We booked this cruise to celebrate a friend's birthday just ONE week before the ship was to sail! Never have booked last minute before but was able to get a balcony cabin on Deck 10 and our friends an Aft-facing balcony. Nice locations! We had few expectations except to enjoy ourselves and hope for nice weather! We hadn't sailed on NCL in 12 years but had sailed more frequently on RCCL and HAL (as recently as January's Panama Canal cruise). We had heard a lot about "Free-Style" sailing and wanted to see what it was like as well.
I want to say that we DID enjoy our cruise! It was a birthday celebration and we found a way to have fun even though there were a lot of things we did not enjoy on the GEM.
The GEM is an attractive ship… bright colors throughout but not garish. After a fairly slow check-in (we arrived at 11 am and only 2 computers were working in the Latitudes line) we boarded shortly after noon. Rooms weren't ready so we went to the very crowded Garden Cafe for something to eat. Best part of lunch…delicious chocolate cakes---try them the first day--more on that later! Rooms ready by 1:00 so we headed there.
Even after a week I don't feel I learned the layout of the ship well… takes a longer cruise for me to do that! Got in a lot of steps with the long, narrow hallways on our deck between our forward cabin and our friend's aft cabin. Liked that there were quite a few elevators (5 or 6?) They never seemed to be crowded except right after a show or when everyone was trying to leave the ship!
The ship interior always seemed to be crowded.I never found places that weren't always full of people except early in the morning. The Atrium was a disappointment as it was always crowded---too much going on--- a bar, a piano player (evenings) an internet corner, excursion desk, guest relations, selling tables, a large movie screen, spa invitation tables---ALWAYS crowded and busy! And for those with allergies having a perfume shop open to the Atrium is not the best idea!
THE SPA---the best thing that my friend and I did on this cruise was obtain a spa pass the first day. It was $149 for the week and we got our money's worth as we used it everyday. We were up early and in the warm pool by 8 am (preferring to soak in the warmth in the quiet, scented room without the noise jets). This therapy pool was just perfect!! The heated tile beds and soft comfortable cushioned chairs overlooking the bow made days at sea quiet and serene! It never got very crowded in the spa although at times in the afternoon could get noisy with chatter. Earplugs and a good book made for an enjoyable afternoon. No need to be at the outdoor pool with the crowds!
We were in Room 10530 … A Balcony on the Port side. Close to the elevators but you could never hear any elevator or stair noise. Would describe the room as just "adequate" in size.. with enough storage for a week's "stuff" if you are creative and organized! It was on the small side with little room for 2 people to maneuver (can't imagine how 4 people even 2 adults with 2 children could possibly stay there. Would have liked more drawers and a night stand on the right side of the bed (have to place things on the couch--be careful things can slip between couch and bed). One closet with attached hangers (we bring cheap plastic ones that we can leave behind as they are easier to maneuver and I always need a few extra) Bathrobes are provided.
The balcony had 2 deck chairs and a very tiny table. We spent a lot of time on the balcony a really enjoyed having it.
The bathroom is another story. VERY small. The shower is adequate but the opening to get into it is barely 18 inches wide. The toilet is placed at an angle making it impossible to sit without your knees touching the sliding door (and I'm only 5'2"!!) That narrow door is also just 18inches. Drying yourself after a shower is impossible with the door closed as there just is no room between the sink and the towel rods on the door. Don't know how anyone who is of a "extra large" frame can easily manage this situation. My husband had a great deal of difficulty with the bathroom and will never book this type of cabin on this ship. The BED…lumpy, too soft…a hard mound in the middle… definitely not something I could have slept on for more than a week! (Have been advised to try a "mini-suite" next time!)
The walls are magnetic and this time I brought a small whiteboard with magnetic backing from the dollar store for messages and some large magnetic clips for the "dailies".
Hair dryer worked well---there are 2 plug areas --one on each counter for charging.
Our room steward, Danico, was excellent, wonderful, efficient. He and all the other stewards really work hard to keep the rooms spotless, make sure ice buckets are filled and surprise us with towel animals. I asked him for a small bottle of hand cream -- he told me they were usually reserved for the suites but brought me one anyway.
We did find that the wait staff in the MDR seems to be less apt to engage in conversation, perhaps because they are understaffed? Service is a bit slow and it was difficult to eat early and be able to attend a 7pm show. Several nights we skipped dessert (no loss!) and later went to the buffet for a cup of tea and dessert (much better choices for dessert!)There are advantages to having the same waiters every night who do know your preferences. Had a bit of trouble with requests due to food allergies. Not sure if it was because of a communication problem? I cannot have onions/garlic due to them causing headaches (not a severe allergy however I do avoid them). I mentioned that to the waitress the first night and she told me that the "last day" some one from customer service would call me. I usually just review what's on the menu and order accordingly. NCL's menus are NOT very complete in listing ingredients however. The next night in the MDR I mentioned I could not have onions and the waiter stated I would have to order an hour ahead of time each night. I ordered something different....
