I'm sad to report that I wasn't thrilled with our cruise. We love to cruise and actually booked this trip because it was the 5th anniversary of the night DH proposed on the Gem in Cagneys. Recreating that night was one of the highlights of our trip but there were so many other things that just weren't up to par.
Embarkation could best be described at organized chaos. The ship was late coming back from her previous voyage because the seas were so rough. We had gotten to the port early around 11:30 a.m. but they had only just begun disembarking passengers. We stood for over an hour in a hot crowded line before the metal detectors at security started admitting people. Once through there we stood for another hour to reach check in. Friends in the Garden Villa only had to endure the security parts but were then whisked onto the ship. Others in suites report that they were able to sit down and then were escorted through check in.
Once on board, we hid in the library until our cabin was ready. A few others had the same idea but it was relatively quiet and we could sit. I knew better then to brave the pandemonium I knew I'd find if we had ventured to the buffet. While we were in the library, we heard an announcement that muster was being pushed back so after dropping our gear in the cabin once it was opened, we actually managed a leisurely snack at the Blue Lagoon.
Muster without the life jackets was far more civilized then seeing a ship full of people wandering around with the extra bulk but I couldn't help but wonder if the lack of jackets changed the dynamic for first time cruisers. I was happy to familiarize myself with it that first time.
I should report we had a rough sail down . . . with heavy seas. It wasn't as bad as our trip up 5 years ago but you knew you were at sea. This was not gentle rocking. This was being conscious of where the floor was when you walked because it might move between the time you picked your foot up to step and when you put it down. The crew placed sea sick bags by all the elevators & in many public areas. They were used. I probably could have handled the movement of the ship or my New Years' Hangover. The combo was deadly however & I'm not the only one who suffered.
When NCL scheduled our CC meeting for 11 a.m. on New Year's Day I knew were weren't getting a lot of people and we didn't. Attendance was down even further because of the waves. Although the entire senior staff showed up they didn't stick around & socialize. I assumed the captain had things to do but I wondered why the hospitality staff disappeared so quickly. They were friendly and personable when we met them throughout the rest of the trip. Ironically they didn't even give us the usual speech about tell us while you are on board if there's something we can do; don't just go home & write about it on CC.
We booked an OV guarantee, as we usually do. This time we were assigned a handicapped cabin. It was awful. The bathroom has a spacious roll in design which must be wonderful for someone who needs that, but the floor drains throughout the room are not effective enough to contain the water. As a result of the movement of the ship, the water flows out of the bathroom and drenches the carpet in the cabin. You can see the water when you step down. I was afraid to blow dry my hair for fear of being electrocuted. We tried stuffing towels under the door but that only slowed the flow of water into the cabin; it didn't stop even when I used 2 beach towels. (At my request the cabin steward had given us extra for that purpose & he changed them daily.) I don't want to think about the amount of mold which must build up under the carpet immediately outside that bathroom door. Even the carpet in the hallway was damp. NCL tried to help. They sent us an industrial dryer to absorb the water but it was hot and noisy.
The cabin was designed to accommodate 4 people. We slept on the "queen" which is the two twins pushed together. A trundle bed was under one side and popped up to be for a 3rd person. A wall platform was mounted above the beds & flipped down for a 4th person. The problem was the placement of the mount made it so you couldn't sit up in bed because if you were straight and your head was against the platform there was about 8 inches of space between your back and the wall so you had no support. This made it difficult to sit up & read.
In all fairness, my frustration with this cabin may have adversely colored my entire perception of this trip.
Overall the food quality on the Gem has gone down in my opinion, except for the pizza. While not real NY pizza by any means it was a vast improvement over the frozen Elio's style squares we'd been served on other voyages. Coming from NYC, you'd think NCL & the chef would realize that the majority of passengers like flavorful meals. There wasn't a spice to be found in anything -- the jerk chicken I had for dinner had a mild flavor at best. Even the Indian food at the buffet was bland. Several mornings I ate cereal and yogurt for breakfast because the eggs at the buffet were cold & they tasted like powdered eggs, rather than fresh. The omelet station offerings were too greasy. It became a joke among our group. I had to order first because no matter what I got, it was substandard, so my companions would order anything else. Even my duck at Le Bistro was tough, although everybody else's steaks were good. DH had the salmon which he liked but it looked dried out & overcooked from where I sat. The special BBQs by the pool were pretty good, especially the side dishes but the meats were all cooked well done which meant they were dried out & flavorless. I was told it was for food safety reasons. It wasn't just me. We had met another couple on board. We saw them coming out of Cagneys & she was so upset. They thought they saved the best for last but she said it was one of their worst meals on the ship; her shrimp were rubbery and her salmon oscar had such a old fishy smell, she couldn't even eat it.
