It's hard to believe that our family cruise, planned more than a year ago, is now a wonderful memory. Our cruise, August 4-11, 2012, on the Norwegian Gem was a perfect family-friendly vacation. This review will focus on the intergenerational aspects of the cruise and the steps we took to plan this vacation celebrating our milestone birthdays.
We've done a family cruise every five years. The first, ten years ago, was for six-- our children and their spouses and us. The second, in 2007, saw an additional four grandchildren ranging in age from one through four. This time, we were eleven with five grandchildren ranging in age from four through nine. Now that the grandchildren are in school, we had to travel during summer vacation (aka high season) and coordinate with different school schedules and summer camp.
We decided to book five rooms. Each family had two connecting balcony cabins and we had a balcony cabin. The price for a third person in the room at $899 plus port taxes made it a simple decision to have two rooms per family. Even with booking more than a year ahead, the five rooms were not together but that worked out okay.
Our daughter designed T-shirts, "Susan and Ira's Birthday Cruise 2012" in blue and orange, the colors of New York City and the New York Mets. Everyone remarked on the shirts from port workers to Gem performers and fellow cruisers.
There were at least 850 children on the cruise. The cruise director, Ken, organized many family-friendly activities, game shows, etc. There were lots of intergenerational groups on board and most of the children seemed to be school-age. We've been on the Gem four times and saw considerably more kids and teens and a lot fewer strollers. I must say that the children and teens were very well-behaved. (Both of us were career educators at the middle school level.) I never saw or heard any teens running through the halls, making mischief, congregating on steps, etc. I attribute that to all the fun activities that were available.
Every day there were lots of organized activities for children and families--more than on any of our cruises in January or in the off-season. In addition to the Kids' Camp, there was Nickelodeon on board under the direction of John, a phenomenal high-energy leader, and his staff. It was amazing to watch the Nickelodeon team in action at the Nickelodeon Trivia game, and at the pool party complete with balloon sculptures, face painting, and special games. Our granddaughter took great delight in participating and getting slimed (doused with colored water). Our grandchildren all attended the breakfast ($15) that was a super-lively pajama-party. The Spinnaker Lounge was bedecked in colored balloons, the characters were there for photos (included in the price) and there was dancing and favors for the children. The adults would have preferred something other than multi-colored pancakes, donuts and pigs in blankets but the kids all loved it. Nickelodeon also sponsored craft activities (free) where the children decorated T-shirts with fabric crayons--very nice and not crowded. Our daughter spoke highly of the Dora storytelling session. On several evenings the costumed Sponge Bob and other characters paraded around the ship to the delight of the youngsters.
This was the first time I ever saw circus workshops where families were able to practice stilt-walking, plate spinning, juggling, etc. On the last day 100 children from the Kids' Camp performed a circus in which Ken, the cruise director, was the master of ceremonies. It was quite impressive and a fun activity for the children. On one evening, our daughter and granddaughter were chosen for Family Feud (for youngsters) and had a ball. There was also cupcake decorating, pizza making, a Family White Hot Party, etc. It would be hard to imagine a child not having fun on the cruise. Even the Under 2 Zoo had organized family activities (not available five years ago). Our children and grandchildren were very impressed with the all-out effort to make this a special week for them.
We ate together every night except when our children and their families went to La Cucina after a shore excursion. They were very happy with their dinner there. La Cucina and Teppanyaki were the most popular of the specialty restaurants.
For those looking for specials, if you dined in the specialty restaurant at 6 p.m. or earlier, you were given one complimentary bottle of wine for every two adults. Since we ate in the Asian restaurant, Moderno (Brazilian barbecue) and Le Bistro (French) at 6 p.m. we had lots of wine! Children eat free in the specialty restaurants if they choose from the kids' menu and at half-price if they choose selections from the children's specialty menu at each venue. All the specialty restaurants had wonderful service and great food and ambience. The main dining rooms accommodated our requests to be ready for the early show. On debarkation morning, we ate in Grand Pacific. It was most enjoyable and the French toast was delicious.
We're early risers and never faced a crowded buffet but our kids found it easier to eat with their children in the dining room-fewer choices, less hectic, etc.
If you have a big group, make your reservations in advance. I realize this is counter to free-style but you get the time you want and don't have to wait. That works for me but others might prefer to "go with the flow."
A handout is included in the Daily when you embark advising you of show-times for the week. Since the shows started at either 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., the hand-out was most helpful in making dinner reservations.
We were most impressed with the service. Our room attendant was friendly, came early to fix up our cabin and provided us with nightly towel animals. The shopping consultant, Chantal, was very lovely and helpful when I consulted her about redeeming my door prize at the Latitudes party. Whenever we had any request (fix our safe, verify our on board credit), the staff accommodated us immediately.
I think the children would have preferred the Chocoholic Buffet to be in mid-afternoon or earlier in the evening rather than at 9:30 p.m. I wished that Progressive Trivia was held late in the afternoon rather than 5:30 p.m. when I couldn't participate because it interfered with dinner and the early show.
The gym is very well-equipped with lots of treadmills, weights, classes (for a fee), etc. It was very crowded the first day but after that, no problem.
Embarkation and debarkation were handled very efficiently. Be advised that the number of passengers allowed to locate their luggage at debarkation was controlled by the port staff. When asked why the stairwell was closed off, we were told that this was originally a freight port, the escalators are steep, and there were some falls in the last month.
Our children and grandchildren, who love the beach, enjoyed the ports very much. We were very lucky with good weather and calm seas. We didn't find much to do at any of the ports, especially Port Canaveral where the shuttle takes you to Wal-Mart.