Norwegian Jade Cruise Review by BiteAndSwitch
- Sail Date: December 2016
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Balcony
It was a fairly easy process. We got dropped off at Terminal 2 of the Port of Tampa by an Uber driver, the porter took our bags that we had tagged to be checked, then proceeded to a quick moving line where our docs and passports were checked. From there, we took an elevator to a higher floor, went through a security screening, filled out health forms, then got in another quick line to get checked in, receive our keys, and get our credit line established. My only other cruising experience was about 14 years ago and this was much smoother and quicker.
Rooms were still being cleaned so everyone was encouraged to head poolside or have lunch. We dropped off our carry-ons in our room to change then headed to the pool. There's only one pool area in the middle of the ship that has two pools, two hot tubs and a pool slide.
The balcony stateroom was great. Like all other rooms, it was a little tight compared to a hotel room, but still offered a good bit of storage. The pull out sofa was really small. Even for my 8 year old it was too small -- his feet hung over the edge of it -- and he spent many nights sharing the king bed with us. The layout of the bathroom was nice. A large sink was the center point of the bathroom with a partitioned toilet and shower on either side. There's a soap dispenser for the sink and a shampoo and body wash dispenser for the shower.
The magic show on the second night was entertaining. The tricks were good, the banter was funny. The worst thing about it was the magician constantly plugging his DVDs for purchase.
The "Uptown" show was entertaining. The three singers took turns belting out classic Motown hits for about an hour.
Another night we were late getting to the Russian acrobat show. By the time we got to the theater right at 7:30 all the seats were taken and we were informed that it was standing room only and we should return for the 9:30 show. That seemed to be the case throughout the week -- the 7:30 shows filled up fast and if you didn't get there early you may be out of luck.
We didn't make it to the country show one night or the comedian another night.
The Star Bar was one of my favorite spots. Located on the 13th floor across from the steakhouse, it's out of the way from high traffic areas and on our visit there it was virtually empty, providing some much needed quiet time. The service was good, my caipirinha was excellent, and the seating was oversized and comfortable.
The Ultimate drink package was included for free as part of our vacation package promotion. While it was great, if we had to pay for it we probably wouldn't have gotten our money's worth. The package covers drinks under $15 -- that's just about everything. Most drinks were in the $8-10 range. I'm not a big drinker and probably only had about 3-4 drinks a day.
A small gripe about our vacation was that dining reservations I made a few days prior to our trip were lost. Even though I received a confirmation email showing the restaurants, dates, and times I requested, when I tried to check in for one of the specialty restaurants they couldn't find any record of them. However, the two people at the host stand did a great job fitting us in and were apologetic for not having the reservations.
The most popular spots seemed to be the teppanyaki spot and steakhouse. Make reservations there ASAP. Other places weren't as busy.
Use of the gym was free. There are some aerobic classes that you have to pay for. The gym has about a dozen or more treadmills, ellipticals, and stairclimbers along with some free weights, benches, and machines. It was crowded when I went but still managed to get a decent workout in. The cardio equipment mostly faces the windows so you get a great view of the ocean from 12 floors up.
The spa is located close to the gym but I didn't check it out.
There were plenty of kid friendly activities on board, including the daycare/kid's club. My kid loved the dance party that they had one night in the Medusa Lounge. For adults (or older kids) a basketball court and driving cage are located towards the back on the 13th floor.
Many of the excursions sold through NCL fill up quickly, so I would advise you to make reservations for them as soon as you can. Purchasing excursions prior to your vacation would be best. We only did one through NCL. Two other excursions were booked through a third party prior to the cruise.
The process was easy. The easiest thing to do is keep your luggage and walk off on your own. If you prefer, you can set your luggage out the night before for the crew to pick up. Then you can walk off, grab your bags in the terminal. In the terminal you have to go through customs, which was a quick line and process.
For those that have a later flight out, you can check your bags in a office/storage area in the terminal. They'll also sell discounted tickets to the aquarium.
