Norwegian Jade Ship Review
The Norwegian Jade, a ‘Jewel’ class vessel was completed in April 2006 by Meyer Werft ship yard, Papenberg Germany, as the ‘Pride of Hawaii’. She was built to serve the ‘Norwegian Cruise Line America’ (NCLA) operating inter-island Hawaiian cruises. Her hull art, internal décor and artwork were Hawaiian in style.
She is one six ships of a similar designs (although not identical) built for NCL since 2001, which are specifically designed for their ‘freestyle dining’ concept. Jade, like her sisters is around 93,558 gross tons, carries 2,380 passengers (lower berths) and has 1,100 crew, approximately. She is state-of-the-art, very colourful inside and out, without generally crossing the line of good taste as other lines do
Due to a lack of profitability of the NCLA operation in Hawaii, the ‘Pride of Hawaii’ was transferred to NCL in early 2008 and renamed ‘Norwegian Jade’. Her new itineraries for 2008 and 2009 are all year round European ones. In the winter she will cruise round trips from Barcelona and in the summer from Southampton. I cruised a 14 night Mediterranean round trip from Southampton in late May 2008
In preparation for her redeployment American crew were replaced with cheaper non-American (Filipino etc.) crew and her name and hull art changed. Some internal changes were also made. These included removing the aft business centre, replacing it with new shops, adding a Casino (which was not permitted in Hawaiian waters) where the ‘Ultra Lounge’ used to be. They also created a new lounge, the ‘Medusa Lounge’, where the original shops were. The nearby Karaoke rooms have become ‘Whatever’ rooms used mainly for Nintendo Wii computer games. The ‘Corona Cigar Club’ is no longer a cigar club; it’s now just an extension of the ‘Bar Central’ area (the second mini-atrium). A few public rooms have had a name change, for example the ‘Aloha Café’ has become the ‘Garden Café’ and the ‘Aloha Lanai’ is now the ‘Great Outdoors’. However much of the ships Hawaiian décor and artwork still remains, which includes ‘Hawaiian Lays’ (flowers) on the ceiling of the atrium which matched her original hull art.
On embarkation, passengers will often enter the ship on deck six or seven near the Atrium. The Atrium is modest two story one, although the floor area is quite large. The Aloha bar serves speciality (chargeable) coffee and alcohol, the reception desk and shore excursion desk are also located there. The ceiling still features giant Hawaiian Lay flowers. The Atrium really is the heart of the ship and a gathering point for guests. On the second level (deck 7) the Blue Lagoon and Piaiolo’s overlook the space. Twin staircases descended from the second level. At the top of the staircases is a large video screen in a giant picture frame (which always seemed to have at least some pixels not functioning) constantly showing various phycadelic images to pop musak. This was not as annoying as it sounds.
The first thing that one notices is that the ship has a ‘party feel’ about it. This is probably a combination of the colourful decor and the passengers themselves who are are obviously there to have a good time. As one boards, you are given a voucher for a free glass of Champagne (well sparkling wine), which is a ‘Freestyle 2.0’ enhancement.
Food has always played a very important role on board ships and I can’t think of another class of ship where so much of the ships design is focused on dining. For me the evening meal should be one of the highlights of the day. The food should be entertaining, surprising and adventurous. Jade has thirteen different dining options, if you include room service. Some have additional fees and others are included in the cruise fare.
The ‘Freestyle’ dining concept is simple; you can dine in any dining room, at any time you like and sit with who you like. Of course in reality it is not always as simple as it sounds. Dining is of course subject to the various dining room operating hours and passenger demand. There was a peak rush at around 8.00 to 8.30pm each evening, when many of the dining rooms became full simultaneously, especially the to ‘main’ ones which have no surcharge (more about these later). The dress code on board is relaxed for evening meals; many guys will be pleased to here that smart casual is all that is required; Tux, suits, jackets or ties are not
My wife and I often preferred a table for two. At peak time’s short lines would form (not very long ones) at the two dining room entrances. If a table is not available to meet your requirements, you are given a pager so you can go away get a pre-dinner drink or “whatever” as NCL keep saying. We had to wait 15-30 minutes for a table for two on several occasions at peak times. At other times you can simply walk-in. Alternatively if you are an organised type of person, you can book a time, 48 hours in advance. This is particularly wise for larger groups. (However only 30% of the spaces are bookable in advance, in order to still maintain walk-in availability
I must admit that I though that I was a traditionalist when it came to shipboard dining, but I actuality liked NCL’s ‘Freestyle’ system. We could dine anytime that we wanted at a table for two, with a 0 and 30 minutes wait, depending on the demand. Now to me that is still infinitely more flexible than the traditional method of being given one assigned time for the cruise and sitting with passengers all cruise that you may not get along with.
