Length: 965 ft
One of the better previous generation of Norwegian ships, good for seven day cruises, bargain hunters
Best For People Who Want
To cruise European itineraries with dining flexibility, and an international passenger mix.Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A traditional cruise experience with formal nights and a specific dress code.Onboard Experience
While the Jade continues to sail in Europe, expect an International passenger mix, including a wide age demographic.
In April 2008 the Jade became the first NCL ship to implement an ambitious program of upgrades referred to as Freestyle 2.0 (which is being rolled out fleet-wide). Read the full details of the 2.0 upgrades here.
Immediately upon boarding, guests are greeted with champagne -- the first step in experiencing Freestyle 2.0. Aside from new cabin amenities, the most noticeable change is NCL's $55 million commitment over the next two years to upgrading the ship's food with higher quality ingredients and the addition of signature dishes to each of the specialty restaurants.
Some other significantly upgraded amenities are focused on the mini-suite and above cabin categories, but there are some interesting initiatives available to guests booked into the most basic cabins.
During our sailing, NCL was experimenting with a new entertainment program as well, which, when refined, will no doubt be expanded fleet-wide as part of the Freestyle 2.0 project.
This ship features 10 restaurants, three swimming pools, a large spa and beautiful public rooms. It also has a new style of accommodations: 10 Courtyard Villas, which -- along with the two Garden Villas -- make up the largest, grandest, most luxurious, most innovative suite complexes at sea (the entire Jewel Class of ships has similar accommodations). The suite complex boasts a private courtyard and sundeck with private pool, and both Courtyard and Garden Villa guests have a concierge lounge available to them. Freestyle 2.0 has added butler service to the exclusive amenities for Courtyard Villa passengers.
Additionally, The Jade features "Bar Central" -- a complex where a martini bar, a champagne and wine bar, and a beer and whisky pub all share a large area, but with three distinct personalities. There are also nine other bars and lounges on the ship.Decor
The ship's interior design is vibrant -- luxurious in some areas, whimsical in others; eclectic in some, daring in others. As a package, it comes together beautifully to establish a comfortable and welcoming "Aloha Spirit." How well that translates for Mediterranean sailings, though, I'm not sure. The colors of Hawaii are everywhere: fuchsia, sea blues, greens, yellows and vivid reds abound in everything from carpet and wall treatments to elaborate glass ceilings and light fixtures. You won't be wowed with understated elegance on this ship, but it does exude an energy, a feeling of coming to life.
The Stardust Theater, the main entertainment venue, features dramatic masks inspired by Greek theater, though they look more Venetian. The mask theme is carried throughout the room from the stage curtains to the carpet. The royal blue and gold theater-style seats bedazzle the eye. The Spinnaker Lounge's aquatic theme has carpet of oceanic waves complete with swimming fish, white egg-cup barstools, and maple cocktail tables topped with green tinted glass. Medusa's Lounge has vivid purple couches and orange chairs atop a starfish carpet, and enormous jellyfish glass decorations confuse the design even further. Medusa's is the ship's venue for Karaoke as well as various game days including Wii. Just off of Medusa's are several private rooms, originally designed for private Karaoke parties, now free for private gatherings to sing Karaoke or play Wii games on large flat-screen TVs.
Bar City is a collection of lounges, featuring Magnum's Champagne and Wine Bar, Mixer's Martinis and Cocktail Bar, and Tankards Beer and Whiskey Bar. Bar City has a very "uptown" atmosphere, and is a central drawing point for late-evening nightlife. All the bars share the entertainment, provided by a sole piano player.
In the central lobby area opposite the guest relations desk, the Aloha Bar features comfortable wicker style chairs and tables; guests can purchase premium brand coffees and pastries as well as drinks. In the evenings, a classical quartet soothes guests.Cuisine
There's no doubt the food quality, variety, and taste is better in the restaurants that carry a cover charge. However, the line's $55 million dollar commitment to the food department is already beginning to show improvement to cuisine throughout the ship, including the main dining restaurants.
