Norwegian Jade Cruise, Reviewed

Part 2 in a series about a January trip to Barcelona and a Western Mediterranean cruise on NCL.

* * *

It was the price that drove my mother and me to a 9-day Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Jade earlier this year. Yes, there are perks of cruise travel as well as necessary evils, but I don’t know how else we could have seen so much for about $65 a day.

Recently repositioned to serve as the first NCL ship to sail exclusively in Europe, the Jade enjoys passengers from around the world—a large number of Brits, especially, populated our sailing. Plying the Western Mediterranean and the Atlantic ocean, our itinerary was a roundtrip from Barcelona with ports of call in Casablanca, Morocco; Agadir, Morocco; Las Palmas, Gran Canaria; Funchal, Madeira; and Malaga, Spain.

Hawaii, Via Europe

The Jade was originally christened as the Pride of Hawaii for NCL’s brief jaunt into all-Hawaiian island cruising. After those cruises failed and ceased, the ship and its sister were re-initiated into NCL’s main fleet, and today the only marks of its Hawaiian past are…well, everything. The giant floral motifs along the sides of the ship, the Hawaiian décor and bright colors in every public and private room, the “underwater”-themed lounges—Hawaii still runs in this ship’s blood. However, the ship was comfortable and well laid out, and it wouldn’t be a proper cruise, to me, without optimally cheesy décor.

Medusa Lounge, via ncl.com

Medusa Lounge, via ncl.com

Dining Freestyle

Although I’ve cruised about a dozen times before, this was my first time on Norwegian. The main hallmark that makes NCL different from the rest is the Freestyle Dining program—instead of a fixed reservation time in a main dining room, guests can eat at a variety of specialty restaurants—for a fee, of course, of $5-$20. You can make a reservation, or not; dress up, or not; and if paying a fee to eat on your cruise isn’t your thing, there’s always the regular dining rooms and buffet available.

Although we did have some great meals in the specialty restaurants—particularly the French-themed one and the upscale steakhouse—our Mexican and Chinese meals were no more special than anything we’ve had on sea or land. Plus, we felt that the regular dining room food suffered by the amount of attention put into the specialty experiences, and our two dinners there were among the most mediocre we’ve had while cruising.

Entertainment–Freestyle?

As for the rest of NCL’s Freestyle program—there wasn’t much evidence of it. NCL boasts that this isn’t a traditional cruise, and there’s fewer cheesy activities and a less regimented schedule than on other cruise lines. However, what this really translated into was less activity in general, and just as much annoying activity announcements and the like, or perhaps even more than are usual on a cruise.

Plus there was my own personal pet peeve—a mediocre staff member running the daily trivia activities eliminated me during a “Weakest Link”-like game one night because I was less entertaining than the other passengers (i.e., getting questions right without audience help and without being funny about it). My consolation prize of a soda cozy was not enough to contain my rage at this extreme affront to my trivia prowess.

Evening entertainment, however, was an upside—there were typically two or more choices of shows in an evening, including some unusual production shows, without the typical dance corps (though that was actually a minus, for me), and the usual rotation of magicians, hypnotists, comedians, etc. The best part of the entertainment options, however, was the presence of a six members of The Second City, the famous Chicago-based improvisation troupe. Performing a total of 12 one-hour shows during the cruise, combining pre-written skits with improv work and games, the troupe were a great addition to the entertainment line-up and something we rarely missed.

All in all, my bottom line about Norwegian and the Jade is that although I would return with the right situation, it’s not my favorite line. However, thanks to an excellent price and fun itinerary, our trip was a great one.

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