Embarkation on 4/5/14-out of New York was a breeze! Lines moved quickly and check in was easy. Me and my pal Mauricio located our cabin and quickly made our way to the very nice Garden Cafe Buffet. I was in HEAVEN!! It was a lush garden of FOOD!!! LOL. The Buffet offered a variety of food-asian,indian,american, grilled foods-hamburgers, hot dogs, assorted pastries, assorted icecream-( butter pecan, chocolate, vanilla ) and SPRINKLES!! My previous cruise with another cruise line didnt offer sprinkles & I was sorely disappointed.
Anyway, we had to pass thru the pool area to get to the garden cafe and the pool area consisted of 2 pools & 2 hot tubs. One pool for kids/adults and another one strictly for adults. The kids pool had a cool water flume. There were plenty of deck chairs and an entertainment gazebo in the center where musical groups such as "new Season" would rock it out with Caribbean music. ( they are a phenomenal group) It was a great area to just hang out and listen to good music. The ship itself was colorful and the carpeting was vibrant- blues, oranges with nautical images of fish, dolphins. Very pretty. On each floor by the stairs, there were huge pics of whales & various marine life- quite beautiful to see.
Our cabin-room 5506-Inside/oceanview with porthole was very good. I was concerned about being in a room with just a porthole, but it was quite good. It offered plenty of sunshine and the room was a good size for 2 people. The bathroom shower had a glass door, which I liked, and it was a decent size. Our cabin Steward-Garfield was such a cool dude. He was friendly & very respectful. We enjoyed chatting with him on the few days we didnt sleep late. LOL. He kept our room clean & tidy and kept the room stocked with clean towels.
The ship itself offerred a bowling alley (pretty tricky trying to keep a bowling ball straight-LOL) a rock climbing wall, a basketball court, running track, fitness room (AS IF!!!- LOL) & various lounges. There was always something to do on the ship. My pal Mauricio treated me to a wonderful massage/facial at the Spa for my birthday. It was very good but pricey. Look for promotions & discounted services in your daily cruise letter, you could save a couple of dollars, especially on port days.
The Gem provided a Nickolodeon program for kids-characters such as Dora, Spongebob, Patrick & the fairly odd parents crew delighted the kids & adults alike. Even though there were kids onboard, I never felt like the ship was being overrun with them-this cruise definitely had an older clientele which I thoroughly enjoyed. A lot of older, retired folks.
The ships entertainment was excellent!! The cruise director Ben and his staff really did a great job keeping us entertained & satisfied. I especially loved Ben's assistant director-"Nacho". He was soo funny & energetic!! The production staff was wonderful too-the dancers and singers worked very hard. Energetic dance routines & singing that could rival broadway!! The game shows were the craziest, funniest events onboard!! OMG!! I laughed so hard at the "dancing with the gem stars" competition & at the "Quest" competition. Dont miss these events!! I really enjoyed 2 entertainers-Brian the piano man & Leo the guitar man. They were both excellent and provided quality entertainment. Leo played his guitar and sang oldies & contemporary music. Very good singer with an easy going personality. My absolute favorite was Brian-he played the piano quite beautifully and played old classics- for my birthday he played "what a wonderful world" and dedicated it to me. It was such a heartwarming gesture- I was truly grateful for that. It was during this evening with Brian that we met 2 delightful folks from upstate NY- Terry & Charlie. Charlie you could tell loved music and he got up a did a duet with Brian. AWESOME!!!! Another evening, we decided to relax & listen to Brian's tunes again & ran into Terry & Charlie. I was talking to Charlie about the movie "Casablanca" & how I had forgotten the love song for the movie. He asked Brian if he could sing the song- and he got up and sang the "Casablanca" love song- even though his voice was a little hoarse, he sang his heart out and left me dabbing my eyes. It was a beautiful moment-and it was appreciated in a way that he will never know. So thank you to Brian, Charlie & Terry- you helped create a "cruise moment."
For my birthday I also went to the specialty resaurant- "Cagneys"- awesome steakhouse!!! I paid an additional 30 bucks, but it was well worth it. EXCELLENT RIBEYE STEAK!!!!! Its a must do!! Service was wonderful and my waiter Narcisso was a gentleman! The hostess Pamela Cruz was very sweet and remembered my name.
The ports were all great. First stop San Juan, PR- we didnt do a shore excursion. We just walked the streets of San Juan and went to a local restaurant- "hecho en casa" which was great!! grilled porkchops, sweet plantains, rice & beans.......authentic puerto rican cuisine!! Second port-St Marteen was beautiful. We did the Orient beach excursion- beautiful beach with nice waves, white sand, good lunch & some naked people!! lol. Just a few topless women- didnt bother me at all. If you are uncomfortable with public nudity, this might not be the beach for you. Beach chairs were complimentary but umbrellas were 3 bucks. Third port-St Thomas- My pal did the Captain Nautica Snorkeling excursion-and he enjoyed it. I opted to have a lazy day on the ship and watched "ironman 3" and caught up on some sleep. Last port-Samanaa, D.R- we did a shore excursion to "cayo levantado" beach. We took a tender from the ship to the beach. There was no port or pier at this location. Very nice beach with a few places to buy food & souvenirs. The water was very calm-no waves to speak of. There were plenty of complimentary beach chairs-but get there early to get one.
Lastly- I cant finish my review without mentioning a very special lady- "Tania" a hostess at the Garden Cafe. As we entered the garden cafe buffet-we were greeted by Tania & her bottle of hand sanitizer. She greeted us with " HAPPY, HAPPY,WASHY,WASHY-GOODMORNING!!" & proceeded to spray our hands and melt our hearts at the same time. She is truly the happiest person on that ship & her happiness is infectious!! She is kind, warm & super friendly!! LOVE HER!!!
Disembarkation day-we ate at the garden cafe & Tania was nowhere to be found!!! We wanted to say goodbye & couldnt. As we approached the gangway to leave I heard a familar voice and saw TANIA!!! She was there!!! She was sending us off with her cheerful "happy, happy!!" and it was so fitting that she was the last crew member that we would be see.. So to answer the question- "Did I return a Norweigan?" ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!! Service, staff, entertainment, food, ports, everything was wonderful. I will cruise Norweigan again and this time bring the whole family!! Thanks to Mauricio-my cruise buddy for a wonderful time. Remember, its about the company you keep, the food you eat and the people you meet!! Happy Cruising!!