DH and I booked the "Weekend Cruise" on the Norwegian Gem. It left from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on Friday and returned Sunday morning. This was our 1st time on NCL. To be honest, we had heard several negative things about NCL but the lure of a quick vacation without the need for flying or driving several hours to get there overcame any reluctance we had to try NCL.
For 2nts in a mini-suite we paid $599 per person, plus tax and insurance. Somewhat pricey for two nights. I got to the pier around 10 a.m. and my husband joined me later on. I was able to check-in and get an early boarding #. The NYC Port/Pier staff was a mixture of friendly and helpful and utterly nasty. One staff member was annoyed by a group arguing with her about who was supposed to line up first and basically told them to "shut up". I was sitting down, waiting for my DH and on my cell phone and she barked at me to "get up!" I tried to explain that I was waiting for someone but she didn't want to hear it. It wasn't even a section that they had to clear, because they directed others to sit there. Weird and annoying. Security and check in moved quickly at this early time. Be warned, you had to hand carry your luggage. Checking luggage was NOT an option- no stevedores, no porters. As the day wore on, the lines were longer and longer and moved slowly because security was screening all of the luggage. Check-in itself was easy with a credit card. There were separate stations for cash deposits and for atm/debit card users. Boarding started around 12:15 p.m. That was poorly done. We entered onto deck 7, the "atrium". The design of the ship is disappointing. The "atrium" is cramped, with only two levels and low ceiling heights. What made it worse is that everyone was directed to "check" their luggage in the Bliss Lounge. So imagine hundreds of people at a time in a small area waiting to check luggage while hundreds more are trying to board. Finally, my husband got fed up and asked a uniformed woman if we absolutely had to check the luggage as we had been told when first boarding the ship and she said "No".
So we bypassed the line and went up to the Great Outdoors to eat lunch and wait for the cabin to be ready. The lunch buffet was fine. The Garden Cafe was clean and spacious with pasta selections, sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, carved meats, etc. and the Great Outdoors had a limited selection. Mostly carved beef, chicken, cutlets- heavier foods. Cabins were ready at 1:30 p.m.
The mini-suite was spacious. Great bathroom, with a privacy partition for the toilet. Shower/tub combination was fairly roomy, good water pressure. NOTE- if you have physical difficulties- back problems, etc. this suite may not be for you. The sides of the tub are fairly high and you need to be able to get your legs over them to get into the shower. The cabin had good storage and a comfortable bed. The balcony is basic- two plastic chairs and a small table on a non-skid surface. The decor is like JC Penney threw up on a Sears- lots of royal blue, burgundy, and brights. Our cabin steward, Neil, was super-fantastic. We didn't even expect to see anyone on such a short cruise but he was always available. Neil was friendly, polite and the cabin was very well kept.
The muster drill was easy- held at 3 p.m., you went to your station without needing to bring life jackets. Bali Hai, the bar above the pool area was a great place to sit and watch the sail away party. The passengers were a varied bunch but the overall atmosphere seemed friendly. The pool area has two pools, one with a water slide for the kiddos and kiddos at heart and an "adult pool". They are very close to each other, so the "adult" area is not a quiet one, as it is on Disney. The pools seemed small for the size of the ship but I think that was my perception because they were not separated like Princess'. We sailed south and so had lovely, warm, 70s weather on Saturday and the pools were busy but not crazy.
We did not eat in the dining rooms, preferring to try the specialty restaurants. Cagneys was beautifully decorated, service was good, but the steaks were disappointing. Thin cuts, they were fatty and salty. The Teppanyaki was very fun. Crispino was our chef and he was funny and warm. My DH loved his "Land and Sea" saying the Filet Mignon was tender and cooked just the way he asked. My "Seafood" was good but the lobster was overcooked. It didn't matter because the theatrics of the chef were great!
We did see one show- Second City and laughed a lot. Mostly "sketch" comedy with one piece of improv, the show was well done, fast-paced and different from any other show we've seen on a cruise line. Definitely recommend. We ended up at Magnums, the champagne bar, most nights. This lounge, the "beer bar" and the "martini" bar are all one big area, with different seats options. Very busy and crowded, it really seems like its a corridor rather than a defined area. Mary Joy, a cocktail waiter at Magnums, was terrific. Very efficient with a great personality. "Bandaoke" was a fun idea- singing karaoke with a band and it was great to watch! Saturday had activities. DH tried Bingo, but was turned off by the price- $50 for 6 cards? and the fact the prize wasn't guaranteed.
We decided to lounge by the pool. The gazebo for the band is right in the middle, so if you are looking for quiet, you need to go up to deck 14 or 15 to find the "quiet areas". We enjoyed the music and people watching so we stayed. The pool side barbecue was plentiful. The burgers and dogs were not as good as we've had on other lines, like RCL, Princess and Disney. There was NO room service or pizza delivery on this cruise. That was a sore point along with the luggage issue.
This cruise felt very much like the red-headed stepchild of the cruise line. We paid almost as much for this 2nt cruise as you would for an inside stateroom for a 7 nt cruise. Yet, full services were not available. The feeling was that NCL was looking to cut corners wherever they could without shame. I did try the Seaweed wrap at the Spa. It was ok. We were double charged on our bill but DH said the front desk corrected it without a problem the morning of disembarkation. I'm glad we caught it. On the whole, the cruise was fun without being amazing. The design of the ship, the lower quality of the food, and some other things have convinced us that we won't sail on NCL for a 7nt or longer cruise. In our opinion, we prefer Princess and Disney and feel we've gotten better return for our money. For the price, about $1500 for two people, we expected more- room service at least. Just a last note, when we were getting off the cruise, the very, very nice NCL staff person who was monitoring the line said "This was a nice cruise, no fighting, no disrespect." We almost started laughing at the surprise and wonderment in his tone.