Norwegian Jade -- 9 Days Barcelona to the Canary Islands
Coming from New York I'm one of those people that constantly dream of or seek the sun during the winter. As I stuck around town during the cold for the past few years I've made a valiant attempt to shirk the chill the past few months by heading to what I hope to be warmer climes. Hence I'm back on the lovely Norwegian Jade, this time debarking out of Barcelona. My first time on this ship was in November of 2011 on the last cruise right before she went into dry dock. Making the choice to go back on here was definitely due to the fact that I enjoyed myself the first time around. So here's my take on what's currently happening, and hopefully it'll help those still debating which ship to go on in the near future.
Embarkation: I arrived early, around 1pm and there was absolutely no line at all. I checked in, walked onto the ship and had lunch all in about 15 minutes time.
Ship: I'm a fan of the Jewel class ships, but as they're the only ones I've ever taken on NCL I have nothing to compare them to, so I won't say much on this. I enjoy the general size of the ship. It is truly huge (something my cab driver mentioned as she dropped me off in front of it) but inside it feels warm and cozy. Nothing ever feels too far away even if you really did walk 1/3 of a mile and 4 flights to get to it. I like that, I think that a ship should have an inviting quality to it. It should encourage you to join it as much as admire it, which I feel the Jade and her sister ships do.
Stateroom: I stayed in 8592 which is one of the vertical facing rooms in line with the ship. It's a partially blocked ocean view, but unlike some other partially blocked there was a good view from it, so it did more then bring in daily sunlight which is my only requirement when it comes to a stateroom. It might be my imagination but it feels roomier than the horizontal facing rooms, but that could just be due to the slightly different layout.
Staff and Crew: Fortunately or unfortunately for me I realize that I'm turning into one of those people that are going to seek to sail on certain ships when certain people are there. I used to think people like that were being a tad overly dramatic. After all, isn't a cruise what you make of it? Yes it is, but there are those whose personalities shine for one reason or another, so much so that the thought of knowing they'll be there on your next vacation makes it seem that much more special. On the Jade there are several people that I hope to run into again but I'll mention 2 here. Cruise Director Gary Glading and Concierge Carlos Zarate.
Anyone that's met Gary knows that he's quite possibly found a way to alter the laws of physics and be in about 3 places at once. I can't say for sure, but it seems that way. Besides having his finger on the pulse on all the activities on the ship, his personable manner, love of animals (he runs a shelter for them in Italy), knowledge of history and the fact that he speaks more languages then I can probably name, helps you to realize that he's a really warm hearted and multi-talented man while still being an approachable and fun Cruise Director.
Carlos draws you in from the moment that you meet him. He's welcoming, fascinating and helpful beyond compare. His reputation is well known. Before I came on this cruise another Cruise Critic member asked me to see if Carlos was on board for the January 31st sailing, and if he'd be there when that member will be sailing. The answers to both questions was yes, and those answers made the other member's day! Totally understandable. My goal is to get back on the Jade for a sailing in the summer and it's my hope that both Gary and Carlos will be there, because it just wouldn't be the same without them!
I honestly feel bad for not mentioning more people above, because I truly met and had a chance to speak to so many friendly likable people such as Brian Walters the Hotel Director, Deepa the Maitre D' at Jasmine and Teppanyaki restaurant, Clark the room steward (I was so happy to see him again!) as well as Captain Kim Karlsson who is friendly, patient and funny.
Food: Have you hugged your Head Chef today? You should if it's Hans-Peter. The only way I managed to stay ahead of gaining weight off of the delicious style of cooking he brings to the Jade is by dancing the night away for hours at a time and hitting the gym. I've read on the board that some people aren't fond of the food on the Jade. I don't know what they're used to eating, but I'm baffled. Everyone's tastes differ however so perhaps they didn't pick food off of menu that appealed to them. In which case try something else. The food is good.
I ate at the following restaurants:
Teppanyaki: My favorite fee restaurant on the Jewel class ships. Jerry the chef was a ton of fun, and that's great, but wouldn't matter if the food wasn't good. It was. Cooked just right. I was concerned that it might be overly salty but it wasn't. I had the Shrimp and Scallops. Grilled enough to keep the juices in it, but not undercooked. The mustard dipping sauce was a great choice with it. For desert I chose to have the Green Tea ice cream and cake. I have to admit it's strange looking, but it's delicious!
Moderno Churrascaria: I'm not normally a meat eater but I have to say that the food here was very tasty. Just smelling the various items brought to the table made my mouth water. I thought that I'd miss the Mexican place that this restaurant replaced, but in fact Moderno is a lot better. The flavors in the meats were intense without being harsh and the side dishes like the crispy fried banana were delicious as well. If you're a fan of Brazilian steakhouses you'll love eating here. The salad menu is vast as well.
