San Francisco Bay Area
Norwegian Jade: Varied destinations & a wealth of experiences
Sailing the Caribbean in winter and European waters in summer, the 2,402-passenger Norwegian Jade from Norwegian Cruise Line offers a fun, laid-back way to explore the historic sites of Europe. Unlike many large ships, which repeat the same itinerary over and over, Jade features a varied selection of enriching cruises.
We were pleasantly surprised by nearly every aspect of our trip, from the terrific shore excursions to the convivial service to the top-rate meals in the specialty dining package we chose.
Who will like sailing on Norwegian Jade
For Caribbean sailings, the passenger makeup is heavily American. (Because our sailing was for 11 nights and during the school year, there were only a few younger families, with seasoned travelers making up the bulk of the guests.)
The ship attracts an international cruising crowd — a mix of North Americans and those from elsewhere — for its European sailings, with most passengers in the 55- to 70-year-old range. During summer months, families are well represented.
Where Norwegian Jade sails
Norwegian Jade now sails culturally enriching itineraries to destinations like the Mediterranean, Dubai, Cape Town, the Seychelles and Israel, with the preponderance of trips to the Greek islands and Turkey.
Where we sailed & what we loved
We headed out of Miami last month on an 11-night voyage to Cartagena, Colombia, a half-transit of the Panama Canal, Costa Maya, Mexico, Norwegian's private island of Havest Caye in Belize and Roatan, Honduras, as well as three sea days. Our visit to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, was called off because of high swells. Highlights included the capuchin and titi monkeys on a Panama shore excursion, the Mayan ruins of Dzibanche in Costa Maya, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas and the colorful macaws in the cruise terminal in Cartagena and our first time sailing through the Panama Canal, a still-astonishing marvel of engineering. I'll share Visual Lists of all those highlights on Cruiseable in the coming days.
Dining on Norwegian Jade comes in two flavors: standard (no extra cost) and specialty dining (additional cost). Norwegian pioneered the Freestyle Dining concept, so you dine whenever and with whomever you please. The free venues that come with your cruise fare include:
- Grand Pacific and Alizar main dining rooms: We found the cuisine at the two main dining rooms on decks 6 and 7 somewhat underwhelming. The throwback decor feels more dated than classic. Menu choices include classic entrees such as New York strip steak, rotisserie chicken, beef lasagne, grilled grouper and spaghetti Bolognese.
- O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill: By turns empty or bustling with activity, depending on the night, this sports pub features a long, handsome polished bar and offers appetizers and basic fare such as burgers, fajitas and sandwiches as well as sports action on two large digital TVs and live entertainment from the atrium just below. It's open 24 hours.
- Jasmine Garden Asian Restaurant: This elegant adventure into Pan Asian fare is an experience in fine Japanese, Thai, Chinese cuisine, plus many more authentic Asian dishes. Jasmine has some a la carte charges.
- Topsiders Grill: Right next to the main pool on deck 12 you'll find this buffet-style grill offering bugers, hot dogs, fries and other basic fare.
- The Great Outdoors: During breakfast or lunch, this is a great venue at the aft of the ship to help yourself to a buffet featuring prepared-to-cook omelets, waffles, fruit, hamburgers, hot dogs, ethnic specialties and pasta.
- Room service: It's offered 24 hours a day. Menu items are free but come with a delivery charge of $7.95 per order.
- Garden Cafe/Kid's Cafe: This indoor buffet features prepared-to-cook omelets, waffles, fruit, soups, ethnic specialties and pasta. Includes a special kid's only area with smaller tables and chairs.
Norwegian offers a range of dining packages. We chose to opt for specialty dining on five of the eleven nights. Choices include:
- La Cucina: This wonderful, intimate venue features upscale Italian cuisine, including a choice of pasta and risotto for starters, meat, chicken or fish dishes for the main course and a wide range of Cabernets, Chiantis and Malbecs. The Caprese salad was fresh and light, and the Italian sausage all‘ Olio (spaghetti with extra virgin olive oil and chili flakes) was expertly seasoned and filling, so I passed on the second course.
- Cagney's Steakhouse: Steak is the name of the game in this upscale traditional steakhouse with large cuts ranging from rib eye to porterhouse. It also serves a wonderful lunch, such as a shrimp cocktail, mixed green salad, burger and lemon sorbet.
- Moderno Churrascaria: We began most days with breakfast at Moderno, a light-filled venue on deck 13 overlooking the main pool deck. A choice of waffles, buttermilk pancakes, omelets, French toast and a lavish spread of pastries, yogurts and fruits should start your day off right. At night, Moderno turns into an all-you-can-eat Brazilian showcase of succulent skewers of barbequed meats that are carved tableside.
