2,000 Norwegian Jade Cruise Reviews

We booked this cruise in October of 2007, having never been to Europe and being it was our 40th wedding anniversary, we did it with lots of anticipation and planning! Thanks to Cruise Critic and our fabulous Roll Call, The Jaded Sailors, ... Read More
We booked this cruise in October of 2007, having never been to Europe and being it was our 40th wedding anniversary, we did it with lots of anticipation and planning! Thanks to Cruise Critic and our fabulous Roll Call, The Jaded Sailors, we had an absolute ball! We flew to Barcelona from Atlanta, non stop, 3 days before the cruise and experienced Las Ramblas, booked a room at the Nouvel Hotel, practically right on Las Ramblas. The hotel was very clean, the staff there was more than efficient and the price was very reasonable. After touring Barcelona and seeing some of it's fabulous sites, we headed toward the Jade! We booked a BA category, balcony room, on the stern of course, for those of you that don't know, that's the best on any ship, you just can't beat the stern, no wind, very little noise and very private, you only have a few neighbors on the back end... Getting to the pier was a breeze, took a cab, it cost about 7 Euros, dropped our luggage off, right there at the curb, proceeded into the building, where we found a large group of NCL's staff waiting to help us. Walked right up to a counter, with all our papers, they printed our boarding cards. It was then we noticed they were serving refreshments, so we sat down to a delicious cup of coffee and some Danish, we knew right then, everything was going to be fine! We only had to wait about 30 minutes and the boarding started, at 12 noon, as we boarded The Jade, we were greeted by a very friendly bunch of staffers, with trays and glasses of champagne, they took our carry-on's and stowed them, giving us a "call card" to retrieve them later, when our stateroom was ready, which they said would be a couple of hours. We explored for a few minutes and then proceeded to the Grand Pacific Dining Room for a great lunch. Afterwards we decided to go up and see if we could locate our room, to our surprise, our stateroom was ready, so we went back down and retrieved our carry-ons, and onto the balcony we went! We met our room steward, and what a delightful young man, most helpful, we had ordered a bar set up, prior to sailing, we had the set-ups, he brought us a bucket of ice and life on a cruise ship began! Enough can't be said about our Cruise Critic, Roll Call group, The Jaded Sailors, we had a great bunch, a lot of information shared, over a thousand posts, with 10,000 views! We all worked together on this one and it just turned out grand. After the muster call, we proceeded up to deck 12 as planned, most of us with our "red shirts" on, and met everyone, we even had some folks show up who had never even posted and wanted to join us, what the hey, it was all about a good time! With the cruise being so port intensive, it made it difficult with our Meet & Greet, it had to be scheduled 6 days into the cruise, so we handled it with the Sail Away Party, and scheduled a Dinner for the second night of the cruise in the Grand Pacific, to our delight there were 65 people showed up for that Dinner, a very impressive number and good time was had by all! A week later, our Meet & Greet went off as planned, complete with several of the ship's Officers, along with the Captain of the Jade, an impressive bunch, who shared a lot of good information, NCL even served us refreshments. We planned a "gift thingy", where everyone brings a small $10 gift from their home area, it just turned out great! Let me add one last Thank You to all the Jaded Sailors! Excursions: We booked 5 excursions through NCL and the other 5 ports we did on our own, we did all right on our selections and got to see as much of the ports as one could expect. I guess if I had to say which one was the best, it would have to be Naples-Amalfia Coast and Pompei. Rome on your own was good, and Nice was fun, but that coastal view in Amalfi was just breath taking! Dining: Most of our dining took place in the Grand Pacific, it was slower paced than the buffet and more enjoyable. Food is always subjective, but I can say the menu's were good and the selections were plentiful, never had a problem. We did try 3 of the "pay restaurants", and they were good also, we had a great experience in Le Bistro on our 40th Anniversary, Mr. Tony Lockett, the Food & Beverage Director on the Jade, found out we had been married for 40 years, he bought us drinks, a bottle of wine, and he paid for our dinner that night, complete with a delicious anniversary cake! I even tried to tackle that 32 Ounce rib eye, talk about delicious, ummm, ummm good! And then he had the staff decorate our stateroom, with banners, balloons and silver bells! WOW what a 40th we had, Thanks Tony, and NCL, for the memories! No complaints what so ever on our end, about the food...Now all I got to do, is loose those extra pounds! As far as the "Public Rooms", including the Casino, everything was just fine, several of the bars had entertainment that was good and enjoyable, the shows were good and we enjoyed them all. It was the first time in our life we actually won a little in a casino, between the "craps table" (Thanks Sophia), and the slots we came out ahead about $400! The Jade was very clean, there were no "odors" at all, the staff was just tremendous and very helpful. I did catch a little complaining from the staff about being paid in American dollars, when they convert their wages into euro's, they are working for peanuts...That needs to be addressed and considered by NCL as well as patrons of the ship, when leaving or giving any additional tips. Disembarkation was a breeze, we had scheduled a post cruise through NCL and getting off the ship and on the bus was very easy and simplified by NCL using a color tag system, no hassle and no rush. We stayed post cruise at the Kensington Forum, Holiday Inn in London, through NCL, a very good choice, close to the subway's and busses, it was very easy to get around and find your way. One piece of advice, make sure you specify that you want transfers to the hotel, as well as transfers to the airport when heading home. We did not have the transfers to Gatwick Airport and it cost us over $100 American dollars to get to the airport! But, if you are going to Europe, get ready, everything there is more expensive, the old "dollar" isn't worth much anymore, don't look for it to improve... Would we do it again? You bet, and we would do it with NCL, a Real Class Act, Thanks Norwegian Cruise Lines and keep up the good work, we'll be back! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Embarkation: We like to arrive early and get on board and orientated. Arrived around 1pm and on board within 40 minutes. After a brief walk around we were surprised to find that our room was available (previous cruise we had to wait a ... Read More
Embarkation: We like to arrive early and get on board and orientated. Arrived around 1pm and on board within 40 minutes. After a brief walk around we were surprised to find that our room was available (previous cruise we had to wait a couple of hours) Cabin: Set up as twin beds but was quickly converted to a queen bed on request. Inside cabin was quite small but sufficient as we didn't spend too much time there. Good storage space and bathroom tidy with good sized shower. Public Rooms: Being a relatively new vessel it is in very good condition with lots of nice public areas and spaces for some quiet hideaway. Try the big loungers in the Spinnaker lounge for a peaceful rest. The bars (which we used quite a bit!) were mostly very good with each set up in a different style to suit most tastes and give a bit of variety. I've got to say that some of the furnishings are quite gaudy and over the top but you quickly get used to it. Dining: Now this is where I believe Norwegian have hit on the secret of really making your cruise. Freestyle dining is great. Dine where you like, when you like. Previous cruise we went on we had to commit to a dining time which at times was inconvenient - like dining as the ship left port. With freestyle you could get back on the ship after a day on shore and have some lunch at 2 or 3 pm and not have to worry that you were booked in for dinner at 6pm. Flexibility to eat at 6pm or 9pm, if you wished was great. The only risk associated with this is you may find a queue at the particular restaurant you wish to dine at, particularly if a lot of excursion buses arrive back at the same time. We had 2 waits (they give you a pager), where they told us 30-40 minute delays but they turned out to be 10 & 15 minutes. No problem at all. All of the restaurant we used were very good - whether it was the standard (but very nice) dining room (Alizar), the more up-market dining room (Grand Pacific), the Tapas restaurant or any of the others. We did not use the surcharge restaurants, as we found the fare in the main restaurants to be very good. Don't miss the lobster night, check the menus each day! Grand Pacific was our favorite - very classy and special if you get a window seat. The Grand Cafe breakfast was a bit repetitive after 12 days and being a buffet at times was cold and unappetizing. Get up early and use the Grand Pacific. One thing NCL could improve on is being clear on what dress standard is required in each restaurants. Jeans are not allowed in the Grand Pacific but was not mentioned in any of the information sheets early on. I saw people being turned away because they had jeans on which could have been avoided if they had given better advice. It suddenly appeared in the daily newsletters near the end of the cruise so perhaps they learnt from it. Shore Excursions: We only did one Ship organized excursion, which was to Cairo. Whilst it was great to get to the pyramids and museums etc it was all a bit rushed. The reason became clear when we were taken to the "cruise - approved" shops where we were allowed as much time as we liked to buy over-priced souvenirs, which were obviously supplying a kick-back to our tour host. This time would have been much better spent at the sights that we had all come to see. This experience put us off later organized cruise excursions and I would highly recommend that you do your homework and do your own thing, especially if you are mobile. Ports of Call: Corfu - easy walk to town and takes not much longer than the bus trips, due to traffic congestion. Crete - Palace of Knossos is one place to see. Be careful of the taxis at the terminal. They want to charge you 50 Euros+. Go out of the terminal and turn right. About 50 meters away there is a bus terminal with buses going every 10 minutes for 1.20 Euros per person. Get the bus back to town and go the Archaeological museum. It is only very small but if you know your history they have some very significant pieces in there (although got to admit that I was all "historied" out by the end of the trip!). Santorini - now this place is special and probably my favorite on the cruise. Take the donkey to the top for 5 Euros. It may sound touristy but you don't get many chances to do this and it is fun. Fira is very nice but find the bus depot and go to Oia (about 3 Euros). This place is breathtaking. You could spend all day here taking photos. Buggy and 4 wheel drive hire was also very cheap and a good way to get around. Mykonos - similar to Santorini except not on a cliff face. Enjoy a traditional lunch in one of the many restaurants on the waterfront. Izmir - we were very keen to go to Ephesus (1 hour drive away) but reluctant to pay the US$129 each for the cruise organized one, with shopping included! So we took the risk of being able to find our own way there. Right outside the terminal there is a taxi stand with a range of set tourist routes with set prices. A visit to Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's house was 90 Euros (US$140) for the taxi. We shared this with another couple from the cruise so only had to pay US$35 each. We did have to pay the entrance fees on top of this but we were on our own time (the taxi driver just waits for you) and we didn't have to endure the shopping! Istanbul - get a taxi to the Blue Mosque and work your way back to the ship (as long as you have a good sense of direction) taking in all of the must-see sites. Be sure to get a price in advance for the taxi and for any restaurant, as they will ramp up the price if they can. We got fleeced at a restaurant for lunch but took it as a lesson. Last day of the cruise and we had to be off the ship by around 10.30am but our flight didn't leave until 7.30pm. We did a deal with a taxi driver to spend 3-4 hours to take us to the Grand Bazaar and a couple of other sites (which he recommended and were good) and then the airport. We were a bit concerned about leaving our bags in the taxi, but the driver walked everywhere with us so was quite safe. Service: I had read prior to the cruise that there were some service issues with the ship when it was the Pride of Hawaii. They have had a complete crew make-over and the service on this cruise was very good, from quick make-up of cabins to friendly efficient service in the bars and restaurants. Really hard to fault it. Entertainment: The entertainment was ok. Nothing outstanding but mostly a good way to spend an hour or so. I guess cruise ship shows are renowned for being average but I think if you don't have too higher an expectation then you will enjoy it. The casino is fun and the staff there very good. Make sure you join the Casino Club to get plenty of benefits. Complaints: Firstly I'll say that this was a very enjoyable cruise and it shouldn't be taken that the following should suggest otherwise but I think prospective cruisers like to know what the issues are and the cruise line needs the feedback too. - No self-serve laundry. Small issue but it was listed in the ship specs but they took it out during the refit. We bit the bullet and send a load to the laundry about day 7 only to have a note in the daily newsletter that night to say that there was a bag-load deal the following day for $20. This was somewhat annoying given that we had paid double that for only a few articles to be laundered. Advance notice of the special would have been good. - We couldn't find anywhere on the website what the currency on board was and our enquiry wasn't answered. We assumed that it would be Euros given it was the currency of the area but it turned out to be US$ and there exchange rates were ridiculous. Although you don't use much cash on board except for he casino.... - Information on things to do on shore and how to get there. I realize that they want you to use their organized excursions but the information they give you on the Ports of call is poor. Make sure that you do your research before arriving. Summary: Overall this was a great cruise experience with the freestyle the big hit with us. For this reason NCL will be high on our list for our next cruise, which hopefully won't be too far away! Happy cruising. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Itinerary: A cruise is probably one of the best ways to visit mediterranean countries, specially the countries on the eastern side. In the span of a few days you can visit many places with very different cultures and catch a glimpse of ... Read More
Itinerary: A cruise is probably one of the best ways to visit mediterranean countries, specially the countries on the eastern side. In the span of a few days you can visit many places with very different cultures and catch a glimpse of many ancient civilizations. Time travel on a cruise ship. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, which took us to Turkey, the Greek isles, Egypt and the Greek mainland. It was a fascinating experience. Getting there: We booked our own flights to Istanbul and arrived the day before embarkation. This would give us time to go on a tour to the Spice Market followed by a cruise on the Bosphorus. We stayed at Hotel Poem in the Sultanahmet area, within easy walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The staff was very helpful: they booked the tour for us, directed us to a nice "local" restaurant -as opposed to a tourist trap- where the clientele was indeed mostly turkish and the food simple but very tasty. They also arranged our transfer to the ship. Embarkation: We were expecting line-ups to board the ship in Istanbul. There were none. Check-in was very efficient and we were on board about ten minutes after arriving at the terminal. Staterooms: Four members of our group had balcony staterooms while the other four had ocean-view staterooms with a large porthole. The staterooms were nice and well-appointed. The ocean-view staterooms gave the impression of being slightly larger than the balcony staterooms. Compared to the balcony staterooms they had a small desk and additional drawers. Food: We tried the Alizar dining room as well as the Grand Pacific dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also tried some of the specialty restaurants: Paniolo Tapas and Salsa (tex-mex, free), Cagney's (steak house, cover charge) and Le Bistro (french, cover charge). Our group's unanimous favorite was the Grand Pacific dining room. The menu was varied and the food excellent. One of the waiters told us that the entrEes are not prepared ahead of time and are always cooked to order. Grand Pacific was also our favorite in terms of decor. The service was always impeccable. NCL's Freestyle dining means that you can go to the dining room for dinner at any time between 5:30 and 10:00. You are not bound to a preset time. This is very convenient as it allows you to adjust dinner time based on your schedule for the day. Reservations are recommended -but not necessary- for larger parties. On two occasions we went without reservations and there was no undue delay. We also tried the Garden Cafe (buffet) and found that it had a fairly wide selection. In fact, it is a good idea to check all the stations before you make your choice. Shore excursions: We booked shore excursions through NCL in every port. It kept things simple and we were sure to see the main historical sites. The shore excursion staff did a commendable job of getting everyone off the ship and on to their buses reasonably quickly. No small feat when you consider the number of passengers involved. The shore excursions were well run, with very competent guides. The only glitch occurred during our excursion in Santorini and NCL resolved the matter to our satisfaction. The souvenir vendors were omnipresent in Istanbul but a simple "No, thank you" with a smile was enough to ward them off. Not so in Egypt at the pyramids. The vendors there were very aggressive and persistent, to say the least. You have to say a curt "No" and keep walking. They will offer to take your picture in front of a camel, to let you go close and touch the pyramid. In the end they will always ask for money. Visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx was one of the highlights of this trip. The vendors managed to make it less than entirely pleasant. Disembarkation: The disembarkation process was quite painless. We had booked a transfer to downtown Athens through NCL and again the process of getting off the ship and on to the buses was smooth and efficient. The ship: Everyone in our group liked the Jade. Before being reflagged and moved to Europe it used to be known as the "Pride of Hawaii" and was sailing in Hawaii. That explains the hawaiian theme of the ship's decor. Apparently NCL will change this over time, but this is not a big issue. The only exception may be the fake "palm trees" around the pool area, which I found very ugly. I hope this is the first thing they remodel. Post-cruise: Since our flights only left the next day we stayed at Hotel Exarchion, within walking distance of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and only a mile from the Acropolis. Here also the staff was very helpful and directed us to an excellent local restaurant and helped us with directions to the places we wanted to see. Everyone in our group enjoyed this cruise tremendously. It was the first cruise for most members of the group. I think they are now "hooked". We enjoyed NCL's Freestyle and our next cruise will likely be again with NCL. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Thoroughly enjoyed cruise, and actually have deposit down for next cruise. Have cruised five times previous (Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival), and was impressed by cruise. SHIP/PUBLIC SPACES As others have noted the ship is in ... Read More
Thoroughly enjoyed cruise, and actually have deposit down for next cruise. Have cruised five times previous (Celebrity, Disney, Norwegian, and Carnival), and was impressed by cruise. SHIP/PUBLIC SPACES As others have noted the ship is in good shape, but still themed on the interior as if docked in Hawaii. ROOM Had outside room which was more than comfortable for two persons. The bathroom was actually larger than on ships taken previous. ENTERTAINMENT The entertainment in theatre varied from good to excellent (Smokey Joe's being the best show and 60s themed one being the next best - cant recall name of that show). Did not attend Tony and Tina's Wedding (the only pay show which includes a meal) as that was day we were docked late in Mykonos. Persons who saw thought it was good, but I'm not sure I would have paid for entertainment. Would have made more sense to have that show on a sea day. Lounge acts were so-so. FOOD Only pay restaurant we tried was the French one (tried twice and enjoyed both times). Of note, the restaurants are 1/2 price cover during the time frame of 5:30 to 6:30). The food in the non-pay restaurants was good, though not outstanding. No complaints, just nothing truly memorable. Some persons will complain of having to wait (free style), but we never waited longer than 15 minutes. Of note, if you go early or late, the waits were mostly nonexistent. However, we usually ate between 7:00 and 8:00 PM. Buffets - only ate at these at breakfast and lunch. On breakfast, the made to order omelets were very good. Only complaint regarding these would be that the selection was the same on all days of cruise (though it should be noted that there were a large number of different selections to be had -- something not always pointed out on other reviews). EXCURSIONS Took two excursions. Very much enjoyed the overnight Cairo excursion (which though pricey was worth it). Had issue with the Ephesus excursion in that I felt rushed through Ephesus in favor of visit to a carpet factory. This appeared to be an issue only with the guide we had as others that took this tour got a more comprehensive visit. I complained of this when returned to ship and obtained a partial refund which I felt to be fair. All in all, a very good cruise and looking forward to next cruise. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
I'll begin my review with our perspective on cruising/ vacationing. I think that one can find fault in anything, and we fully expect to have disappointments" during vacation. We had some on this trip, but in no way did it detract ... Read More
I'll begin my review with our perspective on cruising/ vacationing. I think that one can find fault in anything, and we fully expect to have disappointments" during vacation. We had some on this trip, but in no way did it detract from the enjoyment of our vacation. We take things in stride, and if something frustrates us, we remember that we are on vacation, and not working, so things are good! We had a wonderful vacation. This is our third experience with NCL, and they are not our favorite cruise line, but they have made some improvements. We had good, and not so good experiences, and I'll list them below. Again, don't let my comments deter you from expecting only the best vacation. Vacations are what you make them. We arrived in Istanbul at 4:30 pm, and had traveled since the previous morning, so we weren't planning much for our first day. We dropped our things at the hotel, and went to Cerberlitas Hamam for a Turkish bath. That was an experience we were glad we didn't miss. It was wonderful! We were a little hesitant because we had heard some stories that made the whole experience sound a little scary. We were certainly glad that we knew what to expect, and thoroughly enjoyed our "bath"! We spent one night at Hotel Nena (in the Sulten.... area). It was a nice location (about 25 minutes from the airport), and near many of the sites. Nice lobby and common areas, and breakfast included. Rooms are a typical small European room, but clean and adequate (that is what we wanted). Would definitely recommend the hotel. It would probably be very easy to do Istanbul on your own, but we decided to use Ekol Travel because they could show us the sites, give us the history, and drop us off at the cruise ship at the end of the day for a reasonable price. Our first day tour in Istanbul was with Ekol travel, and they did a wonderful job. We saw the usual sites - Topkapi Palace, The Blue Mosque, the Hippodome, spice market, and the grand bazaar. Our guide also took us for a "demonstration" at the carpet store. We agreed, but said very clearly up front that we had no interest in purchasing a carpet, and didn't want to waste their time for a demo, and he said it was no big deal - there's no pressure to buy. The demonstration was simply pulling out about 20 different carpets - I thought it was going to be demo of how they make them. We felt very awkward since it was just the two of us - knowing that they were wasting their time, and going to have to roll up all these carpets and put them away without a sale. I would definitely not do that again. Loved the rest of the day - Istanbul is a wonderful place to visit. Our guide was courteous and knowledgeable, and spoke perfect English. Embarkation could not have been easier since we arrived late. We had called and emailed to let NCL know that we would be arriving a couple of hours past embarkation time. We walked right on, and carried our luggage with us - which was great because you don't have that fear of whether the luggage will show up and when. The ship is nice, but all still Hawaii motif, and they've decided to keep it. Our second day tour in Istanbul was also with Ekol travel (same tour guide and driver). Went to St. Sophia, the Cistern, and then spent a couple of hours seeing the rest of the city. We definitely had a very nice experience, and would not have wanted to maneuver those streets - crazy drivers! And our driver was one of them - each time we got back in the car, it smelled of pot (I guess he was passing the time), but he still did a great job driving! We also used Ekol travel for our tour in Ephesus -this time our guide was Oktay, and he was an excellent tour guide. We saw the House of the Virgin Mary, and stayed for a Mass service - that was really nice! We also saw St. John Basilica, and the Terrace Houses. I would highly recommend Ekol travel for tours in Turkey - they are very responsive, professional, courteous, and hire only the best guides. In Mykonos, we did the ship tour to Delos since it was Monday, and Delos was closed to everyone else. It was a good tour. The guide was pleasant and knowledgeable, and the tour groups were spaced in a way that only about 20 people were in any one area. We walked around town a little, and headed back to the ship. We enjoyed Delos, but I didn't know what else to do in Mykonos. We talked to a couple of people that rented scooters, and went to paradise beach, and said they really enjoyed it. Santorini was a tender port, and there was about an hour delay in letting us off the ship due to some winds, and then NCL tours got to go first. I opted for the cable car, and my husband walked, and he beat me to the top by about 10 minutes. We went directly to the bus station to go to Oia, but just missed the 11:15 bus, so we chose to take a taxi instead of waiting another 1 1/2 hours for the next bus. Oia was beautiful! We spent a couple of hours walking around Oia, and then caught the 1:05 bus back to Fira/ Thira. We had lunch at Fira and did a little shopping. Santorini is very beautiful. Iraklion was our least favorite port. I guess we've seen lots of amazing ruins, so the Palace of Knosses were just "more ruins", but not really because they were all recreated to look like what they probably looked like at the time. NCL provided a free shuttle that goes from the ship to the terminal. From the terminal, we walked through the gates, and took a right turn on the main road (highway), and went 1/3-1/2 mile to the bus station. It was on the left side of the road. We took the #2 bus there and back. We welcomed our first sea day - a chance to sleep in just a little, rest the feet a bit, and get in a little pool (poolside) time. Egypt - We used Decastro for our overnight tour in Cairo, and they were wonderful. We had a group of 12, which was a nice size (I can't imagine a ship bus of 40-50 people!). In addition to our tour guide, we had a driver, and a government assigned security guard. There was no danger whatsoever, but it was nice to have the security of the guard (the Egyptians say the guards are there to make more money for the government). Egypt was everything we hoped it would be! Our first day we had a 3 hour ride into Cairo, and our guide talked the whole way about the history of Egypt - it was very nice - we went first to the Egyptian Museum, and then had lunch on the Nile River. After lunch went stopped for a papyrus demonstration, and then spent a couple of hours at the pyramids (rode a camel), and sphinx, and went to a perfume factory. We saw the sound and light show, which was kind of nice, had dinner, and stayed at the Meridian Hotel with a view of the pyramids from our balcony - it was very cool! (they have wi-fi, but like everything else in Egypt, it's not free!) Decastro did a wonderful job with the arrangements. I know everyone is hesitant to wire the deposit, and I was too, but they are reputable, and it's their security that people don't cancel at the last minute. On our second day, we had a very nice breakfast at the Meridian, and then went to the step pyramid, and the Citadel, and Mosque of Mohammed Ali. My only disappointments in Egypt was that we didn't get to do any shopping at places where we could get bargains. I have a friend from Egypt, and she had told me what great deals you can get on jewelry and things. But like every other tour, the guide seems to take you to the places where they get "kickbacks". We heard this same thing from absolutely everyone we talked to. It's frustrating, but I suppose that's how they make a living. And unfortunately, the locals just drive you absolutely crazy - following you everywhere, and asking you over and over and over to buy something. And then they will say it's free, but if you take what they gave you, they ask for money. It was a 3 hour drive back, but we enjoyed the ride - looking at the scenery. Egypt was definitely one of the most exciting places we've ever been - we loved it! Our second sea day was another lazy day recuperating from our 2 exciting days in Egypt. The weather has been just perfect! And this day was probably mid 70s with a very slight breeze, so we spent some time at the pool. In Corfu we rented a car, and saw the island on our own. We used Nova car rental (40 euros for an economy car), and were very pleased. We were at the gate about 10 minutes early, and the representative was there to meet us, and walked us to our car which was just outside the door. He gave us directions, and we paid for the car before we left, so there was no check out when we returned - we just left the car. We saw the usual tourist sites - we went first to Paleokastritsa bay, and saw the views, the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, and the St. Spyridon Church. Then we drove to Golden Fox restaurant in Lacones - amazing views! Then we went to Kassiopi, and down the coast through the town of Corfu, and ended at the Archilles Palace. The gardens at Archilles Palace were the most beautiful we've ever seen - definitely worth the stop. Also rented a car in Katakalon, but would have done the train had we known that we an option. Rented the car from Diplas which is immediately outside the gates of the port, and they gave us priority since we had a reservation (40 euros for an economy car). Had no problems navigating because Olympia is the only place to see, and we just followed all the buses and taxis. It was nice to see the place of the first olympics, and it was a short day - we were back on the ship at 12:30. We had a great tour in Athens with Paul, and saw all the usual sites. He picked us up at the ship, and dropped us at our hotel at the end of the day. Certainly recommend Paul for a tour of Athens! We stayed at the Amazon hotel - which was "okay" at best. The beds were horrible, but it was a nice central location. Dining: Our first dinner was at Teppanyaki, and was excellent, but I guess I'm cheap - I don't like paying for my meals on a cruise. I know - that was my choice, so I shouldn't complain. And NCL is also now charging for Papa's. So the only "unique" restaurant remaining without a fee is the Mexican restaurant. And we found that there are also entrees on the menu that carry an extra surcharge. We went to Papa's a couple of times, and it was half price since we went before 7:00 (they run these specials in some of the restaurants), but we walked away saying it wasn't worth the half price. Papas was one of our favorites on our previous 2 cruises, but they've changed the menu a bit, and took away our favorite dessert. The main dining room had a decent variety, and the food was average to above average. Very much unlike any other cruise we've been on, we ate most often at the buffet. The buffet at the Garden Cafe was good, and had lots to choose from. Entertainment: We usually enjoy the entertainment - we love the comedians, magicians, and the occasional broadway show, but not so much on this cruise. We saw Stephen Garcia (magician/ comedian), and it was painful. We felt sorry for the guy, and felt obligated to stay and applaud. We went to an interactive movie that was kind of fun. We heard an opera singer that was really good. And then there was another really painful show - a husband and wife duo. The wife did acrobats, and the husband was a comedian. Definitely not a duo that worked well together, and the comedy would have been appropriate for a child. They had Second City Comedy which was good, but a different style of comedy that not everyone will like. Service: Our room steward was definitely "stealth-like" - not that that is necessarily bad, but an introduction would have been nice, and if we wanted anything, we'd have to track down someone. Our room steward improved after a few days. One of the downsides with freestyle dining is that you don't get to know the waiters - which is okay, but the dinner service we experienced was average, at best. Visas, money & phone: When you arrive in Istanbul, you need to get in the line to get your Visa as soon as you get off the plane. The line is long, but goes fast. They ask no questions, and usually don't even speak to you. They just want $20 for a visa. Next you move to the customs line, show them your passport with the visa stamp, and then go for your luggage. Outside of the baggage area you will find a HSBC ATM that gives euros. We took 2 different credit cards, and one worked most of the time, and the other one only worked a couple of times. We had called our bank ahead of time (Citibank) to give them our schedule of travel, and they still put a freeze on my card. So be sure to have a number to call your bank. When we called, they said a lot of times, the freeze just goes on automatically, and they have to take it off. We did run into limits - the ATM would only give 300 euros per day. We purchased an international phone from mobalphone.com, and it worked great. Once I learned that I did not have to put every country code in to dial, it was easy. You simply dial + and then the full number you want to call. The plus is the zero key - just hold it until a + shows up, and that automatically adds the country code. Reception was good, and the signal was always strong - except on the boat, and then there was no signal at all. You have to surrender your passport to the NCL (which made me uncomfortable - especially when renting a car). For the Greece stops, you get a piece of paper when you leave the ship that says you are in port legally for the day. They did give the passport back to you for Egypt, and NCL had already stamped the passport with the Visa stamp for Egypt, so we did not have to get a visa in Egypt. I had called NCL ahead of time to ask about this, and they told me that they only provide a visa for passengers that do a NCL tour, but that was NOT the case - they stamped them all. Good: cabin is well organized and adequate Bedding is nice Breakfast buffet - they have 4 stations with the same stuff so the lines are not too bad Drink flags on the lounge chairs No cheesy pool games Plenty of staff in the buffet area to help carry food and drinks to the table (since all cruise lines have eliminated trays for fear that we'll eat more!) Sun deck on the 13th floor - nice and quiet Not so good: They did not offer a church service Service was very often only "average" Entertainment - several shows were not good. They had the production of Tony & Tina's Wedding which would have been fun to see (although I heard they charged for it!), but they had it on the night we stayed in Cairo. All the surcharges - 6 dining rooms, some entrees, exercise programs, sauna, fresh squeezed juice, some lectures, etc The television in our room had bad sound and reception (they "fixed" it, but nothing changed) We had a high-pitched whistle in our room that was just mind-bending! Warm milk - never found cold milk on the ship NCL needs to go electronic - so you can order shore excursions and see your bill from your room Slow internet service at 75 cents per minute Overall: Had a great vacation. The itinerary was perfect, and so was the weather. NCL was "okay" - don't like all the extra expenses when you're on the ship (maybe this is where the industry is moving, but we didn't like it). Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly. Dinning ... Read More
This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly. Dinning rooms. Our favorite was the Grand Pacific. The food and service where usually very good. The Bistro was very good. We ate at Papa's Italian Kitchen one night. Would NOT recommend that. The lobster ravioli, could have came out of a can, rubber and tasteless. State room. We had a mini suite on the 11th floor. Loved it! Didn't want to leave it! We slept with the door open every night. It was great to hear the waves. We felt very little motion, even though we where near the front of the ship. Our state room attendant was the worst we have had on a cruise (only because we have had such great service in the past) The first day the room wasn't clean until dinner time. We had to repeatedly ask for coffee, lotion, etc. He seemed to have to many rooms to clean. It did seem to get better later in the trip though, and I expect it will continue to improve. Shows. We though most of them where pretty good. Ports. IZIMIR - we had a private tour in a mini bus, with 4 other couples. One of the other couples booked it over the internet. Private tours are absolutely the way to go. MYKONONS - We rented a 4wheeler for 15 euro for the day (near the bus stop) and off we went! It was great. No traffic to speak of, and easy to get around. SANTORINI - beware of the donkeys! They are very stubborn and difficult to get moving. However 2/3rds of the way up my husband's donkey turned around and started racing down the hill. The saddle came off and he was thrown from it. Luckily he was only bruised, and not thrown over the cliff. EGYPT - Again we had a private tour with 3 other couples. We used Nile Blue, and where very satisfied with them. We spent the first long day in Cario, went back to the ship overnight, and the second day in Alexandria. I was glad we did that, as we really enjoyed the scenery and thought the catacombs where really interesting. KATAKOLON - we took the train into Olympia. It cost 3euro round trip and was a very short walk to and from the tiny little train station. Would highly recommend the train. We spent 3 days in Istanbul. We stayed near the Blue Mosque, and walked to everything. really enjoyed it. We also spent 3 days in Athens, and really enjoyed that. We stayed at the Amazon hotel. Great location, very basic room. I would definitely go on an NCL cruise in the future. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
With the value of the US Dollar declining, we chose an Eastern Med cruise as a way to tour several interesting cities while keeping costs reasonable. We enjoy traveling independently throughout Europe but thought the idea of unpacking a ... Read More
With the value of the US Dollar declining, we chose an Eastern Med cruise as a way to tour several interesting cities while keeping costs reasonable. We enjoy traveling independently throughout Europe but thought the idea of unpacking a suitcase only once in 12 days might be nice. This cruise aboard the Jade was selected primarily because of the itinerary. It was our second cruise and first aboard an NCL ship (first was a Baltic Cruise aboard the Star Princess in June 07). Our vacation began in April 2008 with an independently booked stay at a small hotel in the Sultanhamet Square area of Istanbul, where we stayed for four nights prior to the cruise. This provided ample time to visit the main historic and cultural sights including the Blue Mosque, Hayia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and more. Using local transportation & walking to the main sights was very easy, and to reach the ship we took a cab from the hotel to the dock for about 12 euros. EMBARKATION & SHIP LAYOUT: With only one small suitcase each plus a carryon, embarkation was relatively smooth and took only 20 minutes from arrival at the port to our room. However, it seemed that some staff members were either new, untrained, or unorganized regarding embarkation procedures and general layout of the ship. There were several occasions on the first afternoon when we felt that no one seemed to be in charge and directing guests on how to find their assigned room, or providing information or directions to specific locations for activities. This lack of organization would later affect shore excursions as well. Overall ship layout was ok, although not as good as the Star Princess. There were quiet areas and public areas such as the library (which we used frequently) where they offered tea & coffee, and books available for check-out. It was a nice space for reading & relaxing, but at times became very crowded with people and no chairs were available. There was a card/game room next door although we did not use this. There were two public atriums/music areas where you could listen to music, socialize, get a coffee or drink, chit-chat, and people watch in the afternoons (near the Bar City area & near the coffee bar/across from Shore Excursion desk). Other public rooms and bars became trivia rooms and lecture rooms on sea days. At certain times, dining rooms and pool areas were extremely crowded and it was difficult to find a place to sit unless you went to more remote areas of the ship (i.e. away from the pool, up three decks), which defeated the purpose of trying to go sit by the pool. We don't mind walking but certain decks had awkward layouts and hallways, in which you were forced to frequently walk the distance of the ship to get to a restaurant or nightclub for entertainment. Some hallways ended & twisted round; we seemed to do a lot more walking throughout this ship than on our first ship. POOL/SPA: We did not use the spa services. There is a special hot tub, steam room, heated chairs, and other services available for a daily fee of approximately $15/day, and although we were tempted to escape from some of the children around the other hot tubs, we decided the additional $300+ charge for having a quiet area was just a little too high, especially when there is NO guarantee that it will be child free. There are two hot tubs on the main pool deck designated "adults only" but those are so popular that many times, there simply isn't room for any other people inside them! The pool area is nice, but overcrowded unless it's a port day when most everyone is sightseeing. Otherwise, you must arrive early to secure a chair, and expect to be hounded every 15 minutes by waiters asking if you would like a drink. While this could be considered service, after having 3 or 4 staff members solicit me repeatedly for several hours, it got to be way too much. I began to wonder how much of their pay consists of tips or a contest to see who can sell the most in poolside drinks. FOOD: Overall the quality of the food aboard the ship was good to above average. Was it the most spectacular food, and something you would find at a high-end restaurant in the US? Definitely not. I would not spend $100/person for what we received in their main dining room. However, it was fine and satisfactory. Bottled wine prices were avg to slight above avg, but not as high as you might imagine. By the glass, expect $7-9. I did notice that halfway thru the cruise, some of the under $70 bottles disappeared and a whole new list appeared in some of the restaurants, which seemed odd. So they ran out of wine by the bottle, except wine that costs over $100? I don't think so. Freestyle means you can choose the time you dine, and which restaurant. We prefer the casual & country-club casual dress options as opposed to the formal dress nights, so we enjoyed NOT having to wear a tux or cocktail dress. However, out of 13 dining options, 7 require an upcharge. I would have preferred to pay a higher rate for the cruise than be nickeled & dimed for every single thing, which over time became a consistent theme with this cruise and apparently this company. There was a charge for the Asian-themed restaurant, which we went to several times and had wonderful meals, but even there, you also paid extra "plate charges" for sushi and other items. Same at the steakhouse. $15/person and then an extra $10-20 per cut of certain types of beef. It all got to be too much. We paid the extra for the steakhouse and had a great meal, but it was just extra here, extra there, throughout all the restaurants. The only way to avoid spending nearly $100 extra at one of the specialty restaurants by the time you had drinks & the upcharge was to go to the main dining venues, and good luck with that. You either had to go at 5:30pm upon opening, or wait until 10pm closing time, otherwise there was a 30-45 minute wait and you rec'd a beeper as at restaurants back in the US. Otherwise, you must call ahead for reservations around 7-8am, which defeated the Freestyle concept. The ship had electronic wait boards showing the various restaurants, but these rarely seemed accurate. CABIN: Our goal with this vacation was to visit the ports, not spend a lot of time in our cabin, thus we selected a simple inside cabin with the intention of using it only for sleeping and storage of our clothes. The bathroom was quite large, offering a nicely sized shower with great water pressure & hand-held shower massage, toiletries, full sink & counter but little storage space for personal items. Closet and drawer space were adequate, but overall the cabin seemed awkwardly laid out and smaller due to its center walkway and lack of mirrors, compared with our similar inside cabin on the Star Princess (which felt & appeared much larger inside). The bed & linens were very comfortable. Service by our cabin steward was excellent, warm, and very professional. She provided anything we requested and the room was always prompted prepared. PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS: We booked a mix of shore excursions for Cairo, Olympia, Crete (Palace of Knossos) and local travel on our own since we enjoy independent travel rather than being part of a herd. Printed "Port Guides" were totally useless except as advertisements, and Paula the staff member was equally useless. I asked her about local travel in Alexandria, since we brought some but did not bring guide books for every single country. She either had never been to that port before, or had no willingness to seek out an answer as to how to get from point A to B. Yet, she was supposed to be the Port & Shopping Expert. All Paula knew was where to buy gold. The Cruise Director on the Star Princess last year was excellent, and gave a talk each day prior to our docking about the history of that city, key sights, and how to travel independently. We realized what a treasure he had been, and have now booked another cruise here in July 08 on a Princess ship which I hope will provide the same service. The shore excursions in Cairo & Crete were ok. Morning organizational meetings in the theater prior to disembarkation were a disaster. Were the staff members doing this for the first time? They had no idea how to get people physically into the theater, seated, and then organize the groups for departing on time. The cities were fascinating, while the value & services rec'd on the tour were fair to avg (i.e at Crete, read carefully to know whether you are visiting an actual small town or a fake, re-created village). Maybe we should have researched more & taken a private tour. In fairness, I learned too late after we booked that this was a new itinerary for the Jade's staff, so perhaps none of the staff members had ever been to these ports before. But frankly, I am paying for service, and for their expertise in coordinating my shore excursions. If they can't do that smoothly, then what am I paying for? I'm better off doing my own travel in the ports, and that's what I'll do from now on, only I'll do it on another ship, because these folks just don't have the knowledge and experience to get it right and I don't want to pay for their learning curve with my valuable vacation dollars. We did not use the Children's program, Casino, or shops except for minor browsing. We did attend several programs and activities, including some that had minor ($10-15/person) charges. Again, we were willing to pay these charges for activities, and many of the activities are free, but some do include charges. There is a gym with good up-to-date equipment, but many of the classes incur a charge (pilates, yoga) as well as wine tastings & other educational offerings which incur a cost of $10-25/person. DISEMBARKATION: As we are light packers, this went very smoothly for us and we had an enjoyable breakfast in the main dining room of the ship. The only difficulty was jostling with the hundreds of other passengers waiting in line for taxis. We were originally planning to take the Athens local metro to our hotel in Plaka for a 3-night stay, but the metro appeared to be quite a long walk. So, we kept our eyes open and when taxis began to appear, dropping off passengers for the next departing voyage on the Jade, we grabbed one and negotiated a decent fair. Overall, we paid a reasonable price for visiting such an amazing list of places, but the upcharges on the Jade and the waiting lists at the restaurants, the overall disorganized service, and the crowded spaces in some public areas made us decide that we will not return to the Jade. Freestyle is a nice concept but it did not always work smoothly for us. Perhaps NCL would be a better option for travelers who would not incur many "upcharges." Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Report on Jade cruise 3/30/2008 from Barcelona to Istanbul. SUMMARY: An excellent vacation with very interesting ports. Some early problems due to the all new crew and procedures, but they were corrected promptly. This is the largest ... Read More
