NCL Jade Canaric Cruise in General
Memorable 9 day Canaric Cruise on the NCL Jade! For many years I have wanted to visit Madeira, the Canary Islands, and Granada (Alhambra), and this cruise did not disappoint! Hopefully I can repeat this itinerary, as there is just too much to see and do in 9 days. The biggest challenge in doing this is the airfare, as the cruise is very reasonably priced.
Have sailed on 29 cruises with Celebrity, Costa, Holland and NCL (16 on NCL). NCL offers a great value for the price. Each of the NCL ships has a different character and atmosphere, and the NCL Jade Canaric cruise is very international.
Boarding in Barcelona
This is the 2nd time I have boarded an NCL ship in Barcelona, both at different times of the day, both in 10 minutes or less, and the quickest of any ports. I did over hear fellow passengers from the UK that boarded in Malaga to avoid the crowds, but I do not see how you can go wrong boarding at either port. The port staff were friendly and helpful from the fellow helping us out of the cab with our luggage to the staff that checked us in and guided us to the ship. The shops post check-in that many folks mention in their reviews were closed so we missed our chance for last minute shopping. I am not certain how much control or influence the cruise line has with ports, but this was definitely one of our best embarkation experiences.
The officers and crew are there to greet you as you board, making you feel like you are visiting a friend's private yacht. True, you are no longer handed a glass of Champaign as you board, but there is so much going on, that I didn't even notice this until after the cruise when I was reading reviews of fellow passengers.
One of my favorite things about NCL ships is that the day you board the main dining room is open for lunch. Immediately upon boarding we head directly to the dining room and our cruise experience begins with a leisurely lunch with spectacular views, drinks, and great food and service. Not exactly certain when our cabin was ready, but we went straight from lunch to our cabin.
NCL Jade Cabins
Our cabin was a very standard balcony, that Manuel, our stateroom steward kept that way despite all our shopping. Initially we were worried when we did not see him immediately, but it turns out most of the stewards take care of 15-17 cabins, so are quite busy. Everything was perfectly done, and our every request taken care. The beds were comfortable, and the bathroom more than adequate for 2 of us.
NCL cabins are fairly standard by category, so it's a good idea to think about this when you book. When I cruise with 1 other person, it's more than enough room. When I have had my sister and her kids with me, it has been worthwhile to book a larger cabin or even 2. If anyone in your party is over 6 feet tall, the toilet can be cramped unless you are in a minisuite with more leg room.
Another thing to take into consideration are cabin amenities which vary by cabin type. For this cruise the balcony came with a fruit basket and robes. Since I am platinum (15+ NCL cruises), there was also a bottle of Champaign and chocolate covered strawberries. If you are not platinum, these amenities can be pre-ordered for your room, or you can book a suite which includes them. If you like quiet public rooms, select a suite in the haven. Otherwise it's very standard not only on NCL, but also on comparable cruise lines.
The only downside is the small, low tech TVs. It would be great if NCL would upgrade to flat screen TVs like the suites have given how reasonable they are. I can forgo the high tech TV if there is a larger screen, and a little more selection of TV stations and movies, especially on NCL ships that do not always have a separate theater room to view movies. Luckily the Jade does have a set times for movies in one of the restaurants. Some of the other ships, it was in the atrium and difficult to follow with all the other activity there.
Norwegian Jade Spa & Fitness
The Spa is one of my favorite places. The best buy is the spa pass that gives you access to the thermal pool, sauna, heated-tile loungers whether you choose to indulge in spa services or not. The pass is sold for entire cruise so there is no overcrowding in the facilities. If you do not buy the pass, then you only have access when you purchase services. I also enjoy the outdoor pools open to all as they are heated unlike many of the other cruise lines, in addition to the hot tubs. Also, there are two pools, one for adults and another for kids by the water slides.
Norwegian Jade Dining
We had breakfast and dinner in the Grand Pacific, and lunch on sea days which is always one of the highlights of our cruises. The dinner menu offers a standard menu on the right hand side, and daily specials on the left hand side, as well as a regional specialty that is announced by the waiter and does not appear on the menu. The food and service is consistently excellent which is amazing when you think of how many people are served. My only complaint is that regardless of what time we went to the dining room, it was busy and we had to wait, though the wait time was always less than 20 minutes. On previous NCL cruises we were able to find a time when it was not busy and go then. I think the difference is that on the European cruises there are less folks eating dinner in the Buffet, so more in the dining room, and there is a tendency to dine later.
On port days we ate lunch in the buffet since the main dining room was closed. I am not a fan of the buffet concept, but this buffet does have lots of food options, and all very nicely done. I really enjoyed all the fresh fish offerings, and the Indian dishes. We never had problems finding a table, but we did tend to eat a late lunch. On other NCL cruises the dining room was open on port days alternating between Grand Pacific and Alizar, and this would be my preference, a dining room with service. Also would be nice if there was some variety in the lunch menu which has not changed much since 2009. In the Meet & Greet, Hans Peter, the Executive Chef did offer to let us make special requests at lunch, but the wait staff seemed not to be aware of this option. We could have used the officers' personal phone number that were provided at the meet and greet to escalate, but this seemed too much like work.
We did eat one night in Le Bistro, which is a platinum privilege, and did enjoy very much some of the dishes like snails that are no longer on the regular menu, 4 types of mushroom soup, an extraordinary steak and chocolate fondue which is only available on the late night chocolate buffet.
We booked excursions in all 4 ports, but later canceled one, as we thought it was too much to be on scheduled tours for 4 days in a row, preferring instead organized tours every other day. For the 4th port we choose the Step On Step Off bus option, and then wander around a bit shopping. Both ship and self organized tours are great options depending on your interests and budget. There are 2 cruise excursions in my opinion that should not be missed even though pricey. On Arrecife, definitely take the Fire & Lava tour as the volcanos and the wind swept barren landscape looks like the beginning of time, and the camel ride a real treat and great insight into what ancient caravans must have been like. In Malaga, definitely take the Granada tour and see Alhambra which is spectacular. You can find cheaper tours than those offered by the ship, but you might end up on very uncomfortable buses like I have had previously for land tours in Spain, a less than desirable lunch, and surprises on Alhambra admission tickets as they are very limited, and have tight time controls on how many people can be in various rooms in Alhambra at one time. If you miss your time slot, you may miss Alhambra, and if you miss the ship, you can always find other transportation to Barcelona but you will miss your last sea day.
Disembarkation day is inevitable but went as smoothly as possible. Another platinum benefit is VIP disembarkation, and concierge assistance. Carlos, our concierge returned my call that I placed well after midnight to help us with breakfast arrangements and a 6 am disembarkation. He met us, and escorted us off the ship, got us a porter that collected our luggage and were in a cab to the airport in 10 or 15 minutes. Barcelona airport has changed flite check-in so it starts 3 hours prior to flite time (previously 2 hr), so we were there in plenty of time for our 10:30 a.m. flite. This is cutting the timing pretty close, but our airline has only 1 nonstop flite a day to our destination, and twice I have been able to make this connection with a couple of hours to spare though this is not recommended by the cruiseline.