I'm supposed to keep this review to 2,000 words or less. Hard to do since I sent NCL a nine page letter listing all the problems with no response from them. Doesn't surprise me. I'll try to cut it way down for this.
Basically, the Gem experience was awful. This cruise was by far the worst cruise we have ever been on. When we boarded the Gem in New York we headed to the Garden Café. The cafeteria was packed. We finally found our way to The Great Outdoors dining area. Let me tell you that The Great Outdoors isn't so great when you are forced to sit there in winter in New York. We were freezing! But there was no place else to sit. Our food got cold fast, but the worst part of it all was that my husband's hot dog roll was moldy. Freestyle Cruising? What a joke this is. "Eat where you want:" We felt we already paid enough for the cruise so we didn't want to go somewhere where we had to pay the "small cover charge." So that pretty much limited us to only4 places -- not 13. Small cover charge by the way is $20! For $18.89 I can get a much better meal at the Outback Steakhouse.
"Eat when you want:" Attempted dinner at Magnolia. Thought we would eat at 7 pm. We were handed a pager and told it would be a 30 minute wait. So we leaned up against a wall and waited directly across from the woman who was handing out pagers. My son-in-law was wearing shorts. He was wearing the shorts when we put our name on the list and were handed the pager and he continued to wear those same shorts for the entire 45 minutes we waited. Finally my daughter walked up to the woman and said, "How much longer is this going to take? We've been waiting longer than the 30 minutes you told us." To which she replied, "Oh, your table has been ready for 15 minutes." Showed her the page and said, "this pager didn't work. We were not called." So we walked in and were then informed, "He can't come in here in shorts, we require pants." Information that would have been useful when we put our name on the list. We went to our cabins and pulled out the "Freestyle Daily." The back page under "For whenever you are hungry" it reads: "Dress Code: Feel free to "dress up or not" wherever you are dining. Please refrain from wearing jeans in the Grand Pacific after 5:00 pm." Nothing about Magnolia not allowing shorts. Wait staff can't get anything right. Ordered cole slaw, got fries. Ordered cranberry juice, got prune juice. Ordered eggs over easy, got scrambled. Ordered baked potato with sour cream, got whipped cream. Hamburgers were either raw or burnt. You need a magnifying glass to locate your vegetable serving. Their "8 oz" steak is about ¼ of the size of Outback's 7 oz Victoria's filet. With the exception of the Gazpacho or tomato soup, all the other soups are horrible. Meats fatty. Chicken tasteless and dry. Why would anyone want "green tea" ice cream? The pastries were stale, hard and awful. The coffee dispensers were usually not working. "Free" restaurants were usually packed. We had to wait.
The Garden Café was always full during regular meal times. By the time we found seating for 5, our food was cold. While the "free" restaurants were packed full with long waiting times, the "small cover" charge restaurants were empty. Lots of empty tables at Orchid Garden. There always seemed to be plenty of room at Le Bistro as well and while waiting to sit at the Blue Lagoon, Tapas was completely empty.
Private Island experience. It was not pretty, it was not clean, it was basically a dumpy place. Started to follow the signs that read "to lighthouse," but quickly saw another sign that said, "Leaving NCL Property." So how much of it is actually NCL Property? It looked pretty sketchy. Garbage piled up along the trail. The line for food on the NCL island was even worse than the line for food at the Garden Café. We stood in line for over 40 minutes. The end result -- I got a raw hamburger. The cooks couldn't keep up with the amount of people trying to eat at noon so they just passed the burgers over the fire and threw it onto the plate.
Activities were limited and boring. The cruise director and staff were dull. Bingo was boring and expensive. The shows were not that good. The comedian was particularly awful. The Theater was hot. I know it was December, but when you cram a theater full of people, it gets hot. Air conditioning would have been helpful.
Getting off the ship in Port Canaveral was a nightmare. It was not organized. Everyone tried to get off at once and this resulted in jam packed hallways and staircases. Had there been an emergency, no one could have gotten help. Don't know how disembarkation was at Nassau and Freeport because we waited two hours to get off the ship for fear that we would once again be packed like sardines trying to get off.
