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Sail Date: October 2008
We booked our cruise via Cruise Direct after having seen an advertisement in the Sunday papers. The price that we actually paid was a little more than the price that had been advertised, and did not include flights as there were none still ... Read More
We booked our cruise via Cruise Direct after having seen an advertisement in the Sunday papers. The price that we actually paid was a little more than the price that had been advertised, and did not include flights as there were none still available via the cruise line. But we managed to get very reasonable flights from our local airport to Istanbul via Easyjet and from Athens for our return journey. On landing at Istanbul airport we managed to find a shuttle company who were also taking other Norwegian Jade passengers (who had also arrived via Easyjet) to the ship at a reasonable rate. The journey to the port took approximately 1 hour. On arrival it was difficult to actually find the correct area to deposit our luggage.

The embarkation process was speedy and efficient but somewhat low key with very little sense of occasion or anticipation. Once we arrived on board we were directed rather than taken to our cabin - which was on the embarkation level. Our was an outside cabin with a porthole which was adequate in size and well equipped. The bathroom was larger than average, and well appointed for a ship of this class. We were disappointed that we did not have a window as opposed to a porthole as this was what we had expected, and meant that lights always needed to be switched on when we were in the cabin On the very first evening we were tired from a long day of travelling and so did not disembark the ship to experience the night life of Istanbul. Food onboard was good, with the meals in the 2 main dining rooms being of good quality if somewhat bland, and never piping hot On one particular evening I requested an omelette as I was not feeling like a large meal, my request did cause some issues but the Maitre D (Eugene) granted my request and the omelette when it eventually came was not very good - but the staff were obliging and had done their best to fulfill my request. We had excellent meals in some of the speciality restaurants particularly Cagney's, and the sushi and chines restaurant. I was somewhat disappointed in the Hibachi style dining experience which did not live up to other similar places I had been to. Overall we particularly enjoyed the Freestyle dining experience as we particularly hate the 2 sitting at pre booked times that is used on other cruise lines - for this reason we would definitely travel again on NCL and Princess which we have experienced on 2-3 other cruises. The buffet was also of good quality, but we and several other passengers were frustrated that we were not allowed to serve ourselves from the buffet (and had to rely on being served from it) once we had been to Egypt and until the end of the cruise. Staff told us this was to protect us from viruses that were often picked up in Egypt. It did however spoil the last few days of our cruise, as we had to wait in line, the seating area was full of uncleared plates as there were insufficient staff to clear them, and food became cold as you waited in line or found a clear place to sit. We only took one of the ship's excursions - Pyramids and Nile in Style. This was not quite as good as we had hoped. Particularly the promised visit to a bazaar, which turned out to be a very touristy department store in a seedy area of the city. However the lunchtime Nile Cruise was very nice and the food far better than expected. Ports of call were all enjoyable although the short stay in Katakolon was a complete waste of time, and of no cultural value at all unless you took a ships excursion.

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Sail Date: October 2008
On this cruise from Istanbul to Athens it was just my wife and I. As we wanted to get the most out of our cruise we thoroughly researched both the Jade and our port itinerary before sailing. By doing so I truly think we were able to ... Read More
On this cruise from Istanbul to Athens it was just my wife and I. As we wanted to get the most out of our cruise we thoroughly researched both the Jade and our port itinerary before sailing. By doing so I truly think we were able to optimize our NCL cruise experience in as much as it was possible to do so. Throughout the review I will try to consolidate what we learned from earlier reviews along with our own live experiences so that those of you taking this trip in the months to come can also get as much value out of your cruise as we did.

SHIP - The Jade still retains its bold Hawaiian theme throughout and management gave us no hint that they are planning to change that anytime soon. The wild colors used in many of the public spaces onboard may remind some cruisers of Las Vegas. When NCL does eventually update the Jade we personally hope they do so with a more elegant, understated design and also choose one that is geographically neutral. Overall the ship looks and feels exactly its age at about 5 years old... not the newest, but also not old yet by any means.

CABIN - We booked a standard cabin with outside window view. Unfortunately, our window was quite dirty with sea spray when we first boarded in Istanbul and was not cleaned until mid-cruise in Iraklion. Overall we found the cabin to be adequate as a floating hotel. Cabin service by our stewards was both consistent and friendly throughout the cruise.

The shower had sufficient water flow and consistent temperature. We counted three available US power sockets in the cabin including the one the coffee machine is attached to which was sufficient for our camera chargers, etc. There was also plenty of space to store our empty luggage between the wall and bed.

A definite negative, however, is the toilet placement. It was so poorly situated inside the tiny bathroom area that it was literally impossible to sit on it at anything other than an angle. TV channel service was also very limited. We were only able to get Fox News, a handful of foreign language stations, and a lot of constantly repeating NCL promotional channels. The reason given by the Jade for this was that the satellite signal in this part of the world is limited to those few channels, but in this day and age I'm personally a bit skeptical about that.

CABIN TIPS: Bring along some extra wire hangers and a travel alarm clock as you'll likely want more hangers and the ability to set your wake up time on this cruise. You might also want to bring along a couple of bars of soap and your own bottle of shampoo as the Jade only provides liquid soap & shampoo dispensers in the bathroom. There is also no mouthwash provided, but if you don't want to pack your own you can buy a very small bottle of it for $7.25 in the gift shop. There are no self-serve Laundromats onboard anymore, so either bring two weeks worth of clothing or be prepared to pay hotel laundry rates for the Jade to do it for you.

FOOD - We are both early diners so we personally never faced a wait to be seated at 5:30pm when the restaurants first opened. However, we did notice long waiting lines at virtually all of the free restaurants between 7pm to 9pm. Cover-charge restaurants always seemed to have plenty of seating capacity and a few, like the Teppanyaki, went empty most of the cruise.

We ate our dinners in the Grand Pacific and Alizar, the free dining rooms that some of our fellow passengers had jokingly renamed as "Grand Pathetic" and "AllisSubPar". The food here was certainly edible but don't expect commercial restaurant dining quality. It clearly falls into the mass produced food category and the entrEes are quite similar in quality to an average catered wedding dinner. There was only one meal, the Teriyaki stir-fried beef at the Alizar, that I could honestly say was delicious. Everything else generally looked much better on the menu and plate than it actually tasted. Although the service was not necessarily the fastest in the world, it was always friendly and we made a point to have fun with our waiters.

For breakfasts and the occasional lunch we primarily used the Garden Cafe buffet. Not only was this much faster than going to a restaurant, but we found it also was the only way for us to get enough daily vegetable and green salad. This is because the meals in the restaurants tend to be heavy on starches but lean on veggie (unless two asparagus sticks leaning against your dinner entree qualifies as sufficient veggie these days). In any case, the Garden Cafe offered enough fresh greens albeit prepared largely the same way every day.

Ice tea, water, orange juice, tea and coffee are all available at the buffet beverage stations. Sadly, NCL does not brew coffee in advance for you. Instead they make you refill your own tiny cup at one of three automated coffee machines located in the Garden Cafe. Unfortunately that's hardly efficient because these are very slow and take numerous button presses just to fill up a small cup. Consequently there is often a line for them. A nicer touch would be for NCL to provide a roaming coffee service.

DINING ROOM TIPS - If you are not either an early or late diner, make dinner reservations for the restaurant you want as early as possible every day as the Jade only allows 50% of the restaurant to be reserved in advance. On the "at sea" days reservations fill up especially fast. Otherwise be prepared to wait 15-30 minutes just to be seated. Be sure to eat as early as possible on the nights you want to catch the first show of the evening because serving times onboard are slower than at a commercial restaurant. A meal that normally takes 45 minutes onshore can take a full 30 minutes longer here.

BUFFET TIPS - If you are a big coffee drinker consider packing a lightweight coffee mug along for the cruise so you can fill a proper sized cup. We brought our own and were told by numerous coffee junkies like us what a good idea that was. Be advised, however, this tip only works for half the cruise because after visiting Egypt the buffet method will switch from self-serve to the crew serving you from the buffet stations.

ENTERTAINMENT - We only had time to see Smokey Joe's Cafe, Showdown LIVE!, the Jade crew show, comedian Tony Stevens, and magic with Tim & Tom. We also sat through part of a Second City improvisation. As a point of reference if you consider Broadway show quality as "A" level and high school productions as "E" level, then the entertainment onboard would be generally fall in either the "C" or "D" category. They were professional performances to be sure, but generally we found ourselves clapping politely rather than enthusiastically.

