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Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by ctorres: NCL Gem Mediterranean: great ports & stateroom, ok food

Norwegian Gem 3
Member Since 2010
4 Forum Posts

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NCL Gem Mediterranean: great ports & stateroom, ok food

Sail Date: May 2010
Destination: Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
Embarkation: Venice

This was my first cruise with NCL. As with all things, NCL has positives and negatives. Next time around, I would try and do a cruise on a competing cruise line to see how my experience differs. I would still consider another cruise with NCL, depending on the ship and destinations.

I've divided my review below into subcategories, each one with its own rating, so readers can skip to the categories that are of most interest to them.

Quick summary of Norwegian Gem:

* Great: shore destinations, stateroom and marine head, check-in, passport management, sports * Average: food, medical clinic, alcohol * Poor: transportation to/from ship, check-out

Details on specific areas follow:

Transportation in Venice to ship and back (0.5) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To the ship:

Transportation from the Venice bus station (Piazzale Roma) was poorly organized and unmarked. Our group of six More waited in the public bus shelter during a rainstorm as I searched around for the NCL shuttle bus to the ship. A phone call placed to NCL's main reservation line was unanswered, because 2 PM in Europe was outside of their working hours in the US. A phone call placed to the 24 hour NCL emergency number was routed to a third party vendor with no access to NCL's computer system, who was friendly and courteous, but had absolutely no information on our transportation. We found the correct bus ourselves after locating a passenger on another cruise line and following them.

Back from the ship:

Bus service from the ship back to Piazzale Roma in Venice was horribly disorganized. Many passengers had been waiting in a line of around 100 people for almost an hour. When one bus finally arrived, passengers pushed and shoved to get on, in the absence of any direction from the NCL staff. Our group chose to walk the 20 minutes back to Piazzale Roma, dragging our luggage behind us uphill and across dangerous traffic, rather than deal with the chaos at the pier.

On-board "mustard" drill (1.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why this is called a "mustard drill" is beyond me. Where was the mustard? Where was the ketchup? Beats me.

Anyway, this drill involved sitting in the Magenta dining room and listening to a 2 minute explanation of simple things, like "don't hang your laundry to dry on your balcony", "the biggest danger on a ship is fire", and other tidbits. Then each explanation was translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and French. This exercise took 30 minutes total, and other than a 1 minute demo of how to don a life jacket, it left passengers no more prepared to deal with on-ship emergencies. A complete waste of time. Bring a Camelbak filled with Lemoncello when you go to this drill and pre-party as you listen.

Food (5.5) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Included restaurants (5.0):

The best dish I had was salmon Benedict, in the main dining room. For the other meals, the meats and fish were so-so. I would rate the food similar to a family diner. Edible, but not gourmet.

Pay-per-use restaurants (6.0):

The Asian restaurant was ok, but lower quality than what you'd get in a California Chinese restaurant, for example. The Tex Mex restaurant was sort of like a Chevy's Restaurant in quality, and it gave me the worst gas like you wouldn't believe. Thankfully, our shore excursion the next day was primarily outside, because I released enough gas to make a new hole in the ozone layer. I literally saw a dozen keeled-over cockroaches on one street in Greece that died on the spot after smelling my gas.

Room service (7.0):

Breakfast room service was included in the price, and our order was delivered usually 90% correct. It was nice to have this great service to save time in the morning before early port calls. The room service food is not as good as the food in the buffet.

Drinks (8.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Drinks on the ship were priced similar to TGI Friday's, or any other mid-priced bar in the US. Waiters near the pool were very motivated to get passengers to buy drinks, as this probably means more tip compensation for them.

I rate the drinks highly not because of what they sell on the ship but because NCL didn't give me any problems about bringing my own booze. I didn't do it to be cheap, mind you, but rather to sample local brews and liquor from the various ports. Limoncello, Ouzo, local Greek homemade wine, and different beer - these were hard or impossible to find on board, so it was nice that the alcohol policy was laxly enforced.

Wine (7.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NCL has a decent wine list. It's very similar to what you'd expect in a restaurant in the US. During one dinner, I summoned the sommelier to our table. In a very serious and proper tone of voice, I asked him, "Good evening, sir. What particular vintage would you be able to recommend to us tonight - that comes in a box?" I kept looking at him with a straight face without laughing, although one person in our group couldn't hold it in. The Indian sommelier answered me very seriously, "Sir, we don't have any wine in a box. We only use that for cooking." I will say that NCL's staff tend to have good public relations skills, and were always very courteous, as you might imagine from the story here of my obnoxious joke.

Cigar Bar (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I love the cigar bar on this ship. You can bring your own cigars that you bought at the airport duty free shop, and no one bothers you. The bar staff is willing to lend out a cigar cutter if you don't have one. The cigar bar was decorated very nicely, and never got too crowded. The ventilation system was good, although I did have to scrub myself down in my stateroom afterward.

Room service (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Our two Filipino room stewards were friendly and responsive to our requests. This played a big factor in our enjoyment of the cruise. I would recommend that you be very friendly and smile to your stewards, and say things like "magandang umaga", "magandang tanghali", and "salamat", that is, if you can remember your basic Tagalog phrases from junior college.

