Four friends of 40 years rendezvoused in JFK from NYC, Boston, Maryland, and California. We arrived in Barcelona with 2 nights reservations at Hotel Espana, a beautifully restored landmark a block from Las Ramblas and two blocks from La Boqueria, the historic market. The hotel was an excellent value, safe, with a lovely roof garden and attentive staff. We enjoyed a two hour "Free Walking Tour" of the oldest part of the city. We were only asked to tip at the end and felt it well worth 10 plus euros apiece.
Embarcation was a breeze and we had immediate access to our cabin and met our steward. He unlocked the connecting door between our cabins, although the balconies could not be connected. After an excellent sitdown lunch in Windows we unpacked (plenty of room) and toured the ship. On that first day I noticed something that persisted throughout the cruise: the crew and staff were upbeat, happy, helpful, and generally a pleasure to encounter. Also persistent was the high quality of the food and the speedy service in Windows, a far cry from our NCL cruise of 2010. NCL has been listening to cusomer feedback: the beds were quite comfortable and there were extra pillows in the room.
We always had ice in our room and each towel animal exceeded the previous one. Room service with coffee and rolls was always early. I didn't lose much in the casino. My soda card ALWAYS got me a smile with my soda.
I went to 3 shows and felt the quality was higher than it used to be. One featured light opera, another a former Australian child star and singer. The piano/champagne bar had good music.
There was less conspicuous consumption, that is fewer "sales" of souvenirs than in the past.
I will review the ports separately. I booked independent tours for 6 ports and was highly satisfied with the quality and the cost, compared to the ship's tours. All were in Mercedes minivans. I knew before we left that we would be in some ports on Mayday weekend, which is "bigger" than Christmas in Europe, and verified with the tour companies alternatives to the sights that were closed. We also chose not to stand in line for hours to see a building, so even though St. Peter's was open, we went to the Basilica of the Popes.
One port is not listed in the available ports to review: Toulon, the gateway to Provence. We used Franck of Revelations Tours who was marvelous. He stayed with us all day, accompanying us into the Sunday market in Aix, and lunching with us in Castellet. He really knows the area and we thoroughly enjoyed him. This is the second time I have used Revelations, previous Michel LeGrand took us through the French Riviera. An excellent company that focuses on the history and legends.
We arrived in Venice at 2 pm in the afternoon and had a lovely evening in the city, returning via ship's water taxi to sleep. Quite pleased that the ship only charged us one way for the taxi. Disembarcation was very easy, and getting ourselves to our hotel in Venice was only slightly less easy. I do not recommend hauling a 29 inch suitcase to the People mover, but once at the Vaporetto stop, the crew was very helpful with the luggage. Our hotel was the Hotel Ala, a Best Western 1 stop on Line 1 from St. Mark's Square (s. Guglio) Our room had a canal view and gondoliers and was on a quiet square, 3 blocks from St. Marks. Excellent rate. My second time to stay there.
Any negatives? Well, the shower didn't drain well every time but they fixed it. Yes, the ship was sometimes late into port, but not very. We had a storm to sail through the first night, and this was this ship's first Med cruise,so I imagine the captain was extra cautious. All in all, a wonderful cruise, and my opinion of NCL has grown immensely.