My wife and I have just returned from a 9 day cruise on the Jade. Having read so many reviews we had some reservations about the quality we could expect especially as we had not sailed with NCL for about 10 years. This was down to no particular reason but at least we could form a comparison with Thompson;Princess; MSC (twice) ; Cunard (3 times)and P.O.
we boarded at Barcelona having arranged to spend an extra night there and wished it were 2! we stayed in the Hotel Rialto close to the Old Cathedral and for no apparent reason was given a suite which got the holiday off to a flying start!
Embarkation was smooth and efficient and we were shown to our cabin which was an outside on Deck 5. This was more than adequate with a welcome feature being the sliding doors in the very efficient shower and toilet areas. Bed was comfortable; TV a little antiquated but who really cares; and sufficient wardrobe/drawer space for our period on board.
The main reasons we chose NCL was the Freestyle culture which we hadn't previously experienced. Having been forced with the choice of either eating too early or too late on other cruise lines; and not always looking forward to yet another lecture from the resident bore at the dinner table we wondered how this style would suit us. Well it did!
There is a real sense of freedom to dine when you choose and we had no difficulty at breakfast;lunch or dinner of being offered a table for 2 as we requested. Our longest wait was about 3 minutes! One also quickly got used to the informality of dress though on a couple of nights people were invited to "dress-up" and we did but there was certainly not the pressure to conform as we have seen on other cruise lines. A far more relaxing and enjoyable environment.
We ate mainly in the Grand Pacific which compares favourably with anything we have experienced on other cruises. There was a good choice of dishes; the quality was excellent and the service friendly and efficient. We felt neither neglected or rushed.
We also had a couple of lunches in the buffet - a very wide choice;well presented though the usual problem in finding a table although the staff were very helpful in this regard.
We also tried the speciality restaurants on 3 occasions - twice in the Jasmine and one in the French. Food , particularly in the Bistro, was superb and no-one should be put-off by the additional tariff. If you reserve a table between 5.30 and 6.30 you can have a 2 for 1 offer and most people took advantage of this. We therefore booked for 6.30 and finished our meal by 8.30.
Wine can be expensive with the cheapest bottle being $28 plus 15% but you could have this on more than one night as the bottle is marked and reappears the following night at the restaurant of your choice. System worked very efficiently.
There was a wide variety of entertainment on board with the professional groups being just that. We went each evening to the Stardust Theatre -a quite magnificent theatre with tiered, comfortable seating and with 2 shows on 7 of the 9 nights more than sufficient room for everyone. The quality was first class with the Elements performance quite the most dramatic presentation I have ever seen on a cruise. Comparisons with the West End are quite valid! The Cruise Director Karen was , without doubt , the best we have seen on any cruise.
From a cruise company's viewpoint we are not good cruisers - we drink only modestly; we do not use the casino and have no interest in being photographed at all times of the day. Our expenditure in the on board shops is very limited and we took no tours on this occasion. We had previously visited all the ports on call - except Casablanca- and had done all the tours that were of interest. The ones on offer on the Jade did seem expensive and I did not recognise the rate of exchange they advertised when comparing dollars to sterling as anything I could get and this could be misleading particularly if you were booking a number of tours.
Overall the facilities on the Jade seemed to cater for all ages and interests. There were always plenty of loungers available on deck - I still remember my wife and I wandering round the QE2 trying to find deckchairs and having to visit the restaurants separately during the day to avoid the deckchairs disappearing!
All the staff were friendly, efficient, polite and seemed happier with their lot than I can remember on other cruise ships. I am not sure if this is linked to the system of gratuities -or service charges as described by NCL. There is no doubt that we Brits have a different mindset to "tipping" than our American cousins and I recognise that the Freestyle concept puts a different emphasis on who and how to reward. This is always very subjective but for my own part I felt comfortable in rewarding my 2 cabin stewards; rewarding outstanding service when I experienced it from individuals; and giving a contribution to the general fund which hopefully is divided amongst the rest of the crew. This is a different approach to the blanket service charge of $12 pppd recommended but I felt more at ease with my method. All this was agreed on the penultimate day of the cruise and was accepted in very good grace at the customer services desk.
In conclusion let me say how much we enjoyed this cruise. In many ways it has restored our faith in cruising as we were jaded by the regimented and (particularly with Cunard) hierarchical approach to cruising. As a result of our experience on the Jade, in future we would only consider the Freestyle way via NCL as it puts us more in control of our own holiday. I thorougly recommend NCL Jade to anyone wishing to have an enjoyable, fulfilling cruise with excellent value for money.