The old adage goes “once the travel bug bites, you’re hooked for life”. To elaborate on this, it would be my subjective opinion to say that cruising is the best way to travel. It’s like travel speed dating.
Having cruised a few times I can honestly say it’s my favorite way of traveling. You unpack once, eat like a king, drink like a fish, and explore a new destination almost each morning. Our first cruise was on the MSC Melody. A short three day cruise with a very uninspiring itinerary. Mike and I were relatively new into our relationship and this was our first “overseas” trip together. I had just quit smoking and used twelve months cigarette money to buy a three day cruise (let that sink in for a while).
The Melody has subsequently been decommissioned and scrapped so I will rather write about our second cruise on the Norwegian Jade.
I remember the sales consultant who sold us the tickets asking: “Have you ever cruised before?” I answered “Yes, on the MSC Melody” …she laughed and in a thick American accent replied, “Honey that’s not cruising, THIS is cruising”. Boy was she right! The two experiences were like chalk and cheese.
Having cruised once before on a local budget cruise liner we had a general idea of what to expect.
Nevertheless, we did a lot of research on the ship, learning the “Do’s and Don’ts”, what the ship had to offer and its itinerary. We realized it was going to be a pretty “dry” cruise based on the booze prices. Spending dollars, we were going to be paying more than three times what we were used to paying for a local beer in South Africa. So naturally we did what most passengers without a booze package did…we emptied some wine bottles, filled them with whisky and packed them into our luggage.
The corkage fee for wine brought on board was a lot less than purchasing the equivalent amount of whisky. Just a tip…if you plan to party, the drinks package is a viable option. Also, Wi-Fi is never included / available so you will have to purchase a data package or do your business on land using free Wi-Fi in coffee shops etc.
Food & Drink on the Norwegian Jade.
You can literally eat all day when you are cruising on the Norwegian Jade, anytime and anywhere. There are the regular three meals a day, but you can also find a snack food bar in the pool area and there is a midnight snack buffet for those who have been partying in the clubs.
The Jade offered two main dining halls where breakfast and dinners was served with a number of speciality dinning restaurants scattered around the ship. Speciality dining is not included in the standard price, so it’s worth investigating a “speciality dining package” as part of your cruise.
I think Mike ate salmon and kippers every day for breakfast. The standard and quality of the food was top shelf and getting ready for dinner was a much-anticipated affair.
Belonging to the Norwegian Cruise Lines, The Jade offered “Free Style Dining” meaning you go for dinner at your leisure. This was different to what we had experienced on the MSC Melody where we were assigned a designated table at one of two dining times. You will however queue up at the busier times like at any normal restaurant, but the queue moves quickly, and you’ll soon be seated.
There are two show times, and most passengers tend to have dinner first and then do the show so this is when the restaurant is at its busiest. Dinner is a formal affair. Something we looked forward to everyday. Kitted out in semi-formal to formal attire, you are seated and presented with the evening’s menu selection. This always three courses with various options available for each course. The dinner service is a slick operation that left me astounded. How they feed that many people with such good quality food, in such a short space of time is amazing. The staff are fast, efficient and friendly. I could not fault them once.
As alluded to earlier, alcohol on-board is very expensive. There were however daily specials on selected cocktails and promotional items like the buckets of beer. Juice, coffee and water are supplied at breakfast but otherwise these dispensers were closed/empty the rest of the day. This forces passengers to buy bottled water. There are also water and soft drinks packages available, although most would fill their water bottles at breakfast. Others like me would stock up on chocolate milks and other treats at breakfast to handout to the poor kids on the streets.
Cruising on a relatively tight budget we opted for an inside room. Meaning you don’t have a window or any natural light. This was not an issue as the room, cupboards and bathroom were spacious enough. What is the point of having a window when you are going to be out and about all day?
