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  #1  
Old February 7th, 2009, 05:51 PM
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CruisinEurope CruisinEurope is offline
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Default REVIEW - Jade, 12 day Western Med

“ADVENTURES IN ANCIENTNESS”
NCL JADE
12 Night Western Med. Out of Barcelona
Jan 25 - Feb 6, 2009


First - some background:
We are Americans, family of 4 (2 adults, 2 children ages 5 & 7) currently living overseas in Copenhagen, Denmark. We've been here for 1.5 years and thoroughly enjoy living the European lifestyle. We're used to lines, high prices, indifferent service, and cold rainy days. LOL. We're laid back, easy to please, and are able to make lemonade out of lemons. We're not hyper critical, but will call something out if it's not right, in the hopes of making it right in the future.

This review will be primarily about the ship and what it was like cruising with our young family of travelers – full of random thoughts and personal opinion.

ITINERARY –
We chose this itinerary because of the ports - Rome, Athens, Ephesus (Izmir), 2 days in Egypt, and Malta!!! Wow! We knew that we wouldn't get "up close and personal" in these ports, but were really looking forward to a quick "taste" - a way for us to be able to decide if we wanted to go back for a more in depth look at these interesting countries/cities. We especially liked the port/sea day rotation, with a sea day following almost every port day. More on the ports later.

ROOM –
We chose a BC category room primarily because the specific room we wanted was booked, so we opted for the budget balcony category. We opted for the balcony purely for MY comfort - I wanted to be able to open the door and hear the ocean, or pop out there to get a feel for the weather before we went upstairs for breakfast. Since we were cruising in Jan/Feb, I knew that our time out on our balcony would be next to nothing - but I wanted one "just in case" the weather broke... We did use it daily - popping out there every so often to spot a ship, an island, or even the occasional whale!

Thoughts about the room:

BEDDING/SLEEPING Arrangements:
SUPER comfy bed for hubby & I! We were both very surprised at just how comfortable it was! 4 pillows (2 for each of us) was also a nice surprise. I'm sure that we could have requested more if we wanted... but the 4 were perfectly wonderful for us.

The pullman bed from the ceiling – LOVELY! Very comfy (yep! I got up there to try it out) and with the fold down guard rail, my kids were safe up there. No worries at all. They “swapped” who got to sleep up there every night, as they both really enjoyed it. ONLY drawback was that it blocked the entrance to the balcony when it was down. Yes, you COULD get out (and we did!), but it required ducking down pretty low and trying to heave that door open while crouched could be less than fun sometimes).

The pull out sofa thing was the only disappointment in the whole room. It was hard as a rock both folded up as a sofa AND when folded out as a bed. To call it a “bed” is a bit misleading. I think that if you are over 3.5’ tall, you can’t use it as a bed. It fit my kids wonderfully, but I would not be able to sleep in it.

I did request “egg crate” topper for it – but was told that none were available. My kids didn’t complain about the bed, so I let it go. If I would have had to have slept there, I would have made more of an attempt to get some type of topper to make the “bed” more comfortable.

Now – when BOTH the sofa bed thing AND the Pullman were down – the cabin became TINY. The only floor space was between the master bed and the wall – all 13” of it! But, we made do – and probably wouldn’t upgrade based on room size alone in the future. We ONLY used the room for sleeping, showering, changing – not for entertaining ourselves, etc.

We had the cabin stewards (Imee and Marcus! WONDERFUL!) leave the beds OUT for the first few days of the cruise, thinking they’d be good for naps and that we may go to bed earlier than they would normally turn down the cabins. However, about ½ way through the cruise, it became apparent that our kids would last MUST later than we did – and we had them fold everything up each morning, and take it all out again each night during regular turn down service.

BATHROOM:
The bathroom was actually very well laid out for the space that it occupied. 1 person can shower, one can brush teeth, and one can use the toilet at the same time. That worked really well for our family of 4!

The storage space in the bathroom was also a nice surprise. Shelves in the shower held our items nicely with room to spare. There is a body wash & shampoo dispenser in there too, so that saved on room as we used the ship's stuff (just bring your own conditioner, as there isn't any in the dispenser.) The sink area had 3 shelves which held all of our stuff nicely - we did pare down our bathroom "ritual" though, and brought just the essentials with us. There is also a hand soap dispenser near the sink, so that was helpful as well. LOADS of towels! Towels everywhere! Our family of 4 never had to ask for extras - which was a first for us! Usually when we travel we have to request more towels - - but not on the Jade! KUDOS!


REST of the CABIN:
We found that storage space was at a premium! We had them take out the mini bar stuff so that we could use the fridge for juices and boxes of chocolate milk from the buffet. We used EVERY inch of free drawers/shelves/desk space for our things – and could have really used a few more places to put things.
HOWEVER – I think this is because I packed for 15 days and tried to put EVERYTHING out all at once. If I had packed for a week, we would have been just fine.

What I wound up doing was putting out a week’s clothes at a time, and then leaving the rest in suitcases under our bed. As clothes got dirty, they went into the “dirty” suitcase under the bed, and more clean clothes came out.

