Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Jade Review
Our cruise on Norwegian Jade was a mixed success, but definitely not without its upsides.
Depending on how you counted them there were at least 11 venues for dining, providing a different cuisine for every night of our cruise. There was also ample opportunity to rack up surcharges aboard Norwegian Jade, as most of the venues required an add-on of $15-$25 per person. Our cabin came fairly cheap, so we didn’t initially think the surcharges were too offensive. But the food at these restaurants is not special, some of it is mediocre at best, and an unsettling sameness started to creep in after a few dinners. At most restaurants there were predictable similarities, such as crème brûlée on most dessert menus (vanilla at the French flavored restaurant, green tea at the Asian flavored restaurant, etc.). In the end, we felt that none of the specialty dinners transported us away from the predictable.
When we didn’t dine in the surcharge restaurants, we faced crowding issues at the main dining rooms. There were TV monitors set up in the main corridors that indicated how busy each venue was, and when tables were available through the evening, shown with green, yellow and red lights. But we found it was still worth checking with the hostess directly, as the red lights seemed to fill up for certain venues when, in fact, they still had tables. For instance, the night we had reserved to dine at Moderno, monitors showed almost all the reservation times had been taken, yet for the entirety of our meal about half the tables sat empty. Conversely, the monitors did not seem to accurately reflect table availability at the main dining rooms through the evening; they sometimes showed availability but when going to the restaurant, we were handed a pager and asked to wait 30 minutes.
In short, travelers expecting a fully inclusive cruise should be prepared to be handed a pager and wait for a table at the main dining rooms (except early or late in the dinner hour). At the same time, cruisers wishing to sample the various specialty restaurants should plan on add-ons of about $20 per day, per person (not including drinks).
Those who dined at specialty restaurants at 6 p.m. or earlier were offered a bottle of house wine for every couple. Some good news for families: Kids age 4 to 12 ate free from the children’s menu at the specialty dining venues, or for half-price from the adult menu. And check to see what discounts are available for restaurants during the online check-in process: By reserving five of our dinners ahead of the cruise, we were given a small discount. Our boss was happy.
Grand Pacific and Alizar Main Dining Rooms
Two venues serve as Jade’s main dining halls, sharing a menu. The airy 450-seat Grand Pacific is indeed grander, with a statue of King Kamehameha, and paintings recalling the lush artwork of the Matson Line (the first cruise line to serve Hawaii). Out of place in the Mediterranean, but we didn’t mind; despite its bustle, the room is warm and inviting. Breakfast and lunch (on sea days) were pleasingly subdued.
The Alizar, by contrast, is a bright, modern venue with Rothko-like art. In addition to lower ceilings, there seemed to be less elbow-room—with a more family-friendly ambience, we found the atmosphere less appealing for couples or older cruisers.
Tables were processed promptly in both venues, but Norwegian’s “Freestyle” plan means there's no set seating time (common on most ships)—so nothing steadies the flood of guests at peak hours. While early or late in the evening wasn't a problem, at prime time (especially just after the theater let out) pagers were doled out.
Though not extraordinary, meals at Grand Pacific and Alizar were consistently decent. Our only (small) complaint was that the menu was limited; vegetarian options were in short supply. We liked the potato leek soup, and found the greens with pear, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette delicious. Pork loin with sweet potato mash and chutney tasted homemade. There was a satisfying Niçoise salad, lightly dressed. To our surprise, risotto primavera was served al dente, with vegetables that hadn’t lost their texture. For dessert one night we tried the cheese plate—it was okay.
Breakfast was served daily (in Grand Pacific) and, again, although the menu wasn’t extensive, the food was pleasing. One menu was used for lunch on sea days (again, in Grand Pacific). Entrées at lunch included an excellent chicken Milanese accompanied by arugula salad.
Grand Pacific was open nightly from 5:30 or 6 p.m. to 9:30 or 10 p.m. Alizar opened and closed 30 minutes later. Breakfast was served at Grand Pacific for 2 hours starting at 7 or 8 a.m., and lunch on sea days from 12 to 1:30 p.m.
Garden Café and Kid’s Café
The Garden Café served as Jade’s clamorous buffet, and during breakfast and lunch hours it was often quite crowded. Smartly, Norwegian installed a kids buffet section near the entrance, minimizing the number of little tykes we had to dodge around the buffet counters. We found seating in short supply until, a few days in, we discovered additional tables next door at Papa’s (except during dinner); by the end, this was fully utilized. The Great Outdoors was another relief valve, with buffet counters open at peak hours and staying open later while Garden Café was set up for the next meal.