Plasma monitors around the ship use traffic-light graphs to display how busy the various dining rooms were, although personally I did not find the information particularly informative. All dining rooms were pretty busy at peak times and relatively quite outside of the peak times.
All of Jades dining rooms are single height and most are relatively intimate. Therefore none of them have the ‘Wow’ factor that ‘Royal Caribbean’s’ Freedom, Voyager and Radiance class dining rooms have in terms of scale. However do you really prefer to dine with 1000+ fellow passengers?
The two so called ‘main’ dining rooms on board Jade are the ‘Grand Pacific’ at the very aft of the ship and the ‘Alizar’ nearer amidships. They actually share the same kitchen and have the same menus and do not carry a supplementary charge. The ‘Grand Pacific’ is the biggest dining room, accommodating 556 passengers. However this is still small by mega-ship standards. ‘The Grand Pacific’ is extremely attractive. The décor was inspired by the dining rooms of the Matson Liner ships that used to sail from San Francisco to Honolulu. The artwork around the room (various Hawaiian scenes) was inspired by the menu covers from the Matson Line. A statue of Kamehameha the Great, (who conquered the Hawaiian Islands and established their independence) is located at the dining room entrance, at the bottom of twin staircases. There were many art deco style light fittings, including the ‘tulip’ variety as on board the original Queen Mary. Windows at the rear of the room overlook the ships wake and there are also windows at the front/sides. The Alizar is smaller (310 passengers) and has more minimalist contemporary décor, with windows offering sea views of both the port and starboard side.
The opulent Garden and Courtyard Villas sit on top of Cagney’s and the Star Bar. The lift will take you to deck 14 with the appropriate key card. This keeps the riff-raff out. Guests booked into this accommodation can have private breakfast in Cagney’s. The adjacent Star Bar is used as their private lounge during the day.
The Garden Café is the Buffet and is laid out with various food ‘islands’, providing a good range of good quality food. This ranged from freshly prepared sandwiches, fresh soups, pasta, Pizza, salad and meats, Asia dishes, carved meats and sausages and burgers etc. My only complaint is that with any buffet some dishes were not always kept piping hot. The cups and plates were real china, glasses plastic but trays were not provided. At peak times it could be difficult to find a seat. They had a pretty a pretty impressive range of sauce bottles on all of the tables. Napkins and cutlery were provided on each table which saved trying to find them.
At the aft end of the Garden Buffet, there was a lido deck named “The Great outdoors” in the NCL tradition, offering dining with a sea view. This had a reasonable number of seats and a smaller selection of food and hot drinks available, although you could walk into the main Garden Buffet for more options.
An NCL tradition, the ‘Chocoholic Buffet’ was offered in the Garden Café late one evening. For those passengers trying to watch their weight, it may well have been the straw that broke the camels back.
NCL claim Lobster is served in at least one dining room per night. Well firstly I don’t think that we Brits have a lobster obsession and secondly if you did, who wants to play find the lobster?
The Stardust Theatre is an impressive space and very attractive. It holds holding about half the ships complement of passengers in raked seating and is not unlike Theatres on most modern ships. The sight lines are excellent with just a few supporting pillars. The Garden and Courtyard villa passengers have their own private balcony section. I was most impressed that cool air came vertically out of the back of the seat in front, although my wife complained that it made her cold.
The level of technology on the stage was not particularly high compared to some other lines. Scenery was minimal and lighting and special visual effects were standard. I was quite surprised that all of the on board entertainment was rather traditional too. I was expecting NCL to come up with something more original for ‘Freestyle’, but no.
I loved the yellow louver doors of the cabins – very funky! There was also a gadget outside each cabin, on the wall which allowed you to rotate a wheel and display messages such as: “Please make up my cabin”, “Please turn down my cabin” and “do not disturb”. With the freestyle system, everybody goes to dinner at different times so it is very useful to keep you room steward informed when you are out by using this gadget.
I quickly found out that it was directly above the stage in the Medusa lounge. The live music provided by a band on the stage each evening was so loud, and the sound insulation so poor, that I could hear the song words clearly in the cabin. (I assume that cabins either side of 8554 would also suffer from noise). Fortunately NCL exchange it for 8060 (forward – starboard) which was the same grade but without the noise pollution. I wonder if other passengers were so lucky to get relocated.
The standard inside, ocean view and balcony cabins on board this class of ship are quite compact, but adequate. In fact some inside cabins are bigger! Hopefully the fare that you pay would reflect their size. All cabins have a coffee maker, which is a great feature, but not so easy to use for us Brits who like tea. A Kettle would be better for us. All cabins have a mini-bar, a heavy duty metal hairdryer and safe too. The air conditioning was very responsive. Most cabins have two single beds that can be reconfigured as a double. Standard balcony cabins have a bed settee which can provide a third berth.
