If it weren’t for the builder’s plate on display in the ship’s Deck 6 aft stairwell, you’d never think Norwegian Jade was launched in the previous decade – this was our last impression after a day spent touring the ship during her turnaround and inaugural port call in Dubai.
‘Age is but a number’, Cecelia Ahern famously said, and aboard Norwegian Jade this is certainly the case. Although the ship is middle-aged in maritime terms (having been launched in 2006), she has the heart and soul of a youngster and the high-quality fit and finish of her newer fleetmates Norwegian Bliss and Encore, thanks to a massive 2017 refit and refurbishment.
That refurbishment touched every part of the vessel. All the soft furnishings were replaced and all public rooms and cabins were upgraded, while restaurants like Cagney’s were expanded, Moderno Churrascaria was moved and the Irish pub and grill O’Sheehan’s was introduced on Deck 8 above the lobby.
The ship’s loud, 2000s-style orange, purple and pink color palette was also replaced with a more modern, elegant décor.
The black, tan and cream atrium where we boarded the ship is the most clear example of this. It’s now an inoffensive, almost neutral space, but retains that characteristic Norwegian Cruise Line avant garde tendency with a custom-made chandelier overhead that changes colour throughout the day.
With Norwegian’s free at sea promotion (giving passengers the choice of one out of five aspects of the cruise for free from specialty dining to beverages), the ship also feels a world away from the nickel and diming of which the cruise line is sometimes accused.
Add into this the range of free dining options and the quality of the food, as well as the production value and diversity of the entertainment offerings, and you have a ship that is ideal for the type of repositioning voyage on which she was visiting Dubai (or indeed a homeporting season in Dubai) but Cruise Arabia & Africa was told this was very much not on the cards at present.
Entertainment and things to do aboard Norwegian Jade
Norwegian Jade may be smaller than the bigger, more headline-grabbing ships in the fleet like Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore, that boast go-kart race tracks and escape rooms, but when it comes to things to do on-board, Norwegian have packed a lot into her sub-100,000-gross ton footprint.
It starts with the multitude of types of shows in the Stardust Theatre. There’s magic, comedy, singing, dancing, acrobatics, and in other parts of the ship, such as the Spinnaker Lounge and pool deck, there’s trivia, game shows, bingo and the usually array of delightfully silly pool games.
The Stardust Theater sits across the full bow area of Decks 6 and 7 and hosts the same production show twice every night (usually at 7.30pm and 9.30pm). On a typical 7-night cruise you’ll be treated to several music medleys such as pop, rock and possibly country, as well as a novelty act such as a magician or comedian.
On longer voyages, such as the 17-night voyage from Dubai to Singapore, you’ll get this and more, such as Showdown, which pits four singers against one another in what the line describes as an “American Idol meets Motown X-Factor” performance where the audience chooses the winner.
On all cruises, the most highly-rated performance is sure to be Elements, a Cirque du Soleil-type show that incorporates dancing, magic, acrobatics and aerialists.
After the evening show, there’s plenty more going on all over the ship. There was evidence of live music equipment everywhere we went and the daily planner confirms that there are live bands, DJs, and even karaoke available at various lounges and bars throughout the evenings.
Occasionally, there are also game shows, such as the Newlywed/Not-So-Newlywed game show and Battle of the Sexes. Norwegian’s well-known White Hot Party is hosted in the Spinnaker Lounge or on the pool deck.
The casino is a public space that really comes to life at night. With dozens of slot machines, tables for blackjack, baccarat, poker, craps and roulette, as well as games of chance and even a high-roller room with a couple of tables.
Various tournaments, slot pulls and gaming lessons are held during each sailing and it’s dark décor, offset against bright neon lights and a low ceiling slung with hanging Chinese lanterns reinforces the sense of being in an underground Shanghai club.
During the day, Norwegian Jade is all about keeping passengers active. There are dance classes, Ping-Pong tournaments, goofy golf and more sedentary pursuits as well, such as bingo, Deal or No Deal, and chocolate and wine pairings, as well as game shows like Jeopardy. The wine tastings and bingo come with an additional charge.
There’s some dabbling in enrichment, such as arts and crafts and digital photo seminars, as well as a question and answer session with some of the ship’s officers, which can reportedly be very interesting for experienced cruise passengers that know the right questions to ask. Trivia is also reportedly very popular, and is held several times each day on topics ranging from Broadway to Game of Thrones.
