There is no excuse that I have never been on a cruise ship in all my travels worldwide. But I must be a rare bird since the small country of Israel was the seventh-largest market in the cruise industry before COVID reared its ugly head. So I guess better later than never, right? Because I got to celebrate my 51st birthday aboard the fabulous Norwegian Jade.
And how would I sum up my first cruise ever? For me, it was a rare opportunity to plan absolutely nothing and enjoy this floating hotel anchoring each day at a different island, allowing me to enjoy an abundance of entertainment, food, leisure, and recreation opportunities, without the cumbersome need to pack a suitcase every couple of days and move on to the next destination. What a revelation!
It’s corona time
On a week-long cruise, the most common phrase I heard was, “Hello, Madame, wash your hands, please.” NCL’s adherence to the health and safety protocol was flawless. To maintain social distancing, the company made sure not to exceed two-thirds of Jade’s capacity, with only 1,600 passengers out of 2,400. Everyone on board was fully vaccinated, including a thousand or so crew members, and I’m glad to report that all passengers followed the rules and wore masks in closed spaces.
Before check-in, we had to undergo a quick antigen test, with results coming in within 15-20 minutes. Then, on board the ship, we also performed the antigen or PCR test necessary for our return flight home, and everything was done with impressive efficiency. And what if one of the passengers required isolation or, God forbid, hospitalization? They have worked hard at NCL to find a solution for every eventuality, from special quarantine rooms onboard the ship to agreements signed with each port of call to transfer patients to local hospitals at the company’s expense. They have really thought of everything to ensure smooth sailing.
Eat, drink and be merry
But let’s move on to the more enjoyable parts of sailing the seas, namely eating, drinking, and having fun. Norwegian Jade is not one of the largest ships in the NCL fleet, yet it has an impressive number of restaurants, 16 in total, about half of which are specialty restaurants. The idea is to give passengers a wide selection that does not fall short of what we’re all used to in every big city, and that’s exactly how I felt, like a city floating on water.
So like any writer worth their salt, I did some in-depth investigative journalism and sampled a different restaurant every night – from the very popular Teppanyaki (highly recommended for the show; make sure to book well in advance) through the Italian La Cucina and the excellent Brazilian Churrascaria, to my personal favorites, the elegant French Le Bistro and the fabulous Asian and Sushi place, Jasmine.
Add to that some eight bars and lounges, not to mention room service almost 24 hours a day, and even a Starbucks franchisee, and you will find that a great deal of your time is devoted to eating and drinking. Luckily for us, there are also many ways to burn some calories, but we’ll get to that later.
Room with a view
My room was a Balcony Stateroom, which was almost as spacious and well-equipped as any good hotel room: a large double bed, a nice balcony to sip your morning coffee on, as well as a small sitting area, reasonably sized bathroom, and plenty of storage space. There was also a TV, a small fridge and coffee machine, a safe and more. The room was made twice a day, with a turn-down service every evening.
The price of a room with a balcony is double that of an Inside room, and in-between, there are also Oceanview rooms with a picture window. If you need more space, why not book a suite? And if you can afford it, enjoy your privacy in what is called the Haven, a separate area with 15 suites and two huge three-bedroom villas, complete with a Jacuzzi and a huge terrace, a large living room with a grand piano, a well-equipped bar, a personal butler and so much more.
I would describe the itinerary as a degustación or a tasting menu. Our 7-night cruise took us to six ports of call – Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes, Mykonos, Katakolo (Olympia), Corfu, and Santorini. We had but a few hours on each island, which only allowed for a brief visit, so you can say the cruise whet my appetite and made me want to explore some of them in-depth.
One of the advantages of Norwegian Jade is that in most ports of call, the ship docks within walking distance of the town, especially in Rhodes, Katakolo, and Corfu. Needless to say, I did not waste any time and set out to explore the area independently. If you prefer to go on a guided excursion, you can choose from a selection of three-to-five-hour tours, with varying degrees of difficulty and a wide price range.
Fun and games
If you suffer from a nasty case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), just like me, you will not have a dull moment onboard the vessel. Unlike the giant NCL ships, there are no big Broadway shows here, but you can take your pick: an acrobatics act, a magic-comedy show, or a full-scale production that blends hot vocals and choreography all at the Stardust Theater. Before or after the show, enjoy some drinks at the piano bar, or test your singing skills at the karaoke lounge. And there are also themed pool parties every night on the open deck.
If you want to burn a few calories before your next meal, the open deck has two swimming pools and four hot tubs, and the deck above them also has an open running track and a multi-purpose sports court. You can also take a brisk walk on deck 7 or check out the huge and well-equipped gym.
The Jade has an impressive casino, a dazzling mini-Vegas designed like an Asian drinking den. Of course, the shopaholics among you will surely want to visit the Duty-Free shop as well. However, if you would rather nourish your body and soul or pamper yourselves on your birthday, like me, Mandara is a state-of-the-art spa with a beauty salon, saunas, and an extensive menu of excellent yet expensive treatments.
I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful library, the video game parlor, and the art gallery. It took me about two days to explore the ship and discover its many attractions, and I probably missed a few things. Oh well, there’s always the next cruise.
Tips for the first-time cruiser
- To make it easier for yourself and the staff, complete your online check-in in advance.
- Having trouble figuring out where’s the aft and the bow of the ship? Follow the fish on the carpet. They always swim towards the bow.
- Each time you disembark, make sure to double check when the ship sets sail again, and get back on board about an hour earlier. The ship doesn’t wait for anyone.
- Remember that everything on the ship is extra – the water in your minibar, your morning Starbucks and the drinks in the bars, the Wi-Fi connection and the photos you will be offered at every turn. Since every payment is made using your electronic key, you might rack up quite a bill without even noticing. So if you know in advance that you would like to sample some of the specialty restaurants, have drinks every night or go on a guided excursion at every port, book the right package in advance.
The writer was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line.