Report on Jade cruise 3/30/2008 from Barcelona to Istanbul. SUMMARY: An excellent vacation with very interesting ports. Some early problems due to the all new crew and procedures, but they were corrected promptly. This is the largest ship we've been on and I believe we prefer the smaller ones -- more people leads to more congestion and longer lines. Would we cruise NCL again? Absolutely! NCL remains our top choice for ocean cruises (we like Viking for River cruises) and we used the "Cruise Rewards" program to put a deposit on our next NCL cruise. OUR PROFILE: We're a retired couple in our mid 60's. We cruise for the ports, the food and to be waited on. This was our 10th cruise, our 5th with NCL. Someone asked what is our favorite ship. My reply is whichever one is going where we want to go; or maybe whichever one we're on at the time. We've never had a bad cruise. BOOKING/EMBARKATION: I always look on-line to check prices and availability and then go to my travel agent. His price is always about the same and he handles the details which is convenient., a good deal for both of us. We booked about 6 weeks ahead. By the time we booked it there were no "ocean view" rooms available which gave us a good excuse to book a balcony room. We booked a BD "guarantee" which is not a specific room, but a guarantee of a BD category or higher at the BD price. Within a couple of hours I checked online and found we had been assigned a BB category balcony room. Great! We always book our air through the cruise line since it's economical and puts the responsibility on cruise line to get us to the ship if the air connections don't work out. If I had booked it myself I would have gone a day earlier, but we've been to Barcelona before and it would have cost an extra day's hotel/food expense. Unlike our last three trips to Europe we made the flight connections and got there in plenty of time. We haven't missed a cruise yet, but in the past have had some anxious moments and resorted to creative routing to overcome missed connections. The TA printed out the E-documents and we never received a packet or luggage tags from NCL That's disappointing because we enjoy studying the shore excursions booklet and it adds to the anticipation of the trip. We planned to pick up luggage tags from the porters at the airport since NCL didn't send us any, but they had none. They made up some makeshift room tags which worked OK as we got our luggage promptly. Registration went relatively easily with only a couple of people ahead of us in the Latitudes Bronze/Balcony line. They sent us to "Line 5"; unfortunately the lines were not labeled so we had to go back to the start and count lines to get into the correct one. I had filled out the guest information form online, but their computer couldn't find it (I don't know why they have you do it if the registration computers can't access it). We had to do it over again at the registration desk. Luckily we had our contact information with us. Once aboard we noticed the champagne glasses, but the stewards were right there to take us to the room so we skipped the champagne. THE STATEROOM: The stateroom was clean and roomy; very nice, very well equipped. Storage was more limited than some ships we have been on, but more than adequate (with Freestyle we don't pack as many clothes). My wife much prefers a bathtub, but we knew this category only had a shower. We're too cheap to move up to the category that has a tub. We didn't have the bathrobes that we understood were part of Freestyle 2.0 for balcony rooms. We hadn't counted on them, though , and had brought our own. The foam mattress pad didn't arrive until Civitavecchia, but the bed was so comfortable we didn't miss it. The thermostat responded immediately when adjusted and allowed us to keep the room comfortable at all times. Even though the weather was still too cool to spend much time on the balcony, we are certainly glad we had it. We spend a lot of time in the room and it's nice to sit there and look out the large "patio door" at the scenery. And the light-blocking double curtain did a good job of keeping out the light. I should get one of those for our bedroom at home. Our stewards, Arnel and Rodrigo, did a fine job, unobtrusively keeping everything clean and stocked. We never knew they were there except a couple of times that I had requests for them which they fulfilled promptly. RESTAURANTS: A lot of people complain about the extra cost restaurants. Not me, I just don't go to them. The food and service at the main restaurants are excellent, why pay to go anywhere else? I'll let other people waste their money at the specialty restaurants which leaves the main restaurants less crowded for me. Well, there was one exception. We had a coupon for a free meal which we used at Cagney's. We both got a 5-oz. filet mignon which was small, but with the other courses it was plenty. In fact my wife didn't leave room for the cheesecake desert which is her favorite and was excellent. The food and service at Cagney's were exquisite, but I'm a small-town guy and there's no way I would pay anyone $25 for a 5-oz. piece of meat, especially having already paid for a meal at the other restaurants. And a larger filet would have added another $10 each. I guess some people are willing to pay it; else they wouldn't offer it. We don't do buffets. If we go to a restaurant we expect to be waited on, not do a juggling act with our food. Other passengers said the buffets were good, but we stuck to the Grand Pacific and Alizar for dinner. The food was excellent, the service was mixed. We were lucky to have Leonardo several evenings at Grand Pacific and he was a very good waiter. The first couple of nights were chaotic in the dining rooms with the crew learning to work together and a new computer program which apparently refused to cooperate, but after that things got progressively better. After the first two nights we never experienced waits of more than 20-30 minutes (on lobster nights), more commonly a minimal wait. The Blue Lagoon serves breakfast beginning at 7 AM, earlier than the restaurants, so we usually went there for breakfast if we had an early excursion. The menu is more limited than the others but we're not used to a big breakfast. For lunch they had a good hamburger, tuna melt, hot dog, etc. with French fries. We didn't feel we needed a full meal for lunch so the Blue Lagoon fit the bill at noon when we were aboard. We tried room service before our early excursion to Rome, but it didn't get there. We went to Rome on peanut butter crackers and Cheetos we had brought with us. To be fair, the room service problem was one of the many things that weren't just right at the beginning of this "inaugural" cruise and it was corrected later. Next time we got it exactly when we requested it. THE CREW: Kudos to the crew, especially to the Hotel Director, Armando DaSilva. All the crew were friendly and helpful. As I said, there were some problems early in the cruise due to new crew, itinerary, procedures, etc. Armando organized a meeting with the registered Cruise Critic (CC) members and several members of NCL management after the first couple of days. The NCL people were very interested in our comments and, believe me, they got an earful. They assured us they were working to solve the problems and solicited our suggestions. Amazingly, most of our suggestions were implemented almost immediately including rescheduling the entertainment to minimize conflicts with eating. The improvements were dramatic. Another meeting was held with the CC group near the end of the cruise where key entertainment people were present. It is truly refreshing to see a company that is so responsive to customer input and it is obvious they monitor and value the CC discussion board. ENTERTAINMENT: We only got to a few of the shows. The Stardust Theater features theater style seating, much better than the nightclub style seating on some other ships where you are seated around tables and some patrons are necessarily facing away from the stage. The setbacks had air conditioning ducts for the benefit of the people in the next row back, a welcome touch. The singers were very talented and we particularly enjoyed "Smokey Joe's Cafe". The magician and the juggler were good, not great. I believe the music was live, not pre-recorded, but the band not visible to the audience. I would like to see the musicians, at least for the curtain call. I think a lot of people didn't realize the music was live. The "Shout" finale where the crew was introduced was held at the same time as the chocoholics buffet so few people attended. Overall the quality of the individual performers was probably better than the Jean Ann Ryan group on other NCL ships, but the variety and overall showmanship was not as impressive. SHORE EXCURSIONS: This was our first visit to most of the ports so we tried to choose our shore excursions carefully. We always take the excursions organized by the cruise line. They're probably more expensive than doing it yourself, but the operators are checked out by NCL and the simplicity of letting them do it is worth the extra cost for us. We study the trips ahead of time and book them online before the cruise. My wife has some back and knee problems and a lot of walking, particularly up hills and steps ruins the trip for her. Where possible we choose shorter and less strenuous excursions. In Rome we didn't do well. We chose "Classical City" tour which was listed as 8 ½ hours. According to the tour description it included an "outside" visit to the Colosseum (we knew we couldn't handle the inside ) and "pass by the Forum by coach for views of these ruins". We started at the forum. Our guide said we would be walking through it, I guess they thought that would be a bonus. But first we stood around in the sun for probably half an hour while the tour guides tried to locate our tickets. They were at another entrance and they had to send someone after them. By the time we got through the Forum my wife was exhausted. This didn't add anything in our opinion -- we could see just as well from the observation platform. When we got to the Colosseum we (and a few others) sat outside and waited for the rest of the group to tour the inside. We then went to lunch and reboarded the bus to go to St. Peter's Square. By the time we got up the stairs from the bus garage and up the hill toward the square my wife and several other people found some chairs in front of a store while the rest of the group went on. The NCL person on the tour was great, looking out for us laggards to be sure the guide picked us up on the way back, but we missed St. Peters Square and the Basilica which was to have been the high point of our visit to Rome. The "enhanced" tour actually lasted more than 10 hours and we got back to the ship at the last minute along with all the other "longer" tours and we were exhausted. In hind sight we should have chosen the "Taste of Rome" tour which was a driving tour. We didn't book that one because of the 3 hours free time. Actually, the one we booked would have been alright if it had been as described and they hadn't added the walk through the Forum. We had been to Naples before and had visited Pompeii and Capri so we booked the 4 ½ hour "Treasures of Naples" tour. This was much better. We got a taste of life in Naples, visiting a museum, a pizza restaurant for lunch and observing the frantic traffic in Naples. While we waited for the bus a bunch of high school students were at recess in one of the squares adjacent to their school.. They had a soccer game going and drew into the game several our group into their game. Everyone had a ball (pun?) and when we got on the bus the students all waved and cheered for us and posed for pictures. Typical friendly Italians. The next stop was Venice, a beautiful city. What more can I say? We did the 3 hour "Heart of Venice" tour which was about right for us. We walked along the waterfront, across some bridges, saw the gondolas, the Doges Palace and St. Mark's Square. It was enough to give us a sample of Venice without being too taxing. We didn't know what to expect in Dubrovnik and it was a delightful surprise. We tendered to the heart of the old town. The captain said this is one port where they want to tender. The alternative is a dock which is several miles from the old town. We took the 4 ¾ hour "Dubrovnik and Village Life" excursion which started with a walking tour of the old town and then went by bus out into the countryside for lunch at a local farmhouse/restaurant. We like to get out of the tourist areas when we can to see how the locals live. The countryside was quite hilly and picturesque and the people appeared to be prosperous. All the buildings were well maintained except for those which had not been repaired after the 1991(?) war. From the bus I got some really good photos of the Croatian coast and the "Jade". The day before our visit President Bush had been in Croatia to celebrate their admission into NATO. The Croatians were very appreciative of America's help (well, except for a few who were demonstrating in the Dubrovnik Square). For Athens we selected the "Panoramic Athens" excursion, a 2 ½ hour bus tour with stops at the Olympic Stadium and the Acropolis. This was a good choice for us as it let us see the famous sights without a lot of wasted (shopping) time and we weren't up to climbing to the Acropolis. The view of the Acropolis from the bottom of the hill was impressive. At Izmir we had signed up for "Magnificent Ephesus", but unfortunately my wife wasn't feeling well so we had to skip it. Other guests said we missed a wonderful excursion. We enjoyed a restful day on the ship and had lunch at the Grand Pacific. In Istanbul we went on the "Capital of Two Empires" excursion along with 520 other people. It was the most popular excursion in Istanbul. We visited the Blue Mosque and the St. Sophia Museum. Both were outstanding. The horrific Istanbul traffic was at a standstill so the bus driver let us out several blocks from the Grand Bazaar and the guide took off at a fast pace (uphill). We couldn't keep up, so took our time and found a nice tea/coffee shop near the meeting point where we waited for the tour to return. We weren't interested in shopping anyway and don't like to be overwhelmed by pesky peddlers so we were not disappointed that we missed the Bazaar. DISEMBARKATION: We had an early flight out of Istanbul and had to take the 3:00 AM bus to the airport. Coffee, juice, pastries, etc. were available beginning at 2:00 AM so we didn't have to leave hungry. I did observe that there was no NCL representative at the airport to assist with the return trip, unlike the throng of people who greet you when you arrive. The flight home was the worst part of the trip, but we were on the ground in Charlotte by 3:30 PM the same day and home soon thereafter. NEXT TRIP: We're not sure. We're so convenient to Charleston we might take a trip from there or maybe the 2 week trip around the tip of South America. We're already thinking about it. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Norwegian Jade - April 23, 2008 Athens to Istanbul - 12 nights ATHENS: We spent three nights in Athens at Hotel Magna Grecia. Located in the Plaka area of the city, the hotel's right across from the main Cathedral and its square. ... Read More
Norwegian Jade - April 23, 2008 Athens to Istanbul - 12 nights ATHENS: We spent three nights in Athens at Hotel Magna Grecia. Located in the Plaka area of the city, the hotel's right across from the main Cathedral and its square. The Cathedral bells marked the hour and half hour. Our deluxe room overlooked the square and the huge shuttered windows opened to a marvelous view of The Acropolis. Breakfast (European-style buffet) was included in our rate, and the breakfast area was the rooftop garden of the hotel which offered a stunning view of The Acropolis. At precisely 8:00AM you could watch the Greek flag being raised, announcing that The Acropolis was open for the day. Hotel Magna Grecia offered free wifi internet in the rooms. The beds were very comfortable, and the room equipped with sufficient storage and a desk for the computer. We had two very large windows which opened to allow the cool springtime air in. The bathroom was spotlessly clean, although not brand new, and had a hairdryer. Front desk service at the Magna Grecia was excellent. Maria is Greek-American and has a wonderful personality. She answered all our questions and is a real asset to the hotel. Being in the Plaka, you could walk to shopping and sites from the hotel....great location. We and our group of eight used Paul at greektaxi.com for tours of Athens (including the Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill), Cape Sounion at Sunset, Ancient Corinth). He is highly recommended, and his English is fluent. NORWEGIAN JADE: Checking in at the Port of Piraeus was a challenge, since it was the first time Norwegian Jade had used the facility for a turnaround. There was no signage for the Jade. Our driver (one of Paul's associates) found the correct berth (Piraeus is a very large port) and we and the luggage were unloaded in a flash. We entered the terminal and met the concierge, Ruth, who escorted us to a private area to await checkin. This feature is offered to Suite passengers on all NCL sailings. We checked in and went through Port Security, and my husband and I were the first two passengers on the ship (amazing, but true). We were escorted onto the ship and to our cabin by one of the butlers. Our cabin, #10500, Category AC, is on the center bow of the ship, offering a view of where the ship's heading. It, as well as the rest of the ship, was immaculately clean. The cabin had lots of storage, a vanity area, bath with shower/tub and large 3.4 fl oz bottles of Elemis bath and hair products, and a separate toilet area with sliding door. There was a 32" flat panel TV with CNN, Fox News, local channels and movies, and a DVD player. There was also a wireless phone that reached anyone on the ship, including the butler, and worked for several hundred feet outside the ship as well. 10500 had lots of storage space, including feature a clothes closet that opened from two sides: entry hall and dressing area ... very convenient. There were also two in-closet safes. Note that there are four Category ACs on Deck 10. The two center cabins, 10000 and 10500, had significantly more spacious interiors, with a little bumpout on the front under the bridge with several huge windows. The other two ACs, 10002 and 10502, had smaller interiors, only one window and slightly larger verandahs. This distinction does NOT show on the deck plans. The cabin also had a cappuccino/espresso machine which the butler had to teach us how to use. The butler is available for suite passengers and his primary functions involve food service. He also would bring DVD's from the extensive DVD library, and return books to the library. The butler will deliver room service, and in addition to the suite room service menu, he will bring menus from any of the specialty restaurants to be served in the suite. NOTE: The surcharge for the specialty restaurant applies if you choose their food for room service. We had a card to select our favorite fruits for what was promoted as a never-ending in-cabin fruit bowl. I think the ship's provisioning was having some problems, since the fruit bowl got smaller as time went on, and strawberries disappeared from the selection. Guests could select a snack from about eight choices to be delivered either before dinner or before bedtime. We chose nuts and cheeses, and they were delivered (by the butler) every evening right at 10PM. We got back to the ship late (9PM) on the night we visited Cairo, and the line to board was long. We used our ship phone from the pier to call the butler and request room service. Shortly after we got to the cabin, the food arrived ... using the phone proved expedient and saved about 45 minutes of waiting. NCL removed a number of inside cabins on Deck 6 to create the Jade Club Casino (during the conversion of the ship from Pride of Hawaii in Cadiz, Spain). The casino offers lots of up-to-date slot machines and numerous table games. Most games were in US dollars, but the only roulette table accepted only Euros. NCL offers a Casino at Sea program (Players Club) where you insert your card in the slot machine while playing, or show it to the pit boss while at the tables. At the end of the cruise, your onboard account is credited money according to your betting time and level. Our credit was under $100. The library had a new Freestyle 2.0 feature: it was open 24 hours, with unlocked bookcases. You just signed out the book you wanted, and your account was charged I think $25 if the book was not returned by the end of the cruise. This open policy was great, and the library was usually full of people reading. The self-serve launderettes (from the ship's Pride of Hawaii days) have been removed. Items may be laundered or pressed at a per-item price, and once during the 12-day cruise they offered an "all you can stuff in a bag" laundry program for $19.99 per bag. Items came back laundered and somewhat folded....not pressed. The quality of the laundry left much to be desired; whites became grey. There are two main dining rooms (Alizar and Grand Pacific), the Garden Cafe (buffet), and Paniolo's Tex Mex Restaurant at no additional charge. Grand Pacific is the more formal of the two main dining rooms, and jeans are not permitted at dinner. There are also several specialty restaurants at cover charges ranging from $10-$25/pp. Consensus is that the food is good to very good. It was not rated excellent by anyone in our group. The concierge is used by suite guests for reservations and arrangements. We provided her with a list of requested Specialty Restaurant dates and times on the first day, and had confirmations that afternoon for the entire cruise. Non-suite guests can make Specialty Restaurant reservations 24-48 hours in advance. As part of Freestyle Cruising, reservations are said to not be required in restaurants. If you do make reservations in the specialty restaurants, however, you will be seated before those without reservations with no need to wait. Otherwise there can be wait times. Throughout the ship are large LCD panels listing the restaurants with a sliding bar showing how full each restaurant is at the time. This is a great way to decide which restaurant to patronize, and have an idea if there will be a wait time. Suite guests are offered breakfast and lunch in an area of Cagney's Steakhouse. This is a quiet, private way to start the day. Breakfast was delightful, and we were off the ship most days during lunch so we didn't experience the Cagney's luncheon. Onboard entertainment was good to very good in most cases. There were some production shows with singers and dancers, and music of various types in several lounges. Surprisingly, some of the entertainment was at extra charge: a production of "Tony & Tina's Wedding" was $25/pp to attend, with a paper-plate-pasta-dinner included. Norwegian Jade is a large ship (92,000 GRT, 965 ft long, 2400 passengers). Having our cabin right at the bow made for lots of extra walking. Although the view was wonderful while in port, we're not sure we'd choose a bow cabin again. We were under the bridge and had to keep our curtains closed or lights dimmed at night while underway. And the balcony was virtually unusable while underway because of the wind. We had an interior steel balcony door as well as a sea-door with hatch. The sea-door needed to be closed most of the time while underway due to the wind that came in under the interior door. Service: Must honestly say that it depended on the crew member. Our cabin steward was simply fantastic ... one of the best we've ever had. But we had spotty service from the internet manager, gift shop manager, casino staff and several wait staff. This may be due to the fact that the crew is still jelling ... we were on only the 3rd Med cruise of the Jade. ITINERARY: The 12-night itinerary was port-intensive, offering only two days at sea. It could easily become an exhausting cruise without sufficient stamina and rest. We visited: Katakalon (for Olympia) Corfu Day at sea Alexandria (overnight) Day at sea Iraklion Santorini Mykonos Izmir (for Ephesus) And ended in Istanbul. Just a couple of notes on the ports visited: We used DeCastro Tours for Egypt. First day was a 3-hour drive from Alexandria to Cairo where we visited the Cairo Museum., Pyramids and Sphinx; then visited a papyrus shop. We lunched on a boat on the Nile River. The second day of tours remained in Alexandria. Among the ship's shore excursion offerings was a choice of a day trip to Cairo, or an overnight trip. Ephesus was a high point of the itinerary. We used EKOL for tours of Ephesus & Istanbul and the guides were superb. For $10USD extra, you can visit the Terrace Houses in Ephesus, and it is highly recommended. They are excavated houses (now inside a building constructed around them) and the frescoes and mosaics are still clear after 2000 years. Amazing. There is LOTS of walking and climbing on the shore excursions of this itinerary. Passengers should be in good physical condition to participate fully. We probably averaged 5 miles a day walking. And destinations such as the Acropolis require a significant amount of stair-climbing. Disembarkation was quick and uneventful. The concierge had offered a set time to meet us and escort us off the ship, but we elected to make our own way. Our luggage was in the proper color-coded section of the terminal, and porters were easily available. The porter took us to a taxi and we handed the taxi driver the name and address of the hotel, written in Turkish. This helped, since we were heading for a small boutique hotel that was not widely known. ISTANBUL: Post-cruise we spent three nights at Hotel Sari Konak in Istanbul. It's located in the Sultanahmet district, walking distance to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, shopping and dining. Our deluxe room was first floor (2nd US floor) and at the front of the hotel, so we had street noise, which didn't really bother us. Five times a day the imam of the Blue Mosque did the call to prayer over loudspeakers. Hauntingly beautiful, but it'll wake you up at 5AM if you're not prepared for it. Room was spotless, but nothing special. Bathroom was excellent, although the tub had high sides to climb over. The bed was hard and low. Breakfast was included in our rate at the Sari Konak, and again it was a solid European buffet. The rooftop garden offered a breathtaking view of the Blue Mosque on one side and the Bosporus on the other. You can't beat this hotel's location. And the three members of the front desk staff whom we met all spoke good to excellent English ... especially Mustafa. WEATHER: We were in Greece and Turkey between April 19 and May 8, and weather was excellent. Days in the high 50s to low 70s, and nights in the 50s. Egypt was warmer, with days approaching 80. We were told this was unusually cool. Guides in all three locations told us that weather in July and August is significantly hotter ... highs in the low 100s. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Istanbul to Athens Norweigian Jade - Friday April 11th - Wednesday April 23th Outbound Flights We live in Fairburn, GA. which is about 25 miles southwest of Atlanta. We flew on a Delta 767-300 to New York's JFK, and then on ... Read More
Istanbul to Athens Norweigian Jade - Friday April 11th - Wednesday April 23th Outbound Flights We live in Fairburn, GA. which is about 25 miles southwest of Atlanta. We flew on a Delta 767-300 to New York's JFK, and then on another 767-300 on to Istanbul. The flight to JFK experienced minor delays, but was otherwise uneventful. It's been awhile since I've been to JFK, but this airport is bursting at the seams. We had about an hour before our next flight and wanted to grab some lunch. The lines at all of the restaurants were so long that I had to settle for Burger King, and my wife just passed altogether. In retrospect, she had the right idea. Burger King is not for me, even in a crisis. The Istanbul flight sat at the gate for over an hour past its scheduled departure time. They said this was due to a broken baggage loader. When we finally did get to the tarmac, we waited another 30 minutes or so before finally taking off. This flight was notably bumpy for the first couple of hours, but nothing too severe. Delta's fleet is embarrassingly out of date. Both of our flights were on older planes which lacked the individual video displays in the coach section. While that's OK for a 2 or 3 hour domestic flight, it is not OK, in my opinion, when you know your passengers will be captive for over 10 hours. The meals were also sub par. Being an Atlanta resident, I would like to see Delta improve their service and update their fleet, so that they can thrive in the international market. They have more or less already conceded the domestic market to the discounters. Embarkation We landed in Istanbul at about 10:30 AM local time. We were roughly 90 minutes late because of the delays in New York. Customs in Turkey was by far the easiest such experience I have ever had. You simply purchase your Visa, and then get an arrival stamp in your passport. That's it! No declaration forms or baggage inspections. Just remember to get your Visa first [20 USD as of this writing and exact change is required], before waiting in the line for arrival stamps. There were no signs or employees to explain this beforehand, so we waited in the arrival line only to be turned away. Even with this mistake, however, the entire process took less than 20 minutes. Sadly enough, my worst customs experience was in my home city of Atlanta Georgia, but that's another story. We purchased the NCL transfer from airport to the ship. I highly recommend this service because they take care of your luggage and you don't have to worry about transportation issues. Who wants to worry about such things after 12 hours of flying. An added benefit of the transfer package was the actual drive to the ship. The bus driver seemed to purposely take "the scenic route." We were able to get a really good preview of Istanbul with some limited narration. The drive took about 30 - 45 minutes. Embarkation was what we've come to expect from the cruise industry. NCL seems to do a better job than Princess in this area. There was the appearance of chaos and confusion with all of these people standing in all of these lines, but as long as you have your paperwork in order, you should breeze through it pretty quickly. We did everything online well in advance, and were on the ship within 30 minutes. Do not show up at the ship without having completed your pre-registration forms [NCL calls them E-Docs] online. Ship - First Impressions Originally launched in May of 2006, the Norwegian Jade may be the newest cruise ship we have experienced. We cruised Hawaii on the Pride of Aloha in November of 2004, which may have been newer at the time. The Jade was formerly a sister ship of the Aloha, and was called Pride of Hawaii, but has recently been redeployed [earlier this year] as the only major cruise ship permanently based in Europe. With this repositioning came a new name. We've only visited a few decks at this point, but everything on the Jade appears, well, ship shape. One thing I am surprised to see are ample remnants of the ships Hawaiian roots. It was my understanding that these would be removed in dry dock prior to our sailing. We are in stateroom 8588, which is deck 8 midship. Our cabin is what the industry calls an "obstructed ocean view." My wife and I are both pretty bargain savvy, so this is actually the first time we have ever had anything other than the standard "inside cabin," even though we have logged over 20 cruises between us. When we are done working and ready to retire, we may spring for a balcony. Maybe... This stateroom is nicer than what we are accustomed to from other cruises. Not only does it have an acceptable view of the ocean as promised, it also seems to have some other upgrades, like nicer bathroom amenities and a bit more storage space. We can also see some of what NCL calls its Freestyle 2.0 upgrades, such as a fully stocked mini bar [which we'll never touch] and very nice bedding. So far NCL is doing a great job. Food - First Impressions I don't know why you cruise, but I do it for the food and the ports, or the ports and the food. I can't decide. But you get the point, I like good food and I like it to be easily accessible. I chose deck 8, in part, because it has both the 24 hour Blue Lagoon and the Paniolo Tapas & Salsa Restaurant in close proximity. After getting settled into our stateroom, we were ready for some real food. For now we didn't want to bother with a restaurant, so we visited the Garden Cafe Buffet on deck 12. Food was tasteful, but we expected a bit more variety than what was provided. It is also obvious that NCL is serious about maintaining health standards onboard. Most of the food was safely behind Plexiglas and proper hand sanitizing was encouraged throughout. One thing I have noticed that may be unique to NCL is the concept of an additional charge for certain entree's in the specialty restaurants. In other words, you pay the main cover charge, but if you order certain items, a separate charge is added. I find this disturbing, but it doesn't really affect me personally, since we don't eat in the specialty restaurants. We may try one on this cruise, but it would be our first. Entertainment - First Impressions To be honest, I don't usually find most of the entertainment offered on cruise ships to be all that interesting. If I go to a show, it's usually because my wife "asked" me to go. When this happens, I do sometimes end up enjoying myself. As I write this, I have not attended any of the shows on this cruise, [but that is certain to change] and even my wife has only attended one. This is primarily because there just isn't very much being offered in the category of entertainment. My wife attended a show on Sunday featuring a comedian/musician named Stephan Garcia, which she found quite entertaining. We have noticed two things of interest on this ship regarding entertainment. The first is the incredibly low profile the Cruise Director [and his staff] seem to be maintaining. We had actually concluded that there was no cruise director, since we have not seen or heard any mention of one, either in person, or in the Freestyle Daily since the cruise began. During dinner yesterday evening, I mentioned this to a bar waitress we have become friendly with. She said there definitely is a cruise director onboard, but even she had to confer with another staff member to get his name. I think this is an area where NCL could use some improvement. Even as an experienced cruiser, I believe a good cruise director to be a great benefit, but for first time cruisers, they are absolutely essential. I have also noticed on this cruise, what I believe to be a first in the entire mainstream cruise industry. An evening show that actually carries a cover charge. NCL is at it again, with their production of "Tony N Tina's Wedding." As explained to us, this is an interactive show where the audience actually participates, similar to The Rock Horror Picture Show for those who are familiar with that. Dinner is included. I don't know what the cover is, but the precedent is clear. Cruising is changing for the worse. If this is both tolerated by passengers and deemed profitable, I am sure other cruise lines will quickly follow suit. Ports: Day 1 - Istanbul As stated above, we got into Istanbul around 10:30 AM and onto the ship shortly after noon. After lunch and a quick nap, we took a taxi into town. We paid 15 USD for the ride and were dropped off at the entrance to the Blue Mosque. We spent some time taking in the surrounding area, but we were constantly bothered by overzealous street vendors with everything from ornamental hats to postcards. We're experienced travelers so we're used to this, but Istanbul is worse than most other places we've visited in this regard. You pretty much have to raise your voice to make them go away. When we approached the actual Mosque we were approached by another man. An older gentleman who offered some interesting historical perspective. He was very nice, but he followed us into the actual Mosque [no shoes allowed and women should have their heads covered] and kept on talking until it was obvious that he would ultimately expect to be paid. He did seem very knowledgeable and was not as overbearing as other people we encountered. We were happy to give him a few dollars for his time and trouble. There are also many shops in this area. We were interested in a tapestry rug for our living room wall, so we visited several of the famed Turkish carpet shops. We found some very nice designs, but thought the prices a bit high. Since the Jade is overnighting in Istanbul, we will be able to use the ships Internet service to do some quick research, and then return tomorrow to buy a rug if we want. After shopping around some more, we were ready to return to the ship. We saw a taxi driver and asked him how much it would cost. He was very reluctant to agree on a price and just kept saying "meter." We got in and he drove us close to the entrance to the ship and then asked if we would mind if he let us out here. We agreed and prepared to pay. He pointed to the meter, which we had not been able to see before then, even though we were looking for it. It said 49.50. I calculated this to be about $35 USD, which would already have been twice what we paid to get there from the ship. I handed the man two $20.00 bills. He immediately handed me back two $1.00 bills and acted as if I had originally given him the $1.00 bills instead of $20's. We argued for awhile and he eventually abandoned that ruse. Now he claimed that the meter was reading US dollars, and so I owed him another $10.00. I gave him the same two $20.00 bills as before [he had magically found them by now] and told my wife to get out of the car. I told him to call the police if he had a problem with it, but I wouldn't pay anymore. I went on my way, and I'm sure he went looking for the next unsuspecting tourist to rip off. All that to say, beware of cab drivers in Turkey. Don't get into a cab without first agreeing on the price and the currency it will be paid in. Also, don't allow a driver to drop you off outside of the cruise ship area. We believe this was his way of avoiding a confrontation with the police. Back on the ship, we headed up to the Garden Buffet again, but found even less variety this time. There are a lot of restaurants on this ship, so perhaps this is why the buffet is so basic. In any case, we ate a little at the buffet, but eventually went back to deck 8 and got some hot wings from The 24 hour Blue Lagoon. That brings this day to a close. Day 2 - Istanbul - At Sea Today started at about 08:00 for us. We decided to have breakfast in the Garden Cafe buffet area since we wanted to get a start on the short day. Breakfast in the Garden Cafe was typical, food-wise, but seats were difficult to find. We finally did find seats by sharing a table with another couple. After breakfast we headed ashore and were greeted by costumed locals playing a variety of percussion instruments. We took a few pictures of this spectacle and then headed out to find a cab. After yesterday, we were quite wary of Turkish cab drivers, but today we were fortunate enough to meet a very savvy Chinese couple. The husband demonstrated the art of negotiating a taxi [or taksi as it is called here] ride in excellent fashion. The process is basically as described above, but he also said to always show and announce the exact currency before it exchanges hands, and to pay only after you have physically exited the cab. We ended up splitting a cab with this couple and went to the famed Grand Bazaar. This bazaar is situated in a Mosque, which I found a bit perplexing. There are reputedly over 4000 shops in and around the bazaar. We had been looking for a large tapestry rug for our living room and were able to find one here for what my research [yesterday and pre-cruise] indicated to be an excellent price. I also bought some decorative knives that I am hoping I'll be able to get back home. The merchant said it would not be a problem because they are not at all sharp. I hope I wasn't naive in believing him. We bought some other trinkets and headed back to where our driver had agreed to meet us. He was right on time and very friendly, a sharp contrast to yesterdays experience. We arrived back at the ship in time for a quick late lunch. We ate light because the sail away party and barbecue was scheduled to begin at 14:30 [2:30 PM]. The sail away party was very nice and the weather in Istanbul was beautiful. I would estimate about 75 degrees and mostly sunny. The menu was steak and chicken, as well as burgers and hot dogs. We thought it strange that ribs were not offered, but it didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves. I Almost forgot, the lifeboat drill was held at 14:00. They actually closed the buffet at 13:45 in anticipation of this. I approached the desert bar to grab a cookie and was told I could not have one until after the drill! NCL is serious about guests attending the drill. We have skipped it on other ships without consequence. As they go, this one was pretty well organized and brief. So we are now officially at sea for the first time in this cruise. Tonight is a "dress up, or not" night, NCL parlance for formal night. On this ship, it simply means the photographers will be prowling about. Next stop, Izmur. We have booked a tour for this port, since we want to visit Ephesus and it is not walkable from port. We are going to relax for the remainder of this day, or at least until dinner. Day 3 - Izmur We started out today with breakfast in the Grand Pacific dining room on deck 7. We are saddened by the apparent decline of the food product across the board on mainstream cruise ships. We noted this on our last cruise with Princess, and it seems Norwegian has managed to further this impression. Breakfast consisted of what appeared to be powdered eggs and coaster sized pancakes you might expect to find in a military kitchen. I believe Norwegian has decided that what used to be a standard restaurant will now be a "specialty" one. That would explain the larger than usual number of them on this ship. Unless you eat in one of these, the food quality will be mediocre by design. I believe this will continue in the industry until passengers demand better with their wallets. We have a tour booked today with the ship. We will be visiting Ephesus. We're excited about this tour because of the historical and Biblical significance of this port. We mustered in the Stardust Theater at 09:00 for what was advertised as a 4 hour tour. I don't generally care for ship tours, but my wife was still a bit unnerved about the Turkish taksi drivers. We were on the bus and on our way by maybe 09:30. The trip from Izmur to Ephesus took about an hour. This hour was made interesting by our guide, Ahmet. He was a wealth of knowledge concerning life in Turkey and the history of both Izmur and Ephesus. When we arrived I immediately noticed the extreme crowds. This was the only bad part of a truly unique experience. Ephesus is only about 13% excavated, according to our guide. The rest remains underground. Being here and hearing the guide discuss the history brought to life for me what I had read about for years in scripture. They even had some actors dressed as Ephesians who did a few performances while we were there. I could have done without that part, but the ruins are special. As we left the area our guide allowed us to visit the nearby site of the Temple of Artemis. On our way back to the ship, we were told we would be stopping for refreshments and a "demonstration." By now it was already 14:00 and we hadn't even had lunch. The demonstration turned out to be a modeling show complete with a runway and about 6 thin and sculpted Turks showing various leather jackets and suede blazers. I sat through that, but when they tried to herd us all into their shop next door, I returned to the bus. About 10 minutes later, the rest of our passengers started streaming out. I noticed a couple of them had bags in hand. I later learned that the least expensive item was $300.00. I can't understand how anyone would make such an impulse purchase, but as long as they do, the cruise lines will continue to push the limits of decorum with these forced stops on "tours." By the time we got back to the ship, it was about 16:30, so our 4 hour tour actually took closer to 7 hours. We had a very late lunch at the Topsiders Grill and then went to our stateroom to rest. Later we had dinner at the Grand Pacific Dining Room. Actually, my wife did. I wasn't ready for dinner yet, but sat with her as she ate. I ended up getting some buffalo wings from the 24 hour Blue Lagoon which is just outside of our stateroom. My wife took in a comedy/magic show, while I opted to stay in. That's it for day 3. Tomorrow we're scheduled to visit the Greek Island of Mykonos. Day 4 - Mykonos To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Mykonos. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a beautiful and serene island. Americans may be reminded of Hilton Head, SC, as Mykonos has the same uniformity in it's building decor, although the color of choice here is white. We started with breakfast in the Garden Cafe and then caught the free shuttle into town. The ride is only a few miles, but this island is a pleasure to walk anyway. There are beautiful homes high atop the hills, all sharing the common decor, as well as shop after shop selling everything from high end "jewelry" as it is spelled here, to the more mundane such as T-shirts. Since Greece is a EU nation, the Euro is the official currency, and it is quite expensive for Americans. We spent about 4 hours taking in Mykonos. We walked along the cobblestone streets and the shoreline. We visited a very small "beach," but did not venture out to where a local said the nicer beaches were. We sat on the numerous giant stones and stared into the crystal clear waters. We headed back to the ship at around 13:00 to grab some lunch and continue enjoying Mykonos from the vantage point of deck 13. This was a welcome break from the chaos and aggressive street merchants of Istanbul and Izmur. In Mykonos, no one will pressure you to buy anything and everyone is friendly and respectful. Add to that, picture perfect weather, [probably in the high 70's with plenty of sun,] and you have about as perfect a day as one could hope for. Day 5 - Santorini Again. I wasn't expecting much from Santorini or any of the Greek islands. I had basically considered them trivial waypoints between Istanbul and Egypt. For the 2nd day in a row I have been pleasantly surprised. Not only is Santorini a wonderful island, it is completely different than Mykonos, and thus a unique experience in its own right. The ship has to tender at this port, and the winds were strong enough where the staff felt the need to allow departures from only one side of the ship. This made getting ashore take quite awhile. By the time we were up, fed, and ready to go ashore it was already about 09:00. It took another hour to actually find ourselves in the tender craft heading to Santorini island. I was surprised that NCL appeared to have contracted with a local company to provide the tenders, as previous cruises I have been on typically used their own life boats. Once on the island, we had a decision to make. The donkey, the cable car, or our own two feet. You see, Santorini is perched high atop the mountains and it's about a 45 minute walk to the top. We opted for the donkey, which cost us 4 Euros each. At the time of this writing, that's about 7.50 USD. The folks who chose the cable cars had the easiest time, and those who chose to walk, well, they will probably not be making that mistake again. If you walk, you have to do so on the same path that the donkeys use, and where there are 20 or so donkeys, there is also... Well, you get the point. Lots of it. I'm glad we made the choice we did. It took about 30 minutes or so, and was an interesting experience. I was quite proud of my wife as she braved this adventure. Once atop the island [still another 15 minutes or so on foot after the donkey ride] you are treated to some spectacular views of the ocean below, as well as the island itself, which is basically a semi-circle. I cannot believe people actually live up here, but they do. Just as with Mykonos, the people of Santorini are friendly and courteous. There are a myriad of shops and restaurants to try, and for the brave, cars and motorcycles are available for rent. We spent only a few hours touring Santorini once we reached the top, before beginning the long journey back down to catch the tender back to the ship. On the way down, we chose the cable cars, which took less than 10 minutes. We were back on the Jade by around13:45 and had a late lunch in the Garden Cafe buffet on deck 12. After that we returned to our stateroom for an afternoon nap. My wife will have a spa treatment later, and I will have some free time to , as NCL says, do "whatever." Day 6 - Araklion Today we are visiting yet another Greek island. Araklion [ancient Crete] looks more like a modern US city than an island. We met up for breakfast with our new friends Yvonne and Henry from my old home of Bay Area, CA. When we discovered this commonality yesterday, we had some interesting conversation, but that is another story. We decided to journey onto Iraklion together. There's not much to see here without venturing off the beaten path. If you're game for this, then there are some ruins called Knosses [I think] that you may want to see. Something to do with bulls and mazes or labyrinths as they are called here. Yvonne had been to Iraklion before and felt comfortable doing this. Since we got a late start today, and had seen our fill of ruins for awhile, we decided to split off here. We continued our general sight-seeing tour and soon returned to the ship via the free shuttle busses which drive you no more than a few miles. You don't really need a shuttle here, but the local port authority provided them anyway. They were brand spanking new busses too. Nice. Greece is one of the most hospitable places I have ever visited, and Iraklion only strengthened this impression. I have heard contrasting stories about Athens, but we'll find out soon enough whether or not they are true. Back onboard, we had lunch at the Grand Pacific Dining Room again. It's usually your best bet outside of the Garden Cafe buffet and 24 hour Blue Lagoon, which has a very limited menu. While we were dining, we were approached by a senior waiter. We thought he might want to know how we were enjoying the meal, except we hadn't actually gotten any food yet. Instead, he handed us a menu advertising one of their specialty restaurants called Le Bistro. They were having brunch there tomorrow. These are the types of things were are seeing that seem to be exclusive to Norwegian. They are very persistent in trying to up sell. More so than other cruise lines I have patronized. Not a big deal to me, but worth noting. We have begun to see better food choices in the regular restaurants too. The rest of our day should be typical. Just an afternoon nap and probably another visit to the Internet Cafe. Actually, with my laptop, I can access the Internet in most common areas of the ship, so no need to visit the actual Cafe. Tomorrow is our first of only 2 sea days as we prepare for the "big boy" port of Alexandria Egypt. That's why we're here. I've always wanted to visit Egypt. I can hardly believe it's only a day away! Day 7 - At Sea I just wasted away. Plain and simple. Day 8 - Cairo We have a ships tour booked for today. The ship is in Alexandria, but we will be going directly to Cairo. Since the ship will be here overnight, we can see Alexandria tomorrow if we want. The tour left at about 08:00. The drive into Cairo takes about 3 hours. Not a whole lot to see along the way. When we did arrive we went straight to the pyramids. They are awesome sights to behold, but the area is littered with debris, as is most of Cairo from what we saw. I won't spend a lot of time describing it, but let's just say the trinket merchants in Cairo are about the worst anywhere I've been. They will lie to you, and you practically have to hit them to make them go away. Worse than roaches. All joking aside, I almost did have to hit one because he kept tugging on my wife's clothing. I don't think they have much regard for women here. Anyway, we were able to spend about 45 minutes exploring the pyramids, which was more than enough for me. I also opted for the optional camel ride, which cost an additional 10 Euros. The entire ride lasted about 3 minutes, but we got the picture I wanted. Next we visited the Sphinx, which is in easy walking distance from the pyramids. For security reasons, we were still required to ride the bus there. We started to go inside this area, but the lines were so long we gave up on that idea, since we only had a little while and the merchants also loomed. Next we went to the riverboat we would be taking for out lunchtime Nile cruise. The boat was very nice and there was a decent buffet lunch served. Along with the cruise, we were treated to a belly dancing performance and some other performances by the onboard band. It was as good or better than any of the entertainment on the Jade to date. The cruise lasted about 90 minutes and the staff of the boat were extremely nice. I enjoyed this very much, although I was very stressed out because of the earlier incident with the merchant at the Giza Pyramids. After lunch we visited the Mohammed Aly, or Alabaster, Mosque. This is a magnificent structure, but like everywhere else we went, it was fraught with "we don't take no for an answer" vermin merchants. I know they're trying to make a living, but that does not excuse their behavior. In my case, I would buy much more if I were allowed to actually browse the merchandise without their constant and insipid sales pitches. By the time we finished our Nile cruise, it was 15:00. We made another stop at a department store where people we allowed to claim cartouches and custom T shirts they had ordered from our tour guide, "Norma," earlier. Of course, the idea was to encourage general shopping as well. This stop chewed up another 45 minutes, and then we were on our way back to Alexandria. By the time we got back to the ship it was about 20:30. 12 hours. Just as advertised. The tour we took is called Pyramids and the Nile in Style. I think it's a pretty good value for the money. Some people we know onboard took a private car for over $500.00. Money aside, I wouldn't recommend this option in Cairo, [unless you contract through the ship as they did] because it is such a potentially dangerous and corrupt place. So much so that Cairo has what they call Tourist Police. All tour busses travel in these long convoys and some busses have armed guards onboard. In summary, Cairo is a beautiful place which I think everyone should see, but all of the sacred sites are completely over run with the dishonest peddlers who are virtually impossible to get rid of. Even though we're docked here overnight, I don't know yet if I will even attempt to see Alexandria. That's how put off I was after today. Day 9 - Alexandria We cancelled our ships tour several days ago because we thought it would be too much too soon after Cairo. This assumption was correct , but it still left us with nothing planned for today. I was OK with this, but my wife had her heart set on seeing the Corniche area and the Qaitbay Fort, so we ventured off the ship and approached the waiting taxi drivers. English was not a problem here [or in Cairo for that matter] but when we told them to take us to the Fish Market [a popular restaurant we learned was in the heart of the main attractions] we were met with solicitations for an all out tour. Most of these guys simply will not listen to reason and insist on ripping off tourists. At this, we decided to just stick to the shops situated right at the port, because we just didn't feel we could trust any of the taxi drivers. They were so pushy and disingenuous that my concerns moved from simply being overcharged to possibly being forced to pay a mercenary ransom to be returned to the ship. Finally, as we sat discussing the thought of staying at the port, one man approached us and simply said "if you change your mind, I'll be over there." At that, he retreated to a spot across the street. I kept an eye on him as my wife and I talked and noticed that he didn't harass tourists as the others did. He would ask once and then leave people alone. We approached this driver and discussed what we wanted to accomplish. He also tried to suggest a tour, but when we made it clear that this was not what we wanted, he let it go. We were driven to the Fish Market restaurant and our driver agreed to pick us up in an hour. We did our sightseeing and shopping and were ready to go. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, the Corniche area is not a place you'll want to spend too much time. It is extremely dirty and the beautiful beach is just littered with all manner of trash. There is also an ominous smell of dead fish. Once you get to the fort, things are better, but you'll still have to deal with the merchants. They weren't quite as bad here, as this area is not quite as touristy as others. We got back a little late, but our driver was there waiting. He promptly drove us back to the port. All of this for 20 USD. I gave him an extra $10.00 because he was honest and friendly. I believe in rewarding the behavior you want to encourage and punishing that you wish to discourage. Back on the ship, my wife is enjoying a "stretch and relax" class, while I am enjoying NCL's excellent Bridge Viewing Room on deck 11 forward. We anticipate a relaxing evening as we prepare to head to the island of Curfu. Day 10 - Sea Day We started out today with a wonderful lecture on Alexander the Great. The lecture was delivered by Dawn Brown, who, although not a historian, has a remarkable and diverse grasp on matters of the ancient world. Dawn gave other lectures on the ancient Egyptians and Socrates, which I sadly missed. I am looking forward to her final lecture on Esop, of Esops fables. I had the pleasure of speaking to Dawn and her wonderful sister Gail [who is also on board] after her lecture today. She is a very approachable person who is equally comfortable whether delivering lofty lectures or speaking to a commoner such as myself. Our next stop was an early lunch since my wife had an upcoming salsa class. I wasn't quite ready for lunch, but I sat with her as she ate. During this time, our friends Henry and Yvonne approached. Yvonne and I quickly resumed our political back and forth from the other day. This went on for over an hour, and my wife was off to her class. I finally decided to have some lunch and then returned to our stateroom. The rest of this day is slated for relaxation. With the cruise approaching an end, we will be having a farewell dinner with Henry and Yvonne. Day 11 - Corfu Corfu was one of the ports on this cruise that I wasn't expecting much from. As it turns out, it appears to be a nice and laid back island, but there aren't any major attractions here that I am aware of. There are attractions though, and you might want to research them to see if they interest you. As for me, I didn't go too far from the ship. I found a nice area of shops maybe 1/4 mile away and bought a nice hat and some other gifts for relatives. My wife ventured further into the center of town, but I returned to the ship to enjoy Corfu from my favorite vantage point, deck 13. The taxi drivers and merchants on Corfu are nice enough, but a bit more aggressive than the ones on Mykonos, Araklion or Santorini. I expect this trend to continue and culminate in Athens where I have heard all manner of stories about how rude and dishonest the locals can be. Day 12 - Katakalon This is our final port of call. Katakalon is the site of the original Olympics in ancient Greece. To this today the Olympic torch begins its journey here. The city of Olympia contains the ruins of the ancient site, and this is the main tourist attraction. The ship does not spend much time in this port for some reason. Departure time is 14:30. I must have eaten something that didn't agree with me at last nights "chocoholics buffet" because I barely slept and woke up not feeling very well. I've already seen my share of ruins and could have happily skipped this port, but my wife wanted to disembark. We went out into town at around 09:00 after a quick breakfast. When we reached the row of taxis about 1/4 mile away from the ship [they don't appear to allow taxis in the port here] and asked for the fare to Olympia, we were told 100 Euros by every driver we asked. They all seem to be working together here. They were very friendly and polite, but they all said the same thing. When I finally found one who spoke some English, he explained that this price was for an hour at Olympia and then 30 minutes somewhere else. I couldn't understand him that well, so I don't know where the other stop would have been, but in any case, the ships tour to Olympia is only 80 USD, far less than 100 Euros. At this, I decided to just return to the ship and convalesce, but my wife stayed out for another hour before returning herself. Some folks from the ship said they would go to Olympia via public transit, a somewhat risky decision in my view, since we all need to be back onboard by 13:00. As for me, I will spend the bulk of today preparing for a smooth departure tomorrow morning. We're scheduled to be in Piraeus at 04:00 and be off the ship by around 10:00. I eventually found out that my sickness was a cold virus that was going around. Disembarkation - Piraeus Disembarkation was very smooth on the Jade. Princess ships have an annoying habit of forcing you to remain in designated public areas on disembarkation day, but NCL allowed us more or less full run of the ship. This makes for a more comfortable experience in my view. Since I was suffering from a pretty severe cold virus of some sort, I got absolutely no sleep the night before. I was therefore able to watch the Jade pull into the port of Piraeus at about 02:30 AM, albeit in a semi-comatose state. By about 04:30, those with early flights were already getting off. Since we were staying in Athens overnight, we were last off the ship, which translated to about 10:00 as promised. By 11:30, we were at our hotel in Athens, the Ledra Marriott. This hotel is located a bit outside of town, but they provided a free shuttle to the center of town every hour. This saved us from ever having to deal with a taxi driver. Very nice. The Ledra doesn't look like much from the outside and the lobby is a bit dull, but the rooms are very nice and thoroughly equipped for the traveler. Internet access is available for as low as 9 Euros for 3 hours. A lot better than the ships price for their inferior Internet service, but I thought this should have been included for NCL sponsored guests. Once in our room, we got cleaned up and hopped on the 12:15 shuttle into town. Once there, we walked to the Monastiraki shopping square, did some preliminary shopping, and then had lunch at a nice little sidewalk cafe. This is where I discovered a noteworthy surprise. For some reason, the Athenians seem to frown on credit cards. I had to make an unscheduled stop at a nearby ATM to pay for our meal. If you are in a high end shop such as a jewelry store, credit cards will likely be OK, otherwise, make sure you have Euros. US dollars are absolutely not accepted. Interestingly enough, credit cards and US dollars were happily accepted on all of the Greek islands. We finished our shopping and then boarded what they call the "Happy Train" which is a slow moving trolley that will take you to all of the main attractions, including the Acropolis area. It runs about every hour, so you can get off whenever you like. We got off at the Acropolis and began the walk to the Parthenon. When we got there, we were again foiled by our lack of Euros. We had spent the Euros we got earlier. We felt sure the Parthenon would accept a credit card. We ere wrong. Cash only. Euros only. So we did not get to go inside, but I was actually OK with that. We still had an excellent view of the city from the Acropolis, and being near the Parthenon is good enough for me. We got back to our hotel around 20:00 and called it a day after getting some fast food at the nearby Goody's restaurant. My cold virus somewhat hampered my ability to enjoy Athens. Things would have been better had I known where to get some basic meds. At home any supermarket would have supplied everything I required, but in Athens, you pretty much need to find a pharmacy for drugs, and their hours of operation are not predictable. Therefore, my recommendation is to bring every medication you think you might possibly need in your checked luggage. Of course, the everyday meds should be in your carry on bag. Athens is a fun and vibrant city, full of culture. The people are basically nice and friendly. Aside from the obvious attraction of the Parthenon and Acropolis, it's also a great place to shop and dine. I would recommend adding at least one day to the end of your cruise to see this world class city. Return Flights The return flights were fine, save the unavoidable nightmare that is Customs at JFK. We flew Delta there, and then on to Atlanta. By now, my cold virus had escalated to a severe level, so this was a very long 14 hours [including a 2 hour layover at JFK] for me. We were home by about 20:30 and I went promptly to bed. Final Thoughts We had not been on an NCL ship since 2004 when we cruised Hawaii on the Pride of Aloha. We enjoyed that cruise very much. Since then, we had been using either Princess or Royal Caribbean, mainly because of the itineraries offered. While we had a wonderful time overall, it is clear that NCL has made some changes to their strategy, centered mainly around growing revenue. First. The number of specialty restaurants on the ship exceeds the non-specialty ones. Strange in my view, and only a couple of them really appear worth the cover. We didn't try any of them, but spoke to many people who did. On some days senior waiters would come to our table in the main dining room and try to convince us to try a specialty restaurant at some point. They would hand you the menu and expect you to look it over. We also found that certain items at the non-specialty restaurants carried a cover charge, as well as certain items at the specialty restaurants carrying an additional charge on top of the cover you already paid. I could go on, but the point is clear enough. The cruise industry has become so heavily commoditized that they are looking for every possible way to squeeze out more profit. It is to the point where it is difficult to really enjoy your vacation if you don't want to play along. The cruise lines all do this in some form, and I don't expect it to change anytime soon. On the other hand, the Jade is an awesome ship. By far the best NCL ship I have ever seen. It is ultra-modern in every way. Our stateroom shower was actually better than the one we have at home, and the bridge viewing room was a favorite place for me. The Stardust Theater is also an engineering marvel and rivals many smaller land based venues. Sadly, the entertainment onboard made mostly poor use of this marvelous facility. NCL has a long way to go in the entertainment category. Most shows were very basic and the cruise director was nowhere to be found. I am very glad that this cruise had only 2 sea days. NCL excels at keeping things simple and non-pretentious. We had no problems with any of our tours or transfers. If you are OK with the general decline of quality and service in the cruise industry, then I think Norwegian deserves a look. Otherwise, you may want to consider a high-end line such as Oceana. We heard good things about them and actually saw one of their ships ported with us at several of our stops. Happy Cruising. Gunny Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Background: This was a Spring Break cruise that I took with my grandson who was almost 14. We went at this time because it is the only time he doesn't have any sports activities scheduled. He had been on one previous short cruise to ... Read More
Background: This was a Spring Break cruise that I took with my grandson who was almost 14. We went at this time because it is the only time he doesn't have any sports activities scheduled. He had been on one previous short cruise to the Bahamas with his parents, which he didn't like particularly because the Kids Club restricted him from leaving if he didn't like the program. I am a bronze Latitude member as this is my fourth NCL cruise (out of a total nine cruises) the others having been with my husband who now refuses to fly because he hates the hassle at airports. My grandson's break lasted from March 27th to April 7th, and therefore we left the cruise in Venice to fly him home for the first day of school. So we did not see the last couple of ports. Travel to the port of Embarkation: I flew from BWI to Miami (where my grandson lives) and the next day we flew from Miami via Madrid arriving in Barcelona on March 28th. I arranged my own airline tickets and did not use the cruise ship air. Hotel information: Hotels were arranged by a travel agent. We stayed in the Hotel Reding which was a small hotel in the area near Plaza Catalonia. We spent the rest of the 28th after we arrived and the 29th on the Bus Turistic (the local Barcelona hop-on hop-off bus). I bought the tickets on-line and picked them up at the airport. I recommend the Bus Turistic for an overview of Barcelona. Ship Information: This is the former Price of Hawaii which has been re-purposed (and re-staffed) for the Med. It was the first Med cruise for the ship. Stateroom: We were on deck 4 just about in the center of the ship. It was a handicapped room (although I didn't ask for one), and was huge. We were right next to the medical center - the last room in a very short corridor and it was very quiet with very little motion felt compared to what other people reported experiencing. It was also quite close to the gangway at any ports where we got off on the 4th deck. There were two beds, each with a little bedside table, a dresser with a stool (but no drawers) a closet which had a hanging rod which could be pulled down to wheelchair height, and also had shelves, shelves next to the closet, couch which could make into another bed, a table with three chairs, and a TV stand which had the TV on top and also three drawers, the mini-bar and the safe in the base. The bathroom, in addition to the sit-down shower had a mirror that could be tilted for a wheelchair person, but not much in the way of shelf space. My grandson had to put his toilet kit out on one of the shelves. Drawer space was also lacking. Dining: The Garden Cafe (the buffet) was really quite good and had a good variety of food. For dinner, they had tablecloths and silverware on the tables and would seat you after you got your food. At breakfast, they had cranberry juice (which is what I want to drink and which the buffet has not had in the past). I thought the buffet on this ship was excellent. They had a number of special areas including one with pizza. My grandson also had hamburgers at the Grill a couple of times which he said were good. The only non-extra price regular special restaurant is the Tapas Salsa Restaurant (Tex-Mex), as they've added a charge to the Italian Restaurant. We ate at the Tapas Salsa the first night and it was OK, although I found the service a trifle disorganized. I was given a soup which was listed as black bean soup, and found meat in it which wasn't mentioned on the menu. I did not try the Blue Lagoon this time, because I heard people complaining about the service there, but we liked it on the Pearl. The only large restaurant (556) was the Grand Pacific and it was billed as the more formal restaurant. It was usually the one open for breakfast and lunch. I was afraid to try it for dinner with my grandson who only had bluejeans to wear. I did eat there for breakfast and lunch several times, even though it is hard to get to. It is on deck 6, but you can't walk directly back on 6 because the kitchens are in the way. You have to walk back on deck 7 and go down a half flight of steps to get to the person in charge of seating. This is more convenient for the people on the upper decks as they can just take the aft elevator down. The Alizar dining room only seats a little over 300, and frequently had long lines because people do not understand Freestyle, and kept making reservations that they did not need and which couldn't really be accommodated. They were saying 6 pm for 4 or 6:15 for 2. That is totally not necessary and bollixes up the system. If they go up to dinner at 5:30 or six and just go up to the desk and say 4, they will all sit together at a table for four. They don't need to make a reservation. And they really CAN'T hold a table for 4 that maybe won't show up at 6:15 after all. They only need to make reservations for large parties where the tables need to be set up. At some times the service was a bit slow, but other tables were quite quick, and we did have better luck with sharing than we had on our last NCL cruise. They only put us at a table for two when we asked to share once. They had a large menu of options for every night which included a salad, an appetizer and several entrees. My grandson had the steak every night. There were also the daily specials, which I usually had. My perception is that the menu has been pruned and there are not quite as many options as before. I bought my grandson a coupon book which was $30 for 20 drinks - cokes or fancy non-alcoholic drinks (his key card had the corner cut off so they would know not to serve him alcohol). This was a much better deal for us than a soda card as he usually only has a couple of cokes a day. Children's Clubs - since the teens were allowed to check in and out on their own, I registered my grandson, and he liked going up there and playing video games. He also utilized the golf area and did some shooting of hoops. They also had computers up there that the kids could use. He spent about $40 on the games. I had to go with him to the Casino to get change as they wouldn't give it to him if he was on his own. Entertainment and Activities: We didn't attend any shows, nor in fact did I do any activities. I think my grandson might have done, but he's fairly laconic about it, so I don't know exactly. Shore Excursions: I took only one ship excursion and that was the one for Burano/Murano in Venice. This was a good tour, although somewhat loosely organized. Because everything in Venice was by boat, they issued stickers to us and took 30 per boatload. They took the first boat to Murano (the shorter distance) and the second boat went to Burano and they they switched. They should have done it the other way around. All the other shore excursions involved more walking than I could do comfortably, so I arranged a private car and driver for the day in Rome and Naples, but NOT through the ship. Disembarkation: We got our passports back from the desk (where they had to have them to get visas for the various ports), and walked off the ship in Venice and went to a hotel there. Since we were one of the few to disembark here, there was almost no formalities to go through. We went to the Santa Chiara Hotel which is in walking distance of the port, and right at the end of the Number One vaporetto line where we could take in the whole length of the Grand Canal and out to the Lido. From here we flew back to Madrid, and then back to Miami. Summary: I was happy with the cruise. They hadn't changed the decor of the ship to match the new itinerary, and some of it was a little garish for my taste (I liked the Pearl better), but in general I think this will be a satisfactory way to do a Med. cruise. Although the personnel was new to the ship and many of them were still learning, they appeared anxious to please. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
We returned yesterday after sailing from Rio to Barcelona on the Oceania Insignia and then from Barcelona to Istanbul on the NCL Jade. Our Jade voyage premiered the brand new "2.0" upgrade to NCL's free style cruising ... Read More
We returned yesterday after sailing from Rio to Barcelona on the Oceania Insignia and then from Barcelona to Istanbul on the NCL Jade. Our Jade voyage premiered the brand new "2.0" upgrade to NCL's free style cruising format. Upgrades include an increase of 20% pp in the food budget, new menus, bedding, linens and pillows, improved toiletries, increased hours for food and entertainment venues, new forms of entertainment and other changes geared to improve the overall quality of the NCL product. The 2.0 upgrades are scheduled to be implemented fleet wide in the near future. As members of the ad hoc on board Cruise Critic group we were privileged to meet with several senior corporate officers who explained the roll out of 2.0 and the rationale of the free style format in which customers are offered a wide range of dining and entertainment choices. Several months ago, Apollo Management, a private equity company, purchased control of Star Cruises Ltd. which owned the financially troubled NCL and NCOA (NCL America). Immediately thereafter NCOA's new (2006) Pride of Hawaii was transformed from an American flagged ship unprofitably serving the Hawaiian islands exclusively to the foreign flagged NCL Jade now scheduled for service in Europe. The Jade dry docked in Cadiz for 10 days immediately prior to our cruise in order to make improvements consistent with the new "2.0" upgrades. In the case of the Jade this involved installing a large casino inasmuch as casinos are prohibited on American flagged ships. Unfortunately, it also included removing the self service laundry rooms. Not having a washing machine on board may be okay on a 7 day cruise, but it's a bit inconvenient on a 12 day cruise especially given the high price of the ship's laundry services. Coincidentally, last year Apollo Management also invested a huge chunk of money in the Oceania cruise line. I don't know to what extent Apollo has taken an active role in Oceania ship management, but our recent post-Apollo Insignia crossing seemed to have lost a bit of luster in comparison to our Insignia crossing of last year, especially in terms of entertainment. On the contrary, NCL with its new 2.0 upgrade is a vast improvement over what I had experienced with NCL in its pre-Apollo past. I estimate that I have sailed NCL 4 or 5 times in the past and based upon the totality of my cruising experience (more than 55 cruises) regarded it a notch or two below HAL or Celebrity in terms of overall quality. I would now equate all three in terms of food and service and definitely give the nod to NCL for entertainment. Our cabin cost less than $100 pp per day. Due to the decline of the US$ versus the Euro, one cannot now eat decently in Europe for that amount. This cruise provided a wonderful value and I enthusiastically recommend NCL especially if it can hold down its prices. CABIN In view of the season and itinerary my wife and I opted for a standard outside cabin on deck 5 located beneath the French Bistro specialty dining room. It was quiet and everything worked as it was supposed to except for a somewhat erratic shower that tended to fluctuate ever so slightly in water temperature and pressure during operation. This minor flaw did not rise to the level of a call to the Maintenance Dept and in my wife's eyes was more than offset by the presence of a hand held hairdryer located by the cabin's mirrored make up desk. Unlike some other cabin thermostats ours was easy to read and to adjust. The bathroom was predictably cramped, but had sufficient shelf space for our toiletries etc. The towels, bed mattress, pillows (not down) and bedsheets (probably not extravagantly high thread count Egyptian cotton) were not super plush, but were of superior quality and were comfortable. Ship supplied soap and shampoo were dispensed from economy sized metal wall containers. I was disappointed with the absence of better soaps/shampoo in view of the expected 2.0 upgrades. We used the more upscale Elemis toiletries leftover from our Oceania crossing. The cabin had adequate storage space because we did not have to hang up much in the way of "dress up" clothes. I travelled with a single sports jacket and 4 pair of dress slacks. The NCL free style format doesn't require suits/jackets for men nor did the resort casual dress code of our Oceania crossing. Accordingly, we could do with fewer clothes even though we cruised a total of 27 nights and had another 9 on shore. Had this been a standard 12 night dress up type of cruise I suspect closet space would have been inadequate. The television set appeared to be a 17 incher and offered surprisingly little in the way of movie programming. Fox and CNN were available continuously, but were nauseatingly repetitious especially in view of the prevailing economic and geopolitical nightmares. Spa and excursion advertisements together with replays of stultifying port shopping talks screened incessantly. There was a tiny refrigerator intelligently located at eye level. Once we emptied it of the ship's wine and beer supply it served to chill our own assortment of soft drinks. In fairness to NCL the price of a can of coke was only $2 compared to the $3 on board the Insignia. The ship also offered a special bottomless glass promotion whereby one person could get an unlimited amount of soft drinks for the duration of the cruise for "only" $72. As usual, our room steward and her coworker did a good job and were always ready to do an errand or coordinate the room's make up. And my wife got a kick out of the towel animals one of them always made. My only concern is that as the US $ tanks the industry will lose a universe of competent workers no longer willing to tolerate the long hours because their emerging economies provide better opportunities. PUBLIC ROOMS/FACILITIES The Jade is a new 90,000 ton vessel and felt even larger. Throughout the ship, brightly colored Hawaiian motifs, e.g. light fixtures, sculptures, wall coverings, furniture fabrics, etc., give testimony to the genesis of the vessel. In particular, the reception area houses some extremely tacky Hawaiian remnants. I suspect that over time much of the Hawaiian stuff especially the massive, plastic, flower lei light fixture - approximately the size of a whale - will be recycled. The clothes/souvenirs/sundries shop space was department store sized. I think the main dining room of the Insignia would easily fit into the Jade's shop space. The two-tiered main theater (decks 6 and 7) was also spacious and professionally equipped affording high production values. Seats were arranged in standard theater format - gradually rising rows with little space between rows. One seated in the center of a row could not easily, much less unobtrusively, leave in the middle of a show. In addition to the main theater there was a spacious performance stage, dance floor and bar on deck 13 where each night a variety show and dance band performed. This was a more relaxed space consisting of individual tables, banquettes and chairs. Two smaller entertainment venues where feature acts performed were located in open flow spaces on deck 7. The open locations did not promote a sense of intimacy which might have added more charm to these venues. The card room, and adjacent "life-styles" and frequent cruiser (Latitudes Club) rooms on deck 12 were smallish for a ship of this size. In deed, bridge sessions were conducted in one of the dining rooms as the card room could not possibly accommodate duplicate play on a 2400 passenger ship such as this. The library was also comparatively undersized and contained few nonfiction selections. If there were any travel guide books in the shelves they were checked out before I got there. Library procedures didn't prohibit checking out such reference materials for the duration of the cruise. Consequently, don't rely on the library as a source of info about the wonderful ports the ship visits. The gym contained sufficient elliptical, rowing, cycling and treadmill machines to avoid lines. TVs with audio headphone inserts were hooked up to most aerobic equipment to make working out more diverting...if you consider Fox diverting. There were adequate free weights, benches, and cable machines for strength workouts. Attached to the gym was a dry sauna and shower area. Consistent with the free style format, some additional spa facilities (heated pool, wet sauna, heated benches, etc) were available for a fee. As is my custom, I did not visit the Internet space or the beauty spa at any time while on board. The former was the source of the usual complaints about high cost for slow speed. The prices in the latter ($42 + tip for a men's haircut) did not generate my interest though flyers advertising spa specials were invariably slipped inside the pages of the daily events brochure delivered to our cabin each evening. We did not spend a lot of time on the pool deck 12 as for us weather was not conducive to sunbathing and, after all, it was a Mediterranean cruise with 8 ports in 12 days (besides we live in Rio close to the beach). It was a nicely laid out space with 2 large pools (I was told one was heated), three hot tubs, a small performance stage, a bar and grill etc., all pretty standard stuff except for an enormous, twisting, yellow water slide that I never saw in operation. It would be fun for the kids, but I suspect its days are numbered, however, facilities for children seemed plentiful. A young woman working in the children's program informed me the kid program was divided into 3 age groups and the teens (12-17) had their own private club room furnished with recreational equipment including some mind numbing video games. I recall she mentioned 140 kids were enrolled in the 3 groups. DINING Eating is where the free style format really comes into play. There are approximately a dozen dining venues on the Jade, most of which specialize in a certain type of cuisine and most of which carry a cover charge ranging from $10 - $25 pp. Reservations for the specialty restaurants are recommended, but not required. They accepted seatings anytime from around 5:30 to 10. The main dining rooms, the Grand Pacific and the Alizar, do not take reservations save for large parties or those in the ultra high cabin categories. Reservations and lines at the main dining rooms were a subject of much discussion at our Cruise Critic meetings with the senior ship staff and changes were introduced during the course of the cruise. The two main dining rooms have identical menus and do not charge extra. We ate 4 or 5 times in the Grand Pacific including a breakfast and a lunch and were satisfied with the quality of the food. Service, however, was spotty bordering on unsatisfactory. The walls are adorned with Hawaiian motif frescoes and other "Hawaiiana" permeates the decor, but it is actually a warm and comfortable environment. I can't say the same for the Alizar though I only peeked in while passing. I played some bridge there during the day when it was not serving food and thought it sterile. We first chose to eat in the Grand Pacific on the second night of the cruise when at the Cruise Critic get together we were informed by the jovial hotel director, Armando Da Silva, that lobster was on the menu. That evening we were served a well prepared, large Maine lobster tail that was as good as anything I have eaten on any ship including the Insignia and other premium or luxury lines. It went downhill thereafter, but it was never worse than satisfactory. Lobster was served a second time, but this time it was a small rock lobster tail served with other seafood on a bed of pasta...not bad, but nothing like the first lobster offering. On the other occasions we opted for dinner in the Grand Pacific the food was only satisfactory. I am a hard marker. Given the low base price of the cruise, we felt no hesitation about paying an extra $10 -$25 per person to dine extraordinarily well at the French Bistro ($20 pp), Cagney's, the steak house ($25 pp), or the Chinese spot ($15 pp). This was made even more enticing by 2 for 1 pricing if you could bring yourself to sit between 5:30 - 7 pm. (Not to mention the comp that all CCers received from management as a way of thanking us for our input.) I didn't think the Italian specialty restaurant, Papa John's ($10) was particularly good, but it's awfully hard to assess a place on the basis of just one dining experience. At a minimum I think they ought to put table clothes on the tables. Classic white and red checkered ones would do a lot to spruce up Papa John's. We dined three times at Le French Bistro and the food and service was consistently excellent. Winning appetizers are the fois grois (I don't endorse the methods and rarely eat this) and mussels. The soups and salads were not as impressive. The duck confit, steak au poive (a thick filet), and lamb were delicious main courses. It's hard to make bad profiteroles, but the desserts were not as good as the appetizers and main courses. We dined twice at Cagney's. The colossal shrimp cocktail is a winning appetizer. Crab cakes a distant second. Salads were very good. The steaks, billed as aged prime beef, were excellent, but on one occasion I ordered the prime rib and it was disappointingly flavorless. I should have sent it back, but was already pretty full by the time it was set before me. Service was outstanding. We ate once in the Chinese specialty place. The pork spare ribs may have been the best meat dish I experienced while on board. But be careful. It's an appetizer big enough for a meal in and of itself...half a dozen meaty, succulent spare ribs coated in a delicious barbeque sauce. I complimented Paul, the head chef who attended one of our CC meetings, but suggested that he halve the portion (while at the same time doubling the meager 3 ounce Saki pour for which they charge $6 or $7). Service was not good, but it was the first night on board and I would make allowances for new staff and procedures. Lunch when not dining ashore was either the buffet at the Garden Cafe on pool deck 12 -a burger or a freshly prepared Caesar salad with chicken. Iced tea was always available, but no other beverage was free. The food is indistinguishable from buffet lunches on other mid market lines like HAL or Celebrity. Good, but not great. Service could be improved. I'd like to see staff helping with getting drinks or utensils and to be more proactive in securing seats for the elderly. The same goes for the food and service at breakfast although reconstituted orange, apple and cranberry juice were also available free of charge. Fresh squeezed juice was available, but for a modest fee: the epitome of free style cruising where you can choose how and at what cost you wish to consume...but that juice surcharge may be carrying a good idea a bit too far. One breakfast in the dining room was painless, but the experience convinced me it was not worth the extra time involved in ordering kippers and onions especially on a Mediterranean cruise when you are eager to disembark. ENTERTAINMENT The older I get the less important the shipboard entertainment is to me, but it must be said that the laid back atmosphere of the Insignia crossing (laid back to the point of boring) was in stark contrast to the go go activity on board the Jade. And we didn't even try to take it all in. There were port lectures and other talks on various subjects ( none of which interested me except the one on acupuncture) as part of an NCL "University" at sea shtick - a good idea that can be refined to include well informed speakers on topics germane to the extraordinary itinerary. There's lots of room for improvement here. Of course, there was the usual array of team trivia, ping pong and shuffle board tourneys and various and sundry activities conducted throughout the days (and evenings) we were not in port. I played bridge most afternoons we were at sea so did not attend a lot of other organized stuff during the day. Bridge and an occasional workout was pretty much the limit of my sea day regimen. We only had three sea days. In the evening there were two different shows in the main theater. Each of these shows was repeated at a different time slot later in the cruise - an innovation designed to afford greater latitude in planning one's evening activities. This is the essence of free style cruising as redefined by the new NCL management. In my opinion the shows were good. They emphasized the vocal skills of a talented ensemble cast. All music and singing was live. No recorded sound tracks. I would have liked to see a bit more dancing and costuming/lighting - a more glamorous stage production in general to complement the singing which was itself uniformly excellent. I didn't catch all the shows - some were variety acts in which we have little interest generally speaking. In addition to the main theater a program billed as Second City Entertainment (related to the comedy ensemble organization from Chicago) ran continuous music and comedy performances from 7 - 11 pm in the deck 13 cabaret lounge. I liked the idea, but frankly, like the NCL U speaker series, I think the execution could be better. Of course, that might mean higher fares or it just might mean giving the current crop of "skitskers" more time to hone their acts. Or it might mean my sense of humor and tastes are stupidly peculiar. In any case I didn't spend a lot of time in the Second City