Meet the Norwegian Jade (Greek Islands Cruise 2021)

Posted August 27, 2021 by Amber in Around the World / 0 Comments

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I can not adequately express how AMAZING it was to step aboard a cruise ship after 593 days.  For longtime followers of the blog, you’ll know we love cruising.  I’ve posted about a Transatlantic in 2018, and a Caribbean and Bahamas cruise in 2019… and then… well, you know the rest.  In 2020 we were supposed to go on a Baltic cruise for our 5th anniversary, and while I have promised myself we’ll get to St. Petersburg and Berlin someday… the cancellation of that cruise (eventually) enabled us to visit some of the Greek Islands this July… and go to Alaska in September!

Cruising isn’t for everyone, and during the tail end of a pandemic it can seem a little scary.  One of the reasons we love Norwegian so much was how safe they made us feel – from pre-and-post testing to requiring vaccinations (for now, anyway) to how clean and sanitized they kept everything… I truly appreciated it.  I felt safer on that ship than I have any other public place in a year.

With those notes… I’d like to introduce you to the Norwegian Jade.

Sunset over Piraeus from the Norwegian Jade

A little bit of a explanation first.  This is not our first time with Norwegian.  It’s actually our third!  By complete coincidence, our first two cruises were on the Norwegian Breakaway, which we love.  This is only the second Norwegian ship we’ve sailed on and my expectations were low – the Jade is one of four Jewel-class ship in the fleet, making it smaller than the Breakaway. We expected it to be … cozy.

Instead, we were pleasantly surprised by her!  Even though the ship is smaller, the only thing that made it feel that way was 1.) how long it took to circle the promenade; and 2.) the lower number of people on board.  We were completely surprised by how nicely she’d been renovated in 2018… this ship sparkled.

Norwegian Jade from the Santorini Water Taxi

The size of this ship made it perfect for a sea-based voyage.  It probably also helped that even though the cruise was sold out, the ship did not sell to capacity on purpose to help enable distancing regulations.  The passage was extremely windy, but this was the least seasick I’ve ever been on a cruise – I didn’t take a single dramamine.  In fact?  I wasn’t seasick at all!

We always book a balcony because we like that privacy of sitting out and watching the waves as though it’s only us and the ocean.  I, in particular, love to sit out there and read in the mornings.  On a ship like the Jade, that’s a particularly good plan because while the Breakaway had ample outdoor seating on what Norwegian calls the “Oceanfront”… there wasn’t much of that on the Jade.  There were seats along the pool decks, but on the port and starboard sides, there really wasn’t anywhere to sit.  Unless you’re a perpetual ocean-gazer like myself (I love, love, love to be on the water) this probably isn’t a big deal.  And if it is?  I recommend you do like us and book a balcony.

Norwegian Jade Life Preserver

Inside, the Jade had the same signature style we expect on a Norwegian cruise.  There are various themed bars and lounges with pianos scattered about, and there’s always a stunning multi-colored light fixture (the colors change at night!).  Because the Jade is smaller, there weren’t as many bars or lounges as some of their other ships, but because of the itineraries on this ship, you don’t really need them.  We didn’t have a single sea day on this cruise, and even though we opted for shorter tours, we found there was no end of cozy places to hang out if we weren’t in our room.

In particular, we found ourselves in the Bliss Lounge, which is a Norwegian staple.  This one looked a little different than on the Breakaway, but it was nonetheless comfortable and welcoming.  I’ve always enjoyed the layout of the Norwegian ships because one area slides smoothly into another, and even though they all have their own themes… it’s a very welcoming layout.  Some of the other ships have main corridors and while those are fine, it feels less comfortable as a whole.

Norwegian Jade Atrium

The top decks were lovely as well.  While this ship didn’t have the large outdoor movie screen, there were still pools and hot tubs as well as outdoor eateries and bars.  I’ve always enjoyed strolling around topside at night, and the Jade was no exception.  On our first night, we didn’t sail out of Piraeus until 11pm and there was plenty of time to peruse the decks and look over the lights both on the boat and in the city.

We didn’t swim on this cruise – with six ports in seven days and a dramatic time difference, we didn’t really have a chance.  But I want to outline again how clean everything was.  Not just the constant sanitation of countertops and lounge chairs, but the attentiveness of the staff to making sure everything was kept tidy.  Norwegian’s staff has always been excellent, but I noticed the cleanliness in particular this time.

Pool Deck on the Norwegian Jade at Night

I’d actually like to take a moment to talk about the staff.  We were Norwegian’s first official cruise after 500+ days of being shut down.  We walked on to this cruise ship expecting a lot of hiccups and fumbles, and we were mentally prepared for that.  We also knew Norwegian’s rules on masks and distancing – we were kept well-informed by the cruise line – and we were fully prepared for all of it.  One of the things that surprised us most was that the entire staff was on their game.  In fact, this was probably the best cruise we’ve ever been on, staff-wise.  While there’s always that stand-out staff member, we found that this time… they all were amazing.  From the CruiseNext folks to the shore excursion staff to the wait staff and hosts… entertainers and hospitality and managers and bartenders.  Everyone, everyone, was fantastic.  They were personable, kind, and genuinely seemed excited to have guests on board.  I can’t say enough nice things about the staff this cruise.