Let's discuss the production shows first. These are staged by a fair group of singers accompanied by a pretty good live band. Although they can all sing in tune, there are clearly no undiscovered pop stars among the performers. And to put it gently, many of the singers could also afford to spend a little more time at the gym than at the buffet. The female performers in particular look like they had all developed a serious "cruise body," you know, the type that has no waist curve.

But what about the shows? Despite its name Showdown LIVE! was actually just a scripted and uninspired "American Idol" style plot that simply rotated through a standard set of 60's songs. Smokey Joe's Cafe dispensed with having a plot altogether and seemed little more than just a Cafe stage set used to take the same singers through a similar list of songs. Since the music selections here were chosen to appeal to older audiences your entertainment mileage will vary by your age. The only show we personally enjoyed was the talent show put on by the Jade crew. The guitarist who played "Samba Pa Ti," the female juggler, and the "Fountains" skit all stood out in particular. If you decide to catch only one show, this is the one to see.

Next, we have the stage acts. Although I found the comedian Tony Stevens mildly humorous to watch, it was merely chuckle-worthy but not laugh-out-loud funny. As far as magic, Tim & Tom were easily the most "flamboyant" magicians we've ever seen, but the magic tricks themselves seemed routine and unambitious.

We both like improvisational comedy and count the Canadian comedy troupe "The Kids in the Hall" among our favorite comedians. Since Second City also hails from Canada we had high hopes for them as well. The troupe started their show on the Jade with a few stock skits whose punch lines were largely groaners. Perhaps it was just old material we wondered? Unfortunately our fears were confirmed when they decided to do a live improv with the audience. A female improvisationist chose two people in the first row as her "Mom" and "Dad" and tried desperately to come up with funny dialogue in between throwing a football back and forth to them. In a revealing twist the two audience members themselves proved to be much funnier than the Second City girl running the improv. At this point we realized that the only talent SC can afford to send onboard cruise ships must be their third and fourth string players.

ACTIVITIES - In addition to formal entertainment the Jade also had the standard cruise leisure activities some free and some not. For example, the darts in the Spinnaker Lounge were free but the pool table next to them was not. Similarly the Wii video game rooms were free but the arcade games were not. These kinds of activities should all be free in our view. Given the tiny profit that they could possibly generate for the ship, why would NCL want to risk having bored passengers onboard or be thought of as a nickel-and-dime cruise line? Some of the activity hardware clearly needed attention. The sole ping-pong table onboard was oddly placed on a slant and next to a water drain that had deadened the ping-pong balls floating in it. The two dart boards on the Jade only had three measly darts between them both. Surely darts can't be that expensive or impossible to find in the next port of call. And on a ship made to hold thousands there really ought to be more than one pool table aboard.

EMBARKATION - We decided to fly into Istanbul the day before the start of the cruise and so arrived Sunday evening. US citizens can get their Turkish visa upon arrival for $20 cash by stopping at the visa window right before passport control. Interestingly the Turkish Currency Exchange window was still in operation at 11PM on Sunday night and offered better conversion rates than those we saw in the US. Since it was very late at night we simply grabbed a taxi to the Hilton in the Beyoglu district which turned out to be ideal as it was very close to the port area. We checked out in the late morning and took a 5-minute taxi drive to the port arriving at the Jade slightly before noon.

NCL had been vague on which pier in Istanbul the Jade would be docked at saying only it would be either the Salipazari or Karakoy pier in the Beyoglu district. Well which one exactly, NCL? Fortunately we had spotted the Jade from the taxi as we rode in from the airport the night before and so were able to manually direct our taxi driver to the correct pier the next morning. In the end I think it was the Salpazari pier because we were docked well north of the Galata bridge where Karakoy starts... but who knows.

In any case it took only 30 minutes after arriving at the terminal to check in our luggage, clear security, get our ID cards, and get onboard. You have to surrender your passport to NCL upon check in and they hold onto it until the day before arriving in Egypt. We immediately headed for lunch at the Grand Pacific. By 2pm our cabin was ready so we quickly checked it out and then prepared to go sight-seeing in Istanbul. Overall I would rate embarkation procedures for the Jade as very well done.

PORT OF ISTANBUL - We had already decided earlier to see Istanbul on our own but this proved to be even easier than we imagined. This is because all the important tourist sights are concentrated right next to each other in the heart of the city and connected to the port via an inexpensive tram. To get to the nearest tram station simply walk outside of the port entrance up to the main road and take a left. A few blocks down you will see a Tram station in the center of the road by which a tram runs directly into town every 20 minutes or so. A one way ticket was only 1.60 Turkish Lira making further taxi service in Istanbul unnecessary.

The Haghia Sophia mosque it is not open on Mondays but as we arrived in the mid-afternoon the lighting was perfect at that time of day for photographing it from afar. We started our solo tour by visiting the inside of Blue Mosque instead which sits just across the street from the Haghia Sophia. The history of the mosques was well covered in our tour book and we never felt ourselves at a loss without a tour guide. Next we walked over to see the obelisks standing in the old Hippodrome area alongside the Blue Mosque. Then it was off to see the Topkapi Palace and finally a visit to the underground Basilica Cistern. The light was starting to fade after we finished the cisterns so we caught the tram back to the ship in time for dinner and got ourselves to bed early that night as we were still a bit jet-lagged.

The following morning we jumped on the tram again to head back into the city. First we got great photos of the Blue Mosque which is always best lit in the mornings. Then we finally bought tickets to see the inside of the Haghia Sophia. Sadly we found it to be under some interior reconstruction with scaffolding that reached all the way to its highest dome, but even so it was still beautiful to behold. After taking our fill of pictures, we refueled with some simit bread from a local pastry shop and then jumped on the tram again to head further west to the Turkish Bazaar. The bazaar wasn't what we consider to be a must-see sight for Istanbul but with having to be back on board at by 2pm there was just the right amount of time to get there, walk through it leisurely, and sit down for a Turkish coffee. We returned to the port via the tram right on time.

PORT OF IZMIR - Izmir is unfortunately quite a distance from Ephesus, the principal archeological site to see. As there is no fast public transportation to and from Ephesus the only choice we had was to take either an NCL tour bus or private tour. In the end we had read good things on this forum about Ekol Travel and decided to book a private tour with them on a customized itinerary to see Ephesus, the Terrace Houses there, and the House of the Virgin Mary. We paid $120 per person which bought us a comfortable private van, private tour guide, and allowed us to see the Terrace Houses at Ephesus (which the NCL tours all missed). Because we custom defined our tour itinerary with Ekol we were also able to avoid being dragged to any tourist shopping stops.

With the beautiful restoration of its library, amphitheatre, and terrace houses, Ephesus is a must -see site that will make other ancient archeological sites on this cruise seem relatively unexcavated in comparison. We also found that it seeing it in person reinforced how much the Turkish coastline was a part of Mediterranean civilization in ancient times. Both of us also enjoyed the visit to the House of The Virgin Mary even though the historical certainty of this site obviously can't be archeologically proven.

PORT OF MYKONOS - This was our first tender port. For those unfamiliar with the term "tender" this means a port where the Jade is unable to dock at a connecting pier and must use ferry boats to get passengers ashore.

Our main objective was to see the ruins on the ancient island of Delos. Not being able to research options to get there in advance we decided to simply book the NCL tour for it. The only real advantage that gave us was the ability to get on one of the first tender boats into port... not so critical for this port because we were not scheduled to depart Mykonos until midnight. Once on Mykonos we were handed off to our tour guide who put us immediately onto the standard Delos ferry for a 20 minute ride to the historic island. After ten minutes on Delos we could see that our guide was going way too slow for us and so we went independent and saw everything else on the island for ourselves. This included climbing to the top of the mountain to see the spectacular views of Mykonos, something those who stuck with the tour guide missed out on completely. We rejoined the tour group at the port right on schedule and were brought back via ferry around noon to spend the rest of our day in Mykonos. Here is also where I saw one of the few generous acts extended by NCL to its passengers during the cruise... at the tender ship point they had setup an NCL tent with a free cold water station which provided a nice relief after hiking most of the morning.

In retrospect taking the NCL Tour of Delos turned out to be the only thing we would have done differently on this cruise. I would advise anyone wanting to see Delos on future NCL cruises to simply take the tender boat into Mykonos and once there buy a Delos ferry ticket. As soon as you get onto Delos go directly to the museum to get a free map and site guide. Then set out on foot to see what interests you. Touring the island solo can easily be done in 2-3 hours. We also noticed that another cruise line docking at Mykonos managed to shuttle their passengers directly to Delos via their own tender boats without going through Mykonos and feel that NCL should consider this service.

