18 Barcelona to Transatlantic Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

This was our 10th NCL cruise and first trans-atlantic crossing. The cruise left from Barcelona and we flew in a day early from NYC to be well rested before boarding the ship. Really did very little in Barcelona but roam Las Ramblas for ... Read More
This was our 10th NCL cruise and first trans-atlantic crossing. The cruise left from Barcelona and we flew in a day early from NYC to be well rested before boarding the ship. Really did very little in Barcelona but roam Las Ramblas for awhile and the Barri. Went to the famous market and had the best ice cream ever. The embarcation was the easiest we have had. We were led to the latitudes area and the procedure was over in about 5 minutes. The crew on the Gem were wonderful from the moment we stepped foot on the ship. There was a line-up of crew all smiling and welcoming. NCL is very diligent with sanitation and right from the start our hands were sprayed and the crew member said washie, washie!! This is silly, but fun. And immediately set the tone for the friendliness of this staff. We were told we couldn't get to our cabins until after 2 PM. So, we headed to a quiet place which turned out to be the Star Bar tucked away on a top deck. Great place to spend some time with no interruptions. Our cabin was an inside on the 9th deck. It was one of the largest we've had on NCL and we had tons of space for storage. We also loved the small refrigerator which our steward emptied for us as we were not going to use the drinks it was loaded with. I want to note, this was my first trip being a gold latitudes member. We had a large fruit bowl waiting for us on arrival. We were sent priority tender tickets and priority disembarcation tags. We didn't have to ask for anything as everything was taken care of and I appreciated this. Let me talk about the Gem a bit. She is a beautiful ship and very clean. The atrium, especially after recently experiencing the non atrium on the Zuiderdam, was very well done. It is not soaring like the Spirit, but lots of comfortable seating, ceiling and glass art and very dressed for the Christmas season. The public rooms, especially Spinnaker on the 13th deck, Bliss and both Grand Pacific and Magenta dining rooms are very comfortable and well presented. Bliss is something to experience with its bowling alley and beds for lounging. We spent some time in Maltings Bar and Magnums both of which were great for drinks and people watching. The specialty restaurants we experienced were La Cucina and Cagney's. We enjoyed La Cucina although I missed the "trolley" of olives, cheeses and salads they had in the past. Cagney's was what we are used to in a top restaurant in comfort and service. The food I can't comment on fairly, as we were both suffering from 6 days of storms on the open Atlantic and couldn't really enjoy the meal. I'll comment on our ports in another section, but I'll close with a comment on the crossing. It was a very stormy and difficult crossing. Lots of people were ill and spent lots of time in cabins. The ship never stopped pitching and making lots of noise. However, the Captain spoke to us every day with information and the crew was wonderful in attitude and their ability to take care of us while balancing on a pitching ship. I'd sail anytime with NCL, but I think for a trans-atlantic crossing, I'd do it a bit earlier than December. Read Less
Sail Date December 2009
Food and Service: Food Quality was generally Average to poor. Hot food was served cold most of the time. Critical food items such as sauces and meats were just warm. This concerns me cause bacteria can build at warm temperatures. ... Read More
Food and Service: Food Quality was generally Average to poor. Hot food was served cold most of the time. Critical food items such as sauces and meats were just warm. This concerns me cause bacteria can build at warm temperatures. Portions were very small food was bland and at times disgusting. The service staff for the most part were not trained. Service was slow to no existent at times. Service was diner style. No service from the left with the left hand. Usually an elbow across your face and water being dripped across your plate and the table. Tex-Mex restaurant was terrible... 2 1/2 hours and never got to dessert. Service terrible. When food finally arrived they tried to put it on the table. I advised the waitress that she need to clear the table first before serving the next course. Cabin: Very nice. Clean. Nice floor plan. Excellent room steward. Dislike sliding door opening by itself. Even with a board wedged in the handle. Professional Entertainment: Good most nights Ships entertainment staff: Average. Same games several times a day. Need more variety. One more bingo event and I think I would jump ship. :) Ship areas: Nice, comfortable. The amount of living space for the passengers is not adequate. Passengers where stacked up everywhere since the lounges did not have enough capacity for the passengers. Many areas where always full. This ship would be fine for warm weather cruising when more passengers would be up on deck. Sell Sell Sell: This is a Freestyle cruise but there isn't much free. All the specialty restaurants have cover charges of $10.00 to $25.00 per person extra. Plus and extra fee if something special was ordered on the menu. Bingo for those who play was $70.00. Ship tours are extra. They push the rewards special every time they have a chance $250.00 paid on ship gives you a $100.00 credit to be used on board with restrictions. Lottery tickets. I soon expect that they will have video poker machines built in to the dinning room tables and Ladies running around yelling Keno anyone! :) Ports: Ports are OK. Do your homework first. It takes a long time to get to Rome for example. So don't expect to see Rome in a day. :) Tenders: Cannes tendering and disembarkation was a disaster. We arrived at 10:00AM as scheduled but could not get off until till 11:30. I think more than one tender location should have been set up. So we stayed in Cannes and did not rush to any other local towns. Embarkation and Disembarkation was smooth and speedy. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
We decided to use the opportunity of the low cost of cruising in 2009 by booking 4 different cruises on 4 different cruise lines in the Mediterranea in November and December. It took a lot a research,but finally we booked consecutive ... Read More
We decided to use the opportunity of the low cost of cruising in 2009 by booking 4 different cruises on 4 different cruise lines in the Mediterranea in November and December. It took a lot a research,but finally we booked consecutive cruises on the Costa Victoria,the MSC Splendida,the Azamara Quest and the NCL Gem. Even though at first sight these ships seem to fall in different categories,the daily price for a balcony cabin on a Med.cruise was very similar, so direct comparisons between these ships were realistic.The cruise on the Gem was the last one and we started it in Barcelona after flying from Athens where the Quest had left us . The embarkation process started fine; there were many attendants (20+) to look after the check-in and we were quickly aboard the ship ! It was still early and the cabins were not ready,so we were given glasses of sparkling wine or juice while waiting ! The problem started when the number of passengers increased : we quickly ended up being over 200 waiting in the lobby,being told that the restaurants would open only in one hour and rooms available in two hours ! Only when I enquired for a place to drop our carry-ons did we learned that the restaurant in the Garden Cafe was open for service and in fact had been for a while ! There had been a lack of communication within the staff ! Rather than waiting for our luggage in the cabin ,we decided to go out and visit Barcelona for the remaining of the afternoon. The first impression of the Gem is surprising ! The decoration on this ship is quite different from what we we had seen on the Victoria,the Splendida and the Quest: it is a kaleidoscope of colors and every corner of the ship seems to have its own decor and style ! It is definitely very original and generates different reactions ! The public rooms are very spacious,easily accessible and spread all around the ship. There are numerous bars, all quite distinctive and with comfortable seating ! The Stardust Theater is located at the back of the ship and has a lot of seating space without any obstruction for viewing ! The sound is excellent and it is an area not too affected by the rocking in bad weather !The Fitness Center is very well equipped and located at the front of the ship where the view could be impressive ! The library is too small for the demand but it has a good choice of books ! There is a choice of 4 restaurants where service is free and 7 specialty restaurants where they charge a cover for what you get ! Each restaurant has its own distinctive decor ,with varying taste but seating is excellent ! It was our third experience with Free Style dining and we found it well organised for the size of the ship ! Dining was average,no more ! We took most of our breakfasts at the buffet at the Garden Cafe and found the choice to be very wide, food warm enough ,seating available but coffee worse than tasteless ! The cappuccino machine would work for a couple of hours each morning but after 8h30the tasteless brew would be the only type available! Lunches and dinners were average with a good choice that included Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine mixed with an Italian pasta bar and North American food , the only problem being with the temperature of the food that would vary in time ! Meals taken at the Grand Pacific and the Magenta restaurants were generally very good with a varied selection of courses ! Specialty restaurants were of a mixed breed : the Tequila offered Mexican chain food in a nice decor; the La Cucina had a good choice of pasta and pizza but the meat and fish proved to be average,no more; only did the Cagney's Steak House offered excellent choice and cooking but at an additional cost of 25$ ! We did not try the other restaurants but got mixed feedback from friends ! The cabin was of average size,nicely laid-out with a lot of space for luggage , enough space for movement and the decoration was more sober than the rest of the ship ! It was kept clean for the duration of the whole voyage,was not noisy and we did not feel too much the rocking of the ship. The service was very good from all groups of the crew ! What requires a lot of improvement on this ship is the entertainment ! The shows presented at the Stardust Theater were on the average of better quality and more original than what we had seen on Costa,Princess,Azamara,MSC and even HAL but this is where the + ended ! There was only one enrichment program,with seminars that lasted 40 minutes each for 5 days , this is not much for a 13 days cruise that had 7 days at sea. The problem increased when the ship got in the Atlantic ! The sea got very rough and for 5 days the passengers experienced the effects of gusty winds with waves of close to 30 feet ! The Spinnaker Lounge where most of the morning and afternoon activities took place got to be the least comfortable location on the ship making it difficult to attend morning exercises,dancing classes,trivia,even the seminars.. The staff refused to transfer these activities at the Stardust Theater since it was reserved for performers for practice sessions 9 (2-3 hours). There were two movies projected in the Main Lobby which has a capacity of less than 200 for 2300 passengers , again this could have been transferred to the Theater ! With the pool areas close due to the bad weather,the Spinnaker Lounge being very rocky,the Library being very small and the Gym being at the front of the ship where using the treadmill was hazardous,let alone the weights it became apparent that cabins were the place to be ! The television screen was of a good size but did not show very much !There was a Fox channel discussing about politics (perceived as being anti-government for a non-American),an ESPN broadcast of old sporting events, a channel showing pre 1960 movies and only on day 10 of the cruise did we get access to a Movie channel! There was no daily news bulletin delivered to the rooms like we had on the Costa and Azamara ships and we had to buy newspapers to get in touch with the rest of the world ! This was a trans-Atlantic cruise and there should have been some alternatives planned in case of bad weather ! We have to give a big+ though on the way the Gem handled the bad sea and the crew has to take some benefits! The last time we had seen waves of this size was on the Cape Horn, ! We did not see anyone being sea sick,a lot of people wearing ear patches and bracelets and less people circulating in the public areas ! The itinerary in Europe was very interesting with ports of call in Cannes,Livorno,Rome Ajaccio and Malaga. Information provided by the ship proved very useful for passengers visiting on their own and getting out and back on the ship was easy ! The disembarkation process in New-York was slower than expected and this was probably due to the freestyle process where everyone selects its own time of disembarkation so that the first groups were overcrowded and the others late. Overall, this cruise was the least expensive cruise of the 4 we had taken and we got what we had paid for ! It was not a disappointing cruise but we had expected more from NCL ! Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
First some background for context. We have been on several cruises over the past ten years. Our last 3 cruises were all on the QMII so this time we thought we would try freestyle on this transatlantic to try the other end of the spectrum ... Read More
First some background for context. We have been on several cruises over the past ten years. Our last 3 cruises were all on the QMII so this time we thought we would try freestyle on this transatlantic to try the other end of the spectrum and because of the itinerary and the price. We had read the reviews and our expectations were low but we tend to make the most of any circumstance and any day on a cruise is better than the best day at work. An overview of the trip: This was like 3 vacations in one. We first had a few days in Barcelona (we had spent a day there on our last QMII cruise and looked forward to going back). We then had 1 week in Mediterranean ports and then 6 days in the crossing. I will not specifically review the ports because those are always the same no matter the cruise and is what you make of them. We did all ports on our own or hired local tour operators that meant that we spent less for the 4 of us than we could have spent each for NCL excursions. In summary, ship was very nice, if not a little over the top, but that made it fun. The Mediterranean portion was port-intensive with only one day at sea and then the 6 days of the crossing extremely rough. I would have traded some of the ports for being able to go around those storms but I do not know if that was possible. The food was much better than we expected. We enjoyed freestyle because we could easily go to dinner whenever we wanted. In general the ship seemed to be understaffed and the staff severely undertrained. However, the staff was all very nice and tried to help even when it was clear they did not know how. The entertainment was fair at best - with some bright spots here and there. NCL did seem to charge a lot more for things like drinks and activities than I remember from other lines (e.g. $9 martinis, $75-$100 for bingo, $75 for the behind-the-scenes tour). We would sail on NCL again (looking at the EPIC for 2011) but would not do a transatlantic in December again - at least with the Gibraltar to New York route. There were a lot of people sick on the cruise and the medical staff told us there was an intestinal virus and what most people thought was seasickness was actually the virus. The official line was to deny this and I it seemed to me that telling people would have gone a long way to stop the spread. I got a touch for about 24 hours but it wasn't too bad. By the end of the cruise the crew was dragging after dealing with 6 straight days of high seas and fighting sickness. Embarkation (and debarkation) were a breeze - we were on the ship within 30 minutes. We got into our cabin almost an hour before they originally announced and the bags were there by the time we got back from a very nice lunch) in the Grand Pacific. Our mini-suite (11060) was roomy and there was plenty of space for our stuff. We didn't use the balcony very much because of the weather but it was in a great location. Service in the cabin was good but not great. On several instances we did not get ice and had to go looking for towels. We did the last time to get off the ship and it meant a leisurely morning, which I quite liked. Food was better than we expected. We tried all the locations on the 13 days except Sushi and Cagney's and only because we didn't get to them. We kept waiting for the seas to subside to go to Cagneys but they never did. We did not mind paying extra for the specialty restaurants - we just budgeted for it and the cruise price was still a bargain. The ship had boards to say how full the restaurants were but our experience was they were completely wrong. Every time we went to the Grand Pacific when it said it was "red" there was plenty of seating and several times when we went when it was "green" there was a wait. Not sure why. In the end , we never waited - we just went to a specialty restaurant instead and walked right in. The good: The best food by far was Le Bistro. We had saved it for the second week and would do it earlier in the trip next time. We made the mistake thinking it would be nice once were at sea but the rough seas made it difficult so we finally went the last night. It was definitely worth the $15 surcharge but I would not pay the $25 surcharge that I have seen on some blogs. The Orchard was really good, in particular the appetizers. Tequila was also good but is advertized as Mexican AND tapas but tapas are only at the bar. We hoped for more of a taste of Barcelona with a light tapas dinner one night and we couldn't get it. The free (small) margaritas were also a nice touch. We did La Cucina 2 different nights (one with just the 4 of us and one with the cruise critic large group that closed the restaurant to only us). Both dinners were very good, although I did prefer the night without the big group. We had some excellent and some just good meals in the Grand Pacific - at Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. The food at the Garden Cafe was better than we expected - food was made-to-order in many instances. It was good as long as you were getting something to take back to the cabin. The specialty restaurants were never busy so by the time the transatlantic portion started there started to be 2-fo-1 specials which made them more reasonable. I would definitely budget for this for any NCL cruise in the future and go to the specialty restaurants about half the nights. The Not-So-Good. I did get the feeling that most of the servers were not very experienced and needed some serious training in basic food service and the menu being served. It became a running joke that food or coffee needed to stay on the tray just a little longer so it was cold enough. There were also several instances of servers needing to run back to the kitchen for some missing items on an order (like tartar sauce to go with fried fish). We tried the Blue Lagoon twice and it was quite poor both times. Teppanyaki was loud and the food not that good so I would not do it again. We tried Magenta twice and both the food and the service were not on par with the Grand Pacific. The coffee was fair throughout - only the coffee at the coffee bar (extra charge) was good. We did room service only once - for a breakfast - and it was not very good. The Garden Cafe, although OK food, was general mayhem and seating was very difficult to find. The cappuccino machines often ran out of coffee. Entertainment. In general, the best word we could think of the entertainment was amateurish. The dance band was pretty good - the lead singer was very good (and boy he can dance) but the female lead was often off-key. The rest of the band mostly looked bored all the time. The band from the theatre was really awful. Some of the "smaller" acts were good - particularly Randon, the guitar player. We saw two stage shows and they were not to our liking so stopped going. The cruise director staff really tried but again they seemed under prepared for 7 days at sea, especially since the weather meant that outside activities could not take place. My husband enjoyed the casino and I enjoyed the spa and we both spent more than usual. We paid the $250 for the aqua spa (even though the daily said it was $160) but as soon as the seas got rough they had to drain all the pools so in the end it definitely was not worth the price. NCL recently discontinued providing any compensation for guest enrichment programs. This meant there wasn't that many organized activities to do during the crossing. We had agreed to give some basic dancing classes and were on the schedule for all 7 sea days. The sound guy was great at helping us plug in our music and giving us a microphone but that was the extent of the cruise staff involvement, except that one day the person running the Latitudes party quite rudely came in when we were half through our time and said we had to leave so they could set up. That would have been fine if they had just told us that before we started so we could plan less that day. We did receive a thank-you visit at dinner the last night from the hotel director but between preparation and giving classes we figured it was about 20 hours of time and we could not do any afternoon activities. It was a good experience but I would not do it again without some kind of compensation for our time. Please note we knew this and chose to do it anyway so we could see what it was like. We got a wine package - 12 bottles at 20% off. I am not sure if we would do that again - we met quite a few people who were able to get wine onboard at the ports without paying the outrageous corkage fee. I would also not get the Romance package again - it was definitely not worth the $135. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
