First time cruiser, on Norwegian Jade visiting Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens, Izmir and Split. I was very much tagging along on a family cruise with 10 other people - going on a cruise had never been on my radar and I had no idea how it worked! Initially, I was a bit perturbed by the cost, especially the compulsory daily service charge, but once on board I was really impressed with how many incredibly hard-working staff were looking after us all. The staff:passenger ratio is very high and they all do a great job of keeping the cabins/ship clean while being friendly and jolly. Definitely worth the cost. Do bear in mind while budgeting that there's an additional 15% charge on drinks (unless you have a soda package or similar) whether it's ordering a bottle of wine or a small bottle of water to take on an excursion.
Food: we tended to have breakfast and lunch in the Garden Cafe/Great Outdoors - pizza, hotdogs, burgers and salads particularly recommended. The breakfast in the Grand Pacific is lovely, cooked to order while enjoying great sea views. We had dinner in the Grand Pacific & Alizar several times - they have similar menus with alternating dishes. Very tasty, good wine at reasonable prices - a lack of variety may drive you to the other restaurants with cover charges, but if you have fairly varied tastes there will be enough different dishes to amuse you. Service in both restaurants is absolutely impeccable - very efficient and friendly.
We only tried one restaurant with a cover charge - Le Bistro. This may well have been an 'off' night but it was all very Fawlty Towers. The food - being largely quite unpleasant - wasn't a patch on the regular restaurants and the service was awful: 20 mins for wine to arrive then the waiter couldn't get the cork out. After wrestling with it for some time, he took it away somewhere then returned with a cork-less bottle (never reassuring when it's not opened in front of you!) and when we both reached the last glass it was full of cork. When we discussed it with the waiter, he fetched a manager from a different restaurant who offered us another glass of wine. So it seemed like everything was back on track but then the angry chef appeared to have a heated discussion with one of the waiters before pacing in between the tables of the restaurant bawling out someone on the phone about how there was no senior management in the restaurant and that it was supposed to be full. We regretted spending the extra $40 for the experience, although other members of our party went to Cagney's Steakhouse and thought it was fabulous.
Stateroom: we had a 5th deck stateroom. Bigger than it looked in pictures, lovely and clean, very comfortable. If you like to have a quiet space to yourself overlooking the sea and can stretch to it, a balcony would be invaluable - I wish we'd had one!
Tendering: we tendered just once in Split, all working like clockwork until one of the boats started spouting smoke and fumes, some members of our party were on board and found it all very unpleasant, not helped by being shouted at by the staff when they reached dry land and complained about the impromptu gassing.
Excursions: these can be well worth paying out for - we did one to the Acropolis in Athens and one to Ephesus, near Izmir. Great guides with excellent English - they were funny, informative and really put in the effort to give us some brilliant days out. Organisation between the cruise ship and the bus tours was totally seamless - very impressed. In most places, shuttle buses were available from the ship so you can get into the main town/city/port and do your own thing from there.
Overall, the experience was good. If you would like any quiet time, definitely fork out for a balcony - the bars/cafes/pool decks are really loud and cramped. Read up on the extras and service charges so you don't have any surprises - then sit back, relax and let a good-natured, experienced crew take care of you as you sail around a very beautiful part of the world!
Dubrovnik was lovely. The cruise ship had very efficient shuttle buses for 12 euros pp that whizzed us to the old town. We bought tickets to walk around the city walls (about £10 each) which is not for the faint-footed. Huffing and puffing up slightly slippery stone staircases is well worth it though - the views across the town are beautiful and there's a lovely cafe high up on the north side of the walls serving fresh juices with great views (even if there is a bit of a hard sell for their special fruit cocktail!). Pretty town, we're planning to go back and explore it more. Some friends did the cable car excursion highly recommended it.
We took a tender to Split - the whole process was operating very speedily until one tender filled with smoke and fumes. Some of our party were on it and not happy to be shouted at by a Jade crew member when they asked very reasonably if the problem had been fixed.
Don't miss Split - a beautiful, ancient city which has sprung from a Roman palace. We wandered around the palace (about £5 a ticket)and then the old town - lovely place, very quirky and great to see that all the ancient parts are still lived in and very much part of modern life. Croatian pizza is absolutely fantastic - Poseidon, in the old town, wedged between palace walls, was recommended to us and it was brilliant - thin, smokey pizza crust with oodles of cheese, shell-on king prawns and mussels - yum!
We took a water taxi which was a 5 min walk from the ship (15 euros return). Took us to St Mark's Square - although if you've not been to Venice the journey in past all magnificent churches, warehouses and palazzos would have been worth it! We went for a coffee in the far corner of St Mark's Square - a friend told me it would be the most wildly expensive coffee of my life but the best. He was right! It was 40 euros for 2 hazelnut cream coffees (gorgeous!) - the bill was bumped up by an obligatory 6 euro pp charge for the live band playing behind us. Yes, it was extortionate, but it was also magical, sitting outside in the bright sunshine, with fantastic views right across the square with lovely music. That was the only money we spent in Venice - we used the rest of our regrettably short time strolling around the side streets and across the lovely old bridges.