PORT OF SANTORINI - This was also a tender port. Santorini is actually one of the most picturesque Greek islands because of its spectacular views. On this short visit, however, we found it far too swamped with tourists from the three cruise ships in port that day to truly enjoy. Congestion is usually a problem anywhere on holiday, but Santorini has an additional bottleneck because steep cliffs separate the city from the port below. There is a cable car that connects the port to the city but it can't handle 3,000 cruise passengers all trying to get back to their ship at the same time. My only advice here is to get onto Santorini as early as possible in the morning and then be ready to head back earlier than necessary in the afternoon. Very long lines (800 meters+) start forming in the early afternoon for the cable car ride back down to the port. Carefully gauge how many cruise ships are in port to decide when you need to get in line. We found the Jade leaves port right on schedule and you usually have to be back one hour before departure.

PORT OF IRAKLION - The Palace of Knossos is the main thing to see in Iraklion and luckily there is convenient public transportation to get to it. A shuttle bus will take you from the ship to the terminal and from there you only need walk right past the taxi stand to eventually get out to the busy main road. Cross to the other side at the stoplight and take a right. After walking about 800 meters you will see a public bus terminal on the left. The ticket office for it is actually on the far outside of the building (not on the inside) and the ticket guy knows just enough English to sell you a ticket for Bus #2 to Knossos. I think it cost 2 Euros.

The Palace of Knossos itself is somewhat controversial because some feel it is too reconstructed with new materials to be true to the actual ruins, but the bold colors of the reconstructions made for some striking photos. Make sure to buy a combo ticket here for both the palace and the museum in town, it's cheaper than buying separate tickets. After touring the site solo for an hour or two we caught the same Bus #2 back into town. The bus driver was primed to let the tourists know which stop to get off on to see the Archeological Museum, but pay attention. The museum was less than 5 minutes walk from the stop. Unfortunately the bulk of it was closed for remodeling through the remainder of 2008 but they have wisely put their key Minoan exhibits on display in a small concentrated gallery. At least you will not feel like you missed out completely.

PORT OF ALEXANDRIA - NCL flew in an Egyptian immigration officer to join the ship in Iraklion which allowed him to stamp regular US passports with an entry visa wile en route to Egypt. The passports were then returned to us ready-to-go the day before arrival. Time in Egypt is severely limited so obviously the sights near Cairo have to trump anything to be seen in Alexandria. We chose to take our overnight excursion with De Castro Tours as at $215 per person (on a tour group of 6 other people from the Jade) as it was less than half the cost of the NCL overnight excursion.

On the first day we drove to Cairo and saw the Egyptian Museum, the Citadel, and the Giza Sound & Light show. If there is time, try to get your tour guide to take you to the Giza observation point in the late afternoon. That is when the pyramids are best lit by the setting sun for photographs. I also have a recommendation for the Sound & Light show. Try to get there as early as possible so you can sit in the front row (or as close to the front as you can). The reason for this is that there is no stadium seating at the show and there will inevitably be plenty of idiots in front of you blocking your view with their raised cameras.

On the second day we visited the Giza pyramids first thing in the morning as the tickets to get inside the Pyramids are limited and sell out almost immediately after opening. Per day the Egyptians only sell 100 tickets for the Pyramid of Cheops and 300 for the Pyramid of Khafre. We were lucky to get tickets to go inside the Pyramid of Khafre and thought it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that should not be missed. After that we saw the pyramids at Saqarra before returning to Alexandria. Overall I would say we had a definite advantage in being able to ride in a private air conditioned van that allowed for much more interaction with the tour guide. The only disadvantage was that we had a bit more driving to do because our hotel was the Novotel in the 6th Of October City instead of the Le Meridian directly at Giza.

PORT OF CORFU - Thanks to its strong Venetian influences this picturesque port is perhaps the most Western city of the Greek islands. There is just enough time in port to walk through the city, tour the forts, enjoy a nice lunch, and then make it back to the ship. Those who rented a car or took a tour to visit the deeper parts of the island did so only at the expense of enjoying the main city itself. For us it was certainly a relaxing stop.

PORT OF KATAKOLON - This port was specifically built for public transport to and from Olympia and has small train station within 10 minutes walking distance from the ship. Simply walk out of the port up to the main road that runs through Katakolon and then take a right. Once you get to the edge of the village look out for an inconspicuous yellow cottage alongside an empty track and wait there for the train. We took the 8:36AM train to Olympia and it got us there at 9:18AM. After spending more than enough time to tour the site we returned to the station to catch the 12:05PM which arrived back at Katakolon at 12:48PM. The total round trip cost per person was 3 Euros... hard to beat. A ticket into Olympia will cost you 6 Euros and the museum was 3 Euros.

DISEMBARKATION - The Jade arrived in Piraeus at 4AM. We had decided to hold onto our luggage overnight so we could self-disembark and get into Athens as early as possible. After a final breakfast in the Garden Cafe we rolled our baggage off the ship at 5 AM and tried to figure out where we were. It turns out that the Jade was docked at a far pier of Terminal B. This terminal had no taxi service so the port authority provided some free shuttle buses that were waiting right outside the ship to take passengers to Terminal A. Once there we grabbed a taxi for 15 Euros into the city. NCL had advertised a bus service into the same area of Athens for $25 per person so managing your own transfer can save you quite a bit.

ATHENS - As it was in Istanbul, all of the key sites in Athens are concentrated in the city center and can easily be toured in one full day's time. We had reservations to stay overnight at the Ledra Marriott in Athens before flying back to the US the next morning so that gave us the perfect amount of time. We were able to drop off our luggage at the Marriott by 6 AM and then took off after that to see the sights.

Our first stop was the Temple of Olympian Zeus followed in order by the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum, and finally the Plaka. The Acropolis was an overall disappointment for us as it was wrapped on all four sides by scaffolding and hardly photogenic in that state. Perhaps even worse, it was unbelievably congested with other tourists despite the shoulder holiday season. It took nearly 15 minutes to get both into and out of the Acropolis as the entrance and exits were packed like sardines with visitors only able to move forward at a snail's pace. In retrospect the better plan is to get to the Acropolis first and as early as possible in order to beat the tour groups that inevitably swarm it by mid-morning.

IN SUMMARY - When it was all said and done, we obviously enjoyed our cruise. They key for us was to have the correct expectation of what we were buying before we ever went. We had read all the reviews for the Jade in advance and because of that we did not expect to see Broadway quality shows nor eat gourmet quality food. And when it turned out to be exactly like that, we were not surprised. Ultimately what we did get in spades, however, was the chance to see a large number of stunning archeological sites within a two week period. As such our main cruise goal was accomplished. Hopefully our review gives you more information to also get the most out of your future cruise. Good sailing!

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Sail Date: September 2008
Norwegian Jade Review Sept 19th to Oct 1st 2008

Just to start with I'd like to say that we had a fantastic 12 night cruise on the Norwegian Jade from Istanbul to Athens and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Background ... Read More

Norwegian Jade Review Sept 19th to Oct 1st 2008

Just to start with I'd like to say that we had a fantastic 12 night cruise on the Norwegian Jade from Istanbul to Athens and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!


A brief introduction. We are a family of 4 from Australia, living near Sydney. I cruised with DH and our 2 teenage daughters aged 12 and 15. This was our second cruise, the first being in Sept 2007 with Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas which was a 7 night Western Med cruise out of Barcelona which we also really enjoyed.


