Norwegian Jade, Western Caribbean Cruise, January 23-30, 2016

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.

Days 6 & 7: At Sea

Thursday and Friday were “at sea” days. Thursday was quite cloudy and windy, then winds kicked up late morning, foiling any real efforts of sunbathing by the pool. Friday was nicer, but since we were getting closer to Texas, the temperatures were dropping a bit, as well. We did very little, but continued our quest to find good food on board. I hate sounding negative, but it just did not impress. We found an evening crepe bar in the buffet where they make beautiful crepes and offer nearly a dozen toppings like canned pie filling. Now why ruin a lovely crepe with canned pie filling? I asked for a plain crepe, found a pat of butter, two lemon slices, and a couple of packets of sugar and made something delicious. The crepe maker watched and made his own and declared it a keeper.🙂

One of the highlights of the week for us was the comedian they had on board, David Naster. We enjoyed his shows and the messages he was making. Aside from being funny, he did a show on becoming bully-proof that is an excellent message for junior high and high school teachers. Really an excellent entertainer – clean, funny, and suitable for all ages. I have ordered one of his books and hope it will be there by the time I work my way home on Sunday.

Back to port on Saturday morning. We will hang on to our luggage and walk off the ship on our own instead of being delayed throughout the morning. We have a 10+ hour drive back to Lubbock and need to get an early start.

Day 5: Roatan, Honduras

An awesome day today on the beach at the Paradise Beach Hotel! We arranged transportation through Margot Mejia who lined up drivers to drop you off and pick you back up. Unfortunately, our driver, Dale, did not come back at the appointed time so after waiting 40 minutes, we needed to hail another taxi to get back to the port. Since our agreement with Dale was for him to be paid upon return to the port, regrettably we had no way to pay him.

Back on board we had a snack, a nap, then went to a “Name that Disney song” game. We could have used Taylor’s Disney knowledge for extra points, but we won the game by naming 14 of the 20 songs!

Dinner at the complimentary Jasmine Chinese restaurant was ok with portions that were so huge we left with probably 2/3 of the meal still left on the table. It was fair but I have to say Panda Express has more flavor.

The next two days are “at sea” days and then we disembark on Saturday morning. 

Jade/day 4: Belize City

The good part about a stop in Belize is that it is BEAUTIFUL! The bad part is that it is a 35 minute tender ride from the ship. I always ask to be the last one to board so I don’t sit on a swaying boat any longer than necessary. There was a lot of confusion and delay with getting the ship cleared today and tenders started much later than the anticipated 9:00 time. It made for some good people watching time and seeing those who can go with the flow vs. those who were upset about the delay and pushing to the front of the line because they felt entitled to get to their excursion before the rest of us. Interesting for sure. 

I had a last minute change of heart and did not join Laura and Robin for the cave tubing. After hearing about it, I’m confident I made the right decision! They had fun but it was a long difficult day and they had no time left to shop at the port. I’m not a big shopper but I do enjoy looking for odds and ends of fun things to take home to a couple of people. Mom and I shopped and had lunch at the port and returned to the ship for a nap (me) and some sketching (duh, her!). Dinner again tonight at the buffet and we are back to the room early tonight. Laura is napping and promises to wake later to play cards with Mom and Robin. I’m blogging and hooked on a coloring app, so enjoying a quiet, restful evening. Tomorrow is Roatan and we have a 5 minute tender ride to the dock and only about 6 hours in port. We plan to take a taxi to a beach for the day, but we are all so tired tonight that I’m doubtful we make it an early day.

Jade/Day 3: Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel is an easy port, we have always had great weather, and there is no shortage of people begging you to come into their shops to take a look. “Pretty lady, it’s my turn now. Come see what I have for sale. Cheap prices only for you today.” It goes on and on. We bought a few small trinkets but are not looking for anything in particular.

Three years ago we discovered the Paradise Beach Club in Cozumel. A $16 taxi ride from the cruise terminal and a $3 entrance fee buys you a beach chair and access to the PBC grounds all day. You are asked to spend more in food/beverages but that’s easily covered by ordering lunch. [Or if you are like many of our cruise mates, it’s covered by hitting the bar. No judgment but we are curious as to how much a moderate drinker might spend in alcohol on a week long cruise vacation. This evening at a game show (“Majority Rules”), one table of people in their 60’s were so loud and coarse that most of us around them thought they should have been asked to leave. Have a drink or two if you want but when you start ruining things for other people, you’ve had too much…time to take the ‘party’ elsewhere.] Anyway, PBC is a great family friendly option with inflatables in the ocean for kids and young-at-heart to climb on to their hearts delight. There is an extra charge for that option but we have seen a lot of kids (and dads!) having a blast!