In hindsight, I would have ONLY packed for a week and used the laundry service ($24 per good size bag to be washed, dried, and folded).

We did not pack any FORMAL clothing – just some “sportswear” for DH and a few nice pieces for myself and the kids for when we wanted to eat in the Grand Pacific dining room or one of the specialty restaurants.

Ok – back to the room. There are 4 “cubbies” or shelves on one side of the closet. On top of these shelves is the safe, and then one more shelf above that. This is where we stored the majority of our clothing (one shelf for each of us and the top shelf for coats/etc.).

The closet was adequate for our “hanging” things. DO BRING EXTRA hangers! Stock up those cheap dry cleaning ones and bring those. I think we brought about 20 and used all of them. We left them there at the end of the cruise. (they are used to this – as the second I was done taking down all my hanging things, they came to turn down the cabin and took all my “extra” hangers out. So, they must see it ALL the time).

Next to the closet there is another “cubby” area that contains 3 drawers, a cubby above that, the mini fridge above that, and then another “cubby” hole. We used the drawers for socks/undies, the first cubby for excess bathroom stuff, and the top cubby for souvenirs.

Next to this is a “desk” area that contains the coffee pot, mugs, ice bucket and cups. In hindsight, I would have asked to have ALLLLLLL of this removed – as we didn’t use it once and would have preferred to have the space available. I’ll do that next time!

Above this was the TV, and above that was another “cubby” area that we used to store more souvenirs and misc. stuff.

Below this was a stool that we used to access the top “cubbies”. Not sure why it was in there, but we did use it a lot as a “step stool” to reach the top cubbies.

On the other side of the room was a desk area w/ mirror and the hairdryer. I REALLY liked having the hair dryer NOT in the bathroom as it saved on congestion in there. There was also a “side table” and a chair in the room. The good thing was that the table slid under the desk so that when we weren’t using it, it didn’t take up too much room. We moved the chair out to the balcony since we NEVER used it (took up too much room!). We used that little table for our room service breakfast deliveries each morning – and to put the laptop/cameras, etc. during the night.

Our room stewards (Imee and Marcus) were wonderful. Our cabin was always spotless, made up just the way we liked it – plenty of towels and the kids stuffed animals out in plain sight. We DID get towel animals EVERY night – but I did make it a point to tell them that this was the kids’ first cruise and that I thought that they would really appreciate having them. Not sure if we would have “automatically” gotten them or not.

(continued)
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NCL Jade 12 Night Eastern Med Cruise Review - 1/09
"Adventures in Ancientness" with 2 kids!
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  #2  
Old February 7th, 2009, 05:52 PM
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DINING:

First – we have to say that we are NOT foodies (and, as an aside, the whole foodie on a big ship thing is a bit weird to me. I mean, you’re on a ship, which can only “stock up” on food supplies every few days, that is cooking for a few hundred people at a time – and you want gourmet food? Really? That just seems a bit out of touch with reality to me. I think “foodies” need to stick to the under 100pax ships at most – and leave the nit picking of the food on the “mass market” ships out of their comments.)

Anyway – back to the review. We enjoy all types of food – and thoroughly enjoyed the ability to be adventurous with our menu selections – knowing that if we didn’t enjoy it, we could get something else instead. THAT was fun! We really did enjoy all of our dining options.

BUFFET – (Garden Café) - We ate at the buffet mostly - and ENJOYED it a lot. Yes, finding seating at TIMES can be difficult – but during peak times you can use Papas as “overflow” seating, so that was nice. Not sure a lot of people realized that. But, we are early eaters (7:30 – 9am breakfast and 5:30 – 7pm dinner) and never had a problem finding places to sit. We found the hot food hot and the cold food cold. I even saw a chef going around with the thermometer gun getting readouts of all the buffet items – INCLUDING the kids buffet.

We found the variety wonderful - ALWAYS something that "hit the spot" for all of us.

Now, to clarify, there are actually different “sections” to the Garden Café buffet –
The “main” one is the action station type buffet that includes a salad station, stir fry/curry station, grill station for ‘burgers and dogs (fries, onions, mushrooms, etc.), a soup station, and of course the dessert/fruit station. In this general area there are two walls with beverage dispensers. In the AM you have coffee, tea, milk, OJ, Apple Juice, Cranberry Juice, and sometimes lemonade, and of course water.
In the afternoon/pm you have coffee, milk, tea, iced tea, lemonade and water.

There are also “gourmet” coffee machines that make Lattes and cappuccinos.

In this area – near the front of the buffet – there is a soft serve ice cream machine that has chocolate, vanilla, and twist options. Cones, bowls, and all kinds of toppings are on hand. YUMMY!

Beyond that is a sandwich station (in the afternoon and evenings) – and I think it’s also technically part of the Garden Café, but walled off to seem/feel like a totally separate entity. There are also drink stations here too.

A bit beyond that (near where you go to Papas) – there is another soft serve ice cream station. This one had strawberry, vanilla, and twist options and the same fixings that the first station had. It was by luck alone that we realized that there was strawberry ice cream (DS’s FAVORITE thing in the world!) so that was really nice!

