Norwegian Jade, Western Caribbean Cruise, January 23-30, 2016
Previous blog entries discuss the cruise on a day-by-day basis. This is simply my overall impression of Norwegian Cruise Lines, and particularly the Jade ship.
Jade: The ship itself is beautiful and in good repair. It features a Hawaiian theme, having spent several years cruising in Hawaii. There is a beautiful ceiling on deck 8 with large glass hibiscus flowers covering the area. Touches of Hawaii can be found everywhere. As a Hawaii lover, I appreciated and enjoyed those touches of beauty.
Cabins: Our party of four consisted of myself, my two sisters, and our mother. We paid roughly $700 for a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise out of Houston, Texas, and in adjoining ocean-view rooms. The cabins each each had a spacious (for a cruise ship!) closet with 16 coat hangers. One twin bed had a trundle bed underneath, as well as a pullman bed mounted above, so a total of four could share a single room, in theory. (When it comes to four women getting ready in the morning and using the bathroom, mirrors, etc., NO THANKS!) Six roomy drawers, five deep shelves, a safe, beach/pool towels, and a decent hair dryer (1150 volts) were all pluses, as well.
Dining: Here is where NCL loses points, and lots of them. To start, there is now a $7.95 charge for room service (with the exception of coffee/pastries in the morning). Cruise prices have increased over the years, and to see service options actually decrease is disheartening. Unfortunately, I’m just getting started. The big joke about cruising is that people eat 24/7. While that may be true for some people, I really only want meals at around that particular mealtime and am not looking for a midnight buffet or something similar. There are two main dining room options on the Jade – the Alizar (casual dinner) and the Grand Pacific (slightly more formal, breakfast/lunch/dinner). Our experiences in the GP (three dinners) were very disappointing. Two nights we chose prime rib as our entrees. Once the entree was served, we had to request the promised-on-the-menu horseradish. We were served straight horseradish and had to request sour cream and mix it ourselves with the horseradish. Not a big deal, except that it took 5-10 minutes for the sour cream to arrive and be served and the prime rib (covered in brown gravy – yuck!) was then cold. When you are serving prime rib, it is a given that patrons will request a creamy horseradish sauce. Be prepared for this. I understand that they are preparing food for more than 1,000 people, but this is part of the experience. Our first night we requested (and received) iced tea. Bad mistake because it was instant, but we did have lots of refills that first night. On the second night, I requested a lemonade and was brought one (no ice). When it was gone (after the salad), my glass was removed and no refill offered. The final night, we were never asked if we would like anything to drink but were served four glasses of lukewarm water with no ice. We flagged down a head waiter to request a refill during our entrees. Again, they were busy, but this is their job. This is what they have been trained to do. Lots of head waiters were wandering around, acknowledging guests, but doing very little. (Personally, I have my own theory that head waiters are not needed because, well, they generally do nothing.) I witnessed one head waiter greet a table and have an exchange over a battery-operated candle that was not working. He took a working candle from the next table and swapped it, then tried several times to get the non-operating candle to work. When it was obvious it would not work, he left it on the table and walked away. But I digress… Our final night we ordered bananas foster. According to the menu, it was to be served with vanilla ice cream and a dark rum sauce. We received bowls of sliced bananas in a sauce that had a strong lemon flavor (???) and no signs of vanilla ice cream, melted, or otherwise. We ate a couple of bites and left. Because NCL features “freestyle” dining, you may come and go, which is nice for timing, but it also means different servers each time. I have always enjoyed a seating time with the same staff who learn your names and preferences. It makes me feel special to show up to dinner to see a glass of iced tea, extra lemons, shrimp cocktail for my mother, etc. None of these things happen with freestyle dining. It really depends on what you prefer in cruising and what “makes it” for you. I enjoy the personal touches. I can stay home and serve myself delicious iced tea with good OR bad service!
Other complimentary dining options include The Blue Lagoon, the only restaurant with 24/7 service available. The menu is quite limited, but if you need a 2am snack, TBL is your place and you can choose from English style fish & chips (delicious fish, cold fries), a hamburger, salad, etc. Service was always friendly and we found the breakfast servers to be quite accommodating, refilling coffee regularly.