The staff at customer relations desk was extremely helpful to my husband in fixing an item that needed to be glued. Workers retrieved the item from our stateroom, fixed it and promptly returned it. The staff at the Internet cafe were also very pleasant and helpful. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the gals at the Spa desk...could not have asked for more pleasant faces to greet us early in the morning. And of course there was always "Miss Washy, Washy, Happy, Happy" in the Garden Grill Buffet. (and if you get a chance to see the crew show, SHE can dance as well!!!)
Although I don't "cruise for the food"... I hope to enjoy good food on a cruise -- not necessarily great but good. Unfortunatley we were mostly disappointed in this department.
Wish I had taken pictures of the menus or plates so I could show the repetitive and nondescript menus. I almost always take a few pictures of "cruise" food because the presentations have such a great "wow" factor---but unfortunately not on this ship---nothing was ever "pretty" or fancy! I agree food is subjective but at best the menus and dinners in the MDR were "unimaginative" and plain. There was little variety from night to night with the same things being offered over and over. The only bright spot was the first night when "surf and turf" was offered and it was VERY good--moist and tasty lobster tail and filet. The rest of the meals were mediocre at best---more like what you would find in a family restaurant. Another night I ordered the chicken with broccoli. It arrived with exactly one piece of very overcooked broccoli and a plate loaded with peas/carrots/ONIONS which were not listed anywhere on the menu. The chicken was very tender and delicious however. I tried several appetizers and was disappointed every time. Spring roll turned out to be a very dry overcooked egg roll; crab cakes were unfortunately dry and rather like "Mrs. Paul's" and the Seafood chowder had no seafood and tasted like it came from a can. I usually just settled for the garden salad and was pleasantly surprised that a different tasty salad containing blue cheese and walnuts was offered one other night. The desserts were mostly disappointing. One night a Decadent Chocolate something-or-other was served....warm! Don't miss that one!
Inattentive servers did not add to the experience. At a table next to us the ladies were served their main course first and had to ask for their salad and soup when it never arrived. We found the service slightly better in the Grand Pacific than in the Magenta dining room.
We ate one night in the Garden Cafe.. I had expected similar food as what would be in the main dining rooms... Instead I found cafeteria food. BUT the desserts were HEAVENLY!! WHY do they keep the BEST desserts in the Buffet? Chocolate cakes of every description, pies, Boston creme pie... And CREPES!! We also attended the Chocoholic Buffet....all the chocolate covered strawberries were devoured early but we managed to eat more chocolate than any of us needed that night.
We had planned to try Moderno's for dinner on our last night at sea but unfortunately plans changed and we weren't able to. I don't know if the "cover charge" restaurants have better food -- or if the MDR's "just so" menu is a way to draw you into the other restaurants.
Breakfast buffet was good with many selections…weather permitting if you go to the Great Outdoors in the Aft area it was usually less crowded…especially for beverages. Waffles were really good! A leisurely breakfast was also a treat at the Blue Lagoon.
Lunches were often a zoo in the Garden Cafe…if you want less crowds, try one of the main dining rooms, Blue Lagoon (menu doesn't change) the Great Outdoors, The Grill. Also something edible at lunch time---certainly won't starve and there are always great desserts in the Garden Cafe (although the BEST desserts are the first 3 or 4 days of the cruise…more jello molds and puddings near the end of the cruise.
Best food....Lobster tail and fillet (offered first night)
Dessert cakes in the Garden Cafe
Crepes in the Garden Cafe
Great wine with dinner--- Moscato
Great drinks-- Mai Tai, Cucumber Mojito
We attended all the evening shows on the ship...usually at 7 pm ( having to forego dessert) but sometimes at 9pm).
Day 1 Welcome aboard "A Taste of Things to Come " could have been missed as it was just a preview of the dance troupe and singers BUT the comedien Rex Havens previewed his act and he was really funny...worth seeing.
Day 2 "Pure Variety".... Typical singing and dance talents-- enjoyable.
Day 3 Second City--- started slow but good medley of humor and improvisation
Day 4 "Get Down Tonight" -- should have skipped this one or brought earplugs! Not a fan of 70's music and at that volume it was really no fun. (Note to production manager...maybe you should sit in the middle of an actual audience so you would know to turn down the volume!!)
Day 5 Chip Romera-- Magic & Comedy--- great magic, some recycled comedy but enjoyable. So much that we attended his afternoon show on the last day when he did some card tricks.
Day 6 World Beat.... More from the song & dance troupe but nice variety of different world music.
