We have taken 10 cruises over the years, and 6 of them have been with NCL. We were on teh SS Norway over 20 years ago; between July 2008 and April 2009, we sailed 3 times on the Jewel. We sailed on the Jade for the most recent 2 cruises.
We took back-to-back cruises on the Norwegian Jade in February 2010, sailing from Barcelona return. The first cruise covered the Western Mediterranean in 9 days, and the second one was the Eastern Mediterranean in 12 days.
Check-in at the port in Barcelona was efficiaent and smooth. After check-in we were directed to the other terminal building to wait for embarkation. The wait was 2 hours, and NCL provided orange juice and water, and entertainment. Food was available for puechase at a restaurant in the building. We had to wait so long to embark th eship because there were several cases of norovirus on the previous cruise, and the ship and to be deep-cleaned and sanitized. If people who take cruises would follw the simple rules of frequent handwashing and use of sanitizers, plus reporting their illness sooner, then perhaps others would not have to wait so long to board the ship. When we returned to Barcelona afte our second cruise there were no cases of norovirus.
The Jade, once called the Pride of Hawai'i thus explaining the Hawai'ian/Southeast Asian dEcor and theme, is a very nice ship. Knowing that the ship had kept its original dEcor and themes, it was still quite a surprise to see Hawai'ian dEcor everywhere. That said, you soon get used to it and begin appreciating the other aspects of dEcor; NCL, it has been said, may return the Jade to its original Hawai'ian routes and so has not made plans to re-decorate the ship. It is not the dEcor of the ship that makes the cruise enjoyable; it is the itinerary and the personnel who work on board that make the cruise vacation the wonderful and pleasant experience it should be.
The Western Mediterranean took us to Casablanca and Agadir (Morocco), Las Palmas (Gran Canaria, Spain), Funchal (Madeira, Portugal) and Malaga (Spain). Except for Casablanca, we enjoyed all these ports. The only thing we found worth visiting in Casablanca was the Hassan II mosque. It is said to be the second largest mosque in the world, second only to Medina, Saudi Arabia. It is a beautiful structure and has expansive grounds, but we were not allowed to enter since we are not Muslims.
Casablanca is not the city of the movie bearing its name. It is a difficult city to get around in on foot. Most people we met spoke only Arabic and very limited English. That said, they were able to direct us to the mosque. The sidewalks are broken or uneven and very dirty, so you have to watch where you walk. Many of the buildings are falling down, which I am sure is the result of an earthquake. It is the result of a disaster that no one seems to have noticed or cares about.
In Agadir, we took a tour, particularly after our experience in Casablanca. Adagir was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in1960, and it has undergone massive reconstruction turning it into a modern city with wide avenues and new buildings. The port itself is under reconstruction. A tour is recommended here for 2 main reasons: 1. the ship docks far from the city, and 2. there is so much to see in this sprawling city.
We took a tour which brought us to a souk, and a Moroccan "department" store that sold typical Moroccan goods, and to a Kasbah. Be careful at the Kasbah. Although you get a wonderful panoramic view of Agadir, the 'blue' men (they wear blue robes) will offer you a camel ride, the opportunity to hold or pet a baby goat, or to have snake around your shoulders. Everything is for a photo and everything has a price.
In Las Palmas and Malaga and Funchal, we did not take tours. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is vary clean and is typically Spanish. It is worth just roaming around the city. Our ship docked very close to the main part of town, and was literally across the street from the shopping mall! Being speakers of Spanish, this city was not a problem for us to visit. Tours are available, but you can visit this port on your own by walking around or taking the local city buses and then walking down along the beach. We enjoyed our walk back to port, and we stopped for lunch at a beach-side restaurant, and ordered bocadillo de tortilla with wine, followed by coffee.
In Funchal , you can take the cable car (teleferic) to the top of the mountain to stroll around and enjoy the botanical gardens,. You may opt for the wicker sledge ride; four years ago, it cost 25 euro per couple, but it took you only halfway down the hill. From there you could take an overly-inflated taxi ride back to the port or wait for the bus, or simply walk down the street to the main road and follow the signs back to the port. (The walk is about 30 minutes from where the sledge drops you.)
The second cruise took us to Rome (Italy), Athens (Greece), Izmir (Turkey), Alexandria (Egypt) and Valetta (Malta). We took a tour in Alexandria only, and that was because of distance. The other places we visited on our own.
