20 Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews for Family Cruises to Europe - Western Mediterranean from Barcelona

One couple traveled from the US to meet the other three couples in the UK for our flight to Barcelona, where we had booked the two-day pre-cruise package. Our British Airways flight to Barcelona was delayed an hour when a already ... Read More
One couple traveled from the US to meet the other three couples in the UK for our flight to Barcelona, where we had booked the two-day pre-cruise package. Our British Airways flight to Barcelona was delayed an hour when a already checked-in family misplaced a child, frighteningly not located by the flight time. The general mood on the plane was of sympathy with the parents and concern, and the pilots soon made up most of the time enroute. Flawless transfer to our hotel, Hotel Confortel Barcelona, a luxurious and modern hotel very close to the beach (which we didn't find out until the last morning). Transfer to the ship on Sunday November 1 took an hour, during which time we meandered around the city only picking up at one other hotel and finally coming back very near our hotel to enter the pier area. We think the driver was killing time so we wouldn't arrive till noon at the ship - we probably should have been picked up 30 minutes later. Once we got there, embarkation was amazingly quick and we were on the ship before 1pm, where they had a lovely buffet ready for us in the Garden Cafe. The Norwegian Gem is a beautiful ship, large but not overwhelming. Once we found favorite places to hang out, we didn't keep exploring, so I'm sure some nooks remained hidden to us. We took all our breakfasts in the Garden Cafe, finding seating sometimes challenging, but lots of room (and different good food) on the back deck, divided into smoking and non-smoking sections. Based on previous travelers' reviews, we bypassed the "extra cost" restaurants and varied between the Grand Pacific and the Magenta, always making a reservation. We ate early at 6:30, because that's when we could get reservations and because we were usually up and out early the next morning on tours; after 6:30, the main restaurants had a "first-come, first-served" policy. We preferred the Magenta, because it was smaller and a little less noisy, but both were nice in that they had sea view windows. We found the food "nice restaurant" quality and liked that we could order two appetizers - or desserts - if we wished. We only had one day at sea, so I don't have much to say about occupying oneself on the ship. We did go to several port lectures, and especially enjoyed informative ones on Pompeii and on Michelangelo. Several of our group liked the ping-pong tables, one enjoyed the putting green, and all of us relished a dedicated card room, where we took up residence most nights after dinner. We did appreciate two shows, one featuring songs and dances from around the world. I'll treat the ports separately. I have to commend NCL for their efficient embarkation and disembarkation process. This was our fifth or sixth cruise, all on different cruise lines, and theirs was by far the most painless. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
After months of research, looking for a vacation for a group of 11 family members that included teenagers and senior citizens, we decided on the Gem. My wife and I have sailed on Princess, RCCI and our favorite, Holland America and were a ... Read More
After months of research, looking for a vacation for a group of 11 family members that included teenagers and senior citizens, we decided on the Gem. My wife and I have sailed on Princess, RCCI and our favorite, Holland America and were a little concerned about the reviews of NCL. Here is the good and bad as honest as I can be. GEM - Beautiful ship, we were in a AE suite(aft) and it was great. Others were in Balcony and inside cabins and not one complaint was heard. Service was friendly and generally good. Heave on port calls so activities on board were limited, fine for us. Embarkation and Deparkation was as smooth as any cruise line we have sailed. Tender service was smooth. Casino staff friendly. DINING ROOM - Main dining room service was SLOW, servers were friendly but I think they are overworked, some trying to wait on up to 5 tables at a time. We would sometimes sit for 15 minutes before they would even take our order and the time between courses would sometimes be as much as 30 minutes. 3 hours for dinner is too long. The food was fine, nothing special, but no complaints. Just way to slow. We ate at 2 specially resturants, Tequilla - pretty good and La Cucinna - pretty good. Cagneys for breakfast and lunch was very good. Buffet was fair, room service was prompt. One thing we enjoy is watching movies on our in cabin TV but on this NCL cruise, there was none. Poor selection of shows on TV and no movie theatre. Bingo was too expensive, went to 2 shows, the magician was horrible and 2nd City was good. For the price and overall quality of service and the ship, we had no regrets. Would go again in a heartbeat. MALTA - Loved it, beautiful. Naples - Surprised, really liked walking around and took taxi to Pompeii. Civitecchia - Easy walk to train station for nice 50 minute train ride to Rome. Livorno - Nice town for a lunch or walking around, 20 euro for taxi to train station, the train ride to Lucca and Pisa cost less. Cannes - Nice surprise, beautiful city, walked right off tender, to old town, outdoor market on the way and lots of sidewalk cafes and loved the bakeries, ate bread as we shopped. Barcelona - Beautiful city, big and lots of walking but the metro is clean and modern, would like to go back someday. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
We sailed on October 4-11 2009. Two couples mid 50's. Balcony cabins,deck 10. NCL made our flight/transfer/1 night hotel arrangements. We were met at the airport and driven to the Confortel Barcelona in a private van. Very modern, ... Read More
We sailed on October 4-11 2009. Two couples mid 50's. Balcony cabins,deck 10. NCL made our flight/transfer/1 night hotel arrangements. We were met at the airport and driven to the Confortel Barcelona in a private van. Very modern, clean hotel with a rooftop deck that overlooks the Mediterranean ( buffet breakfast included).We chose not to use the provided shuttle to the ship the next morning,they did transport our luggage to the ship however. There is a NCL rep. in the Lobby if you have any questions. We wanted to get in as much sightseeing as possible before going to the ship and this gave us an additional 2 hours of sightseeing time. Don't miss walking down Las Ramblas. Lots of fun. Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo were on our list. By the time we arrived at the port around 3:30 there were no lines and we checked in right away. The GEM is a beautiful ship. Laid out very well and easy to get around. The itinerary was the main reason for choosing this cruise, the GEM was a plus. Naples... We did a private tour with allarounditaly.com, Fabrizio picked us up at the ship at 8am and gave us the tour of a lifetime. We went all around the Amalfi Coast,stopping in Positano for shopping and lunch. The scenery is breathtaking and his insight and comments made the day! We spent a few hours in Pompeii,totally incredible, before heading back to the ship in time to sail. Fabrizio made us feel like we were family and it was truly an unforgettable day. I highly recommend his company. I found him by reading the boards on this site and others and it was well worth it. The price was 450 euros for 4 people,not including tip and lunch. It was so much more relaxing to tour the Amalfi Coast and little towns in a car instead of being herded around on a tour bus with 100 other people. We'll book him again in the future. email...info@allarounditaly.net Rome.... We took the train ourselves into Rome, Very easy and not as confusing as I thought it would be. We bought a round trip ticket and were off. Just be sure to check the schedule for the return. We had no trouble at all. Florence.... We took a taxi from the port area as soon as the ship cleared to Pisa. Spent less than a half hour there taking photos and caught a taxi to the train station to go to Florence. Again, very easy, we bought round trip tickets. Pisa-Florence-Livorno. The trains are fast and cheap. Cheap being the word our husbands liked to hear!! I pre-booked and purchased tickets to see David online. This is the way to go. Lines were long,long,long! We waited about 5 minutes, showed our voucher that was emailed to me and off we went. We did alot of pre-planning for this trip. Rick Steve's Travel book was a great source of information. That book went to every port with us. I was unsure at first of using the local trains, but they were very easy to use in spite of the fact that none of us speak anything except English. Very inexpensive way to get around. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
GEM Oct 11—18 Ports: Barcelona, Malta, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Barcelona I would like to start this review by saying I am not a real spontaneous person. Sure, maybe going out to dinner unplanned, or even a trip to the ... Read More
GEM Oct 11—18 Ports: Barcelona, Malta, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Barcelona I would like to start this review by saying I am not a real spontaneous person. Sure, maybe going out to dinner unplanned, or even a trip to the mall, but I always plan my vacations VERY far ahead. Well, this vacation broke that rule for me. Less than 24 hrs before take off, I planned the entire thing! I enjoyed this adventure from start to finish. I love the GEM, and everything about her. The staff was excellent as usual, the food was good to great, as was the entertainment. I made some new, albeit temporary friends, spent some quality time with my DD and enjoyed a getaway I desperately needed. Pre-Cruise Flew from Newark to Brussels to Barcelona. Great flight, easy connects! Arrived in Barcelona on Saturday, check into the lovely Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina (full review on TA)—just one dock over from where the GEM docked at the World Trade Center. They graced us with a complimentary Cava while our room details and keys were prepared. From our window we could see the pier, and Sunday morning were able to see the GEM from our window. We were hungry and went "next door" to the shopping mall and had tapas and paella at TapasTapas. I know it seems sacrilegious to eat at a mall in such at beautiful city, but we were able to dine outdoors overlooking the sea on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The seafood crepes were divine, and the paella delicious—full of seafood. The white sangria was a little sweet, but the sunny afternoon assured it went down easily. From here we took the metro to Park Guell. We had not visited the Park on our previous trip to Barcelona, and were anxious to see it. From the metro, the walk was up a steep hill, but there were several escalators (yes—on the street) to help with the upward climb. Once you get to the park there are lovely hiking trails to get to the "famous" Gaudi bench area overlooking the city. The view is lovely, as are the wonderful mosaic benches. We continued up the trails to the castle area, with a walkway carved into the stone of the mountain. Gaudi's love for combining his art and nature are very evident here. We found our way back down to the metro—leaving by a less steep pathway than we took up and enter the metro closer to Las Ramblas. We got out at La Catalunya, and made our way down Las Ramblas, stopping at the famous market, where I purchased a bottle of Cava for the evening. We freshened up, and were talking about dinner, but were so tired, we completely crashed at 9pm. I awakened about 12am, and bored, but not tired, I made my way down to the lobby to take advantage of the free internet. Unfortunately, the computers were turned in for the night, so I spent some time chatting with a lovely couple from the Netherlands who had attended a wedding that day, and a gentleman from LA who was heading out on RCCL the next day also. Next day we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. Large buffet that for some guests was complimentary. We were not one of those guests and paid 25E, but were still a bit tired and didn't feel like walking up to Las Ramblas to find the pastry shop we had planned on eating at. We checked out, they hailed a cab for us (after first trying to convince us to use their Mercedes car service for 50E—for heavens sake the ride all the way from the airport was only 24E!). A quick ride and we arrived at the pier Embarkation Day At the pier there was a bit of confusion since we had only booked a few days before, and did not have a cabin # assigned. The supervisor at baggage, quickly rectified the situation, and off our bags went. We breezed through security, and easily found the Latitudes line. We had nobody waiting in front of us. We were through the entire process in less than 15 minutes. No sooner than we had our cards, than they announce boarding could begin! My DD commented that we had timed things perfect. We circumvented the "Welcome Aboard" photo line, and we were back on the beautiful GEM—sparkling wine in hand! We proceeded down to the Grand Pacific, only to learn that they would not open for another 15 minutes. So we went back to the Atrium, signed up my DD for the soda card, and headed back to the Grand Pacific for lunch. We had a lovely lunch, while sipping on my sparkling wine, and enjoying being back on the GEM. After lunch we went and enrolled DD in the Teen Club, and stopped by the front desk to see if I could purchase onboard the Honeymoon/Romance package. I was able to and went right next door to make reservations for that evening for LeBistro (DD wasn't sure if she would be available other nights to dine with me!) We walked around the ship to reacquaint ourselves with the layout, and before we knew it our room was ready. At 5pm the Muster Drill was conducted. After that we took a quick tour of the spa, and signed up for their raffle—DD won runner up $50 off any regular priced service! We headed up to the deck for the Sailaway Party. It was a pretty typical party, and the entertainment staff did a great job of getting lots of people up and dancing. We had an 7pm reservation for dinner, which was around the scheduled sailaway time. We had a lovely dinner at LeBistro, but by the time we finished we still had not sailed. Before dinner we had heard an announcement "code alpha alpha alpha". I commented to DD that this didn't sound good. At some point the captain came on and stated that there was a medical emergency, and sailway would be delayed. Unfortunately, the captain came on later and advised us that the gentleman had passed away and we would be off once the authorities in Barcelona arrived. We didn't end up sailing away til almost 8:30. How sad, this really hit home because I was using this trip to help me deal with the recent death of my father. On the plane my horoscope had specifically warned against doing any unplanned travel (EEK!!!). I worried, should I be concerned that this was just the start of what was to come? After dinner, DD headed off to the Teen Club and I went to the show that evening. The show was a new show that had been added since last year. The show was a music/comedy featuring three Spanish guitarists. I have mixed feelings about the show. Some of it was funny, but it was wayyyyyyy too long for what it was. There was a running joke that kinda of got played out fairly fast. It was a show that I would have more expected in the Spinnaker lounge, or as a featured act as part of another variety type show. I finished off the evening dancing to Prism (VERY GOOD—they also performed many days poolside) in the Spinnaker lounge. Day 2—Sea Day Since this was the only sea day, the schedule was PACKED! There were so many activities that I would have liked to attend, but so many of them conflicted. After a solo breakfast at Grand Pacific, I headed for the pool to do some reading before my proposed schedule. There was a special Oktoberfest buffet at the Great Outdoors, where I headed for an early lunch. There were several German specialties. It was ok—but it was sooooo windy that chairs were blowing around, so I ate quickly. There was no official M&G on this cruise, but several CC'ers were meeting at the JAVA cafe at 1pm to discuss tour sharing. I met with a family who I had emailed on Thursday night to share a private driver in Rome. The itinerary sounded good, and they had a 13yo DD, so it seemed like a GREAT plan. I quickly darted off to the Spinnaker lounge for the Latitudes party at 1:30. I arrived around 1:35, and all the hors d'eaurves were already distributed, but I was able to enjoy a cocktail, and won 100 min to the internet cafe.! From there I was off to the Margarita Tasting at Bali Hai. There was only one other couple there, but they allowed us to have the tasting, even though we fell below the threshold of 10 participants. The Margaritas were tasty, and I made some news friends—a newlywed couple from BC. ? After the tasting, I was ready for my next NCLU class. There was an informative seminar about the history of Malta. The information was good, but the presentation was a little dry—instead of photos, the presenter showed a power point of his narrative. Ready for more excitement, I was off to NCLU class #3—Martini tasting at Shakers. Arriving a bit early, I looked on at the NCLU Beer and Food pairing seminar. The presenter had a great knowledge of beers, and even though I wasn't imbibing, I enjoyed his presentation. Lindsey, the head bartender at Shakers was giving the presentation. He was also very informative (STYLE card!) and made some GREAT Martinis! I also made some new friends here—5 friends from CA, a group of friends from LBI, NJ, a few singles, and a few newlywed couples, including my pals from the Margarita tasting. I met up with my DD who while having fun at the Teen Club, was disappointed that most of the teens only spoke German. We had dinner together at Magenta, and parted ways. I spent some time at the internet cafe, and signed up for my 100 minutes. I was concerned that I had forgotten my voucher for my free minutes, but Neil of the cafe assured me I could bring it at any time. I headed off to the show—Colourz. Nice show, good music. I had some time to