We flew Sydney to Istanbul with Emirates via Dubai. We had 8 hours between flights in Dubai so I organized a private 4 hour tour which I booked through Viator. We saw the Jumeirah Mosque, the Burj Al Arab ( the 7 star "sail hotel), " Palm Island ", and Ski Dubai ( an indoor ski slope inside a shopping mall). I shall be posting a more detailed review of our Dubai experiences on the "Africa and Middle East" boards but I will just mention a few points here. Firstly, Dubai is very very hot!! Secondly, there is so much construction going on that Dubai looks like one giant construction site! And it seems to me that the constructions have to be bigger and better than anything before. For example they are planning a huge theme park called Dubailand (like Disneyland but much larger). It will have life size replicas of the Eiffel Tower ( which will house luxury apartments), the Taj Mahal ( housing restaurants and hotels) and the Giza Pyramids (containing offices and retail outlets) amongst others!! Anyway, thirdly, we were there during Ramadan and our guide informed us that there are very strict laws prohibiting eating and drinking and chewing gum in public during fasting hours which are enforced with large fines (1000 dihrams = $350) even for non -Muslims. She advised us we could drink water in the van, but not when out sightseeing. Anyway , we stayed one night pre-cruise at the Hotel Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet area in Istanbul. The area around the Blue Mosque is quite magical in the evening after the fast is broken. There is music, food stalls, fairy lights -lovely for a picnic. As we walked up the street from our hotel to the Blue Mosque we came across the Whirling Dervish dancer at the Cafe Mescale at the Arasta Bazaar behind the Blue Mosque and stopped to watch for a while and listen to the traditional music. ( I believe he dances from about 8-9 pm). The following morning we had a lovely breakfast on the rooftop overlooking the Bosphorous, then visited Topkapi Palace, Aya Sophia , and the Basilica Cistern on our own, taking about 4 hours. All the sites are very close by and easily walkable. You do need Turkish Lira for entry to Topkapi Palace ( 20 lira entry fee and 15 lira for the harem - well worth it IMHO) and for Aya Sophia(20 lira). Don't miss the Treasury section of Topkapi Palace housing many amazing treasures including the Topkapi Diamond. The Basilica Cistern entry fee was 10 lira or 7 euros- we really enjoyed the atmosphere and lighting here. I shall post a more detailed port of call review on the Mediterranean boards otherwise this will end up a thesis! Here I shall try to focus more on the cruise with just a brief overview of what we did in each port. Our hotel called us a taxi to the port which cost 13 Euros and there we were at the cruise ship!!

The Norwegian Jade

On arrival at the port we were given blank white luggage tags to attach to our bags after writing our stateroom number on them. So don't worry if you don't have luggage tags ahead of time. Embarkation was very smooth and before we knew it we had eaten lunch at the buffet and were relaxing in our lovely balcony stateroom with a glass of bubbly! Our bed was exceedingly comfortable and there was a sofa bed for one daughter and a Pullman bed which pulled from the ceiling for our other daughter, forming a set up like bunk beds for them. If you wanted to access the balcony when the beds were assembled, a minor contortionist act was required but it was possible! Overall the Jade is in excellent condition , clean and beautifully maintained. I cannot speak highly enough of the staff. Every person we encountered was welcoming, smiling and helpful. We felt very welcomed and spoilt. Our room steward Micheal was unfailingly polite and attentive and made us cute towel animals and chocolates on our pillows. Our room was always clean and made up beautifully.


We ate dinner almost every night at the Grand Pacific and thoroughly enjoyed all our meals there. We would usually go down for dinner between 6 - 7.30 pm and we were always seated immediately at a table for 4 with no wait. However, I did notice some people waiting with beepers as we would leave after dinner later in the evening. We found the waiters and waitresses to be friendly and efficient and polite. One night we ate with some Cruise Critic friends at the Teppanyaki restaurant which was great fun. Those chefs are so fast and clever. We went to the 5.30 pm sitting and so the cost was 2 for the price of 1. We ate one night at the buffet - they put tablecloths and candles on the tables so it's a bit nicer. One tip - at night there is a crepe station and chocolate fountain - yum! Breakfasts and lunches - we ate all at the Garden Cafe Buffet and found this to be fine for us. Yes, it was often quite crowded but if you walk towards the back of the ship it was more peaceful and we always found a table for the 4 of us. When it is very busy they open up Papa's for extra seating. My favorite part of the buffet was the Indian food at lunch/dinner. Being of Indian origin, we do enjoy our curries and I have to say these were fantastic. Very authentic Indian food- rice, roti, very tasty vegetable curries, dahl, a meat or fish curry, raita and mango chutney. Apparently the chef is Indian. The soft serve ice cream machines are great too - try the chocolate ice cream with butterscotch topping and caramel buds - yum! Now to the issue of hand sanitizing. Every time you board the ship or enter a dining space you sanitize your hands which is fine. Now prior to Egypt we were able to help ourselves at the buffet, but after we left Egypt suddenly we found everything was served to us at the buffet, including plates, cutlery, drinks, food , tea and coffee. This is a lot of extra work for the staff , and I did ask one staff member who replied that they were merely taking precautions and being safe, but I suspect there must have been some cases of "mummy tummy" on board to account for the increased infection control measures.


For us a definite highlight was the comedy of the Second City Comedy Troupe in the Spinnaker Lounge on 5 nights of the cruise. They are absolutely hilarious (or maybe that's just our Aussie sense of humor) - improvised comedy. Other musical shows were good such as Shout and Smokey Joe's cafe, and we loved the British comedian Tony and the Russian juggling/ balancing show. We were not so impressed by the David Maclean music show. Internet The ship's internet is slow and expensive. Try to work out a couple of ports where you have some free time and locate some local internet cafes. For example for us, on Mykonos we used an internet cafe called Stairs ( just to the left of you past the beach as you walk from where the shuttle bus drops you). For a cost of a drink (3 euros for a coke), you can use their internet for 30 minutes. Just ask the locals- they'll point out nearest internet cafes. In Corfu, we used a cafe called Netoikos (?sp) between the Church of Agios Spyridon and the Liston just around the corner from the Alpha Bank. Cost was 1 Euro for 20 mins or 3 euros for an hour.

Ports of Call

This cruise has an amazing itinerary. Here is a brief overview of what we did. As previously stated I shall post a more detailed port of call review on the Mediterranean boards. Day 2 Istanbul- took a taxi to the Grand Bazaar for 10 Euros and really enjoyed wandering around. We did not find the vendors to be too pushy at all. There was a barbeque poolside for sailaway and then we met up with our wonderful cruise critic group which was great. Day 3 Izmir- private tour with Nejat Incedogan to Ephesus with a group from Cruise Critic. The ruins at Ephesus are quite amazing, especially the Terrace Houses. Day 4 Mykonos- took the ship's free shuttle to town and then just walked around enjoying the scenery, the windmills, and we saw Pelican Pete. We found a quiet spot just past the windmills to dip our feet into the Mediterranean. Day 5 Santorini- lucky to be able to hop on an early tender at 8.20 and we were able to go up the Cable car with no wait at all. Walked to the bus stop and took the local bus to Oia(1.20 Euros)at 9.15 - what a wonderful village-white cube houses with blue dome roofs and picture postcard views wherever you look. We took a cab back to Fira for 10 Euros as we had just missed the 11.35 bus and the next was not till 12.20. Around 1pm there was about a ½ hour wait in line for the cable car and we were back on board around 2 pm. Day 6 Iraklion- took the local bus to Knossos, had a look around then back again on the bus. Day 7 At sea. Nice to just relax. At 11 am we had our formal Cruise Critic meeting at Papa's. The ship's captain, hotel director, director of entertainment etc all came and spoke to us which was lovely and they were happy to answer any questions. Refreshments were provided. Day 8 and 9 Egypt -The highlight of this trip! Wonderful overnight tour with De Castro organized by a fellow Cruise Critic member (thanks Cindi!) for a group of 10. Our guide was Dahlia who was just fantastic. We visited the Egyptian Museum, the Pyramids and Sphinx ( and did not feel hassled by vendors at all!) At night we watched the Sound and Light show which I thought was just magical, especially when a shooting star shot across above the middle pyramid ! We stayed at Le Meridian Pyramids which was lovely, and after breakfast we drove back to Alexandria and toured the major sites there including the Catacombs, Pompey's pillar, the Palace, Fort Quaitbay etc before returning to port. Apart from Dahlia we were also accompanied by the driver, and an armed guard and we felt extremely safe at all times. In fact the guard was very helpful and looked after us very nicely. We had a wonderful 2 days with De Castro and especially Dahlia our guide. Day 10 Sea Day- another relaxing day. We made use of some of the ship's facilities such as the karaoke room and games room. Both are very good. The karaoke room cannot be booked ahead of time but if it is available when you want it you can have the room for an hour. Day 11 Corfu - we walked into town - about a ½ hour walk and found Liston Square and the Church of Agios Spyridon and used the Internet cafe near the Alpha Bank there before walking back to the ship. Day 12 Katakolon - we did our only NCL shore excursion here - Ancient Treasures to Olympia and the Museum. It was quite good, but I must say I much prefer the smaller private tours. Day 13 Athens- organized Paul from Athens Taxi to meet a group of 9 of us at the port at 9 am. Disembarkation was easy - we just walked off with our luggage. The elevators were busy that morning. Paul was on time (in fact he said he had arrived at 7.30 am ) and loaded us and our luggage into his lovely Mercedes van and off we went for a ½ day tour of Athens including the Acropolis, Parthenon, Temple of Zeus and Syntagma station ( the excavations there are really quite amazing - you can see all the different layers of the various civilizations represented there). We also saw the Changing of the Guards at Parliament house and went to Lycevitus Hill to enjoy the views from this highest point in Athens. Paul dropped us at the airport at 2 pm and we flew home, spending a night at Dubai on route.

