We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona on 11/9 on a 12 day itinerary. This ship is brand-spankin' new and our sailing was only the 4th cruise for this ship, the second on this particular itinerary. What attracted us to this particular cruise was the itinerary, the newness of the ship and the price. We've sailed on NCL four previous times and on Celebrity once so we're not newbies and we absolutely love NCL's Freestyle Dining and the whole Freestyle experience. In short we thought the Norwegian Gem was a real "gem" of a ship & a worthy addition to the NCL fleet. I will try to structure this review based on the rated categories.
We had around 2300 fellow pax on our cruise & it was a VERY international mix; 840 Germans, 730 Americans, 150 or so each Brits & Canadians and the balance French, Spanish, Scandinavian and others. Major ship's announcements had to be made in FOUR languages. Average pax age was late forties. There were less than 20 children under 10 years of age.
Food - the only restaurants we DIDN'T dine in were Teppanyaki, the Sushi Bar & Cagney's (DW is not a big Oriental or steak-person). There are two main restaurants, both on Deck 6 aft & mid-ship; the Grand Pacific and Magenta, resp. Magenta is a tad more "cozy" than the Pacific and is only open for dinner. We ate at both for dinner and in the Grand Pacific for lunch most days. We can honestly state that we didn't have a bad meal in either throughout the cruise and the food & service was excellent in both venues. There wasn't a "lobster night", per se, but one evening we had a "seafood combination" choice which featured a half of a lobster tail and other assorted seafood goodies. The beef choice was prime rib that evening.
One frequent complaint heard re: NCL's Freestyle Dining are long waits for the restaurants. We usually eat between 5:30 & 6:30PM. At NO TIME did we ever wait for more than 5 minutes for a seat in either the Grand Pacific or Magenta during the aforementioned times. Now if you insist on eating during the peak dining hours (between 7PM & 8:30PM) you WILL encounter a longer wait time. NCL has flat screen monitors located throughout the ship showing the average wait time in ALL the restaurants so you can plan accordingly. The Grand Pacific and Magenta also hand out beepers that work throughout the ship that will alert you when your table is ready. You may also be asked if you wish to share a table during these peak times.
Specialty restaurants fall into 2 categories; those that require a cover charge & those that don't. Cagney's (Deck 13), LeBistro (Deck 6), Orchid Garden (Deck 7), & Teppanyaki (Deck 7) require a cover charge that ranges from $20 per person to $10 (note: the Sushi Bar on Deck 7 doesn't have a cover charge and the menu items are individually priced). Cagney's & LeBistro also have specialty menus which will also require an additional charge. LaCucina (Deck 12), the Italian specialty restaurant and the Mexican/Tapas specialty restaurant (Deck 8) are free. ALL of the specialty restaurants require advance dinner reservations which can only be made up to 24 hours in advance. Reservations can be made by phone or up in the Garden Cafe during breakfast hours or at the Magenta restaurant on Deck 6 all day except during dinner. They were running a "happy hour" reservation promo while we were aboard; half-price cover charge for reservations made for 5:30PM - 6:30PM. The half-price did NOT apply to the specialty menus.
We dined in LeBistro once & the Orchid Garden once during the cruise. The food at both was great (the escargot at LeBistro & the Peking duck at Orchid stand out). We also ate in LaCucina twice and the Mexican/Tapas restaurant once. Unlike LaTrattoria on the Dawn & Spirit, LaCucina is a dedicated Italian restaurant decorated in old world rustic style (old-style wooden tables & chairs - check out the pix on the main NCL site for details) and is not "re-created" every evening from the buffet seating. LaCucina was VERY popular and was filled to capacity every night of the cruise. The salmon Florentine was outstanding! They also wheel around an appetizer cart filled with different antipasto selections. We let our waiter make a selection for us. The Mexican/Tapas restaurant features a variety of tapas, Mexican, and Southwest Tex-Mex dishes. There's a menu item for 2 diners (the name escapes me now) that was delicious that you should check out.
