I would start by saying that this sailing was my 20th cruise. I have traveled to many different parts of the world through cruise ships, as well as land-based tours and a couple of business trips. Having cruised with premium cruise lines, I had deep reservations booking a cruise onboard one of the NCL ships, given the various mixed reviews that I had heard from friends and other sources, including the quality of service and food onboard.
In summary, I was indeed pleasantly surprised by NCL Jade. There was a great mix of passengers from many different countries with which I feel very comfortable. On all my cruises, I always enjoyed and appreciated the crew and their nationalities. In my opinion, the crew onboard the Jade was the best I have ever encountered. This is a factor that will definitely bring me back on another sailing with NCL. Kudos to all these wonderful people!
As regards the quality of food onboard, I have no complaints whatsoever. At home, I am accustomed to and prefers dining at fine dining restaurants at most times. I found the food on Jade's main restaurants to be good. The choices were varied and sufficient. I generally chose the fish/seafood entrees, but at times tried the beef entrees, all of which were tasty and well presented. I found the desserts not to be very sweet, which suited me just fine. I also enjoyed dining at the Blue Lagoon. It was like going to a local restaurant for some comfort food. I ate at the Garden Cafe (buffet) a couple of times as I preferred to eat at the main restaurants, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This also helped me limit the amount of food that I would have been tempted to eat if dining at the Garden Cafe.
Our cabin was one of the accessible cabins. I was content with the cabin and the bathroom, having the extra space. There was enough closet space to store our clothes, as well as our luggage. However, the cabin can use some upgrade; for example, the TV, lighting and paint colour. Bathrobes were also not automatically provided, and we had to ask for them. Although there were shampoo and body gel in the bathroom, hair conditioner and body lotion are also necessary. Our cabin was located between mid- and the aft of the ship on the 9th deck. There were times that I could smell the aroma of the food coming from the Garden Cafe (Deck 12). As well, when walking closer to the middle of the ship, I could also smell the aroma of the food coming from the Blue Lagoon.
This was the third time I have embarked at this port (Muelle Adosado). Barcelona is a wonderful port city, surrounded by popular tourist attractions, including the Las Ramblas, Port Olimpic and the Marina area. The embarkation process was organized and went smoothly. Once registered, we took the shuttle bus to take us out of the cruise terminal and we got off at the foot of the Colom monument. It was a Sunday and there was a small, but interesting, antique market near the marina. At the terminal, there were a couple of stores where we bought our supply of bottled water for the duration of our cruise.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Stay: I was traveling with a friend and we spent three days in Barcelona prior to embarkation. We stayed at the Hotel Claris, located in the Eixample district of Barcelona. It was a 20-minute ride from the airport. Our taxi fare cost approx. E25. My only complaint about this hotel would be that the airconditioning in the room did not work at this time of the year. We had a spring-like weather (15C-19C) and, coming from Canada, this weather was rather warm for me. I had difficulty sleeping only because I found the room too warm for my liking. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful hotel and we very much enjoyed our stay. The breakfast at the hotel was also very much to my liking. The hotel is situated a few steps away from Passeig de Gràcia, and an easy walking distance (about 1.3 kms.) to Plaza Catalunya that leads to the hustle and bustle of Las Ramblas. Passeig de Gràcia is a destination in and of itself, particularly if you are interested in some elegant and sophisticated shopping. It is lined with boutique stores with names like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Zegna, Burberry, Max Mara, and many other European names. You will also find many restaurants, including tapas bars. Make sure to try "cava de sangria" with your meals - it was an interesting twist to the regular sangria. If department store shopping is more to your liking, El Corte Ingles is also a walking distance away. Along Passeig de Gràcia you will also find two of Gaudí's famous structures, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila.
We took the cab from our hotel to the Cruise Terminal and it taxi fare was approx. E25.
