I read many reviews before my trip, so hopefully this will be able to help someone else. I wasn't on a Norwegian cruise in many years and didn't know what to expect. I just recently returned from the 9 night cruise on the Norwegian Gem that left on April 18th. I was a silver latitudes member (now gold) at the time, so I have been on several Norwegian cruises. I have also recently sailed with Royal Caribbean and Princess.
The departure port for this trip was New York and we stopped in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Dominican Republic. My husband and I are both in our twenties and enjoy fun yet relaxing vacations, so if you have similar expectations than this review is for you. There were many highlights to sailing with Norwegian, but also quite a few quirks. I know this is long so I'm going to break this up into categories so you can read whatever parts you would like.
Embarkation was pretty quick and easy. It was much easier going out of New York, as we live in New Jersey, than flying to the port. We got to the port around 12p and stood in line (the silver latitude line) for about 30 minutes to check in. As soon as we were checked in we got right onto the ship without a problem and were able to have lunch.
Disembarkation was also easy for us. We did the easy walk off and carried our own luggage off the ship. There was a bit of a line to get off, but it was as bad as I've experienced with other cruise lines. It took a total of 45 minutes for us to both get off the boat and go through customs. The only down side to disembarkation I noted was that they don't have an area for you to stand to be picked up. They shuffle you downstairs and make you leave the port to go stand on the corner across the street. There were so many people standing on this corner, plus this is a main road, it made it difficult for our ride to stop and pick us up.
The food in the main dining room was phenomenal. We didn't eat in Magenta, only Grand Pacific because we found a waitress we really liked. (Ask for Rosemary, she's AMAZING). The first night the food took forever to get to us and it seemed like everything was going wrong. They didn't have glasses to give us for drinks until halfway through our meal and didn't give us steak knives for our steaks. I guess it was just a fluke since every other night ran smoothly though. Another quirk that may seem ridiculous to those reading this is that they got rid of the little scrapers that pick up your crumbs in between the entrÃ©e and dessert. I'm not sure why this really bothered me, probably because I make lots of crumbs when eating my bread, but I missed it.
I'm not a buffet person to begin with but I felt like the food in the buffet was worse than other buffets I've been to. The breakfast food was the only food we were able to tolerate there (we had tried lunch twice and it was horrible) and the omelet station was great. The buffet was always crowded and a lot of staff ate at it too, which just added to the crowd. We did find that if you walk all the way to the back of the buffet (aft) there is a separate set-up of food and it is significantly less crowded back there.
Blue Lagoon was the casual dining area inside and had delicious comfort food. Service was always fast and the food was always a good quality. The only disappointment was that even though it was open 24/7, for some reason after lunch they had to convert their menu. This disappointed my husband since he loves mozzarella sticks and this was one of the few items they took off. The poolside grill has great specialty burgers during lunch such as pulled pork burgers and blue cheese burgers. There isn't anywhere to get normal (non-bar) drinks out here, so if you want iced tea, etc. you have to get it from the buffet and walk it out here.
The only specialty dining we did was Cagney's. This was beyond disappointing. Although the steak was delicious the service was terrible. The night that we went, happened to be the night they decided to start a new menu. We didn't know this and we're excited for the old menu. The new menu also meant the charge changed from $25 per person to $30. The steak and food was good but it took a long time and you could see the chefs standing in the kitchen making the entrees and looking at pictures of how they were supposed to be while arguing with one another. Our side dishes weren't delivered to us until after we had already finished our steak. It will probably be better once they iron out the kinks with the new menu, but I was disappointed that we had gone.
The spa was mostly wonderful. We purchased the heat therapy and relaxation package that allowed us to use these rooms for $139 per person for the week. This included a steam room, sauna, two personal hot tubs, showers, and loungers within a gender specific area. There was also a co-ed area that had a hydrotherapy pool, hot tub, 7 heated tile mosaic loungers, and normal loungers. All of these features were wonderful and this area was never too crowded. We were able to use whatever amenity we wanted without having to wait in line. Also, the sauna actually hangs partially off of the ship to give amazing views. It was worth every penny.
