I just returned home from a cruise with my boyfriend from NYC to Florida and the Bahamas on the Norwegian Gem (7/19-7/26 sailing) and had an excellent time. This is a full review & I tried to cover all important areas.
The ship itself is beautiful and incredibly clean, there are hand sanitizing stations everywhere and people to spray your hands when entering the buffet area or main dining rooms, their motto is "happy happy, washy washy."
Deck 12 is the main deck and contains the Tahitian Pool area, which consists of 2 main pools and 4 hot tubs. Half of each are designated for adults only. There is also a waterside which was great to ride even as an adult, just note that it shuts down midday for a while then opens back up so you have to catch it at the right time. There is an outdoor grill and bar surrounding this area as well as a lot of deck space. This was probably one of the busiest places on the ship, there was often a band playing or entertainment and More
contests taking place. They had some comedic ones, such as "Mr. Sexy Legs," and "Ms. Biceps," as well as some Nickelodeon themed ones for children. There was also a lot of dancing opportunities and an ice carving demonstration during our 3rd sea day.
The pool areas and hot tub were always packed and there often wasn't even room to actually swim, just sit on the edge or wade around in the water. The only other problem with this area is that as happens on most cruises, people will leave their towels and belongings in a chair & not come back for hours....so it was difficult to find seats the first two days but after searching we were always able to find something. There was deck space towards the back of the ship that was more available and quiet if you are looking to just lay out.
Our room was standard sized and extremely clean, the room steward was also very friendly and attentive & made sure our room was always made up and turned down at the end of the day. We had an obstructed view (meaning there is a lifeboat partially blocking your view of the ocean) and there was a large closet with hangers and a lot of drawers and table space to store your things. There was also a hair drier in the room & a full length mirror which was great. The bathroom & shower area was very small but clean & there was shelf space inside. Shampoo and body wash are in dispensers in the shower but there is no conditioner so make sure to pack. The only thing missing was a fan you could control, but there was a ventilation system and the air did circulate fairly quickly. The TV had several channels with info about the ship & also some movie and news stations.
Onto dining....we ate breakfast and lunch mainly at the Garden Cafe which was the main indoor buffet. There were plenty of options and the food was excellent. There were stations to get pasta cooked to order and omelets in the morning. There was also a crepe making station for dessert. It was extremely packed though throughout the morning with people, especially before 9 am. There was also a beautiful outdoors buffet on the back of the ship that continued serving breakfast past 10:30 when we got up late. The complimentary drinks included unlimited iced tea, lemonade, strawberry kiwi flavored water, and mango flavored water which were all very good & more options than we have had on previous cruises.
Now to one of our favorite parts of the cruise....the main dining room. There are two options, Grand Pacific and Magenta, both which are included. I know that Norwegian is noted for is "freestyle" dining options and and had many specialty restaurants that charged a $15-30 additional fee for dinner. However, we didn't feel any need to visit these as the main dining room had excellent food and service. We spent almost all of our nights in Grand Pacific, which had beautiful large paintings and many tables with an ocean view. Try to get to dinner around 5:30-6 in order to get the best seating options. The menus varied by day and had delicious seafood, meat, and vegetarian options to suit everyones needs. If you have diet restrictions you can place your order a day in advance & your meal will be specially prepared. The service at Grand Pacific was excellent, the servers were always attentive and friendly and watching to see when you were done with a plate or if you needed anything throughout the meal.
A tip I have picked up after going on several cruises is to remember you can order as much food as you want even in the main dining rooms. For example, when we went to Grand Pacific for breakfast the menu seemed smaller than the options at the buffet, however it was a much quieter atmosphere and you could order as many items as you wanted or get portions on the side, making the meal very customizable. For dinner we almost always ordered two appetizers to try things out. There were 6 or 7 dinner options that never changed, but the appetizers, special entrees and desserts were varied each night. I can't stress enough how well prepared the food was presentation wise and taste, everything was always cooked fresh and we were extremely satisfied.
As for entertainment the Stardust Lounge was the theater where three dancing/singing production shows took place throughout the cruise. There was also a comedian that performed one night & another comedian/magician who put on a show. An acting group called Second City from Chicago put on some great skits and did improv comedy on an additional night. All of the entertainment was great, though with the comedic shows beware of adult humor. There was also the Spinnaker lounge which had several events such as "Dancing with the Gem Stars" that we loved and several themed dance parties and game shows. These took place after the main shows starting at 10pm on.
Now onto excursions.....we did Sea World during our day in Florida and had a great time. It was a smooth hour bus ride into Orlando and then we had about 6 hours to explore the park on our own.
Great Stirrup Cay was the cruise lines private island, which had beautiful clear ocean water and clean white sand. The benefit was that you could charge most things to your room card & only needed cash for the beach shops (which were very overpriced). It was very hot & humid so we rented a clamshell for $30 to have some shade & also rented floaties at $10 each which was a great way to relax in the water. There is also a small cafeteria & a free BBQ/buffet lunch was available which was great... just make sure you catch it at the right time because they only had it set up for less than an hour.
Finally, we spent our day in Nassau doing the Atlantis Aquaventure excursion, which was an incredible and unforgettable experience. It's a short bus ride to Paradise Island and we had about 8 hours to explore. The price included the hotel area, the aquarium, the water park, and the beach. It was well worth the money & the views and water rides were all amazing. Another clean beach with the opportunity for water sports like a banana boat ride or jet skiing.
There were professional photographers out every night taking pictures in the atrium & although photo prices were steep they had deals running every day for free copies of photos or to get digital photos. We purchased a package and were happy with the prints that came out.
The gift shops were quite pricy and had mainly name brand clothes & jewelry (Guess, Michael Kors, etc). There were some great printed tshirts and ship souvenirs though that were worth purchasing and a raffle on the last day for prizes.
Overall, we had an amazing time on the Gem and after being on several cruise lines could say we really enjoyed the service & atmosphere on the ship. I definitely recommend Norwegian to anyone looking for a great experience & we are looking to sail with them again in the future. Less