Well after several weeks on land, I am finally getting a chance to do a formal review of my Gem cruise in January. This was my 7th cruise and 6th on Norwegian. It was also my 3rd cruise on the Gem after sailing on her twice in 2008. I was on the now famous cruise on January 18th with what will certainly go down in the books as one where a minority of the passengers really made things miserable for the rest of us.
There has been so much posted about their behavior and I am sure that everyone can get a feel about how much we resented them at the end of the cruise. But that's the point, the cruise ended and if feel that the purpose of a review is to talk about things that would affect future cruisers. I hope that if any of the offenders have read the things written about them that they would step back and change their behavior the next time they travel.
So I am going to focus my review on things that someone who hasn't sailed yet would find helpful.
We arrived at the port at 10:30 and went to the VIP check in as we are gold Latitude members. We were given a boarding number of 3 and went to sit and wait for the call to board the ship. At that time there was absolutely no line for security or check in. I heard that later on the lines were huge. However, there were 2 Norwegian ships boarding that day so that may have added to the problems.
First and foremost, after being away from the Gem for 5 years, I didn't see much sign of wear. She is in amazing shape for a ship that sails with a full capacity every week. I read a review here about some signage near one of the elevators that the words were coming off and a noise in the mid-ship staircase. Because of reading that review I did notice those two things. Neither of them had any effect on my enjoyment of the ship. She is in great shape!!
I won't comment on the problems regarding the dining room as that has also been discussed and are unique to that cruise and would have no bearing on anyone's future cruise. I will comment that I felt the food from this cruise was better than my cruise last year on the Jewel. Not to say that I didn't enjoy the food last year, I just liked this a bit better. We ate in the MDR on most nights. We did eat in Moderno twice and La Cucina once. Moderno was wonderful!! I can't really comment on my meal in La Cucina much as they brought us this amazing bread and dipping oil to start and I ate so much that I couldn't even touch my main course...it was absolutely heaven!! Also of note were the desserts. These were by far the best desserts I have ever eaten on a ship. I couldn't walk through the buffet area for a glass of water without picking something up.
The crews on Norwegian are just amazing and the crew on the Gem was up to that same standard. I have to give them extra credit this time because of the unruly passengers. Their patience was unbelievable. There is no way I could have kept smiling after the way some of the passengers were acting. The crew of the Gem was really tested this time and passed with flying colors.
Steve Knott the hotel director really had a tough job this cruise. Between trying to keep everyone satisfied with the disruption in the dining rooms and having a majority of passengers complaining about other passengers, he had his work cut out for him. To the very last day every time I saw him I was greeted with a smile. I really don't know how he kept that up the entire cruise. I can only imagine how remarkable he must be if you are sailing on a cruise without those unusual circumstances.
One of my best memories of the cruise was coming back to the ship in St. Martin. There were 4 ships on the same dock and the Gem was in the back across from a Celebrity ship. Walking down the dock you could hear music and see dancing!! There were at least 20 crew members, including Steve the hotel director and several other officers, dancing and smiling and welcoming us back. A cup of water and cool towel was there to greet us as well. None of the other ships had anything like that awaiting their passengers and the look on those people was priceless as they walked past our welcome and onto their ship. I stayed up on the deck for quite a while and saw Steve dancing, smiling and welcoming people back the entire time.
I also had the pleasure to be assisted by Florentina Popa as the Concierge. I looked forward to talking to her each day she went out of her way to see that anything we asked of her was done. After getting to know her, I realized how hard she tries to satisfy all of the guests who have Concierge service. The first time I met her, she was seating people for breakfast at Cagney's. I was surprised to see that she was the Concierge and asked why she was seating people and not one of the other crew members. Her response spoke volumes about her character, she said that she was happy to seat people and her job as Concierge didn't make her more important that the other crew members. She is a very sweet person who does her job from her heart.
We had an amazing cabin steward and I had a zoo of towel animals by the end of the week. My husband commented to the stewards on our floor that they were always working and he didn't know how they did it. Always greeting people with a smile, no matter which one of them you passed in the hallway.
As far as ports are concerned, we just took a trolley up to the fort at the top of the hill and walked through it. Then walked back down the hill to stop for a drink and a visit to CVS for some items.
In St. Martin we did a tour with Noel Tours who I would highly recommend. We met him at the port as soon as we docked and he really took us all over the island, even letting us stay longer at Maho beach to catch a big plane landing before we left.
In St. Thomas we walked a bit through town and did some shopping. We took a tender back to the ship for lunch and stayed on the ship. We had been to St. Thomas before and really wanted to relax on a half full ship.
In Samana we did the excursion to Cayo Leventado. At $14.99 it is a great idea. I would not spend $50 to go there if the price wasn't reduced. It is a nice beach day. However, since no food or drinks are included, I would not pay $50 for a ride to and from the beach. In Samana you do need to have something planned.
In closing, I need to share one quick story about the first crew member I met while walking to my cabin the first day. He was a shy looking cabin steward who looked at me meekly and just said "welcome home".. I immediately smiled, knowing in my heart that I was indeed home.