A little about ourselves- there were 5 of us on this trip, DW and myself (47 and 55), a family friend (25 and first time cruiser) and DS#4 (17) and DS#5 (18). This was our 4th cruise with NCL and 5th cruise overall. If you want the Cliff’s notes version we had a great time on the Gem and look forward to sailing on her again.
Day 1- I was a little nervous about departing from Manhattan but it couldn’t have been easier. Straight down the Henry Hudson Parkway (Route 9) and the port is right there when you get to 12th Avenue. Traffic was stop and go before the Henry Hudson Bridge and that delayed us about 40 minutes. Paid for parking ($280), dropped luggage and people off at the front of the lot and found a spot easily. Check in took about an hour and we were onboard by noon. Bought the soda package for the boys in the Atrium and bought a 4 bottle wine package for $88. The rooms were available at 1 pm. Grabbed a quick bite in the buffet, which of course was very busy. As has been mentioned the rooms are on the smallish size but the storage is good. We had an enclosed balcony on deck 8, cabin 8530. I normally bring a measuring tape but forgot it this time. The bathroom had three compartments, one for the shower, one for the sink and one for the toilet. It was nice but a bit tight (I am 6’ and 250 pounds). Our shore excursion tickets and OBC certificates were in the cabin. We had ordered room decorations for our friend and they were in their cabin (8531 across the hall), but the cake was delivered later. Cabin had a small flat screen TV and you can access your onboard account info from it. Muster drill took place at 2:30 and we mustered in the theater without lifejackets. Got underway at 3pm and came to a stop in the Hudson because of a medical emergency (found out later it was a 10 year old who suffered an asthma attack). Took the obligatory pictures of Lady Liberty from the pool deck then went down to unpack. Met our room steward Noli. Received a call from Entienne, the Group Services Coordinator, confirming the Cruise Critic meet and greet for the next day. We had dinner at Magenta. We were seated at 5:30pm and were done by 6:45pm. I had the Surf and Turf and the lobster was a big improvement over the last time we sailed with NCL. It was about twice the size that it used to be and it was very tender and tasty. The Chocolate Raspberry Truffle cake was very good. Went to the welcome aboard show which was hosted by CD Ben Kitchen. Gave us a good idea of what was to come. The welcome aboard photo cost $19.95 and you may buy a composite for $5 extra (three smaller pictures).
Day 2 At sea- The shower was fantasitic, great water pressure and tempurature. I normally get up early and am always the first one out of bed. I walked around taking pictures then had breakfast in the buffet. The Cruise Critic meet and greet was in the Bliss lounge at 11. We had 16 people there out of a potential 49 and it was nice meeting fellow members and putting faces with the screen names. The Captain even showed up briefly for the Meet and Greet. Hotel Director Jenny Lim said that she does read Cruise Critic but of course doesn’t have time to post. They had printed out cards with everyone’s name and phone number who attended the Meet and Greet and 9 senior staff were there (not counting the Captain). Jenny encouraged us to let them know if there was a problem because they can’t fix it if they don’t know about it. After a few minutes they took their leave and the rest of us mingled and chatted. NCL provided light refreshments, coffee and juice. I ran into different cruise critic members throughout the cruise and we were able to chat and compare notes, which was very nice. We had lunch at the Blue Lagoon and the spinach artichoke dip’s reputation is well deserved, it was very yummy. We attended the Latitudes party in the Spinnaker lounge at 1 and waitstaff walked around with drinks. They gave out several prizes and we won a small art print. Captain Stefan Nordberg attended this function also. Both he and the Cruise Consultant talked about Cruise Critic (nicely) and said they welcome all kinds of feedback. Went up to the pool deck and were able to find a seat. Relaxed in a hot tup and listened to Uprizin’, one of the bands onboard. They were joined for a few songs by a Jamaican recording artist who was onboard (I didn’t catch his name but he sounded good). Went to dinner in the Grand Pacific at 5pm and were done by 6:15pm. We dressed up for Norwegian’s Night Out and DW and I got our picture taken with the Captain ($21.95 and if you bought it the next day you received a free 5x7). We received an invite to the VIP cocktail party in the Haven Courtyard and it was nice. Waitstaff circulated with h’ordeourves (sp) and trays of drinks. I found out later that this invite was because I had coordinated the meet and greet. We went to the Variety Show in the Stardust and found it entertaining, then went to the Newlywed, Not So Newlywed game which is always funny.
