We wanted to go big this year for my wife's 30th birthday which falls right after the year end holidays, so this itinerary was a great fit. Being a multi-holiday cruise, I get why the fare was jacked up so much to an extent, but the ... Read More
We wanted to go big this year for my wife's 30th birthday which falls right after the year end holidays, so this itinerary was a great fit. Being a multi-holiday cruise, I get why the fare was jacked up so much to an extent, but the price did not match the quality we received in my opinion, even for an inside room. I feel bad for the people who paid for Haven rooms on this cruise. We were pushed to download the NCL app before embarkation to help with restaurant reservations and excursions. The app basically did not work the entire trip, and I don't recommend you waste your time with it because it provides either incorrect or no information at all. I wish they would incorporate the freestyle daily into this app and stop wasting SO MUCH PAPER. We must have thrown away a full ream of paper by the time the cruise was over.
I want to start off by saying that the crew really helped save this cruise for us. Of the five NCL cruises we have been on so far, this one had the best crew hands down and we really hope to see some of them again on a future endeavor. Rakesh (Sugarcane), Jennifer (Moderno), Vincent (Cagney's), Christina (Cagney's), Robert (Sugarcane, Topsiders, Amazing), Elinda (Moderno, Garden Cafe), Ida (Sugarcane, Topsiders) all made our trip memorable. I love when the crew has fun with guests and each other and this combination of people up at Sugarcane (where we spent a large amount of our time) really made for some great laughs. Again, these members of the crew saved this review from being a 2/5 or lower.
The Sugarcane gets its own paragraph. This is the best part of the refurbishment on all the older ships and is a hidden gem which not many people seemed to know about on this ship. Located previously where the Star Bar was on Deck 13, this is where all the best drinks are poured. The nightly bartender, Rakesh, was super personable and a blast to talk to each night. The mojitos were excellent and we definitely got our money's worth on the ultimate beverage package. Around 5 PM every night, we would find ourselves at the empty bar and the ten or so chairs would never be filled. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
This was our first trip on the Jade, however we had been on the Gem in the past (pre-refurb) which is basically the same ship. For a ship that was refurbished in 2017, it was a bit disappointing. Our cruise director was Vincent Teschel, who was personable but seemed a bit standoffish. Our assistance cruise director was, now that I think of it, I have no idea. On previous cruises we'd get to know our assistant director because they are always jamming bingo sessions down your throat, but not this one (bittersweet, I guess?). I honestly don't recall seeing our assistant director at all during the 11 day journey, and only remember hearing her over the PA on embarkation day stating that our rooms were not ready. The ship has been retrofitted with all the core offerings that the larger breakaway and higher class ships have (Cagney's, Sugarcane, etc) and it shows that these places were jammed in where they don't really belong. Sugarcane and Moderno on deck 13 share a space which is too big for a bar and too small for a restaurant. Moderno has roughly 40 tables and the other half of the room was empty seating areas meant for the bar, which rarely had people sitting there. Cagney's across the hall awkwardly has surrounding windows which everyone on the jogging track can just look into. I felt like an aquarium animal sitting there.
Entertainment was mediocre. During days at sea, there was really nothing interesting to do but eat and drink. The three shows we saw, Elements, Blazing Boots, and Palace of Lights were good. Other than the night entertainment, the standard bingo and other lame activities were offered.
We stayed in an inside room and it was fine. The updated furnishings were a nice touch and the LCD TV was new and nicely mounted out of the way. Really your standard inside room, nothing noteworthy to mention here except the two twin beds pushed together were extremely uncomfortable. Additionally, we opted for the 11th deck aft which was a mistake. Directly above our room was the Great Outdoors bar area and starting at 6 AM every morning, we were awoken by the sound of chairs being dragged back and forth on the deck. Also being aft with the butt of the ship didn't help with the rough seas during the first half of the itinerary. This was definitely the roughest cruise we've been on to date. The room was often warm and we kept the AC on the lowest setting at all times but still woke up sweating some nights. The sway during the first couple days was very jarring and multiple times while we were out at Sugarcane, bottles and glasses were falling off the shelves and counters. Even the crew was not prepared for the amount of rocking the ship was doing.