NCLs wine list has gone downhill too. It used to have a lot of good mid-range wines that were very well priced. I remember getting a Gingrich Hills which is usually $36 in the liquor store and about $65 on most wine lists for $42. It wasn't even on the wine lists. They had a lot more stuff that was $9 -- $12 in the store and was selling for the usually mark-up to $30 on the list. Although the Berringer Pinot Noir which was available by the glass is priced at $34 per bottle on the dining room wine list but $31 per bottle on the wine by the glass stand up menus at the bars. I don't care about the $3 but the inconsistency bugged me. (Maybe I've been watching too much Bar Rescue on TV) I was so glad that we boarded with 4 bottles of champagne because they were pushing Moet ice which didn't appeal to me at all. Tattingers and Dom Perignon were the only good champagnes available and there were no more champagne by the glass choices even at the champagne bar in bar central.
The bar staff commented that this was a quiet cruise. That assessment could be applied to our Roll Call thread which wasn't very active. Often times we were the only ones at bar central, although the chairs to watch the entertainers were usually occupied by non-drinkers. I think everybody on the ship under 30 was in Bliss every night but even then, there were more empty seats than anything else. One of the bartenders also speculated that sales would pick up if they moved the pub crawl from its current late afternoon time slot to an evening after dinner event. I think the bartender was right; I didn't want 6 drinks on an empty stomach so NCL if you are reading this, think about changing the time.
There were no deals on the drink of the day; I didn't have one but friends complained the $4.99 margaritas by the pool were watered down and made without tequila.
MDR service wasn't what we were used to from other voyages. The staff didn't smile. Everything took too long. They seemed disorganized and rushed. It was hard to get anybody to take our wine order. They would bring the wrong thing -- bottle of merlot when we ordered chardonnay. While we were waiting to get that straightened out 4 people including the DR manager asked to take our dinner order. I had to repeatedly explain that we wanted our wine before we ordered. Since an automatic tip gets added to the bar bill, I didn't understand why this was so difficult on this trip when it had never been a problem before.
I was very disappointed to learn that the souffles were gone. They were always my favorite dessert. The hotel director, Jenny Linn, a delightful woman performing a difficult job, sent DH and I fabulous, scrumptious, decadent chocolate cake worthy of one of those dessert shows on the Food Channel for our anniversary.
People deride NCL for its freestyle dress code but on this voyage the majority of people were dressed up most nights. I think at least Â½ the passengers were in formal attire for New Years Eve; the other half saved it for the next night, Norwegian's Night out. When I dared wear capris and a nice top, I felt underdressed. I suspect this level of fashion is more a function of the fact that the ship sailed from NYC than a change in NCL's demographic but I didn't see any sloppy people. Even the few kids on board were dressed most of the time.
While others complained about chair hogs, I never had a problem finding a chair on the upper deck. In fact, many times there were still chairs stacked up. NCL does need to enforce it's adults only pool rules. There were always children in that pool even though the family pool was only a few feet away.
The on board entertainment was good. We liked Michael the piano player and the jazz band. The comedians were funny and the dance troop was good. They deserve great respect for their ability to make some of those leaps look effortless even when the ship was moving.
There were other little picky things around the ship that indicated NCL needs to give the Gem some TLC. The signs by the elevators needed to be repainted. The plates at the bottom of the stairs banged and boomed when stepped on. Almost every public ladies' room around the ship had at least one stall where the lock was broken. Yes, those are picky details but I couldn't help but wonder if that was an overall sign of budget cuts or just a lack of caring, both of which made me worried that there were bigger safety issues I didn't know about.
Disembarkation was fine especially given the extra problems which still exist after Hurricane Sandy. That's nobody's fault and NCL seemed to be doing the best it could. I was appalled by how rudely some of my fellow disembarking passengers treated the staff and the customs officials. By the way they acted you would have thought they were being held prisoner on the ship.
We'll be back but if things are like this next time, we may start looking for a new favorite cruise line.