Let me cut to the chase, by the time we left the ship, we had already booked two more cruises on NCL. However, that is not to say NCL and the Jade is without flaws. But for the money, my DW and I felt our 3/12 NCL Jade cruise ... Read More
Let me cut to the chase, by the time we left the ship, we had already booked two more cruises on NCL. However, that is not to say NCL and the Jade is without flaws. But for the money, my DW and I felt our 3/12 NCL Jade cruise was wonderful and a great value.
Boarding/Embarkation: This part of the review will very soon be irrelevant as NCL has decided to not sail out of Houston. However, we felt that the embarkation process was nearly flawless. As we entered into the terminal, we were met by attendants giving us instructions. Once we told them that we were in the Haven, we were ushered to a separate waiting area for check-in. A lesson learned for us was to always make sure that we tell the terminal staff when we are traveling in a suite or above. The terminal staff were very quick to simply give us a number to wait with the other 2900 passengers. They did not ask what level of room we were in.
Within our separate waiting area, two women were checking passengers in. Apparently there was a hiccup with another family who got forgotten, but we were checked in fairly quickly—maybe 10-20 minutes. After checking in, we were met by Omar (more on him later) who was our concierge. He directed us to beverages, canapes, and to his assistant who was ready to make restaurant reservations for us. After checking in, we waited in this waiting area for about 30 minutes when Maxi (who would be our butler) guided us and about 10 other passengers onto the ship, bypassing the wait that other passengers who were not in suites had to endure.
Once we got onto the ship, we stashed our carry-on baggage in our room. The rooms weren’t ready yet, but no one had an issue with us dropping our bags off. We then went down to Cagney’s for lunch.
The only negative, which is quite minor, is that this is the first cruise we’ve taken, including a 2008 cruise on the NCL Spirit, where we were not greeted on the ship with a glass of sparkling wine. It’s a small matter, but it always seemed to heighten our excitement of the cruise and we missed it.
After we had lunch we spelunked around the ship and then returned to our room when it was ready. While we were unpacking, Maxi came by the room and explained the room, room service and how we could get a hold of him at any time. Maxi has been with NCL for 17 years and was more than willing to help us out with anything. We were new to the use of a butler and probably didn’t use Maxi to the fullest. But I’m positive that if we had thought of something, Maxi would have fully been able to accommodate us.
Room: In a word: Wow. We had the smallest room in the Haven: a Courtyard Penthouse (although the phone in the room referred to it as a junior suite). However, for a couple, it was perfect. Unfortunately, the NCL website only offers a single picture without a floorplan. I’ll attempt to describe it here. Essentially, the suite is in two parts—a main living room opening to a small balcony and a bedroom/bathroom. As you enter the cabin door, you are met by the living room and a view to the balcony. Just to your left is the wet bar equipped with a hutch supplying a set of wine and champagne glasses and coffee/espresso machine. A four-chair dining table is next followed by a 48(??) inch TV and sofa. The space is much more spacious than you might imagine. The balcony is rather small with just enough room for two chairs and a small round table. The furniture, while comfortable, did seem a bit too large for the size of the balcony. A plus of the balcony is that this is one of the few cabins in the Haven that has a direct view to the ocean below. The two-bedroom suites has an awning from deck 13 that interferes with looking straight down. The balcony is also constructed to block much of the wind.
Back inside the cabin, between the dining table and the TV cabinet is the doorway taking you into the bedroom/bathroom area. The king-sized bed is to the left as you enter this area. Curtains can be drawn to separate the bed area from the bathroom. There are small nightstands on either side of the bed which are plenty large enough to hold books, Ipads, and other essentials. There is also a small TV mounted to the wall that you can watch while in bed. The bathroom area sports a large double vanity.
On the opposite wall is your closet, which we thought was rather small. However, we are horrible over-packers and recognize that the closet is plenty big enough for a couple who might actually pack appropriately for a 7 day cruise. It does have several deep drawers and two safes. Next to the closet is your toilet, sequestered into its own stall, fully equipped with a phone—which surprisingly was more convenient than I thought it would be. The real star of the room, though was the shower and tub. The shower is equipped with a rain-shower faucet, which is nice, but what is wonderful is the floor to ceiling window that you can look out of while you are taking a shower. By far, these were the most scenic showers I’ve taken in my life. Of course, there is a pull down curtain/shade that you can use so you are not giving people a show while in port. Just outside the shower is a separate tub with its own huge window. Above the tub and on the wall is yet another TV. This actually was convenient to have on when we were getting ready for dinner. The room is supplied with Bulgari soaps, shampoos, and conditioners.
