Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by horses.at.home: It was okay.
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It was okay.
We are truly people who appreciate a good value for money spent. We tend to seek out the more modest rooms, but we do like to at least have a bit of a view and on this trip the porthole was all we needed. For goodness sakes if you're on a cruise there is plenty of deck space and it doesn't mean just next the the loud musical combo playing poolside. There were many places for us to be in the fresh air and not feel crowded or cramped. In terms of the comfort our cabin was quite adequate. We really liked the dark wood cabinets, the beds were comfortable, there was plenty of storage space for the way we travel...just don't bring steamer trunks. Most importantly, we found the bathroom to be very usable in spite of the space limitations that naturally go with being in a modestly priced room. The Norwegian Gem is nicely laid out and the unusually bright colors of fabrics and furniture was somewhat Alice in Wonderland in nature in the public More
areas. This was the best part of our experience.
In terms of Free Style Dining, I would not recommend it as anything more than college dormitory in quality. Yes, the main dining room was visually pleasing and comfortable. You really should ask one of the servers the hours of peak dining to avoid waiting in lines. The servers are mostly very attentive and willing to please to the best of their ability. Providing food for thousands of people in multiple dining facilities is no doubt a daunting task, but maybe they are just trying to do too much. If you are not looking for a gastronomic delight the food has it's surprise moments and you certainly won't lack for quantity but stick with the Grand Pacific Dining Room because the specialty restaurants are not so special, they just add to your tab very quickly. We were optimists and tried three of the specialty dining rooms thinking that we just hit a bad night. The only one that seemed remotely worth the extra expense was the Bistro. Absolutely forget the Teppanyaki restaurant and the Cagney Steak restaurant is great for those who like the flavor of frying pan steaks. I understand that they don't want open flames, but my rib eye steak was not that appetizing especially when I could have had essentially the same thing in the main dining room and not paid the extra price. So one can avoid lots of extra and certainly unnecessary additional expense by staying out of the specialty restaurants. The best part of the buffet was the morning greeter who could put a smile on the grumpiest of faces. The food was mediocre at best. If you wanted capers with your bagels, salmon, and cream cheese you had to request it from a very busy attendant. Ice tea stations were frequently empty and the dining area felt very cramped. In general I would say that the best food we had was off the ship in the ports of call. Oh, by the way, you will be visited frequently by staff members assigned to promoting the specialty restaurants and they are very persistent and high pressure. After being nice, I found that saying "go away" finally worked.
If you like your cocktails, beer, and wine, brace yourselves for a really big bar bill. Here is where they really make up for the teaser booking rate. Most everything is $6 or more. A bottle of wine will cost you a minimum of $25 dollars and we're not talking premium wine. If you don't drink anything besides tap water, coffee, and iced tea, you will be just fine. Whatever you do, don't buy the bottled water they are selling as you go on excursions. At $4.50 per small bottle you are being charged more than double the price you can purchase out of a vending machine on shore. Of course they are scaring you all the time about the dangers of going ashore without water to make the sale. That is their catch and we learned early not to follow their advice. Find an on shore market and you can buy a big bottle of water for half the price.
Now talking about shore excursions. Keep in mind that you really don't have enough time to see a great deal in any port. The shore excursions are very expensive and I really suggest you stay away from them unless you are fortunate enough to have unlimited resources and you don't care. Do some planning in advance and you can save a huge amount of money. They again will scare you that if you don't take their approved tours you could end up missing the boat and be left behind. We didn't do enough advanced homework and therefore we opted to take their offers in three ports. The ports in Rome and Florence are too far away to walk to anything of interest, but you can do these cities without being fleeced...just be smart and alert.
If you plan to keep in touch with family while you are away, you will pay steeply for Internet availability and it is a satelite connection meaning something only slightly better than dial up speed. Think you are bringing your own laptop and will be less costly? Take your laptop on shore and find a free Internet zone at a coffee shop because they will charge you just as much on board to access their wireless connection as if using their 12 computer terminals.
