Just a quick summary for those reading this that are cruising or considering cruising the Gem, she's a great ship with a very good crew.
My husband and I booked the Gem a year in advance and had plenty of time to read the reviews before we sailed. We were a bit worried but had learned from prior cruises that a cruise is what you make of it.
We had 3 nights in Barcelona prior to sailing and we booked our room at the Hotel Continental on the Ramblas. The hotel was lovely (very pink) but nice. The hotel manager Peter was extremely polite and helpful.
Huge bonus with this hotel, food and drinks are available 24 hours a day. Lots of pots full of misc items such as creamy pasta and ham salad, curried potatoes, pasta with prego sauce, and yes...beer tap,wine, pepsi products, espresso/cappacino machine, etc. There was also a full bread and pastry bar with granola, danish, and fresh baked breads. All and all we were pleasantly surprised with this hotel after some of the reviews we read- we especially enjoyed the hot breakfast served every morning.
The bedding was a bit firm in the room but after all the walking we didn't notice much. The bathroom was interesting, the room was large and all marble but the showering area was not enclosed causing a bit of a mess after showering. The room had a fantastic view of the Ramblas and at night we could press a button to lower a blind over the entire opening to quiet the room.
Embarkation was 20 minutes top, we were greeted by the concierge Alex who had Anna show us to our suite after grabbing a glass of champagne. To our surprise when we arrived at our cabin our luggage was waiting already, not bad.
The cabin was great! Two minisuites if you can visualize, one was the living room/dining room/deck with the bonus sleeper room for kids that had it's own bathroom. The other was the master bedroom with the giantic bathroom including tub wih picture window overlooking the ocean. The layout made the cabin hard to leave, especially with Jose our butler bringing meals to eat en suite. If you ever get a chance to upgrade like we did try to get this cabin type, we reccomend it highly!
The next item on our agenda was purchasing our spa passes. This was our best investment as far as we were concerned. Fantastic hot stone beds, therapy pool, thermal steam sauna, and dry sauna made each day of intensive walking easy to recover from.
The ship's food was great in our opinion. I would say to skip Cagney's and do Le Bistro if you are going to spend extra. The tenderloin I had in Le Bistro was outstanding compared to the same cut in Cagney's and the service was better too. The sushi was great (we are avid sushi fans) and the Chef John (Japanese...lol) was talented and accomodating creating any roll we could think of- a great value for $15 a head.
Ports of call were all special, our favorite was Livorno where we left for the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre was amazing and we had some of the best seafood of our lives. Just breathtaking seaside villages hugging the cliffs with vineyards and olive trees in the surrounding hillsides, a nice change of pace from the museum, church, archaeoligical sites.
In Naples and Rome we used Romeinlimo and were very pleased. In Naples we had Jacomo (?) and he was very genuine and knoweledgable. He lived in Sorrento and was able to give us a great insight to Naples and the surrounding area. In Rome we had Vincenzo, also very helpful and full of information about the sights in Rome-great sense of humor as well. While in Rome we were able to meet the owner of Romeinlimo-Duman Kafelebasi, he greeted us and directed us into the Vatican, he was very helpful and we could tell he cared about his customers.
All in all we are still smiling while thinking about our experience with NCL-the crew (especially our butler Jose) the ship itself, and the wonderful ports of call we visited.