139 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on NCL, so we knew what to expect. We spent 2 days discovering Barcelona prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is a stone throw from the beach. As expected, it was a superb choice, ... Read More
This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on NCL, so we knew what to expect. We spent 2 days discovering Barcelona prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is a stone throw from the beach. As expected, it was a superb choice, since you can't go wrong with the Hilton, especially in Europe. Part of the NCL's appeal is it's easy embarkation/disembarkation. Both went without a hitch, no lines, no waiting. Very well organized. Bravo, NCL. ACCOMMODATIONS: absolutely wonderful. Spotless rooms, very comfortable beds, well designed bathrooms and plenty of closet space. I booked an outside cabin and the little window was all we needed as we only used the cabin to sleep, shower and change clothes. AMENITIES: again, better than average. We read many reviews where people complained about the lack of lounge chairs by the pool. We did not encounter this problem for several reasons. First of all, unless you need to keep an eye on your kids in the pool, why would you want to stay on that deck? It's very noisy with the loud music, screaming children, etc. We used the "quiet area" on deck 14 with it's awesome round sun beds and the best views. Also, on rare occasions when the chair/bed we wanted was occupied by someone's towel, I simply moved aside it and used the chair. Yes, people think that they can reserve the best spots if they put their towel down, but no towel ever objected when I put it on the floor. Feel free to do the same and don't let it bother you. FOOD: No complaints here either. We did not eat at any of the "specialty" restaurants. We tried them in the past and have determined that it wasn't worth the extra $$. We were very pleased with all the "free" restaurant choices. The service at every single one was consistently excellent. Food-wise, there were definite "hits" (such as their chilled soups) as well as "misses". Still, given the quantity of food they prepare on a daily basis, I think the Gem did an exceptional job. The quality and variety at the Garden Cafe was very good, and on several occasions we completed our meals there after a disappointing menu at the Magenta or Grand Pacific. Also, we never encountered any lines, although I should mention that we usually ate at around 7:30 pm. I believe the lines started an hour later. Breakfast was a bit difficult, seating-wise. The Garden Cafe was very busy in the morning, likely because most people tried to eat at the same time so they can get off the ship early. Also, we read some unflattering reviews about the Midnight Chocolate Buffet so we skipped it. My reward was coming off the cruise without gaining a pound. ENTERTAINMENT: We found it disappointing. To be fair, we only attended the main night performances at the Stardust Theater but out the 4 shows we saw only Colorz was OK. The rest were unimpressive: lame comedy at best. Many reviewers mentioned that they felt "nickel-and-dimed" and subjected to the "pressure sale" tactics. I would have to agree: we experienced that as well and it was unpleasant. However, we realize that cruise industry is big business and it's their objective to take you for everything you've got. It's up to you not to let them. We became very good at saying "No, thanks" and returned home with our bank account intact. THE PORTS: If you plan on taking the NCL-provided excursions, skip this section. This is for people who plan on getting a private tour or seeing the ports on their own. We wish we knew some of the information prior to taking our cruise. First of all, the only port that is difficult to do on your own is Naples. It's hard to see the Amalfi coast without having a car. However, don't try booking a guide based on the names you read in the reviews. We found out that All tour guides are a "one trick pony". ALL of them will show you the EXACT SAME sites, and you will like it because the scenery/art/historic aspect speak for itself. I always wonder: when people gush about their guide being the best, what their reference point is? How can they actually make a comparison? Case and point: We booked a tour of Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii with the guide who was supposedly the best and highly recommended, therefore we paid the top dollar (or Euro, to be exact) for his services. We did enjoy our tour with Marchello. However, our friends took the exact same tour with a different guide (a driver, actually), went to the exact same places and saw the exact same things for less than half the price. Also, keep in mind that there isn't really any competition between them. We booked Aldo Monti from yourtourofitaly.com because some previous reviewers recommended him. Instead, he "pawned" us off to Nick who worked for a different tour company. Not that I'm complaining. We liked what Nick showed us in Rome and all the historic info he provided us with. We thought he did a good job, but again, we wouldn't know any different. My point being, when choosing your tour guide for any port, let the price determine who you book for your tours. Another thing: EVERY tour guide will bring you to a restaurant for lunch, likely owned by his friend or a family member. They'll claim that the food there is something special. In reality, you should skip the sit-down meal, if only because there's no time. Plus, you'll pay 20-25 euro per person (minimum). Keep in mind they add a hefty "cover charge" to your bill. Instead, ask your guide (and be VERY FIRM about it) to bring you to a local market, where you can get the locally grown/produced food of your liking for a fraction of the cost and soak up the local culture. Saves both, time and money. I actually brought some plastic containers and packed lunch on the ship. Of course, we bought those "must try" things: gelato, coffee, grapes, etc. If you decide to take the public transportation, it's quite simple and convenient in most ports. To find taxis, particularly in Livorno, you need to get past the first line of "pretend" taxis who will try to sell you the tour. Since it was our 1st trip to Naples, Rome, Florence and Cannes, we wanted to cram every sight we wanted to see in only one day that we had. In fact, it is an impossible task. All of our tours were very rushed, and I wish we did our homework and picked a few sights we really wanted to see instead of trying to rush through everything. For example, Vatican should be a separate trip as it takes (at the very least), an entire day. So, when your tour guide tells you to book tickets for 2 pm, be prepared to miss a LOT, especially if you don't book a private guide specifically for the Vatican. (You can't enter the Basilica from the museum without a guide). Also, make sure that your guide gets your Colosseum tickets in advance, otherwise you'll waste a lot of time waiting in line. I would recommend joining the Roll Call and finding people to share the tours with. We were glad we did. We would've never got so much helpful information without it. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
My husband and I cruised on the NCL Gem from September 6, 2009 to September 13, 2009- Barcelona to Barcelona. I'd like to write about how much we loved the cruise, but what we believe must be corporate policy ruined it for us. All ... Read More
My husband and I cruised on the NCL Gem from September 6, 2009 to September 13, 2009- Barcelona to Barcelona. I'd like to write about how much we loved the cruise, but what we believe must be corporate policy ruined it for us. All of the crew members were delightful. From the cabin stewards to the wait staff, everyone was friendly and helpful. The food was very tasty. We have no complaint with anything about the food. We only went to one show [Colorz] and it was excellent. What ruined things for us was the extra charges on things which we believe must be corporate policy trying to increase revenues. Would you like fresh-squeezed juice for breakfast in the Garden Cafe? $4.00 extra. If you're excited about eating at Cagney's Steakhouse for an extra $25.00, you can have the really special items for an additional $10.00. The French restaurant was only $15.00 extra per person, but the really special items were $10.00 more. After that, we gave up on the special restaurants. We chose to eat in the Grand Pacific most evenings. When we arrived at the front desk, we were immediately seated. But when we left about 8:15, there was a standing line of people about 20+ strong waiting to get in. They were given beepers. What's free-style about waiting in line? All through the meal was a girl hawking purchase of a flower bouquet for your 'sweet heart'. The one time we tried to eat in the Magenta Dining [about7:15] we were told by the hostess that we'd have to share a table with another. When we docked at Civitavecchia the port provided a free shuttle service for cruise passengers to the front of the port. We've never been to Livorno, so it may be the system for all cruise ships, but in Livorno NCL passengers had to pay 5 euros to leave the port. The most amusing 'sale' was toward the end of the cruise when the Spa offered a 20% off sale [however at the bottom of the sign they wrote an additional service charge of 18% will be added]. We have sailed on Celebrity, Princess and HAL, but have never run into this kind of thing. I'm all in favor of profit, but we would so much rather pay a little more for the cruise than to have so many extra charges. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
