I am looking to go on a cruise to Canary Islands and Moroco in January. Both Norwegian (Norwegian Jade) and also Royal Cribbean (Brilliance of the Seas) are both sailing at the same dates. Can any one reccomend one over the other, and why would you reccomend that one? I am travelling with 3 kids (ages 9-17).
Just got back from Alaska on NCL Star. We did not like this ship or its staff. The food was not good, either, except for the restaurants that had an extra charge. We sailed RC to Alaska and had a much better experience. We talked to lots of people on the NCL Star with us (including a travel agent) and they all had the same opinion that we did - never again! Just today my wife was talking to a friend about our problems and someone overheard her. They asked if she happened to be talking about NCL Star because they had the same issues as we did.
Can't say for sure about the two ships that you are looking at since they will be different ships with different crews, but I will think long and hard before ever sailing with NCL again anywhere. We did not like like the freestyle dining because the "free" restaurants were too small so there was always a line to get in. Also, they weren't very convenient as to when they were open when you had to work around shore excursions. Freestyle means eating what they want you to eat when they want you to eat it. Don't dare try to get lunch at 11:00 or even 11:30.
I have cruised twice with NCL - Pride of America to Hawaii in 2006 and Norwegian Jewel to Western Mediterranean in 2007. Both times I had a WONDERFUL time. On the Jewel we were in the middle of the school vacations and there were lots of children on board. Some of them were extremely badly behaved and their parents seemed to take the view that they were on holiday and that meant that discipline was not in evidence. I observed that the crews were very tollerant - perhaps too much so.
The quality of the food ranged from good to excellent. There was never an occasion when we wanted to eat and couldn't find something. You have to do some homework before embarking on any cruise to find out about restaurant reservations as you may not always be able to walk into the one of your choice without a reservation. If there is a special occasion that you want to mark with a special meal, prebook it or book as soon as you get on board. I think the Freestyle product is the future of cruising - that's why some of the cruise lines are introducing some form of it on their ships.
The Norwegian Jade used to be the Pride of Hawaii and I would imagine that the refit, although not complete, (it still retains some of its Hawaiian decor) has made it pretty swanky. The Star is a much older ship and I think there is a lot of virtue on cruising on a newer ship. The Jewel was newer that The Pride of America and was just that bit cleaner etc.
NCL has stationed the Jade in Europe as part of its effort to capture some of the lucrative European market. I am told that this effort involves improved customer service than you'd get on their US itineries. A lot of it comes down to the way you treat your stewards and waiting staff. Treat them nicely and they will be nice to you.
I have never cruised with Royal Caribbean and I am sure they offer a wonderful product. But to be honest, I am put off by the EXTREMELY DULL decor they use on their ships. You'd expect their ships to reflect something of the vibrancy and colour of the Caribbean and its people after which they are named, but from what I've seen of their interiors on the Internet, this is not the case. This may not influence your decision but it certainly has mine.
I should also mention that we just completed a cruise with Carnival. We had a great time but didn't really like the set time for dining. Arriving at the restaurant at the stroke of 8:15 made no difference - we were always served quite late and were some of the last people to leave! This wasn't a problem but we couldn't help compare it with our experiences with NCL. However, the quality of food served at The Golden Fleece restaurant was SUPERLATIVE! This was way better than anything we ate with NCL. I'm getting way off topic here so I'd better wrap up. We're in the process of booking our next cruise and we're going on the Jade to the Eastern Mediterranean next Autumn (Fall).
We think RCI is generally a better cruise line than NCL. The food is better (although not what it used to be), entertainment is usually a few notches better, and RCi is one of the last lines still doing traditional 1 st and 2nd sittings for dinner. NCL has moved away from the traditional cruise model and features lots of different restaurants (about half of which charge supplements). RCI also has one of the best kids programs, although the importance of this really depends on the number of days at sea. If the price is comparable, we would recommend RCI. If NCL is hundreds cheaper, than you might want to factor in cost.
I had to pull this back up and add to my comments above. You say the cruise is in January. I am not sure the kids programs will matter since most children are in school in January. In fact, I would expect your kids will find few playmates that time of the year.