This was our 13th. cruise, third with NCL. We chose this one since we always watend to leave from New York.
We booked a mini-suite on deck 11, right under the pool deck. Let me say, if you are noise sensible, you should avoid deck 11, you can hear people running above, it did not bother us since it stops at some point of time at night, but for some this could be disturbing.
Mini-Suits on the Gem are comparable to balcony cabins on other ships. So don't be disappointed. We loved the layout, little bigger entrance area compared to regular balcony cabins, a couch, seperated with a curtain from the area with bed. Nice, large balcony. Biggest plus is the bathtup, which is seperated from the toilet area.
The ship is in perfect condition, everything is clean and looks nearly brandnew. We loved all the public areas and bars. Two minor issues. As on all ships smoking is allowed in the casino. That means terrible smoke-smell in the neighboring Magnums Champagne bar. We got used to that, since it was our favourite bar with best music.
What we did not like so much was the entertainment in the main lobby. The large screen was sometimes used for Wii games for children. That meant terrible noise. I think that wonderful bar area should not be used for kids games. Except that we really enjoed all the entertainment program.
Most of the dinners we had in the Grand Pacific main dining room. Food was always very good, service attentive. It has been mentioned before, that some crew was quite new because more experienced have been transferred for the new ship. This could be felt sometimes, we asked if NCL has reduced staff and got the answer, that most of the servers are band new and unexperienced. So, they all did a good job and anyway, we were on vacation and not in a hurry.
Twice we had dinner in Cagney's Stakhouse which was always perfect and worth every dollar extra. La Cucina Italian food was also good.
We liked all of the shows and the Cruise Director staff did a wonderful job on deck.
We had been in all ports except Samana, so we knew what to expect: we also do not like group excursions, so we always do our individual thing.
Puerto Rico is beautiful, we just walked off the ship and you stand literaööy in the middle of Old Town San Juan. Walked up to the fort and then just strolled along the streets on Old San Juan.
On St. Maarten we pre-reserved a car at Hertz, drove to the french side (Marigot) for coffee and to Waikiki beach for swimming, went back to Philipsburg in the afternoon to walk around and returned the car one hour before we left.
On St. Thomas we usually do the Trolley tour, since this is the most relaxing. This time we rented a car at Budget, who jhave a car right at Heavensight, where the NCL ships dock. Be aware, you have to pay 25 dollar extra for a temporary drivers license, if you do not hold a US drivers license. Girl at the counter was not overly friendly and the car (luxury class - Ford Taurus) was close to be a wreck. I was glad we payed for full insurance, because I did not want to fight, which damages were caused by us. we touted all around the island, which was perfect. Then stopped in Charlotte amalie for drinks and shopping before we retured the car and went back to the ship on tiome. Would highly recommend to rent a car, this is the best to do if you are a bit flexible and want to avoid stupif people, which come always too late to the tour bus.
Samanaa was the big surprise, we did not expect a lot. Again, we did not book tour, just walked off the ship and walked to the little village, which is absolutely neat and clean. Yes, pleople asked if you want to buy stuff or do a tour with them, but as soon as we friendly thanked, they very very friendly and not pushy at all. Lots of nice little stands ans hops with paintings and jewelry, we bought some really nice and cheap souvenirs.
After that we tried to go to the hotel closeby to spend some time at their beach, but they immediately refused entry. Since its an all inclusive hotel they obviouls fear people sneaking in for free drinks and food. So we walked back to the ship and spent some hours at the pool. People booking beach break at Levantado told us they did not like it, because the beach was overcrowded.
So I really recommend to either book a tour or just walk along the shore and enjoy the little village. Anyway we learned that NCL will replace Samana by Tortola, which is sad for the people there.
After some days we learned, that there was a stomach viris outbreak on the ship and you could even feel, that many people had to stay in their cabins. All staff coped really great with the situation and fighted hard agains a further distribution of the virus. You were not allowed to touch anything at the buffets, even menues in the dining rooms were desinfected. We really got the feeling, that they fight hard and we did not get affected by the virus.
In addition we touched a storm on the way back to NY, which led ato a 3 hour delay in NY, so naother hard work for the staff.
We had a really great Cruise. Very nice ship, good route, we loved the 4 sea days (although the 2 sea days back were very rough and cold). Leaving from NY is really special and a MUST for all all cruise fans. I want to specially mention Hotel Director Jenny Lim, doing a terrific job. You got the impression,there are 4 Jenny's on board, she was everywhere.