The ship is great with good food, in sumptuous surroundings, with great facilities and activities. The drawback is that there is a hard sell culture for everything, even from the waiters. The ship's crew are all smiles and happiness ... Read More
The ship is great with good food, in sumptuous surroundings, with great facilities and activities. The drawback is that there is a hard sell culture for everything, even from the waiters. The ship's crew are all smiles and happiness if you buy but if you don't, their faces drop and they start treating you like second class citizens. My wife and I are both teetotal and only ever drink water with our meals. We thought this would be fine but it wasn't. The food is included in the price of your booking but you have to pay for all your drinks apart from water. The first time we dined, the waitress came to take our orders but when we asked for water with our food, her face dropped and she looked very aggrieved. She returned with bottles of water which are $6 dollars each so I told her that we just wanted a jug of water which is free. From then on her face looked like thunder when she served us. She ignored us when we tried to get her attention, it seemed that she deliberately took the longest time possible to serve us and with other tables that were buying wine and suchlike, she was all sweetness and light. This was our experience with virtually all the waiters during every mealtime. On the first day when I went out on deck and sat on a lounger, a waiter approached me jovially and asked if I would like something to drink. When I asked for a regular glass of water he pretended not to hear me and just walked away. My wife was shocked and the next time he walked passed us she asked him for two glasses of water. He rolled his eyes in disgust and muttered "Oh my God" before walking away and returning with just one glass of water. It seems that it is the ship's policy to treat you so badly if you don't spend money that you feel obliged to eventually buy from them, however with me it had the opposite effect. It made me determined to dig my heels in and spend as little money with them as possible...I refuse to be bullied into spending money with them. On top of the constant barrage of hard selling techniques for their various products, activities, tours and excursions, etc, we were billed $12 per person per day for service charges. This extra was not mentioned in any of the literature when booking and considering the service that we got, I did begrudge paying it. It is such a shame that they have this culture on board because everything else about the cruise was great but to be honest this ruined the whole experience for me. I could not relax on board because I was made to feel like a second class citizen. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on ... Read More
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on the cruise and only 200 kids. The previous week we were told there were 3,000 passengers and as many as 1,000 kids. Good choice on our part. The cruise was the best vacation ever!! Best cruise line we've been on. Getting on and off the ship from Ports of Call/Disembarkation was seamless. The food was good in both paid restaurants and free restaurants. We always found something to eat at the buffet as well. Only complaint would be Tappanyaki not worth the $25...although I must be in the minority because the place was sold out every night. Cagney's and Asian Fusion Restaurant well worth the money. We had an outside cabin, plenty of room for all my clothes...packed 3 outfits for each day!! No iron provided though, brought my own. VERY CLEAN CABINS!! We never felt crowded in any areas. The Martini Bar was our favorite. Lindsay and staff were GREAT!! Love the olive & cheese tray!! The bar felt very private to us, which we liked. Gambled most nights until 2:30 am, what a blast. Thanks for the free drinks. Staff was Excellent, Loved Elena!! Get the Coupon Book on first night, we hit for $200. We never felt "Sold To"...not ever. No one tried to up sell us or pressure us to purchase anything, none of the stuff others complained about. We are booking the same ship for Venice/Greece/Turkey for September/2010...that's how much we Loved It. I'm not going to review Ports of Call...so many others have done that. But I thought it was important to give our experience on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
First of all, let me give a disclaimer. There are up to 3,000 people on each cruise. Each person is going to have a different experience from the next. Your experience also depends on your level of expectation. This also varies from person ... Read More
First of all, let me give a disclaimer. There are up to 3,000 people on each cruise. Each person is going to have a different experience from the next. Your experience also depends on your level of expectation. This also varies from person to person. Read these reviews and do your best to create the experience YOU want. The possibilities to do so are endless on a trip like this. That being said, I would like to share the experience of my husband and I, and to tell you up front that we had no real expectations as we had never cruised with NCL nor been to Europe. We'll start from embarkation: absolutely a breeze! No lines, no issues. Cabins were ready when they said they would be and luggage was delivered promptly thereafter. (Cabin was awesome, beds were like a Westin Heavenly Bed, very comfortable!). Overall, we very much liked cruising with NCL and on this ship. Yes, there are surcharges for certain restaurants and yes, there are "up-sells" around every corner. However, that being said, working in the hospitality sales industry myself, I can certainly appreciate the up-sell effort, especially in these tough economic times! My biggest issue with some of the reviews on CC is about the extra charge for specialty restaurants. This is an OPTION...you don't HAVE to go to these restaurants and pay extra. There are at least 5 other places for you to eat each night for "free". Malta: In Malta we did the Island Jeep Tour through NCL. While I think it was slightly overpriced, we absolutely had a ball. We were able to see just about every inch of the island and took some of the most gorgeous pictures. We even had some beach time and some time in Mdina. My only complaint: it is very hard to hear the guide speaking over the radio with traffic and such flying by. That night, we had dinner in the Asian Fusion restaurant, which was absolutely fantastic. TIP for sushi lovers: You can eat in the Asian Fusion restaurant and order off the sushi menu as well! This also works in reverse! Our waitress, Erna, was FANTASTIC! Wonderful service, amazing food! Naples: In this port we hired a private driver (not through NCL) to take us all over the Amalfi Coast. We used Marcello Maresca (http://www.seesorrento.com/index_eng.html) and he was amazing! Marcello is born and raised in Sorrento and is very passionate about where he comes from. Where most companies stop their coast tour in Amalfi, he takes you along the entire coast line to Ravello and then back down the mountain on the other side to Pompeii. If you want to stop in every village along the way, go where the tourists go or shop, 1) you will never get to see the entire coast as it was meant to be seen, and 2) this is not the tour for you. My husband and I hate tourist traps and large crowds. Plus, there's no way to enjoy the beauty of where you are if you're shopping. Marcello came highly recommended from a travel buddy who has been to the coast over 5 times and used a number of different private drivers. He has recommended other companies in the past, however has received unfavorable reviews....Marcello consistently gets the best feedback from those who use him. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for. Most of the companies who claim to "specialize" in Naples, also seem to "specialize" in Rome, Florence, Pisa, etc. I don't think you will find another guide who is more authentic than Marcello. (email me for pictures!). **No dinner on the ship this night as we were still full from the amazing full course lunch we had in a tiny village below Ravello - authentic, homemade, amazing views and not another tourist in site! Rome: Rome we decided to do "on our own". We took the train from port to the city (purchase the Birg ticket for just 9 Euro and it serves as an all day metro pass too!). My husband being Catholic, it was very important for him to see The Vatican and spend the appropriate amount of time there. If you have the budget, a private guide is the way to go here! You can skip the lines, your guide knows their way around and can help you avoid some of the crowds, plus they are extremely knowledgeable! We used myvaticantours.com and the tour lasted 3 hours, plus we were able to get in St. Peters. From The Vatican, we had a list of 3 things we wanted to see: The Coloseum, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We took the train to Piazza del Popolo and then were able to walk and see all 3 things before getting back on the train! There is NO WAY to see Rome in a day, don't try (either with a driver or on your own). My suggestion is to decide on 3-5 things you want to see beforehand and budget your time accordingly. Purchase any and all tickets in advance to avoid lines. **Dinner back on the ship was with friends in Magenta Dining room. We had to wait for a table but not too long. Florence: Here we opted for another private driver of the Tuscany region with a great group of wine drinkers! We used Guido from http://www.guidos-tours.it. Guido, a certified sommelier, knows his stuff! He