Ship General Areas:
The ship is well maintained. There is a bit of wear on the carpet in the high-traffic areas of the ship, but it certainly didn’t fall into the “worn-out” category. While there are a good number of elevators, they tended to be slow. This didn’t impact us, however, as we declare a “no-elevator rule” whenever we cruise (it makes us feel better about all the food we are eating when we are walking the stairs). Of course, if we were not impacted by the slow elevators, the fact that most of the restaurants and clubs being on level 6 and 7 and our room being on floor 14 certainly gave us a workout.
Our favorite gathering place was the Star Bar on deck 13. Beyond its convenient location to our room and Cagney’s, it also was the quietest, most intimate bar we found. Amit, our bartender in the Star, was great and made the best martinis on the ship. I was also glad to find that the Jade had a small cigar lounge. Unlike some cigar lounges I’ve been in on ships, this lounge had a great air scrubber that prevented the room from becoming overly saturated with smoke, even when there were several smoking cigars.
The drawback to the ship, overall, is that it still screams Hawaii in all of its décor. The ship was originally christened as the Pride of Hawaii and NCL has done nothing to change its décor since renaming her the Jade in 2008. While it décor would be fine if it still was making its runs around the Hawaii islands, it seems out-of-place and even dated, given that she sails in the Caribbean and Europe today. We were told that she is due to go into dry-dock within the year. One could hope that the décor is changed out with this refitting.
We were anxious about sailing on a mass-market cruise line during Spring Break. As a hedge against our fears we decided to book a room in the Haven. We are so grateful that we did so. Unlike other parts of the ship, the access to the Haven is restricted to those who are booked in the Haven (and the Owner Suites). Within The Haven are eleven suites plus the two three-bedroom garden villas. As you open the key-card controlled door to the Haven, you are met by the change in décor. In the hallways, there is a nice cream carpet that stands in stark contrast to the bright Hawaiian greens, reds, and blues found around the rest of the ship. The Haven has a more refined feel to it. There are no inside cabins on this deck. Instead at the center of the Haven is the common area which consists of a small dining and beverage area, small dipping pool, hot tub, nice loungers and seating area and fitness area with showers and restrooms. There is also a stairwell to an exclusive sun deck on the 15th deck. Despite there being some 20 loungers on the deck, I never saw more than 5 or six people enjoying the views and the sun.
Yes, there were children in the Haven’s pool. However, unlike the main pools used by everyone else on the ship, I never saw a child unattended. In fact, each family in the Haven seemed to be very respectful of each of the other passengers in the Haven. Throughout the day there was always cold water, juice, and coffee available in the dining/beverage area of the Haven. This area was also serviced by an attendant who stood ready to bring drinks from the bar or even bring room service. We learned that while drinks brought to your room would be charged to you, despite having an ultimate beverage package, you could order drinks to the Haven’s common area as part of the package.
One negative is that food ordered to the Haven was rather slow…about 45 minutes from order to service. Drinks came much quicker, however.
Beyond the value of the Haven’s not-so-common, common areas, the amenities that come with any suite-level room (not just the Haven) makes it nearly worth the price on their own. First of all, Cagney’s is opened for breakfast and lunch to only suite-level members or VIPs. Second, you have your own reserved balcony area in the Stardust Theater for any shows, complete with dedicated beverage server. But perhaps the most advantageous benefit is the priority disembarkation/tendering. Instead of fighting the masses and pulling a number for a tender, you simply meet in the Star Bar the morning of a port day and the concierge or his assistant will whisk you down a staff elevator to the fourth deck. Here, you are ushered ahead of the rest of the passengers attempting to get off the ship or tendering. It is a seamless, easy experience.
Furthermore, you get to be served by Omar who is phenomenal. While Maxi would pop in on us to make sure everything is fine in our rooms, Omar seemed to be everywhere on the ship with a bright, infectious smile making sure that everything about our experience was perfect. No task or request seemed to be too big or too small. If it was possible, Omar made it so.
With our cruise reservation, along with 240 minutes of internet, $50 off of shore excursions, and the ultimate beverage service, we also had the ultimate dining package included. Thus, we took the advantage of eating dinner in Cagney’s two nights, Le Bistro two nights, and the Moderno Churrascaria. Cagney’s and Le Bistro was solid. However, if you think that you are going to get a Michelin experience here, it’s not going to happen. Manage your expectations. We think it was better than a good Olive Garden or Outback, but probably not as good as that anniversary and birthday-only restaurant that you have back at home.
That being said, the scallop dish at Le Bistro was to die for (I had a second serving of them both times we ate there). The steak and lamb was good. The duck at Le Bistro was so-so however.