- Le Bistro French Restaurant: This ornate French restaurant offers a menu of traditional and contemporary French gourmet fare. Sample entrees include salmon fillet, grilled swordfish, coq au vin and grilled beef tenderloin.
- Teppanyaki Room: This was our first teppanyaki experience, and we loved it. You're seated around a grill in the back room of Jasmine Garden Asian Restaurant with eight other guests as a chef chops, stir-fries and serves your dish with a little dramatic flair thrown in. Main entrees include a wide range of shrimp, seafood, chicken and beef combinations. It's delicious, entertaining and social all at once.
- Sushi Bar: We didn't have time to check out the Sushi Bar, an a la carte row of seats also inside Jasmine where you can watch chefs prepare spider rolls, tuna rolls, Hawaiian poke, ceviche or other fresh sushi.
Entertainment & activities
Entertainment on Norwegian Jade was generally engaging and satisfying, without soaring to the heights you might find on an MSC Cruises or Royal Caribbean sailing. The big, splashy production number, "Elements," takes place on the next-to-last night with a stage filled with dancers, singers and trapeze artists, and it's definitely worth your time. On other nights the Stardust Theater features a comedian, acrobats, magician, a Motown tribute and more, with shows at 7:30 and 9:30 pm. Photography was not allowed — every night an announcer would solemnly intone, "The use of recording devices is strictly prohibited by international copyright law." Which is not true.
Wander around a bit and you'll bump into a host of activities: nightly karaoke that attracts a large crowd, a "Weakest Link" game show and trivia contests, the talented pianist Carlos, who takes requests at Magnum's Champagne Bar, as well as other lively venues, including the Casin and various card and game rooms. Every evening a few dozen folks would top off their day by heading to the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 for some disco and other dance music. During the day, the pool and four whirlpools are the center of the action, with corny poolside contests (the Mr. Sexy Legs Competition) and blaring music.
Bars & lounges
OK, I'll say it. One of the best things about Norwegian Jade is the crazy number of great drinking establishments on board. Besides O'Sheehan's and Spinnaker Lounge (mentioned above), here are a handful of other places where you can lift a brew or two:
- Bliss Lounge: Guests filled the dance floor most nights as a house band played a
- Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar: Magnum's is an Art Nouveau inspiration of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's design elements, colors and artwork. Grab a glass of bubbly and take in the piano music in the adjoining lounge.
- Sugarcane Mojito Bar: Tucked in a corner of Moderno is this small venue that's a good escape from the madding crowd. I attended a mojito class here and wrote about the half-dozen recipes Glen unveiled.
- Tankards Beer & Whiskey Bar: Throw back a pint in this contemporary full-service bar with a motif that reflects the brewing process.
- Topsiders Bar & Grill: On the main pool deck is Topsiders, a full bar and grill that's lively during the day but empties out after the sun goes down.
I learned my lessons from my last cruise so I took full advantage of the Pulse Fitness Center, which had an excellent assortment of exercise equipment, stationary bikes and weights — plus morning yoga and aerobics/fitness classes daily.
The Atrium, located in the middle of the ship, was abuzz with activity throughout the afternoon and evening, with guitarist and piano entertainment. Head to the Java Cafe for coffee drinks (extra charge) if the line's too long at the Reception or Shore Excursion desks.
We didn't pay extra for treatments at Mandara Spa, but it offers a full array of spa treatments designed to put you in a peaceful and tranquil mood.
Splash Academy was underused on our sailing because of the dearth of kids, but the handful of kids that did take advantage of arts and crafts, storytelling, treasure hunts, painting sessions, PlayStation consoles, scavenger hunts and other active age-appropriate pursuits.
There's also a large Art Gallery, Photo Gallery, Internet Cafe, cooking classes, sports court and walking track, video arcade, well-stocked library, kiddie pool, business meeting rooms and gift shops on board. And I spent a fun afternoon watching "Kong: Skull Island" in the Stardust Theater.
J.D. Lasica sailed on Norwegian Jade on a press trip as a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line. See Cruiseable's Ethics & Disclosure policy. Updated from an earlier post.
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Top highlights on this ship
- Fitness Center features a full gym and aerobics/fitness classes daily.
- If you love playing slots, you can gamble one cent up to $100.
- Two huge 4,390-square-foot Garden Villas offer three separate bedrooms, private garden with hot tub and access to a private courtyard with pool.