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Norwegian JadeNorwegian Jade
Mediterranean Diary
October 8, 2011

by Keith Henderson

We sailed on the Norwegian Jade leaving out of Venice, Italy on October 8th, 2011. It was a unique 7-day repositioning cruise to Civitavecchia, Italy which is the closest port to Rome. The ship left Venice and we followed the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea with stops in Koper, Split, and Dubrovnik before sailing around the “boot” of Italy with stops in Messina and Naples before ending our cruise in Civitavecchia.

It was our 13th NCL cruise (17th overall). We have sailed three times on Carnival and once with Royal Caribbean. It was our third time on the Jade as we had sailed on her a year earlier on a 7-day cruise out of Barcelona to Italy and two years earlier on a 5-day cruise from Southampton, England to Ireland. We are rated as Platinum Latitudes members with NCL.

This was our second Mediterranean cruise and our first visit to each of the ports except for Naples and Civitavecchia. We were intrigued by the itinerary as we prefer DIY exploring and there seemed to be a lot to see and do in the immediate areas of the various ports we would be visiting.

Arrival in Venice
We arrived in Venice in the afternoon the day before our sailing on the Jade. We had delays with our connection in Frankfurt, Germany, so we arrived a few hours later than planned. Our landing path took us right over the city so we could see how the city is small and compact. At the airport, we went to the Venice Connected Desk to pick up 24-hour Tourist Travel Cards that we had ordered on line (15.30€ each). The passes would let us use the local transportation for the 24 hours after we picked up the tickets. To get to Venice, we took an ATVO bus for the 25 minute ride from the Marco Polo Airport to the Piazzale Roma bus terminal in Venice (5€ each).

We had purchased Euros at the airport in the States prior to our takeoff. All of our port stops would allow us to use Euros except for the two in Croatia as they have their own currency. Once we were at the Venice airport, we purchase a small amount of Crotian Kunas.

Our hotel, the Dalla Mora, was located just a short 15 minute walk from Piazzale Roma. We chose to stay there because the cruise terminal is located a short distance from Piazzale Roma. Our rate was 100€ for a superior double with a private bath and shower and included a continental breakfast for us. The hotel is located in the Santa Croce neighborhood of Venice with many of its rooms overlooking a canal. It is a small hotel, but it served the purpose for our one night stay in Venice. Thankfully, we only had one piece of luggage and a carry-on bag for our trip as we had to walk up and over 4 bridges to get to the hotel from the bus stop.

After checking in, we set off to discover some of Venice. Because of our late arrival, we just walked back to Piazzale Roma and jumped on the number 1 vaporetto (water bus) that went up the Grand Canal before finally reaching the stop for the Basilica of St. Mark and the plaza there with the Campanile tower and the Doge’s Palace. It was after 5:00 pm, so St. Mark’s was closed to the public. We walked around the area to look at the Bridge of Sighs (surrounded by advertising) and the piazza area. After 6:00 pm we went to a side door at St. Mark’s and asked if we could go to the scheduled mass at 06:45 pm (every weekday) and we were guided into a small chapel on one side of the cathedral for prayers and then the mass. Even with the waning sunlight, we could catch a glimpse of the magnificent mosaics around rest of the Basilica.

After the mass, we returned to the hotel using the number 2 vaparetto. For dinner, we went to Trattoria Antico Gafaro, which was across the street from where the hotel was located. We had a good meal that was moderate in price for Venice restaurants. I had a Venetian specialty, spaghetti with black ink from cuttlefish, which was very tasty.

Day 1 – Embarkation Day Venice, Italy
It was a partly sunny day with temps in the high 60’s F. But, it was windy and felt colder. We woke up and had a quick breakfast at the hotel before taking off to see more of Venice before we would be heading to the cruise terminal. Check out time was 11:00 am, but they let us keep our luggage there until we returned to go to the ship.

As we left the hotel, we walked over to visit a church only a few blocks away called the Chiesa San Pantalon. I had read about the incredible painted ceiling and had wanted to see it. We were not disappointed as it was the most jaw dropping thing we had ever seen. They would not allow photos, but I did buy a postcard. After that we walked a few more blocks to the second largest church in Venice called San Maria Gloriosa dei Frari which was only a few blocks from our hotel. The artwork there, including works by Titian (who is buried there) and Donatello, was amazing. Across from the church is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco which is filled with huge artwork pieces including several by Tintoretto. Also across from the church and the Scuola was the Chiesa de San Rocco which had terrific artwork as well. Next, we walked over to a nearby vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal and took the number 2 vaparetto to take a mini-cruise from there which went back through the Grand Canal and circled around the cruise port and over to St. Mark’s before returning to Piazzale Roma. It was a great way to see the city and all the cruise ships in port that day. The round trip took about one hour. The Number 41 and 42 vaparettos circle the outside of Venice’s main neighborhoods which is another great way to see different parts of Venice. These take about two hours for a round trip. But, we were happy with the route of the Number 2.

