Husband Jon and I love cruising, so we schedule one as many times a year as possible. We have 22 cruises under our belts - so far...Many more to come, we hope. This was our first experience with NCL. Let us give you the good, the bad, and the ugly from this cruise.
Scheduled through NCL, our air travel was uneventful and a positive experience.
From airport to ship was great - a short but very interesting tour of Barcelona, hitting the high spots, so we didn't have to revisit later on.
Left off at the cruise port we signed in with relative ease. Introduction to our stateroom was as good as it gets! So far, so good. We had splurged on a mini-suite for the first time ever, and were extremely happy with the results. And when we first entered our room, there was one of our complimentary bottles of wine with our wineglasses and opener welcoming us. Pretty cool stuff! The room was large enough to accommodate both of us doing our "own thing" even when I got that nasty norovirus and had to remain in bed for a day. Jon was able to use the living area and block off the lights from his activities on the laptop, so I could sleep.
Unfortunately, here comes some of the "bad." Our room steward left much to be desired. We saw him less than any steward on any other cruise. We asked for wine glasses, but he refused. Our room was not made up until 11:30AM on most days, but he asked us to vacate the room on disembark day at 7:00AM - an hour and a half earlier than required.
Because of the norovirus the staff in the Garden Cafe - the buffet - had to serve all the food and drink. All of this wait staff were slow and some were even sullen. The drink servers were especially bad, making us feel that we were imposing on them! They were the ugly.
The free restaurants - all 3 of them - specialized in slow service. What really annoyed us was bad information. On the first night we went to the Blue Lagoon, a small no-charge restaurant, and were told that we would have to pay for coffee. So, being coffee drinkers, we didn't return there, until we were informed correctly by other passengers that coffee was free there. The entire cruise line has been accused of nickel/diming customers, and we saw it first hand. The free "Freestyle Dining" was slow and cumbersome from waiting on the stairs for table assignment through dinner service. We noticed that if you asked to share a table, we always ate alone, but if we didn't want to be seated with others, sure enough, we had company. Does this sound like Freestyle to you? And can you believe that you had to pay to play shuffleboard? Just indicative.
There were very few quiet places to sit, relax, decompress, talk to other cruisers without loud music playing from the bar.
On the other hand, the entertainment was good and kept us entertained in the evenings. During sea days we were used to more enrichment and educational seminars on other cruise lines - very few were offered on NCL.
Another point in NCL's behalf was the ease of getting on and off the ship in every port. There were two gangplanks in use almost each time, which really speeded up the process. The life jacket drill was also almost painless, a nice change from other cruises.
The food was good enough, but we did lose weight on the cruise - probably from the exertion of those wonderful ports more than lack of volume.
Disembarkation and our transfer to hotel in Barcelona were both great. Thanks to NCL for both.
To summarize, lots of good but some bad news on this NCL cruise. Our biggest complaints involved NCL's philosophy of setting reasonable rates for the cruise, but extracting additional dollars at every opportunity. We don't think the problems were specific to the Jade.
We enjoyed our cabin. Large enough space to make us both happy, and the balcony was lovely. Plenty of storage space.
We didn't book any shore excursions through NCL. We've been to Rome before, so we knew the ease of walking to the inexpensive train to get into town. And we had done some homework, so we got off at San Pietro Station to visit the Vatican and then the metro to see more of Rome. Back to the train station to get back in time - don't want to get left behind, for sure.
Still under the influence of norovirus, we stayed in Piraeus, walked around a little, and didn't even do any shopping. Fortunately, we had previously toured Athens, so didn't mind the short day.
We had booked a private excursion with 4 other couples to tour Ephesus and the Terrace Houses. It was a wonderful experience and shouldn't be missed. I wish I could remember the name of the provider, since our guide was so knowledgeable and taught us a great deal about the lives of the ancient Romans and also about modern day Turkey. The tour ended with a stop at a rug manufacturer because one of the couples wanted to purchase a Turkish rug. That caused us to hurry back to the ship but didn't spoil the day.
Our ship was delayed for 4 hours because the port was fogged in.
Our private tour guide was waiting for us and whisked us away to Cairo and Giza as quickly as possible. Ramses Tours was all you could ask, and I highly recommend them. Our guide, Hanni, and driver, Hussein, treated us like wealthy family members. There are not enough words to describe the experience of Egypt. On one hand there is the fantastic history of this nation: the pyramids, Sphinx, statues, some of which were built 5000 years ago. But the modern life of Egypt is truly an experience of a third world country. Picture Cairo, city of 19 million inhabitants, with not one stop light. Picture the latest in American vehicles zooming past dead horses and water buffaloes on the sidewalk. Picture a mix of Eastern and Western apparel, without any discernible pattern. Let's not talk about the dust, smog, pollution. What an experience and especially rewarding because of Ramses Tours and staying at the Oberoi Mena House, looking out at the pyramids.
The surprise of the cruise!
What a wonderful, urbane, gentile and hospitable city is Valletta. And so historic, too. Everyone was helpful, pleasant, welcoming.
We took a city bus in the rain to the city center, at a cost of 1 Euro apiece, round-trip. We shopped and toured 'til we dropped. And then we were pleasantly surprised with a tour guide on the famous Malta city bus on the return trip, pointing out all the statues, trees, buildings, fountains, and carvings!
This port really made our trip - even though Egypt was our reason for booking this cruise. (Because it completed our goal of visiting the 7 continents.)
Treated very well by NCL as far as transfers to/from ship/hotel/airport. We stayed at the Hotel Montblanc. We had selected it because of its proximity to everything and weren't disappointed. We walked everywhere. Our room was unspectacular, but the lobby was lovely with free wi-fi and a good bar. The city was most enjoyable, especially Las Ramblas and its living statues. We didn't experience the danger from pickpockets that we expected, but we did experience a costly lunch ($75).