venue. The highly successful show, Tony and Tina's Wedding, was presented once during the cruise. True to the free style pricing concept it carried an extra charge of $25-$35 depending on seating. CCers were comped at this event apparently when it became clear ticket sales were slow. Unfortunately, the show was presented the evening we were overnighting in Venice (which probably explains the slow advance ticket sales) and my wife and I just got back to the ship too late to take advantage of the offer of a free show. Attendees said it was a fun event, but the food while in keeping with the theme of the performance - paper plate catering from a poor Italian restaurant - was too in keeping therewith. In other words, it was not good. There were other feature performers at the lounges on decks 6 and 7. This included a small combo that provided music for dancing as well as a singer/piano player who many thought was excellent. Shows ran throughout the evening. In addition to the usual assortment of slots, card, craps, and roulette tables, the new Jade casino included a house dealer Texas hold 'em table that looked to me to be table stakes (although there was likely some limit). It was fun to kibitz. I play poker and gamble socially, but I don't like to lose money so I don't gamble in casinos. For the life of me I cannot fathom the rationale put forth by those who do, to wit, that its worth it to spend the money gambling because it is fun. How on earth can losing be fun and how on earth can anyone not lose against the house? PORTS and EXCURSIONS After a transatlantic crossing of 15 nights on the Insignia that ported only in Salvador, Agadir, and "lovely" Cabo Verde prior to arriving at Barcelona, the ports visited by the Jade were spectacular. From Barcelona, a sea day to unwind, then Rome followed by Naples (Pompeii), overnight in Venice, then Dubrovnik, Athens, Izmer (Ephesus) and Istanbul overnight. These are some of the best ports in the world. There is so much to see and it can be seen without the necessity of pricey ship excursions. A round trip train ride into Rome cost 9 euros and was easy as pie from Civitavecchia (about 1 hour). Get out a short walk from St Peter's or go on to the central station to be near the coliseum and forum. I haven't taken a ship excursion in any of my last 40 cruises, but we opted to take one offered in Naples. It was described as going along the coast to Sorrento for a visit there, then to a mountainside farm for lunch, then to Pompeii. Our price of $149 pp (subsequently increased to $165 after we booked) included admission to Pompeii (11 euros) and a guide inside (11 euros). Not surprisingly the tour bus stopped right in front of a tourist shop in Sorrento and the local guide marched a bunch of passengers right into the shop. Yuch. About an hour later we reboarded and travelled to a nearby farm where we observed how mozzarella was made, followed by a great al fresco lunch before busing to Pompeii. Much to my consternation and surprise the guide announced we were carving time out for a shopping stop at a cameo store. This stop was not included in the tour description (it was in another that recited a cameo store stop might be included time permitting). I complained to the tour operator to no avail (she was just following orders) and later to the ship excursions desk. It is not fair to include unannounced shopping stops in a tour, especially one including an abbreviated stop at an archeological site like Pompeii. Doing so prevents me from making an informed decision on how to spend my time and money. All things considered, however, it wasn't a bad tour because a private excursion that would have included stops in other Amalfi coast towns would have been more costly given the euro dollar exchange rate and it probably would have been overly ambitious to drive too much along the Amalfi coast and still do Pompeii properly. Venice is Venice and the only negative is the rotten exchange rate which makes buying Murano glass more expensive than ever. Thanks, George Bush, for spending our tax dollars like a drunken sailor. Walking old town in Dubrovnik is a good way to spend the time there. Ditto the Plaka and Acropolis in Athens. Some CCers put together a private tour to Ephesus when we arrived in Izmer. Our guide, Levant, was well informed and well spoken. He didn't think of providing a break for lunch, but we managed to squeeze in a 20 minute stop outside the Ephesus site before going on to the nearby museum. A very good tour for $60 pp. I suspect the ship charged twice as much for a similar tour probably with much more time taken out for a lunch at the expense of seeing the archeological site itself. Istanbul was interesting and a place where we could shop with greater enthusiasm. We stayed an additional 4 nights at the Hotel Niles. It is located steps away from the Grand Bazaar and cost 62 euros for a double with a delightful roof top terrace breakfast included. It is an excellent choice when staying in Istanbul especially because the front desk manager, Seda, is an energetic bundle of information and joy. She will do whatever is necessary to make your stay pleasant and fruitful. DISEMBARKATION One of the 2.0 innovations is a glass of bubbly and an escort to your cabin when embarking. All fine and well on the front end. The disembarkation in Istanbul, however, was horrendous because getting a cab from the port to one's hotel or the airport was unnecessarily nerve wracking. The dispatcher and taxi drivers at the closest taxi stand 40 meters from the port exit refused to use the taxi meter as the law mandates. When I observed what he was doing I went back to the terminal and got the port police to observe the situation. Of course, they spoke to him, but did nothing to alleviate his conduct. After they left the dispatcher continued to demand outrageous fares for his drivers and denied me a cab at any price. We almost got into a fist fight. The drivers almost all wanted to negotiate an absurd fare (5 times the going rate in many cases) and the passengers were hostage to this outrage. We finally walked towards another more distant exit and although it , too, was a circus, we were ultimately able to hail an honest cabbie. I believe the ship can and must take some action to ameliorate this situation. Local taxi police or officials should be on hand. Local interpreters should be retained to oversee the process of securing a cab. Advance communication with the taxi cab union, port police, or municipal government might curb this abuse. Something. Anything. Nothing sours the cruise aftertaste quicker than an altercation with a cheating taxi driver who wants to rob you by grossly overcharging. CONCLUSION The 2.0 free style format introduced by the new NCL team is a wonderful cruise value. Cruise lines can maintain low base cruise fares only if they earn revenue from related sources e.g. the bar, souvenir and jewelry shops, art auctions, excursions, photos, casino, etc. Rather than complain about the high prices for drinks, photos and excursions, savvy cruisers should appreciate that this revenue structure allows them to cruise at amazingly low prices provided that they cruise wisely. Take your own photos, organize your own excursions, drink responsibly (or bring your own for in cabin consumption) and be discrete about purchases in general. Those who do purchase numerous add on items from the ship in large part underwrite the cost of the cruise for others. Free style cruising advances this concept another step forward by charging for alternative dining and entertainment venues. It allows one to cruise for a modest price, but also affords one the opportunity to cruise more luxuriously if one opts to spend more. Folks who previously cruised NCL and found it wanting in terms of food, accommodations, service or entertainment should give the new company another chance. You will be pleasantly surprised especially from a cost benefits analysis basis. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
This was my first and last cruise with NCL. This was the first Mediterranean cruise for my husband, myself and our 2-yr old daughter. My husband's parent and his sister came along too. We were so excited about this trip. Also we could ... Read More
This was my first and last cruise with NCL. This was the first Mediterranean cruise for my husband, myself and our 2-yr old daughter. My husband's parent and his sister came along too. We were so excited about this trip. Also we could not ask for a better itinerary. We arrived in Barcelona a day early because we booked our flight independently and we did not want to miss the boat. We stayed at the Rialto in Barcelona. The rooms were very clean, nothing fancy. We weren't expecting very much but we were pleasantly surprised. The bathrooms were very clean. The location is in the middle of everything. So we were able to walk to do most of our sightseeing. The staff at the front desk were nice and spoke enough English. We were given free coupons for the breakfast buffet. It was not very good. We were constantly told to watch our personal belongings while walking the streets because of pick pocketing. We didn't have any problems but we heard stories from other people. The taxi ride to the ship took about ten minutes. We arrived at the ship at 12:00. There wasn't much of a line. NCL had many check in lines. They all went pretty quickly everyone seemed nice. We were able to board the ship immediately. We went to our cabins first. They were very nice. They had a lot of storage areas. The beds were great. However we could hear a lot of noise in our room at night. We were upgraded to an obstructed view room because NCL had messed up our initial reservations. We were told that there would not be any boat outside our window and if you look on NCL's website it shows no obstruction. However there was a boat and little could be seen. We weren't upset about the view because we hadn't paid for it. But it was nice to see what kind of weather we were having. For the most part the ship was very nice. We were told that the casino was made bigger before coming to Barcelona. The casino was huge. The ship seemed very clean. It was still decorated in a Hawaiian theme. We were impressed by all the flat screen tvs around the ship. They would display how full each of the dining rooms were. Although a lot of the time they seemed to be incorrect. The service on the boat was good and bad. The stewards did a great job on our room. They were extremely nice to us and especially our 2-yr old daughter. Service in the buffet was poor. There was often dirty plates left on tables for longer periods of time than was I was used to on past cruises through different cruise lines. My biggest complaint with the Jade is that we were told directly by NCL that there was self laundry on several locations on the ship, so my family packed for seven days and intended to do laundry on the ship. After arriving on the ship we were told that the laundry was ripped out in order to make room for more cabins and we would have to pay to have our clothes cleaned because they didn't sell laundry detergent in the shop. The people at the front desk did not seem to care about our problem. All they could say was sorry. My husband and I ended up wearing our clothes twice without washing them. However we were traveling with a 2-yr so that was not an option with her. We ended up cleaning all her clothes and our undergarments in the sink using shower gel. We did not use any of NCL's excursions. We were able to get better tours with outside companies at much better rates. We were also by ourselves. The Freestyle service was inconvenient. We could never find seating at the buffet. There was always too many people and not enough places to sit. Our first night for dinner after being seated it took over 2 hours for us to complete our entire meal. My daughter fell asleep on the table waiting. We feel we were tricked into eating at the specialty restaurants (paying an additional fee in order to get better service). As a result we ate in the main dining room twice for dinner. The Italian restaurant was advertised on NCL's website as being free, it wasn't. We ate at the Teppanyaki, Cagney's Steakhouse, Tapas and Salsa Restaurant and Papas Italian Kitchen. Overall the food was pretty good. The entertainment was good. The singers were excellent and we really enjoyed those shows. The magic show was ok. The ship introduced Tony and Tina's Wedding which looked like it would be very entertaining, but of course that cost extra so we skipped it. The Stardust Theater was huge and beautiful. It had stadium seating so it was easy to see. We did use the internet facilities on the ship. We opted to pay .75 a minute instead of buying an expensive plan. If you use the ships computers the service was very slow. The public computers were usually full. Luckily my sister-in-law brought her computer and we were able to use it in the library. We were able to disembark from the ship in Istanbul very easily. Our transfer left at 4:00 am (our plane left at 8:00). So we were pretty much able to walk off the boat and our luggage was there waiting for us. The ride to the airport took about 25 minutes. When we got to the airport Turkish airlines was not open yet so we had to wait. Overall: The itinerary alone made the cruise great. However I will never cruise with NCL again. Cruising with other cruise lines has gotten me too accustomed to not paying any extras while on board the ship. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
We sailed on the Jade's inaugural cruise from Barcelona to Istanbul March 30th 2008. Our Flight Was from Cardiff to Barcelona by KLM via Amsterdam. We gad a very short transfer time but our flight from Cardiff was delayed and we ... Read More
We sailed on the Jade's inaugural cruise from Barcelona to Istanbul March 30th 2008. Our Flight Was from Cardiff to Barcelona by KLM via Amsterdam. We gad a very short transfer time but our flight from Cardiff was delayed and we missed our connection. KLM booked us onto a later flight flying Business Class. Pre cruise stay at the Mont Blanc Barcelona. After our experience here we could never recommend this hotel to anyone. The room was fine, comfortable bed, and decent bathroom. All rooms had an exercise bike. The complementary breakfast buffet was mostly on the poor side of average. At the price it would have been good to have freshly made tea, coffee and possibly toast brought to our table instead of the side table of thermos jugs and DIY toast, although you could order eggs and bacon cooked to order. The Down Side. Within 24 hours my bag had been stolen from inside the hotel. The thieves remained on the premises. Only my husband's intervention prevented them from going to our room and emptying the safe. Staff later let slip that there had been another theft which was from a safe on the same day. Security at this hotel is dire. One reason is that the room and safe keys are both clearly marked with the room number. No-one was on security even at the weekend when there were about one hundred or more NCL guests and the function rooms were being used by people from outside the hotel. CCTV cameras were unavailable. Staff assured me they would report the theft to the police but failed to do so leaving me with no time left to report it before the coach arrived to take us to the ship. After the theft hotel staff were extremely rude and patronizing to me, thus adding insult to injury. No-one from the hotel came to speak to me nor was there anywhere private to go to discuss what had happened. They made it very clear that although the theft happened in their hotel it was my lookout and they couldn't care less. Check in There was more queuing than we expected when we arrived, and we had to queue quite a while to board the ship but check in was smooth and efficient, and later we noticed that there were no queues at all. The ship is beautiful, tastefully decorated with wonderfully soft carpets efficient lifts and it's wonderful Art Deco Dining Room and mirrored passage from deck 6 into the Stardust Theatre and lot of Hawaiian art around the ship. We particularly like the pool deck lighting. Many of the crew were very experienced NCL old timers, efficient, confident and friendly. Cons. If we had a dollar for every time someone asked if they could 'get me something from the bar' we'd be able to afford another cruise. Safety In line with other companies room key cards didn't state our cabin number although the color might have been a clue. The safe is battery operated. The battery failed on ours and had to be replaced. It might be worth checking whether the door stays shut in such an event, we found ours open. There was a power blackout and it was reassuring to see that in all the lifts automatically went to deck seven, and opened the doors which remained open until power was restored. This would be particularly Important if you ever got the maximum load of 20 people into it, because it was quite a squeeze with twelve or more. Freestyle. Ends point blank at 8.00 am on disembarkation day! More of that later. As far as I could tell, Freestyle 2 was basically the opportunity to pay for extras. A lot of stuff came with a price tag. Speciality Restaurants ranged from $10 to $25 per head with additional charges on top for some of the dishes Some items on the Room Service Menu were at extra charge, a day pass for the spa 20 Tony and Tina's Wedding had a cover price too. Traditional Cruising Events seemed to not to be happening, at least, not in the traditional way. Someone said that the Captain's Cocktail party cost $19.95 per head, but I didn't see it advertised at all. Singing waiters were a lot less evident than usual, and if there was a baked Alaska procession or midnight buffet we weren't aware of either one. The crew show was whittled down to a procession onto the stage and one song about the Jade. Which was very disappointing for anyone who has ever seen the one on the Marco Polo which was also owned by NCL. There were quite a few Freestyle 2 teething problems , especially when it came to dinner. There were enormous and lengthy queues at the Grand Pacific and Alizar Dining rooms. I think partly because people weren't booking the speciality restaurants in any great numbers, they seemed to be half empty much of the time. Walking past the Teppanyaki I only ever saw one or two of the four tables in use. The plasma information screens weren't giving an accurate guide to restaurant availability, meaning that we'd turn up at the Alizar when the screen was showing as less than half full only to find a queue and no table available for more than an hour. We were given pagers, which were a mixed blessing as we were told we had to come immediately they sounded. They wouldn't work in the cabins, so we had to hang around the bars ready to jump up when summonsed. We found we had to go to dinner earlier and earlier, eventually we'd arrive at opening time in order to get a table, and be served in time to see a show. It seemed that many others had the same idea so it was a bit chaotic at times. After a lot of complaints, NCL introduced a 'Happy Hour' two for one at the speciality restaurants, and began asking people going into the main dining rooms whether they would be happy to share a table. It meant that if we wanted to eat at a particular time we'd have to book a table, or eat in the self service restaurant, both of which seemed to be against the 'Freestyle' concept. We felt we'd have been better off with the traditional two sitting dining option where we would know when and where we would be sitting, or we could choose the buffet instead. Mattress toppers and fruit selection arrived in Rome, but we were never to see the Elemis toiletries or bathrobes or final night cookies promised for balcony cabins, nor the steak breakfasts with unlimited bloody mary and mimosas. I didn't see the chocolate fountain, but it might have been there. The soft ice cream broke down mid cruise, as did the TV navigation and information channel. Smoking is allowed in the casino which could have used much better ventilation, your cabin (but not in bed) and your balcony. Decks away from the jogging track, sports, eating and children's areas. The Cigar Bar was moved away from it's original location adjacent to the Champagne Bar, and is now at the open air Bali Hai bar on Deck 13, which also serves food. It was OK in reasonable weather, but we had our share of high winds, rain and cold, which made it fairly hazardous to even get there. Cabin. We had a balcony cabin on deck 9 with mini bar/fridge, coffee maker and efficient hairdryer. The bed was comfortable there was also a huge mirror, plenty of shelf and wardrobe space and of course, the balcony. We liked that there was a separate curtain and 'black out' liner to the window. The complimentary fruit took a few days to arrive, but then regularly replaced as it was eaten. Good sized shower room had a great detachable head power shower shampoo and shower gel dispenser. Cons. Very dim lighting. Entertainment was mostly fantastic. The Jade has set a very high benchmark which other lines will struggle to match with some really great singers, Second City an improvise and interactive act was really great. Smokey Joe's Cafe was really good, although most of the songs were totally unfamiliar to us. Others included a film evening, a classical night with ballet then there were some quizzes and game shows dance classes etc. Tony and Tina's Wedding (extra charge) was on during our evening in Venice, which I thought was a real shame, as a lot of people missed seeing it. Having spent a long time over dinner, we missed the first half of SHOUT the Mod Musical, but crept into the back of the theatre to see what it was like. It didn't appeal to us so we left soon afterwards. Outside I heard someone remark that it sounded as though someone had stood on the cat's tail, and in all honesty, we couldn't disagree. Other entertainment as provided by a very good pianist singer in one bar, a guitarist in another and the Skyline Band, Guys and Dolls and another pianist. The Food was fantastic during the first part of the cruise, but tapered off a bit in the latter stages. Portion sizes were variable. Some quite small, and others twice what you'd expect. There was a good selection in the Garden Restaurant, with a special children's area with hot dogs, burgers and chips. A salad bar, a hot food. Stir fry and griddle selection, as well as deserts and ice cream. I found the soups a bit exotic. There was always a Chinese soup, a cold soup and one other which was usually made with some kind of seafood base, like bisques and chowders, presumably a result of the stock made from the remains of all the seafood in the speciality areas. Unable to eat shell fish in any form, I sometimes had to go to the Blue Lagoon the 24 hour eatery, which was waiter service, for plain old tomato soup. We had several very long waits of around an hour after ordering there, although I think it may have been caused by one particular waiter rather than general. Cons. Restaurants were crowded and often required booking. It often took a long time to get served. Except for that served in the Aloha Bar, or made in our cabin coffee maker the coffee ranged from just about drinkable to awful. Very, very strong, not nearly hot enough, and often with a bitter taste. It seemed to me that it had been made for hours. I would order it from time to time, in the hope that it was just about drinkable, and sometimes I was lucky. Room Service The first thing we ordered was great. Our last order never turned up. In between things were about ok except for our one and only breakfast order which was very late, and when it arrived we got two pots of awful coffee instead of the tea. Children's Facilities. We didn't have children, but the children we saw with the play leaders around the ship, and the ones we spoke to all seemed to be having a whale of a time, and being very well entertained. Internet Facilities. We didn't use this service either, but we heard a lot of complaints that the minute by minute charge was very high and connection very slow. Laundry Facilities. Don't go looking for the launderettes, they had to go to make way for 'Freestyle'. What could be more 'Freestyle' than having the opportunity to launder your own underwear, I can't imagine, but NCL have the opposing view. Laundry and pressing facilities are available. As a guide to the price, T shirts were $3 each. Towards the end of the week they offered laundry at 15$ a bag so it would be a good idea to take clothes that can be tumble dried which will be returned clean and folded ready for packing. Never Again Having booked early and paid a lot of money for the holiday including flights, transfers and a pre cruise stay through NCL via an agent. we were unprepared for the totally unacceptable ending to our cruise. They could have chosen an earlier flight that day NCL booked us on one that left Istanbul in the early evening which coincidentally was less expensive than the early flight which would have had us home by lunchtime. It was only towards the end of the cruise that we realized that we were required to leave the ship for transfer to the airport at 8.00 am. We were used to vacating our cabin at that sort of time, but not being expected to leave the ship. This arrangement required a wait of something like seven unnecessary hours hanging around the airport, and meant a total journey time of 20 hours from Istanbul. The only alternative on offer was a 4 hour tour of the Spice Market and Chora Museum at an additional $59 each no refunds for the transfer we'd already booked and paid. We know that they have to get ready for the next lot of passengers, but there are alternatives. We asked if we could be transferred to an earlier flight or even the same flight a day earlier, but were referred back to our agent. Not an easy option at sea. In any case, the flights had been booked by NCL not our agent. In the event we paid the extra money, took the tour, then spent another 5 hours at the airport, more than two more at our connection airport where the shops and snack bars were all shut, waiting for our (delayed) flight. Thinking all the time that the entire journey could have been completed in less than half the time, before finally arriving home exhausted and fed up, ankles the size of footballs and some very nasty thoughts about what we'd like to do to the NCL executive! Overview. We loved the ship and the crew but we didn't love all the extra charges, and certainly not the travel arrangements. Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
We arrived in Barcelona a day early and was booked in the Mont Blanc which is one used by NCL. When we arrived they told us that they had a problem and we would have to the St Mortiz. Our Cruise Consultant told us that we couldn't ... Read More
We arrived in Barcelona a day early and was booked in the Mont Blanc which is one used by NCL. When we arrived they told us that they had a problem and we would have to the St Mortiz. Our Cruise Consultant told us that we couldn't book shore excursions or transportation until arriving in Barcelona. As this hotel was not used by NCL we were not able to book anything. So we went out on our own. The next day we arrived at the ship before noon. It was good seeing it sitting there waiting for us as the last time we checked on it we saw it sitting in drydock. No long lines so was checked in and on ship in about 30 minutes. The champagne greeting and the escorts to our room was a nice way to start a cruise. As this was the Jade's first Mediterranean cruise and the introduction of the 2.0 program they had a few problems. Some of the things listed in the program had to be asked for. We got the robes about the middle of the cruise. The service on the ship was excellent. Our Stewards (Ricky and Ashok) did a great job. They always had a smile & a hello for us. Anytime we had a problem they got it fixed for us. We got to know Hotel Director Amando Da Silva & some of his crew before the cruise was over. We enjoyed the towel animals. A big thanks to all the crew on the ship!!! We heard alot of complaints about not being able to get into the restaurants,the food and the service. As we always went early we got right in and had good service. Most evenings we went to the Grand Pacific Dining Room. We did go to the Paniolo Tapa & Salsa a couple of time. Breakfast was in the Garden Cafe also lunch when on ship. We liked all the food. The entertainment was different then we had experienced on the other NCL cruises. We did enjoy the Smokey Joe's Cafe and went both nights. Also went to the Showdown one night. The Tony & Tina's Wedding was fun but it did cost. We listened to W.T. Greer everynight. He is awesome!!! We took shore excursions at every port and booked them with NCL. They were all good except for one in Athens. It was called the Panoramic Athens. It was different then the one we booked. Someone at the shore excursion desk said that they had changed it after we booked it. My favorites were Sorrento & Amalfi Drive, The Magnificent Ephesus. Disembarkation was one of the best I have experience. When our tag color was called we were off the ship had our bags and in a taxi within a few minutes. We were staying in Istanbul another day so had to take of their taxi rides to the hotel. The Jade was a nice ship but surprised to see all the Hawaiian decorations as we thought that they would be gone. We were looking forward to a Mediterranean theme. But we understand that the Hawaiian look will remain. We also missed the laundry facilities that were removed. This was my 5th cruise & my friends 3rd with NCL. We like the Freestyle Cruising. Also we each bought the Cruise Rewards so will be back cruising again soon!! Read Less
Sail Date March 2008
This was our 12th Norwegian Cruise on one of their new ships. Frankly, we expected more. We booked a pre-cruise hotel package in Miami to be assured that weather would not cause problems getting to the ship on time. The package included a ... Read More
This was our 12th Norwegian Cruise on one of their new ships. Frankly, we expected more. We booked a pre-cruise hotel package in Miami to be assured that weather would not cause problems getting to the ship on time. The package included a stay at the Sofitel Hotel which was really quite nice. We were met at the airport and taken to the hotel and then to the ship on sailing day. A very good start until we got to the ship and things started to unravel. Upon arrival at the embarkation hall, we stood in a 2 1/2 hour line to check in. So much for being a Gold Level Latitudes member. We were told all lines were long and it did not make any difference where we stood. The experience was like going through airport security the day before Thanksgiving complicated by weather delays. OK, so we lived through it and got on board. Our stateroom was a mini-suite overlooking the stern of the ship. One of the lights in the bathroom flickered like a strobe light which we reported straight away. It was fixed on the 3rd. day. If you wanted to read in the stateroom, it was a challenge as the lighting was poor and the dark paneling did not help. Finding a quiet nook anywhere on the ship for a quiet moment was impossible as everywhere was jammed with people trying to do the same thing. Some of the ship's public rooms were very nice even beautiful including the Grand Pacific Dining Room. But others were just tacky with harsh colors and every room had cheesy looking plastic flowers. Even recognizing that the ship was just coming from the Hawaiian market, the tropical themes were just plain over the top including chairs in one lounge that looked like people-eating flowers. Since there were six days at sea and weather was not the greatest, activities were mostly limited to inside activities. Every day was the same with no new or innovative activities to keep things interesting. All they needed to do was change the date on the daily news paper. On offer was the usual stuff like team trivia, bridge tournaments and the ever boring bingo repeated day after day. Many of the billed activities were offered for added cost. The cruise staff was not particularly friendly and seemed to be hooked on Norwegian's mantra of "gee aren't we just too cool". Forced jocularity running to goosey might sum things up. But you can always eat, right? True, there was plenty of food available but not all was worth eating. If you wanted to have a good meal, you had to go to the "extra fare" dining venues. Getting a reservation on most nights before 9:00 PM proved difficult even with so-called priority reservations for Gold Level Latitudes passengers. It did not seem to matter, 5:30 PM or 9:00 PM. So, these alternative dining spots cost as much as $60 plus booze if you want to do that sort of thing and we did. Le Bistro was the best but not great. Cagney's Steak house was just not worth the cost and we ate there twice. I particularly enjoyed Cagney's much touted table side caesar salad preparation made with bottled salad dressing. You got to be kidding for $60 bucks! I really expected more. Food in the main dining rooms was mediocre to poor. While we try to avoid the madness of the buffet on most cruise ships, the Garden Cafe was even more frenetic than most with folks acting like they were at a garage sale. While ship's staff tried to keep the buffet counters looking fresh, as the mob plowed through pushing and shoving, it did not take long for the dishes to empty and look unappetizing. Salad dressings were a particular problem on most days... usually empty and filled with bits and pieces of others' salad attempts. Entertainment, especially for a long sea voyage, was not up to par. Norwegian had what was billed as a "dress rehearsal" for a new show. It fit into the "we are just so hip" category and consisted of four or six pretty good singers shouting out some familiar tunes to recorded music. No live show band that we could see. I over heard some of the cast and producers in one of the bars one evening patting themselves on the back about how great their new show was and how no other cruise line had anything like it. On that point, I would agree! Just "B" list performers for the most part except one blues pianist performing in one of the lounges...he was really good, engaged his audience and was an exception to the rule. The ports of call were interesting and included Lisbon, Malaga and Barcelona. The tours and activities were generally good but getting off the ship was was a challenge and not well organized or executed. If you enjoy dressing like a slob, eating not-so-good food and watching class B entertainment, then this is for you. Ocean voyages are always enjoyable but I was only too happy to leave this one. Oh,and getting off, was a long line just like embarkation. This was not a star moment for Norwegian. This was our 12th Norwegian cruise and it unlikely that there will be a 13th. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
Norwegian Jade - Panama Canal - February 2008 This is my ninth cruise and my second with Norwegian. I wanted to go through the Panama Canal in a forward facing balcony, and that is what I have. Something that I started while on the NCL ... Read More
Norwegian Jade - Panama Canal - February 2008 This is my ninth cruise and my second with Norwegian. I wanted to go through the Panama Canal in a forward facing balcony, and that is what I have. Something that I started while on the NCL Star (my fifth cruise) was to write my review while I was on the ship. This means I am writing my review while things are fresh in my mind. This review is fairly long, about 28 type written pages. Day one - Embarkation I live in Los Angeles, so I normally drive to the port when leaving from San Pedro or Long Beach. However, this is not a round trip cruise. I will fly back into Burbank, which is about 45 miles from the port. So after checking taxi fares, I decide to hire a limo. The driver arrived a few minutes early and soon I was on my way to the port. As we approach the port I see that there are three ships in port today. The Diamond Princess will be heading to Hawaii. The NCL Jade will be going to Miami via the Panama Canal. The Golden Princess will be heading to Puerto Vallarta on its weekly Mexican Rivera cruise. My plan was to arrive about one hour prior to the normal boarding time of noon. However, in this case there was nobody getting off the ship (this is the maiden cruise of the Jade, though it is not the maiden cruise for this ship, as it used to sail as the Pride of Hawaii) so people were boarding when I arrived at 10:50am. By 11:15 I was checked in and on the ship. While waiting to check in I started speaking to the couple behind me. Turns out they have one of the two Garden Villas. I thought the Garden Villa residents got whisked through check in. I guess not. We both ended up exploring the ship at the same time, so we ran into each other in three different places on the ship. While the outside says Norwegian Jade, the inside says Hawaii all over. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful ship. There are two pools on the pool deck, a good sized water slide plus a rather small kid's play area (that is two decks higher). Since this is a thirteen night cruise, during the school year, there are very few kids (looks like less than twenty). I decide to have lunch at the Garden Cafe. I sample six things. The noodles were average, but the sandwich, corn, rice, chicken and meat loaf were all good. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to the sail away BBQ chicken. As I recall from my Norwegian Star cruise, it is very good. In fact as I explore the ship I realize it is laid out very similarly to the Star (except the Star does not have the courtyard villas). There one humorous situation during my exploration of the ship. As I walk along the deck 13, which is one deck above the pool deck, I approach the rear of the ship. I see another good sized pool, which does not seem to strange since the Star had a good sized kid's area on the aft. But this pool seems pretty big and there are what appear to be cabins over looking it. About the time I get really impressed by this I realize what I am looking at. The Diamond Princess and the NCL Jade are back to back. I'm looking at the aft pool on the Diamond Princess. There are two other mental notes I make while exploring the ship. If you want to walk from front to rear on the public decks (seven and twelve) walk on the starboard (right) side. You cannot go from front to rear on the left side. If you are in one of the hallways were there are cabins, look down. If the dolphins are swimming in the same direction you are, you are headed forward. If not, you are headed aft. Well, having explored the ship from end to end, on several decks, I decide to check out my cabin. I am in a forward facing penthouse suite. It is the forward facing balcony that I wanted. I'll have a front row seat for the Panama Canal that I will not have to fight for, nor will I lose it if I get up and go to the bathroom. The suite is about the size of mini or junior suite on most other ships. It has all the suite amenities however, including a tub/shower combination, suite status (butler & concierge), a DVD player, a large flat screen TV, plenty of drawer space (of which I am using less than half), two safes and a large closet (it is not a walk in closer, but you can walk through it, as it opens on both sides). After exploring my cabin I decide to set up my computer and put away the things from my carry-on that should go in the safe (passport, cash, cell phone & water proof camera), since my luggage has not arrived yet. Normally I don't do the Internet while on vacation, but there is a lot of interest in this cruise and this ship, so I decide to take advantage of the $100 OBC my agent gave me (I have a wonderful agent - even without the gifts) and sign up for the 250 minute Internet plan. There is an Internet port in the cabin, and I have the proper cable. I go to the Internet Cafe and find out that sign up is done via the computer. About the time I sign up and check things out for 16 minutes, and answer one of the big questions (yes, there is self service laundry, the closest one for me is across from cabin 9088 - however, it will be removed while the ship is in dry dock in Spain), it is time for the muster drill. The muster drill is at 3:30pm and we leave at 4:00pm. My muster station is inside the Stardust Theater. The drill doesn't last too long, and since I was one of the last to arrive (I had to log off the Internet first) I am in the back and only two floors below my cabin. So I get back to my cabin quickly. My luggage has arrived, and I start putting it away, always keeping one eye out the balcony door. I want to be on my balcony for the sail away. We are at berth 92 and facing the Lane Victory (a World War II Liberty ship). This means we will have to go under the bridge into the turning basin and then we will be on our way. Finally I feel a little vibration and notice that my view of the Lane Victory seems to have changed a little. I go out to the balcony and soon meet all my neighbors. We slowly move into the turning basin and then I feel a small vibration again, as the side thrusters begin turning the ship. Soon we are facing the right way and we start to move forward. This is when I notice that the Golden Princess has also start to leave. While we were spinning the Golden Princess has backed out. So we have two cruise ships leaving at the same time. Welcome to rush hour in the harbor channel. Little do I realize just how busy it was going to get. With these two ships looking to get out, there are two equally large cargo ships wanting to get in, and we all seemed to meet at the break water. Each ship managed to accomplish its goal without becoming part of a giant game of bumper boats. Once out to sea I decide to head to the pool deck for my much anticipated BBQ chicken. Unfortunately there are no grills and thus no BBQ chicken. It is listed in Freestyle Daily - SAILAWAY PARTY & BBQ: Poolside is the place to be as we embark on a cruise vacation of a lifetime! ... I even ask one of the deck hands who says that usually there is a sail away BBQ, maybe tomorrow for lunch. Disappointed I head to Papa's Italian Kitchen (one of the free specialty restaurants). I ask if they can take someone without a reservation and in a few minutes I am seated. I had pasta with meat sauce and sausage. The food was good, but not as good as the BBQ chicken was on the Star 2 ½ years ago. I come back and write this until it is time for the 8:00 SEA-N-N show taping. Say it out loud and you will see that this is a play on words (Sea N N - CNN). It stands for Sports, Entertainment & Activities Nightly Network. Basically the cruise director is taping something to play on the TV explaining what activities are available on the NCL Jade. Apparently they are having trouble with their new printer, and tomorrow's Freestyle Daily will be a half sized Special Cruise Notice (only two pages instead of four). I'm glad he told us, or I would not have realized what it was. Basically it is just a list of what is happening when. Well, I like it cold, so I try an experiment by leaving both the balcony door and the bulkhead door (since it is a forward facing balcony there is both a door and a bulkhead door) open. Nothing much happens so then I go to the cabin door and open that. I expected a breeze, but I expected it to come in, not out. All this did was take warm air from the hallway and send it into the cabin. Okay, bad idea. Another problem is forward facing lights make it difficult for the people on the bridge to see, so we have to keep the curtains closed (or the cabin lights off). Though it is early, I am tired (I must have walked the entire length of the ship at least ten times - that is at least two miles). So it is off to bed I go. Day two - day at sea I really like days at sea because they are so relaxing. This one was a little more relaxing than I thought it would be. I woke up at 4:30am (which is good - I like to get sunrise photos) and went back to sleep. When I woke up again I figured it was 6:30am (a good time to get out of bed for catching a sunrise). However, I became suspicious when I saw all the light coming under the curtains. What time is it? 8:30am! Too late! That is it, for now on just the sheer curtain will cover the window. I'll keep the lights low. So, I figure I'll relax some more and I catch one of the movies on TV. Finally I get up and do what I normally do, eat breakfast on the balcony. Except this time it is going to be real easy. I've got a fruit basket, so I have a breakfast of fruit out on the balcony. As I said, I have a forward facing balcony. Actually I have a very large forward facing balcony. It is probably bigger than an inside cabin. The roof covers about six feet of the balcony, and there is probably another twelve feet of exposed balcony. The balcony is as wide as my cabin, which is wider than any standard cabin. So, even if it rains while we are going through the canal I'll still have a dry front row seat. So, you are probably wondering about the wind. We are headed south at between 22 and 23 knots (25 ½ to 27 MPH). Yet there is little to no wind. How is that possible? Because we have a tail wind. Life is good! Also, I really do not notice much movement. The seas are slight (1.5 to 4 feet) so that might have something to do with that. After breakfast I decide to go and explore the ship to see what I missed yesterday and to see things in action. It is kind of strange, but on a ship full of adults I find that the adults are doing all the things the kids usually do. They are playing ping pong, shuffle board, basketball and soccer. There is a full sized basketball court with soccer goals at each end. There is even four rows of stadium seating above the basketball court. Finally I hear some high pitched voices and decide to see what is going on. There are three kids and three counselors in the kid's area throwing balls at each other. They are having a great time, and since none of the kids are mine, I stay only long enough to see what is up and leave. Another interesting find is the bridge viewing window. It is large and gives several people a great view of the bridge. Of course it sounds more interesting than it really is, since the ship is on auto pilot and everyone on the bridge is just looking out the window to make sure we don't bump into anything. Well, it is getting on towards noon and there is no BBQ being set up in the pool area. So I grab a sausage hot dog (a sausage in a hot dog bun), a chicken leg and a pickle and decide to have lunch on the balcony. Because I spent ½ the morning in the cabin the poor cabin stewardess hasn't had the chance to clean the cabin yet, and now she sees me coming back with lunch. I tell her no problem; I'll be on the balcony. It's all good, even the chicken, but not as good as the BBQ chicken I remember from the Star. Though I bought my shore excursions online, and the tickets were delivered to the cabin, I still have to sign a release. So I leave the cabin to the cabin stewardess and head for the shore excursion desk for the third time. This time the line is short and I sign my release and get my snuba ticket for Grand Cayman. Stingray City is my all time favorite shore excursion. However, through my research I could not find out the local time the ship would be in Grand Cayman (I know the ship's time - but I don't know what time zone the ship's time will be on when we get to Grand Cayman). I wanted to try an independent outfit, but without knowing the local time that we will be there, I decide to try something new and go with the ship's excursion. So snuba and a tour in Cartagena are the only ship's tours I am taking on this cruise. In all the ports in Mexico I'm going to do something on my own (since I've been to each one at least once before). Well at 1:15pm there is a Latitudes reception. We get to meet the captain and the senior staff. I am wearing my NCL Star shirt and the door monitor asks me how many NCL cruises I've been on (this is my second). I mention that I missed the BBQ and she says I have to speak to the executive chef about that. Well, I'm not ready to take my case that high up yet. However, if I find the cruise director, I'll ask him. The captain mentioned that the highlight of this cruise for him will be going through the Panama Canal. That is probably true for most of the people on this ship, both passengers and crew. After the reception I go back to the cabin to decide what to do next and the two free drinks I had at the Latitudes reception kick in. It's almost 4:00 when I regain