My husband and two children, ages 12 and 13 boarded the Norwegian Gem in NYC on 3/15/08. We took a Limo from the Philadelphia area, and arrived at around 11:15 am, and were dropped off right outside the area where we needed to be. A porter immediately took our luggage, and we proceeded to check in. The whole process took less than 10 minutes to get our name cards/room keys/charge cards, which we carried with us for the rest of the vacation. We then proceeded to a waiting area which was very nice, and refreshments were served. We purposely got there early to avoid lines, and it was well worth it. We were allowed to board the ship by 12:30-12:45, and were called by a number system. We were handed numbers when we walked in, and all in all, we were on board and seated for lunch by 1:00pm. We ate in the Garden Cafe on Deck 12. As previous reviews have said, it is tough finding a table, but we always did with a little searching. The food was very good, hot and cold, with lots of variety. Our rooms were ready by 2pm, so in the mean time, we took our time getting the lay of the land around the ship. The ship was extremely easy to navigate, was well-appointed, and very clean. I have to say I was disappointed with the main Atrium. I did not think it was nearly GRAND enough. It was only two stories high, and I didn't like the decor. Other areas of the ship; however, I did find very nice, colorful and well appointed.
HOTEL SECTION OF SHIP: I cannot say enough good things about our rooms, and the cleanliness, and efficiency of the cabin stewards. We had two adjoining balcony rooms on Deck 9 which was ample space for my husband and two kids. Our suitcases fitted with ease into the closets, and we were unable to unpack all of our clothes. The bathrooms were surprisingly large for a cruise ship, and the rooms were immaculate. They stayed this way throughout the entire cruise. I regret to say that I never met my cabin stewards. I don't even know their names. They came and went when we were out of the rooms, we had everything we needed, the beds were always turned down with an adorable animal made out of towels, and what more could we ask for. We were midship to aft portside, which is a great place to be. It was quiet at night, and it is the part of the ship where you feel the least swaying. We almost always had afternoon sun on our balcony and got to watch the sun set on more than one occasion. It was truly relaxing and beautiful.
DINING: There was a lot of variety regarding restaurants on the ship; however, most of the restaurants were NOT included in the price, plus you had to pay a large cover charge just to walk in the restaurants. We ended up spending almost an extra $1000 on meals. The food was good, not great in all of the restaurants, and the portion sizes were small, and let me say, I am not a big eater. My favorite restaurant was Le Bistro. I had the rack of lamb, and was told by the waitress that in addition to the regular cover charge, she would be tacking on an additional $10 because this food choice was in some kind of chef's selection category. We also ate at Tequilas which was fair, The Blue Lagoon, which was fair with VERY small portions, Cagney's, which was fair. My steak was thin and overcooked. We also ate at the two INCLUDED restaurants, Magenta and Grand Pacific. Our experience at Magenta was not good. We had to wait over an hour for a table because they do not take reservations for four people. We finally got seated after 9pm and the service was slow and the food was not good at all. The Grand Pacific was a similar experience; however, the food was a tad better, and the service was much better. The Garden cafe was by far, the best food on the ship. It's cafeteria style, lots of variety to suit every taste, informal; however, get ready to deal with vultures regarding other passengers. It was almost as if these people never saw food before.
ENTERTAINMENT: In my opinion, the entertainment was superb. We saw the show every night, and I was very impressed with the talent. The shows were broadway caliber, colorful and entertaining. The lounge acts in different areas on the ship were just as good, the comedian was very funny, and the magician was good. I personally don't like magicians, but he was OK. The bands by the pool were good, but a bit loud. Overall, I was extremely impressed.
FITNESS CENTER AND SPA: I think I was most impressed with this area of the ship. The fitness center was very upscale, and the spa was amazing. I got a hot stone massage with Lucy on our first day at sea, and it was really great. The rest of the facility was top notch, (and I frequent a lot of spas on land). I saw things here I've never seen such as warming tile lounge chairs. They had a huge jacuzzi in the mixed gender area, and smaller ones as well. There were then separate male and female areas with more jacuzzis and lounge chairs, showers, lockers, and bathrooms. The spa is situated in the most forward part of the ship with large windows to look out to sea. It was extremely relaxing and beautiful. They also offer a wide variety of treatments from seaweed wraps to acupuncture. I was very impressed.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION/CREW/PORTS: I already discussed embarkation. Disembarkation was not as organized at all. We decided NOT to do express check out as we had too many bags. It was a good choice. We were assigned GREEN TICKETS, and were told we would be disembarking at 10:15am....NOT. When we got down to deck 7, it was a madhouse. Express checkout runs from whenever the ship docks which was about 9 until whenever. The lines were wrapped around and around....and luggage everywhere. At that rate, we would have been off the ship by 12:30. My husband made a friend waiting around, and he allowed us to get in line with him. Eventhough they hadn't called our color, when we got down to baggage claim, all of our luggage was there and waiting. We got a porter, sailed through immigration, and were in our waiting limo by 11:30. In my opinion, there should not be any express checkout. They don't get off the ship any earlier, and it simply causes too much turmoil trying to get your own luggage off of the ship.
