We planned our cruise on NCL Jade nearly a year before sailing. As the cruise was planned to celebrate a special 60th birthday, I was asked to plan the cruise due to my experience in cruising. We were a party of 11 adults (family and friends) travelling together. 9 of the 11 individuals had never sailed before and hence I had to choose a ship and itinerary that would suit all. We settled on NCL Jade 9 day cruise as it offered an interesting itinerary covering 5 Norwegian stops (Haugesund, Hellesyt-Geiranger, Flam, Alesund and Bergen) and 1 Scottish (Kirkwall in Orkney) stop. Also it offered 2 days on sea. Moreover 3 birthdays, including the special 60th, would be celebrated on the cruise.
As I had sailed Jade before, I knew it would suit everyone. Jade is a very elegant ship and not too big. Easy to manoeuvre around and from my previous experience, I was aware of the good food and entertainment offered on board. Also the premium all inclusive experience which had all beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) of up to $15 in value included in addition to pre-paid gratuities which was an added bonus as we wouldn't need to worry about these extra onboard charges at the end of the cruise.
Although we had booked 11 months in advance, it seemed the time for the cruise arrived very quickly. On the day of departure, it was a wonderful sunny day and we drove to Southampton in 3 cars. Due to the bank holiday weekend, traffic was a bit heavy but we got to the car parking area in 2 hours. We were shuttled to the ship within half an hour or so as there were 4 ships sailing that day and lot of us arrived at the same time. However once we got to the cruise terminal, we dropped off our baggage and headed inside to check in. Check in was very swift and there were no queues whatsoever. Once checked in, we had a short wait to board. However we were inside the ship by 1.30pm or so. Unlike my previous experience on NCL and many other cruise lines, there was no one to welcome or guide us as we entered the ship. Hence we made our own way to our cabins to drop off our hand luggage before heading to the Garden cafe for a buffet lunch. This was a large area on the starboard side of the ship which extended from the aft to the pool side in the centre. Hence, despite it being busy, we all found seats easily. Food was good with a vegetarian Indian section too. There were various other food serving areas like salad station, pizza and pasta counters, burger bar, breads section, desserts area etc. So all of us found something or other to eat here most days during lunch time.
I noticed that the ship had a refurbishment from the last time we were on Jade which was more than 3 years ago. The garden cafe looked great and the cabins had new carpets and lighting which looked good. However the pool area looked very bare after getting rid of the water slides and colourful side columns. Couldn't wait to explore rest of the ship and see what other changes were made.
We walked along the upper deck area which had a jogging track and basketball/football sports court. 2 pools and 4 hot tubs were located in the centre of the ship. As we made our way to the lower decks, we noticed that the atrium had a different look. It used to be very colourful with flowers on the ceiling. However this had changed to white elegant lights which changed colour in the evenings. The moderno churascarria speciality restaurant on deck 8 had changed to Irish pub O'Sheehans complimentary restaurant which was open all day and night. The photo gallery had a makeover and so did one of the lounges called Bliss lounge which looked completely different. Most of the ship had new carpets too! The theatre, casino and main dining rooms didn't seem to have had much change apart from new carpets and wall displays. Plenty of bars through the ship and it seemed there was new furniture added to make the ship look very fresh and vibrant. On the whole, the 2 of us who had sailed on the Jade before, were quite happy about the overall refurbishment except for the pool area.
Soon after we explored the ship, it was time for the emergency drill. Unlike other cruise lines, you do not need to take your life jackets to the drill and the muster stations are located in one of the ship's inside areas like theatre, dining room etc. Ours was in the bliss lounge. The drill was very boring and lasted around 15mins. Once this was done, we headed to the sail off party on the pool deck. This was quite good with peppy music and dancing by the professional dancers followed by rest joining in to dance. Some of our group had good fun starting off the cruise in such an energetic way.
Once we set sail, we headed to our cabins to get ready before planning to meet up for drinks later. All our cabins were balcony cabins on 3 levels. One was an accessible cabin which had plenty of room to move around the cabin, large roll in shower area and one could access the balcony in a wheelchair. The rest of our cabins were of good size too with a seperate shower and toilet area with sink in the middle. There was a small sofa next to the beds with a flat screen tv which had various channels including a latest english movie channel too. The balcony was quite huge (compared to some newer ships)with 2 chairs. There was plenty of storage and power points. Also every cabin had a safe and a mini fridge. Unfortunately the alcohol in the fridge was not part of our drinks package so we asked for it to be removed so we could store out complimentary bottles of water in there. As part of the premium inclusive package, we each received 1l bottle of water per day. However they gave us 18 bottles of water per cabin together on the 1st day and hence cluttered the dressing area.It would be better if they could provide bottles of water daily as per our need rather than all together. We didn't use up all our bottles of water by end of the cruise and had to leave them behind.
I would definitely recommend getting a balcony cabin for this cruise as it's the best way to make the most of the beautiful surroundings of Norway. However to be honest, personally I wouldn't go on a cruise with a cabin without a balcony as it's nice to have some personal outside space which you don't have to share with others.