Beyond that is the Great Outdoor buffet. This was open longer for breakfast – and was the place of the Bier Garden German food day that we had. Great spot – really loved sitting on the stern of the ship watching the wake, eating our great buffet food.

On nice weather sea days they also opened up the buffet near the pool and had deck BBQs (the chicken BBQ really really hit the spot! Nicely done!). We had this twice on our 12 night cruise – but really, the weather only cooperated on those 2 days… so can’t fault NCL for that.

The thing that I DID like though, was that you could get your plate at ANY of these places and bring it anywhere else to sit down. So one day, during a BBQ day, DD and I wanted BBQ chicken. DS and DH did not. They wanted something from the Great Outdoors. None o f us wanted to sit outside, so we got our plates from our respective buffets and met in the middle. No problems at all.

Now – there are NOT any trays, so you have to be a bit smart about your portion control. Put the silverware thingy in your pocket OR don’t take one. There is silverware at each of the tables, no need to bring your own. Then, only take on one plate what you can manage with one hand. You can go back a zillion times. No need to overflow one plate. Then use your other hand for your drink – and VIOLA! NO PROBLEMS!

The plates were cleared as soon as the attendant realized we were done with them, leaving us plenty of space to go get dessert on another plate and come back. We could leave our drinks at our table, and no one “stole” our spot. Everything was VERY civilized and there weren’t any savage inbreds wrecking havoc in the buffet like most reviewers on here state.

Breakfast:
We ordered room service each morning as our ‘wake up call’ (they call you when it’s on it’s way – about 10 mins before it gets there). We ordered several glasses of OJ, coffee, fruit and danishs to munch on while getting ready. This helped stave off the “MOM! I’m STARVING” issues that can happen when you need to get 4 people ready in a small space.

After we were all ready, we usually went to the buffet for breakfast. Sometimes we went to Alizar, but honestly found the variety and quality of the food better in the buffet.

I loved that I could get egg white omelets w/ “all the veggies”, no oil, made to perfection in a matter of minutes. There are 3 omelet/egg stations in the Garden Café, and I never had to wait more than a few minutes before my egg request was sizzling away in the pan (PS – they also do fresh eggs any way you want). I also loved the grilled tomatoes, the fresh fruit, the oatmeal (with “fixings” including brown sugar and raisins!) and the variety of milk choices that they had.

DH loved all the meat options. Bacon, a variety of sausage, eggs w/ meat, cold cuts (European style breakfast). Not sure if he ate a vegetable during the entire 12 nights! LOL.

Kids loved the French toast, the pancakes, the fruit, and the good cereal selection. There is a “kids buffet” too – but since there were SO FEW kids on our cruise, the food didn’t get replaced often. My kids would look at what was there (typically a few pancakes, French toast triangles, cereal, yogurt, fruit, bacon, baked beans, scrambled eggs, etc) – and then come with me to the “adult” buffet for their food.

Lunch:


Again, it was usually the buffet for us. We did do the Blue Lagoon a few times – but I have to say that this was not a bright spot for us. It wasn’t horrible by any means, but it didn’t have us dying to go back either. I was highly anticipating the wings that everyone raves about…. And unfortunately was sadly disappointed. They were OK, but not wonderful. Kids liked them, and we did order them a few times because they were “good” – but not the great that I expected.

I DID love the spinach and artichoke dip. THAT was really nice!

We did like the fish & chips. Small portions, if you’re a big eater, order 2. For us, one per was fine. These aren’t extraordinary, but good.
We didn’t like the meatloaf, and didn’t care for the tomato soup. Not “inedible” – just not what we enjoy.

Dinner:
Again, most times we ate at the buffet. Mostly due to ease w/ the kids, but also because we just really enjoyed all the options.

We would go down to the Alizar/Grand Pacific and see what was on the menu, if something caught our eye, then we ate there. If not, then we headed up to the buffet.

The food in the dining rooms (Alizar/Grand Pacific) was GOOD overall. There were some “duds” (but again, we were being adventurous and ordering things that we had NO idea what they were, or if we would like them.) But we had our share of REALLY GOOD meals as well. I never heard anyone complaining about the quality or the choice of food at all.

Dessert(s):
If we ate in Alizar/Grand Pacific, and there was a dessert that we wanted to try, we got it there. If not, we simply went up to the buffet to check out what was on hand that night. I LOVED the “made for you”crepes! Had to have one of those each night w/ raspberry sauce and whipped cream! Yummy!
DD loved the chocolate fountains and dunked marshmallows and fruit (on skewers) in there each night.
DS loved the strawberry soft serve ice cream.

The ONLY “negative” (if you can even call it that) was that we DID both agree that the majority of dessert “things” were usually lacking in taste. There were some that were GREAT, but most were just so-so and pretty tasteless. If the name wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have guessed what I was eating most of the time. One or two bites was “more than enough” to realize that I needed to find something else.
By the end of the cruise, we pretty much stuck w/ the crepes, soft serve, and fresh fruit. The VERY PRETTY desserts just weren’t as good as they looked.

