements!" is essentially magic show meets Cirque-du-Soleil meets the ballet. It starts with sound effects for a thunder/lightning/rain storm. I was not particularly impressed by the show and found myself rather bored with it. I felt the magic show to be rather amateurish and it was easy to see how the "illusions" were performed. The dancers, though, did their best to save the show. It was the final number about winter and snow that really pulled the show together. It was more impressive that all the rest combined.
The Norwegian Jade began its career as the Pride of Hawai'i. In 2008 it was removed from its Hawai'ian runs, re-furbished and re-christened as the Jade. As of this writing, it sails the Mediterranean year-long. It has retained its original dEcor of Hawai'ian and Polynesian themes which are blatantly out-of-place where it sails. Once you get used to the Hawai'ian and Polynesian images on the exterior walls on Deck 7 and on the interior staircases, and throughout the Grand Pacific dining room as well as the oversized flowers above the elevators on Deck 7, you realize the dEcor of the ship is not what makes your cruise an enjoyable experience. It is every individual working on board from the wait-staff in the various restaurant venues to your stateroom attendants to Reception Desk staff to the casino staff along with every other employee that really make your stay on the ship the wonderful experience it should be. So, sit back, relax and enjoy your cruise, being thankful and appreciative that you can take such a vacation. Stop looking for things to complain about because you ruin your vacation and that of others; if you don't like it, don't cruise and don't travel - just stay home.
Our cruise was a 7-day Mediterranean, Barcelona round-trip. We ported in Monte Carlo, Livorno (the port for Florence and Pisa), Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), Naples and Palma de Mallorca. Five ports in 7 days becomes a little hectic, but we enjoyed our cruise anyway. We went ashore in all of the ports, mostly in the mornings, and spent the afternoons on the ship.
Monte Carlo is, in my opinion, worth visiting if only to see the beautiful homes, the marina, the palace and the church. Walking the quaint streets and stopping for a coffee and a croissant was charming, even in the rain. .From here you can take a train into France and stop at St-Tropez, Cannes or Nice. Or you can take a shore excursion to Eze and visit the perfume factory. Whatever you do, Monte Carlo is beautiful.
Livorno, our next port, is a gateway to Florence and Pisa. Having been to both places several times, we opted to stay in Livorno this time. There is very little to do here, in my opinion, so we spent our time walking around and shopping, which was our intention. If you choose to go to Florence, you can visit the Accademia di Belle Arte (book a tour to avoid the line-ups to enter), the home of Michelangelo's Statue of David. You can find replicas of the statue scattered throughout the city. Be sure to visit the Duomo, and if you go to the upper hills you can get some great photos of Florence. If you are looking for leather goods, anything from shoes to handbags to briefcases, this is the place to shop. It may be pricy, but the quality is worth it. You can also find extremely good quality shirts and ties here. In Pisa, be sure to visit the church and its Baptistry as well as the Leaning Tower. If the Tower is open, you can get some splendid shots of Pisa.
In Civitavecchia, we decided to take the train into Rome. The ticket cost is 9 euro which gets you return fare Civitavecchia to Rome. The same ticket allows you to take the bus and metro in Rome for an unlimited number of trips. It is an extremely good value for money. The must-sees here are Saint Peter's Basilica (for which I recommend a tour of some kind if you don't want to spend 3 hours waiting in line), Saint Peter's Square, the Coliseum and Circus Maximus among other sites.
Naples - what can I say? If you don't go to Sorrento, Capri or Pompeii, or visit the castle, or if you don't climb Vesuvius, being in Naples is, in my opinion, utterly a waste of time. There is absolutely nothing to see or do. Everything is under construction or ought to be, and it was exactly the same 4 years ago. On this visit, it was worse because there was a garbage collection strike (which we'd been warned about) and it was cold, windy and raining. We found what we were looking for and headed directly back to the ship, which is probably the best place to be.
Naples is one city where you have to be very careful, not only of pickpockets but of the drivers. It seems there is no traffic code, and if there is it is not respected. They will stop very short of hitting you if you are daring enough to try to cross a street. The driver will look at you as if he didn't see you and it wasn't his fault. But you must cross the streets if you want to get anywhere, so be warned.
To be fair, there are very few places in Italy that I truly like visiting. I chose this cruise not for Italy especially, but for Monte Carlo and Palma. Palma de Mallorca is typically Spanish and is strongly Catalan. It has some beautiful sites to see and just walking the streets is a fine way to spend your time.
In part I chose this cruise to be on a ship and I was extremely satisfied with that experience. Though we'd spent the month of February 2010 on this ship, it was a welcoming feeling getting back on-board. The check-in process was simple and smooth, and was handled very efficiently and very professionally by a pleasant young man named Pablo. After completing our check-in, Pablo directed us to the boarding area and we were able to board the ship immediately. As our stateroom was not yet ready (you can usually access your stateroom at about 2:30 pm), we went to Grand Pacific, one of the included dining rooms, for lunch. After lunch, we had about 30 minutes to wait for access to our stateroom, and we spent some of this time re-exploring the ship.
We really enjoy sailing on NCL, and we will be back on board another ship very soon. NCL caters to our needs and satisfies what we need in cruise ships.