Cruise Review -- Norwegian Gem -- 9 Days Caribbean Out of NYC 27 Jan 2013
Cabin 15500: Deluxe Owner's Suite (A2)
This was our first cruise. We are a mid 60's professional couple who have traveled extensively world-wide and enjoy first class hotels and dining when we travel. We've already traveled the Caribbean so the ports and excursions were of limited interest. We just wanted nine days of unstructured relaxation and pampering. The whole concept of the NCL's Haven and the exclusivity and service were an immediate draw. We wanted to avoid winter air travel so the drive to New York from our Maryland home filled in another requirement.
Embarkation. Two days prior to sailing we received email from NCL advising that because of a medical emergency, the vessel arrive three hours later and that we should not plan to be at the pier earlier than 12. We got the same message the next day. Strangely, one of our fellow passengers did not get any messages.
Even though our driver had never been to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, the signs got us to the right place and we were able to unload the luggage all on schedule. Not knowing what to expect it all seemed sort of chaotic. People were still leaving the ship and others were arriving. We were told to walk to the adjacent pier where they were holding people waiting for the arriving passengers to exit. But because we were Haven guests, we got to stay in a VIP lounge. There were small snacks and soft drinks while we waited. In that lounge we first met the Concierge, Fiorentina, who gave us our welcome documents and ID/Key Cards. Because of the delay, the VIP area was very crowded. But every step of the way, there was someone to take us from station to station to check-in, get documents, etc., even though it was in small groups and not individually.
Because of what we had read, we expected someone to personally meet us at the luggage drop off and individually take us through the process and finally to our cabin. That didn't happen and I attribute that mostly to the delay. It took about two and half hours from the time we arrived at the terminal until we were in our cabin. I have no idea how that compares with other travelers under normal circumstances.
Our Cabin. The Deluxe Owner's Suite (DOS) is situated in the center of the ship on Deck 15 aft of the pool area. It takes up the whole corner of the deck and has floor to ceiling windows facing forward and to port. Once we got used to the somewhat frantic decorating scheme we found the suite to be just wonderful. Because of the delay, we didn't get to meet our butler, Kadek, until very late in the evening and by then we had unpacked ourselves. I understand unpacking is one of the services and if we had been patient I'm sure he would have done it. He made up for that by his very attentive service throughout the rest of the trip. Elisa was the cabin steward and she was equally attentive and responded to all our requests. We had fresh flowers, a bowl of fruit, chocolate covered strawberries, a bottle of champagne all waiting for us on arrival. Fiorentina, the concierge, was very friendly, efficient and gently reminded us of the various perks (priority boarding, reserved seating at shows, etc.,). She arranged for a small group to see parts of the ship not on the normal tour and took care of all of our dinner reservations. The Haven concierge has a desk in the Star Bar (about a minute from our Cabin) on the Gem so we could drop in there anytime and chat with her about planning our day and information about the ship.
We managed to find places for most of our clothing but I would not say that the storage space is completely adequate. For those with more extensive wardrobes, it would be a challenge. Similarly the electrical outlet supply was thin. Between our tablets, cell phones, iPads, electric toothbrushes et al, Kadek found us a needed power strip. Other notable features of the room included a separate stall shower with a very fancy multiple function spray system ranging from rain fall to horizontal spray and wand. I saw afterward that there was also a steam shower function. In addition to double vanity sinks, there was a separate makeup table and stool and makeup mirror.
The TV (about 32" I guess) was just short of pathetic. Poor picture quality and a very limited channel selection most of which focused on promoting various aspects of ship life: food, excursions, spas and so forth. Not that we really wanted to spend any time watching TV. One really nice feature is a Bose DVD/Sound system. We were able to play DVD's that we brought (there is also a ship's library to borrow from). For the sound system there were multiple discs of various genres in the cabin. These could be played not only in the suite (there were at least four Bose ceiling mounted speakers) but also on the magnificent balcony (more of that to follow). There was also a reasonably sized desk with drawers containing menus, CD's, binoculars and with laptop computer that could be used for connecting to the internet (extra charge) or for general use.
DOS also has a beverage service area with glassware of various kinds, a minibar stocked with soft drinks (replenished at no additional charge). There was also bottled water including Pellegrino replaced as used. Three bottles of liquor of your choice come with the DOS. There is also a capsule based espresso/cappuccino machine. Once we got the hang of it, this was terrific. I even took some of the half and half from our fridge and ran it through the steam wand to make our pre-breakfast latte. This is not to say that we could not have had room service do this. We are an independent lot.