The key to fully enjoying your NCL cruise is Freestyle Dining. To get the most out of the experience, that should include trying out the surcharge restaurants. When you price your Jade cruise, add approximately $100 -- $120 per person to the quote. If that deal is still attractive, book and enjoy all that Jade has to offer.Restaurants
The two main dining rooms are the Grand Pacific and the Alizar. Other options include the French restaurant, Le Bistro; the Asian Fusion restaurant, Jasmine Garden; Teppanyaki, with Benihana-style Japanese tabletop cooking, where the theatre of the preparation is a large part of the meal; the Steakhouse, Cagney's; a casual Italian trattoria, Papa's Italian Kitchen; a Tex-Mex, tapas, and salsa restaurant, Paniolo; the buffet restaurant, Garden Cafe (and its outdoor portion, Great Outdoor Café); as well as a 24-hour restaurant featuring American comfort foods, the Blue Lagoon.
Grand Pacific is inspired by first-class dining rooms from the Matson Line ships that sailed from San Francisco to Honolulu. Artwork around the room -- paintings of traditional Polynesian life -- is derived from the menu covers from the Matson Line. The Alizar is smaller and simpler in decor, but features the same menu.
The reservations-only restaurants that impose a cover charge include Cagney's Steakhouse, decorated with palomino-style leather chairs in yellow and black; Paniolo Tapas Bar & Restaurant, which takes its name from the Hawaiian cattle ranchers, or paniolos, at Parker Ranch on the island of Hawaii; Jasmine Garden Asian Restaurant, the ship's Asian Fusion venue, with a good variety of seafood selections and teriyaki meats; and Papa's Italian Kitchen, offering custom pizzas and a wide selection of Italian pastas and meats, as well as a delightful antipasto cart brought to the table.
If something lighter than a full menu in the dining room is more your style, there is the buffet-style Garden Cafe on the Lido deck, which also serves as an evening casual restaurant, adding tablecloths and tables set with cutlery. Food is served fresh from "action stations" as part of the Freestyle 2.0 program. Weather permitting, there are frequent barbecues on deck, particularly in the afternoon when passengers return from port visits. The ice cream bar dishes up sundaes, sherbets, and plain old ice cream.
NCL is presently evaluating a change in the costs of the various surcharge restaurants As a result, pricing information could be inaccurate. Surcharges at the moment vary between $10 and $30 per person, depending on which restaurant you choose.
Electronic boards at all restaurant entrances display which facilities have tables available, and are full. If you have to wait, you'll get a pager that will flash when your table is ready. On our sailing, I rarely saw a line for any restaurants.Service
With the change from Pride of Hawaii's American crew to the Jade's more traditional international crew, service is very much in line with what one would expect on any of the mass market lines. I found the crew friendly and eager to please, in both the public rooms and the dining rooms and restaurants.Tipping
NCL charges $10 per day per passenger to your shipboard account, an amount that is commensurate with other cruise lines. However, on NCL the charge is referred to as a "service fee" and unlike other lines, NCL guests cannot have the charge removed.Entertainment
During our cruise, the Jade was experimenting with a new entertainment program that will be tweaked and adjusted until it's ready to be expanded fleet-wide.
Gone are the familiar pool-side activities, replaced by a program of almost non-stop events throughout the day, including a program of seminars dubbed NCL U. These cover a variety of topics, like "Beers, Margaritas, and Martinis;" digital photography; or how to use improvisation techniques in everyday life, taight by the Second City Comedy Troupe onboard.
The new entertainment program includes having the Second City Comedy Troupe appear in a variety of forms almost every night in the Spinnaker Lounge, now dubbed the Spinnaker Cabaret.
On evenings when Second City isn't performing, there's an interactive production of Tony and Tina's Wedding, and another night NCL hosts a new "White Hot Party Night." The White Hot Party will soon be found throughout the fleet. Even with Jade's busy, port-intensive itinerary, the cabaret was filled with passengers dressed in white (with White Hot T-shirts available for sale in the hallway in case you didn't pack white), led by the energetic cruise staff in a frenzied disco party.
Another initiative, Monte Carlo Night in the casino, was promoted quite extensively, and though the cruise staff attended, dressed as showgirls, jokers, etc, to try and energize the place, I think it struck most as simply an attempt to draw people into the casino.
With all the NCL U programs, production shows and headliners, the entertainment action is almost continuous throughout the day and evening. The intent is to make certain guests are "Free to Whatever" and whenever.
Over time, I'm sure they'll determine which activities are popular with passengers and which are not, and then try some new things to replace the latter. But inevitably this program will spread throughout the fleet, as it builds on the "Freestyle" idea. There was so much going on around the ship that there was no way I could even get a peek at everything, let alone participate in it all.