TV or lack thereof. All we got was Fox News and CNN. Plus it was so out of sync that the lips didn't match up with the words. In fact, one time there was a woman talking on the screen, but it was a man's voice coming out of her mouth. That was actually funnier than the comedian on the Gem.
The last night of the cruise was the alcohol "pick up" between 6 and 11 pm. There were a couple of raffles going on in the duty free stores at the same time. We once again found ourselves in a very long line, with lots of people pushing and shoving. People crammed in the store trying to listen to numbers being called for the raffle, other's trying to make their way to their bottles. It was a mess. There has to be a better way to pick up alcohol. I think pick up should be in the always empty Orchid Garden restaurant.
Disembarkation in New York. Yay! Back home! Tried the "express disembarkation." By "express" they mean wait in line for over an hour. I swear all we did on this cruise was wait in one endless line after another. It only seemed fitting that we would wait in another endless line yet again. We skipped breakfast so we wouldn't have to eat more stale, raw or moldy food, and so we just waited in our cabins until the ship cleared and we were told we could disembark. Once they announced that those people who had signed up for express disembarkation could leave, we headed to the exit. The doors were closed and the line didn't move for over an hour. A crew member walked by and told people. "It's not NCL, it's customs." Okay, if the ship hadn't been cleared why were we told we could head to the gangway?
So that's a shortened version of my experience on the Norwegian Gem. It certainly will be memorable, but not in a good way. I'm sure my family will remember this for a long time, and we are now laughing and joking about how awful it actually was. For me it was a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to cruising on Norwegian again. I remember my first Norwegian cruise as being lots of fun, with excellent food and lots of great activities, but after that week I will never cruise on NCL again.
We (Swiss family with three teenagers) sailed the NCL Gem for 7 nights out of Barcelona October 19-26 (Barcelona, sea day, Malta, Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno, Villefranche, Barcelona). I started enquiring about some last minute booking two weeks before the sail date but since my wife would not be able to embark until the ship got to Naples and some derogation had to be asked at NCL HQ in Miami, we booked the staterooms actually only four days prior to leaving. We were assigned two outside staterooms with portholes on Deck 4 (4570 and 4602) at 499 Euro pp (about 670 USD, with the fifth passenger paying only 99 Euro). At the same moment I managed to find reasonably priced flights from Geneva to Barcelona avoiding thus the 8 hour trip by car.
Prior to this cruise we had sailed on 12 other ships, many Costa and MSC ships in Europe and a few in the Caribbean (HAL, Celebrity, Royal Majesty -- now NCL Majesty).
Freestyle Experience It was our first experience with Freestyle cruising and this was not a disappointment. Especially not having to rush for dinner was nice about it,but we missed the formal nights though. Service was very good, the production shows were excellent as well as the other performances. Announcements were not too many. The cruise director was just OK and often thought of himself that he was funny.
The food was very good to excellent (choice, quality, timing, options). We only once ate at a surcharge restaurant (our first time in Teppanyaki). Some other passengers overall commented the food was just OK. We found the breakfast buffet to be outstanding. Embarkation and disembarkation was the best (read: fastest) we ever had.
The Ship The layout of the ship is quite different from what we were used to previously. Nothing is symmetric about it and it was kind of hard to move around. Beautifully decorated, very clean, pool area somewhat inefficient though, excellent buffet lay out, Grand Pacific dining room was very stylish, excellent theater lay out. Especially Deck 6 and 7 felt crowded. Also, the aft eatery was crowded and felt very remote from the rest of the ship.
The Staterooms Very clean and good lay out, somewhat noisy, very nice and spacious bathroom; there is a seat or sofa missing (could replace the silly table in the stateroom, as there is already a vanity desk), nothing on TV, ample storage space and comfortable beds.
Itinerary We did not take any shore excursions as we know already the ports we got to and find it easy to navigate around those places.
Passenger mix was about 75% from North America, 10% Spanish speaking, 10% German and the rest were Dutch and Maltese (in Malta on day 2 passengers can also embark).