The CREW for the most part were very nice and helpful. I did have one problem, which I attribute mostly to other passengers, and not the crew which I will get to in a minute, but the crew was not very helpful either. On our second port of call, the private island, it was too windy to take the tenders, so after getting up at 7:30am to wait in an hour long line to get tender tickets, we find out that we cannot disembark at this port. Ok, I had no problem with this. It was an executive decision made by the Captain. So, there was a mass exodus up to the pool deck to get chairs. It was still a beautiful, sunny day and people wanted to be outside. Well, there's a little problem. There are not nearly enough lounge chairs for everyone. In addition, there are signs posted everywhere that if you vacate your lounge chair for more than 30 minutes, your personal belongings will be confiscated and taken to reception. Well, take these signs at their word. I saved 4 chairs with personal belongings, and went about my business. When I came back to my chairs, my personal belongings were GONE!!!!!!!!!!! The people sitting in my chairs didn't care, didn't tell me where they were, nothing. I asked several crew members to help me to no avail. They suddenly didn't understand the English language. I went down to reception, and again I got a deer in the headlights response. I came back up to Deck 12, and at this time, was really getting angry. Not only didn't I have anywhere to sit, but my things were gone and no one cared to help me to get them back. I finally took someone else's lounge chair after I noticed they were gone longer than 30 minutes, and was practically physically accosted by Grandma and her family. I kept telling myself that I was on vacation, and not to let them get to me. In the mean time, I could not leave my chair for anything. I text messaged my daughter to come up to my chair to relieve me, so I could eat, swim and go to the bathroom. Since my assigned beach towels were confiscated, I had to go sign out new ones, and when I went to the dive hut, I asked the guy if my items were in there. He says NO without looking, and after I persisted and persisted, he tilts his head up and low and behold, there are my items right in front of his face. Three or four crew members were in that dive hut, and none of them saw my things. This problem with the lounge chairs persisted throughout the entire cruise.
The other ports were good. At Port Canaveral, we rented our own car ahead of time, and drove ourselves to Universal Studios where we spent the day. It was very enjoyable. We got navigation in the car, so it was extremely easy. Obviously, the day was not long enough to cover the entire park or even half of it, but we enjoyed the time we had. In Nassau, we again were on our own, and took a taxi to the Atlantis where we got a day pass(extremely expensive). Once again, it was mobbed, and we had a very difficult time getting lounge chairs there, despite the fact that there are many pool areas and thousands of lounge chairs. We eventually found four, however, and we enjoyed the slides and facilities. This was our best day of the trip. Freeport was a waste of time. We pulled into an ugly industrial port, took a 15 min taxi ride to Port Lucaya where we shopped in a couple of straw markets, and then went to the beach. We had to be back on board by 2:30, so we were looking at our watches, and had no time to actually relax. The weather on the cruise was nearly perfect. Our sea days were smooth and great for cruising. It was a little too windy for my taste, but you can't have everything. The ship sailed smoothly, and I didn't even feel like I was on a ship most of the time. No one in my family got seasick at all.
OTHER PASSENGERS: Well, I have to say, this was my biggest problem with the cruise. I found most of the other passengers I had contact with to be pushy and obnoxious. As I said earlier, I have never seen anything like these people acting like vultures in the Garden Cafe, and trust me, there were a lot of portly people on this cruise. The situation on the pool deck, I already discussed. There were a TON of kids on board because of spring break, ranging from infants to college kids. There were large groups of college kids together who monopolized the jacuzzies on the pool decks. They were drunk most of the time, and at times loud and obnoxious. There were also a lot of obnoxious kids, in my opinion. They were running around the ship without their parents, randomly. They hung out in large massive groups on the main stairways on the ship, which not only is a safety hazard to other passengers, but just plain rude. They didn't even move if you wanted to pass by. I have never seen this on a cruise ship. At night in the theater, there were a few parents who just thought that their kids were the cutest. They were putting them on the stage repeatedly, despite the stangehands telling them repeatedly to get off. The kids were running around wild. Several nights in the restaurants, I had to put up with screaming infants and even older kids. One night, a six or 7 year old screamed on the top of his lungs in the restaurant. The parents eventually removed these kids from the restaurant, but not soon enough for me. I did my best to ignore them, as to not let them ruin my vacation. I think next time, I will get a courtyard villa with a private pool. When I go on vacation, I do not want to spend my time fighting to get a lounge chair or food for that matter, or listening to someone elses screaming, misbehaved kids. This is not my idea of relaxing. Our last cruise was on the Queen Mary 2 and we had the Princess suites, and that was really more to my taste. We ate in a separate dining room, where our table was always waiting for us. There was no rushing around to try and get a reservation, or food. This was truly white glove service. There was always a lounge chair, no matter what time you went to the pool deck, and the class of people was much different. I never saw anyone on the main stairways. The kids programs were very organized, and the parents kept their kids under control. We sailed the exact same week during spring break, so with that being the same, the difference must be in the people.
Overall, we had a very relaxing week. We lucked out with the weather, and we got to enjoy some quality family time on a beautiful ship.