Overall C- About us: My wife and I are around 30 and took our 2 year old daughter This was our 4th cruises so far, all exclusively with NCL. It had been 4 years between our last cruise and this one. We have been on the Majesty twice ... Read More
Overall C- About us: My wife and I are around 30 and took our 2 year old daughter This was our 4th cruises so far, all exclusively with NCL. It had been 4 years between our last cruise and this one. We have been on the Majesty twice and the Sea. Embarkation: A Went through the security checkpoint and got in line for check in. We had gotten in early and waited for the staff to open check in, we were through check in, and they cut the corner of my wife's card but thought nothing of it. The ship: C+ Clean, well maintained, nice. We were both pleasantly surprised that the colorful decor really worked. Looking at the photos online it looked loud but it was not to much. Each separate area of the ship had its own unique personality, and as you walked from one section to the next the carpeting and/or walls change from one scheme to the next. The dolphins on the cabin levels swim to the front of the ship that helps as the elevators are not all on the same side. The giant Wii screen in the atrium was not use enough. Most of the time there were just photos being shown on this screen or lines moving to the music. The stairs go up to the Blue Lagoon and Tequila Restaurants 2 of the 4 landings are in the middle of them. Bowling, golfing, rock climbing etc. not really used by anyone the bowling was about the only thing that could have been done on sea days but was very empty and price should have been lowered. Need to walk through the casino to get to the theater but it was always filled with people smoking at the exit area NOT playing just looking for a warm place to smoke but this is a main passage and not a good design for a ship build after smoking being ban in most buildings in the USA. "Bar City" gets a big F; you lost the charm of the little hangout each bar had on the other ships with different themes going on. It is a pain to get to the spinnaker lounge where most of the nightly entertainment started White party, 70's etc, need to walk outside or go down a level and wind through the shops. The Captain D Would have been an F but we made it I don't understand how he could not chart a course that would have given a day or 3 of somewhat smooth days 30 foot waves and 90 mile an hour winds was just crazy was always saying it was going to get better and it gets worst. The cabin: B+ (Our first Balcony) We were in a balcony cabin category BA, AFT 9174. The cabin was smaller than were prepared for but we got used to it. It should be fine for 2 and a 3rd as long as you don't plan to use the balcony after the single has gone to bed. The bed was Medium-firm not a rock but you stay on top of it, you also could not tell where the 2 "twin" mattresses came together. (Two twin make I king this was just a queen at best) Storage space was adequate. If the closet doors were open the bathroom door could not be opened without banging into them. The bathroom was wonderful. As you walked in you were facing the sink, to your right is the toilet area with a sliding door that could be closed for privacy, to the left was the shower. My wife and I are not small people but the shower was roomy with an adjustable height shower head which could also be removed and used as a handheld. The water pressure could be adjusted as well as the spray and temperature. It was always hot I couldn't get it to run out. The Balcony was nice and made for a few great photos. The crew: A Super, friendly, nice Andy, Ashtin, the whole Cruse director staff, kid's crew, reception desk staff ,right down the line all staff that had face time was very friendly and very helpful I don't have the names here with me as I write this. The casino: C The slot machines were no much fun little selection for fun games money went fast. Most of the time when I sit down to a machine I expect to lose but I also expect to be able to play for 10 or 15 minutes. The machines just seemed to be tight by the middle of the week; the casino was mostly empty except for smokers and stayed that way for the remainder of the cruise. The entertainment: C Headline shows B+ but the sea days had little going on before 5 pm not much choice do this or nothing so outside of ShowTime it was a D The food: D Main dining room was service was slow, I think it was intentional, but friendly the food was ok nothing great I had a good sirloin and a very bad one The ½ lobster tail was ok nothing great. The food over all was on par with a Denny's Specialty Restaurants: D+ Food not service Blue Lagoon was the 24 hr eatery so no cover charge but the menu was small after dinner wings not hot and soggy, burger was ok and cheese cake was good but no real choices. La Cucina Italian Restaurant Dinner was just ok and not worth paying extra then I woke up around 3am, about an hour after going to bed, with nausea, cramping and diarrhea. By 11:00 the vomiting stopped and it took me in a good 7 hours of sleep to get back on track. I'm convinced it was something I ate, as my wife and daughter never experienced any symptoms at all. Tequila Latin/Tapas Restaurant was bar far the best food we had, that's not really saying much. I don't think it is worth the extra money think Applebee's meets Taco Bell. Disembarkation: A We roamed around in lobby bliss area waiting for our color to be called. We were off the ship, gathered up our luggage, and thru customs in less than 15 minutes. Again Andy was right there checking with everything letting people know about the delays at the start getting luggage off the ship. With the Baby We ended up walking to Bliss Lounge to hang out too we had a rental car that I needed to walk a mile or so to get but didn't need to be there till noon so we had the last color, while in the bliss there was Andy looking for a couple he sent there to wait because the seats in the lobby had filled up but he was not sure the announcements would be heard so he was checking after making the first one. In Summary: This is the NCL "it" ship now the newest etc.. but food and entertainment has dropped off the past 4 years Food was limited and lacking quality, Caption was unable to avoid any ruff sea days driving into 30+ foot waves and 90+ mph winds. NCL not picking up the cost for required shuttle in Livorno, a cover band of a cover band is sad to be on the main stage. These things would give the cruise a very poor rating. Cruise Director Andy and his staff were great along with the Gem production cast. Gary Lovini, Paul Adams, Charlie Peachock all very good and should have been main shows. Brenda K and Lost Locos both good but not main show quality. local folkloric show from Malaga just as good and this is same time slot the other 2 should have had. 1pm 4pm or 11 pm type shows Second City and Stephen Kane slightly better then il divo fourever I think Rondo the nightly guy with guitar was on par or better then these 3 acts. Again not Showtime quality 1, 4, or 11pm slots would have been better. I really can't say enough about the Cruise Director staff, they were fantastic. Dining service was always given with a smile and everyone seemed to really enjoy working on this ship. when not suffering with sea sickness The food just was not good it was not even ok most of the time. We will be cruising with another cruise line in the future. The people can't really be cut back on as much as quality of food has been. We had decided that we would take a break from NCL but did buy the credit to be used within the next 4 years; we will look at what ship Andy is on as a first choice. As he will not be on the gem when sailing out of Italy in the summer 2010, also willing to give epic a try. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
My husband and I booked this cruise nearly a year earlier because we planned to take our 10 year old grandson with us and we live in Texas and he lives in New Jersey. After we worked out the logistics, we booked a mini suite and looked ... Read More
My husband and I booked this cruise nearly a year earlier because we planned to take our 10 year old grandson with us and we live in Texas and he lives in New Jersey. After we worked out the logistics, we booked a mini suite and looked forward to an enjoyable cruise. After making our final payment we watched in dismay as the cruise prices tumbled. What started out as a much looked forward cruise was turning into a nightmare. Prices continued to drop and our aggravation and anger continued to grow since NCL seemed oblivious to our complaints. Finally, after much negations between us, the line, and our travel agent, and a reasonable upgrade fee, we were reassigned an AB Penthouse, two bedroom, two bath with butler service. Now we were in the right frame of mind for a cruise. Having arrived in Barcelona a day early, we took a cab to the dock and our luggage was immediately portered away .We were directed to the embarkation area. Although there were lines for regular cabins we went straight ahead to suites and VIPs and were attended to right away. After receiving our key cards we were escorted to an anteroom where we were greeted by the concierge, met the Hotel Director, and our Butler showed us our way to our suite. Best embarkation ever!!!! STATEROOM Our stateroom was great and provided all three of us with privacy. This would be ideal for a family since the second bedroom sleeps three and the living room/dining room combination is quite roomy. Our stewardess and steward kept our quarters neat and clean and always stocked with fresh towels and toiletries BUTLER We thought we died and went to heaven. What can you say about someone who anticipates your every wish? Ice, drinks, snacks, whatever. And our grandson was ruined for life with cookies and milk before bedtime, movies for the DVD player and juice and soft pretzels for his snacks. TREETOP KIDS CLUB Our grandson (10) couldn't have been in better hands. There were several counselors on staff and always being with the kids. They played tons of games, had dinner together occasionally, saw shows, and even had a pajama party. On sea days they were open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Our grandson had the best time ever and never wanted to leave. DINING and RESTAURANTS Suite guests have the availability to breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, the steakhouse. The menu is diverse and the food delicious. The Garden Buffet was always busy with good reason. The food was very good, with great variety and presented well. The Blue Lagoon was good too, with the promised "comfort foods". All the other restaurants were "extras" at $15 to $25 each. They did run promotions of ½ price, but this was not advertised, you had to ask each day. The Bistro, French has been and continues to be excellent. Cagney's steakhouse for dinner was also a very pleasant surprise. It was also excellent. We enjoyed the food at La Cucina (Italian) and the Tapas bar is fun and very good value, with complimentary appetizers provided with your drinks. The Japanese Teppanyaki was noisy, and not worth the $25 charge. The food was bland and disappointing. Room service was very prompt and hot and tasty. ENTERTAINMENT Ray the Cruise Director, was one of the best in this position we've met. He was personable without any "haughtiness" and his entire team exhibited a true camaraderie. This attitude infects the passengers with a great experience. The Big shows were also a big cut above the others ships we've sailed. The entertainers' voices were very good and the dancers were excellent. The other shows - Comedians, 2ndCity, Vocalists, and instrumentalists were OK. PORTS Ville France is a charming small French coastal town. Its main allure is the ease to get to Monte Carlo and Nice. We took the local bus (1 euro) to Monaco (about a ½ hour ride along the coast). Just walking around Monte Carlo and seeing the Casino, the Hotel Paris and all the designer shops are worth the visit. Livorno is the gateway to Pisa and Florence. We visited the Leaning Tower and a few other churches in Pisa then off to Florence. We got great photos of the city and visited the Museum Academia (Michelangelo's David, It is Magnificent!). After Several more churches and a little shopping, we stopped for the best gelato we ever had, then back to the ship. Civitavecchia is the port for Rome. We were there on Wednesday and were able to arrange to be at the Pope's audience at St. Peter's. Then after hitting the highlights (Trevi, Spanish Steppes, Coliseum and much more) we visited the Cappucine Monastery. If you've never seen this, you must. It is a VERY different sight you'll never forget. Corsica is the birthplace of Napoleon. It is a quiet city (Accacio) and was a welcome respite after the non-stop tours for the first three days of this trip. Malaga was also quiet. We arrived early and most shops were still closed. It was pleasant to simply walk around the downtown area and get a feel for the local culture. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Embarking Day We arrived in Barcelona around 10:30 am and decided to head directly to the port. We had no intention to explore the city on this day as we had a hotel booked after our cruise. The transportation to the port was by ... Read More
Embarking Day We arrived in Barcelona around 10:30 am and decided to head directly to the port. We had no intention to explore the city on this day as we had a hotel booked after our cruise. The transportation to the port was by taxi, it was 30 EUR for two people with two large suitcases. It has been suggested that travelers in Europe should always confirm the rate with the taxi driver before getting into the vehicle. Another option is to make arrangement with NCL for an airport shuttle; I believe the rate is $25 per person. The port was large and very clean. We dropped off our bags and proceeded to the check-in counters. Check-in was relatively easy; multiple counters were opened with minimum waiting time. We were informed that the boarding time would be 12 pm. However, the bags would be delivered around 2 pm. For those who want to board the ship and use the pool facility, it is recommended that you pack your swim wears in your carry-on. If you want to explore Barcelona, you have the option to take a free shuttle to Barcelona Port Vell area (close to La Rambla). We decided to board the ship. Ship crew welcomed all guests with either orange juice or sparkling wine. Everyone was very friendly. Once inside the reception area, we noticed an area for restaurant reservations. Free style cruising means you can dine whenever you want, but a few specialty restaurants required additional charges of $10 to $25 per person. There was a two for one special on embarking day for dinner between 6 to 7 pm (except for the Teppanyaki), we booked our first meal at Cagney's Steakhouse. The next section will cover the GEM. The GEM Overall, the GEM was a very good ship. Here are some highlights and comments: Stateroom - our room was an inside cabinet. It was small and dark in the night, but it was good enough for us. TV channels were limited and boring, but you can purchase movies. Stateroom staff - did a good job cleaning the room on a daily basis. They also turned down the cabinets at night that included an information guide for the upcoming day. Day time activities - plenty to do on the ship, just refer to the information guide. Bingo was definitely a popular activity. Pool area - it was busy, on a hot day, you do need to get there early to grab a tanning chair. There is a band that performed periodically by the pool, it was very entertaining. If you want less noise, head up and go towards the front of the ship, there are some extremely comfortable cushioned chairs for you to relax. Casino - table minimum for card games was $10, roulette was $1. Casino also hosted blackjack, poker and slot tournaments. It was a bit smoky inside. Shows - most nights have two shows, one early and one late. The magician and the Second City comics were great, the others were average. Cruise Director Ray was funny, he reminded me of Jon Lovitz. Night time activities - live bands, pianist and themed parties at different bars or clubs kept the nights busy. Restaurants: Garden Cafe - buffet styled, always busy in the morning. No dress code. Blue Lagoon - 24 hrs, finger foods including fish and chips, wings, and burgers. It was very good. No dress code. Magneta - full service, menu changes daily; some nights are great that included surf and turf. You do have to wear pants. Grand Pacific - a bit upscale with the exact same menu as Magneta except jeans are not allowed, but no one really cared. Specialty restaurants - Cagney's Steakhouse, Teppanyaki, Sushi, Asian fusion, Italian, Mexican, these required an extra charge of $10 to 25 per person. Overall, free style dinning was awesome; eat at your own pace and at your own time. Cruise ship food was average; it was about quantity instead of quality. Tipping - $10 was automatically charged per person per day. 15% gratuity was added to all drink orders. Unless you are super generous and like to carry cash with you, extra tipping is not necessary. Ports of Call We woke up early every morning and explored the ports and the surrounding cities on our own. We saved money, saved time, and explored more areas. I did a lot of research before the trip and was well prepared. In addition, we had maps of all the cities. For those who don't like planning ahead and wanted a worry free vacation, please book your shore excursions with your cruise. Here are some good websites about each port: European Port Review (EPR) - http://www.europeportreviews.com/ Cruise Critic port site - http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/area.cfm?area=16 Wikitravel - http://wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page I highly recommend reading EPR, the author took pictures of key points around the ports and the cities, and I will add some additional notes below: Valletta, Malta - absolutely stunning, you must catch the ship dock into the port around 7 am, go to the upper deck and check out the spectacular view. You can explore city sites on foot. Key place we went included the St John's Co-Cathedral, Magisterial Palace of the Grandmaster, Grandmaster's Palace Armoury Museum which all required entrance fees. The Upper Barrakka Gardens was free, it offered a good view. Naples, Italy - the GEM actually docked about 1 km east of the actual terminal which put us a lot closer to the train station (10 minutes walk, refer to EPR). We went to Pompeii. Map of Pompeii and guide were provided at the entrance, the site is massive, you can literally spent hours there, just make sure you wear comfortable shoes. We spent the rest of the day exploring Naples including visiting the Piazza del Plebiscito, Castel dell'Ovo (Egg Castle), and had pizza at Antica Pizzeria Brandi. You can take the same Pompeii train to Sorrento, but we actually took the train back to Naples hoping to go to Capri by boat, that didn't work out due to limited departure in the afternoon. For those who wanted to go to Capri, go there in the morning, the boat station is just west of the terminal. You can spend the morning in Capri and still be able to visit Pompeii in the afternoon. Civitavecchia, Italy - this the port to Rome and ship docked at 7 am. We had to take a free shuttle to the terminal entrance. Once there, the train station is about 5 minutes walk. (refer to EPR). Return train ticket was 9 EUR per person and included the usage of public transportation in Rome. Just remember to always stamp your ticket in the yellow box at the train station to validate. Once you arrive, check the posted schedule for the returning trains. There are multiple trains that go through Civitavecchia, you do have to go through the board to locate them, should be 20 minutes apart for each departure. Refer to EPR and start the trip at the Vatican City. In the morning, we visited the St. Peter's Square, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (no line-up on the day we visited). We took the subway to Spagna and on foot visited the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum (even went inside). If you can walk at a good rate, you should be able to cover a lot of ground in Rome. Livorno, Italy - this is the port to Florence and Pisa and the ship docked at 7 am. Refer to EPR. There is a free shuttle to the city centre that will get you closer to the train station, but the shuttle started at 8 am. We took a taxi and shared it with another couple, the rate was 20 EUR. The return train ticket was 13 EUR per person and allowed you to get off at Pisa. We were able to explore Florence on foot. We started off at the Duomo and proceeded to the Accademia. We waited in line for about 40 minutes to get into the Accademia. For those museum lovers, you may want to reserve tickets ahead of time for Accademia and Uffizi. For a few EUR extra, reserved tickets allow you to visit the museums at a preset time to avoid long line-ups. After Accademia, we walked around Ponte Vecchio. We took the train back to Pisa around 3 pm. Pisa to Livorno is about 15 minutes by train, just make sure you check the train schedule. We took a taxi to the Leaning Tower and spent the rest of the afternoon there. You can pay 15 EUR to climb the Tower, but they only allow 40 people every 30 minutes, the wait was about two hours. Villefranche, France - this is the port to Nice, Monaco and Cannes. The train station is not very far from the terminal (refer to EPR). We decided to check out Nice, the ticket was 3 EUR and it was only 10 minutes away. There were only limited number of trains operating on Saturdays, please make sure you check the return schedules. Nice was very easy to explore, just head towards the Mediterranean Sea and you will find everything close by. Barcelona, Spain - we stayed in Barcelona for two nights after our cruise. Most hotels have maps and information guides about the city. We purchased two day passes (26 EUR / person) for the Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour, it was the easiest way get around and to see the main sights of Barcelona for yourself. Service was every five minutes and the commentary was given in multiple different languages. We also received a coupon book that offered savings to the tourist sites. Plenty to shop in Barcelona, local brands were cheap, international brands were not due to currency conversion, but items were definitely more fashionable. Luxury goods such as Lois Vuitton, Gucci, and Chanel were definitely cheaper. Most prices included the VAT (Value Added Tax), and you can get the tax back at the airport if you spend a certain amount (90 to 100 EUR) at the same store. Here is the site with all the information: http://www.globalrefund.com/ Disembarking You have the option to join GEM's disembarking program which you will be given colored luggage tags and you have to leave your luggage outside the cabinet the night before. The other option is for you to carry the bags out on your own at any time. Final check out time was 9:30 am and disembarking was very smooth. Overall, GEM was a good ship and this trip was fantastic. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
