We booked our Eastern Caribbean cruise on the NCL GEM this year for the January 18th sailing. We had taken "family cruises" on the Gem in 2009 and again in 2010. This trip was with some family and 4 couples from my Yacht Club. Three of these couples had never cruised before. Having 15 cruises under my belt before I had been extolling the joys of cruising at my club and organized a "club cruise". My wife and I were anxious to see the faces of the "first timers" when they saw what a cruise ship looked like up close.
The embarkation was a snap. We arrived at the pier a bit after noon and went through security and the boarding procedure without too much standing on line. The "life boat" drill went quickly. It helps not to have to bring the life jackets to the drill. I'm not sure a walk to your lifeboat station on deck wouldn't be a good idea. The ship was clean and as always the room was clean and the room steward was a pleasure to deal with. Our first cruise on the Gem in 2009 was one of our best. The ship was clean, the food great, and the service excellent. In 2010 it seemed the ship wasn't as clean as it had been before and the times for food available without room service seemed shorter. Of course the "Blue Lagoon" was available but that can be less then great at times. The favorite spot late night had been outside behind the Garden Buffet on the stern. You could sit outside and grab a light snack. This year it seemed the ship was again clean. The problem this year was food service in general. We ate at the Tequila as a group after making a reservation for eleven at 7:00 PM. We were seated on time and given a sample margarita and menus. Our food orders were taken and then we sat for over 30 minutes. No one even took a drink order. The food, when it came, came meal by meal and the ribs I ordered looked like they were sitting on a plate for 15 minutes before I got them. It seemed getting your food hot was a problem the whole trip. It would be easier to say the only time service was what it should be was at Cagney's. It was obvious the line was trimming down wait staff. Not one time in 10 days did someone ask me if I wanted a drink with dinner. In the Grand Pacific I asked the waitress if I could get a glass of wine and she rolled her eyes and said "What kind do you want". I had seen the episode of Undercover Boss on TV where Kevin Sheehan went on board a NCL ship to see how things were. For those who saw the show you could see he was pretty much useless at everything he did. I believe the man doesn't understand much besides how to wring every dollar out of a business. It is said he has increased the lines profits but at what cost. The food is generally cheaper cuts of meat and fish. The service has gotten less then one would expect at a decent restaurant. I realize running a cruise line is not a hobby but a business and there are stockholders etc. but isn't the idea to be treated well on vacation? The last great show was debarkation. We were scheduled to leave the ship at 10:00 AM. The Jewel had pulled in before us. This happens every two weeks. They held us up claiming "customs" wouldn't allow too many people on the pier at one time. This didn't stop "big Ken" from calling all guests with yellow and white tags and "walk offs" to disembark. We stood on a line that went from the mid ship elevators to the gift shop and back to the rear of the main lobby for 30 minutes. We didn't get to the pier till 11:40. I travel out of New York to avoid airports. Maybe they are no so bad. Our "first timers" thought that cruising was great and the ship was beautiful. They did give me an occasional "look" regarding service but it seemed only the repeat cruisers realized how bas it had gotten.