In conclusion, we had a fantastic trip visiting some amazing places and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We were blessed with beautiful weather throughout. I would like to thank my cruise critic group for helping to make this a truly awesome trip and all the previous posters from whom I gained such a lot of useful information.

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Sail Date: September 2008
ARRIVAL - PRECRUISE INFO We are a 60ish couple from Texas. Having been to Istanbul a couple of times, we arrived two days early to look around on our own. We stayed at the Hotel Niles and used the hotel's taxi service which was ... Read More
ARRIVAL - PRECRUISE INFO We are a 60ish couple from Texas. Having been to Istanbul a couple of times, we arrived two days early to look around on our own. We stayed at the Hotel Niles and used the hotel's taxi service which was efficient and pleasant. The hotel is not fancy, but the price is good and everything was as advertised, and as reviewed on Tripadvisor. The rooftop restaurant was good (breakfast included) and we were able to take our own drinks up there in the evening. It was enjoyable to meet a number other travellers there. The hotel staff was particularly helpful.

The hotel is located very near the Grand Bazaar and within close walking distance of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It is also very close to the Tram. We spent time in the market, and since it was Ramadan, we spent both evenings we were there around the stalls set up for breaking the fast. We ate at the stalls.

EMBARKATION Embarkation would have been fine had our taxi driver taken us to the right port entrance... Since he didn't we got to haul our luggage (on wheels) about 3/4 mile to the Jade, then exit the port and get in line for the Jade. NCL embarkation was fine. We got there about noon and our aft minisuite was ready, so we dropped off our bags and ate lunch in the buffet.

The next day in Istanbul, we took the friends we were meeting for the cruise to the Taksim area and just looked around and shopped. The DH in our friend couple is disabled and in a motorized wheelchair, so we had to make sure that the places we went were relatively barrier free. In Taksim,it was no problem at all. Later in the trip the lack of curb cuts and the sudden appearance of stairs in a sidewalk did make things a little inconvenient.

IZMIR We booked a private tour (for two)of Ephesus with Ekol Travel and were very pleased with the whole thing. I have not found the name of our female guide, but will keep looking. She was an independent guide and excellent, able to converse about world affairs, the economy (had a finance degree) and, of course Ephesus. Because of our small group, we were able to breeze around the larger crowded tours. We were fortunate on this day and every other day to have beautiful weather.

MYKONOS The four of us took the shuttle to town and really just looked around. I did get some great pelican photos, and we had a beer and eventually grilled calamari at one of the seaside restaurants. We wandered through the alleys and also got some good photos there.

SANTORINI Took a later tender our disabled friend stayed on board. The place was mobbed. We spent an hour in the line for the cable car, then followed our friend as she seriously shopped for gold earrings. Had there been no other ships in port, I can imagine it would be fun, but it was pretty much of a hassle. We stopped in one of the cliffside restaurants for a drink, and got in the long line back to the cable car. As for NCL and the tendering, everything was very smooth.

IRAKLION, CRETE We took the buss to the passenger terminal and a cab into town. The walk streets near the plaza were interesting and we did some shopping. Prices seemed pretty reasonable. Had lunch in an outdoor restaurant near a fountain fried calamari and french fries, greek meatballs, tzaziki (all to share).

ALEXANDRIA/CAIRO We have been to Egypt a number of times and have good friends there. The people we were cruising with have never been to Egypt, so we arranged a tour (through our Egyptian friends) to the Pyramids and Sphinx, then to the Khan al Khalili. We stayed at the Cairo Marriott as we have before. The rooms have recently been remodeled and very nice.

The eight of us had dinner in the Egyptian Nights Restaurant which is outdoors and very nice. The food is very good as it was in the past.

The next day we went back to Alex and boarded the ship.

CORFU, GREECE Took a taxi into town and soaked up the local culture. A nice port with some interesting scenery, museums and churches.

KATAKALON, GREECE Walked into town which was very crowded. We split up with our friends since it was impossible to keep a group of four together in the crowds. Did manage to find a cheap internet bar by the water.

ATHENS Self disembarkment was easy and we met up with our Cruise Critic tour group for great short, but comprehensive, tour through Athens. Guide Paul was good and interesting a Greek from Brooklyn. He dropped us off at the Athens Airport.

We did not take any NCL tours.

POST CRUISE BA to London Heathrow, overnight at the Holiday Inn, Bath Road - West Drayton. Perfectly serviceable. We paid with points since the lowest priced room was 239 pounds plus 17.5 service!! On to DFW on AA51 the next morning. Had an uneventful (that's good!) trip home.

PUBLIC ROOMS We thought the public rooms were fine and the ship overall was lovely. There were always many people in the reception area, but other than that, we really weren't on the ship during the day that much except in port. That aft cabin balcony will keep you happy when you are on the ship.

SERVICE Service in all the dining rooms and bars was excellent. Our room staff was attentive and we constantly had our ice bucket full. Our room was made up early and quickly, and our bed was turned down every night (I saw another reviewer had a problem with this).

VALUE FOR THE MONEY We did feel that charging for almost every restaurant, the price of drinks, the corkage, etc. was a bit much after already having paid for the cruise. We did bring on wine from one port and vodka another time with no problem. FYI, the house white wine is good. It can be bought by the glass or the bottle and is about $27/bottle plus gratuity.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE We had a great time and had chosen the cruise for its itinerary. Our cruising companions are Greek and they had just celebrated their anniversary, so the cruise served our purpose very well. We had a great time.

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Sail Date: September 2008
Embarkation..slow and long time standing in line in the rain On ship.. first impression was very gaudy and wild..colors were for a Disney cruise

Cabin these terrible colors were repeated and there wasn't enough room between the ... Read More
Embarkation..slow and long time standing in line in the rain On ship.. first impression was very gaudy and wild..colors were for a Disney cruise

Cabin these terrible colors were repeated and there wasn't enough room between the bottom of bed and the wall to roll the suitcases ..we had a mini suite Sometimes the bed was made and sometimes not.. sometimes chocolate and most times not... the dust was unbelievable!!!Each steward has 28 staterooms what can we expect???

Food The garden cafe doesn't even qualify for a school cafeteria,no trays,no place to sit.. you walk around with your plate until you find a seat put it on the table at your own risk and stand in line for coffee or juice the coffee is TERRIBLE and we asked one of the waiters if there was any better coffee and he said sure at the Aloha where it is 4.95 a cup since we drink three a day each that is 24.00 per day over 360.dollars for the trip..this is highway robbery. We drank tea for twelve days I do not understand,they still pay for coffee why can't they buy decent blends?There was always a good variety of food and fruit and veggies there if you stood in line long enough. Blue Lagoon.. we ate there twice... same as the garden only with service ..if you can find a seat Dining rooms if you can find a seat.. we were always with beepers the food is sooo basic that it is funny..the descriptions of the food had nothing to do with the final meal Factouche tiny bits of tomato and onions no sauce no parsley no sumac,we took a picture of the Greek salad and we are still laughing,,,basmati rice is Chinese rice etc it is actually pathetic..

The Bistro ,however was superb and Cagney's wasn't great.. but decent Our friends got sick at the Japanese and one of the waiters asked a guest if she knew how to make guacamole at the Mexican...what a mess!

Entertainment...third rate there were two musicians Tom and John and during one stupid act they threw balls and asked whoever caught the ball questions.. to the men..how many kids names of kids and to the ladies what color is your underwear I was so embarrassed.. a 58 year old woman being asked such a question in front of a full theatre I didn't answer and he said 'I guess you aren't wearing any"..so many people came up to me in the following days and mentioned the incident that I made a complaint and the response was..they are really nice guys and they didn't mean anything bad..go figure..

Staff..VERY inexperienced and the dining rooms are chaos,the last morning they refused to serve poached eggs and the waiter took over an hour to bring the food.. then we couldn't find him ..the good mornings were gone on the last day..very sad

Overall, for three hundred dollars each daily,it was disgusting and Norwegian Free Style will not be part of our future voyages..and after talking to many people on board,the basic feeling was the same...