I will only cover the areas where I feel I can add anything to the already comprehensive reviews of Norwegian Gem & the Transatlantic sailing Dec 07 (Barcelona to Boston). Stateroom: Our stateroom, a mini-suite was very nice - well ... Read More
I will only cover the areas where I feel I can add anything to the already comprehensive reviews of Norwegian Gem & the Transatlantic sailing Dec 07 (Barcelona to Boston). Stateroom: Our stateroom, a mini-suite was very nice - well equipped with a fantastically comfortable bed but I'm glad it was just the two of us and we didn't need to use the sofa bed which would have made things very tight. Our cabin was always made up/turned down on time. The very shiny woodwork finish must make cleaning a nightmare and finger prints could still be seen even after cleaning. The ship: She is fantastic - quite loud/garish dEcor but fun, in particular the beds in Bliss and Spinnaker lounge! It's all a matter of personal taste but we thought overall it worked well. We loved the four lane ten-pin bowling alley in Bliss. Also the stability of Gem was amazing, when we had one evening of slightly rough seas it was only in the corridors that the roll was very visible. Food: We ate in all the restaurants except Le Bistro. In general the food was mediocre. We experienced stone cold poached eggs in the Grand Pacific. In Cagneys we waited nearly 25 minutes for our starters and then our main side orders arrived 5 minutes before the mains and therefore had to be sent back. I had lobster which was poor and watery but Ian had the porterhouse steak which was good. Deserts where good, but why do you serve a chocolate mouse on a hot plate so it arrives melting? We think the poor dining experiences in these two restaurants were caused by lack of co-ordination between the kitchen and the serving staff. In Cagneys we saw food sitting under the heat lamps for long periods before making a journey to a table. In comparison Magenta fared much better as a result of the tight control of the Maitre D' - Nigel. However the food was the same and there was a tendency for sauces to be the same - for example gravy at the Bavarian Brunch, sauce on a beef Wellington and lamb cutlets had the same Worcestershire sauce based flavor. We enjoyed the food more in Orchid Garden but it too was only tepid in temperature. The Teppanyaki was fun but not a lot of it and we didn't try the sushi as the fish could not have been as fresh or must have been frozen. Ian says I make a better Mexican than El Popo we had in Tequila restaurant. The standard of the buffet in Garden Cafe was actually better than I would expect, although with the (very good) mainstay of rotisserie chicken on every day it felt the menu wasn't very varied. Blue Lagoon was fine for snacks or in our case late lunches (we are used to eating lunch at Spanish hours, so at 2pm most of the restaurants were winding down and we were just thinking about food!). We ate in La Cucina twice and enjoyed the pizza but as a fellow cruise critic member mentioned on the last night CC dinner the veal was as tough as old boots. Perhaps it was just that dish as my beef was good. One high spot was breakfast on disembarkation day in Grand Pacific - I had some of the best scramble eggs with smoked salmon I have ever had! Drinks: Wine is expensive and the variety for us wasn't that good with the emphasis on Californian wine, so we paid corkage and took our own favorite Spanish riojas. Entertainment: The programme wasn't our sort of thing, but we sis go to some of the shows and what we saw was well done and professional. The crew show was quite funny, especially "Fountains". Overall: We would not cruise again on Gem because of our disappointment in the food, especially when you pay extra for the speciality restaurants and pay even more for certain dishes and wish you hadn't bothered. The ship is fantastic and the crew very friendly and in the main attentive. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
First off, if you have never been, Barcelona is a beautiful city and deserves at least a 5 day pre-cruise visit if you can swing it. My wife and I combined my birthday, our 25th anniversary and a mutual Christmas gift as reasons for the ... Read More
First off, if you have never been, Barcelona is a beautiful city and deserves at least a 5 day pre-cruise visit if you can swing it. My wife and I combined my birthday, our 25th anniversary and a mutual Christmas gift as reasons for the trip - hey, one has to justify things - right? Not to mention the pricing for this crossing at $499 p/p for a balcony on a brand new ship with a 9 day itinerary was unbelievably GREAT! The GEM was truly that, a beautiful ship with the friendliest crew and attentive staff I had seen in a long time. They worked extremely well as a team and you really did not want for anything. The makeup of the passengers for this crossing was approx. USA-1100, Germany-250, UK-250, Canada-100 and ROW (rest of world) making up the 1900 or so passengers on this 2400 capacity cruise liner. Embarkation process in Barcelona was excellent and fast and very well organized. The area is new and there were ample staff to look after us and we were there within the first hour of the opening of the process. From arrival at the pier to entry in our balcony cabin (deck 9) was less than 20 minutes. Being a brand new ship, it was pristine and had that 'new ship' smell ... lol. Our balcony cabin was nice (forward on the port side) and if you are doing a east to west crossing and want the sun - that is the side of the ship to be on! The amenities in the cabin include a flat screen 15" TV - although the selection of live TV channels was limited due to satellite coverage, there were other channels for various movies and ship information, I would rate that a 6 on the 10 scale. An in room coffee maker was there and the bathroom was an adequate size for my 6'3", 245 lb. frame. The sliding shower doors were great vs. other containment possibilities. Lighting in the cabin was good and the balcony was of a decent size. The cabin attendants were very thorough and attentive to all needs. The ships Captain Mikael Hilden was very visible and attentive and social - we bumped into him daily all over the ship and passed on our comments and observations and solicited his ... a charming 'old man' of the sea! His daily 11:30AM 'from the bridge' updates were informative and I looked forward to them. I would add though that the other audio systems around the ship should be turned off (or at least down) when the Captain is speaking - if not for the information - in deference to respect of his contributions. There are 12 restaurants to choose from aboard. 4 of these include 'extra charges' ranging from $15-20 but there are 'specials of 2-1 on occasion if you choose to eat between 5:30 and 6:30 in some of them. We tried Teppanyaki (Benihana type) which was very good 8 out of 10 and Le Bistro (french cuisine) was excellent 9 out of 10 - although here you also had a surcharge for the menu selection which included chateaubriand, souffle and more - but was well worth it! Our favorite (non surcharge) restaurant was the Grand Pacific, a beautiful formal-ish dining salon. Although I would add here the NCL Free-style dining experience lessens the formality - which for us was just perfect! This restaurant is available for all meals in a sit down non-rushed fashion. Our favorite server was Heidi, so ask for her and tell her Fay and Mike from Canada sent ya! She is a GEM. The Garden Cafe is the main buffet style eatery and is always busy and typically it is difficult to find a seat without a bit of a chore. There are helpers to assist in taking trays to your table 0when you find one ... and if the ship had been at capacity, I am sure the challenge of eating there would have been much more difficult. The selection of things to eat was vast, regularly replenished and fresh. All in all I would rate it a 7-8 out of 10. The outdoor cafes were very good although the selection of items more limited, but one could get everything you wanted in the Garden Cafe and take it outside to the Outdoor Cafe areas as the seating there was usually more accessible ... weather permitting of course! We did not try the room service. The internet Cafe has at least 6 terminals but is pricey and transmission via satellite takes you back to pre-cable speeds ... spare the aggravation .. . unless you just have to!! Wireless is throughout the ship as well if you bring your own laptop .. but the speed is no better ... the crew utilizes the same satellite so, the competition for the available bandwidth adds to the degradation of the service. The entertainment on board was decent but not spectacular - a variety of musicians, magic, dance and all. The ships cast is a 7 which is consistent with the overall assessment of the entertainment in the theatre (Stardust). The guest lecturer on marine topics was excellent and he gets a 10 in my books. The cruise director (Clint) was superb as was his staff - friendly, energetic and helpful. The bars aboard were very good and we sampled almost all of them. The Bliss Lounge is awesome - even if only for a look - with its chic furniture, roman-like decadence in decor with two bowling alleys on either side ... definitely 'the happening' place on the ship - especially after midnight! As with a lot of cruise ships, your onboard alcohol consumption (beyond the duty free store purchases and chosen excursions) are likely your major extra charges. The Spinnaker Lounge is a great place for relaxing during the day and catching whatever may be going on there, lecture, games, impromptu gatherings, drinks, etc. or just curling up in the bow of the ship with your reading material. In the evening, it is another happening spot for entertainment .. so our routine was to have dinner and finish around 9-ish, catch the Stardust theatre show from 9:30-10:30, head to the Spinnaker Lounge for its entertainment for another hour+ and if still feeling like partying, head to the Bliss Lounge .. all good! The spa aboard is to die for. We took the $95 - full cruise pass here and enjoyed it thoroughly and made it part of our daily routine. The steam room, sauna, chaise lounges in the his/her sections were excellent and they joined in the middle into a beautiful room with a hydro-like pool, hot tub and heated loungers. No doubt the best spa on the seas in our opinion! The exercise room is large, well equipped and typically busy but there was no waiting for the equipment. The Casino aboard is large and has a variety of table and slots. No big winners were found .. lol .. on the crossing! The weather for the crossing was unreal for that time of the year! Sunny for most of the days .. highs in the low 70's during the day for 7 of the 9 days. Only when we got within 2 days of Boston did it turn cooler and was in the low 40's upon arrival. The seas were pleasantly calm throughout the journey save for one half day and evening where 12-14 foot swells caused a gentle roll that was more pleasant than otherwise! The ships stabilizers did their job extremely well. The only negative I had for the trip was the excursion day briefing (immediately prior to the excursion) in the Stardust Lounge. It seemed very disorganized and with time pressure to get to the bus at a particular spot and time and the 4 variations involved, the control was less than stellar by the onboard excursion staff ... let's hope they improve that! Funchal I might add though is a magical location and if you do stop there, do take an excursion - it is well worth it! Tipping is included daily in your onboard charges and at $12/day I believe well worth it for the staff. Disembarkation was decently organized. Being its first US port of entry ever made for perhaps a little longer process, but not noticeably. We docked around 7 AM, US authorities boarded just before 8 and we were off the ship after a leisurely breakfast by 9:45. I must add though that Boston has a lot to do to make their cruise terminal modern, passenger friendly and efficient - in a word - it is horrible! Funny story - we had a noon flight to catch (thank goodness Logan airport is within 15 min. of the terminal) and were concerned that the disembarkation process may delay us .. but the ships (NCL's) part was fine .. once off, we routed for our bags and a friendly porter assisted us and by-passed the huge taxi lineup to take us to a mini-van who he got to take a bunch of us to the airport. With my wife aboard and me outside making sure the bags got on the van, I ended up jostling with the ships guest piano player entertainer for the final seat on the van ... next to my wife ... he was relentless .. but I beat him back ... funny, I had a feeling about that guy and his insincere 'schtick' of a performance aboard! Albeit the above negative, we would rate the entire GEM experience a 9.5+. The crew, the ship, the cabin, the variety of activities, the food (quality and choices) are the principal contributors to this rating. All in all, a terrific holiday leaving us wanting to do it again - soon! If interested in more info ... mikecart1954@hotmail.com is another way to reach me! Great Sailing all ! Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
About us: My husband and I are in our early 50s and have taken 17 cruises so far. Mostly with Princess, and a few with Royal Caribbean. This was our first NCL cruise. Embarkation: Smooth as silk. Arrived at the port via the airport ... Read More
About us: My husband and I are in our early 50s and have taken 17 cruises so far. Mostly with Princess, and a few with Royal Caribbean. This was our first NCL cruise. Embarkation: Smooth as silk. Arrived at the port via the airport transfer bus (we had purchased the transfers when we booked the cruise) Went through the security checkpoint (3 minutes) and got in line for check in. We had accidentally packed all our cruise documents, but since we had filled out everything on the NCL website this turned out to be no problem. (Although one woman from NCL sort of yelled at us and gave us the "evil eye") We were through check in, had our welcome aboard photo taken and were on the ship in about 15 minutes. The ship: Clean, new, beautiful. We were both pleasantly surprised that the colorful decor really worked. There was nothing garish or tacky about the ship. Just fun. Each separate area of the ship had its own unique personality, and as you walked from one section to the next the carpeting or walls (or both) would change from one scheme and/or palette to the next. Descriptions of the giant Wii screen in the atrium area had me confused before seeing it for myself. Most of the time there were just lovely photos being shown on this screen. (Beaches, water, ads for boutique products). Then at other times there would be assistant-cruise-director-run-games being played (bowling, golfing, etc.) This was fun to watch and not disruptive in anyway. The cabin: We were in a balcony cabin category BA, midship on deck 10. The cabin was smaller than were prepared for but we got used to it. The bed was very firm and you could not tell where the 2 twin mattresses came together. Storage space was adequate. If the closet doors were open the bathroom door could not be opened without banging into them. The bathroom was wonderful. As you walked in you were facing the sink, to your left was the toilet area with a sliding door that could be closed for privacy, to the right was the shower. Ah, the shower! My husband and I are not small people but the shower was down-right roomy with an adjustable height shower head which could also be removed and used as a handheld. The water pressure could be adjusted as well as the spray and temperature. That shower was like heaven on earth. The crew: Super, friendly, caring. Every single person who worked on this ship (including the captain) always had a smile and a friendly hello. I saw acts of true compassion from the staff of the Norwegian Gem. Elderly single passengers were treated like gold by this young staff and blossomed because of this treatment. It was wonderful and touching to see and on more than one occasion I was moved to tears. The medical staff: On day 5 of this cruise I was unfortunate enough to come down with a gastrointestinal compliant. I woke up at 2 in the morning with nausea, cramping and diarrhea. By 10:30 in the morning I dragged myself to the medical facility. The doctor and nurses were very kind and efficient. Gave me some medicine, recommended a very bland diet and confined me to my cabin for 24 hours (just in case it was contagious). I'm convinced it was something I ate, as my husband never experienced any symptoms at all. The casino: The slot machines were set so tight in the casino that you couldn't actually play. Most of the time when I sit down to a machine I expect to lose but I also expect to be able to play for 10 or 15 minutes. These machines just took your money, no bonus games, no scatter pays, no nothing. By the middle of the week, the casino was mostly empty and stayed that way for the remainder of the cruise. I wonder how much money NCL lost because of pinching those pennies. The design: For some reason I always felt crowded on this ship. There were lots of areas that seemed to "bottleneck", in the buffet, near "Bar City" and in other areas. (I could always wander over to the casino if I wanted to get away from the crowds) The food: I have been avoiding this category because "if you can't say anything nice...." My husband is an excellent cook and makes all of our meals at home. Maybe his wonderful cooking spoils us both, but in our opinion the food was mostly mediocre throughout the ship. A lot of the dishes tasted strange. For example, we were served a chicken soup in the dining room that was saturated with oregano. (One of the waitresses had a theory about this. She stated that each of the chefs had a different cultural background; Asian, German, Norwegian, etc. She believed they were all competing to be the head chef. So one would make the soup and another would throw in oregano while the first one's back was turned. She was funny.) Specialty Restaurants: Cagney's served a nice steak and the food there was the best on the ship. Teppanyaki was fun and entertaining, but the food was just so-so. Le Bistro's food was OK (the escargot was very good) but the service was so solicitous that it really distracted from everything else. Waiters and waitresses asked for permission to remove your fork and then circled around to your other side to ask for permission to remove your knife. By the time we reached the end of the meal it was bordering on the ridiculous. Disembarkation: We waited in our room for our color to be called. We were off the ship, gathered up our luggage, and on the bus to the airport in less than 15 minutes. Excellent. In Summary: I really can't say enough about the staff, they were fantastic. Service was always given with a smile and everyone seemed to really enjoy working on this beautiful new ship. The clincher for us though, is the food. We will probably avoid cruising with NCL in the future and return to our beloved Princess where the service is almost as good and the food is delicious. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
At 1st I want to state that I "was" a true mega fan of NCL, but the last cruise just put us over the top and will not sail with NCL anymore. NCL became a new but cheap Carnival (there the food is at least better), in the last ... Read More
