Just getting around to posting my review of the Norwegian Gem cruise from Dec. 13 to 22nd. First, let me state that the overall experience was very positive. Norwegian seems to aim at a younger crowd and the entertainment factor was outstanding. However, a couple of things to watch out for and had they been different I would have had a much better overall experience.
Embarkation - Took the shuttle ride from Laguardia airport to the pier. Remember to factor in the fact that it is Thursday near lunch in Manhattan. The ride took almost two hours (11:00am to 1:00 pm), so factor this is to your calculations. Found out later that although further away, Newark is a much easier arrival.
Once at the pier I was greeted by a disaster. I still have less then 10 cruises on my resume and have split them amongst different lines to see what I like about each cruise line. However, this meant that to Norwegian I was only a Bronze Member and had to wait in the longest line I had ever seen for boarding. After a one hour and 50 minute wait I finally got to the desk only to be greeted with surely service. It didn't seem to be just me either as I could hear other passengers having the same problem. No customers should be exposed to that experience!!!! Way too few service stations to handle this load.
By the time I got onboard my room was ready and it was quiet nice. I tend to book an interior cabin as I spend very little time in the room. Overall rating for the room and cabin stewards was 8+.
Surprisingly, the first two days in the Buffet you had to stand in line as all food was handed out individually. The first morning I had to wait for over 10 minutes for my coffee as my eggs got cold. When I asked one of the servers why this was taking place, he replied that they wanted to make sure that the passengers did not burn themselves on the hot coffee :)
I found out later that this was because the previous cruise had a serious flu epidemic and they had to put extreme measures in place until they were sure they had this under control. However, none of this was communicated to the passengers which could have eased the frustration level for all involved.
Entertainment - Okay, on to the good stuff!!! Ever night there was a choice of two fabulous shows at the main theatre. Singers, dancers, Second City comedy, A Cirque de Soleil show, Hypnotist and Comedian. Seriously, what other ship offers anything close to this!!!!.
As well, the lounge entertainers were awesome. Laurie on Piano and Pablo on guitar were fantastic. As well, there were two bands which played near the pool on several days (an throughout the other lounges at various times). Both were outstanding and could have headlined on another Cruise Line.
The White Nights event at the disco and the Chocolate Buffet and the first day Pub Crawl were all great. All three are can't miss.
As well, one of the bar's featured a "Flight of Patron Tequila". For $12 you got 3 shots (Regular, Silver and Gold). I don't know about prices where you live, but this might have been the best deal going onboard.
Add this to game shows and trivia and other daily activities and I found myself sometimes hustling to get from one to the next. If you are bored on this ship, you probably have to blame yourself.
Dining - Food in the buffet and Main sit down dining rooms was average (but acceptable). One night I ordered a strip loan steak off of the main menu and it came out grey. Service in the dining room was also quite average. Twice I had to ask for bread for my table. In all it really seemed that the push toward the "for pay" restaurants and the guaranteed gratuity has definitely reduced the normal dining experience.
The 24 hour restaurant (Blue Lagoon) was hit and miss. The chicken wings were quiet good while the fish and chips were terrible :). Pizza was available as well from room service for a $5 charge. A huge meal which could feed 6 people. An option for a smaller serving or a 24 hour pizza station as with other lines have would have been welcomed
I used the workout room every morning and the facilities were very good. Especially on port days it was uncrowded and the equipment was all in very good shape.
Didn't do any excursions, but did get off the boat for shopping. San Juan and St. Thomas were disappointing (run down and very expensive respectively). St. Maarten was wonderful. The last port was a private one in the Dominican Republic. Although I didn't go, the beach was reported to be wonderful. However the rest of the area is undeveloped and you may be disappointed if you try to do anything else.
Remember this is a 9 day cruise for a reason. Leaving from New York in the winter means you lose at least one day in each direction where it is too cold to be outside:) As well, expect some rough Seas as when the hot and cool weather meet the storms tend to appear. The last day at Sea on the return had more then a few people looking quite green.
So, to summarize, I will return to this line, but will probably try another competitor first before going on Norwegian again. I will definitely avoid a New York departure as even stowaways should be treated better the the port staff handled us. With a couple of small changes this cruise could have been fantastic. Still, value for money was quite high and on the whole it was a great time on board.