This was the second time we sailed from NYC and the process was very easy. We take the Amtrak train to Penn Station and get a taxi to the pier. Since we are Gold Latitude members, we had priority embarkation and got on board the ship very quickly. After checking our carry-on bags at Bliss Lounge, we headed to the Grand Pacific Dining Room for a delicious lunch.
Sea days were a relaxing way to start the vacation. We attended various events for Cruise Critic members and for Latitude members. It is always fun to meet some of the NCL senior staff and to meet new people who share a love of cruising. We've done this itinerary several times before so we did not attend any of the staff presentations on shopping or excursions.
Our cabin was on deck 10 port side and was quiet and convenient to other areas on the ship. We usually select an inside cabin since we find we sleep better there.
Since we've been to San Juan before, we decided to walk around Old San Juan and revisit some of our favorite places. The promenade along City Wall is very nice and leads you to the historic San Juan Gate as well as Fort del Morro.
In St. Maarten, we went on the Orient Beach Rendezvous(NCL) where our group went to the Waikiki Beach section. Lunch was included, and we had 3 choices for an entree as well as a beverage. The food and service were very good, and the outdoor setting was very tropical.
St. Thomas is always a fun port to visit. Because there were 3 or 4 other large ships in port that day, the Gem docked at Crown Bay Center, which is about 15 minutes from the center of town. We took a shared taxi/shuttle into Charlotte Amalie and did some shopping.
We went on the Cayo Levantado Beach transfer(NCL)in Samana. The small island off Samana is very nice and tropical. Beach chairs were provided and there were places to buy food, beverages, and island souvenirs.
The food on the ship was very good with a variety of selections each day. We took advantage of the pre-cruise specialty restaurant dining offer and made reservations at LaCucina, Le Bistro, and Cagney's Steak House. While there is an extra charge for these restaurants, the food and service were excellent and provided fine dining. We ate breakfast in either the Garden Cafe or the Grand Pacific. Most of our lunches were in the Garden Care since we really liked the soup and salad selections as well as the pizza.
Entertainment was good and provided a variety of shows. Evening shows included a comedian, Tim Kaminski; a comedy hypnotist, Dr. Scott; a singer, Aaron Shaw; Second City troupe; the Man from Mars (a Cirque style show); and several shows performed by the Gem singers and dancers. Lots of activities were planned during the day. Sinan Ulucay was the Cruise Director and worked very hard to make sure everyone was having fun and engaged. Especially entertaining were the dance routines done by various NCL staff members (led by Sinan) on the pier before we left St. Maarten.
Disembarkation went smoothly. Many passengers took advantage of the easy walk-off. We decided to wait in Magnum's Lounge until most of the passengers left. It was one of the easiest and fastest disembarkation we've ever had. Taxis were waiting across the street from the pier to take us to Penn Station.
Overall we had a very enjoyable cruise. The service was excellent, and the entire staff did their very best to make sure guests had a great cruise. Their smiles and friendly "hellos" seemed genuine. Captain Roger and his senior staff were very personable, approachable, and set the tone for the high level of service provided by all the crew. The Gem was very well-maintained and very clean. We love the concept of freestyle cruising and the relaxed atmosphere found on NCL ships. We definitely had a "Gem" of a cruise!