CHOCOLATE BUFFET - this was on the last port night (Malta) from 11pm – 12am. DD had been looking forward to this ALL cruise, and was ecstatic when it finally showed up in our Freestyle Daily. DH took DD to this and came back w/ plates of chocolate covered strawberries, covered bananas, and some brownie things. The chocolate covered fruit was FANTASTIC. Seriously, some of the best chocolate covered strawberries/bananas I’ve ever had. Again, sadly, the brownies LOOKED fantastic, but just were not. The chocolate and ice sculptures were great though, and thankfully DH took some great pictures! DD was impressed with the sheer SIZE of the things (some taller than she is!).

DH and I only tried one of the specialty restaurants – Paniolos ($10 cover charge to get in, but your first margarita is free. so it's basically a wash! LOL. They never had a 2 for 1 for this restaurant either). We chose Paniolos because you can’t get decent Mexican food in Denmark – and we were seriously craving some!! The good news is that we absolutely LOVED it!! The lobster tacos were my favorite dish on the entire ship and the quesadillas (appetizer) were really really good. Unfortunately, the PORTIONS of the appetizers was HUGE, leaving us too full to really enjoy the main course and dessert. We were STUFFED!!! Had we been on land, we would have wrapped most of our meal “to go” – but sadly the plates wouldn’t fit in our mini fridge, and we had no place to heat them up anyway…. NEXT time, we know to GO HUNGRY! LOL.

The rest of the specialty restaurants either didn’t appeal to us (menu wise) OR carried too hefty of a cover + additional fee for the “good stuff” to make it worth our while.

I’m NOT bashing the specialty restaurants, and we PROBABLY would have tried all of them if we were alone without the kids. It just wasn’t high on our priority list to sample them – and we were perfectly happy w/ our dining options as it was.

I would say, though, that if you enjoy a nice variety, to budget in a few extra bucks (about $20/night pp) for your cruise and sample all of the restaurants, or to keep going back to your favorites. The restaurants themselves looked very nice, very intimate, and I can see where this would be a very nice change of pace from the main dining rooms or the buffets.

Oh - quick note about the main dining rooms. We NEVER ever had to wait in ANY restaurant (again, we're early diners - usually eating between 5:30 and 6:30 pm for dinner, and 7:30 - 8:30am for breakfast). We only saw lines once in Alizar or Grand Pacific- but this was because there is NO (zip, zilch, nada) waiting area IN the restaurant. So if there is more than 4 people "in line" it will HAVE to spill out into the hall. DO not be afraid. The "lines" move quickly and you'll be seated in no time at all (talking under 5 minutes).

Dining room service -
In the “free” dining rooms service was adequate. I have a background in restaurant management, and am HYPER critical of wait staff. I found that they MOSTLY did a good job, and only occasionally did I have to request something. I observed our waiters in the Alizar, Grand Pacific, and the Blue Lagoon – and all of them seemed hurried and not ABLE to be very personable. I don’t believe that this has ANYTHING to do with “freestyle” at all – but would be interested to observe the way the kitchen/floor operates to see where the breakdown is that creates this hurried frenzy lies.


Our experience in Paniolos was much better. We never had to ask for anything, and the server was much more relaxed and personable. I can imagine that it is similar in all of the specialty restaurants simply due to their smaller, more intimate size.

Hand Sanitizing:
Yes, you will get squirted or sprayed each time you walk into a dining facility. Deal with it. It takes 3 seconds to rub your hands together and absorb the stuff. It was not a nuisance, and I appreciated the effort that NCL took to avoid all those nasty belly issues.

**note** upon arriving in Egypt, the staff actually had to hand us our places, silverware, and literally EVERYTHING that we ate (especially time consuming in the buffet since you couldn’t serve yourself). They did this out of precautionary measures, and stopped it after 72 hours when they found that no one had gotten sick in Egypt. Everyone was very relieved when we could go “back to normal” for the last two days of the cruise.


(continued)
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NCL Jade 12 Night Eastern Med Cruise Review - 1/09
"Adventures in Ancientness" with 2 kids!
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Old February 7th, 2009, 05:53 PM
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Now – here are some random thoughts about the ship itself and what we did on our sea days:



We're a family of 4 - so didn't do a lot of "adult" things... but thoroughly enjoyed what we did do.

We thought that the singers/dancers were great in the shows. We liked the “American Idol” type show they did (the kids club went to see this with all the kids – who all were very well behaved and danced along w/ the music! Precious!).

We thought that Second City (the comedy/improv group) was wonderful – I went to one of the lectures about the Second City and was amazed that I’d not heard of this before. Very entertaining for both the current troupe on the ship AND for learning about the history of the Second City in general. LOVED that they repeated a show on the ship TV about the Second City – I think that I was able to watch the whole thing (spread out over the course of the 12 days on the ship! Watching about 10 minutes at a time! LOL).

We enjoyed the "bar music" of the musicians and lounge singers. Not that we thought they were of the quality to “pay to see”, but they certainly could hold their own and were nice to listen to as we walked from deck to deck.

The casino was nicely laid out and easy to play. (sorry, didn't drink, so don't know if the drinks were free or not). Join the Casino’s At Sea program – you get a nice little booklet of coupons to use during your cruise. If you’re a big gambler, it pays to play – as you get all kinds of perks for booking future cruises depending on the amount that you play. DH and I are not “big” casino people, but we enjoyed spending some time with the slots and tables.