consciousness and I decide to check out the pool. The pool is fresh water and warm enough (I took a short three night cruise to Ensenada in December and that water was cold). Just before 5:00 I head back to the cabin and I am typing this while waiting for the captain's VIP reception at 7:00pm. This is another perk of the suite life. So here I am, sitting on my balcony typing my review and the door bell rings. It's the butler with a gift from the concierge. There are three chocolate covered strawberries and a VIP tender ticket (Cabo is a tender port). The poor butler has been trying hard to do something for me and I finally decide to ask him for a DVD. I'll watch it within 48 hours. At any rate, the weather is great, there is no wind. I can hear the waves being made by the bow, and the only thing left is to figure out what am I going to do for dinner. I've already decided that dinner will come after the VIP reception. I want to try out one of the free restaurants, because there will be plenty of time to try out the extra cost restaurants later. So this might be a good time to explain Freestyle Dining. I count twelve restaurants. There are two main restaurants, one buffet, one cafe (fast food fare), two free specialty restaurants and six extra cost restaurants. The main restaurants, buffet and cafe are free and don't require reservations. The two free specialty restaurants do require reservations, but will take walk ins if there is room, and the extra cost restaurants require reservations and cost anywhere from $10 to $20. Most are open for dinner from 5:30pm to 10/30pm. With Freestyle Dining you pick the restaurant and the time. There is no set dinner time or place. Also, you can choose who you eat with. I'll comment more on this later in the cruise. Yesterday I scanned the TV to see what was on, and instantly recognized my favorite channel from the Star as I soon as I see it. It is channel 22 and it provides the weather log, the captain's log and the navigator's log. I love this channel and I call it the travel channel. I have it on all the time. It is 6:30pm; we are 525 miles from Los Angeles and have 301 miles to go to Cabo. At 1:00pm today the captain made a general announcement said that we were on time. Channel 23 is the forward facing camera channel. Big deal, if I want to see what is in front of us I'll look out the window. Well, I'm back from the VIP reception and dinner, and have some terrible news. I told the cruise director that I missed the BBQ chicken. He called someone over (apparently the person in charge of ordering supplies) and told him I was on the Star, I remembered the BBQ chicken, and I missed it. That is when I was informed that we would not be getting any BBQ chicken on this cruise. Seems he ordered five large BBQ units, and what he received was two thirteen inch grills. However, he assured me that he had plenty of charcoal. It is not going to ruin my cruise, but I am disappointed. It had been only six hours since I last shook hands with the captain. So at the VIP reception I told him, "Long time no see." He got the joke and laughed. I was able to have a long conversation with the head of IT (Information Technology - basically the computers). He used to live in Las Vegas and when it got too big moved to Hilo. There he hung around for a while until he got bored. He then took a job with Norwegian sweeping floors. I asked how long he had been with Norwegian and he said four years. Amazed I asked, "You went from sweeping floors to the head of IT in four years?" He said he had done IT work for 20 years (in Las Vegas) and when he first started with Norwegian he did not tell Norwegian about his IT skills. Obviously Norwegian found out anyway. I asked him about the crew's life. He explained that most crew works a split shift, so they all have a chance to spend time in the ports. He also said that many work on a rotating basis, meaning that one is on call while so the other can take time off. So the crew does get a chance to get off the ship on port days. My butler was at the VIP reception also. He told me he had requested a transfer to a state side ship. The reason is that Europe is so far away, he will not have the chance to call all home (the Philippines). I feel bad for people who have to spend so much time away from their families because of work. I hope he gets his wish. He is trying so hard to do something for me, and I am really more of a low maintenance type. I appreciate the effort, but he is going to have to trust me that if I need something I'll ask. Otherwise, I'm sitting out on my balcony listening to the bow of the ship as it moves through the water. It's very dark and I can't see a thing, but the temperature, while cool for most people is very much to my liking, I have been fully fed, and my biggest concern today was keeping out of the room steward's way. What else do I need (besides BBQ chicken) that the butler could provide (legally)? I had dinner in the main restaurant (Grand Pacific). There are monitors on the wall giving the wait times. I just have not figured them out. I assume the longer bar means a long wait. However, the bar for Jasmine was very long, and when I walked past not only was there no line, but I saw empty tables. Nonetheless, it is an extra cost restaurant and I'll get to it later. I headed to the Grand Pacific restaurant and there was no line. I said I wanted to share and ended up sharing a table with three people in one of the Courtyard Villas. Apparently it was a couple and his mother. We compared suites, cruise experience (they had cruised before, but not with Norwegian) and the make up of the passengers (very few kids). While I like kids, and have never had a problem with kids on a cruise, even on ships with 800 of the little tykes running around, they clearly appreciated the lack of kids. Okay, to each their own. It does make for a different atmosphere. I'm not making a value judgment here, just noting that it is different. I mentioned my observation this morning that the adults were doing the things the kids were normally doing. The husband said that he went to the basketball court, found it empty, and shot baskets for a half hour. He had not gone down the water slide yet, but was willing to give it a try (I actually did see an adult go down the water slide, though for the most part it was the kids who were going down the water slide). I had the prime rib and it was good, which is an improvement over my experience in the main restaurant on the Star. My three table mates were very interesting and I am glad I had the chance to meet them. Perhaps we will bump into each other some more during the cruise. Well, it is 11:00pm and we have to set our clock ahead one hour tonight. I only closed the sheer curtain and to my surprise the room stewardess did not close the main curtain (which I would have opened anyway). All the lights are off in the cabin except the TV (which I have on the travel channel) and one reading light. I checked and I am not casting a shadow on the balcony when I stand in the door, so I should be okay. Also, I have not received a call to turn off the lights or close the curtain, so I think I've got this all worked out. Good night - see you tomorrow in Cabo. Day three - Cabo I wake up to a gentle glow. It is 6:30am and sunrise is 6:50am. Sure enough the sun waits until it is time to rise and I snap off a few pictures. Then it is back to sleep, since we are still three hours from port (we arrive at 10:00am). I finally get up, shower and get dressed around 9:00am. Last night I was thinking of leaving my door open. Finally, out of an abundance of caution (just in case there was a rouge wave) I decided not to. Good thing I didn't, because while there was no rouge wave, everything on the balcony was wet with dew. Had I left the door open, the inside of the cabin would have suffered the same fate. We arrived in Cabo early. It is only 9:30am. I meet my butler on the balcony (he is on the neighbor's balcony) and we get to talking again. He says his best friend is on the Star (which is anchored next to us) and we get to talking about his family. He has an eight year old, a three year old and a six month old. He says when he goes back home they are all grown up. It is tough for people who are away from home for long periods of time. Children grow up fast. There are two other ships in port, the HAL Oosterdam and the NCL Star. The Oosterdam is on is Mexican Riviera run and will go to Mazatlan next. The Star is also doing a Mexican Riviera cruise and this is its last stop. It will head to Los Angles when it leaves Cabo. We will meet up with the Golden Princess in PV tomorrow. I take some more photos and then have some more fruit for breakfast. Being in a suite I can have breakfast at Cagney's. It is free and sounds rather good (the people I had dinner with last night have eaten both breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. Only those in a suite can have breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's. My plan is to check out the town in the morning and rent a jet ski in the afternoon. At 10:00 I head for the tender and by 10:15 I'm on it. I get lucky, some Mexican officials came to the ship, and we get to take their boat back. It is an open air boat. The ship's tenders are not open air, and thus get a little stuffy when full of people. Once on the dock I am greeted by the usual group of people you see at every Mexican port. Either someone has a great deal on whatever, or some kid is selling gum. My goal is to look for a place that rents jet skis and perhaps find a good view of the bay. I walk along the marina and see one place that rents jet skis. I get to the other end of the marina and decide to do some exploring. I am looking for a back entrance to the beach. I have been to Cabo twice before and always entered the beach next to the harbor entrance. This time I hope to find another way to the beach, and in the process see a part of town I had not seen before. When I first came to Cabo on the Carnival Pride in May 2004 it was a charming place and my favorite port. About 1 ½ years later I came back on the NCL Star and the place had become so developed that it lost all of its charm. Now they are building all the way down to the beach. Whatever good views of the bay once existed, do not exist anymore. After much walking, I end up entering the beach at the harbor entrance. Well at least walking out to the edge of the breakwater allows for a good photo of the Jade and the other two ships anchored in the harbor. A few feet from the breakwater is someone who rents jet skis. It is a good location and a fair price ($45 for ½ hour or $80 for a full hour). Naturally he wants me to rent it now, but I am in street clothing and my camera is not water proof. I'll be back. I take a water taxi to the tender dock, buy a few souvenirs and tender back to the ship. I tender back to the shore, take a water taxi to the beach, and rent the Jet Ski. First I ask if I have ridden a jet ski before (yes - once). The proprietor explains the rules to me. Not too hard to understand. Don't hit anything, don't run over anyone and don't get to close to the cruise ships. Then he asks if I know how to operate it. I say yes, add power to turn (there is no rudder; the only way to turn is to force a turn by adding power). He laughs and I am off. I am no daredevil. I just want a good advantage point for taking pictures (and yes, I brought a water proof camera with me). I first head out to the seals (which are near El Arco). But there are too many small boats there. So I grab a few pictures of El Arco. The camera just has a small screen, no view finder. Fine when under water, but in bright light the screen is very hard to see. Nonetheless I get some good photos. Then I check out the seals. Still too crowded, so I head over to the cruise ships. I get a few good photos and then head back to the seals. Now it is less crowded and I am able to get some good photos. Then back to the cruise ships for a different angle. A few more shots of El Arco and then I head back in. With three ships in port there are lots of boats going in and out of the harbor. Looks kind of like rush hour. Add to that a few jet skiers who are daredevils and one has to be careful. It is amazing how easy it is not to see some of the smaller boats. Add to that the noise the Jet Ski makes and I could not hear the boat that was over taking me to my left. With another one coming at me, moving to the left seems I good idea. Fortunately I look behind me and realize moving to my left is not an option. Unlike when driving a car, you cannot anticipate where the other boats and/or jet skiers will come from. Add to that that fact that jet skis have no brakes and no reverse and if you are not careful you can find yourself in trouble real quickly. However, jet skis do have two advantages that can be used to keep one out of trouble. One, they are small and maneuverable. Two, they are quick and fast. Sometimes I just put myself halfway between the two things I was trying to avoid. Being small I still had enough of a comfort zone. Other times I just simply hit the power and got out of the way before anything could get close enough to bother me. My waiting to the afternoon had one disadvantage. The wind picked up in the afternoon and what was slight when we came in (1 ½ to 4 feet) was now moderate (4 to 7 feet). The one thing I did not want to do was become air born. Flying doesn't bother me, but the landings do. After what I thought was pretty close to one hour of picture taking and exploring I head in. The owner tells me I've got ten more minutes and sends me back out. A little more exploring and finally I come in. Since I was a customer, I get a free ride on a water taxi back to the tender dock. I walked completely around the marina in the morning. It cost me $3 for a water taxi from the beach to the tender dock. $7 for a water taxi from the tender dock back to the beach and free from the beach back to the tender dock (they would have charged me $2 otherwise). So there is room to negotiate the water taxi prices. Back on the ship I decide to do a little swimming in the fresh water pool. So I try out the other pool this time and much to my surprise it is salt water. I could tell before I reached the bottom step because salt water is denser than fresh water, and thus people, including me, float better in salt water. Standing straight up I float about 8-9 inches higher in salt water compared to fresh water. I could feel the water supporting me before my feet reached the bottom of the pool. Oh well, I was already in the water. I swam a few laps and then headed to the other pool which is fresh water. The forward pool is fresh water and the adults only. The aft pool is salt water and open to everybody. I decide to attend the early show and make reservations for Cagney's at 9:00pm. The entertainment tonight is an opera singer (a tenor). I'm not really an opera person, but this guy is pretty good. So was the 24 oz porterhouse steak at Cagney's. When ordering I ask if I can have one or two sides. The waiter tells me I can have three or four. I forgot, only the steak is limited, everything else, just like in the main restaurant, is unlimited. I have fries and corn. For some unknown reason the meal is half price. I leave a little extra tip and go downstairs to check on the photographs. There are no new photographs to view, so I go back to the cabin. We have to move the clocks ahead again tonight, so there goes another hour of sleep. Day four - Puerto Vallarta We keep moving the clocks ahead, so the sunrises are getting later and later. I look outside and there is nothing but clouds, so I figure no sunrise this morning. However, some of the clouds clear and I get a few good sunrise photos. Then I check out the travel channel, as we are scheduled to arrive in Puerto Vallarta at 8:30am. Hopefully we will dock. Last time I was here they were building a new dock. I know the Golden Princess will be there waiting and docked (because it snuck ahead of us while we were in the turning basin in San Pedro). Sure enough as we approach PV the Golden Princess is already docked. As we pull in (good, we are docking) I see PV can now dock three large ships. Once again I get to meet all my neighbors on the balcony this morning. We are all going to have a great time when we go through the canal. One of my neighbors is going golfing today. I mention that the web cam must be just above their cabin and they confirm that they actually got in the picture, so the camera angle was moved. I am taking it easy today. I'll leave around 10:00am, take a taxi to downtown and just walk around. And that is what I do. First I head uphill. I get about 300 feet above sea level and then head back down. I walk along the water front, buy a few key rings and then check out the island in the middle of the river. By the time I do all of this it is 2:00pm and I decide to head back (as we have to be on board by 3:30pm). I am dead tired from all the walking and I am looking forward to some hot tub time before the 4:00pm departure, when I want to be back on my balcony. Little do I realize what I am in for. The first thing I find wrong is the bathroom light doesn't work. I am not sure who to call, so I call the concierge. She'll send an electrician. Then I think about it. There are three lights in the bathroom and none of them work. It is very unlikely that all three would fail at the same time, so I try more switches and discover that about half the lights in the cabin don't work. Okay, it must be a circuit breaker or fuse. I call the concierge and tell her the problem is even worse. She agrees it must be the circuit breaker. She tells me to call her if no one shows up in ½ hour. No one shows up, so I call again. She gets someone on it. Finally I think I hear someone at the door, so I try to open it, and I find that I am locked in (and here I thought no BBQ chicken was bad). Now this is a safety issue so I call the concierge again. Meanwhile I am wondering what else could be wrong. Then I realize that the door has some electronics in it, and that this could all be related. Still, this is a safety issue and the door should open from the inside no mater what. Finally the concierge opens the door (it works fine from the outside, but not from the inside - which is easy to demonstrate). She apologizes for taking so long to get to me, as she was on the other side of the ship (I wasn't worried). She explains the door is the carpenter's responsibility, and he is currently on standby because we are leaving the dock. She is clearly embarrassed and stays at the door until both the electrician and the carpenter show up. Me, I'm on the balcony where I planned to be, the only difference is that my bathing suit is dry. The electrician is the first to solve his problem. All the lights work. The carpenters have removed the entire lock mechanism and we are backing out. We are not just backing out of the dock; we are backing out of the harbor. I guess with the Golden Princess still docked the captain does not believe there is enough room to safely turn around, and back we go, right out of the harbor and half way into the bay. The crew recreation area (crew sun deck and pool) are right below my cabin. So I yell out that it looks like ware going to back all the way to Acapulco. The crew plays along and says they want to make sure I get the full experience. So I respond that great, now I can see where we have been. This gets a laugh out of the crew on the bow. The crew standing next to my door is clearly embarrassed. So, the worst thing that happened is I have to go to the hot tub after we leave and not before - big deal. Missing out on the BBQ chicken is still worse. The captain must have backed the ship a full half mile. That must have been a sight to see for those out on deck on the Golden Princess. After the hot tub I come back and change for the show. I finish changing in time for some great sunset photos. If I had known the sunset was going to be this great I would have gone on deck. The sun set to the right of the ship, so my photos have part of the forward section of the ship in the photos. This sunset deserved an unobstructed view. However, the sunset only lasts two minutes, so I had to remain on my balcony. After what I have been through, those $2.00 peanuts are starting to look pretty good. The suite comes with a fairly well stocked bar. Perhaps instead of having drinks on the deck I'll check out my own private overpriced stash. The show tonight is a comedian. Turns out he does physical comedy, and he is pretty funny. Unfortunately I am in the balcony and miss what turns out to be the funniest party of his routine because he is in the audience where I cannot see him. Still, he is pretty good. Then tonight I have reservations at the Mexican restaurant (the one on the ship). When picking out my entry I suddenly realize that I have not had a hamburger on board yet. I haven't had BBQ chicken either, but there is nothing I can do about that. It is all very good, especially the Tex-Mex hamburger. I go down one flight and I see there are some new photographs. But the prices have gone out of sight. Okay, they are all 8 x 10s (even the port photos) but they are $20 each! I take one of the two captain photos and dump the other photo with the captain and the port photo. So here I am on my balcony. There is a full moon, all my lights work, my door works from both sides and there is a nice cool breeze. Other than BBQ chicken, what else could I want? So far I have yet to have a wind issue on this balcony. We have been sailing in every direction from west to south to east, and wind has never been an issue. Also, we have spent most of our time doing 22 knots (about 25.5 MPH) or better. We are not scheduled to arrive in Acapulco until 3:30pm tomorrow (and we don't leave until noon the next day). Also, I have noticed that the balconies on the tenth deck (I'm on the ninth deck) are either smaller or don't have as large of an overhang as I do. Since the bridge is on deck eleven, the overhang provides both privacy and rain protection. I think I have one of the best balconies on the ship. Also you might be wondering about movement, this far forward. It is not a problem yet. We have had seas from calm to moderate (from smooth to seven foot waves) and with the slight or less seas it is like driving over an expansion joint in the road once in a while. With moderate seas it is like driving over railroad tracks, again, once in a while. I couldn't be happier with the cabin - unless they get the large BBQ units delivered before the end of the cruise. After what happened with the cabin tonight I decide not to tempt fate any longer. My computer is on the desk, as is the ice bucket. Since I leave my computer open most of the time, I decide to move the ice bucket to the table and the frog (which is as white as a bath towel) gets an honored position on the desk next to my computer. Well, it is 11:00pm and I have to get up in time for a mid afternoon approach to Acapulco. Actually I am considering taking advantage of one of my suite perks and have breakfast at Cagney's. So, good night. See ya in Acapulco. FYI, the captain got the ship straightened out. We are going forward. Day five - day at sea day & arrive in Acapulco I wake up before sunrise. It looks like it is going to be a good one. However, at the appointed time there are clouds on the horizon. As a result the sun has to rise further before it can be seen. This means that the entire sky will be brighter and as a result the colors are not as vivid. Oh well, last night's sunset made up for it. Well, after a very nice breakfast at Cagney's I came back to do a little catch up on the Internet, and then I wanted to watch the DVD. However, the DVD player is not working. The butler cannot fix it and he calls the electrician. Apparently being flexible is going to be important. Most likely I'll end up watching the DVD after dinner tonight. I'm thinking of checking out the Blue Lagoon Cafe tonight, since I don't know what my plans in town are yet. We arrived on time in Acapulco. I am not sure why, but both the Star and the Jade proceed very slowly into the harbor, even slower than in the channel in San Pedro. It takes an hour from the time we pick up the pilot until we are docked. The dock is big enough for two ships, and we are the only ship in town. Yet we keep inching forward to the point that I think the ship will shop when we hit the docked tug boat in front of us. Clearly the captain is leaving room for one more ship, but which one? It can't be the Star, we saw the Star in Cabo, and thus the Star is in San Pedro today. It could be the Carnival Spirit, but if it is, it should be here already, and if it is coming tomorrow, it will arrive after we leave. At any rate, we are docked and I'll wait a short time for the line to thin out. I've decided to walk along the beach today, and check out Fort San Diego tomorrow (the fort is across the street from the dock). So, I head to the mid ship elevators and take it down to deck four. Apparently the line has not thinned out yet. On the way down we stop at decks seven, six, five and finally four. I can see the line goes up to deck seven and I'll likely not be able to get off the elevator. We get to deck four and not only is there room to get off the elevator, but the line just started to move. Okay, chalk one up to dumb luck leading to great timing. I go through the shops out to the exit and notice none seem to be selling key rings. I want to get a key ring from every port (and the ship) for my friend's children's key ring collection. I figure I'll be able to pick something up while I am walking. Now I've go to get past the taxi drivers. I tell them I just want to walk. I make it past most of them when one offers me a walking tour of the local shopping. Okay, so I have two key rings in my pocket while I walk along the beach. Things could be worse, so I accept the offer. As we are walking I quickly realize he is going to get a commission for bringing in a customer. Okay, big deal, wait until he finds out I am only going to spend $10. Of course I am offered lots of jewelry for my girlfriend and/or sister. Interesting, I never said I wasn't married (I'm not, but I never said I wasn't). Well, I get my key rings, say no to everything else, and finally, getting tired of saying no, I explain I've been here before and I'm only looking for a souvenir (which all happens to be true). After turning down his other great connection (a "nice" young girl), I walk the 3 - 4 blocks back to the beach with two key rings in my pocket. And now it starts. Do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you (I saw them last time, I was not impressed). Do I want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? No thank you. Do you want to go to the cliff divers? No thank you. Do you want a massage? No thank you. 75 feet later, do you need a taxi? … Now first of all, it is pretty clear that these are shall we say "full service" massages. I have walked past several police, both local and federal. Is prostitution legal in Mexico?? And while each taxi driver/madam's runner is easy enough to deal with, there is no way the next one could not have known what questions and answers were given several seconds earlier. Sometimes I just said I just wanted to walk. Most of the time I used a hand signal to indicate I wasn't interested. They are all asking me the same three questions. They have to know that. What do they think; in the last 75 feet I suddenly changed my mind? This is so bad that the next time I come here I am taking a shore excursion. I survived Jamaica where the people are very aggressive. These people are not aggressive, but every 75 feet, every few seconds, it is really getting to me. Finally I reach the sand (I was walking along the sidewalk between the ship and the beach). I head out to the edge of the water and some peace. As I walk I recognize two kids playing in the water. I don't know there names, but kids are so rare on this cruise that they are easy to recognize. There are actually three kids, but the oldest could pass for a young adult at a distance. The father is in the water with them, so I check out the sand. There is a woman pointing her camera at them. That must be Mom. As I get closer I see she is sitting on a ship towel, so I say hello. As soon as she realizes I'm not trying to sell her something she starts talking to me. They are a family from Canada and are on their first cruise. The children are on break and will only miss a few days of school. Soon the father joins us and we talk until the moon rises. The kids think the water is a little cold, but the father says it is easy to get used to. They are all trying to body surf, but the waves are kind of small. I point out that that is the purpose of a harbor. I tell them that coming from Canada they should think the water is warm. Well, it is cooler than the water in the pools on the ship. As to body surfing, I suggested they should have tried Puerto Vallarta since the bay is less protected. They were going to, but the tour lasted until it was time to get back on the ship. Well, I've got this big balcony with a front row seat, and I figured why not offer to share. So tell them about my balcony and offer to have them come and visit when we go through the Panama Canal. Turns out they are in two inside cabins, and I don't think they understand just how big my balcony is. So I offer them the grand tour. Now they are impressed. They may stop by. They are also having trouble getting into the Italian restaurant. It is free, but requires reservations, (though when I was there I was a walk-in and got seated right-a-way). I told them about my luck. I decide that if they continue to have trouble, I'll use my connections (the concierge - it would mean I would have to have dinner with them, but if they really want to get in, why not). I clean up a bit and decide to check out Fort San Diego. Again with the taxi drivers, but this time I go the other way on the side walk, so I miss all the other taxi drivers. It turns out the fort is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00am to 6:00pm, so I'll hit that tomorrow. Works out great because it is near the ship, and with only about three hours (I figure I'll get out around 8:00am and we have to be back on board at 11:30am) being close to the ship is a good thing. Back on the ship I decide to try Blue Lagoon, which is a 24 hour cafe. As I am walking toward the cafe I pass Jasmine, an Oriental extra cost restaurant. No line there. Where is everyone eating? Soon I have the answer to my question. Everyone is at the cafe tonight, and I'm not interested in waiting in line. It is 9:20pm. I don't know if Jasmine will still be open. I head back and ask it they are open. Yes. Do they have room for one more? Actually that was not a serious question. I can see they have more empty tables then full ones. I enjoy a nice dinner. And the check - it' is half price. I am beginning to think this might be an unadvertised suite perk. However, the half price meals could just be the luck of my timing. I was at both Cagney's and Jasmine late. Both restaurants had more empty tables then full ones. I know from the Star that NCL offers half price meals during less popular times to get people to come during the less popular times. I have approached this cruise a lot differently then all the others. I did not go to the port lectures. I have not been reading the Freestyle Daily (though I am saving it). So, on one hand I could be missing something I might enjoy. On the other hand, I am doing one thing new (the Internet) which I enjoy (except for the price - but thanks to the OBC my agent gave me, it is really only costing me $3.95 - the activation fee). I should add that it is not that fast. I would say it is just a little faster than dial up, but no where near as fast as DSL. I am also sitting on my balcony while I am writing this (I am writing this during the afternoon after we left Acapulco). The travel channel says the seas are slight (1 ½ to 4 foot waves) we are traveling at over 23 knots and I can barely feel the ship swaying back and forth. The temperature of the ocean is 77 degrees, the air temperature is 81 degrees, the relative humidity is 85% and there is a gentle nine knot tailwind. Now that we are south of Acapulco I am now the furthest south I have ever been. From where I am sitting (in the shade) I can barely feel any wind and I can see the sea. If I move up to the rail I am in the sun and there is a little more wind. So where is all of this headed (yes, the ship is headed to the Panama Canal - but I mean this paragraph). I am enjoying myself right now, and I really don't care if I am missing something else that I might enjoy. Okay, back to the day. Well, actually it is night and I have just finished dinner. I decide to go outside and see if I can get a good photo of the ship at night. Well, one the ship is not that colorful at night and two, I could not hold the camera steady enough. It is 11:00pm and although Acapulco has had some problems recently, none if it is directed at the tourists (who having just said no for the three-thousandth time to the thousandth taxi driver, might be willing to be shot). I feel safe and no body is bothering me. Since I went away from downtown to get the night time photos, I am not being bothered by taxi drivers. Day six - depart Acapulco & day at sea I wake up about 7:00am. My cabin is facing west, so no sunrise pictures today. My plan is to check out Fort San Diego, which is right across the street from the ship. I leave the ship sometime after 8:00am and run the gauntlet of taxi drivers. Only apparently they used up my patience yesterday. Today I don't say "no thank you", I just say "no" (Nancy Reagan would be proud). This works fine except for one who becomes a little more aggressive. Around the sixth no it was more like NO! Not only was it loud enough to convince him I really meant it, but the next taxi driver on the sidewalk got out of my way. To my surprise another ship has joined us. The Crystal Symphony is docked behind us. So, the captain was trying to make room for another ship yesterday. I figured it must have arrived in the morning, since it was not there late last night. Mostly out of morbid curiosity (but also because I want to get some pictures of the Crystal Symphony) I walked a short distance toward downtown. I just wanted so see how many street vendors had set up along the sidewalk. The sidewalk was clear. I got my pictures and I then head the other way toward the fort. I run into the family I met yesterday and just say hello. We exchange our plans for the morning and we each head our own way. I arrive at the entrance to the bridge that will take me across the street and to the entrance of the Fort. But it is only 8:55am, so I have to wait a few minutes. The entrance fee is only $4.00. The fort has information signs in both Spanish and English. Above, on the ramparts there is a good view of the city. I finish around 10:00am, which is my goal. I walk toward the ship and decide to check out the sidewalk on the way to downtown one last time. Some street vendors are just starting to set up shop. After that it is back to the ship and I want to take a quick dip in the fresh water pool to cool off. I jump in (feet first) and as I bob to the surface I realize the problem right away. The pool is full of saltwater. I guess they ran out of fresh water. I wonder where they found the extra saltwater. I take a cold water shower and decide to check out the other pool just in case they switched which one was fresh and which one was salt. Rats, both are saltwater today. However, the pool that is closer to the aft is currently closer to the east, thus has been in the shade longer, and therefore is cooler. So I float around for a while. Then take a fresh water shower again, only to learn that the other shower is heated. All that work to get cool ruined by a heated shower. The heated shower is next to the aft pool. The cold shower is next to the adult's pool (the forward pool). While wandering around I find there is a little kids slide. By little I mean pre-school and kindergarten. No self respecting seven year old would be caught dead on it. This slide is right outside the ship's children's center. Good grief, what's next, free ice cream? For those that don't get the joke, yes, there is free ice cream, just don't let your kids read the next sentence. The free ice cream is right inside where the buffet is, along the wall closest to the pool. Then I go back to my cabin, change and get ready for the sail away. I know the ship will have to back past the Crystal Symphony. The captain has already demonstrated his backing ability in PV. The question is which way he will turn. If front toward the ocean then I will not get a good view of the harbor. If front toward the land, then I'll get a great view. We back past the Crystal Symphony and we turn with the front toward the land - yes! I get a good picture of the Crystal Symphony and I get a good view of another smaller ship that is in the harbor. But then I get a surprise. There, waiting for us to clear the docking space is the Carnival Spirit. I've been on the Carnival Pride, but not the Carnival Spirit. Sometime in the future I would like to try the Carnival Spirit on its Mexican Riviera cruise to Acapulco. I get lots of good photos of the Carnival Spirit, and then we head out to sea. In about 63 hours we should be at the entrance to the Panama Canal. I spoke to my neighbors for what seemed like a few minutes, but in actuality probably lasted over an hour. I have a watch on my wrist, but I don't feel like I am under any time pressure, so I rarely look at it. I have spent the entire time since we left Acapulco (6 ½ hours at this point) sitting on my balcony working on this or talking to my neighbors. The only breaks I have taken are to take photos of the little kids slide and getting seconds on the free ice cream. I ate the first bowl sitting on the rear deck overlooking the wake. I finish off the second bowl back on my balcony. I worked hard to get here, and I am really enjoying this time out on the balcony just watching the sea approach us. With side and rear facing balconies I like to sit and watch the world go by, but with a forward facing balcony I don't get the feeling the world is going by. Rather I get the feeling the world is coming at me. But I mean that in a positive way. That light in front of me is not the headlight of an on coming train, but rather - oops, the sun is setting behind the ship and I can't see it from here. We are sailing east south east, so the sunsets are getting earlier. Well, I had to hustle up to deck thirteen and go to the rear of the ship. The sun already set, but I got a few good photos anyway. I work a little more on this, and I now I have to break away because I have an 8:00pm reservation at Teppanyaki. This restaurant is one of the extra cost restaurants ($20) and it is important to be on time, because everyone sits around the grill as all of their dinners are cooked at the same time, so being late means everyone has to wait, and I don't want to be the cause of that. I am seated at a table full of people from New York. I don't agree with everything they say about California, but I'm not here to get in an argument over regional difference or discuss politics. However, I do defend the Western Bagels bagel against a "true" New York bagel. The couple sitting next to me has a rear facing suite, which is just like mine, except that their balcony is about one fifth the size of my balcony. They are on their 18th cruise and have taken the New York to Canada cruise I will be taking this August. So I am able to get some inside information which will come in handy for making travel arrangements. I had the surf and turf and notice a difference between pricing of the extra cost meals on this cruise and my cruise on the NCL Star. On the Star Cagney's and Teppanyaki's prices differed based on what you ordered. In this case both are one price no mater what you order. The cooks put on a show while cooking, and are very entertaining. The food and company are both excellent. This time the meal is full price, so I have been getting lucky with my timing to get the half price meals. Actually that is good to know - I can eat late, no problem. I find another picture and decide to buy it. It seems all the photos are eight by tens and are all $20. I'm going to spend $100 on photos and I am not happy about that. As a result I have not posed for any photos at the port except for Cabo, and I didn't buy that photo. On the way to the photo lab I watch as a little girl poses for a photo with a moon background. I joke with the photographer that she can get the real thing outside. There is a full moon tonight. The moon was orange when it was just above the horizon and turned white when it got higher, leaving a while reflection on the sea, just like the backdrop. I heard the mother say something to the little girl, and it was not in English. I am not sure if the little girl speaks English, but she is following the visual signals the photographer is giving her. Then she does a quick glance back toward her Mom. I guess that look is the same in any language - even I can read it. She is checking with her mother to make sure she is doing everything right (she is). I notice that all the children on this ship seem to be from outside the United States. Even the family I met, that speaks English, is from Canada. I also walk past a couple with a young son and could hear that they were talking in a foreign language. Finally I noticed that about half the people who walked past me while I was waiting to be seated for dinner were talking in a foreign language. Still, I'm an American on a Norwegian ship registered in Nassau sailing in Mexican waters and headed to Columbia, so defining who is foreign is not as straight forward as it is back home. One other thing I have noted is laughter sounds the same in any language. This is true of the adults walking past me while I was waiting for dinner and the little girl who was having her photo taken. I recognize her as one of the three kids in the kid's center who where playing dodge ball with the three counselors. Well, I get back to my cabin around 10:00pm and notice another note about moving our clocks ahead one hour again. If this keeps up we are going to lose a full half day and I'm going to ask for a 4% refund of my cruise fare. Actually this is the last time we will have to change our clocks, as we will now be on Eastern Time, which is the time zone of our final destination of Miami. I am busy planning my next two days, as they are days at sea before we enter the Panama Canal. We are scheduled to arrive at 5:00am. I figure tomorrow will be a slow relaxing day, and the next day I'll be more active, and I want to get to sleep early so I can wake up early. That is the last thing I remember. When I awake again the TV is on the travel channel and it is 11:40pm. I thought about moving my watch ahead one hour and then decide against it. If I do, I also have to manually change the day and date. I'll just do it in the morning, and so I kill the TV and go to sleep. Day seven - day at sea I wake up before sunrise and realize the heavy curtains are still over the window. I move them back so I can see the sunrise. I set my watch ahead one hour and go back to sleep. As the sky starts to lighten I look out and I am a bit disappointed. There are clouds on the horizon, which means the sunrise will be later and the extra brightness will wash out most of the colors. However, there is a ray of hope. The sky is overcast which might block some of the extra light. There is a small space between lower clouds and the upper clouds, so a sunrise is still possible - late but still a sunrise. So I put on the ship supplied NCL-A bathrobe and go out on the balcony to wait. It is actually warmer than it was last night (and the sun has not come up yet). This is because we are getting further and further south. I'm glad it is February and not April, when it would be even warmer. I like it cool and it is over 80. The seas are still slight, but different. Instead of looking like a cheese grater the seas are smooth with rolling swells (of 1 ½ to 4 feet per the travel channel). Next I shower, put on fresh clothes and catch a movie on the TV. I've seen it plenty of times now, but I like it and today is a slow day. Breakfast consists of the grapes from my replenished fruit basket. Also, every afternoon the butler leaves some munchies for me, usually it is a gift from the hotel director. I have no idea what most of the munchies are that I am eating. However, I assume they are not trying to poison me, so I have tried everything and so far they are all good. Well, the door bell just rang and I assume it is the room stewardess. My biggest problem today will be to stay out of her way so she can do her job. However, it's not the room stewardess, but rather Ruth, the concierge checking to make sure everything is okay. Well, according to the travel channel, it is 82 outside. Both the air and water are 82 degrees. Perhaps if it is nice enough I'll swim through the canal. HA HA. Last night the gentleman sitting next to me mentioned how nice lunch is at Cagney's. It is one of the suite perks is to have breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. I've had breakfast there once. So today I'll give lunch a try. I've got my favorite cruise shirt on. I got it on my first cruise in Sitka. It shows a picture of a deer in the woods. The trees have several arrows stuck in them. The caption reads, "VEGETAIAN Indian world for LOUSY HUNTER". It is usually good for a few laughs. I have a very good pastrami sandwich, but no one comments on my shirt. On the way up I check out the Spinnaker Lounge. This is the second biggest lounge on the ship (after the Stardust Theater). It is forward on deck thirteen. It even has a few lounges with two backs, so a couple could sit facing each other as though they were sitting on two separate lounge chairs, except that this is one piece of furniture, and it is big enough for two people to lie down if they wanted to. In fact, I notice one person is doing exactly what I am doing, sitting in the lounge chair typing on a laptop computer, which is truly a laptop in this case. The only difference is I'm out in the fresh air. I expect the Spinnaker Lounge will be full while we go through the Panama Canal. While higher up, it is also further back than my balcony, so the view is more or less the same. However, I don't have to guard my front row view, and I will not lose it if I have to go to the bathroom, so I'll take my balcony over the Spinnaker Lounge any day for viewing the Panama Canal transit. Which gets me to thinking, is a suite worth the extra price? If you need or want the extra space, yes. If you are just after the extra perks, then I do not believe it is. Even though I have been enjoying the suite perks, they are not worth the extra $2,000 I am paying for this cabin over a balcony cabin. The only reason I am in this cabin is that it is the least expensive cabin with a forward facing balcony. On the way down the hall to Cagney's I saw my butler. He mentioned that he was thinking of taking some time to go into Cartagena. Great, he has been working hard and I would like to see him take a break. However, he only wants to go into the terminal area. So I say well, you can still tell everyone that you've been to South America (it will be a first for me). He says he has been to Chile. So I tell him, well, now you can tell everyone you have been to the north part of South America. Well, at least he smiled. While walking on deck thirteen (the deck just above the pool), on the way to lunch at Cagney's, I found it was quite windy. Back on my balcony I can feel the wind. I have to hold the papers down with something (where yesterday I did not). Today instead of a tailwind we have a headwind. Still, it is less windy on my forward facing balcony then on deck thirteen. I also found something new. The forward pool has a water fall. Today is the first day I have seen it in operation. At least I am fairly sure it is a water fall. I don't think deck thirteen suddenly sprung a leak right over the middle of the forward end of the forward pool. Other notes while I sit out on my balcony typing and staying out of the cabin steward's way: Some people wonder if it is safe to leave expensive things out in the open in the cabin. Most of the time the obvious, but unasked, question is can the cabin steward be trusted. As I am about to explain, these are two different questions, and the answers are also different. Can the cabin