took us to 2 great, yet very different wineries. We learned so much of the history of not only the area, but also about wine making itself. The ride was comfortable and the views were amazing (email me for pictures!). Be sure to bring extra cash for the purchasing of wine!! Our only regret was that we didn't purchase more! **Dinner was back at the Sushi Bar, where we were able to order both sushi as well as items off the Asian Fusion menu. Same great food and service! Cannes: At this point in the trip, we were exhausted. We only made plans for the beach and some site seeing in Cannes, however the rain killed it all:( We did a short walking tour and then sadly, made our way back to the ship. On our last night, we enjoyed dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse and it was well worth it! The food and service were amazing. My only complaint between the specialty restaurants and the main dining rooms is service. To my husband and I (who dined in the specialty restaurants 3 times and in the main dining rooms 3 times), there was a very noticeable lack of service in the main dining rooms (Magenta and Grand Pacific). I would hate to think that you have to use the specialty restaurants and pay extra to receive the service that is due. Overall, we LOVED the Gem and the ports! Ryan, concierge and Duncan, cruise consultant, both provided outstanding service throughout our vacation. We are looking forward to cruising the Greek Isles next year, on this same ship! ericamuddiman@yahoo.com Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Just got back from a Western Med cruise on the Gem. I just thought I'd add my own review of my experience. For the record we booked an aft Penthouse suite on deck 8, so this review might be useful to others who book a suite. I am just ... Read More
Just got back from a Western Med cruise on the Gem. I just thought I'd add my own review of my experience. For the record we booked an aft Penthouse suite on deck 8, so this review might be useful to others who book a suite. I am just going to concentrate my review the cruise but not the ports of call as they have been covered in detail already. Embarkation. Dropped our luggage off at the desk outside the terminal building at Barcelona. Went inside and was asked our room number. We gave it and was sent to the wrong desk for suite passengers. Double-checked it with another member of staff who insisted the wrong check-in desk was correct. So we checked in at the wrong desk and was then taken by the check-in staff to the VIP suite passenger check-in area and then on to meet the concierge. It would have been better if the staff at the cruise terminal knew what they were doing and directed us to the correct check-in area. The concierge, however, was helpful and offered a snack and a soft drink. One of the butlers showed up and escorted us to our room, picking up a glass of champagne on the way. A bottle of champagne was also waiting for us in an ice bucket in our room. The Room. This was REALLY nice. As others have said a very comfortable bed with memory foam mattress. Nice bathroom with shower over bath, a sink area and toilet, being able to separate these with glass screens. A separate vanity area and loads of drawers, cupboards and a decent wardrobe. Nice large wall mounted LCD TV but we only used info channels as we don't cruise to watch TV. It also had a useful sofa, table and chairs and bar area. Really nice balcony area looking over the aft wake, which sounds like a waterfall when going at full speed but we found it soothing and the patio doors were very good at sound proofing it when indoors. We found the aft room has the advantage of the best sail-away view from each port - loved it. The cabin was situated above Bliss nightclub and bowling alley which you could hear slightly at night when all else is silent, especially the bowling alley when in use but it did not disturb my sleep. However, all in all, a delightful and colorful room. The room steward was a very friendly chap who serviced the room to a high standard each day, refreshed the ice and did the nightly turndown. Room Service. This was all taken care of by our butler, who basically provided all the room service via a cordless phone (which worked ship-wide). We tried room service breakfast a few times, where the butler delivers the food and lays the table. Menu selection was very good. Butler also delivers Hors d'"uvres around 5pm daily. We got two invitations to private cocktail parties where we had free drinks and food and had a "photo opportunity" with the captain. We saw the garden villa area this way, which was very nice. The butler expects tips by the way as he doesn't get any of the stateroom service charge applied to your account. The butler will also deliver DVD's for you to watch, which you can select from an in-room list but we did not have time to use the DVD player (thankfully). Concierge. This person was made available to us to make any arrangements. We did not book any of the very expensive NCL shore excursions so did not need him for this but he was good for booking up the restaurants the whole week in advance or at short notice when the restaurant is full (only he can do this). He was always available for good info about the ports of call where we made our own arrangements and saved a heap of cash. The way we looked at this was to spend our hard earned cash on a room upgrade and forget the high excursion costs and this worked very well for us. Restaurants. We ate dinner at most of the premium restaurants which charge a service fee but found them excellent and worth it. It was exciting to eat at a different place each evening. We avoided the Garden Cafe as the "buffet experience" is not for us, especially in the difficulty of finding a table at peak periods. The best place we found for breakfast was the private concierge lounge in Cagney's where they served an excellent Eggs Benedict's and waffles, away from the madding crowd of the Garden Cafe. For lunch we preferred the Blue Lagoon which serves excellent food 24 hours a day. NOTE!! Money saving tip about the water!!. At some restaurants, especially the premium ones, the waiters hold bottles of water in front of you and kind of give the impression that is the only option for water at over $6 per bottle. NOT SO!! We cottoned on to always asking for "ICE WATER". When you do this they take the bottles away and keep your glass full of ice water for the duration of the meal, helping to keep your expenses down. The Blue Lagoon served ice water by default and thought the others should do that but they obviously try to make something on the water. Ship and Common areas. These were all magnificent. The ship is truly stunning and a lot bigger than I imagined. It is modern - only a couple of years old, well maintained and spotless. A very well run operation I thought. The pool area is obviously crowded on sea days but you can take your pick of the comfortable sun beds on port of call days if you decide to stay onboard. Onboard there is always loads to do and see. We did not see any of the shows but were told they were ok. There were also some nice shops but not necessarily cheap. Wireless internet is available ship-wide as well as in the internet cafe. But it is expensive and slow as it is satellite based. I tried to pick up free wifi from the ports of call but was unsuccessful each time. On the penultimate day we paid about $12 for a special 30 minutes offer to do an online check-in for our flights home which proved a good move when we got back to the airport. Staff. I found virtually all of the staff friendly and helpful and had no complaints. Most of them could not do enough for us, in my opinion. They work very hard long hours and I am amazed they always have a smile for you. Tipping. As most will know a $12 per person per day is charged to your room. This seems a lot but it goes to the staff who serve you and personally I think they deserve it for their hard work. We occasionally tipped extra in the restaurants when we had good, friendly service (i.e. most of the time). The butler, concierge and room steward we also tipped what we thought was fair. The drinks auto-gratuity is a hot subject and does make the drinks prices quite expensive, i.e. posh-hotel prices I would say. A vodka and coke was $6.80 for example. Needless to say we didn't see any drunks on board. Marketing. Others have said this is too strong but I kind of expected to be sold photos, spa massages, art, excursions, etc. but we found it very easy not to buy any of these to keep our costs down. Disembarkation. We decided to do the easy walk off option and walked off the ship with our luggage at 09:30 back in Barcelona. No worries at all on that score. Overall. We had such a fantastic time, met some great people and visited some lovely places. We were so sad to leave the ship and get back to reality when it was time to get off. I could so easily have stayed on for another week. I would not hesitate to recommend the NCL Gem to my family and friends. We can't wait to do something similar again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
As a first time cruiser, the Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to me. I'll try to touch on some of the areas I was concerned about prior to our Mediterranean vacation. The Ship - We sailed out of Barcelona on 9/20/09 on Gem. ... Read More
