Go on a cruise,” they say “there’s something to do every minute of the day.”
Well, yes and no. Jade offers the standard production shows, some kids activities and the odd quiz, but we were hardly overwhelmed with options. And, so apologies, we’ve really don’t have much to tell you.
In truth, I’m sure that the situation would be different in the Caribbean and come back to an earlier point - this ship isn’t suitable for cruising in Northern Europe, there simply isn’t enough indoor space available when it’s too cold or wet to be on deck.
After a few months of inactivity (actually, crouched in a darkened room, rocking from side to side, trying to forget the horrors of Fred Olsen's Balmoral), we're off again.
This time, it's Royal Caribbean's huge Navigator of The Seas. Now, we are led to believe that Royal Caribbean has some sort of fancy internet service that's actually usable, so we should be posting live to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook - follow along!
Those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram may have noticed that our cruise on Fred Olsen's Balmoral took us past the trips listed in our original "Forthcoming Attractions" post.
So, aside from detailed reviews of CMV's Columbus and Fred Olsen's Balmoral that are already in the pipeline, what else can you expect from us? In short, lots - we continue to suffer so you don't end up booking a bad holiday.
Coming up in quick succession, we'll be taking trips on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of The Seas, the Costa Favolosa and Holland America Line's Niew Amsterdam.
Then, as these reviews filter through the system, we'll take a bit of a break to do, you know, some actual work, before embarking on the (supposedly) ultra-luxurious, and seldom reviewed, Europa 2.
Then, as likely as not, we'll add some other sailings into the mix, but in the name of long-term planning, we've also made (very) advance reservations on Sapphire Princess, Carnival Magic and, finally, out in 2019, Celebrity Edge - the hotly anticipated and, seemingly, revolutionary new-build for Celebrity.
First, the positives… The spa on Norwegian Jade is nicely appointed and the therapist was both competent and charming, at least during the treatment.
Sadly, I only recall these things because I wrote them down. My overriding memory of the experience is of being given the hard sell.
It began at booking, where I was talked into changing from a deep tissue massage to a bamboo massage (I guess the bamboo masseuse had more capacity), which, to be honest, wasn’t great. But after the massage, oh boy, for the first time on a ship I actually bought the ludicrous products being pushed on me as I began to think I’d never make it out alive otherwise.
Oh, and both the treatment and the products were pretty expensive.
Another “could do better/stop ripping me off” for Norwegian.
Some context on pricing before we dive into this... Norwegian offers a variety of promotional schemes which differ depending on your country of residence (or your travel agent’s location) - the biggest being “Free at Sea” (USA) and “Premium All-Inclusive” (European markets). The upshot of these schemes is that most people who want to drink on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship are entitled to unlimited “free” drinks; indeed, all-inclusive beverage packages seem more and more common throughout the industry.
That being said, through some quirk of timing and booking, I seemed to be the only person on this god-forsaken vessel who was actually paying for drinks. Paying handsomely, for bad drinks.
While we did have a nice bottle of wine in Cagney’s Steakhouse, the wine selection available at bars throughout the ship is woeful. The notion that any of it is worth $14 a glass is laughable.
Furthermore, all of the bars seem packed and noisy, particularly before dinner - there is nowhere to relax with a quiet cocktail or glass of Champagne.
I will say that, on embarkation day, we enjoyed great service, views and a well prepared martini in The Spinnaker lounge, but it was expensive and not generously poured. Other drinks there were ludicrously priced - I tried a “Spanish” gin and tonic (it was served in a goblet - that’s the extent of it’s connection to Spain) at $18 and almost wept. Other times we tried to return to The Spinnaker, it was being used for a variety of loud and intrusive activities - I can’t remember exactly what, from the noise, I’d guess it was a dwarf tossing competition.
It seems that, on the newer Norwegian vessels, the concept of a “Main Dining Room” has been done away with completely, in favour of a wide variety of “specialist” restaurants - some included in the cruise ticket, some with a cover charge and some with a la carte pricing. As an older ship, Jade is something of a halfway house - there is still a large Main Dining Room (split into the Grand Pacific and Alizar), but there is also a wider selection of alternative restaurants than might be found on other ships of a similar size and vintage. In addition to the standard dining room, buffet and coffee shops, Jade offers:
As this was a short trip we didn’t have time to sample all the offerings, but did eat at Cagney’s and La Cucina, as well as The Grand Pacific dining room and the buffet. Overall, the food wasn’t much to write home about, although the standard in The Grand Pacific seemed higher than in the restaurants we paid extra for.
The Grand Pacific and The Buffet
Breakfast in the buffet was the stuff of nightmares - packed with rude people fighting for access to poor quality food and insufficient tables. In The Grand Pacific, things were at least civilised, but the bacon and French toast were both poor, although the grapefruit was at least fresh, rather than tinned (take note, P&O).
Beware that the buffet hours seemed rather limited, although, considering the offering, this may be a blessing.