DH did enjoy the free gaming lessons that were given – and managed to win a few bucks playing blackjack after his lessons. That was nice. :-D

We liked the spa - but would have LOVED to have more "couples" options than just the therapy pool and heated loungers. A sauna would have been wonderful - but they are only male/female and not co-ed. Keep an eye out on special spa treatment packages - and be sure to take a tour of it on the first day to see if you'd like having the spa pass. We toured it, and decided that the pass wouldn't pay off for us, but we DID enjoy the treatments we got there.

We enjoyed the pool/hot tub and water slide! There are two “big” pools – one for adults only and one for “everyone”. There is also a tiny toddler pool that is enclosed for the littlest ones. There are two hot tubs next to the “everyone” pool that were also for – yep – everyone. There were two more hot tubs near the “adults” pool that were for “adults” only.

What I didn’t get was that the “adult” pool was NEVER used and the adult hot tubs rarely had more than 2 people in them. The “everyone” pool and hot tubs were ALWAYS used. Maybe they were different temperatures? Maybe the karma was better in the ‘everyone’ pool… who knows? It didn’t deter us from using the pool OR the “everyone” hot tubs!! We loved ‘em!

The waterslide was MOSTLY open. On high wind days, they closed it for safety reasons. They also closed it when it became obvious that parents weren’t watching their kids and the attendant had enough of telling them when to go, to stop running, etc. LOL. Now, it’s not like there were hoards of kids running around, maybe 3 at a time. I guess it was just too cold for the staff to be out there all day monitoring the water slide. LOL. Note – the slide is NOT designed for adults. There isn’t enough water pressure to make it any fun… most people had to “scoot” themselves down the slide if they were over the age of 12 (it WAS very fun to watch adults try to go down though… they need to put that on the cruise memories DVD! LOL).

A random thought about the cruise with kids – all in all, the kids were widely accepted everywhere on the ship and we only got a handful of glances in the dining room, pool, etc. Since there were SO FEW kids on board, I think that the glances were more of surprise than “oh my gosh, an ankle biter is in here!! ACK!!” type. All of the kids seemed to be well behaved and well under control by their parents. We even got a few comments from fellow travelers that it was great to see kids on the ship – and that they hadn’t expected any due to the length and itinerary of the cruise.

KIDS CLUB:
Since we were on a 12 nighter in the middle of school, we KNEW that there wouldn’t be many kids on board. We were right. There were only 70 (from itty bitty – age 17). A TINY amount! What that meant for the kids club was that they barely had 6 kids in there during the day - - which in turn meant that they mostly had “open play” and all the kids played amongst themselves.

DS (5) loved it and would always ask to go in and never wanted to come out.

DD (7) didn’t like it so much and we had to bribe her to go in most days.

Now - the EVENINGS were a totally different story. MORE kids were there, so they were able to separate into age groups and do more of the “scheduled” things.

BOTH of our kids LOVED the night programs – neither of them wanting to come out until 10:30pm when the “free” hours ended and we MADE them come out.

The counselors were all kind and fun and seemed to enjoy what they did. They DID, on more than one occasion, look bored - - but honestly, I can’t fault them for that.

You can leave your kids on the ship while you do port excursions on some occasions. Prior to our cruise, I thought NO WAY IN the WORLD would I ever do that. Wrong. LOL. Our final port stop, Malta, and DD had had enough of looking at old cities. She pitched a hissy fit and demanded to stay on the ship. We checked w/ the kids club and it was not a problem. $5/hour and she had the place to herself. She was “Queen of Kids Club” for a day and got to do whatever SHE wanted to do. She was happy, we were happy, it all was VERY GOOD.

I don’t think that I would have done this if it was one of our first port stops, but since it was our last, and I had been able to meet and view all the kids club counselors & get a general feeling for the place, I DID feel 100% comfortable leaving her there. I spoke with another parent who left their kids in kids club while they did various excursions, and they all said the same thing – the KIDS loved it, the parents felt safe and secure, and EVERYONE got to enjoy the day. So – I guess my advice is to get a great feeling for the kids club, and IF your child WANTS to stay on board vs. come with you, then go for it.

(continued)
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NCL Jade 12 Night Eastern Med Cruise Review - 1/09
"Adventures in Ancientness" with 2 kids!

Last edited by CruisinEurope; February 7th, 2009 at 05:53 PM.
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Old February 7th, 2009, 05:54 PM
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PORTS:

In Barcelona – we stayed at the Amister hotel pre-cruise. GREAT hotel for a family of 4 (had a "suite" on the 7th floor - very nice by European standards! More than we expected - GREAT bathroom!!!) The location is OK (not great) as you need a cab to the pier and from the airport. But you are walking distance to the metro - and we used that to get around and sight see. VERY easy!

