My very first cruise was the Norwegian Gem that headed for Bahamas and Florida. I was inexperienced and did not know what to expect when boarding the ship. The departure port was NY, and was extremely easy and convenient for both me and my partner. Boarding the ship was pleasant and we were shown exactly where to take our luggage. I will give as much detail of my cruise as possible with the easiest layout for quick reading.
The stateroom was small but was exactly what I had expected it to be. It was very clean and had a single queen size bed. There was ample drawers for storage and a small closet. The bathroom was a little small, but certainly fulfilled my needs. Our housekeeper scored low in my book because of his inconsistent moods. Some days he would greet us, while other days he wouldn't say a word. There was one day in particular where he lost his cool over us getting sand on the rug. We had just come back from the beach and of course had sand in our bathing suits. Apparently this made his job difficult. No worries, he continued to maintain our room during the entire cruise.
Probably my least favorite aspect to this cruise, unless we consider the specialty dining. I felt that NCL could have done so much better with their complimentary food. There were two restaurants available, in addition to a buffet that would be included. The Pacific was decent for breakfast, but had inconsistently slow service. The second dining room was Magenta. I was very disappointed with their dish, and actually ended up getting sick right after eating here. I did not return, and resorted to eating specialty dining for the rest of the trip. The specialty restaurants were all basically great, except for "La Cucina". You basically pay the restaurant to serve you above average food. I wasn't happy about having to do this, since I was really expecting the complimentary food to be at least decent. The buffet was pleasant for breakfast and lunch, but seating was always an issue, regardless of time of day.
I saw an incredible show on board, which was recently featured on America's got talent. An amazing couple performed an acrobatic/yoga routine and it was one of the most amazing shows I have ever watched. Besides this show, they had a comedian a few nights and a couple of dance performances that were okay. One complaint I have about the entertainment and scheduling was how much everything overlapped. I found myself having to choose between Art Auctions, performances, raffles, and Bingo games, all of which I would have liked to attend. At times the schedule seemed to cater to children audiences more than adults, which was not what I would have expected on this cruise.
Shops and duty free:
If you take a Norwegian cruise and think all of your expenses have been taken care of, think again. You will find yourself being coerced day after day by Norwegian's "professional, personal shoppers." If you are on the Gem, Neil will be your personal shopper, and he will certainly persuade you to buy. Whether its jewelry, alcohol, or duty free items, you will find yourself being sold more and more each day. I bought things that I never would have dreamed of buying. Of course some people are more gullible than others, but you really do have to watch, considering how persuasive they are. I counted more shopping shows and seminars than actual entertainment shows.
As far as the duty free prices, you truly can't beat them. If you are a smoker or would like to stock your liquor cabinet, a cruise is the perfect place to do it. This was all very new to me and I may have gone a little overboard with the duty free sales.
Ports and Excursions:
Nassau, Bahamas and Port Canaveral were both in my itinerary, as well as Stirrup. Florida was pleasant, but the port was over an hour away from everything! I felt like I had little choice but to buy an expensive excursion that would take me somewhere for the day. I ended up going to Epcot and enjoyed the trip for the most part; as much as an adult can enjoy Disney, that is. The excursion included tickets to the park, as well as transportation to and from.
Stirrup was a pleasant beach day that we had before going to the Bahamas. It was basically Norwegians private island, where they have additional excursions.
Nassau was a little unexpected, since it really is a very run down, poor city. You really have to be alert and aware of everything that is going on, especially with your money and taking cabs. Paradise island and Atlantis were both beautiful, but again, you need an excursion to really do anything. Me and my partner opted out on paying for another excursion, and decided to just swim in Paradise Island for a few hours. Despite not having an excursion, we both enjoyed ourselves. Next time we will reconsider booking an excursion unless it is absolutely necessary. They really are overpriced and may not be required if you can get around on your own.
I would say the service on the ship was pretty attentive overall. We had a few sketchy experiences with our stateroom cleaner and a few sporadic encounters with inattentive buffet attendants. There were a few times where we ran in to our housekeeper who seemed less than happy. One example was given above, but here is another: One day we went down to our room and encountered our housekeeper, who was writing something down at our door. He was holding a beer can in his hand and asked my husband if he could have a moment with him. Basically the can was dented and he wanted us to pay for it. We never touched the beer, nor did we have anything in the refrigerator, since it was not complimentary. The way he approached us on the situation was what bothered me. He basically said "This will come out of my pay check if you don't pay for it", basically not giving us any benefit of the doubt that it was possibly there like that before we took over the room. My husband urged him to just charge us for it but the man insisted that he would just find another can to replace the dented one. Afterwards he wandered off without another word.
There were also a few situations in the crowded buffet room where the attendants were casually hanging around when there were tables that had to be cleaned.
All other activities on board were great, including the bars, clubs, and casinos. The dealers at each blackjack table were all hilarious, and we even won 1000 dollars off of a lucky hand. Everything stays open pretty late, and you will always have something to do. If you do happen to wander into the casino to play some black jack, try to sit at Wendy or Florecto's table. As far as the pools, I didn't spend much time in them, but was pleasantly surprised that they were not as crowded as I had imagined. You would think with 2400 people and only two pools that it would be swamped, but it really wasn't.
In summary, we both really enjoyed this vacation and came back eager to try more cruises. The Gem is a perfectly beautiful ship that offers many amenities that make her unique. You honestly cannot beat the freestyle aspect to NCL cruises, and it is definitely growing increasingly popular since most other lines are adding these casual cruises to their itineraries. If you're a local to NY or NJ, the Gem is the way to go and offers several different options for Caribbean cruises.