We started with four days in Barcelona, staying at the Holiday Inn near Pouble Nou - a block from a great pedestrian shopping/restaurant area - which seemed to be frequented mostly by locals rather tourists. We used the metro system to see most of the best sights of the city, Familia Sagrada, Las Ramblas, La Boqueria Market, Barceloneta etc. We boarded the Jade on a sunny day with great expectations, as we were first time cruisers. We met our Concierge, who we saw only rarely after that, while going through the concierge lounge, and occasionally she would raise her head enough to say good morning. Our Penthouse suite (9670) was adequate, although smaller than expected, and it was a hideous shade of pink. I can't imagine being comfortable in anything smaller than a Penthouse. Speaking of the bright pink of the suite, for the most part I would describe the public rooms as garish with colors that were bordering on awful! Our butler brought us "treats" every afternoon, and other than bringing us DVD movies (3 days after we asked for them) and 2 cold room service breakfasts, we saw little of her. The one person who seemed concerned with our comfort and satisfaction was our room steward Susanna, who was very conscientious and did a great job. The first night we ate at Papa's Italian Kitchen where the food and the service were very good - on a 2nd occasion we were disappointed. Being in a suite brought with it the perk of being able to have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's where the food and service were excellent. We had one meal in Paniolo's Tex Mex, some items were good, some so-so - our experience at Alizar was similar, and we felt like we were being hurried out to get more people in . Service at both was just fair. Our one meal in the Grand Pacific Dining Room was a disappointment, with poor service and so-so food, the Garden Cafe buffet was crowded with lots of mediocre food. Unfortunately we discovered Le Bistro on our last night so only had one meal there, and it was excellent. Our meals at Cagney's were by far the best. We had a bar set up in our room arranged before the cruise, which we liked, but I still have a hard time understanding charging $63 for a liter of Smirnoff vodka. We enjoyed the 2 NCL U beer tastings at Tankards and the bartenders there were very friendly and a lot of fun - the other bars we went to were very impersonal. I only hope that the 15% gratuity added to drinks actually went to the bartenders.
We enjoyed the 1st comedian on board, but otherwise felt the entertainment was lacking. I have mixed feelings about the $12 per day per person service charge because I doubt the people who really deserved the tips were adequately compensated, and some who gave little or no service were most likely tipped more than they deserved. We compensated those we felt deserved it outside this $12/day charge. Our last night at sea was very rough, which made for a not so great finish to the cruise, and I realize this was unavoidable - but as was said in another review, a word from the captain would have gone a long way in calming nerves and making for a better night. At this point, I'm not sure we will take another cruise. We have done independent, somewhat adventurous travel to 21 other countries, and although I admit that not having to pack and unpack for 12 days was nice, I really felt shortchanged in the quick tours. If not for pictures it would be hard to really remember some of what we saw and did. It did however, afford us a chance to see Cairo, the Pyramids, Sphinx & Khan El Khalili Bazaar without spending a lot of time there, and also let us see just a glimpse of a couple countries we would definitely like to spend more time in. If we were to cruise again it would probably be a relaxing Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruise or something similar, but I doubt it would be with NCL. We did have a great time on this cruise because the itinerary was incredible and most of all because of the great people we met on board.
Our suite was quiet, though small. My husband is 6'5" so had to duck to use the shower. The view from the balcony off the back of the ship was incredible and all in all we enjoyed the Penthouse Suite.
We did a private tour with other CC'ers with Rome in Limo. Our guide was good, although we felt everything was condensed into too short a time. We saw all the major sights, had time for a quick pizza and local beer, and a had very good tour of the Vatican with a private guide. We really would have loved having a week in Rome.
In Athens we decided to "do our own thing" and took buses and trains to the Acropolis until the rain started, then we went to the Old Market @ Monastiraki, shopped a little and then spent part of the afternoon at a sidewalk cafe trying some Greek foods and beer, and of course, in Greece we had to try the Ouzo. We sat and did some people watching before finding our way back to the ship.
We had for years talked of visiting Turkey, so did a private guided tour for just the 2 of us. We had a great guide from Go Ephesus, and we greatly enjoyed the drive and the beautiful green countryside from Izmir to the Virgin Mary's House, and loved the experience of Ephesus, especially the Biblical history there. Our only complaint would be the trip to the rug factory and the "hard sell" tactics there. We weren't there to buy an overpriced Turkish rug, as beautiful as they may have been. We did, though, love Turkey and hope to be able to return to spend more time there.
In Cairo we did another tour with fellow CC'ers, this one with Memphis Tours. Our guide was good, but I do think in Cairo the guides are pressured to take groups to the Papyrus Institute, Cartouche Makers, and Rug shops, all who try to use high pressure sales tactics. Once our guide knew we were unhappy with this it went better. We did have 2 in our group who wanted Cartouche necklaces made, so this stop was worthwhile, although some in other groups were able to order and get their jewelry later, while we had to wait for it to be made. Standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx was almost surreal...we all grow up seeing these things in pictures, but to be there in front of it was incredible, and something we will always be grateful for having the opportunity to do. We also enjoyed seeing Sakhara. The Khan El Khalili Bazaar was a must see for us, and it didn't disappoint. I think there were some in the group who were a little frightened - or intimidated, though I never felt threatened in any way. Don't pay more than about 35% of the asking price! Bargaining is part of the fun! The Bazaar dates back to the 1300's and should be experienced. The Nile Dinner cruise was all right, but for me the best part was the "whirling dervish" - the rest was just OK, and we were all a little tired besides. Staying at the Oberoi Mena House was incredible, it is a beautiful and comfortable hotel with Pyramid views and a great breakfast buffet, unfortunately we had too little time to enjoy it. The second day we really enjoyed the Alabaster Mosque and the Egyptian Museum, especially for us the Tutankhamen exhibit, complete with Death Mask, among other great sights. It was amazing to see! The Cairo experience is something else...from the horrific traffic, with cars and trucks, horse carts, to motorbikes with 3 or 4 people on them weaving through traffic and sharing the road in a mix of the ancient and the modern.
Malta was, (and I quote Dennis because it was so fitting) "a soft landing" after the other ports, especially Cairo. Malta is beautiful, clean, and charming. The entry into the harbour affords amazing views as does the exit after dark. We took a HOHO bus, spending 15 minutes at the Mdina (I'd have liked 4 hours). I had looked forward to buying a brass door knocker for which Malta is known, for a new house we are building, and was happy to find one I loved at the Mdina. We rode the bus partway back and got off to see St. Paul's Co-Cathedral and Museum, which was well worth the stop. After a local beer and snack at a sidewalk cafe we made our way back to the ship. We would gladly spend a month relaxing in Malta.