Those who want to stay busy all the time won't be disappointed with the Jade, and those who want to enjoy the sun and the ship without getting involved certainly won't have trouble doing so.Cabins
For upscale luxury, check out the ship's two Garden Villas. Each one offers more than 4,390 sq. ft. of luxury living, complete with butler and concierge service. Each villa has three bedrooms, each with a king or queen-size bed and private luxury bath; and access to a private courtyard with pool, hot tub and sundeck. The villas also feature cappuccino machines.
There are two Owner's Suites and 10 Courtyard Villas, whose occupants share a beautiful courtyard area with pool, hot tub and sundeck.
Also available are Penthouse Suites, Romance Suites, Mini-suites with private balconies, Ocean View cabins with balconies, standard Ocean View staterooms, and inside staterooms. The ship also offers 27 state-of-the-art wheelchair and handicapped-accessible cabins. The top suites come with their own espresso machines, and all staterooms have in-cabin coffee makers (which I found surprisingly handy, even though free room service was available).
The Freestyle 2.0 upgrades shine through in the top 48 suites. They have been furnished with the "Bliss Collection" of new bedding, which includes Euro-top mattresses, a full pillow menu, and down-filled duvets.
As well as the private courtyard, the Courtyard Villa occupants now have butler service during the day, and also can take advantage of small versions of the buffet's action stations and snacks.
These suites' guests also have access to a private area, formerly an overflow room for Cagney's steakhouse, accessed electronically by inserting a cabin entry card. Here suite passengers can get breakfast and lunch, either made-to-order from a menu, or from a small buffet. Morning breakfast portions seemed small, but the staff was happy to double them up on request.
There are plenty of choices in standard cabin categories. The standard cabins are a bit small by industry norms, but well designed, decorated in cherrywood veneers, and bright colors. I particularly liked the bathroom design, with a toilet separated from the sink by a sliding glass door, and the shower with a sliding glass door opposite. The Jade also has quite a selection of family-friendly connecting staterooms including a category of family suites.
The mattresses in the standard cabins, while not furnished with the Bliss Collection, had upgraded bedding and duvets, and a foam cover above the mattresses.
I did have two issues with the cabins -- at least my standard balcony cabin. The lighting was lacking, making the cabin interior very dim; and there didn't seem to be (at least I never found it) one switch to turn off the various lights. My other problem was with the tables. Both the night stands and the "desk" were more like simple table tops on chrome stands. None had any drawers or storage space, and the desk chair is really more like a kitchen chair.
The ship's public rooms have WiFi access, but for in-cabin computer use you'll need to bring along a cable.Fitness/Spa
The Pool Deck, Sports Deck and Sun Deck are expansive and sheltered from the wind. You'll enjoy the views they offer as you sail into a spectacular port. Forward on the Pool Deck, the fitness center has one room filled with up-to-date equipment, and another for aerobics classes. The free weights area can accommodate only one person at a time. A full-size basketball/volleyball/tennis court on the Sports Deck, two golf driving ranges, a batting cage, jogging track and aerobics classes scheduled throughout the day round out the program.
The Steiner-run Ying & Yang Health Spa & Beauty Salon includes massage and steam rooms. Some of the "traditional" massage treatments they offer are derivatives and may not be as authentic as those provided by authentic therapists who practice the disciplines in their native habitat. Also note that service fees in the Spa include a space for an additional tip, but it does not go to your therapist -- it is pooled -- so if you want to tip your therapist personally, take cash.Attire
"Freestyle Cruising" means you can get as dressed up -- or down -- as you please. But it doesn't mean that you're free to wear shorts in restaurants or public areas after 6 p.m.
There are several nights designated as formal, though dressing formally is entirely at the option of the passenger. I was indeed surprised that perhaps 30 percent of the passengers on our cruise did wear suits or even tuxedos on formal nights.
Just experienced a wonderful cruise to Greece aboard the Jade. I can't say enough good things about the Staff our accomadations and Food this Ship offered. I would recommend Norwegian Cruise Line to anyone looking for a first class experience.
This was our first short, 5-nights, cruise with NCL. We have done three long, 11-nights, cruises with them before on the Wind, the Dawn and the Jewel.
Pre-Cruise Since this was a short vacation and we have been in London many times before, it was my 10th visit there, we decided to stay there for just one night before the cruise. We stayed at Park Plaza Victoria Hotel close to Victoria Station and that was a very nice hotel.
