NCL Jade – Venice to Barcelona – Day 1
It’s just a little over six weeks since our last cruise but yesterday we boarded NCL Jade for a five night half term trip from Venice to Barcelona visiting Malta and Majorca. We’re travelling with my Dad and step mum as it’s a late 70th birthday celebration for Dad and an opportunity for us to introduce them to cruising.
We’ve cruised with NCL once before on the smaller Norwegian Spirit around the Canaries. We liked their freestyle, less formal attitude and I was very much looking forward to sampling Jade, which carries over 2500 passengers and is one of the larger ships in their fleet.
We took an early easyJet flight from Manchester on the day of the cruise however my parents flew in on Thursday to enjoy a few nights in Venice. It was a short two hour flight trip and before we knew it we were in a cab from the airport to the port for the quick 15 minute drive at a cost of 45.
We dropped our luggage and met up with the parents at the terminal. Check in was quick and efficient with very little queuing and after getting our cruise cards we were asked to take a seat until our boarding number 12 was called (they were currently on 9). Twenty minutes later we were on our way, through security and quickly on board.
The boys were hungry after our early start so it was straight to the buffet, The Garden Cafe on deck 12. We took seats in the Great Outdoors an al fresco dining area for the buffet at the aft of the ship where they have a grill area serving fast food style snacks and also access to the main buffet inside. Most importantly there’s a self serve ice cream machine much to my son Finn’s delight. I enjoyed my first glass of red on board courtesy of the ultimate drinks package (UDP) which we received as a free perk when booking. NCL seem to almost always run an offer when you book and currently you can enjoy either the drinks package or a dining package (allowing you 4 meals at speciality restaurants) or free wifi. We opted for drinks as anyone who reads this blog knows I do enjoy a glass or two! The UDP allows you to order anything up to $15 a glass but isn’t valid for speciality coffees, bottled water or bottled wines. You do get a 20% discount on any bottled wine but It makes sense to order the same vintage by the glass for free!
First impressions of the ship were great, everything appeared spotlessly clean and carpets and furnishings were fresh and new throughout. The top deck seems quite small with just two pools but Finn was most impressed with the big yellow water slide which I’m sure we’ll be sampling tomorrow on our first sea day. There are two pool side bars and a grill which was serving a delicious smelling barbecue of ribs, steaks and salads. Top decks also feature the usual areas such as a sports court with stadium seating, a running track, golf practice nets and a well equipped gym.
Around 1.30pm an announcement was made that the cabins (or staterooms as NCL likes to call them) were ready. We’d booked two adjacent balcony rooms on deck 8 both with large, comfortable double beds and a sofa which is made up into into a bed for Finn each night. The bathrooms are more spacious than most with a good sized shower with sliding doors rather than a curtain, a toilet with a further sliding door and a sink area with lots of shelf space. There’s also complimentary shampoo and shower gel in a dispenser and elsewhere in our room, a mini fridge, good sized TV and lots of storage too. The balcony is recessed and surrounded by metal which is different to the standard glass balconies above but more private as a result and the metal structure does create a nice wine shelf!
Paul our cabin steward popped by to say hello and check we had everything we needed then as the cases hadn’t yet arrived we went off to explore further. The majority of bars and venues are on decks 6 & 7 so our room on deck 8 is well located. We had a peek at the spectacular Stardust Theatre, a large impressive venue that I’m sure we’ll sample later in the week. We took a seat in the cocktail bar on deck 6 and had a glass of wine before returning to our cabins to unpack.
At 5pm it was time for the obligatory muster but you don’t need to take your life jackets with NCL. It was soon over and then we got changed for our first dinner of the cruise. NCL is freestyle dining, so there’s no need to dress up if you don’t want to but we always like to make a bit of an effort to smarten up.
We decided to dine at the Alizar Restaurant, one of three complimentary al a carte dining options on board, the others being The Grand Pacific main dining room and Jasmine Garden Asian restaurant. Alizar and Grand Pacific serve the same menu just with a different decor and atmosphere. We arrived at the restaurant around 7.15pm and were quickly seated with no waiting time for a table for five but it’s worth noting that queues began to form very soon after. The menu choice is vast with around 10 starters and 15 or so mains, definitely the widest choice I’ve ever experienced at sea. I chose spicy chicken wing starters followed by a beef tenderloin chef special with baked potato, Andy had French onion soup and a Chorizo and radish salad (he couldn’t decide between the two so had both) then a New York strip steak with fries and onion rings from the always available options. Finn had chicken tenders with fries and a generous portion of jelly from the kids menu. The food was excellent and piping hot and service was efficient and friendly.
