The Best of the Med: Norwegian Jade Cruise Review by polySeraph

Norwegian Jade 5
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The Best of the Med

Sail Date: April 2011
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Embarkation: Barcelona
They called it "The Best of the Mediterranean" . . . . and with good reason. The cruise started in Barcelona and ended in Venice. Along the way it included port calls in places that had known thousands of years of civilization. There were world-class museums, great food, spectacular scenery, and a kaleidoscope of cultures. To us, it sounded marvelous! We booked the cruise and began the countdown.

We spent the year between booking and embarkation researching and planning. We joined our roll call and found ourselves corresponding and collaborating with a wonderful group of folks. We shared research, organized tours and events, traded money-saving tips, and watched the clock count down. Before we knew it, the year was gone and we were on our way.

Our flight arrived in Barcelona ahead of schedule. In almost no time, we were through immigration, had gathered our luggage and were on our way to the Hotel Jazz. Our room was clean, quiet and reasonably priced. Within a More 5-minute walk were ATMs, coffee shops, and a variety of eateries. We spent 2 days sightseeing. A sizeable part of that time was spent high atop the Ho-Ho Bus, listening to the commentary via sporty teal headphones and getting off from time to time to visit the sights that interested us. The night before embarkation, we met some roll-call friends at Tablao de Cordobes for a pre-cruise event that included dinner and a traditional flamenco show.

The next day we arrived at the port for what had to be the one of the easiest embarkations ever. We dropped off our bags, checked in, received our key cards, and were soon on our way up the gang plank. We dropped off our carry-ons with the attendant and set off for a leisurely lunch in the Grand Pacific.

We thought the food on the Jade was good. We ate most of our meals in the Grand Pacific, but occasionally tried Alizar's, the Blue Lagoon, the Great Outdoors, and the Garden Cafe. Whenever the Garden Cafe was congested, we would take our plates to Papa's Italian kitchen (designated as overflow seating) where the ambience was less frenzied. We enjoyed our meal in Le Bistro and thought Paniolo's was great. We met some roll-call friends for food and fun one evening in Teppanyaki.

Our balcony stateroom was very comfortable. Our stewards, Roger and Shiella, kept it very clean and were very responsive to any special requests. We had volunteered our cabin for the Cruise Critic cabin crawl (an absolute blast!) and Roger and Shiella went out of their way to make sure our cabin sparkled before the tour. They also emptied the mini-fridge so we could fill it with cans of soft drinks and they kept our ice bucket filled. We were delighted whenever the occasional towel animal greeted us in the evenings after turn-down.

Overall, we thought the entertainment was pretty good. Elements, the crown jewel in the line-up, was astounding; it was simply the best show we have ever seen afloat and deserves all the critical acclaim it has received. Other shows deserving an honorable mention include Duo Volgyi (an aerialist performance), the multi-instrumentalist Andy Bunger, and the formulaic-but-fun production of Showdown.

There were several other shows that were good, but with a little "tweaking" they could have been great. The Maestranza Spanish Ballet mixed traditional flamenco dancing with Las-Vegas-style pizzazz; the costumes were beautiful and the performers seemed skilled, but there just wasn't enough of a "gee-whiz" factor to deliver a punch. I found myself wishing that NCL had arranged instead for a more traditional flamenco performance in a smaller, cabaret-style setting. The Turkish folk-dancers were quite nice, but the belly dancer that followed them should have been encouraged to perform a less risquE routine during the 7:30 show while there were children in the audience.

The cruise itinerary itself turned out to be a little challenging. A month before embarkation, NCL cancelled the port call for Alexandria, Egypt and replaced it with Istanbul. The revised itinerary resulted in 5 consecutive days of port calls. Most of the shore excursions required a significant amount of walking up-and-down hills and over uneven pavement to see the ancient places in these ports. The result was a very exhausting 5 days. In the evenings during this period, the ship seemed quiet, the public areas were noticeably empty and there appeared to be lots of room service trays being delivered.

On this cruise, we didn't take any NCL-sponsored shore excursions. We've taken NCL tours in the past and enjoyed them; for this cruise, however, we decided private tours were the best option. Many of the places we were planning to visit had traffic restrictions; in some places only small vans were allowed into the historic areas. We didn't want to spend precious minutes walking into the historic areas from an outlying parking lot when we could be dropped off right at the door.

