Day 3 NCL Jade – Malta
Day 3 brought our first port visit to Valletta in Malta. I’ve been so busy at work recently that I’d not had time to do the usual port research so I’d only managed a quick look online where I’d seen photos of a beautiful Baroque walled city.
We began the day with an al a carte breakfast in the Grand Pacific main dining room as we sailed through the narrow entrance to the port surrounded by the fortified walls of the city. A quick trip to top deck helped us get our bearings, plan our day and check the temperature. It was noticeably hotter than the day before with blue sky and just the odd cloud.
Outside the port gates there was the usual offer of a HoHo bus at 10 per person and waiting taxi drivers offering tours of the island along with horse drawn carriages with prices varying from 40 – 75 – so worth a bit of a haggle! We did consider the HoHo but the queues were huge so we just followed the crowds and about 5 minutes walk right out of the port on the other side of the road we spotted a sign for a very modern lift to the old city. This seemed like a great idea as I wasn’t looking forward to the walk up the hills in the heat with a small child. The high speed lift cost just 1 each for adults and children were free for a return trip which scaled the city walls and delivered you right into the historic city. We exited into a beautiful flower lined square with monuments and fountains and viewing platforms to look down over the city and our ship below.
We walked down the main shopping streets filled with lots of familiar British brands such as Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop and BHS due to it’s historic links to the UK. We found the main square and Finn had a run around in the fountains to cool off from the midday heat. We walked to a nearby tree lined square and enjoyed a drink (a very reasonably priced Maltese red for me) while we were entertained by a busker pianist and then left the parents to explore further while we took Finn back to the ship for lunch.
We ate at the Blue Lagoon which was quiet as most guests were still ashore and food was once again great but service was slow despite the lack of diners. We returned to our cabin so I could finish yesterday’s blog post which was a little frustrating as wifi isn’t great on board. I paid $19.99 per day for the unlimited package which means in theory we can surf, tweet and post all cruise. In reality the connection constantly drops so you have to log in again and again which is a time consuming process every time you need to use it. There are also alternative time based packages where you can buy 60, 100 or 200 minutes. I don’t know if it was just the position of our room but the wifi works much better in the public areas and bars on the ship than in the cabins so now we have a valid excuse for drinking in the bars all day!
As the sun was shining we went to top deck and braved another ride on the water slide and a swim in the thankfully warm pools before heading back to our cabin to change for dinner.
We’d decided to dine at Jasmine Garden, the complimentary Asian restaurant on board. When we last sailed NCL this was a paid speciality restaurant however in the past year they’ve changed their policy fleet wide to make it part of the cruise fare. Andy loves Chinese so that was good news for us but Finn wasn’t so keen so chose to go to dinner with my parents in the main dining room. We soon realised that children can eat for free from the main kids menu in any restaurant on board so actually he could have dined with us after all.
NCL Jade has an amazing array of restaurants on board, speciality restaurants include Cagneys Steakhouse at a cover charge of $29.95 per person, Le Bistro French Restaurant at $19.95 per head, Moderno a Brazilian restaurant which offers unlimited meat carved at your table for $19.95 each, La Cucina an Italian again at $19.95, an a la carte sushi bar and a Teppanyaki Japanese restaurant where chefs prepare meals at your table for $29.95 per person. Complimentary restaurants include the Jasmine Garden, two main dining rooms Alizar and Grand Pacific, the buffet Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon so wether you splash out or not, you’ll never go hungry on board! NCL also offer room service but unusually for cruise lines there is a charge of $7.95 per delivery.
You can’t make reservations at Jade Garden but as we arrived at 6pm we only queued for a few minutes. The menu offers a choice of 7 or 8 starters, 15 or so mains from rice dishes to noodles and 5 Asian inspired desserts. Andy had a sweet corn and chicken noodle soup and I had pork dim sum to start followed by a sweet and sour beef dish with rice for me and chicken and shrimp noodles for Andy. The food was excellent quality and service was very good.
We had after dinner drinks up on deck 13 in the Star bar and then the Spinnaker lounge where we left the parents to enjoy a Glenn Miller tribute. There was a White Hot party and a white hot kids disco on board but Finn was tired after the walk around Valletta so we finished the night with a night cap in the room and a chapter of Harry Potter.
Day 4 – A not so lazy sea day
We began our 4th day at sea with breakfast at Moderno, the Brazilian restaurant on deck 8 above the atrium where they offer a pastries buffet and reduced a la carte.
Our almost 8 year old son Finn decided he wanted to try kids club so we headed to Splash Academy on Deck 12 to sign him up. The registration process was done on an iPad and then Finn got his wristband and skipped in. He’s in Seals, the club for 6 to 9 year olds and there’s also Guppies for under 3’s (who must be accompanied by parents), Turtles for 3 – 5 year olds, Dolphins for 10 – 12 year olds then Entourage for teens up to 17. The kids club is a parent free zone so I didn’t get to see it properly but Finn tells me it’s one big room with a cinema area with bean bags and a movie screen. Kids club is free and open daily from 9am to 10.30pm closing for lunch and dinner on sea days12pm – 2pm and 5pm – 7pm. It’s open throughout on port days but if your child stays for lunch or dinner there’s a $6 charge per staff supervised meal. There’s also a late night fun zone from 10.30pm – 1.30am which is charged at $6 per hour for the first child and $4 per hour for any additional siblings.
We took advantage of our new found freedom and went to the Spinnaker lounge for the Senior Officers Profile which was a Q&A with Captain Kim Karlsson, Hotel Director Misread Bucuk and Chief Engineer Jordan Rasmusson. The officers sat on stage while two members of crew circulated with roaming microphones so the audience could ask questions. It was surprisingly entertaining and was a great opportunity to learn how the ship operates, how the crew work and to understand some of the challenges they face. As a bit of a cruising geek I loved it and it was a great way to pass an hour or so.
There’s a varied entertainment programme on board on sea days with trivia quizzes, a very popular bake off style cake decorating competition, bingo, dance classes and even a Ms Biceps competition which I chose not to enter! We returned to kids club to check our boy who was having a great time and wanted to stay until the session closed so we returned to Spinnaker for another glass of red. At noon we collected Finn and went to Grand Pacific for the al a carte lunch. I had a tasty meatball sub but Andy was a little disappointed with his Vietnamese soup so we went to Blue Lagoon where he had the always excellent wonton soup and some chicken wings.
After lunch we went to the Stardust Theatre to watch the crew talent show featuring a range of acts including waiting staff doing traditional Thai dancing, one of the stage hands doing a great job of a Joni Mitchell cover and than some very amusing silliness by the cruise director and a few of the crew called Fountains which involved them dressing up in togas and spitting water at each other. I guess you had to be there: )
We had an early dinner in Grand Pacific hoping to see the 7.30pm Stardust Theatre show but the restaurant was busy and service was slower than usual so we decided to enjoy a leisurely dinner and catch the later show at 9.45pm. Dinner was well worth the wait and followed by a trip to the Medusa Bar to watch Twice as Nice, a duo performing soul and Motown hits.
At 9.30 we took our seats in the theatre which was busy but still had ample seating for everyone. The show was Elements, a Cirque du Soleil style thing featuring a vague storyline but spectacular acrobatics, dance and magic. It ended with a fabulous finale covering the stage in confetti followed by a parade of officers and crew from all of the ship’s departments. It was a great way for guests to show their appreciation and the staff looked like they were having a great time too!