Bars & Lounges aboard Norwegian Jade
Norwegian Jade boats 14 bars, cafes and lounges, as well as 11 dining options (which we’ll get to later). There are bars and cafes that specialise in everything from beer, whiskey and sake to mojitos, martinis and even mocktails and coffee, reflecting the global passenger sourcing approach taken by the cruise line.
It all starts on Deck 7 amidships at Java Café, the central coffee shop and bar serving the lobby atrium. There’s a standard bar menu, as well as coffees and teas, all of which are at an added charge of around $5 for a latte or Americano and $2 for an espresso.
One deck down and forward is the Casino Bar serving the Jade Club Casino. It too does a standard bar menu of the usual poisons of choice, though if you’re looking for elaborate cocktails, mojitos or anything remotely exotic you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Forward of the Jade Club Casino is Deck 6’s main night life area, a kaleidoscope of bars located one after the other and flowing seamlessly from one into the other, making the space very fluid and social. There’s Tankard’s Beer & Whiskey Bar, Mixers Martini & Cocktail Bar and Magnum’s Champagne & Wine Bar.
These bars are very much ‘as it says on the tin’. Malting’s is the place to be for beer and whiskey, and Mixers, well, mixes up martinis and other cocktails. Magnum’s around the corner specializes in wine and champagne.
Because they’ll all located within the same space, you can order just about anything from either without having to move. If you’re sitting at Malting’s for example you can order a martini without having to decamp to Mixer’s a few feet away.
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Across the atrium here there is also a small Humidor Cigar Lounge, which is a nice, quiet spot for a cigarette during the day, but becomes crowded and extremely smoky at night.
When you add in the activity of the open Jasmine Garden Asian Restaurant and the busy thoroughfare leading to Bliss and the Stardust Theater one deck above, this whole area becomes a heaving social hub at night, if that’s your jam.
Also above this area is the Sake Bar on Deck 7. It takes its name from Japan’s famously strong rice wine and primarily serves diners at Jasmine Garden and the adjacent Sushi Bar, or Teppanyaki across the atrium. Specialty sake concoctions can be had if the undiluted wine is not to your liking.
Moving forward on Deck 7 there is the Bliss Ultra Lounge, a chic, cocktail lounge channelling a Miami nightspot. It’s a space in which to escape the hub-hub of the atrium where the trifecta of bars is located, and during the day plays host to trivia, dance lessons and movies.
An especially nice touch are the comfortable seating enclaves, shrouded in metallic curtains and offset with tables and funky black and raspberry-coloured chairs that replace the three private karaoke rooms from its days as the Medusa Lounge pre-refit in 2017.
Up on Deck 8 at the top of the main atrium is O’Sheehan’s Bar, part of the O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill, serving pints of stout, Guinness and other Irish specialties to go along with the pub grub we’ll explore further below.
Heading up to the pool deck, there are a few bars, including Topsiders serving the main pool, and Great Outdoors Bar, with excellent views of the ship’s wake and food available from the Great Outdoors buffet.
Overlooking the main pool area is The Pit Stop on Deck 13, a 1950s-style diner and bar, with burgers and fries to accompany your drink of choice. It’s an especially good spot in which to relax and watch the band entertain passengers basking around the pool.
All the way forward on Deck 13 is the Spinnaker Lounge, which doubles as the ship’s entertainment space for game shows, trivia and musical performances by day and nightclub by night. It also acts as a secondary theatre for smaller-scale events like the Officers Q and A.
During the day it’s a wonderfully calm and relaxing space in which to read, chat with fellow passengers and generally watch the world go by as this is one of the few observation lounges on a mainstream cruise ship open to all passengers, and it boasts great views over the bow.
Midships on the same deck, overlooking the pool area, Sugarcane acts as a secondary observation lounge. It’s the ideal spot to grab a pre-dinner drink while killing time before a meal at Cagney’s, which is just across the hall (but only open to Haven Suite passengers).
Dining aboard Norwegian Jade
There are cuisines for all palates aboard Norwegian Jade, but like other ships in the fleet it doesn’t offer a full range of vegan options (we were assured that chefs will accommodate such needs if notified in advance). However, there is Asian, Italian, French, steak, burgers, pizza, pub grub, salads and everything in between, and all of it is produced to a very high standard.
Despite the cruise line’s reputation for upcharging, the for-free options are varied and almost uniformly excellent. The only item from the buffet during our ship visit that didn’t quite hit the spot was the bread, which was a touch stale. Ironic, considering that it’s baked fresh on-board daily.
Service is friendly and attentive despite the Freestyle dining, which Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered, allowing passengers to dine where they want, when they want without set dining times or seating arrangements.
