NCL GEM to Bermuda
"When good is just what you had in mind for your vacation."
This was cruise #34 for me, with most on RCL/Celebrity/Cunard. So, I've been on my share of ships. The only other NCL ship I've done was the Sky, on a full-ship charter when it was new. So, this was like trying out a new line for me. I travel single, and booked a last-minute deal on an outside (porthole window) cabin on deck 4.
I booked cabin 4564. If you look at the deck plan, the big space to the aft side is the gangway - so for a lot of trips, that'll be a noisy location when you're in port, and you'll want to pull your curtains closed for privacy - people literally walk past your window en route to the entrance.
On the plus side, the cabin has incredible storage space - a wonderful combination of drawers, hanging space and shelving.... this cabin would hold everything needed for a round-the-world cruise. Seriously - it's like the designers of the Queen Victoria (which really DOES world cruises) never looks at this layout.
I'm not a fan of the 3-compartment bathroom. Those glass sliding doors might provide the illusion of privacy, but nobody's really going to be fooled.
I wanted the beds put together. If the steward does that, you have no room between the desk and the bed to walk - the room is narrow enough that there is no space. I pushed the bed to one wall, which made it a little harder for the steward, but actually useful for me.
Compared to other ships, basics were missing. No pen, no paper in the room, one side of the soap/shampoo dispenser was missing/empty. Bring your own soap/shampoo/conditioner from home.
The TV in my cabin was 1" larger on each side than an 8.5x11 piece of paper. Literally true - I held a paper up to the screen. That means it was impossible to read the account statement from the normal lying-down position on the bed. I can't imagine they sell very many pay-per-view movies on that screen.
On debarkation morning, the toilet backed up, so I felt sorry for the cabin steward.
Most of the folks I met chose NCL partly for the Freestyle Dining. They seemed to think that meant they could eat when they wanted, and avoid the "hassle" of an assigned dining time, like 6:30 or 8:30.
In reality, if you try to get a table at 7:30 (when lots of folks want to eat) you're going to wait - I saw wait times of 30-45 minutes. So, as a practical matter, you don't need to choose between 6:30 and 8:30, but you shouldn't expect to show up at 7:15 and get a table anytime real soon.
On the buffet, most evenings I visited, only 1/2 to 2/3 of the stations were attended. So it was hard to get in and out quickly, depending on your choice of food.
It's the most singles-unfriendly ship I've ever been on. Without assigned tables, if you show up at the dining room without company, there is no one else who is looking to share a table. SO - unless you're traveling with all the company you want for the voyage, you're going to have a tough time.
Dining room food was the equivalent of good-quality banquet food. (Emphasis on good - not great, not excellent.) As one fellow told me - the big benefit is you can be in and out in under an hour, and move on with things. I wore dockers and a polo shirt, and most nights I was well-dressed for dinner. Shorts, t-shirts, gym wear were all in evidence. So, if you don't want to dress up more than you would for a summer BBQ at home, the NCL dining room is for you.
I had one specialty dining night - at Cagney's with a friend made on-board. With a martini, 1/2 bottle of wine and the cover charge, it was more than $65 for one person. The ribeye steak was tasty, but tough. The rest of the meal was excellent, though. And the staff were terrific. But again, that was an expensive upcharge.
I was a fan of the Great Outdoor cafe - really terrific tea-time scones... and all the time chocolate cookies.
If you're looking for understated or contemporary elegance, you're headed for the wrong ship. A visit to the Ultralounge (really - they still call it that....) made me think of a cross between a bordello and an opium den.
Overall, it's loud, a little worn, but very clean.
This was the Bermuda trip, and the only tour I booked thru NCL was the Island Drive Tour. It was the worst excursion I've ever done.
The driver spent about 1/2 of the five hour tour explaining to us in detail all the problems of the island - the drug problem, the three gangs on the island who infest the schools, the shooting in front "of a busload of tourists", how the police station was built with integral hearing rooms and cells, so that suspects couldn't be gunned down on the street when they were going from lockup to courtroom.
She went on to explain how one woman (whose kids were in boarding school elsewhere) had made it a criminal offense to spank you kids, and how she'd beat her own kid if he ever called 911. All this was LITERALLY part of the narrative.
Some folks in our group admired how "she kept it real." I was horrified, and that's what I told the excursions desk.
When I told Soloman at the tour desk - That's not the tour you described, half the time was spent telling us about how awful life here is, and it made me wonder why anyone came to Bermuda, the response was -- We won't give you the full amount back - because you did TAKE the tour. I eventually got 25% of the cost back.
So - lesson learned - the standards for NCL excursions are almost non-existent - if you take the tour, it doesn't matter how bad it was; they feel entitled to keep most of the money.
It felt as though every design, food and service decision was made with the principle of "Good is good enough" in mind.
The food on Cunard, Royal, Celebrity are superior to every meal I had on the NCL Gem.
The decor on those lines was more attractive than what I had on the Gem.
The staff on the Gem, though, were terrific - everyone was friendly - friendlier and kinder than required. Dining staff were all terrific, and moved at the pace of the guest; so if you wanted in and out in under an hour, they did their best. The staff overall were just amazing.
I rarely say never, but it'll be awhile before NCL becomes my first choice for vacation again.