Rome is the Eternal City, and a visit to Saint Peter's Square, the Vatican, and the Coliseum are absolutely essential. We also saw Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, two other must-sees.
Getting to Rome from Civitavecchia is rather easy. From the port, you can walk to the train station and once there you purchase a 9-euro ticket which ids good for the day. It allows you to use the train to get to and from Rome (about an hour each way), and includes the metro and buses in Rome. It is good value for money if you are not afraid to explore on your own. Get off the train at Roma - San Pietro to get to Saint Peter's Square and the Vatican. It is an easy 20-minute walk. (If you plan on visiting Saint Peter's Cathedral, expect to wait up to an hour in line to enter the church.) From there you can walk down to the metro and take the subway to various points of interest.
Athens is an interesting city. It is, from my observation, completely unplanned and that results in major chaos. We did not take a tour, and this is one other place where we should have. During our visit, the direct train line to the city centre had one station closed for repairs (which apparently happens often), which meant having to transfer to a bus, That bus took us to the next station on the line and from there we could get to city centre. Expect to spend at least an hour for this trip each way. Once in the centre, we had a lot of difficulty finding our way to Acropolis; no Athenian could give us clear directions as most of them do not speak English well, but they try. We did not find them the most accommodating of people to tourists. We got our directions from other tourists! To visit Acropolis (while we were there) cost 12 euro per person; the other ancient Greek sites on the hill have varying prices. We declined the visits, but they are included with the tours you choose!!
A very important note: While you are visiting Rome and Athens on your own and if you take any form of public transportation, be very aware of pick-pockets. Gypsies are everywhere and they are slick at pick-pocketing. Notices appear frequently on the subway in Rome with warnings, even though the buses and subways are not always crowded. In Athens, there are no such warnings, and buses, trains and subways are overcrowded. Keep a very vigilant eye on your goods and your person in the trains and subways, and, gentlemen, keep nothing in your front and rear pants pockets. In Athens, even though subways, buses and trains are overcrowded and there is only room for one person, five or six will others will get on.
Izmir, Turkey is a nice resort town. The city centre is walking distance from the port, and, if you wish, you may walk along the seaside. English is not widely spoken here, and that makes communications very difficult. However, the people we met while there were extremely nice and they tried very hard to help us. If you are looking for good quality leather goods, this is the place!
In Alexandria, we took a tour because the main purpose was to see the pyramids and the sphinx. We had an exceptional guide, a Muslim woman who had majored in Egyptology, for our more than 12-hour day in the area. The pyramids, the sphinx and the desert are well worth the money and time spent for this tour. There are no words adequate to explain this experience - you have to go.
While you are there, you will be approached by vendors of souvenirs of all kinds. You must haggle for every thing and settle to the price you wish to pay and the vendor accepts. If you find that the vendors bother you too much, you may ask the security guard to help you get rid of them. By the way, a security guard accompanies you on the bus during your travels between the port, the pyramids and sphinx, and Cairo, plus on your return to the ship. .
That said, if you plan to stay around Alexandria on the second day, and you plan to visit the town on your own, be prepared to be harassed as you walk along the streets near the port. Avoid eye contact with taxi drivers and horse-drawn carriage operators, and if they wave at you to catch your attention and you respond, they will bother you to take a ride with them, and they do not take a simple "No" for an answer. You will spend a lot of time negotiating your way out. Save yourself the trouble and take a tour, or better, stay on the ship or in the port area. There are some nice shops along the port, but you will have to negotiate prices for anything you want to buy.
The next port was Valetta, Malta. You can take the bus from the port up the hill to the city centre. It costs 1 euro return - do not lose your ticket! In the city centre, you can visit the museum and the co-cathedral. There are plenty of shops and Maltese crosses are available in all forms: as silver jewellery, on t-shirts, baseball caps, on tea towels, and a whole lot more.
Whether you stay in Barcelona before or after your cruise, you must visit Montjuic, Tibidabo, Parque Guell, the Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas, Plaza Cataluna. You can take "hop on / hop off" buses to get a good tour of the city. Get a metro card for 3 or 5 days and travel by subway and bus. The official language in Barcelona is Catalan, but every one speaks Spanish and some speak English. Enjoy good tapas, zarzuela (a fish and seafood dish flavoured with tomato, garlic or onion, and brandy) and tortilla de patatas (Spanish omlette with potato) and other wonderful Spanish foods accompanied with a good Spanish wine.