In Summary Would we sail her again? Why not, if the price is right, any cruise ship is fine, but I would not book on this ship if I have a similar offer from another cruise line. Our terrific 14 night HAL Noordam experience last Xmas/NY out of New York was still fresh in our minds.
I went with a friend on the Norwegian Gem for a weeklong cruise that started out great, but quickley took a turn for the worse. On the second day of our vacation, we came back to the room to find the toilet flushing and making odd noises. We called reception at about 12:00 AM and they said they would send a plumber right up. No one showed up until 2:30 AM, when we were already asleep. I answered the door and the plumber was there asking if we knew that there were flushing noises coming from our room, and I told him that yes, and I had called reception. He proceeded to tell me that reception had never reported it to him, and he just happened to be walking by and heard the sounds.
After one episode was over, it seemed the next one started. Two days later, the ship docked in Rome and my friend and I decided to explore it on our own. We took the train in, and it happened to be raining when we got there. We were walking down the steps to the Vatican whenI slipped and fractured my leg. I had to be rushed to the emergency room, where no one spoke English. I thought that when I got back to the ship, the crew would be falling over themselves to be helpful, but found that I was incredibly wrong. We took a car service back to the ship around 2:00 PM, and found that none of the pharmacies (to get perscriptions filled) were open until 4:00 PM. Apparently, neither was the infirmary on board. And shortly after it opened, it closed just an hour later. The ship was not helpful in retrieving the perscriptions, and the nurse told me it was virtually impossible to switch rooms to a handicapped accessible room, which I needed because I couldn't get into the bathroom, as there was a step up. After a lot of fighting and insisting with the reception desk, I was finally able to get the room change. Furthermore, my insurance company was waiting to get my medical papers faxed to them so they could set up arrangements for my departure. The ship charged me $50 for a fax that never went through. And the man at reception fought with me over and over reassuring me that it did. It wasn't until my insurance company called up, that he recognized that perhaps he could have been wrong.
To add to our trip-gone-bad story, when my friend would get us breakfast to bring down to the room, she would explain to the manager at the buffet that her friend had a broken leg and she needed a tray, which he refused to give to her, making her make the extra trip upstairs.
Finally, after all the papers had gone through to the insurance company, they had made arrangements for a car to pick me up at 10:15 AM from the port, and told the cruise to have a wheelchair & luggage carrier at my room at 10:00 AM. We confirmed these details with the front desk 3 times the night before and they reassured us that this was the plan. The next morning, we recieved a call from reception that we needed to disembark the ship. We told them about our arrangements, which the woman on the phone had no idea about, but she said she would send up the wheelchair and luggage carrier right away. 15 minutes later, no one showed up and we called reception, where no one picked up. My friend went down to talk to them, and they weren't sending anyone up and had no note of the arrangements. They fought with us about the wheelchair and luggage carrier, telling us that it was too late to reserve any of these. They had to comply after we told them that it was impossible for me to get off the ship without this help.
The reception desk was incredibly NON-helpful throughout my entire disaster of a cruise. I had to fight with everyone to recieve decent treatmeant from anyone. This was a terrible experience and I would never return. I had never been injured before, and this was the worst possible experience that I could have had.
On Jan 26, 2008 my wife and I booked a 12 night cruise on the NCL Gem out of New York to the Eastern Caribbean with another couple. It was great to be on a new ship to some new destinations. The cruise was great and we had a good time. Our only complaints were minor ones, no ship pins were available and one of our Latitude treats was never delivered to our cabin. While on the ship we availed ourselves of the $250 deposit special, where you could get a $100 credit on your current cruise and use the $250 deposit for a future cruise within two years. We noticed that the NCL Jade (a renamed Hawaii ship) would be leaving around the same time next year from NY to the Western Caribbean, a destination that is not really available from NY. We planned on using the deposit for this future cruise. Upon arriving home a group of friends and relatives asked us to join them on the NCL Gem for a 7 day cruise out of NY to FL and Nassau. Since we had a good timeon the Gem in January we decided to book on this April 5, 2008 cruise. The deposit would have to wait to be used next January.