At 1st I want to state that I "was" a true mega fan of NCL, but the last cruise just put us over the top and will not sail with NCL anymore. NCL became a new but cheap Carnival (there the food is at least better), in the last couple of months. Arrival: We (3 of us) arrived at the pier and the Concierge picked us up and brought us to check in and up to our Villa...nothing bad or good, just the usual. Suite: We booked the Garden Villa 14500, I loved the colors in my bedroom which was in pink shades themed after the South Pacific, the style of the bed and lamps have been also different the on it's sisters and look a lot more expensive, the mattress was the worst I have ever slept on (too hard). The Bathroom Amenities are horrible as usual and one has to be happy not to get dandruff of the cheap quality provided. My walk in closet was very dusty and mirrors dirty, but I had that problem on other NCL ships as well (maybe it is the cleaning solution). As well with the new bed skirt of mirrors you can not slide your luggage anymore under the bed...the walk in closet was big enough for me. Guest bedrooms carpet is hideous, bright green with pink butterflies...I do not go further! The Living Area was the usual and nicely done, the pre-ordered 6 bottles of Liquor (Level Vodka) waiting for us. My bedroom walls and ceiling was making horrible noise, for the 1st 2 nights, I thought I will make it, but then I told the cabin attendants and somebody from the Myer Werft showed up and told me that this was normal since we had rough seas. I looked outside and asked him, where he sees the roughness since the ocean was as flat as a mirror. I got asked to be out that evening so they could fix it...but nobody (as per my roommates) showed up. One day later my Toilet broke down as well...just made that strange noise, which by the end was the vacuum. My bedroom was repaired then that day as well with cork in the ceiling and I never ever even received an apology for the inconvenience of a hard time sleeping for 3 nights. Cleanliness of the Garden Villa: As I stated before my closet was full of dust and the bathrooms never really cleaned (especially) mirrors, the outside dining table had the same coffee spot on in Boston from embarkation day, 10 days before…with many more! VIP/Suite Lunch in Cagney's: The 1st time I walked in I had to wait 15 minutes for service to order my Burger, which I received another 20 minutes later and was uneatable (pressed cheap meat) with very poor continuing service. 2nd time I was seated at a table and got no service at all so I left after 30 minutes to the buffet! LOL It is kind of a oxymoron that the most paying guests have to go to the Buffet to get something to eat, while Cagney's is to full with the just added to the VIP list or friends of them. I never went there again! Food and Service in general: The Food is ok, what one would expect in a TGI Friday or Outback Steak House, nothing to write home about! Service was ok; I dined many times in the Grand Pacific and had actually the best service there throughout the whole ship. The Specialty Restaurants have been ok, but how many times can you eat that Filet? Spa: The Thermal Suite was overfilled with people and dirty towels laying around everywhere and no place to sit…you really had the feeling you need shoes to walk through there not to catch anything from the hair and other things swimming on the floor. I still do not get, while there are NO sanitizer beside the heated lounge chairs, where mostly everybody lays without protection on the tile…sweating into the chair and the next goes and lays into the soup…YUCK!!!! Concierge and Butler: Our Butler was great as usual, Ryan done a great job providing service as requested. The Concierge we had seen only 2 times, at embarkation and on debarkation. He never showed up and never even called, if we would be in need of something (he was the 2nd worst we had ever encountered). We also never received the normally included with the Garden Villa specialty dinners. Champagne at our bar was never chilled; Caviar opened and put on half melted ice so it was rotten and swimming in water! Debark: Immigration and Debark was much unorganized and a nightmare! All little things…but they add up! For the price paid, I say the Garden Villa is a beautiful and big room (still too small for 6) with the service of a Best Western, definitely NOT a 6 Star operation as promoted! NCL is great, if you do not pay the outrages prices they ask for exclusivity, which is NOT provided! The ship is beautiful…don't get me wrong, but not for the price! Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Having spent 10 days in Portugal and Spain travelling via myriad forms - air, train, bus, car, subway, and tram - we were anxious for the biggest journey of our trip, nine days aboard the newest cruise ship on the seas, the Norwegian Gem. ... Read More
Having spent 10 days in Portugal and Spain travelling via myriad forms - air, train, bus, car, subway, and tram - we were anxious for the biggest journey of our trip, nine days aboard the newest cruise ship on the seas, the Norwegian Gem. You can view our ship photos: http://globaltraveller.smugmug.com/gallery/4032680 This was our first sailing with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and though we'd read and heard a variety of reviews on NCL's product, the attraction for this sailing was its price - a bargain on an aft balcony cabin - as well as the logistics, nine days from Barcelona to Boston with one stop in Madeira. A bit of background about us - working couple in mid-30s from Ottawa, having cruised together previously on Celebrity (three times), Oceania, and Princess; and two more for myself on Royal Caribbean and Carnival. We generally opt for an inside cabin, spending the difference on other out-of-pocket expenses and on future cruises. Once previously we had splurged for a balcony on a last-minute special, and when we saw this sailing on sale at an unbelievably low price, it was an offer we couldn't refuse. We are not cruising 'traditionalists' in that flexible dining and informal dress code appeal greatly to us, and we are fine with paying extra for some meals at 'specialty' venues where warranted. Nor are we purely cruise devotees, as we tend to mix it up between land and sea. Our previous two vacations this year had been on land - one in the summer at an all-inclusive resort in Cuba, the other being 10 days in Europe late last winter. And even when we cruise, we prefer to have some land time before or after sailing. Our time in Lisbon and Barcelona had been outstanding, both in seeing and experiencing sights and cultures as well as eating and drinking. And our success with travel weather had continued, with sunny skies following us across the Iberian Peninsula through sail-away. EMBARKATION DAY Coming over the bridge at the port of Barcelona, then, brought with it great anticipation. Ironically, we saw two ships - the first, Celebrity's Century, being the ship on which we'd sailed previously a year ago - and the other of course being the Gem. She was sparkling new, pun intended, with a paint job that featured NCL's creative use of hull art. Check-in procedures went very smoothly, and by one o'clock we were crossing the gangway and entering Gem's centerpiece, the Crystal Atrium. A ship leaves us her first impression in a matter of seconds, perhaps a few minutes at most. The initial feeling we got from the Gem was a bit like Las Vegas - not the old, tacky Vegas, but the new, classy Vegas, still over the top but excitingly comfortable. The Crystal Atrium is vibrant in its funky pastel colours and hip feel, with (literally) over-the-top parts including a Dale Chihuly glass piece as well as the two-story giant LED screen, one of the largest in the world. CABIN One flight up and a walk towards the aft, and we were soon at our home away from home for the next nine days, our aft balcony stateroom. The cabin was shiny and clean, and very bright basking in the Mediterranean sun. We found the room to be functional at a 9 out of 10, with adequate storage space and beds high enough to fit our luggage underneath. The bedding itself was very comfortable for us, and both the layout of the sitting area as well as the bathroom (with separate areas for shower and toilet) worked quite well. Our balcony was large enough to accommodate two sitting chairs as well as two sun loungers (which were brought later that day as per our request), and was a blessing as we used it throughout the journey given the marvelous weather en route. The only complaint we had regarding the cabin, and we heard this echoed by other passengers, was regarding the lighting. The bedside lights were dim and the ceiling lighting inadequate, making reading at night anywhere in the cabin (other than in the 'conference room' as it were) uncomfortable - the lighting reminded us of our cabin on the Queen Mary (not the QM2 but the original which is now a hotel in California). This was not as much of a factor given the size of our room plus balcony, but during a cabin tour we did see an inside cabin which, with similarly dim lighting but a smaller square footage and a real 'dorm' or 'cell' feel to it, makes us consider future bookings on Gem and sister/cousin ships at minimum in a balcony cabin. Not to appear a snob here - we've always been content sailing on inside cabins and will gladly do so other lines, particularly Celebrity and Oceania whose inside cabins we've found to be more than adequate. That digression aside, we very much enjoyed our cabin on the Gem, with a great service team of MadE (from Bali) and Jonald (from the Philippines) - room always clean, ice bucket always full, loungers delivered straight away, and the guys always smiling and asking if we needed anything. Having put away our gear - and, this is the best feeling, put away all our valuables including wallets, credit cards, etc into the safe, knowing we could live on our cruise card for the next nine days - we headed off where else but to eat. * PART II - WE CAME, WE ATE, WE SAW * It was as if we had gone without for the previous 10 days, which of course was anything but true; we'd eaten very well actually and knew we'd miss our sweet and savoury pastries from Portugal and tapas from Spain. We checked the menu at Grand Pacific, one of two main dining rooms, but instead opted for the buffet. Previous experiences with mass market cruise lines had taught us that buffets can be hit and miss - Princess and Celebrity in particular have their high points as well as their pitfalls. Our first impressions of the Garden Cafe, Gem's buffet, were very positive. The layout was attractive, with foods arranged by type and ethnicity around various stations. There was no platter, as Princess and Royal Caribbean give, nor were there trays to be found - rather, one simply takes a plate, requiring a second (or third!) trip if necessary but also reducing waste. Silverware is found at the tables, rolled neatly in white cloth napkins. A waitress carried Jen's food to our table and offered to get drinks for us both, all with a smile. Nice points. Lunch itself, though, is what really scored for NCL. The rotisserie chicken, fresh out of the oven and chopped to order, was moist, well seasoned, and some of the best we'd ever had - and this was offered daily. The Indian and Asian selections were impressive, offered daily with variety from one meal to the next, and I especially enjoyed the palak paneer and the made-to-order 'hawker' soup. The burgers looked appetizing and the pasta station jumping (enjoyed these later in the cruise), and the staff were serving up everything with a smile, which made us feel glad to be onboard. The desserts, though a bit lacking in chocolate offerings according to Jen, were tasty, and - and this was a major plus for me - several machines are available brewing espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes, both regular and decaf. We'd only seen this on Oceania previously, so kudos to NCL. With a good meal and good vibes now in us, we settled into that 'cruise mode' and began to explore the ship. PUBLIC AREAS Directly below our cabin, but not a noise issue at all, was the Bliss Ultra Lounge. A mElange of red and black velvet, complete with four bowling lanes and a plethora of plasma screens playing sexy and scintillating videos (I'll thank you for indulging me the alliteration just this once), Bliss is another of this ship's unique selling points. Bowling and social venue by day, Bliss turns into a high energy dance club in the evenings, especially transatlantic evenings with no port the next day. It was here that we had the Cruise Critic bowling tournament, and it's nice to be able to blame a gutter-ball on the movement of the ship. Though, truth be told, we didn't encounter that much movement. This was our first transatlantic, and we'd certainly read and heard tales of how rough the seas can get, but as other reports here have indicated our crossing was very smooth indeed, not unlike most days we've spent on the Caribbean. Coming out of the dark Bliss, one's eyes are met with a barrage of colours and patterns as the corridors to the Crystal Atrium pass through the art and photo galleries. The carpets and ceilings feature a host of pastels and creative patterns, and change artfully from venue to venue to give the effect of distinctive spaces. Back to the Atrium itself, we did not find it overly garish, though depending on what was playing on the LED screen, the entire area (including Tequila and the Blue Lagoon, the eating areas above the lobby) could take on hues of purple, magenta, sometimes even green. ORCHID Deck 7 starboard leads to another atrium, this being above Bar City and surrounded by Orchid Garden, the Sushi & Sake Bars, and Teppanyaki. For our first dinner, with 2-for-1 coupons in hand, we opted for Orchid Garden (normally $10 per person), and were treated to an excellent surprise. We could have dined on the appetizers alone, particularly the Peking Duck Crepes, of which we ordered more and our next time here Jen had three orders (served in sushi-roll holders); the assorted dim sum, crunchy pork salad, Chinese chicken salad, and Tom Yum Koong (Thai prawn soup) were all notable. A mild Pad Thai and effective Singapore Noodles were both nice, and the beef in black bean sauce served in a spring roll basket was creatively done. The "best dessert on the ship" as many of the Orchid staff say (and perhaps the Captain would agree?) is the frozen pineapple soufflE, a bit like biting into an ice cream cake but oh so light and refreshing. The lychee saketinis are addictive, too! OFFICERS At Orchid that first night, we noticed many senior officers and staff coming through the dining room, not only to eat here but to see how the service was going. Radmila, Gem's highly capable Restaurant Manager, came by our table to ask how everything was. "Wonderful," was our mouth-full answer, and we meant it. Perhaps this was a first night thing, to set the tone for the cruise? That alone would have been impressive. And yet, even better, this was the case for the entire journey. We frequently saw Radmila, F&B Director Sean, Hotel Director (the venerable) Klaus Lugmaier, Captain Mikael Hilden and many others out and about, highly visible to both staff and guests and making sure that standards were being maintained. We chatted with Captain Hilden several times, most memorably at Orchid about how we were Celebrity regulars but were "pleasantly surprised" by this NCL experience and that he and his team had "exceeded expectations" in nearly every area. The Captain smiled, and in that dry sense of humour, said with a wink, "what's Celebrity?" Indeed, this cruise reminded us of the first one we took together, a tremendous experience aboard Celebrity's Constellation, when the captain and his team set the tone early and often and everything seemed to be 'clicking.' It can happen anywhere, it turns out, and not just at sea. This is an example of how to provide a superior product and 'wow' the customer - we heard these observations echoed by many on this sailing, both from NCL fans as well as first-timers who'd come in hearing mixed reviews. More on this later. A GREAT SURPRISE One level down from Orchid is Bar City. The atrium area is a lounge at night, but by day hosts art auctions and seminars. This is where another of our great experiences occurred. On our first full day at sea, I'd seen a familiar-looking woman walk out of the Spinnaker Lounge, and commented later to Jen about this. The woman had looked like Nancy, one of our tablemates from our last cruise on Century, with whom we'd gotten along great and spent much time together. It would have made sense, as she and her husband were from New Hampshire, and this ship heading to Boston was full of New Englanders. "I was probably wrong," I'd commented at the time, attributing it to the fact that I'd just been thinking about Terry and Nancy earlier that day. "Well, we'll probably never know," Jen said, "with two thousand passengers on the ship, what are the odds of seeing her again?" Lo and behold, an hour later we went down to the art seminar on Salvador Dali, whose museum we'd visited in Figueres the day before the cruise, and who should be walking in front of our seats but the same woman. "That's who I was talking about," I mentioned to Jen, who didn't miss a beat and immediately yelled "Nancy!" And so it was, and what a great surprise! We chatted after the seminar, and made plans for dinner at Tequila the next evening as they'd had a great Mexican meal the first night - and Nancy said she'd keep it a surprise for Terry, saying she'd met 'some nice people' and made dinner plans. "Well I'll be!" Terry said as Jen and I approached the table the next evening. It was great to see them both, and we'd spend more time together on this cruise as well. Back to Bar City, then, which holds the champagne bar, martini bar, whisky bar, and cigar lounge - all tastefully done, with the 'Maltings' whisky bar perhaps being our favourite, with its dEcor inspired by the lobby bar at the Mandarin Oriental in London. The framed picture of Che Guevara in the cigar bar (along with those of Churchill, Schwarzenegger, and other aficionados) was an ironic touch. Though admittedly, I didn't have a cigar here the entire cruise - with an aft balcony I enjoyed my Habanos every day alfresco. LE BISTRO Next to the cigar lounge is the entrance to Le Bistro, Gem's French restaurant about which the word on the street, as it were, was very positive. At the lunch buffet our first day, we'd met a waiter from Le Bistro named Allan, whom is well known to some on these boards. We got to talking about the Philippines, and it turns out that Allan went to the same university in Manila as did Jen's mother - small world. So with Allan's encouragement, we made reservations for our second night to dine at Le Bistro. I only have two regrets about this evening - the timing, maybe we'd 'overindulged' on food a bit leading up to it; and the table, a two-seater placed just outside the kitchen doors, one I should have passed on but didn't - well the room was quite full, with many taking advantage of the 2-for-1 special prior to 6:30. Anyway, no harm done, we had a lovely time at Le Bistro. The lobster and scallop martini was a nice appetizer, not too heavy, and the watercress veloutE with frog legs (thank you, Allan) was a treat. I enjoyed the duck a l'orange, not the very best I'd ever had but enjoyable - and Jen went with Allan's suggestion and had the braised short rib and grilled beef tenderloin that was done just right in a port wine reduction. Being at a French restaurant, I had to go for the cheese course, and was pleased with the selection along with a glass of tawny port (different from the experience we'd had at the Port Wine Institute in Lisbon, but equally nice). We had heard about the off-the-menu chocolate fondue, and Jen savored this delight for nearly half an hour, requesting extra bananas ("yes ma'am, anything is possible") in the process. Had it been a longer cruise, we probably would have made a return visit to Le Bistro, but nine nights barely gave us an opportunity to try every venue aboard. WORKING IT OFF Just so that you don't think we spent the entire nine days eating, I'll wrap up this section of the review with a couple of areas where good exercise can be had. First off, the fitness centre, one of the best we've seen at sea, with new equipment and plenty of it. But that's inside, and one of the best aspects of cruising, at least for us, is being outside and connecting with the ocean. Despite its size (93,000 tons, which is pretty much 'midsize' these days) and its vast array of indoor offerings, Gem has plenty of places to experience a sea day the right way. The deck space up top is plentiful, with adequate seating around the pools as well as on the upper decks. A rock climbing wall and full-size tennis court add to the activity, and are complemented by a jogging track, two practice golf tees with nets, the de rigueur shuffleboard, and two giant chess boards with life-sized pieces. Perhaps the best part for me, though, is the full wraparound promenade deck, something that isn't seen as much on new ships (Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, take note). Though the decorative 'hull art' can be a bit much for some, we nonetheless always find a stroll around the promenade deck extremely relaxing. The waves crashing against the bow, the sea air and the rich colour of the ocean, just being able to walk laps around the deck and soak it all in - for us this is unparalleled. When not our on our balcony we enjoyed sitting in the sun on the Promenade Deck as well, including one cooler day wrapped in a blanket, reading a book, unwinding in the middle of the Atlantic. * Part III - LIFE AT SEA * Mad Mariners! That was the name of the Cruise Critic group for this sailing… Mad Mariners II, to be precise. Jen and I weren't fortunate enough to have been part of the original Mad Mariners transatlantic on the Pearl last year, but of course had read and heard much about their adventures. The online roll-call was quite active leading up to the cruise, and many activities were planned for the time we'd have at sea. Please forgive me in advance for leaving out some names, but we'd like to thank those who went out of their way to organize this group and make a great cruise even better: Barb, Jim, Petra, Phil et al - your work is much appreciated. And of course we were aided a great deal by Gem crew such as Connie, the Group Services Coordinator, and others who took note of the CC folks and really went above and beyond. An early impression came at the Meet & Greet, where lines such as Celebrity or ROYAL CARIBBEAN often send the cruise director (or an assistant) - NCL sent an entire lineup of senior crew and staff, from Captain Hilden to HD Klaus Lugmaier, Radmila, Prem, Sean, Clint, and the gang. They thanked us for our keen interest in cruising and in NCL, and took a number of questions from a group that ended up at around 70 pax or so, enough to warrant having the venue upgraded to the Magenta dining room. As said earlier in this (now loooooong) review, the tone was set early and often by Gem's leadership team, and we can only thank them once again for one of the best holidays we've ever had. TEPPANYAKI Mad Mariner activity number two was Teppanyaki. For my twelfth birthday my parents told me we were going to a Japanese steakhouse - I couldn't quite get my head around this one, and imagined trying to eat a T-bone with chopsticks. Well it turned out to be quite the show as well as a decent meal, and we'd go back every so often, though it became less of a novelty once I'd lived in Japan and then in California. Now I hadn't been to one of these in over a decade, the last one being a Benihana in LA maybe 15+ years ago. Jen, on the other hand, had never been, so when a group dinner was organized, we were in. And again the food, service and entertainment did not disappoint, especially on a day when we'd see a matinee magic performance and the feature show being juggler Romano Frediani. I went for my usual "surf and turf action" with the tenderloin (tender indeed) and shrimp, while Jen had the lobster and scallops. The garlic fried rice is something we try to replicate at home, and this held its own against the best I'd ever had (at the Tokyo Hilton). Chef Pony put on an amusing show as well, juggling and chopping while an audience gathered at the window behind us, not to mention at one point doing some real magic by holding up the lens cap of our camera, which I'd dropped and had rolled somewhere under the table (and bless the waitress who came over with a flashlight and took our room number in case it would turn up later). At the $20 price point (a bit odd considering the same price gets you Le Bistro or Cagney's, while Orchid is only $10), this was a once-a-cruise event, but with the CC group we had an outstanding time - good food, good show, great conversation. ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES I mentioned the shows. Earlier that day we'd seen magician Duck Cameron, who puts on an energetic illusion show with some audience participation, the highlights being the 'levitation' scene and the Houdini suspended straightjacket act. Duck would do an encore performance as well as a magic workshop later in the sailing. We'd also enjoyed Douglas Starks, who was featured in the Stardust Theatre one night doing impressions of Sammy Davis Jr., and another evening at the Spinnaker Lounge in a funny if slightly blue standup act. And as mentioned, after Teppanyaki we went to see juggler Romano Frediani - his show started off slowly, as we'd been advised by fellow CC Mike & Wendy, but was worth the wait as it picked up energy to a fun closing thanks to his high-energy interacting with the audience. The three production shows were each worthwhile in their own right: "World Beat" featured a variety of numbers inspired by different countries and cultures; "Get Down Tonight" had grooving '70s tunes that had some folks dancing in the aisles; and "Colors" was a creative mix of songs with themes or titles in the spectrum, from "Little Red Corvette" and "Pink Cadillac" to "Devil in a Blue Dress". Our favorite component of the entertainment, however, would have to be the Second City. The famed improv from Chicago & Toronto has its troupes aboard several NCL vessels, and the one aboard Gem was great. They did a show in the main theatre and two more performances in the Spinnaker lounge, and the audience enjoyed a rollicking time in all three. Additionally, Second City put on two improv workshops, and rather than doing a dry Q&A about what it's like to be in improv, they made it a hands-on class. So we had the chance to walk onto the stage, embarrass ourselves in fun exercises, and get a real feel for what these professionals do, or at least where they started. It was this type of enriching activity that made this transatlantic crossing for us anything but boring. We also enjoyed a few lectures by Melvyn Foster, a maritime historian who's taken over fifty crossings and spoke about the early days of this voyage (think 3-6 months on a wooden sail ship, sleeping on the floor, being seasick half the time, and having near 50-50 odds of not even making it to final destination thanks to disease). Coming home and having to give a speech to my Toastmasters club, I borrowed a bit from Mr. Foster's presentation, juxtaposing what it used to be like to cross the Atlantic with how we're spoiled today. And rounding out this section we'd have to include the information session held by the captain, chief engineer, and staff. Captain Hilden and Freddy Hansen were like Abbott & Costello up on the stage of the main showroom, giving a rundown of what it takes to operate the Norwegian Gem. Some of the numbers presented at this session were staggering: those who've cruised will probably have seen the 'shopping list' of food for a week onboard, such as 22,000 pounds of vegetables, 12,000 pounds of beef, 500 gallons of ice cream, etc. And, along with some behind the scenes photos and talks, these were presented, but what really got some 'aaahs' from the audience were the facts about the ship: 28,000 light bulbs, 825 miles of electric cable and 65 miles of pipe, and a capacity of 660,000 gallons of fuel (consuming nearly 53,000 gallons of fuel per day). But these are available on a fact sheet as well; what made the session was the way it was presented, with a wry humour that makes you pause before chuckling, kind of like 'did that guy just call the captain "old"?' AT SEA Leading up to our departure from Ottawa, I'd done a lot of planning, borrowed many books from the library and had a rough idea of what I'd like to ready, study, and absorb in our time at sea. I'm no ashamed to say that I didn't get to very much of it. That wasn't the goal, of course. The great part is that enough was available onboard the Gem that we kept ourselves occupied. Occupied when we wanted to be, that is - other times it was simply enough to relax on deck or on the balcony, enjoying our time at sea. A benefit of the westbound transatlantic is that you gain an hour most every day. Out of Barcelona we had two days at sea, the first sailing past Mallorca and around the southern coast of Spain, and the second in the Atlantic heading southwest for the island of Madeira. This meant that late in the evening of the first full sea day, we would pass through the Strait of Gibraltar. We'd kept an eye out for land or lights, but saw little until exiting the show for the evening - World Beat, where one of the numbers had been entitled "Africa." Sure enough, off the port side of the ship, the northern tip of Africa was in clear view, well clear for nighttime anyway, with the lights of Morocco's Tangier and Tetouan (and Spanish Ceuta) brightening the sky with the silhouette of mountains in the background. On the starboard side was the rock, Gibraltar, even brighter if slightly further in the distance, with Algeciras and Tarifa around it. We knew that this was a part of the world we'd like to come back to visit on a land trip, but for now we were content to sail through the calm seas, surprising for the Strait actually. Even once we entered the open Atlantic Ocean, the seas did not pick up much force. Swells and the occasional whitecap were no different that what we'd experienced in the Caribbean, and save for parts of a day later on in the sailing (where the occasional squall saw brief gusts across the bow at about 90 knots), our transatlantic crossing was smooth indeed. Along the way we'd see many a sunset, two of which stand out as some of the most memorable scenes at sea, along with a couple of rainbows, one being a 'double' directly off the aft and enjoyable from our balcony. And as we moved west from Madeira into the heart of the Atlantic, where depths of the ocean floor would reach 5000-6000 meters (down to 19,000 feet), we'd come to appreciate being in the middle of nowhere as even most of the satellite television channels were out of reception (all but Fox News, unfortunately). MADEIRA I almost put Madeira in a separate travelogue for Portugal, but of course it was very much a part of our cruise. As is our wont, we eschewed the ship's excursions and made arrangements on our own to see a bit of the island, booking through a local firm for the 'west island tour.' A few others from our ship had also made such plans, and several others from the Royal Caribbean ship alongside us. We'd seen Madeira forecasted to get clouds and rain while we'd been in Lisbon, but were treated to another sunny day on this subtropical archipelago some 1000 km southwest of mainland Portugal and 700 km off the coast of Africa (of which it geographically belongs). Sailing at dawn into Funchal, the island's capital and main port, with the sun rising behind us and basking the hillsides, we felt a bit of similarity to Santorini or Saint Thomas, more the former though. The natural ruggedness and beauty of Madeira, however, is more akin to Iceland, Bermuda, or Hawaii, the notion of islands in the middle of an ocean with unique topographical and horticultural features. After first visiting the seaside town of Câmara de Lobos, with its idyllic cove that Churchill adored and painted various scenes, we ascended through the terraced vineyards towards Cabo Girao. Here rising from the water are the second highest sea cliffs in the world, and at 580 meters (nearly 2000 feet) straight down provide amazing views of Câmara de Lobos, Funchal, the western stretches of coastline, and of course the beaches directly below. Another picturesque seaside town lies past here, Ribeira Brava, and after stopping for 30 minutes or so, we traversed the Encumeada pass and spent a couple of hours on the wilder north coast. This part of the island is breezier and gets a bit less light, but has natural beauty galore - waterfalls, steep hillsides ripe with lush vegetation, and mountains that spill right into the Atlantic producing unrivalled sceneries of cliffs and capes. We ate lunch in town of Port Moniz, a picturesque town at the islands most north-western tip, perched on a small peninsula with lava rocks forming tidal pools and a popular swimming area. Here we lunched on the island's delicacy, the black scabbard fish, one of the ugliest sea creatures you'll ever encounter: long like an eel, black as night, with eyes almost as wide as its body and croc-like rows of teeth - and tasty as hell, a white fish not unlike cod or orange roughy. After walking around the town a bit, including a purchase of local Madeira wine from a mom and pop supermarket where the proprietor invited us to try her homemade ginja liqueur (nice digestive after the meal), our bus quickly ascended a narrow and winding artery, and within minutes we were above the clouds in the highlands of Paúl da Serra. While occasionally having to stop for cows in our way, we were treated to views one would expect from Colorado or British Columbia, but between the clouds beneath was the ocean. Our day in Madeira was coming to a close as we drove back to Funchal, but we'd gotten a taste of this captivating island and would gladly return in a heartbeat. We were on our aft balcony when the Gem pulled out of the harbour, serenaded by church bells ringing from the slowly fading hillside wishing us a safe journey. For good measure we passed the cliffs at Cabo Girao as the setting sun cast a magnificent reddish hue, an image that would last us across the Atlantic and indeed for a lifetime. * PART IV - THE GEM IS SHINING… AND DINING * I mentioned they fed us? Because God forbid, one should go on a cruise and lose weight. And yet we'd read some reviews by people who'd claimed to have done just that on their NCL cruise. Anyhow we'd eaten well in Portugal (first meal in Lisbon was a juicy steak in a garlic cream sauce, mmmmmm, but that's a different review on its way) and Spain, so we weren't too concerned about the cruise. And as discussed earlier, our first two days aboard Gem hardly left us starving. GARDEN CAFÉ & GREAT OUTDOORS On a cruise we usually do our best to make it to the dining room for breakfast, having a relaxing meal in a more refined setting. With the Meet & Greet on the agenda for the first day, however, we opted for the Garden Cafe for a buffet breakfast. Again, Gem's 'action stations' compared very favourably to our Celebrity experiences. Omelets were cooked to order, hash browns and bacon were crispy but not overdone, a nice selection of yogurt and cereal was always available, and both smoked herring (kippers) and salmon (lox) were regular items. Bagel and a shmear, and you can't go wrong. Food at the buffet was consistently served at a proper temperature, and a sufficient variety existed from day to day to keep things fresh. Servers were always on hand to assist with guests' needs, either running down items we were seeking or offering to carry our trays to the table. You can probably tell by now that we made breakfast at the Garden a regular thing - even though many said they'd enjoyed the main dining room or the Blue Lagoon. The only negative was that, at certain peak times (perhaps a 30-45 minute rush at breakfast and another hour during lunch) it was sometimes difficult to find an open table. Four seating areas are actually able to accommodate the buffet meal - the Garden Cafe itself; the Great Outdoors (an open-air eating area at the aft of Deck 12, overlooking the wake - here we had the Bavarian Frühschoppen twice, complete with oompah bands and sacher torte); La Cucina (the Italian restaurant, which opens for dinner and otherwise has seats available); and the window tables by the pool. Still, the amount of indoor seating for the buffet was considerably less than we'd seen on other lines. With good weather much of the way, crowding was less of a factor; it is imaginable, however, that on wintry-weather days out of New York, where Gem home-ports for the Caribbean season, seating very well could be at a premium. Another confounding issue here is that, as a number of fellow passengers also pointed out, if Gem is lacking anything it would be adequate places to sit and read. Again, this may not be as much of a factor on port intensive sailings, but for a transatlantic (and even for the sea days to/from New York), Gem simply doesn't have the variety of quiet, comfy spots as do many other ships. What this does, then, is push people (especially those who have smaller staterooms with no balcony) to the few public areas that do accommodate reading. We regularly saw guests occupying tables at the Garden Cafe for long periods of time, consuming nothing more than a coffee while reading or looking out the window. I wouldn't have a problem with this, except that at peak lunch hours, it can be frustrating to walk around looking for an open seat while holding a plate of food that is rapidly lowering to room temperature. Nonetheless, this experience occurred no more than twice, and when having breakfast, we opted for the Garden Cafe all but once, when we tried the Grand Pacific dining room. MAIN DINING ROOMS Our first culinary experience at the Grand Pacific (one of two main dining rooms onboard Gem, along with Magenta) was not stellar. On previous evenings we were not inspired by the menu selections (standard fare of pasta, chicken, a beef or pork dish, but nothing particularly enticing in description - even Jen, the queen of dessert, didn't find much appetizing from the sweet section). So we'd been to three for-charge restaurants (Orchid, Bistro, and Teppanyaki) and another dinner at the no-surcharge Tequila, one of the best meals we had aboard ship. We (along with many others from CC) had signed up for the Murder Mystery Dinner, however, and so on the fifth night we had our first main dining experience. Though we prefer the more open, two-tier (or three!) dining rooms seen on many ships, Grand Pacific is a stately room, a bit reminiscent of the dining on Oceania (and the other ex-Renaissance) ships, comfortable and elegant enough that you don't notice that it's only one story (in contrast to Princess' Grand class, with its low ceiling dining rooms, not to mention odd choices in music, but then don't get me started about Princess). The wait staff knew we were in the Murder Mystery, and seemed to back off a bit and let us have our event in peace. That was fine, though there was sometimes confusion regarding both food and beverages, what went to whom etc, and the communication between the staff seemed to be lacking. The food itself was no more inspired than the menu - as little jumped out from the offerings, I opted for the shrimp cocktail, soup, Caesar salad, and striploin. The soup was not hot, nor was the steak, and the soggy Caesar salad - with iceberg lettuce - was a far cry from Celebrity (or even Princess). The desserts seemed to be the same as we'd seen in the buffet at lunchtime, and Jen, who normally will order two desserts, ordered just one and finished perhaps half. We had a fun time with the Murder Mystery, each of us really hamming it up when it came to playing our parts. The meal didn't really matter; a good time was had by all. A return dinner date at the main dining rooms, however, was questionable. TEX-MEX AT SEA Back up a step. Tequila is one of two eateries that flank the upper levels of the Crystal Atrium, and is where we had dinner on the fourth night (after a full day in Madeira). Here we met up with Terry and Nancy, our tablemates from last year's Century cruise whom we were so happy to run into this time. They'd had a nice meal at Tequila the first night, and so we figured 'why not'. Having lived in Texas, Arizona, and California, I have a fairly keen sense for good Mexican food, both authentic as well as Tex-Mex. Here in Ottawa, however, good Mex is hard to come by, and I'd say the last time we had a decent Mexican meal was, well, Cozumel a year ago, and LA a year before that. Our expectations weren't necessarily high for NCL's version of Tex-Mex, but once again we were pleasantly surprised. Jen and I both had the tortilla soup, and it was among the best we've ever had. Jen went for a chicken quesadilla, just enough spice, while I had a crabmeat quesadilla - both were excellent. We dangled the idea of ordering the "Il Popo", an entree for two about which many others have raved. Instead Jen had a satisfactory burrito, while (upon Terry's recommendation) I had chicken & shrimp fajitas that came out sizzling and were a veritable treat. We made a return visit to Tequila, one of two encore dinners that we had, the other being at Orchid Garden. MORE DINING For our return visit to Orchid, on Day 6, we brought Terry and Nancy, and were able to be served by Ketut, the Balinese waiter who'd done an excellent job our first night along with his assistant Perdita. It was this second time that Jen asked for three orders of the Peking duck crepes, each order being three rolled crepes. Ketut didn't miss a beat, and I only regret not taking a picture of the three 3-roll (temaki-sushi-style) stands in front of Jen - but the looks on everyone's faces around us in Orchid at that moment were priceless. I somehow limited myself to one lychee saketini that night, but am planning on concocting these at home very soon… maybe for New Years?! Day 8 was our return to Tequila for dinner, and though I've heard reports of inconsistency in their margaritas, you'll read no complaints from this tequila drinker. And what were we doing for lunch during this time? We'd check the menu in the Grand Pacific, then the display at the buffet. The standard routine we'd gotten into was to have a course at the buffet, usually with the rotisserie chicken or the Indian vegetarian dish (or both!), and then, after some walking around on deck for a while, we'd have a second course downstairs at the Blue Lagoon, the other dining venue at the atrium and open 24 hours. We'd been warned by our tour companions in Madeira to avoid the fish & chips and the shepherd's pie - since they were Canadian and seemed savvy enough, we took their word for it. But Grace, who manages Orchid and other venues, recommended the buffalo wings, and I couldn't pass that up. Repeat visits to Blue Lagoon saw us having double- and triple-orders of the wings, served hot and punctually by a mostly friendly and capable staff. I generalize, but in actuality it seemed that many servers got their start here, and some shone more than others. Also of note at Blue Lagoon are the fish cakes, the wonton noodle soup (great with ginger), and the fried rice. It's billed as "comfort food," and honestly, even the fish & chips looked good from where we were sitting, though we've got a good one in the neighbourhood here so there's that. On a cruise, of course, one must pace oneself. There are only so many meals in a day, and so many days in a sailing. With 9 days and more than a dozen venues, well, you do the math. I'm told that the steak sandwiches at the Bali Hai grill (above the pool) were outstanding - I meant to have one, honesty, but somehow just didn't get around to it. They are reputed to have good fries as well. Yet we very much enjoyed the fries at the Garden Cafe, always fresh and hot - even the burger was thick and moist, so that's a nice combination. And I think I missed the steak sandwich because subconsciously I was saving it up for Cagney's. CAGNEY'S On Day 7, in the middle of the Atlantic and at that time when we were all reaching the 'sweet zone' of shipboard relaxation, Jen and I joined fellow Cruise Critic members Bill and Linda for a memorable evening at Cagney's steakhouse. We'd met Bill and Linda at the Meet & Greet, after communicating online of course, and would periodically run into one another throughout the cruise. Jen and I are both very glad we all made it a point of getting together at Cagney's, for good food and good company. Now visions of a porterhouse steak had been dancing in my head, but somehow the 24 oz. cut seemed just a bit much, especially with all the other choices on the menu. So I went with the 16 oz. T-bone instead, and don't regret it for a minute - the steak was tender and cooked to perfection, lightly spiced to give the right flavour, no need for the sauce which I'd asked for on the side. Jen had the filet mignon, bigger here than in Le Bistro. The shrimp cocktail was better than most we've had at sea (save for Polo Grill on Oceania, but those shrimp were practically lobsters!), and both the crab cakes and lobster bisque were very impressive (the bisque better than Celebrity, the crab cakes more flavourful that on Oceania). And those fries? Those fries were addictive! We've tried to replicate that here at home, thus far to moderate success. What would I change about Cagney's? The restaurant is in two rooms, and the side behind the Star Bar is a bit dim, and could use some sconces and/or table lighting as both Jen and Linda were a bit in the dark. And the guns on the door handles and paintings of mob scenes, I thought a bit much. What I wouldn't change for the world was the service - the highly professional Catherine had served Bill and Linda a couple of times already, and was impeccable in her attentiveness, timing, and manner. We'd end up right back at Cagney's at the next morning, not for breakfast but for something that had nearly broken this Mad Mariners group apart. * Part V - LATER DAYS AND FINAL THOUGHTS * In the weeks leading up to the cruise, we on the Cruise Critic roll call arranged a "cabin crawl" that would give us a peek at various staterooms and suites on the Gem. But we came across a, how shall I say this, a certain bump in the road. The Mad Mariners will know where I'm going with this. Communicating online can have its pitfalls - and I should know, that's how I met my wife! So there are times when a remark is innocently (or not-so-innocently, but anyhow casually) made online, be it in an email or in an online forum like Cruise Critic, and said remark causes upset to one or many. Such was the case with the cabin crawl discussion, and without going into specifics, suffice it to say that an ensuing discussion of the original remarks and subsequent revisions of said remarks had some members fleeing for the exits - not canceling their cruise, but limiting or ceasing their ties with the group. Fortunately these matters were mended eventually - these are Mad Mariners, after all (think 'Denny Crane and Mad Cow') - and the group carried on. CABINS So on the morning of Day 8, we gathered outside Cagney's for the cabin crawl / roaming Cruise Critic conga line. The highlight of the tour was a visit, in small staggered groups (not staggering, that came later) to the Courtyard Villas. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking (cheers from the peanut gallery), but we all enjoyed getting a look at these "ship within a ship" suites, both one- and two-bedroom, all of which have access to the private courtyard. Some have bathtubs with an ocean view, while others have private balconies with their own Jacuzzi. We visited other suites on the ship - Penthouse and Romance, which are just as colorful as the Villas and often have an aft view - as well as mini-suites, outside and inside cabins. The look was invaluable, as we normally don't mind staying in inside cabins (the savings can be immense), but this one, as stated before, was not our cup of tea. It was too small and dimly lit. I don't know about the lighting on other ships, but from looking over NCL's information, perhaps only the Sun would give us a inside cabin large enough for our needs (and to make up for that lighting). Hopefully others will give some feedback here. Other Cruise Critic activities included the aforementioned bowling tournament, breaking gutter-ball records at sea; sailaway martinis at the Star Bar; as well as a pre-cruise meet-up in Barcelona - Jen and I were unable to attend as we spent the day in Figueres and Girona, but reports and pictures suggest a fine time was had by many, and I think you found one of the better tapas places in town. The final event was the farewell dinner - the "last supper" of the cruise, if you will - at La Cucina. LA CUCINA The Italian venue is one of the no-charge specialty dining options onboard, and for our tastes, were it not for the CC get-together, we may or may not have checked this one out on our own, at least given the number of nights and number of venues. We've had a lot of mediocre Italian food over the years, some of it in Italy. And I've had some excellent Italian cuisine, sometimes in unexpected places like Minneapolis or Tokyo. But then, food is subjective; Italian food, in our opinion, is even more subjective. La Cucina has an appetizing enough menu, if not particularly creative or daring. But those of us who had the veal, well, Robert & Marlene noted that it could be used as a substitute should your shoe soles give out. How did they know? Was it that obvious? I'd put hundreds of miles on my shoes, been wearing 'em on our travels for years, and they're so comfortable I really don't want to part with them. Alas, the soles are wearing out, the heels are crumbling, it's time to retire this pair of Rockports (or at least retire them to the snow bin). Anyhow, I digress, back to the sole. I mean, the veal. Sole would have been a better choice, a nice filet with a glass of pinot grigio. The point of the evening, of course, was socializing, and we enjoyed good conversation with our tablemates - before we knew it, time had run out on our group 'charter' of La Cucina, and the masses were rallying at the gates to enter. Time was also running out on our Gem cruise, as we were in the chillier waters off the East Coast, approaching Boston at a depressing speed. Couldn't they turn the ship around and head for Miami? Or Havana? I know, most cruise ships don't go to Cuba, we've been over that (see previous review). Before we arrive at our literary port of disembarkation, I wanted to touch in a few points. WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED I've gone on ad infinitum in many instances about this and that where NCL really did a great job, going above and exceeding expectations. Lest you should think I'm a shill for the cruise line, however, several areas left room for improvement or warranted attention from NCL. Sitting on the balcony on the last day of the cruise - yes, the weather was that good that we were able to sit outside every day, even crossing the Atlantic in December - I sketched out a rough spread sheet (someone's missing work while at sea?!) and ranked the cruises we've taken together in different categories. Though not the most well-thought out or scientific methodology, the total score for this cruise came to a *91* - tying that of the first cruise Jen and I took together on Constellation four years ago. 91 is a great score coming from this curmudgeon-in-training, but can certainly be improved upon. SERVICE Our pre-cruise with NCL customer service was hit and miss. We had booked in early August under the "Pity the Procrastinator" sale, but when the price went down a month later (but still before the standard final payment date) we, like many others, were not given a reduction. It's not that we should "expect" a reduction, even though it's a fairly common practice in the cruise industry, but to know that certain "Procrastinators" got a better price, and yet NCL's promotion suggests that those people should be pitied… ah well, life gives us irony. We did receive a telephone call from a courteous and professional assistant in the executive offices, who explained why we were not eligible, though could not offer anything tangible even as goodwill. Are Celebrity/Royal Caribbean any better as far as customer service? Not in our experience. DINING The biggest detracting point would have to be the main dining rooms. We were in Grand Pacific once for dinner, and to give it a fair try went once for breakfast. The quality of the breakfast was no better than in the buffet, and the service teams still didn't seem to have their timing and communication down very well. Some say the food in NCL's dining rooms is very good, others have compared it to a Denny's. Our experience was somewhere in between. To me, it felt like eating in an average hotel restaurant, not bad but not noteworthy either. Are NCL trying to steer people to the for-charge restaurants, as some say in these boards? Those venues are definitely advertised, but we found a multitude of dining options where one could enjoy a good meal at no extra charge - Garden Café, Tequila, and Blue Lagoon stood out, and between the former and the latter, good 'real' food is available around the clock, a plus for any line. If one wants to pay extra (and I know some are simply diametrically opposed to this concept on a cruise), other venues can provide fine dining. That's the definition of "Freestyle Cruising". Still, I believe NCL could fine-tune the main dining rooms without taking a cost absorption - make the menus more creative, do more with the presentation, and train staff better on communication and etiquette. Since our return, NCL has announced "Freestyle 2.0" - we shall see what improvements this brings. Back to the buffet for a moment, we were advised by one of the servers that if we left a few rolled napkins (silverware inside) out on the table, we could return to the buffet and not have to worry about our table being taken. Well apparently not everyone got this message, as we did just that once and came back to find our table occupied by others. I decided not to make a stink about it, but it goes back to the frustrations caused by a lack of seating in this area. Still, we enjoyed the Garden Café overall, and I should add that a plus was having every food item clearly labeled - other cruise lines can take note. Would I rather be served than have to take my own food from the buffet? For snobbish reasons alone, no; for purposes of sanitation, however, this would alleviate some of the contact which has been known to spread Norovirus. We liked that NCL not only provides Purell stations in many areas but also has a few of these staffed in strategic places. Nonetheless, even with all the information that is available about Noro, it is discouraging to see passengers pass these stations up without a wipe. "I washed my hands in my cabin" people will say. Good - now did you touch any surfaces en route to getting here? If the cruise lines made this practice mandatory, we would applaud it. COMFORT NCL has gone a good way in lessening the smoke factor on this ship. I enjoyed my cigars out on the balcony, and would have gone to Churchill's had the weather turned. Yet some passengers reported smokiness (or was that the neighbours complaining about the cigars? or Jen?) here and there, and the non-smoker Jen also felt the smoke was a bit too much at times - and we'd spent 10 days in Europe before this. And the theatre, while a fine room, feels more like a movie theater than a showroom in its layout of seats. More aisles are needed, and gone are the cocktail tables seen in most ship showrooms, thereby leaving no place to put one's drink. WHAT REALLY WORKED Maybe the theatre isn't a big profit centre for NCL. And that was one of aspects we very much enjoyed, not having so many in-your-face profit centers. Others may have seen this differently, but we found the announcements not much more intrusive than on Celebrity or Oceania, and better than Princess or ROYAL CARIBBEAN. The layout of the ship wasn't one constant reminder after another about how to part with your money. Yes, every cruise line has profit centers, and when you see the fares for some of these sailings, it is clear why this must happen. Yet our impression of Gem was that this was tastefully done. Moreover, the transitions from one public area to the next were smooth yet distinct. The colours, fabrics, fixtures/furniture, even music from one room to the next were all varied, and yet for the most part both functional and tasteful. It's been said by some, in reaction to photos of this ship, that the colours are quite bold and perhaps overbearing. Bold, yes, we would agree. But experiencing it in person, what most people seemed to walk away saying was, "this really works" or "it just feels right." So words and pictures cannot do justice - much to my dismay at times - to that which one must truly experience to appreciate. I'll close this review with a crew salute. It was the staff and crew of Norwegian Gem that made this one of the best holidays ever for us. The friendliness from top to bottom in the org chart showed that this was a cohesive environment. I've named some standouts in particular, and must also mention the crew talent show, largely Filipino crew who were otherwise working in the engine room, restaurants (such as Allan), etc., and put in the time to rehearse and jump on the stage to entertain us as well. Of course "Fountains," the piece put on by the CD staff, was amusing, and the individual ballads and tunes by ordinary staff really were the bright spot. Will we cruise on NCL again? Highly likely, though my reticence to use that Future Cruise Reward is only due to the less-than-enticing inside cabins. Would we recommend NCL to friends or family? To most, yes; some will want a more traditional experience, but the majority would appreciate and enjoy NCL. I know we did. This is what happens when expectations are exceeded. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Norwegian Gem Transatlantic December 2007 A long time ago, I used to go with my parents to Africa on passenger liners, first stop was Madeira then 10 days at sea to Cape Town. The difference on a passenger ship was they sailed with a ... Read More
Norwegian Gem Transatlantic December 2007 A long time ago, I used to go with my parents to Africa on passenger liners, first stop was Madeira then 10 days at sea to Cape Town. The difference on a passenger ship was they sailed with a purpose, rather than pleasure and carried mail and cargo (passenger households goods and cars etc) and for this purpose they even had their own onboard cranes. So to compare ships of years ago with this brand new Norwegian Gem is rather akin to comparing a 1950s car with something in the car showroom for 2008 delivery. Certainly with no doubt the ship is superb, no longer do we have teak decks but deck cushioned matting, lifts, a/c everywhere, a huge video wall, the care and detailed planning that has gone into this new ship is excellent, for example each cabin has its number also in braille, the carpet in the corridors are laid out so that the dolphin design means that if you get lost the dolphins head is always facing to the bow. There is a laundry on board on three of the decks with three washers and three driers and two irons......we did form a mutineers cmtee but like everywhere else on board there are cameras everywhere (rumors of a 1000 plus ) - so don't pick your nose! The service from all the crew was faultless, more than pleased to serve and attend to anything you wanted. Whilst sometimes I found the "hello ..how are you ...have a nice day" a little false, better this than some surly French waiter or an English jobsworth crew. Sadly some passengers are never satisfied, in the cafe area with its self-service buffet,one American because he couldn't find somewhere to sit where he wanted and NOW was off to complain at the reception to get money off his trip. I overheard two other passengers conspiring to find something to complain so they could make a case to get money off the trip....pathetic...bring back the plank I say. We did not eat in any of the pay restaurants, the food was excellent in all places we ate, so we did not see the point of paying extra, coffee on tap all day and night - my only complaint about this trip is the price of booze....I live in Portugal where we pay 2 euros in a supermarket for wine, in a restaurant 5 or 6 euros for house wine, so 22 dollars for a bottle of house wine is very very pricey. Looking around at other dinner tables very few had wine on them, instead drinking at no cost "shipwater", perhaps if NCL reduced the price of the booze more would indulge. Other things which were pricey was the photographer who wanted 14 dollars for two pictures....many were left unsold, also the shop was full of things which we were told were cheaper (eg watch at Maceys was cheaper there than on board ) . ..the whiskey I could buy 6 bottles in Portugal for the price of 2 on the ship. It easy to see how cruising becomes addictive, everyone I talked to seems never to set foot on dry land, "just done 5 back to back cruises ....did 6 last year....off to UK for three weeks then going on a round the world trip"...one person on board has done 200 NCL cruises! And of course, lest we forget, we have the parade of ship show-offs who like to tell everyone via their T Shirt where they have been and with whom "Panama Canal First Cruise" "Holland America Line" "Cunard World Cruise" ...yeah right on shipmatey So for the trip itself, tickets came via the post and we went BA to Barcelona where we were met by excellent NCL rep who told us to dump our cases there and then and next time we saw them was outside the cabin. So onto the coach and to the ship and to very nice embarkation lounge, airport x-ray machine and then 40 NCL desks to check you in, we had our credit card swiped and photo taken and then issued with an NCL swipe card that lets you buy anything on board. Onto the gangway where we had to put our hands under a sprayer to disinfect them, these devices are in every restaurant area and NCL are very keen for them to be used. A buffet lunch was available in the garden cafe with a vast selection. Sailing was on time with the ship reversing out of Barcelona harbor (seems tug boats are another industry thats finished). I saw a dolphin the next day from the forward spinnaker lounge which has some very comfortable chairs in very bright colors, the bliss disco (aft) looks a bit like a saloon in a brothel, double beds near the dancing area and a private area with red velvet curtains, double bed and tv in the ceiling. We went past Gibraltar at night and then to Madeira. (only stop) How nice though to enjoy to ship during these days at sea and not like the 1960s film "If its Tuesday, it must be Belgium" where everyday it's a port of call, on - off , on - off, on - off , on - off etc etc. We left Madeira and the sailing to America was very smooth, only one day of choppy water but with the stabilizers it was no worse than a bit of turbulence in an aircraft. By this time we had met some other passengers, one problem with the NCL freestyle cruising concept is that you very rarely meet any other passengers more than twice, as everyone is eating and coming and going when they want, I think there is about as much passenger interaction as in an airport transit lounge and given the 2000 passengers and 1000 crew, it seems to be that meeting other passengers, if you excuse the pun, is a bit like "ships that pass in the night". On board there is a busy daily schedule of things to do if you want to of course, art auctions , food demos, bingo, lectures, shows, singers, dance lessons, a good library, two pools and 4 whirlpools, a well equipped gym, films in you cabin, a bow camera, news channels ...loads and loads to do organized by our cheerful cruise director Clint. The time went quickly as got closer to Boston or as we had been taught to say "Bawstin"...and so we docked dead on time.....sad to leave a wonderful transatlantic trip which I would do again and again. However one mystery still has to be solved, in the casino there are coin fountain machines....there are stacks of coins in these machines perched out at an angle ready to fall down -but no matter how the ship moved up and down, sideways, this way, that way -they never fell into collection hole...strange indeed...perhaps going across near the Bermuda Triangle affected their magnetic qualities so that they stuck together...yeah that has to be the answer...erm don't you think? So well done Norwegian Gem and its crew, don't forget to give a tip to the staff they deserve it. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
My husband and I just returned from our Transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Gem. To say the least, we were very disappointed in almost every aspect of this ship. We booked our whole trip through NCL. Our flight from Cincinnati, OH, ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from our Transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Gem. To say the least, we were very disappointed in almost every aspect of this ship. We booked our whole trip through NCL. Our flight from Cincinnati, OH, through JFK, to Barcelona went very well. Our transfer from the airport to the Princess Sofia Hotel was excellent. The Princess Sofia was located in the center of Barcelona, with only a short walk to restaurants and city tour buses. The transfer from the hotel to the ship went well, too. When we got to the ship, there were refreshments provided, before embarkation. Since we are Latitudes members (this was our fifth cruise with NCL), our line was very short and boarding went smoothly. Our luggage was delivered to our stateroom in a timely manner. Last year, when we traveled on the first Transatlantic voyage of the Norwegian Pearl, we had booked a mini-suite. We loved everything about our trip on The Pearl, so were really looking forward to traveling on her "sister ship". This year, we booked a balcony room. It was much smaller, than the mini-suite, with much less storage room. The feeling was very cramped. Before coming out of the bathroom, I had to shout a warning, so that I didn't hit my husband with the door. Since the closet and clothes drawers are directly across from the bathroom, we learned the hard way about opening the bathroom door too quickly. The bed was comfortable, with at least 5 pillows. The mini-bar was very mini. There was a 15" TV. Unfortunately, we did not know about CruiseCritic.com, when we booked this cruise, so we did not find out about the new policy for movies. Twelve dollars for a pay on demand movie is outrageous! Only last year, on The Pearl, all new release movies were FREE. One of the reasons that we book Transatlantic cruises is to watch newly released movies and to read books. What else is there to do that doesn't cost you extra money? Next, I guess that they will charge per book, too? We hardly saw our room stewardess and steward. There were several times that we went to bed without a turn down, even though we had put on the turn down sign, several hours before. Several mornings, the same thing would happen with the "make up cabin" sign. Often, it would take several hours to have it done. By the end of the cruise, they did not even spend time tidying up the bathroom. Because we complained about the movie situation and the problem with our cabin stewards, the Assistant Hotel Manager met with us. He said that the movie situation was a NCL corporate decision. Apparently, the reason that we never saw much of our steward and stewardess is because they have increased the number of rooms that they clean, from 16 to 32. In the past, there was one person for every 16 rooms, now there are two people, for every 32 rooms. Because they are spread out so far, there is less personal contact and some of the rooms, in my opinion, suffer. The Assistant Manager said that different designers design different rooms and lounges. Since the decor is such a mess and does not flow throughout the ship, I now understand why it is so. However, we did appreciate the time that the Assistant Hotel Manager spent trying to explain NCL's position about our concerns. The new no smoking policy from NCL is great! Since I have a lung disease, I cannot be around smoke. NCL has reduced the number of areas that smoking