A sliding glass door leads to an enormous balcony overlooking the pool area and the port side of the ship. There was a large outdoor couch, two padded lounge chairs, a table and four padded dining chairs and - wait for this- our own private hot tub. I spent hours out there watching the ship activities and the sea go by.
We spent a lot of time in the cabin and it was so roomy and comfortable and with so many amenities I did not feel guilty at all about staying there.
At Sea. We were most interested in the spa, the casino, and the exercise areas. We both had haircuts, massage and skin treatments. There are various discounts available for multiple services, having services done while ship is in port etc. and we took advantage of these. Without exception the service level for all of these was exceptional. The staff is attentive; the facilities are well-designed, spacious and very clean. We purchased a package to use the thermal spa area for the entire cruise vs. purchasing on a day for day basis. We did not use it as much as we expected but that is mostly because of the Haven's wonderful public areas. We didn't want to leave.
We went to the casino often mostly because the stakes were very reasonable and we were winning. It's small but on the other hand we got to see the same players and the dealers who were all pleasant. The personal nature of it reminded us of some of the casinos in small hotels in the western Caribbean.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Haven package is the Courtyard area. This is a beautifully decorated glass roofed area on Deck 14 with a retractable roof that houses a small pool (with a lap pump so you can swim laps while remaining stationary), surrounded by a deck full of comfortable lounges and padded chairs, a self-service beverage area, a hot tub, workout area, steam rooms, all exclusively for the approximately 18 Haven cabins. There is never a wait for a lounge chair and there is plenty of space between with a small table for each chair. An attendant is available to provide bar beverages and meals. In addition, on deck 15 is a huge, exclusive to Haven, sundeck area with hammocks, double lounges and surely the best view from the ship. The Courtyard also has a few tables where meals from any of the specialty restaurants and from the room service menu can be brought for any meal.
Food. When we did our research, we realized that dining on a ship was going to be quite different than our usual land-based vacation. On land, we normally research restaurants; specialty dishes etc., and go out of our way to find unique meals. Obviously, that is not the cruise paradigm. We did not go to either of the main restaurants but either went to a specialty restaurant, had room service (for the Haven, room service can come from any of the specialty restaurants), or if we had a big lunch, to the buffet or the grill. If allowed only one comment, we would say that the food in the specialty restaurants was correct in principle but lacked assertiveness. The flavoring was timid. The venues were all very nice and the food was served with care. The wait staff all correct. There was just a lack of adventure and inspiration. One exception was the Churascarria specialty restaurant, which was very interesting, with various cooked meats and a delicious appetizer bar. Another exception was Cagney's, where we had breakfast and lunch often. For these meals the restaurant is reserved for Haven guests. The menu, though small, was diverse, very well prepared and had much more panache than we observed in the other specialty restaurants, even the same Cagney's at dinner. One minor irritant of Cagney's was the $4.00 surcharge imposed for fresh orange juice.
A word about the Garden Cafe (the buffet.) Considering that the goal is to provide something for everyone, we thought that the Garden Cafe did a pretty good job. Every once and a while there were things on the menu that really surprised me: the roast suckling pig, head and all, the Yorkshire pudding with the roast beef. And a really first class Indian Lemon Pickle -- I loved that. With all the New Yorkers on this cruise, I'm surprised too that the pizza wasn't up to NYC neighborhood standards. Some things that weren't on the menu but would get me back to buffet more often: good tacos/burritos; takeout style Chinese food; deli style corn beef/pastrami sandwiches.
Entertainment/Excursions. Didn't do it.
Disembarkation. Walking long distances is something we are not up to. So the disembarkation process in NYC which involved first walking to the front of the ship, then off the ship and all the way aft, then all the way forward again was very distressing. If we had known, we would have arranged for assistance. Because of our VIP status we got off the ship when we wanted and did avoid a long wait at US Customs and so did not have stand. Something learned for next time.
Summary. We had a great time. The pampering and exclusive services of the Haven must make cruising a very different experience than other parts of the ship. We have already signed up for an Alaska cruise in the Garden Villa -- three bedrooms and a grand piano's worth of excess.