This is my 6th cruise and the second with NCL. I have used Carnival mostly, but was coaxed by my friend to give NCL another try. My family of six included four teenagers (19, 18, 18 and 14). My friend's family comprised of two teenagers (15 and 16). We had five obstructed view cabins on deck 8.
We opted to park in the Cruise parking lot and paid a lump sum of $250 for the seven-day cruise. We arrived around 1:45 pm and there was only a short line. Checking in was no big deal. The cards for the underage kids are snipped at the corner as a visible sign that they are not legal for drinks or gambling. There is an option for those over 18 to drink if their parents sign a waiver.
Yes I know that Carnival is sometimes considered to be a lower end cruise line, but I will say that for the record that there is no comparing our experience on the Carnival Dream last year with the Norwegian Gem. The decor of the Norwegian Gem lacks star quality. The atrium in the Gem is not exciting or appealing. The Carnival Dream was all in all a better ship.
The staff on the Gem was generally pleasant but they seemed overworked and a bit tired. If you called the front desk, the phone would ring incessantly before being picked up. My son said he was present a few times when the phone would ring and the staff would stare at the phone and mutter a few choice words and then ignore the call.
We watched many of the shows, they were entertaining and the entertainment staff really worked hard. The cruise director Ken does quite a good job in keeping the guests entertained. He actually became part of the farewell show. Do not miss his Beyonce "Single Ladies" dance. Joel the asst. cruise director is a ball of fire as well.
Since three of the "kids" in our party were over 18, we were concerned that there would not be many kids in that age bracket. There were actually tons of them and they made many friends and had a blast. They went back and forth from Bliss to Spinnaker. Norwegian maintains a 1am curfew for those under 18 and in fact that was one of the best things about this cruise. After 1am, under 18s are not allowed in public places unless accompanied by an adult. Anyone who has left their cabin in the wee hours to search for their kids will appreciate that. Also goodbye to the kids hanging around staircases and nightclub doors that is a hallmark of other cruises.
Port Canaveral -- We actually rented a car on the fly when we got to Port Canaveral and were able to explore on our own terms. We also went to Cocoa Beach. NCL offered transfers to the beach for about $14 pp round trip, so that's not a bad deal for those who would like to go to the beach. There's a cute Thai restaurant called Thai Thai that we like so we ate there before heading back to the ship.
Great Stirrup Cay- Tender transport guests to Norwegian's private island. Since we rarely wake up early, we fortunately missed the more congested tender times. At around 1pm there was little or no wait to get a tender. There were floats for rent and I believe there was also a fee for the slide. Grand Stirrup Cay was okay but the straw market was nothing spectacular.
Bahamas -- Took a bus to the beach for $4 pp. While Atlantis was right next door and we had planned to go in to the public areas, we did not have time. So plan accordingly. We also were informed that you cannot walk from the beach side into Atlantis.
Food - the food was generally okay. The Garden Cafe was the standard buffet. The pasta bar was okay. None of the food was ever hot (with the exception of the soup), but that seems to be a "cruise" thing and not a "Norwegian" thing. You have the option of eating a sit down dinner at Grand Pacific or Magenta. This was definitely a nicer alternative to buffet.
Blue Lagoon is a 24 hour a day comfort food restaurant. So after dancing at Bliss, you can get chicken wings and other items from there. I think the idea is to discourage room service since there is a charge for room service after midnight.
Cabins -- Being on deck 8 mid ship was nice; made you feel close to the action. Our obstructed view cabin was small, but then that's par for the course. The shower and toilet stall are tiny and I couldn't help but wonder how many of the larger people I saw around the ship were able to use the toilet.
I missed Carnival Dream's Serenity area, which was an adult only sanctuary. The Gem's adult pool was smack dab in the middle of deck 12, next to the kid's pool. In fact, I don't think the kids even realized it was an adult pool. Gym was sufficiently equipped with Precor machines but again the decor lacked the "wow factor".
In conclusion, we had a great time. Yes there were things that were not perfect, but we were on vacation with our friends and family and so we overlooked many of the little things here and there.