A word about the Garden Cafe buffet; this is NOT your typical cruise ship buffet! If, like us, you are accustomed to the typical NCL buffet you will find the Garden Cafe a welcome change for the better. First off, check out these pictures that show the seating arrangements: http://travel.webshots.com/photo/2138256850102204076VremHg You almost think you're in the Grand Pacific!
We ate breakfast every day, lunch on several days and almost always stopped up every night after the first show (8:30PM) for a "snack"...lol. There's a separate section for kids with its own kid-sized tables, chairs, and food-serving station that's located aft near the Great Outdoors. It wasn't used during our cruise (there were less than 20 kids under 10 aboard) but it's a nice addition and will probably get a LOT of use on other cruises.
The buffet itself is divided up into different food stations. As you walk in from the mid-ship elevator to your right begins the stations; soup/salad then pizza then the various entrees. There was an Indian vegetarian station on our cruise, for example. The plethora of stations gives the menu planners a lot more flexibility than they had in the past. The setup is very similar to what a lot of colleges are using nowadays for their student food services. The central section has the desserts on one side and the bread/toast/baked stuff on the other side. On one end station in the morning a terminal is set up to take specialty restaurant reservations (they even have the menus there!). This same station is then converted into a bar for lunch & dinner! On the opposite end a juice bar is set up for breakfast (costs $2.50 - $3.50) and is changed over to the ice cream station for lunch & dinner. VERY nice!
Food selection itself varied greatly; a nice change! There were always two carved meats available at dinner. There was rotisserie chicken available for lunch almost every day. They also had several theme night dinners. On our cruise, for example, there was an Octoberfest night that featured German food and beers. There were hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza available for lunch and dinner. There was a vegetarian selection also available for lunch and dinner.
Seating can get VERY tight during peak hours. We saw a LOT of people, for example, attempting to eat in the dedicated kids section! If the weather is nice you can also eat outside by the pool or aft in the Great Outdoors. After 11AM in the mornings and 3-ish in the afternoon, the aforementioned food stations in the Garden Cafe are roped off (to prepare for the next meal) but a goodly selection of food is moved outside to the Great Outdoors, which is located all the way aft and a sign directs late-arriving pax to the location. This is a scaled-down version of the Garden Cafe which is used for snacks (afternoon after 3PM), late breakfasts (10:45AM - noon) and late evening snacks (9PM - 11:30PM). The food selection is quite good and there's coffee, juices in the morning and a soft ice cream machine in the afternoon/evening. The will also have a lunch selection available by the pool at the Bali Hai Grill. A word on the self-serve coffee machines; they have the usual machine plus a new machine that offers coffee, espresso, latte's and cappuccinos in both caff & decaff versions.
There's also the Blue Lagoon on Deck 8 (mid ship - across from the Mexican/Tapas restaurant) that has snack-type foods available 24 hours (hamburgers, wings, fish-and-chips, soups, etc). We did not order anything from room service; we prefer to eat outside of our room!
We found the food aboard the Gem both plentiful and of very high quality. We were very pleasantly surprised by the Garden Cafe buffet both in terms of dEcor and the quality of the food served there. We ate lunch there on several occasions and dinner once & would not hesitate to eat there instead of the Grand Pacific.
Much has been said in other postings/reviews re: the overall color scheme & dEcor on NCL's Jewel-class ships. When you first walk onboard you are, almost literally, "hit" by the bright colors and the "loudness" of the overall dEcor. However by the second day we were completely accustomed to it and never commented or noted it again. So to us it was a non-issue.
The easiest way to describe the public rooms is to start at the top and work down:
Upper Decks - Deck 13 forward features the Spinnaker Lounge. The furnishings in this lounge are...well...different. There are the usual bar stools, comfy sofa-type seating near the dance floor but check out these pix: http://www.depping-design.de/test/displayimage.php?album=62&pos=19
I predict that these furnishings will get a lot of use on spring break cruises...'nuff said!
We attended several shows in the Spinnaker & found it a great venue for watching a band perform, a game of Quest or just hanging out. The view during the day from here is spectacular!