On the day of the cruise we took a National Express bus from Victoria Coach Station at 7.15. A little early but the next bus would get us to Southampton later than we wanted so it was the choice we had!
We came to Southampton 9:25 and had some breakfast at McDonalds before we walked to the terminal, arrived there at 10.30. It was definitely walking distance between the coach station and the terminal but with more luggage we would have taken a cab. (We took a cab after the cruise and paid £5+tip, around $8+tip.)
Embarkation They started the embarkation at 11:05 so we had to wait for a while before we couldcheck in. Since there were no lines everything went very fast. We were the first to get to one of the Latitudes desks where we checked in. The lady at the desk then took us to the concierge, Ruth Hagger, where we got our keys. I didn't see any VIP-check in, maybe because we were so early and there were no lines anyway? Ruth took us to the VIP waiting area where we waited for just a few minutes before we got escorted onto the ship around 11:30. We got our glass of sparkling wine and then we left our luggage in our cabin which was almost ready. When the luggage was left we went to Magnum's for our traditional first glass of Champagne, Taittinger!
Our Cabin We stayed in AE Penthouse 8634 which is located aft. The cabin was definitely big enough for us and there was lots of space for the luggage. We had a bathtub instead of a shower and I think that a shower had been better because I felt too close to the roof every time I took a shower!
There was a nice, but small, dining area which we didn't use because the cruise was so short. On a longer cruise it might be nice to have dinner in the cabin one night and then stay in bed and watch DVD's on the rather large flat screen TV for the rest of the evening!
The balcony was nice and equipped with one sun chair and two other chairs with cushions. We didn't really like the aft view but know that many do like it. The cheapest cabin with suite perks and side view but without a second bedroom, which I won't use and therefore don't want to pay for, is the A4 Courtyard Villa so if I feel like paying for that for our next cruise I might do that, if not I will be back in an aft Penthouse or Romance Suite and I will be happy with that too.
The Restaurants and the Food Since the cruise was short we didn't have time to eat at many of the restaurants. We had all our breakfasts in the concierge lounge (Star Bar-Cagney's) and most of our lunches too, we had lunch at Blue Lagoon once. For dinner we went to Grand Pacific twice, Paniolo twice and Le Bistro.
The breakfast in the concierge lounge was VERY good and one of the best suite perks. They had a buffet for cold items and a very nice menu for hot items. We really liked their omelettes, pancakes and egg Benedictines with lobster.
The lunches there were also excellent and they even had a few dishes from the dinner menu. Those dishes took some time to prepare so we didn't try any of them, we probably will on a longer cruise. They had really nice crab cakes and I can absolutely recommend their fettuccini with mushroom and cheese sauce.
We had lunch in Blue Lagoon on our port day in Dublin because we wanted to get off the ship. We ate fish & chips there and that was very nice, but not like in a real English pub! One bad thing was that we asked if they had any Irish lager, since we were in Ireland and a stout (=Guinness!) isn't the best beverage with fish & chips, and was told, NO. Later we saw that they had Harp, which is an Irish lager.
The dinners in Grand Pacific were also very nice. The lines were very short both times (the second time we went there we had a reservation but there was no line at all so that really wasn't necessary, we made the reservation just to be sure we shouldn't have to stand in a line the last evening on the ship!) and the service was good. The menus in the main restaurants didn't have many dishes that attracted us but one nice main course is enough and all food we ate tasted well.
Le Bistro has great French food, probably not as good as a real French luxurious bistro but then the price is completely different too. The $15 extra charge is NOT too much. I can only think of one bad thing with Le Bistro and that is that they serve Foie Gras and the animals are not well treated when that is produced. I had Moules(?) Anisette (steamed clams), grilled swordfish and crepe Suzette and everything was very good.
Paniolo has great Mexican food, definitely worth the extra $10. Later in the evening the first night we went to Paniolo we sat in the bar outside Paniolo and drank a Marguerita when someone passed the bar with a tray with food which smelled so good so we decided to go to Paniolo the next day too! The second day I had Cheese Quesadillas, Sizzling Fajitas (the great smelling dish) and strawberry ice cream.
