This was our first short, 5-nights, cruise with NCL. We have done three long, 11-nights, cruises with them before on the Wind, the Dawn and the Jewel.
Pre-Cruise Since this was a short vacation and we have been in London many times before, it was my 10th visit there, we decided to stay there for just one night before the cruise. We stayed at Park Plaza Victoria Hotel close to Victoria Station and that was a very nice hotel.
On the day of the cruise we took a National Express bus from Victoria Coach Station at 7.15. A little early but the next bus would get us to Southampton later than we wanted so it was the choice we had!
We came to Southampton 9:25 and had some breakfast at McDonalds before we walked to the terminal, arrived there at 10.30. It was definitely walking distance between the coach station and the terminal but with more luggage we would have taken a cab. (We took a cab after the cruise and paid £5+tip, around $8+tip.)
Embarkation They started the embarkation at 11:05 so we had to wait for a while before we could check in. Since there were no lines everything went very fast. We were the first to get to one of the Latitudes desks where we checked in. The lady at the desk then took us to the concierge, Ruth Hagger, where we got our keys. I didn't see any VIP-check in, maybe because we were so early and there were no lines anyway? Ruth took us to the VIP waiting area where we waited for just a few minutes before we got escorted onto the ship around 11:30. We got our glass of sparkling wine and then we left our luggage in our cabin which was almost ready. When the luggage was left we went to Magnum's for our traditional first glass of Champagne, Taittinger!
Our Cabin We stayed in AE Penthouse 8634 which is located aft. The cabin was definitely big enough for us and there was lots of space for the luggage. We had a bathtub instead of a shower and I think that a shower had been better because I felt too close to the roof every time I took a shower!
There was a nice, but small, dining area which we didn't use because the cruise was so short. On a longer cruise it might be nice to have dinner in the cabin one night and then stay in bed and watch DVD's on the rather large flat screen TV for the rest of the evening!
The balcony was nice and equipped with one sun chair and two other chairs with cushions. We didn't really like the aft view but know that many do like it. The cheapest cabin with suite perks and side view but without a second bedroom, which I won't use and therefore don't want to pay for, is the A4 Courtyard Villa so if I feel like paying for that for our next cruise I might do that, if not I will be back in an aft Penthouse or Romance Suite and I will be happy with that too.
The Restaurants and the Food Since the cruise was short we didn't have time to eat at many of the restaurants. We had all our breakfasts in the concierge lounge (Star Bar-Cagney's) and most of our lunches too, we had lunch at Blue Lagoon once. For dinner we went to Grand Pacific twice, Paniolo twice and Le Bistro.
The breakfast in the concierge lounge was VERY good and one of the best suite perks. They had a buffet for cold items and a very nice menu for hot items. We really liked their omelettes, pancakes and egg Benedictines with lobster.
The lunches there were also excellent and they even had a few dishes from the dinner menu. Those dishes took some time to prepare so we didn't try any of them, we probably will on a longer cruise. They had really nice crab cakes and I can absolutely recommend their fettuccini with mushroom and cheese sauce.
We had lunch in Blue Lagoon on our port day in Dublin because we wanted to get off the ship. We ate fish & chips there and that was very nice, but not like in a real English pub! One bad thing was that we asked if they had any Irish lager, since we were in Ireland and a stout (=Guinness!) isn't the best beverage with fish & chips, and was told, NO. Later we saw that they had Harp, which is an Irish lager.
The dinners in Grand Pacific were also very nice. The lines were very short both times (the second time we went there we had a reservation but there was no line at all so that really wasn't necessary, we made the reservation just to be sure we shouldn't have to stand in a line the last evening on the ship!) and the service was good. The menus in the main restaurants didn't have many dishes that attracted us but one nice main course is enough and all food we ate tasted well.
Le Bistro has great French food, probably not as good as a real French luxurious bistro but then the price is completely different too. The $15 extra charge is NOT too much. I can only think of one bad thing with Le Bistro and that is that they serve Foie Gras and the animals are not well treated when that is produced. I had Moules(?) Anisette (steamed clams), grilled swordfish and crepe Suzette and everything was very good.
