This was the first cruise for my family, leaving on the Norwegian Gem from the NY Cruise Terminal. How convenient!
What to Pack:
Over-the-door shoe organizer for toiletries for your whole family (hang on bathroom door on outside); pop-up hamper or laundry bag (can fit in tiny bathroom); battery-operated clock; reusable bottle for each family member to refill juice/water from Café; and tote or day bag to take ship towels to the private island. We opted out of the soda and alcohol packages and brought our own sodas onboard for occasional use.
Our ship‘s departure time was 3 pm so we tried to get to the terminal by 11 am at the latest.
Take a taxi or ask a friend or family member to drop you off - best route from Queens/Long Island is the 59th St. Bridge and go straight across to 12th Ave. They can drop you off on the second level and unload your luggage (third/top level is long-term parking and the rates are approx $40 per day). Terminal is very organized and everything went smoothly.
We had two rooms – family balcony and ocean view staterooms. The balcony was worth the money since the rooms were a bit cramped. There are lots of storage shelves and hangers for your clothes. The bathroom is tiny but clean, modern and has lots of shelves and hooks also. I don’t know how they don’t run out of water – the shower is great! Our steward, Jennry, was friendly and efficient – he set up the sofa into a bed for our kids within seconds!
For breakfast for our party of 6, we got our food from the Garden Café but walked to the Italian restaurant in the rear for better seating (no need to wake up too early). Garden Café has a wide breakfast selection but the pancakes are bad – get the waffles instead. Breakfast pastries are not that tasty either, stick with fruits. Lunch was mostly by the pool (skip the burgers and hot dogs and go for the specialty grilled items or run into Garden Café and get some healthy choices). The ice cream was a bit icy, not the usual creamy soft-serve. Be careful going into Garden Café – the tile at the entrance gets wet and very slippery!
Dinners were long and drawn-out, and not completely satisfying. We opted out of the Specialty dining – additional fees applied. Of the two main complimentary dining rooms, Grand Pacific is better. The views are nicer, there is more capacity and you get to dress up a little (no shorts or capri’s; collared shirts for men). The servers in the evenings are pleasant but often seemed a bit distracted or overwhelmed. FYI, both dining rooms have the same menu choices. I wished there were more vegetables incorporated into the daily entrée choices – they did make an attempt to have at least one fruit dessert though. For dinners, complimentary drinks were ice tea or hot tea/coffee only – only kids get juices as part of their kids’ menu. The entrée portions were small, leaving one tempted to have a midnight snack pool-side or at the Great Outdoors.
Don’t miss the Chocolate Dessert Night – the chocolate fruit cut (in edible chocolate shell) from the Garden Café is quite an experience! Kudos to Pastry Chef Lea!
Chip Romero is a genius but his focus is mostly card tricks. Jeff Harms, the comedian, is very entertaining and has a wider audience. Cruise director Dan Dan is fantastic – so funny and I love his accent! His assistant, Nacho, is very charismatic as well. The Norwegian Gem singers and dancers were talented but the songs were a bit dated and costumes outlandish. The most notable show was World Beat – don’t miss it! Finish your dinner before 8:30 and then run over to the Stardust Theatre to get the best choice of seats for the show – they fill up fast. Take a formal dress or suit for the one optional formal night (great night for professional photos in the lounge area too). Also, take a completely-white outfit for the white-hot party (all family members).
The spa treatments seemed fairly priced and the gym was nicely equipped (classes held also) but I didn’t visit either one!
Port Canaveral – rented a car from Payless (awesome crew!); didn’t have much to do there though. Space Center is expensive and more suitable for older kids so we drove around for a bit. Beaches are available but there wasn’t enough time for that.
Stirrup Cay, Bahamas – the tenders are little ferries to the island. The ship’s crew will prepare a feast for you there so don’t worry about food. There are a few problems to note though. First, the lack of indoor showers/changing rooms. Plenty of bathrooms but nowhere to change comfortably out of swimsuits. Secondly, I was annoyed at how crowded the main section of the beach gets. Imagine all the people in the cruise ship in one section of the beach – it’s like being in NY again but in turquoise waters. The third problem is the hungry sea gulls that fly down and grab food right out of your plate! Getting back on the ship is very organized though (just photo ID and your key card) and the tender has a foot wash to get the sand off you feet.
Nassau, Bahamas – Atlantis is much too expensive (skip it). There are plenty of beautiful beaches (with playgrounds and bathrooms) on the north coast of the main island that are free and close to the port. Take a taxi or rent a car. The fish fry restaurants along the coast are a must – the seafood is so fresh! Watch out for jellyfish though –my daughter got stung and luckily a nearby mom had Benadryl lotion to apply to reduce the swelling.
The pool is quiet from morning until 11 am – after that, no chairs are available. Come back after dinnertime if you want quiet pool or hot tub time. Pools are very small but if you want sun, this is the place to be. No swim diapers but one tiny pool does allow it – has a slide and child-safety door. It’s pretty cool to be at the pool area and see the ocean right there!
Overall, the ship and the crew are amazing but I wish we had more interesting stops (Nassau was nice though). Also, all you do is eat, eat, eat. If you try to be healthy with fruits and salads like I did, you end up feeling like you wasted a lot of money. You will come back with an amazing tan though!