Lunch in The Grand Pacific (see above) was more successful. The calamari appetiser wasn’t great, and arrived tepid, but nachos were better - as good as nachos are going to get. The fish and chips were surprisingly good - at least the fish was, the chips were mediocre. There was a peanut butter cup cheesecake offered for dessert; there’s not much I can say about a slice of frozen cheesecake.
Another mixed bag - good service and lovely wine (which is not available many places on this ship), but the food only sporadically good. A shrimp cocktail appetiser was small and tasteless, while an iceberg wedge with blue cheese was excellent. The steaks (rib-eye) were fine, but not fantastic; a little tough. On the other hand, the sides were wonderful (mac ‘n’ cheese, potato gratin, broccoli).
Dessert was another slice of frozen cheesecake (Oreo this time).
For some reason, the night we ate here the restaurant was almost empty, so the atmosphere was odd. Almost as odd as some of the food.
The bruschetta appetiser was terrible - small and tasteless with wilted basil. The pasta course rang from the OK (carbonara) to a bizarre interpretation of a pasta with Italian sausage, featuring an entire sausage. There was then a rather insipid prawn dish and an acceptable osso bucco.
In summary - a wide variety of mediocre foods.
As usual, we booked a standard balcony cabin on this voyage. Unusually, this is the first time we’ve walked into a cabin and thought “bloody hell, this is tight”.
The balcony was small.
The room was small.
The shower was quite large, but the rest of the bathroom was so small, and so awkwardly divided by a screen, that anyone without advanced yoga skills will find defecation problematic.
Oh, and the bed was not comfortable. At all.
Norwegian Jade offers most of the facilities that you’d expect from a large ship, but none of the bells and whistles found on the massive new ships. There’s a pool, large theatre, gym, nightclub and a casino that’s themed to look like Chinese restaurant in Woking, circa 1986.
There’s also an oddly large Duty Free shop that doesn’t seem to sell anything remotely appealing and takes up space that really should be given over to nice bar or lounge - there really seemed to be nowhere relaxing or quiet for a drink. The Spinnaker Lounge, which should be the setting for a peaceful drink with a beautiful view seems to be used for all manner of quiz and gathering - often multiple events seemed to take place simultaneously, fighting to be heard over each other.
This may have been a function of a ship that was clearly designed for the tropics sailing an itinerary in Northern Europe - when everybody is inside, rather than sunbathing, things are cozy. In a similar vein, there is no covered pool, so forget swimming on most sailing to Norway. Curiously, there is an attractive library and card room featuring menus, models and other artefacts from the United States Line.
The check-in and embarkation process for this cruise didn’t go wholly smoothly. First of all, in advance of the cruise, the online “cruise personaliser” didn’t seem to be accepting bookings for the spa or restaurants; a bit of an issue on NCL given the focus on a variety of dinner venues, rather than a single main dining room. We were resigned to just making reservations once on the ship, but when we came to check in a few days before departure, the glitches seemed to have resolved themselves.
This voyage was leaving from Southampton’s Ocean Cruise Terminal, which seems far more modern and well appointed than the Mayflower terminal that we’ve used before with both P&O and Cunard, however, the location seems to involve more busy roads and slow moving traffic than Mayflower.
In the terminal things were somewhat chaotic as NCL seem to have sold cabins to a very large Chinese tour group without bothering to provide any Chinese speaking staff, or even signage. However, once through that scrum, security was quick.
On the ship, there was further bemusement. Not only was the room set up (twin/double) wrong, but there were excursion tickets for other people on the bed. It seems that they had already set the room up for the guests embarking in Hamburg, as if we didn’t exist.
After all that, it seemed that we’d earned a drink a seat to watch other ships leaving Southampton ahead of us.
Built in 2006 and carrying up to 2400 passengers, Norwegian Jade falls right in the middle of Norwegian’s fleet, in terms of age and capacity.
The ship is an odd mix of themes. Originally built as Pride of Hawaii, in compliance with the Jones Act, for cruises to Hawaii, the ship still retains some of that flavour; the corridors are an endless row of cabin doors dressed up as, bright yellow, beach hut doors, while the main dining room is named after Matson Line and features an odd assortment of murals depicting “traditional Hawaiian scenes” amidst an "ocean liners of yore" motif.
There is no mention of allusion to “Jade” other than the name and gaudy hull art.
Elsewhere, there are large areas of the ship which seem to sport a bad art-deco theme. A recent renovation aimed at a “classier, understated, European style” was extremely superficial and limited to a few areas.
Furthermore, Norwegian Jade seems particularly unsuited to the northern European cruises she’s now sailing - there is precious little indoor space so, during inclement weather, every corner of the ship seems crowded. There is certainly no covered pool or other concession to the reality of weather in the Fjords of Scandinavia.
In the Mediterranean or Caribbean, this may be a fine ship, but it doesn’t function well sailing north from Southampton and Hamburg.