We opted for the spa pass for the entire duration of the cruise and paid for it before embarkation to save a few bucks as opposed to buying on-board which was a mistake. If I had toured the facility before purchasing the pass, I wouldn't have gone for it. I hadn't really researched the spa post-refurbishment and assumed it was more like the spa areas on the breakaway class ships with big, open unisex areas as opposed to separate male/female locker rooms. Once you enter the spa doors, you need to navigate a maze of rooms to get to the locker room or unisex area, which is anything but relaxing. The unisex area had a measly eight radiant heat chairs, which were always occupied and one of them didn't even work. We often found people reserving the chairs while they were in the therapy pool or just off in their locker room and the crew were not enforcing the rule that this is not permitted. The water dispensers were often empty or filled with warm cucumber water, which was gross. Generally, I'm disappointed that the refurbishment didn't prioritize making the unisex area bigger like the Breakaway class ships. I personally feel that in 2019, having large sex segregated areas are unnecessary. My wife and I spent most of the time in the spa separated because there is no shared sauna or steam rooms. I also don't understand why there needs to be 50 massage rooms, more of this space should be dedicated to the thermal suites as I doubt there is that much demand for that many individual rooms. I do not recommend the spa.
The fitness center across from the spa was good and barely had anyone in it. There are a large number of treadmills, stationary bikes, stairmasters and weight machines. We inquired about using the spin bikes during non-class times and were told we were not allowed to use them. Why? If we wanted to participate in a spin class, it was going to cost us extra. Again, why?
Food is always an important factor to us when cruising, and we were again disappointed with the specialty dining offered on this cruise. Previously we have sailed on both the Dawn and Breakaway/Escape which offered many more options and the food overall was higher quality than what we received on the Jade. Getting dining reservations past the first day was near impossible. This cruise had ~2600 guests and reservations filled after the second day (I was told), however if you went to any of the specialty restaurants (besides Teppanyaki) there were tons of open tables throughout the night, yet the restaurant reservation board was red every single day. The food was mediocre at best and I'm glad we opted for the 5 meal dining plan as paying a la carte wouldn't have been worth the asking price. Specifically, Cagney's was a major letdown compared to what we've experienced on other ships. The steaks and sides were just okay, nothing compared to what we experienced on the Dawn, which were some of the best steaks I've had to date on land or at sea. Honestly the best dining was at Alazar, which we visited probably five or six times throughout the trip. I feel like the post refurbishment Garden Cafe was way smaller than I remember on previous jewel class ships. The food selection and quality was meh with too much emphasis on Indian cuisine (probably due to the executive chef residing from India).
I'm someone who couldn't care less about the ports and docking for the most part, but my wife is all about the destinations, and the ports we hit (and couldn't hit) were underwhelming.
Cartagena, Colombia - This was the best port by far, with a lot of rich history and great excursions. This is one of the few ports where it doesn't feel like you're just being dropped at an Americanized shopping haven. We took the hop on/off bus tour which I felt was worth the money and provided a nice overview of what the city had to offer. The old town area was very interesting with many places to shop and experience the culture (COFFEE).
Colon, Panema - Why bother with this port? There is a Subway sandwich shop and a grocery store, that's it. We got off the boat to take a picture in front of the Colon sign, walked through the grocery store out of pure curiosity, and got back on the boat. A major waste of time.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica - We were unable to dock here due to rough seas. *shrug*.
Harvest Caye - A very nice island that is privately owned by NCL, however your beverage package DOES NOT apply here. Why? If you want to do anything besides sit on the beach in a normal chair (covered cabana chairs extra, of course), you're going to be nickeled and dimed for it.
Roatan Bay, Honduras - Another very touristy location which we had to tender in order to get to the island. Standard shopping and bars, really nothing special to see here.
Coasta Maya, Mexico - Very touristy location, standard bars, shopping and excursions.
In conclusion, NCL let us down this time around. It has become very clear to me that NCL is cutting corners and nickle/diming on the older ships to help pay for these new mega ships they are pumping out. Everything has some kind of charge associated with it, and they push you so hard to put down more deposits with CruiseNext. We visited the desk to inquire about a sailing on the Joy, and the amount of hidden fees and gratuities was just asinine. Scaling back the Latitude Rewards program and making it harder to obtain points is also disheartening. Since returning to shore I've explored booking another cruise and again stop the process due to the amount of hidden service and gratuity fees and misleading cabin prices. NCL needs to overhaul their booking process, website (which is TERRIBLE) and pricing model to be more consumer friendly. Read Less