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Sail Date: May 2008
Having been on another Norwegian ship for 2007 New Year's eve cruise with friends, we decided to go on the Jade with our granddaughters. Although the places where the ship stopped were wonderful ... Istanbul,Izmir, Dubrovnik, Venice, ... Read More
Having been on another Norwegian ship for 2007 New Year's eve cruise with friends, we decided to go on the Jade with our granddaughters. Although the places where the ship stopped were wonderful ... Istanbul,Izmir, Dubrovnik, Venice, Athens, Rome, Barcelona, the tours for those cities were not as carefully chosen. We had a problem with the "show" outing in Istanbul, the people there wanted us to sit behind a big pillar, where we would not have been able to see the show. They more or less told us we could sit there or leave. We left accompanied by our granddaughters and a couple of friends who were having the same problem. Half the room was empty but the people there told us they were held for "possible guests who would be coming" and not for cruise ship guests. We left and immediately infomed the ship's tour desk, and wrote a letter to Norwegian, and to date we have not heard a word from them as they take the attitude once off the ship, they are not responsible. In general the tours were outrageously expensive, probably because the euro was high against the dollar. The food in the main restaurants was good, though not exceptional, probably to push people to go to their other restaurants at a cost of $15,$20 or more. The shows on board were not great either. We liked our New Year's eve cruise, but this one is at best barely acceptable. We will await this New Year in Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas.

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Sail Date: May 2008
Our parents have taken numerous cruises in the past and have raved about the sites they got to see and the experience of travelling to several different countries during one trip. It began as a bit of a joke, teasing our parents about ... Read More
Our parents have taken numerous cruises in the past and have raved about the sites they got to see and the experience of travelling to several different countries during one trip. It began as a bit of a joke, teasing our parents about taking a big trip before their daughters got too old, but it worked!

Our parents have loved taking NCL cruises in the past because they don't like to be tied to a dining schedule. In their experience, the "freestyle" way of cruising worked best. We decided to take the 12-day Mediterranean cruise travelling from Istanbul, Turkey and ended in Barcelona, Spain. The big attractions to making that decision resided with Greece and Croatia. The rest of it, truthfully, was going to just be new places none of us had seen.

We arrived in Istanbul after a VERY cramped and uncomfortable flight aboard American Airlines and stayed for one evening in a little hotel in the old part of Istanbul. Surprisingly, Istanbul quickly became one of our favorite places! The people were extremely friendly, everything was affordable thanks to Turkey retaining their own currency, the city was very clean, and the food was wonderful. The only downside? The extremely sudden calls to prayer throughout the day. Make sure your hotel isn't located next to a minaret that carries the calls to prayer over the loud speakers attached. It can be quite startling to wake up to early in the morning!

After touring the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar on our own, we caught a taxi from our hotel to the port for boarding of the Norwegian Jade. It was a little confusing trying to determine where you placed your bags for transportation onto the Jade due to a lack of signs posted. However, upon inquiring with the staff, they were extremely helpful and assisted our family in getting the bags to the correct doorway.

Queuing up to get onto the ship was long, however, it wasn't NCL's part that caused the delay. In the port of call entrance, there was only one security station through which everybody had to pass with their overnight bag. How quickly some people forget that you can't wear belts, some jewelry, or your sunglasses through a security gate!!! After going through security, we were amazed at how well-prepared the NCL staff were. There must have been 15 stations of "operators" checking everyone onto the Jade.

Once onboard, we found our room and were quickly impressed with the size of our cabins. Since we knew we would be spending most of our time outside of our cabins, we decided not to pay extra for balconies or suites. We decided on a cabin on Deck 5, in the middle of the boat and were very happy with our decision! The cabins were extremely clean, the beds were incredibly comfortable and we were all surprised at how roomy the bathrooms were. I had heard nightmare stories from friends who had travelled on other cruise lines about the miniscule amount of space given for the shower, so I was prepared. However, even though I am six-feet tall, I even had plenty of room to shave my legs in the shower!

Instead of eating in the buffet dining area with most of the people on the cruise ship, my family decided to eat in the formal dining room for every meal we could. First, it was a very nice place to sit and relax. The staff were, for the most part, extremely nice and pleasant to deal with. There was an incident we had with a woman that did not speak very good english and it was creating some communication problems. However, upon advising the gentleman that was in charge of the room, he changed servers for us and all was wonderful from then on. Another wonderful perk to the "formal" dining room is that they do not allow jeans after 5:00 p.m. How wonderful to actually be around people that were dressed nicely!

We did try the steak restaurant, Casey's, as well as Teppanyaki. Although both of those were an extra cost, it didn't deter our decision. With everything else on the boat we had access to at no additional charge, it wasn't that big of a deal to pay for something different. The service in the steak restaurant definitely left something to be desired. Not sure if the gentleman was just having a bad evening or not, but he wasn't too attentive to us, and his tip (or lack thereof), reflected that. The chef in the Teppanyaki restaurant was entertaining, as was expected, and the food was wonderful... definitely try the shrimp!

Everyday there were at least 30 different activities from which to choose: everything from bridge tournaments in the card room, Wii bowling tournaments in the Medusa Lounge, shopping specials in the gallery, to art auctions. Most of our free time, however, was spent reading on the pool deck, eating or sleeping. Our family decided to take advantage of our time off the ship in each port of call with excursions chosen for all but one of our destinations.

Overall, our excursions were wonderful. The main critique about the excursions actually stemmed from the NCL staff. Whomever was in charge of the excursions did not time anything right at all. For each of our excursions, our ticket told us what time we were to meet and where. For every excursion we had, the tickets told us to meet in the Stardust Theater. We would arrive in the theater and find it almost full everyday. No problem with that, but the problem came in when you looked at everyone's meeting times: 7:45 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 8:15 a.m.,etc... Not only could they not get everyone to leave the theater for any of the excursions on time, but then you had to listen to the young lady in the front of the theater repeating instructions over and over and over again. It got very annoying by the time we departed for our third excursion.

In Venice, we had to take water taxis to get from the Jade to shore. Rather than figuring out how many people each of the taxis could hold, how long it took a taxi to do a full round trip, and how many passengers wanted to take an excursion, it was just a hodgepodge of making us gather, stand and wait. That part of the service definitely needs some work!

Overall, however, our experience on the NCL Norwegian Jade was very positive. We have even chosen our next cruise itinerary and will be taking it with NCL again....

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Sail Date: April 2008
Itinerary: A cruise is probably one of the best ways to visit mediterranean countries, specially the countries on the eastern side. In the span of a few days you can visit many places with very different cultures and catch a glimpse of ... Read More
Itinerary: A cruise is probably one of the best ways to visit mediterranean countries, specially the countries on the eastern side. In the span of a few days you can visit many places with very different cultures and catch a glimpse of many ancient civilizations. Time travel on a cruise ship. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary, which took us to Turkey, the Greek isles, Egypt and the Greek mainland. It was a fascinating experience.

Getting there: We booked our own flights to Istanbul and arrived the day before embarkation. This would give us time to go on a tour to the Spice Market followed by a cruise on the Bosphorus. We stayed at Hotel Poem in the Sultanahmet area, within easy walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The staff was very helpful: they booked the tour for us, directed us to a nice "local" restaurant -as opposed to a tourist trap- where the clientele was indeed mostly turkish and the food simple but very tasty. They also arranged our transfer to the ship.

Embarkation: We were expecting line-ups to board the ship in Istanbul. There were none. Check-in was very efficient and we were on board about ten minutes after arriving at the terminal.

Staterooms: Four members of our group had balcony staterooms while the other four had ocean-view staterooms with a large porthole. The staterooms were nice and well-appointed. The ocean-view staterooms gave the impression of being slightly larger than the balcony staterooms. Compared to the balcony staterooms they had a small desk and additional drawers.

Food: We tried the Alizar dining room as well as the Grand Pacific dining room for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We also tried some of the specialty restaurants: Paniolo Tapas and Salsa (tex-mex, free), Cagney's (steak house, cover charge) and Le Bistro (french, cover charge). Our group's unanimous favorite was the Grand Pacific dining room. The menu was varied and the food excellent. One of the waiters told us that the entrEes are not prepared ahead of time and are always cooked to order. Grand Pacific was also our favorite in terms of decor. The service was always impeccable. NCL's Freestyle dining means that you can go to the dining room for dinner at any time between 5:30 and 10:00. You are not bound to a preset time. This is very convenient as it allows you to adjust dinner time based on your schedule for the day. Reservations are recommended -but not necessary- for larger parties. On two occasions we went without reservations and there was no undue delay. We also tried the Garden Cafe (buffet) and found that it had a fairly wide selection. In fact, it is a good idea to check all the stations before you make your choice.

