We flew into NYC from the Midwest and spent the night before the cruise in a Manhattan hotel. This was only our third cruise, our first time on NCL. It had been twelve years since our last cruise, so we noted some changes. We arrived at the pier via a driver setup by our travel agent around 11:00 a.m. and by 11:45 were already on board the Gem. Embarkation was very organized and easy. NCL did a wonderful job. We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the Grand Pacific Main Dining Room and by 1:00 it was announced our rooms were ready. We took the ship tour in the afternoon so we could familiarize ourselves with everything and enjoyed it very much. The ship is lovely, very clean, and all the staff extremely friendly and willing to help. The ship was one hour late leaving port that day, and we headed up to deck 12 at 5:00 p.m. to enjoy the sailaway down New York Harbor. It was quite cold and blustery but we would have never missed the awesome views leaving NYC.
While on board, we mostly ate in the MDR's each night, varying between Magenta and the Grand Pacific. We found the food consistently good each night but the amount of time it took for dinner was too long. The wait staff were all working extremely hard but were not able to keep up with the demand of dinner-goers. It was always packed and one night we waited 20 minutes before we ever saw a waitress/waiter. If you tried to go to dinner right after a show, you were in trouble. We shared a table several nights with others and were happy to do so. I know I am probably not in the norm with the new freestyle cruising and old school in my thinking, but I missed not dining at an appointed time each night and with the same people. We have always enjoyed our dinner partners on past cruises, but I do understand most like the freestyle aspect of cruising. One night we dined with couples from England and New York. We were all so compatible, had a great time, and would have loved to have had dinner with all of them again. We kept running into each other off and on the entire cruise and did end up eating lunch with the couple from New York one day. One night we ate at La Cucina, as we had a complimentary pass from our travel agent. We found our dinners only so-so. The atmosphere is very nice there and our waiter was very attentive. We ate breakfast each morning in the Garden Cafe and most lunches there as well. We found the choices at most meals very good for the most part. The omelets and desserts were excellent. I enjoy soup at noon but did not find the choices very interesting. We went to eat at the cafe one evening but could not find anything that appealed to us at all, some very strange looking dishes, and we are not picky eaters. We always ate at the MDRs after that. One thing that bothered me in the Garden Cafe is that the salads were not kept on ice. Many of these are mayonnaise-based salads such as coleslaw and potato salad, a real "no-no" to not keep iced. I had coleslaw one day that was room temp. I took one bite and never ate from that bar again. NCL needs to address this issue, as it is a danger to not have these salads at a constant cold temperature.
We had a balcony cabin, forward, port side, on deck 9, and were very happy with it. It was very convenient to the mid-ship elevators and stairs. Our one and only complaint was the mattress was old and badly needed replaced. The storage was very adequate, plenty of shelves and drawers, a safe, vanity area with stool and hair dryer with its own holder. The TV was mounted above a nice desk with chair in the corner by the balcony doors. We had a wonderful room steward who always seemed to be available. He was not fluent in English but we managed to converse with him and he took very good care of us the entire cruise. He was from Indonesia, had a wife and two children back home, and was working a 8-month stint with NCL. He was a delight to have as our steward. We left him a generous tip at the end of the cruise. These young adults work so hard and make so little. We appreciated him so much and will always wonder about him as he works to make a living for his family so far away.
We attended almost every evening show and thoroughly enjoyed them. The Norwegian Gem Production Cast was awesome and put on spectacular shows! We also enjoyed the comedy of Jeff Harms and magician, Chip Romero. We found plenty to do at other times and enjoyed Michael and Juan at the piano in the lounges.
At our ports of call, we took local tours in San Juan, St. Thomas, and Samana, Dominican Republic. The tour we chose outside the security gate at San Juan was excellent and we paid only $20. We did not particularly care for Samana, as there were pushy locals everywhere once you stepped off the dock. The captain had warned us about them, so we knew in advance. I had booked the tour of St. Thomas ahead of time on the Internet. It was with Godfrey Tours, only $25.00 per person, and was wonderful. The only NCL tour we purchased was in St. Maarten. It was the "See and Sea Tour." It was $65.00 per person and neither of us thought it was worth the money. They gave us a tour of the island on and air-conditioned bus and also took us out on a glass bottom boat.
I would agree with another reviewer it would be nice to have a few clocks on board the ship, even though I know they don't want you thinking about time on a cruise. I would like to see Wi-Fi included like any other hotel and not have such shockingly expensive rates from the Internet Cafe on NCL. Yes, I know we are all on vacation and they don't want us thinking about anything else, but some of us do need to to be in communication and we have no other option but the ship's Wi-Fi. I had an ill, elderly mother back home and needed to check in several times with family regarding her condition. I paid a steep price just to purchase some Wi-Fi. Just my opinion....
At disembarkation, we chose to be in the last group off the ship due to a mid-evening flight back home. We comfortably waited in Magnum's Champagne and Wine Bar until our luggage color was called, about 10:30 a.m. All went very smoothly and we were off the ship and through immigration by 11:00 a.m. Our driver promptly picked us up and we were off to Newark Airport to await our flight back home.
All in all, we enjoyed our first cruise to the Eastern Caribbean on the NCL Gem. The scenery was stunningly beautiful, the ship lovely, the staff top notch, and meeting people from all over the world was a special highlight!