We also purchased a couple's massage with bath. This is where I would never spend money again. We do a massage on almost every vacation we go on and this was by far the worst. Normally, while you are filling out the forms they have relaxation room to sit in with loungers. Instead, we sat in the main greeting area of the spa while we waited. We then were brought directly into the massage room and told to undress and get on the tables. I prefer being able to go into a changing room and put a robe it and then come in. I really think that adds to the relaxation. The actual massages were just okay. Immediately following the massages was the bath. This was the biggest waste of money. We were given 20 minutes for the bath. It was simply a hot tub with some bubbles in it. By the time we got off the massage tables and into the bath we had 10 minutes before we were already getting our 5 minute warning to get out. We didn't even have enough time to use the couples shower to get the oil and bubbles off of ourselves. This is also where it would've been nice to have a robe to put on rather than getting my clothes all oily/wet as they kept knocking while we were trying to get dressed. There was barely enough time for us to somewhat dry off. It would have been nicer if I could've just put on a robe and went back into a changing area to shower, or if we had more time in this room. The bath alone cost $60 plus 18% gratuity. As we were checking out another girl was at the counter complaining that her massage was cut 15 minutes short, and she didn't receive the facial that was supposed to be included. I would never do a spa treatment here again.
St. Maarten was one of my favorite destinations. We booked a tour through Noel tours that was great. We did the St. Maarten island tour and it was $40 per person. We met the tour guide right by the boat (didn't have to take the water taxi). It was us and one other couple in a tour van. The van was comfortable and air-conditioned. There was also a cooler filled with drinks to take at our own desire with sodas, water, and beer. We stopped at a small iguana farm and saw some cool iguanas. The iguana farm is under construction though until later this year. We then stopped at Oyster Pond to meet the sea urchin man. He let us hold a bunch of different sea urchins. There was also a look out deck at this stop for some great pictures. Orient Beach was a very touristy area. The beach was crowded and they wanted $20 to rent two beach chairs for the hour. We decided to just walk along the beach instead. This is also where the nude beach is located. It's about a 10 minute walk from where you are dropped off. Trust me the nude beach is not as exciting as it may sound to some of you, mostly very old people. Marigot was next and had some great shopping. There were physical stores as well as tents set up with street vendors. There were probably about a hundred street vendors and they were all selling pretty much the same exact thing. The only thing good about that is it made if very easy to negotiate with them. Maho beach was the final beach we went to. This is a place you must go to if you go to St. Maarten. It is located at the end of the runway for their international airport, so the jet planes fly very low over your head. The beach is also beautiful where you can swim or relax on the sand. There is also the Sunset Bar here with listings of all the airplane arrivals. Drinks were reasonably priced here and if you are a daring person, women without tops receive free drinks. We stopped at two more places quickly on the way back to the boat for pictures. They normally drop you off where you were picked up but we asked to be left in town to do some shopping and took the water taxi back. St. Maarten is definitely the cheapest of these destinations to do shopping. This is also the place to buy tobacco and alcohol. The ship wanted around $40 for a carton of cigarettes and St. Maarten was selling them for $18 each. There are also a lot of jewelry stores that are much cheaper than the ship and ridiculously cheaper than the U.S.
Here is their website for the tour company we used if you are interested: http://www.noeltours.com/St_Maarten_St_Martin_Tours_Excursions.html
In St. Thomas the shops were a bit more expensive. There were also 5 other ships in this port at the same time as us so there were people EVERYWHERE. We did the Turtle Cove Catamaran and Snorkeling through Norwegian for this port. This was another amazing excursion. We enjoyed music as we sailed about 45 minutes to Turtle Cove. The staff then led us around the cove to show us where the turtles were located, as well as the coral reef. The water was beautiful and we could see the turtles about 15 feet below us without a problem.
Puerto Rico was just a day of walking around for us. The city was nice and we did the short walk up to the fort. It was only $3 to enter the fort and took about 1-2 hours to walk around. Just so you know, there are a lot of hills and stairs within the fort so wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk. It is a self-guided tour, so you can go wherever you want. I do wish there were more descriptions of the places within the fort, but for $3 it was great for the price.
Utter disappointment! I read the reviews that said don't bother getting off the boat here and they were 100% right. The beach that the tender left you at was disgusting. It is supposed to be a $2 taxi ride into town, yet every taxi there told us they would only take us into town after we did the $90 tour of the island. When we said no and started walking away, they tried physically pulling us toward their cabs. We literally turned around and walked right back to the tender to the ship. We met people onboard who did the ATV excursion here. They said that the beach that they rode along had so much feces on it, the ATV in front of you would just kick it up and they were covered by the end of their tour. There is a separate island off of Dominican Republic with the Cayo Levantado beach. This was highly advertised on the ship and although I didn't go, I heard good things about it. There are separate tenders that take you directly here. Beach chairs are also free, but are first come first serve. It was $15 for the tender ride and access to this area.