The Bars and the Beverages The Star Bar was very nice on the Jade, for some reason it wasn't that nice on the Jewel. Bali Hai is probably very nice on a warm cruise but this time it was a little too cold there in the evenings but we had some drinks there overlooking the pool area and that was nice. Bali Hai is also located on the deck outside Spinnaker Lounge so when the bar inside isn't open yet, it's perfect to buy the drinks at Bali Hai and drink them at Spinnaker. We didn't really liked the "bar city" when we cruised on the Jewel and it's the same on the Jade. It's nice to sit there with a drink but too many people are passing all the time so it's not relaxing at all! Especially the Champagne bar, Magnums, should be separated from the other bars and located in a calmer area.
Paniolos bar was, in our opinion, the best bar on the Jade. They made very nice Margueritas and the staff was very nice too. Since our cabin was located aft on deck 8 it was also very convenient to go there and buy a drink to drink in the cabin, we could have called room service or our butler but the bar was so close so it was easier to go and buy them ourselves.
All drinks we had were well made and tasted good. The drink prices were in my opinion decent, drinks on a cruise ship are never cheap but a drink at a bar in Sweden cost even more so I see no reason to complain on high prices. A Gin & Tonic costs around $6.50 with the gratuity added.
I don't know if they still try to sell souvenir drinks at a high price because I always asked for a regular sized drink when I bought something fancy.
The wine list was okay and for me it seems like the selection of cheaper wines is bigger then it was when we cruised a few years ago. This cruise we drank more Champagne then we have done before and the prices on that were decent too. Champagne always cost much but is always worth much too!
The Rest of the Ship All public areas are "colourful," if I shall say it nice! It was better than the Jewel but I really can't understand why they need so many different colours everywhere. The atrium was very nice, and very red.
On this rather cold cruise the pool area seemed big enough but I guess it was very crowded when the ship cruised around Hawaii. The quiet zone in the front of deck 14 seems like a nice place to spend time on a sunny day at sea in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean but this time it was too cold and too windy there.
We were in the casino for maybe one minute and that was more than enough! In my opinion a casino shall be a luxurious and glamorous place filled with tuxedos and nice dresses but a casino where the most casual dressed, if I shall be nice to them, people sit and smoke and just push a button for hours is just tragic to me. Others don't have to agree but my opinion is that people who think that the casino on a cruise ship is a good place to be in might need help. Note that I wrote "might," I don't say that everyone who likes a cruise ship casino has a problem, but some probably have.
As Penthouse guests we also had the opportunity to see the courtyard area. It was very nice but much smaller than I thought it would be. The private sundeck on deck 15 looked great for a warmer cruise.
The Ports We stopped in Dublin and in Cobh, outside Cork. In Dublin they docked rather far from the central parts of the town but a free shuttle was provided. (I'm sure that the city of Dublin provided the shuttle, NCL should probably have charged for it!)
Since we had been in Dublin before we decided to just walk around by ourselves for awhile. We had lunch at Blue Lagoon before we went to town and there we just had some Guinness before we took the shuttle back to the ship.
The ship docked very central in Cobh. We docked right by the train station so those who wanted to go to Cork could do so by train. We had booked an excursion because we wanted to see some of the Irish countryside. NCL had some interesting excursions in Cobh but unfortunately most of them were in the afternoon and we really prefer to go on an excursion before lunch and be back for lunch instead of leaving after lunch. The best excursion we could find before lunch was to Blarney Castle so we booked that. It was nice and we got to see some Irish countryside so we were happy with it, but it was probably not the most interesting excursion they had.
The Suite Life The best thing with staying in a "suite" (I know it's not really a suite unless the bedroom is in a separate room but everyone calls it a suite so I call it a suite too) isn't the suite itself, it's the perks you get. The suite was very nice and the extra space would have been great on a longer cruise. Since this cruise was so short we didn't have very much luggage. In my opinion the aft view made the suite itself less attractive. The pillow menu in the suite is a great idea and on a longer and warmer cruise I should have ordered a Climarelle: "Stay cool and comfortable with this super-scientific-body-temperature-regulating-pillow"!
The best thing with having a suite was the breakfasts and lunches in the concierge lounge, a very relaxing experience and great food! We walked through the Garden Café once and couldn't believe how much noise there was there, have we really eaten there on previous cruises!? I doubt that we ever can go back to a standard balcony cabin again!
It was also nice to be able to ask the concierge to make dinner reservations but is it really harder to do it yourself? Priority tender tickets must also be a good perk but not needed on this cruise. The butler service can also be nice but how many "normal" persons really need a butler? I liked the treats we got every afternoon and dinner in the suite one night can be great on a longer cruise but for other things than that, I don't really need a butler.
