This was the second cruise we have taken on NCL being seasoned cruisers mainly with Princess and Royal Caribbean. Our first NCL was December of 2012 on the Jewel which we were very disappointed. So we decided to give it another try on the sister ship Gem.
Embarkation went smoothly until it came to boarding time. We had #4 yet boarding was delayed reportedly a problem clearing the ship from the previous night’s one night “cruise to nowhere”. Later during the week we heard there were two “stow aways” that they finally found. We did see security and the CBP escorting four people off the ship. Once boarding commenced we went directly to the buffet for a quick lunch. Rooms were actually ready ahead of schedule at around 1:00 PM.
Had a balcony on deck 10 aft room 10154. Nice covered balcony even extended beyond the balcony. Truly do like to roominess of the bathroom specifically the shower. We had a party of 11 total and had three adjacent rooms ours connecting with our sons. We were able to open our balcony doors which made for a really nice big open balcony. Departure was on time and after the muster drill we proceeded to dinner in the Grand Pacific at 6:30 PM.
First sea day was extremely rough with 15 foot seas. Many people sick throughout the ship as it probably snuck up on them before a lot were able to take pills. We arrived ahead of schedule in San Juan, due to a reported medical emergency. This supports my belief, and I still do not understand why, all of the ships that leave from NY or NJ do not arrive in San Juan till 3:00 Pm or later. Clearly they could get there sooner allowing for a fuller day in the port. We took a van tour, having been there many times before, which was very interesting and informative.
Next stop St. Marteen. We proceeded to Kakao Beach where we spent a wonderful day on the beach. Weather was beautiful although the water a bit colder than we expected but still enjoyable. Due to 7 ships in port we had to tender but I have to say NL had the process down and it went quite smoothly.
Next stop St. Thomas where we planned a day at Sapphire Beach. We were there in November and had a great day there. Upon arrival we find the only resort that rented chairs, and had facilities, was closed due to an ownership dispute about a week ago. Back in the cab to two more stops all had no chairs so we ended up at Meagans Bay with the throngs of people. Very crowded but still enjoyed the day.
Next stop was Samana where we spent the day at Cayo Leventado for the second time. Was able to get off on first tender as were there there with the Explorer of the Seas so the beach got crowded and they did run out of chairs. Another great beach day and I am sure they will not be happy with NCL and RC pulling out of Samana. Next cruise out starts them going to Tortola instead.
Last sea day home was again rough but not as bad as the way down. Disembarkation was very smooth. Overall impressions below:
Plus: On and off was easy. Bathroom in stateroom. Staff extremely friendly and attentive especially the Hotel Director Jenny.
Minus: Service in dining room is painfully slow. The third night we got an excellent waitress which we were able to keep for the week. She was excellent and perhaps the size of our party impacted the service but things just are slow and we have had same size party on RC and did not have same problem. Food in DR was just OK. Disappointed with lack of selection on menus especially the dessert menu which only offered two new items per night one being sugar free. The rest were all the same. No shrimp cocktail any night unlike RC wher you can get it every night. Every night steak was very tough and grizzly. Too many smoking areas on pool deck where chairs were also rare to find. No non-smoking night in Casino like other ships have. Very small atrium which they make smaller when they set up tables to peddle goods. Discontinued take out from the Blue Lagoon. Buffet food was OK but the flow was very unorganized. Entertainment was OK but just OK. Really think they try to steer you to the specialty restaurants where they have the cover charge. Ate one night in Magenta and had a great prime rib. Last night the prime rib in GP was horrible??? They require you to pick up your onboard purchased liquor where other lines deliver it to your state room.
The price for the cruise provided great value, however, if the price was the same for a RC cruise I would opt for the RC. That being said, I would sail NCL again, if the price provided the same value. The negatives above were in comparison to other lines.