kill, so headed to the Casino. Didn't take long before I was ready for the PUB CRAWL!!!!! The Pub Crawl was probably the most fun I had on the entire cruise. Lots of the friends I had made were there, plus some new ones. 5 bars, 5 (well more than 5) drinks, crazy games, and LOADS of fun. I will not discuss the details to protect the GUILTY!!!!! The Crawl ended up at Spinnaker's where the White Hot Party was going on. GREAT WAY to end the night—dancing and partying—the night ended with a BANG!!! Day 3, Malta Needless to say, I woke up on Tuesday feeling less than energetic. I went up to the buffet and got some breakfast, and brought chocolate croissants and juice back down for DD. Around 9:30 we made our way out to Malta. Having been here before, we decided we would like to see the ancient Temples and caves, and had a plan to take the busses. As soon as we were off the ship, there were taxi drivers and HOHO bus sales people. Since I was feeling uninspired, DD and I decided to take the HOHO bus. Unfortunately we choose the wrong tour (oopps!), which did not go to the Temples. We instead went to the glass factory and Mdina. Beautiful glass works, and the ancient city of Mdina was breathtaking. My only complaint was that the driver said to be back to the bus at a certain time. Well, we waited about 20 min. Finally our bus arrived. However, it was already full and we were told to wait 5 minutes for the next bus, which arrived a half hour later. I would have loved to have spent the extra hour or so exploring Mdina. Oh well. Last stop was Valetta, and since we were tired and had seen Valetta before, we decided to head back to the ship. When we got back on the ship we had a late lunch at the Great Outdoors. DD then headed off to the Teen Club, and I headed off to LeBistro for the French Wine and cheese tasting. The head sommelier was well versed in the wine and cheese selections, and how to pair and why. I sat with another lovely newlywed couple from San Diego. After the tasting was over, we sat at LeBistro for quite a while chatting, until the pretty much threw us out—LOL! I met DD and we headed out to the Grand Pacific for dinner. It was dress up or not, and we both decided to dress up. There was a long line for portraits, so we passed. We arrived at Grand Pacific, only to find there was a line. Our name was taken and we were given a beeper. We went back to the Atrium—yippee—no line to have portraits with the Captain! No sooner was our photo taken, than our beeper went off. Dinner at Grand Pacific was nice. I couldn't decide between the Beef Wellington and the seafood extravaganza (lobster tail!), so the server offered to bring both. I asked for just the lobster tail on the side, but the entire dish was brought. This was unfortunate—I ate nearly the whole thing! DD headed back to the Teen Club, and I headed to the show—Magic and Comedy. Once again, I enjoyed the show, but found it may have been better suited as PART of a variety show, not a headliner all by itself. I went to the Casino for Monte Carlo night. My favorite—roulette—table was completely packed. A little slot play, and I was done. I headed in for a (relatively) early night. Day 4, Naples/Sorrento We started the day off having breakfast in Grand Pacific, and were off the ship by 9:30 am. Our plan was to take the ferry to Sorrento and then the bus to Positano (since we had already seen Pompeii). We walked from the ship to the ferry station, past the numerous OBNOXIOUS taxi drivers and beggars (do not look at them or engage them in any way—they are relentless and our friends from Kentucky were taken advantage of one of these "gypsy" cab drivers), we found that the next ferry was not leaving for Sorrento until 11. I guess it would have been helpful to get the ferry schedule the day before (oh well). We went back to the ship because we had no desire to explore Naples. An hour later, we went back to the ferry and enjoyed the 40 min trip to Sorrento—the scenery is beautiful. When we arrived, we were not in the mood to wait for the bus, so we climbed up the stairs to the village area of Sorrento. Be warned this is NOT for the faint of heart!!! We found our way to the bus stop, only to watch the bus to Positano pulling away. The next one did not come for another hour, so we decided to spend the day in Sorrento. Sorrento is lovely with many shopping and eating areas, all with a beautiful backdrop. We found the wonderful restaurant we had eaten at last year and my DD had the pasta Bolognese she has been dreaming of for the past 1+yrs. We wandered around for a few hours and headed back to the ferry (easier going down the steps!) to Naples. Since I was dining solo, I cleaned up and headed to Salsa for dinner. I have to say, I was very happily surprised. I love Mexican food, but do not think of it as the most gourmet style of food. My meal was the BEST one I ended up having all week onboard(yes—it was better than LeBistro and Cagney's). After dinner, I went to the show—Get Down Tonight. This is a fun show if you grew up in the 70's like I did. The music made me feel nostalgic, and there was even a (corny, but cute) segment saluting the sitcoms of the 70s. Day 5 Rome This was the day we shared a private driver with the family from Kentucky. I would like to thank Michael again for setting this us. And to the entire family for sharing the day with us. Our driver Alexander was excellent and got us around to see so much! We hit a great deal of traffic heading into Rome. This did not stop him from getting us to all fo the following: Fountain overlooking the city, Square featuring the Tomb to the unknown soldier, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon (where we lunched—yummy!), Trevi Fountain (where we had gelato—also YUM!), Spanish Steps and the Vatican. We did not get to see St. Peter's Basilica, the line was way too long, and we were concerned about traffic going back. All I can say is WOW what a day! After all the walking—a soak in the hut tub felt wonderful! That night I dined alone at Grand Pacific—another wonderful meal. I then went to BOTH shows—Kwame Remy (singer par excellance). He mentioned that he and several others were leaving the GEM on St for their hiatus, and weren't sure what ship (if any) they would be returning to, so it seemed like a poignant performance for him. Second City also performed that evening. It was completely different from the last two times I saw them on the GEM (both of those were the same). Great improve—I give these guys credit making this stuff up on the fly.... Ended the night in Bliss Lounge, dancing the night away with two sisters from the Netherlands. Day 6 Livorno/Florence Began the day again with room service—ordering non breakfast items since neither one of us are big breakfast eaters—it was great—just what we needed to start our day. Although Pisa is considerably closer than Florence, we decided to bypass Pisa and go straight to Florence. Our time in Firenze last year was spent entirely in the Accademia and Uffizi, and there was so much more we wanted to see. We left the ship around 9 and took the bus to the bus to the train to Florence. We arrived in Florence around 11am (yes—that is how long it takes between the bus rides and waiting for the train, unless you luck out and the train is leaving shortly after you arrive at the station). We saw several lovely Palazzos on the way to the went to the road where the vendors are (can't remember the name)and enjoyed looking in the booths—"window" shopping. I really wish I had budgeted extra cash to buy some nice Italian leather coats and boots, but when you vacation on the fly—there is no budget! From there we went to the Duomo—magnificent! By this time we were well past being ready for lunch and had another wonderful lunch in Italia! From the ristorante, we went to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and walked along the river back to the train station. Magnifico! We both slept on the hour long train ride, and then the bus to the bus...... That night, I dined alone (again) at the Grand Pacific. Yet another wonderful meal. I went to the World Beat show (nice), and then up to Spinnaker's for Second City scriptless. The opening bit was VERY funny—they took suggestions from the audience, wrote them on paper, put them in the middle of the floor and did their skit from there. Once again—I am amazed how they can do this off the top of their head. The other skits were fun, but some of them were a bit of a stretch.... A quick drink and some time at the casino, and I was hungry. At around midnight, I went to see fi there was anything left at the Chocohalic Buffet—sadness—it was all closed up. I went downstairs to the Blue Lagoon and had a not so light snack! I was WAY past being ready for bed by this time! Day 7 Cannes I pre ordered room service this day, but it wasn't to DD liking, so she went to the buffet and brought me back the delish chocolate croissants. This was the only port with a tender, and the only location we had not been to (last yr's cruise tendered in Ville Franche.) We got to the tender around 9:30 am—no wait—went right onboard, and were off in minutes. Cannes is a beautiful port, but the most "US" feeling—with the least amount of English spoken. WE thought about taking the HOHO bus, but when the public bus pulled up, we hopped on! (LOL). The bus went all the way down the Blvd De la Croisette—to Palm Beach. We enjoyed the view and about ½ way back, we exited the bus, since DD saw some shops she wanted to go to. We walked the rest of the way back, disappointed that it wasn't warmer out, so we could enjoy the beautiful beach. There were shops, bistros, outdoor vendors, amusement areas for young children, and of course the facility that houses the Cannes film festival. All around the area, there are cutouts where you can place your face next to movie stars. DD refused to take my picture with any of them! I kept trying to tell her I needed her to have my pic w/Brad Pitt in Ocean's 11!!!!!!! She wasn't feeling well, so we went back to the ship by 1pm, and I had lunch with a lovely woman I had met on the spa tour at the Garden Buffet. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading by the pool and soaking up the sun. It was a beautiful day, and I really wanted to see sunset. Since we were heading directly west, Spinnakers seemed like an obvious choice, but alas the blinds were all down with BINGO in full swing. Tried the Star Bar—ok , but not in the front of the ship. Then it occurred to me—the bridge observation room! It was perfect. I had one glass of champagne left from the bottle with the Romance Package, and I toasted to the sunset, the cruise and the captain and his staff. It was a beautiful sunset, and it was fun to see the captain arrive just in time to enjoy it. I also found the GEM "IT" girl's home here, and the nice dedication by CC's own Coka! Since DD was going to the final Teen Club dinner, I decided to go to Cagney's for dinner. Only reservation I could get was for 8:45. Went down to Shaker's for a cocktail while I was waiting and bumped in to some friends I met, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner. Enjoyed Cagney's, but I don't think that it really lived up to it's hype. I enjoyed one last dance at Spinnaker's and it was off to bed. Day 7 Disembarkation/Barcelona DD and I stayed in bed late, and did the late walk off. Easy as pie! We took our bags to the airport and headed back to Barcelona. We headed straight to Sagrada Familia—via the metro—this was a great choice, since there was a special festival going on. There were performers making human replicas of the Sagrada Familia—with accompanying music. It was really a sight to behold! The church itself, although unfinished is equally amazing. Gaudi's love of nature and God is evidenced in even the smallest detail. We had lunch in a nearby cafe—very disappointing—but I just ordered the wrong thing.Back to Placa Catalunya, one last stroll down Las Ramblas, and off to the train back to the airport. Our flight took off at 9pm and landed in Brussels at 11pm. Since our next flight was not until 10am the next morning, we procured at hotel at an internet cafe on Las Ramblas--Campanile Brussels Vilvoorde—a Spartan hotel that provided us an inexpensive place to sleep (full review on TA). Day 8 Home Again We had a wonderful uneventful flight home, made it through customs and package claim in record time, and were back home within less than an hour of landing. I now have to wait over 10 months to be back on the beautiful GEM—did I hear somebody say CTN???? On yeah—that was my onboard credit burning a hole in my pocket. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
My husband and I cruised on the NCL Gem from September 6, 2009 to September 13, 2009- Barcelona to Barcelona. I'd like to write about how much we loved the cruise, but what we believe must be corporate policy ruined it for us. All ... Read More
My husband and I cruised on the NCL Gem from September 6, 2009 to September 13, 2009- Barcelona to Barcelona. I'd like to write about how much we loved the cruise, but what we believe must be corporate policy ruined it for us. All of the crew members were delightful. From the cabin stewards to the wait staff, everyone was friendly and helpful. The food was very tasty. We have no complaint with anything about the food. We only went to one show [Colorz] and it was excellent. What ruined things for us was the extra charges on things which we believe must be corporate policy trying to increase revenues. Would you like fresh-squeezed juice for breakfast in the Garden Cafe? $4.00 extra. If you're excited about eating at Cagney's Steakhouse for an extra $25.00, you can have the really special items for an additional $10.00. The French restaurant was only $15.00 extra per person, but the really special items were $10.00 more. After that, we gave up on the special restaurants. We chose to eat in the Grand Pacific most evenings. When we arrived at the front desk, we were immediately seated. But when we left about 8:15, there was a standing line of people about 20+ strong waiting to get in. They were given beepers. What's free-style about waiting in line? All through the meal was a girl hawking purchase of a flower bouquet for your 'sweet heart'. The one time we tried to eat in the Magenta Dining [about7:15] we were told by the hostess that we'd have to share a table with another. When we docked at Civitavecchia the port provided a free shuttle service for cruise passengers to the front of the port. We've never been to Livorno, so it may be the system for all cruise ships, but in Livorno NCL passengers had to pay 5 euros to leave the port. The most amusing 'sale' was toward the end of the cruise when the Spa offered a 20% off sale [however at the bottom of the sign they wrote an additional service charge of 18% will be added]. We have sailed on Celebrity, Princess and HAL, but have never run into this kind of thing. I'm all in favor of profit, but we would so much rather pay a little more for the cruise than to have so many extra charges. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on ... Read More
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on the cruise and only 200 kids. The previous week we were told there were 3,000 passengers and as many as 1,000 kids. Good choice on our part. The cruise was the best vacation ever!! Best cruise line we've been on. Getting on and off the ship from Ports of Call/Disembarkation was seamless. The food was good in both paid restaurants and free restaurants. We always found something to eat at the buffet as well. Only complaint would be Tappanyaki not worth the $25...although I must be in the minority because the place was sold out every night. Cagney's and Asian Fusion Restaurant well worth the money. We had an outside cabin, plenty of room for all my clothes...packed 3 outfits for each day!! No iron provided though, brought my own. VERY CLEAN CABINS!! We never felt crowded in any areas. The Martini Bar was our favorite. Lindsay and staff were GREAT!! Love the olive & cheese tray!! The bar felt very private to us, which we liked. Gambled most nights until 2:30 am, what a blast. Thanks for the free drinks. Staff was Excellent, Loved Elena!! Get the Coupon Book on first night, we hit for $200. We never felt "Sold To"...not ever. No one tried to up sell us or pressure us to purchase anything, none of the stuff others complained about. We are booking the same ship for Venice/Greece/Turkey for September/2010...that's how much we Loved It. I'm not going to review Ports of Call...so many others have done that. But I thought it was important to give our experience on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We spent 3 days at the Renaissence Barcelona prior to departure not only to see that wonderful colorful city but to ensure that we would board completely relaxed. This great hotel takes you to the front door of the Gem for only 10 Euros. ... Read More
We spent 3 days at the Renaissence Barcelona prior to departure not only to see that wonderful colorful city but to ensure that we would board completely relaxed. This great hotel takes you to the front door of the Gem for only 10 Euros. The welcome staff was so efficient and polite that it seemed they knew us forever. They greet you with a glass of champagne , swipe your room card and your on board at 1 pm . We slipped the key card into our room on the 5th floor and were pleasantly surprised with a super comfortable King size bed , flat screen with Fox news, and a huge 3 x 5 picture window and a bathroom so clean you could eat off the floor . After a quick hello to " Coma " our room steward , we are off to explore this magnificent freestyle ocean liner . The Theater was huge and resembled something you would find on Broadway and the entertainers were top quality . The pool had a giant slide and the water was blue. It wasn't even 1:30 and the chairs were filling up. By the way ,the free dining immediately offered up / Spanish/ Indian/ Mexican/ Chinese/ German/ Arabic , I could go on + on they had every meal possible including Sushi . Not hungry but ready for dessert ? -how about 15 kinds of ice cream ? The casino was also very nice but it took the entire 7 days for us to win our money back. Listen up folks ! If you do take this wonderful cruise you must take the tours . At first we were sceptical and they were a little expensive but now that we are home and have stories to tell about Malta castles and churches,the ruins of Pompeii with mumified people , the leaning tower of Pisa that is in such great condition , it looks like they built it yesterday , the delicious ice cold Gellato in downtown Roma , the collosium , the Trevi Fountain ( we threw in a couple of coins )the powerful feeling of standing in Vatican square which is its own country , the easy subway system , and who will ever forget seeing the lovely Grace Kelly's picture on every corner of Monaco or St Nicolas church where she got married to Prince Rainer and is buried there alongside him , the coffee at the Cafe de Paris and winning a few bucks in their casino and taking our pictures next to the Ferrari's and Mesarati's parked just in front, dozens of them . WOW ! THANK YOU , Capt Jules for your private world of non stop fun . Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think ... Read More