Sports and activities (7.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The climbing wall was enjoyable. I've climbed in gyms in the US, and the hardest route they have on the Gem is around 5.9 or so, I would guess. It feels a little harder, though, since the ship is moving while you're climbing. The belayers are very safety conscious, and the equipment is well maintained. They even had chalk for your hands you could borrow.

The ping pong tables were nice, but the paddles were cheap and outdated. They had the pips-out kind with no foam.

The basketball court was nice. The staff organized some pick up games.

There are two golf driving nets set up on either side of one outdoor deck. However, the golf equipment is half broken, there are only a few balls, and there seem to be way more left handed clubs than right handed.

Gym (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The gym was spacious and much more than I would have anticipated aboard a ship. I managed to do my regular 9 MPH pace on the treadmill on the swaying ship (2 meter waves) without falling down and busting my tail. The aerobics room even had a speed bag and a punching bag. Very cool.

It would have been nice if the yoga and aerobics classes were included with the price of the cruise, instead of being an add-on.

Medical clinic (6.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Do not get sick or injured on the cruise ship if you can help it. The medical clinic is only open for regular office hours for 3 hours each day, during which time you'll pay at least $80 for the initial consult, plus any other fees for medical care after that. Outside of those hours, they add even more surcharges for off-hours care.

A member of our group had some mild ankle swelling from an old injury. After not finding an Ace bandage at any of the on board shops, I went to the clinic to see if I could purchase one. One physician was a real grouch to me, and refused to help me without going through an official examination, presumably to protect NCL's liability. The other two physicians there, however, were extremely friendly, and upon hearing their grouchy colleague's response, gave me a free Ace bandage and some Acetaminophen.

Entertainment (7.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The best shows on the ship were an acrobatics show and the magic show. I've seen world class acrobatics several times in Beijing, and the entertainers on the ship were pretty decent. The magic show was a little corny at times, but the main performer executed his tricks very well and we were all entertained.

On two nights, the evening show consisted of show tunes and singing, which we sat through for all of 5 minutes. These shows were clearly geared for an older crowd.

I would have liked to have seen some stand up comedians brought on board. According to the passenger manifest, we had 600 Americans, 400 people from the UK, and 200 Canadians on the Gem, so English language comprehension would not have been an issue.

It seemed like the bulk of the entertainment was geared towards retirees. There was limited nighttime entertainment that worked well for the under-30 crowd. The one event that stands out was the final night's male strip dance event, where the younger, in-shape male staff did some mild strip dancing and grinding on any willing female guests in the dance club, alla Chippendales.

Shore excursions (NA) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We arranged our own shore excursions independently. In Izmir, we used Ekol Tours and had a wonderful experience. We overheard multiple guests on NCL complaining about the quality and price of the NCL's shore excursions.

Room (10.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We had an upgraded room with a balcony, and it was fabulous.

The bathroom was way better than any marine head that I had ever used before. It was a full-fledged bathroom just like in a hotel. The water pressure was as good or better than in a hotel, and there was hot water whenever you needed. You could even drink the tap water without worrying about getting sick. You can flush toilet paper in the toilet without it clogging up. Thanks to the all-you-can-eat atmosphere on the ship, I took elephant sized dumps in the head frequently, and everything flushed, toilet paper and all, on the first try. Simply amazing.

There were more electrical outlets than you would ever need, and even one 220 volt outlet, if you have Asian or European appliances.

Some guests complained about the quality of channels and movies on the stateroom televisions. This was not a issue for us, since we were plenty entertained with the gorgeous view right on our stateroom balcony. My tip for those in steerage without an outdoor view would be to bring an iPad with movies on it and just use that for your in-room entertainment. $10 a pop for on-demand movies is a little pricey.

Sun decks (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The sun decks were spacious and nice. The best one is towards the bow on deck 14, where there are a number of circular couches, perfect for two people, and it is romantic and quiet.

NCL could step up its enforcement of the 30 minute time limit on reserving deck chairs, however. Near the pools, chairs are in high demand, and many passengers would put belongings out and leave for several hours. NCL policy is that they would collect belongings after 30 minutes, but I didn't see this happen at all.

Pool (7.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NCL divides the hot tubs and pools into adults only, and adults + kids. One time, in the adults + kids hot tube, I noticed a 4 year old boy grabbing at his crotch like Michael Jackson. Observing this telltale precursor to a potty accident, we immediately got out and stuck with the adult facilities afterward.

Passport collection (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NCL collected passengers' passports prior to arriving in Greece, so as to facilitate the speedy disembarkation of all the guests. Passports were returned on the final at-sea day, after we had completed our travels in Greece and Turkey. I didn't feel great about being without my passport, but it all worked out. The line to turn in my passport took about 20 minutes, and picking it up the last day of the cruise took about 1 minute.

On board photographers (2.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There were 3 on board photographers during our cruise that stick in my mind. I'll describe each one individually.

