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.
We’re heading to sea again, this time on the Norwegian Jade.
Apparently, Norwegian Cruise Line is actually a US-based organisation owned by a Malaysian conglomerate. That’s as may, but browsing Instagram for Norwegian sailors has given us a very clear idea of what sort of person will be taking us up the gangway this afternoon.