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think it had to do with the all American crew. The freestyle experience is quite good, especially when traveling with children. It gives you the flexibility to eat when you want with little to no wait at normal diner hours. There was plenty to do on the ship for the whole family. The bowling was a great diversion and my son even rang the bell on the rock climbing wall! Food was of good quality, with the specialty restaurants having a more interesting selection and great service. Yes, you do have to pay for the other restaurants but it can be worth it. The buffet was Ok and predictable all the time. The rudeness of the people was to be expected, but this trip took it to a whole new level since SOME Europeans have no concept of lines. I have dealt with that on every cruise we have been on even with all Americans, but this one was exceptional. One area of disappointment on the ship was the pool area, but we had a good time no matter what. Going in with a positive attitude lets you deal with the things you can't change. First, try to find a deck chair on the lower section by the pool. These chairs have the nice cushions and are hard to come by. Interestingly enough I always found the same people using the chairs even with the signs on the ship that after 30 minutes unattended they would remove your stuff. This never happened and was not enforced. Even on the port days it seemed guests would come down early and lay towels on the chairs before breakfast. I can not prove this but I think they went to port and saved their chairs at the same time. I seemed like the large groups sent scounts to get chairs for everyone, including 1 for each child even if they were in the pool the whole time. Very annoying! Second, the constant whistle at the pool. No one was allowed to jump in the pool, mainly while the ship was in motion. There must have been an accident and they took a no tolerance stance on jumping in the pool. As many of the guests were from Spain on our ship, there was little control in the pool. Third, the hot tub should be renamed to the kid tub as no adult could even think of going in one since they were full of kids and teenagers of large groups. I think this a by product of going on the cruise during the heavy European vacation period. At least two thirds of the ship was european, with almost 1000 Spaniards. I think the most disappointing thing on this cruise was not in the hands of Norwegian. The worst part were the people. I myself am Cuban and have lived in the US most of my life. Have traveled a great deal since my job takes me all over the world so I am aware of the cultural differences, especially working for a German company. That said, the nationality with the most people on the ship were extremely rude and felt more deserving than the rest of us on the ship. It was truly incredible. From the deck chairs, to the buffet line, to the rock climbing wall, we were constantly explaining to people in Spanish the rules of staying in line and following directions. While in line at the rock climbing wall a family came and when straight to the cabinet to grab shoes even though there was a line of people waiting. I mentioned we were all waiting and everyone used the same shoes. They went back on line and the father came forward to the cabinet again since there was one child on line with shoes on already. Everyone barked again and he said, "he has shoes on". He was the only child on line with shoes, helmet and a harness since he had already gone up the wall and was going up again. I could go on an on, but I wont. The only recommendation is to not go on the cruise in August. Pay extra to go when the Europeans are working. My family really enjoyed the cruise and the ports were fantastic. The port days can be exhausting since there is so much to see and do in a short time. I would recommend this cruise for the destinations and the overall quality on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Our family decided when would we have another opportunity to travel together-we're in our mid 50's and the kids are in their 20's-so we picked the Gem and it's 7 day adventure to Malta, Italy and France from Spain to be ... Read More
Our family decided when would we have another opportunity to travel together-we're in our mid 50's and the kids are in their 20's-so we picked the Gem and it's 7 day adventure to Malta, Italy and France from Spain to be our big trip.We must tell you NCL and the Gem were great! The ship is very nice, our mini suite was just right (11058) and the staff were super friendly and very attentive. Contrary to many reviews, the food was very fine and plentiful,deserts could have been better but they were okay, it was easy getting into restaurants before 7:30 as many people ate at later times, the entertainment was either okay or very good and the specialty restaurants were either good or very good. We enjoyed Le Bistro the most while the Asian Fusion restaurant was just okay since we are used to very good Asian food. Embarkation: Getting on the ship was very easy, just show up around noon and it's a breeze to get on. We stayed in Barcelona for one night before the cruise at the H 10 Montcada in the Las Ramblas district. Great location, small but clean rooms and good AC. Get an upper floor as the lower floors in the front pick up street and subway noise until late at night. Best restaurant we found in Barcelona near the hotel served better pizza than we had in Italy-Il Montello was 2 blocks from the H10 on Via Laietana-great pizza and pasta dishes at reasonable prices. Barcelona was very interesting but a bit concerning as far as safety goes-watch for pickpockets and guard your wallets and bags. Ports: Malta was our first stop-very interesting-best thing we did was get off the ship and arrange at the taxi stand for a 3 hr. tour by taxi for 66E that included Mdina and a few other stops-very worthwhile Naples and Civitevecchia-We decided to have full day guided tours by a company with a driver. I can highly recommend Aldo and Nick of www.yourtourinitaly.com. They did a great job in guiding us and bringing our group of 6 to fantastic sites and restaurants in Rome, Positano, Pompeii and Sorrento, arranged for private tours of the Vatican and the Amalfi coast and made our trip a complete winner with 2 full days of touring combined with great information and pleasant guidance. They were great-I highly recommend them!! Livorno/Florence: We decided to take a cab to the train station and took the 1+hr trip by train to Florence and spent the day in Florence. This was a great day at a very reasonable cost. It was easy to do and fun to ride the train. The train cost approx. 14e RT and the cab is approx 20E for 4 people. The Duomo and other sites in Florence-Ponte Vecchio were magnificent. Cannes: This port was very nice, the town is pretty and they had a great beach with soft sand and crystal clear water. Walk the town and relax on the beach and your day becomes a delight!! Before you know it it's time to return to the ship. Disembark: Very easy to do it yourself-we just walked off the ship at our leisure but it must be before 9:30. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
My husband and I, along with are three children ages 11,8, and 8 had a great vacation on the Gem. I used the boards on cruise critic extensively to plan the details of our trip. I arranged for private drivers/guides at the ports in Italy ... Read More
My husband and I, along with are three children ages 11,8, and 8 had a great vacation on the Gem. I used the boards on cruise critic extensively to plan the details of our trip. I arranged for private drivers/guides at the ports in Italy and this worked out great. We were able to see all of the highlights of each city in the short time we were there and we had control of our schedule. The private drivers can take you into many areas that the large buses cannot go. I highly recommend that if you are a family with children to avoid the ship excursions and arrange to private drivers/guides on your own. It will be less expensive and a much better, more flexible experience. We were thrilled with the tours we booked in Italy. We arrived in Barcelona two days before the cruise and stayed at the Hotel Arts. This hotel is beautiful and the service is excellent. It is by the beach and has a pool, which was a great way to unwind after our long flight. We had two adjoining rooms and one of the rooms was available to check in when we arrived at 10 am. Saturday we took a cab to the center of town and walked down Las Ramblas and then along the harbor down to the beach and back to the hotel. Very pleasant day. Ate paella by the beach for dinner. On Sunday we took a cab to Park Guell. The ship: We arrived on the ship by early afternoon. Embarkation was a breeze. We were escorted to our room, had lunch explored the ship and then went to the pool. We stayed in a suite in the Courtyard Villa and had access to the Courtyard pool, spa and sundeck. This was extremely relaxing. Most of the time we had the area to ourselves or with one other family. One of the suite perks is breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. While the food was pretty good, the service was slow. Towards the end of the cruise we found out we could order breakfast and lunch in the Courtyard Villa. This was a little faster and much more convenient in the mornings before leaving on our excursions. We did not think the room service breakfast was very good. Overall I thought the food on the ship was good, our expectations were not high however. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. We also liked that NCL offers suites that can accommodate 5 people. Day at sea: In the morning the children went to kids club. My husband and I went to the gym and had spa treatments. Nice gym for a cruise ship. Malta: we arranged to go snorkeling on the Island of Comino. This is the one excursion I would do differently. To be honest, you just don't have enough time. Because of our time constraints we were taken to a small beach on Comino and there were no fish to see. We did get to swim for a while. The people at scubadivingmalta.com were very friendly and they did show us around some while we were driving to and from the boat. Naples: We arranged a tour of Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano through sorrentosilverstar.com. Absolutely wonderful! Luisa is the owner and responded immediately to our request. Our driver, Catello was fantastic. Very knowledgeable and pleasant. When Catello picked us up from port him informed us that Luisa had not only arranged for a private guide for us in Pompeii but that she also arranged for us to see exclusive parts of Pompeii not open to the general public. This was incredible. Lucia was our guide in Pompeii and she was excellent as well. Great with the kids. Catello drove us along the Sorrento and Amalfi coast, we strolled through Sorrento, had lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant he recommended and then went to Pompeii. Great day! Rome: We booked a private tour with Aldo Monti of yourtourinitaly.com. Another great day. I thought about hiring a private "licensed guide" for Rome as well as a driver. Glad I didn't. With Aldo we discovered all of the highlights of Rome including the Colosseum (he arranged for us to skip the line, which was quite long), Forum, Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, Navona square, etc. He was extremely knowledgeable and we enjoyed spending the day with him. He had a book with him with pictures of how Rome looks now and reconstructed pictures of what it looked liked during Ancient times. This was very helpful for my children to understand what they were seeing. There is a lot to see in Rome, I am sure we could not have seen half as much with a large group bus tour. Had a nice lunch in Rome and we had gelato in every city in Italy. Very enjoyable day with Aldo. I would definitely use him again. Pisa and Florence: I booked a private tour with Giovanni Sirabella, giovanni@sunflower-tours.com. Again, another fantastic day! We bought tickets to climb the leaning tower of Pisa in advance and Giovanni arranged for tickets to the Accademia to see the David. We enjoyed climbing the tower, not much else to do in Pisa. In Florence we saw all of the major sites and since we had a private driver he was able to drive on the small streets in the center of the city that are restricted from buses and general traffic. This was great because it was quite hot and we were able to see all of the major sites without a lot of walking. We could leisurely stroll through the streets and then Giovanni took us to the next place. We had time for a nice relaxing lunch, gelato, and some shopping as well. Giovanni was full of information and very pleasant. I highly recommend him. Cannes: Only in this port until 2:30. Short walk to the beach. Rented chairs and umbrellas at a private beach in front of one of the hotels. Nice beach, enjoyable way to end the cruise. Overall we had a great time and we would take another cruise. This is a great way to see a lot of places without having to pack and unpack. I was worried that it might be too much sightseeing for the children. They had a great time. Again, I would highly recommend the private tours. Florence and Rome are over an hour from port and the children were able to relax in a nice air-conditioned car and play their DS on the ride back to port. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We sailed from Barcelona, and a fantastic start, blue skies and champagne awaiting us, we got Easyjet flights and were at the ship by 1pm, very easy check in. We have previously sailed on The Jade, but The Gem although much the same, had ... Read More
We sailed from Barcelona, and a fantastic start, blue skies and champagne awaiting us, we got Easyjet flights and were at the ship by 1pm, very easy check in. We have previously sailed on The Jade, but The Gem although much the same, had a few more luxuries, like the Bowling Alley - which we called The Bling - it was so velvety and extreme and the Rock climbing wall also the loungers on the Gem were superb, lovely cushion ones around the pool (if you could get them, but if you kept any eye out one or two normally became available throughout the day)Also the brilliant huge round sunbeds on the upperdecks which anyone can use. My kids loved the slide. The food was brilliant, our favourite was The Grand Pacific, whereby all the staff sang Happy Birthday and presented him with a cake in the evening, the staff go above and beyond to make your stay a good one and the cabin girls who looked after us on Deck 5 were so so lovely, lovely animal shapes out of towels to greet us in the evenings and a lovely power shower, the beds you just want to bring home with you they are so comfortable. The Spinaker lounge top floor of ship was perfect for pre-dinner drinks as you have a brilliant view of the ocean and the popcorn handed out to kids went down well. We did soda passes for the kids which again they loved the independence of going to the pool bar to order their drinks. You feel very very safe on the ship too. The sailaway BBQ was great and the general party atmosphere, it would have been nice to have a couple of more days at sea, but the itinerary was very well planned by NCL and they even managed to dock at Villafranche when it was very windy, the next day another cruise liner got told the port was closed. We did all our own trips and thoroughly enjoyed all or stops. This trip is very affordable if you do your own flights and lets you experience some luxuries which certainly would not be on offer if you paid that money for a hotel in Europe. The only thing I could fault is that it did not sail from the UK and there were a lot of Med people on the ship, hence our children could not make as many friends as they normally do and the staff were having a job controlling some of the "rowdy" kids in the pool they did manage though I just felt sorry for them when the parents could not understand why the kids were being told off. Like I said superb choice, fantastic bars/dining/pool/sunbeds/views/staff, would definately like to sail with them again as a family of 5 the Freestyle dining at whatever o'clock and having our own tables suited us and was wonderfully relaxing. If you are umming and arring book it now, before they sell out, the only other thing is they do not do a cabin for 5, we would have to have a suite which is way over our budget. we managed this time by having 2 cabins with interconnecting doors. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We've been on a handful of cruises and this was our 1st with NCL. (Family of 5 people) One thing about 'Freestyle' cruising is that everyone else on the ship can be 'Freestylin' at the same time you are!  ... Read More