If you want a view, you might as well upgrade to a balcony room. Those little port holes/windows don’t offer much of a view. Having a sundowner on your private balcony before dinner is another story. Try asking for a free upgrade on check-in, you never know. NCL also allows you to bid for a room upgrade, anything to make a few extra dollars. The results of which are released just before departure, so you could find yourself going from an inside room to a balcony room for $100 for the entire cruise if your bid is successful.
Norwegian Jade Entertainment & Shore Excursions
This was a ten day cruise departing from Civitavecchia (Italy) stopping at Istanbul, Izmir, Athens, Naples and Olympia, so naturally there were many excursions to partake in. We often thought these excursions to be overpriced and opted to do our own thing. Most of the time, you will find external tour operators offering the same excursions for a lot less. They will usually be located outside the port disembarkation point.
The only difference using these guys is that if anything goes wrong you are not protected by the cruise liner…and if you are back late, the ship will sail without you!
We found the on-board entertainment wonderful while cruising on the Norwegian Jade. Each night there is a different show, daily games and activities, pool, casino, library, cigar lounge, running track, gym, spa etc. A daily program is slipped under your door each evening detailing the following day’s activities. You won’t find yourself being bored.
We used a company called Vacations to Go . They have a 90 day ticket platform where all the cruise companies dump their remaining stock at massively discounted rates. We have used them twice and secured cruises at very good prices. Even better than going direct if you can believe that! So best to plan your cruise three months prior to departure for the best rate. You can also try CruiseCritic to see how prices compare.
We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and will be revisiting the recently refurbished Jade in a few weeks’ time. Great memories were made and even greater friendships formed. We are still close family friends with staff members who we met through this cruise. When cruising, you’re not just a guest, you’re made to feel part of the family.
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Cruising Norwegian Jade (Part 2)
Oops, we did it again! As mentioned, we just LOVE cruising and the Jade had so many nostalgic memories for us that we just had to see her in all her newly refurbished glory. The fantastic Greek itinerary also helped sway us towards this cruise as we’d always wanted visit the islands.
Before she was the “Jade”, she was the “Pride of Hawaii” and wore quiet a festive frock. The makeover saw all those gaudy colors removed (especially from the pool deck) and replaced with a modern lobby, photo gallery, jewelry store and casino. NCL now also has an amazing interactive app where you can view your daily program, book specialty restaurants, check your on-board account, connect and monitor your internet usage and book Spa treatments among other things.
Other than the new look we did not notice much else that had changed. What we did notice was that they no longer leave towel animals in your cabin at turn-down service and the kid’s show at the end of the cruise did not take place. I think that NCL has “cut the fat” and now concentrates mostly on income generating activities. My only complaints are that although we had the premium dinks package and could order anything from champagne to cognac, we could not order a small bottle of water to take to bed at night. We were offered a “beverage package” that included water, coffee from the new Starbucks in the lobby and freshly squeezed juices. But at $29 a day I thought it was a bit steep. Tip: bring a refillable water bottle on board with you and fill it up at the water dispensers located in the Garden Café or Great Outdoors restaurants located on level 12.
The other complaint related to the Wi-Fi. Although we were each given 150 min as part of our package and could monitor the usage, we both somehow lost it all very quickly. We did make sure to disconnect the Wi-Fi on our devices, but it still vanished. Maybe a glitch NCL should look into. We did however buy an international eSim which worked like a bomb. Check out Airalo.
The embarkation process went smoothly. Most of the check-in details could be done online prior to arrival, similar to an airline pre-check in. There were a few extra Covid protocols to complete but we were exploring the new ship within 40min of arriving at the port. Disembarking on the last day was a bit of a nightmare. NCL wanted all passengers out of their staterooms by 8:30am and off the ship by 9:30am. So even with the color coded disembarkation process, there was still a bottle neck of passengers at mid-ship where the stairs and elevators met up. Just a suggestion to NCL…open up mid and aft disembarkation points for a faster/smoother disembarkation.
Looking back it was an amazing cruise with superb food, plenty of drinks, excellent service from the staff, and great memories and friendships made. We are already planning the next trip.