Priority embarkation was also nice but even better was the priority debarkation. We waited in Le Bistro until it was time to go and then we just cut the line and were off the ship in less than a minute, how nice was that!? I understand that people standing in that long line don't appreciate that some people don't have to wait in the line, but we have paid more so why should I be sorry and feel bad for it?
Debarkation and Post-Cruise Debarkation was as I just said -- very quick and easy. After we had left the ship we took a cab to the coach station and waited there for a short while before our bus to Heathrow departed. We came to Heathrow at 12:10 and then we went to terminal 5. Our plane wasn't to depart until 4:50 but since we should fly in Club Europe (British Airways business class within Europe) we could spend all that time in the lounge where they had some excellent wine. Our plane landed in Stockholm at 8:15 and we were back at home just before 11:00.
What Could Have Been Better I don't really like to try to find bad things when the overall experience was so good but I know that even the bad things are important to mention and by doing that, all the good things I have written about the cruise get more credibility.
I have already mentioned our aft view. Yes, it's only my opinion that the aft view isn't as good as a side view and I know that many love the aft view. My question then is: if the aft view is so good, why aren't the Courtyard Villas, Owner Suites and Garden Villas located aft? I think that NCL could have some Penthouses on the side of the ship too so that those who prefer the side view could book one of those. For me it feels wrong that the standard balcony cabins cost much less and have a much better view than the Penthouses!
The coffee maker in our cabin was broke, really not a problem but still something bad! We told our butler and she took it with her, no replacement.
Sometimes there were kids in the adults only hot tubs and no one told them to leave. That wasn't really a problem either but a rule is a rule. Some late evenings there were also lots of teenagers running around on the deck outside the Star Bar and they were very loud. There were more teenagers on this cruise than on our previous cruises (because it was shorter?) and most of the time that was no problem but I can't understand why they have to sit on the stairs? Is there really no other place for them to be in?
According to NCL's brochure we should get a bottle of "Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne on arrival," but we got a bottle of cheap sparkling wine. Not a big problem but still annoying because if I pay for Champagne, I want Champagne! I asked the concierge about it and she said that was changed fleet wide a few months ago. The brochure also mentions a "Daily choice from special hors d'oeuvre menu" and we never had the chance to choose anything. All we got was very good, but it was not up to us to choose what we wanted.
On the last evening of the cruise, just before dinner, the whole bar city was filled with people who participated in a quiz. Couldn't they have chosen another area for that? In my opinion a bar is a place for people who want to have a drink, in this case a pre-dinner drink before the last dinner on a cruise, and the bar city is filled with people not drinking! How good business is that for NCL? It was no problem for us to go up to the Star Bar instead, but what was NCL thinking?
Conclusion This was a really great cruise! Does anyone doubt that I recommend cruising with NCL on the Norwegian Jade?
We just returned from 12 days Eastern Med cruise with Norwegian Jade. It was a FABULOUS trip, but I wanted to pass on a few pointers before the details fade. We are from the U.S., and this is our 4th European cruise and 10th cruise overall (we have also cruised Princess, Celebrity and Carnival). We tend toward doing most of the ports ourselves, and hiring private guides if necessary because we enjoy researching the ports and like the flexibility and efficiency of a private tour (we have found it to be cheaper than the ship's tours as well).
FLIGHTS AND PRE-CRUISE STAY IN BARCELONA If possible, plan to arrive in Barcelona a day or two early. We stayed at the Regencia De Colon hotel. It is a sister hotel to the Colon, both which sit at the foot of the Cathedral and a 2 minute walk from La Rambla. The room was small, but well appointed in a great location. We had to go to the Colon to get ice for our drinks. We had dinner at Neya's. A small tapas bar 1 1/2 blocks from the hotel. The foodwas great -- tapas and paella -- and very inexpensive.
We really enjoyed the city. La Rambla is maybe 6 blocks long and activity abounds! We spent much of the time just watching the street mimes. They get dressed up in amazing costumes and hold perfectly still til you come up to have your picture taken. Then they go into action! Quite a site to see. La Rambla is also lined with plenty of street vendors, artists etc. But they even have street vendors that are pet shops along with the normal florists and trinket sellers. We had sangria at a street side cafe. Ugh. It was thick and really sweet and reminded us more of childrens cough syrup than a cocktail.