We ended our vaparetto cruise at the stop by Piazzale Roma around 01:30 pm. From there we went back to our hotel to gather our luggage before walking back to the Piazzale Roma bus terminal to get the ship. It is about a mile walk from Piazzale Roma to the cruise ship terminals. At Piazzale Roma, they have a people mover (monorail) that takes you most of the way to the cruise terminal for 1€ per person. As we came off the people mover, it was about a half mile walk to the cruise terminal for our ship.

There were 6 other cruise ships in port as well, so you could imagine how much activity was to be found in the cruise port area. We saw the Happy Dolphin, Costa Victoria, Voyager of the Seas, The World, MSC Opera, and MSC Magnifica there along with the Jade at the cruise port along with the Star Princess that was docked just north of St. Mark’s square.

When we walked into the terminal at 2:30 pm, there were no lines for checking in. We just walked up to a clerk in the gold and platinum Latitudes line, received our docs and keycards, and were ready to go to the ship in less than 20 minutes from the time we arrived in front of the terminal. As we boarded the ship we found out that the cabins were cleared as of 02:00 pm, so we headed to our cabin to drop off our carry-on before going up to deck 12 to get a little something to eat in the Great Outdoors buffet. Our cabin was an inside cabin (room 10579) which was midship on deck 10.

All announcements were made in English, German, French, and Spanish. The muster drill was scheduled for 4:00 pm, so we headed down to deck 6 to our muster station in the bar city lounge area. We did not need to bring our life jackets with us for the muster. After the drill, we went to up to the deck 13 Sundeck to stake out a spot to watch the sail away.

The Jade pulled away from the pier at around 5:15 pm. The two MSC ships had pulled out previous to us. The ship sailed past the city of Venice and reached St. Mark’s Square by 6:00 pm before heading out to sea. It was a wonderful sight to see. We had terrific unobstructed views of the Venice skyline. With the setting sun and cold winds, everyone was bundled up with sweatshirts and coats. Venice is one city we hope to have the chance to re-visit in the future.

After the sail away, we went back to our cabin to unpack and change before going to dinner in the buffet on deck 12. We dined while watching a beautiful red sunset. The show for the evening was the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” show in the Stardust Theater at 09:00 pm. The Stardust Theater has a variety of seating and most have good views with seating for about 1,000 people. The show was hosted by the Cruise director, Jill Tasker who did a good job of welcoming us and introducing some of the entertainment acts that would be performing on other evenings. They included “Duo Volgyi” which was a couple that combined powerful acrobatics and dance for their performance as well as a few numbers from the production cast singers. Jill spoke in both English and Spanish. After the show, we went to the Spinnaker Lounge to listen to Ocean Vibe, a quartet, play songs from the 50’s and 60’s.

Day 2 – Koper, Slovenia
It was a partly cloudy day with temps that started in the mid 50’s and only warmed up to the mid 60’s F. We arrived on the port of Koper shortly before 7:00 am and docked at a pier close to the center of town. Koper is located in western Slovenia only 12 miles south of Trieste, Italy. There was one other cruise ship in port that day; the Voyager of the Seas, which arrived around 07:30 am after following us from Venice. They announced that the ship was cleared and we could disembark at 7:50 am. All non-EU passengers had to have their passports with them as they left the ship.

Koper is the main port for Slovenia and is only 40 miles from the Italian city of Trieste. In the Bay of Trieste this day, the Barcolana Regatta was being held. It is one of the world’s largest sailing races with over 2,000 participants. At the last minute, we had decided to take an excursion from Koper to the seaside town of Piran. We met up with other passengers that had decided to take tours to the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana and/or Lake Bled. Those tours required about 3 or so hours of driving and we did not feel we wanted to spend that much time in a vehicle, especially with the sail away time of 4:00 pm for this port.

When we got off the ship, we had a tour bus waiting to take us on our 4 hour tour at 08:45 am. The 10 mile ride to Piran took about 30 minutes as we passed along the coast through the towns of Izola and Portorož on the way. The bus stopped at a parking lot just outside of Piran’s old town section. You could spot the Church of St. George as it stood out on a hill over the rest of this small town located on a peninsula filled with buildings and their red roofs. We walked around Piran for an hour or so visiting the church, a monastery, small medieval streets, the old square, the Punta (point) with its lighthouse and church, and Tartini Square before returning to Koper. Before heading back to Koper, we had a free hour to explore the town on our own. We went back to the St. George church to climb up the bell tower. It was built as a copy of the Campanile of St. Mark’s in Venice. We had about 150 wooden steps to climb to the top. The bell in the tower rings every 15 minutes and it was loud as it rang while we were up there. We had wonderful views of Piran and the area. We could see the Bay of Trieste and all of the sailing ships in the Regatta.

