This was my second time cruisng with NCL, my husband's first. I didn't like my first cruise with them but realize after many cruises, that the newer the ship and longer the cruise, the nicer. We really enjoyed the Freestyle cruising because we dislike having to be at the dining room at a particular time. The Freestyle gives you a window of time to dine and you can always request a table for two. You never eat with the same guests, unless that's your desire.
We arrived in Barcelona a few days early but we should have added one more day, I was so exhausted from the flight that I just wanted to hit the hotel bed once we arrived so the first day was pretty much wasted in that way.
Embarkation: Relatively smooth although we had a hitch. I believe we got a new embarkation agent and when I tried to board the ship I was stopped because my room/ship card was inactive. It was resolved after a couple attempts at the guest svcs desk. These employees were all very friendly and helpful.
Dining: We ate all but two dinners in the dining room and opted for the buffet those other evenings. The breakfast and lunch buffets were very good, well-stocked and nice variety. ALL THE DINING & BUFFET STAFF WERE VERY, VERY FRIENDLY.
Excursions: Expensive, but for the most part if you're going to Europe then you've got to see places. When we cruise the Caribbean it's more for relaxation so we don't partake in as many excursions. If you do your research you could do some of the ports on your own. We met a couple young college students who did this. They checked the train schedules and saved hundreds this way. The only things is you are taking a risk. They took the train into Rome, which was an hour+ ride one-way. We paid close to $500 for our Rome excursion. They said they were running back to the ship with only 20 minutes to spare. Apparently, that day the trains in Rome were running differently than scheduled because of a holiday of some sort. They were young so they could handle it, but I wouldn't want THAT much adventure. We enjoyed all the excursions: In Cannes, we took the Monaco and City of Eze tour. Eze was very cool. In Livorno, we toured Pisa and Lucca. I'd been to Pisa and could have missed it and it wasn't that great the second time around either, but if you've never been then you need to go and knock it off your list. Lucca was a gem. We bought some bottles of olive oil there and are ready to go back for more. It's fortified down with lots of history, and quaint shops & cafe. Put Lucca on your list. Rome: We took the Coliseum, St. Peter's and St. Clemente Church tour. I been to the first two places as a child, but took more in as an adult. If we went back via cruise I'd consider taking the train on our own but just give a lot more time for travel. We wouldn't need to see these three places so we wouldn't be running around frantically trying to take everything in. In Naples we took the Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii tour. Very interesting, but the city of Naples was pretty dirty. Trash everywhere, the entire ride up to Mt. Vesuvius. I later heard a few stories. That it's because the sanitation workers are on strike or it's all owned by the Mafia. Malta: Beautiful port! We walked around the city on our own, toured the Upper Barraca Gardens, toured the church and saw Michaelangelo's famous Beheading of St. John the Baptist painting and took a taxi for $35 to see The Blue Grotto. The guy wanted $50. Absolutely amazing scenery there. Unfortunately, we didn't give ourselves enought time because they small, lively colored tour boats that take you in the caves of the Blue Grotto. If we ever go back we'll do the tour for sure. In Palma de Mallorca the weather was rainy but we still enjoyed a tour to Valldemossa. A lovely village up in the northern mountains. The pianist Chopin and French writer George Sands stayed in a small church there. Michael Douglas also used to own a building there and then sold or donated it to the city where it has now become a museum. If I recall correctly. Sorry if I'm getting my facts mixed up!! In Cagliari and Messina we tour the city on foot on our own. Neither place was that impressive to us. Cagliari has a open-top tour bus that you can catch at various locations and for 10 Euros you'll tour the City. We started to wait in line and after 40 minutes gave up. We figured with as slow as it was going and our position in line meant we had at least another hour to wait. A couple we befriend waited but later told us the tour was a waste of time.
Entertainment: We only took in a few shows but they were fabulous. One was a British Invasion theme and the other with the full cast was set in the 40's (I think). We skipped the comedian because he had somewhat raunchy comedy and the puppetry show. I think the puppets would be a good show for children.
OVERALL: We enjoyed our cruise and excursions, although the excursions cost as much as one of our passages. We will sail NCL again and in fact took advantage of an onboard special where you put $250 down, which is then applied to your next NCL cruise as the only necessary down-payment. You have to cruise within a year and a half, but they also gave us $100, (or was it $200) onboard credit applied to the cruise we were on. They add $12 per person, per day at the end of the cruise as tips and we were tempted to decrease the amount because it was $240, but then we thought: The room and dining staff were so friendly. They work day and night, months on end, sending money home to their families who they don't see for six months at a time and realized how blessed we are to be able to take this cruise. Please don't decrease the tip amount unless it's an absolutely valid reason, which I believe will be few & far between. The staff greeted us Good Morning, Day, and Evening daily and always with a smile. They earned it! Oh yeah, I almost forgot they have free Espresso, Cappucino & Lattes on board AND the bathroom is large enough that the toilet area and shower both have sliding doors. No more shower curtains sticking to your leg!