Day 3 Port Canaveral- We did an excursion to Sea World and met up in the Stardust. They called each excursion individually to disembark. We were on the bus and on the way by 12:15pm. Make sure that you watch the water as you drive past, we saw dolphins on the way there and gators and manatees on the way back. We received our tickets for the park once we boarded the bus and a ticket to get us on the bus to return. They recommended that groups used the bus as a rallying point if they got separated because a dad had gotten separated from his family a couple of weeks prior and was left behind. We got to the Park around 1:10pm. It wasn’t too crowded because it was Monday and school was in session (although we saw several school groups there on field trips). We were able to see everything in the park that we wanted except for the penguin exhibit including the sea lion show and the Shamu show. The only ride that we did was the Wild Arctic but we had time to do one or two others if we had wanted to. DS#4 wanted to do the Kracken until he actually saw it. Sea World has a program if you buy a Sea World branded cup from any gift shop you may fill it with soda for 99 cents all day. The park closed at 7, right after Shamu, so we made our way to the bus. Left the park at 7:20pm and back at the ship at 8:30pm. Ate at the Blue Lagoon because we didn’t want to change. Caught the Perfect Couple game show and comedian Rex Havens. Rex was very funny.
Day 4 Great Stirrup Cay- Walked around in the morning again and walked through the photo gallery. They have computer kiosks where you can swipe your room key and view your photos. They have packages available- a 10 photo package for $129 and a 20 photo package for $199. You may get your purchased photos on a flash drive for $39.99. You may also have a bobblehead of yourself made for $99.99. Perspectives studio will do a private shoot with no sitting fee or obligation and will even do a private shoot on GSC. So, we didn’t recognize GSC from our last visit 4 years ago. It was a windy day, gusts up to 30 knots, which slowed tendering down a bit. We anchored a little early and the first tender was called at 9:15. We were on the second tender because we had a small cabana and we got to the island at 10:30. A tram took us over to the cabanas and we found number 20 very easily. A fruit plate was already on the table and they brought by the chips and salsa a few minutes after we arrived. DW and our friend walked over to the straw market and DS#4 and I chilled at the cabana (DS#5 stayed on the ship and spent most of his time in the teen club). The bottle of rum that we ordered was delivered shortly after 11 and the waiter asked us what kind of mixer we wanted and he brought us a two liter bottle of Pepsi because they had no cans. We were told that we were the first ship in a week to make it to GSC because of the weather. The beach in front of the small cabanas is nice and not used very much. There is a little walk to the lagoon, about the distance between the Bliss Lounge and the Stardust. If you face out from the cabana the lagoon is to the left. They do have a little grill by the lagoon but we were told they only open it when the Breakaway is in. 12 people live on the island to maintain it. We walked over to the BBQ pavillion and had lunch (about a 10 minute walk, but trams do run all day between the cabanas and the main part of the island). The cabana has a refrigerator, a storage compartment, tables, chairs, loungers, ceiling fan and a showere in the back. The shower is not heated and the knob was very hard to turn (someone with arthritis or a small child would have difficulty with it). They started cleaning up the cabana area at 4:15pm so we took our sunburned carcasses to the tender area. I did not note what time we got back to the ship but it didn’t take too long. DW and I had reservations at La Cucina for 7:15pm so we got ready for that, our first specialty restaurant experience. I had the Calamari and it was very very good. DW had the beefsteak tomato with mozorella and she liked it very much. We both had the Chicken Parmesian. The chicken was very tasty but the spaghetti side was unremarkable as the sauce was bland. It was all that I could do to finish the chicken and we had to split a desert (tiramasu of course). We felt that the same dinner at the mid-priced Italian restaurant in a nearby city would have cost about $60, so we felt the meal was worth $15 a person. We went to the “Get Down Tonight” show in the Stardust and it was entertaining. While the show was going on we pulled into Nassau.
