Best For People Who Want
To cruise European itineraries with dining flexibility, and an international passenger mix.
While the Jade continues to sail in Europe, expect an International passenger mix, including a wide age demographic.
In April 2008 the Jade became the first NCL ship to implement an ambitious program of upgrades referred to as Freestyle 2.0 (which is being rolled out fleet-wide). Read the full details of the 2.0 upgrades here.
Immediately upon boarding, guests are greeted with champagne -- the first step in experiencing Freestyle 2.0. Aside from new cabin amenities, the most noticeable change is NCL's $55 million commitment over the next two years to upgrading the ship's food with higher quality ingredients and the addition of signature dishes to each of the specialty restaurants.
Some other significantly upgraded amenities are focused on the mini-suite and above cabin categories, but there are some interesting initiatives available to guests booked into the most basic cabins.
During our sailing, NCL was experimenting with a new entertainment program as well, which, when refined, will no doubt be expanded fleet-wide as part of the Freestyle 2.0 project.
This ship features 10 restaurants, three swimming pools, a large spa and beautiful public rooms. It also has a new style of accommodations: 10 Courtyard Villas, which -- along with the two Garden Villas -- make up the largest, grandest, most luxurious, most innovative suite complexes at sea (the entire Jewel Class of ships has similar accommodations). The suite complex boasts a private courtyard and sundeck with private pool, and both Courtyard and Garden Villa guests have a concierge lounge available to them. Freestyle 2.0 has added butler service to the exclusive amenities for Courtyard Villa passengers.
Additionally, The Jade features "Bar Central" -- a complex where a martini bar, a champagne and wine bar, and a beer and whisky pub all share a large area, but with three distinct personalities. There are also nine other bars and lounges on the ship.
The ship's interior design is vibrant -- luxurious in some areas, whimsical in others; eclectic in some, daring in others. As a package, it comes together beautifully to establish a comfortable and welcoming "Aloha Spirit." How well that translates for Mediterranean sailings, though, I'm not sure. The colors of Hawaii are everywhere: fuchsia, sea blues, greens, yellows and vivid reds abound in everything from carpet and wall treatments to elaborate glass ceilings and light fixtures. You won't be wowed with understated elegance on this ship, but it does exude an energy, a feeling of coming to life.
The Stardust Theater, the main entertainment venue, features dramatic masks inspired by Greek theater, though they look more Venetian. The mask theme is carried throughout the room from the stage curtains to the carpet. The royal blue and gold theater-style seats bedazzle the eye. The Spinnaker Lounge's aquatic theme has carpet of oceanic waves complete with swimming fish, white egg-cup barstools, and maple cocktail tables topped with green tinted glass. Medusa's Lounge has vivid purple couches and orange chairs atop a starfish carpet, and enormous jellyfish glass decorations confuse the design even further. Medusa's is the ship's venue for Karaoke as well as various game days including Wii. Just off of Medusa's are several private rooms, originally designed for private Karaoke parties, now free for private gatherings to sing Karaoke or play Wii games on large flat-screen TVs.
Bar City is a collection of lounges, featuring Magnum's Champagne and Wine Bar, Mixer's Martinis and Cocktail Bar, and Tankards Beer and Whiskey Bar. Bar City has a very "uptown" atmosphere, and is a central drawing point for late-evening nightlife. All the bars share the entertainment, provided by a sole piano player.
In the central lobby area opposite the guest relations desk, the Aloha Bar features comfortable wicker style chairs and tables; guests can purchase premium brand coffees and pastries as well as drinks. In the evenings, a classical quartet soothes guests.
With the change from Pride of Hawaii's American crew to the Jade's more traditional international crew, service is very much in line with what one would expect on any of the mass market lines. I found the crew friendly and eager to please, in both the public rooms and the dining rooms and restaurants.
NCL charges $10 per day per passenger to your shipboard account, an amount that is commensurate with other cruise lines. However, on NCL the charge is referred to as a "service fee" and unlike other lines, NCL guests cannot have the charge removed.
During our cruise, the Jade was experimenting with a new entertainment program that will be tweaked and adjusted until it's ready to be expanded fleet-wide.