As a first time cruiser, the Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to me. I'll try to touch on some of the areas I was concerned about prior to our Mediterranean vacation. The Ship - We sailed out of Barcelona on 9/20/09 on Gem. This is a newer ship. The ship was very clean and everything seemed to be in very good condition. I was pleasantly surprised with our rooms. We had a balcony room on the 9th floor. The room was well layed out and had plenty of closet space for 2 people. The rooms were modern and clean and the beds were very comfortable. I would recommend that anyone cruising during periods of warm weather get a room with a balcony. During our trip the temperatures averaged in the high 70's and we were able to keep our sliding door open while sleeping. The sound of the waves with the cool breeze made for perfect sleeping weather. There were 2 outlets in the room. The room contained a good hairdryer and refridgerator. We had plenty of hot water for the shower and great water pressure. The rooms also had a flat screen tv (limited channels) and a coffee maker. Service - With the exception of housekeeping I found the service to be average. Our 2 housekeepers were extremely friendly and made-up our rooms 2x daily. Food - There are a few dining areas that do not charge an extra cover charge. The buffet offers the biggest selection. Breakfasts were good, with the exception of the coffee, which was extremely watered-down and I believe contained no caffeine. Stay away from the desserts. They look pretty but are flavorless with odd textures. Great selection of fresh fruit. Also the drinking water is fine, so there is no need to purchase bottled water. A warning about the buffet -- fellow cruisers were extremely rude at areas where there were usually delays (beverages and made-to-order stations). People would just get into the front of the lines and help themselves. My friend even had juice spilt on her and not even a sorry or excuse me from the other person. I was really surprised at how many cruisers had poor manners. On our last night we paid the extra $10 a person and ate at Tequillas. The food was plentiful and tasted wonderful. Great salsa and crab dip. We wish we ate there more often. We also ate at Le Bistro one evening. The entree was above average and the dessert was excellent. Amenities - the fitness center was beautiful, the pools were lively, but it was often difficult getting a chair. Entertainment - the casinos were fun but smokey. We saw 3 shows in the Stardust. The NCL performers were very talented. The shows were entertaining but a little cheesey. The magician/"illusionist" was pathetic, so we walked out of that one. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I took this cruise with 3 of my girlfriends. Three of us had never been to the Mediterranean before and one had never cruised before. We decided on the Gem because of the great itinerary and the newness of the ship. I volunteered to be ... Read More
I took this cruise with 3 of my girlfriends. Three of us had never been to the Mediterranean before and one had never cruised before. We decided on the Gem because of the great itinerary and the newness of the ship. I volunteered to be our "cruise director" and did all the research for our trip. Even though I have been on more than 10 cruises, this was the first time I had the luxury of Cruise Critic and was able to get invaluable information from all the wonderful people out there. Thank you all. Since we were going so far, we wanted to spend a little time in Barcelona before and after the cruise. We left Newark on Friday evening and had an uneventful flight and even landed in Barcelona almost an hour early. We had no problems with our luggage (unlike some others on our cruise). Our plan was to get some Euros from the airport ATMs but the only one that I was able to find wasn't working properly. Luckily our first time cruiser didn't realize you could do this and brought US dollars to exchange. We hailed a taxi to our hotel which I found on Tripadvisor. We were only staying one night and didn't want to spend a lot of money. The Hotel Condal was a basic, but clean hotel in a great location. We were less than 100 yards off Las Rambles near the Boquiera Market down a small side street. Our location was wonderful; close to a lot of great restaurants, bars and the excitement of Las Rambles. Since we were so early, our rooms were not ready so we dropped our luggage off and headed out down Las Rambles to do a little sightseeing. We picked up the HOHO bus and enjoyed a tour of Barcelona. What a wonderful city. At this point, we were getting hungry so we found a little restaurant right around the corner from our hotel. Our waitress was very friendly and enjoyed the fact that we were Americans and she could practice her English on us. At the end of the meal to show her gratitude, she brought over 4 shot glasses for us. We asked what it was and she said Crème Catalan. It was like Bailey's only so much better. We thanked her and headed back to our hotel. I was starting to get a little worried at this point about the hotel that I picked out. My fears were for nothing. We had 2 rooms which each had 2 twin beds, a desk with chair and a large (by European standards) bathroom. The rooms were basic but clean and our windows opened into an alley so there was virtually no noise. I was extremely pleased with the hotel and for less than 100 Euros for each room, you couldn't beat the price. After settling in, 3 of us ventured out again for more sightseeing. After wandering around for a few hours, we found a nice little Irish pub and had a glass of wine outside. At this point, it was time to eat again and we found a wonderful tapas restaurant right on Las Rambles (La Xerinola). We sat at the bar and had the all you can eat tapas dinner for 14.95 Euros per person. The food was delicious and there was so much of it. I love the fact that you get a little taste of everything and not too much of any one dish. Back to the hotel after dinner. I knew we'd all sleep well - by this time we had been up for much longer than 24 hours. Embarkation After a great night's sleep, we headed out to the same restaurant where we had lunch the day before. Both the owner and waitress remembered us and thanked us for coming back. After an almost American breakfast we did a little more sightseeing and found an ATM for Euros (Citibank). No problem using my Capital One ATM card tied to my Money Market account. Great exchange rate and no fees. Checked out of the hotel and hailed a cab down to the pier. We had to wait a few extra minutes to find a cab big enough for all four of us and our luggage but it really wasn't a bad wait. Headed down to the pier where we got our first glimpse of the Gem. What a beautiful ship. It's been almost 6 years since my last cruise and this was by far the largest ship I've ever been on. Embarkation was unbelievably quick and easy. After getting out of the cab, we were on board in less than 15 minutes. I've never experienced that. Great job NCL. We were told that our cabins would be ready between 2:00 and 3:00 so we headed up to the pool deck. I was surprised at how many people were already on board and it wasn't even 1:00 yet. We ordered our first cocktail and immediately made friends with Adonis, one of the bartenders at the Bali Hai bar. We wandered around the pool area and checked out this area of the ship. We decided to go check and see if our cabins were ready about 2:15. We were immediately greeted by our cabin stewards, Jeffrey and Deval. We had booked 2 adjoining mini-suites (11062 & 11064). This was my first cruise with a balcony and now I understand what all the hype is about. It was amazing. The cabins were set up with 2 twin beds, desk, pull out sofa and table. The bathroom (with tub) is so spacious and there is so much storage. We actually didn't have enough to fill the closet or all the drawers. My travel agent was kind enough to send us each a bottle of wine so we opened them and enjoyed them on our balcony after unpacking. After the muster drill, we headed back up to the Bali Hai bar, which became the place you could find us every night during the week. We grabbed a bite to eat at the sailaway BBQ and just enjoyed our first night on the ship. It started to rain a little and there was a storm coming in over Barcelona but we were heading away from it. I never saw lightning like that in my life but it was all off in the distance and continued all night long. Our day at sea was very relaxing. We started our day with breakfast at the Garden Cafe. We did find that it was a little crowded but there were plenty of servers available to take you to a clean table. We had omelets made to order which were very good. The fresh fruit was also delicious. Our CC meet and greet was scheduled for 11:00 so 2 of us went to meet a lot of folks I had been communicating with over the past few months. I booked private tours in Italy and was able to get 4 people to join us in each port so it was nice to meet them all as well. There were quite a few officers that attended the meeting and gave us their phone numbers in case we had any problems during the week. They would rather hear about them while you are still on board so that they can correct them. It's too late for them to help you out if you wait until you get home to complain. It was my impression that they read the CC message boards and want to do whatever they can (within reason) to insure you have a great trip. We knew we had a busy week ahead of us so we spent the day exploring the ship and just enjoyed our time outdoors. We had made reservations the day before for dinner at Cagney's tonight. Our reservation was at 7:00 and we were seated right away. The food was delicious and worth every penny. I had the jumbo shrimp cocktail, filet mignon and apple crisp for dessert. The service was excellent - like dining in a nice restaurant at home. After dinner it was back up to the Bali Hai