We are not super wealthy and we saved a lot in order to be able to afford this awesome 12-day cruise and the flights. Thus, we didn't have time to see any of Barcelona's beautiful sights. We left the US on March 26 and arrived in Barcelona early on March 27. We'll go through each section of interest one by one.
We arrived at the airport early (about 9 am) and we got through immigration easily. We took a cab to the pier. It was about 30 Euro, cheaper than purchasing NCL's transfer. One of us is a fluent Spanish speaker, so it was not a problem. The weather was cloudy, but not too cold. Since we arrived so early, the check-in counters were not staffed yet. At about 10 am they opened up. We easily registered and checked in (we had our online check in information pre-filled) - documents in hand.
Then we waited until about noon before we were able to board. We were jet lagged and tired, but we were very happy with how smoothly it went. Luckily, we embarked so quickly that we even avoided the dreaded embarkation pictures.
OVERVIEW OF PASSENGERS
It seemed to us that about 40% of the passengers were from the U.S. Another 20% or so were from Canada. The rest were German, Spanish, French and British.
The average age of the US passengers was much older than that of non-US passengers, probably in the 60s or older range. This is easy to explain; the US is not as generous as its Canadian and European counterparts as far as vacation benefits go. The younger folk tended to be Canadian or European.
RUDENESS OF PASSENGERS
This was not a common problem. We witnessed just a couple of bad examples at one of the main dining rooms (Alizar) where a very demanding table was treating the waitstaff like dirt and we did say something.
But, on the whole, such displays of rudeness were rare as far as we saw.
We have sailed on very large megaships and smaller ships, and we really liked the size of the Jade. It was easy to find all the venues, restaurants and public areas.
We initially purchased an inside stateroom. Then, when prices drastically went down, we called NCL and were upgraded to a balcony. We were on deck 9. We enjoyed the balcony very much, though some of the passengers like to smoke on their balconies and the smell wafts through.
Everything was very well taken care of. The bedding was comfortable and nice. Storage space was plentiful. There is a soap dispenser on the sink and a shampoo/body lotion dispenser in the shower. We loved this, so we didn't have to bring our own travel-size bottles.
Our room stewards, Sandy and Shirkanth, were exceptional. We saw them a lot and talked to them a lot. We think that being friendly to the staff goes a long way to ensure that everything will go smoothly.
We are not demanding people and we are not snobs; we were certainly not above talking to the staff who, more often than not, proved to be very receptive to friendly chit chat.
There is a minibar in the cabin that contains a few alcoholic items, water, etc. We are big sparkling water drinkers so we used up a San Pellegrino and it was $5.95 including the 18% automatic gratuity.
SHIP'S PUBLIC AREAS, BARS, LOUNGES, THEATRE
We are not big alcohol drinkers so we never really stopped at one of the many bars except for one time at the Aloha Bar, right on Deck 7 as you board the ship, to have a cappuccino.
We enjoyed the Medusa Lounge, the Spinnaker Lounge, the Arcade and the Stardust Theater (shows are a separate topic).
SHIP'S FOOD AND DINING OPTIONS
We really liked the Freestyle Cruising way of NCL - not having a set dinner time was really helpful especially when we met with our new friends or if we were late getting back aboard after a port stop.
A word about food - food is subjective, of course. We are not food snobs, but one of us is an Italian from a city in Italy - Bologna - that is well known for its cuisine. In other words, we can tell when something is good and well prepared and when something is not. We like filet mignon, but we also like sandwiches.
All but one of our breakfasts we had on Deck 12 at the buffet. We enjoyed the variety and choices - all sorts of egg concotions, meats, fruits, cereal, pastries, etc. We really don't know how anyone could not find something to eat.
Our one breakfast in the Pacific Dining Room was just as good as the buffet.
All but one of our lunches at sea were at the buffet and again we always found something we liked. We enjoyed our lunch in the Pacific Dining Room. The steak and cheese was really good.
Most of our dinners were either at the Pacific or the Alizar dining rooms. Both offer the same menu and there is no extra charge. Again, we found the food to be of very good quality (considering there are about 2000 people on board).
We went to the French restaurant, Le Bistro, twice. We loved it. It was well worth the cover charge. Presentation and the food were exceptional. We had foie gras, scallops, coq au vin, porc au romarin, filet de boeuf, creme brulee, chocolate fondue for two and chocolate napoleon. We had San Pellegrino to accompany our dinner. We always left an extra gratuity for the wonderful waitstaff.