Gone are the familiar pool-side activities, replaced by a program of almost non-stop events throughout the day, including a program of seminars dubbed NCL U. These cover a variety of topics, like "Beers, Margaritas, and Martinis;" digital photography; or how to use improvisation techniques in everyday life, taight by the Second City Comedy Troupe onboard.
The new entertainment program includes having the Second City Comedy Troupe appear in a variety of forms almost every night in the Spinnaker Lounge, now dubbed the Spinnaker Cabaret.
On evenings when Second City isn't performing, there's an interactive production of Tony and Tina's Wedding, and another night NCL hosts a new "White Hot Party Night." The White Hot Party will soon be found throughout the fleet. Even with Jade's busy, port-intensive itinerary, the cabaret was filled with passengers dressed in white (with White Hot T-shirts available for sale in the hallway in case you didn't pack white), led by the energetic cruise staff in a frenzied disco party.
Another initiative, Monte Carlo Night in the casino, was promoted quite extensively, and though the cruise staff attended, dressed as showgirls, jokers, etc, to try and energize the place, I think it struck most as simply an attempt to draw people into the casino.
With all the NCL U programs, production shows and headliners, the entertainment action is almost continuous throughout the day and evening. The intent is to make certain guests are "Free to Whatever" and whenever.
Over time, I'm sure they'll determine which activities are popular with passengers and which are not, and then try some new things to replace the latter. But inevitably this program will spread throughout the fleet, as it builds on the "Freestyle" idea. There was so much going on around the ship that there was no way I could even get a peek at everything, let alone participate in it all.
Those who want to stay busy all the time won't be disappointed with the Jade, and those who want to enjoy the sun and the ship without getting involved certainly won't have trouble doing so.
One of the better previous generation of Norwegian ships, good for seven day cruises, bargain hunters
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
A traditional cruise experience with formal nights and a specific dress code.
There's no doubt the food quality, variety, and taste is better in the restaurants that carry a cover charge. However, the line's $55 million dollar commitment to the food department is already beginning to show improvement to cuisine throughout the ship, including the main dining restaurants.
The key to fully enjoying your NCL cruise is Freestyle Dining. To get the most out of the experience, that should include trying out the surcharge restaurants. When you price your Jade cruise, add approximately $100 -- $120 per person to the quote. If that deal is still attractive, book and enjoy all that Jade has to offer.
The two main dining rooms are the Grand Pacific and the Alizar. Other options include the French restaurant, Le Bistro; the Asian Fusion restaurant, Jasmine Garden; Teppanyaki, with Benihana-style Japanese tabletop cooking, where the theatre of the preparation is a large part of the meal; the Steakhouse, Cagney's; a casual Italian trattoria, Papa's Italian Kitchen; a Tex-Mex, tapas, and salsa restaurant, Paniolo; the buffet restaurant, Garden Cafe (and its outdoor portion, Great Outdoor Café); as well as a 24-hour restaurant featuring American comfort foods, the Blue Lagoon.
Grand Pacific is inspired by first-class dining rooms from the Matson Line ships that sailed from San Francisco to Honolulu. Artwork around the room -- paintings of traditional Polynesian life -- is derived from the menu covers from the Matson Line. The Alizar is smaller and simpler in decor, but features the same menu.
The reservations-only restaurants that impose a cover charge include Cagney's Steakhouse, decorated with palomino-style leather chairs in yellow and black; Paniolo Tapas Bar & Restaurant, which takes its name from the Hawaiian cattle ranchers, or paniolos, at Parker Ranch on the island of Hawaii; Jasmine Garden Asian Restaurant, the ship's Asian Fusion venue, with a good variety of seafood selections and teriyaki meats; and Papa's Italian Kitchen, offering custom pizzas and a wide selection of Italian pastas and meats, as well as a delightful antipasto cart brought to the table.
If something lighter than a full menu in the dining room is more your style, there is the buffet-style Garden Cafe on the Lido deck, which also serves as an evening casual restaurant, adding tablecloths and tables set with cutlery. Food is served fresh from "action stations" as part of the Freestyle 2.0 program. Weather permitting, there are frequent barbecues on deck, particularly in the afternoon when passengers return from port visits. The ice cream bar dishes up sundaes, sherbets, and plain old ice cream.