bar. We didn't make a conscious decision not to go to any of the shows, but it just seemed to work out that way. We met a lot of very nice people on board and preferred to spend our time with them rather than sitting in a theater. I'm sure a lot of people go to the shows but we found it just wasn't our thing this trip. Malta Our first stop, Malta. Listen to what everyone says and get up for the sail in. It is by far the prettiest port and the sunrise reflecting off the buildings is just beautiful. Our room was in a perfect location to run up to the Garden Cafe and bring our breakfast back to the room to enjoy on our balcony. We did this every port day and it worked out perfectly. We did not have a set plan for this port and it was just as well. Our new Canadian friend joined us for the day. We took the HOHO bus up to Mdina where we got off and walked around for a bit. Another beautiful city. We didn't do too much else here. On our way back to the ship it started to rain a bit and this was the only rain we had all week. We stopped for a gelato before getting back on the ship. Later on we had a late lunch in the Blue Lagoon which was very good. I liked the casual atmosphere and the food was very tasty. We had decided that tonight we would try the Grand Pacific for dinner. As it turns out, it was a very good choice. We had 2 friends join us for dinner and had no trouble getting a table for 6 around 7:30. This was lobster night in the main dining rooms and most of us tried it. It was pretty good but could not compare in portion size to what some had in Cagney's the night before. They served it along with a piece of grouper which was tasty. A few in our party ordered extra lobster tails and our waitress happily brought them out. This night was by far the best for dessert. I ordered the crème brulee with chocolate ganache on the bottom. Wow is all I can say. It was delicious. I don't think I've ever had anything like it. One of our new friends liked it so much he ordered 2 more and again, our waitress brought them without issue. Naples Now the fun begins. Our primary reason for booking this trip was the Italy ports. Malta and Cannes were just a nice bonus to what we wanted to see. I booked private tours through Romeinlimo and was able to include 4 others that I met on cruise critic. We had 2 gentlemen from Florida who took all three tours with us and we had a great time with them. The other 2 spots were filled by different people each day. Today we had 2 ladies from Philadelphia join us. Our driver, Giovanni, picked us up at 8:00 a.m. sharp and we headed towards Pompeii. As we drove we told him what we wanted to see that day and he told us that to leave it to him and we would have a wonderful day. We were one of the first groups to reach Pompeii where we purchased our tickets (no line) and met our guide, Alfonso. He was great; so knowledgeable and personable. We spent a few hours here just taking it all in. It is truly an incredible place. After leaving Pompeii, we headed down the Amalfi coast towards Positano. Giovanni was terrific. He stopped numerous times and let us out to take pictures. At one point, when we stopped, he brought out a bottle of wine and some snacks for us - very thoughtful. Back into the car and into Positano. Here he dropped us off so we could do a little shopping and exploring of the area. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to and we enjoyed wandering the streets and walking down to the beach. After our nice little break we headed back into the car and Giovanni took us to lunch. The drive itself was pretty intense, up narrow, winding roads until we reach what feels like the top of a mountain. He had already made reservations for us at Trattoria La Tagliata and they were expecting us. As soon as we sat down, the food and wine started to arrive. What a feast! There was so much of it and everything was magnificent! We all got to sample a little bit of everything including dessert and of course, the limoncello. After a very relaxing and enjoyable lunch, we headed back towards Sorrento where our driver let us out for about 45 minutes. Unfortunately that is just not enough time as Sorrento was a gorgeous little town. We wandered around and bought a few souvenirs to take home. We headed back towards Naples where we arrived in plenty of time. As what was becoming our routine, we enjoyed a cocktail out on our balcony and just reminisced about what a fantastic day we just had. We skipped dinner tonight because we were all still full from our amazing lunch. We ended our evening back at the Bali Hai bar comparing our day with our new friends. Rome Up again early for our day in Rome. I had booked Romeinlimo again and I knew after yesterday we were going to have a terrific day. We met our driver, Nicola at 8:00 along with our new travel companions for the day, a young couple from Oklahoma celebrating their 5 year wedding anniversary and our new friends from Florida. The drive into Rome is pretty long and kind of boring. There really isn't too much to see but Nicola shared some history with us as we drove. After all my research and reading, I was still surprised when we arrived at the Coliseum. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting it to be right in the city. After Pompeii yesterday, I just imagined it would be off on its own but it is still an amazing place. Nicola took us to a place where we could purchase our tickets (again, no waiting) and then told us exactly which line to get into (bypassing a very long line of people waiting to purchase tickets) and we went right in. We were able to spend some time here walking around and of course, taking pictures. Nicola picked us up and we headed up to a spot overlooking the Coliseum and the Forum. He then took us over to the Pantheon where we walked in on an impromptu concert given by a girl's choir from Australia. They sounded incredible - the acoustics are amazing. Nicola dropped us off for a quick break to see the Trevi Fountain where we threw our 3 coins in guaranteeing our return. It was now time for lunch and Nicola took us to a restaurant in the city where he had made a reservation for us. The food was good but not nearly as good or as much as yesterday. After lunch it was time for our tour of the Vatican. We had booked a private guide through Romeinlimo to take us in. We met Sarah outside and she took us right in where we purchased our tickets (no line). We spent more than 2 hours here and could have spent even longer because there is just so much to see. Sarah was extremely knowledgeable and filled our head with so much information; it was hard to take it all in. After the museum portion, she gave us a few minutes in the Sistine Chapel. There are no words to describe it. You have to see it to really understand and appreciate it. We were all in awe of everything we saw. We headed into St. Peter's which is another amazing site. We spent some time here and then made a quick stop in the gift shop for some souvenirs before meeting up with Nicola again. By this time we were a little behind schedule and traffic was starting to build up getting out of the city. No worries here. Nicola was on the phone with some of the other drivers and Duman himself found us in traffic to let us know there was a minor delay ahead but after that we would be back on the ship in plenty of time. Of course he was right. They are very conscious of making sure that their cruise passengers get back on time and do everything in their power to make sure no one gets left behind. Great job, Romeinlimo! After an exhausting day, we headed to Magenta for dinner which was excellent. Both main dining rooms on this ship are very nice and the service was wonderful. Florence & Pisa This was the day I had been looking forward to all week. By this time though, we were looking for a day where we could actually enjoy the city without rushing from place to place. When we met our driver, Laura, we told her that the main goals for Florence today were to have a nice lunch, have some time to shop and I needed to have some really good gelato. She said she would take care of us. We headed towards Pisa first and were there before the crowds. We took some pictures, walked around a little and then headed to Florence. Laura was a terrific guide. She gave us the history of the region and just had an all around great personality. Before we even entered the city, she took us to a point overlooking the entire city where we were able to take some great photos. We had an elderly woman with us today from England who was traveling with her daughter so Laura was going to drop us off for some shopping while she drove the 2 ladies closer to where they wanted to be. My friend and I were looking to purchase leather bags and Laura took us to her friend's store where we each purchased a beautiful leather bag for only 60 Euros each! What a bargain and I love having it as a souvenir. We walked around for a while and then met everyone for lunch. We thought today would be a good day to have some pizza but Laura told us that it was not as good in Florence as it is everywhere else. We didn't want to be disappointed so she took us to a wonderful little restaurant (Cucina Tradizionale Boccadama) whose specialty was lasagna. We all ordered it along with some wine and we were not disappointed. The pasta was incredible and the portions were huge! We also had some appetizers, fresh mozzarella and basil and another house specialty, an assortment of cheeses served with honey and walnuts. It sounds strange but it was terrific. This was also the most reasonable of lunches - 69 Euros for 4 of us. After lunch the group split up again to do our own thing. My