A bit of history: I am in my late thirties and I was travelling with my 18 year old daughter. I booked this cruise last summer after her high school graduation as a gift. Now she has completed her 1st year of University and this cruise was a wonderful way to reconnect after she has been away at school for the past year. We live in eastern Ontario, 1 hour from Montreal and just across the river from NY State.
Pre Cruise: Rather than drive to NYC, we decided to take an overnight Greyhound out of Montreal. The bus left Montreal at 11:00pm on Friday night and arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 6:30ish Saturday morning. There were a few stops along the route, the first being the US border. This process took about 45 minutes. Shortly after the border crossing we had a brief rest stop. Next was Albany where we had to disembark again and wait inside while the bus was re-fueled. This was around 3 am. We were sitting in the very front of the bus so we had a very nice view, but no leg room. Why I ever thought that I would be able to sleep on this overnight trip, I don't know. Once we arrived in NYC we had to wait until 7:00am for the baggage storage counter to open. As soon as we could, we stored our luggage, I got my coffee fix and then we set out to explore Manhattan. Surprisingly (considering we had just spent the night on a bus and had not slept) we had a fantastic morning. We walked to the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, The New York Public Library, Rockefeller, and finally Central Park. After exploring around Central Park for a bit we hopped on a subway from Columbus Circle to Port Authority, collected our luggage and cabbed it to the pier. I love NY!
Embarkation: We arrived at the Pier around 11:30 am. We had a bit of a scare as the Taxi driver started driving away with our luggage still in his trunk! I had to chase him and bang on his window. Luckily there was enough traffic in the area that he was not speeding away. He seemed a little annoyed that he had to wait for us to collect our luggage...how rude of us! The adrenaline rush this little expedition provided was just what the doctor ordered and woke me right up! We were finally here! HOORAY! The Gem was looking beautiful and we were ready to start our vacation!! Embarkation was quick and painless and we were sitting in The Grand Pacific ordering lunch by noon. The first thing I noticed was the friendly crew. Every crew member you see whether they be an officer, a waiter, or a room steward will look you in the eye, smile and say hello. Very welcoming! The second thing I noticed when I walked on board the ship was the smell. It made me nostalgic of my first cruise. Who knew that all ships smelled the same? I love that ship smell!
Sail away: Sail away was a lot of fun. The weather was kind of dreary and gloomy but the atmosphere on the pool deck was not! The music was pumping and everyone was in great mood. We didn't partake in the BBQ food being served because we had eaten not too long before, but it did look delicious. You'd think by now that we'd be passing out from sleep deprivation, but we had a blast. After sail away we went back to our room and had showers and got dressed for dinner. We dined at the Grand Pacific and we both had the lobster. It was not as bad as I had anticipated based on what I have read on these boards. In fact, together with the Snapper and rice and veggies it was quite a tasty dish. After dinner we went to the Welcome Aboard Show. It was a lot of fun and a great taste of what the entertainment would be like. Finally, we went back to our room passed out. Oh what a glorious sleep in crisp, clean, ship smelling sheets while being gently rocked by the sway of the ocean. I love the ocean!
1st day at Sea: We slept in. It was awesome. When I finally did roll out of bed around 10:00 I went straight outside to sit on the balcony. I was sitting there all blissed out because the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the ocean was well, the OCEAN, when I heard someone from the Promenade deck shout "Look! Look! Dolphins!" So I jumped out of my seat and sure enough there were 10 or more dolphins right there jumping and playing. I opened the door and yelled "Come see! Come see! Dolphins! Dolphins!" My daughter staggered outside still half asleep and blinded by the bright sun so she missed them. ? . After a little breakfast we headed to our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. What an excellent turn out! I think there were close to 40 of us and all of the senior officers attended including the captain. It was great to put a face to all of the wonderful people that I've been speaking to for several months. After the meet and greet we ventured over to the Casino for the slot pull. I think there were 30 of us taking part. Emily (my daughter) was the last one to have her turn, and on her last pull she doubled our money!! How exciting!! Everyone was cheering for her, it was pretty cool. We spent the remainder of the day exploring around the ship and relaxing. This was the "Norwegians Night Out" which is the new name for "Dress up or not night". Free champagne and photos with the captain in the atrium. We ate at the Grand Pacific again and went to the show (this would be routine for us most every night except for 1 when we ate at Magenta). I love an excuse to dress up!
2nd day at Sea: Another beautiful day! Sun shine and blue skies. We had breakfast at the Great Outdoors. The view of the wake is beautiful! We explored around the ship some more, attended a circus workshop, did some shopping, listened to music, watched Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows in the Atrium while eating a brownie sundae from The Blue Lagoon, layed out by the pool and read, read some more on our balcony.