Piran was very quaint. The ride back to Koper gave us some terrific views of the countryside and the Adriatic Sea as we returned to Koper. Just at the edge of the city, we stopped by a Koper wine exhibit building for tasting and purchasing (if one desired).

After returning to the dock in Koper, we walked up the hill overlooking the dock to visit the center of Koper and its Tito Square. There, we found a small cathedral with a bell tower you could walk up to get great views of Koper. The tourist office for Koper was located in the Praetorian Palace building located near the cathedral. Both Koper and Piran had a real Italian feel to them. All signage was in Slovene and Italian and you could hear locals speaking Italian. To get back to the ship, we had to go through a long line to have our IDs checked and passports stamped.

Sail away from Koper was 4:00 pm. The evening’s entertainment in the Stardust was a violinist named Gary Lovini who played classical and pop songs along with the Jade Orchestra band. We went up to listen to Ocean Vibe again in the Spinnaker lounge after the show. The Spinnaker Lounge had the Super 70’s Disco Dance Party later on, which was lightly attended.

Day 3 – Split, Croatia
It was a sunny day that started with temps in the mid 50’s F before getting up to the mid 60’s F by the afternoon. We arrived in Split (Croatia’s second largest city) before 07:00 am. We were anchored just outside the harbor. They announced that the ship was cleared and we could disembark using tenders at 07:50 am. We were the only cruise ship in the harbor that day. Croatia has its own currency, the Kuna. While most places accepted Euros and/or charge cards, a few places would only accept Kunas. There were plenty of ATM machines and currency exchange shops in Split.

Off in the distance, we could see that there must have been a forest fire behind a large hill. As we were having breakfast, we could see 3 fire fighting planes repeatedly diving down to skim water in the bay and then fly back over the fire. We had a late breakfast before heading off the ship. Our plan was to only go into Split and check out its main attraction, Diocletian’s Palace (which is a Unesco World Heritage site) on our own. There were a lot of tours offered for this location with some visiting the countryside and/or the nearby ancient ruins in Salonae which is where the Roman Emperor Diocletian came from.

After a 10 minute tender ride, we walked from the dock area towards the old city section of Split (called Stari Grad). It was a very short walk from the pier where the tenders docked to the south gate entrance to the old city. The gate led us into the cellars under the palace. Diocletian’s palace/fortress was built around 400 AD and takes up almost half of the old city. As I have always been interested in Roman history, I found this area to be fascinating. There was so much to see as we walked around.

There are many gates that lead in and out of the old city. The Bronze Gate faces south to the harbor. To the east, you can take the Silver Gate which leads to an open air market area. To the west, you take the Iron Gate which leads to the main square (Narodni Trg) of Split which has their city hall building and the Ethnographic Museum near there. To the north, is the Golden Gate which leads to the Strosmajerov Park. Just outside the Golden gate, we found the large statue of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski) by a local sculptor named Ivan Meštrović. It is said that rubbing the toe on the statue will bring you good luck. The toe of his right foot is a bright golden color from the constant rubbing by people over the 80 or so years since the statue was unveiled.

We also stopped by the Cathedral of St. Dominus which was originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Diocletian. It has a bell tower with wonderful views of the old city (after walking up 186 steps). After the cathedral we walked west to visit Jupiter’s Temple, a Roman temple converted to a baptistery.

Just outside the Silver Gate and next to the market area, we found the church and monastery of St. Catherine of Alexandria. It had a simple church with some nice paintings and statues. As we were leaving, we found that the doors had been shut. One of the two nuns in the church came over to unlock the door as they had closed the church at noon without our realizing it, but they did not want to disturb us.

The Marjan hill (mar-yan) is a park area that overlooks the city and gives great views of the city of Split and the harbor below. Facing the harbor as we left the old city, we took a right (away from the ship) and walked along the harbor to the park which was about a half mile away from the old city. There were over 300 steps to take you up to the top. Along the water by the old city area is a boardwalk area known as Riva. This is a wonderful place to sit back, relax, and have a drink or just admire the sights.

