This was our fourth cruise, though the first aboard a smaller ship (680 ish passengers vs 2,500+ on the first 3 cruises with Costa and Celebrity). We are a family of 3, parents in the mid-40s with a six year old daughter.
We embarked out of Athens (Piraeus) flying in the night before. Having been to Athens previously, that removed the need to visit Athens prior to embarking. This enabled us to enjoy a nice dinner with a friend on Friday night and the hotel services (with a rooftop view of the Acropolis) as well (Athens Imperial - Eur 99 for a triple which we thought was a good deal.
Embarking - We had heard that the embarkation process on a smaller ship would be quite easy. We even arrived during the recommended time (after 2pm). However, the "check-in" and security lines were longer than expected and we did not receive the expedited service treatment we received from other lines for having a younger child. Then the power shorted out while in line to board the ship resulting in an additional wait while that was sorted out. Other than that....
Not as much closet space as we have experienced elsewhere. Had to lift the beds up to stick the suitcases under
We did the excursion to Meteorola. While the 2 hour bus ride was a bit long, the views from the cathedrals' built on 200 foot high rocks was fabulous (and well worth it). Highly recommended. Also had very nice buffet lunch at a hotel / resort with views of Meteorola (one of the best meals we had on the trip).
We went off on our own here which I would recommend as very doable (don't bother with the $5/way shuttle, not a far walk). Nice Cathedral, very cheap shopping and nice old town/pedestrian area full of dining/drinking/shopping options. We also spent time on a very nice beach in town. Swimming in the Black Sea is recommended (quite refreshing, much more lake like than ocean like in terms of salinity).
Note that we also heard several complaints from people who took tours from Easy Varna to Nessebeur (sp?).
We love Istanbul, but have spent time here before, so we opted to visit on our own. Seeing Topkapi Palace (very nice architecture and views) and then touring around a bit on our own. Be prepared to bargain for pretty much anything (there is a reason that even trinkets like magnets do not have prices on them).
Our tablemates did the Elite Istanbul tour (actually by mistake, checked the wrong box) and loved the tour (this was only one of two tours on the cruise that they had much positive to say and they took several).
Beautiful port. What not to like. We did on our own again as we had been here before.