NCL Gem Review 1/27/2013 through 2/5/13 6 Adult in the Garden Villa Suite 14500. Both my husband and I are platinum latitude members. This was a last minute cruise for us (we booked 2 weeks prior to sailing) none of our guests had ever cruised before. Having been on the Gem 3 times prior, I had a very good idea of what to expect.
We left New Hampshire at 7:30 on the morning of our cruise and arrived at the Port of NY by 1:30. An easy Sunday drive. We dropped off the bags, tipped the porter and parked above for $350.00, very easy.
FYI ... The cruise prior to ours was delayed due to a medical emergency and we could not board until after 2pm. This delay caused longer lines than usual. We were given color cards and waited at the next pier until our color was called. Once we got in the boarding area we were escorted to the Villa or Haven line and Shirley processed us very quickly and got our key cards and let us cut through her counter ... and so the "special treatment" began. We were onboard by 3:30 I think ...
We went directly to the Garden Villa 14500 and there was our butler Kadek who already had a cold Guinness waiting for my husband. He remembered us very well.
The Garden Villa is huge. The colors of the 14500 were vibrant blue, green and gold, perhaps a bit loud for everyday, but absolutely perfect for this Caribbean cruise vacation.
3 bedrooms all with their own bathroom. One is definitely the master with an enormous soaking tub. I will not bore you with all the details of Garden Villa, it is just as awesome as you have heard.
We were kept well hydrated with 6 bottles of alcohol, and all the bottled water, soda (pepsi products only) juice we could want. I ordered additional wine onboard as well. I found out about the $15.00 per bottle corkage fee and realized it was pretty much the same money to buy onboard for $34.50. I am not a big drinker but I am learning :)
Service: In a word, Outstanding.
Our room stewards Elisa and Christopher were wonderful.
While Elisa kept the Villa clean, Christopher kept the private courtyard and sundeck in tip top shape, taking in cushions, hammock, scrubbing up the sauna and hot tub.
It was all very nice.
Our concierge was Florentina and let me tell you here Florentina put all past concierges to shame. Naturally she made all our spa reservations, dining (often at the last minute) and seating at the Stardust and so much more.
She also ordered local flowers for me on behalf of my husband, with the instructions "something made locally and funky" She did not disappoint us at all.
Kadek our butler (he remembered us from 2010) went above all expectations.
We always had fresh fruit, cookies, finger sandwiches, chips and pastry platters. Plus juices, soda and the unlimited espresso machine.
I lost my voice on day 3 and Kadek brought me tea with honey and lemon ... I did not ask for tea, he mentioned it was worth trying and I was very touched.
He gave us suggestions for dinner and shows, reminded us of parties and bridge tours and many special little things that made this particular cruise so very special.
We asked every day about the Super Bowl and even though our darling Patriots did not make it to the big show this year we explained that this is an American tradition and so
Kadek and Florentina worked together and coordinated a private Super Bowl Party / Poker Tournament in the reserved Star Bar (one flight below) for us and our "Party" and they served hot dogs, wings, chip and dip and other snacks.
Breakfast and lunch at Cagneys is free to Villa guests but we only got there on the first and last day.
Tapenyaki ... was great fun and great food.
We had dined at Le Bistro in the past and even though it was very nice, I do not like 2 hour dinners so I passed on this one.
My Villa mates raved about the food in the Orchid and Cagneys.
I also enjoyed the Main Dining Room and the Buffet ... but never went to the Blue Lagoon or Moderna or LaCucina.
I am not a particularly fussy eater, it all tasted great to me.
But others I spoke with (not in my party) were a bit disappointed in the food.
Ports: My husband and I had been to all of these ports before. This was a first time for our guests.
San Juan Puerto Rico
Weather: Party Sunny 76-80
We did not book an excursion but hired a driver (through Florentina, not the excursion desk) Our driver Rafael took us to Bacardi, the Fort and Old San Juan for some photo ops and shopping in particular the Butterfly Place and Del Sol. At the end of the day it started raining hard and with no place to park our driver kept circling the block while we finished our last minute shopping. He was a very nice young man but did not have much knowledge about the highlights of San Juan, which would have enhanced the day so I just told them what I recall from prior visits. Plus if you just read the insert in the Freestyle it is filled with local info. It was a very nice day.
Saint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
Weather: Party Sunny 78-82
We did not book an excursion but hired a private driver (Winston Churchill), through Florentina.
This was the first time we ever had a driver greet us with his van at the very ship, one foot off the exit ramp (this was awesome!)
Winston took us to Orient Beach, which was very crowded, and then another crowded beach next to the airport and realizing we did not like crowds he brought us to the French side where we all enjoyed a very pricy (all prices in Euros) brunch at a beachfront restaurant. Brunch was a selection of appetizers from Octopussy soup, delicious French bread and truly amazing change-your-life chocolate mouse and of course guava berry smoothies. We learned a lot about the history of Saint Maarten from Winston, he also described to us the story behind the many statues and monuments along the boulevards and rotaries. And when he mentioned that both sides share the same (or similar) National Anthem, we encouraged him to sing it for us and he sang it beautifully. After brunch we stopped at an open air market and we all picked up souvenirs, nice beach cover ups and I got them each a framed print from a local watercolor artist as a memory. Then Winston brought us to a small beachside bar (clothing optional) and had a great afternoon on the beach being served drinks and amazing fish sampler including swordfish, red tuna and mahi ... the food on the French side is to die for.
