We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on September 20, 2009. This was an incredible cruise, the staff was first-rate, and we consider it a trip of a lifetime. The shows were great (especially "Second City"), and the piano player in the ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on September 20, 2009. This was an incredible cruise, the staff was first-rate, and we consider it a trip of a lifetime. The shows were great (especially "Second City"), and the piano player in the main area of the ship has an angel's touch on those keys. Our room came with a butler, Andrew. It was like he magically appeared when you had a whim. If anyone made our trip feel special, it was him. He was great!! Our suite steward was Mickle (prounounced Michael). He was very very helpful and seemed to love his job. He is also a towel-animal artisan. Nice touch. The ship is very clean and well kept. I had read the food was terrible, but did not experience that at all. We both thought the food was top-notch at all meals. There are some crowded times at the buffets, but you don't HAVE to eat at those if you lack of patience. We did a couple of times and it was just fine. Of the places on the ship that charge a little extra, we enjoyed Cagney's the most. Teppanyaki's is fun, but probably the priciest of the pay-extra places at 25/ per person plus drinks. Of the "included" eateries, The Grand Pacific is really nice.
Embarkation: Sooooooooo easy. Show up, show your documents, get on the ship. Period. You can go eat as soon as you walk onboard or go look around. It's freestyle... it's up to you.
First day at Sea: We met up with some friends we had contacted on cruise critic before the cruise who were to share our Rome tour with us. They were amazing people and we had tons of fun with them right away. Those two, my wife, and I attended the wine tasting/ food pairing class. We learned a lot, and drank quite a bit as well. I remember the laughter and familiarity we felt in this group of "strangers." I highly recommend this class. The show that night was a magician. He was unique. Some people walked out on this show too soon (no regard for how hard the entertainer is working). It started slow, but ended with a bang! Those who left early missed it!
Valletta, Malta: You must be awake when the ship sails into this port. It's the most scenic of all the entries. The sunrise over the fortress city walls bathes the stone in a golden light that can't be recreated in pictures. Breathtaking. We did not have an excursion here. Our new friends walked with us around the city. We headed right out of the port and along the seashore, took some pictures back across the water of our ship. Continued our path to a bell-tower erected in memory of fallen soldiers. As we circled the city along the water, we came along the fort, and the museum next to it. At this point we cut back across the city through tiny allyways and saw real citizens going about their respective lives. Sounds boring, but was immensely interesting. We worked our way back to St. John's Co-Cathedral. This place is AMAZING. Your mind won't be able to take it all in, but it's worth a shot to see this masterpiece of a church. We ate at a little outdoor restaurant across from St. Johns. I don't recall the name, but it was great for people watching and the food was decent with decent prices.
Naples, Italy: Pulling into this port is nothing special. Kind of industrial looking. In fact, I recommend doing an excursion that takes you well OUT of Naples all together as it is a very dirty city with garbage lined streets. Sad. However, once you leave the city limits hold onto your hats for the views you are about to see. We did the NCL excursion "Pompeii and a taste of Sorrento." The tour guide was great. The bus ride was pleasant. And, the scenery enroute to Sorrento along the coast was world-class. Sorrento was a quaint little town with lots of little shops. We then were taken to a farm where we watched a cheese making demonstration, and were fed homemade lunch by the farm owners. Wine was included. Yes! After lunch, we were taken to Pompeii. I had no idea this place was as big as it is (I believe close to 4000 acres). You can not see it in one day, much less a two hour tour but you definitely get the flavor. Do not miss this.
Rome, Italy: We used a private tour guide through www.romecabs.com. I don't see many people using them, but a friend of mine had just gotten back from this cruise and they came highly recommended. I agree. Our driver was Maurizio (ask for him). We felt like we were leaving an old friend at the end of our day. We saw all the major sites. Circus Maximus, Roman Forum, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican. He even took us to a local restaurant to eat that tourists don't go to. This was the best meal of the vacation for me. I had seen where people were trying to do Rome on their own. I, for the life of me, can NOT imagine that. This place is huge, the traffic is very heavy, and there's so much to see that you would have to sacrifice a lot to try to see this city on your own.
Livorno/ Pisa, Italy: Here, we did another NCL excursion called "Pisa and a taste of Tuscany." The bus with tour guide take you on a nice ride to Pisa. They give you a little history and some facts along the way. Then, you are dropped off near the leaning tower and Field of Miracles for two hours to see and do as you please. I've always wanted to see the leaning tower, so I had to do this tour. It looks just like the pictures you've seen. There were thousands of people here, but it didn't seem crowded because the tower and Duomo are in a large field. After viewing the leaning tower, we were taken to a winery and got information on olive oil production and wine making. I thought we were going to get to SEE them make olive oil or wine, but it was just talking. Then, the fun part... the wine tasting and food began and all was ok. We met more people here and had a fine time. We also bought a lot of wine and olive oil from this place. They are really raking in the cash hand-over-fist.
Cannes, France: You have to take a tender on this stop. We did not do an excursion here. I had read where people said they didn't even get off the ship for this place, and others that said they took a train to Nice or Monte Carlo and intimated that Cannes itself really had nothing to offer. I beg to differ. This town was the most beautiful of all the towns we visited.... By far! We just started walking. We walked through backstreets, allyways, and major roads. By sheer accident, we found the castle at the top of a hill. Nice views from here. Then we made our way back to the main road near the beach for some window shopping and people watching. There are nice beaches really close to the port if you want to have some beach time. I was light-heartedly warned by several Italians about how rude French people were and how I was not going to like my stop in Cannes. Not true. We do not speak any French at all, but the people were warm, helpful, and very friendly in all our encounters. Look for the buildings with the nice paintings on them. They are really interesting. You can feel the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" at this stop. Enjoy!
Barcelona, Spain: We stayed in two different hotels in Barcelona because we flew in a day early and stayed one extra day after our cruise. This is where some negatives are going to fly. Before the cruise, we stayed at Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel. I believe it's listed as 4 stars, but it's just a room, nothing special. The staff seems detached and uncaring... dare I say "bothered" you are there. The concierge told us an out-and-out lie that affected our trip just to move us on so she wouldn't have to help us. Enough about them. We will not be staying there ever again. Upon our return, we stayed at Hotel Arts-Barcelona. Just the opposite from Eurostars. Incredible staff of helpful, caring, prompt, knowledgeable people. The room had a spectacular view of the harbor and the giant whale sculpture and the beds were comfortable. For our tour of the city, we hopped on one of the double decker buses that go around town for 21 euros per person. You can hop on and hop off, but we only got off once to see park Guell. Gaudi's works in this city are unique and need to be seen. If you only have one day in Barcelona, you will not have time to see everything for sure. We didn't. This is a city of almost 4 million people, so you know it's huge. We ate that evening at a place right across from Hotel Arts called Barnabier. Our waiter didn't speak English, but he was fun! He recommended (pointed at on the menu) a wine that ended up being the best wine we'd had all vacation. The food was also good here. Read Less