Sunday, 13 January 2013

Embarkation Day

The NCL Jade

Today was the day! The whole family was ready to relax on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise onboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Jade. For a change, we didn't have to be on the move until 1030! However, our plans for a leisurely morning was thrown into disarray when we discovered that our clothes from our overnight washing frenzy had still not dried. It was a scramble to get enough coins together for a 40 minute spin in the dryer. We took the opportunity to have breakfast which was followed by quick packing. 
Our scheduled private transfer to the port organised by the hotel turned up right on time. The group left a sunny Rome behind abuzz with excitement as we drove towards the port of Civitavecchia. The hour long journey took no time. We could soon see a glimpse of the Jade in the distance. The only minor irritation was that our van was not allowed to drop us off right outside the entry to the building where our ship was docked. I was not sure if it was because the driver was too stingy to pay a fee or if it was the rule for all. 
Fortunately, it was only a short walk to the actual entry into the port building. Luggage drop off was very easy and efficient. Security also took no time. We were in a 2 bedroom family suite as part of "The Haven", NCL's concierge class across its fleet. We had never sailed concierge before and we were very excited to experience how the top end survive...

Our purple minibus

We were told to identify ourselves as Haven guests upon arrival which we did. We were shown to a separate line. I was not entirely convinced that this was faster! We had to wait for 2 parties ahead of us, and after our photos were taken for our cruise cards and passports checked by cruise staff, we had to wait for a porter to take us through immigration and then onboard. This took a while, although we were allowed to indulge ourselves in caffeine and refreshments while we waited. As we waited patiently, we saw our parents appear at immigration line right next to us! This was partially Jonah's fault as his timing for his need to go the loo was lousy. We were then waylaid by a big family cutting in. 

The staff were friendly and eager to help but the system just seemed a little disorganised. Once we boarded the ship, we saw my Ryuji and Michael walked in behind us (the lowly who had to check in via the normal queue)! There was no warm welcome in a nice lobby. Instead it was boarding into a chaotically busy lift area where it was not clear where we were meant to go. We were squeezed into a lift and taken to the concierge lounge on deck 13 where once again we were asked to wait. We were not sure what for. The children didn't care as they were bursting with excitement at the view of the pool and slide that they were greeted with. Our concierge, Karabi,  appeared busy talking to other guests which was fine with us. We asked politely if we could go to our suite. She informed us that she would return later in the afternoon to go through a few things with us. On the way up to our cabin on deck 14, we happened to bump into our butler,Willie, who was sweet. He took us through our suite. It was at this point that we realised that our family would not be able to meet us at our suite as arranged, as they did not have access to get into the suite area. Despite email correspondence with the concierge desk (the meeting point was at their suggestion) prior to arrival, our concierge and butler seemed to be unaware of this. Karabi acquired entry keys for the family so they were able to visit our suite and Willie went down to physically get them. Malcolm and I were greatful for their assistance but expected a smoother coordinated service?

Still waiting, but happy so long as I can have some cookies

Finally going up the gangway

Our suite though, was great. We were welcomed with a complimentary bottle of champagne and iced water. Malcolm was delighted to see nespresso type machine which took both coffee and tea pods. The children loved their room, although I doubt that it would be loved as much by adults. The space has all been allocated to the main bedroom, main bathroom  and the living area. It was obviously designed for families with children more than for a family of adults. The main bathroom was amazing. It was well designed and spacious with windows looking out to sea. The suite had plenty of storage and the balcony was nice and deep. We also received a bowl of fruit which was topped up daily and a refreshments at around 4:30pm. "Awesome!",  said the children.
Our lounge area


Coffee and tea maker

Fresh fruit anyone?

The main bedroom

Our awesome bathroom

The children's room which had its own bathroom

After the all family members had been accounted for in our suite, we cracked open the bubblies. It was then time to settle our rumbling stomaches at the Garden Buffet on deck 12. The food was not bad. However, I was most devastated to discover that they stocked Pepsi and not Coca-cola. How was I going to survive the next 11 days?!?!? There was no time to wallow in self pity. Important things had to be done in the afternoon. First on the list was to register the children for kids club. The room for the children was nowhere near the calibre of those found on the Disney Ships, and I didn't expect it to. All children from ages 3 to 12 were in the same room unless they get enough numbers. Next was to get the concierge to make dinner reservations for our family. Finally, we had to sort out our port excursions for Israel. We discovered that due to safety reasons, the ship would now be docking overnight at Haifa and would not be docking at Ashdod. We called our tour operator whilst still at port as we should still be able to go on our Ashdod excursion from Haifa with the two being so close together geographically. The tour operator tried to charge us more!

We finally had time to explore the rest of the ship. Our first stop was the private courtyard for Haven guests which was right outside our suite. It was awesome. At times like this, I wish I had another word besides awesome...It was an area with a pool surrounded by comfortable deck chairs and lounges complete with a retractable glass roof. There was an area for food and drink where guests are able to have their breakfast and lunch, or snacks. There was a hot tub, a small gym, a change rooms, and towels. A stairwell led up to a private sun deck on top. Awesome.

The Haven Courtyard

Should I sit here...

...or here?

Looking towards the dining area

Where the snacks and food are

The pool

The small gym 

The hot tub

Where to now Dad? This set of stairs leads you up to an open deck. Too slow to catch the family on the way up so here they are on the way down...


Private sun deck

We never did make it to a second stop as it was then time for the emergency drill. Jonah was very fascinated and took it very seriously. He asked a million questions which continued for a long time...As an aside, our cruise director, Gary, who is a very talented man, speaks many different languages fluently. As 50% of passengers do not speak English as their first language. He would make announcements in 5 different languages...

We watched the sunset and the ship sail away from the comfort of our suite. It was a little strange not to hear the Disney horn blaring out "When You Wish Upon A Star". We decided to use the privilege of always having clean wine glasses at our disposal to have pre dinner wine with the whole family in our suite. We all merrily made our way to dinner and were halfway down the ship in the lift when Michael suddenly realised that Jonah was not with us. We had left him behind in the suite! One of us irresponsible parent had to go back and retrieve him. The dining room was beautiful. The concensus by the whole family was that the service seemed slow compared to other cruise lines. The food was hit and miss. Some dishes were great and others were not. By this stage, the ship was rocking noticeably. Malcolm started feeling ill, as did a few others.

Everyone returned to their own cabins. Elliot and Lara studied the daily activities newsletter while Mal and Jonah got ready for bed. The three of us then walked to the Stardust Theatre to watch the show. As suite guests, we had a private balconey reserved for the show. This meant we only had to be there 10-15 minutes before hand. Awesome! The Welcome Show was not bad but lacked the show stopping quality of the Disney productions. The children loved it nonetheless and I had a good time. The band was very good. 
I will reserve judgement on the ship until the very end so stay tuned! Two sea days in a row coming up. Bliss!

It was so nice to be on the water

Dinner at the Pacific Grand Restaurant, one of the free restaurants

Still happy and smiling

Eager children studying the activities newsletter for tomorrow and planning their day
Lara and Elliot were very excited about the private balcony seats

Our view of the stage

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