Deck 13 also has a sun-bathing area, a jogging track, a full-sized tennis/basketball court, a golf cage and a rock-climbing wall. There's also a set of stairs mid-ships on Deck 13 that lead to an area labeled "Freestyle Sunbathing". I assume this is for the more adventuresome sun bathing types... There's also a bar available above the pool area.
Deck 12 forward has the spa and exercise equipment rooms. I'll describe this under Spa & Fitness. There's also a nice library and two game rooms located across from the exercise room.
One frequent complaint heard on ALL cruise ships is voiced by adults re: little kids in the pools. NCL has solved this problem by having TWO pools on the Gem, right next to each other. One pool is for kids and adults and the other is for adults only. There's also a quite spectacular slide next to the kids pool that will get a LOT of use. There are several hot tubs available. NCL's new "Pool Towel" policy is in full effect on the Gem, so be warned! Extra towels are available pool-side; have your room card available for the deposit. We didn't notice any problems with this new policy on our cruise. There are also several signs stating that your belongings may be removed & stored after an hour to free up chairs for other pax. So chair-hogs, be warned! lol There's a nice covered area on both sides of the pool with tables and chairs for those who wish to stay out of the sun or just relax and eat. They also have some electronic gambling tables available, similar to the ones in the Casino on Deck 6. We didn't see them get much use on our cruise. Aft on Deck 12 is the Garden Cafe and the Great Outdoors.
We should also mention that Deck 12 has the Kids Crew area, a movie theater and the Leopard Lounge for teens. These are located near the Garden Cafe. These did NOT get much use on our cruise due to the demographics I described at the beginning of this review.
Deck 11 has the Bridge Viewing Room located all the way forward on the port (left) side. The shades are up & you can see into the bridge from sunrise to sunset except during docking. The shades are shut during the evening to prevent light from messing up the bridge crew's night vision.
Decks 9, 10 & 5 have self-service laundry rooms available. They are on the starboard (right) side forward across from cabins 10082 & 9084. There are three washers and three dryers available in each. Also two ironing boards & irons. Laundry soap is available for $1. The one on Deck 5 is usually used by the crew so we didn't use that one.
Deck 8 has the Mexican/Tapas Restaurant and the Blue Lagoon located midships above the Grand Atrium.
Deck 7 - all the way forward is the Stardust Theater. This also has an entrance on Deck 6. This theater has all the usual embellishments of a Broadway-style theater and is very similar to the ones aboard the Spirit and Dawn. I would estimate that it seats 1800-2000 people. There were shows each night of the cruise which I will describe later. This entrance leads to balcony seats and seats in the upper part of the theater.
As you walk aft on deck 7 from the Stardust you'll pass through the shopping area. This is MUCH bigger than the ones we've seen on other NCL ships we've sailed on. There is a jewelry/watch emporium, a clothing/souvenir section and duty-free liquor store that also has some food and sundries (toothpaste, soaps, candy, snacks, etc). Liquor prices are reasonable; they have sales on specific items which are pretty good. They will also set up tables and run 'sales" on some of the clothing items.
Continuing aft on Deck 7 is the Orchid Garden restaurant area. This consists of the Sake Bar, the Sushi Bar, the Orchid Garden restaurant and the Teppanyaki restaurant. Teppanyaki has a window on the hallway so you can watch the chef cook/perform for the diners!
Continuing aft on Deck 7 you'll enter the Crystal Atrium. This atrium goes up to Deck 8 and you can look out on the atrium while you dine in the Mexican restaurant or in the Blue Lagoon. The Atrium itself has a HUGH video screen at one end that can show movies, slide shows and is used in the afternoons to play Wii video games. The main reception desk is located at the other end. The Shore Excursions desk is on the port side as well as the Internet cafe. This cafe is small (only 10 terminals) compared to the Spirit and Dawn. This is because Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship, including the pax cabins. There's also a perfume/men's fragrance's store on the starboard side of the atrium as well as a coffee bar. During the evenings there's a piano player in the atrium who's quite good and personable...and he takes requests!