We went one night to Papa's Italian Kitchen. It was ok, not great. The food is not really Italian - but more akin to an Italian-American version. Still, we left an extra gratuity for the waitstaff who was great.
SHOWS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Karen was the cruise director. She's since left the Jade for a brief vacation and will be the Epic's cruise director when she returns. I thought she did a marvelous job, as did the cruise staff - Senad, Vicki, Chelo, etc. These people work hard and it shows, but they also have fun. They are also talented - Senad performed at the last night's crew show and he certainly has musical talent.
We thought the NCL show "Elements" was spectacular. Modelled after Cirque du Soleil, it featured magic, creative costuming and scenery and lots of acrobatics. Other shows featured excellent acrobatics and vaudeville/circus gymnastics. All the performers were excellent. We didn't go to one of the shows - "Shout!" - since it was not our cup of tea. There was a British comedian who was also good and a very talented virtuoso violinist - Nicola Loud - who was superb. Most of the shows tended to be visual in order to satisfy the needs of the multilingual passengers aboard. On the last night, the crew had its own show. There are many talented crew members on board.
There were activities to do throughout the day, from bingo to dance lessons to trivia. In short, it was impossible to get bored.
One of us is a spa addict. She had the seaweed treatment, a reflexology treatment and a Ionithermie treatment. All of them were expensive but she enjoyed them all. The spa personnel was not too pushy on after-treatment purchases.
Although we understand NCL's policy of adding $12 per person per day, we felt too unsure that that money would actually go to the people who provided us with great service. On the last sea day, we went to take the charges off. Although the NCL staff really wants you to keep them on, we finally got them taken off. We tipped our waitstaff in the Pacific - Fabrizio and Abhilasha - and our housekeeping staff - Shirkanth and Sandy - ourselves. They were very happy.
Towel animals - we only saw two. To be honest, we don't give a crap about towel animals. Some fellow passengers were acting like the lack of towel animals was a grave deficiency on the part of NCL.... sigh.
Food complaints - US passengers complained about small portions (more like European sized portions) and that the food was too European... sigh.
Show complaints - again, US passengers complained they didn't want acrobats or vaudeville acts, that they were 'lame'... another sigh.
Diversity - it was a very diverse cruise. Few children, but certainly lots of different people of all colors and nationalities on board. Quite a few GLBT couples as well and, as far as we saw, we didn't witness any discrimination against them (we are not GLBT, but we are definitely GLBT friendly) by passengers or staff.
Enrichment - few educational activities on board except for dance lessons or napkin folding. But that's ok. It's hard to do with a multilingual ship.
Casino - didn't go.
Kids' areas - didn't go.
Pool - most of the times, too cold to go.
Gym - one of us was there running everyday. Machines in perfect shape.
Though it's a coed bath, women are separated from the men. We definitely thought the hamam was the one experience we will remember most fondly. The architecture inside the hamam, which was built in 1589, is exquisite. There are different types of service options, but most opted the 'traditional' which includes 15 minutes of scrubbing the skin (using a special sponge) and 15 minutes of washing/shampooing. Men wear a little cloth around the waist. Women wear just a pair of plastic underwear. If you're prudish around nudity, then perhaps this is not your place. If you're an adventurous traveler, do not miss the hamam experience.
Istanbul - day 2 Our friends had once again arranged a private tour of Istanbul - the hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace, with the addition of the underground cisterns. The places were amazing and the architecture, art and history were superb. A lot of people, especially US citizens, are afraid of venturing out to countries like Turkey, thinking they are backwards. Very far from the truth - Istanbul is just like any other European metropolis. Although Islam is prevalent, the government is strictly secular. Some women wear hijabs, some wear chadors, but most women were just like any other ladies in any other big city - fashion conscious, slim, hip. The cisterns were amazing and certainly recommended. We had dinner in a Turkish restaurant that was recommended in a Rick Steves or Lonely Planet guide (can't remember which) - it was delicious and inexpensive. Weather was cloudy and definitely on the colder side.
After the tour was over, we explored Valletta on our own. We visited St. John's Co-Cathedral where we saw Caravaggio's masterpieces - the Beheading of St. John and St. Jerome. One of us, however, though the overly Baroque and ornate architecture were a bit too much, while the other one loved it. Weather was warm and sunny.
Rome is exceedingly easy to do on your own and doing that saves a lot of money.