My husband and I are both 24 and neither of us had been to Europe before. We chose this trip based on the itinerary. I had done a ton of research prior to picking an itinerary, including but not limited to the attractions each of the port cities had to offer, the distance between the port and the destination city, and the DIY-ability of each port. I will say that I bought Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports guide book several months before our cruise and researched all our ports excessively before we left so that I knew exactly what to expect, how much money to budget for each port, and how to utilize public transportation; in addition, Steves gives great background and history for all of the sites in each location.
We embarked from Venice and decided to stay overnight the night before our cruise and the night after our cruise. We took the ACTV aerobus to/from Marco Polo/P. Roma (6 Euro/person each way). Both nights we stayed at Casa di Sara, which is a four room bed and breakfast in the Dorsoduro district; the owner (Nello) was amazing, he totally accommodated our early check-in after debarkation, held our luggage, gave us our room keys, and had our room ready early. In addition, on the morning of our embarkation, we checked out, then they gave us a gate key and a front door key so that we come back and get our luggage before boarding the ship (someone is not always at the desk). If we ever go back to Venice, we will stay at Casa di Sara! It was nice having two extra nights for Venice -- it gave us time to see all the sights and take a gondola ride (which I booked ahead of time through City Discovery, but be aware that the meeting point is not in the Hotel Danieli as advertised, it is across the bridge next to the Hotel Danieli in the tourist office); we saved a lot of money by pre-booking a gondola ride.
The Ship: The NCL Jade was a beautiful ship -- we really enjoyed the Hawaiian-themed decor and didn't think it was cheesy like so many others have said in their reviews, but maybe we like cheesy now and again. The pool area was nice, but I wish it would have been bigger...in the mornings, there was a deck attendant marking the backs of saved deck chairs with a time sticker and they were upholding the "30 minute save rule" to the best of their abilities, but as the days went on, this seemed to get harder and harder to police.
Activities: There were plenty of activities planned throughout the day (trivia, music, cooking demos, etc), but coming off a Carnival cruise, we didn't find as many appealing activities that we wanted to partake in compared to Carnival. However, we still had a fantastic time - we brought card games and books and really enjoyed people watching.
Service: We received great service. Our room steward Antonio was fantastic and always greeted us by name whenever we saw him. It was funny because the room steward in the next group of cabins learned our names too...and it took him a couple days to realized that were not staying in his cabin group. The servers in the dining rooms were very attentive and accommodated our requests and slight substitutions to our meals, and from observation, they did this with other guests as well. The crew at the Guest Services desk were also helpful in answering any questions we had.
Ports/Excursions: Please see my port reviews for Dubrovnik, Athens, Izmir, and Split.
Travel to Port of Embarkation: Since we were staying in Venice, we walked from our hotel to P. Roma where we rode the "People Mover" tram to the cruise port, then walked to the check-in for NCL. There were probably 3-5 other ships all checking in at the same time, so it was a little confusing trying to figure out where to go, so we had to ask for directions several times from the staff of other cruise lines. We were able to board at noon and our stateroom was ready at 1230; our luggage was delivered in the early afternoon.
Stateroom: We stayed in an inside cabin, category ID, on deck 9 (room 9169). On our previous cruise, we had an aft-facing balcony cabin, which was incredible, so I was a little apprehensive about an inside cabin, but it was just fine -- I almost didn't even notice that we didn't have a window. There are also 3 mirrors in the cabin, which made it feel much bigger than it actually was. The bathroom was huge and the shower was about the size that one would find in a house (on Carnival, one person could barely turn around in the shower -- and I'm petite). We were happy with our room.
Dining: There are two main dining rooms (Grand Pacific and Alizar -- we never ate at the Alizar, only the Grand Pacific as the Grand Pacific was aft and we could sit at a window table all the way in the back of the ship), the Grand Pacific was also open for breakfast and lunch. There was an inside buffet (Garden Cafe) and the outside aft buffet; it is difficult to find a table during peak times at breakfast and lunch, but Papa's Italian Kitchen dining room is open for buffet seating during these times and many people did not seem to catch on to that, so there was plenty of seating in there. Other complimentary options included a poolside grill and a 24 hour diner. In addition, there were several pay restaurants, but we chose not to make reservations at them because there were enough options that were included in the price of cruise without needing to pay extra for other dining options. On the menu each night, there was a section that changed daily and a section that stayed the same everyday, we always found something we liked. With Freestyle dining, there were TV monitors all over the ship detailing how busy each eatery was at various times...we went to dinner every night right when the dining room opened to beat the rush and didn't have to worry about being assigned a pager like those who chose to eat later into dinner service.
Entertainment: The evening shows in the Stardust Theater were incredible. There was a magic duo who performed amazing illusions; a husband/wife duo who are classically trained in ballet and performed balancing acts and aerial acts (i.e. aerial hoop, aerial silks); SHOUT, the musical; a tenor opera singer who could sing in five different languages; and the famous ELEMENTS show, which highlighted the magician and the aerial couple along with the entire theater cast. We were more than satisfied with the entertainment! There were also fun games like "The Perfect Couple" and "The Newlywed Game". In addition, the musicians were fantastic and put on great shows in the lounges.
Disembarkation was a breeze! We disembarked independently and picked up colored luggage tags based on the approximate time that we wanted to leave the ship; after disembarking and picking up our luggage at baggage claim, we walked back to the People Mover tram and then walked to our hotel from P. Roma. For those with post-cruise transfers to the airport, to an NCL sponsored hotel, or to a shore excursion, their luggage tags and instructions for disembarking were delivered to their stateroom.
Summary: All in all, we had such a great experience on NCL and are already planning our next cruise for next summer (the Baltic Capitals cruise with NCL)! BOTTOM LINE: YOUR VACATION AND YOUR CRUISE IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT. IF YOU HAVE A BAD ATTITUDE AND LET THE TRIVIAL THINGS BOTHER YOU, YOU WILL NOT HAVE A GOOD TIME. RELAX, GO WITH THE FLOW, AND MAKE WONDERFUL MEMORIES!