The 93,500-ton, 2,402-passenger Norwegian Jade, which is based in Europe year-round, epitomizes NCL's "freestyle" mantra.
For the most part, the goal is to create an onboard ambience that abandons traditional cruise formalities. All meals are open seating and choice of cuisine and vibe is rivaled by only a few ships. The range goes from a steakhouse and Tepannyaki to French, Italian, tapas, sushi, buffets and even a 24-hour cafe, complete with traditional English breakfast.
"Freestyle" also incorporates onboard activities and entertainment ranging from its spa to main theater shows to themed dance parties; entertainment is offered continuously and performances aren't geared around restaurant seatings.
Similar dining and entertainment options are, however, found on all of Norwegian Jade's fleetmates. But here's what makes Jade unique: This is a seriously international ship. The passenger mix on our 12-night Istanbul to Athens cruise was evenly divided between Americans (1,286) and international cruisers (1,115 Canadians, Australians, Brits, Germans, French, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese, etc.). The more global experience, with announcements now coming in Spanish and German as well as English, is a defining element. During one poker session, I took on players from Israel, Mexico, Northern Europe, the Midwestern United States, Japan and China -- all yelling at our shy Peruvian dealer. Some called the melange of languages flying by somewhat distracting, but somehow it felt entirely natural.
Fantastic passenger melange aside, complaints about the additional costs of all the aforementioned specialty restaurants -- something that's dogged NCL's Freestyle concept from the start -- is relatively common. (Perhaps it had something to do with just that melange. Broadly speaking, European cruisers are less used to paying extra fees for onboard eats.) A case could be made for NCL doing a better job of providing more realistic expectations. We'll do it for them: If passengers really want to enjoy the multiplicity of dining options available during a single cruise on Jade, an additional, say, $20 per person, per night, should be figured into the cost of the cruise.