My husband and I are 38 years old, and this is only our second cruise. Our first was on RCI to Alaska. I had researched NCL extensively before booking so we had few surprises. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary (Istanbul, Izmir, Dubrovnik, Athens, Venice, Naples, Rome, Barcelona)and the price. RCI was the only other line to come close to the price of NCL, but we couldn't get quite the same ports or the dates we needed.
We made our own air travel arrangements since we don't live near a major airport. We flew through Chicago O'Hare to London Heathrow to Istanbul on American Airlines. Everything went smoothly although we did have a very tight connection in London and had to run. AA fed us several times and it was all palatable - on the leg from London to Istanbul it was actually quite good. We arrived in Istanbul on time after 18 hours.
We found NCL reps at the airport and could have taken the ship's shuttle and had it charged to our account, but we chose to take a taxi. Quite an experience! As good as a roller coaster ride! We made it to the port and were able to embark quickly and easily. I had filled out all our paperwork on the NCL website beforehand. No one helped us after we boarded, but we really didn't pause to ask. We knew where our stateroom was and went straight to it. It was neatly made up and ready for us.
We had a balcony stateroom on Deck 10. Compared to RCI, it was smaller. However it was perfectly adequate for our needs. We had plenty of room to put away our things and stow our luggage. The ship was originally built to cruise in Hawaii and still has tropical colors and decorations. We had a king-size bed with a duvet and lots of pillows, a loveseat, small coffeetable, corner unit with TV above and small desk below, a dressing table area with lighted mirror and blow dryer, fridge, shelves, safe, lighted closet, and bathroom with shower, sink, and toilet.
The bathroom was a little too cramped for us. When sitting on the toilet, your knees almost touched the wall. The shower was rectangular and had no bench or seat, so it was impossible for me to shave my legs in it. I did like the showerhead with removable sprayer. One other complaint or suggestion - on RCI they had an interactive channel on the TV where you could check your shipboard account balance and details. NCL didn't offer anything like this, and we did miss it. It's easy to run up your tab without realizing it.
We explored the ship that evening. I really enjoyed the layout and decor of the Jade. It has all these little nooks and crannies, and rooms with different atmospheres. No matter if you want to socialize, lurk, or be alone there's somewhere suited for it. I loved the crazy furniture in the lounges. There are two main dining rooms, Alizar and Grand Pacific, and multiple specialty restaurants, as well as the buffet and Blue Lagoon. The ship did not usually seem crowded at all, until about 6:00. Then everyone was trying to get into one of the free dining areas at once.
We found the activities to be plentiful. I heard some people complaining about not having enough to do, but I can't imagine what else they wanted. There was live music all over the ship every afternoon and evening. All the lounge singers that we heard were high quality. There were classes and lectures, trivia games and bingo, tennis, basketball, and pingpong, Wii games somewhere (I never did find them). There was a room for playing board games and cards, a very well stocked library, pools and hot tubs - and if you were feeling really lazy, there was usually a pretty good movie on the TV.
We left our kids at home on this trip, so I can't say anything about the kids' activities. However, there was a special area just for kids in the buffet room, with small tables and chairs, and kid favorites on a separate buffet. We had our son with us on the RCI cruise (he was 2 1/2) and this would have been great. I don't think there were a lot of children on board the Jade, due to the time of year.
The shows that we saw were pretty good. We especially enjoyed a husband and wife acrobatic team that had been with Cirque yds. There was a British comedian that cracked me up. The final show with crew members showing their talents ended with a really funny skit which paid homage to all the lovely Greek and Roman statues and fountains we had seen. I saw Second City twice; the first time they were really "on", the next time was a little dull.
Service all over the ship was a bit slow. The bar staff were the quickest and most helpful. However, there seemed to be more of them per guest than there were restaurant servers. The dining rooms were always backed up and it took an hour and a half to get through a meal once you were able to get seated. NCL needs to work on getting diners in and out more efficiently. The waitstaff seemed to have too many tables to tend at once. One guest commented that too much square footage was spent on restaurants with service charges, which few people were making use of. Perhaps NCL should reexamine the use of space for free dining since the majority of passengers go that route. Our cabin stewards kept our room cleaned, but you could tell they had too many rooms to make up. They seldom had time for the little extra touches, like towel creatures.
We didn't take any shore excursions with NCL - they were simply too expensive. We were able to sightsee on our own much cheaper. One major complaint here is that NCL did not provide any port information for people who wanted to go out on their own. It seemed like they were trying to herd us into their shore excursions. They didn't have maps, or directions to public transportation, or information about sights in the various ports. For instance, at Piraeus the Freestyle Daily plainly said the ship would provide a free shuttle to the Metro station. However, they only shuttled us to the port entrance and abandoned us. It was another two miles to the Metro station, and then we had to figure out which train to take to get into Athens from Piraeus.
To be fair, this was a new itinerary for the Jade. It may have been that they just hadn't gathered the info yet and will have it in the future. It would certainly be helpful to be able to pick up a detailed map and a train and bus schedule before hitting port, so you could plan your day. Thank goodness for Rick Steves!
The food onboard was from good to mediocre. The best thing I had the entire cruise was the escargot appetizer in Les Bistro. Cagney's was good, but no better than, say, Outback Steakhouse. The entrees I had at Papa's Italian were extremely bland. Paniolo's was good, but we have better Tex-Mex at home. The main dining rooms tended towards blandness as well, with food sometimes being overcooked - my lobster tail was completely inedible. The buffet always had something I liked, and Blue Lagoon was good too. We didn't try any of the Asian restaurants. The iced tea was twice too strong and I pretty much drank water with my meals. It would be nice if they offered lemonade or fruit punch as an alternative at lunch and dinner. The coffee was quite good.
The sailing was smooth for most of the trip, but from Rome to Barcelona we hit rough seas with 12-18 foot waves and high winds. I thought the ship rode pretty smoothly, but even so we were rocking and rolling. Quite a few people got seasick the last sea day. We were getting spray on our tenth floor balcony. Exhilarating!
When we disembarked in Barcelona, we had to make our own way to the airport for an early flight. One of the crew voluntarily hauled our luggage to a taxi for us and helped us get loaded. The taxi driver seriously over charged us, but that's another story!
Overall, we had tremendous fun. The weather was beautiful at every port except Venice, the ship was lovely, we had more than we needed to eat and drink, and plenty to do. It was hard to come home and go back to cooking and cleaning - with no room service or midnight buffet! There are some areas NCL needs to improve - primarily service and food. But we actually have few complaints. We knew what we were getting when we picked this cruise, and we don't require being waited on hand and foot. I hope we get the chance to review another cruise soon.
Nice cabin, close to midship elevator and stair. Quiet, nice view from balcony.