We just got back two days ago from a trip on the Gem to Port Canavral and the Bahamas. I've been on 4 cruises with my family at 8, 19, 21, and 23, but this was my first one with my fiance, and with another couple, who suggested it. While a cruise wasn't necessarily the type of trip I would have chosen for us, they had never been on one and were excited to try it, and I knew it would be a nice time. We got the staterooms with picture windows, which were very nice to have, and good for my fiance, who felt queasy the first two days, but fortunately was better after that.
The recommended times to arrive were conflicting on different parts of the site, but the request to arrive no more than 2 hours before sailing if you checked in online (which we had) and no more than 3 hours to sailing if not seemed most accurate, so we got there a little less than 2 hours to sailing. The check-in line wasn't too bad at that point, and probably took between 20-30 minutes. My father drove us to the port. It would have been helpful if the check-in information noted the cross-street to take to the pier, since instead we went in circles a couple of times looking for it. One gentleman directing the lines said there was no difference whether you checked in or not. We gave our luggage at the curb with the pre-printed luggage tags, and it was delivered to the rooms in a couple of hours.
I was pleased with the stateroom, and while of course it was small, this was expected, and the only difficult spot was due to the centering of the queen bed (two twins together), making the desk space impossible to walk around, and we kept hitting our knees until I gave up and just started crawling over the bed to get to the phone. There was a lot of shelf space and two sets of 3 drawers each, which was great, and I liked the high shine wood laminate. The TV and fridge worked well, and we emptied out the minibar items and put them back in the last night. Our friends' fridge was locked the first day until someone came to open it, so they used ours at first. Something in the interior of the boat was causing me to sneeze a lot, perhaps the carpet, so I took Benedryl at least 1-2 times a day.
You're able to bring sealed soft drinks and juices on board, so we did this instead of getting my fiance the soda package. We hadn't realized that juice would not be included, with instead a separate juice package, but it turned out that orange juice is available for breakfast room service even if you don't have the juice package, so we were glad to have it then.
We brought two bottles of wine, as did our friends, which were removed from our luggage so that we had to go pick them up and pay the $15 corking fee per bottle. We knew we would likely be charged this, but it seems like a pretty steep corkage fee for a cruise. It was nice though to bring a bottle of wine to dinner most nights, and they provide the glasses and open it for you. We did the bucket of beers on the first and second day for $25 plus tax/tip for 6 beers.
The Grand Pacific dining room was excellent, and we only ate in Magenta once, which was similar food but just not as elegant an atmosphere. We did not go to any breakfasts or sit-down lunches, only to the dinners in the main dining rooms. Unfortunately after missing the main dining rooms the first day to go to the hot tubs (which were empty at dinner time and very nice), we went to Blue Lagoon, which was great for snacks but not really much of a meal (and VERY slow and confused service), and the rest of our party apparently did not understand how nice the main dining rooms would be and wanted to try a specialty restaurant, and negated my suggestion to wait until we had at least tried the main dining rooms. Therefore we went to Le Bistro the second night, which was good and with nice service, but totally not worth the $20 pp plus extra gratuity when the main dining rooms were so wonderful. (The 3rd night, the other couple went to Grand Pacific without us, and loved it and said that they wanted to go there every night). We got the specials most nights, though the "classic" menu was perfectly appealing too, and the appetizers and entrees we had were all very good and beautifully presented. The desserts varied from excellent to nothing special.
For breakfasts we did room service, which was prompt in the half hour range requested (though half an hour early from the requested range the first time) and a nice selection. Oddly, there was no room service menu other than the breakfast at all, and I had thought to call guest services to ask about this, but never got around to it. On the last night, the comedian said something about calling up room service to find out the day's menu, so apparently you had to call daily to find out what was available.
We ate at the Garden Cafe buffet for lunch every day and for a snack on days we had late dinners. There was a lot of variety and most things were very good. We made good use of the soft serve ice cream, which had an attendant. The lemonade was great when it was available, and coffee was available by machine too. The ice machines were out of order almost the whole time, so buckets of ice were placed next to them with serving spoons.
The small buffet by the pool, and in the "Great Outdoor" at back of the ship on 12 (which we didn't find until the last day), generally had burgers, potato salad, and fruit. There was more shaded seating at the Great Outdoor, and we wished we had found it sooner. The bar at the pool only gave throwaway plastic cups for water, not the reusable cups like at the main buffet, which was frustrating because I prefer not to make extra waste.
Our friends used the gym nearly every morning and seemed to like it.
