Norwegian Gem Entertainment
Norwegian Gem's entertainment (like that on other NCL ships) is superb, particularly during the evening hours. Activities were head-spinning in their range and quantity. Vocalists strumming guitars or tickling piano keys are mainstays in smaller venues like Magnum's Champagne Bar and the Crystal Atrium. Each night, there's a jazz jam in various venues. Passengers who want to dance head up to Deck 13's Spinnaker Lounge. There's the occasional evening bingo game and movies, shown on the vast video screen in the Crystal Atrium.
These are just the activities that warm up passengers for the big events. Superb performances of music revues in the three-deck-high Stardust Theater include "World Beat," described as a musical round-the-world voyage, and "Get Down Tonight," a 1970's-era musical tribute. The hypnotist who performed on several evenings was anything but lame; she proved to skeptics that there's an art to it in a show that was both funny and sort of terrifying. Passengers can also fill their evenings by attending a magic show, pub crawl, Karaoke and a Bee Gees revue. Productions by the Second City comedy troupe are a mainstay aboard Gem; be sure to check out "Presumed Murder," the whodunit improv luncheon created by the comedy team and crime novelist Scott Turow.
Easily the highlight for adults was The Quest, a sort of scavenger hunt in which passengers paired up in a handful of groups and then were required to secure various items in order to win. The prize was meaningless; it was all about the competition to be first and get the biggest laughs from the audience. (Items to bring back included men walking around with a pair of bras on their heads, house keys, business cards and belts.) This is an adult show, held well after dinner hours, and I was dismayed at how many parents allowed their kids to attend.
Another much-anticipated event each cruise is the ship's White Hot Party, with all waiters dressed in white and the Spinnaker Lounge redecorated with white canvas and table coverings. On our spring break cruise, the many families and younger cruisers onboard gave the event a 20-something party vibe -- and this 40-something felt old, old, old!
The generously sized Gem Casino has table games, video betting and slots. Gamblers can also use video screens in Spinnaker and poolside to bet.
Outfitted in purple and red felt, with plush lounge chairs at every turn, the Bliss Ultra Club is a hybrid bar and bowling alley with the feel of a shag-a-delic 1970's club.
At Bar Central, on Deck 6, three specialized bars sit side-by-side to create one large watering hole. The large room is divided into three sections with different upscale feels: Magnum's, the Champagne and wine bar with an early 1900's lounge look; Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar, an angular Art Deco bar that aims to look like a 1960's throwback; and Maltings, the no pretenses beer and whiskey joint in varying hues of brown.
Norwegian's enrichment program is primarily focused around food and drink -- for instance, separate events centered on pairing different foods with sake, beer and wine. And, of course, the ship offers the typical brain-teaser events from trivia games to Sudoku challenges, free bowling hours, gaming lessons, fitness boot camps and unique events like "Guess the Price of the Picasso" on the Promenade.
Once in port, Gem has an impressive array of shore excursions available. As is the freestyle way, activities at each stop catered to just about everyone, ranging from those seeking active pursuits to those looking for something more laid-back.
Norwegian Gem Public Rooms
Norwegian Gem's focal point is its three-story Crystal Atrium with its vast video screen -- which hosts occasional Wii tournaments -- a coffee bar (that also serves cocktails) and lots of squishy-squashy velvet-covered chairs and sofas. The purser's desk and the shore excursion counter are located there, as is an all-glass boutique that sells perfumes and cosmetics.
The ship's Internet cafe is located in the atrium and features nine terminals. The rate is a pretty pricey 75 cents per minute, though packages for heavier users are available.
Tucked away up on Deck 12 is the ship's well-stocked library. There's not much that's really recent, but there's plenty of choice if you're looking for something to read. There's also a card room next door.
A lengthy photo gallery leads from the Grand Pacific dining room to the Crystal Atrium; on the opposite side is the ship's art gallery. A nondenominational chapel is available for passenger-organized services. (There's no clergy onboard.)
A medical center is located on Deck 4.
There's no self-serve laundry center, but the ship does offer various paid laundry and dry-cleaning options.
Norwegian Gem Spa & Fitness
The ship's Tahitian-inspired pool area on Deck 12 is vivacious and exuberant with vivid colors and decor. There are two pools and four whirlpools -- a pair of which are adult-only and seemed to stay that way even on my family-oriented voyage. There's also a twisty, corkscrew slide. Lounge chairs, which most definitely were at a premium on sunny days, are made of wicker-like material and have elegant, plush cushions atop. The younger set can chill in the indoor kids pool, with its pint-sized slide and ample padding.
Body Waves, Norwegian Gem's health club, is one of the most comprehensive we've seen at sea. Its main room features treadmills, stationary bikes and StairMasters, all with individual mini-flat-screen televisions. There is the usual array of weight machines, as well as a separate weight room. Also carved out of a separate space is the facility's aerobics studio, which is cordoned off from the noisy fitness area by glass doors. Some classes held there, such as "early morning stretch," "fab abs" and body-conditioning, are fee-free. Other workouts, such as yoga, Pilates and spinning, cost $12 per session, plus an additional 18 percent gratuity. You can buy a package of four Pilates and yoga workouts for $40, which offers a slight discount. Personal training is available; the cost is $85 per session, and a three-session package is $209.
Yin & Yang, the ship's spa, continues the Norwegian tradition of really terrific onboard spa services and facilities. This one, operated by Steiner, as most in the cruise industry are, includes a beauty salon for hair-styling, manicures and pedicures, and also a treatment area for both the usual -- Swedish massage and facials -- and more exotic options, like hot-stone massages and a Quartz life facial with an advanced anti-aging focus. Prices seem a little higher than average; a 50-minute Swedish massage is $119. (On other lines, I've seen prices more commonly in the $99 to $109 range.) Do keep an eye out for port-day specials.
The hottest trend today in onboard treatments is medi-spa services, and Gem's spa has several options, including Botox, Restylane and other types of facial rejuvenation. Treatments are overseen by a licensed medical doctor. The spa also offers teetth-whitening and acupuncture.
Where Yin & Yang excels is in its "chill out" lounge. It's available to those who purchase spa treatments (on the day of visit), but you can also buy a cruise pass to the facility, which includes separate areas for men and women (with small whirlpools, sunbeds looking out to sea, saunas and steam rooms) and a coed central room with a thalassotherapy pool and heated tiled loungers. The cost for a cruise pass is $199 for the length of the cruise. Day passes are $20 per day.
Let's not forget that the Bliss Ultra Club on Deck 7 is more than a bar -- it's also a four-lane bowling alley. Play 10 frames on fairly state-of-the-art lanes (though slightly smaller than those you'll find in on-land facilities); it's a fun way to spend an hour. The cost is $5 per person and that includes bowling shoes (wear your own socks).
The ship has a rock-climbing wall and a sports court -- a full-length basketball court -- that can also be used for volleyball, tennis and soccer. A running track can be found on Deck 13. Other diversions include open Wii play in the Crystal Atrium and Ping-Pong on the pool deck.