And speaking of nice things… I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned this…  but one of the reasons we keep migrating back to Norwegian rather than trying another Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise is the food.  Norwegian Cruise Line’s food is always delicious.  On Carnival, for example, the food was great in the specialty restaurants and pretty mediocre elsewhere.  On Norwegian, it doesn’t matter where you go: buffet, dining room, specialty restaurant.  It’s all spectacular.  Not only was that true on the Jade, but I actually think that Norwegian has stepped it up since we last sailed in 2018.

Strawberry Caipirinha at Moderna

I forgot to take pictures at the buffet and in the main dining rooms during this trip, so you’ll have to take my word that they were tasty.  The buffet took us by surprise because while it was serviceable in the past, it was good this time.  We think the new safety measures helped because they had to cut down on overall offerings… so instead, the chefs were able to focus on making what they offered absolutely delicious.  We usually went to the Garden Cafe (the buffet) for breakfast, but we ended up there for dinner one day and they were serving roast beef.  It was good.  Not homemade by my sister-in-law good, but good nonetheless.

The service and food in the main dining room was good as well.  It’s funny – I remember Norwegian’s food being delicious on previous cruises, but they definitely have leveled it up since the last time we were aboard.  Maybe it’s just the Jade vs. the Breakaway, but the plating at least was much prettier.  And everything was scrumptious.

While we didn’t drink very often on this cruise, I can say that the one drink I had – a Strawberry Caipirinha (above) was absolutely delicious.  The price was a bit steep ($11.99) but that’s standard fare for cruise line mixed drinks.  Norwegian offers a package that includes unlimited beverages (including alcohol, with an uncharge for top shelf) which is smarter for consistent drinkers than buying as you go.  However, since we don’t drink often, even the Free At Sea add-on of this package isn’t worth it for how much we end up paying in gratuities.  That said we did add-on the unlimited beverages for our next two cruises, so I’m going to try and review some more drinks.

Black Bean Soup at Moderna

We had two specialty restaurants included in this cruise and we chose Moderna (the Brazilian Steakhouse) and Cagney’s (the… regular steakhouse).  We almost always go with a steakhouse on cruise ships because the quality of the food is so incredible (with the exception of Chops on Anthem of the Seas… we don’t talk about that).  Moderno was my choice, because we’d booked this restaurant on the Transatlantic years ago, but hadn’t been able to eat there because I was so seasick.  I’m happy to say it was worth the wait!  There’s a salad bar, which included the above black bean soup that burst with flavor.  The pao de queijo was also delicious (though not the best I’ve had – your can’t beat homemade!) and the star of the side dishes was the garlic mashed potatoes.

Since Moderno is a Brazilian steakhouse, there were loads of meats and grilled offerings available.  This restaurant is not a good choice for vegetarians and vegans, so be mindful of that if you’re thinking about booking.  My three personal favorites here were the filet mignon, garlic-cheese sausages, and grilled pineapple.  I know, I know.  Pineapple seems like a strange choice, but hear me out – it was coated with some sort of cinnamon-nutmeg mixture and the whole thing burst with flavor in your mouth and it was divine.  I love pineapple, and this was probably the best pineapple I’ve ever had.

Filet Mignon at Cagneys

At the steakhouse, I had my usual – a filet mignon! This filet just about melted in my mouth.  I think that Cagney’s is a strong contender with Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555.  I like my steak well-seasoned and peppery, which this was.  I ordered a green peppercorn sauce on the side, but I didn’t really need it.  Even the grilled tomato was tasty!  The sides and appetizers here were excellent as well.  I once again had the garlic mashed potatoes (what can I say? I love garlic mashed potatoes) and chose candied bacon for my appetizer.  The bacon in particular was so much more than I expected and bursting with flavor.

I wouldn’t say Cagney’s desserts are its strongest point, but they were still incredible.  I selected the warm apple cardamom crisp and that cardamom makes a difference, wow.  I think I need to rethink how I make my own apple crisp at home.  It was the perfect ending to the meal and by the time we got back to our room, we were both stuffed to the brim.  Absolutely delicious.  I recommend Cagney’s highly if you’re on a Norwegian ship – this has been a sold choice both times we visited, on two different ships.

At the end of the day, though, you don’t need the specialty restaurants on the Jade to have a good meal.  You’ll have something delicious no matter where you choose to dine.  The quality of the food is one of the reasons we love Norwegian, and the food on the Jade is the best we’ve had on any cruise so far.  No pressure, Encore, but we’re coming for you next.