Finally Winston brought us back to the ship and argued with Port Security to be able to drive us up to the ramp, which he did ... It was great day for all. But I still prefer the Dutch side with 3 dollar draughts and pizza along the waterfront and ladies walking around trying to sell you cheap wraps and hair braiding.
Quick note: San Juan driver was $50 per hour and my husband tipped $100.00 and we were shocked when the Saint Maarten driver said $750.00 (5 times the San Juan driver) and my husband tipped the same.
Saint Thomas USVI -- Sunny 80
Excursion booked through NCL:
My guests booked Snuba
$79 each, 3 Hours, Activity Level 2
4 in my party did this tour while my DH and I lazed about our own private paradise (courtyard)
My guests reported that this was an awful tour. They did not see a single fish and the group they rode back with saw hundreds. But the beach they were brought to was across from a busy hotel and so no fish.
They also commented that the beach was dirty with empty beer cans and condoms. Yuk.
Samana Dominican Republic -- Mostly Sunny 78-80
Excursion booked through NCL:
My guests booked Salto El Limon Horseback Ride
$79 each, 4.5 Hours, Activity Level 3
4 in my party did this awesome tour.
They absolutely loved it, the "best day of their lives" type of tour! They raved about the guides and the waterfall and it was just perfect. However the next day they were hurting a bit.
We had a blast bowling and dancing the nights away at both Bliss and the Spinaker. My guests enjoyed the shows in the Stardust Theater. I thought Second City was very good.
The incredibly versatile cover band Centerfold has amazing range and when we requested a Guns and Roses tune the guitar solo blew us all completely away.
The cruise director Allan Scally (sp?) was very likable, charming and seemed to be everywhere.
We got VIP treatment all the way with a private Bridge Tour and escorted entry into the Chocolate buffet and through immigration all the way to our porter back in NYC.
We got tons of invites for "free drink" parties (latitudes, captains, haven, etc.)
The staff on the Gem is the friendliest on any ship.
Everyone knew my husband ... they greeted him by name, Good Day Mr, M., Good Evening Mr. M, etc. I mean everybody from the guys with suits and gold bars on the shoulders to the waiters and maintenance men .... it was awesome.
Photography was just OK on this cruise but we still bought tons of memories. We bought a lot of photos plus the NCL ship shaped flash drive for $39.00 additional (A very good idea)
I enjoyed playing at the Texas Hold'em cash game in the casino. But the rake is very high (10%!) and some of the dealers are just awful. They are fine for black jack or roulette but poker has defined rules and these dealers were clueless.
The Casino Poker Tournaments were held every sea day at 12 noon but the structure and pricing is just bizarre and a complete rip off. What frustrated me mostly was the wash between every hand. If you do not know tournament poker then it will not bother you but with blinds going up every 15 minutes, every second counts and the more hands you see the better your odds of actually cashing. We tried to explain this to the dealer and he said they know this and they get the same complaints every cruise ... well duh.
We hosted a couple of poker tournaments in the villa on the first sea day coming back and the seas were very rough while watching the super bowl in the Star Bar.
The Guinness dilemma ...
I had pre-ordered 2 cases of Guinness in the can for the Villa and when we got onboard we were told there were only 72 cans onboard. We said we wanted all 72. Quickly doing the math for a 9 night cruise I realized 72 beers was just not going to cut it. So we spoke with Kadek who then spoke with Victor (Beverage manager?) and we were assured that more canned Guinness would be brought onboard in San Juan.
Keep in mind that Guinness in the bottle (stout) was plentiful onboard but it has much higher alcohol content and the taste is not as smooth according to my DH.
In San Juan they supposedly shopped at local stores and picked up another 33 cans ... which was so very nice of them BUT had I known this would be a problem, I would have requested our driver help us find some more.
When you have the Villa you often have lots of company and you need to have beer and wine on hand to offer your guests.
In Saint Thomas USVI they said they did not find any canned Guinness and the same story for Samana DR.
So alas, my husband who is a very generous man of simple pleasures did not have his beloved canned Guinness but he handled this disappointment with grace and drank the stout.
It probably does not sound like a big deal to others but to me it was major. After all it was his "one and only" request and he was assured that it would happen. Therefore it was upsetting ... until he met with Victor yet again and was told that he would get a significant refund off his cruise expense account.
Now both my DH and I are happy. A class act NCL.
On the last night of the cruise my DH was walking through a bar where the guests were told the bar was closed and he invited the whole bar (reggae band included) up to the villa for last call ... we still had liquor left over! And finally after 9 nights of searching we found a piano player. It was close to 2 AM and the villa was filled with joyful noise and music of Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Roberta Flack... OMG what a trip.
What was missing in 2010 but happily has returned in 2013 ...
Welcome aboard champagne, juice or sparking water.
Night chocolates on the bed pillows.
New for us: A pillow menu and a Haven party with the captain and officers.
My head is still floating but reality is hitting with a blizzard on the way ...
Till next time,