steward be trusted? In my experience the answer is yes. Of course you could run into one that cannot be, but then again, even police officers commit crimes. Since my third cruise I have always had my laptop with me. Some days I leave it out, and I still have it. Sometimes I forget and leave other valuables out, and I still have them too. However, when the cabin steward cleans the room, they ALL leave the door open. Anyone walking by could walk in a take something and not be noticed. I'll give you two very real examples. One day I returned to my cabin to get my camera. The cabin stewardess was cleaning the bathroom. My camera was on the desk in plain sight. I took my camera and left without the cabin stewardess even knowing I was there. Now I should mention that I am at the end of the hall, so nobody walks past my cabin on the way to their cabin, and therefore I am fairly safe in this regard. If I was in a side facing cabin I would not leave my camera out on the desk in plane view. The second example occurred while I was on the balcony. I was at the rail, either looking forward or talking with my neighbors. Both my balcony doors were open. My cabin stewardess popped her head out and said she was done cleaning my cabin. I didn't even know she was in the cabin. Now think about that. I'm 16 - 18 feet from an open door, and she was able to clean the cabin without my noticing. So, would I recommend leaving valuables where they can easily be seen by someone walking down the hall? No I would not. The reason is not because I don't trust the cabin steward, but rather because they ALL leave the door open while they are working in the room. Anyone walking by can look in. I know, because I look in the open doors of cabins out of curiosity, but that is because I like to see what the cabins look like, not because I am looking for something to take. Speaking to the butler reminded me of a few things I take for granted at home, that I have to be careful about when not at home. For example, many on this ship speak English as a second language. Even someone who sounds fluent might not understand a joke. For example a student was sweeping a room at a school where I used to volunteer. I asked her why and she was trying to keep things clean so there would be no ants. So I asked what about uncles. She said no, just ants. Her tone made it clear she did not understand the joke. The teacher then said, that she thought what I said was cute, but that was the disadvantage of speaking English as a second language (the student's first language was Spanish), that the student clearly did not understand the second meaning I had given the word ant (aunt). Mean while my nephews, who only speak English, understand my play on words every time. Watching a young child try to explain something when they realize that the key word they are using is being misinterpreted is fun. The other thing is that even at work there are others who cruise regularly. So I was a little surprised, being that we are on a cruise ship, especially after being to Cabo, to have someone ask me what a tender port is, after I tell them Grand Cayman is a tender port. Of course online this leads to a great play on words when someone wants to know how you can tell if it is tender port or not. The answer of course is, stick a fork in it (HA HA). Yesterday one of my neighbors saw a pod of dolphins. I'm sorry I missed it, but then again I already had a dolphin experience that will never be topped. I was on a sail boat. I was close enough to the water that I could stick my water proof camera in the water and got some underwater photos of the dolphins surfing our wake. That show lasted about twenty minutes. So while it is neat to see dolphins playing in the ship's wake, I'm afraid that I'll never top that experience, off the California coast, about 20 years ago. In an effort to avoid any unwanted viruses, NCL has become a little paranoid. Here is a quote from the Freestyle Daily (which appears as the tip of the day everyday): "Please wash your hands often, especially anytime after using the restrooms. Please sanitize your hands before any meals and at the gangway when returning to the ship. In addition, sanitize dispensers are located outside all restaurants and public areas. If you have a Gastrointestinal issue, please report to the Medical Center immediately. Advisory Notice: While ashore, drink only bottled water, be cautious while dining, wash your hands often and discourage hand shaking. Also, be diligent not to draw attention to your personal effects & handle cash discretely. Thank you." All good advice, but actively discouraging hand shaking will make people seem unfriendly. And don't wear anything on your hands that will be damaged by alcohol, because you are going to get your hands squirted when you return to the ship. This got me to thinking, which is how I normally get into trouble. Someone with some of that fake vomit could have a grand time. Of course the crew would not likely find it funny, but I wonder if anyone has tried to save a pool side lounge chair with it? Well, it's after 4:00pm. I slept in and spent a few hours enjoying my balcony while typing this. It is a little windier than before, but other wise the weather is perfect. Per the travel channel, we are traveling east south east at over 23 knots. The seas are slight, the air and water are 82 and the humidity is 78%. I've enjoyed a very relaxing day. So now I'll go inside and see what's happening on the Internet and perhaps watch the new DVD my butler brought me. Tomorrow I will spend some quality time in the pool and who knows what else. And as I write this I realize just how different I am approaching this cruise. Normally I don't spend this much time out on the balcony, but then again, as noted before, this is a special balcony. I just realize, on a normal cruise I would be packing about now. But on this cruise I still have a full week left and the best is yet to come. Well, unfortunately there were clouds on the horizon tonight, so going up on deck to watch the sunset was a waste of time. The best sunsets have a clear horizon and clouds well above the horizon. After that I shot a few baskets and then went back to the cabin and watched the DVD. If you are looking for a movie to rent, I highly suggest you steer clear of Benchwarmers. After the movie one of the channels has something about the Panama Canal. Apparently the ship is now showing an old NOVA program called The Building of the Panama Canal on a continuous basis. After catching the last half of the program I decide to go to dinner, and then the late show. The only restaurant left that I want to try is Blue Lagoon. There is only one couple in line and there are empty tables, so I figure things should go fairly smoothly. Well, Lets just say that there is some room for improvement here. There is a podium where you wait for the host or hostess to seat you. There is just one problem; there is no host or hostess. The couple in front of me gives up and now I am first in line. I wonder around and look as conspicuous as possible. After several minutes one of the waitresses comes over and seats me and another couple that showed up after I did. The food was average for a cafe. For example, the hamburger was just okay, while the hamburger in the Tex-Mex restaurant next door was very good. At any rate, after dinner I catch the late show, which is a comedy routine with Joe Yanetty. If you get a chance to see him, go. I, and the rest of the audience, laughed the entire time he was on stage. Back in the cabin I find an elephant on my bed. Last night it was a snake. Well, it is 11:00pm, the wind is stronger and thus the waves are bigger (moderate - 4 to 7 ½ feet). I can feel the ship swaying back and forth (right to left). This is a side to side motion known as roll, and has nothing to do with being forward or aft. The least amount of side to side motion is felt if you are close to the water line and near the center line of the ship (above the keel). In both the show on deck seven and in my cabin on deck nine I can feel the side to side motion, but it is not bad. It is more like a gentle rocking motion. There are only two other DVDs that I am interested in, and neither is available right now. So I'll see what is on the TV, and if nothing interesting, I'll read a little and get some sleep. Good night. Day eight - day at sea Well, I am up in time for sunrise, but there are clouds on the horizon again, and this morning's sunrise was hardly worth the effort. I check out the laundry prices and quickly realize that for one load of laundry they want to charge a month's worth of dry cleaning. So I decide to do laundry, only to find out that I am not the only one with that idea. Okay, if worse comes to worse I have back up plans (at worst I will have to pay $30 for one load of laundry). So I'll kill a little time and catch up with my review and fill out the application for the BAGS program (which allows me to check my airline luggage on the ship for $15 per person), then I'll check the laundry room again (it would help if all three washing machines in the room worked). The Freestyle Daily doesn't contain the usual details that help plan a day. It is four pages, but one page is mostly ads for other ways you can run up your ship board account. The first page is good. The second page is all ads. The third and fourth pages are lists of what is available when. Usually the first and second page contains details while the third and fourth pages list what is available when. I also note that they don't have a photograph of the ship. It's not the Pride of Hawaii, and it will look different after if comes out of dry dock. So the official ship photo will be taken during the canal crossing. In a few minor ways this cruise feels as though it was put together at the last moment. Nonetheless, the Hawaiian theme interior, lack of details in the Freestyle Daily, the ship supplied bathrobes say NCL America on it, the temporary ship photo and the small casino are not really big deals to me (I don't even gamble). I am having a good time; I relaxed a lot yesterday, and have enjoyed the ports (even Acapulco). I am looking forward to the rest of the cruise, especially tomorrow. Well the laundry line is getting bigger. If we were not going to through the Panama Canal tomorrow I would just stay up to 1:00am and do it then. However, it's not worth $30 to worry about it. I put the laundry in the bag and just when I am going to call the butler to find out where to take it he arrives at the door (extra points for good timing). He takes the bag and says he'll bring it back tomorrow. I check regular service which is two days if in by 9:00am (it is after 11:00am). Express service (one day service) is an extra 50%. Is this another suite perk? Well, I'll turn in my BAGS application, and then do a little swimming. Both pools are salt water today. The ship is swaying right to left still. This is creating an interesting condition in the aft main pool, which has a wider shelf because of the cutouts for the waterslide. The sides are also "V" shaped, so if you swim in the right place in the pool, you can swim against the current. After swimming I decide to walk around a bit. I find the golf cage empty. I don't think I've hit a golf ball since college. I seem to have lost my touch. No matter how hard I hit the ball, it only goes about 15 feet and then stops dead. So I decide to grab lunch at the buffet and bring it to the balcony to eat it. We seem to have picked up some escorts. There are some black and white birds gliding in front of the ship. I am not sure what kind of bird they are (no, they're not penguins - we are too far north for that) but they look like they are just floating in the air in front of the ship, which means of course that they are actually gliding forward at 23 knots. They seem to be well fed because a lot of what they ate is coming back down all over the front of the ship. Taking note of this, I make sure to stay under the overhang. I watch Mission Impossible for a while (I'm not sure which one) and when the room stewardess comes I go outside and read. Then I decide to walk around the ship and see what is up (hopefully not the birds - I'm not taking my hat). But before I go I call the concierge to make reservations at Cagney's for 8:45pm (which gives me time to catch the early show). Well, the good news is that what was not up were the birds. Unfortunately neither was the ice carving demonstration, which has been moved to tomorrow. I'll be on my balcony until we get dropped into the Caribbean. Nonetheless, the thing I am really interested in seeing is what they do with the ice carvings after they melt. So, since my prime ice carving viewing spot is useless, I decide to just walk around. This includes a walk to the self service ice cream which I eat while looking out over the wake. Then I walk back toward my cabin and I notice some strange splashes in the water. Apparently we are traveling through a pod of small dolphins. Finally back on my balcony I notice everyone looking and pointing. At what, all I see is ocean? Oops, we are traveling through another pod of dolphins. Pretty neat, but at 23 knots it does not last long. Then I spend some time talking to my neighbors, and sharing a few pictures from my June 2007 cruise on the Freedom of the Seas. Again time flies by. What seems like just a few minutes is at least an hour and a half. I guess I should explain that the divider between the forward facing balconies is not full height the entire length of the balcony as they are on the side and rear facing balconies. At the most forward part of the balcony divider is only about three feet high, so it is easy to talk to your neighbors, and even share photographs. I decide to change for the show and dinner (from shorts to jeans, thanks to Freestyle I don't need or have a suit with me - my dress clothes are slacks and a Hawaiian shirt). Then I update this and get everything ready for tomorrow. I backup everything (photos, this review and my spreadsheet with all the expenses - there is no interactive TV for checking the onboard account, though you can get a printout from guest relations) onto a portable hard drive that I take with me for this purpose. Then I clear all my photo memory cards. All three sets of my camera batteries will be fully charged by tomorrow, I check up on a few things on the Internet and finally I set a wake up call for early tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is the big day and I don't want to miss a thing. The entertainment tonight is Cat's Pajamas. This is an A Cappella group of four men. I would say that their singing was average, but the sound effects they create are fantastic. There is an announcement at the beginning that all the sounds we hear are being made by their mouths, there is no sound track, no orchestra and no CD playing in the background. And as soon as I hear their first song I don't believe that there is no sound tract or orchestra playing in the background. The two guys responsible for the sound effects are amazing. Then I go to Cagney's for the 14 oz rib eye steak. They recognize me from my last visit, and service is even better this time (there was nothing wrong the first time - it's just better this time). Rib eye is a better cut of meat than porterhouse, and it shows. The steak was very good. Again it is half price. Okay, I can catch the early show and eat later for half price - no problem. I walk back to my cabin and the room stewardess has not turned down my bed yet (I'm not sure what this entails, since the same side is facing up before and after she turns it down) but what I really want is tomorrow's Freestyle Daily. It will have more information about tomorrow's schedule. I even made sure I walked past her and said hello when I went to the show so she would know I was gone (I've been training myself to always go to starboard side because that is the side that goes all the way through on the public decks - and she is responsible for the port side forward cabins). She shows up right behind me, so I go out to the balcony and look out at the moon's glow on the sea. Very mesmerizing (in fact, I even consider sleeping outside on the balcony tonight). All I feel is a gentle breeze on my face. The room stewardess even washed my lounge chair cushions, so I'll have something clean to sit on tomorrow (this was not a request I made - they were dirty and she took it upon herself to clean the cushions). The travel channel says the wind is back down to nine knots, however, the seas are still moderate. We are now headed east north east at 22 knots, which explains the gentle breeze, since the wind coming from the south west is now a tail wind. The ship is still rolling side to side. By lining up the railing with the horizon (during the day - I can't see the horizon at night) I can tell the ship is also pitching up and down, but I can't feel the pitching movement. According to the Freestyle Daily we will pick up the pilot at 6:00am. Not really a big surprise, since I have been tracking our progress over the last two days and I figured that we were about one hour behind. Okay, I reset my wake up call so I get an extra hour of sleep. We pass under the bridge of the Americas at 6:15am (I hope the pilot remembers to duck). We will enter the Miraflores Locks around 8:30am, the Pedro Miguel Locks around 10:20am, we should enter the Gatun Locks around 2:40pm and we should clear the Gatun Locks around 5:00pm (I knew I would end up missing the ice carving demonstration). We will pass Gamboa around noon (I'm happy to hear he passed this time). Well, it's almost 11:00pm and I am getting up early tomorrow, so good night. Day nine - the Panama Canal I wake up at 5:00am. I look out the window, which doesn't even have the sheer curtain drawn (I turned out all the lights and opened all the curtains) and I notice the running lights. Wait a minute; I haven't seen running lights from my cabin before. Those are city lights. We are here! Well almost, the lights are in the distance, but after two and one half days of nothing but ocean (okay, plus a few dolphins and birds) we are definitely near land. We are not scheduled to do anything until 6:00am and I still have a wake up call scheduled, so I go back to sleep. In a few minutes the phone rings. How do you answer a phone when you know it's a wake up call? I put the camera outside so it can warm up (I keep my cabin as cold as possible and until the camera warms up, water will condense on the lens and ruin the shot). I shower and dress, then prop my door open (so the family from Canada I invited to join me can come right in). Most likely I will not hear the door bell (yes, I have a door bell) while on the balcony. I told them to come right in, so hopefully they will not be shy. It's 5:50am. In ten more minutes the pilot boat should bring the pilots and guest lecturer. There is a speaker on the balcony, but I've never heard it, so most likely I have to get the sound off of channel 23, which is the forward view camera channel. I'm on a forward facing balcony, what do I need with a forward view TV channel? Besides, the music on channel 23 is not as good as the music on the travel channel. Nonetheless, I am stuck with what they offer. So I switch from the travel channel to the forward view channel. Hey, I can see my neighbor on TV. I tell her and everyone watching this channel at 6:30am gets a big wave from my neighbor. Meanwhile we should have passed under the Bridge of the Americas fifteen minutes ago and we haven't yet. Hey, I'm up at 5:00am, I want to see the locks, but we are dead in the water, along with a dozen other ships. Nonetheless, I'm not worried, I know the cruise lines pay a premium to get a preferred transit time. I am looking forward to the captain weaving between all these ships like the cars in the commercials going through the cones. LET'S GET GOING! Give me a paddle, I'll help. Finally around 7:00am I notice our view is starting to change. WERE MOVING! Okay, we are moving, but not very fast. Where is that paddle? The guest lecturer starts to speak and guess what; he is not as loud as the music. Now I have to increase the volume so I can hear him, which is no big deal. But every time he stops talking that awful music comes on, and now I have it at close to full volume. Hopefully nobody will complain, because I want to hear the guest lecturer. Turns out I'm not the only one who has the TV volume turned way up, so I guess we are all in the same boat - literally. At any rate we are approaching the Bridge of the Americas. Nice, but we've already passed under a bridge on this ship. We went under the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, spun in the turning basin, and then passed under the bridge on the way out. Neat. Where are the locks, and step on it, we're late. As far forward as I can see there is nothing but channel. Where is the lock? I see a cargo ship in front of us, but that ship is no higher than we are. Where is the lock?? The ship in front of us isn't moving very fast, hopefully we will pass it. Wait a minute that ship is next to something. It's getting ready to enter the Miraflores Lock. At last, it will soon be our turn. Oops, sooner than I think. In a strange twist of rules, day time transits through the Gaillard Cut are one way. Night time transits are two way. I guess as long as the two captains cannot see how close they are when they pass each other it is okay, when they can it is not. So what does this mean, it means we get to enter the other side of the Miraflores Lock and while we are tying up to the mules (the little trains that keep the ship centered in the lock - the ship moves through under its own power) we can watch the other ship. Neat! About this time I realize all work aboard the ship has likely stopped, because there must be one hundred crew members on the deck in front of us. Apparently the passengers and captain are not the only ones who are looking forward to this portion of the cruise. Soon the gates behind the other ship begin to close. This is when I notice it. Did someone plan this? The other ship belongs to Yang Ming. Its name is YM Los Angeles and it is registered in Panama. Gee, we left from Los Angeles and we are now in Panama. Slowly the other ship starts to rise. The neat thing is I am already higher above the water than the top of the second lock, but just barely. I can see everything. This is why I paid extra for this cabin. I don't know who is fighting for what view in the Spinnaker Lounge, or along the other observation spots along the ship, but I've got a front row seat and I don't have to fight for it. The family I invited to join me hasn't shown up yet. They don't know what they are missing. This is great. Now we are starting to move forward and the ship is going to tip forward if any more crew shows up on the bow. I can imagine the engineer is busy transferring a few tons of fuel to the rear tank to keep the ship level. We move very slowly, but finally we stop. About this time the ship next to us starts moving forward. We are all busy waiving. And then the sound of ears popping all over the ship signals that we have started to rise. Soon we are in the rarefied air 28 feet above sea level. Okay, nobody's ear's popped, the air is not noticeably thinner and each lock does not raise us the same amount. But since I was too busy taking pictures (over 760) to take notes, I don't remember how much each lock raises us, so I'll just use the average of 28.33 (or just 28, because it is easier to type) feet each. As we start to move forward I notice that there must be a visitor center across the way, and we have drawn a crowd. Looks like we will be the only passenger ship going through the canal today and since passengers wave more than cargo containers, we seem to have drawn a big crowd. Well, the crew having seen it once, have now seen it all, and most head back to work. I can't describe how neat this is to me. Yes I know, we are in a big bathtub and by filling it with water (I hope the people in the lower decks got everything off the floor) the ship rises. Big deal. But it is special, and all I can say is WOW! The process repeats itself and soon we leave the Miraflores Locks headed for the Pedro Miguel Locks. About halfway there the family from Canada that I met while hiding from all the taxi drivers in Acapulco shows up. Good. Most of the people with forward facing balconies, realizing what a good thing we have, have invited people to join them. One couple has a couple from the Garden Villa visiting them. Someone paying $25,000 a week for their cabin has joined us for this portion of the trip. Does that tell you how special these balconies are? The family from Canada is a couple with three children, two boys and a girl (the girl is the youngest). The two youngest look like fifth and sixth graders, while the oldest looks like he is in high school. They are staying in inside cabins, and I hope this opportunity to experience a fantastic front row seat to the eighth wonder of the world makes their trip just a little more special. They tell me about what they have seen so far. However, they could not hear the speaker and stand at the rail edge. So they had to choose one or the other. Truth is, I can't stand at the rail and hear the speaker (over the TV) either. The difference is I can see just fine while standing closer to the door so I can hear the speaker, and I haven't missed a thing. The only disadvantage of this cabin is I cannot look down along the side. I am in an AC penthouse cabin. For double the money I could have gotten an AA owner's suite, which has both a forward facing balcony and a side facing balcony. Okay, for $7000 less, I'll live. For $4,000 I can get a side facing balcony and do this again, and still be $3,000 ahead. My guests are taking it all in. They watch as the YM Los Angeles begins to rise. Then we begin to rise and they ooh and awe as much as I did in the prior lock. Soon we pass under the Centennial Bridge (which actually is a very good looking bridge, at least from below) and enter the Gaillard Cut. We look in amazement as we pass through a mountain range, 85 feet above sea level, in a ship that spends most of its time at sea level. Finally we reach Gatun Lake. My new friends decide to take a dip in the pool, while I am not moving from this balcony - not even for BBQ chicken. I invite them back for the trip through the Gatun Locks. Hopefully they will return. I get the feeling they will. The guest lecturer has pointed out two crocodiles along the banks. They all would really like to see one, but by the time he points out the reptiles, they are behind us, and one thing I cannot do from this balcony is look backwards. Finally he points one out before we get to it (about two minutes after the family left) and I get a few good pictures. I'll show my new friends when they return. Sailing through Lake Gatun is nothing special, except we do it at half speed and every few minutes another ship passes us on the port side. After a couple of hours I note a gathering of ships. We will soon be entering the Gatun Locks. And just as we do the family returns. Good, this means they enjoyed the view earlier. I tell them I have a surprise for them and show them a photo of the crocodile. They at least saw it themselves. The girl needs some photos for of the cruise for a class project. I have asked several times if she would like me to burn a CD with some of the photos I have taken (over 1500 so far) but she has never responded. Finally Mom says that she would, but she is too shy to say so. Okay, now I have a project for the day at sea between Cartagena and Grand Cayman. The Gatun locks are three in a row and it takes about two and one half hours to transit. I figure we could save a lot of time if they just open all the gates and we'll go down just like the log ride at Magic Mountain. However, for some reason the captain does not seem too interested in my suggestion. I notice the wife and younger boy have both found that the lounge chairs in the shade under the overhang are very comfortable. I comment to the husband that I was thinking of sleeping out there last night myself. I comment that February is definitely the right time to do this. By April it would be stifling hot and the sun would be directly overhead (we are less than 10 degrees north of the equator). As it is, since we are headed northwest (yes, we go from west to east by traveling northwest) the sun is behind the ship most of the time. The husband, the older boy and I are the most active as we descend through the locks. Okay, granted two of the three others are napping. The girl is taking it all in also, but at a slower pace. Mom does wake up in time to see us descend through the final lock. While they are here the butler brings back my laundry (t-shirts on hangers?) and his usual edible gifts - chocolates this time. I offer the chocolates to my new friends. Meanwhile, unknown to me, the butler sees I have guests and comes back with seconds. Apparently the girl, like me, is a chocoholic. Somehow all eight pieces disappear. The guest lecturer mentions that the average toll paid to cross the canal is around $40,000 to $45,000. It is based on gross tonnage, which is a space rating, not a weight rating. Also only enclosed areas are counted. Therefore, all that space occupied by the containers stacked four high above the deck of a container ship do not count. Only the enclosed area does. The guest lecturer says the old record holder was the NCL Pearl at over $300,000. However, we just set the new record, at $313,800 plus some change. At 92,000 tons this may be as big as it gets until 2014, when the new bigger locks will be completed. After we pass through the locks the family leaves to make a dinner appointment. Two minutes later another crocodile sighting. Meanwhile my neighbors offer me some of their Champagne. We are celebrating making it across Central America and tonight is Oscar night. Okay, that is as good an excuse as any to drink. I have a glass and we toast a fine cruise so far. Perhaps that was a mistake. I go inside. I have been standing on my feet in the warm sun for ten straight hours. Either my feet will never speak to me again or they are going to speaking to me all night. I am not sure which. I lie down for a while and finally decide to go to the buffet for dinner. There is no way I will survive a sit down dinner. I will consider it a success if nobody finds me asleep in my dinner plate. I actually plan my little outing. First down to deck seven to see if there are any new photographs, then up to deck twelve for dinner, and then back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal shirts (which were on display, but not available until today). Then back to the cabin. Down to deck seven which just happens to be the upper level of the Stardust Theater. I don't care what the entertainment is. Unless they are having a BBQ cooking demonstration, I'm too tired to attend. Since it is so nice outside, I decide to go outside to walk back to mid ship. Wow, what happened? Did a hurricane suddenly form while I was walking down two flights of stairs? I'm not sure what the sea conditions are, but it is something worse than "moderate." And the wind has picked up too. No new photos. But either there is something magical about deck nine, or it moves side to side less than deck seven (and that should not be the case). There are no new pictures, so I go up to deck twelve where the buffet is. I manage to eat dinner without falling asleep in the dinner plate. Back down to deck seven for some Panama Canal t-shirts. Gee, this is what an earthquake feels like (and being from California I know what an earthquake feels like). All the wind chimes are going, and the AC is not on that strong. I get my shirts and head back outside for the walk forward. I may not be able to see much, but I can hear (and feel) that things are getting worse. I decide to check out the travel channel. The seas are rough (no kidding). The waves are 7 ½ to 12 feet. It never occurred to me to tell the family from Canada that I have ginger tablets (helpful for seasickness). Even though I know their cabin number, it is late and I don't want to chance waking them. I hope they make it through the night. Meanwhile every time one of those twelve footers hit's the side of the ship there is a loud thud and the entire ship shakes. I get sea sick easily but I have been typing this for three hours since I ate and it is not bothering me. But I pity the people in the lower ocean view cabins, I don't think they will get much sleep tonight (those thuds must be much louder in the lower cabins). Well, I am tired, but I wanted to write this while it was fresh in my mind. It has been a great day. Rarely is one day so important in a cruise itinerary, but this day was special the moment I booked the cruise. Everything has been planned around this day, starting with cabin location. It has been a fantastic day. Where would I start with the thank yous? Thank you Theodore Roosevelt (the President responsible for the building of the Panama Canal). Thank you NCL. Thank you my neighbors (I have truly enjoyed hanging out on the balcony with them). And a thank you to my new friends. They saved me from the Acapulco taxi drivers and it has been a great joy to share my balcony with them. One cute note and then I'm going to bed. My cabin steward has been servicing my cabin late, which is fine with me. The cabin is clean and I have ice. Basically that is all I really need. She explains that she has several elderly people in the cabins she is responsible for, and elderly people tend to go to sleep early, so she has been servicing their cabins first. I'm not as elderly (I smile inside). Also, she heard my guest taking when then left. The kids were commenting on what a nice cabin I have (and now I am smiling on outside too). I'm glad that I was able to make someone's vacation a little more special. Good night. Well, night - I'm not sure how good it is going to be. Day 10 - Cartagena Well this is now officially my longest review. The previous record was 19-20 pages from the eight night Mexican Rivera cruise on the NCL Star. I wake up to a gentle rocking. Well, maybe not so gentle. I check the travel channel and nothing has changed. There is still a 25 knot wind and the seas are still rough. And, since it is also still dark, I go back to sleep. As tired as I was last night, I was motivated, and keep writing this review until 1:00am. It's only 5:00am and I would like to get more than four hours of sleep. Of course I am sure there are people on this ship right now who wish they could get four minutes of sleep. If this keeps up we are going to miss Grand Cayman. The travel channel says sunrise is at 7:37am. But that is what it said yesterday and we are heading east, which means the sun will rise sooner. Well, now it's 7:00am and I am fully awake, and so is the sun. No big deal, I knew I was too tired to get up for any sunrise photos. Well, the wind and seas are the same, but it's light outside. Let's see what it looks like. I know a rouge wave can reach three times the normal wave height. Twelve times three is 36. Even though I am sure the bow is higher than that, I'll keep the bulkhead door closed, just in case. Our heading is 80 degrees and we are going about 20 knots. The wind is coming from 45 degrees at 25 knots. So, standing out at the rail I am basically being blasted by a 40 knot headwind. It's not that comfortable. However, back up a bit and it's not that bad. Basically once the wind gets close enough to the cabin walls it has nowhere to go. As a result the wind is just pushing against the air, and it is more like a gentle breeze. So you don't have to worry about the wind in a forward facing balcony. Because of all the horror stories about Columbia, I have decided to take one of the ship's sponsored tours in Cartagena. When I first found out we were going here I wondered if it was safe. I was told it is, as long as you stay in a group. Don't go off by yourself. I heard bits and pieces of this same advice while channel surfing on the ship's TV. Others on this ship warned me of how aggressive the street vendors can be, and also how many there are. So I am a little concerned as we head out. Even the tour guide warns us, if you take a picture of anybody they will expect you to pay them. The original notice said that we would meet on the dock. Two or three days ago I was handed a slip of paper saying that our meeting place had been changed to the Stardust Theater. What! I had my heart set on meeting on the pier. I WANT A FREE CRUISE! As we pull into what is a very large harbor I notice dozens of buses lined up along one of the piers. I know which pier we are docking at. It is an industrial pier, servicing container ships. When I get to the Stardust Theater I notice it is almost full. What is going on, and where does the tour meet? I find a crew member who tells me I am in the right place. Apparently I am not the only one on this tour. While waiting I start talking with the crew member. Since I know she sleeps below the water line I asked her about the sound of the waves crashing against the hull. Apparently it was not a problem for her, nor was the movement of the ship. That lack of movement does not surprise me, as she sleeps closer to the water line than I do. At any rate I mention one of the favorite cruise director jokes when ship is rocking back and forth. It is easy to tell the drunks, because they are the ones walking in a straight line. She laughs - she hasn't heard that one yet. Most of those buses I noticed by the pier are for the tour I am on. I get assigned to a bus and off we go. Even as the bus is backing to park at the first stop the street vendors are all over us. But a simple no thank you and they leave me alone. There are a lot of street vendors, but I don't feel pressured. As we approach the entry gate there is someone there with a three towed sloth. I remembered from one of the Discovery Channel programs that a three towed sloth is okay, however, the two towed ones are not so friendly. For $5 he takes a few pictures of me with my camera. At the next stop more street vendors. And again, they are obviously trying to sell something, but they are showing respect. The third stop is a bunch of shops. Each proprietor is standing by the door. I am asked to come into each shop. If I do, I am free to walk around without any sales pressure. If I don't come in, I am not bothered. I am after two things, key chains for my friend's children's key chain collection and coffee for my sister and brother-in-law. The coffee is of course easy to find. Believe it or not, the key chains are not. When done I am standing outside one of the shops waiting for our bus. One of the shop owners offers me a chair. I don't know about anyone else's experience in Cartagena, but not only are these people respectful, they are down right friendly. I feel perfectly safe. So why all the horror stories? At the next stop I ask the tour guide about the stories and mention how friendly the people seem. The reason for so many street vendors is the government does not offer any assistance. The people realize that when tourists come it benefits everybody. It seems they want to attract tourist and realize the best way to do this is to be friendly. They have won me over. If I come here again I might just go out on my own. I feel as safe here as I do in Miami. Well, after four hours in the heat and humidity we return to the ship. I note that some touchup painting is being done to the side of the ship, so I guess we hit the side of the canal a few times. I see the butler has brought one of the two DVDs I am interested in. Tomorrow is a day at sea. I'm going to work on a CD for the little girl and if I get tired of that, I'll watch the DVD. In the meantime I'm tired, so I lay down for a while. Then I grab lunch at the aft buffet. The chicken taste like - chicken. But the teriyaki pork tastes great, so I go back for seconds on that. Then back to the cabin for a nap. I'm up in time for the sail away. This harbor is huge. It might be as big as San Francisco Bay. And just as soon as we exit the harbor, oh boy the wind hits. We are in for another fun night. I have time before the show to see the "official" ship photograph (I get one free because I bought an album). There are some goods ones there. I get an 8 x 10 that I like for free, and purchase two 5 x 7s, which are only $5 each. Two 5x7 photos is 70 square inches. One 8x10 photo is 80 square inches. So why are two 5x7s only $10 and one 8x10 is $20? On the way down I notice that the starboard of deck seven is closed due to high winds. Tonight's show is another comedy routine. This time the comedian specializes in "vocal manipulation" (in other words, a ventriloquist). He is average, and to be honest, laughter might be the best medicine, but I miss the production shows. Per the Freestyle Daily, tomorrow is another comedy routine. At least they could provide a little variety by offering a BBQ chicken cooking demonstration. After the show I decide to check out the smaller main restaurant. When I get there, there is a line, so I go to the gift shop to see if there is anything new. No there isn't, so I head back to the restaurant (I figured the line was from all the people who, like me, just got out of the show). On the way I see the captain and ask if we will be able to stop in Grand Cayman. He says of course, why not? I respond, because usually when it is this windy the ships don't stop there (oops - someone who is familiar with that port). The captain then says that Grand Cayman is two days away and we will see what the weather is like tomorrow. Okay, fair enough. Sure enough when I arrive at Alizar the second time there is no line. It is my understanding that the smaller restaurant is supposed to have a lighter menu, but if seems to weigh the same as the menu in the Grand Pacific Restaurant. At any rate the food is very good. While waiting for my dinner I hear the two English couples next to me talking (by English I mean British - not American English) and it suddenly dawns on me why so many people from Europe might be on this cruise. They are taking a month long cruise, which not only takes them through the eighth wonder of the world, but also transports them back home (or at least pretty close). Not a bad deal if you ask me. So far I have only repeated one restaurant, and that is Cagney's. It was always my intention to eat at Cagney's at least twice. But I have pretty much run out of restaurants that I want to try. So I'll be repeating others. Day 11 - day at sea Well, this was not your typical day at sea. The cruise director put together a behind the scenes slide show that was very interesting. We were shown a lot of the areas that are off limits to the passengers. At the end we were given a fact sheet. The ship holds 713,000 gallons of fuel. At full speed the ship burns about one gallon per second. And while all of this was going on we were in the middle of conducting a rescue. There was a small sailboat that had lost electrical power and propulsion. And there was some sort of medical emergency on board the sail boat. The captain was supposed to provide more information after the rescue, so I have had the TV on channel 23 all day. I like the music on channel 22 better, but the ship's announcements can only be heard in the public areas or on channel 23 (the bow camera channel - in other words the same view I have out my window). So my choices were to either leave the front door open or listen to channel 23. I felt listening to channel 23 was the lesser of the two evils. However, we left the sailboat about eight hours ago and I haven't heard an update. I don't know what the medical emergency was, and since most of this went on while I was watching the behind the scenes slide show, I missed most of what happened. However, I was able to get some pictures and the talk among the passengers is the sailboat had to be abandoned. So I guess we have some additional passengers on board. Hopefully we will get some more information later. We are traveling a little faster to make up for lost time, but should still arrive on time. The wind has died down, so hopefully we will get to visit Grand Cayman (which is a tender port). For the rest of the morning I worked on putting together the CD for the girl from Canada. It actually took less time than I thought it would and I decided to go out for lunch. That is when I ran into the mother and her daughter. When I asked where the guys were she said that she did not know. I had lunch with them and we talked for a while. The guys showed up eventually and I talked longer with the husband. What seemed like an hour was actually four hours. How come that never happens at work? Then they went swimming and I finished making the CDs. It took three CDs to hold all the photos I am giving them. I am giving them about 600 photos; including photos of what they are doing tomorrow (they are going to Stingray City, so I gave them photos from my visit there last June). While 600 photos might sound like a lot, it is actually only about half of the total number of pictures I have taken. Okay, now that I am done I need to get the photos to them. I call their room, but there is no answer. It is a little late to be out on deck, but if they are not in their room then where else can they be. As I walk out on the deck thirteen I see it is just about empty. Okay, lets see, they like bridge, ping-pong, golf and basketball (they also like hockey, but there isn't a hockey rink within 200 miles of us right now). Sure enough I find the guys on the basketball court. We talk some more and he invites me to the show and dinner. Great, how do we meet up? My cabin is two decks above the Stardust Theater, they will stop by. Okay, I'll work on this. The phone rings. They want to go to Teppanyaki. Yikes! That requires reservations. I call the concierge and she comes through with reservation for six at 9:30. The show is another comedy routine with Rich Purpura, who is very good. While the cruise director did acknowledge the excitement of this morning, he did not provide an update. However, he did make a joke about there being one more person in line at the buffet, so I guess we did pick up some passengers. After the show we have an hour to kill before dinner. The gals and the oldest boy go up to the Spinnaker Lounge to see Cat's Pajamas purrr-fect encore. The lounge is filled to overflowing and the husband, the youngest boy and I go down to my cabin to relax until dinner. We turned out to be the only ones booked for the 9:30 dinner show. Apparently the husband had been given bad information by his friends. Most of the extra cost restaurants are half price after 8:30pm, but not Teppanyaki. Fortunately two of his children were half price. It was a special treat for the kids, who had never seen this kind of dinner entertainment. The food was good and we all enjoyed ourselves. Day 12 - Grand Cayman We are due in Grand Cayman at 8:00am. However, sometime between 7:00 and 7:30am when I look out the window I realize we are already here. And we are not the first one to arrive. The Carnival Inspiration is already here. It seems each of the biggest cruise lines is sending two representatives to Grand Cayman today. Joining us is the Norwegian Jewel. Joining the Carnival Inspiration is the Carnival Liberty. And from Royal Caribbean we are joined by the Liberty of the Seas and the Radiance of the Seas. I'm guessing about 15,000 passengers. My all time favorite shore excursion is Stingray City, which I have done twice. I wanted to try an independent firm that I have heard good things about. However, while I knew what ship time we were schedule to arrive and depart at, I could not find out what time zone the ship would be on. Without this critical information I was unwilling to book an independent. Therefore, I decided to try something new. So I booked snuba through the ship. Snuba is half way between snorkeling and scuba. You are breathing compressed air from a tank, but the tank floats on the surface on a raft. There is a 20 foot airline with a regulator at the end for swimmer. It was fun and I'm glad I did it. The tour group was made up of passengers from both NCL and Royal Caribbean. The tour guides are all members of PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors). Each guide takes four people. I was added to a family of three. There are two people to a tank. I was with Mom. Apparently Mom didn't feel comfortable with the set up and never dived below the water surface. I had no problem except that my throat was dry because of the dry air I was breathing and I ended up having to tow Mom around (which was no