Shore excursions: We booked shore excursions through NCL in every port. It kept things simple and we were sure to see the main historical sites. The shore excursion staff did a commendable job of getting everyone off the ship and on to their buses reasonably quickly. No small feat when you consider the number of passengers involved. The shore excursions were well run, with very competent guides. The only glitch occurred during our excursion in Santorini and NCL resolved the matter to our satisfaction. The souvenir vendors were omnipresent in Istanbul but a simple "No, thank you" with a smile was enough to ward them off. Not so in Egypt at the pyramids. The vendors there were very aggressive and persistent, to say the least. You have to say a curt "No" and keep walking. They will offer to take your picture in front of a camel, to let you go close and touch the pyramid. In the end they will always ask for money. Visiting the pyramids and the Sphinx was one of the highlights of this trip. The vendors managed to make it less than entirely pleasant.

Disembarkation: The disembarkation process was quite painless. We had booked a transfer to downtown Athens through NCL and again the process of getting off the ship and on to the buses was smooth and efficient.

The ship: Everyone in our group liked the Jade. Before being reflagged and moved to Europe it used to be known as the "Pride of Hawaii" and was sailing in Hawaii. That explains the hawaiian theme of the ship's decor. Apparently NCL will change this over time, but this is not a big issue. The only exception may be the fake "palm trees" around the pool area, which I found very ugly. I hope this is the first thing they remodel.

Post-cruise: Since our flights only left the next day we stayed at Hotel Exarchion, within walking distance of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and only a mile from the Acropolis. Here also the staff was very helpful and directed us to an excellent local restaurant and helped us with directions to the places we wanted to see.

Everyone in our group enjoyed this cruise tremendously. It was the first cruise for most members of the group. I think they are now "hooked". We enjoyed NCL's Freestyle and our next cruise will likely be again with NCL.

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Sail Date: April 2008
I'll begin my review with our perspective on cruising/ vacationing. I think that one can find fault in anything, and we fully expect to have disappointments" during vacation. We had some on this trip, but in no way did it detract from the ... Read More
I'll begin my review with our perspective on cruising/ vacationing. I think that one can find fault in anything, and we fully expect to have disappointments" during vacation. We had some on this trip, but in no way did it detract from the enjoyment of our vacation. We take things in stride, and if something frustrates us, we remember that we are on vacation, and not working, so things are good! We had a wonderful vacation. This is our third experience with NCL, and they are not our favorite cruise line, but they have made some improvements. We had good, and not so good experiences, and I'll list them below. Again, don't let my comments deter you from expecting only the best vacation. Vacations are what you make them.

We arrived in Istanbul at 4:30 pm, and had traveled since the previous morning, so we weren't planning much for our first day. We dropped our things at the hotel, and went to Cerberlitas Hamam for a Turkish bath. That was an experience we were glad we didn't miss. It was wonderful! We were a little hesitant because we had heard some stories that made the whole experience sound a little scary. We were certainly glad that we knew what to expect, and thoroughly enjoyed our "bath"!

We spent one night at Hotel Nena (in the Sulten.... area). It was a nice location (about 25 minutes from the airport), and near many of the sites. Nice lobby and common areas, and breakfast included. Rooms are a typical small European room, but clean and adequate (that is what we wanted). Would definitely recommend the hotel. It would probably be very easy to do Istanbul on your own, but we decided to use Ekol Travel because they could show us the sites, give us the history, and drop us off at the cruise ship at the end of the day for a reasonable price.

Our first day tour in Istanbul was with Ekol travel, and they did a wonderful job. We saw the usual sites - Topkapi Palace, The Blue Mosque, the Hippodome, spice market, and the grand bazaar. Our guide also took us for a "demonstration" at the carpet store. We agreed, but said very clearly up front that we had no interest in purchasing a carpet, and didn't want to waste their time for a demo, and he said it was no big deal - there's no pressure to buy. The demonstration was simply pulling out about 20 different carpets - I thought it was going to be demo of how they make them. We felt very awkward since it was just the two of us - knowing that they were wasting their time, and going to have to roll up all these carpets and put them away without a sale. I would definitely not do that again. Loved the rest of the day - Istanbul is a wonderful place to visit. Our guide was courteous and knowledgeable, and spoke perfect English.

Embarkation could not have been easier since we arrived late. We had called and emailed to let NCL know that we would be arriving a couple of hours past embarkation time. We walked right on, and carried our luggage with us - which was great because you don't have that fear of whether the luggage will show up and when. The ship is nice, but all still Hawaii motif, and they've decided to keep it.

Our second day tour in Istanbul was also with Ekol travel (same tour guide and driver). Went to St. Sophia, the Cistern, and then spent a couple of hours seeing the rest of the city. We definitely had a very nice experience, and would not have wanted to maneuver those streets - crazy drivers! And our driver was one of them - each time we got back in the car, it smelled of pot (I guess he was passing the time), but he still did a great job driving!

We also used Ekol travel for our tour in Ephesus -this time our guide was Oktay, and he was an excellent tour guide. We saw the House of the Virgin Mary, and stayed for a Mass service - that was really nice! We also saw St. John Basilica, and the Terrace Houses. I would highly recommend Ekol travel for tours in Turkey - they are very responsive, professional, courteous, and hire only the best guides.

In Mykonos, we did the ship tour to Delos since it was Monday, and Delos was closed to everyone else. It was a good tour. The guide was pleasant and knowledgeable, and the tour groups were spaced in a way that only about 20 people were in any one area. We walked around town a little, and headed back to the ship. We enjoyed Delos, but I didn't know what else to do in Mykonos. We talked to a couple of people that rented scooters, and went to paradise beach, and said they really enjoyed it.

Santorini was a tender port, and there was about an hour delay in letting us off the ship due to some winds, and then NCL tours got to go first. I opted for the cable car, and my husband walked, and he beat me to the top by about 10 minutes. We went directly to the bus station to go to Oia, but just missed the 11:15 bus, so we chose to take a taxi instead of waiting another 1 1/2 hours for the next bus. Oia was beautiful! We spent a couple of hours walking around Oia, and then caught the 1:05 bus back to Fira/ Thira. We had lunch at Fira and did a little shopping. Santorini is very beautiful.

Iraklion was our least favorite port. I guess we've seen lots of amazing ruins, so the Palace of Knosses were just "more ruins", but not really because they were all recreated to look like what they probably looked like at the time. NCL provided a free shuttle that goes from the ship to the terminal. From the terminal, we walked through the gates, and took a right turn on the main road (highway), and went 1/3-1/2 mile to the bus station. It was on the left side of the road. We took the #2 bus there and back.

We welcomed our first sea day - a chance to sleep in just a little, rest the feet a bit, and get in a little pool (poolside) time.

Egypt - We used Decastro for our overnight tour in Cairo, and they were wonderful. We had a group of 12, which was a nice size (I can't imagine a ship bus of 40-50 people!). In addition to our tour guide, we had a driver, and a government assigned security guard. There was no danger whatsoever, but it was nice to have the security of the guard (the Egyptians say the guards are there to make more money for the government). Egypt was everything we hoped it would be! Our first day we had a 3 hour ride into Cairo, and our guide talked the whole way about the history of Egypt - it was very nice - we went first to the Egyptian Museum, and then had lunch on the Nile River. After lunch went stopped for a papyrus demonstration, and then spent a couple of hours at the pyramids (rode a camel), and sphinx, and went to a perfume factory. We saw the sound and light show, which was kind of nice, had dinner, and stayed at the Meridian Hotel with a view of the pyramids from our balcony - it was very cool! (they have wi-fi, but like everything else in Egypt, it's not free!) Decastro did a wonderful job with the arrangements. I know everyone is hesitant to wire the deposit, and I was too, but they are reputable, and it's their security that people don't cancel at the last minute. On our second day, we had a very nice breakfast at the Meridian, and then went to the step pyramid, and the Citadel, and Mosque of Mohammed Ali. My only disappointments in Egypt was that we didn't get to do any shopping at places where we could get bargains. I have a friend from Egypt, and she had told me what great deals you can get on jewelry and things. But like every other tour, the guide seems to take you to the places where they get "kickbacks". We heard this same thing from absolutely everyone we talked to. It's frustrating, but I suppose that's how they make a living. And unfortunately, the locals just drive you absolutely crazy - following you everywhere, and asking you over and over and over to buy something. And then they will say it's free, but if you take what they gave you, they ask for money. It was a 3 hour drive back, but we enjoyed the ride - looking at the scenery. Egypt was definitely one of the most exciting places we've ever been - we loved it!

