Well after a few months of planning and the anticipation of the trip has sadly come to an end. This is my third cruise and all have been NCL.
I'll start where the trip started, at NYC. This is our second trip out of NYC and both have been actually quite pleasant. Weather you get dropped off or park at the pier it's actually EASY especially considering that your in NYC. We arrived and parked around 10:30 and were through check in within 1/2 hour. As like most trips you are now waiting to board the ship. I know it's part of the process so the "Boredom" was anticipated. Fortunately there was a few tables set up by the crew to check out. We signed up for the Spa package as we waited in the terminal, which I think was great of NCL for doing. Not only does it generate more $$$ for them it also give the passengers something to do while we waited. The Kids Crew, and the Golf Pro there as well, for us to check out. You weren't able to register your kids while on the pier but it gave them something to check out as well. Since we were there early we drew a decent number to be called for boarding and were on board by 12ish, maybe earlier. As usual the ship becomes a mad house until the rooms were ready which was just shy of 2. Overall it wasn't a bad morning. Personally I hate walking around with all the carry on stuff so I just suck it up and try to find a place to chill out while we wait for our cabin. At first glance though I have to say I like the Gem much better than it's sister ship the Jewl. The layout of the shops and the Bliss lounge in the rear I found much more enjoyable. We then hung out in the Spinaker lounge as we pulled out. I liked the Spinaker on the Gem much nicer as well. The furniture was much more comfortable.
So when our floor was called and our rooms were ready we made a B-Line for our new home for the next week. We were in Room 11156, an Aft facing Mini Suite. I have been looking forward to this room ever since we booked! If I had one down side I would say that the tub is kind of tall and hard for my 5yo son to get in or out of. I love looking out the back of the ship and just watch the water churn I find it kind of memorizing. As usual the room was VERY clean and just what we were looking for. Our room Steward Rolly was AWESOME!!!! There wasn't a thing he missed or needed to be reminded of. Every request (like clearing the mini bar, kids life jackets, and towels that sort of thing) we made was quickly dealt with and seamless. Rolly even took the time to talk with my son and I when my son got ill. He even made a few towel animals on the spot to help cheer my son up(which it did). I found his service to be yet another highlight to our trip.
I'll move on next to the spa. Well this was our first time doing the $119 Spa package, and it was worth every penny. The Spa is laid out into 3 sections. There's a Men's side and a Woman's side with a common area in the middle. The Spa gave us a place to relax and enjoy the quiet. My wife and I are in our early 40's and weren't into hanging out at the pool and dealing with the crowds this time. The larger pool in the Common area of the spa was a great place to just soak and relax. On the down side there were 2 large shower things that sprayed down a large high pressure spray on either side. These Jets however splashed all over the place and were annoying if you weren't the one using it. The heated lounge chairs were also a favorite of ours. It was easy to sit back and take a nice relaxing nap. I'm a BIG believer in the SPA and it's now as a must do if you're looking for a Relaxing vacation. I did get a massage when they offered one of the "Specials". This was my first massage and I didn't know what to expect. My therapist was nice but I guess I was expecting a bit more instruction when I mentioned that this was my first. I think I would do this again but earlier on in the trip. I waited until the last sea day and think it would have been more beneficial earlier on in the trip, who knows maybe two.
And now on to the all important food topic!!! I love reading all these reviews and how people bash the food everywhere. I guess I'm more of a realist in this subject. I look at it this way, NCL (or any other line for that fact) is trying to use your money to the best of their ability. The product they put out for the price paid is totally fair in my eyes. My kids LOVED the Garden Cafe!!!! They mostly ate at the kids section but would usually cruise through the main lines to see if anything looked better. More often than not the kids section was good for them. The small tables and chairs was a perfect fit for my 7 and 5 year olds. As far as my opinion go's it wasn't all that bad, not great by any means but not bad. I was never turned off by anything. I do wish the variety changed a bit more but again for the budget I think NCL does a great job balancing quality and variety. I will say we LOVE their breads. We took a tour once and learned that with the exception of Hot Dog buns, Hamburger buns were, and some of the white bread, all the bread is cooked on board. Not bad for 8 bakers working around the clock, in a kitchen the size of a living room. I am also not a fan of the layout of the Buffet on the Gem. The layout of the Jewel has a better flow and makes you less reliant on someone holding up the line. We enjoyed the carving stations and thought the pork, chicken and beef were very good and made for a nice meal. The sides were nice as well. I loved the tomato/cucumber salads. So as far as the buffet or any buffet in my mind you're not going or ever will get a 5 star meal at one.
The main dining rooms were just as good but up a notch or three. We would usually swing by earlier in the day and see what was available and then decide what to do for dinner. I would say we ate at the Main dining rooms more than the specialty restaurants this time. There are a few staples on the Main dining menus that we look for at any restaurant and go with those choices. Most of our choices were based on the appetizers and desserts. Again with the entrees the choices are fair and usually very well prepared and rarely did I ever find myself reaching for the salt or pepper the entire trip. If you are honest with yourself you will find that the main dining room is a fair place to eat. And if you ever wanted more of something, just ask. The staff is more than willing to suite your needs and get what you request.