Finn was exhausted after an 4.30am start so Andy took him off to bed while I enjoyed a quick night cap back in the cocktail bar with my parents where there was a piano player entertaining the guests. After a quick glass of red I headed to bed looking forward to a lazy sea day tomorrow.
Day 2 – At Sea
Thanks to the clocks going back, our second day aboard began with a bonus hour in bed. This caused a little confusion when we awoke as we had three different devices showing three different times!
As regular blog readers will know I love an al a carte breakfast however there was no mention of the main dining room Grand Pacific being open for breakfast. Blue Lagoon, the 24 hour cafe on deck 8 mid ship appeared to be the only al a carte option in the Freestyle Daily newsletter. There was a small queue but no available tables so the hostess suggested we went to Grand Pacific which was in fact open for breakfast. We were soon seated in the large, Hawaiian themed dining room which has floor to ceiling windows at the aft of the ship overlooking the wake. The restaurant was very quiet, most probably as no-one knew it was open! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast from a menu offering everything from eggs benedict to pancakes. The service was perhaps a little slow but as it was a sea day we had nothing to rush for so it wasn’t a major issue.
After breakfast Finn wanted to have a swim so we found sun loungers on top deck and settled in to enjoy a little autumnal sunshine. Thankfully (and unusually) the pools were heated so a swim wasn’t as chilly as I feared it maybe, the hot tubs were heavenly though. There’s four on board, two adult only and two by the family pool. There is also a life guard on board keeping an eye on the water slide and pool and enforcing the adult only spaces and no swim nappy rules. Finn and I swam a few lengths before braving the water slide which was a bit chilly queuing on the stairs with the wind whipping round. The slide itself was great fun but you need to lie down to slide to avoid getting stuck in places. We spent a few hours relaxing by the pool then it was time for lunch. We’d missed the al a carte option in the main dining room so we went to Blue Lagoon, a complimentary restaurant that offers a Frankie & Benny’s style menu of chicken wings, mozzarella bites and potatoes skins followed by burgers, sandwiches and sides. We had fond memories of the food in Blue Lagoon on NCL Spirit a few years ago but the Jade version is far superior to the fast food style cafe in a a corridor we’d visited on Spirit. On Jade it’s an al a carte restaurant with full waiter service.
At 3pm there was a cinema screening of Hercules in the the Stardust Theatre and as Finn is currently obsessed with all things Greek God and myth related, we had to watch it. The theatre was very quiet so we got great seats on the balcony and settled in for 90 minutes of blockbuster entertainment, the only thing missing was popcorn! Finn loved it and during the film I was reflecting on how cruises really do offer great value for money when you add up what similar food and entertainment would cost at home. I’m sure at two days in we’ve already had our cruise fare!
After lunch we visited the ship’s large duty free shop which offers the usual selections of handbags, make up and cosmetics. Finn was disappointed to find there weren’t any toys on board and that the chocolate selection was limited. I suspect NCL are missing a trick here when the ship has so many families on board but this will most likely save me a fortune so I’m not complaining. I placated him with a free self serve ice cream from the buffet and then it was a quick change for dinner.
There are no formal nights onboard however there was an opportunity to have photos with the captain and guests were encouraged to dress to impress so we smartened up a little with dresses and jackets for an early dinner in the spacious Grand Pacific dining room which I prefer to the smaller Alizar. There were no queues at 6pm and we were quickly seated for a dinner of fried mozzarella for me followed by a substantial striploin steak with fries. Andy had Steak Diane and Finn wolfed down a pizza from the kids menu. We skipped dessert and left at 7.20pm to get seats in the Stardust Theatre for the Soul Rockin Nights Show.
The show was excellent and featured the 7 piece Jade orchestra, four lead vocalists and ten dancers performing a brilliant selection of soul and Sixties RnB hits. After the show we had a drink in the jellyfish themed Medusa bar watching Twice as Nice a duo featuring an ex Broadway singer and a keyboard player who was once in the Commodores then Andy took an exhausted Finn to bed while I took the parents to Deck 13 to find two bars we’d not yet experienced. The Star Bar is an intimate space overlooking the pools but sadly there were no seats so we went to the Spinnaker Bar a little further along deck which is a fabulous show lounge with cabaret style seating. Here we enjoyed the end of the karaoke followed by an excellent performance by Ironica, another 7 piece band playing soul and party hits. I left the parents to drink and dance the night away at a 70’s dance party while I headed back to my boys in the cabin.