This was our 7th cruise on NCL and the 3rd time we sailed on the Canada itinerary out of New York. We probably enjoyed this cruise more than any of the others. We had a very active Roll Call which gave us an opportunity to meet some wonderful people on this trip.
We arrived at the pier at about 11AM. There was just a short line for security and, since we had a suite, we were checked in quickly and taken to the VIP lounge to wait for boarding to begin. We met the concierge, Florentina, who was delightful and helpful throughout the cruise. It wasn't long before we boarded and were escorted to Cagney's for lunch. While the lunch menu at Cagney's isn't my favorite, there are a couple of dishes I really enjoy, and it's a perfect way to start a cruise.
The cabins were ready shortly after lunch so we made our way to ours, an aft penthouse on deck 10. We met our cabin steward, Pablo, right away and soon after our butler, Randito, came with fresh flowers and introduced himself. This was our second "suite life" experience and we really love these aft penthouses. For two people, there's plenty of room, the views from the balcony are spectacular, and the extra suite perks are really nice to have. Our luggage arrived and we were unpacked and settled in before sailaway. We had no issues with our cabin. Pablo and Randito took very good care of us. Pablo is a towel animal master and, by the end of the cruise, we had quite a collection of critters.
The Gem was easy to navigate. Having sailed previously on the Jewel, it was all very familiar since there are only minor differences. As we've found on all the NCL ships, the crew is constantly working to keep the ship clean and in good repair. Hand sanitizers are everywhere along with reminders about frequent hand washing.
On the first sea day we attended the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. We had already met a few of the people who had joined the Roll Call and it was nice to see some familiar faces. The M&G was well attended, the senior officers of the Gem were there to welcome us and answer any questions, and the ship provided refreshments. If you're on the fence about joining the roll call for your cruise, do it. We've found it really enhances the cruise experience.
There are many dining options on NCL ships and just as many opinions about the food. We had breakfast most days at Cagney's. Although the menu is the same every day, there wasn't anything we could have wanted that they didn't have. It's quiet, uncrowded, and the service and food are good. Most days when we were on the ship, we skipped lunch or maybe opted for a snack at the buffet. We did try the pizza at the buffet (get it when they first put it out if you can) and it was a big improvement over what we had on previous cruises. We only ate in the MDR 3 times. It wasn't gourmet dining but it was good, which is what we expected. There was a short wait the first night, about 5 minutes, but the other nights we walked right in. We loved Moderno and went twice. We also had dinner at LeBistro and at Orchid Garden and thought both we very good.
The highlight though, was the Chef's Table, expensive at $75PP but well worth it, we thought. We were given a class of champagne then ushered into a private dining room where our group of 12 enjoyed a 9-course dinner which included wine with each course. It lasted about 2 Â½ hours. Afterward, they took us to the Atrium for after dinner drinks. Everyone received a photo with the chef, a group photo, and a copy of the menu that the chef had signed. It was a nice touch.
We were very impressed with the variety and quality of entertainment on this cruise. There seemed to be a range that would appeal to most everyone. We only saw two shows in the main theater and both were good but the acts in all the lounges were very entertaining. Sinan, the cruise director, is like the energizer bunny. I don't know how he manages to keep up the pace.
We ran into some rough seas due to Hurricane Leslie and had rain the entire day in Halifax. By the time we got to Quebec City the sun was shining and was very warm. We've always enjoyed the ports on this itinerary. We didn't do any tours in Halifax or Quebec City but Corner Brook and Sydney are very small towns though, so we did excursions to be able to see something of the surrounding area. I believe Corner Brook is a new port for NCL and compared to the other ports there isn't much there yet in terms of a cruise facility. The locals are very eager to please though, and very welcoming. Sydney, on the other hand, has a very nice cruise terminal for the size of the town. Because we were in port overnight, we were docked away from the center of the city in Quebec. It was disappointing in a way because you had to take a shuttle from the ship. They ran frequently though, so it wasn't really a problem. We were also docked at the industrial pier in Halifax and had to be shuttled to the main cruise terminal.
We've always been impressed by the friendly NCL crews and those on the Gem were no exception. If you passed the cabin stewards in the corridors they always smiled and said hello. On a couple of occasions we had crew members approach us who remembered us from last years cruise on the Jewel. One young lady saw us and addressed us by name. We have no idea who she was or how she knew us. I was standing on deck as we were leaving Quebec City and an officer came by and struck up a conversation. The officers are always visible and approachable, and eager to resolve any issues. In fact they asked us at the Cruise Critic M&G that, if we had a problem, to give them the opportunity to take care of it. They didn't want to read about it on CC after the fact.
We enjoyed all our meals and our expectations were met. Food is always subjective but we didn't expect a 5-star dining experience (although Chef's Table came close) and we don't cruise for the food. The service we received everywhere was excellent, the entertainment was very good, we enjoyed the interaction with the crew members we met and also met some wonderful people through Cruise Critic on this trip.
We'll be back on the Gem next fall since we have a 9-day Caribbean cruise booked.