The two main dining rooms and buffet are located on Deck 6 and 12. Grand Pacific is all the way aft with wonderful views of the wake through huge windows, while Alizar is slightly smaller and more intimate just forward amidships. The Garden Buffet meanwhile, is aft on Deck 12.
Alizar is unashamedly colourful, decked out in reds and blues that channel the 70s. Equally colourful abstract artworks on the walls add to the sensory experience, but at night it is mostly likely a lot more toned down with dim lighting and a perhaps even a romantic atmosphere. The many tables for two certainly suggest it, although all tables can be combined to create larger arrangements for big groups.
Alizar is open for dinner only with a varied but small menu that features appetizers like Meatball Escarole Soup, Wild Lump Crab Cakes and the traditional Caesar Salad, as well as more hearty starters like Beef Burger Sliders and Norwegian Smoked Salmon Tartare. Entrees include Grilled Lobster Tail, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Beef Lasagne Al Forno and Lasagne Vegetarian Rolls.
Grand Pacific is the largest and grandest of all the dining rooms (but doesn’t eclipse the show-stopping Le Bistro for elegance). It’s a huge room dominated by stately columns and huge aft windows. Art-deco style lights above give it a distinctly ocean liner-esque feel, and there’s even a mini grand staircase as you enter. You can only reach it from Deck 7 via the aft staircase because galley space separates the dining room from the rest of Deck 6.
Grand Pacific shares a nightly menu with Alizar but is also open for breakfast (serving the usual suspects, eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, and fruits) and on sea days for lunch. The lunch menu features appetisers like duck pate, shrimp mojito ceviche, beef sliders and cream of tomato soup with Asian sweet and sour pork, crab and fish cakes, rotisserie chicken, and beef lasagna as entrees. Traditional items like bread pudding, tiramisu and carrot cake are offered for dessert.
Heading to Deck 8 and 7 amidships are O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill and Jasmine Garden, an Irish pub and an Asian restaurant respectively. The former sits on the ship’s main lobby atrium, another major social hub alongside the forward atrium where the three main bars are found, along with Jasmine Garden.
O’Sheehan’s is open 24-hours and serves traditional pub-grub like shepherd’s pie, fish ‘n’ chips, chicken wings and spinach-artichoke dip around the clock as well as a limited breakfast menu, which is great for those wanting something light beyond the frenetic atmosphere of the main buffet.
Jasmine Garden meanwhile serves dinner only, offering a selection of soups, rice and noodle dishes, and desserts. There are also specialty items available such as sushi and seafood dishes, but they come with an extra cost.
Heading up to Deck 12, the Garden Café aft of the pool area offers a huge variety of foods at different island stations. Breakfast includes scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, waffles, cereal, yogurt and fruit, as well as made-to-order omelettes. There’s also a make-your-own-parfait area and a for-fee juice bar. For lunch and dinner there will always be pizza, a carvery, made-to-order pasta and omelets, Asian, soups, salads, hot entrees, a bakery area, fruit and desserts, to name just a few.
At the back of Garden Café there’s a self-service soft serve ice cream machine (vanilla, chocolate and twist cups and cones are available).
Further aft still you’ll come to The Great Outdoors, an outdoor buffet with quintessential insta-worthy views of the ship’s wake (or neighbouring vessels when in port). It offers complimentary snacks throughout the day such as thin-crust pizza and mini-fajitas and during the rush hour in the Garden Cafes doubles as the outdoor seating area.
Forward of the Garden Café is Topsiders Grill, a lunch-only spot adjacent the pool serving hot dogs and hamburgers with condiments and toppings like lettuce, tomato, onions and cheese, along with side dishes of coleslaw and potato salad and chocolate brownies for dessert.
At the forward end of the pool area, up on Deck 13, the Pit Stop Grill is a new 1950s-style diner venue introduced during the 2017 refit. With its black and white chequered floor, red vinyl chairs and tables with license plates screenprinted on the top, it looks a bit incongruous against the elegant pool area, but works as a drinks and snack spot with views of the action below. Hot dogs and burgers are available here, but only at select times which are entirely random so check the daily program.
Room service is free aboard Norwegian Jade for the continental breakfast only, which includes fruit, muffins, croissants, Danishes, yogurt and cold cereal, as well as juice, coffee, hot chocolate, tea and milk. As on most cruise lines, you just fill out the paper form the night before and hang it on the outside handle of your cabin door.