There were good things to be found at breakfast, lunch and dinner, but we sampled lots of mediocre food as well. Our biggest complaint was that there wasn’t a lot of variety, and much of the selection stayed the same throughout our cruise.
A separate buffet called Kids Café had a lowered counter and kid-friendly options, such as burgers, hot dogs, fries, pasta with marinara. This area was surrounded by a seating area, also with lowered tables and chairs.
The ship’s standard bar selection was available at the Great Outdoors. A station was set up for self-serve coffee, tea, water, apple juice, fruit cocktail and orange drink. At breakfast we loved that there was a juicer, manned to prepare fresh squeezed orange, grapefruit, melon, apple, celery and carrot (and in combinations).
The main buffet was open for breakfast from 7 to 10 a.m., but an additional buffet next to the Great Outdoors remained open till noon. Lunch was served from 12 to 3 p.m., with snacks available at the Great Outdoors till 5:30 p.m. Dinner was offered from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors was an extension to the ship’s buffet, Garden Café. It occupied the rear-most portion of Deck 12 and it opened (and closed) somewhat later than the hours for Garden Café, for all meals. It was a breezy perch for dining, some of it sheltered from the sun, with a full bar setup.
Generally the buffet counters offered limited reprise of many (but not all) of the items available at the Garden Café. The advantage was that Great Outdoors was often less crowded, and food was offered at later hours, up to and including a late night snack that came out at 10 p.m.
The full bar menu was available at the Great Outdoors, including the daily drink specials for $6.95 (Dark & Stormy, Blue Lagoon, etc.).
Jasmine Garden, Shabu-Shabu and Sushi Bar
If you can’t get to Teppanyaki, look to Jasmine Garden, offering full dinner nightly for a $15 surcharge. It’s also open for lunch on sea days, when sushi and noodle soups were served à la carte. Another menu, Shabu Shabu, is dedicated to hot pot dinners (also $15). While the surcharge wasn't excessive, the food served mainly as a diversion from the main dining hall and buffet. Separately, the Sushi Bar was open nightly for sushi and sashimi, priced à la carte. Ignore the cheering and clanging knives from nearby Teppanyaki; the venue also overlooks the piano downstairs—it's not a quiet spot.
For dinner we had fried calamari as a starter—nice and light, with salt, pepper and irrelevant sweet and sour sauce for dipping. We liked the fried crab dumpling, its creamy filling somewhat like tuna salad. For entrée we chose sweet and sour pork, which tasted canned—the pineapple certainly was, and the sauce tasted like it came off the shelf. There were just two dessert choices, and we skipped banana pancakes and ice cream in favor of a crème brûlée trio—green tea, ginger and adzuki bean.
We came for lunch one afternoon and dived into char siu, barbecue pork noodle soup. The stock could have used a bit more kick, but it was comfy dish for a cool day. This was followed with a tasty rainbow roll topped with tuna, yellowtail, shrimp and avocado. Including a dish of edamame, the à la carte lunch came to $10.75, plus tip.
Jasmine Garden and the Sushi Bar were open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Lunch was offered on sea days from 12 noon to 2 p.m.
Named for a style of Japanese cuisine prepared for an audience seated at a shared table that wraps around an iron griddle, Teppanyaki is Jade’s hottest ticket—and a $25 surcharge per guest. Much of that is due to a capacity of just 32 diners (all seats at the two tables were booked long before we boarded), but a big part of the experience is cooks who entertain with flying salt shakers, omelets snaking across the grill—children were particularly delighted. Much chanting and cheering is on the agenda.
The menu is not extensive, starting with courses of edamame, miso soup, seaweed salad, garlic fried rice, followed by a choice of nine entrees, from filet mignon to sea scallops and shrimps, served with vegetables. If you don’t get a reservation (as we didn’t) you can watch the show through big glass windows lining the room.
Although it’s an attractive room, we didn’t care for our experience at Le Bistro, Jade’s ostensibly French restaurant that carries a $20 add-on for dinner. The food was undistinguished, and service was poor. The whole meal felt graceless and rushed, though the room was maybe a quarter full. We had to ask for empty plates to be removed (after we were already dining on the next course) and only when we were literally putting the last bite of our entrée in our mouth, a waitress asked, “is everything okay?”