big deal). I took my water proof camera with me and the guide took some pictures of me with my camera. They came out great. Someone else had a water proof camera case for his expensive camera. Unfortunately it leaked. So he lost a $350 camera. I looked into a water proof case. The problem is they cost as much as my water proof camera, and if you change cameras you have to get a new case. Also, of course the case is bigger than the camera. My water proof camera cannot go as deep as a camera with a special case, but I am not planning on going deeper than 15 feet anyway. The water proof camera cost the same as the case, is smaller and provides me with a back up camera just in case. While waiting in the terminal area for the shore excursion I saw the assistant cruise director. I asked about the sailboat. He said that there was only one person on the boat and that he had an arm injury. There is a major difference between Grand Cayman and the other four ports we visited. Not only does everyone speak English, but their standard of living is on par with the USA or Canada. There are no street vendors, the shop owners are not standing outside their shop inviting or coercing you into their store and there is no gauntlet of taxi drivers offering you a ride (either in their taxi or on the madam's bed). Back on the ship I was tried, as it was hot and humid in Grand Cayman. I relaxed outside and got lots of good photos of the other ships in the harbor. As I am laying in the shade waiting for the ships to move so I can get some pictures from different angles, I reflect on the fact that I just made it through an entire cruise without hearing the old tour guide joke that goes, if you liked the tour my name is Adam and the driver is Bob. If you didn't like the tour my name is Charles and the driver is David. I'll have to book a cruise to Mexico and book a ship sponsored shore excursion. I don't think I can make it through two cruises without hearing that old classic. Once under way the wind seemed to pick up (it was calm while we were in Grand Cayman) and I relaxed prior to the show. The show is billed as, "Showtime: Broadway All starts - some Enchanted Evening". Okay, at last a production show. What a disappointment. First of all it was not a production show. There was one pianist and six singers. Now I am not a qualified music critic, but I thought the pianist could use a lot more practice and singers were average. And the best of the bunch did the least amount of singing. Another problem was the setting. Two of the singers did one of the songs from Oklahoma. Oklahoma can be done one of two ways, either as a song to sing, or with a western theme. I've seen it done well both ways. So imagine watching two people, one in a tux and the other in a formal dress pretending that they were wearing the same thing a cowboy and cowgirl would be wearing. It just didn't work. After the show there was a chance for some of the behind the scenes crew to get on stage and receive a cheer. They were introduced by the person in charge of payroll on the ship and the cruise director singing. Both of whom I thought were better than five of the six singers we had just listened to. After the show I went to Cagney's for dinner. The waiter, who was very good, recognized me from the last time I was there. However, the rest of the staff was off their game tonight. As I was being seated, three waiters were trying to figure who would be the waiter at the table they had all just descended upon. I ordered three sides and requested that my steak be cooked medium. Well I got three sides, but one of them was not the right one. I ate it anyway. The waiter somehow caught on to the error and he gave me the correct third side that I ordered, after I had already finished the wrong one. Meanwhile the steak I received was fine on the outside and raw in the middle. The waiter took it back (I didn't have to send it back) and returned later with the same piece with the same problem and he took it back again. A little later the manager brought out one that was cooked properly. So now they think the sides have gotten cold and bring me three new sides. Well, I had already eaten the sides, so now I had seven sides. And the waiter was offering to bring me another steak (I had already eaten the second one that had been brought to me - it was fine). I turned down the second steak, and I did not eat sides five, six or seven. But I did leave the biggest tip of the three times I was there. Back in my cabin I am pretty much dead tired and the ship is rocking. So I watch a little TV and go to sleep. Day 13 - day at sea I wake up and the ship is still rocking. I think it is pretty early because there is no light coming in the window, until I realize the room stewardess closed the drapes so she would have something to hang the towel monkey on. It's not really that early, but I can catch the sunrise if I want. I decide I'm too tired for that and check out the travel channel. We are still heading northwest to get around Cuba at 19 knots. There is a 30 knot wind coming from the north east and the ship is pitching up and down pretty good. I figure it is only about an eight or nine inch motion, but found out later from the captain that it was three feet. While I am watching the travel channel the ship begins its turn to the right. Soon we will be headed north east, toward Miami. While I don't feel sea sick, I decide to error on the side of caution and I take one ginger tablet. After my shower I sit out on the balcony for a while and watch the horizon. The combination of the two really helps to bring me back from 95% to 100%. I go to the disembarkation talk, mainly because the senior officers will be there after for a Q & A session (barring any distressed sailboats). Nothing new in the debarkation talk that I have not heard several times before in I my eight prior cruises. With the ship moving the way it is the cruise director tells the joke about the drunks being the ones who are walking straight. He also talks about the comment cards and then says that if we liked the cruise his name is Paul, and if we didn't like the cruise his name is Mike. Oh good, now I don't have to book Mexico as my next cruise. At the Q & A session someone asks the captain about the sail boat. The sailor was by himself and had started sailing from New York in July. He had recently left Jamaica headed for Panama. He had fallen overboard that morning and had dislocated his shoulder. He was in too much pain to control his boat. In case you are wondering how he got back on board, people who sail alone tie themselves to the boat for safety. We took him to Grand Cayman where he got patched up and is making arrangements for someone to take him back out to his boat in a few days. We also learned that the captain considers this to be good weather. After all, when under way the ship is moving at up to 25 knots, so a 30 knot winds does not mean much to him. We learned the ship has a range of about 4500 nautical miles. We refueled in Cartagena which would have been around 3500 to 3700 nautical miles if I recall correctly. One nautical mile is 1.15 land miles. We also learned that there is no difference between the stern and aft and the difference between a boat and a ship is you can put a boat on a ship, but you cannot put a ship on a boat. Before the officers got there the cruise director asks someone to ask about the water in the pools (fresh or salt). Somebody actually asked that one. As soon as we heard the question we started laughing. The chief engineer gave a serious answer and of course the passenger then said, oh, that explains why the pools (which have salt water) are so rough. I am sure the offers laughed because they had been caught by surprise, and not because this was a new joke for them. The captain was asked the old standby about if you are here, who is steering the ship. Of course he has heard this one several times. So he told us one time he told a passenger that if it Tuesday it must be housekeeping. Well the passenger thought he was serious and put a negative comment on the comment card says that it was irresponsible to have housekeeping steering the ship on Tuesday. So this time he said he has no idea (yes he does - it is the auto pilot). I head back to the cabin to get caught up. I upload my photos from yesterday and write this. Because of the cloud cover it is cooler outside (about 67, which is 15 degrees less then what we have been experiencing), which is great for me, because now I can keep my balcony door open. Well, I like the weather, but the rest of the passengers don't. The pools and pool deck is just about empty. In the afternoon I watched the last DVD. Then I started to fill out the questionnaire. My thoughts as I reflect back. My favorite port, by far, was Cartagena. The Panama Canal was fantastic. I really did miss the outdoor BBQ. My first cruise was a fourteen night Alaska cruise on a ship built in 1957 or 1958 (I was invited by my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary). Another of their guests was the travel agent. At the time she mentioned that one week is not long enough (true). Ten or eleven days are perfect. Two weeks is too long. At the time that seemed true. But now two weeks does not seem too long. It was great to realize that after one day at sea and two ports that the cruise was not half over. The atmosphere was much different with so few children on the ship. Not better and not worse - just different. I still prefer traditional dining. Yes I met interesting people when I shared a table. But on my last cruise (with Royal Caribbean) my table mates were interesting people also. The reason I like traditional dining is that with Freestyle you have to make reservations, and that requires thinking and planning. I would rather use the thinking and planning time for figuring out how I can have more fun, not for figuring out when I want to eat. Also, since the shows occur during dinner time, if you want to see the show you are still pretty much stuck to a set dining schedule. I say this even though, because of the demographic on this cruise, I was able to eat all my extra cost meals late, when they were half price. On the Star it was the early meals that were half price. As for the cabin, it is an AC penthouse suite. This is one level above the smaller suites at the rear of the ship. The cabin size is about the same as a mini or junior suite on other ships. The size of the balcony was great and I put it to good use. But this cabin could easily sleep three or four (by having a bed or two come out of the ceiling or a sleeper sofa). Limiting it to two limits it to couples, and suites are great for families with young children. Even an AA suite, which would be great for families, is limited to just two. The butler and concierge where nice, but not necessary. It was nice having one person to call for all my needs. However, usually I called her for reservations, and there is one central number to call for reservations. Breakfast and/or lunch at Cagney's is nice, but just gives you a somewhat exclusive place to eat. I like eating on my balcony, which I did several times. The butler spent most of his time trying to get me to ask him to do something for me. He seemed surprised when I tipped him and even said that he did not do that much for me (true - but some of the tip was for his effort and attitude). Did I enjoy the cruise? Very much! The ship and the staff were great. I did feel a little slighted being on a maiden voyage with nothing special (no special souvenir program for example) and that the ship was not totally converted to the Jade (the interior was still Hawaiian, the final outside paint job had not been done, the casino was not ready - even though I did not gamble, the lack of production shows, the missing outdoor BBQ units … None of this was important, but it would have made the cruise a little more special. This review may be long, but it only represents one person's experience on an itinerary that is not likely to be repeated in the near future (I expect the Jade will spend a long time in the Atlantic before, if ever, it is transferred back to Hawaii). I hope however, that it gives the reader some idea of what a special cruise is like, and even though cruising in general is special, this was a special cruise even when compared to cruising in general. Day 14 - Debarkation day I woke up after the ship turned around in the turning basin. We arrived a little early. Soon afterward the Jewel pulled up in front of us. However, from this point forward things started to slow down. As part of the BAGS program I was supposed to be off the ship by 8:50am. As I understand the schedule, the express group (take your own bags off) was first. The VIPs were second. The BAGS group was third, then the colored tags. Fortunately I was in a suite so the concierge allowed me to join the VIP group. Unfortunately the VIP group did not get off until 9:00am, and I was the first person not dragging any luggage to get off the ship. When I got to the truck they refused to take my luggage. They said I would have to call NCL for a refund. On top of that, they refused to give me my luggage tags. As a result, when I got to the airport, I could not curb check my luggage, because Continental's records showed that two luggage tags had already been printed. Oh great. This was after fighting for a taxi. This was not the way I wanted to end my vacation. Fortunately the check in line was not too bad and I was able to get my bags checked through to my sister's house, where I am spending the weekend before flying home Monday morning. The security line was fairly long. Fortunately I have elite status with Delta which Continental honors, so I made it past security by 10:00am. Otherwise it would have been closer to 10:20am. Nonetheless, I could not believe the number of people who did not know how to get past the metal detector. Here is a hint - remove all the metal in your pockets. So, while they say anyone with a flight after 11:30am can use BAGS, based on my experience, I would not use the program unless I was flying after 12:30pm. One small glitch in clearing the ship and this program will slow you down (and remember, I had VIP status - I'm not sure where I would be if I did not have VIP status). Also, in case you are wondering, Miami Airport does not offer free Internet access. When I get to the final destination both of my bags are two of the first six off the plane (thank you elite status and Continental). However, at my sister's house I find one lock missing and one slightly damaged (that is TSA's fault, not Continental's fault). The damaged lock I am able to fix with a pair of pliers and I did have an extra lock with me. My flight home on American was a direct flight, but during the layover a mechanical issue popped up, and we ended up about 1 ½ hours late arriving in Burbank. Well, I hope you found this review helpful in some way. For me, now it's time to start planning the shore excursions for my next cruise, which leaves in about six weeks. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
This was our 10th cruise, 3rd with NCL, and first Transatlantic. We booked because the price for a Balcony was too good to pass on it, and we were really looking forward to cruise something other than the Caribbean. We were offered an ... Read More
This was our 10th cruise, 3rd with NCL, and first Transatlantic. We booked because the price for a Balcony was too good to pass on it, and we were really looking forward to cruise something other than the Caribbean. We were offered an up-sale to a mini suite that we very quickly accepted since the price still was very good. I will not provide too many details but I have to say that this cruise was a Dream Comes True! The ship looks better in "person" than all the photos that I was able to find. The service was incredible and the food was too. My only three turn downs were, first night in the Grand Pacific, food was not to standard neither was the service. All other restaurants did have a great service and great food. The Wine list was kind of deceiving, mostly because they did not have all the wines that they advertise. I asked for 10 different bottle of wine and none was available. I was able to find couple of interesting stuff at decent price points. Entertainment and daily activities were very poor, probably because the ship was in a transition stage. Cruise Director was not as involved on daily activities as other Cruise Directors that I have seen. We have the opportunity to watch a full "rehearsal" of a new Broadway style show (Show Up, I think it was the name) that will be feature in the Jade once it start her European cruises. The concept was based on something like TV Show American Idol style competition. At the end the audience votes for their favorite singer so in each show there is a "winner". Very promising and an excellent concept. Except for the comedy acts, and guitarist Fabio Zini, that was the best show of the cruise. The Transatlantic crossing was smooth except for the fourth day that was a little rough, but some "expert" sailors said that they have seen worst. The ports of call visited were Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, and Barcelona. All of them were great, but to me the highlights were Gibraltar, because it was not what I was expecting, so it went way over my expectations, and Malaga, in which we took the Granada and La Alhambra tour, everything was like looking at a post card, no matter were you look it was beautiful. Before we started this cruise we read a lot of not very good comments about NCL and their services. I was kind of nervous about it. But after this cruise I have to say that most of those bad comments are not founded in the truth. We are very satisfied NCL and the crew of the Norwegian Jade and will recommend this Cruise Line to anybody. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
We are confirmed cruisers, this being our 7th trip on a ship. It is our second cruise on a ship with the NCL name, We have also sailed with Princess 3 times, and Uniworld's river cruises once. Feeling like we know our way around ... Read More
We are confirmed cruisers, this being our 7th trip on a ship. It is our second cruise on a ship with the NCL name, We have also sailed with Princess 3 times, and Uniworld's river cruises once. Feeling like we know our way around now, we booked our own air. That's less expensive than NCL booking - but since NCL will not wait for independent flyers with delayed arrivals we flew in a day early and stayed at a Best Western that had a shuttle to the ship. Embarking was no fun. There were two NCL ships side by side and between them perhaps 4000+ passengers were boarding at the same time.Out on the dock this was exciting and gave us the feeling of the old transatlantic sailings which were a big deal. Getting onto the ship was less exciting. The Jade had her own building to enter, and there was a mob at the doors. After a few minutes we were off the front stairs and into the building itself where we found the mob getting organized into a kind of line. To our left we could see the high-ticket passengers breezing through what was an hour or more of standing around for us. That was really annoying. The big thing about cruising originally is that it was one-class travel. Now, increasingly, it is two-class travel with most of us plebeians in the lower class. The line went around the corner, down the hall, then wound through a series of switchbacks marked off with dividers. Once we finally got to the desk things went well. Staff were unfailingly polite and pleasant,which helps, but embarkation is too similar to the airport experience for me - and this detracts from the ambience of the voyage. Other than having more staff at the desk so the people per minute rate goes up, I don't know what they can do about it. Getting 2000 people onboard in a few hours is a chore. We left the desk with our tickets, went upstairs, walked down a very long hall which paralleled the ship and traversed most of its length, down some stairs, then up onto the ship itself, where we walked back down much of its length before actually getting inside. My wife suffers from backaches if she has to be on her feet for a long time, and this took a long time. The room was great. Repositioning cruises are inexpensive, generally, but the fare on this one was just plain cheap, and we had a nice balcony for less than a good hotel on shore. We were on deck 9 (of 14) aft. The ship has elevator banks. One forward, one mid-ships, and one aft. We were close to the aft, which was another plus. I tend to use the stairs opposite the elevators when its just a floor or two, my sweetheart likes the elevators. Time for lunch. We went up to the buffet which featured a large array of foods, and some beverages. I don't believe we ate at the buffet again on the trip, although I had a solo lunch there once. Generally I like ship buffets, but not this one. The food was passable, but the dining layout was a mess. This is partly because the buffet is very popular, so obviously not everyone agreed with our assessment of the place. It was almost impossible to find a table where you were not sitting with a group of strangers, and the bussing was well behind so there was often the previous diner's plates and detrius waiting for you - or you could wait and hope that the table would be cleared before you tired of holding your plate. Traffic moving from aft to forward on this deck, which is the pool deck as well, came through the buffet making the congestion worse. That's how I know so much about it despite not eating there but twice. The ship has two main dining rooms: the one forward is casual dress, the one aft is a "no jeans" room. I'm a jeans guy, but I brought some slacks so as to cause no offense to the imagined dinner who wants to feel classy. The ship also has a number of speciality restaurants, most for an additional fee. On embarkation night, however, they were free, and we took advantage of that by going to Cagney's - the steakhouse. I believe the aura of the place is supposed to be that of a Chicago gangster hangout from the 1930s - the kind of place that a movie character played by Cagney would frequent. Fortunately this image is not pushed - no sawdust on the floor, and the waiterstaff are not dressed like gangsters and whores. It was, in fact, one of the most pleasant dining experiences on the ship. I had the fillet mignon and it was excellent. I also had a nice red wine which at $32 was at the bottom of the price range - which I thought was making the wine a bit more of a profit center than I had seen on other cruises. The deal was if you bought 10 bottles of wine during the cruise, the 11th was free. We really tried but I think we bought our 9th bottle the night before arrival in Barcelona, so no free wine. Cagney's had a $20 per person cover charge, which is a bit high for me. Fortunately all of the specialty cover charges were cut in half if you reserved a spot between 8:30 and 9:30 in the evening - so that was our plan for the other speciality nights. My favorite dining spot on board for ambience was Le Bistro, the "French" speciality restaurant on deck 6. To get to it you had to thread your way past the photographer's set-up, and the people listening to a really loud singer/ pianist. Fortunately inside Le Bistro you couldn't hear him. There were either two of these guys on board, or this one was obnoxious in two locations because there was a piano in the main reception room as well, which was very loud and was causing the desk staff a good deal of unpleasantness as they had no choice but to be subjected to it daily. It made communication with them difficult. But back to Le Bistro. we celebrated my 68th birthday there during the cruise, with an excellent duck l'orange and a nice, if expensive, bottle of Mumms. Being "French" the waitstaff had a habit of bringing the dishes to the table covered, and then pulling off the covers with a "1-2-3- Volia" Our waiter was from Columbia, and our waitress from somewhere in the Pacific so the French was an affectation. Birthdays are always noted on shipboard by the waitstaff gathering round and singing "Happy Birthday." This has been true on every cruise we've taken. I asked them not to do this for me, but the waiter didn't have enough English to get it, so I got it. Luckily the version of the song they use is short. I can't say the same for the renditions of "Let me Call You Sweetheart" sun for anniversaries. They had trouble with some of the notes. But the food, ah the food was really fine. Probably the best on the ship. And a nice quiet atmosphere in which to eat, except for the singing. You'd be surprised how many people have birthdays or anniversaries on any given night, considering the limited capacity of the room. We also ate twice at the Jasmine Garden, the oriental restaurant. We're both fond of asian cooking and they did a nice job of it. One draw back to the Jasmine, however, is that it is located on deck 7 very near the pianist on deck 6, and there is a two deck high ceiling so you are exposed full blast to the music, like it or not. We did not and asked for seating as far as possible away from the sound, but it really wasn't possible to escape it. We managed to find places where conversation was possible however. The maitre d' was astounded that we didn't like the music. Again the food was excellent. As experienced cruisers know you can order anything in any quantity on a cruise when you eat. On the second night I had one each of the appetizers and no main dish. Delish. Midship there were two speciality restaurants across a well from each other. One was a kind of Tex-Mex place with routine food. The other was a lunch site for us several times, but not with great results. Service was the worst onboard, and actually approached surliness once, which was the more surprising because everywhere else onboard there was unfailing pleasantness and helpfulness. The menu varied but so did your luck. They actually ruined fried rice - I had to set it aside and order something else. Sometimes we lucked out and got acceptable food and decent service. If things were especially bad one day, we would eat lunch in the main dining room the next day. We had dinner at Papa's Italian restaurant one evening. It was ok and we would have done it again but reservations proved impossible to get on a couple of other occasions - so I guess the place was popular. There was a Japanese speciality place also, with a high-cover and lots of chopping foods at the table. We never made it there but people told us the food was good. There was nothing wrong with the menu or service in the main dining rooms, either. You have your choice of a separate table for your party (which was the 2 of us) or sitting with others who have come in around the same time at a larger table. We would tell the receptionist that we didn't have a preference, and ended up alone about 1/2 the time, and in groups the other half. I think this was because we dined around 8:30 and by that time the crowd was easing up. If you are seated with others they don't start table service until the table is full, so if no one else comes in around the time you do, you must either wait for more diners, or eat with your party only. We met some interesting people when we were seated with others, and never got stuck at a table with people we disliked or could not strike up a conversation with. I would like to make special mention of the sail-away parties in Miami, Ponta Delgata, and Lisbon. These festive events were listed in the ship's daily newsheet which is delivered to your room each evening. The high point of the listing was BBQ ribs, as well as a free drink - and the offer of a free drink will almost always draw a crowd on board a cruise ship. Unfortunately none of the sail away parties were actually held. I gathered from reading a review of the voyage immediately prior to ours, that an order for the BBQ equipment had not been delivered so there was no way to do the special cooking. None of the listed sail-away parties on that cruise were held either. Since I found out while on board, perhaps the newsletter staff should have been informed as well and stopped listing these non-events. Breakfast for us was invariable room-service. Room service on all of our cruises so far has been free of extra charge, and we found it very handy for breakfast as they phone your room about 5-10 minutes before delivery, so the service functioned as a wake up call as well as breakfast. We have been on cruises where the entire menu seemed available through room service. The Jade had a somewhat cut back menu, but for breakfast it was fine. It was also unpredictable. The breakfast order is done on a special form provided by the ship which you fill out and hang from your cabin door when you go to sleep. You would be surprised at how many ways an order of cereal, milk, tea and a pastry can go wrong. We took to ordering double quantities and on the days when the order arrived correctly we would store the surplus in the mini-bar fridge for use the make up missing items the next morning. Room service themselves would bring the missing items if you called them again in the morning, but that took more time and broke up the morning badly. Besides the phone volume was quite low, and the staff often only had passable English so orders were repeated back and forth a couple of times to be sure they were correct. The trip opened with 6 full sea days, which was wonderful. I had slides from my last trip on my computer to try and bring into some coherent order, and lots of laying around to do, and the days were relaxing. The TV in the room has one channel with news from the bridge and we often leave it set there so we can exclaim over how many miles from Miami we had come, or check on the wind force when planning a walk around the decks. Wind force gradually rose as we moved across the Atlantic, as did the sea conditions. We started with "slight" seas and got up to "Rough" which means 12-18 foot waves, which were accompanied by gale force winds. The deck 7 walking area was closed on that day, but inside the ship we could hardly tell that we were sailing through rough seas. The Jade is big, and its stabilizers are effective, so the sea condition caused no problems for us at all. Several other channels had ship news or rebroadcasts of events onboard. These were a definite miss. At best this stuff is pretty awful, but on the Jade it was not "at best." There's a lot of selling that goes on during NCL and Princess cruises. The main atrium, where the demon pianist deafened the staff, was at other times used to peddle jewels, watches, and "art." There would be a "seminar" where someone with a straight face would explain art investment something like this: Rembrandt was unknown once, and now his pictures are valuable. The art people have been kind enough to bring some currently unknown artists' work on board to auction off, and perhaps someday their work will be valuable too. I think they moved more of this stuff on the Jade cruise than usual. It did not look any better than usual. We had a few channels of actual TV available to us also. The ship ran some movies - the schedule was in the daily news sheet - and we could get Fox news. If you've only heard about it, wait till you see it. Fortunately as we neared Europe we began to pick up BBC. Still, we're on vacation so most of the time the TV was off, or giving us current Captain's log information. After seeing shows on several cruises, we tend to give them a miss now. But we got very lucky one day. Normally the ships announcements do not broadcast in the rooms, but you can hear them out in the hallway. I heard one and for some reason opened the door to see what was up. The announcement was that in 15 minutes there would be a "dress rehearsal" of a version of "Smokey Joe's Cafe" - which we knew from having seen it on Broadway, is a revue of Lieber and Stoller songs from the 50s. You know, Elvis the Coasters, Ruth Brown, that sort of thing. We up and went and it was pretty good. I was going to go to see it again but they never performed it after the dress rehearsal - perhaps it was intended for the next cruise. I love that music and was pretty happy to have gotten to hear it onboard. On day 7 we reached our first port: Ponta Delgata in in the Azores. The ship tours were mainly to see volcanic features out of town, and we thought the bus hours to actually seeing something hours ratio was unfavorable, so we wandered around in town instead. There was a museum, but it was closed for renovations. We looked at buildings, window shopped, and ate at a local bar-cafe. Menu guessing is a feature of eating in many ports, but a bit of point and pick will usually do it. This time no surprises and good local food made it a great lunch. As the day wore on we stopped in a coffee-house bar for a treat before returning to the ship. I wouldn't put this port on my must-see list, but it was a pleasant day. I should mention that one of us is a great knitter, and that knitters are drawn to each other, and enjoy sitting around knitting with other knitters, chatting, and sharing knitting lore. That one found several other knitters, and told the reception desk that they wanted a space and time for knitting on sea days. To their surprise they got it. Thereafter on each sea-day the ship newsletter announced that at 11 a.m. the "Knitters club" would meet at a certain location, and they did. They would knit for a couple of hours until hunger broke up the meeting. Attendance was in the 15+ range and reports are that those were two enjoyable hours each time. Lisbon was marvelous. We took the Monumental Lisbon tour then set off on our own. It was a Sunday and we managed to miss the museums, so this port is on our list for a revisit - they have works by Rembrandt and Bosch. At Malaga we took the all day Alhambra tour, and it was worth it. The Alhambra palaces are extraordinary, the guide knew his stuff and his English was easy to understand (he had been in the US for a couple of years). We hit Gibraltar on a Monday, but it was Commonwealth Day, so many places were closed. However there is a pedestrian street with enough open shops to satisfy any but those of us who collect stamps and had to peer through the window of the closed Philatelic Agency at the post-office. We did not tour here but struck off on our own, with great success. Mallorca was Tuesday and the museum was closed for siesta when we got there. Another good walking town, so no tour for us. The ship schedule did not allow a full day in port, but it was an enjoyable town. At Barcelona we disembarked as "Independents" - that is, we were going off on our own without an NCL arranged tour or transfer. That let us leave when we wanted. To our surprise there were about 800 independents, all of whom needed a taxi to get off the pier (security, you know). There were over 400 in line at the taxi stand, and perhaps 1 taxi every 5 minutes. It took over 90 minutes to catch a cab into town - and that only because eventually like bees to flowers the word got back to the taxi hive that there were all of these tourists standing around, and taxis began showing up in larger numbers. All in all I'd give this cruise a 4 out of 5. There were certainly problems, some inherent in the way cruises are presently organized, others peculiar to the Jade itself, but the bottom line is that cruises are very pleasant experiences and nothing that occurred took away from that basic fact. We had a good time, relaxed, met new people, saw new things, and can't wait to book the next one. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
No question the price was right for the repositioning Trans-Atlantic sailing of the NCL Jade. However, in my opinion it was less than honest to advertise the ship as "the latest addition to the NCL fleet." The ship was nice, not ... Read More
No question the price was right for the repositioning Trans-Atlantic sailing of the NCL Jade. However, in my opinion it was less than honest to advertise the ship as "the latest addition to the NCL fleet." The ship was nice, not exceptional, but certainly not new. The only thing new on the ship was probably half the staff! Which NCL pulled from other ships when the Pride of Hawaii staff "jumped ship" in Los Angeles. Many kudos to the service staff who work long days and hard to make things great; but everyday they were not given the tools they needed to do the job. Constantly every excuse included the phrase "since we are going to dry dock", adequate supplies of wine, liquor and other sundries were not boarded. It seemed the dry dock renovations actually began the first day when our departure was delayed six hours. The reason given was so all the food required could be boarded. When actually the delay was to board construction supplies (wood, wheel barrows, compressors, fans and other unrecognizable as food supplies). It wasn't until the docking in the Azores that I realized the noise that I endured for two nights from 2am till 5am was the relocation of demolished cabin furnishings; at more than one port several refuse trucks were load and hauled away debris from the renovation activities that were taking place at sea! Then to top off this cruise I was traveling alone and of course had to pay double the cabin fare - typical. But NCL is the only cruiseline that is now also charging double port and fuel surcharge (NOT CAPPED I WILL MENTION)for a single person. I have now asked six times for a copy of the fare schedule stating the double double fees policy; to date it has been danced around and not produced. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
There was no one to greet us at LA airport from NCL. Once we found them, transporting and boarding ship went fine. Our balcony cabin was great but sometimes they forgot to give us clean towels. Good bathroom and lots of cabinet space for ... Read More
There was no one to greet us at LA airport from NCL. Once we found them, transporting and boarding ship went fine. Our balcony cabin was great but sometimes they forgot to give us clean towels. Good bathroom and lots of cabinet space for clothes. The glass windows all over the ship needed cleaning. Long lines waiting to disembark for shore excursions. Ships Casino was small but they intend to fix this. Buffet crowded at serving time. Hard to find a seat. Added cost for speciality restaurants too high. Food was good and shore excursions great.Hawaiian decor still on ship. Played bingo but found cost too much. Shows were good, Acappella group was the best. We were surprised to find that you could make reservations at the free restaurants to be seated promptly without waiting in a long line. We ate at all the speciality restaurants( with reservations the day before)and found the food and service excellent. Service was great after the first day of a new crew getting their bearings. We found all the employees courteous polite and helpful. The Bags check and E-ticket program had problems that caused a long line at the information desk the last night of our cruise. Breakfast room service was great but menu limited. Panama canal transit was very interesting. Good view from our balcony. We liked the port of Cartagena the best. Now that we know the ins-and-outs of Freestyle Cruising we would cruise with NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
Ok, let's be honest here. Moving the two-year old Pride of Hawaii (POH) out of the market for which it's named is as close to an admission of an "Oops!" that NCL is gonna make. Maybe the Hawaiian cruise market was ... Read More
Ok, let's be honest here. Moving the two-year old Pride of Hawaii (POH) out of the market for which it's named is as close to an admission of an "Oops!" that NCL is gonna make. Maybe the Hawaiian cruise market was oversaturated; perhaps the all-American crew didn't provide consistently superior service; heck, maybe NCL just sniffed more profit in the sizzling European itineraries. Whatever the reason, NCL wants to play alchemist, turning the leaden NCL's Pride of Hawaii into a gold-producing European megacruiser. My recent experience on the Jade's February 29 '08 Transatlantic voyage proves NCL might just transform pumice into Jade. About this reviewer: What type of cruisers are we? I'm a veteran traveler who keeps a bag packed for US business travel; my husband and I vacation several times yearly. But this was only our third cruise. So, a certain novelty still exists for us in being waited on hand and foot, and not having to make beds, cook or serve meals, pack or unpack at a myriad of desirable destinations, or drive to a different theatre for entertainment every night. I still gawk open-mouthed at people at the Purser's Desk who demand the ship stop rolling, whine because the Chateaubriand from the for-fee restaurant is not free, or order the delivery of a milder cabin toilet because they fear the apparatus will suck them butt-first—like a bizarre reverse breech birth—into the ship's sewage hold. (Frankly, don't you agree some passengers belong there?) We also are not filthy rich, or even mildly annoyingly rich. We don't attempt to impress lesser folks with the types of cars we drive (Toyotas and Fords, since you're wondering), or what we do to earn a living (electrician & computer nerd), or how much money we make (the soap powder at Wal-Mart is in aisle 12, if that tells you something). We booked a BB guarantee on the Jade Transatlantic like so many other people, the August day announced the $499/$599/$699 rates. Thirteen days on a two year old ship, transportation to Europe, nightly entertainment, hotel accommodations with daily maid service, high quality meals and a 24 hour food bar. All this for $770 per person plus $50 for travel insurance. As my husband put it, "It costs more than that to stay at home." Which is one reason the dulcet tones of the NCL upsell fairy so easily persuaded me to upgrade up to a Romance Suite. Bless you, dear, dear Upsell Fairy, you were right. The aft Romance Suite was worth every penny. In booking a suite, we received VIP service, which was worth much more than what we paid. SUMMARY: Would we cruise NCL again? Do the Jade again? To both: Given the right itinerary and reasonable rates (not expecting bargain basement rates), absolutely! We recognized early that those $499/$599/$699 rates were offered for our cruise because the ship was still half Pride of Hawaii and half Jade. The real changeover was to occur after we disembarked in Barcelona. We kept this in mind during the cruise, and when small issues occurred, we reminded one another that this was a ship in transition, and we paid transition prices. NCL has much room to improve its dining experience, and with Freestyle 2.0, NCL is showing they've listened to recent complaints and increasing the per passenger food budget by 25%. PRE-EMBARKATION EXPERIENCE: We arrived in Miami two days early, and stayed in the Kent Hotel South Beach. An excellent value, and worth staying in if you're in Miami. Check out my review on TripAdvisor.com. The night before embarkation day, a subset of our ROLL CALL folks met for dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company near the Port of Miami. That dinner kicked off a wonderful adventure in shipboard friendship building that ended 13 days later with a similar dinner in Papa's Italian Restaurant. TIP: If you haven't been reading your cruise's ROLL CALL for cruise info, I highly recommend it. If you're a "non-joiner," just try dipping your toe into the ROLL CALL experience by lurking (just reading, not posting). Joining cruisecritic doesn't cost a dime, and the ROLL CALLs are excellent sources of information about your cruise. Check out ROLL CALLs for cruises on your ship that occur before yours. Many ROLL CALL posters return to their ROLL CALL and post information about their cruise. You can learn helpful little tidbits about your ship that way. EMBARKATION: Whether you liked the NCL embarkation process would depend on whether you were a suite guest or not. If you were not, embarkation was close enough to hell to singe off your eyebrows. The line of embarking passengers was amoeba-like, ranging in width from 20 passengers to about five. The closer we got to the five-person chokepoint, the more aggressive folks got with elbows and carry on luggage. We were in line less than five minutes, and I was already becoming vaguely envious of Mr. Latitudes nearby who repeatedly told his wife "Look for the Latitudes sign. As VIPs, we'll be out of this line soon." Just before my Type A personality caused me to engage my own elbows, Doris, an NCL representative, walked by displaying a small sign "Garden Villas, Courtyard Villas, Penthouses, Romance Suites." I squealed gleefully "Oooh, that's us!" into the ear of Mr. Aggravating Latitudes, and our party of four was whisked out of line to the door of the VIP lounge. If the roles had been reversed and four people around me squealed and dashed to the VIP lounge, I would have cheerfully choked them. Close on our heels followed Mr. A. Latitudes, then Mrs. Latitudes, who was towing more luggage than was packed on the last lunar expedition. As we entered the VIP lounge (for suite guests ONLY), Mr. Latitudes carried on a spittle-riddled argument with Doris, who valiantly attempted to guard the VIP lounge. Unfortunately, Latitudes members weren't getting priority embarkation at that time because their lounge was locked and no one seemed to have the key. I felt really bad for the Latitudes members who were supposed to have this perk. I was not at all impressed by how NCL handled the problem. In the VIP lounge, the wait was made more enjoyable by comfy seating, and an assortment of food, coffee, tea, and water. The process was painless and fairly efficient. In exchange for a credit card number, we got a key card linked to the photo they took with a mini computer camera. After about a dozen of us were processed, we were ushered as a smaller amoeba unit through a security checkpoint. Once through security, we rode an elevator to the final concourse to board the ship. We were met at the elevator by the ship's concierge, Ruth, who introduced herself, then invited us to enter the ship and see our suites. We boarded the ship, but when we got to the aft elevators, the NCL "hall monitor" informed us that our cabins would not be ready until 2 p.m, when an all clear bell would notify us we could enter our respective cabin paradises. So like the rule followers were weren't, we gave the hall monitor a nod, entered the elevators, and by 12:30 pm we were in our aft cabins. We investigated nooks and crannies for a few minutes, tracked down the steward, obtained permission to leave our suitcases, and set off to explore. HOW TO LOSE YOUR LUGGAGE IN THE FIRST 30 MINUTES OF YOUR CRUISE. Simply drop off your luggage in your cabin before 2 pm and don't tell your steward. Since you aren't supposed to even BE in your cabin until after 2 pm, your kind steward may assume YOUR luggage was left by the PREVIOUS cabin occupant. So in an honest desire to assist, the cabin steward will rush your luggage OFF the ship into the mass of disembarking passenger luggage. There your luggage will most likely become lost. For more details, ask the woman on our cruise who experienced this. SHIP INFO: SERVICE: We never met a crew member who wasn't kind and helpful. In the two weeks before we boarded the ship, nearly the entire the Jade crew, from Captain to junior steward, had changed. Some crew may not have yet been well-trained, but all definitely tried hard to please. We know how difficult it is to find consistent exemplary customer service in the U.S. So we were continually delighted and appreciative when the Jade's crew—who are paid a pittance to serve us like royalty—offered good service, warmth and kindness. Only 65 of the original 1100 American-only crew members remained. And so, yes, we experienced times when we felt the new crew needed more seasoning as a team. One area where service was consistently below the standard we've come to expect on a cruise ship was in the main dining rooms, where the staff was probably the most junior. See Dining, below, for details. Was the service bad enough to affect how we felt about our cruise? Of course not. Now if we had paid full price for our cruise, maybe. But we understood that we were getting a great price on this cruise because the ship was in transition. And that meant a staff who was only 2 weeks into a new ship. SPA SERVICES: Overpriced, over-hyped, and too much gimmick. (But identical to other cruise lines) At the spa, I experienced some poor service, but my husband was totally satisfied with his. I had a pedicure and