The bathroom was divided into three spaces; shower sink unit and toilet. Two partially frosted sliding glass doors separated the shower, sink unit and toilet from each other. This would allow the non-shy to perform simultaneous ablution functions. The shower was of adequate size for most people and the glass door prevented leakage onto the bathroom floor and mouldy curtain syndrome. Dispensers provided, shampoo and shower gel are a reminding that this is a mass market cruise line. The toilet compartment was quite small and even a person of average height may find that there knees almost touched the wall while seated on the throne. The towels provided were pretty small and the largest would hardly wrap around anyone with a generous waist measurement.
The wardrobe space was reasonable and had a useful internal light. Curiously Ocean view cabins generally had more draw space than standard balcony ones. The Garden Villa’s and courtyard villas with their private courtyard and pool area are of course very spacious, but cost a small fortune. (Personally If I had that kind of money I would not be spending it on a palatial suite on a mass-market ship. I’s pick a more exclusive ship, even if I had a slightly more modest suite.
The cabin TV was a small out of date 14” CRT type. The Signal reception was poor and channels limited. Although ‘classic’ black & white movies were shown, not much else was. There were unfortunately no interactive features which is amazing for a relatively new ship. The booking of excursions, the booking of alternative dinging and the ability to check your cashless account total would have been very useful. How about the ability to view the Freestyle dining demand ‘graphs’ in your room so you can see which dining rooms are the most busy?
There were no UK plug sockets in cabin so an American to UK adapter is required for your own appliances.
The SS United State Library is small, but has a reasonable selection of books, and sports historic photographs on the wall of the legendary Ocean Liner of the same name. (If you have never heard of it, do look it up). A tea and coffee urn was provided. The centrepiece of the room is a superb large scale model of the ship itself in a glass case. The signage on the model boasts that NCL purchased her in 2003. However it dos not explain why they have apparently done nothing constructive with her since.
Located amidships are three bars; ‘Tankards Beer and Whisky Bar’, ‘Mixers Martini and Cocktail’ Bar and ‘Magnums Champagne and Wine Bar’. There are no walls separating the. ‘Tankards’ has a mock up of part of a copper still, ‘Mixers’ had the projected mage of a silhouetted woman dancing (in the style of a James Bond movies title sequence) and ‘Magnums’ had bubbles which constantly rise in a glass walled bar. A small stage with piano served this area which is called ‘Bar Central’. It was all very attractive, with a small atrium and some SS Normandie style lighting fixtures. However in reality it was just one large bar. The noise levels could be quite loud if all three areas were full
The Star Bar on deck is an attractive and intimae ‘quiet’ bar on deck 13, with tinted windows, overlooking the pool deck. Guest often forget that it’s there or can’t be bothered to make the trek.
Norwegian Jade is a modern floating resort, aimed at the mass market. She has more choices of dining than just about any other ship that I’ve cruise on. Part of the fun of any cruise for me is exploring the ship and enjoying the facilities. On Jade I particularly enjoyed sampling the multiple dining options.
Freestyle worked for me and I enjoyed the NCL “difference”. The downside of the NCL experience is the surcharges. I managed to spend more on board than I normally would with other mass market lines. Quite simply, if you enjoy good food you need to pay extra for it on this ship. NCL’s main (no-surcharge) dining room had reasonable service, but you were treated as just a number. The food was not as consistent, and generally not as good as ‘Royal Caribbean’s, for example. The surcharge restaurants on board Jade were all very good in terms of food quality and provided more attentive service.
I would like to seen the quality of food and the consistency rise in the free dining rooms on board Jade so you have a choice a ‘good’ food for free and ‘excellent’ food for a surcharge. NCL also needs to adapt their product (especially the entertainment) more to British tastes, when cruising from Southampton, which Royal Caribbean are so very good at. The British public is also very sensitive to NCL’s ‘hard sell’ of on board services which can create a negative on board atmosphere.
On a positive note, NCL do offer a pretty unique mass-market product. Their main rivals Royal Caribbean and Carnival do not yet offer a full ‘freestyle’ system or such an array of dining choices. However, you might well spend more money on board an NCL ship than an RCI ship. This is fine if NCL are offering you a lower fare, but if RCI and NCL have similar fares for similar cruises, NCL may work out more expensive when the on board spend is considered.
Malcolm Oliver (Images taken by myself)
Update: Since my review I have see other reviews which say the standard of food in the ‘free’ dining rooms has improved. I’m not surprised, remedial action was needed if NCL wished to gain repeat passengers. However the dining surcharges have probably also increased?
Slide show below:
Check out my ‘Norwegian Epic’ Review: