Norwegian Jade - A Taste of Belgium
On the 10th April 2007 Norwegian Cruise Line announced their NCL America ship, Pride of Hawai'i, was such a success she would be temporarily withdrawn in February 2008 and renamed Norwegian Jade to do European cruising for the summer.  From March-May it would be from Barcelona, May-August Southampton and then Barcelona again before returning to the States.  In 2008 they changed it to all year round deployment with a second season from Barcelona and Southampton plus a couple of trips from Rotterdam between.  For the 2008 inaugural Southampton season for NCL, they were offering two short cruises.  The first was to Le Havre in June but I would be on QE2.  The other on the 11th-13th July was to the dreaded Z place!  I swear Zeebrugge is haunting me.  But I had a curiosity about how much of the Pride of Hawai'i would be left for such a 'temporary' venture after the change and so did Pam.  So despite me never having endured NCL decor in person at that time, we went ahead and booked balcony cabin 8026 at the end of May.  Whether it was a wise or foolhardy decision remained to be seen.  Pride of Hawai'i made her final sailing from Honolulu on the 28th January 2008, arriving in Los Angeles on the 9th February for a one week wet dock.  She underwent her first voyage under her new name on the 16th to Miami.  After a trip across the Atlantic, she had a further two weeks dry docking, commencing her sailings on the 30th March.  She arrived in Southampton for the first time on the 30th May.  I ended up enjoying Norwegian Gem so looked forward to this.  Pam received the tickets a week
before the trip and found we'd been upgraded to mini suite 11060.

The day arrived and it was quite exciting.  After a week of dressing up every night on the
QE2 I was glad I didn't have to for a change.  Normally I don't mind it but then there's often casual nights to break the monotony.  On Cunard there isn't.  This time Pam was arriving by train as she was going on Braemar the day we returned and I had no idea when she'd get here.  She was already at Town Quay before I was on the ferry.  Braemar had returned from being stretched the previous week and moved from 104 to 38/9 the day before.  Now I had a chance to look at her new shape properly.
Pam and I got a taxi to the terminal.  We went via Dock Gate 8 so it was almost half the usual fare!  The weather wasn't so great but they had porterage - yay!  I was dreading lugging the case on and off as in Dover.  We didn't have proper labels though but some did.
Check in was chaotic.  There were Latitudes desks but the others were so busy they ended up bringing some to these.  We were given a red boarding card and went to wait.  There was an enormous queue but NCL laid on refreshments on water, orange juice, sandwiches and cake.  Didn't get that at Dover either!
As we waited the colour blue was called.  Also some entertainment on the dockside when the lid of some fresh fruit blew off in the wind and the driver battled in vain to put it back, eventually folding it up and putting it in his cab.
Pam noticed some red card holders going through so decided we'd join them.  It turned out red was Latitudes members so had priority boarding and someone had cocked up.  It was so hot queuing to board as it moved really slowly.  They also squirted your hands before you set foot aboard.
When we boarded they were handing out welcome aboard champagne.  It wasn't really very nice and reminded me of the stuff we'd been given on Independence of the Seas.  The cabins weren't ready until 1pm but that didn't stop us going to have a look.  They were very keen for people NOT to go so we told some crew we were just going to find it.  The mini suite turned out to be just a larger balcony cabin so is quite misleading.  The bathroom was fabulous though with all the space plus bath.  It was a hell of a contrast to Gem.  The beds were together and our wonderful steward Ven told us they're always together but insides are separate so it doesn't matter what you choose when booking.  I'm not impressed with that as it means more work for the stewards.
We went for a wander and came across some other cabins then headed back down to Deck 6 where we got more drinks and sat in the champagne bar listening to the guitarist.  Pam was impatient to explore. So far I quite liked the ship.  The decor was far less garish than Gem which suited me fine.
We found our first Hawai'ian leftover in some ceiling lights by the lifts.  These were really sweet and I'm glad they kept them.  Then we headed outside.
Pam bumped into Clive who she'd met before and his companion Kevin and we chatted with them a while before having to get ready for the 3pm muster.  Our muster station was the sushi bar but I couldn't see it mentioned on the diagram on the back of the cabin door.  The lifejackets were similar to the ones Royal Caribbean use with the cowl neck.  They are fine if you're standing under your lifeboat like RCI but not for sitting long periods of time.  Pam absolutely hated the thing.  Afterwards we returned them to the cabin then went on deck for our 4pm sailaway.  It was good to have lifeboat drill so early as it meant you could relax as you waited to set off.  They had a barbecue at Topside Bar & Grill which was excellent.  Ribs, chicken and rice.  I went to find somewhere to sit while Pam joined the other queue for extras like salad and a burger.  It was a nightmare but in the end I found two solitary chairs by the kiddy pool.  When I'd finished it was almost 4pm so I left her to it and went up a deck.
Bang on time we left and blasted as the cruise director or whoever the hell she was talked over it by telling us what there was to do.  SHUT UP!!!!!  If we want to know we'll check the Freestyle Daily!  That IS what it's for after all.  The sailaway party was in full swing but many people wandered the upper decks.  We slowly moved towards the turning circle to time waste.  Why they don't dock her port on arrival I'll never know.  Bloody stupid!  She's not that much bigger than Constellation.  Can't they turn her on the spot?
Despite seemingly stopping by 104 and pumping up the thrusters, we didn't turn and continued going forward and towards Pam's next ship.  She developed quite a list as she turned, more than Navigator of the Seas, Independence of the Seas and even QE2!  We saw Clive and Kevin again as we continued to turn then headed back the way we came.  A very sad sight behind 105 when the partial-demolition of the Bacardi/Martini bottling plant.  The end of an era.
It got cold so Pam wanted to go in for a coffee.  We sat in the Garden Cafe and watched the Isle of Wight pass by.  Into view came Norris Castle, an elusive original series Doctor Who location I spent two visits to Cowes trying to find in the late 1990s but it was private property.  We also passed No Man's Land fort again, another Doctor Who location from the same story.  Dreadful you can only see them properly by sea but at least I have ten years after my last attempt.
Then we headed outside again.  It was pretty windy and cold.  Bar service was bad so as the pilot boat pulled alongside, we went to get a drink.  The bar counter was wet from spilled drinks and they made no effort to dry it.
The pilot boat zoomed away as we returned to the table.  The wind and cold got worse as we passed the Leaning Tower of Nab so we moved to some shelter, while still enjoying the early evening sun.
Time for shopping!  The photo shop wasn't bad but Cunard are actually less than NCL for 1Gb xD cards.  I was amazed.  The photos are now 10"x8" rather than the whatever the hell it was on Gem.  We were quite impressed the stock photos actually WERE of Jade, rather than another photoshopped.  Then we went to the Galleria Boutique.  Oh dear is all I can say.  Now this area was intended to be another Bliss knocking shop - I mean nightclub and bowling alley.  However they ran out of time so they became shops.  Every shop bar photo was in here making it really difficult trying to find certain things.  NCL logo stuff was virtually non-existent.  No fridge magnets, no bears, no $10 hanging models or any sort of model.  They had the three for $30 T-shirt offer like on Gem so I picked up a couple with Southampton and the name of the ship on and something else.  Postcards again we had to get at reception  We went there next.  I got twelve while Pam was miffed the same girl gave her ten.  Back to the cabin to dump the stuff and we saw the beds separated and the pillow chocolate.  Quite disappointed to see no name of the ship like Gem.  That had been a nice touch.
While there was still light, and it being on our deck, we decided to go and look over the bridge.  We hadn't been able to on Gem as it was closed the only time we managed to get there.  Along the walls were Pride of Hawai'i port plaques in one part while the others had Norwegian Jade.  It was great they kept her past with her present and I wish more did.  I'd love to see te Royal Princess ones instead of just Artemis.  The Port of Los Angeles had given two for first arrivals but she never arrived as Jade, only departed under that name.
We slowly made our way towards the Blue Lagoon where we'd have a late dinner, coming across the other builder's plaque.  It's really difficult getting decent photos due to the reflections but her former life is still there, like her port plaques, for anyone interested to see.
The fish and chips weren't bad but again it was French Fries.  Understandable on a US ship but still misleading.  Can't they have steak fries as chips????  Pam wasn't very hungry so had a starter.  It was quite pleasant but not that busy.  It seemed people had either eaten earlier or elsewhere.  This was the 24 hour venue and handy for snacks.  I loved the lights above the atrium.  More of her original decor.  Back to the cabin afterwards and while I wrote my notes Pam fell asleep quickly.

In the morning it was Zeebrugge yet again.  My sixth visit to Pam's fourth I think.  I'm losing track!  We were docked in 702 so further back from the ro/ro ramp.  Grrr!
We had our breakfast in the Garden Cafe before exploring and hunting down all Hawai'ian stuff.  We went down to Deck 4 which had the medical centre.  It was closed when we got down there but then opened so we sneaked a quick peek in case we were yelled at.
In the Stardust Theater I started a trend.  There were some Japanese girls in the Gods watching as I mucked about on the stage.  Once Pam took her photos and we both got off, they appeared and began doing the same thing.  Pam asked if they'd like one of them together and they said yes.  Then we left them to it and continued working our way around the decks.
The Scatzi meeting room was open so we had a peek then hit the casino!  This was very Eastern in decor, probably due to the Jade name.  Originally it was cabins and either shops or this was where they would be rather than their current location but the accommodation had been ripped out and this huge casino put in its place.  Even though I'm not a gambler,  liked this room immensely.
The Martini and Champagne bars as well as Tankards were similar in layout to Gem but had a few subtle differences.  The Corona Cigar Club also had no door to keep the smell in.  Le Bistro, the French restaurant was really nice and better decorated than Gem's.
Alizar main restaurant was really nice but for some reason someone in their wisdom decided to charge the 'candles' on the chair.  What if there'd been a short?
The atrium, while lacking the odd seatings of Gem, was wonderfully decorated after those clashing colours.  Pam found her rather bland in comparison but I much prefer it.

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© Patricia Dempsey 11th-13th July 2008
Not to be reproduced without permission