The service at Cagney’s was good, but not necessarily consistent. Service at Le Bistro was very good.
Breakfast at Cagney’s was very good as was their lunch.
On Wednesday night, we were fortunate enough to be among the dozen passengers (actually 11) who dined at the Chef’s Table. It was an additional $110 per person, but we felt it was worth it. Chef Rodney stayed with us the entire 9-course meal explaining each dish along with his own personal story and experiences. His asparagus soup was fantastic. The only missed dish was the veal which I felt was overcooked. However, I was pretty much stuffed by this course and did not send it back. The rest of the meal was spot-on.
Our last night we ate at the Moderno Churrascaria. While the appetizer bar and service was very good, we had a mixed review on the meats.
The ala-carte prices at the specialty restaurants were not unreasonable (if you discount the fact that you’ve already paid for dining at the other venues). Most entrees were between 15-25 dollars. Most appetizers were between 3-6 dollars.
When the ship was in Roatan, we returned on-board early to enjoy the ship mostly to ourselves. We discovered that the buffet restaurant, usually swarming with passengers when at sea, actually was pretty good with a huge selection of items.
We did have dining in our room one night. Maxi did a great job of setting it up for us. This was a relaxing way to have dinner from any of the restaurants in your room without the fuss of getting ready to meet the public.
This was the first time in six cruises that we actually went to a show on a cruise ship and were very glad that we did so. We went to the Ukrainian gymnasts who were simply amazing. We also went to Elements which featured the performers of three of the ship’s nights (including the Ukrainians). This also was very, very well done. The other shows that we did not go to received good reviews by the other guests that we talked to who had gone to those shows.
Spa: My wife had recently had surgery and chose not to partake in a massage as she usually does on the ship, although we both took advantage of the thermal spa suite. The ship only sells week passes to a limited number of cruisers and we were lucky to be in that number. Each gender has their own area with dry sauna, steam, hot tub, cold (very cold, btw) plunge pool, and relaxation area. Both areas open to a uni-sex relaxation area with reclining, heated relaxation chairs which are absolutely wonderful. There is also a hot-tub therapy pool in this area. The real treat is that this area is at the front of the ship with floor to ceiling windows looking out at the sea. This quickly became a must-do daily activity for us.
While this is the only service we took advantage of in the spa, when she was walked through the spa by one of the attendants, my wife remarked it is the most beautiful spa of any ship she’s been on.
The cruise is not perfect. While service was friendly, it was spotty in places outside of our Butler, room steward, and Omar. Spotty mostly meaning a bit slow and non-attentive, but certainly not bad. There was not a single incident that I can point to and say I was upset or frustrated with the service. Just compared to some of the other cruises we’ve sailed on (mind you at a more premium price) the service had room to improve.
While the ship was full and we never felt crowded, walking by the main pool during sea days reminded us that we made the right decision to go in the Haven. We saw the usual hording of chairs, unattended children, and mild intoxication that mostly drove our decision to upgrade.
The only thing that was irksome was the business model that NCL has concerning its ultimate dining and beverage packages. I fully understand that the UBP only covers those drinks that are less than $15. The selections in that price point were fully acceptable to us. It does not cover bottled water, however, which we were initially disappointed with until we realize that you can order glasses of water anywhere for free. What we could not understand about the UBP was that ordering a coffee at one of the bars was an additional charge, not covered by the UBP. However, if you asked them to put Baileys in that same coffee, it was automatically covered by the UBP as a bar drink. What we didn’t think to do was to order a virgin Baileys and see what they would have done.
While I didn’t have any real issues with the UDP, I was disappointed when we booked our next 2 cruises that suite-level rooms no longer include the UDP as a promotion. Instead, they include a Specialty Dining Package that only allows for four nights at a specialty restaurant. This confuses me as at the price point that we are paying for our rooms, it is not about the money. In fact, NCL could easily tack on an additional $75 per guest in the suites to offset the cost of the additional dinners and it would not be noticed. It would, however, give the illusion of a more inclusive experience and better value. On our next two cruises, we will likely eat at the specialty restaurants as frequently as we did this cruise, despite having to pay ala-carte for three of the meals. It’s not about the money. I appreciate the approach of NCL’s sister cruise line, Regent, which is fully all-inclusive. While I am careful not to compare the two cruise lines, I think that NCL is missing a huge opportunity to create much of that same all-inclusive experience for its highest paying passengers.
Hope to sail with you in March 2017 on the NCL Dawn and in August 2017 on the NCL Escape. Read Less