I just returned from a 7 day cruise on the NCL Norwegian Gem. First let me say, as an introduction, and qualification, that I have been cruising for years, and being 57 and retired, I consider this my "Prime Cruise Years". Both my wife and I really enjoy cruising and have cruised to Canada, Bermuda, The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska, some of them several times. To be most frank, mostly with Celebrity, but we have also cruised Carnival, Princess, The Oceanic and even NCL, way back in 1974. Cruising is, by far, our favorite vacation. This year we were with a group of several friends. We chose NCL mostly for the destination, but also because next year we want to do Hawaii and NCL has the best itinerary. I was not sure I liked the idea of "Freestyle Cruising" but was willing to give it a chance. So how did NCL do? In a word...... horrible! Let's start with check in in Venice. I have never experienced so many lines and complications to check in. We arrived at 12 Noon, First a stop the fill out a form for 10 minutes that was not even in English and have a crew member explain what I was signing. Kind of unusual, since, 40% of the passengers were from the USA and 20% were from the UK or Canada. Hence, a majority of English speaking passengers. Too much trouble for NCL to print something in English? Next was the line to actually check in. This involved a wait of, at least 20 minutes just to get to the front. At the check in, our agent had to help the agent next to him because the people there, from The Netherlands, did not like surrendering their passport and although they spoke English, your agent was not very fluent and that is why our agent had the help out. Therefore, it took us another 20 minutes just to check in and, by the way, I didn't appreciate surrendering my passport either! When I inquired, the agent said it was because of our stop in Split, Croatia, however, we were in Croatia 2 years ago, on Celebrity, and didn't have to surrender our passports! Now after 50 minutes we had to get on line to board the ship. Another 15 minutes for security check in and then another 10 for an obligatory boarding picture to be followed by the longest walk to a ship I have ever experience for about 12 minutes followed by waiting for an elevator for 7 minutes. Total check in time........ 94 minutes!
We got to our balcony cabin at 2pm and there we were impressed to find our luggage already there. The room was much smaller than other lines and the decorator of our friend's room must have been on an LSD trip when he chose the purple velour dEcor. The coach was so small and so hard, a wooden bench would have been more comfortable! One thing that I did like was the coffee machine in the room. Too bad I had to call three numbers in order to get coffee. When you took something out of the mini-bar, it wasn't replaced unless you asked and, for some reason, our steward decided we didn't need washcloths. Of course, I didn't notice they were missing until AFTER I was in the shower!
Now things get interesting and frustrating.... The food! Our first experience, of course, was the buffet, for lunch. For the life of me I couldn't understand why everything, yes EVERYTHING, was cold! In fact I was to find out that that is a real problem with the Gem. Breakfast was even worse.... At the buffet I have yet to find hot food! One morning I was literally the first at the buffet, as I am an early riser, the scrambled eggs were cold! I had the cook make me fresh scrambled eggs and although they were warm, the home fries and sausage were like ice!
And something that was really weird, there were no salt and pepper shakers. On the buffet there were 2 bowls, one filled with salt, and another with pepper. Each had a spoon in it. Do you know how hard it can be on a ship to sprinkle salt and pepper on eggs in the morning from a spoon? It took 3 days for them to get packets. The first night at the Magenta dining room, although the food was edible, I had the steak, the service was atrocious. We hardly saw our waiter and it was impossible to even get a cup of coffee! This was an obvious result of "Freestyle Cruising". Since the compensation is already guaranteed, why go out of your way? This results in POOR SERVICE, something that was rampant throughout the ship! The second night we had our first meal at a specialty restaurant, the Asian Fusion. To be honest, the most common takeout restaurant in New York has better and tastier food and larger portions. At this restaurant we were able to meet the ships manager for food service. His stated attitude was that a waiter should be transparent. Well I would like to tell him that he succeeded there. His wait staff, with only one exception, was not only transparent, but also non-existent and, in some cases, incompetent! The second evening we tried the Mexican restaurant. Another disgrace as we ordered the Ill Polo for 2 and it was.... This is getting redundant.... COLD! We complained to the manager who took off the charge for 2 of the four meals. Quite frankly, I would rather have had a good meal. If the line insists on charging extra for restaurants, at least provide a meal worth it!
After that experience we decided not to go to any more of the specialty restaurants. In our opinion, "Why pay for specialty food when it's not so special?" One thing that was really obvious was their inability to serve hot food. In one case we watch as our food sat at the distribution table for 20 minutes while our waitress served other tables and spoke with the other waiters. I would like to mention our excursion experience in Corfu. We booked the 4X4 adventure and were assured that we would be back in time to visit the town, as there was something there that we really wanted to see. Let me tell you of that disaster. Although the excursion itself was enjoyable, getting to the excursion took an extra hour, which used up our time to see the sight in town. A BIG disappointment. To tell the truth we probably would have cancelled the excursion, had we been told that the town visit was in jeopardy. Poor planning and execution on your part, which was quite obvious at most of the ports. Our group came to dread tenders.
As for the entertainment, for the first time we didn't see all of the shows. They were mediocre, at best, and the auditorium seats were very uncomfortable. The pool area didn't have enough seats and service there was catch as catch can. I also found that I missed the indoor pool on celebrity, as the weather on this trip was somewhat cool. Don't worry; I won't blame that on NCL.
I sent NCL an email on the third day about our experience, on my dime, using the ships Internet access. A week later I have still not received a reply although I did get an email saying that it was forwarded to the correct department. All in all, our trip made us homesick for Celebrity and it looks like we will be taking them to Hawaii, even though they leave from California or Mexico. I will also make sure all our friends are aware of NCL's severe limitations.