Well just to get the bad things out of the way - as someone mentioned in a previous review, 1st September was still school holidays for Italian children, so if you are travelling without kids, I'd advise you to postpone your cruise till after that one week. Generally the Italian children (and adults) were very noisy and quite inconsiderate to other passengers (I do apologise to Italian people reading this who are not like that). The kids were running around the ship till really late at night and the fairly large family groups that tended to travel together paid no attention to other people. We heard quite a number of people complaining about this, and we did feel that our enjoyment was rather spoiled during that first week by all the noise.
We loved our cabin, never having booked a balcony before - it was great being able to go out there and relax, and get the views without having always to go out on deck. We appreciated the coffee machine that was in the room, with a selection of filter coffee and various types of tea bags. We didn't like the regular coffee on board, and found all sorts of ways of trying to improve it (e.g. adding some hot milk from the porridge area at breakfast!). We enjoyed the meals in the main restaurant, and only paid a supplement when we went to the Jazz Brunch at the French Bistro. We went mainly to enjoy the Jade Band playing - great all round musicians.
We enjoyed most of the shows, though we both found the amplification too loud, and it wasn't necessary when good musicians and singers were performing - in my opinion it distorted the quality of the sound. I found myself putting my hands over my ears at times. However, other people didn't seem to be bothered by it at all.
I have mixed feelings about freestyle cruising, and about the size of the ship. I know it's not a large ship by today's standards, but compared to the five or six hundred we've had previously on Thomson and Voyages of Discovery, it was quite different. We chatted with a lot of people, but seemed to be on our own a lot more than we had been on previous cruises, and it was not so easy to really get to know anyone. My husband loved it because he didn't need to get dressed up.
The choice of ports was brilliant, and we had a variety of types of tours or do-it-yourself visits to the different ports. I ordered a few private tours and bus tours through links I found on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor, and they all worked out very well. The rest we did our own thing, which was also good. I felt I made the right decision to book tours for Ephesus, Athens, and Olympia. At Dubrovnik we mainly walked around the old town walls, which was great. At Santorini, we paid about 20 Euros for a boat and bus to Oia and bus from Oia to Fira later on, which we felt worth it because it made getting about the island so much easier. We watched the sunset from Fira and then walked back to the ship down the donkey trail (quite a challenge in the approaching darkness, as there were still donkeys and donkeys' trailings afoot!). It was a great day - Santorini is beautiful. Sailing in and out of Venice is not to be missed, especially as they may stop the cruise ships sailing down the Grand Canal eventually, due to pressure from the locals. We ended up with four lots of photos as we sailed out and in, and then out and in again on our two-week back to back cruise. Each time the light and the weather was different, so it made for a new set of photos to be taken!
I suppose the final way I can sum up is to say that we came back wanting to go on another cruise as soon as we can! It might not necessarily be on NCL, but we would certainly be happy to sail on Norwegian Jade again.