Day 7 Rex Haven--- Comedian-- he really is a funny guy!
Other entertainment ---
Tetiana--- piano melodies in the Atrium. ( great to listen to but a terrible venue...too much noise in the Atrium and people always walking around and in front of her. She needs a more intimate setting for her music to be appreciated)
Piano and songs with Laurie Anne--- Magnums Champayne Bar. Quite the character/show woman/entertainer LaurieAnne plays the piano but also sings along with soundtracks and dresses as characters!
This trip was not port intensive... Just Cape Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau, Bahamas.
In Canaveral we booked a ships tour "Pontoon Cruise on the Banana River". It was a short bus ride to small pontoon river boat. The group was divided into two boats so neither was crowded. We had a nature guide and we rode leisurely along the river for about 3 hours observing wildlife-- seabirds, manatees and dolphins. It was a pleasant leisurely activity!
Great Stirrup Cay was a bit of a dissapointment as it is not the most beautiful island with the most pristine beaches. It still seems to be somewhat of a work in progress for NCL. The transfer itself went smoothly as we were not in an extreme rush to get to the island and avoided the earliest "pushy" crowd. We got to the island shortly after 10 am. We had rented clamshells on Cabana Beach which was a bit further away from the main beach and noise. The beach closer to the Barcardi Bar has the smoothest sand and less limestone rock. If you are going to rent a clamshell look for one with "air vents".. the dark blue cloth can get hot and the vents do allow some airflow.
The beach sand was not as nice as the first beach and full of rocks and limestone not covered by sand. I was glad to have brought my water shoes. The water was delightful but the walk over the hard limestone was a bit tricky. After swimming for awhile and sunbathing we headed for lunch before the crowd. Lunch was tasty...good chicken! And of course brownies! (I'm sure I ate salad and some other stuff but only remembered chicken and brownies!!)
The weather all week had predicted thunderstorms and even the captain said he wasn't sure we'd have a clear day. Before we left the ship a cloud of rain swept by the ship...then left for the day! After all the tenders returned, the skies broke open again for about 5 minutes before clearing once again!
We had booked a private van tour for 2 hours $30 . We visited Fort Charlotte and had a narrated tour there, drove through rich and poor neighborhoods of Nassau and the business district. Our guide gave us a general history of the island and it's people. We traveled to Atlantis to view the casino and shops and later the Queen's steps. It was an ok but not great tour. Mid-tour we had a huge rain shower which our guide assured us was much needed and would bring out the crabs for people to pick and be able to sell at the market! We returned to the ship for lunch and then ventured out for a foot tour of the shopping area and straw market.
PLACES/ Other things to do.
We attended the CC Meet and Greet in the Bliss Lounge, meet some nice folks as well as the Captain and main staff. Wish we had thought to grab an email address as some folks we never saw again.
Missed the Latitudes Reception--- simply forgot...darn!
SPA... Even if you don't get a spa pass...ask for a tour, just for a chance to sit on the delightful heated tile chairs!!
Blue Lagoon--- Hidden treasure for a quiet breakfast or lunch, or snack anytime.
Great Outdoors--- if you are coming from mid-ship into Garden Cafe, keep walking Aft!! If the weather is good this is a great place for breakfast (am addicted to the waffles) and is usually MUCH less crowded then the Cafe. Good for lunch as well.
Library--- quiet place to read (although not the most comfortable chairs)
Ship at night--- be sure to walk around the ship at night, especially outdoors as it is quite beautiful!
Shopping....this is NOT a ship for shopping...have been on other cruise lines where there is shopping ALL the time, EVERYWHERE! LOL. There was a table of bling set up in the Atruim most days but too near the perfume shop (allergies). Ship store had essentials but not extensive.
Am sure there are tons of places I missed since I became addicted to the lovely spa room and spent more time there than anywhere else!!
There is so much more to the ship than can be discovered in 7 days. Depending on what you want to do there is too much or too little to keep you occupied. I really enjoyed Spa relaxing time and warm water therapy pool. Hubby would have liked some computer classes or other types of lectures (not offered on this ship).
Conclusions: This was a "cheap" (inexpensive) cruise; last minute choice to celebrate a friend's birthday; no airfare involved; 3 at Sea days, 3 not-so-interesting port days (Canaveral, GSC, Nassau) Did we have a good time--Yes! Would we do it again? Probably not! Best part-- being with friends, the Spa Pass, having a Balcony, no overly rough seas so didnt get seasick!! Worse parts-- mediocre MDR dinners, lack of really interesting on-board activities, feeling the crowds in so many areas of the ship, SOME of our fellow passengers. Is NCL a good fit for us? Still deciding!! But a week cruising is always better than a week NOT cruising!