We sat down and were presented a menu, which we perused and then placed on the table. Before coming back to take our order or exchange pleasantries, an amuse-bouche was delivered—a mound of salmon spread, with three toasts to spoon it onto, reminding us of something we’d get at a second-rate cocktail party. Before we’d finished the finger foods, the waitress was back to take our food order.
The first dish was disappointing, advertised as “grilled” asparagus—actually steamed or boiled, overcooked and lathered in sweetened, orange-flavored hollandaise sauce. The “salade gourmande,” topped with smoked duck and walnuts, was over-dressed and unremarkable. For entrée we chose lamb with artichokes, tomatoes and green olives. It was medium-rare, as requested, but with little flavor, and not exactly a hearty portion minus fat and bones; the sauce it wallowed in was overly salty.
Among the desserts were a crème brûlée, chocolate Napoleon, profiteroles and chocolate fondue for two. We opted for the apple tarte tatin, which seemed true to the classic recipe.
On some cruises a jazz brunch is held at Le Bistro, for which the cover charge is $15. Le Bistro was open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
The name Cagney’s seems to promise old-school glamor, but instead it’s comfortably modern, a bit like an upmarket chain restaurant. There’s an open kitchen, and sea-facing tables on both sides (though with the exterior deck also in full view). We found the food satisfying, and service competent; the $25 up charge was not unreasonable.
We started with shrimp cocktail, a large martini glass plumped with three good-sized shrimp over a dollop of zesty sauce (spiked with Jack Daniel’s, the menu promised). We followed with the “chopped” salad, though it didn’t seem chopped any more than a typical salad. It just had lowly iceberg for lettuce, but there were good wedges of avocado and a nice, light lemon dressing. Other starters included crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller, lobster bisque, New England clam chowder and Caesar salad.
We chose the 10-oz New York strip, and what made the dish work was the kitchen’s handiwork—cooked just to order (medium-rare) and perfectly seasoned. There were lots of sides to choose from, and we opted for potatoes au gratin and asparagus, both fine if unexceptional.
For dessert we dived into the apple crisp, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was ordinary, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Other dessert options included a warm espresso chocolate brownie, New York cheesecake, raspberry crème brûlée and a cheese plate.
Cagney’s was open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Though located in a seemingly obvious place, overlooking the lobby at midship from Deck 8, Blue Lagoon appeared to go undiscovered by most cruisers. That was fine by us. The menu was pretty short, and the comfort food was nothing special, but it offered a convenient alternative to the much busier main dining rooms and buffet (there was no surcharge for dining at Blue Lagoon). Later in the cruise we started to see more tables occupied, especially late night, as fellow passengers discovered the joint.
We came by for breakfast one morning and there was only one other table occupied (out of a couple dozen). This made for a quiet setting for a simple but tasty omelet with coffee and juice. At lunch, the menu offered burgers and hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken tenders and a chef’s salad. We opted for the fish and chips, which came with ramekins of tarter sauce and mushy peas. A brownie for dessert—heaped with ice cream, whip cream and a drizzle of chocolate sauce—didn’t hurt.
Papa’s Italian Kitchen
Everyone loves an Italian trattoria, but Papa’s missed the mark for us, reminding us of a big theme park restaurant—efficient, polished and inauthentic. When we arrived, the place was coming off a rush, and waiters zipped about breathlessly. But things calmed down and our table soon got proper attention. The basketball court above was pounding away through most of our meal. All in all, considering the $15 surcharge, we weren’t too excited about our meal here.
Papa’s salad was a delicious starter: fresh, spry arugula and bib lettuce, hunks of dried figs and sheets of parmesan. Accompanied by a basket (or rather, a cone) of olive oil-infused bread the meal started off nicely. Other starters included bean and pasta soup (pasta e fagioli), beef carpaccio, tomato and mozzarella.
There were pizzas and pastas, either of which could be ordered ahead of an entrée. We opted for spaghetti carbonara, which arrived lathered in something akin to an Alfredo sauce, loaded with heavy cream. Sorry papa, but our mama taught us that true Roman carbonara should be almost dry and contains only eggs, cheese and pancetta—no cream. It tasted okay, but even the modest portion was way too rich for us. Though happily infused with rosemary, our entrée of pork saltimbocca was dried out, as were a few morsels of gnocchi on the side.
