The Gem arrived in NYC at about 10a.m., and was still unloading passengers at 11:30 (compared to being off the ship at 9:40, when we returned). As a result, we didn't board until 1:30.
Since we had booked on a casino rate, we were seated in the VIP lounge with Penthouses & Villa passengers. There we waited for Claudio the concierge of the Gem to escort us onboard. We were served cookies, orange juice & hot chocolate. Strangely, no coffee.
Boarding the Gem was like returning to family. Having cruised on both the Jewel (twice) and the Dawn, the layout of the ship was reassuringly familiar while maintaining some distinctive characteristics.
Given that she's the newest ship of the NCL fleet, she came fully equipped with the knockout executive team of Klaus, Sean, Claudio and Clint Wells as cruise director. We were also pleased to see Karan who was our butler last year, onboard. The warmth & sincerity of their greetings is one of the main reasons we return to NCL repeatedly.
We loved the new Action Stations at the Garden Buffet, much better than the action islands on the Jewel! The seating at the Garden Buffet is also pretty chic, making buffet dining almost a gourmet experience.
Food was acceptable (though the pizza station was falling behind repeatedly), even for picky eaters and ranged from soups, salads, deli sandwiches, Indian, Asian, Carvery, Pizza, Hot Dogs, Burgers, and both hard & soft ice cream (oh....desserts too! :) )
Late afternoon snacks were served at the Great Outdoors (rear of the buffet), since the buffet was closed in order to expedite clean-up & re-dressing for the next meal-service.
We ate once at the Grand Pacific dining room (embarkation lunch) and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Since we were included on the various VIP lists, we enjoyed some treats which are reserved for higher-margin customers, such as breakfast & lunch at Cagney's (well worth it! no crowds, attentive service, and a premium menu)
For dinners we ate at Le Bistro, Cagney's (twice), La Cucina, Teppanyaki, and Orchid Garden / Sushi Bar. All were good, though I found the sashimi to be rather skimpy (small pieces, sliced thinly). I miss the old Le Bistro menu with the seared foie gras & filet mignon...but I suppose progress is not to be stopped. The chateaubriand was slightly overcooked & a little dry...but I ate it without either of the provided sauces.
We enjoyed attentive service in the casino, and despite contributing more there, than the entire cost of the trip, felt we'd had a good time. The one small issue we had was very quickly resolved by management. At NCL it truly seems that they care, and if something wrong is pointed-out, they're quick to react to get it fixed. We found that dealers & supervisors remembered us from prior cruises, including one supervisor who remembered us from 4 years ago!
Our stateroom was an inside cabin on deck 8, directly above the new BLISS lounge. They must have excellent insulation, because we didn't hear a peep from the club! The beds were comfy, and we continue to like the shower stall with glass door. It's difficult however to use the facilities, since the toilet & the wall are very proximate to each other. A near-side-saddle sit is required.
The weather was cold & the seas were rough....but at least it wasn't Atlanta or NYC where the temp was 16 degrees!
New Year's eve had parties throughout the ship, with different themes (jazz, ballroom, rock). The biggest party was open-air on deck 12. Windy & chilly....but lots of happy people.
TONS of kids & teens on this itinerary. Too many for our taste. We'll remember this when booking holiday-time cruises.
The spa thermal suite pass was $75 for the 7 days.... or $20/day. Worth the $75!
That's about it. We had a great time, thanks to the wonderful crew and a beautiful ship.