is allowed, which was great for me. However, if you are a smoker, then you might not want to take an NCL cruise. Most of our breakfast and lunch meals were taken up in the Garden Cafe. For the whole cruise, it was too crowded. Most of the time, the overflow would have to go into La Cucina, which is one of the "specialty restaurants". There were four German/Bavarian theme days. Since I do not care for German food, I thought that one day was nice, but four was definitely too many. The quality of the food in the Garden Cafe was just alright, nothing great. The Grand Pacific dining room was nice, but not as nice as the main dining room on The Pearl. The decor was very dark. The first night was very disorganized. Our waiter was late, so another waiter took our order. When it arrived, our waiter had no clue to whom the food was to go. It took about an hour and a half to get through the meal. We ate down there one more night and the service was much improved. The only "cover charge" restaurant that we enjoyed was Cagney's. The filet mignon was very good. We took advantage of the early 2 for 1 price, which made it more reasonable. The decor was very dark and not nearly as nice as the decor on The Pearl. It was hard to remember to make reservations for the non cover charge restaurants, like La Cucina. On one day of the cruise, I used the Spa. I did enjoy it, although thought it very pricey. There is a very nice thermal indoor pool, which costs an extra $10, if you have a Spa treatment, If you don't have a Spa treatment, it costs $20 per day. My husband used the gym and found it quite crowded. There were plenty of extra pay classes (pilates and yoga), which we did not attend. There were treadmills, cycles, rowing machines, toning equipment and physio balls. I usually walked a couple of miles on deck 7. The folks playing shuffle board made it difficult, because "the game" was more important than the folks who were walking. There were several times when a disk hit the walkers, as they passed. The Spinnaker lounge had extremely strange decor. It had only three of the wave reading chairs, which we loved on The Pearl. Everything else was done in bright yellow, aqua, raspberry velvet like materials. There were giant, uncomfortable, strangely designed chairs. Some chairs had giant leaf like decorations attached to the backs and arms. There were two queen sized beds, which were done in the raspberry color. Yes, I said beds. The game room, which was a "pay for all games", on one side of the lounge detracted from the whole purpose of the room. Thumbs down on this designer. The shops leave much to be desired. When we first left Spain, they had a few small items, which came from Spain. They were not on the shelves for very long, before they were replaced with the usual NCL logo stuff. On the "special sale days", most of the prices were the same as the non sale days. They would put everything in the Atrium, so more folks would see the stuff and think that they were getting a deal. However, if you asked if the price was reduced, they would admit that it was not. Buyer, beware. Madiera was the only port, at which The Gem stopped. It was awesome! I wish that we could have had more time there. We took the toboggan excursion. It was a blast! It was well worth the cost. However, we wanted to purchase some gifts and were not given very long to shop, except at the wicker store. When asked if there were any other shops, the guide said no. As we were leaving the town, we passed a lovely Christmas shop, just on the other side of the square. If you don't want wicker, then there are other places to shop. While on board, we saw several of the productions. The juggler was good. Second City, from Chicago was great. The crew talent show was good, too. The Gem production numbers were alright, but I have seen better. When we arrived in Boston, it was raining. There were plenty of people to help you find the correct transfer to the airport. However, it was cold, raining and there were not enough buses. They told us to go to one bus, but it filled up. They said that another bus was on the way, but it didn't show up. Then, they said to go to another bus, all the while, we were standing with our suitcases out in the cold rain. It took about 20 minutes of standing in the rain before we got on a bus. Everything went smoothly for the rest of our journey home. As I stated in the beginning, our expectations of The Gem were high, because of the wonderful experience that we had the prior year, on The Pearl. There was no comparison. The Gem does not glitter, as NCL would have you believe. The decor is a bit garish in some areas and boring in others. You have to pay extra for everything. The amenities like free movies and a free paper are a thing of the past. The services provided are just not what we had come to expect from NCL. Until this year, we have been very happy with our NCL cruises. Because of this disappointing experience, we will be trying other cruise lines, in the future. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Greetings to my fellow Cruise Critics! I bear happy tidings about sailing the Gem from Barcelona to Boston and hope this review will be helpful to you. The short version is: Don't miss a chance to board "The IT Girl." ... Read More
Greetings to my fellow Cruise Critics! I bear happy tidings about sailing the Gem from Barcelona to Boston and hope this review will be helpful to you. The short version is: Don't miss a chance to board "The IT Girl." She's a beauty! TA Flight: Our group of four took the nonstop Delta flight from Atlanta to Barcelona. Time in the air: approximately 8 hours. We landed slightly ahead of time in Barcelona on December 3, 2007 at 7:00 a.m. Yes. I know. We were cutting this very close because The Gem was set to sail that evening! All of us made sure we purchased trip insurance - something we do for every trip we take. Additionally, we were counting on Atlanta having temperate weather (It did), and the nonstop flight reducing problems and complications (It did). We were thrilled with how smoothly everything went. Absolutely no issues at all. Our experience in the Barcelona airport was very pleasant. We were processed in an expeditious way, found our luggage easily, and were ready for the next step of our adventure. In order to keep our passports, credit cards, and money secure, I wore both a neck pouch and fanny pack. Both had the type of wires that can't be cut by a pickpocket. As it turned out, we had no need to worry because our driver from Angie's Taxi was right where he said he would be, holding a sign with my name on it. Tour of Barcelona with Angie's Taxi: After lots of research (done by my cousin SolidGoldCruiser), we decided to use Angie's Taxi for a tour of Barcelona and subsequent transportation to the ship. For those who are considering using Angie's Taxi, may I urge you to book with confidence. Angie went out of her way to communicate with us and design the tour to suit our needs. We had the option to hire a certified guide but decided to just take the tour with our driver. We're glad we did because he did a fine job. After such a long, cramped flight, we were delighted to be ushered to a modern, clean, and roomy minivan. All luggage pieces fit easily in the back. Two of us occupied the first back seat while two of us occupied the "second" back seat. It was time to lean back and enjoy our tour of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We weren't sure how much of Barcelona we would be able to see in a mere two hours. The good news is we saw all the major sights and/or sites. It's true we didn't go inside the various gorgeous buildings and cathedrals, but we were too jetlagged to care. Throughout the tour, our driver talked to us about his hometown. He may not have been a certified guide, but he certainly knew his history and had a good grasp of the modern political situation. Fascinating. For those interested in booking with Angie's Taxi, we'd like to let you know that our cost of the two hour tour for four passengers + luggage was 150 Euros (total). We were driven to the pier where we gave our driver a well deserved tip. Angietaxi33@yahoo.com Gem Embarkation: For this cruise, my husband and I were booked in an AE Penthouse Suite. Our concierge, Claudio, greeted us with a broad smile. (Claudio was our concierge on the infamous "Animal House at Sea" spring break Spirit cruise in February 2005. I don't know what we would have done without him. He truly saved us from the 800 out of control University of Florida college students. Boy! Was I disappointed in my alma mater, but that's another story.) Anyway, this was a new day and a new cruise on a new ship. It was clear Claudio was proud of the Gem and eager to make our voyage as perfect as possible. We enjoyed the VIP treatment as he escorted us onto the ship. The Gem's interior is funky and fun - much like the Pearl and Jewel. We've sailed all three ships now and love the bold color choices and wild designs. This is not a ship for those who insist on quiet elegance. Instead, every inch of the Gem invites you to, "abandon your inhibitions and play, play, play!" AE Penthouse 9670: Anyone who books this aft penthouse is in for a treat. It was our first time booking an aft cabin, and we loved it! Penthouse Cabin Design: Bed, end tables, and long table positioned at the foot of the bed. This sleeping area can be curtained off. Reading lights on each side of the bed. Loveseat, chair, and glass table. This area can be curtained off as well. Small dining table with four chairs. Double sided closet. By "double sided," I mean the closet has entrances on each side which is very nice. Private vanity area with strong blow dryer and makeup mirror. Bathroom with tub/shower combination. (This isn't a whirlpool tub but it's a nice size.) Toilet is separated by a sliding glass door. Two safes (his and hers). An incredible coffee/tea machine that makes anything your heart may desire! Fridge. Shelves with various types of glasses. Plenty of drawers and two great cubby holes (located above the vanity area.) I loved those cubby holes! A beautiful verandah from which we had an amazing view. A cell phone! It was wonderful to carry around and stay in touch with each other! Chilled champagne, fresh fruit, and flowers. Penthouse Suite Amenities: Of course, the most important perk was having a butler. Maxi was ready to serve us immediately. For a Sail Away Celebration in our suite, Maxi served dinner (all courses) for five people. Everyone had a great time. We are Platinum Latitudes Members so I sometimes get confused about whether we're receiving extras because of the Platinum status or the Penthouse Suite booking. (We rarely book a penthouse so this was a real treat for us.) Anyway, throughout the cruise, we received special invitations to LeBistro (twice), complimentary wine, various "event" party invitations, appetizer plates daily, and access to Cagney's for breakfast and/or lunch. Additionally, Klaus (hotel director), Claudio (concierge), and Duncan (Latitudes Services) made themselves available to help in any way. We truly felt pampered! Penthouse Cabin Stewards: Kudos to Johnson and Susanna! My goodness! They kept our cabin spotless and went out of their way to make us comfortable. My husband found the bed to be too firm. We requested a foam "egg crate cushion," and it made all the difference in the world. Each night we returned to the cutest towel animals and chocolates on our pillows. We could not have been more pleased. Our Butler, Maxi: I must commend Maxi for being so wonderful to us. In the mornings, I like to eat breakfast in the cabin. The Butler's Menu allows you to order bacon, ham, sausage, cheese omelets, plain omelets, scrambled eggs, pastries, rolls, muffins, yogurts, fresh fruits, three types of juice, cereal, milk, etc. Maxi never missed serving us at our requested time of 6:30 a.m. One morning, I discovered the remote to the flat screen television didn't work. My husband was already working out in the gym so I decided to ask Maxi for help when he brought breakfast. In no time, he had my favorite news station playing for me and called the electronics expert to come and fix the remote. Within an hour, everything was repaired, and we encountered no more problems. (Evidently, the problem was more than a rundown battery.) In addition to serving us for our Sail Away Party, Maxi did a beautiful job of serving all of us again for a second dinner party. Moreover, I can't forget how helpful Maxi was during my mild bout with sea sickness the last two days of the cruise. (I was so proud of myself for not having to wear the patch and marveling at how well I was feeling UNTIL I woke up sick Sunday night. Application of the patch ultimately helped but was too late to completely stave off the nausea.) By Monday afternoon, I was still feeling queasy so I called Maxi with a request for a ginger ale. In no time, he arrived with four cans of ginger ale, a full basket of saltine crackers, and a whole box of gourmet crackers! I must say this remedy worked, and I was feeling much better by Monday evening. Thank you, Maxi! The Gem Spa: Of all places on the ship, this was my favorite. For $95, I purchased access to the spa for the entire cruise. Where do I begin? In the "community area" for both men and women, there is the most amazing heated pool. Press the buttons of your choice. If you want to lie in the half-submerged lounge and be massaged by water jets, press a button. If you would like to stand under an incredible waterfall for a fantastic back massage, press another button. If you want your whole body massaged in every direction, press the button, move to the center, and hang on to the rings. Utter heaven! Heated tile lounges provided a marvelous way to relax and read a good book. Equally comfortable lounges looked out on the sea and sky. The Ladies' Only area was beautiful. We had access to two full-sized, heated tubs with massage jets. (Again, press the buttons for your chosen massage.) Also included in this area are: Sauna, showers with bath gel and shampoo, ocean view lounge chairs, and private lockers. Self-serve water was always available. At all times, the spa was kept gleaming. Thanks to this amazingly restful place, I was able to complete my 400 page Gem library book in complete comfort. Gem Dining: We did not try all the restaurants, but I can provide feedback on those we tried. Tequila: We LOVED this Tex/Mex restaurant! Service was outstanding and choices were available for the die hard Tex/Mex fan to the less enchanted with spicy foods (me). Our highest recommendation is that you try an order of Il Popo. Excellent. We ate at Tequila twice. There is no special charge for this restaurant, but make sure you take time to make reservations. Magenta: Menus for this restaurant change on a daily basis. I wish I could recall exactly what I ordered, but my memory is faulty. I remember being pleased with the service and the meal. Like Tequila, there is no cover charge for Magenta. Note: Lobster night did not happen on the Gem. Instead, a seafood extravaganza that included lobster tail was offered. Because I opted for the duck (which was quite good), I'll leave reviews of the seafood extravaganza to others. La Cucina Italian Restaurant: For SolidGoldCruiser's dinner party, we were served from La Cucina. The food was absolutely delicious. I ordered veal marsala and was not disappointed. The menu provides lots of pasta choices, and my fellow cruisers seemed to enjoy everything they ordered. La Cucina is not a specialty restaurant but do make reservations. Le Bistro: Le Bistro is a specialty restaurant, and the food is superb. We were especially impressed with the escargot, mushroom soup in sourdough bread, lamb, and beef dishes. Don't miss the chocolate fondue! Delicious! Shore Excursion: I must use the singular because we had only one port of call - Funchal Madeira, Portugal. My husband and I elected to go on the "Taste of Madeira" NCL excursion. Although we aren't fond of bus tours, this was a good way to drive through the mountain ranges and learn about Madeira from a certified guide. The cost of this excursion was very reasonable at $49 per person. Madeira is a place of striking beauty. At any time of the year, it is both harvest and planting time. To say the island is lush is an understatement. In early December, it was a real treat to see various flowers in full bloom and trees, heavy with fruit. Our day was especially nice because the temperature was comfortable and the day sunny. Our guide told us the lowest temperature in winter for Madeira is 50 degrees at night. The highest summer temperatures hover around 82 degrees. Madeira has so much to offer, and we were sorry we couldn't stay longer to explore. Our tour gave us a chance to view the sea and lush vegetation from various high vantage points. We also had to opportunity to taste wines and enjoy breads and cheeses. We would love to return again and really explore. The Laundry Mat: Here are some tips about washing clothes in the Gem's washers. There is no charge for using the three washers and three dryers in the laundry rooms. These washers are computerized. Once you press, "Start," the door locks, and you can't go back. Therefore, don't press "Start" until you've selected all the correct settings. These are front loading washers, and they will become overly sudsy if you pour in a whole box of Tide. (Small boxes of Tide are on sale for 4 quarters. The instructions on the Tide box tell you to pour the whole thing in the washer. DON'T! Half a box is more than enough with these washing machines.) My cousin put the whole box in and had to run her clothes through twice in order to get them properly rinsed. I brought my own travel packets of Woolite. Next time, I will try to remember to bring dryer sheets. Be mindful that the laundry room can be a busy place. If you leave your clothes, please return in a timely manner. I brought a book and stayed the whole time. (When I arrived, all washers and dryers were in use, and I was behind two other people, waiting to get started.) It was disconcerting to see a washer and/or dryer end its cycle and no person present to remove the clothes. Summary: We could find very few faults with the Gem or our transatlantic adventure. The days flowed in a seamless fashion. Opportunities for onboard activities were plentiful. If we HAD to complain about something, it would be the tightness of the slot machines and the lackluster payouts. (I guess you can tell we didn't have good luck in the Casino!) The suggestion we put on our comment cards was: My husband would like to see more recumbent bikes added to the gym. Overall, we loved our cruise, and we loved the NCL Gem. We are Freestyle cruisers who get a huge kick out of the wild colors and designs you will find on the Gem. (After sailing on both the Jewel and the Pearl, we were more than prepared for The It Girl.) I hope this review was helpful to anyone planning a cruise on the Gem. I suspect there will be many reviews posted on Cruise Critic that provide different views of the same experience. That's what makes such interesting reading (in my opinion). Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
Boarding the Gem was a pretty easy process; although there was a long line for Latitudes members and absolutely no line for non-Latitude members. Not one single NCL agent in the other area made any attempt to call those of us in the ... Read More
Boarding the Gem was a pretty easy process; although there was a long line for Latitudes members and absolutely no line for non-Latitude members. Not one single NCL agent in the other area made any attempt to call those of us in the Latitude line over to help us. I found my cabin with ease but when I opened the closet door there was trash on the floor and every single wooden hangar with on the floor as well. I was disappointed to have had to clean up before even leaving on the cruise. I was traveling alone and had an "obstructed view" cabin on Deck 8. I chose this category on purpose as I like the location. The cabin was small, but it was fine for one person. The life boat drill was the most organized and smoothest operation I've ever experienced. As a person traveling alone, NCL has always treated me like I was the most important person on the ship. Sadly, not on the Norwegian Gem. On two occasions I had to get a manager as servers walked right past me to wait on groups or couples. This happened consistently in the bars and in the restaurants. There were many times I felt invisible. My cabin was never made up before 2:00 PM even though the "make up cabin" sign was visible. It is difficult not to compare the Gem to her sister ship, the Pearl. Many of the staff from the Pearl transferred to the Gem. However, there still were not enough staff, especially in the Grand Pacific dining room. The room was large, beautiful and decorated in a dark high-seas theme. The serving staff were always visibly harried. Service was painfully slow. In Magenta, a smaller non-cover restaurant, the atmosphere was much more relaxed. The specialty restaurants were "okay". The Blue Lagoon which is open 24 hours was a good respite from the craziness of the other restaurants, despite the limited menu. I enjoyed macaroni and cheese and some chicken fingers one night at midnight. NCL has a nice little deal called a "bucket or helmet" of beers - pay for 5 and get 6. You can take these with you - to your cabin, up on deck, anywhere on the ship. I got my bucket...but I had no way to open the bottle. The bartender acted like no one ever had asked for a bottle opener. After about 5 minutes of explaining to him that it would be a problem to have a bucket of beers with no way to open them I suggested he contact his bar manager. Finally he did come up with an opener, but I was left wondering why I had to go through such a hassle. They had some unique activities for passengers on the Gem. They had trivia 3 times a day which was a lot of fun and soon became a social event to meet up with your new-found friends. They had lectures daily. Every afternoon, Joe, and enthusiastic member of the staff with unlimited patience, helped passengers navigate the new Nintendo Wii system. They had a wonderful "expo" where a specialty restaurant was cleared out and tables were set up displaying fruit and vegetable carvings, napkin foldings, wok cooking, etc. Every aspect of the ship was represented at the expo. The theater on the Gem is fantastic. The seats were comfortable; plenty of leg room and wonderful acoustics. They even had a tour of the stage and sound booth one day that was very informative. The entertainment was varied and fun. Most got the audience involved. Least impressive, was the band that played outside on deck. It always seemed like they were "going through the motions" halfheartedly. Often times the common areas of the ship were more about "art" sales than anything. Every day carts of framed art were displayed in areas that took up seats and spaces that were perfect for reading or relaxing. It truly seemed like an "art" cruise at times. I never thought I'd see the day when Art was pushed more than Bingo....but yup, on this cruise it was. Drinks, other than the buckets of beer, were expensive. I ordered a Cosmopolitan and when I got my receipt is was over $11. The first night they advertised a meeting of singles or people traveling alone. There was a turnout of about 10 people. We decided to meet again the next night. There was no advertisement in the bulletin, however. I guess they just try one night and then we're on our own. We did ask them to publish it again which yielded about 40 travelers coming to meet. Staff on the Gem were pretty passive and uninterested in coordinating activities for single-unaccompanied guests. Finally I asked a crew member to please organize a dinner for us so that we could all get together. The day we arrived back in Boston - it was a free for all. There was one announcement that "walk offs" could get off. This created chaos in the elevators and stairwells. Because NCL had always been top notch in my mind based on my past experiences cruising with them, my trip on the Gem as a single passenger was disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