Our room attendant was not very good as he didn't come to introduce himself, wouldn't answer phone calls and didn't heed to all our requests. However cabin was left nice and tidy on most days. I think he was new and was being coached by someone. Most of the other group members said they had very good room stewards who left them towel animals on most evenings. We weren't left with a single animal in the whole cruise. May be our room steward just wasn't trained how to make them. Also missed chocolates on the pillows every night which NCL should bring back.
We met for drinks at the beer/whisky tankards bar and this along with the adjacent champagne bar became our usual meeting area for pre-dinner drinks each evening. Drinks were great with excellent cocktails on offer. Mojitos bar on deck 13 did some excellent mojitos but we only managed to get there 3 times. Also the bar guy in the tankards bar was excellent and always was very patient with all our requests. It was easy to get to the Alizar main dining room where we dined most nights. We usually got 2 tables nearby and were seated generally within 15 minutes of getting a buzzer. Service was generally good and the food was very good too. Vegetarian options were limited however plenty of fish and meat options. Red wine was excellent and we had a different kind each night eg. Merlot/Shiraz/Cabernet etc. However unlike other cruise lines where a wine steward would come and take your order promptly, we sometimes had to tell them we wanted to order wine before they took our drinks order. On the contrary, someone always came to offer us chargeable bottled water which we declined and went for normal water.
On the second night of the cruise, we dined at the Grand Pacific which is much more grander but we preferred the more intimate Alizar. We managed to get a table of 11 at the grand Pacific which was great and at a prebooked time that suited us. Service was generally good that day too however none of the soups on the menu said vegetarian and as half of our party were vegetarians, we thought we would make a request to see if they could make us soups with vegetable stock or prepare other vegetarian items not in the main menu. The maitre'D came and declined that we could only order from the menu and no changes could be made as per recommendations from their head office in Miami. This was very disheartening as in our previous cruises on NCL we could always make simple requests like vegetable stock soups or another vegetarian item not on the menu. We asked if there was a vegetarian menu and he declined again. Hence we had to ask him to call his boss. Initially he said she was off duty but later managed to call her to come. She wouldn't come to our table and asked one of us to go and speak to her which we declined. Anyway, later she came and was not at all apologetic about why they couldn't accept our dietary needs request. However she said there was a vegetarian menu which came as a big surprise to us as the maitre'D had denied they had one. It took them a long time to get the menu but once they did, we could see there were several options we could have from there if the vegetarian options on the main menu were not suitable. NCL should train their maitre'Ds well so that they can understand every customers dietary needs. If he had given us the menu initially we wouldn't have needed to call his boss. Anyway, we didn't want this hitch to affect our cruise and tried to forget about it. We returned to this dining room a few days later and had excellent service. Also the next days menu and the vegetarian menu was presented to us every evening so we could make our selection if required. We thoroughly enjoyed rest of our meals in the main dining rooms in the evening. Those who tried garden cafe for a meal one evening, also said they would not go back there for evening meals as quality, presentation and service was far better in the main dining rooms. None of us got a chance to go to any speciality restaurants like teppanyaki, steak restaurant etc. so can't comment on them.
On sea days, there were several activities around the ship like port talks, game shows like deal or no deal, bingo, cake making demonstration, towel folding class etc. There was something for everyone to keep one occupied. However they need to have movies in the theatre on sea days for those like myself who enjoy that. We tried O'Sheehans, the Irish pub, for lunch on first sea day but food and service was below par and never went back except for a coffee one day. However some of our party went there for fish and chips and really enjoyed them. There is another complimentary asian restaurant called Jasmine in the evening but we never got a chance to try that.
Most of the shows we saw were outstanding especially the production show, 'Elements' which was excellent. Although, we have seen this on other NCL ships, we always enjoy this one. The welcome aboard show was good and gave us a glimpse on things to come on the cruise. We loved the British opera singer (sorry can't remember his name) and the British 3 men band called 'the Knights' both of whom got standing ovations. The magician and his partner were good too. We missed the acrobatic show but saw them in the 'Elements' and they were excellent. We missed one of the production shows called 'Blazing boots' but did manage to see the 1st production show (can't remember the name of that one) which was average. On the whole, the quality of shows on NCL is far superior than those we have seen on other cruise lines.
We were lucky with weather at most ports. The 1st sea day was dull and there was some rain in the afternoon however most of us were occupied with activities inside the ship. The first port stop was Haugesund which was cloudy and windy in the morning. 2 of us did an NCL excursion to beautiful Skudenshavn which is a pretty little town with white buildings and a museum. Rest of us hired a taxi or went by bus to some waterfalls which were hour and half away. They enjoyed their excursion too. In the afternoon it started raining whilst we were shopping in Haugesund so returned to ship slightly earlier.