Le Bistro (Jazz Lunch): If you've never tried Le Bistro I'd recommend going there for dinner, as there is food found on the menu that you don't find here for the lunch (like Escargot) however if you've been here before and want to enjoy the ambiance of this eatery during the day while listening to the live band the Jazz lunch is the way to go. It's a combo buffet and table service. You go up and choose the salad and dessert you'd like, however you pick your entree off of the menu. Add a Kir Royale and enjoy the french atmosphere.
Grand Pacific MDR: My favorite no fee restaurant. I was tempted to call this place Tsars each and every time, due to this restaurant having that name on the Norwegian Jewel. It is however the Grand Pacific and Grand it is. Walking down the red carpet into this dining room makes you feel like you're arrived to the event of the season, you can't help but want to look a bit more dressier than normal. There is a set menu and a menu that changes daily along with the Chef's special. When it comes to food I'm usually a creature of habit, so I ate the Salmon a few times and also had the Grilled Tuna. Absolutely delicious. In fact as I write this I'm thinking about both and am becoming realllllllly hungry.
Don't miss out on the Sherberts either. Not everyone can make a great sherbert, some are too icy, some are too sweet. These however have a good consistency and the flavors are piquant. My favorite is Coconut.
Garden cafe: the Garden Cafe is usually packed. With good reason. The food is delicious. It's easy to go over board (haha) and pick up everything that smells like it would make your gullet smile, but do yourself a favor and pace yourself.
On Board: I'm not a gambler, I don't play cards and I'm not big on pools (it was chilly) so what was there left for me to do you wonder? Everything else! I do enjoy dancing and nearly every night there was a themed dance taking place. The Hoedown following by 70's Night were two of my favorites, but by far one of the best is the White Hot Party.
I also attended dance classes, listened to Gary's informative talks on the Ports of Call, went to the spa (more on that below), caught up on reading, watched movies, did arts and crafts and more. There was plenty that I didn't do, so keep your Freestyle daily with you and I dare you to be able to attend and do all of the things that you're interested in.
Madeira: While waiting to disembark I met two nice women (sisters) from Ireland and we walked from the pier to the cable cars (about 1 mile) took them up sat down had an espresso, and then took the second set of cable cars down to the Botanical Gardens. Now while I do not have a fear of heights, dangling from a small box hanging on a wire 300 feet in the air isn't my idea a recreational pursuit, however considering that it was the easiest way of getting to the gardens and back I spent about a hour dangling in the air. I quickly got over my unease and began to take in the beauty of everything below.
The gardens are lovely, but I don't think I'd go to see them again. There's so much more to explore in Madeira and I plan on seeing more of the Island next time. If you like wicker go into the large indoor market in the city. Not only are the colors and sounds a feast for the eyes and ears but there is a small shop there that sells some of the prettiest wicker items. I'm a bag collector and so I had to pick one up. A small wicker bag around 8x12 inches was â‚¬12.50
Tenerife: For Tenerife I booked a ship's excursion that went to the Esperanza Forest over to the Pyramids of Guimar. After dancing in Spinnaker for about 3 or 4 hours the previous night I honestly was in no shape to be doing anything before Noon the next day. However I woke up in time for this tour and am glad I did. While I didn't find the "pyramids" especially interesting, (I'm a history buff, but I guess I was too tired to be inspired), I did really enjoy the drive through the forest. That area of the islands is a bit reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. It's a stunning panorama of green pine trees and red earth created by the fallen pine needles. It's definitely a spot I plan on getting back to in order to go hiking.
Side note: It's cool in the mountains, bring a sweater. You'll have a chance to sip on some Sangria after the tour. If you have to use the restroom when you first stop at the Guimar visitors center go into the center first and turn left. If you don't go inside first walk past the center and walk into the dining area go to the back and make a right.
Lanzarote: Oddly enough this was my favorite spot. Odd because quite frankly at first glance there's nothing in Lanzarote. It has a very barren open feeling. This landscape though is what makes it so appealing. I booked the ship's excursion and did the trek through Timanfaya National Forest. Well worth it! It's nearly a 4 mile hike, but with the undulation and gravel that has you slide back 1 foot for every two that you take up hill it feels more like 6 miles. When you get to the top of a hill you feel like you've landed on a distant planet, it's often said that it has a lunar landscape, but I lean more towards the words of our trek guide: "If you put a red filter on your camera you'll feel like you're in Mars!" The closest place that I'd liken it to is the Australian outback. Iron oxidation on some of the ground and lava formations give them a red glow that's similar to what's found in parts of Oz as well. Lanzarote is also warmer then the other places as it is only around 65 miles off of the coast of mainland Africa. I've every intention of going back there and spending a week or so doing hikes around the island. If you plan on going to Timanfaya take the tour excursion, don't wing it on your own.
Side note: The bathroom break comes at the end. Of course if you really have to go you there's usually a big piece of lava to hide behind. Just don't expect to find any trees, and for the love of all that is good and holy don't do it in a cave, other people will be hiking there after you!