The ship left Split at 5:00 pm. The main show in the Stardust was a production show called “Showdown”. The show was a type of American Idol singing contest with the audience voting for the best singer. In the Spinnaker Lounge, they had a “Perfect Couple” game show hosted by Alp of the CD staff that was very funny to watch. Later on in the Spinnaker Lounge, they had a musical game show called “If You Know It, Sing It”.

Day 4 – Dubrovnik, Croatia
It was an overcast morning in the 60’s F that cleared up and temps rose to the mid 70’s F. We arrived at the port for Dubrovnik before 07:00 am. They announced that the ship was cleared and we could disembark at 07:50 am. The Jade was anchored near the old city part of Dubrovnik, close to the island of Lokrum. We would have to tender to shore at this port. Other cruise ships were docked at the other end of the city in Gruz Harbor, including the Star Princess, Ocean Majesty, and Astor. The tender docked in the old city harbor near the main square and its clock tower. Again, it only a 10 minute tender ride from the ship.

Dubrovnik is known for its old city area which is a Unesco World Heritage site. It is surrounded by famous fortified walls that were started in the 8th century. The entire perimeter of the walls is about 2 kilometers with lots of steps especially on the side facing the city and hills. Entrances (with a fee) to the walls can be found at both ends of the city. The Ploce (plo-cha) gate is the one closest to the harbor where the ship tenders dock. This entrance tends to be less crowded than the Pile (pee-la) Gate which is the main gate at the other end of the old city that leads to the rest of Dubrovnik. We found long lines at both gates. As you walk along the walls, you pass through a few small forts. The views from the walls were spectacular. They will only accept Croatian Kunas or charge cards to enter the walls. It takes about 2 hours to leisurely walk the entire length and for the walls along the water, they have everyone walking in the same direction from the Pile Gate to the old harbor. There is no shade while you are up there.

The main pedestrian thoroughfare from the docks to the Pile Gate is called the Stradun Placa. It is lined with shops and cafes. At the end of the Stradun, just before the Pile Gate, is the large Onofrio fountain, a famous landmark and meeting place. We found it more interesting to explore the side streets found on both sides of the Stradun. There are a lot of buildings and landmarks to see and visit in the old town area besides the walls and forts. There are a few monasteries, The Church of St. Blaise (patron saint of Dubrovnik), and the Rector’s Palace.

Near the Jesuit church, along the outside walls facing the water, we found an opening that led to a bar situated on the rocks at the water’s edge with wonderful views. It was called the Cafe Buža. You can spot this bar from above when you walk along the ocean side of the walls. There are very few public toilets in the old town area, so one had to go into one of the cafes to order a drink and use their facilities.

Outside the walls by the Ploce Gate is a station for a high speed cable car gondola that takes you up to the top of Srd Hill (serge) which offers incredible views of the old city and the surrounding area. The cable car station at the top is 1,324 feet above sea level and it only takes 4 minutes to go up from the station below. The cost was 80 Croatian Kuna per adult (about $15). They would not accept Euros, only Kunas and/or charge cards. At the top are viewing stations, a restaurant, and a souvenir stand. We also visited the Cathedral (Katedrala) which was at the East end of the city towards the old harbor before heading back to the old city harbor docks to take a tender back to the ship.

We arrived at the ship by 3:00 pm and the ship sailed away at 5:00 pm. For the main show in the Stardust, they had a vocalist named Marcus Jefferson performing a musical tribute to Lionel Richie. In the Spinnaker they had a “The Weakest Link” game show. Later that night in the Spinnaker they had the White Hot Dance Party with the CD staff.

Day 5 – Day at Sea
It was a partly cloudy day with temps in the low 70’s F. This was a day to sit back and relax as we sailed out of the Adriatic Sea and into the Ionian Sea as we went around the “boot” of Italy on our way to Messina. The pool area was busy, but not entirely full. You could find lounge chairs if you wanted to sit in the shade.

The main show for the evening was another production company show. This one was called “Elements” and was Cirque Soleil type show that had dancing, singing, and included the couple called “Duo Volgyi” soaring over the audience as they swung around on silk ropes as well as others coming down from the ceiling on ropes. After the show, we went up to the Spinnaker to listen to the Jade Orchestra play Big Band Ballroom music. The band was very good. Later on in the Spinnaker, they had the “Dancing with the Jade Stars” where guests teamed up with the production show dancers for a contest that was entertaining.

Day 6 – Messina, Sicily, Italy
The day was sunny with temps were in the 70’s F with a nice breeze. We arrived at the port of Messina before 8:00 am. They announced that the ship was cleared and we could disembark at 08:00 am. Besides the Jade, the MSC Fantasia was in port as well. The cruise ship docks are right next to the city. A lot of passengers were taking tours to visit the nearby resort town of Taormina or to see Mt. Etna. We had planned to stay in town.

We walked off the ship and headed south about a half mile to stop by the ruins of a church called Santa Maria Alemanna (St. Mary of the Germans). It was built in the 1200’s by Normans and was once visited by Richard the Lion Hearted on his way to a Crusade. We then headed north on Via Garibaldi to visit the Duomo (which has the largest organ in Italy) of Messina and view the astrological clock found in the Duomo’s bell tower. There is a daily show by the clock at noon with moving figures and music. The piazza was filled with people watching the 12 minute show. The beautiful Fountain of Orione is found in the Duomo’s piazza as well. After that, we walked east up the hill to two churches. The first was called the Santuario di Montalto and the second was called Christo Re. Cristo Re is now a memorial. Both buildings offered a wonderful view of the Messina harbor and the Italian mainland from an esplanade in front of them. The churches themselves are very visible from the harbor. We then headed down the hill and returned to the ship. There is an art museum in Messina that was further away from the ship going north, but we decided to just head back to the ship.

As we were spending the rest of the afternoon relaxing topside playing cards, we watched as a MSC cruise ship and then a Costa cruise ship sail past Messina through the strait of Messina on their way north. Sail away was 6:00 pm where we left the harbor and passed through the Straits of Messina into the Tyrrhenian Sea on our way to Naples.

For dinner, we went to the Le Bistro. In the Stardust Theater they had a juggling show with someone named Hilby, the Skinny German Juggle Boy. The Ocean Vibe band was in the Spinnaker playing Buddy Holly and other music from the 50’s while the Jade Orchestra was in the Atrium playing Dixieland Jazz. They had a “Quest” Adult Game show in the Spinnaker lounge at 10:30 pm.

Day 7 – Naples, Italy
It was dark overcast morning with temps in the 60’s F and very windy. The forecast said partly cloudy, but we had a surprise waiting for us later that morning. We arrived in Naples before 7:00 am. They announced that the ship was cleared and we could disembark at 7:30 am. The cruise terminal is located in the heart of Naples with Mount Vesuvius off in the distance. In port, along with the Jade, were three other cruise ships; the Celebrity Solstice, MSC Sinfonia, and the Island Escape.

Visiting Naples, there are many things to do and see both near and far. You can go to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast, Mt. Vesuvius, or the Isle of Capri. In Naples itself, there are quite a few interesting sites to explore. This is one port I would not mind visiting several times just to get the chance to see it all. We had been to Naples before, so we had decided to go off into Naples to visit just a few sights in the city. The cruise ship terminal is located opposite the Castel Nuovo fort. Our main plan in Naples was to visit the Duomo di San Gennaro and some other churches in that area before taking a funicular up to the top of the Vomero district that overlooks the entire city to visit the monastery and castle there before returning to the ship.

As we walked out of the terminal, we stopped at a tabacchi shop that was to the left of the exit. We purchased all day transportation passes (biglietto giornaliero) for 3.10€ each. On our previous visit to Naples, I had picked up a local bus map that showed all of the routes for buses as well as funiculars and subway trains. We had taken the HOHO bus in Naples before and had a terrible experience with them, so we were determined not to use them. We wanted to only use the public transportation system instead. We started walking to the Duomo di San Gennaro. About 10 minutes along in the planned 30 minute walk, it started pouring as a thunderstorm came over the city. Even though we had raincoats on, our pants and shoes were soaked thoroughly by the time we reached the Duomo. The Duomo is located at 147 Via Duomo. Please note that the Duomo is closed from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm. We found out the hard way on our last trip to Naples as it was closed when we went there in the mid-afternoon.

After walking around the large church, we left the Duomo and walked down Via dei Tribunali towards Piazza Dante. Along the way we stopped by a church called Purgatorio ad Arco. This church had wonderful paintings and sculptures, but they did not allow photos. Next, we walked to the Sansevero Chapel which has an incredible collection of marble sculptures with the most amazing being one called the “Veiled Christ”. Again, we were not allowed to use our camera.

After leaving that church it was still raining with no signs of letting up. Wet and cold, we decided to head back to the ship instead of going to the Vomero hill. So we have a reason to come back to Naples again, hopefully. We did talk with other passengers that had gone to see Pompei and they said that while it did not rain, it was cold and windy. Tours to Mt. Vesuvius were cancelled due to the strong winds.

Walking across streets in Naples is nerve wracking. The drivers there are very aggressive and stop lights are only a suggestion. You just have to pick your moment and go, do not hesitate! There were plenty of pizza shops to be found, especially along Vie de Tribunali. We are spoiled with several terrific Neapolitan style pizza shops near our home in Connecticut and the ones in Naples looked and smelled just as good.