We've been on a handful of cruises and this was our 1st with NCL. (Family of 5 people) One thing about 'Freestyle' cruising is that everyone else on the ship can be 'Freestylin' at the same time you are!  Thus leading to wonderful wait times.  Very crowded... the only place more challenging to find seats than the main cafe is the pool area.  Either that or there are more Invisible people on this ship than any other I've been on. I'll get the other negatives out of the way first... specifically with regards to NCL.... be prepared to be nickel and dime'd while on the ship.  I was afraid every time I flush a charge may appear.  I wish they would just charge a Higher rate initially as a pose to trying to make up for it in junk fees/charges and their 'used car salesmen' type tactics. We're not overly picky about stuff so I would say everything as far as amenities was sufficient and the food was average, although we didn't try all the Specialty Restaurants despite ncl's constant reminders.  Even while at dinner in the Pacific Room a lady comes around with menu's of the other Restaurants and how wonderful they are and to make a reservations.  Also, the bartender at the pool/deck bars automatically upgrade you for a souvenir cup when you purchase a drink... at this point we're on the ship for 4 days, can't I simply get a drink without purchasing another cup with an ncl logo? Ironically... the only tv channels are bbc and ncl shopping, ncl activities, ncl cruising and NCL NCL NCL! (but this is not a huge factor due to long port days and other activities) With that said...  the itinerary (main reason for choosing ncl) was terrific. We did not use any of ncl's excursions and I'm glad we elected not to!!  I'll just list a basic summary for each Port of call and tour companies used. Being that it's our 1st time in these places we did not want the hassle and stress of figuring things out on our own.  It is definitely better value to just book a tour guide.   I'll post the driver's names for each later since I can't recall some of them right now.  But each of them were extremely professional and knowledgeable! Malta: Tour Company used: SwanSea Car Hire  Http://www.malta-car-hire.com, very pleasant driver!  Went to Mdina first - It's like going back in time once you're in there... a quick stop at the glass factory and then to Blue Grotto - the buses drops you off further up the road but the vans can bring you right to the pier to purchase tickets. We also stopped at Marsaloxx (wrong spelling probably), a nice little fishing village, colorful boats, flea market type shops and places to sample local beer.  We then got dropped off at the Gardens in Valletta and then walked around and back to the ship. (This was all very manageable within 5 hours and we had a great time... Try and catch the sail in and sail away it really is beautiful!)  Naples: Tour company used:  Sorrento Silver Tours. Also very knowledgeable, friendly and pleasant! First stop at Pompeii - We elected not to chose a tour guide just so we can move at our own pace.  My parents would have preferred the color commentary as we walked around (the audio rentals or guide can help with that) but it's fairly easy to walk around and figure out whats going on.  Guides are available at the site (near the railway entrance if you don't pre-book one) We then drove along the coast, made a couple of stops to get pictures and a brief stop in Positano and then to Sorrento, nice place, had a nice lunch here and walked around and then took the ferry back from Sorrento to Naples (about 30 minutes) Our driver went down to the port ahead of time to confirm the ferry schedule and purchase tickets just to be sure... which is a good idea! Rome: Tour Company Used: AllArounditaly.net  Email: info@allarounditaly.net  Our guide was Fabrizio, a gentleman and a scholar... what a great call this was!  My family finally thinks highly of me just for choosing this company.  We covered all the highlights of Rome and no complaints with anything.  Email him directly and he'll customize the tour and provide recommendations for pre-purchasing Museum tickets etc.  Much more personable and better than the romeinlimo company that is posted everywhere.  Definitely recommend his services. Florence: Chose allarounditaly again.  (there seem to be plenty of Taxi's at the port eager to bring you into Florence at decent rates but we felt more comfortable using allarounditaly.  Also, it is key getting out before the tour buses hit the road and beat some of the traffic) Stopped by Pisa to catch the leaning tower (no need to climb it) We then drove through the countryside in the Chianti region and a quick stop for some Wine.  Then a stop at a Scenic Overlook of Florence and then into Florence.  Plenty to do there... museums, churches, restaurants, shops, and all within walking distance for the most part.  Pre-purchased tickets to see David and everything went very smoothly.  Florence was probably the nicest of all and very charming.  Cannes: We had nothing booked for Cannes but we walked out as there is plenty to see along the coast line and a beach right to the left of the pier.  But we ran into a guide who offered to bring us to Nice, Monaco/Monte Carlo and so we decided to do it since a cab would not be feasible for 5 adults.  What a great call this turned out to be as well.  Made a few stops driving along Cannes, the Blvd, towards Nice and then Monaco catching all the mansions, famous hideaways, raceway, casino etc.  Spent a few minutes walking around Cannes and then at the public beach (which is right outside the port) Overall, this was a great time!!  Again, do not be afraid of using private tour companies... better service and often they can get into nooks that a big tour bus just wouldn't have the time or a way to get into.  And at a fraction of the cost.  Happy Travels! 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Sail Date July 2009
Hopefully this review is helpful to any future cruisers on the Gem and or people following the same cruise itinerary. I'll try to give as many critical details as possible in order to assist those planning for this cruise or looking ... Read More
Hopefully this review is helpful to any future cruisers on the Gem and or people following the same cruise itinerary. I'll try to give as many critical details as possible in order to assist those planning for this cruise or looking into going on the Gem (NCL) in the future. I focused primarily on the ship and give short comments on the ports. The ports are all awesome, you can't really go wrong. I will give some critical info on each. We have cruised the Med, the Nile, and the Canary Islands all on different cruise lines that offer different styles of cruising. Last year we all did the Eastern Med with Costa Cruise lines (Costa Serena) and this year we all wanted to complete the Mediterranean by cruising the Western Med. We are traveling as a family of six, which can make it a challenge sometimes, but well worth it for the looks of awe on everyone's faces when they see the ship and the exotic ports of call. I want to put the biggest positive and negative right up front. First the biggest negative with NCL. Double charging on gratuity. This is really a low-class act and I feel like I was robbed (Not sure if I can forgive this of NCL). Beautiful ship with a great atmosphere, but you charge gratuity twice! What gives? not making enough money? I doubt it. Here's the deal: NCL charges each customer over the age of THREE, $12 every day for service charges, then if you go to the bar or a specialty restaurant they add 15% gratuity on to your bill automatically. This is tasteless. NCL...Hey! You are going to lose customers, not because its too expensive, but because people don't like to feel like they are getting robbed. Think about this policy (word is spreading). I paid for 6 people $72 everyday just in service charges, then another 15% when I ordered some drinks. Now, the biggest positive with NCL. The layout of the ship and dining options were excellent. The ship is an awesome ship and has something for everyone of any age, so many activities. Another big plus, the embarkation and disembarkation of the ship was "hands down" no competition - the smoothest ever, well done. Very professional crew and ship. The ship (Common areas): No doubt, The ship is beautifully decorated and very clean. All the common areas on the ship were unique from each other and nicely done with comfortable chairs, couches, and even beds! It is a very well designed ship with many areas for families, to include smaller children. For the most part there was plenty of room for all the passengers to hang out and not feel so crowded (With the exception of the sun decks around the pool, I'll get to that later). If you are traveling with or without children this ship has something for all. The ships crew was for the most part in good spirits and helpful. We had one incident with the crew at the port of Livorno that was a little disappointing (I'll get to that later). The rooms: We had 2 rooms. One was a balcony room and the other was an inner room directly across the hall (Our room numbers were 8028 and 8029). The rooms were very nice and the beds and linen are very comfortable. The bathrooms were the largest we had seen on a ship with nice roomy showers. The rooms were decent size with plenty of storage to unpack and stow away your suitcases under the bed. The TV were nice, but I have to say we don't go on a cruise to watch TV. I have seen people complain about how many TV channels there were on board. Are you kidding me? We like to put the TV on the Navigation channel so we know where we are and look out over the balcony trying to spot wildlife. We seen about 4 large groups of dolphins and some flying fish on this trip. Last year in the Eastern Med we seen dolphins and a sea turtle! Awesome! Hey! You can watch TV at home. The sun deck and pool areas: As expected on a cruise ship with 3000 passengers, it can be very crowded at times in the prime locations near and around the pools. One really good thing they have on the Gem is a separate pool for adults only (And they enforce it). I liked that because compared to the Costa cruise we took last year, it was nice to go to a pool that didn't have 200+ little screaming Italian kids and there mothers in it. The pool areas are very nice with lots of areas to relax in quiet areas or be closer to the action of the pool. No surprise I have to complain about the rude inconsiderate jerks that feel that they can reserve a spot on the sun deck all day long (You know who you are). I really hate these people that feel that they can place a towel or fold a chair down and reserve a spot when they go take a break or go eat and think they should have the same spot (Because its such a good spot). NCL has a policy that if you leave for more than 30 minutes they will remove the towels, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be enforced (too bad). Note: To the people that came back to "their" chairs 2 hours later to find my family there and your towels missing, no apologies, and I hope you had to pay the missing towel fees! yes, it was me, kiss my you know what! If NCL won't enforce it, I recommend a little vigilante towel removal. Biggest violators appeared to be all the European passengers, they also have a problem with lines. What's up my European cousins? Why so rude? Dining: When looking for a cruise line we liked the idea of the NCL "Freestyle" dining options. Overall, I'd say the food was very good. Not always excellent, but very good. Sometimes it was more exceptional than others. Fact is, if you don't like what you have you can just eat again! There are so many free options to eat, that you are certainly not going to starve on this ship. We ate out at a specialty restaurant that had a cover charge. We ate Tequila's Latin (Tex-Mex) for a cover charge of $10 per person. It was good food, but to pay extra for it, I'd say no. There are many really good free options, so why pay? The free restaurants we ate at were the Grand Pacific (formal sit-down), Garden cafe (Buffet), Blue Lagoon (American Diner type), and the Great Outdoors (Buffet). All had great options and like I said, if you didn't like what you had, order something else or pick-up something else from the buffet. There are so many options, no reason to starve. Personally I liked the Grand Pacific (Be advised there is dress code- No swim suits or shorts for men). I liked it because I prefer a nice dinner with my family and to be served rather than being a part of feeding frenzy at a buffet. The buffet was convenient and the fastest way, but finding a table was occasionally a challenge. Recommend that you find a table first, then get your over-flowing plates of food. The Blue Lagoon was also good, but more like bar type food (Hamburgers, Wraps, hot wings, Fish and chips, a bunch of appetizers). Overall, we all enjoyed the dining on the Gem and liked the NCL "freestyle dining". The best time to eat dinner is before 8PM, after that the restaurants appear to start really filling up. The entertainment: We all really liked the shows, very entertaining. "Colors" was very good and performers did a great job. The improv comedy was hilarious! The comedians were awesome. we also did bingo, we didn't win anything but it was fun for all, kids play free with an adult. Casino was also very nice. The excursions: We did not do any excursions with NCL. Bottom line- Too expensive when your traveling with 6 people. It made more sense and was cost effective to go alone or use an independent tour operator (Which every port has). All the port calls were excellent locations with so much to see. We were not disappointed. Overall, I do recommend the Gem and the Western Med. It is a really great ship that will stay in our memories forever, unforgettable trip! Compared to the other cruise lines we have been with, I'd say NCL is not better nor worse, they all deliver a slightly different customer experience for approx. the same price. Like I had mentioned the only real downside with NCL is the double charging on service charges (Nickle and dime the customer at any chance). If you calculate that into the cost and forget about it then maybe it won't bother you (exactly what NCL would want you to do). I didn't let it bother me during the cruise (I was too busy), but I hope someone with some rank from NCL will read this and maybe make a change for the better (Show some class). There is so much potential with NCL, they are leading the way with modern cruising ideas (i.e. Free style dining, on-board activities). To the crew I say a big thank you for keeping the ship so clean and running so efficiently. Great job! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal ... Read More
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have found them to be comparable in quality.   This would be our first time on Norwegian Cruise Lines so I was eager to try out freestyle cruising. We left on Friday, June 12 for the journey to Barcelona. We flew from Dallas (DFW) to Barcelona with a layover in New York (JFK airport) for 3 hours on American Airlines and the flights went off without a hitch and were on time.  It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Barcelona and we were all pretty tired (I did manage to doze for about three hours on the flight but the leg room on our 767 from JFK to Barcelona was cramped at best so it was hard to get any true sleep).   We breezed through customs and proceeded to baggage claim (which was extremely overcrowded as there was only one carousel operating to handle multiple flights luggage).   As the luggage came out, people began to crowd and bump me, so it wasn't too pleasant but we manage to retrieve all of our luggage.   We got a taxi (no problems at all finding one although we had to try about three different taxis to find one large enough to fit our four large pieces of luggage in the trunk) and headed to Hotel Regina which is at the top of Las Ramblas in an ideal location.   I had printed out the name and location of the hotel, so I just showed that to the driver and he found it with no problems (the Barcelona taxi drivers seem to speak little to no English). It was only 10 am when we reached the hotel so our room wasn't ready yet, but the hotel held our luggage for free.   We ventured out and about a block away was Placa Catalunya and Las Rambles (which featured all sorts of vendors selling everything from typical souvenirs to birds, chipmunks, flowers, produce, chocolate, etc.)   I had heard about the pickpocket problems in Barcelona but never felt threatened (although I wore a neck pouch under my shirt to hold our credit cards, passports and most of our cash).  After exploring Las Ramblas, we headed back to the hotel at lunch time to see if the room was ready but it still wasn't.    Thus we ate lunch in the hotel lobby bar (club sandwiches) as we were really tired and didn't want to venture back out quite yet.   Finally after lunch, the room was ready and we headed up to our family room on the second floor.  The room was quite large by European standards and was basically a large room with a queen size bed and two other beds for the kids, so all four of us could fit in one room.  The bathroom was pretty nice sized too and had excellent amenities (shampoo, lotions, and individual toiletry kits for gentleman and ladies).  The one problem with the room is that the a/c didn't work very well and the room was hot.   The room was 78 degrees most of the time (I have a travel clock that also lists temperature) but we were so tired that I just let it go and didn't complain (since we were only here for one night).   We rested a bit and then headed back out to the chocolate museum which is a small museum featuring items made out of chocolate, information about how chocolate is made, and a small cafe/gift shop.  We then wandered into the Gothic quarter and really enjoyed the narrow streets and shops there.   We somehow ended up at the Christopher Columbus monument so we decided to go to the top for a scenic view.  The views are excellent from the top, but it's very cramped so I wouldn't recommend it for someone who has claustrophobia.    Finally, we took a taxi back near our hotel and ate a light dinner at a place called Fresco (salad bar buffet with some pasta and pizza) which was average (although the pizza with corn on it was pretty good).   It was about 8 pm by now so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  I think we were all asleep by 10 pm and I slept well even though it was hot in the room!   Day 1 - Sunday, 6/14 Embarkation We slept until 10 am and woke up feeling much better and refreshed.  We checked out around noon and took a taxi (the hotel had called one for us) to the pier.  Once again, I had printed out the name of the port, and just handed the print out to the taxi driver.  We arrived at the port around 12:15 pm and dropped off our luggage (there were plentiful luggage porters around to assist).  We went inside; breezed through security and got in a short check-in line for mini suites and balconies (they had separate lines for general check in, mini suites/balconies, suites and cash only).  