NCL is presently evaluating a change in the costs of the various surcharge restaurants As a result, pricing information could be inaccurate. Surcharges at the moment vary between $10 and $30 per person, depending on which restaurant you choose.
Electronic boards at all restaurant entrances display which facilities have tables available, and are full. If you have to wait, you'll get a pager that will flash when your table is ready. On our sailing, I rarely saw a line for any restaurants.
For upscale luxury, check out the ship's two Garden Villas. Each one offers more than 4,390 sq. ft. of luxury living, complete with butler and concierge service. Each villa has three bedrooms, each with a king or queen-size bed and private luxury bath; and access to a private courtyard with pool, hot tub and sundeck. The villas also feature cappuccino machines.
There are two Owner's Suites and 10 Courtyard Villas, whose occupants share a beautiful courtyard area with pool, hot tub and sundeck.
Also available are Penthouse Suites, Romance Suites, Mini-suites with private balconies, Ocean View cabins with balconies, standard Ocean View staterooms, and inside staterooms. The ship also offers 27 state-of-the-art wheelchair and handicapped-accessible cabins. The top suites come with their own espresso machines, and all staterooms have in-cabin coffee makers (which I found surprisingly handy, even though free room service was available).
The Freestyle 2.0 upgrades shine through in the top 48 suites. They have been furnished with the "Bliss Collection" of new bedding, which includes Euro-top mattresses, a full pillow menu, and down-filled duvets.
As well as the private courtyard, the Courtyard Villa occupants now have butler service during the day, and also can take advantage of small versions of the buffet's action stations and snacks.
These suites' guests also have access to a private area, formerly an overflow room for Cagney's steakhouse, accessed electronically by inserting a cabin entry card. Here suite passengers can get breakfast and lunch, either made-to-order from a menu, or from a small buffet. Morning breakfast portions seemed small, but the staff was happy to double them up on request.
There are plenty of choices in standard cabin categories. The standard cabins are a bit small by industry norms, but well designed, decorated in cherrywood veneers, and bright colors. I particularly liked the bathroom design, with a toilet separated from the sink by a sliding glass door, and the shower with a sliding glass door opposite. The Jade also has quite a selection of family-friendly connecting staterooms including a category of family suites.
The mattresses in the standard cabins, while not furnished with the Bliss Collection, had upgraded bedding and duvets, and a foam cover above the mattresses.
I did have two issues with the cabins -- at least my standard balcony cabin. The lighting was lacking, making the cabin interior very dim; and there didn't seem to be (at least I never found it) one switch to turn off the various lights. My other problem was with the tables. Both the night stands and the "desk" were more like simple table tops on chrome stands. None had any drawers or storage space, and the desk chair is really more like a kitchen chair.
The ship's public rooms have WiFi access, but for in-cabin computer use you'll need to bring along a cable.
The Pool Deck, Sports Deck and Sun Deck are expansive and sheltered from the wind. You'll enjoy the views they offer as you sail into a spectacular port. Forward on the Pool Deck, the fitness center has one room filled with up-to-date equipment, and another for aerobics classes. The free weights area can accommodate only one person at a time. A full-size basketball/volleyball/tennis court on the Sports Deck, two golf driving ranges, a batting cage, jogging track and aerobics classes scheduled throughout the day round out the program.
The Steiner-run Ying & Yang Health Spa & Beauty Salon includes massage and steam rooms. Some of the "traditional" massage treatments they offer are derivatives and may not be as authentic as those provided by authentic therapists who practice the disciplines in their native habitat. Also note that service fees in the Spa include a space for an additional tip, but it does not go to your therapist -- it is pooled -- so if you want to tip your therapist personally, take cash.
"Freestyle Cruising" means you can get as dressed up -- or down -- as you please. But it doesn't mean that you're free to wear shorts in restaurants or public areas after 6 p.m.
There are several nights designated as formal, though dressing formally is entirely at the option of the passenger. I was indeed surprised that perhaps 30 percent of the passengers on our cruise did wear suits or even tuxedos on formal nights.