Sail away was at 7:00 pm. In the Stardust Theater, instead of a production cast show, they had the Jade Crew Show that included a performance of “Fountains”. They had a Karaoke contest in the Spinnaker Lounge that night.

We were given luggage tags and information on disembarking the ship:if you wanted to have your luggage brought down by the ship’s porters, you had to have your luggage outside your cabin with the luggage tags attached by 11:00 pm.

Disembarkation Day – Civitavecchia, Italy
We were scheduled to arrive in Civitavecchia by 5:00 am. It was a real ship parade at the cruise ship docks this day as there were seven ships in port: The Jade along with the Queen Victoria, Costa Magica, Noordam, Ocean Princess, Seabourn Pride, and Costa Deliziosa. By 05:45 am you could start to walk off the Jade if you carried your entire luggage yourself. By 06:30 am, passengers with specific colors of tags could start to walk off. They would not make announcements until 07:30 am, so it was up to you to head down on your own. All passengers were to be off the ship by 09:45 am that day.

We got up early for breakfast before heading off the ship to pick up our luggage in the terminal at 09:30am. They had shuttle buses (no charge) to take us to the gates at the end of the port area (5 minute ride). From there, we walked across the street, turned right, and walked a few blocks along Viale Garibaldi. We then headed leftward where the road sloped uphill; the train station is on the Viale della Repubblica. There were long lines of cruisers already there waiting inside to buy train tickets at the Trenitalia windows, so I went past the lines to the right inside the building, passed by a Tabacchi shop and bought BIRG tickets at a coffee shop inside the station for €9.50 without having to wait. (Reminder: be sure to validate your tickets with a time stamp at the yellow boxes you will find on the platforms before you board the train) We caught the 10:56 am train and arrived at the Roma San Pietro station in Rome at 11:49 am.

Our plan was to stay in Rome for two nights before flying home. We had been to Rome the previous year as a port stop on our Jade cruise out of Barcelona, so we had already seen all of the major sights (albeit briefly) in the day we had spent there. We wanted to go back to spend time enjoying just a few locations of what Rome has to offer for visitors. We had booked a room at a B&B called “A Casa di Nannali” that was located just a few blocks (100 meters) from Vatican City for 80€ a night. It is located halfway between the Roma San Pietro train station and the Vatican. From our room’s balcony, we could see the Dome of St. Peter’s.

After we walked the short distance from the Roma San Pietro train station to the hotel, we checked in and then spent the rest of our first day in Rome visiting the Vatican museums which included the Sistine Chapel and then St. Peter’s. We had booked tickets for the Vatican Museums online prior to our trip, so we did not have to wait in a long line for tickets. The museums were incredible and we ended the visit to the museums in the Sistine Chapel. At the advice of other people, we followed a tour group through a side door that led us into St. Peter’s without having to exit the Museum and then having to go into a line to enter the Cathedral. A third of the church was blocked off and they would let anyone go to the crypts or up to the dome that day. But, we did stay long enough to be able to attend mass in the side chapel there before leaving. For dinner, we went to “Il Bacio” on the recommendation of the B&B owner, Annalisa. It was near the Castel San Angelo.

The next day, we headed into the old part of Rome by bus to spend the afternoon at the forum area and the Colosseum. We stopped by a Tabacchi shop to get our one day transportation passes before catching a bus to Piazza Venezia. We had booked a guided tour of the Colosseum online. The same tickets gave us admission to the Palatine Hills and the Forum. When we got to the Colosseum at 11:30 am, the lines for the ticket window were a third the way around the building and moving very slowly. But, we were able to go to the very short line for on-line tickets to make our way into the building and wait for the guided tour which was informational.

After leaving the Colosseum, we walked past the Arch of Constantine and entered the gate that led us to both the Palatine Hill and the Forum areas which we toured on our own for an hour. We then caught a bus to take a short ride to visit the Area Sacra Argentina which has Roman ruins (supposedly where Julius Caesar was murdered) and is also used as a cat sanctuary. We spotted at least 20 cats around the area.

From there we walked north to visit a church called S. Maria sopra Minerva and then the Pantheon before walking over to the Piazza Novana to grab an early dinner. We ended up at a sidewalk café just outside the piazza called “Sale Miele”. We had a wonderful meal there at half the price of the cafes in the Piazza. After the meal, we took a bus back to the Vatican area and our room.