Today we docked next to the Disney Fantasy ship. As my younger sister told me, I always have ship envy when we dock by larger ships but the Disney was spectacular. When we returned to the dock near time to leave, the Fantasy was playing simple Disney tunes from their horn. Our ship ‘answered’ back with a long blast. I suspect prices for a Disney cruise are easily double what we paid but for Disney lovers like my daughter #4, probably worth every penny. I foresee a Disney cruise in my future.

Entertainment tonight on the ship was a magician that Robin and I enjoyed. His wife is his assistant and they worked as a great team.

Food on the ship is good but nothing overly special. We certainly aren’t going hungry but have opted for the buffet over the main dining room just to have more choices. I love Indian food and since I rarely eat it at home, cruises always give me plenty of Indian options.

One favorite activity for the four of us is to look at the photographs posted of activities on the ship. The Jade is one of the last ships to go digital so they still print 5×7″ prints and post throughout their photography area. There are highly photogenic people out there. And then there are the rest of us, emphasis on “US!” We have not yet decided what to buy but pretty sure it won’t be the photo of Laura sticking her tongue out at the photographer as he interrupted our dinner to take a picture!

The waves kicked up a bit as the evening continued, so a Meclizine and bedtime will wrap up the day.

Norwegian Jade/Days 1-2

Day 1:

Saturday we boarded the beautiful Norwegian Jade ship. We had heard very few positive things about cruising with Norwegian, so showed up with low standards and grateful spirits. Boy were we wrong! The ship itself is beautiful and probably in better condition than any other shop we have cruised on. Cabin carpets are vibrant, clean, no rips or stains. We are in an ocean view cabin and glad we paid the small bit extra for the lovely view. Norwegian bathrooms are larger than the Princess and Royal Caribbean ships we have been on. There is a private toilet area with a sliding door and it’s nice to have the little extra room and different layout than on other ships. We spent some time exploring the ship, unpacking, the mandatory muster drill, and went to the sail away party out by the pool. Growing up watching The Love Boat, “sail away” in real life involves no streamers and the only people on the dock remaining were the last workers, anxious to see the ship sail so their shift would be over!

Norwegian has flexible dining, so you are welcome to dine when and where you choose. We went to the main dining room and enjoyed wonderful meals, with entrees of steak, shrimp, and fish, and we ended it with Kona coffee cheesecake that was one of the best cheesecakes I have ever had. We then watched the Battle of the Sexes game show (women won!) and went to the evening show. I am not a show person. Save your song and dance routines for somebody tilde but this was very good and the music portion was short, then we had a comedian on stage for another 15 minutes. He was hilarious, CLEAN, and most of the audience was in stitches for his whole show. He will perform two more times on this cruise, so we are looking g forward to that.

Day 2:

After sleeping in a bit, we headed to a light breakfast in the buffet a bit after 10:00. It was partly cloudy, windy, and 60 degrees, so finding a warm spot in the sun was a challenge. We ended up in the Atrium area and played cards, read, etc. until we were ready for lunch. We opted to try the Blue Lagoon for lunch. It’s a sit down restaurant with 24 hour service. We had delicious fish & chips, a Chef’s salad, hamburger, and ended with cheesecake and strawberry topped pound cake (delicious!)

 The sun worked its way out and we spent a few hours by the pool tanning and dozing. The best part of a cruise is being able to do what you want to do! We are all doing just that and having a wonderful time!

Time for a cruise.

I feel a small amount (very, very small) of guilt while the northeast part of the United States braces for Winter Storm Jonas and I pack my swimsuit and flip flops and head for a Western Caribbean cruise. OK, there’s really no guilt. This is something my sisters and I do with our mom every January. It’s become a nice tradition and we look forward to it as a time to sunbathe, read countless books, laugh, connect, and just celebrate being friends. My mom and sisters love playing cards. I am good for about 3 minutes of cards, then I need a book or something else to do. We’ll see how easily I’m able to duck out of the card fest this year.

Tomorrow I fly to Houston. Vacation officially begins when I leave my house, so the sooner I go to bed tonight, the sooner I can get up and go in the morning!

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