Well our good time experience turned into a bad time experience. The Saturday we left NY we booked a dinner in one of the free specialty restaurants, La Cucina. On our January cruise we were never able to get a reservation in this restaurant until the last night. I was happy to see we were able to get in the first night without any problems especially since I raved about the food, service and the fact that there was no charge involved like the Bistro or Cagney's Steakhouse. Well guess what happened at the end of the meal? Our waiter came over and asked who was paying for the meals. Boy was I embarrassed to find out that there was now a charge for the previously "free" restaurant. Needless to say I paid the bill, which according to the NCL daily newsletter should have been half price, but wasn't.
At our second Latitudes party (for silver, gold, & platinum repeat customers) I managed to corner the Hotel Director, Prem. He remembered me from our January cruise since I had requested the use of a spa massage table for a Reiki session for a relative who has cancer. He was very accommodating then. This time however when I mentioned how embarrassed I was to find out that both of the "free" restaurants, i.e. the Italian and Mexican, now charged a fee, his answer was "since the other ships do it we have to do it." Wrong answer. If he was in Atlantic City or Vegas he would have been fired for such an insensitive comment. He didn't even apologize or indicate he was sorry to see us put on the spot in front of our guests. I don't expect a free cruise or some other miracle, but it would have been thoughtful if he had offered a bottle of wine or a free drink at dinner.
We also talked to Captain Frank and asked why the ship had changed its itinerary by dropping the port of Key West and replacing it with Freeport. His answer was just as bad, saying "that when the trip was first advertised they thought they could make it back to NY on time, but then realized that they could not." This sounds like more BS. The more likely reason was that the increase in fuel prices would cause them to burn more fuel to increase the speed of the ship on it's return trip. The Captain also indicated "that there were more changes that would take place in the future." Since he was unable to elaborate, I can only gather that these changes will not be for the better.
Other little points to ponder about the NCL Gem were obtained from past cruisers at the Latitudes Party and include: There are still no NCL Gem pins available for guests who have been on other NCL ships and like to collect them. There were a good number of complaints about there being charges for dining in all of the specialty restaurants, especially the ones that had been "free" in the past. The fees at the Bistro and Cagney's were also increased on this cruise. Another interesting complaint was that the free movie channel is gone. You were able to watch a first run movie in your cabin and a schedule was provided in your welcome aboard literature. The "free" movies are now gone, replaced by a pay per view channel. I heard several parents complaint that the "Cartoon" channel was taken off the air once we were at sea. This forced them to buy a pay per view movie in the evening for their children to watch. It wouldn't be so bad, they said, if the price of the movie was the same $3.99 that you pay to rent a movie at Blockbusters, or from your cable or satellite company, but the price on the ship was $10.99 per movie. "What a rip off" was the overall feeling. Probably the most sensible comment was made concerning the food on NCL's private island, Great Stirrup Cay. Every person who went to the food pavilion on the island was appalled by the number of flies that landed and walked on the food as soon as it was placed in the serving trays. You couldn't get back to your beach chair to eat anything without being surrounded by a swarm of flies. They should rename the private island "Fly Island," it was truly disgusting. It looked like there was more food thrown out than there was eaten.
The last comment concerns the "Quest," an adult treasure hunt that took place on the last night of the cruise. We told my daughter and her husband that they should see it, since some pretty funny things happen during the Quest. At the end of the Quest the cruise staff totaled up the score and announced the top three teams. When they got to the first place team they made a big joke that their prize was absolutely nothing. There was nothing to give out. Now I have seen the Quest before and on other ships. The winning team and even the 2nd and 3rd place teams had always received something small, whether is was a pen, cup, keychain or even a tee shirt. In this case the there were no prizes, not even for the first place team. The cruise staff just about called the customers jerks for playing the game and they weren't giving any prizes out to the jerks who played. They really had a good laugh about this.