250,000+ people have entered their email
Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Chacchoben Mayan RuinsThe last port during our cruise on the Norwegian Jade was at Costa Maya on the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. The pier was large enough to hold 3 cruise ships. On this day it held us, a Royal Caribbean ship and a Regent ship. The long walk down the pier led to a beautiful shopping district that also included several restaurants, swimming pools and beach area. Typical of the other ports we've visited, prices were high but many vendors were willing to bargain.View All 374 Chacchoben Mayan Ruins Reviews
Our excursion to Chacchoben, Quintana Roo (booked through Shoretrips.com prior to our cruise) started with a long walk out of the shopping district and down some roads to their office. They claimed it was 4 blocks away but it seemed longer. Easy to find, it was about a 10-15 minute walk from the shops. There was a large number of other people who used the Native Choice company. There were several large tour buses and some vans outside their office. Check in was very quick and the wait before boarding the van was only about 10 minutes. The van was a little tight but comfortable and modern.
Our tour consisted of about 14 people with a tour guide, David, who was full of knowledge about the Mayan culture and the history of the ruins in the area. The drive into the jungle took about an hour. The facility when we got there was already full of several other tours. The entry and buildings in the entrance are modest -- open air markets with several different vendors and small restrooms.
The hike was really easy. Mostly across paved or at least cleared paths. We first came across a large stone temple and took pics while David gave us more info. The stairs of the temple were roped off so you could only climb on maybe the first step of two. There were still some great photo ops to be had. The path led us to other Mayan areas -- a town center and two more pyramids. According to our guide only about 40% of this particular Mayan city has been excavated.
After that, we took the van to a modern Mayan village where we had lessons in making tortillas then had a buffet lunch consisting of rice, vegetables, stewed chicken and other items. It was a great experience to get to visit with the host family and other natives and share a meal with them.
While the hike wasn't as long or as challenging as I had hoped, the excursion was an enjoyable experience and the tour company did a commendable job with all aspects of the day.
Dolphin Swim & EncounterOur first stop on our cruise was Cozumel. We docked at a pier and walked into town. Unfortunately, the area is so touristy, as expected, that all you see are shopping malls full of touristy type stores wanting to sell you t-shirts and other trivial stuff. There are also plenty of jewelry stores. On the ship they'll tell you which ones you should visit. I'm guessing that's because there's some monetary exchange between the stores and ships. One of the first things you see when walking into Cozumel is a sign for Starbucks -- not exactly the cultural experience I was looking for.View All 415 Dolphin Swim & Encounter Reviews
Prior to our trip we set up a dolphin encounter excursion through Shoretrips.com. Chankanaab National Marine Park was the destination. It's a small park located about a 15 minute drive from port. We got a cab from port for $12 each way. Their price of the excursion was slightly cheaper than the dolphin excursion from NCL. The marine park was fairly crowded with groups from other cruise lines like Carnival.
The voucher said it would be an hour long excursion. I was under the assumption that meant an hour of time in the water with a dolphin but it turned out to be half an hour. The rest of the time was waiting around, filling out the waivers, waiting for our group to be called, getting fitted for life jackets, more waiting, walking to the spot where the thing happens, getting pictures taken.
The actual dolphin encounter was better than expected. There were about 10-12 people in our group. Each got to touch the dolphin mom (there was also a baby dolphin in our pen that we didn’t interact with) several times and each took turns doing some tricks -- patting the dolphin’s fins, raising your arm so the dolphin jumps up to touch it, and giving it a kiss. There's a photographer assigned to each group who takes photos of each person. At the end, of course, they try to sell you various photograph packages. Even before the excursion happened they were trying to sell you photos, saying if you bought a package before your experience it would be cheaper.
The marine park has different levels of interaction with the dolphins, some where you can swim with them and have them push or pull you through the water. With ours, we were relegated to standing on a platform in the water and touching/petting them when instructed.
The dolphin area is a rectangular area probably smaller than a football field with a walkway around the perimeter and individual bays, each with a dolphin so multiple encounters can happen at the same time.
There's a restaurant at the park, which we did not try. They said our purchase included lunch but we ate before going. Next to the restaurant is a pool with a swim up bar, a sea lion exhibit and show, and a small beach area where people can swim or rent snorkel gear or kayaks.
The interaction with the dolphin was great, something my kid will never forget. The timing of the excursion was a bit of an issue. Since this was an independently booked trip, we wanted to make sure we were back to the boat in time and had to rush to get there before the ship’s 4pm departure. It’s not anyone’s fault, just something to be aware of when not booking through your ship.
Harvest CayeThe second stop on our cruise was NCL's private island off of Belize, called Harvest Caye.View All 1,257 Harvest Caye Cruise Port Reviews
The ship docks at the pier and you take the long walk to the island. The island is fairly small. You can walk from one end to the other in about 10-15 minutes.
