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.
Alongside Carnival and Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line is, traditionally, thought of as one of the big three mass-market lines. The company came to prominence in 1979 when they refurbished the mothballed ocean liner S.S. France into the cruise ship S.S. Norway which, for many years, was one of the largest vessels in service.
However, while both Carnival and Royal Caribbean spent the 1980’s and 1990’s rebuilding and expanding their fleets around large builds of standard ship classes, the Norwegian fleet has, until more recently, been something of a mixed bag, including oddities, such as Pride of America, the only “American built” ship able to cruise between the Hawaiian Islands and the massive, uniquely ugly, Norwegian Epic.
The current owners have, however, started to simplify matters with six ships in the Breakaway and Breakaway-plus class entering service up to 2019, followed by at least four, slightly smaller, “Project Leonardo” vessels.
Where Norwegian has led is in the complete abandonment of long-standing cruising traditions, such as formal nights and fixed dining. Building on the experience of Star Cruises, an Asia-focused line with the same parent group, Norwegian pioneered the concept of multiple dining venues and specialty restaurants with flexible dining times.
As well as a large operation in the Caribbean, Norwegian also offers sailings in Europe, Alaska and Asia. Furthermore, if you want to tour Hawaii by ship, thanks to the Jones Act, Norwegian’s Pride of America is your only choice.
If you were to tell us that we were departing on another Cunard cruise tomorrow, we would be genuinely pleased - that’s not something we can really say about any of the other lines we’ve sampled (with the possible exception of Carnival). Indeed, we’re more than a little intrigued by the notion of a seven day crossing to New York, with nothing but the endless expanse of ocean to keep us distracted from the ship itself.
Well, as we’ve said before, both the food and drinks were excellent and there were things to do that didn’t seem as if they’d been lifted directly from an episode of Hi-Dee-Hi. On top of that, every staff member we encountered was enthusiastic, keen to help and, it has to be noted, remarkably well turned out.
In contrast to other ships we’ve been on, Queen Elizabeth felt very spacious and quiet, even on the, usually manic, embarkation day.
Overall, both Cunard and Queen Elizabeth receive a ringing endorsement from us, for all that’s worth.
Avid readers may recall that, back when we boarded, there was some confusion surrounded the confiscation of passports. This continued on arrival at Southampton, when all passengers who had joined in Hamburg (some had remained onboard from an earlier voyage) were asked to collect their passports before disembarkation from one of the meeting rooms.
We thought we had arrived early for this process, only to find that half the ship was already waiting in line, where we then spent half an hour standing and waiting. While we appreciate the border control formalities are outwith the sphere of Cunard’s influence, it would have been nice if the whole process, and rationale behind it, had been explained in a letter. As it was, there was an unnecessary level of confusion and anxiety among many passengers.
That being said, once our passports were retrieved, the rest of disembarkation was a breeze and we were sitting on a train at Southampton Station in a matter of minutes.
Of all the lines we’ve cruised with, Cunard had, by far, the most diverse passenger manifest. There were large tour groups from Japan and the USA, as well as large contingent of Germans. Of the Brits, there seemed to be a high proportion of young couples, although that may be something that’s unique to these shorter, less expensive, cruises.
Overall, the crowd were quiet, polite and friendly. There are, however, exceptions to every rule…
There were a number of, what can only be described as “golf club bores” - the sort of people you’d expect on a Cunard cruise if you were a devotee of Keeping Up Appearances. On the whole, they are easily avoided, however, beware of Cunard’s seating algorithm (if such a thing exists), which does insist on group all Brits together, as some sort of collective punishment for the vulgarity of a few. If you’re unfortunate enough to be sat next to these people at dinner, prepare to endure several hours of being talked at by an amorphous mass of badly fitting dinner suits, sequins and costume jewelry, determined to tell you all about their many, MANY, experiences on various ocean liners.
On-board activities are one area where there is a clear difference between Cunard and some of the other large-ship lines we’ve cruised with before.
Yes, there are still the dreadful sales presentations dressed up as “nutrition seminars” or “back care information”, but there were also more genteel daytime pastimes.
Cunard has a reputation for staging excellent factual lectures. While, on this short cruise, the lectures seemed to be focused on the history of Cunard itself, the were well attended and, clearly, well thought out.
When not being used for lectures or afternoon tea, The Queens Room also hosts ballroom dancing lessons during the day, preparing those who want to participate for the night ahead.
Trivia quizzes also seem to take place in both the day and night - the latter in The Golden Lion pub and, in our experience, excellent fun.
We have no photos of the spa - there didn't seem to be any way to take one without looking like perverts.
There's also not a great deal to say about the spa - it provided us with some excellent massages, at the higher end of the price scale, with too much hard-sell of products.
A nice facility, but nothing outstanding.
It is worth nothing that while the spas on Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are pretty generic, Queen Mary 2 features a Canyon Ranch spa facility; our experience of them on another line was outstanding.