Rome - we hired a private guide - www.driverguideservice.com - that I had researched both on CC and TripAdvisor. We were SO SO SO SO SO happy with them! They were worth EVERY PENNY!! We were able to visit all the “biggies” and drive by the “seconds”. We toured inside the Coliseum and the Pantheon and had a private guide for our 2.5 hour tour of the Vatican which they arranged as well (at no additional cost!) - priceless!!! There were 27 of us from our Roll Call spread out in 4 vans w/ 4 different Rome guides and 4 different Vatican guides. We ALL loved our guides! Fantastic company and I will sing their praises for years to come! (If you book with them, please tell Ivano that Jennifer says HELLO!”)

Athens - did on our own using the metro (very easy and very cheap!). 1 Euro from the port to the Acropolis (kids were free!) Ate lunch at a local restaurant in the Platka! Great food! We found Athens to be VERY easy to do on your own. We chose to only to do the Acropolis, get lunch, browse the shops and get back to the ship … but could have easily seen more by using the metro.

Izmir (Ephesus) - hired a private guide - www.ephesusexcursions.com (Meander Travel is the name of the company). Had Hazan as our guide and LOVED him! He is an archeologist, and the insight he was able to provide at the Ephesus museum and in the Terrace houses was priceless! You ABSOLUTELY MUST have a private guide IN the Ephesus Museum and especially the Terrace Houses. The insight they can provide is AMAZING! (there was one group who had a guide, but the guide could not go into the Archeological site/Terrace Houses with them and I KNOW that their experience was completely different than what we had since they didn’t get the stories, the facts, and the tidbits that we were able to have as our guide educated us about what, exactly, we were seeing. FABULOUS!!!).

The Terrace houses are NOT to be missed – do NOT book any excursion unless you go in these amazing homes too! We also visited the mountain top village of Sirince for lunch and some nice craft/etc. shopping. The ride up the mountain was “white knuckle” but worth it! We LOVED Turkey in general, and can't wait to go back!

Egypt –
I hate to say it, but Egypt was the bane of my existence while planning our cruise!! I kept going back and forth with guides, tour schedules, what we wanted to see, etc. It drove me BATTY!

I can say though, that if you’re looking for a great guide/guard – do contact Emad. I found him both on CC and on TripAdvisor – and spent almost a month going back and forth with him about what our family wanted to see/do while in Egypt.

At the end, we wound up NOT using him, and it’s a decision that I REALLY regret. I know we would have enjoyed Egypt MUCH more had I stuck to my ORIGINAL schedule with Emad as our guide. Other Roll Call members DID use him per my suggestion and confirmed that he was a great guide to have (though, not the “chatty tour guide” type.

What we DID wind up doing was this:
day 1 - did the NCL one day Cairo tour (up and back). Enjoyed the tour, felt it was a decent value for the money. Tour guide was great (female, but can't remember her name). Our security guard took us under his wing while visiting the Sphinx - which was GREATLY appreciated – more on that in a bit.

day 2 - did nothing except shop at pier shops in Alexandria. Day 1 wore us out and kind of soured us on going out on our own in Alexandria. No tours appealed to us - so we shopped at our leisure at the pier and had the ship to ourselves.


Egypt in general – glad we did it, even gladder that it’s DONE. Yes the history is amazing. Yes the pyramids and sphinx are beyond words. But the rest of the experience was NOT pleasant. We KNEW that Egypt was poor, had horrible pollution, had overly aggressive and deceitful “business men”, and that we would be stared at all day due to our blonde hair and blue eyes.

Even with KNOWING all of that before hand – we were STILL taken aback. The level of poverty was something that we had never seen before. The level of pollution was something we had never experienced before. The smell, at times, was unbearable. My throat hurt for a few days due to all the junk in the air. The “business men” at the Pyramids, sphinx, and at the shops were relentless. One even physically took DS and tried to put him on a camel after DH repeatedly told him NO!

Now – we NEVER feared for our safety. We weren’t scared in that manner. But being constantly talked at, touched, and not leaving after being told “no thank you” a million times was NERVE WRACKING. DD and DS could not wait to get back on the bus and did NOT want to go out again to see the Sphinx after experiencing the Pyramids.

LUCKILY, the armed guard on our NCL bus took us under his wing and literally walked us through the Sphinx and all other times we were off the bus and in public. One look from him and we were never bothered.

If I had a “do over” I would have used Emad (a big, friendly Egyptian man ) as our personal tour guide/guard for our entire trip. I would NOT go in a group (even a small Roll Call one), and I would NOT spend the night in Cairo (which we are SO glad we didn’t do!) I felt MUCH better being “home” on the ship where I could eat and drink what I wanted, had a great CLEAN bed to go back to, and towel animals to make me smile. LOL.


Malta - did it on our own. Took the HOHO bus (northern route) up to Mdina and walked around there for an hour. We enjoyed the scenic bus route and commentary. Walked around Valletta for a bit and then back down to the pier. I'd LOVE to see Malta in the Spring or late summer.... not much going on in the dead of winter unfortunately.

In general – I really enjoyed seeing this part of the world at this time of the year. I can’t imagine trying to do these cities during peak tourist season! The lines, the heat, and the traffic must be INSANE! Our weather was “nice enough” and there were NO lines at all! We were never crowded or rushed ANYWHERE we went (save for the Pyramids and Sphinx - but that wasn’t with tourists, it was with camels, and “business men” which I can only assume gets agonizingly worse in the busier months!).