About five minutes later, we were checked in and headed for the ship.   This was the quickest and easiest embarkation we've had for all of our cruises.  NCL does a great job in this regard.   We had the obligatory picture taken and boarded the Gem (I was handed a glass of champagne upon boarding which was nice).  We were starved so headed upstairs to the Garden Cafe (the Gem's buffet) for lunch.  The buffet is nicely laid out with separate stations for pasta, sandwiches, ice cream, soups, salads, etc.  All of the food was tasty and enjoyable and there was a good variety.  Seating was a bit limited and cramped but we always seemed to find a table whenever we came here.   The only negative about the buffet to me was that the items didn't vary from day to day.  I'd rate the Gem's buffet above RCCL, but I still think Carnival does the best job with their buffets.   We made our way to our balcony staterooms 10554 and 10556 which were smaller than the balcony cabin we'd had last year on the Carnival Destiny.  There definitely was not as much storage space but I do think the bathroom was better organized (it is small but it has a nice shower stall with a glass door and a separate toilet area).  The balcony doors also closed quietly (although they didn't always stay fully closed when at sea) which was nice (on RCCL the balcony doors slammed shut which was quite annoying).  Both rooms were decorated with birthday decorations and a birthday cake (it was my wife and step daughter's birthdays during the cruise) so we had some cake to celebrate!  We checked out the television (a small flat screen set) and noticed the channels were pretty limited (Fox news, nick, BBC news, AMC and a bunch of ships channels as well as pay per view movies).   The TV did have interactive features so I could check my account status, make shore excursion reservations, etc.  We also had papers in both rooms that indicated that we had $100 on board credit per cabin.  I'm not sure why we got this but I wasn't going to complain about it!   It helped keep our tab for the week under control.   The balconies were small (but nice) with two chairs and a small table.   We ventured out to explore the ship and visited the Stardust Theater, Spinnaker lounge (featuring a pool table, dart board, foosball, indoor shuffleboard and odd furniture), Bliss ultra lounge (with four bowling lanes and more odd furniture; even beds), the basketball courts, rock climbing wall, and the pools.  We made dinner reservations for Le Bistro for tomorrow night and Cagney's for Friday night (they let you make reservations on the first day for any day of the cruise).   We all enjoyed the interesting dEcor and furnishings of the Gem.   Upon return to the staterooms, our luggage had arrived.   Unfortunately mine had been damaged (and it was a brand new suitcase) so I talked with the employee who was delivering luggage and he called his supervisor.   I was told to bring my luggage (after unpacking) to the reception desk and they would address the issue.   We unpacked and then headed down to reception where they told me they would keep my suitcase and have it repaired (and they would notify me when it was ready).   It all turned out fine as they did fix the suitcase and I was notified two days later, so I felt it was handled adequately.   We decided to try the Magenta dining room for dinner tonight.  The food here was good but not great.  Freestyle dining (eating whenever you want) sounds great in theory, but I really missed the camaraderie and rapport that develops when you have the same waiters/waitresses for the entire week (and they learn your likes/dislikes).  I also missed getting to meet and know your tablemates (and potentially meeting new friends).   There also were no fun events at dinner (such as dancing waiters, singers, audience participation, etc).   It was nice though being able to eat when we wanted to and not having to rush back to the ship from excursions to fulfill a particular dinner time. I'd rate the main dining rooms on the Gem below our Carnival and RCCL experiences as the food was certainly fine but nothing outstanding. After dinner, we attended the Welcome Aboard show.  It was fairly dull as the main entertainment was an Italian singer named Enrico Cifiello, who sang Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones types of songs along with some classic Italian songs.  He had a nice voice but it was mostly laid back, low tempo type fare.   Our kids were pretty bored by it.  I didn't care much for the cruise director Andrea Olivieri or his assistant Bingo Joe (more about my dislike for Bingo on the Gem later).   The cruise director was basically a one trick pony (saying Hello USA, CANADA, UK, SPAIN, etc. for each and every show that he hosted) and wasn't very visible on the ship (on other cruises I've seen the cruise director all over the place, but not here).   After the show, the kids were hungry and I thought a snack sounded good too, so we checked out the Blue Lagoon.   I'd heard that the service was really slow here, but we didn't encounter that and enjoyed our snack.   I didn't order the wings or fish and chips (I had heard these were the best items) as I wasn't all that hungry but what we had was good (hot dogs, chicken strips, cheesecake).  We returned to the cabin and day one of the cruise was now in the books!   Day 2 - Monday, 6/15 At Sea Today was a day at sea so we slept in until 10 am or so and then ventured up to the Garden Cafe and encountered the legendary 'HAPPY HAPPY' guy at the entrance.   Every morning, he would be there to proclaim 'happy happy' and 'washy washy' and he definitely made even the grumpiest morning people smile.   The Gem is very conscious of cleanliness and everyone was strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer upon entering any of the dining rooms on the ship or whenever actually boarding the ship itself.   The ship was also very clean and I witnessed crew members cleaning carpets, windows, etc multiple times throughout the cruise.   Our buffet breakfast was tasty (they have scrambled eggs, made to order omelet's, fruit, Danish, muffins, cereal, cinnamon rolls, Eggs Benedict, and many other items).   Orange and apple juices are also available at breakfast time.  For lunch today at the Great Outdoors (a separate outdoors buffet at the rear of deck 12), they had an Austrian/Bavarian buffet (in addition to the normal buffet) featuring sausages, spatzle, etc.   I thought this was a great idea and would have loved to have seen a different theme each day but the rest of the days there were just burgers and hot dogs at the Great Outdoors.  After eating, my wife and I attended an Italian wine tasting event which was interesting (we got to taste 5 different wines along with various cheeses and crackers).  I'm not a wine expert by any means, but we enjoyed it.   There were many other tastings during the week (for sangria, beer, French wine, whiskey, and margaritas) but this was the only one we attended.  I would have gone to the sangria one but it was at an odd time midway through the cruise (one would think they would have had it on day one out of Spain).  We split up after this and my wife and step daughter headed to sun bathe while my step son and I went to play darts.   We also got in a game or two of ping pong which is always challenging with the winds at sea.   We gathered back together to try to go bowling but there was an hour wait so we skipped it. Before dinner, my wife and I went to play Bingo (we usually enjoy this on our cruises) and discovered that NCL has taken up-selling to a whole new level with their bingo games.  On Carnival and RCCL, we usually spent $10 to $20 (the high end for any of their bingo sessions) and had a good time.  On NCL, the basic packs were $20 to $25 and to really have a realistic chance of winning, one had to spend upwards of $100, which was totally ridiculous to us.   The reason for this is NCL uses bingo machines, which basically play the entire game for those who purchase them (they are idiot proof) and replicate 70 to 100 game cards for each game.  So, instead of spending our $10 to $20 per bingo session during the week, we played no bingo at all. We noticed a lot of others at the first bingo session leaving or not playing due to the excessively high pricing of game cards/game machines.  Tonight was our reservation at Le Bistro French restaurant so we got semi-dressed up and headed to dinner.  I really enjoyed dinner here.  I had escargot and French onion soup for my starters, both of which were quite good.  My wife and I got the rib eye steak for two which had an extra charge but it was really delicious.  My step son liked his scallops' appetizer so much that he asked if he could get some more, which they gladly brought him.  My step daughter loves Caesar salads so we asked if she could get one (as they don't have a Caesar salad on the Le Bistro menu) and that wasn't a problem either.  I really felt like they aimed to please in this restaurant and it was an enjoyable evening for all.  The 'fondue for two' dessert is quite good.   After dinner was the Colorz show which featured the Gem singers and dancers performing songs that have colors in the song title (such as Purple Rain, Yellow Submarine, etc).   The show was pretty good and enjoyed by all and was the nice cap to a relaxing day.     Day 3 - Tuesday, 6/16 Valletta, Malta The Gem docked at Valletta, Malta at 8 am this morning.   I'd heard that the entry into Malta was quite scenic so I immediately went out onto the balcony upon waking and was treated to a view of us entering a beautiful harbor.  Since it was an early day, we ordered room service for breakfast and it was right on time.   Room service for breakfast only consists of rolls and cereals but it was adequate for our needs.  We had a tour booked through the ship called Malta Jeep Adventure and met our group on the pier (we initially met in the showroom until our tour was called).  There were about fifty people on the tour and we were assigned to jeeps that held five passengers each; one up front and then four in the back on bench type seats that faced each other.  I sat up front and the rest of the family sat in the back along with a stray teenager whose party had been split up amongst several jeeps.  We first headed to the north end of the island for a scenic overview (we could see two other Maltese Islands - Gozo and Comino).  After this, we headed to Popeye Village which was built for the 1980 film Popeye starring Robin Williams.   I saw actors dressed as Popeye and Olive Oyl roaming the village down below so I imagine it must also be a theme park that can be visited.  Our next stop was at a nearby beach (they had filmed some scenes from the movie Troy at this beach) where we stayed for an hour and did some swimming (I just waded though and tried the local beer called Cisk).   Quite a few movies have been filmed in Malta (Popeye, Troy, U-571, Gladiator and many others) which surprised me.  After the beach, our final stop was at another scenic overlook looking down from some cliffs.  The tour description is a little misleading as the jeeps never really went off road at all (just onto a few bumpy roads), but regardless of that, I really enjoyed the tour and we had a phenomenal driver.   There is one tour guide for the entire group of jeeps and her commentary is played over a cb type radio.  We couldn't hear our radio very well though, so our driver provided his own commentary and made it a truly enjoyable experience.  We even found out that he had been an extra in U-571 and had met Jon Bon Jovi during the filming (he said that Bon Jovi was incredibly nice and gracious).   We got back on board the Gem with plenty of time to spare before she departed at 3 pm.  Sailing out of the harbor was equally scenic to when we sailed in this morning.   Around 8:30 pm, the cruise daily noted that we'd sail past Mount Etna on the port (left as you face forward) side of the ship and that was quite spectacular as well (luckily our cabins were on the port side).  Tonight was the 'formal or not' night so we got dressed up, had some photos taken, and ate dinner in the Grand Pacific dining room.   Food here was exactly the same as the Magenta dining room.  The show this evening was the Second City comedy troupe, who performed both rehearsed skits and completely improvised routines (based on audience suggestions).   We all loved this show and had a great time.   These are definitely talented individuals.      Day 4 - Wednesday, 6/17 Naples, Italy We docked in Naples, Italy at 8 am this morning and prepared for the first of our three tours with the highly touted company Rome In Limo.  We had arranged to share all three tours with a couple from Singapore that I had gotten in contact with through cruise critic so I was looking forward to meeting them as well.  We got off the ship and walked through the cruise terminal and sure enough, there was our tour guide from Rome in Limo holding a sign with my name on it.   Lorenzo would be our driver for the day and he greeted us warmly.  A minute or two later, our new friends from Singapore showed up, so we were off and running with no hitches.  We had Mercedes mini vans for all three days of our Rome In Limo tours, which were very comfortable (and there were no backwards facing seats) for our party of six.  We headed out of Naples and Lorenzo told us some facts about the area and culture which was interesting.   Our first stop of the day would be Mount Vesuvius, which is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last one hundred years (the last eruption was in 1944).  We drove almost to the top, at which point Lorenzo told us it was just a fifteen minute walk to the top.   We purchased our tickets (there was a nominal charge) and forty minutes later (that fifteen minute figure must be for trained athletes) I huffed and puffed my way finally to the summit.   My step son did make it up there in about 20 minutes but my poor wife and step daughter gave up halfway up and went back down.   The views from the top were spectacular so it was worth the effort.  I could see the Gem and Naples in the distance as well as Capri and several other islands.   The volcano itself was interesting too although I had to chuckle when I heard a nearby child exclaim "that's it, where's the lava" upon reaching the top.  Next we headed to Sorrento.   We were going to go to Pompeii next, but Lorenzo suggested we go to Sorrento first as otherwise all the shops would be closed by the time we arrived.   It was a good suggestion, so we drove along the coast to Sorrento and enjoyed some spectacular scenery (we stopped along the way to take pictures).  In Sorrento, we had two hours to eat lunch (Lorenzo suggested a nice local pizza/pasta type place which had excellent pizza) and shop.  I bought some limoncello (lemon products are popular here as there are many lemon trees in and around the region) and stopped to try some gelato (it was creamier than the gelato I've had back home) which was delicious.   Finally, we headed to Pompeii, arriving there around 2 pm in the heat of the day (it's better to come here in the morning but Mount Vesuvius is more strenuous so should be done as early as possible before it's hot).  It was about 90 degrees by now and sunny.  Our driver told us that they don't recommend visits to Pompeii during July and August because it gets so hot.  We met our private guide that Rome in Limo had arranged for us, and she led us on a fascinating tour.   Pompeii is much larger than I expected and I really found it interesting to see that they used bricks, sliding doors, and other modern techniques way back in AD 79.  We spent about one and a half hours exploring and were glad we had a guide to direct us to the most interesting spots, rather than wandering and wasting time.  I definitely recommend a guide if you have limited time here.  I got a little over heated at one point but had plenty of water with me so was fine and there was a breeze too which helped.   Our guide recommended that we see Herculaneum and the Naples National Archeological Museum (which contains Roman artifacts from both Pompeii and Herculaneum) on a future visit to get the entire picture. It was time to head back to the ship and we arrived at the port around 5 pm (the Gem sailed at 7 pm) and said good bye to Lorenzo.  He had done a good job but I wasn't completely overwhelmed like I had expected to be by Rome In Limo.  He was very good though and we had a quite enjoyable day.   We were all pretty tired so the wife and I went to the buffet for dinner and the kids ordered up some room service.   Later before bed, we were still a bit hungry so we went up to the Great Outdoors for some pizza and dessert.   We could see lights on some nearby islands as we ate outside and it was very relaxing and scenic.    Day 5 - Thursday, 6/18 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy The Gem was in port today from 7 am until 7 pm and it was day two of our Rome in Limo tours.   Today, our driver was David and he seemed more reserved than Lorenzo and much less eager to offer information as we drove, although he gladly answered any questions we had.  The drive to Rome takes about one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes.   Our driver did let us know that traffic can be pretty crazy in Rome and that many ride scooters to navigate through the congestion.  Sure enough, the closer that we got to Rome, the more scooters we saw weaving crazily in and out of traffic.  The first stop of the day (and the first sign of trouble with our driver David) was at the Roman Colosseum.   David dropped us off at the entrance to the Roman Forum, which was a short walk from the Colosseum, as the line to buy tickets here is much shorter than if you go into the Colosseum to buy tickets.   This was a good move.  The bad part though, was that he didn't tell us that we needed to ask for Colosseum only tickets, not Roman Forum/Colosseum combination tickets, which I mistakenly bought since all the signs were in Italian and the ticket sellers did not speak English.  Also, I inadvertently bought an audio tour for only the Roman Forum so all in all I wasted about 20 Euros by purchasing the wrong tickets.  This could have easily been avoided had David instructed us properly or gone to the ticket booth with us.   