Wow -- I'm not sure why it took me so long to take my first cruise! I just returned from a 12-day Mediterranean cruise on the Norwegian Jade, and definitely it was a trip of a life-time!
My partner and I flew into Barcelona a day before our cruise was to depart. We enjoyed site-seeing and nightlife in Barcelona, before heading to the port around 2pm on our embarkation date. The port was rather busy, but check-in was a breeze, and once through we were able to have immediate access to our room. We had a partially-obstructed view cabin; it was actually much more spacious than I thought it would be, and there was much storage space. It was so nice to unpack for 12 days and concentrate on site-seeing in all the great ports, rather than hauling luggage around.
The 12 days on the Jade flew by. There was never a moment to be board, from eating and drinking, to hanging out on the decks, to watching (and participating in) the entertainment. We wound up doing martini tastings almost every other day (the staff at Mixers Bar was GREAT!), and spending much of our time in the Spinnaker Bar at nights. The cruise director's staff was rather amazing and personable, and we got to meet several. BIG kudos to Gabby, who was omni-present, from hosting karaoke night to waving us off the boat in the morning; we wound up hanging out with her several evenings. (I'd also say that our room stewards were excellent; I swear, they were in our room like 3 times a day, always making sure that things were picked up.)
We really enjoyed the food, too. The only negative thing I would have to say about the Jade is that the buffet ALWAYS felt crowded. Despite the fact that 2000+ passengers were on the ship, it never felt crowded...except for the buffet at meal times. By day 2 we were already eating most of our meals at the sit down restaurants on board. The main dining rooms offered good taste and great variety, and many evenings we would have several appetizers and desserts. Le Bistro was well-worth the up-charge, but the Italian one was just average. Teppanyaki was good, as was Jasmine Garden. But, if you really didn't want to pay extra, you didn't have to, because the food (even at the buffet) was good all over.
The ports, of course, were the reason we booked this trip in the first place. We did Rome on our own, and found the train very easy (and affordable) to take into and out of the city. Athens was a little bit more difficult, as the walk to the train station is a little farther, and the taxi drivers at the port can be a little aggressive. The subway ride into the city should normally be a quick one, but in our case there was construction, so we had to take a bus part of the way. But, all-in-all, Athens is easy to get into and out of.
Izmir was the most surprising port for us. We weren't expecting the city to be as modern was it was, or the scenery to be as beautiful as it was. We had arranged a private company for our tour, and greatly enjoyed seeing all the sites in a small group. In Cairo, we did the NCL excursion to the Pyramids, and though we had a lovely time, it was very rushed (I guess that happens when you're trying to get 40+ people around). The city was surprisingly busy and polluted, and the vendors are VERY aggressive. But just steer clear of them when you can and sternly shake your head no to them if you aren't interested, and they'll leave you alone.
Malta was a nice final port on the itinerary. We LOVED the entrance into the port, the medieval character of the city, and the fact that everyone was very friendly and helpful and we felt like we fit right in. Leaving Malta, the weather changed quickly, and the temperature dropped and the wind kicked up. We had 20+ foot tall waves our last day which made for a very rocky trip back into port.
I neglected to mention all the great fellow passengers we met on board. Our first day, we'd already met several people whom we would spend most of our time with while on the cruise, and within just a couple days, we'd amassed a group of "regulars" who we kept hanging out with, touring with, and dining with. With 2000+ people on the ship, its easy to find many people who are also looking to meet people and enjoy their time at sea.
Quick summary: wonderful time on the boat, wonderful friends, wonderful staff, wonderful food, and wonderful ports. We had such a good time, we've already put down a deposit on our next NCL cruise. Baltic Capitals, here we come!