My opinion of NCL has changed dramatically to that of a company that wants to squeeze the last cent out of the customer and isn't there to provide anything unless they can charge for it. What about my cruise next January on the NCL Jade? Forgetaboutit! The Jade has been transferred to the Med, the Gem will be back in NY making a one night cruise to nowhere and then an 11 night cruise back to the same old tired ports in the Eastern Caribbean. Why didn't they just leave the 12 night cruise that they had originally advertised?Do you know how I can get my $250 deposit back? NCL can keep the $100 credit they gave me and refund the $150 difference. A letter to the President has gone unanswered. I don't think I'll be sailing with NCL in the future. They may call their cruise experience "Freestyle", but believe me, nothing aboard their ships is free.
I thought I would add this review since previous reviews didn't actually provide information that is useful to future passengers. I hope this will be helpful.
We just returned from the Gem March 8/08 cruise. What a great vacation!
There were four of us, my DH and my two sons (13 & 16). We drove from Ottawa to NYC on Thursday -- what a very smart move that turned out to be -- huge snow storm on the Friday. We had a great time in New York for a couple of days. We did get to see Young Frankenstein on Broadway -- a great new experience for the boys. This is our 5th cruise and our boys' 3rd cruise. We have cruised from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Port Canaveral in the past. We definitely prefer to leave from New York, it is the best pre or post cruise port for us for many reasons (shopping, shopping and did I mention shopping?).
It was a painless embarkation process and we were on the ship at around 1:30pm. We thought we would check to see if our cabins were ready, and theywere. We were in a mini-suite in cabin 11586 and the boys were across the hall in an inside, 11585. Great location, mid-ship. The cabin was excellent, clean and well appointed. The balcony was a good size, roomy enough for the two chairs that were there, but could have fit loungers. The boy's inside cabin was a wee bit small. It was able to sleep three, but two was enough. Our cabin stewards left our cabins spotless everyday and even made cute towel animals. We read the riot act to our boys not to leave every article of clothing around the room, the room stewards have enough to contend with without our lads leaving their drawers on door knobs!
The ship was just beautiful. Fabulous furniture!!! It was like something from Dr. Seuss or Alice in Wonderland. The décor over all was very modern and funky. As a realtor who sees dozens of homes each week and doing staging for clients, I really appreciate what the designers have done. Bliss lounge is hot hot hot!!!! My DH had a quest to lounge in the yellow or blue chairs (Loungers?) in the spinnaker lounge and read. Every time we were there it was "I really must try THAT chair."
The service was fantastic. We had terrific service from just about every staffer we encountered. I know so many people wonder how the restaurants and dining rooms are on the ship. In my line of work, I entertain a great deal and I spend far more time and money in restaurants than most people. I don't do Denny's or buffets. My standards tend to be very high and I am a tough cookie. I have to say the food and service that we encountered was excellent. We ate breakfast mainly at the Grand Pacific dining room, we went to the buffet with our boys a couple of mornings. There seemed to be just about anything most people would like in the breakfast buffet, omelets, pancakes, yogurt, fruits etc. The dining room had much of the same thing, only without the crowds. I prefer to sit down, have a cup of tea and get my French toast in a quiet place. I did see one old sourpuss in the dining room -- the miserable old bag had a face like a slapped arse -- she sniffed her nose that something came out in the wrong order (toast? jam?) and was rude and horrible to the wait staff. This crabby article was saying to her long suffering husband "it's the language issue blah blah". Meanwhile, two of the servers were waiting on this misery guts hand and foot. I doubt this old sourpuss would treat someone in their local diner with such distain. Just an FYI for all those rude/nasty/miserable people out there -- smile -- your face won't crack.
During the week we ate at La Cucina (twice), Tequila, Teppanyaki, Le Bistro and Cagney's (twice). We didn't venture into the main dining rooms for dinner, so I can't comment on those venues. La Cucina was very good and the service was terrific. The servers were very accommodating to our boys, they got served quickly so they could head out to the teen club activities and left us to have a leisurely dinner. Tequila was fun -- yummy sangria and the oddest looking meal. We had Il popo, which was chicken, beef and vegetables on this hanging contraption. Teppanyaki was delicious. My hollow legged boys walked away full. Le Bistro was a highlight -- excellent service and an excellent chateaubriand. We went to Cagney's with the boys one evening, and one without. Both evenings were very good, but the second evening it was a nice romantic dinner just DH and myself. We saw Prem, the Hotel manager and the Food and Beverage manager (sorry I forget his name at the moment) every single night. Each night we ate about 7:30 or 8pm, so that is when they do their rounds. We had absolutely no trouble getting reservations and we never waited to be seated. After a nice chat with Prem in Le Bistro it is clear that they take service and guest satisfaction very seriously. We were very impressed with the manager's level of visibility.