I'd read many other trip reports that indicated that the driver would actually take care of the buying the tickets for us and whisk us into the Colosseum but unfortunately that was far from reality.   Regardless, we loved the Colosseum.   I could just feel the history oozing from the place as we explored.   We had about ten minutes left when we returned to our rendezvous point so my step son and I hurried into the Roman Forum for some quick pictures.  I'd love to come back and spend more time there as I was truly fascinated. After the Colosseum, we stopped and visited the Pantheon which has amazing architecture, and drove past the Spanish Steps (time for a quick photo stop) en route to Trevi Fountain.  We all did the obligatory throwing of a coin (and making a wish) over our shoulders into the fountain upon our arrival.   It was now time to stop for lunch and David dropped us off a large square for a one hour lunch break.  I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he told me there was a pizzeria to the right.  Well, upon entering the square there were dozens of pizzerias so we just had to pick one at random.   Our random pick turned out to be an average and overpriced touristy type place so I wasn't happy with David about that.  He really made little to no effort to help us find a good place for lunch.  I tried a three cheese pizza at the place we ate at and was overpowered by the taste of blue cheese so I didn't even finish my pizza which is a rare occurrence indeed for me.   The meal was 70 Euros for some pizzas and drinks which I found ridiculous. It was time for us to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peters Basilica so David dropped us off and we met our private tour guide Sara.   She was very knowledgeable (although a little bit bossy) and we thoroughly enjoyed the art work, tapestries, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters Basilica.   St. Peters is really awe inspiring and is another location I could have spent much more time at (and the Sistine Chapel of course is amazing as well). We stopped at a shop for a quick break but before I knew it, I was practically pulled out of the store by Sara.  This really annoyed me as I wasn't quite done shopping and we had only been there five minutes.  We certainly had time to spend another five to ten minutes here but it seemed like she was in a huge rush to get done with us.  The portion of our tour with her came to an awkward ending as Sara then abruptly asked for her money.  I had been instructed by Rome In Limo in advance of the tour that I'd just pay their driver for her services at the end of the day.  Thus, I was really surprised to see her hold her hand out demanding money like that.  Also, our travel mates from Singapore and I had each brought exact change in Euros to pay our Rome In Limo driver (since we split up the tours) and it would have messed us up to pay her separately.   David did tell us to not worry about it and that he'd take care of it but it was really an awkward moment that could have been avoided.   I also had not had a chance to purchase any water since Sara was in such a rush, and to his credit, David did stop and buy me a bottled water. We headed back to the ship and arrived back around 5:30 pm with me wondering if I'd made a mistake by booking all three trips with Rome In Limo. Tomorrow would really tell the tale!   We ate dinner back at the Magenta dining room and returned to our cabins to rest, as it had been another long day (but enjoyable despite the issues with our driver).  My wife and I did attend a star gazing session on the top deck of the ship (they turned all the ships lights out and boy could we see a lot more stars than we see at home) which was fairly interesting.   Day 6 - Friday, 6/19 Livorno (Pisa and Florence), Italy The Gem was again in port from 7 am until 7 pm today and it was day three of our series of Rome in Limo tours.  The weather was once again sunny and hot (we had nice sunny weather in all ports which was great even though it was a bit hot).  I'd been fairly disappointed in Rome In Limo up to this point (Lorenzo on day one was good but David on day two was average at best) so we'd see how today would play out.  We met our driver Vinnie and before we left, he huddled with us to make sure of exactly what we wanted to see and to formulate a game plan for the day.  Good start!  We told Vinnie that we definitely wanted some shopping time built into our day, as we hadn't really had any time to do that in Rome.  We headed to Pisa first and Vinnie gave us detailed background information and history about the areas we were driving through and about Pisa itself.  He was extremely knowledgeable and a veritable encyclopedia of information.   I had a good feeling about the day now!   We stopped at the field of miracles in Pisa (where the leaning tower and a medieval cathedral are located) and Vinnie got out with us and gave us historical information about the tower. We were on our own for about 45 minutes to explore and take photos.   There were also numerous small stalls around the outside of the field selling souvenirs so we did some shopping as well.   I was surprised that the leaning tower was right in town as the pictures I'd seen always made it look like it was out in the countryside.  We tried to take some of the usual touristy pictures of us holding up the tower, but the sun was at an angle that made it difficult to do so.  As we drove out of town, Vinnie showed us a second leaning tower (another tower that had been built with foundation problems and was leaning) that most people don't know is there.  According to Vinnie, due to the soil in the Pisa area, many buildings there aren't standing straight and it's a common construction problem.  As we drove from Pisa towards Florence, Vinnie asked us about the kind of restaurant that we would be interested in for lunch.   He said that he knew of a good non touristy place that he could take us to, and we were all for that idea!   We took a detour through the Tuscan countryside and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  Chianti wine and olive oil are the main exports from this region and it was amazing seeing the various farms (Vinnie called them farms and not wineries) where the wine is produced.   We made another stop at an overlook on the way into Florence for an amazing view and then proceeding into the city itself.  My wife and I both loved Tuscany and Florence and already are talking about returning there for a land trip someday.   Vinnie had taken our shopping request to heart and asked us what exactly we wanted to buy.  It seemed that we all wanted to buy some Italian leather so he said he'd take us to two shops (one with excellent quality and good prices and another with even better quality but higher prices).   The first shop was great in that we loved the quality and the prices seemed pretty reasonable; my step daughter found a purse and my step son bought a beautiful leather jacket.  I found a wallet to buy for myself.  Amazingly, my wife didn't get anything though.  We decided to forgo the second shop and look at souvenirs (our new friends checked out the second shop and said it was good also).   Next up was the Accademia museum and Michelangelo's David.  We pulled up to the museum and there was a long line waiting to get in, but Vinnie whisked us in a separate entrance (he had made reservations for us in advance) so we had no wait at all.  This was more like the Rome In Limo experience I had been expecting!  Photos aren't allowed inside the museum so I took a photo of a replica of David in a nearby square in Florence.  The statue itself really is perfection and was created in Michelangelo's earlier years.   The Accademia is actually a small museum and contains some Florentine paintings and some other sculptures, in addition to David.  It was time for lunch and Vinnie parked and walked us into an amazing little restaurant.  We had to go downstairs into the cellar to eat but it was cozy and quaint, and not a tourist in sight (what a difference from the previous day's lunch in Rome).  The menu was hand written in Italian on a piece of paper so Vinnie interpreted the entire menu for us and made a recommendation of an appetizer (various meats and fishes served on top of Italian bread) that wasn't on the menu.   He also asked if we wanted to try some wine (which I did) so he grabbed a bottle of wine off the wall and instructed the waiter to serve us some.  It was a delicious Chianti and an excellent recommendation on his part.  He also advised us to try a sweet Italian dessert wine and pointed it out to us so we'd know what to order.  Two plates of the appetizers arrived and all the toppings were fresh and delicious.  I ordered both pasta and veal which were both excellent.   For dessert we had the sweet wine which was served with biscotti's to dip into the wine.  The waiter brought out a large rectangular block of dark chocolate and a chisel, and chiseled off chunks of fresh chocolate for us to dip into the wine (I liked this even better than the biscotti).  It was nothing short of an amazing authentic dining experience, all made possible by our wonderful guide.   Also, at lunch our new touring friends gave us some little gifts from Singapore (a bottle opener, some pens, etc) and I thought that was really kind of them and a neat idea.  Wish I'd thought of it too! I mentioned to Vinnie that I'd like to purchase some of the dessert wine and he said he'd walk me to a good wine shop at our next stop.  We stopped at the square where the replica of David can be found which is within walking distance of the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  Vinnie walked me to the wine shop as promised and I purchased some wine and also olive oil that he personally recommended.  We walked across the bridge and back and then headed to a nearby gelato shop.  Vinnie told us that it was half the price of the more touristy gelato shops and better quality.  Pistachio was the house special here so I ordered a cone of it and it was even creamier and more delicious than the gelato we'd had in Sorrento.  I'll be craving that gelato for years!   Sadly it was time to drive back to the ship and during the drive back, Vinnie and I chatted about Italian and American culture as if we were old friends.  He had provided us with an amazing day that exceeded my high expectations of Rome In Limo.  I made sure to write to the company when we returned and let them know how highly we thought of him (and to advise them of David's shortcomings).   This day had been the highlight of our trip so far and I was actually sad getting back on the Gem.   I gave Vinnie a large tip as I felt he really went above and beyond and deserved it.  We also said goodbye to our friends from Singapore, who we really enjoyed touring with.  As we left port in Livorno, a team of Italian rowers raced the ship which I found interesting.  They were quite loud as they urged each other on to beat the Gem, but alas we won! After freshening up, we headed to Cagney's for dinner which was surprisingly excellent.  I had read some negative reviews about Cagney's prior to the trip but I really enjoyed our meal.  I had Oyster's Rockefeller, a nice Caesar's salad and a delicious filet mignon.  Everyone else really enjoyed it too.   The only thing I didn't like there was my dessert.  I ordered a dessert sampler and it was a microscopic amount of three different desserts.  In general, the desserts aren't very good on the Gem.  I didn't have a single dessert during the week that I would call excellent (although the fondue for two was really good in Le Bistro).  This is definitely an area for improvement.   Second City had an entirely improvised show tonight so we attended it and laughed heartily once again.    Day 7 - Saturday, 6/20 Cannes, France We decided to use this as a beach day as I figured we'd be tired after three long days of touring and indeed we were tired.   We slept in all the way until 9 am.  Yeah!   We would have slept later but the Gem was only in port from 7 am until 3 pm today.   It would have been nice if we'd stayed until at least 5 pm or so, but we made the best of it.   We got on a tender (this was the only port where we had to tender; we docked at all other ports) and quickly made it ashore.   We walked through the parking lot towards the left and soon (within minutes) reached Plage Du Midi, which was a nice sandy beach.  It really was more like a series of small beaches divided up by restaurants which had beachfront tables and umbrellas.  We picked one of the small beach segments and laid down our towels (there weren't any chairs but there was a shower; only the restaurants seemed to have chairs).   I wasn't going to swim but the water looked so inviting that I changed my mind and took the plunge.  The water was cool and refreshing and the sand smooth and comfortable to walk on.  We did see a few European women going topless, but it was mainly a family atmosphere with lots of children around. After about an hour and a half, we had our fill of the sun, so we walked around a little bit to explore Cannes.  We pondered where we should eat lunch and happened upon a Tex Mex restaurant (we're from Texas) which was really humorous to me since we were in the south of France. My wife and step daughter were tired so they decided to eat lunch back on the ship at the buffet.  My step son and I continued to explore, and found an area with some sidewalk cafes and bakeries so we picked one at random and it was fairly good.  I had an assorted cheese and bread platter and my step son had steak tartar. It didn't seem like very many locals spoke English in Cannes (or they chose not to) but I got by with my limited French (I had taken three years of French way back in high school so I remember a few words).   We went to a bakery for dessert and had some excellent French pastries.   It was now almost 2 pm though so we stopped to by some quick souvenirs and then took the tender back to the Gem. We spent our last dinner on the Gem in the Magenta dining room and had a good meal.  My wife and I attended the Showtime: World Beat show which featured dances from around the world and we both thought it was very good (I liked it better than Colorz).  The captain warned that we might hit some high winds upwards to 40 mph and sure enough it began to get rough around dinner time.  The seas had been the calmest we'd ever sailed on up until now.  Fortunately we had all taken Dramamine (I always take one in the morning and one at night when on a cruise as a precaution) so no one felt sick at all.  It was interesting watching the dancers attempt their routines with the ship swaying from side to side, but they really did an admirable job with just a few misses and staggers here and there.  I know that I would have fallen flat on my face had it been me up there!   After the show came my least favorite moment of every cruise....packing.  We got it done though and then went to bed.  I had no trouble falling asleep but it took my wife awhile as the Gem was really rocking and rolling.    Day 8 - Sunday, 6/21 Disembarkation, Barcelona, and London We had decided to spend a few days in London after the cruise, but our flight to London wasn't until 6 pm today.  Thus I had scheduled us to take a Barcelona city tour through NCL with a drop off at the airport.  We met in the show room at 8:30 am and waited for our tour to be called.  It didn't take long and we were off the ship in minutes.  We easily found our luggage (they had luggage carousels like in an airport and of course mine was one of the last ones to appear, so I was convinced that my suitcase was lost) and our tour bus.  The bus tour was decent but not great as we had been spoiled by our private tours in Italy.  We stopped at a scenic overview with nice expansive views of Barcelona, drove past some Gaudi buildings and made stops at the Sagrada Familia (which was truly amazing) and in the Gothic Quarter for a short walking tour.  We were dropped off at the airport around 1 pm and then began the long, long wait for our flight.  British Airways wouldn't let us check in until two hours before the flight, so we had to wait in the main entrance area of the airport.   There were limited shops and amenities here so it wasn't the most pleasant wait.  Finally, around 3 pm I saw some activity at the BA counter so I tried the electronic check in machine and it worked!  We sweated it out as our luggage was weighed (we had gained a lot of weight in souvenirs) but it all was under the limit.  We breezed through security and near our gate there were many more shops and restaurants so it was much more pleasant.   Our flight was uneventful (they actually served sandwiches that were complimentary) and we arrived in Gatwick airport at 7:15 pm.  The UK is one hour earlier than Spain.  I had planned on taking the Gatwick express train into London but after reading some information in the BA flight magazine, it seemed that a taxi would cost just about the same since there were four of us.  We decided to take a taxi and avoid hauling the luggage through a train station.   Our driver was quite talkative which was fine (although I'd have rather dozed than chatted) and in about one hour we arrived at the London Metropole Hotel.  The hotel is located near Paddington Station and near the Edgware Road tube stop, so the location is pretty good.  Our hotel room was fine and had two queen size beds and a roll a way bed so there were beds for all of us.  We were starved and tired so we ate at the hotel restaurant which was really slow and over priced.  The bill was over one hundred dollars for some burgers and pizza and drinks.   After this, it was lights out!   Post-cruise Monday, 6/22 London We got up at 9 am today and it was already bright and sunny and much cooler than it had been in Spain and Italy.   The sun rises quite early (4:30 am) and sets late (almost 10 pm) in London in the summer time (we had arrived just a day after the summer solstice). I was tour guide for the day today so I led us to the Edgware Road tube station and we purchased four visitor passes for the day and headed to the Tower of London.  I'd been here before but the family hadn't and they seemed to enjoy it!   We saw the ravens, the crown jewels, various towers, a special exhibit featuring Henry VIII's armor and we even met the Queen's constable who talked to us for a minute or two.  After touring the tower, we ate a quick lunch at subway (of all places) and took the tube to Westminster Station.  