This was my fifth time on NCL. Previously enjoyed the Dawn and the Jewel twice each on New England and Canada cruises. So the price was right and I decided to go on this one. Originally was scheduled for 4 DEC, but then the need for drydocking to repair the azipod thrust bearings cancelled it. NCL offered us a choice of another date close to original at the fare we paid, plus a $100. on board credit to sweeten the deal. Fortunately, I live only twelve miles from the pier, and can change my vacation easily.
I joined the roll call once we were booked, and met some very nice folks. We then watched the misfortune of the Jewel that was drydocked a week ahead of our ship. It ended up sailing a full day late, that shortened that cruise by a day. Unfortunately, its delay sort of snowballed into our ship also being delayed getting in to the drydock. Our ship finally sailed about 5 hours late.
Rather than getting into Port Canaveral too late for folks to take their shorex over to the Orlando theme parks, they decided to slow down and get to Port Canaveral at 8AM on the third day, and stay a full 12 hours. The only problem was that now we had to forgo entirely the call at Great Stirrup Cay. We went directly to Nassau instead, then returned to regular schecule. We received another $100 credit for our trouble. There were a lot of disappointed folks that wanted the day at the island. NCL took care of rearranging their shorex, but I don't know about those that arranged there own.
Another problem, beyond NCL's control was the unseasonable cold we encountered. People were not allowed to cancel their tours, and many froze on airboat rides and such.
The ship itself was very nice. I enjoyed the unique experience of real bowling (as opposed to Wii), on a moving ship. And the ship did indeed do a lot of moving on the southbound segment. Northbound was much smoother except for a short stretch off the Carolina's, late at night.
We had a cruise director (Rob Sugar) on his first stint as CD. He was an Englishman, and his manner reminded me a lot of Matt Baker. he did a pretty good job considering it was his first time in charge, and having to contend with a lot of problems, no fault of his own.
We had our share of high drama. From an impatient gent in the New York Cruise Terminal scuffling with security over blocking the passageway during the delayed boarding, to a passenger passing out and falling out of her wheelchair in the Spinnaker one night. Sadly, she did not recover. Also a toddler was stricken with a respiratory illness and high fever, and had to be medivaced off the ship in the wee hours of the morning by helicopter.
The entertainment provided by the ship cast was very good. The juggler/comedian was good, the comedian was fair. Second City was okay, if you like their sort of improv comedy. The party band was good, the show band was good. The piano/singer wasn't bad, nor was the guitar/singer. There was another pianist up in the Star Bar, but hadn't heard him. There was also a female singer with a strong voice.
The cruise staff conducted lots of 'OSA' activities with participation rewarded at cruise end with 'prizes'. The only 'enrichment' lectures were ones conducted by various concessions on the ship geared to entice you to spend money on their services.
I was surprised by how many school age children were on board. I would expect that at the last week of December, but not now.
I was somewhat disapointed by the quality of the food served in the MDR. I was just on the Dawn two months ago, so I had expectations of a similar product on the Gem. Not so. While the menu's were fairly similar, I believe the food was much better on the Dawn.
Overall, I had a pretty good time, as I always do on any cruise, but after two cruises on NCL this year, I think I will give them a rest next year. Especially since they are not doing my favorite 10 day NYC/Quebec round trip in 2011.