The ship’s standard bar menu was available, along with classic Italian cocktails—Americano, Campari and soda, Negroni, Bellini, Rossini and Amaretto Sour. The house Chianti was available by the glass, half- or full bottle, and there were after-dinner tipples such as limoncello, grappa, sambuca and Campari.
Papa’s was open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Moderno is tucked away on Deck 8, overlooking the lobby at midship. This and Blue Lagoon are the only public facilities on this deck—the rest being cabins—and it seemed both venues were missed by many passengers. But Moderno, while simple in concept, was perhaps our best meal on the ship, an orgy of flavors for meat-lovers. We had no argument with the $20 add-on for our dinner.
First a waiter (sorry, “gaucho”) introduced himself and explained the system: Fill up at the salad bar, then place the green card out when ready for the meat. When we’d had our fill, flip the card to red to hold off. A basket of pao de queijo was delivered. It's easy to fill up on this cheesy Brazilian bread, but we paced ourselves.
The salad bar was enticing, including the usual fare, plus more unusual items. We particularly enjoyed the stuffed grape leaves, a corn and walnut salad, and the potato and shrimp salad. Hunky, perfectly blanched asparagus spears were served cold.
We put the green card out and gauchos began delivering skewer after skewer. Our favorite was garlic beef: juicy, redolent of garlic and well seasoned. Other cuts were decent, including three more cuts of beef, two kinds of chicken, linguiça, chouriço, and lamb chops. The only disappointment was the pork ribs, which were chewy and stringy. The finishing touch was a whole roasted pineapple. Sides also arrived in skillets, including rice, black beans, garlic mashed potatoes and fried banana.
Our waiter recommended the papaya cream for dessert, a dish of soft ice cream blended with frozen papaya chunks and swaddled in Crème de Cassis liqueur. Maybe we were full, but it just didn’t turn us on the way it should have.
The ship’s standard bar menu was available along with traditional Brazilian cocktails like caipirinhas and batidas.
Moderno was open nightly from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Topsiders mainly operated as the busy pool bar, but there were also buffet counters opened each morning at breakfast and again at lunch. Although there were limited offerings it was a great way to dodge the lines in the nearby Garden Café.
A few breakfast items were found here each morning—breads, fruit, coffee, etc. At lunch we found burgers, hot dogs, roast corn on the cob, French fries and Jamaican-style rice and beans. On sea days, grills were fired up for a cookout.
The ship’s standard drink menu was available at Topsiders. Amstel Light, Beck’s, Dos Equis and Newcastle were available on draft.
A limited room service menu was available 24 hours a day aboard Norwegian Jade. There wasn't much variety, but it sufficed as a dining alternative when we chose not to go out. Between 6:30 and 10 a.m. a short continental breakfast selection was also available. A $5 surcharge applied for pizzas, and a $3.95 charge for orders between 12 and 5 a.m.
There was also a "special occasion menu" that carried a surcharge: cold hors d'oeuvres ($15), deluxe hors d'oeuvres ($25), a shrimp platter ($20), a cheese plate ($18-$32) and Sevruga caviar with fixings (at market price).
Continental breakfast could be ordered with a door hanger, left outside the cabin by 4 a.m. We actually placed our order by phone one morning and were told to expect delivery in about 30 minutes; the knock on the door came just 16 minutes later. We called for lunch on another day and were also told the delivery would require 30 minutes; it came 27 minutes later.
Both meals were brought on a serving tray, on plates covered with plastic lids. The dishes fit on the table easily, as well as on the desk, but in both cases there wasn't really any place for a second person to sit comfortably. It was all pretty rudimentary.
Overall, our cold lunch was disappointing. We ordered a Greek salad that contained Kalamata olives, tomato and bell pepper in good condition, plus a wedge of feta, but no red onion and almost no cucumbers (as promised on the menu). Instead of the advertised lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, the salad sat in a puddle of vinegar. The tuna salad sandwich was small, with slices of tomato and lettuce on rye bread. Though it came with chips, the promised coleslaw and pickle were both absent.
For breakfast we chose a fruit platter (basic), Raisin Bran (no surprises, beyond a dysfunctional milk carton), grapefruit juice and coffee. Other than alternate cereal and juice choices, yogurt and baked goods, there wasn't much else available.
In addition to what was in our minibar, room service could deliver other soft drinks, still and sparkling water, beers, and a selection of wines by the bottle or glass—all at a surcharge. The standard cocktail list was also available.
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