Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Jade Review
Our cruise on Norwegian Jade was a mixed success, but definitely not without its upsides.
Dividing her time between Venice and Rome as homeports for year-round cruises through the Greek Islands and western Mediterranean, Norwegian Jade lives the good life. Second in the four-ship Jewel Class, Norwegian Jade is almost identical in design and layout to Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem. Like those vessels, Jade hums with activities on all decks, often sailing with more Europeans than Americans—the nimble cruise director issued fluent announcements in four languages. But that’s not to say we couldn’t find room for an enjoyable, American-style cruise experience.
A European base wasn’t in Jade’s original plans when the vessel entered service in 2006—in fact, the ship was originally named Pride of Hawaii and was designed to be part of Norwegian Cruise Line’s three-ship all-Hawaii fleet. But when NCL’s Hawaii strategy proved unable to support three ships year-round, Pride of Hawaii was renamed, taking up residence in the Mediterranean in 2008 as Norwegian Jade; the painted leis that adorned the ship were replaced with green streaks flying off her bow. But amusingly, Jade’s Hawaiian Island-themed interior décor remains, and while the hibiscus and aloha elements feel a bit out of place in the Greek Islands, the ship nonetheless has more character than most (we love being welcomed to breakfast in the main dining room by a statue of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha!).
About Our Cruise
Our cruise on Norwegian Jade was a mixed success, but definitely not without its upsides. We snagged a fairly inexpensive cabin visiting several very appealing Mediterranean ports, and looked forward to a sunny experience. Carrying 2,402 passengers (at double occupancy) and weighing in at 93,558 tons, Jade is a fairly big cruise ship, though not nearly as large as the vessels Norwegian Cruise Line started bringing into its fleet with the gargantuan Norwegian Epic in 2010.
Working to Jade’s advantage is the fact that the ship has an above-average number of food and drink options for a vessel of this size—on an 11-day cruise, one could dine in a different venue nightly. There’s even a 24-hour diner, available on most NCL vessels but something of a rarity on most other cruise lines. Of course, only three restaurants were included in the cruise fare; eight required a surcharge ranging up to $25 per person (though based in Europe year-round, the ship uses US currency). At Moderno and the steakhouse Cagney’s, the surcharge seemed worth it; at Le Bistro, the meal and service was well below what we felt was acceptable. But don’t get too distracted by the specialty restaurants, for the main dining rooms delivered consistently good meals—once we got seated. Food at the Garden Café, the ship’s buffet, was fairly mediocre. One concern, ship-wide: Except for the Garden Café, menus had a dearth of options for vegetarians.
At just 140 square feet, our Inside cabin was very small and cramped. While adequate for a single passenger, a party of two will find these quarters short on elbow-room. Lined with wood veneer and a modicum of color accents, at least the cabin décor was attractive. With lots of them to fill, Jade’s Inside cabins are often available at very low prices, so we didn’t feel ripped off; Oceanview’s aren’t much larger, but we’d seriously consider a Balcony cabin on a future cruise.
Crowding was one of several issues we had with our cruise. It started before we even stepped foot on the ship, with a boarding process that was more like a cattle call; we waited 50 minutes to get to the check-in agent (the process made us wonder why we had bothered to check in online in advance). But worse were the sun decks. The side-by-side pools at midship that were teeming with bodies both in and out of the water; even beyond the pools, loungers were at a premium and one could waste a good amount of time trying to find two empty ones next to each other.
We found the basketball/soccer/tennis court to be underutilized; NCL might seriously consider converting this area to an adults-only pool area, to the benefit of many more guests than were using the sports facilities (then again, this would probably be seen as an opportunity for another surcharge). Crowd control was an issue around the lobby, which was often jammed with guests in transit. Contributing to the problem were tables set up for jewelry sales and photographers stationed for portraits on the stairways—if these were eliminated most of the traffic issue in the lobby would be eliminated.
It was our observation that Norwegian’s “Freestyle” brand of travel works well for some cruisers but not for others. With no set dining times on the ship, at peak hours dinner in the main dining rooms required unreasonable waits, nightly. NCL’s idea of Formal Night is called—wait for it—“Dress Up or Not Night,” and on this evening in the tightly configured Alizar restaurant we were seated next a young couple in well-worn shorts and T-shirts (apparently, their choice was “not!”). Admittedly, the idea of boarding a cruise ship and not having to follow a set dress code or schedule for a week was freeing, but NCL first-timers should be aware that the line charts a pretty distinct course away from the style of other mainstream cruise brands.
If it sounds like a laundry list of complaints, there were a number of laudable elements to our cruise—some of them unexpected. We found the Norwegian Jade to be a smooth, stable and quiet vessel. This might have been partly due to calm seas on our itinerary, but engine vibration throughout was at a minimum (except when docking). With a couple exceptions, service was excellent, and the senior staff was easily available to guests; their phone extensions were displayed on guest TVs and elsewhere on the ship. We liked the lush Hawaiian décor, right down to the swirling hot lava carpet pattern.
Hawaiiana aside, Norwegian Jade didn’t seem overly concerned with interpreting its Mediterranean itinerary through an American filter. And this seemed right to us, especially given that a majority of passengers were European. So although we had concerns about crowding and specialty restaurants that added more surcharges than quality to our cruise, we still enjoyed the experience. And when the per-day rates are as low as we found them, we’d say Norwegian Jade offers relatively good value for a European cruise.
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