Warm Apple Cardamom Crisp at Cagneys

There isn’t quite as much to do onboard the Jade as there are on some of the larger ships in the fleet, but that isn’t to say we were bored!  Because of our packed itinerary and desperate need for downtime, we weren’t able to indulge too much in the various offerings the Jade provided.  That said, one night we were dining as Jasmine – the complimentary Asian restaurant – when one of the onboard pianists began to play at Magnum’s Champagne Bar below us.  His name is Justin and he’s honestly fantastic.  He was a great performer and very good at engaging the audience – I highly recommend catching one of his shows if you’re on the Jade.

Despite the fact this was the first sailing back, the Jade offered a couple different shows in its main theatre.  Unfortunately their Broadway shows aren’t up and running yet (the backstage space is simply too tight to be safe at this time for something of that magnitude) but the smaller Norwegian Original shows still played.  On this sailing, there was Blazing Boots (a country music show) and Elements (a dance show).  While these are complimentary, we weren’t able to book them ahead of time like usual.  I believe this is a temporary measure as the company waits out the pandemic and gets their casts back up and running.  Unfortunately this meant we weren’t able to catch any of the shows because they booked fast!  I’m hoping to be quicker on the Encore in September – we’ve had bad luck being able to actually book stage performances on Norwegian due to cancellations and our own bad timing, but the ones we have been able to see (Burn the Floor, Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy) have been exquisite.

Norwegian Jade Theatre

If you’re not much for live performances, there’s always something else going on with Norwegian.  While as a money-saving measure I would recommend not booking excursions through the ship (you definitely pay for the convenience), their Shore Excursions team really is excellent as a whole, and he Jade is no exception.  We personally take the plunge on curated excursions for peace of mind and simplification, but from a financial perspective I can’t recommend it.  From an enjoyment perspective, I definitely can recommend it and as you’ll see in following weeks… we had a marvelous time.

If you’re looking to wind down, there’s the Mandara Spa.  In the past, we’ve taken advantage of the Thermal Suite in the spa but haven’t delved too much in their other features.  This time, we decided to check out the massage offerings.  I have to be entirely honest, I remain generally unimpressed with the spa.  I’m not sure if it’s just me not liking massages like I want to or if it’s something else.  The one thing I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt is spa services on Norwegian ships are far too expensive.  Add to that the fact each beautician, massage therapist, hairdresser, and manicurist is a salesperson and it’s challenging to get out of the spa without being talked into buying something… and well?  I think the massage ended up being one of the least relaxing parts of the trip.  I don’t have a frame of reference to compare this experience to spa services on either Carnival or Royal Caribbean, but my personal opinion is to skip the spa on this ship and do that type of self-care at home.

Mandara Spa on the Norwegian Jade

All the ships I’ve been on so far – Norwegian’s fleet and otherwise – have art galleries.  We are… too shy, I guess, to attend the art auctions.  That said, love walking through the galleries on Norwegian ships. The featured artists are so whimsical and imaginative!  There’s a brightness and joy to these paintings and sculptures that when you walk through the gallery, you feel their warmth and welcoming.  If I’m wandering aimlessly around the ship, I nearly always find myself at an art gallery.  I swear – some day, I’m going to buy one of these pieces.

Norwegian works in collaboration with Park West Gallery.  Featured here are sculptures by Romero Britto (I love the elephant so much) and Kre8.  I believe I’ve shared photographs of works by Nano Lopez before as well… absolutely incredible. And I’m always captivated by Michael Cheval.  Art is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose, but these speak to me.

Art Gallery on the Norwegian Jade

Of course, these are all passive activities.  The Jade also featured game shows like Deal or No Deal, they had Bingo, and of course the nightly dance parties!  I also saw notifications for a couple lectures, which I don’t know if I’ve seen on our previous Norwegian sailings.

The last thing I have to discuss about the Jade is the room.  The Norwegian Jade was refurbished in 2018, and it shows!  The entire ship was quite lovely and fresh, but it shows particularly in the rooms.  Each room felt rejuvenated. Our cabin included many outlets including USB charging stations in the lights near the bed.  The room overall was spacious and the balcony was decently sized and very clean.  All in all we were very satisfied.

Norwegian Jade Balcony Room

The only thing about the room we didn’t love was the amount of counter space.  There’s very limited tabletop space on the Jade, even in a balcony room.  For us, the two tiny tabletops (under the TV and at the “vanity”) were mainly used for charging electronics.  It gave the room a bit of a cluttered feel, which I didn’t care for.  Otherwise, the closets and drawers were very nice and roomy, and the bed was extremely comfortable.

I admit to being hesitant before boarding the Jade – it’s the smallest cruise ship we’ve been on yet and the oldest by nearly a decade.  Instead, we were surprised by how nice the ship was and how well she’d been renovated.  Seeing this gives me confidence to travel on Norwegian’s other older ships.  I’d definitely recommend going on the Jade, particularly for itineraries like Greece where you’re off the ship just as much as you’re on her and have less of a need for onboard entertainment and space to stretch.

Next week, we’re going to be diving into the ancient Minoan civilization as I share our adventures on Crete!

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Have you sailed on the Norwegian Jade?  If so, what did you think of her?  If not – would you consider this ship if you were cruising?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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