From here I had planned to just walk by Westminster Abbey but we decided to go inside even thought there is a charge.   I am sure glad we decided to do this as it really is spectacular.  I had no idea that the tombs of Henry VIII's children were in the Abbey (Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I and King Edward VI).    We then walked to Buckingham Palace for some pictures (tours are only offered in July and August) and then took a taxi to the London Eye.   The London Eye was built for the Millennium celebration and is essentially a very tall and slow moving Ferris wheel that can hold 25 passengers per enclosed capsule, each of which features a bench seat and room to walk around.  My step daughter was a little apprehensive about this due to the heights involved but ended up loving it.  We had amazing views of London and could see Big Ben Tower, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc.  For dinner tonight we headed to Covent Garden and Porter's restaurant which I enjoyed more than the rest of the family.  My wife really didn't care for English food at all and the kids seemed like they could take it or leave it.  I had a version of Shepherds Pie which I really liked and a yummy pudding for dessert.  We walked around Covent Garden afterwards and found some souvenirs and then called it a night.   Post-cruise Tuesday, 6/23 London This was sadly the last day of our European adventure but we still had plenty to see.  First up, we had a morning tour scheduled with Premium Tours to see Windsor Castle.   We were met by a representative from Premium Tours in our hotel lobby at 7:35 am and boarded a bus which took us to their main terminal near Victoria Station (we made a few stops at other hotels along the way to pick up other passengers).  Once at the main station, everyone was then redistributed to the proper buses for their particular tour.   So finally at about 8:45 am we were on our way out of London towards Windsor.   The drive was a little more than an hour to the town of Windsor.   The castle itself is actually right next to the town which surprised me. The pictures I've seen always make it seem as if the castle is in the countryside by itself.    We were given a brief tour through the castle grounds, and then had two hours to explore on our own.   Most of the people on our bus to Windsor were actually on a full day tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath so we would have a separate smaller bus to take us back to London.   Those on the full day tour only had an hour at Windsor which definitely would not have been enough time.   For the inside of the castle, we were given audio players (included in our tour price) which guided us through the various rooms.  The most interesting parts to me were the areas where a fire back in 1992 had damaged many rooms and almost consumer the entire castle.  The restoration work that they completed in about five years is truly remarkable.  As we exited the castle we saw a gathering of people down the hill so we went to investigate.  It was time for the changing of the guard which consisted of a band and traditionally dressed guards.  After that, we went inside St. Georges Chapel where Henry VIII is buried.   There is a big plaque on the floor showing the spot (he is buried below the plaque somewhere) but I was a little disappointed that you can't see a sarcophagus or anything similar.  We had time for some quick souvenir shopping and then caught our bus back to London.  One thing that the tour company had failed to mention is that we would not be dropped off back at our hotel.  It wasn't a big deal but we were dropped off randomly somewhere in London and had to take a taxi back to the hotel.  Early this evening at 5 pm, we had a private Harry Potter tour scheduled.   Our driver met us in our hotel lobby and we ventured through London to see various sites where the Harry Potter movies had been filmed.   We stopped at King's Cross Station where platform 9 ¾ can be found (the driver had Harry Potter props that we could put on to take photos), Diagon alley, and various other sites where more minor scenes where filmed.  He also had a mini dvd player so he would show us a scene in the movie and then show us where the particular scene had been filmed.  We all really enjoyed it and I even bought some Harry Potter money from the tour guide as a souvenir.  The driver dropped us off in Covent Garden and we went into a random pub for dinner and it was pretty dreadful.  We had burgers and the meat had an odd taste to it and wasn't so good.  McDonald's burgers were gourmet fare compared to these.   We took a cab back to our hotel and thus our final day in Europe was over.   Post-cruise Wednesday, 6/24 Home Our flight home was at 10:25 am from Heathrow Airport on American Airlines, so we arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 6:45 am.   I wanted to leave plenty of time as I wasn't sure how long it would take to get out to Heathrow.   I'd also heard that security can take a long time to go through there, but this didn't turn out to be true.  We got to the airport by 7:30 and had one last breakfast in Europe before heading back home.  Our flight was on a 777 so we would get personal entertainment systems (each seat has a screen where one can watch movies, TV shows, play games, etc).  The flight home was uneventful (except my poor wife's personal entertainment system didn't work - we ended up getting her 10,000 frequent flier miles though for the inconvenience).  All of our luggage made it without getting lost so the trip so all's well that ends well!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We left from Barcelona on Sunday.  Embarkation was a breeze.  The Gem is a very nice boat, very comfortable beds. Luckily, we had a day at sea on monday which we enjoyed relaxing by the pool  Went to Malta on Monday.  Itis beautiul ... Read More
We left from Barcelona on Sunday.  Embarkation was a breeze.  The Gem is a very nice boat, very comfortable beds. Luckily, we had a day at sea on monday which we enjoyed relaxing by the pool  Went to Malta on Monday.  Itis beautiul early in the morning when the sun is coming up.  The island itself is beautiful and very clean.  We got a cab for 2 hours for 60 euros.  Well worth it. We went to the presidential garden, a glass factory and then on to Mdina-a beautiful city within a fort-very well maintained.  Then we went to Valleta and walked around.  Very nice city-clean and the food is reasonable. We went to a church I think St. John's that was beautiful inside.  Many knights tombs wre in there.Then we walked back to the ship from there.The next three days we hired a drive from yourtourinitaly.com.  That was the best move we made!!! The first 2 days we had Aldo.  He speaks very good English, is most knowlegable of his country and extremely pleasant to be around.  We left the port of Naples and drove to Sorrento.  Walked around there for awhile, had a cappacno, and then on to Positano, a beautiful town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Shopped for awhile and then drove up to the top of the mountain to a  wonderful Italian retaurant that served lunch family style with wine.  Wonderful desserts and of course,Limoncello.  Then of to Pompeii.  Aldo  arranged for us to have ourown personal guide there for 2 hours.  well worth it.  Just an amazing place.  The next day we met Aldo at 7:30 and off we were to Rome.  We got to the Coliseum before any of the tour busses and the big crowds.  Aldo made sure we saw as much of Rome as we possibly could.We ate lunch at his favorite pizza place.  Very good, very thin pizza.  Als had some garlic bread that was to die for.  I think having a private driver is the only way to go.  We saw so much more of Rome than you could possibly see on a tour bus.  It may be a little pricey but well worth it!!  The next day we had a different.  driver.  He was good, also.  Went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then on to Florence.  Another beautiful cfity.   Saw  the swatue of David-absolutely breath taking.  The next day we went to Cannes.  We had hoped to get a cab but there were none around. Didn't realize it would be so hard to get a cab.  Took a trolley tour.  Just okay.  Should have  planned. this port better.                             The ship itself was nice enough.  The food in the main dining room was adequate, some nights there were no choices we lik ed and .  Ate at La Cucina twice.  It was good with good service.  Le Bisto is amust well worth the$15 cover charge!!!outstanding food, marvelous desser.. Also ate at the Blue Lagoon a couple of times.  It is on the 8th floor  far away from the maddening crowd at the buffet.  Good burgers dogs and fish and chips.  Didn't care much for the buffet.  Too crowded and food was  cold.  Enjoyed all the shows except the comedian/illusionist.  Second City was hysterical.  Enjoyed the casino.  It was just a most memorable week  Wish we were still there.ts                                                                                                                                                                                     Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We just came off the Norwegian Gem which started out in Barcelona, Spain and went to Malta, Naples, Rome, Livorno and Canne.  This was our first time travelling to this area and we had an amazing time.  It was like a true adventure - ... Read More
We just came off the Norwegian Gem which started out in Barcelona, Spain and went to Malta, Naples, Rome, Livorno and Canne.  This was our first time travelling to this area and we had an amazing time.  It was like a true adventure - very different from our caribbean cruises that we usually go on.  The Norwegian Gem was absolutely fabulous - the food was delicious, the cabin was beautiful, the beds were very comfortable and the staff were very friendly and willing to do anything for you.I travelled with 7 people in our goup and decided to do private tours while we where in Italy and were thrilled that we did this.  We used an agency called Romeinlimo.com which we found from the cruise boards and we were absolutely thrilled with them.  It was such a pleasure to get off the ship and immediately find someone there waiting for you who spoke perfect English and wisked you away in a beautiful Mercedez Van without waiting for a ton of people to board a bus.  All three ports in Italy we used them and they were absolutely fantastic.  I cannot stress enough how much more you can see by using a private tour guide and we were so happy to have hired them.  Carmine was our tour operator in Naples and he was just amazing - so if you can request him - you will be thrilled.  He was so warm and friendly and just made us feel like he was a close cousin taking us on the tour.All I can say is that the Norwegian Gem was an amazing vacation and I will definitely look into doing another cruise with them next summer. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
Our family of 5 ( three teen sons) arrived in Barcelona a day early ( highly recommend in case of flight delays which we had) and stayed a day late to sight see.  If you are a family of five in Europe, you will have to go in two taxis or ... Read More
Our family of 5 ( three teen sons) arrived in Barcelona a day early ( highly recommend in case of flight delays which we had) and stayed a day late to sight see.  If you are a family of five in Europe, you will have to go in two taxis or take one big van which mostly has to be arranged since they are not always available at airports or taxi stops.  We took the advice of cruise critics on this website and my husband wrote down the address of our port.  He also wrote several times the address of our hotels, etc and handed one  to each of our sons in case they got lost.  The port was most impressive because of its size and cleanliness.  We were helped upon leaving the taxi with our bags and check in was a total of 17 minutes.  We chose to stay in the Pent House Suite which is so worth the money.  It is single-handedly worth the free breakfast and lunch at Cagney's every day.  Our room was ready and it was only 11 in the morning.  The Gem:Highlights only:  Concierge and butler are very friendly and accommodating.  I loved being left alone for privacy when needed and this can be accomplished by adjusting the dial on the door of your stateroom. WONDERFUL. There is plenty to do on the ship.  My boys favorites were soccer, basketball and shuffleboard and hanging by pool.  The pool is great and the chairs are comfy.  You have to get there early if you want a seat...as early as 9 a.m.  I never did get one of those comfy chairs on the forward top deck; they were in high demand!!!  Very quiet zone there. Did not participate in shows  or casino as often as most but loved family Bingo. It was so fun and entertaining!!!!  Even kids can play.  Restaurants:  Garden Cafe was not my favorite but acceptable to the children for ice cream.  I liked Magenta and Grand Pacific and the poolside buffet much more.  Best deal we had was  going to Cagney's in the morning for breakfast ( penthouse suite and up) and having French press coffee and eggs benedict and excellent service.  Overall food was above average for the number of people being served on the ship.  At dinner, I stuck with beef.  My two experiences with fish were only average.  The specialty restaurants were always good.  Best experience with specialties was Mexican, French and Sushi not Teppenyaki but sushi only.  I told a friend that the ship food was not worth  gaining weight over but the mixed drinks were!  I recommend a yellow bird in that category.  Had one when we met the captain.  My experience with the beauty salon ( blowout) was wonderful.  I got to know the hairdresser and as the week progressed she offered me special deals and one was three mini treatments for $89!  LOVED IT> They took place in open room not behind closed doors but still private.  Spa was extra plus and part of the reason we chose this ship.I have not complained yet on my review but I must say that our cabin gave us a hard time because of its location.  With all of the research done, I still missed out on making SURE that there are no high traffic areas overhead.  We were in a luxurious penthouse with 5 people and the most comfortable bed ever in this world with the clean up crew overhead from midnight until six a.m.  To sum it up:  it awakened sleeping teenagers.  Norwegian Gem concierge was very understanding but had no where to move us.  Did get a credit on account which we hated to ask for but really affected our sleep.   Pompeii was our first NCL excursion and a very good one.  Highlight was climbing Mt. Vesuvius( level three tour and not easy at all; we wore our oldest clothes and shoes because they will be ashy in a big way when you return home) and we toured the area where the bodies were covered by ash. Port of Livorno my personal favorite was the tour of Pisa and Florence combined.  The only museum we entered was St. Croce in Florence but were able to skim the sights and have a wonderful lunch.  We were able to convince our NCL guide to give us two hours on our own and we ran to the sights we wanted to visit and ran back..literally.   I was so happy for this independence that she allowed.Last stop Cannes Frances and we were DETERMINED to get into the Mediterranean as we had sailed in it all week.  Slept in til ten, jumped off Gem and headed straight to beach.  ADVICE: wear your swimsuit.. no place to change but you can see the beach from the ship.  Had to be taken in by dingys and that was so fun!!!!  Teenagers will never be the same as French people have a wonderful body image and expose the better part of it.  There was nothing a Mother could do but go with it. Too late.  Swam for two hours and had a blast. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
NCL has loaded itineraries for a great value. This was our 4th cruise with the "Freestyle Dining". Even though, there were minor increases in some fees, cruising is a more affordable and convenient mode of visiting unchartered ... Read More