On the day of embarkation we took the hop off/hop on bus. We took the north route to catch all of the architecture and it really was a beautiful ride. It did, however, take the entire morning as the traffic in the city was really bad. We bought a one day ticket that would have allowed us to take the south route if we had the time. Two day tickets are also available. Cash only, but you purchase the tickets at the boarding stops. We thought Barcelona was beautiful, we were pleasantly surprised. It is a very easy city to do on your own. Cabs are very easy to get either in the city or at the pier. It is about 10-15 E from the pier to the close end of La Rambla. Make sure and negotiate price before you get in.
DINING We had late seating, traditional dining. We love traditional dining, however, due to the lateness of some of the tours we ate every night at 8:45 pm. That's pretty late even for folks who like to have prolonged cocktail hours! We were rarely finished with dinner by 11pm. I won't comment too much on food, but all of the soups were absolutely fantastic. We never had a bad one. Many of the nights I had a hard time choosing which entree to select as none of them completely excited me, but they were all good.
THE SHIP It's not as fancy or as laden with goodies as some of its sisters, but the Jade is a very nice ship. The crew is attentive and there are many, many activities planned.
Downsides: It is short on public spaces; smoking is allowed in the one lounge where a lot of activities are scheduled, so you can't really escape it (the high percentage of Europeans adds to the smoking population too); and the rooms are small even for cruise ship standards (no drop down bunk, so kids sleep together on a pull-out couch).
Upsides: I thought the food in the Windjammer was a step above the usual (don't miss the Asian and Greek nights, the pastries at breakfast, the desserts and the fresh melon), and there is an excellent "salad bar" with unusual ingredients at lunch in the dining room; the bartender at the Champagne Bar makes a killer Chocolate Mint martini (skip the frozen drinks at the pool bars -- they are WEAK); there are a ton of fitness and game activities planned if you're interested. Do go to the port talks -- they are very informative. I'm impressed with how NCL aids the independent traveler and does not solely push their excursions.
THE PORTS Rome/Civitavecchia: After much consideration, we decided to book a private full day tour in Rome visiting some of the familiar places and including a few new ones. After researching companies to use, we decided on LimoinRome -- Claudio Caponera (www.limoinrome.com) as our driver/guide for the day. We shared this tour with 3 couples from our roll call. Our itinerary included The Roman Forum, Coliseum, Mouth of Truth, Circus Maximums, the Key Hole (Sov Mil Ordine Di Malta), Palatine Hill, Baths of Caracalla, The Catacombs, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Capitol Hill, and Gianicolo (great views of Rome from this spot) and Borghese Gallery. Claudio arranged for our lunch stop at Ristorante Massenzio. Good meal. If we could have eliminated one thing in the itinerary it would, in our opinion, have been the Borghese Gallery. After a full day of sightseeing, I for one was on "information overload". I would suggest that the Borghese Gallery be done by itself or perhaps along with a walk through the garden areas.
Athens: We hired a taxi driver from Spiros at email@example.com for the day (8:30-2:00). This ended up being a boon -- it costs 25 euro each way from Piraeus on the meter anyway, and saved us hundreds of steps in the heat. He parked at the back side of the Acropolis (it is not necessary to climb the hundreds of steps from the Plaka) and waited for us, then took us to the old Olympic stadium (actually pretty impressive), the Temple of Zeus, to the President's house in time for the changing of the guard (actually worth the stop), the Parliament building, the Roman Agora, and then the Greek Agora and Plaka. We zipped through it all -- again because we got out early I think, and were driving instead of walking -- and were back on board by 2, exhausted.
Ephesus: We hired a private tour guide for this port -- Denizhan at firstname.lastname@example.org. We combined with another family I met on our Roll Call. I join the list of Cruise Critic people that highly recommend him. He was knowledgeable, personable, proud of his country, and completely professional. We started early and were through most of Ephesus by the time the first tour bus arrived. Since it reached 105 degrees that day, we were EXTREMELY grateful to have gotten to see it before the hottest part of the day. Be sure to also see the ruins of St. John's Basilica. Denizhan also took us inside a local and historic mosque and explained a lot about Islam and Turkish politics. Lunch was the best of the trip. We also visited the museum in Selcuk, which was fine, although it is hard to compete with the Vatican, the Egyptian Museum, and others on this trip. Definitely try apple tea if you can -- hot or cold, it's delicious. All in all, a great stop.
