10 Day Eastern Caribbean on Norwegian Gem
New York (Manhattan)
Quick and painless as long as you have all your documents ready. There was a little bit of confusion of port associates directing non-Latitude, Latitudes and VIP customers to the correct lines. Check-in took no longer than 4 mins and we were on the ship 15 mins after check-in. Total time spent waiting from car to boarding: 20mins. Greeted by staff members with big smiles and warm welcomes but no complementary champagne upon arrival.
We ate at the Garden Cafe buffet for breakfast everyday and found the food to be typical. Nothing bad but nothing special. Lunch and dinners in Garden Cafe were very good but there was not much variety in the foods offered each day.
We ate most dinners in Magenta, the Gem's more modern looking dining room and we were all very impressed in the variety and flavors of the meals offered. Each night had a different variety of desserts to select from as well. Never once did anyone in our party have an issue More
with the meals being under/overcooked. Everything was cooked and presented perfectly. Service in Magenta was overall very good with friendly attitude although the speed of service was not consistent on a night by night basis.
We ate in 3 speciality restaurants during our trip. The first being Tequila Tex-Mex ($10pp), the second being Orchid Garden ($15pp) and the last being Teppanyaki ($25pp). All 3 were spectacular as we all felt the extra money paid was well worth it! All meals were prepared quickly but tasted great and you get a fun filled "show" at Teppanyaki!
We participated in bowling, which definitely is a different experience at sea. Even though the bowling does cost an extra $5 per game per person, the price is reasonable considering the shoe rental is included whereas most bowling alleys charge $4 for shoes and $5 per game. Loved spending time playing shuffleboard, tennis and basketball, although the rental tennis racquets should be available closer to the court, rather than having to walk to the other side of the ship to get them. I love to play ping pong but it is very difficult to do when at sea do to wind constantly affecting the ball. The jogging track is a great way to exercise while getting fresh air but watch out for those who are oblivious and stand in the middle of the track.
All the entertainment we went to see was excellent, especially the Man from Mars show and the hypnotist Nadeen. Didn't go the variety shows featuring the dancers, juggler or the comedian.
Cruise Director "Big Ken" was extremely outgoing and friendly as were all bartenders, wait staff and crew members. Every crew member we passed would acknowledge us with a friendly hello. My only staff problem was our room steward who did not take the time to learn our names to make us feel more comfortable. Every NCL cruise I've taken, our room steward(s) knew our names by the end of the first day.
My wife and I signed up for the couples use of the relaxation facilities (sauna, heat chairs, whirlpool, etc) which we always enjoy but it would be nice for spa associates to enforce noisy disrespectful guests who do not observe the posted signs for silence while using facilities.
Any chairs/loungers that are open should not be allowed to be "reserved". My wife had an incident where she went lay on an empty circular lounger "couch" on the sundeck when a woman next to her in another chair confronted her saying that lounger was reserved. When my wife said to her there was nothing on the chair and that she cannot reserve the chair, the woman threw her towel on it saying that it is for her friend and that my wife cannot use it. NCL really needs to figure out a way to enforce this. The chairs are a first come, first serve basis. No more of this reserving chairs business.
We carried our luggage off the ship which was very organized. Once the ship was cleared by customs, we were off the ship in 5 mins. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
If you prefer shopping, Antigua's port side shops are a wonderful place to explore and spend some money. For someone like me though, shopping is not on my list of things to do so we signed up for an Antigua Beach Escape excursion, offered by NCL ($49.99pp). Included with this the excursion was transportation to and from the ship, two complimentary rum punch drinks per person, lunch and a beach chair (umbrella is extra). We were taken by taxi to the beach resort Halcyon Cove, owned by Rex Resorts. Make sure to be on one of the first taxis over to the resort so you can have first choice of your beach chair, as they fill up fast. Along with the two free rum punches, there is a bar available to purchase drinks at (Carib was $4, Corona $5). Lunch was held on a beautiful covered pier that extended out into the bay. Our lunch was extremely simple but very flavorful (chicken, pork rib, rice and potato).
If you're looking for something a little more than relaxing on the beach, there are jet skis and wind surfboards for rent (extra cost). If you're looking for good snorkeling, this would not be the best choice as the water was a bit murky with no reefs to support coral and the fish that live in it.
We signed up for the San Juan City Tour & Bacardi Distillery excursion through NCL.com ($49.99pp). Unfortunately due to a festival being held in Old San Juan the next day, the city tour portion of the excursion was cancelled. NCL did refund a portion of the fare we had already prepaid.