Paniolo has great Mexican food, definitely worth the extra $10. Later in the evening the first night we went to Paniolo we sat in the bar outside Paniolo and drank a Marguerita when someone passed the bar with a tray with food which smelled so good so we decided to go to Paniolo the next day too! The second day I had Cheese Quesadillas, Sizzling Fajitas (the great smelling dish) and strawberry ice cream.
The Bars and the Beverages The Star Bar was very nice on the Jade, for some reason it wasn't that nice on the Jewel. Bali Hai is probably very nice on a warm cruise but this time it was a little too cold there in the evenings but we had some drinks there overlooking the pool area and that was nice. Bali Hai is also located on the deck outside Spinnaker Lounge so when the bar inside isn't open yet, it's perfect to buy the drinks at Bali Hai and drink them at Spinnaker. We didn't really liked the "bar city" when we cruised on the Jewel and it's the same on the Jade. It's nice to sit there with a drink but too many people are passing all the time so it's not relaxing at all! Especially the Champagne bar, Magnums, should be separated from the other bars and located in a calmer area.
Paniolos bar was, in our opinion, the best bar on the Jade. They made very nice Margueritas and the staff was very nice too. Since our cabin was located aft on deck 8 it was also very convenient to go there and buy a drink to drink in the cabin, we could have called room service or our butler but the bar was so close so it was easier to go and buy them ourselves.
All drinks we had were well made and tasted good. The drink prices were in my opinion decent, drinks on a cruise ship are never cheap but a drink at a bar in Sweden cost even more so I see no reason to complain on high prices. A Gin & Tonic costs around $6.50 with the gratuity added.
I don't know if they still try to sell souvenir drinks at a high price because I always asked for a regular sized drink when I bought something fancy.
The wine list was okay and for me it seems like the selection of cheaper wines is bigger then it was when we cruised a few years ago. This cruise we drank more Champagne then we have done before and the prices on that were decent too. Champagne always cost much but is always worth much too!
The Rest of the Ship All public areas are "colourful," if I shall say it nice! It was better than the Jewel but I really can't understand why they need so many different colours everywhere. The atrium was very nice, and very red.
On this rather cold cruise the pool area seemed big enough but I guess it was very crowded when the ship cruised around Hawaii. The quiet zone in the front of deck 14 seems like a nice place to spend time on a sunny day at sea in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean but this time it was too cold and too windy there.
We were in the casino for maybe one minute and that was more than enough! In my opinion a casino shall be a luxurious and glamorous place filled with tuxedos and nice dresses but a casino where the most casual dressed, if I shall be nice to them, people sit and smoke and just push a button for hours is just tragic to me. Others don't have to agree but my opinion is that people who think that the casino on a cruise ship is a good place to be in might need help. Note that I wrote "might," I don't say that everyone who likes a cruise ship casino has a problem, but some probably have.
As Penthouse guests we also had the opportunity to see the courtyard area. It was very nice but much smaller than I thought it would be. The private sundeck on deck 15 looked great for a warmer cruise.
The Ports We stopped in Dublin and in Cobh, outside Cork. In Dublin they docked rather far from the central parts of the town but a free shuttle was provided. (I'm sure that the city of Dublin provided the shuttle, NCL should probably have charged for it!)
Since we had been in Dublin before we decided to just walk around by ourselves for awhile. We had lunch at Blue Lagoon before we went to town and there we just had some Guinness before we took the shuttle back to the ship.
The ship docked very central in Cobh. We docked right by the train station so those who wanted to go to Cork could do so by train. We had booked an excursion because we wanted to see some of the Irish countryside. NCL had some interesting excursions in Cobh but unfortunately most of them were in the afternoon and we really prefer to go on an excursion before lunch and be back for lunch instead of leaving after lunch. The best excursion we could find before lunch was to Blarney Castle so we booked that. It was nice and we got to see some Irish countryside so we were happy with it, but it was probably not the most interesting excursion they had.