The next day we sailed into Hellesyt where we dropped off some passengers for a land tour to Geiranger. Once they got off, we sailed into Geiranger. The sail in was excellent and it was worth being on upper decks or your balcony. However being on upper decks is better as there is beautiful scenery on both sides of the ship. It was partly cloudy and quite chilly that morning. Once we reached Geiranger (which was most of ours favourite port), we got off the ship via the floatable walkway (a marvellous engineering feat) and made our way to meet our driver who was going to take us on a private excursion. As we were slightly early, we did some shopping in the beautiful small town area. He collected us on time and took us on our 3 hour trip which had 3 stops. This was one of our best private excursions as the scenery was awesome and we had great weather all day. We also went to Mount Dalsnibba which had an excellent view of the glaciers and ship below. Some of our best personal photos were from this trip. At the end of the tour, the driver dropped some of us off near a waterfall whereby we could walk down into town along the walkway adjacent to the waterfalls. This was a lovely walk downhill and therefater we went to more shops and then headed back to the ship.
The day after we reached Flam which was another pretty port. However our ship had to tender due to another ship being in port. This meant that one of our group members who was in a wheel chair couldn't get off the ship. In the morning it was partly cloudy with some sun and we enjoyed looking around the Flam shops and did a 45min toy train ride which was fun. Then 2 of us headed back to ship whilst rest stayed in town. After lunch and a bit of rest came back to town and we went on the famous 'Flam train journey'. The train journey was good but despite the scenery being great and stopping at some beautiful water falls whereby there was a lady dancing to some Celtic music, we somehow felt this trip fell short of our high expectations. The short stop where we had waffles and coffee was a damp squib as the waffles had gone cold by the time we got there and it had started raining. Some of us did a short hike nearby there to see some waterfalls and a lake but that wasn't very interesting either. The train ride back was the same way. Ideally I would have done a land journey by coach and took train ride back or vice versa. We got back to ship quite late that evening which was when we celebrated my brother in law's 60th birthday bash. We had pre dinner celebration prosecco at our favourite whisky bar followed by a lovely meal at grand Pacific dining room. This culminated with a special eggless cake which was preordered and staff singing away 'Happy birthday'. We ended the evening by dancing away to some great tunes in the spinnakers lounge in deck 13. Certainly a birthday to remember!
The next day we were in mesmerising Alesund! Most of the group did the hop on hop off tour which they enjoyed with great views from Aksla viewpoint. The weather was sunny most of the day. 2 of us did full day 'land of trolls' NCL tour which was one of the best tours we have ever done in terms of the scenery we encountered on this trip. However our lunch stop didn't have much for vegetarians except for salads despite telling the ship and tour guide in advance.
Our last stop in Norway was in Bergen where we had a clear sunny day with warm temperatures. We all did hop on hop off tour. We got off at Mount Floyen funicular but there was a long queue to go up via the funicular. So, 8 of us decided to hike up thinking it wouldn't be that difficult as we saw several people making their way up. It was a difficult hike especially the 2nd half when it got quite steep. However all of us made it to the top and celebrated our hike by taking photos against beautiful backdrop of Bergen and our ship. We took the funicular down as there was not much queue and walked to fish market. Went to nearby restaurant whereby some of us had fish and chips and beer. Apparently those who ate fish said it was really good. We walked around beautiful Bergen and then took hop on hop off bus back to the ship.
Our last stop was in Kirkwall, Orkney islands in Scotland. The weather was overcast but dry. 2 of us took a South Island tour which was panoramic and had a stop at a small church which was interesting. Also the tour guide was excellent and told us lot of world war stories which occurred in the area. Then we headed to Kirkwall to see the downtown area which was lovely with great shops and a cathedral whereby a wedding was going on. 2 of us walked to highland distillery to sample and buy whisky but we were not allowed to as tours were full and they wouldn't let us try the whisky without a tour which is a bit silly. Anyway went back to town to do some souvenir shopping before heading back to ship.
Our final day at sea was sunny but windy. However there was a lot going on to keep us occupied. Also, lot of us bought photos from the photo gallery which were not cheap but as a lot of professional shots were very good, we were tempted to buy some. We also did some shopping on the onboard shops. I went to captains Q&A session which was ok as most of the questions that were asked were not very interesting.
That evening we had to leave our bags outside the door before retiring to bed as is norm with most cruise lines. The disembarkation next day was very smooth and we were off the ship by 9am when our luggage tag colour was called.
On the whole we all had an excellent cruise despite the small hiccup we had on the 2nd evening of our cruise. Most of the staff who come from over 40 countries in the world were always smiling and helpful. Have to mention the wishy washy ladies/men here who did an excellent job ensuring everyone's hands were sprayed with antibacterial before entering buffet area or entering the ship. Also towels and refreshments were offered as we embarked at the end of each day in port. The captain was visible a few times and ensured his team did a good job. Must mention Richard, the cruise director, who was always visible and did an excellent job. He and his entertainment team were just brilliant and made everyone happy. Missed the crew show on this cruise but Richard said he will try and get one going soon again.
Highly recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to sail through the majestic Norwegian fjords. Great for groups of family/friends and for me, the best way to experience the fjords of Norway!
Lovely cabin with large balcony and bathroom with seperate shower and toilet area