Long time lurker, 1st time review. Hope ya like it . First, some background. We're a late 40's / early 50's married couple, experienced international travelers. We've just started cruising over the last couple of years & we've been bitten HARD by the bug. Our 4 previous cruises (over the last two years) have all been with Carnival, all on Conquest class ships, out of either Miami or FLL. While we've loved each CCL experience, it's time to try both new lines & ports. That's what led us to this Gem cruise out of NYC & as well as our upcoming holiday cruise on RCCL's Freedom of the Seas. Ok, enough of the boring stuff...on with the review:
Embarkation / Port: Excellent. We drove in for two days cruise, hoping to spend a couple days in the city & to catch a Mets game (another long story, I'm trying to "bucket list" & see all the MLB parks). Unfortunately, the game was rained out on Friday. We stayed at the Springhill Suites Laguardia, with was very nice (not to mention a 5 minute walk from the stadium). If you fly into LGA, we'd recommend it. Drove into Manhattan on cruise morning, absolute piece of cake. Arrived a bit before 10 & parked at the pier. While I understand folks wanting to save some $, pier parking was incredibly close & easy. Handed the bags to the porter, walked directly to the counter & were seating in the waiting area by 10:20. We were boarding the Gem by 11:30. Awesome job, NCL. In addition, the sail away, down the Hudson, is beautiful. Honestly, folks, everyone should cruise out of NYC, at least once.
SHIP / ROOM: Very nice, well maintained ship. We were in a 9th floor, mid-ship balcony. Liked the room a lot...but MAN, it was small. We often travel with my sister-in-law & we've always been able to comfortably squeeze her into our CCL room. If you're bunking a 3rd adult on a Jewel class ship, I'd seriously consider the mini-suite. Having said that, we really liked some of the "little" things. Most accurate thermostat we've had on a ship. Nice "split" layout to the bath, I could actually turn around in the shower. Much prefer NCL's sliding door to the balcony & appreciate the blackout curtain, as well. Except for the crowded feeling, loved the room.
Public Spaces: Again, very nice & well maintained. Ship flows well, easy to get around....but MAN, I sure missed the "8 elevator" banks on CCL. This is also my first significant comparison point. While certainly not a criticism of NCL, this is the first area I "missed" CCL a bit. First, I missed the "big central point of action" that CCL has worked to make their Lido into. I don't even sit in the sun, but I missed the "center of the action" vibe, big screen, bars, etc. Never really found that "spot", on the Gem. Also, I missed the bars. Of course, the Gem has bars, but not what I grew used to on the CCL ships. Smaller, stand alone spots (sports bar, the Lido bars, Alchemy, etc), where you could pull up a stool & meet folks. Have a beer & talk sports. Bar central, Spinnaker, etc. are all nice...just not that "neighborhood bar" feel. Not a criticism....just something I missed. Having said all that, loved the Great Outdoors, for simply watching the world sail by.....and we spent a lot of quality time in Spinnaker (what a fabulous view).
Entertainment: Really, really good. I won't even bother comparing it to CCL, there's just no comparison. The production shows were solid (Look!! A real band!!). The scripted Second City show was terrific (improv shows, so-so), the comedian (Jeff Harms) was simply a pro (his sea day Q & A session was fascinating), the Man From Mars show was also very good. Even the musicians around the ship (in particular, JD the piano player) were top notch. If you couldn't tell.....we really enjoyed the entertainment options Oh...and like everyone else, the thoroughly enjoyed Sinan (cruise director).
Ports: We didn't pick this itinerary for the ports, so not much to say. We did an airboat "adventure" at PC, which was fine. Frankly, we were just looking to get off board for a few hours & didn't have the desire for the 8+ hour trips to the them parks, or NASA. Mission accomplished. Just walked around Nassau for a few hours, we've been here too many times already. Great Stirrup Cay was a lot more fun than we anticipated. We did invest in a clam shell, money well spent. Yeah, it's rocky, but they've done a nice job with it. Fun day!
Food: Ok, I've waited until the end for this one. Although our expectations are realistic (it's a cruise....they're feeding the masses....it's basically banquet food), the Main dining room food was bad. Really, really bad. We ate 3 suppers & a couple of lunches...and most bordered on inedible. We enjoyed the alternative dining very much, and ended up eating in four of them (Bistro, Tepinyaki, Moderno & Cagneys). Unfortunately, the plan was to only try two. We added the others, simply in order to get a good meal. The cost was no big deal....but the fact we HAD to, was extremely disappointing. The other food was decent, although I'd like to see a BIT more variety in the buffet (really...you can have more than 8 items on your salad bar). Having said all that (again, just personal opinion), this is the area I really missed CCL. I truly missed their quick serve spots (Guys Burgers, the Blue Iguana taco joint, the walk up pizza). I also missed the "event" feel to the MDR. Maybe this means I'm just not a "Freestyle" type o' guy, but meals felt like an assembly line, as opposed to an evening out. I admit it....I really missed having "our" waiters.
Freestyle Cruising: Touched on this a bit, thought I'd elaborate. I do see the appeal for some folks, not sure it's for us. Of course, I'm basing this on one experience...so take that into consideration. Still, there's a line between freestyle & anarchy. Got crossed a few times this cruise, with things like port disembarking, boarding tenders, even the raffle drawings. Things just weren't communicated well & it led to some pretty frustrated folks. I also touched on the dining room feeling like a bit disjointed. There just seemed to be a bit of a lack of communication....there wasn't always much info out there to be found. Like I said, this probably appeals to a lot folks. But if you're like me....and like a little bit more structure to things....take it into consideration.
Disembark: Flawless, even though we (again) felt like we had to really hunt down information. Chose to have out luggage taken off for us, then chose to be part of the blue (1st called) group off the ship. Even with waiting for the self assists & the Latitude members, we were rolling in our car by 9:30. Well done, NCL.
Two Firsts: On the first sea day, we had a medical helicopter evacuation from the ship. The Captain did a terrific job of keeping folks informed & even though we had to divert course for a couple of hours, we made it into Canaveral on time. Very professional, all around. Lastly, the Captain misjudged the approach back into NY & REALLY crunched the corner of the pier. Looked like superficial paint damage, but it was interesting to watch from our balcony...
Overall: 8.5-9 / 10: Terrific cruise, very impressive staff. Not completely sold on Freestyle, but we'd certainly...under the right circumstances...not hesitate to cruise NCL, or the Gem, again. Just kinda missed the CCL "vibe" a bit.
If you've made it this far....hope I didn't bore you!!!