The Suite Life The best thing with staying in a "suite" (I know it's not really a suite unless the bedroom is in a separate room but everyone calls it a suite so I call it a suite too) isn't the suite itself, it's the perks you get. The suite was very nice and the extra space would have been great on a longer cruise. Since this cruise was so short we didn't have very much luggage. In my opinion the aft view made the suite itself less attractive. The pillow menu in the suite is a great idea and on a longer and warmer cruise I should have ordered a Climarelle: "Stay cool and comfortable with this super-scientific-body-temperature-regulating-pillow"!
The best thing with having a suite was the breakfasts and lunches in the concierge lounge, a very relaxing experience and great food! We walked through the Garden Café once and couldn't believe how much noise there was there, have we really eaten there on previous cruises!? I doubt that we ever can go back to a standard balcony cabin again!
It was also nice to be able to ask the concierge to make dinner reservations but is it really harder to do it yourself? Priority tender tickets must also be a good perk but not needed on this cruise. The butler service can also be nice but how many "normal" persons really need a butler? I liked the treats we got every afternoon and dinner in the suite one night can be great on a longer cruise but for other things than that, I don't really need a butler.
Priority embarkation was also nice but even better was the priority debarkation. We waited in Le Bistro until it was time to go and then we just cut the line and were off the ship in less than a minute, how nice was that!? I understand that people standing in that long line don't appreciate that some people don't have to wait in the line, but we have paid more so why should I be sorry and feel bad for it?
Debarkation and Post-Cruise Debarkation was as I just said -- very quick and easy. After we had left the ship we took a cab to the coach station and waited there for a short while before our bus to Heathrow departed. We came to Heathrow at 12:10 and then we went to terminal 5. Our plane wasn't to depart until 4:50 but since we should fly in Club Europe (British Airways business class within Europe) we could spend all that time in the lounge where they had some excellent wine. Our plane landed in Stockholm at 8:15 and we were back at home just before 11:00.
What Could Have Been Better I don't really like to try to find bad things when the overall experience was so good but I know that even the bad things are important to mention and by doing that, all the good things I have written about the cruise get more credibility.
I have already mentioned our aft view. Yes, it's only my opinion that the aft view isn't as good as a side view and I know that many love the aft view. My question then is: if the aft view is so good, why aren't the Courtyard Villas, Owner Suites and Garden Villas located aft? I think that NCL could have some Penthouses on the side of the ship too so that those who prefer the side view could book one of those. For me it feels wrong that the standard balcony cabins cost much less and have a much better view than the Penthouses!
The coffee maker in our cabin was broke, really not a problem but still something bad! We told our butler and she took it with her, no replacement.
Sometimes there were kids in the adults only hot tubs and no one told them to leave. That wasn't really a problem either but a rule is a rule. Some late evenings there were also lots of teenagers running around on the deck outside the Star Bar and they were very loud. There were more teenagers on this cruise than on our previous cruises (because it was shorter?) and most of the time that was no problem but I can't understand why they have to sit on the stairs? Is there really no other place for them to be in?
According to NCL's brochure we should get a bottle of "Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne on arrival," but we got a bottle of cheap sparkling wine. Not a big problem but still annoying because if I pay for Champagne, I want Champagne! I asked the concierge about it and she said that was changed fleet wide a few months ago. The brochure also mentions a "Daily choice from special hors d'oeuvre menu" and we never had the chance to choose anything. All we got was very good, but it was not up to us to choose what we wanted.
On the last evening of the cruise, just before dinner, the whole bar city was filled with people who participated in a quiz. Couldn't they have chosen another area for that? In my opinion a bar is a place for people who want to have a drink, in this case a pre-dinner drink before the last dinner on a cruise, and the bar city is filled with people not drinking! How good business is that for NCL? It was no problem for us to go up to the Star Bar instead, but what was NCL thinking?
Conclusion This was a really great cruise! Does anyone doubt that I recommend cruising with NCL on the Norwegian Jade?