group decided that we wanted to spend some time just walking around the city rather than going to any museums. Laura told us where we could see the replica of the David which you can actually take pictures of. I reminded her about my gelato and she told me not to purchase it in the city center - it would cost between 8 - 12 Euros and would not be that good. She would take us someplace before we left. We walked all around the city and over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge before heading back to meet Laura. During this time we ran into the couple we toured with the day before along with another couple we had met from Canada. It's very strange hearing your name called in another city where you don't know anyone. After a couple hours it was time to meet up with our group again. Laura took us just on the outskirts of the city and pulled over so we could get gelato. This was worth the wait. For just 2 Euros we got 2 pretty large scoops of homemade gelato. I had the dark chocolate and crème caramel. It was by far the best thing I've ever tasted! Everyone loved the stop and I'm still talking about it today. Our stop cost us a few minutes and we hit some traffic on the way back. Nothing to fear though because we were in front of at least 3 NCL tour buses that were also on their way back. We knew the ship couldn't leave without those people so we were safe. Back to our room to reminisce about our day over a glass of wine. For dinner tonight we decided to go back to Magenta and had another great meal. Cannes This was our final port as well as a short day so we knew we just wanted to take it easy and do a little exploring on our own. We had 2 of our Canadian friends join us as well. We met up about 9:00 and took a tender into Cannes. There was absolutely no waiting to board and we left almost immediately. Once on the dock we noticed all the sailboats in the marina. There was a regatta scheduled for the next day so we enjoyed looking at all the boats tied up. One thing we wanted to do this trip was to stick our feet in the Mediterranean and what better place to do it than the French Riviera. We walked along the beach for a while enjoying the water and the beautiful views. We grabbed a walking tour map at the marina and used this as a guide as we walked around. We passed through an outdoor food market along with a pretty large flea market. We picked up some chocolate croissants as we walked. It was a very nice enjoyable day and before heading back to the ship, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe and had a drink. We walked right onto a tender and were back on the ship in no time. We happened to be sitting across from Brett, our cruise director and spent some time telling him how much we enjoyed our trip. He was happy to hear it and told us about the Gem's new itinerary for next year. It includes two different itineraries for Greece, Croatia and Turkey. (Two of us were so intrigued; we booked the Greek Isles trip for next October!) As we made our way onto the ship, all the sailboats that were docked this morning were now out in the water - what a sight! I was able to get some fantastic photos. Since we were back on the ship so early, we decided to sit down by the pool where we were miraculously able to get 6 seats together right in front of the pool! This was the only day we used the pool and it was so nice sitting out there soaking up every last bit of our vacation. I had made dinner reservations for all of us at LeBistro tonight and we were extremely pleased. Everything about the meal was wonderful; the food, wine and especially the company. We spent our last night up at Bali Hai where we all exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to keep in touch (we have). Embarkation Day We were staying in Barcelona for one more day so we did not have to rush off the ship. We kept our bags and after a leisurely breakfast at the Grand Cafe, we said our farewells to our cabin stewards, Jeffrey and Deval and walked off the ship. There was about a 30 minute wait at the taxi line but it seemed to go quickly because we were still excited that we had another full day in Barcelona. One of my friends was able to get us to rooms at the Hilton Diagonal del Mar with her points so we headed right there. Our rooms were ready immediately and we had the entire day in front of us. We ended up spending most of the day at the rooftop pool relaxing and reliving our trip. We did venture out for lunch and dinner but that was it. Going Home We were up pretty early for our 10:45 flight home and were able to get a taxi for 4 (plus luggage) right away with the help of the bellman at the Hilton. There was a little traffic but it was Monday morning so I guess that's to be expected. Check-in at the airport was relatively easy and all we had to do was wait for our flight home. Arrived in Newark on time and had a quick trip through Customs and no problems with lost or delayed luggage. Overall, we had a fantastic time and the Gem is a wonderful ship. I've heard people complain about the smallest things and can't imagine what that does to your vacation. When I'm on vacation, I don't expect everything to be perfect but I'm not about to let it ruin my trip that I've worked hard for all year. But I can honestly say that there's not one thing I would change about my trip and I'm looking forward to sailing on the Gem again next October. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I work for a financial planning firm that as a fun perk, offers a group trip for clients and friends of clients who want to take trips once a year to different locations. I am not a travel agent, but since I travel the most out of our ... Read More
I work for a financial planning firm that as a fun perk, offers a group trip for clients and friends of clients who want to take trips once a year to different locations. I am not a travel agent, but since I travel the most out of our office, the research, planning and execution falls on me... which is great because that means I get to go too. This year there were 20 of us and we took a 7 night cruise on the Gem to the Western Med. I was a little concerned since I had not ever cruised with Norwegian before and I really did not want to let anyone down. Our group had cabins from inside cabins on deck 4 to the mini-suites on deck 11, so I was able to get feedback from most cabin types. My husband and I had a mini suite on deck 11, midship. While the cabin was very clean and the decor was better than I was expecting from the pictures on the website, there were several things I was disappointed in. The entire cabin had two single electric outlets, both over the "desk". There were none near the bed, bathroom or couch. It was a hassle to have to switch things out for use and charging. There was not a place to plug in a clock by the bed and there was not a clock provided in the room, unless you wanted to leave the tv on at all times. Everyone in out group had the same complaint about that. One lady (also in a mini suite)in our group has to use a breathing machine at night and the cord would not reach from the desk to the bed FORCING HER TO SLEEP ON THE COUCH TO BREATH! If not for the balcony and larger bathroom, the "mini suite" is the same size of an inside cabin on a Holland America ship. I was expecting something larger but since we did not spend too much time in the cabin, it was not a huge issue for me but I heard people who were a little larger than myself complaining about the amount of space from the foot of the bed to the wall. You have about 1.5 ft from the bed to the wall that is the "walkway" to the couch and balcony. There is a table in front of the couch that takes away any from for standing or walking in the "living area", so we moved the table to the corner of the balcony and it freed up space making it feel less crowded. The only other thing I was disappointed in were the chairs on the balcony. I would have preferred lounge chairs (which would have fit) instead of patio chairs. When we sat in the patio chairs out view was of the wooden railing. If we had lounge chairs we would have been able to enjoy the view without standing the whole time. Our whole group had no problems with ever finding a variety of dining options. The Garden Cafe was the buffet which seemed to not have enough seating but the two outdoor grills always had tables available. The blue lagoon had a wonderful lunch menu and the two "main dining rooms" were very nice. They both had the same menu, but still nice all the same. We did upgrades to Cagney's Steakhouse (very nice manager who came and spent time talking for a while with our table) La Cucina, very good Italian food but they charged for water??, and the Teppanyaki which was also very good. The company I work for is a financial planning firm so being over charged or wasting money on things I could find for less expensive, is just not an option. That being said, we only booked two days shore excursions through NCL, which were Malta and Cannes. Since we were a group of 20, several broke off to do different things and the only complaint I heard was the "Little Train and Nice" at the Cannes port. Apparently the little train only took them to a flower and vegetable market for shopping. This was the last port so no one could purchase anything or customs would have taken it from them when re-entering the USA. 10 of us did "Historic Towns and Crafts" in Malta, which was old town, catacombs glass blowing factory where you can get great deals and a filigree shop, not so great deals. "Grasse & St. Paul De Vence" in Cannes, which we all enjoyed completely. St. Paul De Vence was picture perfect. The days in Naples, Rome