Malaga: I took the ship's excursion to see Grenada and Alhambra Palace. If you love architecture, do not miss this place. Due to the distance from Malaga and the ship harbor (about 2 hours) I'd recommend taking the ship excursion here as well. The last thing you want to happen to is "miss the boat" and have to fly back to Barcelona instead of leisurely sail back for the next day and a half.
I'm not sure how to describe Alhambra, but as a lover North African and Middle Eastern design it was simply divine. The labyrinthine gardens and rooms, the intricacies of the painstaking form of the walls and especially ceiling left me in awe. It's well worth seeing more then once.
Just as fantastic is driving through the Andalusian region and the views of the Sierra Nevada. It's a place that I hope to go back to and spend some time driving through at a more leisurely pace in order to fully soak in the beauty of this country.
We had a tour guide that was also an archaeologist who was very obviously passionate about the Andalusian region, and rightly so. However...if you're a bit tired from dancing the hours away from the night before (have you noticed the recurring theme?) you might find it better to sit towards the back, discreetly put in some ear phones and cat nap. If you wait for a break in the discourse it could be a long time coming.
You'll have potty breaks along the way, we had 1 inbound and 2 outbound.
Shows: I spent so much time running around...okay eating and dancing mainly. That I missed most of them. I did see La Maestranza a Spanish dance show, the X Factor style one where the singers face off and the audience helps pick the winner and the Crew Show. I really and truly wanted to see Elements again, but I fell asleep early that evening. Truly though if there's one show you don't want to miss it's Elements. Everyone that saw it this time as well as last was raved about it. Get there early if you actually want a seat because it's reputation precedes it and the theater will be packed.
Interestingly the crew show was packed early as well on this sailing. It started at 8:30, I arrived at 8:15, there were only a few seats here and there to be found. So if you're interested in seeing it (and I would) plan to arrive in enough time to get a seat somewhere up front in the middle, so that you can soak in every bit of the end of the skit called Fountains :)
Spa: The last day of this cruise I decided to buy a day pass for the spa. I could kick myself. I can't believe that I've been missing out on the fun by not going to any either on sea or land before now. I arrived as soon as it opened so it was thankfully very quiet. I guess everyone was pooped from the past week's escapades. Like a kid in a candy shop I hopped from one thing to another trying out this and that. Sauna...."ooohh yes I like." Steamroom..."ohhhh I like this even better". Cold dipping bath. "Brrr Skip. I don't do cold." Showers, check. Whirlpool Jacuzzi..."lovely! And what a stunning view!" I look to the left and what do I see but a communal area for men and women with headed tile chairs and pool with a large seat in it where you can better appreciate the Jacuzzi bubbles, and again the view from the Spa is a sight to behold. Next time I'll schedule in a couple of massages and body wraps. Go, relax, enjoy.
Gym: Go while everyone else is eating. This way you'll have your pick of gym equipment. I'm fond of being there during the general dinner time for most people (5:00-6:30). You can watch the sun set, get fit, and have a chance to think about what you'll be eating for supper.
Debarkation: I had priority debarkation and left at 9:00am. It took me about 10 minutes to leave the ship, pick up my luggage and catch a cab. The carousels are color coded and numbered so it's easy to find your luggage no matter which tag you choose if you don't decide to east walk-off.
Hotel stay before and after the cruise. Hotel Nuevo Triunfo in Barcelona about 15 minutes from the port. Address: / Cabanes, 34 08004 Barcelona, Spain --- A taxi from this hotel will cost you about 15 Euro which includes the fees that they pay to enter/exit the port. A clean hotel in a safe area at a great price (I booked via Booking.com. If you want luxury stay at the W, you'll pay 10 times more for it, but you'll have a wonderful view. If you want to stay someplace close to the airport and seaport that is safe, clean and cheap, this is the hotel for you. My only issue with it would be noise. It's nothing that a good pair of ear plugs or pure travel exhaustion won't take care of though. There's a small grocery store (Supermerkat) across the street where you can pick up a few bottles of water to take with you on the ship.
Side note. The word for Honey in Spanish is "Miel". Just thought I'd throw that out there is case you, like me were looking for some to put in your plain yogurt and resorted to buzzing around the store while saying "sucre" trying to describe what you were looking for.
Barcalona: Hop on "Bus touristic" or the City Sightseeing Red Hoho and whatever you do get off at Sagrada Familia. It's quite possibly one of the most beautiful places of worship I've ever seen. Gaudi stamp is all over it needless to say and the fact that 80 years later it still isn't finished makes you feel like a part of history as you step into it. Take the steps down instead of the elevator. Not only do you eliminate the wait, but there are a lot of interesting little spots to stop and take pictures along the way.
Yes folks this is a review not a critique. If and when I have an issue I handle it right away. I don't witch and moan about it later on. Thankfully this was a very smooth trip. I had no problems or concerns, but if I had I've no doubt that they would have been handled effectively and quickly by one of the friendly staff or crew of the Norwegian Jade.
Live Long and Prosper!