First, let me say I am a travel agent, but my review here is to give the potential NCL guest a taste of what to expect from this ship and the cruise line. I did arrive a day early via SAS to catch up on sleep - I do recommend this when ... Read More
First, let me say I am a travel agent, but my review here is to give the potential NCL guest a taste of what to expect from this ship and the cruise line. I did arrive a day early via SAS to catch up on sleep - I do recommend this when embarking at a foreign port. The cab ride from the airport hotel to the pier was easy - and not too expensive ($27 US.) The embarkation process was very easy - there were a number of NCL reps to guide you through the process of check-in. Everyone was very helpful and seemed genuinely glad to see us. Upon arriving at the ship's entryway, they shot a photo of us (common to most lines) and I purchased the photo later in the cruise. Once right on board, there was no one to meet us, but there was a cart of drinks for sale and two people to place the charge on the onboard account. Where were the greeters? NCL advertises the Blue Lagoon restaurant on deck 8 above reception is open 24 hrs. My cabinmate and I did not find this to be the case. Between 4 and 5 am it is not open. My cabinmate complained to the Food and Beverage Mgr and she said the info was going to be changed. I doubt this very seriously. The Stardust Theater on decks 6 and 7 forward is perhaps the most poorly designed theater I've seen at sea. The decor is dark, there are no cupholders or tables for drinks (although there were plenty of staff to take orders for drinks) and there is virtually no legroom except for front row, and seats at the end of the balconies. There is also no side aisles on either side of the theatre. The Garden Cafe is not well designed either. The sitting area stretches from midship to almost the end of the ship, just prior to entering the Great Outdoors cafe. Please check the Freestyle Daily to see when the Cafe opens. If you don't get there within a half hour of opening, you will be walking a great distance with your food and may find yourself sitting outside at the Great Outdoor Cafe or the Kid's Korner, which is a great place, except for the fact it was designed for kids, not adults, where I saw an older gentleman fall back on the kids seat. The food in the Garden Court and Great Outdoors is comparable to Las Vegas buffets. The positives: The ship has a fantastic Filipino and Romanian crew - very, very respectful and always with a salutation (Sir) and wanting to go out the way to be helpful. The food in all fee restaurants was excellent - it should be, the cost was $15 - $20 per person, except between 5:30 and 6:30P when it was usually 2-for-1. There were several great shows, the Showband and the Ship showpeople were excellent - the show World Beat and Colorz was excellent! A singer by the name of Lorraine Brown brought the house down each of her performances, and a Maritime historian by the name of Melvyn Foster brought a lot of history to life with his enthusiasm and self deprecating humor. I also must give kudos to Rachel and Pia in the Magnum's Champagne Bar for their excellent service throughout this cruise. Note: if you purchase a less expensive cabin, you will probably be taken to tables at the restaurants that are less than desirable. You don't have to accept those. I routinely told a hostess or host to move us. They did, graciously. Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
The "It Girl" crosses the Atlantic - Dec. 3-12, 2007 Last year I wrote a review, "Rockin' and Rollin' across the Atlantic on the Pearl." My husband said at the time, "I knew you were crazy taking a ... Read More
The "It Girl" crosses the Atlantic - Dec. 3-12, 2007 Last year I wrote a review, "Rockin' and Rollin' across the Atlantic on the Pearl." My husband said at the time, "I knew you were crazy taking a transatlantic crossing in Dec." but I went anyway and had a great time! This year when NCL offered a solo fare for the new "It Girl," the Norwegian Gem, I decided to sign on for a BA balcony even though I remembered the 2 hurricanes and 175mph winds from last year. This time DH said, "You were crazy last year but you didn't know any better. This year you know better and still want to go?" I couldn't resist another great adventure so off I went to join the "Mad Mariners." I'm very happy to say that under the masterful guidance of Captain Mikael Hilden and Staff Captain Kim Carlsen, we had a relatively smooth crossing. Sure, one day we hit 90 knot winds and encountered some rain and swells, but for the most part we had calm days blessed with blue and sunny skies. Captain Hilden's daily briefs were informative and he did a great job keeping us posted about the weather and sights along the way. Having never been to Barcelona before, I booked 4 nights at the very pink-roomed Hotel Continental Palacete and decided on the Hop On Hop Off bus to explore the city. Both proved to be a very good choice, thanks to the advice here from fellow CC'ers. I enjoyed exploring the Gaudi architectural creations and winding Barcelona streets. One evening I met up with some of the "Mad Mariners" and the last day a few of us shared a day tour to the famed monastery of Montserrat way up in the mountains after a stop at the Freixenet Cavas. Sadly I won't be recommending BarcelonaDayTours to anyone. Due to their poor scheduling of hotel pickups and later telling stories that didn't make sense, we managed to miss the noted boys choir that adds that special something to a trip to Montserrat. By the time embarkation day came, I couldn't wait to board the Gem with the heightened excitement from the It Girl website and godmother contest. I had seen pictures of her funky and clunky furniture, the wild colors and bold designs and I'm happy to say they really "work" in person! Embarkation in the expert hands of Claudio the concierge was painless and soon enough there I was in the crystal atrium with the stunning purple and pink ceiling overhead. The first crewmember I encountered was Margarita standing at the elevator, who greeted me by name! It took me a second to place her from last year's Pearl and I was pleased that she had been promoted to waiter. By the way, the new uniforms are wonderfully colorful and eyecatching! The bar waitresses look like It Girls, themselves! Though cabins weren't ready till a little later, I managed to drop off my carryon and catch a glimpse of the bright colorful balcony cabin where I'd spend the rest of the trip with my towel animal family. Everyday my talented stewards Wilford and Stanley would add a puppy or rabbit and leave all the previous ones behind, till I had a full zoo of 7 or 8 spread out on the sofa. They never failed to address me by name and were some of the best natured stewards I've had. Their supervisor Junior was always around, too, just in case. Erroll, the Exec. Housekeeper, has obviously trained his team in good manners and as you walk the decks, there's a chorus of "Good Mornings" and "How are You's?" In fact, everywhere I went and no matter which Cruise Critics I talked to, over and over I heard favorable comments about the wonderful friendly crew, always smiling and telling us how happy they were to be on the Gem. It's clear they enjoy working with Hotel Dir. Klaus Lugmaier and his fantastic team, from Asst. HD Prem to Food & Bev. Dir. Sean, his Asst. Bernhard and his Restaurant Mgr. Radmila, to the excellent CD Clint Wells, his Asst. Matt and his hardworking team. Other familiar friendly faces are Jenny Lim at the Front Office with her Asst. Krista and the Group Services Coord. Colleen who made sure our CC Bowling Tourney was a resounding success! Many of the same staff and wait teams that brought out last year's Pearl and prior NCL newbuilds are here on the Gem such as Sanja, the Asst. Maitre d' taking care of the busy and popular La Cucina and Stan from the Tex-Mex venue Tequila. Had excellent meals at both so make your reservations as soon as you can. Sanja's team did a great job for our Mad Mariners Farewell Dinner for about 70. I personally received excellent service from Alice. Nigel, who has been a very "tall" fixture in the Garden Cafe on other ships, now runs Magenta and Laura is back in Cagney's. Thanks to "D," I had some very tasty food up in Cagney's. Exec. Chef Hassan, Singh and Rohit added some special touches. Noel, Philip, Alexandra, Katherine and Marina were standout waiters up in Cagney's and Shetty provided great service in the steakhouse and Blue Lagoon, the 24 hr. snackbar eatery, great for items like buffalo wings, shepherd's pie or fish & chips. Since friends of mine were in PH suites, I had the chance to meet 3 excellent butlers John, Maxi and Chris. One night John and Ashish also went above and beyond making things happen for us. Other nights it was very relaxing to kick back and have dinners served from the DR and La Cucina en suite. The much discussed "Seafood Extravaganza," which was served on the 2nd "Dress Up of Not" night, is quite delicious with lobster tail, shrimp, scallops, mussels and fish served on a bed of pasta with a tasty sauce (and you can have more lobster tail if you want). For a full lobster, I can highly recommend the whole Maine lobster up in Cagney's ( which I had with the crabcakes & New England clam chowder). I only began eating escargots this year - what a fool I was! All those years of ordering steamed asparagus at Le Bistro instead of this garlic & butter indulgence! So I had to go to the Bistro twice during the trip. Thanks to Duncan, Melody and Dr. Peter for their hospitality. As a Platinum latitude member, I felt very special on this cruise. Duncan is very proactive and goes out of his way to make sure you're having a good time. What a treat to find Alan K. back working in Le Bistro and if you go to the crew talent show you can catch him singing one of his touching ballads. I loved the onion soup and short ribs so save room for everything including the chocolate fondue which is readily available! Another night, Iolena the Asst. Maitre d' made us feel so welcome and comfortable. We set a record for 3 hrs that night, not because service was slow but because we ate and talked and laughed until we could eat no more! One night nearly 50 Mad Mariners ate at Teppanyaki over 2 sittings. What fun we had! I've had many dinners in Teppanyaki but must say our chef Pony was right up there with the best of the best. At one point he was flipping small pieces of shrimp in the air, trying to land them into the open mouths of his guests. Great show! Graceand her team gave a beautiful introduction and served us so nicely all evening. Her recommendation of "Land and Sea" was excellent with lots of shrimp and a large serving of filet. All in all, it would be hard to beat the food on the Gem. No matter where we went we had excellent service, the food was the right temperature and it all tasted so good! I like to give credit to the hardworking crew, many of whom have already been on the ship for months. Forgot to mention, if you're eating in Tequila, you might ask for Simona. She made sure I had a fresh bowl of guacamole and brought my meal cheerfully and promptly. Our itinerary included only one port of call - the small volcanic island of Madeira off of the Portugese mainland. After 3 days at sea, we welcomed spending a day on land. I signed up for NCL's "Taste of Madeira," a 4 hr tour into the winding hills and terraced farms wedged among the white houses with their red tile roofs. Many tours promise "breathtaking views" but this one delivered. And after we were toured out, we stopped at a cute cafe where we sampled local cheeses, flat bread and plenty of wine. The rest of the trip was days at sea and I was surprised at how quickly the days passed. Managed to read Patti Boyd's book on her life with George Harrison and Eric Clapton - never a dull moment there. Finished off the trip with a "tell all" by Kathleen Willey about her "White House Encounter." Almost everyday I enjoyed the wonderful therapy pool up in the spa, the heated tile ceramic loungers and the delightful sauna at the bow with panoramic views. It is one of my favorite places on the whole ship for meeting friends in the afternoon or just curling up with a book, not to mention a relaxing soak or powerful neck & back shower. You can buy a daily pass or one for the whole cruise. The rest of the time it was up to CD Clint and his very active staff to fill the schedule with activities. Most days I started with Morning Trivia with Alea from the CD staff who always made the sessions fun. Sometimes Joe jumped in with entertaining video trivias on the big screen in the atrium. He also runs some awesome Wii competitions. Though I didn't participate, there are dance lessons just about everyday and later in the evening you can practice those steps with the Norwegian Gem showband under the direction of the talented Alan Lee at keyboards and piano. One evening in-between shows entertainment with Joe at 8:30 pm was kind of funny. I was with a group of people, spanning the ages up to the "senior"category. "Joker's Wild" was the advertised feature and I guess most of us were thinking, "Oh, another game show like Weakest Link or Bazzillionaire....remember 'The Joker's Wild?'" It was pretty funny when Joe began by telling a "clean" joke followed by a "spicier" one followed by "now we're into the dirty stuff"and realized it was "Open Mic" night! The lounge kind of cleared out as the "mistake" was discovered. Must admit - if you're going to do 'adult' humor, maybe 10:45 or later would be a better choice??!!! A couple of days up in the Great Outdoors, the neat outdoor buffet venue on deck 12 aft, there was an Austrian-Bavarian "fruhschoppen" brunch featuring typical brats, pretzels, goulash, sauerkraut, German beers, etc. to the tunes of the Oompah band (Alan and his band transformed without the liederhosen). Late evenings Modal Magic, one of NCL's most popular groups, performs and provides entertainment at the various sockhops, New Year's Eve countdown, Latin Night and other events. Though it was a bit brisk some days out near the pool, Rhythm Explosion kept the Caribbean vibes going in the middle of the Atlantic! Matinee showtime was a rather unique offering since you don't usually find full shows in the afternoon. The magician Duck Cameron and talented pianist Stephen Kane (who also sang very well) performed daytime as well as evening and the British vocalist Lorraine Brown gave 2 fantastic evening shows. Doug Starks turned out to be a rather good comedian and I think I enjoyed that show more than his "Sammy Davis Jr." singing performance earlier in the cruise. Romano Frediani, from a long line of circus performers, jumped in not only in his excellent juggling show but also for the Quest and Liar's Club. No lack of gameshows, arts and crafts sessions and excellent lectures. I particularly enjoyed Melvyn Foster who regaled us with tales of transatlantic crossings, oceanliners and Captain Bligh. He was the perfect choice of lecturer for a crossing like ours. The other lecturer on genealogy had a lot to offer, but unfortunately his final lecture, which was helping folks get to the proper websites to begin their family history search, never took place. I don't know if it was a scheduling problem or something with the lecturer. No longer is the Jean Ann Ryan company performing for the main production shows, but I found the Gem Production Company quite talented with some very good singing. Though I missed "World Beat" (good reports), I did catch the 70's show "Get Down Tonight" and also the last show "Colors" and found myself singing along in my head the whole time. I guess I'm dating myself! The costumes alone will keep you interested. I caught both the regular performance of Chicago's Second City troupe and one of their unscripted shows, both very entertaining. The skits dealing with life on the ship seem to get the most positive response. They also did two improv workshops for those who want to learn the art of improv. One of the best attended shows was the crew talent show with the hilarious "Fountains" at the end and many good acts in between. Look for the slide presentation followed by Captain Hilden's and Chief Engineer Freddy Hansen's Q & A session in the Stardust Theater as it's one of the highlights. The Captain's dry wit really comes out during some of the answers! Don't miss this unique look at the inner workings of the bridge, engine room and other "off limit" parts of the ship (There's also a bridge-viewing room all the way forward on deck 11). One of the first daytime activities is the Latitudes Party held on the 1st day at sea. Unfortunately this party was way overcrowded (over 700 Latitude members onboard) so it was difficult to find a seat. For the future, perhaps 2 parties (like in the past) would work better. I also missed seeing the whole senior staff called onstage as this is the only such presentation all week and it's nice to see the whole lineup. Cruise Consultant Duncan (who takes care of Latitudes matters onboard) really goes out of his way to welcome the repeaters. Later on he hosted a Wine & Cheese Party, the first time I've seen this offered....very nice touch. If I could change one thing about the Gem it would be the Lounge Acts. The idea is to have alternating music venues in Bar City, from the Champagne Bar to Malting's. However, from early evening on, there's a guitarist/singer and someone playing piano as background only. Most times I sat there or walked by you could count the number of guests on one hand. Piano and singing (one night an Irish singalong) is offered from 10:30 pm onwards in the Crystal Atrium, but I would much prefer having a drink in the more romantic clubby ambience of Bar City listening to music than in the bright atrium with the huge video screen swirling around in the background. Compared to some of NCL's noted entertainers like Pamala Stanley on last year's Pearl TA, Selwyn Wright on this fall's NCL Sun or Ariel Jacobe on the Spirit, I found the lounge entertainment on the Gem a few notches below. One real nice touch was the Christmas carol singalong that Stacy Ward McAdams led in the crystal atrium. It really got me in the Christmas spirit to see guests from all over the world come together and sing songs of the season. I missed having a trio in the Crystal Atrium, like on previous NCL cruises . While the solo guitarist there has talent, the ambience is just not the same. One of my favorite things is eating in the Tex-Mex restaurant listening to those trios with their flashy guitars and lilting voices echoing through the whole atrium. Don't miss Bliss Lounge for bowling ($5pp per game including shoes) for an awesome time and late at night this "velvet" lounge turns into a swank and hip nightclub. Others on the TA can tell you much more about the late night entertainment here, so I hope they jump in. Bliss is the "It Girl's" ultra lounge deck 7 aft with colorful orange & black beds, purple funky lounge chairs and other lush sitting areas. Bliss is full of personality so check it out. Alas, 9 nights passed all too quickly and it was soon time to leave the new Girl behind in Boston on Dec. 12th. Disembarkation went smoothly enough but the taxi line outside the terminal was probably 200 people deep due to all the express carry-your-own-luggage people who got off first. Fortunately I was lucky enough to meet up with a kind taxi dispatcher who put me way up in line so that I wouldn't miss my bus back to NYC. We in the New York area can't wait for the "It Girl's" arrival in the Big Apple in a few days. I was on the original Miami to NYC repo when the Norwegian Dawn first came to Manhattan and I feel honored to have been part of the Gem's ocean crossing that brought her to the U.S. Now I can only hope that DH Bob loves her as much as I do when we go back on Jan. 16th for a 10 night Caribbean getaway! To all those finalists in the Godmother contest, I can't wait to see who the winner is! There's so much excitement onboard, I'm sure all 5 of you will have a super time! To everyone else planning on cruising the beautiful Gem, happy cruising to all of you! This ship will bring a smile to your face. Just go with it and relax! It's really true that with Freestyle, you're free to "whatever!" Read Less
Sail Date December 2007
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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