Our 8th cruise with Norwegian and our first time aboard NCL Gem began on Tuesday with a 7 hour drive from home in Ontario to a Holiday Inn just minutes from the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey. An easy drive Wednesday mid-morning in weekday traffic took less than 20 minutes to the Pier. After paying the expected but nevertheless outrageous $300. to park at the New York Cruise Ship Pier we checked our bags, went through security and were very quickly in a short line at the Norwegian Desk. Check-in was a breeze and just 45 minutes after parking the car we were on our way aboard. Time was about 12:15 so we headed for lunch in Cagney's restaurant (one of the perks being in a "Penthouse Suite"). The very friendly and efficient staff saw to out food and beverage needs in short order. As the lunch menu at Cagney's is the same for the duration of the cruise, I figured it best to start at the top of the list of main courses with the intent to try everything before the cruise ends. Our meals were great and just as we were finishing the ship's hotel director, Steve Knott stopped by our table to introduce himself and to offer any assistance we might need.
Our cabin was ready just after 2:00. The mid-ship penthouse with separate "childrens bedroom" was fantastic. The master bedroom features an oversize queen bed, a flat screen tv/dvd player and velvet privacy curtains. The adjoining master bath is enormous with double sinks, enormous closets and a walk-in shower featuring a floor to ceiling picture window. (and a privacy curtain for showers when in port). The full size bath, also with window, sports a flat screen tv so one can check the stock markets while bathing at 22 knots of speed in the Atlantic. Neat! An opaque sliding glass separates this bathroom from the main sitting room.
The second bedroom features a bathroom with shower, limited closet space and a fold-out double bed with a single bunk above. Also another flat screen tv. The main area held a couch/sofabed, fridge with mini-bar, a fully stocked cappuccino machine and a table and chairs for 4. Also a 42 inch flat screen tv with dvd player and 2 more chairs, a buffet full of wine and beverage glasses, a tea pot and a small set of cutlery and plates. The balcony
has two chairs and a small cocktail table. As our group consisted of 5 adults, the balcony tended to get a bit congested during "sail-away parties". Not a problem when leaving New York though. A snow squall and near freezing temperatures had most of us seeking the warmth inside rather than viewing Lady Liberty and the Manhatten skyline from the
balcony during our departure.
The Gem is the newest of the 3 Jewel Class ships in the NCL fleet. We made good use of the bowling alley, the sports field, the golf driving net and the pool. The pool slide was a big hit with our son although he never mastered it for speed. A greater incline would vastly improve the slides enjoyment for many who just don't have the slipperiness required for a fast trip. The lunch time barbeques set up pool side were a big hit with plenty of good hot food as well as a large selection of salads and sides, fruits and veggies for those wanting to retain their prime lounge chairs or tables. The buffet and the "Great Outdoors" on deck 13 always drew a good noon-time crowd. We peferred lunching in either Cagney's or, on sea days, the Grand Pacific main dining room. Always good and never slow or crowded the GP offers up some great lunches served in style.
Dinner the first night in the Grand Pacific was wonderful. Although the wine list has changed since our last cruise we found some very good and appropriately priced wines to accompany our meal. As they always have in the past, the staff on the floor and in the kitchen were happy to accommodate us with specific requests; double sized appetizers, a main dish served with the sides from a different dish, extra tomatoes on a salad or a dessert cheese plate served as an appetizer. The special that night was a surf and turf with lobster tail. One of our party who had opted for the braised lamb shank , before dessert, asked our waiter if he could have a "stand alone lobster tail". Within minutes he was served not one but two enormous tasty lobster tails with drawn butter and lemon on a bed of savoury rice. How he managed to eat all that and still devour cheese cake for dessert I will never know. When it comes to food on NCL Gem just ask and you most definitely will receive.
Our first day in port in San Juan stated with our 3:00 pm arrival. After a 2 hour walk around the port area of town and a visit to an amazing Butterfly Art Gallery we were ready for our much anticipated dinner for 7 in Cagney's. The Twenty-five dollar surcharge is well worth it as the service, the appetizers, the main course and sides and the desserts are sensational. Once again, ask and you shall receive. One of our party requested a soup not on the menu but available in one of the other ship's restaurants. Our waiter sent someone to fetch it. The beef that is the epicentre of the menu caters to all. Out table devoured prime ribs, T-bones, filet mignons, NY strips and rib steaks. The quality is fantastic and portion size more than adequate. If only we could have requested a doggy bag for basset hound Rufus who was home in Kingston. Unfortunately since our early NCL cruises, Cagney's has dropped Banana's Foster from the dessert menu. Perhaps in the future they will find some way to flambe dishes without risking activation of the fire alarm. Never the less we still found delectable sweets to satisfy. The Lavaza coffee found here and elsewhere on the ship is a delight.
Note: Menus for the restaurants can now be found on the NCL website.
Following dinner we decided a visit to onboard casino was in order. (Actually you are forced to walk through the casino if you want to traverse deck 6.) We managed to stay just slightly ahead on the slots during the 30 minutes in which we constantly moved around the casino trying to get away from the cigarette smoke. When will NCL finally ban smoking everywhere inside their ships?? Even while in ports when the casino is not in operation the smokers filled the casino with smoke that the ventilation system could not keep up with. I enjoy the occasional fun of gambling. I just don't feel I should have to gamble with my health.
On day five my wife, one son and I made reservations for dinner in le Bistro. The menu choices are varied and every dish we have tried has been superb. The $20. surcharge is worth every penny. The beef tenderloin rivals the best anywhere. This night I once again started with the signature mushroom soup. I have had this soup several times before and have tried to recreate in my own kitchen. Following dessert I mentioned to our waiter that I intended to sneak into the kitchen to "steal" the soup recipe. Within minutes the head chef was tableside. Not only did he tell me what I had missed in my creation, he wrote down the ingredients and procedure he uses in the Bistro kitchen. Now I am really going to need one of those tall white hats.
Entertainment on Gem was great for some of the shows. The performance of Alisia and Massimo, the aerial gymnasts, was fantastic. I suggest seating as close to the front of the theatre as you can get. This couple will amaze you.
On the flip side, the comedian was unremarkable. Not very funny and at times his routine bordered on just plain rude. The Second City show was very good.......the first time I saw it 6 years ago. And then again 5 years ago. Almost funny when I saw it again 2 years ago. At least half of the skits have been recycled, reused and repeated on every cruise I has taken. This act needs some lots of new material.
Norwegian Gem arrived back in New York City exactly on time on Saturday Feb. 18. The captain had announced the night before that we could expect to pass by the Statue of Liberty at 8:15 am. And we did. Once tied up at the pier the folks with no checked baggage started to disembark. Those of us with baggage that had been collected the night before had to wait. And wait. It needs be noted that the cruise ships are at the mercy of U.S. Customs Officials. No passengers with checked baggage are permitted off the ship until Customs gives their approval. And this does not happen until all baggage has been inspected (or sniffed) in the Customs terminal. On a Saturday morning with another cruise ship at the same pier that had arrived only hours ahead of Gem, it took Customs over an hour to do their job. Even though we were amongst the first off, it was 10:50 before we were through customs and immigration and at the car with our luggage. It must have been worse for those folks with trains or airplanes to catch.
We have yet to choose our next cruise. All we know at this time is that it will be another NCL cruise.