As an aside note, we brought several bottles of our own wine, which we paid corkage. Yes, we are wine snobs. We know they cannot store wine properly on a cruise ship, so there is a limited selection of really good wines. The $15 corkage was a bargain, as the wines we brought with us would have easily been marked up to the $80+ range -- so the $30+ per bottle we paid at the LCBO was money well spent. We also brought my diet caffeine free coke and Gatorade on board. We also did a bar set up.
My eldest son spent quite a bit of time in the gym, he didn't seem to wait for any equipment considering the number of spring breakers on board. The boys also played quite a bit of basketball. I don't think they got on the rock climbing wall -- the day the teen club was supposed to use it they couldn't for some reason. The boys also spent a great deal of time at the Blue Lagoon, ordering 'quadruple' order of chicken fingers (I am not kidding!!). They stayed up til all hours hanging out in the Leopard lounge and various places around the ship. They didn't haul their lazy carcasses out of bed til at least 11am. We laughed when the 'herd' of teenagers would go by, usually munching on something. The tall skinny one was my youngest. They all seemed to be quite well behaved and no reports of any mischief from this group. They just ate their way through the ship. One funny note -- the young lads booked a table at Tequila and all the lads were in their collared shirts and long pants -- no issues with these lads dressing appropriately for dinner (I guess only some adults have trouble getting dressed). They were all between 13 and 17 btw.
We saw the comedian Ross Bennett a couple of times, he is quite good. We saw the magician, my DH liked him more than I did, but it isn't my cup of tea. We saw the World Beat show -- usual cheesy stuff. One of the highlights was Carrie Stone in the Maltings bar -- she is a very talented singer/songwriter. She played lots of cover songs, but her original material was fantastic. We saw Second City (which I normally love) in the stardust theater, which was ok. We saw the scriptless show later in the week, again which was just ok. I know each show is different, lets hope this troupe gets a bit more on the ball for later cruises. We participated in the Quest on the last night -- oh my gawd was it fun!!! We had a crazy group and we all did our bit. The only thing we didn't come up with was false teeth (that's all I'm going to say -- nudge nudge wink wink).
It was a very mixed demographic on the ship. As to be expected there were hundreds of our fellow Canadians on board. It was our March Break in Ontario, so there were lots of families. There were also lots of US college/university spring breakers (lots from UConn it seemed). There were a fair number of seniors on board too -- I did hear a little bit of griping about the number of kids. But hey -- if those passengers didn't know it was school break time they should get a better travel agent or do more research online. We did see a good friend of ours from my boy's karate studio. He spent time trying to avoid my eldest so he didn't have to do push ups and chin ups (he says "Callum is an animal -- I am too old to keep up!"). Big ship, small world?
The first day at sea we went to the CC meeting. It was nice to see all the senior officers there for the M&G. We lounged around the Spinnaker, read and had a nice chat with Seashark (Len) and had a couple of drinks. Everyone was enjoying the funky furniture on the cool, sunny day. Many people were sound asleep on the beds and loungers. Perfect place for that! For Port Canaveral we didn't bother getting off the ship. We were going to go to KSC. We have been there a couple of times before. The day was so nice, there was so much going on around the ship we thought 'what the heck, let's just stay'. We had a great day! On GSC we got off, found a bit of a quiet spot (yes there is some there, you just have to stay away from the crowds on the beach) and had a wonderful day. In Nassau we booked a room at the Comfort Suites to use the facilities at the Atlantis resort. The boys had a fantastic time using all the waterslides etc. In the small world category, I saw my boss and his wife there. Huge resort, thousands of people, we met in the lazy river pool. In Freeport we took a taxi to the Sheraton and went to the beach. It was a very nice beach, the weather was great. The last sea day we just relaxed, went in the pool, read and lounged.