You can proceed aft from the Atrium by two different corridors. The port side will lead you through the Art Gallery. This gallery has the Art Director's desk and a selection of art displayed that will be auctioned during the cruise. The starboard corridor goes through the Photo Gallery. Both corridors terminate at entrances to the Bliss Lounge.
The Bliss Lounge has two bowling alleys which consist of two lanes each for a total of 4 lanes. Cost is $5 per game which also includes shoe rental. The rest of the lounge consists of a large bar, a disco-type dance floor, two "private" rooms/lounges and "furnishings" that are similar to the ones in Spinnaker. Check out these pix:
If you've sailed on the Spirit the theme here is similar to the one in Maharinni's Lounge in the Casino on the Spirit. On our cruise Bliss got a lot of use by the younger crew members in the late evenings and it was fun watching these kids "unwind" after a hard day's work. They had a "Toga Party" one night and the Gem Dancers performed in this lounge on several nights. I will predict that the Bliss Lounge will be a VERY popular destination during Spring Break cruises out of NYC...
Outside on Deck 7 there's a promenade walk that stretches around the entire ship. You can take a nice walk around the ship and there are deck chairs, shuffle board and a couple of ping-pong tables.
Deck 6 forward has another entrance to the Stardust Theater. This entrance will lead you to seats in the front of the theater. Exiting the theater and walking aft you next enter the Casino. It has the usual assortment of slots, roulette, craps, poker, blackjack, etc. etc. Yes, there IS a Texas Hold 'Em Table; several of them. We're not gamblers so we'll let some other reviewer describe the casino.
Continuing aft you enter what the crew refers to as Bar Central. This is a sort of mini-atrium that stretches up to Deck 7. Le Bistro is on the starboard side. There's a champagne bar, a martini bar and a pub-type bar (hence the name, "Bar Central"). There's a piano in the center that's usually in use during the evenings. In the pub-section there is also usually a singer during the evening. We were a tad disappointed by the ambiance of this section; it seemed too modern. I guess we're used to Henry's Pub on the Spirit which resembles an old-style English pub a lot more than this one on the Gem. If you continue aft on Deck 6 you'll walk into the Magenta restaurant.
We are "no-frills" cruisers and pretty much go with inside cabins. Because we specified a "guaranteed" cabin type & booked fairly early we got Cabin 8069. The location was great; we were midships & close to just about everything. The cabin had two twin beds that could be pushed together to form a queen. These beds were VERY comfortable. The closet & drawer space was enough for the 2 of us. There's a safe, hair dryer, 2-110V outlets and a European outlet. One nice addition was a fully stocked refrigerator! You can also ask your room steward to remove all the items from the fridge if you bring your own water, soda, whatever. The price list for the items was right on the front of the fridge. They WILL add the usual 15% gratuity to your bill for any items consumed. The lavatory has a very good shower. There's an outlet for electric razors.
Our room stewards were outstanding! We had towel animals every night. Our room was made up/turned down every day. Our towels were also replaced daily. Our cabin had a HD flat-screen TV (15", I think). TV stations available were three movie channels (one English the other two non-English), two news (Fox & BBC International), ESPN, a Feature TV channel and the usual assortment of NCL-specific channels (shopping, excursion, ship cam, navigation, etc). The cabins are also supposed to have WiFi Internet access. I also noticed an Ethernet cable connection. I did not bring my laptop on this cruise so I cannot state how good the WiFi access was or whether the Ethernet connection actually worked.
One nice little addition; on the outside of each cabin is a little wheel which you can turn to read "Welcome", "Do Not Disturb", "Turn Down Cabin", and "Make Up Cabin". There's also a slot on top where a small envelope can be placed. VERY nice!
We were VERY please with our cabin & its location!
There was stuff to do EVERY night. NCL has a good reputation for keeping its pax entertained in the evenings & the Gem certainly lived up to this reputation. The Crystal Atrium and Bar Central had piano players/singers entertaining throughout the evening. The English Pub also had a singer every night. What follows below are the main shows that took place in the Stardust Theater, the Spinnaker Lounge & the Bliss Lounge. The Stardust shows were at 7:30 & 9:30. The Spinnaker around 10:30 and Bliss was late night (after 11:30PM). Most of the shows in the Stardust featured the Norwegian Gem Showband accompanying the singer. This band was VERY professional & VERY good! Also at several stops they brought aboard some local singers/dancers to perform in the afternoon in the Stardust Theater.
