We're Midwesterners and this was our big 25th anniversary getaway. We chose this cruise based on the itinerary, and researched the ship as a secondary issue.
My only MAJOR Disappointment with this cruise was that it ended. We loved the ship, and especially loved Barcelona as a home port.
My main minor disappointment was the quality of the "basic" coffee on the ship not being up to my home standards. We also experienced one "glitch" with the ship that was inconvenient, and took almost two days to resolve—a malfunctioning phone in our room. This prevented us from getting a wakeup call on an excursion morning, prevented friends from contacting us, and also prevented room service from contacting us prior to bringing breakfast. NCL's staff was reasonably responsive, even lending out a spare portable phone, but we had some anxious moments because of it.
Other that the coffee, in general food was great. (except the coffee). Quality was better than we expected, with good variety and quality even in the included venues like Taste and Garden cafe. It was especially nice to be able to order more than one appetizer apiece! For the specialty restaurants, the quality of Le Bistro befitted a special night out, and La Cucina was similar to some of our local Italian establishments in service and food .
"Nickel and diming"—we were well prepared to pay the extra cover charges for the food, drink and treat options we chose, as well as the daily service charges and automatic gratuities. But here's one we weren't expecting—Spanish VAT (value added tax). ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition"?) Although one can get refunds for this on items purchased on board over a certain amount (~$90 for you big jewelry shoppers), be prepared for yet another additional 8% on drinks and restaurant charges over the above. I expect to hear more outcry on this forum about this issue, as it kind of appeared out of nowhere to us. But I wouldn't say it slowed us down or changed our plans. We didn't buy any spa services, nor do we gamble, so that wasn't an issue.
Layout—a true open air jogging track would be nice, and I think we would have enjoyed a true promenade deck in the late evenings if it existed. Hopefully that will be fixed on the new ships in process.
Smoking—honestly we were more bothered by this on the streets of Barcelona than on the ship, and we're pretty sensitive to it. Occasionally we'd catch a whiff of someone smoking below or forward of us on our balcony, but nothing more than a whiff. Even walking through the casino, it would be briefly noticeable, but gone once we moved on.
Entertainment—as I said, we did take in Blue Man Group, which was a fun diversion, but didn't really blow us away. Also enjoyed a set of Slam Allen, and occasionally stopped to listen in on other live music around the ship. We also took in the short ~45 min performance of the Spanish Ballet, which was colorful and energetic, but seemed poorly suited for Headliners. We skipped the Cirque, Legends, and Stephen Sorrentino, and unfortunately didn't work-in a Howl at the Moon engagement.
Itinerary and ports—other than Palma, which is very pretty, there's not much to be said for the immediate ports of call-—Livorno, Civitavecchia, and Naples are all huge industrial ports. Interesting to watch, but mostly something to get away from on an excursion as quickly as possible. It is important to note that especially in Rome, the influx of thousands of cruise passengers can really make the popular tourist destinations very congested. In Italy we were docked next to Carnival Magic every day, and their 4000 guests seemed to want to be in all the same places as our 4000 guests. Might be nice if there was some effort to stagger timetables.
I think I'll add that these were three amazingly busy days in port. I'm glad we chose smaller private tours, which are plentiful and offered by many reputable and experienced companies. They tend to be less expensive than the ship's tours, and I think you see more with less stress than with the big groups. I also have become an undying fan of NCL's Freestyle approach. I can't imagine having to return from days like this and needing to put on a tie, or wait for my wife to get ready with her formal gown or whatever. I so enjoyed being able to show up when and where we wanted, eat what we wanted, and do what we wanted.
Can't say enough about how enjoyable Barcelona is as a pre- and post-cruise destination. Great food, friendly, and a lot of interesting places to explore. Very walkable, tourist friendly, and easy to get around in. A great cruise and a great vacation.