(continued)
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Old February 7th, 2009, 05:55 PM
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IN SUMMARY:

Ship: we really enjoyed the Jade. We’re looking forward to trying other NCL ships just for the variety, but would sail her again in a heartbeat.

Time frame: loved going “off season” to beat the crowds and not have oppressive heat

Barcelona – we’d go back for a few days before/after a cruise out of there, but not sure we’d make a special trip to see it on its own.

Rome – definitely going back, and back and back! Would LOVE to see more of Italy in general & will be contacting our new friend Ivano for tours!

Athens – been there, done that, ate the gyro. I’d love to see some of the smaller Greek islands and see the beaches and white/blue churches, etc. Maybe a Greek Isles cruise will be next?

Izmir – definitely going back. Would love to see more of Turkey! Will be contacting Meander Travel for more tour options on a land based tour!

Egypt – done, done, and done. Maybe we’ll try again in 30 years.

Malta – I’m actually going back for a week in March and hope to see if the country “wakes up” a bit as Spring approaches. There was actually a LOT more that I would have liked to have seen here – but our time in port was SO short. I can see going back in late Spring or late Summer for a “resort vacation” here. Great little country!

All in all - a WONDERFUL way to spend two weeks!



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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:23 PM
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WOW! What a great, in-depth review!

We had this intinerary booked for late March, 09, and had to cancel. We want to try for it again in March/April of 2011.

I will keep your thread bookmarked to review as our plans come together.

Thanks!

~dianne
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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:46 PM
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Thanks for the great review! We are an American family of 4 living in Germany. We will be on this route in April. Your information is very helpful.
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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:47 PM
mickeysgal mickeysgal is offline
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Absolutely wonderful review. Thank you! We're booked on the Gem in June and you've touched on some of the ports we will see. The Jade must be very similar to the Gem, so your ship review helped too.

I'm sorry your stop in Egypt was so disappointing. As much as I'd like to see it, it worries me that it takes an armed guard to get you through an exhibit. That's scary.
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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mickeysgal View Post
Absolutely wonderful review. Thank you! We're booked on the Gem in June and you've touched on some of the ports we will see. The Jade must be very similar to the Gem, so your ship review helped too.

I'm sorry your stop in Egypt was so disappointing. As much as I'd like to see it, it worries me that it takes an armed guard to get you through an exhibit. That's scary.
It was scary, but we lived through it and it really wasn't HORRIBLE. Just wayyyyyyyyyyyy different and wayyyyyyyyyy more intense than I imagined.

I don't think the guard being armed was the key - but rather to have a big "local" guy (key being MALE) with us. The guide we were going to use, Emad, wouldn't have been armed, but would have provided the same "shield" as the guard did.

I guess "buffer" or "shield" would be a better way to describe what "service" he provided to us.

No one came up to us begging or trying to sell us things. No one tried to touch us. No one even got within a few steps of us while he was with us.

Compared to our first foray at the Pyramids (our first stop) where we were literally surrounded by people trying to touch us, sell us stuff, etc.

Again, never scared for SAFETY, just nerve wracking about the lack of personal space.

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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Strawberry Shortcake View Post
Thanks for the great review! We are an American family of 4 living in Germany. We will be on this route in April. Your information is very helpful.
wonderful! thanks!

You should have better weather than we did, but still "off season"

Enjoy your trip!!!
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Old February 7th, 2009, 06:58 PM
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Thank you for taking the time to write your review. My husband and I will be on the March 8 cruise doing your same stops. I appreciate all your information. Nancy
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Old February 7th, 2009, 07:05 PM
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That is by far one of the very best reviews I have ever read - thanks so much for all your work! We are doing this very cruise on the 15th and I have a couple of last minute questions- mostly about the Cairo tour from the ship:

How was the bus ride to and from? Is it really a three hour drive? Do the buses have bathrooms? Did you (and others) tip the driver? Did you do the Nile River cruise? Did you eat any of the food (seems like lots of warnings not to eat or drink anything in Egypt)?

Would really appreciate your thoughts - we have a group of 12 going on this cruise and all are scheduled for this excursion. Thanks!



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Old February 7th, 2009, 07:20 PM
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thankyou so much for your review. All things about the ship I really agree on. we have been on numerous NCL ships, and basically use the buffet for most of our eats, and have really had no problems with the food. We leave next week on the Feb 15th group. Been waiting for 9 months...
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Old February 7th, 2009, 07:26 PM
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Originally Posted by SandyMc View Post
That is by far one of the very best reviews I have ever read - thanks so much for all your work! We are doing this very cruise on the 15th and I have a couple of last minute questions- mostly about the Cairo tour from the ship:

How was the bus ride to and from? It was OK. we're used to long road trips, so it wasn't horrible for us. The buses are big motor coaches and are comfortable. Is it really a three hour drive? Yes. With LOTS of nothing to see. Sleep, bring a book, etc. You won't miss much. Do the buses have bathrooms? Yes. And they will be the cleanest ones you find (except for the Mena House - where we had lunch. That was nice. Be sure to tip the towel lady $1). Use the bus bathroom before going to the Pyramids/Sphinx and before the Museum. You don't want to use the one in the museum. Did you (and others) tip the driver? We tipped the guide, not sure about the driver, will have to ask DH. We did tip the guard for his "services" for us. Did you do the Nile River cruise? Nope. The tour we were on did not include it, but after seeing the boats and the Nile, I'm glad we didn't do it. Others on our roll call did, and loved it... but then they loved all of Egypt. Did you eat any of the food (seems like lots of warnings not to eat or drink anything in Egypt)? We had a tour sponsored buffet lunch at the Mena House hotel. All food was "NCL approved" and we could eat whatever we wanted. They provided bottled water for us and we could also buy cans of soda.