The port city for Roma is Civitavecchia. To my recollection, this was the fourth time that I had embarked at this port. This port is quite a distance to Rome (approx. 1 hour by train or a bit longer by land-based vehicles). Having been to Rome a few times, we were only interested in visiting the Basilica and a couple of other spots in Rome. We ventured out on our own by taking "trenitalia" from Civi to Stazzione Roma S. Pietro (cost of train fare: E9 return). The train station at Civi was only a 10-min walk from outside the Cruise Terminal. (A shuttle bus was provided to us from the ship to the entrance of the Cruise Terminal.) The train ride took less than an hour. The train station at S. Pietro was an easy walking distance to the Basilica. At the Basilica, we made sure to pay our respect at the tomb of Pope John II. Our train ticket was also good for use at Metro and buses. However, we did not feel too adventurous and decided to take the HO-HO bus located just outside of St. Peter's Square (HO-HO fare: E15). We got off at a couple of stops in which we were interested (i.e., Fontana de Trevi and Piazza Spagna/Via Condotti). After these stops, we decided to take the rest of HO-HO's route, which brought us back in front of St. Peter's Basilica. The whole route takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. From here, we walked back to S. Pietro train station for our train back to Civi, leaving us with about 2 hours before the ship sailed out. Notes: The ship arrived in Civitavecchia on a Tuesday, a regular working day. Trains in Italy can be unreliable at times, particularly on weekends. Your chances are better if you are taking the train on a weekday. It is a train that is taken by the locals that leave outside the city but work in the city. It was a very comfortable and safe train ride.
The port city for Athens is Piraeus. This was the second time that I had visited this port. Having been to Athens once before, we opted for a tour that took us to Cape Sounion, to visit the Temple of Poseidon. This site was diminutive compared to the temples found at Acropolis. Cape Sounion was also quite a distance away from Piraeus (about 1-1/2 hours ride on a tour bus). On our way back to Piraeus, our tour took us for a coffee break at a restaurant in Vouliagmeni. I would not feel comfortable recommending this tour. If I were to return to Athens again, I would much rather spend the day walking at the Plaka or visiting the archaeological museum.
This was my first time at this port. It is a fair looking cruise terminal with some small shops for last minute shopping. The highlight of this port was the visit to Ephesus. However, having done a comprehensive tour of Ephesus not so long ago, I opted to take a tour to Pergamum and Aesclepion. These sites were approx. 1-1/2 hours away from the port. People on this tour were provided a lunch box from the ship. I thought that it was a good idea given that there were no restaurants appropriate for tourists to these sites. Knowing a little history about these sites, I was glad to have visited Pergamum and Aesclepion. However, Ephesus was definitely the highlight and I would only recommend the trip to Pergamum/Aesclepion if one has visited Ephesus before. Note: If you need to use the bathroom and you can hold it, wait until you get to the stop at the carpet factory. You will be much more comfortable!
Our next port of call would have been Alexandria for the pyramids. However, given the recent uprising and civil unrest in Egypt, we were redirected to Istanbul. Like many passengers onboard this sailing, Egypt was the highlight of this cruise, having visited all the other ports but Alexandria. We were docked at the port in Istanbul for three days and two nights. I was not very thrilled to visit this port, despite very good reviews by friends who are seasoned travelers and well-heeled. Contrary to my initial feelings about this port, I was pleasantly surprised by Istanbul. Indeed it was a wonderful city. We took the 2-day comprehensive tour of the city which was worth every penny of it. We visited all the major attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, a museum, a cruise on the Bosphorus sea that connects Europe to Asia, the Byzantime Underground Cistern, and the best one of all the Topkapi Palace, which to my delight housed, in its museum, the Staff of Moses, the cloak and sword of Prophet Muhammed, and the famous Spoonmaker's Diamond, among other things. A delicious and wonderful lunch at the famous Konyali Topkapi Restaurant was also included. This 2-day tour also took us to the Grand Bazaar (a rather delightful experience) and the Spice Market (where one can purchase the best Turkish delights). This tour was totally exhausting but a tour that I most highly recommend. Note: Make sure to wear socks when visiting the Blue Mosque. You will be required to take off your shoes. We were provided with an enviro bag to carry our shoes while visiting the Blue Mosque. Also, although the women in our group were not asked, it is considered polite (and at times mandatory) for women to cover their hair while visiting the Blue Mosque. Our tour guide also warned about taking taxis in Istanbul. He advised to take taxis that are found at Taxim. These taxis go by the meter, unlike those conveniently located at the port that give you a fixed price. Beware of these taxi drivers. They will take you for a ride indeed (sarcasm intended). While at this port, I would have liked to try one of the seafood restaurants under the bridge. However, the tours were totally exhausting and I had no energy left to get off the ship.
This was my second visit at the port in Valetta. It had been many years ago when I last visited Malta and was looking forward to visiting it again. This port is very picturesque, especially as the ship is entering the port. The walls surrounding this port remind me of medieval times. I took a tour of Valetta and the city of Mdina. The tour tooks us to the streets of Valetta, including visits to the fort; St. John's Co-Cathedral (where Caravaggio's famous painting, the "Beheading of St. John", is housed; the Grand Master's Palace, etc. It also took us to Mdina, a city that I had visited before. I enjoyed my second visit just as much as I did the first time I visited.