When it comes to the extra-cost dining options aboard Norwegian Jade its fairly impressive for a ship this size, and the quality of the food is second-to-none, even the newer, larger ships in the fleet such as Bliss and Encore.
Going from top to bottom, Moderno on Deck 13 amidships is the ship’s Brazilian steakhouse, open for dinner only (and breakfast is you’re staying in a suite). It was moved from Deck 8 and 13 during the refurbishment and now sits opposite Cagney’s, offering ocean views and all-you-can-eat beef, pork, lamb, chicken and fish as well as sides like rice, black beans, garlic mashed potatoes, fried plantains and Brazilian cheese bread for $24.95. There’s also a salad bar and a selection of desserts like papaya ice cream, coconut flan and mango rice pudding.
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Across the way, Cagney’s is another favourite for carnivores, serving dinner only (as well as lunch if you’re a suite passenger). The a la carte menu is broken up into starters, soups and salads, featured selections, seafood and sides.
It offers everything from chicken drumsticks, wagyu beef sliders, lump crab salad and shrimp cocktail for starters to baked potato or split pea soup, or a wedge salad, smoked ribs, grilled bison steak, lamb chops or beef for mains.
There’s also a selection of shrimp or sea bass in the seafood category and sides like garlic mashed potatoes, onion rings, truffle fries with Parmesan cheese, mac ‘n’ cheese or coleslaw.
Down one deck to Deck 12, and all the way aft off the Garden Café buffet you’ll find the Italian specialty restaurant La Cucina, which has an a la carte menu and is open for lunch and dinner (although it often gets used as an overflow space when the main buffet is particularly busy). It specialises in pasta, pizza, soups, salads and all manner of Italian starters and entrees from fried calamari, beef carpaccio, bruschetta and caprese salad to grilled shrimp with Italian vegetables, chicken Parmesan and pork scaloppini. Classics such as Tiramisu, lemon curd ricotta cheesecake and rhubarb panna cotta are available for dessert.
Down on Deck 7 amidships in the forward atrium, there is a hibachi-style Asian specialty restaurant called Teppanyaki, which has fast become a favourite for Norwegian Cruise Line passengers as the food is prepared right in front of you by a chef who does tricks and cracks jokes. There’s chicken and noodles; veggies with noodles; shrimp, scallops and calamari; filet mignon; veggies with tofu; or a combination all available. Sides include garlic fried rice, teppanyaki vegetables and two sauces: onion and creamy mustard. Green tea cake with cashew nut brittle or fresh exotic fruit sashimi are some of the dessert options. It’s a very small, intimate space, so reservations are all but essential.
Across the atrium from Teppanyaki is the Sushi Bar, with Jasmine Garden and Sake in-between them. The Sushi Bar offers individually priced rolls that range from $5 for a spicy tuna roll to $6 for a California roll to $7.50 for a sashimi himachi poblano roll. A nice touch is that on the first day of each cruise all the menus from the ship’s various restaurants are displayed here so you can get a feel for what’s available where.
Down on Deck 6, directly beneath Jasmine Garden is the French restaurant Le Bistro, a beautifully elegant space that seems designed for a date night. Five courses are offered with items priced a la carte.
Appetizers include grilled asparagus with shiitake mushrooms, escargot, and steamed mussels. A soup (French onion or cream of mushroom) and salad (smoked duck and walnuts) course follows, then shrimp, scallops and fennel in puff pastry, or a 32-ounce rib eye steak for two or shrimp with artichokes and potatoes.
The mains include grilled swordfish, Atlantic salmon, fish soup, beef tenderloin, lamb, Burgundy chicken or duck breast, followed by vanilla creme brulee, chocolate Napoleon, chocolate fondue, a cheese plate or caramel, lemon and vanilla profiteroles for dessert.
All room service orders aboard Norwegian Jade come with a flat fee of US $7.95, regardless of what is ordered (except the continental breakfast, which is free). For breakfast you can choose from French toast and omelettes, and at any other time there’s an expansive menu of salads, sandwiches (BLT, tuna salad, subs, burgers), pizza (cheese, vegetarian, pepperoni, supreme), spaghetti Bolognese, roasted chicken, skirt steak, grilled salmon, fish ‘n’ chips, a selection of cakes and a special menu for kids (grilled cheese, PB&J, chicken fingers, mac ‘n’ cheese).
Pools & Recreation aboard Norwegian Jade
Norwegian Jade has just one pool area, with two swimming pools and four Jacuzzis. It’s a vast improvement on the single pool that was located up here before the refit. But, even with the revamped pool area, it still gets very busy on a sea day, especially during the holiday season when more kids are on-board.
