Our 10 day cruise got off to a bad start with ALMOST not getting aboard the ship by departure time. The taxi ride from JFK airport to the cruise pier should've been an hour at most, but due to the President being in town on Sept. 18th, traffic was a nightmare and we were the ABSOLUTE LAST people to step from the gangway onto the ship. Upon arrival at the dock at 4 pm, there was only one person in sight and he said "RUN", and "RUN" we did! (The departure crew LITERALLY pulled the gangway out from under our last foot as we stepped onto the ship! That was too close a call!!)
We met the couple we were cruising with at the purser's desk and proceeded to the "Garden Cafe" for coffee and to catch our breath from the mad-dash, angst filled, effort to make the sailing. The ship was already underway so by 6 pm we stayed at the Garden Cafe and proceeded to eat dinner. By 6:30 pm I remarked about the fact that the ship was already starting to pitch and roll as we headed out into the Atlantic. As we had all finished our meal by 7:45 pm exhaustion had come upon us all and by this time the pitching and rolling of the vessel had become so strong that by the time we made it to our cabin it was a struggle to maintain balance while moving down the passageways. Fortunately for me I did not get sea-sick but my lady friend got very sick indeed, and, as we found out the next day, for good reason. We endured 60 to 70 foot waves that night and MANY, MANY, people aboard the ship had gotten violently ill, including many of the crew.
After the first night however things settled down and the rest of the voyage was calm and very enjoyable.
Our four Ports of Call were Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, Cornerbrook, Canada, and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately the weather at Sydney, and Cornerbrook, was very chilly and rainy, so our friends went ashore for a little shopping at those venues but we chose to stay aboard the vessel and "explore" this magnificent ship.
At Quebec the 4 of us chartered a taxi for two hours and drove the 30 miles out to sightsee at St. Ann's Cathedral. One of the most awesomely beautiful structures I have ever seen. Fortunately our taxi driver attends church there so he gave us a "guided tour" which we found delightfully enjoyable. The weather cooperated with a beautiful day and the fall scenery was gorgeous as the leaves were all starting to turn color.
The taxi driver dropped us off in the downtown area and we did a bit of sightseeing and shopping in that area. One thing of note is that the predominant language in Quebec is French so we found out very quickly what it is like to be in a "foreign" country where English is not the common language. It made our sightseeing a bit difficult but not insurmountably so.
The next port where we went ashore was in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and we did the same thing of hiring a taxi driver for a set period of time and again luck was with us, as the driver had been born and raised in Halifax and therefore knew many interesting things about the city. He had gone to college in Boston, MA so his English was excellent so we had no problems at all with any type of language barrier. While there we toured "The Citadel" and drove out to view the areas where the ship convoys gathered for the trans-atlantic crossing to England during WW II.
We enjoyed this cruise much, much more, than the one we went on aboard a Royal Caribbean vessel out of Miami about a year ago and that was mainly due to the difference in passenger capacity of the two vessels. The Royal Caribbean vessel accommodated 4,600 passengers while the Norwegian Gem only carried about 2,200 and that alone made the trip much more enjoyable indeed.
The one thing we did find somewhat annoying was the "free-style cruising" that is now apparently becoming the norm. The ONLY crew person that you dealt with in an ongoing manner was the cabin steward, whom we found to be a very delightful individual. ALWAYS in good spirits and a pleasure to see every day. Everyone else however seemed to give off a "don't really care" attitude. That is not to say that they were not pleasant, but overall they were just not friendly like crews we dealt with in the past whereby you had the same waiter , busboy, etc., every day and in that way came to know them somewhat as a person and not just someone that made you feel like he/she "had to" deal with you.
The nightly entertainment in the Starlight Theatre was good and bad with the best being a comedian named Jeff Harms. Funny to the extreme. (and clean). The only problem in the theatre was the volume level. It was set so high that we complained to the Cruise Director, but to no avail, so we just stuffed Kleenex in our ears each time we went and that way we were able to tolerate it.
Overall we did have a good time and enjoyed the trip.