Embarkation:My wife and I arrived in Barcelona on Saturdaya afternoon, the day before the cruise was scheduled to leave Barcelona. This gave us approx. 24 hours to catch up on sleep, and explore a bit of Barcelona. When we arrived to the pier on Sunday at about 2pm, there was a sizeable crowd already in front of us for check-in. Regardless, we were able to check out luggage quickly (within 5 minutes), and then proceeded into the embarkation area inside the facility. After getting through security in about 5 minutes, we were then led to a separate check-in area for those with mini-suites. We were pleasently surprised by being first in line. As a result the check-in process was quick and we were given a group boarding number of "7". After waiting for about 15 minutes, our number was called and we proceeded to board the ship. All in all a painless process and off to a good start.Ship - Public Areas & Mini-Suite stateroom:Once we were on the ship we went directly to our balcony mini-suite on the port side of deck 11. Upon opening the door I was a bit dissapointed in the size. Being my second cruise and having been only on the Crown Princess (balcony mini-suite) in 2005, I couldn't help but think that the NCL gem mini-suite size compared unfavorably. There was hardly any room to walk between the bed and wall, and the overall size of the room seemed quite a bit smaller than Princess. The positives were that the balcony seemed roomier (perhaps because NCL has a very small table on the balcony), and the bathroom seemed a bit larger. I should also note that from our cabin 11594, we constantly heard banging from what seemed like above us when trying to get to sleep between 10pm-12am. We were below the Italian restaurant - La Cucina but could not believe how noisy the kitchen area apparently was. Somehow we ended up with a complimentary bottle of champagne that we are still unsure of why we received, but nonetheless a nice touch. The only other glaring drawback to the stateroom in retrospect was the limited # of television channels. Besides TMC, a sports channel, and 2 news channels, the TV offered nothing else interesting. Overall we found the public areas of the ship to be quite nice from the beginning of our trip and throughout the voyage. The only dissapointing piece was the unimpressiveness of the atrium area of the middle of the ship - but a small issue with an otherwise positive reaction to the public rooms on the ship. On the positive side, the gym and spa were both nice and the gym was never full, meaning we could always get in a workout without a crowd. Unfortunately like any ship any group class at the gym you had to pay for. The result- almost completely empty classes. What's the point? Lower the fees & you will see increased usage.Food:Unfortunately the food was dissapointing aspect of our cruise. The room service was absolutely dreadful and also confirmed by fellow cruisers. The quality of the free food - Garden Cafe (buffett), Blue Lagoon (comfort food), main dining rooms were marginal at best. You can absolutely tell that NCL skimps on the quality & quantity of the free food and instead focuses on the delivery and service of food in the cover charge restaurants. At a minimum we expected the presentation of the food (espec. desserts) to be nice in the main dining room, yet were sorely dissapointed. Princess definitely kills NCL by comparison. On the positive note the "freestyle dining" of both dinning whenever and wherever was good. There were never lines for restaurants (except for Teppenyaki), and the various options of restaurants was nice. But again, the nickle and diming of having to pay most restaurants was unfortuante. In fact, Tequila - the latin tapas restaurant is a great example. The restaurant was completely empty every single night because no cruisers were willing to pay $10/pp for burritos when that isn't even necessarily a good value on land! I can see dining at Cagney's a good steakhouse for $25/pp when it might cost $50-70/pp on land, but why would anyone pay to dine at a latin restaurant where the ingridients aren't expensive to begin with. The restaurant was so empty in fact that waiters from that restaurant would end up going to the main dining rooms to help serve food because they had nothing else to do. In my opinion NCL should consider lowering all their cover charges by $5/pp and I think they would see an uptake in the usage at the restaurants, while at the same time increasing revenue.
Small mini-suite, great balcony, & tons of noise from La Cucina above!
We embarked and disembarked in Barcelona. While we only had 1 day to explore the city, we were left with a positive impression of what the area had to offer for both historical & cultural attractions as well as food. We stayed at the Le Meridien on Las Ramblas which was a great location, but a mediocre hotel.
We decided to save a bit of money and discover Valleta on our own. We found it to be an interesting area, but not visually stimulating or offering too much in the way of fun activities.
At our stop in Naples we explored Pompeii, Sorrento, & Positano through a private touring company (RomeinLimo). We cannot recommend these places and the private touring company enough. The naples port was a great jumping off point for discovering these places and we didn't even have time to see Capri!
What can you say! There is so much to do in Rome in only about 12 hours ashore. We were able to cover most of the highlights thanks to another great private excursion through RomeinLimo. The traffic on the way into the city and the crowds at the attractions were small, but expected drawbacks.
Florence & Tusancy were the highlights of our entire cruise. We cannot wait to get back to these two areas to spend more time. We again used a private tour company to explore these areas. This day was amazing!
We saved a bit of money by avoiding NCL excursions and decided to explore Cannes on our own at the expense of missing Nice & Monaco. We found the town to be fairly nice, but can't see desiring to go back in the near future.