Don't get me wrong, the trip was fine. It's just that I have great difficulty with matching my expectations developed from NCL's promotion with the actuality. So their is my disappointment. If I had expected to incur costs matching the cost of the cruise booking itself, I would have been fine with that. I was not expecting that however, and therefore I'm annoyed more than angry. I think this has put me off cruising for awhile. For what it cost, I could have just gone to a couple cities in Italy and Spain, stayed in a nice hotel or apartment, found my own food and restaurants, and really enjoyed the cities more than the exhausting attempts to make it feel like I had actually been in the cities/ports of call. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
After writing all this, I've talked myself out of another cruise anytime soon unless it's back to Alaska or similar place of spellbinding beauty visible from the ship.
Florence is a marvel of art history and cathedrals and if you're into tombs of the likes of Michelangelo, Rossini, and Galileo, to name a few then you definitely won't want to miss Santa Croce Cathedral. Those names are all there among so many other famous people and wealthy families. You will have a hard time deciding which line to wait in for some of the best art in Florence. Michelango's David is housed in one location. The Uffizi gallery houses some of the most important paintings of the Rennaissance. Warning: buy tickets for the Uffizi before you leave on your cruise. It's almost impossible to walk up and get same day entrance tickets. Currently the first floor of the Uffizi is closed for renovation.
We enjoyed the views of the harbor from one of the garden/parks. We spent most of our time in the main cathedral, but that is due to my love of old master paintings. Here you will find Carrivagio within the cathedral and for the art lover, they alone are worth the visit to Valleta. As is the case with most large cathedrals in Europe one never can get over the dedication and committment of the artisans who managed to amass incredible works in one location. There are a couple other churches nearby that were large and small and all had their own levels of incredible art pieces. One things you will be told on the ship is that you must cover your shoulders and wear long pants. Well the long pants thing really means covering your knees. So if you are there in hot weather and not inclined to wear long pants, just make sure you have shorts that cover the knees, if only just slightly.
From St. Peter's we walked about 10 minutes to Ottaviano subway station, made one transfer from the A line to the B line at Termini station and took that to the Coloseum/Forum part of Rome. Again the crowds were staggering. I was fine with observing the structure from the exterior, walking along a busy street that offered a lookout to see the Forum and on to the Victor Immanuel Monument. We stopped for a pizza along the way and soon we were at the Pantheon. After marveling at standing in front of Raphael's tomb and coming to terms with the 2000+ year old age of the structure, we walked to the Trevi fountain to throw our obligatory coin, right hand over left shoulder to guarantee a future trip to Rome as legend has it. If you throw four coins, you're supposedly hoping for a divorce. Don't plan on this being a quiet and tranquil place because the rather small square accomodating this very large fountain is jam packed with people. Moving on to the Spanish Steps we climbed half way and looked down on the crowds reminding myself that no were were not ants in a colony of such. We walked to the nearby A line subway station (Spagna) and returned to our original starting point near St. Peter's in time to rejoin the tour guide who then led us back to the bus garage. Oh by the way, if you see Roman soldiers waiting to be in a photograph with you, be sure to ask what they expect in return. For a single picture we heard one "soldier" demanding 20 euros!! per person in the photo. Now that's a lucrative business and although very alluring at the start once you've been enticed in you cannot extricate yourself until you pay. On top of that ignore the Gypsy beggars. They are incredibly adept at garnering your sympathy, but their children and co conspirators will strike and steal from you while you are occupied being charitable. I experienced this on a previous trip to Europe. Worse yet is they will often follow you once you have given them anything. Now how's that for appreciation?
Again, the cruise people told us it was difficult to take the train to Rome and very unreliable. "Gee, just last week we left two people behind at departure time." The reality is there is a shuttle bus that takes people from the port to the train station. It costs 9 euros and trains run on average of every 30 minutes. Granted, Italy has a pace all it's own, but if you allow sufficient time to return to the ship, you will find this immensely less expensive. Remember the Termini Station in Rome where we transferred from the A line to the B line? That's where the train arrives and then you are in the middle between St. Peter's and the Forum/Colosseum and can take either subway line from there. We spoke to several people who independently did this and were very happy with the result. Wish we had been 1. more adventurous and less wimpy or 2. not so inclined to trust the NCL advisors. In summary, we paid $119.00 EACH for a bus ride with a conductor and did all the rest on our own just the same. 9 Euros each way on the train seems the way to go.
We really saw many locations, but did we really have a chance to take in anything as much as we would have liked? NO. If you want to see Rome, fly there and stay in a hotel. You can spend days, weeks, more exploring what Rome has to offer.