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In The Haven area there is another smaller pool and hot tub for the suite passengers, and on Deck 12 outside The Guppies kids play area there is a pool for children. It isn’t well-used though, as most parents and kids prefer to use the main pool area, which raises the question of whether this area would be better served as a small adult’s only pool area.
Up on Deck 13 there are sun loungers and a jogging track that leads to the ship’s basketball court, which also doubles as a spot to play tennis and volleyball. Two giant chessboards and two golf driving nets can also be found on either side of Deck 13.
The main pool area is also used as an entertainment space for events like Ping-Pong tournaments and contests like Mr. Sexy Legs and Miss Biceps, and on most days when these aren’t taking place there is a hand playing live music from the central boma.
Down on Deck 7 there is a great promenade in the traditional style (with the lifeboats sitting off the deck on davits so that you can see the ocean while walking). There are also shuffleboard courts here.
Children’s facilities aboard Norwegian Jade
As evidenced by the busy nature of the pool area during the holiday season, Norwegian Jade is a great ship for kids, both in terms of facilities and services. For instance, if you’re a family that needs some alone time for mum and dad, there are late-night group activities available for kids from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. at a cost of $6 per child, per hour, and $4 per hour for each additional child in the same family.
The Splash Academy has separate programming for babies, toddlers, kids, adolescents and teenagers: Guppies (6 months to 2 years), Turtles (3 to 5 years), Seals (6 to 9 years) and Dolphins (10 to 12 years) all share the same large playroom and cinema. Teens, ages 13 to 17, have their own space, known as Entourage, which includes a video arcade. All kids and teens facilities are located on Deck 12 midships.
The playroom is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for parents to use with their kids (under 3s can’t be dropped off). Although parents must always be present, there are also staff-run activities scheduled at various times throughout each sailing.
Those might include ball play, using building blocks and creating masterpieces with edible paints. Turtles do finger painting, board games and giant puzzles, while Seals might do themed arts and crafts or play video games. For the Dolphins, there are trivia, video games and sports.
Children 9 and younger must be signed in or out by a family member. Those ages 10 to 12 can sign themselves out after spending a minimum of two hours in the club and knowing where a parent is located.
Entourage, the teens area, is also staffed, but the schedule is less structured. Activities include Battle of the Sexes, dodgeball under the stars, charades, scavenger hunts and dance parties. Inside this space there are alcoves to hang out in, as well as board games, foosball and TVs for watching movies and playing video games.
Spa & Gym aboard Norwegian Jade
Norwegian Jade’s Mandara Spa is located up on Deck 12 all the way forward. The prime position makes for wonderful sea views from the relaxation room and thermal suite, which includes a sauna and steam rooms, a hot tub and a thalassotherapy pool.
The spa includes 22 treatment rooms, as well as changing facilities and a salon providing hair and nail services.
There’s also a little shop here where passengers can buy products from Elemis, La Therapie and Bliss.
The Pulse gym is located adjacent to the spa and has TechnoGym equipment and two regular exercise bikes, two recumbent bikes, 11 ellipticals, 14 treadmills, two rowers, various weight machines (shoulder press, quad and glute machines, fixed squat/bench press bar, leg press) and free weights.
Next door is a studio with yoga mats, balance balls and foam rollers. This is also where spin, yoga, Pilates, TRX and boot camp classes are held for an extra fee. Free classes are posted, as well, and they include group ab workouts and 1-mile sea-day morning walks.
Pulse also has its own men’s and women’s changing facilities, each with lockers, one shower, one toilet stall and a steam room.
Staterooms aboard Norwegian Jade
There are 1,201 cabins aboard Norwegian Jade, 1,080 of which are standard cabins (the other 121 are suites).
Some 60% of the standard cabins are outsides (and 54% of them are balconies).
Cabin types run the full range from insides to the Garden Villas in The Haven, with interconnecting cabins for families across all cabin categories, of which there are only really six (Inside, Outside, Balcony, Mini-Suite, Suite and The Haven).
All the staterooms were thoroughly refreshed in the 2017 refit and are now have a very modern feel, although the balcony and above categories have retained the cherry wood finishes, which gives the staterooms a nice traditional feel without looking dated.
The staterooms also got new flat-screen TVs, artwork, furniture, bedding and carpeting in a modern colour scheme that features cream, gray and teal (without the cherry wood in the inside and outside categories the cabins do feel a little soulless). Reading lamps now include USB outlets for bedside cell phone charging though, which is a great touch.
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