The good news is that NO ONE got sick - private tours or NCL tours. So that was good. They did do TONS of reminders about not eating uncooked things, drinking the water, etc. So I guess everyone listened.

Would really appreciate your thoughts - we have a group of 12 going on this cruise and all are scheduled for this excursion. Thanks!


As horrible as my review of Cairo was, I DID enjoy the 1 day Cairo NCL trip. I thought the pace was good, the stops were well planned out, and I even liked the NCL sponsored shopping trip to the papyrus "museum" and store.

The bus ride w/ commentary by our guide was nice - we learned a lot.

The driver was exceptional. You will NOT believe the traffic in Egypt. HOLY COW! Beyond insane.

The Egyptian Museum, for us, was a real let down. Unless you had your guide with you and LITERALLY right in your ear, it was impossible to know what you were looking at. For us, it was TOO crowded to hear our guide, so we left her and went on our own. There were not any little cards describing what we were looking at, so we had to make educated guesses to tell the kids what we were seeing.

The museum itself is in pretty shabby condition, which I did not expect as it's the premier museum in Cairo. DO NOT USE the toilets here.

Bring FOOD with you for your bus ride to/from Cairo. Sorry - don't flame me - but my gosh, there is NO WHERE to stop and get food on your trip. Your only eating stop is for a quick 20 min lunch at the hotel (nice, we really did enjoy that!).

We brought cereal boxes, chips, etc. with us and bought soda/water from the driver for $1/can (wayyyy cheaper than on the ship!). Kids were still hungry on our drive back (more out of boredom than hunger) - so we had to make do with soda until we got back to the ship and into Alizar.


If you'd like - I can get you in touch with Emad to see if he's available. I think that with a group of 12 of you already, you'd do MUCH better w/ a private guide than with an NCL tour.

if you do the NCL tour, be SURE that you all get on the same bus. Tell the tour person in the Stardust that you have a large group and see if she will let you be the first out the door and onto a bus - that way, you won't get separated.

Go, prepare for the worse, and be plesantly surprised if you have a better time than we did. LOL
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Old February 7th, 2009, 09:34 PM
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Thanks so much for your beautifully written, in-depth review. We're going on the Jade March 8 and look forward to all the ports. We're doing the NCL tour that includes the Nile cruise to sing, "See the pyramids along the Nile..."
Susan
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Old February 7th, 2009, 11:56 PM
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I enjoyed reading your review. It was very vivid and I loved the details. What a wonderful trip for your family!
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Old February 8th, 2009, 12:04 AM
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I see there are a bunch of us going on the Jade March 8th trying to get information from you!! Thanks so much for your EXCELLENT review. We are going soon with our two daughters 11 and 15 - two blondies - so we will be on the lookout in Egypt.

You mentioned the heated loungers in the pool area? Did you buy a spa pass?

Thanks again for all the info
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Old February 8th, 2009, 01:12 AM
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All of you going on the March 8 cruise, have you gotten on the roll call? If not, please do. They're arranging a meet & greet and it would be great if you signed up.
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Old February 8th, 2009, 02:00 AM
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Default Terrific thorough review

And quite an enjoyable read too. DH and I were on the Jade this past summer, from Southampton to Barcelona. We loved the ship, the crew and the intinery.

We want to do an Eastern Med cruise as well, including the stop in Egypt. And the information you've provided is really terrific. When you were writing about the poverty you saw, it brought back memories of when we stopped in Cartegena Columbia. I had never seen such poverty and horrific living conditions.

Again, thanks for taking the time to advise all of use here. I know this takes a lot of effort on your part, and it was very gracious of you to share your thoughts and insights.
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Old February 8th, 2009, 03:50 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TMILLER762 View Post
I see there are a bunch of us going on the Jade March 8th trying to get information from you!! Thanks so much for your EXCELLENT review. We are going soon with our two daughters 11 and 15 - two blondies - so we will be on the lookout in Egypt.

You mentioned the heated loungers in the pool area? Did you buy a spa pass?

Thanks again for all the info
Enjoy your trip! We sure did! At 11 and 15, you probably won't have the touching issues that we had since ours are younger.

The spa - nope, didn't buy the pass. Didn't think that we would use it enough to warrant the pass. BUT - we did love the spa and the treatments that we had there.

I met one couple who bought the spa pass and took the cruise JUST to use the spa - never left the ship once. LOL
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