When we arrived in Venice, we found disembarkation to be easy. We got up early, ate breakfast, and then with coffee cups and cameras in hand, climbed up to the Jade's Freestyle Deck to watch the sail-in. We found many of our roll-call friends were already there, positioned along the rail, cameras in hand. Being up so high gave us a unique perspective on Venice and we snapped photo after photo as we sailed past the city to the port. We returned to our stateroom, grabbed our carry-on bags, and headed down to the atrium to wait for our color to be called.

Self-disembarkation was not allowed in Venice on our sailing. When our color was called, we crossed the gangway and then took an elevator to the ground level. Except for a minor bottleneck at the elevators, things moved pretty quickly. We soon located our luggage, and were off to find the People Mover. A short while later, we arrived at the Piazzale Roma, bought a high-quality map of Venice, purchased our vaporetto passes and were on our way.

We arrived at the Ca' San Giorgio (our B&B) less than an hour after leaving the ship. The two sisters who ran this family-owned business for their parents welcomed us as if we were long-lost family members.

We stayed in Venice, sightseeing for 3 days. Our strategy was to simply make a list of our priorities and check things off as we saw them. Basically, we walked to a site and if it looked overly crowded, we went somewhere else. On Saturday, we stayed away from the crowds in San Marco and visited the less-popular (but still spectacular) Frari Church. Sunday was rainy so we visited the Accademia and the Correr Museum. On Monday morning we visited the Doge's Palace and San Marco. In between these sights, we walked around and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of Venice. Before we knew it, it was time to go home. We said goodbye (with hugs and kisses) to our hostesses, took the No. 5 bus to the airport, boarded our flight, and returned home. Less

Published 06/01/11

Cabin review: BC Balcony

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Port and Shore Excursions

We arranged in advance for a 4-seater Mercedes taxi which we shared with another couple. We met our driver Demetrius at 7:30am so it was still early morning when we arrived at the Parthenon. We snapped photo after photo; we just couldn’t believe we were standing on the Acropolis! We descended from the heights to find Demetrius waiting and then it was off to the Olympic Stadium, the Temple of Zeus, the Greek and Roman Agoras, and Lycabettous Hill before stopping for lunch in a charming little (non-touristy) restaurant. In the afternoon we viewed the changing of the guard at the presidential palace, the Plaka, and the New Acropolis museum. Then after a full day, we met Demetrius for the journey back to the ship. In the car, Demetrius learned of my husband’s interest in triremes, ancient Hellenistic warships. Demetrius said that there was a reconstructed trireme at the Maritime museum and said that we had the time to drive by and take a look at it. (It was a dream come true for my husband.) Afterwards, Demetrius drove us back to the ship via the Piraeus waterfront. He had learned that our friends were interested in food, so along the way he pointed out the open-air cafes on the waterfront with octopi hanging to dry on the porch. Another perfect day!

I arranged for a small private tour for 8 to Siena and San Gimignano through Your Tour in Italy. We met our group in the atrium and walked off the ship as soon as it was cleared. We easily found our guide Simone (pronounced “see-MAW-nay”) and soon we were driving through the Tuscan countryside. We stopped several times on the way to Siena to take photos of the beautiful scenery, including a rest stop in a small walled city for coffee and photos. Because of the small size of our tour vehicle, Simone was able to drive up into the historic areas and drop us off right next to the Duomo. We spent the next several hours touring the cathedral, walking through the historic areas, and having lunch at an outdoor café across from the Palazzo Publico.

We returned to the van and started off for San Gimignano. Shortly before we arrived, Simone turned off the highway to a dirt road to show us the best place to take a picture of San Gimignano. We came around a curve and over a hill and there it was! The view of San Gimignano with gentle hills and olive groves in the foreground was just wonderful. A short drive and we were at the gates of the town. We strolled around for about an hour, taking in the ambience and snapping photo after photo. Tired but satisfied, we ended the day by returning to the port via scenic back roads.