Of course, no cruise ship would be complete without “The Buffet.” I tell you, people go through here like it’s their last meal. I love Indian food and had some delicious curry and naan several times throughout the week. Salads are nothing to write home about, with dressings being the standard bottled variety French, Thousand Island, Ranch, Bleu Cheese, and Italian. There was a carving station, pasta station, premade sub sandwiches, cold salads, and other various hot options. This is a great place to people watch, if you are one of the lucky ones to secure a table near the action. People watch the dishes and ponder over them. “Do I want the red mashed potatoes or the white potato wedges? Maybe just the German potato salad? What kind of rice?” They stand. And stare. “TAKE SOME POTATOES AND MOVE ON.” Now here’s a trick. Daily there is a hot cobbler. Next to the cobbler (no matter what flavor) is hot caramel sauce. Take a bowl from the cobbler/caramel station. (If you’ve cruised before, you see where this is going.) Get caramel. I recommend two ladles full because the ladles are small. Work your way to the ever-popular ice cream station toward the aft of the ship, deck 12. Get in line. Try not to dip finger in caramel. Top caramel with ice cream. Watch other cruisers raise their eyebrows in a motion that clearly says, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
Here is our last trick and the highlight of the Jade dining: the crepe station in the evenings. Just outside the main buffet area is a crepe station where a lovely “I couldn’t read the name on his badge” gentleman made crepes every evening. We love him. One night while he was on a break, another man was filling in and I asked for a plain crepe. “Do you have a plan?” “Yes, I do. I’ll be right back.” He proceeded to make my crepe while I found lemon slices (near the tea bags) and a pat of butter. We were sitting near the station and he watched my “plan” – where I opened the crepe, spread half a pat of butter, squeezed two lemon slices and sprinkled two packets of sugar inside before neatly folding it back up. Crepe Man #2 was intrigued. I watched him make a small crepe and do the same. He loved it and introduced the “recipe” to Main Crepe Man #1.
That sums up our food experience. We never went hungry (and we all admit we could exist on our extra pounds for weeks on end) but there were very few “special” or even interesting food items that made us long to return to NCL, with the exception of the crepe station.
Entertainment: Our cruise had the privilege of having a comedian named David Naster on board. He is hilarious, but goes beyond “Yeah, he’s supposed to be funny – he’s a comedian.” David’s humor goes beyond giving the audience a laugh. He has a purpose with his talks and is teaching people to be bully-proof, to laugh at whatever comes your way in life. Let’s face it – all of us have “stuff” of some sort. We may post on social media about how ‘perfect’ our lives are and say the right things when asked – “I’m blessed. I’m good. We’re doing fine.” But inside, don’t many of us have hurts and disappointments and issues of some kind? Health, financial, relational? (You’re lying if you say you don’t.) We all have a nerve of some kind, or are just very sensitive about a subject. David’s humor and wisdom teach people to find ways to overcome and accept these shortcomings and turn them around. There were other shows throughout the week, including an illusionist and several dance performances, but David’s shows were our favorites hands down.
Sanitation: Overall the ship was very clean, though we never once witnessed employees wiping hand rails and elevator buttons, as we have seen on previous cruises. To enter any dining room, employees are stationed at the doors with spray bottles of sanitizer. “Washy, washy, happy happy!” There was no epidemic (Norovirus or otherwise) on board, so maybe sanitation is relaxed in that case.
Employees: It appears that the officers and supervisors have a good rapport with the employees and we also saw higher level employees not being afraid to WORK. The employees we had direct contact with were friendly. Others we passed in hallways would occasionally nod in acknowledgement, but generally continued on with their duties.
Social: Philly Joel was the cruise director and what a personality he brought to the shows and game shows. He and his staff had fun with the guests and were able to generate excitement and enthusiasm with the audiences.
Cabin stewards: Our steward, Mario, was friendly and gracious with our requests (separate the bed into two twins), and did the best towel animals I have ever seen on a cruise. They add so much fun to cruising!
Freestyle Daily: Each day of the cruise, you are given a “Freestyle Daily” newsletter with the following day’s activities. This piece of literature is your ticket to information – food, activities, shows, games, sales, etc. Unfortunately, NCL/Jade is in dire need of an English proof-reader, as there were instructions given about “Draw attention to your personal belongings when in port” and lunch buffet being available from “11pm-close.” NCL, if you’re reading this, please contact me for a quote for this job. This is just one example of typos. Another sentence instructed people to “draw attention to your personal belongings” when in port.
Gratuity: You are charged roughly $14/day for gratuities and I am not sure if NCL employees just take for granted that they will receive this and that they need not try to impress, or if there is a gap in the training of employees, but NCL needs to raise the bar on customer service if they want to be considered again in my traveling.
So in summary…if you are new to cruising, NCL might impress, but once was enough for us and we will return to Royal Caribbean in the future. The service just makes all the difference for our crew.