Day 5 Nassau- Received a note that the port visit has been extended until 4am Thursday due to routine maintenance. We only went ashore for a couple of hours. Went to the straw market and Senor Frogs, both for the first time. They had a tent set up by the gangway and had cups of ice water and fruit punch available as well as cold towels. The Sky was tied up next to us (good to see an old friend) and they had a similar tent set up next to their gangway. Laundry bag day, stuff a bag full for $27.99. We did one for each room and I am glad I brought duct tape because I tore one of the bags but fit abour 50 articles in each bag (it does not say that you have to be able to close the bag). We bowled a game in the Bliss Lounge for $9 a game. If you added all of our scores together you might get one decent score. We were in the cabin at 5 and looked out at the pier. Some of the senior officers and crew were doing a line dance to welcome passengers back aboard. I saw Jenny Lim, the Executive Housekeeper and the Food and Beverage Manager either dancing or handing out towels or ice cream or cold drinks. Spent some time on the pool deck and received a little note saying that the back onboard time was changed to midnight because the maintenance was done ahead of schedule. Saw Chip Romero’s comedy and magic show and he was very funny. Went to the Bliss Lounge for the Family Friendly Fued and I signed my family up to compete over their objections. They had fun with it even though we didn’t score a single point. We received frisbees for playing. We ate in Magenta at 8:40pm and wre done by 10pm. The mushroom quesadillas were very good and the bread and butter pudding is not to be missed. The ribeye that I had was good. Watched Liars Club featuring Rex, Chip and Jules (second city) and they were funny.
Day 6 Sea day- After I had my morning breakfast I went back to the cabin and while standing on the balcony saw a dolphin near the ship. DW woke up immediately when I told her there was a dolphin. Went to a Nick character meet and greet so DW could have her picture taken with the characters for the grandkids. Spent time on the pool deck. Watched a towel folding demo in the Atrium. Had dinner in the Grand Pacific at 5:10pm and were done by 6:20pm or so. I had the New Orleans shrimp and steak mignon which was very tasty. Watched the “World Beat” show in the Stardust and the Gem singers and dancers enterained with their usual engergy. Following the show the senior officers and crew from each department took the stage and sang “You Are Family” and received a standing ovation for their efforts. They all formed a reception line outside the theater as we left and our room steward was in the line. When DW gave him a hug his co-workers went wild. Watched the Beatles tribute by Prism, the Second City scriptless show and the White Hot party in the Spinnaker.
Day 7 Sea day- Went to a question and answer session with the Captain, Chief Engineer, Hotel Director and Executive Chef. They carry $1,000,000 in inventory at all times, the water plant produces 300,000 gallons of water every day but is capable of 800,000 gallons if needed. In a one week cruise they will go through 15,000 pounds of beef, 10,000 pounds of potatoes, 5,000 pounds of rice, 150 packages of yeast (all bread is baked fresh daily), 35,000 pounds of vegetables, and 25,000 pounds of fruit. Laundry was returned folded in a nice wicker basket. Watched a fruit carving demonstration in the Atrium. Went to the up close magic show with Chip Romero in the Stardust but were a little late following lunch at Blue Lagoon. Noted that martini and wine tastings are $15 a person but didn’t do either one. Ate in Magenta at 5:20pm and out by 6:35pm. Seafood chowder was great and the pork medallions were very tasty as well. DW went back to the room to continue packing and I went to pick up the liquor that we had purchased earlier (which is held until the last night). There was bit of a line but it went quickly once they opened the doors. Watched the Second City adult scriptless show and Quest in the Spinnaker. Both were very funny. We went back to the cabin between shows and put our luggage out, having picked the Grey tags for the latest disembarkation.
Day 8 Disembarkation- passed the Verrazzano Bridge at about 6:10am and Lady Liberty at around 6:30am. Got the family up and we vacated the cabin before 8am. Buffet was very crowded but we were able to find a table. Our color was called at 9:40 and we made our way off the ship. Found our luggage easily and it took about an hour to leave the ship, clear customs and get to the car. We made it home at about 7pm.
General thoughts- there were 1099 crew onboard and 2999 passengers. I only ate at the buffet for breakfast and they did have the same things every day, but the amount of choices was mind boggling- a non-inclusive list includes scrambled eggs, made to order omelets, made to order eggs, bacon, sausage, turkey sausage, cold cereal, hot cereal, pancakes, french toast, waffles, fruit, lox, kippers, cold cuts, breads and pastries. I can see why someone would say there is no variety as in they don’t change what is offered but the variety is in the number of choices one has. The staff was friendly but I noticed that the waitstaff in the dining rooms did not engage you in conversation- they did their job professionally, politely and competently but they did not engage in chit chat. DW and I both agreed that the food quality has improved since the last time that we sailed with NCL. All in all we had a great time and we will not hesitate to sail on the Gem again.