I'm sure you are wondering why we would go all the way to NYC to hop on a cruise ship when we live right here in South Florida...Well, while on a 2 night cruise on the Pearl in October 2010, we were sufficiently impressed with NCL to put a "cruise rewards" deposit on a future cruise to use within the next four years. We decided we'd better use it quickly before the economy and our client-based income got any worse. The rules are that it has to be a cruise of 6 days or longer, and there aren't any NCL cruises of that length down here in the summer (they are all in Alaska and Europe), so we chose the Gem so that both pre and post cruise we could visit a friend in Manhattan who is recovering from cancer treatments. The 3 sea days on the Bermuda run also appealed to us.
PRECRUISE: We flew from West Palm Beach on Jetblue to LGA, a great (if bumpy)flight, although we hated the personal scanning process during security. We took a cab to the Westin in Times Square, expensive by all menas, but very near our friend's apartment building. She walked over and met us at the hotel. She looked great considering what she has been through. Later we ordered room service, which was very good, since we had not had dinner. It was VERY expensive, but we were exhausted and did not feel like going out. The Westin was very comfortable, great service, nicely appointed and good sized room for NYC.
EMBARKATION:The next AM we met our friend for breakfast at a cute little diner nearby, and then collected our luggage, checked out, and headed for the ship about noon. The Pier was a madhouse at that time. We stood in line for 90 minutes to check in, which was very hard for my husband with his ailing back. I thought we would get aboard faster with our Latitudes status, but no one in charge seemed to know how to get to the Latitudes desks, which were clearly visible at the counter, so we had to wait the duration.
THE CABIN:Finally we boarded about 1:30 and easily found our obstructed view outside cabin on deck 8(8558). We usually get a balcony, but funds are short and the travel from and to FLA ate up those "extra luxury" dollars. The cabin was very nice, lots of light from the large window. The bathroom was great, divided into 3 parts, and there was plenty of storage for everything, though I would haveliked a few more hooks for hanging things. The cabin steward introduced himself to us right away and did all kinds of nice things for us. The towel animals almost every night were a nice touch, but we did miss the pillow chocolates that we used to get. The TV was a disappointment, as a few others have mentioned. Mostly NCL ad programming, plus news and few other choices. Movies were $10. There were no free movies like there have been on most of the other cruises we've been on. Another little thing: when we ordered room service dining for breakfast, though the delivery was always timely, there was always something missing; only one of 6 tries did they bring the banana we ordered--maybe they were out of them. As to ship location, I really recommend deck 8 as it is close to lots of good things, and very reasonable as to cost, almost the same as an inside cabin.
DINING: The dining throughout the trip is the area we had the most issues with. Our very first meal, in the Grand Pacific dinig room required us to hold on to a beeper for about 30 minutes waiting for our table for 2, and then when we sat down, the waiter practically slammed the two glasses of water down, did not even look at us, or greet us in any way, and did not return for 20 minutes to take our order. 20 minutes later he brought 2 of our courses at the same time, then 20 minutes after that, brought the entrees. I was so nonplussed by the situation (this has never happened on any of our 33 cruises!) that I can't even tell you what we had to eat! Another bit of time went by and he placed the desserts on the table and walked off, never to be seen again that evening, not even asking if we wanted coffee of anything. I want the readers to know that we are not normally complaining, fussy, snobby, people who expect too much from those who serve us, so I imagine that he was simply overworked trying to keep up with everything. The next night we paid extra to eat in Orchids, where we had a wonderfully prepared and served Chinese dinner, complete with lobster. The next evening we tried the Grand Pacific again, got the same waiter, but he was totally different and attended courteously (though quietly)to our every need. The food in general was mediocre except for one night when we had surf and turf, which was outstanding. One night we ate in Magenta, and the service was the best of the "free" venues. The service throughout, however, buffets included, was quite impersonal most of the time and sometimes nonexistent. Once in Blue Lagoon restaurant, they never did bring my order for lunch, so we left and I ate in the buffet. By the way, the buffalo wings at the Blue Lagoon are some of the best we have ever eaten, if you can actually get them to bring your order! Yes, there were a few staff members who flashed a sparkly smile and aimed to please, but this was the exception. Again, with the freestyle cruising and the large # of passengers, I know that they work very hard, but I still remember the old days when things were different. Well, I guess any food that is prepared and served by others is a vacation for me, in any case.
BERMUDA: The island of Bermuda is absolutely beautiful, but we got to see very little of it. My husband became ill--a blood pressure issue which we resolved by cutting back his new medication (NOT a good time to try a new med, on vacation, but he neglected to tell me about it until the BP dropped too low). Then the next day his back which had been tenuous at best really began to cause a problem. The travel, and getting out of his routine were taking a toll. The only treatment really available on the ship was acupuncture, which we decided to try daily for the rest of the trip, though it was expensive. Well, we ended up getting spa passes and spending most of our days in the spa! Even though this is not what I had been expecting our trip to be, it became a spa vacation for both of us. While he took treatments, I worked out in the gym. Then together we made use of the thermal suite for several hours, soaking in the pools, hot tubs, using the steam room and sauna, as well as those great tile lounge chairs that heat up your entire body. We read our books from the ship's extensive library while relaxing on the lounges looking out over the bow to the beautiful blue water (well, after the first day the sun finally came out). The acupuncture treatments were helping him feel a little better each day, as were the supplements he was taking to go with the treatments. The staff in the spa area was outstanding, but then, we were spending a great deal of money and they couldn't do enough for us, it seemed. By the last night he was feeling agile enough that we were able to dance in Spinnaker, which made us both happy, since we love ballroom dancing.
ENTERTAINMENT: Now here is where NCL excels! The shows we saw were very good, but what we really enjoyed was spending our evenings with Jeffery Spence in Magnums Lounge. The "Piano Man" was nothing short of amazing. My husband and I both have music degrees, and we found Jeffery to be probably the best piano/vocal entertainer we have ever heard. He know thousands of songs, and take requests for any style you want, and imitates performers like Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Billy Joel, Willy Nelson, Frank Sinatra, and I could go on and on. Did I mention he is from New Orleans? Oh, Yeah. I would go on an NCL cruise again just to hear him. We bought one of his CDs and invited him to visit us in FL if the ship he is on ever stops near us. He played anything we asked during the week, from Gershwin to Jerry Lee Lewis to Bernstein.
DISEMBARKATION: Was a breeze--we were in no hurry, as our Amtrak Silver Meteor back to FLA would not leave until 3:15, so we ambled off the ship about 10:00 AM, where our friend was waiting for us. We got a cab back to her apartment, dumped our luggage and walked around the river area, had a picnic by the water, and then took a cab to Penn Station, where we waited in the Acela Lounge until time to board our train. The train ride home was a wild ride of bumpy tracks but we were in a nice compartment with our own bath, and found the service, attitude, and food to be better than what we had experienced on the Gem. The staff was upbeat, humorous, and fun, and the chef was excellent as well. Our steak and baked potato dinner was better than what we had ordered in the ship's dining room just the night before, to our surprise. We spent the next day working crossword puzzles until our arrival at the Amtrak station in West Palm, where friends were waiting to pick us up. On the way home we ate at Cracker Barrel, and soon our trip was over. We arrived not too terribly exhausted because of the down time on the train. Will we sail NCL again? Of course, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise", as they say where I come from.