Filipino photographer:

This guy was the lead photographer, and although his technical skills may be good, his personal skills need some work. He unintentionally insulted one person in our group, and he generally had a gruff way about him. One evening before dinner, I used my digital point-and-shoot camera to take a quick snapshot of one of the 8x10s in the hallway, so I could show it to someone in our group to entice them to buy it. The Filipino photographer saw me do this and scolded me harshly, "You can't take photos of our pictures. See that up on the ceiling? Those are CCTV cameras. If you do it again, we will see you." I can imagine that NCL's upper management would have encouraged a nicer tone with guests.

Canadian photographer:

This tall, lanky photographer with a Jay Leno jaw would roam the dining rooms in the evening. He would take pictures of guests just as their faces were stuffed with food, or possibly immediately after eating when the table is full of filthy plates, crumbs, and empty glasses. I think he was playing a game to see how many horrible photos he could take in one day. His timing was just so off.

One night, this photographer set up a date with a 20-something female passenger, and proceeded to mack on her at one of the bars on the ship in the evening, in front of all the paying guests. It was clear he was running his best game on this girl, and she was only moderately enjoying it. My opinion is that if you're not a guest on the ship, you should limit your game-running to the staff quarters. Or, pick up one of the restaurant hostesses or gym trainers. Save the picking up of regular women for your down time when you're on shore leave.

Peruvian photographer:

This was my favorite photographer by far. He was laid back and cool. We asked him to take photos of our group in various places in the ship, and he walked away from his canvas backdrop where he had been working to spend about 30 minutes with us. He seemed to enjoy his work, and he had good interpersonal skills.

If I were the boss on this ship, I'd manage out the Filipino and Canadian photographers, promote the Peruvian to lead photographer, and let him decide the next two hires.

420 (NA) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Upon boarding the ship, two shady-looking Italian gentlemen approached me near the mid-ship elevators and asked me, "Do you want to smoke?". Of course, I declined, but I find it odd that dealers could even get on board this ship and solicit passengers. I'm wondering how far up the ship's chain of command they had to pay bribes. Note that they did not approach everyone, and that they probably talked to me since I appear to be in the age range of their target demographic. I did not smell anything other than tobacco being smoked at any time on this ship, although several times on the streets of Venice, I thought I was in San Francisco.

Check-in (9.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I've read complaints on line about a disorganized and slow check-in process for NCL. We had absolutely no problems, probably since we showed up around 3 PM, several hours after check in began. We had great service at the first check in point, and even had the good fortune to get a receptionist that spoke the native language of someone in our group. [Note: check-in is your opportunity to sneak a peak at the passenger manifest summary. All of the NCL receptionists have a list of which passengers are carrying passports of which country, so they know who has to surrender their passports at check in. Sneak a peak if you want an overview of which nationalities you'll be cruising with.]

Check-out (3.0) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NCL check out is supposed to be "free-style" like a hotel, but it's clear that they want you out of your room and off the ship as quickly as possible. You can stay in your room up until 10 AM, probably, but you will be disturbed by men outside your window spraying water on the ship, by service personnel in the hallway, and by hundreds of trucks and workers on the pier. Don't plan on staying any longer than 9 AM if you can help it. You may be welcome to stay, but you're really not welcome to stay. Less

Published 05/31/10

0 Helpful Votes

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Cabin review:

We had an upgraded room with a balcony, and it was fabulous. The bathroom was way better than any marine head that I had ever used before. It was a full-fledged bathroom just like in a hotel. The water pressure was as good or better than in a hotel, and there was hot water whenever you needed. You could even drink the tap water without worrying about getting sick. You can flush toilet paper in the toilet without it clogging up. There were more electrical outlets than you would ever need, and even one 220 volt outlet, if you have Asian or European appliances. Some guests complained about the quality of channels and movies on the stateroom televisions. This was not a issue for us, since we were plenty entertained with the gorgeous view right on our stateroom balcony. My tip for those in steerage without an outdoor view would be to bring an iPad with movies on it and just use that for your in-room entertainment. $10 a pop for on-demand movies is a little pricey.

Port and Shore Excursions

This is the one place I would have preferred to be at for another day or two. There is just way too much to see in the course of one day. Again, don't book a shore excursion. Take a taxi, or better yet, walk 20 minutes to the light rail, and follow the walking tourist circuit in old town Athens. Pick the 3 or 4 things you want to see in advance, and budget your time. You'll not see it all during a port call.

Dubrovnik is a wonderful day trip. Don't book a shore excursion with NCL. Just hop on the free bus from the port to the old town, and follow one of the many online maps to see all the sights over the course of an afternoon.

A great, historical port call. Book your tour with Ekol tours. For a little bit more than the cattle bus that NCL provides for $60, you'll get a private bus, a driver, and a very knowledgeable local tour guide. Our guide was an exceptional project manager and narrator rolled into one. We visited during a crowded national holiday, and he still managed to take us to every historical site and shopping location we desired, even making time for a great local lunch and some snack stops.

Read 177 Izmir Reviews

Venice is a very, very touristy town, but it's worth a 2 day visit to see the highlights. I you have more time, rent a car or take a train and get out to some other smaller cities in Northern Italy. You'll have a completely different experience, you'll have better food, and get a better sense of the local culture.

Read 843 Venice Reviews

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Member Since 2010
4 Forum Posts
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