Our flight to go home on Monday morning was not until noon. We just walked back to the Roma San Pietro station and took one train (FM3) for the short ride to the Roma Trastevere station and caught another train (FM1) that took us to the Fiumicino airport. The cost was 8€ each. Altogether, it took about 45 minutes to get from the San Pietro station to the airport. A fitting end to our visit to Italy was the flight from Rome to Munich for our connection to the States. We flew over Venice as we approached the Italian Alps prior to our arrival in Munich.

Dining –
The Jade was built for “freestyle” dining. The ship has several restaurants which include two main dining rooms (Grand Pacific and the Alizar) that are free of charge along with the buffet areas (Garden Café and the Great Outdoors), Topsider and Bali Hai poolside bar grills, and the Blue Lagoon (comfort food). Grand Pacific and the Alizar have the same menus each night and because the Grand Pacific is larger, the wait times were shorter. The other restaurants had a fee, which we chose not to go to. They have Cagney’s (Steakhouse), Jasmine Garden (Asian), Le Bistro (French), Papa’s Kitchen (Italian), Tapas & Salsa (Tapas), Sushi Bar, and Teppanyaki. We are not too picky about food, so we never felt the need to go to any one restaurant over another.

The Garden Café buffet area is set up very well with plenty of stations offering various foods. So you do not have to wait in line while everyone passes by the same items before you can select something. For example, they have a separate station for salads, then one for fruits & desserts, then another for hamburgers & hot dogs, etc. There are no trays, so you have to take a plate and then find a table before going back to get a drink. In the early mornings where we were in port, it was very hectic due to everyone wanting to grab a bite before heading off the ship. We found that the Italian restaurant next to the buffet had its doors open during breakfast and lunch to handle the overflow of diners. It was quieter eating in there as well.

For most nights, we went to the buffet as if was faster than sitting down in the dining rooms which usually took about an hour and a half for the full meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert). We just preferred going to a see a show in the Stardust Theater or to a lounge to listen to music instead of sitting down for dinner.

We enjoy the convenience of freestyle and the fact that we did not have to bring an extensive wardrobe for dining. We wore business casual attire the evenings we went to Le Bistro. We saw other passengers that did take advantage of dressing in more formal wear and others that were dressed even more relaxed than we were. To each their own, which is what freestyle is all about.

Bar Service –
We are beer drinkers and we took advantage of the beer bucket specials where you would get 6 beers for the price of 5 that was offered throughout the cruise. Since the Jade had been in Europe, their selection of beer was much better than any other NCL cruise ship we had been on. I wish they could bring some of those selections over to the States. They allowed us to mix the beers we ordered. The free beer would be the cheapest of the ones you selected. I preferred the German wheat beers to most of the selections offered on the ship.

Also, in Le Bistro we were entitled to a free bottle of wine (see Latitudes). When we explained that we do not drink wine, they allowed us to order beers of any variety we preferred.

Latitudes –
We are rated as Platinum Latitudes members and were invited to the two Latitudes parties. We also received a welcome aboard package with fruit. But we did not get any snacks delivered to our cabin as on previous cruises.The party for all of the Latitudes members was held on the afternoon of the sea day in the Spinnaker lounge. They gave away a small variety of gifts for the Latitudes guests and plenty of drinks.

We were also invited to a separate party for Silver, Gold, and Platinum Latitudes members in the Medusa lounge and it was lightly attended. It was held the evening we sailed from Split and was for a half hour with only wine and a variety of cheese offered.

As platinum members, we received some additional perks. The guided tour of the ship was free (held on the sea day), which we did not attend as we had taken a tour on a previous cruise. We did receive two invitations to Le Bistro for a free meal and bottle of wine. We were given priority tender tickets on the day we were in Split which allowed us to take any tender we chose into the city. We were given VIP luggage tags which allowed us to disembark at any time we wanted and have our luggage waiting in a designated area away from the other color luggage tags. They did offer laundry service that was free of charge (it was normally $25 to fill the small bag) on Tuesday.

Activities –
There were plenty of things to do on aboard for all interests. They had the usual plethora of bingo games and art auctions. Every night, we would receive a copy of the next day’s “Freestyle Daily” which listed all of the activities and their times. This was helpful in planning.

We took advantage of the several trivia games (which we enjoy) they offered during the cruise. We met up with several friendly people and we enjoyed their company and conversations. We did win one time with our team and came close on several others.

The casino was open during times at sea. We do not gamble, but sometimes we would walk through to watch fellow passengers give donations to the ship.