Overall we had a terrific week. Lounged, read, relaxed. Yes, I know I brought my laptop and did some work (don't give me a hard time Len!!). Our boys had a wonderful time meeting new friends and hanging out. We enjoyed going to a different restaurant every night, five minutes from "home". We had a great time bowling -- or at least my pitiful attempt at bowling. We even had a little luck at the casino. We would definitely do another cruise from New York.
First off, if you have never been, Barcelona is a beautiful city and deserves at least a 5 day pre-cruise visit if you can swing it. My wife and I combined my birthday, our 25th anniversary and a mutual Christmas gift as reasons for the trip -- hey, one has to justify things -- right? Not to mention the pricing for this crossing at $499 p/p for a balcony on a brand new ship with a 9 day itinerary was unbelieveably GREAT!
The GEM was truly that, a beautiful ship with the friendliest crew and attentive staff I had seen in a long time. They worked extremely well as a team and you really did not want for anything.
The makeup of the passengers for this crossing was approx. USA-1100, Germany-250, UK-250, Canada-100 and ROW (rest of world) making up the 1900 or so passengers on this 2400 capacity cruise liner.
Embarkation process in Barcelona was excellent and fast and very well organized. The area is new and there were ample staff to look after us and we were there within the first hour of the opening of the process. From arrival atthe pier to entry in our balcony cabin (deck 9) was less than 20 minutes.
Being a brand new ship, it was pristine and had that "new ship" smell -- lol. Our balcony cabin was nice (forward on the port side) and if you are doing a east to west crossing and want the sun -- that is the side of the ship to be on! The amenities in the cabin include a flat screen 17" TV -- although the selection of live TV channels was limited due to satellite coverage, there were other channels for various movies and ship information, I would rate that a 6 on the 10 scale. An in room coffee maker was there and the bathroom was an adequate size for my 6'3", 245 lb. frame. The sliding shower doors were great vs. other containment possibilities. Lighting in the cabin was good and the balcony was of a decent size. The cabin attendants were very thorough and attentive to all needs.
The ship's Captain Mikael Hilden was very visible and attentive and social -- we bumped into him daily all over the ship and passed on our comments and observations and solicited his. A charming "old man" of the sea! His daily 11:30AM "from the bridge" updates were informative and I looked forward to them. I would add though that the other audio systems around the ship should be turned off (or at least down) when the Captain is speaking -- if not for the information -- in deference to respect of his contributions.
There are 12 restaurants to choose from aboard. 4 of these include "extra charges" ranging from $15-20 but there are "specials" of 2-1 on occasion if you choose to eat between 5:30 and 6:30 in some of them. We tried Teppanyaki (Benihana type) which was very good 8 out of 10, and Le Bistro (french cuisine) was excellent 9 out of 10 -- although here you also had a surcharge for the menu selection which included chateaubriand, souffle and more -- but was well worth it!
Our favorite (non surcharge) restaurant was the Grand Pacific, a beautiful formal-ish dining salon. Although I would add here the NCL Free-style dining experience lessens the formality -- which for us was just perfect! This restaurant is available for all meals in a sit down non-rushed fashion. Our favorite server was Heidi, so ask for her and tell her Fay and Mike from Canada sent ya! She is a GEM.
The Garden Cafe is the main buffet style eatery and is always busy and typically it is difficult to find a seat without a bit of a chore. There are helpers to assist in taking trays to your table when you find one -- and if the ship had been at capacity, I am sure the challenge of eating there would have been much more difficult. The selection of things to eat was vast, regularly replenished and fresh. All in all I would rate it a 7-8 out of 10. The outdoor cafes were very good although the selection of items more limited, but one could get everything you wanted in the Garden Cafe and take it outside to the Outdoor Cafe areas as the seating there was usually more accessible -- weather permitting of course!
We did not try the room service.