Alexandria/Giza: You definitely need a guide/tour for this stop. Most passengers ponied up for an NCL tour of some sort, and I was a little nervous not to, reading all the postings about police convoys. But having a private tour guide (we used Rasha El Ashmawy at www.egyptdailytours.com) worked out great, and we were very happy with the day. We didn't have to wait for the convoy (and I felt safer, being less obviously a tourist in a small vehicle), we lingered at things that interested us, and went quicker through things that did not. Price for a family of four was $100 for adults and $90 for kids; a group of seven was $80 for adults and $70 for kids (solar boat museum, going inside the pyramids and mummy room at the Egyptian museum extra, but lunch included). Keys to this day are FLEXIBILITY and HUMOR, and you should realize that even if you do it with NCL there might be glitches -- for example, the entire bus that took the NCL Nile trip got sick, and cartouches ordered on a different tour turned black when they were worn into the pool back on the ship. However, on the whole we heard that the NCL tours were pretty good. Our tour included the Giza plateau, where we walked around near all three pyramids, drove to a vista, drove back to go inside the medium sized pyramid (Kefern) and then visited the Sphinx. Lunch was a quick falafel sandwich, and then we went to the Egyptian Museum (including mummy room) and back out to shop at the Khan Al Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo. We left the bazaar at 6:00 sharp, and pulled up to the ship at 9:25 (had to be back onboard by 9:30, so you really do have to watch your time). Rasha did not travel with us, but checked in with us all the way back to make sure that we made it back on board.
Tips about this particular Giza/museum/bazaar itinerary: 1) change money before you get off the ship if possible because Euros/dollars are not accepted until you are at the bazaar; 2) take toilet paper in your bag -- bathrooms are often bare; 3) take small change for the bathrooms; 4) resist resist resist people offering you anything (even people that claim to work for the sites you are visiting) -- you will suspect it is a scam, but then you will not want to offend them, so you will go along, but it will end up being a scam at the end. We had a number of people flat out lie to us -- "I work for the government, not a tour guide, come see, I don't want to take your money" -- and then demand "baksheesh;" 5) take water and umbrellas -- Giza plateau is really exposed; 6) at the bazaar, decide what you are willing to pay and stick to your guns -- as a rule of thumb, Rasha told us to chop their asking price in half or more -- if you can't settle with the first guy, you will probably see the same thing a few stores away; 7) about going inside the pyramids -- a claustrophobic, hot, crowded, and stinky experience -- but my family was glad they did it. The middle pyramid (Kefern) offers much the same experience as the largest pyramid (Khufu), but priced at about $6 instead of $20. The experience takes ten to fifteen minutes at either pyramid; 8) The Museum -- so many treasures crammed right next to each other, it's overwhelming -- read a little before you go so you can sort out the experience before you're there. There are actually two mummy rooms to see for the additional admission price of $20 -- if you've seen a mummy before, you can honestly give this a miss, but if you haven't, it is fairly interesting. If the line is long, see the rest of the museum and check back in later -- it fluctuates depending on tour groups; 9) Get to Islamic and/or Coptic Cairo if you can -- much more atmosphere than downtown where the Museum is; 10) Do NOT eat at the bazaar -- most expensive (and worst) "snack" of the trip; 11) DO try the mint tea mmmmmm.
Valetta: This is the one port where we decided to do one of the ship's organized excursions, a "jeep adventure" tour of the island. Having just recovered from a pinched nerve in my back, I don't know what possessed me to book this excursion. The ride is VERY bumpy and rough, especially around the limestone quarries, so if you have any back or neck problems, you should opt for a different tour. That being said, the "Malta Jeep Adventure" is a good way to see a lot of the island. Each vehicle is an open-air jeep with seating for four people. There is a recorded guided tour playing in English to explain the various monuments or sights as you pass them. The last stop was at Golden Bay where we had free time to swim or lounge on the beach. Again, we are not big on organized tours, but this one was a good value for the money. Something that we found surprising was that all the signs were in English.
Overall this is one of the best cruises we've done and we highly recommend others to give it a try if you like to visit many ports with less sea days. Weather was great throughout the trip and we're glad we choose early October to do this cruise. The members of our roll call were a pleasure to meet and share tours with. We have great memories of this adventure. Would definitely do this trip again.