Music –
They had plenty of talented musicians on board to entertain people at various locations and times. The Jade Show band was great playing big band jazz. In the bar city area and atrium they either had a piano/singer and/or a single guitarist playing mellow easy listening music. In the Medusa Lounge, they had a trio called Guys and Doll playing dance music. The Spinnaker lounge band called Ocean Vibes was our favorite band to listen to on all of our cruises. Their mix of songs was very strong with songs from the 60’s, but they also played songs from the 50’s, 70’s and even some contemporary tunes. It was refreshing to hear so many up tempo and classic songs.

Crew –
For the majority of times, we were always met by a smile and a hello when we walked by any of the crew members. Jill Tasker (England), the cruise director was always at the production shows and Latitudes parties. However, other than scheduled events, you never really saw her. The rest of the cruise staff were very friendly, especially Alp (Turkey), Juan (Mexico), and Gabrielle (Gabby) (West Va. U.S.A.). We had met Alp and Gabby on several other cruises.

The ship –
The ship was originally built and named as the “Pride of Hawaii” in 2006. It was to be used for the Hawaii only cruises by NCLA. Even though the ship has since been renamed the Jade, other than the hull artwork being changed, the rest of the ship’s decor still has Hawaiian themes.

The fitness center is found on deck 12 forward and had a wide variety of treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, and other pieces of equipment available at all times at no extra charge. They even had a punching bag and free weights. They offered pilates and spinning classes for a fee. The running track is found on deck 13 and goes from midship (in front of the Star Bar) around to the aft and past both sides of the basketball court. It is very narrow on the sides around the court and walkers can get in your way. It takes 5 ½ laps to complete a mile. The promenade deck is for walking only and it takes 2 2/3 laps to walk a mile.

On deck 12, there are two pools midship with one designated as adult only and the other having a slide. In cool weather, the pools are heated. There are two hot tubs next to each pool. In addition to these, there is a small kid’s pool tucked away in a corner of the pool deck under the overhand of deck 13 by the Topsiders Bar.

The Ying & Yang Health Spa has several treatment rooms and a relaxation area with heated ceramic lounge chairs and a large lie-down hot tub. It is on deck 12 forward. In the spa, they have segregated areas for men and women; each one has saunas and a hot tub. Since these were segregated, we decided to not use them as we like to relax together. You can buy spa passes for the day ($20) or the entire cruise ($99). They offered spa treatment specials during port days. Also on deck 12 in the hallway leading to the spas and fitness rooms are the library and card rooms.

There is a bridge viewing room on deck 11 forward on the port side. You can view the bridge and see the various plaques the ship has accumulated from each of the ports it has visited since being launched. One trick we learned was that the carpeting on the decks with cabins had dolphins in the print. The dolphins face forward in all of the hallways, so you can use that to help navigate around the ship. The breaks in the Dolphin patterns signaled a stairway.

Accommodations -
Our cabin was on deck 10. This was a great location for us as it was only a few decks up to the pools and buffet and a few decks below to the promenade deck, the Stardust Theater, and dining rooms. We tried to use the stairs as often as possible. In the mornings, I would head up to the buffet with insulated mugs to bring hot tea back to the cabin while my wife was getting ready.

We always book an inside cabin. We are only in our cabin to sleep or shower, so we prefer to save money in order to cruise twice a year versus once or less with a balcony or suite type cabin. Our cabin had more than enough room for the two of us. There are two small twin beds that you can have next to each other or separated. We had them separated in order to free up a little more usable space. There is a safe and a small fridge in the cabin. In the bathroom, there is a toilet, sink, hair dryer, and a shower with a sliding glass door. The European-style shower head is height adjustable and can be hand held.The closet had about 20 hangers. We easily stored our 4 pieces of luggage under the beds. With freestyle and the relaxed dress code, we were able to limit our luggage to one check-in and one carry-on bag for our 11 day trip. You gotta love that. 

We found out that the Jade is scheduled for a dry dock refurbishment in November which would include replacing the Tapas and Salsa restaurant with a churrascia style restaurant. In addition to replacing all of the bedding and TVs, they will also give her a new coat of paint on the hull.

Overall –
This turned out to be an exciting and exhausting trip as most of days were filled with a lot of walking around wonderful locations. We had smooth seas for every day except the last night as we left Naples into rough waters and wind. We had beautiful sunsets every night except for the night in Naples. The full moon over the water on some evenings was special. We hope NCL can add more unique itineraries to their offerings in the future.

Hard Rock Café – I make it a point to visit Hard Rock Cafes around the world when traveling. Prior to this cruise, I have been to 61 different HRC locations. We were able to visit the local HRC in Venice for number 62 on my list. It was located just outside the Piazza San Marco at the Bacino Orseolo where a lot of gondolas can be found. We had already visited the Rome HRC which is near the Spanish Steps and American Embassy while on our previous cruise to Italy. 

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