My husband and I boarded the Gem on 11/6, and we were eager for our second cruise together. We previously were on the Jewel in 2011, and we hoped that our experience would be just as magical. Some things were great, while others were not. I'll go ahead and break it down into categories:
STATEROOM: We chose an inside stateroom and were happy when we received an upgrade to Deck 11 when the prices started going down significantly. The room was small, but perfect for us. Plenty of space under the bed to store out suitcases, and although we brought hangers, we didn't need all of them. Lots of little nooks and crannies to fit things in as well. Overall, NCL does a great job at designing a space that fits a lot into a small area. Our room steward was great and knew us by name immediately.
FOOD: Overall, this was really good. The main dining room has the same menu for breakfast and lunch each day, and it would have been nice to have some variety there. The main dining room has one side of the menu that changes, and the other side also stays the same. Again, more variety would be nice, but honestly, there are plenty of options, and even on the side that doesn't change, there's no way you could eat it all. The Blue Lagoon had the most disappointing food overall, but the buffet was always really good with different options as well as some nice staples. It was great to have omelets and Eggs Benedict to order, as well as a small pasta bar. We also ate in some specialty restaurants, and these were well worth it. Cagney's has amazing steak, the Caesar salad at La Cucina is simply perfect, and Le Bistro's Fruits de Mar is totally worth the extra $10.00 fee. We also went to the Brazilian Steakhouse, and that was yummy as well. You can never go hungry, and even the burgers on the pool deck are extra delicious. Desserts were average, but honestly, I think I was too full to think about it most of the time anyway.
DRINKS: Honestly, these were mostly watered-down. I was especially disappointed with Margarita Madness. Other drink specials also left a lot to be desired. I would probably have to have at least a dozen drinks to even fell tipsy. I spent more money drinking on the islands instead, since this was a better value. We did the soda plan, but I probably won't do this again. We didn't drink enough to make it worthwhile.
SERVICE: The cruise Director, Matt, was great, and so were all of his staff. Super friendly, funny, and multi-talented. They were the most impressive. The bar staff were mostly new and it showed. I didn't make a lot of personal connections like I did on the Jewel, and no one made me want to hang out at the bar for more than a drink. The dining hall staff were really good, though. Always smiling and willing to help.
THE SHOWS: All were great. Lots of variety. Jennifer Fair is a super talented Soprano, but I know that you have to be into that to appreciate her. The dancers and singers were good, the comedian was great as well, and the Second City put on not only a great main show, but a good afternoon performance and improv show late at night. Everyone was really good and polished. We loved all of the shows.
ACTIVITIES: Lots of things to keep you active (Zumba, Cardio Fitness, etc), and Trivia a few times a day. Not as many adult crafts as my last cruise, so that was disappointing. The prizes were also disappointing. ON my last NCL cruise, you would get a signature for every activity that you did, and you would get an extra signature if you won. Then at the end of he cruise, you could turn those signatures into prizes. They didn't do that on this cruise, so you only won a prize of you won, and the same beach balls and decks of cards were given out each time. I much preferred the old method personally.
THE PORTS: All were good. I HIGHLY recommend Tour Samana With Terry. This excursion was a huge highlight of the trip. He really goes out of his way to share the Dominican Republic culture with everyone and offer the best tours on the island. The only port that I did not like was St. Thomas (a bunch of overpriced stores, and mainly water excursions only), but I took a boat to St. John, and that was perfect. Less touristy, less expensive stores, and beautiful beaches and scenery. Also the home of Virgin Islands National Park. St. Maarten offered really fun shopping even though it was a Sunday, and the people there were really nice. I wish we had more time in San Juan, but we had a great time while there. I took the 4:00 boat taxi (50-cents each way) to the other side of the island where a $3.00 was waiting to take me to Bacardi for the 4:30 tour (last one of the day). $7.00 round trip, a great tour (completely free!), and two free drinks after the tour as well. I definitely recommend this.
THE SPECIAL THINGS: I will say that NCL does a great job at making little things happen. Sitting in the atrium watching a movie, fresh popcorn was passed out. Coming in from port, they handed you a drink and a frozen towel to cool you off as you got back on the ship. On a hot afternoon at the pool deck while at sea, they walked around with frozen fruit bars for everyone. Of course you get the cute towel animals as well, and I came home one night to find a towel monkey actually hanging from my ceiling. That made my day. I truly believe in the little things, and that was really special.
Overall, the experience was great. The staff was not as good as I expected, but I'm still looking forward to another NCL cruise. It was an amazing trip.