Cabin and Cabin Service:
The cabin was much smaller than expect. The vanity was in an awkward location at the corner of the bed, so if I was sitting at the vanity, my husband would have to climb on the bed to get to the other side of the room. The bathroom was normal sized for a cruise ship and got the job done. The king size bed was two twins pushed together, as most cruise ships do, but unfortunately mine and my husband's feet would hang off. I am only 5'6" and he is 6'2" so we aren't even abnormally tall people and this was occurring. Our cabin steward was fantastic. We got different towel animals every night, as well as chocolates.
The bowling alley is something I've never had on a cruise and it was pretty cool. It was $5 per person/per game and was never too crowded. The system did seem to "freeze" a few times, which was easily fixed by pressing the reset button.
I don't think there was enough pool area for the ship. There were only two pools that us commoners could use (not counting the spa pool) that were always overcrowded. There was another pool up in the haven that is only for those suite guests. The areas around the pool were where the loungers were, and getting a lounger was harder than getting tickets to the Super Bowl. The water slide just sucked. People weren't even using it because every time someone would go down they would get stuck and have to push themselves down. This even included the lightweight kids. I don't know if it needed to be greased or have more water, but it was more of a ramp that you move your own self down rather than a slide.
All of the cruise staff was awesome. They were attentive to the passengers needs. Sinan, the cruise director, was awesome. He sings over the loud speaker everyday in his funny Turkish accent and even did a comedy show the last night of the cruise. There were a lot of grumpy senior citizens on board this cruise and the staff handled them well. We overheard some of the most ridiculous requests, like calling the dining manager over to pick up a French fry as a kid was eating since he dropped one on the floor and it was bothering them. All requests were met with a smile and graciously dealt with.
Overall Ship Maintenance:
The ship was maintained pretty well. All of the carpets and walls were bright colors, which suited the tropical environment it sails to. There were some areas that needed maintenance, such as the hanging maps of the ship's floors. The one near our room had half of the floors scratched off of it and it was therefore useless. Also, the midship staircase has an area on one of the landings (I can't remember which floor) that feels like there is a metal piece under the carpet. When you step on it, it makes a loud popping sound and then when you step off it pops back up. The outdoor furniture was also in need of repair. One of the chairs on our balcony actually broke and my husband fell through it.
The entertained onboard was fantastic. Nadeed the hypnotist had hilarious shows. I'm not sure if everyone on stage was actually hypnotized, but it was funny nonetheless. The Man from Mars was a must-see show. This is their cirque style show and this guy was great. He does cirque style acts where he is doing acrobatics, to magic, to comedic acts. Definitely see Man from Mars. The Norwegian Production Cast was just okay. They weren't really coordinated with one another and the shows weren't that great, but if you have nothing better to do, they hey go see it. Second City Comedy Troop was pretty funny. We really enjoyed their adult themed improv show on the last night.
There were also a lot of game show style shows in the Spinnaker lounge. They included the newlywed game, the quest, and battle of the sexes. These were fun and we participated in most of them.
We did Bingo once and probably would've done it more had it not been so expensive. They want $39 for the smallest package (3 cards for each game), $49 for the next largest package (6 cards for each game), and then you can spend $20 to add toppers to these packages that added more cards and instant win cards. It was just expensive if you aren't a big gambler. There was also a $5000 jackpot that could only be won if you get a full card in 47 turns or less. Most ships on the last night get rid of the 47 turns or less rule and give it to someone, but not Norwegian.
The professional pictures were a bit expensive. They wanted $19.95 for each copy of a picture. We didn't have any experience with the children's club and there weren't many kids on our cruise so I can't tell you much about that. I also would like to mention that the 18+ nightclub, Bliss, was filled with young teenagers every night as the 18+ rule was not enforced as it should've been.
In conclusion, I don't think my next cruise will be with Norwegian, since I've liked other cruise lines better, but it wasn't completely awful.
I hope this helps my fellow cruisers and will make your vacations even better.