two manicures, all done by the same young woman. I have regular manicures and pedicures, so I felt gypped, and totally disappointed. The manicure table was oily and dirty, although she put down a towel. The pedicure chair didn't fit my short stature, and I was forced to slouch forward so my feet were in the soaking tub. I asked for, but couldn't get a pillow. The manicurist offered to fix what she perceived was an ingrown toenail. She admitted that I would be disabled for a few days because the toe would bleed and be painful! I declined. My bill for that sub-standard manicure and pedicure was $167. The second experience confirmed my bad opinion formed during the first visit. The young woman complained or told sad stories through both events, and by the time I was done, I didn't walk out, I scampered. Why didn't I complain to the spa manager? I had seen her handle the complaints of another passenger, and didn't expect she'd treat me any better. On the other hand, my husband thoroughly enjoyed his two acupuncture treatments, one as the demonstration model during the Spa's open house. (He said people kept asking the acupuncturist if he was a real person.) He was relaxed after the first treatment, and his shoulder pain disappeared after the second. One spa highlight was the thermal suite, for which we each paid $10 extra after our treatments. The thermal suites, one for men, another for women, included a changing area, towels, lockers, showers labeled "ice bath" and "tropical" with appropriately colored lights, steam and dry saunas, a plunge pool (cold), a hot tub, reclining chairs, hot tea, cold juice, and oranges. A co-ed area had several reclining heated tile beds that looked out over the bow, and a shared therapy pool with the same view. The therapy pool was a large square hot tub complete with a giant ergonomic recliner made of PVC pipes. The window view from the co-ed and the segregated areas, all above the bridge, was certainly worth the all-day $10 fee. If you tend toward seasickness, keep in mind that the motion of the ship is very pronounced in the spa (in the bow of the ship). ACTIVITIES: We always found enjoyable things to do: team trivia a couple times, a private ship's tour for the Cruise Critic ROLL CALL members, relaxing with a cappuccino on the balcony with friends who stopped by for a visit, walks around the decks, even a walk through various cabin decks to check out the hallway art. We often spend two hours (!) visiting with our friends over dinner, something we don't often get a chance to do at home. An impromptu Knitter's Circle in Bar City kept me out of trouble a few times. We watched theatre entertainment acts, and listened to singers in the lounges. Like many folks, we played games and cards throughout the ship, and the number of books people brought with them probably would have stocked a smalltown library. But if we had depended on the cruise to provide us with activities, we would have been disappointed. The quality and number of planned activities during the 13 day trip were definitely a cruise low point. The Cruise Director admitted to one of our ROLL CALL members that he had not properly planned sufficient activities for our six sea days. However….if those days had been port days, the activity level would have been fine. Most activities were standard (open library, internet cafe, morning and afternoon team trivia, port lecturers, carpet bowling, art auction, bridge (cards), and lounge lizard redux). One of the port lecturers was exceptional, and his lectures were so popular they were moved to the Stardust Theatre. I think I saw two dance classes. There was a martini making demonstration, and a rum tasting. The gym hosted one free gym class (e.g., Butts and Guts) each day, plus several for fee classes (e.g., yoga and cycling). The activities room also was home for scrabble and other board games, and I noticed Human Chess held outside on deck a couple times. The ship has a new Nintendo WII game, including bowling, tennis, and golf, and that was a big hit. Medusa's Lounge offers private karaoke rooms, which were pretty cool, but the cost was $20 an hour per person with a six person minimum (free call brand drinks and bar snacks), so we passed. A mini-casino had been set up temporarily: it had slots and three or four blackjack tables. The Freestyle Daily noted that AA meetings (Friends of Bill W) and Gay, Lesbian etc meetings (Friends of Dorothy) were held each afternoon. Bingo costs $29 for six cards, $39 for 20 cards, or $49 for the super electronic multi-card pack. For this, you could win $150-$200. Like the Princess cruises, NCL flooded our cabin mailbox with advertisements for overpriced watches and jewelry at the Dufry Gift Shops; overpriced services at the Mandara Spa for body detoxification, teeth whitening, and exotic mud massages; and overpriced art auctions (with or without free champagne). Unlike Princess cruises, there was no galley tour, no movie screen anywhere, no golf links, no computers@sea, no shuffleboard tournaments, no formal backgammon or card tourneys, and no group games to win ship prizes. No scavenger hunts, mystery dinner theatre, and few craft events (veggie carving, napkin folding). TIP: If you plan to attend activities in Spinnakers, Medusa Lounge, or "Bar City," show up at least 30-40 minutes early to get a good seat. Those areas are small for the crowds that descend for popular shows or demonstrations. Seating is at a premium. Also unlike Princess, but to NCL's credit, the ship was very generous in how they hosted our CruiseCritic Meet & Mingle. The ship hosted 40 folks at Le Bistro just after lunch, and we enjoyed hot tea, coffee, juices, and French pastries. The entire ship's management team stopped by (!); the Captain and each department head spoke briefly, including what was planned for the transition from Pride of Hawaii to NCL Jade. The Captain spoke of how they performed a rescue at sea the previous week. The experience was wonderful, and as a group we were certainly treated well. We encountered one Department Head, Armando Da Silva, the Hotel Director, several times on the ship, and each time he remembered our names. He sent a bottle of wine to our cabin, and one night at LeBistro, when he saw our dinner companions were celebrating their honeymoon, he sent over complimentary after dinner drinks for them. TIP: If you plan a Meet & Mingle on an NCL cruise, ask if the department heads can attend your function. Onboard Colleen von der Borch is the group services coordinator, and she was an especially wonderful host. TIP: Ask Colleen if your group could have a private ship's tour. You don't see any special places, but you might be able to get a time convenient for all your group members. CONDITION OF THE SHIP: The Jade was launched in 2006. Unfortunately, she reminds me of a gorgeous model dressed in dirty clothes: she's been ill kept for the past two years. I don't fault the current crew for this: obviously the situation started long before their watch. For example, when we arrived on the ship, the carpets in the corners of our suite and in the hallways were full of dust and dirt, and our silk plant surely hadn't been cleaned since the ship launch. Someone had wiped oily residue onto all the artwork in our suite and in the hallway. Yet before we disembarked, all our suite artwork and that in the hallway had been properly cleaned, and the carpets well vacuumed. We also saw stewards washing down walls and performing other major cleaning tasks, so Mr. DaSilva obviously is taking "shipshape" to heart. As for the Jade's seaworthiness...one of my great cruise fears came true on the Jade. We experienced a storm at sea with force 10 winds (over 50 knots, really!) and 22 ft seas. The rolling and pitching was a bit rough on the stern where our cabin was, but not enough to make life or even stomachs miserable. TIP: If your cruise finds you rocking and rolling, visit Bar City, Midship, where the motion of the ship was far less noticeable. RECOMMENDATION: I would most certainly cross the Atlantic again on the Jade. We didn't find any problems with the layout of the ship. Everything seemed easy to find, and getting from point A to point B wasn't hard, except for the deck (7 or 6?) where they were ripping out cabins and installing the casino. There's a bridge viewing area, which is quite interesting, and several outdoor deck areas that are tucked away for quiet conversation. One thing I found disconcerting was that an NCL team was actually performing demolition and construction install the casino during the cruise. This included not only ripping out 48 cabins (and their contents), and building the casino shell, but also adding heating and ventilation conduit, which required welding. In some ship's areas, the smell of burning was evident. Occasionally the smell was evident in the midship elevator, and THAT I found truly disturbing. When we hit the force 10 storm, I didn't have qualms about the weather causing ship's problems, but I was hoping they had stopped welding. The decor of the Jade will supposedly remain Hawaiian. For example, King Kamehameha stands at the head of the Grand Pacific dining room in a pose reminiscent of a football referee almost complete in raising his arm for "Touchdown!" (Did anyone else notice the king's hand is posed to hold a spear or scepter?) Except for the Stardust Theatre, all the ship's artwork, from the stairwell landing wall sculptures to the cabin hallway prints, are related to the Hawaiian islands. This just doesn't fit with a European ship. If it looked more like the Stardust Theatre, they'd be on to something. STATEROOM: Our stateroom, a Romance Suite on the aft, was spacious. Our balcony alone was more than 100 square feet and held a table, two lounge chairs, and two deck chairs, all fake rattan, but comfortable with cushions. The cushions were pretty ratty, but a quick towel wrap made them just perfect for our use. The waterfall sound effects from the pods is not as lusty as those from a screw-driven propeller, but still hypnotic and relaxing. I found the colors of the room, purple and fuschia, over the top. They made me think that the crew from Trading Spaces had paid a visit with colors from the mismatch bin, but at some point I stopped noticing it. The real king size bed (not two joined twin beds) was comfortable, and the linens quite soft. The bathroom included a tub with an adjustable shower head on a rod, a separate room for the toilet, and toiletries. Someone said they were high-end toiletries: all I know is that my hair stayed soft, my skin didn't react, and we both got clean. The tub also sported a drying line that you could pull out to hang clothes above the tub. Four or five glass shelves gave plenty of room for every possible bathroom item you could bring. Plus, there was a pantry of sorts near the vanity that probably would have held every towel from my 3 bathrooms at home. TIP: All cabins have a small sign outside the door that you can adjust to say "turn down room," "make up room," "do not disturb," and I think something like "welcome." The stewards actually wait for you to move the sign to indicate when you want service, so try to use the sign. Besides the sign, our cabin also had a door bell! All rooms have a mini-fridge, and we had ours emptied of all the mini-liquor bottles and for-fee sodas. Then we stocked it with sodas we'd brought (and permitted aboard) from home. Our tub drained slowly, so our showers were generally also half-baths. Didn't really bother us much. The toilet flushed properly, and we didn't smell anything odd or disturbing. We found the odd bit of ash and the occasional salt packet or napkin on our balcony in the mornings. We figured it was from the outdoor buffet three decks above us. CAVEAT or TIP: The smell of fresh baked goods was always strong on the balcony in the mornings, so if you have an addiction for bakery items, this cabin will put you into relapse! Other Romance Suite amenities included a cordless phone that worked throughout the ship, a large screen plasma TV, a mini-bar set up, a curtain that surrounded the bed, a hard but serviceable loveseat, a DVD player and free DVD rentals, a nice vanity area, TWO safes, more shelf and drawer space than even I could use, a magnified lighted makeup mirror, and a closet pole that was lit (the electrician husband enjoyed that). The closet was probably 6 or 7 foot long, and opened with double doors from both sides. On one side, the doors were mirrors, which posed a problem during the storm. Doors kept opening and shutting, and banging into the vanity. Since mirrors don't do well hitting hard objects, I taped them shut at the bottom. We had so much drawer space and shelf space that I told my husband we needed to buy more clothes. He didn't bite on that one. The nicest luxury in the room was the cappuccino machine, which I used several times a day. The butler ensured the espresso bean hopper was filled and I always had plenty of milk. TIP: I discovered cappuccino is free in the ship restaurants (except at the coffee bar near the front desk). On Princess, a specialty coffee drink is about $4.00, so I found free espresso a nice NCL benefit. We also had the services of a concierge and a butler, both of whom made our stay enjoyable by the little services they performed. We received canapes every evening, and were invited to a reception with the Captain and department heads. But the nicest amenity was being invited to eat breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. Only suite guests have this privilege. The food and service at Cagney's are consistently superb. (Examples of the breakfast menu at Cagney's: Crab Cakes Benedict, Smoked Salmon Frittata--Open Faced Omelet, Lobster and Scallops in Toasted Brioche with Poached Egg and Sauce Choron, Steak and Eggs.) SHORE EXCURSIONS: We didn't take a single ship's tour. (If you're interested in our private shore excursions which were wonderful, I've included an excursion review at the end of this ship's review.) We had booked ship's tours in Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, and Malaga, but only as back up to the private tours we had also booked. As soon as I confirmed that our excursion partners were on the ship for our private excursions, I cancelled all those ship's tours. One ship's tour we HAD planned to take was Palma de Mallorca. As it turned out, I sprained my ankle at the Alhambra on the day before Palma de Mallorca. Hoping the sprain wasn't too bad, I planned to make the Palma ship's tour, but the morning of the tour, my purple ankle caused me to admit defeat. I tried to return the excursion tickets, but the excursion desk police obviously didn't think my ankle was a vivid enough purple. CAVEAT: Despite what NCL marketing brochures say, the excursion desk police stated NCL policy was that excursion tickets are refunded only if tickets are returned more than 48 hours before the excursion—unless you have a medical excuse, and the doctor must do the excusing. So I hobbled to the ship's medical center, obtained a doctor's note of medical necessity, and, looking as pitiful as possible, presented it to the excursion police, who issued me a refund. By the way, I found the medical clinic staff attentive and capable for my issue. DINING: The one area where service was consistently slow was in the main dining rooms, where the staff was probably the most junior. Getting food was nearly painfully, even to my husband who is infinitely patient. The food served was always good, but short of excellent, possibly because the recipes were more basic (maybe more commonplace?) than we'd expected. The quality of the seafood, meat, or vegetables was fine, and I am not really complaining. They shopped for the food, planned the meal, cooked and plated the food, served us and then cleared the table, and did the dishes. So, every meal was a good meal. But we didn't have any memorable meals in the main dining room either. INFO: Since the Jade will roll out Freestyle 2.0 in Europe, your sailing will have a food budget 25% higher per person than we had. So your food experience will most likely be quite different than ours. TIP: If you want to dine at one of the FREE specialty restaurants (Italian or Mexican), be sure to call early in the morning for your reservation. These restaurants fill up very early, and unless you care to dine after 9 pm, calling early for reservations is a must. Reservations are not required for the main dining rooms, although they can help you get a seating for a large group at a specific time. Both restaurants are fairly small. Food at these restaurants is good, and I'd say like the quality of food of a major restaurant chain like Chi-Chi's Mexican. We found the service in these restaurants to be satisfactory. In the Italian restaurant, the waiter brings by an appetizer cart and serves you your choice of various appetizers, which I found delightful. Yum, proscuitto and melon! Several times we ate at the Blue Lagoon, which is a small limited menu restaurant with favorites like shepherds' pie, fish and chip, salad, potato wedges, and buffalo wings. More than once we made a quick meal of a dozen wings (you have to ask for 3 orders at once) and two salads. It's open 24 hours a day. CAVEAT: The 24 hour buffet isn't. It officially closes at 11 pm. Early Risers, wherever that was, opened at 5:30 am. For the COVER CHARGE restaurants, we heard reservations were fairly easy to get, except the busiest time of the evening, which may be different on your cruise than ours. Because we were suite guests, our concierge, Ruth, arranged our reservations. Service at specialty restaurants is exemplary. Le Bistro ($15 cover charge) is where you'll be invited to dine if you purchase a Romance package, a Wedding package, or an anniversary package. The Jasmine Restaurant serves Asian fusion (a collection of the -ese food: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc) and my picky husband was satisfied, always a very good sign. The Jasmine Restaurant also hosts the Sushi Bar (all you can eat, $15), Teppanyaki ($20), and Shabu-Shabu ($10). Shabu-shabu loosely translates as "swish-swish" for the motion of swishing raw meat or chicken on sticks in a pot of boiling broth. CAVEAT: folks in our group who dined on Shabu-Shabu one night found themselves still hungry after dinner (maybe it was all the swishing exercise), and we had to venture to the buffet for additional sustenance. TIP: If you like sushi, I recommend the Sushi Bar as the best value. Try the dynamite roll, one of their specialty rolls. It alone is worth the $15 cover charge. We enjoyed Cagney's Steak House the most, and the primary cover charge is $20/person. Unfortunately, they tack on another $15 a person if you want to order from the premium menu (like Lobster or the 25 oz porterhouse). Seems a bit like nickel and diming the guests. At each dining room, the wait staff will sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" if they discover it is your anniversary or honeymoon. Some crew members actually have practiced singing in harmony. Kudos to Abraham in the Grand Pacific for his group's fine Filipino rendition of the old favorite. Kudos also to Fortunata for her most excellent service on the first lunch in the Grand Pacific, and then extra kudos for remembering my name every time she saw me, even 13 days later. ENTERTAINMENT: The Stardust Theatre is the least "Hawaiian" spot on the ship. Very large and classy, with artwork that reminds me of 18th century Venetians dressed for Carnivale. Acoustics are good, and the seats are comfortable. Bring a book, and plan to arrive 30 minutes or more early for any show. It fills quickly. No lap tables like on some other cruise ships. The entertainment I saw included a ventriloquist, two comedians, and several singers. We didn't watch any of the Broadway-type entertainment since we don't enjoy that. All the theatre entertainment was enjoyable. The comedy routines by the act Full Impact always brought rave reviews whether they performed together or separately. If they're on the ship, don't miss them. A cheesy element to the Stardust Theatre is that the cruise director's staff members are pressed into "salesperson mode," hawking pull tabs during evening events. The staff member standing in my section refused to walk down the rows to sell the tabs. Several of us applauded him when he said he'd happily sell items if people asked, but he felt uncomfortable going "chair to chair." The piano and guitar singers who played in the open areas of the ship were very talented, if not always the style we enjoy. Another totally hilarious act is the older red headed female singer in the Medusa lounge. I thought she was a comedian. However, I later discovered that she was not attempting humor: she actually was a singer. Obviously, to appreciate her style and musical selections, one required an appreciation for older music—or maybe a hearing aid, I'm not sure. TIP: One thing that takes some getting used to on the Jade is that the venues tend to be quite intimate. Except for the theatre that holds practically half the ship, the only other venue of any size is the Spinnaker Lounge, and it holds a couple hundred folks or so. Other forums include the Medusa Lounge and the open area defined by Bar City, the Cigar Bar, and Le Bistro. When a popular event is held, seats fill quickly, and latecomers are SOL. The country line dance lesson was so popular the Spinnaker dance floor overflowed with what looked like dozens of boot-scooting Siamese quintuplets hooked at shoulders and hips. DISEMBARKATION: In short, totally painless and hassle free. We had purchased transfers to the Barcelona airport for an 11:20 am flight. Our 11:20 flight enabled us to disembark at 7:30 am. Since we could, we put our suitcases out the night before to be collected and moved off the ship. Why haul them off when we could collect them easily? We rose early and ate our last Cagney's breakfast. We rallied at the transfer meeting point, Jasmine Restaurant, and disembarked promptly at 7:30 am without a bit of trouble. (As suite VIPs, we could have disembarked at the same time). We retrieved our luggage from an airport-like baggage carousel outside the ship, handed it to a baggage handler person who loaded it onto a truck, and then boarded a comfortable touring bus for the short ride to the airport. 30 minutes later we collected our luggage which had already been unloaded from a truck and was being guarded by NCL representatives. We were among the first in line to the Aer Lingus check in line. PRIVATE SHORE EXCURSIONS: PONTA DELGADA: We were extraordinarily lucky to book the services of Ricardo Amorim of Amazing Tours. www.Amazingtours.se. 00351.96. 252.6603. Ricardo's English is excellent, his Mercedes comfortable (if a bit tight for four adult riders), and his ability to show the best of his island is perfect. TIP: We booked six months in advance, and he takes bookings much earlier than that. He also will arrange another taxi driver for you if he already has accepted a fare. Please note that Ricardo is not a licensed tour guide. He is a taxi driver. TIP: saying Ricardo is just a taxi driver is like saying Hawaii is just an island. Ricardo is an accomplished photographer, and takes you to spots where the photo shoots could last all day. He knows flora and fauna, and the secret spots that tour busses do not go. If you are afraid of heights, be forewarned… and book him anyway. I get a nosebleed at the top rung of a six foot ladder, and I loved every second of our nearly 500 meter climb to the mountain top with him. He was waiting inside the gate for us at the port, and he was easy to find, and we arrived back at the ship at the correct time. Ricardo is one of those rare men that the women find sexy and the men find easy to talk to. He's a quirky mix of humble farmer, devout Catholic, supremely confident male, humorous husband, and proud Azorean, and he made our visit to Ponta Delgada delightful. For a port stop that initially seemed like a waste of time, Ponta Delgada took my breath away and stole my heart. LISBON: Not liking the prices quoted by the tour agency most often mentioned by cruise critic members, I researched several other Lisbon guides and arranged for a full day tour with Carla Carita of mywaytours. www.mywaytours.pt. 351.919.237.021 info@mywaytours.pt . Carla's comfortable air conditioned mini-sprinter took six of us all over the Lisbon area, from the waterfront to the Westernmost point of Europe, back in time to the Alfama, and back into the twenty first century for a stop at the long-queued Belem pastry shop. What a ride, and what a class act Carla was. Her knowledge of Portuguese history was flawless, her English language skills delightfully precise, and her manner of presenting facts was both interesting and memorable. She can simultaneously narrate, identify landmarks, and drive skillfully, a feat which is particularly important on the winding narrow mountain roads near Sintra. She also understands that tourists will easily be lead downhill, but not uphill, and in Sintra, she brought the car to us rather than ask us to climb the hill back to the car. It also gave us an extra 20 minutes to shop. She was waiting for us when we arrived at the port, and delivered us back to the ship at the time we requested. In fact, she arranged our tour so that our last tour stops were near the port so that we could maximize our sightseeing time. TIP: Don't miss Carla's tour of Quinta de Regaleria, the 19th century mansion, gardens, and caves with hidden entrances and exits, was the highlight of a memorable day. Not another tourist in sight, and the views of Sintra from the top of one of the garden follies was captivating. GIBRALTAR: We attempted to negotiate a low taxi rate, but TIP: quickly discovered that the lowest possible rate was 25 Euros pp. Luck was with us when we landed in taxi driver Stewart's van. He drove us to the park, taking us to St. Michael's Caves, the Upper Rock (highest point on the rock and where the Apes now reside, the Moorish castle, and Princess Anne's Battery. TIP: The Moorish Castle is historically significant, and has a small museum (opened 2007) at the top inner level. We both found the museum interesting, and the steep stair climb was worth it. The views from the top of the Castle are not to be missed. CAVEAT: Before choosing to have your photo taken with a monkey on your head at the Upper Rock, first observe the monkey's bottom. Barbary apes don't use Charmin. Butt dingle berries, many of which are banana yellow, may drop into your hair or mash into your clothing during your monkey encounter. Also, please follow the advise of the taxi drivers who warn you not to have food of any kind in your purse, pockets, or packpacks. We watched in horror then hilarity as a large ape forcefully grabbed a man's pack, extracted cough drops and a small packet of Kleenex, and then attempted to eat first each Kleenex (yuk!) and then the cough drops (kaflooey!). MALAGA: If you're in Malaga, and would like a somewhat theatrical tour of the Frigilliana or coastal areas east of Malaga, then David Riordan an American expat, is the person for you. David is not a tour guide, so technically he is not allowed to give tours. He's lived in the Frigilliana area for years with his young family, and has the great stories, both historical and present day, to prove it. He knows his way around the towns around Malaga, drives his battered but serviceable van quickly and efficiently, and speaks English like the William and Mary/Columbia graduate that he is. TIP: If you want to know all about the areas around Frigilliana, with stories of wine, olive oil, sex, and ancient and recent history, or are interested in finding high quality local olive oil and wine, I highly recommend David. For example, he took us to see an aqueduct and an archeological dig in the middle of a small town just behind a McDonald's parking lot, and gave us a fascinating description of what archaeologists have learned from the dig. He has written a small tourist book on his area, designed to enable a walking tour of Frigilliana, and it appears quite nice. He even gave each of us a small token, illustrative of one of his many stories, as a parting gift. David was hired to drive us to Grenada and give us a tour of the Alhambra. David filled the drive there and back with interesting stories, history, and local color, and I found it quite enjoyable (even nursing my sprained ankle on the way back to the ship). He picked us up promptly and delivered us back to the ship on time. However, if I had read a book about the Alhambra or the Cathedral before we got there, I would have known as much or more than David did. CAVEAT: So, if you are looking for a guide to the Alhambra and Grenada proper, find a licensed guide or be very sure David has learned a bit more about the Alhambra and has obtained his own tour license since March 2008. Email him at vaquerodave@gmail.com. Read Less
Sail Date February 2008
My wife and I have cruised many times over the years with varied Cruise Lines but I have to say up until now this cruise on the Norwegian Jade must be the best cruise we have ever experienced, just wonderful! Once I grasped that most of ... Read More
My wife and I have cruised many times over the years with varied Cruise Lines but I have to say up until now this cruise on the Norwegian Jade must be the best cruise we have ever experienced, just wonderful! Once I grasped that most of the crew were Filipino I was more than glad. Our experiences with these natives of the Philippines has always been fond with their smiling faces and subservient demeanor contributing to make the cruise noteworthy. Embarkation was very smooth and speedy, no more than 10 minutes which was so different from our last cruise which took an outrageous 4 hours to embark [MSC]We were escorted to our suite by our Butler the wonderful Teresa [Mamma T] This was the first time that we have taken advantage of an owners suite and we found the accommodation  everything that we had expected, pretty amazing! with all the room you need to spread out and kick your shoes off, the Queen sized bed, floor to ceiling views from your window and spacious toilets! I have heard it say many times that the cabins are only for sleeping in but once experiencing an owners suite, for us this was the ultimate in cruising comfort! Those of us who have tried to bend down to pick up the soap in the shower in a standard cabin will appreciate what I am talking about!!!!! This was our very first cruise with NCL with the concept of total free style dining, the rules scrapped with no formal evenings seated at a fixed first or second sitting. We have had experience of freestyle dining when cruising with Princess Cruises in the past but they do offer the option of a fixed table, which we had much preferred. But I have to say we have no problem with this style of cruising. Choosing from up to 13 restaurants and dining rooms you do not have to pre-book your table but, because the speciality restaurants are so very special with quite superb food, therefore It is a good idea to reserve your preferred time at your restaurant of choice, just as you would do at home. Even waltzing in any time we never had to wait any longer than two minutes to be seated. There is an acceptable varied cover charge at the majority of the restaurants with the exception of 4 which still offer International cuisine. Our favourite was the Gourmet French Signature Restaurant Le Bistro. The theatre entertainment on board was the usual mixture of Showtime revues, comedy and magic. I was pleased that there was an orchestra on board as a good orchestra can heighten the enjoyment of the show and this one certainly did. The Showtime dancers were all gifted with great voices and performed wonderful shows but, the females were quite different and out of the ordinary.Let us just say that they were never that far away from dining room!!!! The resident comedian was very funny when the audience were participating and was more of a story teller which was a big part of his act, but I have to say his joke material was quite weak! The magician was excellent, although no big props my jaw dropped a few times with his neat dexterous and skillful presentation. We never had the pleasure of experiencing other entertainment lounges on board so I feel I can not comment. There were the usual mixture of on board activities on the cruising days which I am sure were of interest to the other passengers but we only attended the quiz sessions along with companions we met on board who also enjoyed he excellent brain numbing questions!!! The itinerary was the Canaries & Morocco route with a good selection of excursions at all ports of call. We purchased the Casablanca Highlights as well as the Agadir Highlights, both were well organized,interesting and reasonably priced. We did our own thing at Las Palmas, Madeira and Malaga with free shuttle buses made available which was a plus as this is not always the case with other cruise lines! This cruise was so special because of the wonderful fellow passengers we met, the brilliant crew members who all contributed towards our dream cruise but I feel I have to mention one in particular; The Concierge Ruth Hagger who was just sparkling at her job and was certainly influential in making our cruise on Norwegian Jade exciting and memorable. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
I am an experienced cruise customer with about a dozen cruises in the last 6 years. This trip was planned in the summer of 2008 many months before the trip. I had read some dismal reviews of this ship in particular and of NCL in general ... Read More
I am an experienced cruise customer with about a dozen cruises in the last 6 years. This trip was planned in the summer of 2008 many months before the trip. I had read some dismal reviews of this ship in particular and of NCL in general but went forward anyway to my regret. Boarding in Barcelona was quick and hassle free. We passed the gauntlet of photographers and walked up the ramps. A crewmember stood barring the with an industrial spray bottle to disinfect each passenger as he boarded. The powerful spray was directed at our hands but overspray filled the air and you couldn't help but breath in the noxious chemicals. I objected to this but was told that this was required in order to board the ship. I rewarded this lady with a appropriate hateful glare. This was to become a pattern of crew behavior on the Jade: twenty-something third-worlders order passengers about as if we were cattle. Boarding experience score: D. The ship was very crowded with many large family groups. Spaniards comprised almost half of the passengers with many British and only about 10% Americans. The crew is mostly Filipino, with the rest comprised of Eastern Europeans, West Indies Islanders and Indians. Norwegian's much touted Freestyle cruising is advertised as allowing passengers the freedom to choose when and where they will eat rather than being restricted to set seating times as is traditional. Freestyle in fact means that the crew is free to keep passengers waiting to be seated. The restaurants all had long lines at dinner-time. They hand out restaurant style vibrating pagers to call you to be seated. This leads to throngs of passengers congregating near the entrances to restaurants and in nearby bar waiting for the pager to vibrate. It was necessary to devise strategies for getting seated without waiting by coming very early (5:30 pm) for dinner or very late. Very often there were long wait times (over an hour) to be seated even at the restaurants posted closing time. Food quality was poor. Steaks were nearly inedible, with much fat and gristle and a rubbery texture that defied all attempts at chewing. A passenger was overhead saying that he was served a piece of meat that was so bad that after five minutes of chewing he still couldn't bear to swallow it. He had to secretly spit it out into his napkin. After a while I gave up on ordering any beef products and stuck with chicken or pasta. Omelettes were made from a egg batter with a chemical odor that produced something soft, yellow and fluffy that was more like upholstery Styrofoam than a dairy product. Service and presentation in the main Grand Pacific and Alizar restaurants was fine. These restaurants, despite their different names, served the same menus and were actually just two dining rooms at opposite ends of the main kitchen on deck 6. Score: D. The cabin was an obstructed ocean view on deck eight. There was a decent view beyond the lifeboat and it was a pleasure to have daylight. Unfortunately there were lights mounted outside the window that the curtains could not completely block making it impossible to make the cabin pitch black. The cabin bathroom was the smallest I have ever experienced in a major cruise line. The space was divided into three parts by sliding partitions. There is a sink in the middle with some wire racks above it and no cabinets. To the left there was a toilet compartment that was so small that it was possible to touch all four walls when seated on the "throne" with the partition closed. The shower compartment was to the right of the sink and was a little bigger. The hand shower had plenty of water pressure and the water was hot. It was necessary to take care to adjust the water temperature to avoid being scalded. I was scalded with blistering (second degree burn) once when washing my hands in the sink. A comfortable bathroom is one of my make-or-break items on a cruise or on any vacation. This alone makes me say "never again" to cruising with Norwegian. The rest of the cabin was very small. There was about two feet of space on either side of the two pushed together twin bed making for a cabin just under 9 feet wide and about 15 feet long. My master bathroom at home is three times this size. I was astounded to find that families of four were crowded into identical spaces. Furnishings screamed cheap with tubular steel metal legs on furniture and plastic fake-wood veneer cabinetry. I truly feel sorry for anyone having to endure such a cabin. A plus was that there was a small refrigerator in the cabin stocked with expensive minibar items. The small 13 inch tube tv had some US channels which was a pleasant surprise compared to recent trips with Holland America. Score: F. In keeping with the consistent bad food experience, room service breakfast was terrible. The hanging tag order checklist did not include hot food choices. When I wrote-in an omelette and bacon I was informed that this was not available for room service. What was offered was cold toast, danish and coffee. Room service: F. Laundry service was on a charge per item basis. The ship had recently removed its self-service laundry facilities. There were two laundry promos during which you could have all you can stuff into a small paper bag washed for $19.99. Otherwise laundry was about $5-$9 per item with a two-day turnaround time. The crew was strict in enforcing the restrictions on this promo. When we tried to turn in some laundry the day after the promo, we were told that it was no longer available and that I would have to wait until the next one. This one turned out to be just a few days before the end of the 14-day cruise. I had resort to emergency laundering in the sink, which was when I blistered my hand. The norovirus restrictions were enhanced halfway into the cruise. In addition to the obnoxious sprayers posted at the entrance to many public areas and all restaurants, the ship now cordoned off all water and coffee dispensers in the Garden Cafe. Passengers could no longer touch food in the steamer trays. Food now had to be handed to the passengers by vinyl gloved crew-members. I understand the need for this policy but this resulted in lines of 40 people waiting for icewater or coffee at the Garden Cafe buffet drink dispenser and throngs five deep around the steamer trays anxiously trying to catch the eye of the crew member ladling out food. Score: F. A passenger was heard to describe the formal dining room and the Garden Cafe dining room as follows: the Grand Pacific formal dining hall reminded him of a nursing home cafeteria and the Garden Cafe was like a prison cafeteria. A minor plus was the 24 hour Blue Lagoon cafeteria on deck eight. It was above the reception area and was usually uncrowded with fast service. Very limited selection but the deep fried/microwave food was acceptable especially compared to that on offer elsewhere on the ship. Late in the cruise I discovered that the breakfast here was better than what was offered in the Grand Pacific. There was a full English breakfast that was brought all at once instead of the annoying one item at a time service in the larger restaurant. Others learned too and late in the cruise this restaurant was often near full after at first always being near empty. Score: C. This near full sensation was omnipresent on the ship. Nowhere could you have a little peace and quiet without having fifty people within two arms length. The Spinnaker lounge, a large theater/night club on deck 13 had wonderful panoramic views of the sea but this was spoiled by daytime bingo or trivia games that went non-stop with sound amplified to the point of causing pain. The library and latitudes lounge was always near full as was the Aloha bar in the reception area. Finding a seat was sometimes an iffy proposition. At one point I had to retreat to the small chapel on deck 13 to have a few moments respite from the throngs. Ship public area comfort: F. Shore excursions were acceptable for content but of dismal quality. Tours were expensive and crowded. The morning departures were poorly organized. If the ship happened to be late to port, shore excursion crew did not alert passengers to come later than their appointed time to the theater. Instead everyone was packed into the narrow seats and aisles of the 1044 seat theater like earthworms. The crew would say that departures would begin in ten minutes. Then ten minutes later another announcement would be made to the effect that departures would commence in ten minutes and so on for an hour or more. Some people maintained a positive attitude but it was all I could do to keep from storming out. Those that did demand refunds were invariably given the brush-off. Tour buses were usually packed full with 40 passengers with no free seats and one tour guide. At tourist attractions the guide could not be heard at the back of a throng of forty passengers. On the bus the guide would often use an over-amplified sound system that made it painful to hear. I learned to bring earplugs after the first such abuse. There were obnoxious repeated exhortations to buy souvenirs only from "approved" shops. On the Ephesus excursion the guide rushed us through our time at the archaeological site at a near-trot in order to have time for not just one but two souvenir shop stops. The first was some miles from the second. At the famous sacred site of the Ephesus theater, where the Apostle Paul preached to the Ephesians the guide wanted us to not climb the theater tiers but instead to walk some distance away where, he said, we would have a better view of the theater. Score F We did not attend any shows due to the crowded uncomfortable theater. It is not my wish to be packed shoulder to shoulder in seats as narrow as 1950's movie theater seats. It was noted that when the theater emptied after a performance it took a full fifteen minutes for the throng of passengers choking the nearby corridors to die down. I have to admit that many passengers said good things about the shows. Grade: N/A. The ship touted its "Dufry " shop for convenient onboard shopping. This should be renamed conscience-free shop for the extortionate pricing on sundry items. For example, a 15 ounce bag of m&m's sold for $11.50. A package of 6 motion sickness tablets was $7.00. Premium chocolates were selling for up to $30/pound. The shop takes up a large part of the ships 7th deck and is staffed with hard-sell salesmen pushing package deals on multi-bottle cartons of alcohol or multi-carton boxes of cigarettes. A word about the photographers aboard. The ships photographers set up roadblocks at the gangway at each port of call. This created a chokepoint wherein it was impossible to simply exit the ship without waiting in line while the photographers took passenger's pictures next to crew in port-themed costumes. These pictures were later offered for sale at $20/each. I pushed past this roadblock where possible but many times the photographers would order the more docile passengers to wait while they photographed each debarking passenger group in turn. Near the end of the cruise we had to resort to holding our hand in front of our face repeating "no photo" as we pushed passed these ripoff artists. I also am concerned about the environmental impact of all those wasted photo prints and the toxic chemicals used in their creation. This is especially true given that the vast majority of these unwanted photos are discarded. To be fair I have to say that many fellow passengers expressed satisfaction with the cruise. I do not consider myself a demanding picky person but I do feel that some people will go out of their way to avoid negativity even when warranted. Ideally, a cruise should be a magical experience that you wish would never end. This was the first cruise that I actually looked forward to finishing. When I walked off the ship at the end it was if I had been paroled from penitentiary. Since coming home I find that driving in rush hour traffic is a pleasant experience compared to my time aboard the Jade. My condolences to all who have cruises scheduled on the Jade. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
Background: I have a varied cruising experience, having cruised with Regent Seven Seas three times, Royal Caribbean once, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co once, and Bora Bora Cruises (a boutique line) once. Itinerary: 9 nights ... Read More
Background: I have a varied cruising experience, having cruised with Regent Seven Seas three times, Royal Caribbean once, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co once, and Bora Bora Cruises (a boutique line) once. Itinerary: 9 nights visiting Barcelona, Casablanca, Agadir, the Canary Islands, Madeira, and Malaga. Embarkation: Smooth and quick. Arrived the port around 2pm and waited in line for about 5 minutes then got on the ship. Ship Design: Because there is no grand central atrium, it was a little confusing at first to figure out the core of the ship. There were three decks that had restaurants, lounges, bars, and shoppes but they did not really seem connected easily. The main dining room Grand Pacific in the rear has a poorly designed entrance, which is right at the base of stairs, so often there was a waiting line running up the stairs. I guess because they crammed so many restaurants into the ship they could not afford to have a large central space. I think it caused a slightly claustrophobic feeling but no big deal. Deck space was good and the pool area was also nice. Cabins: Had an inside cabin which was small, but nice. The bathroom was great and there was adequate closet space. Beds were very comfortable. Overall, nice cabin. Food: Only ate in the main dining rooms. Food overall was a disappointment. Some of the courses were just plain inedible and they skimped a lot on the quality. For example, shrimp cocktail was always baby shrimp about a centimeter long, scallops were always baby scallops, daily ice cream selection never changed-chocolate every night. The food at the 24 hour restaurant was mediocre and the room service menu was also mediocre. Staff/Service: Good, pleasant, smiling staff for the most part. There were some service deficiencies here and there, but I was not expecting perfect service as this was not a Seabourn or Regent cruise. Ports: Good selection of ports and a great itinerary. Entertainment: There was always a wide variety of entertainment during the evenings, from the big theater shows to smaller venues. Also throughout the day they offered bingo, art auctions and lectures, and some other fun activities. Overall, it was a good cruise and a great value for money...paid under 500 for 9 nights. I would cruise with NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
Norwegian Jade Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 3.5 4.2
Dining 4.0 3.8
Entertainment 5.0 3.8
Public Rooms 4.0 4.1
Fitness Recreation 3.0 3.8
Family 4.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.5
Enrichment 3.0 3.3
Service 5.0 4.0
Value For Money 4.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.9

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