The holiday was booked as a post-university examination/welcome work break for mother and daughter. The 'people-mover' from Piazza Roma to The cruise port is good. MUST look out for the free bus shuttle service from the people-mover stop to the cruise terminal - we didn't - literally just as you walk through the automated barriers on the road before the terminal gates.
The check-in service was good, relatively quick despite going at the busiest time (approx. 15 mins at 1:00pm). The cruise was booked before Xmas, and we decided to book the cheapest available room - unassigned - so on arrival we had to go to a luggage drop-off desk to have one assigned. We were prepared for an inside stateroom, Deck 4, so were pleasantly surprised by the 'upgrade' to an obstructed ocean view stateroom on deck 8. Moral of this tale is if you're thinking of booking the cheapest room take a punt on the unassigned option if you're prepared to take it and book early! The bags were delivered and room was made up before our arrival at 4pmish following our brief excursion into Venice.
If you are used to a ship with a large central atrium like Royal Caribbean, this does not have one, and thus leaves you slightly disorientated. Its not a huge issue when at sea when for some reason orientating yourself was easier. The lack of central focal point meant it was often necessary to think about where on the ship and where I was going - not much of an issue for us once we thought about it but could be an issue with children. We never attended any shows whilst on the ship, but did attend some of the evening trivia events which were fun (we won a pack of cards) and the towel-folding demonstration - which is worth popping in for, especially if you have children or were wondering how to make the animals left in your room.
We dined at the Grand Pacific every evening, and one morning for breakfast. There was only two of us and we never had to share a table, but were offered the option should we have preferred that, and were sat in a window, or adjacent to one on 6 out of the 7 evenings, and for breakfast. The buzzer system on NCL worked well, you went to the entrance, and if busy, were handed a buzzer which took no longer than 20 mins to alert you to a ready table (Host Garry was especially helpful with this). Service was good in both the dining room and the garden café (despite the slightly irritating 'happy happy, washy washy' mantra). The choice in the dining room was good, with a standard menu available each night, a daily menu and a chef/port speciality that changed each day. Garden café was decent if a bit repetitive. Seats were always available in the garden café - or neighbouring papa's kitchen before dinner, which is nicer to sit in. We managed to get a seat outside most of the time, on sea days it was harder - we found eating a later lunch increased the chance of getting a seat out there. Otherwise, we took food to the sun loungers we had. The dining room was very accommodating with food choices - we don't like steak, and when the surf 'n' turf option was on, they replaced the steak with extra lobster! We purchased a pepsi pass, which was well worth it in our opinion. They did offer juices at breakfast, a few juice and iced tea options and coffee/tea at no extra cost, so if you are happy with those, I wouldn't bother getting a pass. We aren't big drinkers but if you are looking for an all inclusive pass, the Jade did one that was approx. $400 which included soft drinks, alcoholic drinks and gratuity for the entire stay, as pints are approx. $6 and cocktails/wine approx. $8, it could be worth considering. The chocaholics buffet on the last evening was a highlight, some of the creations were very impressive.
We never struggled to get a sun lounger, even on the sea days, but we were up and on deck by 930ish (not too early!), this being said, they weren't by the pool which was full - we were happy about this as we preferred deck 13, which was quieter, but if you want one by the pool be prepared to mark your territory early. The cabins provide you with a beach towel rather than collecting them pool-side, and have a swap service near the poolside bar if you wish to change them for a clean one mid-week.
Having travelled a lot in Europe, and been on other cruise lines before, we have used public transport for all previous excursions in Europe, including difficult port travel stops such as Civitavecchia - Rome and Livorno - Florence. We found that the NCL excursions were as expensive as any other liner when buying tour passes and guides, however, the 'do it on your own' options were relatively cheap and a better alternative than organising something yourself. We used the Dubrovnik and Athens 'do it yourself' bus transfers, which were efficient, affordable and time saving, the first costing $12 and the latter costing $29 each. The Dubrovnik trip took you from the ship to the old city walls, and the Athens tour went from the cruise terminal to the temple of Zeus, about 200m from the Acropolis ticket station. NOTE TO STUDENTS - you get free entry if you can prove you attend a uni in the EU. Dubrovnik and Split were the highlights of the cruise - we loved it there!! Athens was hot, busy and dirty, worth it to see the Acropolis and alike, but slightly underwhelming for me after seeing Rome and Florence on a previous cruise. Izmir is a working city, functional and non-touristy in the main. Having visited rubble at Athens the previous day, and with my Mum returning to Ephesus on a cruise later in the year, we never bothered with the excursions to there. It isn't the best of stops, and NCL should probably consider somewhere else, but we heard from fellow cruisers that the trips to Ephesus were quite good. Best to get up early on the day to Split, they launch lifeboats as tenders, so obviously not the largest boats. Tickets are available from 9am by the pool - get one early to maximise your trip to the city. We were group 8, and were at the harbour within an hour of the first boat full leaving the ship.
The relaxed ethos of the cruise was a good fit for us, with some more dressy occasions in the grand pacific dining room available for us properly dress up. There was a wide range of ages, groups and nationalities, showing the ship and the staff's diversity and ability to accommodate all.
It is not a ship for someone who seeks the formality of some ships, but otherwise would suit most people, especially first-time cruisers.