Traveling by Air at this time of year can have its challenges. Given the problems with the deicing equipment in Toronto we were glad we left 2 days before our cruise left. We stayed in the Novotel Times Square, although pricy it was handy to Times Square and we could see the cruise ships arrive from our room. It was exciting to spend time in New York on the 30th and 31st of December.
Like everyone else we decided to get to the port early on the 31st to avoid the road closures associated with New Years Eve. It seemed that everyone going on the cruise decided to arrive at once. Given that the Gem arrived late due to ruff seas and that US Customs and Immigration had to take place on board the ship disembarkation of passengers was slow. It seems that Sandy wiped out the US facilities on the pier. I think NCL handled the crowds extremely well, they provided lots of coffee and other goodies while we waited and once the ship was ready allowed us to board by numbered group. I thought they did a great job keeping us informed and making the boarding process go as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.
We stayed in a mini suite #11152 on deck 11 aft. It was a great room. I do believe that the time is approaching when the mattresses and pillows will need to be replaced. We were under the outdoor cafe on deck 12 so every morning around 4 we could hear the tables being moved as the staff cleaned. We also wish that we had remembered to bring a power bar. The room had ample storage, a bathtub and a couch. We were very happy with it.
Our two days at sea were fairly ruff. We did eat lunch out on deck on the first day and by the second day everyone was around the pool swimming and sunning. NCL does need to step up its chair hog policy. One day we went out to the pool at 9 am and every chair on the pool deck had a towel placed on them and only 5% had a person sitting on them. While there is notice in the daily there needs to be signs up around the pool.
We found all of the staff on the Gem doing everything in their poser to make us happy. The service was fabulous. There was not a meal that we did not enjoy. We ate in the Garden Cafe, the Grand Pacific Dining Room, Cagney's Mondero's and the Italian Restaurant. La Bistro still remains one of my favorites.
Our first port of call was San Juan. I had arranged a private tour with Charlie's Custom Tours. Carlos kept us going for the four hours we spent with him and I would highly recommend him.
Our second port of call was St Maartin where we had arranged with Joyce Prince to tour us around the island. We had a great time as she drove us around the coast with lots of stops for swimming and sight seeing.
The highlight of our trip was the tour we booked in St Thomas with Simplicity Charters. Captain Charlie even got my wife and I to snorkel something I never thought I would do. What a thrill this was.
In Samana we decided to stay on board the ship and enjoy the pool while everyone was off.
The comedians on board were great. We took in the Second City murder mystery lunch and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Despite having to go through US Customs and Immigration on board the ship the disembarkation process went very smoothly.
This was the second time we have been on the Gem out of New York and I have to say that the service has improved and the quality of the food has improved. We would not hesitate to take this cruise again in the future.