The internet Cafe has at least 6 terminals but is pricey and transmission via satellite takes you back to pre-cable speeds -- spare the aggravation -- unless you just have to!! Wireless is throughout the ship as well if you bring your own laptop, but the speed is no better. The crew utilizes the same satellite so the competition for the available bandwidth adds to the degradation of the service.
The entertainment on board was decent but not spectacular -- a variety of musicians, magic, dance and all. The ship's cast is a 7 which is consistent with the overall assessment of the entertainment in the theatre (Stardust). The guest lecturer on marine topics was excellent and he gets a 10 in my book. The cruise director (Clint) was superb as was his staff -- friendly, energetic and helpful. The bars aboard were very good and we sampled almost all of them. The Bliss Lounge is awesome -- even if only for a look -- with its chic furniture, roman-like decadence in decor with two bowling alleys on either side. It's definitely "the happening" place on the ship -- especially after midnight!
As with a lot of cruise ships, your onboard alcohol consumption (beyond the duty free store purchases and chosen excursions) are likely your major extra charges.
The Spinnaker Lounge is a great place for relaxing during the day and catching whatever may be going on there, lecture, games, impromptu gatherings, drinks, etc. or just curling up in the bow of the ship with your reading material. In the evening, it is another happening spot for entertainment -- so our routine was to have dinner and finish around 9-ish, catch the Stardust theatre show from 9:30-10:30, head to the Spinnaker Lounge for its entertainment for another hour+ and if still feeling like partying, head to the Bliss Lounge -- all good!
The spa aboard is to die for. We took the $95 full cruise pass here and enjoyed it thoroughly and made it part of our daily routine. The steam room, sauna, chaise lounges in the his/her sections were excellent and they joined in the middle into a beautiful room with a hydro-like pool, hot tub and heated loungers. No doubt the best spa on the seas in our opinion! The exercise room is large, well equipped and typically busy but there was no waiting for the equipment.
The Casino aboard is large and has a variety of table and slots. No big winners were found -- lol -- on the crossing!
The weather for the crossing was unreal for that time of the year! Sunny for most of the days -- highs in the low 70's during the day for 7 of the 9 days. Only when we got within 2 days of Boston did it turn cooler and was in the low 40's upon arrival. The seas were pleasantly calm throughout the journey save for one half day and evening where 12-14 foot swells caused a gentle roll that was more pleasant than otherwise! The ship's stabilizers did their job extremely well.
The only negative I had for the trip was the excursion day briefing (immediately prior to the excursion) in the Stardust Lounge. It seemed very disorganized and with time pressure to get to the bus at a particular spot and time, and the 4 variations involved, the control was less than stellar by the onboard excursion staff. Let's hope they improve that!
Funchal I might add though is a magical location and if you do stop there, do take an excursion -- it is well worth it!
Tipping is included daily in your onboard charges and at $12/day I believe well worth it for the staff.
Disembarkation was decently organized. Being its first US port of entry ever made for perhaps a little longer process, but not noticeably. We docked around 7 AM, US authorities boarded just before 8 and we were off the ship after a leisurely breakfast by 9:45. I must add though that Boston has a lot to do to make their cruise terminal modern, passenger friendly and efficient. In a word, it is horrible!
Funny story -- we had a noon flight to catch (thank goodness Logan airport is within 15 min. of the terminal) and were concerned that the disembarkation process may delay us, but the ship's (NCL's) part was fine. Once off, we routed for our bags and a friendly porter assisted us and by-passed the huge taxi lineup to take us to a mini-van who he got to take a bunch of us to the airport. With my wife aboard and me outside making sure the bags got on the van, I ended up jostling with the ship's guest piano player entertainer for the final seat on the van -- next to my wife. He was relentless, but I beat him back. Funny, I had a feeling about that guy and his insincere "schtick" of a performance aboard!
Albeit the above negative, we would rate the entire GEM experience a 9.5+. The crew, the ship, the cabin, the variety of activities, the food (quality and choices) are the principal contributors to this rating. All in all, a terrific holiday leaving us wanting to do it again -- soon!
If interested in more info, email me -- email@example.com and I'll be glad to help!
Great Sailing all!