It's Wave Season....and the Cruisin' is Easy. I decided last year that a perfect birthday gift from me to me is a cruise. Especially since it is so easy to go out of the NYC port. So for the past two years I have sailed solo on NCL's Gem...and boy is she!
I offered to chair the Meet & Greet aboard which all ships hold to ensure that their www.cruisecritic.com pax are happy -- after all we are their major audience. This year, Steve Knott, the very affable hotel director, addressed our group.
In attendance was the Captain and various other officers. While nibbling refreshments we addressed any questions we had concerning the cruise.
This was a 9-dayer to Old San Juan, Phillipsburg, St. Martin, St. Thomas and a new port toyours truly -- Samana in the Dominican Republic. Samana was the only tender port.
For those who might complain that there is nothing to do -- they need to seriously peruse the 4-page Freestyle Daily which is chock full of information The list goes from 6:30 am to midnite. All kinds of sports
activities, bingo, games, art auctions, poolside activities, library, card room, free seminars, plus the two evening shows and game shows or karaoke in the later evening hours. And the casino is always open in non-port days.
Evening shows included a comedy hypnotist (I was called to the stage & did not get expelled even though I did not go under), Chicago's "The Second City", comedy ventiloquist Michael Ziegfeld, comedian Jeff Harmes, The Man from Mars (a Cirque-style show) along with a few shows performed by the Gem's singers and dancers. An excellent way to spend an hour.
A hot pastime aboard was Trivia Pursuit with up to 6 folks in a team. At the 5:30 game there were 2-for-1 drinks which may not have helped out scores!
My team of 5 were winners a few times receiving a point for attending and
3 points for winning. The competition was fierce because the more points one garnered the more free stuff one could take home at the end of the cruise. I crammed a few t-shirts and a coffee mug into my bag having 'won' the
very attractive sturdy tote bag last year. NCL does need to asterisk these activitis as they have done before and UPGRADE their offerings which are meager.
The other major - and for some - THE major - event is food. Alot of decisions to be made. There is the Garden Cafe topside that is open for all three meals plus late nite snack. The Blue Lagoon is always open. Except for port days,
both dining rooms were open for all 3 meals. And then there are the cover charge specialty restaurants featuring Asian Fusion, sushi, Brazilian, French, Italian, Japanese, Steak cuisine for evening repasts.
I did not eat in any specialty restos and found the main dining courses adequate
save for the steak one nite. Salmon is always good as was the lambshank w/butternut squash. Was delited that the Garden Cafe had quite a variation.
One evening there is a Chocolate Extravaganza Buffet up in the Garden Cafe with Everything Chocolate. And then one gets to dig after taking photographs. The regular desserts were quite tasty too.
A brief description of the ports. There were over 85 tour excursions offered. I prefer to do my own R&D and solo it. In San Juan, I hoofed 2 blocks to Starbucks for a coffee fix (Note: all ships have inferior coffee unless there is
Java cafe on-board and the Gem is NO exception) and grabbed the free trolley that skirts all of San Juan even going up to el Morro fort.
In Phillipsburg, a $7 water taxi into town & then took a $2 local bus to Marigot on the French side to dine at a sidewalk cafe there. In St Thomas there was a shared $4 land taxi to town for shopping.
After a 20 min. tender ride into Samana, I walked to a local office of www.whalesamana.com where I purchased a $50 + $3 conservation fee ticket to go whale watching. It was a rainy cold day even with the provided slickers
but we saw a slew of whales. Only 3 boats are allowed near whales at a time.
I am sure everyone is heading for the Epic, Breakaway & Getaway but I am loathe to leave the very friendly staff on the Gem.