Cruise to the Eastern Caribbean aboard NCL's Gem, February 23rd to March 4th, 2013
We were a party of two, my wife and I, both senior citizens. This was our twentieth cruise since 2001, our thirteenth with NCL, and our second aboard the Gem. We had previously sailed on NCL's Crown, Dawn, Jewel and Star, and had also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean.
We are platinum members of NCL's Latitudes Club and usually receive certain perks. This cruise we received priority check-in and boarding, priority disembarkation, complimentary dining and wine in specialty restaurants, in-cabin champagne and sweets, a ship tour, laundry service and a cocktail party.
We arrived by limo at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal at 11 am on February 23rd, were whisked through security and priority check-in and directed to a waiting area. The wait to board was long, nearly two hours, since passengers from the previous cruise were still disembarking. Hot chocolate, cake and water were served during the wait, a practice not typical of other lines we've sailed. Once aboard, lunch was being served and by the time we finished eating, our stateroom was ready. NCL does offer a secure location for carry-on luggage if passengers choose not to carry their luggage until their staterooms are ready. The required safety drill was held and we sailed at 4:00 pm as scheduled.
The Gem is an NCL Jewel-class ship having a passenger capacity of 2,384, a crew of 1,154 and has been in service since 2007. The ship appeared to be in excellent condition and was spotlessly clean. Our stateroom on Deck 10 however, was small as were those on other NCL (and other cruise line) ships we've been on. Closet and storage space were limited. The room had the usual amenities; a flat screen TV, hair dryer, wall safe, coffee maker and mini-bar. A complimentary bottle of sparkling wine and a box of chocolates awaited us in the room. The room steward, Diego, was courteous, friendly, efficient and adept at making towel animals.
NCL offers "Free Style Dining" where passengers are free to dine at any complimentary restaurant at any time without assigned tables or reservations. Passengers can also dine in the extra-cost specialty restaurants with reservations. We've experienced both "Free Style" with NCL and the more traditionally "assigned seating and dinner times" on other lines we've .cruised. We never had a problem getting a table at the main dining rooms at our choice of times with the "Free Style" system.
There were two main dining rooms, the Grand Pacific and Magenta. The Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors provided buffet style dining. The Blue Lagoon, a smaller venue, provided twenty-four hour dining and snack service.
Breakfast, lunch (sea days only) and dinner were available in the Grand Pacific. Dinner only, was available in the Magenta. The Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors were available a good part of the day and evening. We normally breakfasted in the Grand Pacific, preferring to be served in a quieter, less hectic environment than the Garden Cafe. Our lunches varied between the Garden Cafe, Blue Lagoon and Grand Pacific. The service in the main dining rooms was courteous and efficient (although sometimes a little spotty at breakfast). The menus were sufficiently varied and the portion size adequate for us. The food was generally good and nicely presented. We rarely asked for an extra entree or seconds, although a trencherman would likely have asked for more. If something we wanted wasn't on the menu that day, and if it was available in the kitchen, asking for it usually got it.
Specialty restaurants; Cagney's Steakhouse, La Cucina (Italian), Le Bistro (French), Moderno Churrascaria (Brazilian), Orchid (Asian/fusion), Sushi and Teppanyaki (Japanese) were available at an extra cost ranging from $15 to $25 per person through reservations only. We used our two complimentary dinner invitations at Le Bistro, which we considered the finest dining on-board. A complimentary bottle of wine was provided at each dinner. We also dined at the Orchid and Moderno restaurants, both very calm, quiet and good. We did not dine at Cagney's, La Cucina, Sushi or Teppanyaki on this cruise but have dined at Cagney's and La Cucina on past cruises and considered them very good as well.
There was always something to do, if you wanted to, morning through late night. On sea days, if you wanted a quiet time, a well stocked library and quiet reading room were available. Otherwise there were Bingo, indoor and outdoor games, food preparation demonstrations and art history presentations and art auctions.
The Cruise Director and his staff worked very hard to ensure that passengers were having fun.
We found that the evening shows to be getting stale. We only attended three of the nine; a stand-up comedian who was so-so, a singer who received a standing ovation for his outstanding performance and a well presented music and dance review by the Gem song and dance troupe. We did not attend the Second City, hypnotist or other comedy shows. Instead, most evenings we preferred to listen to lounge performers; guitarist/singer Leo, pianist/singer JD and pianist Michael. All were quite talented with vast repertoires and met most requests. Poolside entertainment by a Caribbean band was also very good.
The casino seemed larger than any we've seen on other ships as did the shop area. We did not play at the casino or do much shopping.
This trip we decided to join the spa. This was once free on NCL ships but now only available at an extra cost. The enrollment was limited to seventy-five members. The spa provided a large hydro-therapy pool, hot tubs, hot beds, steam, saunas showers and quiet rooms. We used the spa daily, mornings and afternoons.
Ports of Call
Four islands were visited; Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and the Dominican Republic. The arrival at San Juan, P.R. was at three O'clock and we decided to simply walk around the neighborhood near the pier. At St. Maarten, we took a water taxi into Phillipsburg and swam at the town beach. At St. Thomas we sailed on the Kon-Tiki, a motorized glass bottomed raft, touring the island and landing at a beautiful private beach. A steel band provided music on the tour and there was dancing on the return trip. Soft drinks were provided and there was a cash bar. On previous cruises, similar type excursions provided food and alcoholic beverages. The ship anchored off Samana, D.R. and passengers were tendered into Samana. We chose to stay on board the Gem.
After nineteen cruises since 2001, disembarkation finally occurred at the previously scheduled time. Yes, we gold and platinum Latitudes members were scheduled to disembark at 9:00 am, right after the walk-offs and wheelchair assisted passengers, and we did. However, at no fault of NCL, there was the usual chaos on the street as passengers awaited their rides.
What We Liked About the Cruise
As was said earlier, this was our thirteenth cruise with NCL so there must be something we like. That something was the crew. For example, when returning from our excursion, crew members were on the pier with ice water, ammonia soaked cooling towels and flavored ices. We didn't see any of this at the two ships parked behind us at the pier.
We liked the lounge and poolside musical entertainment.
We really liked the Le Bistro and Orchid restaurants.
We liked the friendliness of the crew.
What We Didn't Like About the Cruise
There really wasn't much that we didn't like.
Although the crew cannot, or will not stop it, we didn't like the reserving of poolside deck chairs and then not using them. A passenger was seen saving several chairs at 6:00 am, in the dark and then leaving.
Food wastage, especially in the Garden Cafe. Again no fault of NCL
We would have appreciated less sea time. The trip out to Puerto Rico, 1400 miles, took 71 hours which relates to an average speed of 17 knots, far below the ships top speed. However, not knowing the economics relating speed and fuel usage, this is a mild complaint.
We highly recommend sailing on the Gem. If you're thinking about a cruise on the Gem, we hope that you found this review helpful. You can follow the link below for more information on the Gem and NCL.