The beach area is 7 acres long, full of lounge chairs so you don't have to worry about not getting one. The sand was rather course and full of shells so it wasn't the softest to walk on. The water wasn't that clear but good enough to swim in.
Next to the beach is the amazing pool. It's large with a zero entry area on one end and a swim up bar at the other. It's shallow, I think the deepest it got was about 4 feet or less. Plenty of lifeguards around, too. Lots of lounge chairs around the pool. There's a restaurant attached to the swim up bar, but we didn't go in to check it out. We did order food from our lounge chairs, though. The chicken wings were the tiniest little wings we've ever seen. Covered in a sweet sauce. The chips were like nachos. Very crispy and completely covered in cheese and other stuff. The kids order of chicken tenders was plenty big. The food was expensive, $40 before tip. If you have a dining package or drink package on the ship, it doesn't include anything on the island. You can use your keycard to charge everything, however. They also take credit cards and US dollars.
There are some stores on the island but everything seemed overpriced. T-shirts go for $16. There's a spot that sells chocolate. It looked great but each bar was $7.
There were other activities and amenities we didn’t try, like the rope course, zipline, the kid’s splash pad, or the private villas that you can rent for the day. My son and I tried kayaking in the lagoon for $25 an hour. It was a closed path around some mangroves, but still fun for both of us.
Overall, it was an enjoyable stop and we loved our time at the pool and beach, but it’s unfortunate we didn’t actually see any of Belize other than the private island.
View Cruise Critic's Harvest Caye Cruise Port Review
SnorkelingRoatan is a small island about 40 miles off the north coast of Honduras and served as stop number 4 during our cruise. The port was beautiful compared to some others. The shopping area attached to the port wasn't as large as Cozumel, but it looked very new. Prices were high and there really weren't any good bargains to be found. Meeting for excursions booked through NCL was easy. There were designated zones on the pier to meet.View All 306 Snorkeling Reviews
The lone NCL excursion we booked was the ultimate Big French key adventure. Tour buses took our group on a 30 minute drive, followed by a 5 minute boat ride to Big French Key -- a tiny little island right next to Little French key. Both are privately owned and operated and they warn you to stay on the island that you booked. Both share a small lagoon. LFK looked to have more modern structures and amenities, but BFK wasn't bad. There was a large open air structure for dining with a bar and kitchen and plenty of seating, a bathroom, water sports area with shared lockers, plenty of lounge chairs, a kiddie play area, hammocks, and showers.
Our excursion began with a debriefing about activities. That was followed by a long snorkeling trip. Our group signed waivers, received equipment and a short lesson in how to properly use the equipment. After that we boarded the boat and headed about 5-10 minutes away to snorkel along the coral reef. According to our guide Honduras has the second best reef and snorkeling in the world behind Australia. Our snorkel trip lasted about 40 minutes, with our group swimming from one area to the next. A couple of the guides were there to help anyone who needed it while the boat followed the group.
It was the rainy season, so most of the day was spent in the rain, but the excursion was still great because of the snorkeling alone. After the snorkeling we got back to BFK for a catered lunch. Consisting of rice and beans, grilled chicken, fish, plantains, and coleslaw. The service was outstanding with some drinks included with the excursion. The best thing about the meal was the red snapper. The large filets were meaty and flaky, covered in a delicious garlic butter sauce. It wasn't fancy, but was one of the better items I dined on during my trip.
After lunch was a short boat ride around the surrounding area where out tour guide pointed out stingrays, iguanas, and facts about nearby reefs and resorts.
The excursion was pricey, but was a great experience. Probably the best snorkeling I've had to date.
TampaWe didn't spend much time in Tampa, but liked what little we saw. After the cruise we had time to kill before our flight back home. So, we checked out the aquarium, which is right next to the cruise terminal.View All 578 Tampa Cruise Port Reviews
We checked in our baggage in a Terminal 2 holding room and headed over to the aquarium. The exterior looks huge, but the interior is smaller than expected. We went through and saw everything in about an hour. They have mostly small exhibits -- fish, birds, alligators, meerkats, etc. The largest exhibit was a massive and impressive shark tank. If you're a scuba diver you can pay to swim with the sharks.
If you’re in the area and need to kill time like we did, this is worth a visit.
View Cruise Critic's Tampa Cruise Port Review