Nassau : We did the Blue Lagoon Beach Day excursion. We loved it. Such a beautiful little island! If you are looking for a "resort experience" this isn't it. But if you want to see some lovely unspoiled beauty and swim in a crystal clear blue lagoon, then this is the place for you. My advice is don't stop at the first beach area you come to. Keep going to the end of the beach area and then keep going some more. We found a section of beach at the very end of the lagoon past what seems like the end of the beach and we had it to ourselves for most of the day. There were loungers and plenty of shade. Even further past this was a section of ocean front beach which was truly heavenly with a little cove that you could swim in. There were other sections of beach around the island, but this was the only ocean front beach that did not have a "no swimming allowed sign". The lunch provided was basic but tasty. There are hammocks all over this island. We really enjoyed this excursion. I love turquoise water!
Great Stirrup Cay -- Pretty Island. Beach was a little crowded, but still a good beach day. Buffet lunch was very good. The island is clean and nice. The highlight of this stop was our parasailing excursion. What an experience!! I'm so glad that I decided to do this! I highly recommend it. What a peaceful, wonderful experience! I love being on top of the world!
Port Canaveral -- This was the port that I was most worried about because of the itinerary change. We were originally supposed to be there on Monday from 12:00pm-10:00pm. Instead, we were there from 6:00am-4:00 pm on Thursday. It turned out for the best. We did the Universal Islands of Adventure excursion. We had to meet at the Stardust theatre at 6:15 am. Because Port Canaveral was our port of re-entry to the U.S. we had to clear customs before leaving for our excursion. It was pretty quick and before we knew it we were on a bus headed to the park. We arrived around 8:30. The gates opened at 9:00 and we walked straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We resisted the temptation to stop and take pictures of all the shops in Hogsmeade and instead went directly to the Forbidden Journey ride because this was the one ride that we couldn't use our Express Passes for. We walked right on. Zero wait. The remainder of the day there was HUGE line for this ride. We then walked around Hogsmeade and visited all of the fabulous shops and took loads of pictures. It was still pretty quiet so I took advantage and did my souvenir shopping right away. They have a fantastic FREE service that allows you to have your purchases sent to the front of the park to be picked up when you leave. I was glad that I did my shopping early because later in the day the shops were crazy busy! So again, this early morning excursion was proving to be a really good thing. After we were done our shopping we stopped for breakfast at the Three Broomsticks, again with no wait. We walked around for the remainder of our time and rode all of the rides that we wanted without waiting, gotta love Express Pass! We saw the entire park with time to spare. We headed back to WWHOP for one last look and a cup of Butterbeer before leaving. It was a terrific day! I love Butterbeer!
Last day at Sea -- This was a sad day, knowing that it was all coming to an end. It was a little cooler and a bit windy. We spent a lot of this day just lounging and reading. For a while we lounged in the cushioned window seats near the Orchid Garden and read. I spent a lot of time on the balcony this day taking in as much ocean as I could, while I could. Farewell show was fun. I love fountains!
Accommodations - We were in room 8544 which is a hull balcony, and we loved it. The balcony was great. No wind, very private and still lot's of sun and beautiful views. The room was tiny but sufficient for us. There was plenty of storage and the shower was nice. My room steward was a cute, shy man who I barely saw, but he did a good job. I love my balcony!
SINAN ULUCAY (Cruise Director) -- Wacky, hilarious, AWESOME. He is everywhere and he is a ball of energy. If you are lucky enough to have him as your cruise director, then you will have a great time. I love Sinan!
Food -- We ate dinner in the MDR's every night. I thought about The Bistro, but my daughter was happy with the Grand Pacific, so we stuck with that. We were always able to get a window seat at the Grand Pacific which was beautiful. Nothing I read about the long waits or the terrible service was true. We never waited, and service was good. I do have to say that it was faster at The Magenta. Almost too fast, I felt rushed that night. I enjoyed a nice glass of red every night with dinner and they stored my bottle for me at the dining room. The waiters were efficient and courteous. The food was better than I was expecting based on what I had read. Definitely not 5 star, but better than Applebee's. Standout items for me were the cream soups, the pumpkin and sage gnocchi, the prime rib and the lamb. The one thing I do have to agree on is that the desserts aren't great. The pies are especially atrocious. The desserts that were better were: the cheesecake, the chocolate decadence and the tiramisu and the brownie sundae at The Blue Lagoon. BUT -- the crepe station in the buffet at night makes up for the mediocre desserts in the MDR. YUMMY! I love crepes!
Entertainment -- All in all it was quite good. The Gem singers and dancers were a fresh new troupe (this was their first week on The Gem) and I thought they were excellent. I was really looking forward to The Second City, but it was a bit of a letdown. Rich Purpura the comedian/magician on the other hand was great! I really enjoyed his show. The world famous juggler was impressive but he lacked in personality. I think I enjoyed the Gem Cast productions and Rich Purpura the most, oh and anytime that Sinan was on stage was entertaining. Have I mentioned that I love Sinan??