We booked a multi-day tour for a group of 12 with Turkish Tours by Local Guides. Shortly after our arrival, Ozkan, our guide, met us and soon we were on our way. Our first stop was the Hippodrome and the Egyptian obelisk. Then it was a short walk to the Blue Mosque and later Topkapi Palace. We spent an hour or so in the Grand Bazaar, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then finished the evening at the Hodjapasha Cultural Center watching the Whirling Dervishes. On Day 2, we visited the Dolmabahce Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Underground Cistern before stopping for lunch. The early part of the afternoon was spent on a Bosphorus cruise before returning to the Old City to see the Chora Museum, followed by Suleiman’s Mosque and a visit to the spice market. Crowds were definitely an issue. Some of the sights were closed on Monday and others were closed on Tuesday. This meant that, with multiple cruise ships in port, larger crowds were concentrated into fewer sites. Traffic and parking were a problem at times, and the congestion meant longer walks over uneven cobblestone streets and up and down hills and steps. I heard from some “DIYing” friends that the trams were also packed. Thanks to Ozkan, what could have been a major challenge turned out to be a major highlight. His knowledge of Istanbul, his enthusiasm for sharing his culture, and his sense of humor made this port call a real treat. We were able to successfully accomplish a very aggressive itinerary and we had fun doing it.
Read 403 Istanbul Reviews

We spent the day touring the ancient city of Ephesus via a private tour arranged by a roll call member. The sights were all about an hour away from the port so we got an early start. On the way, the guide told us about the agriculture and industry of the region. He also mentioned that every tour guide in the region was booked for the day. In addition to the 2 cruise ships in the port of Izmir, there were 3 cruise ships in the near-by port of Kusadasi. Our first taste of the crowds was at the Virgin Mary’s house where we encountered considerable congestion both in the parking lot and in the line to get into the shrine. It was also quite crowded at Ephesus but the place was so incredible that nothing could take away from the magnificence of the ruins. The Terrace Houses were very interesting – clearly the “must-see” that everyone says they are. After lunch and the (inevitable) carpet-making demonstration, we headed back to the ship.
Read 184 Izmir Reviews

We spent the day touring the ruins in Olympia via a private tour arranged by a roll call member. Olympia was very large and complex and Iohanna, our guide, did an excellent job of explaining the various buildings on the site. After the obligatory photo on the starting block in the original Olympic stadium, we followed Iohanna to the museum that housed a number of the items recovered from the site. After leaving Olympia, we stopped briefly to the Mercouri winery for a tour and wine-tasting before returning to port. My husband was dropped off in the town of Katakolon where he purchased a 12-pack of Coke and checked his email before walking back to the pier.

I arranged a private tour for 8 of our roll call friends through Revelation Tours. We met our group in the atrium and rode the first tender ashore. Franck, our guide, took advantage of the early morning calm to drive us to some very scenic overlooks on the High Corniche. A short time later, we were among the first tourists to arrive at the small town of Eze. The small streets were almost deserted – which made for some great photos. Next it was off to the flower market in Nice. Later we visited the scenic medieval town of St Paul de Vence. We concluded the day in Monaco, first seeing the famous casino and then finishing up on Monaco rock. Along the way Franck drove us around the Grande Prix race course. Although there were several cruise ships in port that day, the sights never seemed that crowded. Thanks to Franck, we always seemed to arrive just before the big tours arrived or just after they had departed.

We shared the cost of a rental car and spent the day with another couple driving through the very scenic countryside of Central Italy. After meeting in the atrium, we rode the NCL shuttle from the port to the town of Civitavecchia. We walked a couple of blocks to the rental car office for a roomy 5-speed with a GPS. After signing the paperwork and programming the GPS, we were on our way. Our first stop was Civita Bagnoregio , an ancient hill town that is slowly disappearing due to the crumbling of the plateau upon which it sits. It was a strikingly beautiful and poignant at the same time. Our next stop was Orvieto, another incredibly beautiful and historic hill town. The drive was just wonderful; the weather was beautiful and the wild flowers were blooming in the fields. We passed many small historic towns and even a Roman aqueduct before returning to the port. On a cruise filled with superlatives, this was perhaps the best day of all.

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