I should also mention for the die-hards out there that the Spinnaker had karaoke almost EVERY night…
Night #1 - The Stardust featured a singer named Donny Ray Evins who "channeled" Nat King Cole. He was VERY good. There was a Welcome Aboard Party up in Spinnaker which featured the house band; Modal Magic. They were quite good. The CD for our cruise was Clint Wells. The Bliss Lounge had a Fire and Ice Party which was interesting…
Night #2 - The Gem Production Company Dancers performed a show called World Beat in the Stardust for two performances. We liked it & thought it was quite good. Spinnaker had a New Years Eve party. Bliss had the Shadow Dancers which are the Gem Production Company dancers doing some improv dancing to the recorded music in the Lounge. They also showed the movie Casablanca in the Spinnaker lounge.
Night #3 - The Stardust featured a juggler named Romano Frediani for 2 shows. This guy is a hoot & QUITE a good juggler. Also had a good repartee with the audience. Spinnaker had a Latin Night featuring Modal Magic.
Night #4 - The Stardust featured a singer named Lorraine Brown who did R&B and some old faves. Quite good. Spinnaker had a 50's Sock Hop which was fun to watch & dance to. Bliss had the Gem Production Dancers doing a thing called Moroccan Nights; think of the Bangles video Walk Like an Egyptian and you get the idea… Fun.
Night #5 - Stardust featured a comedian named David Naster for one show only. VERY funny guy. He's written several books on using laughter to cope with life's difficulties. Spinnaker featured a Dancing Through the Decades party and Bliss had a White Ice Night featuring the Gem Production Dancers. I should also mention that this was Octoberfest night up in the Garden Cafe complete with German oom-pah music, food, beer, etc.
Night #6 - This was a 70's Night theme throughout the ship. The Stardust featured the Gem Production Dancers doing 2 shows called "Get Down Tonight" which featured 60's music & 70's Disco-type music. Spinnaker had a Disco Night complete with the Village People (or what looked like them…lol). Bliss was quiet tonite.
Night #7 - Stardust featured a magician named Duck Cameron for 2 shows. Quiet guy but very good. Up in Spinnaker Romano Frediani (the juggler from Night #3) did an absolutely great job at emceeing The Quest. If you don't know what The Quest is, btw, then you should book an NCL cruise RIGHT NOW so you can find out…lol. Seriously, it's an absolute hoot!! Bliss had their Toga Party tonite…'nuff said!
Night #8 - Stardust featured Donny Ray Evins again this time doing Soul plus some R&B. Guy is very talented. David Naster, the comedian, did an adults only show in the Spinnaker.
Night #9 - Stardust had a double-bill of the magician, Duck Cameron and the singer Lorraine Brown. Sounds odd but it worked quite well. Duck proved he could talk tonite & did a very elaborate illusion for us. Ms. Brown did her usual great performance. Spinnaker had Country Night with the cruise staff trying to teach us how to do a line dance…need I say more? Bliss had the Shadow Dancers.
Night #10 - Stardust featured the Second City improv comedy group for 1 show. I like improv comedy (I am a big SNL fan) while DW doesn't care for it as much but we agreed that this group of Second City-ers was MUCH better than the Second City-ers we had seen on the Spirit last year. Spinnaker featured the Liars Club which is always good for great laughs. The "panel" was our CD, Clint Wells, asst. CD Matt, juggler Romano Frediani and Ben Johnson from the Second City. They also had a Ship 'n Males show up in Spinnaker for the ladies.
Night #11 - Spinnaker featured the Gem Production Dancers in a show called Colorz which was GREAT!!! Best show they did of the three. This was also the Farewell performance with the Captain, officers & crew. If you have never seen this it's quite good. Second City did two unscripted shows up in Spinnaker; an early show and a late adults only show. We went to the second one. This is a show where they ask for the audience to supply ideas & they act those ideas out. This is improv comedy in its purest form. This was also the Chocoholic Buffet Night up in the Garden Cafe.
