Norwegian Gem - Please Swipe your Key Card to Read This!
We've been on a handful of cruises and this was our 1st with NCL. (Family of 5 people)
One thing about 'Freestyle' cruising is that everyone else on the ship can be 'Freestylin' at the same time you are! Thus leading to wonderful wait times. Very crowded... the only place more challenging to find seats than the main cafe is the pool area. Either that or there are more Invisible people on this ship than any other I've been on.
I'll get the other negatives out of the way first... specifically with regards to NCL.... be prepared to be nickel and dime'd while on the ship. I was afraid every time I flush a charge may appear. I wish they would just charge a Higher rate initially as a pose to trying to make up for it in junk fees/charges and their 'used car salesmen' type tactics.
We're not overly picky about stuff so I would say everything as far as amenities was sufficient and the food was average, although we didn't try all the Specialty Restaurants despite ncl's constant reminders. Even while at dinner in the Pacific Room a lady comes around with menu's of the other Restaurants and how wonderful they are and to make a reservations. Also, the bartender at the pool/deck bars automatically upgrade you for a souvenir cup when you purchase a drink... at this point we're on the ship for 4 days, can't I simply get a drink without purchasing another cup with an ncl logo?
Ironically... the only tv channels are bbc and ncl shopping, ncl activities, ncl cruising and NCL NCL NCL! (but this is not a huge factor due to long port days and other activities)
With that said... the itinerary (main reason for choosing ncl) was terrific. We did not use any of ncl's excursions and I'm glad we elected not to!! I'll just list a basic summary for each Port of call and tour companies used. Being that it's our 1st time in these places we did not want the hassle and stress of figuring things out on our own. It is definitely better value to just book a tour guide. I'll post the driver's names for each later since I can't recall some of them right now. But each of them were extremely professional and knowledgeable!
Malta: Tour Company used: SwanSea Car Hire Http://www.malta-car-hire.com, very pleasant driver! Went to Mdina first - It's like going back in time once you're in there... a quick stop at the glass factory and then to Blue Grotto - the buses drops you off further up the road but the vans can bring you right to the pier to purchase tickets. We also stopped at Marsaloxx (wrong spelling probably), a nice little fishing village, colorful boats, flea market type shops and places to sample local beer. We then got dropped off at the Gardens in Valletta and then walked around and back to the ship. (This was all very manageable within 5 hours and we had a great time... Try and catch the sail in and sail away it really is beautiful!)
Naples: Tour company used: Sorrento Silver Tours. Also very knowledgeable, friendly and pleasant! First stop at Pompeii - We elected not to chose a tour guide just so we can move at our own pace. My parents would have preferred the color commentary as we walked around (the audio rentals or guide can help with that) but it's fairly easy to walk around and figure out whats going on. Guides are available at the site (near the railway entrance if you don't pre-book one) We then drove along the coast, made a couple of stops to get pictures and a brief stop in Positano and then to Sorrento, nice place, had a nice lunch here and walked around and then took the ferry back from Sorrento to Naples (about 30 minutes) Our driver went down to the port ahead of time to confirm the ferry schedule and purchase tickets just to be sure... which is a good idea!
Rome: Tour Company Used: AllArounditaly.net Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Our guide was Fabrizio, a gentleman and a scholar... what a great call this was! My family finally thinks highly of me just for choosing this company. We covered all the highlights of Rome and no complaints with anything. Email him directly and he'll customize the tour and provide recommendations for pre-purchasing Museum tickets etc. Much more personable and better than the romeinlimo company that is posted everywhere. Definitely recommend his services.
Florence: Chose allarounditaly again. (there seem to be plenty of Taxi's at the port eager to bring you into Florence at decent rates but we felt more comfortable using allarounditaly. Also, it is key getting out before the tour buses hit the road and beat some of the traffic) Stopped by Pisa to catch the leaning tower (no need to climb it) We then drove through the countryside in the Chianti region and a quick stop for some Wine. Then a stop at a Scenic Overlook of Florence and then into Florence. Plenty to do there... museums, churches, restaurants, shops, and all within walking distance for the most part. Pre-purchased tickets to see David and everything went very smoothly. Florence was probably the nicest of all and very charming. Cannes: We had nothing booked for Cannes but we walked out as there is plenty to see along the coast line and a beach right to the left of the pier. But we ran into a guide who offered to bring us to Nice, Monaco/Monte Carlo and so we decided to do it since a cab would not be feasible for 5 adults. What a great call this turned out to be as well. Made a few stops driving along Cannes, the Blvd, towards Nice and then Monaco catching all the mansions, famous hideaways, raceway, casino etc. Spent a few minutes walking around Cannes and then at the public beach (which is right outside the port)
Overall, this was a great time!! Again, do not be afraid of using private tour companies... better service and often they can get into nooks that a big tour bus just wouldn't have the time or a way to get into. And at a fraction of the cost. Happy Travels!