NCL has loaded itineraries for a great value. This was our 4th cruise with the "Freestyle Dining". Even though, there were minor increases in some fees, cruising is a more affordable and convenient mode of visiting unchartered waters. When you compare personal safety, the hassle of dragging luggage, transportation, hotel and food costs, cruising wins hands down. In less than 2 weeks, we saw about 17 different cities and/or villages. Even though we cruised, we were still able to experience the culture by taking trains, buses, subways, etc. In parenthesis below, I included our tour expenses in Euros, 100 Euros is approx. $140. - On our way to Barcelona, we had a 23 hour layover in Amsterdam. We had planned to take the train to our hotel, but we found a 3 1/2 hour tour that began at the airport with Holland Tours (50) and ended with them dropping us off at Anne Frank House to pick up our reserved tickets (8.50). Schiphol airport has lots of shopping and storage lockers. We took the train from Centraal Station to the airport (4.50). Amsterdam was very easy to get around and every thing was mostly in English. - ARRIVAL: We arrived in Barcelona a few days before the cruise. We took the airport bus (4.50) and it dropped us off at Plaza Catalunya. We booked 2 rooms on Las Ramblas at the Hotel Continental. All the rooms were decorated in pink. The inside rooms are not noisy. The balcony rooms are noisy. Every morning, they had a good breakfast with quiche, bacon, pastries, etc. Drinks & snacks, including wine and beer are available 24 hours. We caught the 2 day Hop on Bus (27) and night tour (16) by Busturistic at Plaza Catalunya. The night tour starts at 9:30pm and allows people to get off at Montjuic to see the dancing waters for about 1 hour. It ends about 11:30pm. In 2 days we saw the entire city. You can reserve these by going to the information booth, down the escalators at the Plaza Catalunya square directly across from El Corte Ingles. Some advice, for the night tour they recommend that you arrive at 9pm and wait for the tour, but people start lining up about 8:45pm to get a seat on the top level. There were so many people that 3 buses were used and there were still people waiting for last minute cancellations. -LAUNDRY: Near our hotel, we had a laundry with modern machines. It cost about 10 Euros to do a carry-on suitcase & shopping bag full of clothing. The laundry is located off Las Ramblas on Elizabeth street (2nd street that parallels Las Ramblas). Email me if you need exact location, but if you can locate Buenas Migas (excellent for cappuccinos, pastries, breakfast, etc., it's on the next street over. By the way, the hotel staff were very helpful in finding places we needed.- EMBARKATION 12pm: We planned to take the L3 to Drassanes near the port, but needed to pick up a few things on the way to the port. We found a luggage shop on Las Ramblas and purchased a rolling duffel bag (24) and then grabbed a taxi to the port (12). We arrived at the port around 12:00, purchased liters of water at the terminal (8) and flip-flops for the pool (5), ate at the buffet, went swimming and were in our cabin by 1:30, even though they say the cabins aren't ready until 2pm. We unpacked all our things and went to the bowling alley. The dining rooms were empty about 6pm. We had a table in the back and got to see ship pull away at 7pm.- MALTA 8am-3pm: We arranged a tour with Vince at Guide In Malta.net, 13 people (300), but ordered the Hypogeum (UNESCO World Heritage Site) tickets on our own. These get sold out several months in advance. We got off the ship at 8am, we toured the three cities, Hypogeum (20), Tarxien (6.50), Marsaloxx fishing village (excellent hand made souvenirs), Blue Grotto (7), St. John's Co-Cathedral (5), shopping through city of Valletta. While we were in the Palace Armoury, we had the opportunity of seeing the President of Malta, Dr. George Abela, arrive with his escorts. Vince was great, we saw a lot on our short time there.- NAPLES 8am -7pm: I had made inquires a few months back about trying to do Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri during our time in port. Most responses from independent drivers was "not enough time" (500). On cruise critic, we found train schedules by GSPLover that provided a very good itinerary for doing it yourself in several ports. We got off the ship about 8am and ended up in the 3rd row of taxis looking for a one-way to the train station. We were swarmed by taxi drivers in the 1st and 2nd row all wanting 20 Euros. We found Rafael with Abas Taxis who suggested 40 Euros each person for a stop at a cameo factory, Ercolano (Herculaneum), Pompeii, Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, so we jumped on that. While we were in Pompeii, we decided to catch the hydrofoil to the island of Capri (13.50). It was about a 15 minute ride and quite bumpy. We took the 1:45 and planned to take the 5:10 from Capri to Naples so we would have a few hours on Capri. They take MasterCard or Visa on the purchase in Sorrento for Capri, but only Euros in Capri to Naples. The hydrofoil to Capri was practically empty, except for a few groups from our ship. Upon arriving in Capri, we saw the boats to the Blue Grotto (11) also a short line. We took a funicular to the top of Capri to the city center for 1.50 Euros, had lunch and then took the funicular back down and got in line for the hydrofoil about 30 minutes before departure (16) to Naples. By the time it departed, all seats to Naples were taken. It was a 50 minute ride to Naples (also bumpy and at times, airborne LOL).  We arrived near our ship in Moll Beverallo by 6pm in time for boarding at 6:30pm and did our last minute shopping at the terminal. By the way, this is the 2nd time we were able to get wine bottles on board. It appears that Italy ports do their own screening and don't mind how many bottles you take back.-  ROME 7am-7pm: The port shuttles were late and people started to walk on their own to the train station. The shuttles started coming about 7:20am. They dropped us off on the main street and we walked to the train station. We purchased the BIRG ticket (9) and already had a detailed itinerary from another cruise critic member. If you want to see something special and not crowded, come out of the train station and make a left, you'll head past the Colosseum to St. Clement Church (backs to the same street), cross 2 streets, make a right and then a left on a side street to get to the front entrance. This church is definitely worth seeing and interesting for kids. The church is built in layers on top of another church from the 4th century. The bottom floor has a house from the 1st century with a spring still flowing through it. Back to the train station, we caught the train to the Vatican. We also had prepaid tickets (18) for 1pm and walked right in. Some sections of the museum close at 2pm, so we got into those first. On the way back to the train station, we found a pizza and gelato place, but got disoriented. We ended up taking a taxi to the train station. The train was packed with people sitting on the floor. This was the only bad part of the whole trip. We couldn't move until people got off the train a few stops later. On the way back to the ship, we found more shopping and gelato places in Civitavecchia. We waited until the last bus to the ship. This stop was the most reasonable of all. - LIVORNO 7am-7pm: We had no plans for this port. We really wanted to see Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I made reservations for the ship's tour (100), but canceled since it didn't stop at Pisa. We tried to take the train to Florence instead.  Phone reservations can be made to see the DAVID with no credit card required.  We grabbed a taxi to train station (20). When we arrived at the station, the driver, Elio from Livorno (cruise critic member), told us he would take us to Cinque Terre and then to Pisa for 64 Euros each. Because the Cinque Terre National Park entrance includes (8) the train between each village, we had time left over for Pisa. If you do the ship's tour, they use the ferries and it takes much longer and don't run as often as the train.- CANNES 7am-3pm: We considered the ship's tour on this stop (70), because it was a tendered port and the people with a tour had priority getting off the ship. The ship did not have a tour that combined the places we wanted to see, so we decided to take our chances with a train or taxi. We went to the gangway hoping to blend it with the tour people and it worked, we were off at 7:15 am. On a different gangway, they stopped other people in our group so we waited about 5 minutes for them at the port. One thing we noticed is that in the Spanish version of the Freestyle Daily Activities, the ship stated only people on tours have priority for getting on a tender. On the English version, it had no mention of it whatsoever. Either way, we ignored it because we pay those port charges and are entitled to the same time as other passengers. Cannes is a short walk from the port and very picturesque. We had no idea where we were going, the beach was empty. We asked around for a taxi and we were given different locations for the taxi stand. We walked about 5 minutes down the main street next to the marina, with other cruisers who got off the ship with us. We found a taxi stand across from the police station, but they wanted 400 Euros for 4 hours. We decided to take the train, so we continued and the locals told us how to get to the train station. It's about a 15 minute walk. Once inside the station, it was very easy to figure out where to go. While I was checking out the routes, my husband found a taxi for 5 people for 300 Euros for 6 hours. I gave him my list and he said he could do it all. So we stopped in Nice, passed the ship tours, made it to Monaco by 10 am for the changing of the guards, stopped at Monte Carlo, then continued to the Fragonard Perfume Factory for a free tour, purchased perfume cremes (so we wouldn't have problems in carryon bags), stopped in the village of Eze, St. Paul de Vence and then played on the beach as the ship tours waited in line to get back on the ship via tenders. -DISEMBARKATION 5am: We didn't get off the ship until about 9:30am. At this time, there was a long line for taxis and port bus. Eventually, an army of taxi's showed up and it cost 13 Euros to go back to Las Ramblas. We went to the same hotel, Hotel Continental, to check-in about 11am. Our rooms were ready and we had breakfast. We were going to do our laundry again, but discovered we could go to Montserrat Monastery on our own by train. The ship has this 4 hour tour for $85 each and we missed it. We also missed the Montserrat tour from Plaza Catalunya, because it leaves at 8:30am. Anyway, the hotel staff helped us again and we took the train to Plaza Espana where we caught the train to Montserrat, a tour booth for Montserrat is in the Plaza Espana train station. They had a package deal for 14 Euros. You have 2 options of getting up to the top, railway or cable. We chose the railway. They also have other tours that include lunch. If you make it there by noon on Sundays, you'll have the opportunity of seeing the boys choir sing. Pay attention to the last train that operates. We were back at our hotel by 6:30pm. - DEPARTURE, we were headed back to Los Angeles. We planned to take the airport shuttle (4.50), but the line was too long. We ended up doing a taxi (25). We wrapped all our luggage in plastic at the airport (6). 1 medium suitcase was loaded with souvenirs and wine bottles? We had a 23 hour layover in Paris and didn't want to drag all this with us. Air France held our luggage in storage at Charles De Gaulle. We chose a hotel that was next to a train stop (RER B) from the airport (5) in the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame so we would not use up our short time with train connections and getting lost. When we walked up the stairs onto a main street, I immediately recognized our surroundings, walked around a corner and found our hotel, Albe Hotel, with a bottom floor pâtisserie. The Latin Quarter is similar to Las Ramblas, with very affordable eating. I had previously studied the street view on google maps. I felt I had visited the city already. The next day, we jumped on the same train (RER B) and headed back to the airport (5). The flight on Air France was smooth and quick. Air France has great service, but the food served is too exotic for our American tastebuds. All our luggage arrived safely. - DISLIKES: NCL charges for all movies in the cabins and kids gratuities are full price. Items sold on NCL can be found all over Europe for much less. We were told that NCL owns the gift and jewelry shops they push at each port. NCL raised the price to $25 for a bag of laundry. Outrageous prices on ship excursions and drinks. For people who have young children, Kid's Crew doesn't receive any of the gratuities despite kids being charged as adults. Kid's Crew closed during time in ports unlike Carnival. Drop off at 7pm didn't coincide with certain adult activities such as the Mystery Dinner night at 6:30pm. In the evenings, some shows ran over the Kid's Crew pick up time of 10:30pm which was all the way at the other end of the ship.-LIKES: Itineraries/choices of ships Great value for seeing Europe Never a wait for dinner (Europeans eat later) Elegant cabins Freestyle Dining Military and Union discounts Cruise Rewards $100 ship credit for a $250 deposit on future cruiseCOST in Euros(15 cities) Amsterdam: Tours, Tickets, Boat, Train = 63. Barcelona: 4 days, Tours, tickets, train, shuttles = 65. Malta: Tours, Tickets = 61. Naples/Capri: Tours, Tickets, Ferry/hydrofoil, Funicular = 60 + 30 for hydrofoil. Rome/Vatican: Train, Tickets = 45. Cinque Terre/Pisa: Tours, Tickets, Train = 72. Cannes/Monaco: Tour = 60. Paris: Tour, Tickets, Taxi, Boat, Train = 70 SHIP EXCURSIONS: The ship won't be able to get tickets that are limited like the Hypogeum in Malta. If we had the option of combining ship tours (up to 3) to see what we saw on our own, the following would be the cost PER PERSON: Malta: 140 Euros (3 tours combined) Naples/Ercolano/Pompeii/Sorrento/Capri:, 270 Euros (2 tours combined) Rome/Vatican: 323 Euros Livorno/Cinque Terre/Pisa- 150 Euros (2 tours combined) Cannes/Nice/Monaco/Eze/St. Paul- 125 Euros (2 tours combined) Barcelona/Montserrat- 110 Approximate Total: 1100 Euros ($1500) vs. 400 Euros ($565, DIY-do it yourself) If you have time, do your research. Spend wisely, go on more trips.  Look at the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Quite a few sites are in Barcelona.  Rick Steves and other travel guides offer free podcasts, including language lessons, on Itunes, type "free travel" in the search. With pre-paid tickets, there was no wait in lines. With Google Maps, we were able to do a virtual walking tour in each city to become familiar with the surroundings. We used ATM's to take out the daily max. There's no need to take more than 100 Euros from the U.S. On Sundays on Las Ramblas, the banks tend to run out since it's a common cruise day. Bank of America is partnered with BNP Banks in France, we were told there would be no fees. - We have all the links, hotels, taxi numbers, and more details of the itineraries we did with our Cruise Photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/portsofcall/collections/ Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
My sister had previously done two land tours of Europe and this Norwegian Western Med cruise.  She recommended the cruise for a few reasons:  most traveling is done while sleeping during the night (instead of during the day on a bus), ... Read More
My sister had previously done two land tours of Europe and this Norwegian Western Med cruise.  She recommended the cruise for a few reasons:  most traveling is done while sleeping during the night (instead of during the day on a bus), food is included on the cruise, and chances of finding clean public restrooms are much better!  This was our first cruise, my boyfriend and I.  We're in our early 50s.  We booked our airfare on our own, but booked a pre-night stay in Barcelona with the cruiseline.  When we arrived in Barcelona, we did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, which was fun.  When we checked into our hotel, a person from the cruiseline was there to tell us exactly when to be downstairs in the morning for our transfer to the port.  She was there again in the morning.  Embarking was very easy and fast.  We had a balcony room and luckily had beautiful warm weather and calm seas for the entire trip.  I was fascinated by the navigation channel and loved trying to figure out what land mass we were seeing.  We did a Norwegian excursion in every port, basically because we didn't know what to expect and didn't want to worry about finding our way around on our own.  In Malta, we did the jeep safari, where we hopped onto the back of a jeep and rode around the island, stopping for pictures of the beautiful cliffs and blue sea.  In Naples, we went to Pompeii, on a guided tour that I found very interesting.  In Rome, we took the Vatican and Rome tour, where most of the day was dedicated to the Vatican, lunch at a restaurant in Rome, then a short drive around Rome with a stop at the coliseum. Always wanted to see the Vatican and our tour guide, Giuseppi, did not disappoint - he knew every detail.  At the port for Florence, we did the Pisa/Tuscany tour, which was and not as "educational" and more relaxing.  Would have loved to have seen Florence - maybe next time.  At Nice, we went to an ancient village fortress in the mountains overlooking the sea - another relaxing trip.  I was amazed at how smoothly the excursions were handled by the ship's crew and the tour contractors.  It's a no-brainer - they give you a ticket with a time and place to show up, put a sticker on you, send you to your bus and take care of you all day.  There are so many choices for excursions, I  could probably take the same exact cruise three or four times and never get bored. If I do that, I will probably choose tours that include more free time.  In fact, I discovered that I loved cruising so much I could probably have stayed on the ship and been perfectly happy.  The crew was wonderful.  I thought the food was wonderful - and if you don't like something you can always order something else.  Debarking the ship was simple, we had a transfer but there's no need for one - taxis were lined up early at the port.  Early May is probably a very good time to do this cruise - although the Vatican was crowded, it wasn't really that bad.  Our ship seemed to be full of people our age, so there wasn't any noise at night to deal with.  We were both very happy with the trip and plan to cruise again....maybe Alaska next time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem quite anxiously as we had read a lot of negative reviews about freestyle cruising, but those were all misleading as we found it quite the opposite! The reason we chose this over Royal Carribean was the fact ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem quite anxiously as we had read a lot of negative reviews about freestyle cruising, but those were all misleading as we found it quite the opposite! The reason we chose this over Royal Carribean was the fact we got more luxurious cabin( a Penthouse) with all the VIP perks for less money and as we like to eat whenever we want and whatever we want it really fit our needs as this was a port intensive cruise and we had to see a lot and we did not want to be restricted by set dinner times etc. The service and food in most of the specialty restaurants were very good to excellent and we did not mind the surcharge as we paid less for our cabin. We loved the VIP perks including option of breakfast or lunch at Cagney's even though we used the Garden Cafe for breakfast all days except the last day to avoid the crowds. By the way we did not have any problems finding a table any one of those days as most of you complained. The staff were all friendly and efficient. I will definitely sail Norwegian again especialy on port intensive cruises. The ports of call were all excellent and we got to see a lot as we had it all planned well ahead which you should definitely do. If you can afford to go ahead and splurge on luxury suites Penthouse and above, its well worth it! Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Norwegian Gem Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.7
Entertainment 4.5 3.9
Public Rooms 3.5 4.1
Fitness Recreation 3.5 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.6
Enrichment 3.0 3.4
Service 5.0 4.1
Value For Money 5.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 3.8

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