Night #12 - last night of the cruise (sniff!! sniff!!). Stardust had a single Variety Show that featured Romano Frediani for one last time, several VERY talented crew members doing some musical numbers and only 2 (TG!!!!!) very UNtalented fellow pax; one doing a belly dance & the other attempting to do "comedy"…I sat there and kept thinking, "Where is Simon Cowel when you REALLY need him????" Bliss had a Pajama Party…I'll leave that to your imagination…
¬Spa & Fitness¬
As mentioned above, we do not do the spa "thang". To use the spa on Deck 12 you need to cough up $10 per person, per day. They do offer a discounted package for the entire cruise which will save you a lot. That's just to use the facilities. The massages, rubs, treatments, etc are all extra $$. We did a tour on Day #1 and will say that the facility is absolutely beautiful & first class in every way possible. They have steam & sauna & an indoor pool as well. Separate lockers are available for male & female pax.
I used the Fitness center's treadmills for 4 days until I started walking on Deck 7 to burn off excess calories. The Fitness center is free and has about 20 treadmills, each equipped with head phones and an LCD monitor that has the same programs you can see on your cabin TV. There's also stair climbing machines, weights and a separate weight room. Also a refrigerator with hand towels for sweaty exercisers! (a nice touch!).
Family & Children
As I mentioned above, there were very few kids aboard. This is one of the benefits of cruising in late September & October-November.
I love reading posts on these boards by older pax (like us) who complain about the number of kids onboard when they cruise during Xmas or Spring Break. I guess these are the same folks who also complain about having to wait for a table in the main restaurant when they insist on eating at 7:30 PM…lol
We very rarely do the NCL-sponsored shore excursions. As we stated above, we're "no frills" cruisers and cannot see spending more on the shore excursions than we paid for the whole darn cruise! We DO get off at the ports but we'll usually either walk around by ourselves & see the sights or do a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. One of the selling points for this particular cruise was the rather exotic ports of call featured; Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, etc. These were places that neither of us had ever travelled to. Here's where we went & what we did: Malaga, Spain: we visited this port on a Sunday so the shops & such were all closed. Beautiful city. We did a hop-on-hop-off bus tour & saw everything we wanted to see. Would like to visit again on a day when the shops are open. Casablanca & Agadir: I got off in Agadir & took the NCL shuttle bus into the city. Not impressed with the city. Nothing to buy & not much to do. We didn't get off in Casablanca at all. Cabs were available at the pier but the only way to see Casablanca was to take one of the NCL "official" shore excursions. Hopefully some other reviewer will have more to say about these two ports of call than we did. Canary Islands: two stops here; Arrecife & Las Palmas. NCL had a free shuttle bus in Arreciffe that took you to the shopping district. In Las Palmas you can walk to the town in less than 5 minutes (think docking at Hamilton in Bermuda). As to the islands themselves; think of a Caribbean island with a Spanish twist; that's the Canarys! Very pretty towns and the shopping was good. Lisbon, Portugal: NCL had a free shuttle bus that let you off in the center of the city near the other side of the port. We did a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. VERY beautiful city!!! We would definitely come back to Lisbon! Excellent shopping. Cadiz, Spain: the ship docks close enough to be able to walk into the city. Our hop-on-hop-off bus tour had a stop right at the dock. VERY convenient! This was another Sunday port of call so all the shops were closed. After our tour we decided to strike out on our own & followed the people walking around to see where they were going. This led us to an open air market near the Cathedral where you could do some shopping. VERY beautiful city!! We would definitely come back to Cadiz! Gibraltar, UK: ship got in at 0700 & left at 1300. Definitely not enough time. The port ran a shuttle from the dock to town that cost us 8 Euros total. The town itself has a lot of shopping. We walked around the town for a couple of hours then headed back. Would like to see Gibraltar again but would like to spend an entire day there. We would probably have done one of the NCL excursions had we been there longer. Palma, Mallorca, Spain: another half-day port of call; we docked at 1300 and all aboard was 1830. NCL provided shuttle busses (cost $6 for both of us) into the city. Very beautiful city. Check out the Cathedral area. Looking back we should have done a hop-on-hop-off bus tour again in this city; there was a stop near where the ship docked.