The Bacardi portion of the tour was very interesting and informative as your tour guides explained the history behind the Bacardi Company and the process of making rum. Although guests are not allowed access to the actual plant where the rum is being produced, the visitor center provided sufficient information, along with a few exhibits.
The best part of the tour is that each person (over 21 of course) are given two free Bacardi rum drinks. Want a couple more extra free drinks??? Find yourself a tour participate that does not drink rum and ask if you can have their tickets! I was able to get two extra drink tickets from someone not interested in sampling the drinks.
To save money I try to do things on my own but since the time in San Juan was limited, I booked this excursion through the cruise line, knowing it would cost more than if I ventured out myself. If you have time in San Juan and want to see the Bacardi factory, save yourself some money by taking the ferry from the cruise terminal over to the factory. Ferry is about $2 one-way, I think, and the tour is free but make sure to check the hours of when the tour is being offered.
St. Maarten is always a great place to visit, especially if you are looking for alcohol at lower prices (you need to shop around from store to store to find the best prices). Beers are cheap as well ($1-2 per bottle).
Our day consisted of travelling to Maho Beach located at the end runway of Princess Juliana Int'l Airport. I know it may sound strange to head to the airport during vacation but this is a sight to be seen. Since the airport is situated on a small strip of land right next to the water, all of the aircraft, from small Cessna prop planes, to 747 jumbo jets fly directly overhead almost landing right on the beach. You can rent a beach chair for $10.
To save some cash from Phillipsburg to Maho Beach, use the "bus" instead of the taxis. One-way cost using the bus is only $2pp whereas the taxis will usually charge between $7-11pp one-way. The only problem with using the bus is that it makes many stops before arriving to the beach whereas if you take the taxi, it is a direct drive with no stops.
After we spent a couple of hours at Maho Beach watching the planes, having some drinks we headed back to Phillipsburg for lunch and shopping. If you are a big Star Wars fan make sure you stop and visit the Yoda Guy museum and shop where you can meet Yoda creator Nick Maley. I have been here twice and both times he was there. A very laid back person, he loves to talk about the films he's designed creatures for so make to stop in.
If you're not looking to do much in St. Maarten you can spend time on the Boardwalk beach. Rent a beach chair, umbrella and get 5 beers for $20. Good deal in my opinion!
We decided not to participate in an excursion this day, instead we took a taxi to Magens Bay, located on other side of the island. Cost of the taxi from cruise pier was $8pp one-way. Be aware that there is a $4pp entry fee to Magens Bay, which is not included in the taxi fare. Make sure the arrange a pick up time with your taxi driver, although there were PLENTY of other taxis that can bring you back to your ship. Magens Bay is a beautiful 1 mile long white sandy beach with changing facilities/bathrooms and a outdoor bar/grill (burgers/fries). While not a great snorkeling beach, Magens Bay does offer a spectacular view of the typical Caribbean image of blue sky, blue water and palm trees. To avoid the crowds at the beach at Magens Bay, especially if there are many cruise ships in port, go to the far left or far right of the beach. Most people setup their beach gear closest to the bathroom and bar.
By far our favorite port visit, BVI's island of Tortola is a quaint, less developed treasure of the Caribbean. We signed up for NCL's, Virgin Gorda Highlights excursion ($69.99pp). This tour consists of a ferry ride to the island of Virgin Gorda to visit The Baths National Park to snorkel and explore caves created by large volcanic rock and a short open-air bus ride around the island.
This excursion does require a bumpy 35min ferry ride, hiking on uneven terrain and an option of crawling through some narrow passage ways through the caves so if you are not physically fit, get sick on smaller ships, are tall or "big boned" or frightened of enclosed spaces this may not be the best tour for you. BUT if you do not fit into those categories PLEASE sign up for it! My biggest piece of advice is for this excursion is this: when your tour guide leads you down to the first beach, take a couple of quick pictures and move onto the caves to get to Devils Bay. If you spend more time at the first beach you WILL get stuck behind many slower people wishing to explore to Devils Bay which will significantly shortly your time to really enjoy the beauty of the Baths.
Make sure to bring your own snorkel gear for the snorkeling in Devils Bay is wonderful! With crystal clear water and lots of coral and fish to see, you will not be disappointed!
Our visit to Tortola was not long so we were not able to see any other sights when we came back to Road Town (where the ship docks).