In November of 2011, my partner and I sailed aboard the Norwegian Gem on a 7-day Florida & Bahamas Cruise. Our experience was so exceptional on every level that we sought to share it with friends. On January 18, 2013, the two of us, along with four of our friends, departed New York City for a 9-day Eastern Caribbean voyage, once again aboard Norwegian Gem. This was my second time sailing on Gem and my third cruise overall. While my first experience on Gem (11/21/11-12/04/11) was extraordinary, my most recent sail was utterly disappointing for several reasons; a large private group monopolizing much of the ship, poor communication from the ship's staff, a general lack of basic NCL rules being enforced, unsanitary accommodations, and a chaotic disembarkation process.
After depositing my coat and carryon luggage in my cabin, it was my intention to start my vacation with a leisurely lunch in the Grand Pacific Dining Room; however, I was turned away, as the dining room was closed for a "Private Function". Public rooms being closed for a "Private Function" would be a common occurrence on this voyage. It soon became apparent that due to a large group booking, many areas of the ship were closed to other passengers. If I had been aware that a large group had booked private functions throughout the ship, consequently hindering the rest of the passengers from enjoying full use of the ships facilities, perhaps I would have selected another date to sail. I am not sure if the fault here lies with NCL, or my travel agent.
One example of poor communication from NCL staff, regards the closure of the Magenta Dining room throughout the duration of our cruise. When I inquired about the status of the Magenta Dinging Room, I was informed that it would be open to all passengers for dinner from 5:00p.m.-7:00p.m. This was not entirely true as I discovered when my party and I tried to eat there. Passengers who arrived at Magenta were guided through the dining room and seated in the much smaller LeBistro Restaurant. Being that the ship was booked to capacity, this made the wait time for Magenta quite long, it also put a tremendous strain on the Grand Pacific Dining Room. The later in the evening one waited to eat, the more frenzied things became. My party and I chose to bypass this confusion, and ate in the specialty restaurants most nights. In addition to the Magenta Dining Room, the Stardust Theatre, Spinnaker Lounge, Library, Card Room, Chapel and other areas of the ship would frequently be closed for a "Private Function". This made other areas even more crowded, Especially on sea days. Being a
Recreation Professional myself, I understand that large groups require special accommodations. My issue is not with areas being closed to the majority of passengers, but with the failure of ship staff to clearly communicate what areas would be closed and when. If we the passengers were made aware of these closures, we could have done a better of job planning our days around these disruptions.
Most irritating was the inability of Ship Staff to effectively enforce the few basic rules of the cruise line. Every morning the ship was in a warm climate, I and the other members of my party found it near impossible to get a deck chair in the sun. Most chairs were claimed with a beach towel by 9:00am (despite the fact that nobody was actually using the chairs). Also, I would wake up in an effort to use the pools and hot tubs when they first opened at 8:00am only to find them already swarmed with swimmers. In addition, events such as Karaoke, and Comedy Shows that were advertised as ADULT, would routinely be attended by numerous unaccompanied children and teenagers.
When I complained to Guest Services about these issues, I was told that it was "Everybody's Vacation" and that ship staff could ask a guest to follow the rules but if a passenger insisted on doing something (against the rules) there was nothing they could do to stop them. I do not find this answer acceptable. I love the concept of freestyle cruising, and the relaxed atmosphere it creates. However, I feel that in an effort to be fair, all guests should be required to follow the same basic rules. Another member of my party wished to express similar concerns and was told the ships Director of Hotel Services would be in contact during the voyage to further discuss his concerns, nobody from the ship's staff ever followed up.
While for the most part the ship appeared spotless, I am extremely troubled by a discovery I made in my cabin's bathroom the last morning of my voyage. At 6:30a.m. I discovered a cockroach crawling along my bathroom wall. Being that my room (10541) was forward on deck ten, not near any public areas, and that I did not not keep or consume food in my room I can only imagine the level of infestation on this ship.
Lastly, I feel the disembarkation process was completely mishandled. Here again, a total lack of communication made things much more confusing and frustrating than they needed to be. Our ship was delayed due to a medical emergency; we did not arrive in port until after 12:00p.m. However we were still asked to be out of our rooms by 10:30a.m. We were also told not to congregate in the ships hallways and common areas. When I asked a member of the NCL staff where my group could line up for U.S. Customs Processing (performed on the boat since Hurricane Sandy) I was placed in a line on one side of hallway. Other guests who had taken it upon themselves to congregate on the opposite side of the hallway became irate upon learning form staff they were not in line. Other passengers cut the line altogether, by use of a staircase, NCL Staff seemed unable to manage the situation. Better communication, better signage, and some crowd control barriers would have gone a long way to easing the situation.
I write this review in an effort to make NCL aware of these issues (I have also sent a letter to the company) . Since my first sail in November of 2011 I have been a strong promoter of Norwegian Cruise Lines and Freestyle Cruising. On my most recent cruise, I boarded the vessel with every intention of placing a deposit for future use on the Norwegian Breakaway. However, the events of this past outing make me somewhat hesitant about booking future trips with NCL.