We were very satisfied with the itinerary with the exception of the two stops in Morocco. Agadir & Casablanca are simply not set up to handle cruise ship tourists so this is not an NCL issue. The comedian, Dave Naster, probably described Casablanca best when he said, "Yeah and Casablanca! It'll be great in 10 years when they get it finished!" We were also a tad disappointed that two stops were on Sundays. However with a 12-day itinerary that was simply our bad luck.
Embarkation & Disembarkation
We took a cab from our hotel in Barcelona to the cruise port where the Gem was docked and arrived at 11:30AM. We jumped right into the Latitudes line and were processed promptly and onboard by 11:45. Our room was not available until 1300 so we walked around a bit. There were crewmembers directing arriving pax to the elevators to the buffet on Deck 12 but we went right to the Grand Pacific on Deck 6 for a nice leisurely lunch! We then toured the ship, took pix and just got to know our way around. Sail away was at 1900 which we watched from our dinner in Le Bistro.
We usually avail ourselves of NCL's Express Disembarkation when we cruise out of NYC. We've had hit-and-miss experiences with this aboard other NCL ships but decided to try it again on the Gem. For this cruise the Express Disembarkation form is dropped in your cabin along with the Freestyle Daily on the 10th night of the cruise. All we had to do was to fill in our cabin number and how many of us & drop it at the Reception Desk. Simple! The ship docked the final morning right at 0500. Clint started making announcements at 0545 and announced the Express at 0600. We stayed in bed until 0800 and decided to get breakfast. The Garden Cafe, unfortunately, was JAMMED so we just grabbed coffee, some apples, bananas & oranges & cold cereal & went back to our room. They don't give you a Freestyle Daily on the last night so we didn't know if the Grand Pacific was open or not. Based on the crowds we saw in the Garden Cafe at 0815 we'd guess it wasn't open or that it opened/closed VERY early. NCL might do a little better job of informing pax what their breakfast options are on the final morning. We decided to leave rather than fight the crowds for breakfast so we grabbed our bags & headed for the gangway on Deck 5. I guess everyone else was getting breakfast because we walked right off & into a waiting cab at the dock by 0845! We were at the airport by 0930 (there was some rush hour traffic in downtown Barcelona!). Taxi fare was 34 Euros total. A tad pricey but cheaper than the NCL transfer they were offering at $30/each!
As mentioned above our two room stewards were outstanding. The service provided by all the crew was great! Every crewmember we encountered was polite, friendly and always had a smile and a "Hello" when you saw them. Clint Wells and his Cruise Staff did a great job of running the activities. Watching them one night attempting to teach us how to do a line dance reminded me of the old adage about trying to herd cats. Klaus Lugmaier, the Hotel Director, has this ship running like a Swiss watch! He came to our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet on Day #2 & even gave us his portable phone number to call if we had any problems!! He and staff did an outstanding job on this cruise, so far as we're concerned.
Value for the Money - Rates
One of the main reasons we cruise with NCL is "bang for the buck". As we noted above, we're "no-frills" cruisers who aren't looking for a lot of amenities (balcony, suite, room service, concierge, etc) that other cruise pax seem to look for. Our motto is: ANY day on ANY cruise ship on ANY cruise line is better than a day at home! Our past cruises with NCL have always been great experiences and this cruise on the Gem was no exception.
We booked this cruise online about 5 months in advance. We always book our cruises with online TA's and haven't had any problems. We booked our air (from NYC) and our hotel in Barcelona through Hotwire.com. We've never tried booking directly with NCL as we've never seen online or brochure prices as good as we get from the online TA's. If one of the "Latitudes Weekly Specials" we receive through e-mails, though, looks inviting we may try booking directly through NCL.