Our second sea day was another lazy day recuperating from our 2 exciting days in Egypt. The weather has been just perfect! And this day was probably mid 70s with a very slight breeze, so we spent some time at the pool.

In Corfu we rented a car, and saw the island on our own. We used Nova car rental (40 euros for an economy car), and were very pleased. We were at the gate about 10 minutes early, and the representative was there to meet us, and walked us to our car which was just outside the door. He gave us directions, and we paid for the car before we left, so there was no check out when we returned - we just left the car. We saw the usual tourist sites - we went first to Paleokastritsa bay, and saw the views, the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, and the St. Spyridon Church. Then we drove to Golden Fox restaurant in Lacones - amazing views! Then we went to Kassiopi, and down the coast through the town of Corfu, and ended at the Archilles Palace. The gardens at Archilles Palace were the most beautiful we've ever seen - definitely worth the stop.

Also rented a car in Katakalon, but would have done the train had we known that we an option. Rented the car from Diplas which is immediately outside the gates of the port, and they gave us priority since we had a reservation (40 euros for an economy car). Had no problems navigating because Olympia is the only place to see, and we just followed all the buses and taxis. It was nice to see the place of the first olympics, and it was a short day - we were back on the ship at 12:30.

We had a great tour in Athens with Paul, and saw all the usual sites. He picked us up at the ship, and dropped us at our hotel at the end of the day. Certainly recommend Paul for a tour of Athens! We stayed at the Amazon hotel - which was "okay" at best. The beds were horrible, but it was a nice central location.

Dining: Our first dinner was at Teppanyaki, and was excellent, but I guess I'm cheap - I don't like paying for my meals on a cruise. I know - that was my choice, so I shouldn't complain. And NCL is also now charging for Papa's. So the only "unique" restaurant remaining without a fee is the Mexican restaurant. And we found that there are also entrees on the menu that carry an extra surcharge. We went to Papa's a couple of times, and it was half price since we went before 7:00 (they run these specials in some of the restaurants), but we walked away saying it wasn't worth the half price. Papas was one of our favorites on our previous 2 cruises, but they've changed the menu a bit, and took away our favorite dessert. The main dining room had a decent variety, and the food was average to above average. Very much unlike any other cruise we've been on, we ate most often at the buffet. The buffet at the Garden Cafe was good, and had lots to choose from.

Entertainment: We usually enjoy the entertainment - we love the comedians, magicians, and the occasional broadway show, but not so much on this cruise. We saw Stephen Garcia (magician/ comedian), and it was painful. We felt sorry for the guy, and felt obligated to stay and applaud. We went to an interactive movie that was kind of fun. We heard an opera singer that was really good. And then there was another really painful show - a husband and wife duo. The wife did acrobats, and the husband was a comedian. Definitely not a duo that worked well together, and the comedy would have been appropriate for a child. They had Second City Comedy which was good, but a different style of comedy that not everyone will like.

Service: Our room steward was definitely "stealth-like" - not that that is necessarily bad, but an introduction would have been nice, and if we wanted anything, we'd have to track down someone. Our room steward improved after a few days. One of the downsides with freestyle dining is that you don't get to know the waiters - which is okay, but the dinner service we experienced was average, at best.

Visas, money & phone: When you arrive in Istanbul, you need to get in the line to get your Visa as soon as you get off the plane. The line is long, but goes fast. They ask no questions, and usually don't even speak to you. They just want $20 for a visa. Next you move to the customs line, show them your passport with the visa stamp, and then go for your luggage. Outside of the baggage area you will find a HSBC ATM that gives euros. We took 2 different credit cards, and one worked most of the time, and the other one only worked a couple of times. We had called our bank ahead of time (Citibank) to give them our schedule of travel, and they still put a freeze on my card. So be sure to have a number to call your bank. When we called, they said a lot of times, the freeze just goes on automatically, and they have to take it off. We did run into limits - the ATM would only give 300 euros per day. We purchased an international phone from mobalphone.com, and it worked great. Once I learned that I did not have to put every country code in to dial, it was easy. You simply dial + and then the full number you want to call. The plus is the zero key - just hold it until a + shows up, and that automatically adds the country code. Reception was good, and the signal was always strong - except on the boat, and then there was no signal at all. You have to surrender your passport to the NCL (which made me uncomfortable - especially when renting a car). For the Greece stops, you get a piece of paper when you leave the ship that says you are in port legally for the day. They did give the passport back to you for Egypt, and NCL had already stamped the passport with the Visa stamp for Egypt, so we did not have to get a visa in Egypt. I had called NCL ahead of time to ask about this, and they told me that they only provide a visa for passengers that do a NCL tour, but that was NOT the case - they stamped them all.

Good: cabin is well organized and adequate Bedding is nice Breakfast buffet - they have 4 stations with the same stuff so the lines are not too bad Drink flags on the lounge chairs No cheesy pool games Plenty of staff in the buffet area to help carry food and drinks to the table (since all cruise lines have eliminated trays for fear that we'll eat more!) Sun deck on the 13th floor - nice and quiet

Not so good: They did not offer a church service Service was very often only "average" Entertainment - several shows were not good. They had the production of Tony & Tina's Wedding which would have been fun to see (although I heard they charged for it!), but they had it on the night we stayed in Cairo. All the surcharges - 6 dining rooms, some entrees, exercise programs, sauna, fresh squeezed juice, some lectures, etc The television in our room had bad sound and reception (they "fixed" it, but nothing changed) We had a high-pitched whistle in our room that was just mind-bending! Warm milk - never found cold milk on the ship NCL needs to go electronic - so you can order shore excursions and see your bill from your room Slow internet service at 75 cents per minute

Overall: Had a great vacation. The itinerary was perfect, and so was the weather. NCL was "okay" - don't like all the extra expenses when you're on the ship (maybe this is where the industry is moving, but we didn't like it).

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Sail Date: April 2008
This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly.

Dinning ... Read More

This was our 6th cruise, and the first one with NCL. I was not sure if we would like the freestyle dinning. We have always enjoyed formal nights and our seat mates on other cruises. We did for the most part enjoy it greatly.

Dinning rooms. Our favorite was the Grand Pacific. The food and service where usually very good. The Bistro was very good. We ate at Papa's Italian Kitchen one night. Would NOT recommend that. The lobster ravioli, could have came out of a can, rubber and tasteless.

State room. We had a mini suite on the 11th floor. Loved it! Didn't want to leave it! We slept with the door open every night. It was great to hear the waves. We felt very little motion, even though we where near the front of the ship. Our state room attendant was the worst we have had on a cruise (only because we have had such great service in the past) The first day the room wasn't clean until dinner time. We had to repeatedly ask for coffee, lotion, etc. He seemed to have to many rooms to clean. It did seem to get better later in the trip though, and I expect it will continue to improve.

Shows. We though most of them where pretty good.

Ports. IZIMIR - we had a private tour in a mini bus, with 4 other couples. One of the other couples booked it over the internet. Private tours are absolutely the way to go. MYKONONS - We rented a 4wheeler for 15 euro for the day (near the bus stop) and off we went! It was great. No traffic to speak of, and easy to get around. SANTORINI - beware of the donkeys! They are very stubborn and difficult to get moving. However 2/3rds of the way up my husband's donkey turned around and started racing down the hill. The saddle came off and he was thrown from it. Luckily he was only bruised, and not thrown over the cliff. EGYPT - Again we had a private tour with 3 other couples. We used Nile Blue, and where very satisfied with them. We spent the first long day in Cario, went back to the ship overnight, and the second day in Alexandria. I was glad we did that, as we really enjoyed the scenery and thought the catacombs where really interesting. KATAKOLON - we took the train into Olympia. It cost 3euro round trip and was a very short walk to and from the tiny little train station. Would highly recommend the train.

We spent 3 days in Istanbul. We stayed near the Blue Mosque, and walked to everything. really enjoyed it. We also spent 3 days in Athens, and really enjoyed that. We stayed at the Amazon hotel. Great location, very basic room.

I would definitely go on an NCL cruise in the future.

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