Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Norwegian Jade Ship Review

I can’t conclude this blog series without a few word about the Norwegian Jade itself. Originally launched as the Pride of Hawaii, the Jade was redirected and renamed when NCL’s three ships in Hawaii proved an overload. There were some service issues in her initial months as the Jade—likely a carryover from her American-flagged days; but we found the crew to be friendly and helpful.  (By the way, she was scheduled for a dry-dock overhaul not too long after our cruise, adding more restaurants and features.)

Black Diamond Suite Living Room
 Let’s face it: Civitavecchia is just not a pretty port, and Italians are not always the most orderly people in the world. Our Italian tour guide, Roberto, had arranged for our bus to drop us off at the terminal. The port police had other ideas. Apparently, the rule had just been changed requiring buses to bear a certain permit—newly added since our driver’s last time there not long ago. We passengers could offload and haul our bags the last few yards to the terminal, but the bus could not enter. Despite Ben’s conversation with the authorities (with Franca’s translation expertise, thank you!), the rule stood. We were not happy; but with smiles on our faces, Ben and I made sure all in our group trekked safely, bags in tow, to the terminal entrance. We arrived at an apparent mass assembly time, but sections of seated passengers were called up in organized fashion for boarding, will everyone making it on pretty quickly. I confess Ben I had booked a suite and loved our immediate escort to the ship without waiting. I could get used to that. We’d arranged for a cocktail party right after the lifeboat drill, and our group coordinator and butler accommodated us beautifully. Nothing like getting our group off to a smiling start despite the trials at the port.

We had all looked forward to our initial days at sea after a busy week touring Italy. For some, however, the rough seas we encountered prevented much relaxation. Strong winds ushered in a cool front with a little rain and had even some seasoned cruisers feeling queasy. Our suite was situated on the top deck, though midship, and our primary problem wasn’t queasiness as much as it was the patio door in our bedroom that kept opening during the night. Yeah, gotta fix that door. As we entered into the Eastern Mediterranean, though, calmer winds and seas prevailed making for a smooth ride the remainder of the cruise and even back up to Rome.


NCL’s forte is the abundance of dining options. Over the course of the 10-day cruise, Ben and I dined in each main dining room (twice with our entire group), Teppanyaki, Cagney’s, Papa’s Italian, and the Garden Cafe. Cagney’s and Papa’s remain our favorites, though we really didn’t experience a bad meal anywhere. With two overnight shore excursions, we missed out on hitting every restaurant, but this cruise was about so much more than meals! The dining staff hosted NCL’s signature Chocoholic Buffet, but I confess I don’t think the variety and quality is what it used it be. It was also held in the Garden Cafe, which took away some of the event’s previous elegance. A popular addition in more recent years is the Jazz Brunch, held in Le Bistro. Ben and I were delighted to see a favorite head waiter there whom we’d first enjoyed on the NCL Spirit out of New Orleans. She is the epitome of excellent customer service and gracious hospitality, and it was a delight to reconnect with her. She admitted she looked forward to returning to the smaller Spirit in 2012, the NCL ship she still adores.

Our favorite entertainment was courtesy of a delightful combo called Three Guys and a Gal—British singers/musicians who played all of my songs—60s, 70s, and many wonderful standards. I could hear them playing on the pool deck from our suite and couldn’t get enough of them. A variety of entertainers headlined throughout the cruise, but the highlight to us for 4Ever, a vocal quartet on par with Il Divo, and I’m a big fan of that group. Frankly, in my opinion, 4Ever’s voices blended even better than more famous counterparts. Up later in the week was Elements, NCL’s production show portraying Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Nicely done.

Admittedly, there was exception in good customer service. Israel promotes the fact that customers buying merchandise there are qualified for refunds of the tourist tax (VAT) when departing the country, and that officials will be set up at the terminal to assist them. Unfortunately, almost every excursion bus returned to the ship in Ashdod simultaneously, making for terrible traffic and a late departure for the ship. We were told that NCL staff instructed the Israeli officials to leave the ship before everyone re-boarded, which meant many who expected that refund didn’t get it and made their frustrations known. Although Ben and I did not personally witness these interactions, reliable sources said there could have been a kinder, gentler way to handle the situation. The case became a “not my fault or problem” situation. We don’t know if those who returned to the ship first got their money back, but we do understand that it’s very difficult to receive that refund after leaving the county. Frankly, we think it’s best for folks to buy things without the expectation of a refund. That said, I would love some feedback from people who have had successful attempts with these refunds.

Aside from that one instance, though, it was a fantastic trip. We can’t thank NCL enough for staying on course with this Holy Land itinerary. We came so close, before AND after, to not hitting every port, particularly Port Said/Alexandria for Cairo. Even the crew were delighted to be seeing these historically significant cities and sights, and those lucky enough to get time off shared their excitement with us. Ben and I received excellent support from our group coordinator, butler, concierge, and office staff to meet our every need with this group, and we thank them!

Our return to port brought the only really heavy rainfall of the entire ship—again at that wonderfully disorganized Port of Civitavecchia. It was a challenge to wait for our prearranged drivers and get to the airport or hotels, but we finally made it, soggy and tired, and ready to return home after almost three weeks away.

Would I return to Cairo? No. Been there, done that, but we recommend it for anyone wanting to see the marvelous and amazing pyramids and other historical architecture there. Israel? You bet, but at a slower pace and maybe during January when crowds are fewer and I could spend more time at certain places. Did I feel safe? Absolutely! Remember, cruise lines are the first to pull out of trouble spots . If the ship is headed there, you can rest assured it’s okay. Put this itinerary on your top ten list!

To see our photos from this wonderful cruise, click here and select from several albums.

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