The specialty restaurants on board are usually worth every penny spent! That said we usually will do two or three specialties. This trip we ate at Le Bistro and the Mexican Tapas Restaurants. The Tapas was Very good, we had the Lobster Taco's as well as the II Popo, as well as taquitos and Mexican Spring rolls for appetizers. All good choices, again if you want more if you think the portions a small ask for more. The kids ate off the Blue Lagoon menu and that kept them happy. Later on in the trip we at Le Bistro, hands down the best meal on board or off the ship depending how well you dine. The $50 spent on the meal was a bargain in my eyes. I knew I was going to enjoy myself so I ordered the Escargot and the Mussels for appetizers, both were OUTSTANDING but I think it may have something to do with what must have been a pound of butter between the two. Then it was on to the entrees. Again nothing shy of excellent to say the least. I again had two entrees, I had the Beef tenderloin and Rack of Lamb. My wife had the Coq Ca Vin (which is short for the best chicken you will ever eat I think). All of our dinners were better than we expected, and left us satisfied wanting to return for another night. The desserts kept up with the pace of the rest of our meals. I (for the first time) had Crem Brulle' my wife told me that I am forever ruined since the bar has now been set so high.
So now we are getting to the entertainment part of the trip. We are not too too big on going to the shows too often and with the kids it was hard to get to see the later ones. After speaking with a few people I heard that the Comedian and hypnotist were pretty good. I myself like the small lounge entertainment. Leo the guitarist was excellent, you wouldn't think by looking at him but he was AMING. He connected with the crowd and had everyone joining in. Randy the Piano Man was AWESOME!!! Again he was able to connect with the crowd and get everyone involved. I made a request that he was not familiar with, so he wrote the song down and said he would get on it. Two nights later he nailed it! It was a fun song that everyone could sing along to and I'm glad he was able to do it. If you do decide to go on the Gem anytime soon I promise you won't be let down by either of these two.
The Kids Crew Club! Not that I was there but my kids were. Again they LOVED it, both of them were disappointed when we showed up to take them to lunch or dinner or heaven forbid BED. They would both run up the stairs to get in as much play time as possible. It's kind of sad that we go on vacation to be with our family and they almost want nothing to do with us. So I take that as a good sign that NCL is doing a GREAT job at keeping the kids happy and entertained. They do a pirate day, where they get faces painted, a Pajama party, and a dinner and a movie night. All this and it's free while at sea and up to 10:30 pm. There are charges while in port or after 10:30, I think it was $6 for the first child and $4 for siblings. We did that a few times for an hour or so to believe it or not to keep them happy.
As for the stops we just took a cab to Cocoa Beach while in Port Canaveral and played in the ocean for the day. Nothing too mind blowing but we all had a good time playing in the waves and sand. Great Stirrup Cay has become , surprisingly a favorite of ours believe it or not. The trick is to get down early as possible. It sucks to wait in line while on vacation but tendering is always a pain. I just look at it as part of the process. I do wish they wouldn't pack so many people on each tender. It just feels wrong getting crammed in so tight. More tenders would be nice. The facilities on the island are growing and all for the better. The BBQ buffet was a HUGE improvement from our last visit. I also wish there was more speakers closer to the west side of the beach. My daughter missed the hula hoop contest since it kicked off 20min early. So that was a letdown sort of. But we were able to swim and play all day. Again I can't wait to see what all they have in store in the future for that place. Then there's Nassau, nothing special there for us this trip. We have been there before and don't really get excited for it. We went to the Blue Lagoon for the day, it was nice as a play area but that's about it. It turned out to be just another beach. I guess when the kids get older we could venture into the Dolphin Experience for a better time I hear that is pretty cool. So I guess GSC was our best Port day of them all, go figure.
The Ship and her staff, it's a tough call. I have read a few reviews that said the ship was showing signs of wear and others that said the opposite. As far as wear go's you can see how entertaining 2000+ people every day can wear a place down. I mostly noticed the wear on the Velvet style chairs and furniture, and that was about it. Most everything else seemed well kept and maintained. I didn't come across the nasty bathrooms and dirty carpets like I have read elsewhere. And the staff were all friendly and courteous. Of course the housekeeping staff were all pleasant as could be in the hallways. One thing I did notice that I found very nice was seeing the Executive Head Chef all over the place. I spotted him making toast at the buffet to burgers at the pool. I found this to be an impressive quality in a person in his position to be out there with his people. And you couldn't go a day without seeing the Hotel director at least twice somewhere. The Captain I also found personal in a way. We unfortunately had the displeasure of having someone Medi-Evacd off the ship while at sea. The Captain kept the entire ship aware of what was going on at all times before and during the flight operations to get the ill gentleman and his wife up into the helicopter and back to the mainland where we all pray he was to come to a speedy recovery. I think in whole the entire crew hold the Gem in high regard more so than the other ships I have been on. Not to say the others aren't well cared for I just seemed to get a different feeling on the Gem.
Well I think that about covers it. I hope this wasn't too long and you were able to get something out of it somehow.
Till next time