They called it "The Best of the Mediterranean" . . . . and with good reason. The cruise started in Barcelona and ended in Venice. Along the way it included port calls in places that had known thousands of years of civilization. There were world-class museums, great food, spectacular scenery, and a kaleidoscope of cultures. To us, it sounded marvelous! We booked the cruise and began the countdown.
We spent the year between booking and embarkation researching and planning. We joined our roll call and found ourselves corresponding and collaborating with a wonderful group of folks. We shared research, organized tours and events, traded money-saving tips, and watched the clock count down. Before we knew it, the year was gone and we were on our way.
Our flight arrived in Barcelona ahead of schedule. In almost no time, we were through immigration, had gathered our luggage and were on our way to the Hotel Jazz. Our room was clean, quiet and reasonably priced. Within a 5-minute walk were ATMs, coffee shops, and a variety of eateries. We spent 2 days sightseeing. A sizeable part of that time was spent high atop the Ho-Ho Bus, listening to the commentary via sporty teal headphones and getting off from time to time to visit the sights that interested us. The night before embarkation, we met some roll-call friends at Tablao de Cordobes for a pre-cruise event that included dinner and a traditional flamenco show.
The next day we arrived at the port for what had to be the one of the easiest embarkations ever. We dropped off our bags, checked in, received our key cards, and were soon on our way up the gang plank. We dropped off our carry-ons with the attendant and set off for a leisurely lunch in the Grand Pacific.
We thought the food on the Jade was good. We ate most of our meals in the Grand Pacific, but occasionally tried Alizar's, the Blue Lagoon, the Great Outdoors, and the Garden Cafe. Whenever the Garden Cafe was congested, we would take our plates to Papa's Italian kitchen (designated as overflow seating) where the ambience was less frenzied. We enjoyed our meal in Le Bistro and thought Paniolo's was great. We met some roll-call friends for food and fun one evening in Teppanyaki.
Our balcony stateroom was very comfortable. Our stewards, Roger and Shiella, kept it very clean and were very responsive to any special requests. We had volunteered our cabin for the Cruise Critic cabin crawl (an absolute blast!) and Roger and Shiella went out of their way to make sure our cabin sparkled before the tour. They also emptied the mini-fridge so we could fill it with cans of soft drinks and they kept our ice bucket filled. We were delighted whenever the occasional towel animal greeted us in the evenings after turn-down.
Overall, we thought the entertainment was pretty good. Elements, the crown jewel in the line-up, was astounding; it was simply the best show we have ever seen afloat and deserves all the critical acclaim it has received. Other shows deserving an honorable mention include Duo Volgyi (an aerialist performance), the multi-instrumentalist Andy Bunger, and the formulaic-but-fun production of Showdown.
There were several other shows that were good, but with a little "tweaking" they could have been great. The Maestranza Spanish Ballet mixed traditional flamenco dancing with Las-Vegas-style pizzazz; the costumes were beautiful and the performers seemed skilled, but there just wasn't enough of a "gee-whiz" factor to deliver a punch. I found myself wishing that NCL had arranged instead for a more traditional flamenco performance in a smaller, cabaret-style setting. The Turkish folk-dancers were quite nice, but the belly dancer that followed them should have been encouraged to perform a less risquE routine during the 7:30 show while there were children in the audience.
The cruise itinerary itself turned out to be a little challenging. A month before embarkation, NCL cancelled the port call for Alexandria, Egypt and replaced it with Istanbul. The revised itinerary resulted in 5 consecutive days of port calls. Most of the shore excursions required a significant amount of walking up-and-down hills and over uneven pavement to see the ancient places in these ports. The result was a very exhausting 5 days. In the evenings during this period, the ship seemed quiet, the public areas were noticeably empty and there appeared to be lots of room service trays being delivered.
On this cruise, we didn't take any NCL-sponsored shore excursions. We've taken NCL tours in the past and enjoyed them; for this cruise, however, we decided private tours were the best option. Many of the places we were planning to visit had traffic restrictions; in some places only small vans were allowed into the historic areas. We didn't want to spend precious minutes walking into the historic areas from an outlying parking lot when we could be dropped off right at the door.
When we arrived in Venice, we found disembarkation to be easy. We got up early, ate breakfast, and then with coffee cups and cameras in hand, climbed up to the Jade's Freestyle Deck to watch the sail-in. We found many of our roll-call friends were already there, positioned along the rail, cameras in hand. Being up so high gave us a unique perspective on Venice and we snapped photo after photo as we sailed past the city to the port. We returned to our stateroom, grabbed our carry-on bags, and headed down to the atrium to wait for our color to be called.
Self-disembarkation was not allowed in Venice on our sailing. When our color was called, we crossed the gangway and then took an elevator to the ground level. Except for a minor bottleneck at the elevators, things moved pretty quickly. We soon located our luggage, and were off to find the People Mover. A short while later, we arrived at the Piazzale Roma, bought a high-quality map of Venice, purchased our vaporetto passes and were on our way.
We arrived at the Ca' San Giorgio (our B&B) less than an hour after leaving the ship. The two sisters who ran this family-owned business for their parents welcomed us as if we were long-lost family members.
We stayed in Venice, sightseeing for 3 days. Our strategy was to simply make a list of our priorities and check things off as we saw them. Basically, we walked to a site and if it looked overly crowded, we went somewhere else. On Saturday, we stayed away from the crowds in San Marco and visited the less-popular (but still spectacular) Frari Church. Sunday was rainy so we visited the Accademia and the Correr Museum. On Monday morning we visited the Doge's Palace and San Marco. In between these sights, we walked around and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of Venice. Before we knew it, it was time to go home. We said goodbye (with hugs and kisses) to our hostesses, took the No. 5 bus to the airport, boarded our flight, and returned home.