The adults-only pool was great to have. We were sorry that the pools closed at midnight, since we felt that to have them open until at least 1 would make more sense, along with a bar. The water slide into the main pool was very tame the one time I tried it, and didn't have much water flowing, so that it was very slow. My fiance couldn't even slide down, and had to push himself down with his hands. We did like the hot tubs, and on a couple of nights stayed in those and the adults-only pool until they closed at midnight.
The entertainment was a good selection, and we liked comedian Phil Tag and comedy troupe Second City. We missed Donovan and Rebecca but then saw their short performance as part of the last show, which was amazing, with their acrobatic balancing. A lot of people at the shows rudely tried to save a number of seats at a time, even though the daily reviews specifically said no reserving of seats.
We didn't know anyone traveling with children, but the kids programs seemed very good at keeping them occupied, considering that 1000 of the 3000 passengers were children. There seemed to be a large number of staff for the kids programs, and we remarked that it seemed like a good trip for a family, with a lot to keep the kids busy.
The day at Port Canaveral was the longest port day, till 8:00, which was very nice. We took the "shuttle" (big cabs) to the beach for $6 per person each way. Our phones worked since we were back in the US for the day, and when it started to rain, we decided to look up a shooting range spur of the moment, and took another cab to the Gun Site down the causeway, where we rented 3 different guns to take turns with, and the owner showed us how to use them. That was an interesting time and we were glad we got to do something pretty unusual for New Yorkers.
The private island the next day, Grand Stirrup Cay, had the tender boats running every 20 minutes or so. For early tenders you needed tickets for specific times, but by noon or so you didn't anymore and could just show up for them. The cove had beautiful, warm water, but it was very crowded, and very rocky, so that we kept hurting our feet while walking in the water. We had planned to find the other couple on shore, but they had apparently found a second cove that you could swim to where it was far less crowded, and we had no idea to look for that. Lunch was also set up on the island.
The port in the Bahamas was mostly just strip after strip of duty free shops. We took a "shuttle" cab to the beach for $4 per person, which dropped us off at the Atlantis, and we spent a while walking through the casino and lobby before finding that we were going in the wrong direction. We then walked through another hotel and after asking directions a few times found the entrance to the beach, which had beautiful, warm water, but only a narrow strip of sand, and the merchants hawking jet skis, banana boats, drinks, etc., were literally coming up to us every 2 minutes and trying to sell us, which was really irritating after the first few. Finally they subsided a bit. On the way back, we sat in the front with the cab driver, who told us how the Bahamas was just celebrating the 40th anniversary of independence from Britain, and about the recent celebrations, achieving independence, and the Bahamian flag and colors, which was very interesting. A number of buildings in town had decorations for the anniversary. Back by the port we bought rum from the Tortuga rum company.
The liquor collection and distribution on the ship was horrendous and we're still surprised that they actually found it to return to us the last morning. Instead of having an organized collection spot when coming on board, the screener directed us to a staff member who wasn't at all set up to take them, and after at least ten minutes of waiting for him, I was sorry that we hadn't just brought it back to the room. He finally got the receipts to fill out for us, and didn't even seem to know how to label the items, finally writing the room # on the bag, so we also asked him to write it on the individual boxes too in case the bags came off, and it took forever and he was fumbling through it. Fortunately on the last morning they had them ready in the location specified. However, I also bought two bottles of liquor on board, which should have been even easier; and these were supposed to be delivered on the last night, but were not. There was no pickup location that night as there should have been. In the morning, the location for the shore-bought liquor told my fiance we had to go to a different location for the ship-bought liquor, but then we heard a still different location, and when I called guest services they said to go to the main desk on deck 7. I therefore waited on line there for well over 10 minutes with everyone with bill questions, until finally I was able to catch a staff member to ask if I was even in the right place, and she said that I could just come to the desk right away to an empty spot and she would help me.
Disembarking, we were told we could get off at the middle or front of the ship, so we walked to the front since it seemed less busy. However, as soon as we were off the ship, we had to then walk on the pier all the way to the back of the ship, which was incredibly frustrating to find out with all of our luggage, and they should have made that clear rather than making it seem like we could actually use both exits. There was also then an escalator down, which we had not gone up when boarding. We did the walk-off with our luggage, and passed the color-coded luggage waiting to be picked up on the way out for the people who did not carry it off themselves. The customs line moved quickly, but we were rushed out when we just wanted to wait a minute for our friends.
All in all it was a nice cruise, and I wouldn't hesitate to cruise with Norwegian again. I do hope that they can replace or deep clean the carpets and whatever else was bothering my allergies so much, and work out the kinks in liquor collection and distribution. I was happy with the food, pools, and generally with the service.