and Florence, I did research and booked through two private companies that offered MUCH more for the money. I don't know if it would have worked out so well without it being a group, but it cost less per person than any of the NCL options. It was fantastic to be able to get out at each of the locations and walk around instead of driving by them with NCL and praying the pictures you had to take from a moving bus, would come out. I mean really, why go to the Rome if you cant get out and play? Let me first say that I was VERY nervous about booking three days worth of excursions with companies that I had only ever read about online and who held the whole experience for the trip of a life time, in their hands. My worst fear was that they would not show up and we would be standing at the pier with no one to take us anywhere. I do have a few gray hairs that I did not have before from worrying about it, but if it worked out like I hoped it would, we would get to see so much more for so much less money and would be in the safety of our own little group. It made me feel a little better that they did not want prepayment and would take cash or travelers checks at the end of the trip. Anytime I contacted either of the following two companies via email, they responded back within an hour. Very professional. Naples we booked a private bus and private guide for the whole day which ended up costing 1400 euro divided by 20. Great price! The name of the company was Sorrento Silverstar and our guide was Lucia. We walked off the ship and to the line of buses and she was standing there with a sign with my name on it and a very welcoming smile! Ah, relief!! She was fantastic, friendly and very knowledgeable. We went to Pompeii, where she was able to get our tickets without standing in the very long line and we went straight in. From there we did a drive on the Amalfi coast to Sorrento where we stopped for shopping. She was able to reserve us a table ahead of time at a family run restaurant on the way to Positano. It was 25 euro per person but was worth it. They brought plate after plate of fantastic "local cuisine" and all the wine and lemoncello we wanted. It was on a cliff that over looked the bay and had amazing views. For Rome and Florence we booked through another private company called romeinlimo. Rome was our first day with them and the only day we had a "mishap". When we got off the ship, there was no bus, no guide, no driver. Panic set in and I immediately called their local contact number where Jany (I think I woke her up) said she would check it and call me right back. 15 minutes later, no phone call. I called again and she said that the security for the port would not let the bus through. She said, of course, that this is the first time that had ever happened. She said that the bus, guide and driver were waiting for us outside the port gate and we would have to walk to them... just over half a mile away. Not a big deal until I mention to her that we have a 90 year old in our group! So, we start walking to the gate, with me on the phone letting her know how upset I was with the whole thing. If they had just called and let us know as soon as the bus told them that they could not get in, we could have taken a shuttle to the gate and saved ourselves 1.5 hours. Anyway, we finally get to the gate where the bus and guide are in fact waiting on us. You can imagine the guide already had a uphill battle to get us back in a good mood. Her name was Paula and to her credit, did her best to put the "incident" behind her and give us the tour we wanted. We were able to go the the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum and the Vatican. We went to eat at a local pizza restaurant, where again giving credit where credit is due, Duman (the owner of romeinlimo) personally came to meet us and buy our whole group lunch. He also went ahead to the Vatican where he prepurchased our tickets and got our headsets for the tour so we would not have to wait in line. He also paid 8 euros toward each persons ticket for the Vatican (keep in mind, there are 20 of us). So after lunch and the payment for the Vatican, we received a 20% discount for 2 hours of tour time we lost. We did end up running, literally, through the Vatican and had no time for shopping to make sure we made it back to the ship on time, which we did. Unfortunately, things just happen sometimes outside of our control but I feel like he did his best to make up for it. The next day in Florence we also had booked with romeinlimo, where Duman promised our guide would be there the minute we stepped off the ship. We walk off the ship with baited breath. I see a line of guides with signs held up so I walk to where they are.... and my name is no where to be found. Back on the phone quickly where I tell her I have no bus or driver. She tells me he is at the ship with a sign and is waiting for me. This is where the humor comes in. There were two walkways off the ship. Marco, our guide, was at the one at the front of the ship, literally leaning on the railing so it would be impossible for us to miss him. He was not standing with the guides because he wanted us to make sure we saw him before we ever set foot on the ground,,, we came off the ramp at the back of the ship. Everyone in our group LOVED Marco. He asked me for the list of things we wanted to see and do and made sure that each of them happened in the course of the day. Even down to the request from one of our members to try real Italian Gelato. There was ALOT of walking, our course, we are in Europe after all. The 90 year old lady took a little tumble on the uneven cobblestone streets where she tore up her knee and had a pretty good bump on the forehead. It could have been anyone of us since we were all walking looking up at the buildings instead of down at the street. It luckily happened almost directly in front of the Accademia Museum. Marco immediately put everyone else in the "reserved" line and took her and myself in the side door so we could get her seated and looked over by the first aid. He even sprinted down the street to get her ice packs to hold on her head and knee. He was able to secure her a wheel chair for the museum because she refused to stop for even a second. Let's keep in mind that she is 90, that means she is a little fire ball from the generation that plowed fields, didn't have ac, would never dream of missing Sunday service and saved the free world from Hitler and Stalin. She says she wants to keep going, myself being 32, the only answer is "Yes ma'am". When the cruise was over, we opted for "Freestyle disembarking". This means that we did not get color coded luggage tags and leave our bags out the night before. We met at 6:45 at the Crystal Atrium and took our own bags with us. I had arranged for a private bus to and from the ship, saving each couple around $100.00 from what NCL charged for the round trip transfer. We walked straight past the lines, off the ship to the bus and were on our way to the airport in 10 minutes. The company we used to arrange for the bus is European Tour Connections, ask for Walter. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
My husband and I, along with are three children ages 11,8, and 8 had a great vacation on the Gem. I used the boards on cruise critic extensively to plan the details of our trip. I arranged for private drivers/guides at the ports in Italy ... Read More
My husband and I, along with are three children ages 11,8, and 8 had a great vacation on the Gem. I used the boards on cruise critic extensively to plan the details of our trip. I arranged for private drivers/guides at the ports in Italy and this worked out great. We were able to see all of the highlights of each city in the short time we were there and we had control of our schedule. The private drivers can take you into many areas that the large buses cannot go. I highly recommend that if you are a family with children to avoid the ship excursions and arrange to private drivers/guides on your own. It will be less expensive and a much better, more flexible experience. We were thrilled with the tours we booked in Italy. We arrived in Barcelona two days before the cruise and stayed at the Hotel Arts. This hotel is beautiful and the service is excellent. It is by the beach and has a pool, which was a great way to unwind after our long flight. We had two adjoining rooms and one of the rooms was available to check in when we arrived at 10 am. Saturday we took a cab to the center of town and walked down Las Ramblas and then along the harbor down to the beach and back to the hotel. Very pleasant day. Ate paella by the beach for dinner. On Sunday we took a cab to Park Guell. The ship: We arrived on the ship by early afternoon. Embarkation was a breeze. We were escorted to our room, had lunch explored the ship and then went to the pool. We stayed in a suite in the Courtyard Villa and had access to the Courtyard pool, spa and sundeck. This was extremely relaxing. Most of the time we had the area to ourselves or with one other family. One of the suite perks is breakfast and lunch at Cagney's. While the food was pretty good, the service was slow. Towards the end of the cruise we found out we could order breakfast and lunch in the Courtyard Villa. This was a little faster and much more convenient in the mornings before leaving on our excursions. We did not think the room service breakfast was very good. Overall I thought the food on the ship was good, our expectations were not high however. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. We also liked that NCL offers suites that can accommodate 5 people. Day at sea: In the morning the children went to kids club. My husband and I went to the gym and had spa treatments. Nice gym for a cruise ship. Malta: we arranged to go snorkeling on the Island of Comino. This is the one excursion I would do differently. To be honest, you just don't have enough time. Because of our time constraints we were taken to a small beach on Comino and there were no fish to see. We did get to swim for a while. The people at scubadivingmalta.com were very friendly and they did show us around some while we were driving to and from the boat. Naples: We arranged a tour of Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano through sorrentosilverstar.com. Absolutely wonderful! Luisa is the owner and responded immediately to our request. Our driver, Catello was fantastic. Very knowledgeable and pleasant. When Catello picked us up from port him informed us that Luisa had not only arranged for a private guide for us in Pompeii but that she also arranged for us to see exclusive parts of Pompeii not open to the general public. This was incredible. Lucia was our guide in Pompeii and she was excellent as well. Great with the kids. Catello drove us along the Sorrento and Amalfi coast, we strolled through Sorrento, had lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant he recommended and then went to Pompeii. Great day! Rome: We booked a private tour with Aldo Monti of yourtourinitaly.com. Another great day. I thought about hiring a private "licensed guide" for Rome as well as a driver. Glad I didn't. With Aldo we discovered all of the highlights of Rome including the Colosseum (he arranged for us to skip the line, which was quite long), Forum, Pantheon, Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, Navona square, etc. He was extremely knowledgeable and we enjoyed spending the day with him. He had a book with him with pictures of how Rome looks now and reconstructed pictures of what it looked liked during Ancient times. This was very helpful for my children to understand what they were seeing. There is a lot to see in Rome, I am sure we could not have seen half as much with a large group bus tour. Had a nice lunch in Rome and we had gelato in every city in Italy. Very enjoyable day with Aldo. I would definitely use him again. Pisa and Florence: I booked a private tour with Giovanni Sirabella, giovanni@sunflower-tours.com. Again, another fantastic day! We bought tickets to climb the leaning tower of Pisa in advance and Giovanni arranged for tickets to the Accademia to see the David. We enjoyed climbing the tower, not much else to do in Pisa. In Florence we saw all of the major sites and since we had a private driver he was able to drive on the small streets in the center of the city that are restricted from buses and general traffic. This was great because it was quite hot and we were able to see all of the major sites without a lot of walking. We could leisurely stroll through the streets and then Giovanni took us to the next place. We had time for a nice relaxing lunch, gelato, and some shopping as well. Giovanni was full of information and very pleasant. I highly recommend him. Cannes: Only in this port until 2:30. Short walk to the beach. Rented chairs and umbrellas at a private beach in front of one of the hotels. Nice beach, enjoyable way to end the cruise. Overall we had a great time and we would take another cruise. This is a great way to see a lot of places without having to pack and unpack. I was worried that it might be too much sightseeing for the children. They had a great time. Again, I would highly recommend the private tours. Florence and Rome are over an hour from port and the children were able to relax in a nice air-conditioned car and play their DS on the ride back to port. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Our family decided when would we have another opportunity to travel together-we're in our mid 50's and the kids are in their 20's-so we picked the Gem and it's 7 day adventure to Malta, Italy and France from Spain to be ... Read More
Our family decided when would we have another opportunity to travel together-we're in our mid 50's and the kids are in their 20's-so we picked the Gem and it's 7 day adventure to Malta, Italy and France from Spain to be our big trip.We must tell you NCL and the Gem were great! The ship is very nice, our mini suite was just right (11058) and the staff were super friendly and very attentive. Contrary to many reviews, the food was very fine and plentiful,deserts could have been better but they were okay, it was easy getting into restaurants before 7:30 as many people ate at later times, the entertainment was either okay or very good and the specialty restaurants were either good or very good. We enjoyed Le Bistro the most while the Asian Fusion restaurant was just okay since we are used to very good Asian food. Embarkation: Getting on the ship was very easy, just show up around noon and it's a breeze to get on. We stayed in Barcelona for one night before the cruise at the H 10 Montcada in the Las Ramblas district. Great location, small but clean rooms and good AC. Get an upper floor as the lower floors in the front pick up street and subway noise until late at night. Best restaurant we found in Barcelona near the hotel served better pizza than we had in Italy-Il Montello was 2 blocks from the H10 on Via Laietana-great pizza and pasta dishes at reasonable prices. Barcelona was very interesting but a bit concerning as far as safety goes-watch for pickpockets and guard your wallets and bags. Ports: Malta was our first stop-very interesting-best thing we did was get off the ship and arrange at the taxi stand for a 3 hr. tour by taxi for 66E that included Mdina and a few other stops-very worthwhile Naples and Civitevecchia-We decided to have full day guided tours by a company with a driver. I can highly recommend Aldo and Nick of www.yourtourinitaly.com. They did a great job in guiding us and bringing our group of 6 to fantastic sites and restaurants in Rome, Positano, Pompeii and Sorrento, arranged for private tours of the Vatican and the Amalfi coast and made our trip a complete winner with 2 full days of touring combined with great information and pleasant guidance. They were great-I highly recommend them!! Livorno/Florence: We decided to take a cab to the train station and took the 1+hr trip by train to Florence and spent the day in Florence. This was a great day at a very reasonable cost. It was easy to do and fun to ride the train. The train cost approx. 14e RT and the cab is approx 20E for 4 people. The Duomo and other sites in Florence-Ponte Vecchio were magnificent. Cannes: This port was very nice, the town is pretty and they had a great beach with soft sand and crystal clear water. Walk the town and relax on the beach and your day becomes a delight!! Before you know it it's time to return to the ship. Disembark: Very easy to do it yourself-we just walked off the ship at our leisure but it must be before 9:30. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Just returned from our first ever cruise on board NCL's Norwegian Gem (Barcelona 23 August 09). Initially we were worried by some of the negative reviews we had read on this site but are glad we were persuaded by the good ones which ... Read More
Just returned from our first ever cruise on board NCL's Norwegian Gem (Barcelona 23 August 09). Initially we were worried by some of the negative reviews we had read on this site but are glad we were persuaded by the good ones which we used to good effect to learn and plan our trip. Let me say at this point that our budget did not allow for top suites or private tours so I believe this review might be helpful to the majority of people considering this cruise. I won't give a day by day account of our holiday here but will try to give an over view of each relevant area. For more daily detail please see our port review. We are a 59/60 British couple travelling without children. EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION - A pretty slick operation all round with minimum delays. When you think that each Sunday the ship has to debark some 2500 passengers and embark the same number in the space of just a few hours whilst making everyone feel unhurried and welcome, respectively, this is quite an accomplishment. CABIN - Yes, if you've got the cash then go for it, butler and all, but if like us you have to settle for a little less then you couldn't do better than a balcony stateroom. We chose 9548, a BB class cabin fairly well forward on the port side. Our first impressions were very good. There was more than ample storage space and our empty cases stored easily under the bed, which was large and very comfortable. The lovely little bathroom was well laid out, with lots of hot water and good pressure to the shower. One could be picky and find dust in high up places but overall cleanliness was good. Whilst not huge, the balcony was more than adequate for two people and was the one thing I would not be without on any future cruise. A great asset. Even on the tightest budget try to avoid a cabin on deck 4. At most ports of call passengers leave and arrive via this deck and it becomes very crowded and noisy. DINING - A really hot topic this one, with extra cover charges applied to more than half of the dining options. We ate at the speciality restaurants on four evenings, buffet style Garden Cafe once, and the ship's two main dining rooms once each. If you are travelling with children the chances are you will be driven more towards the buffet and fast food areas and as you can imagine they are somewhat crowded and not a fine dining experience. We found La Cucina and Orchid Garden to be fine but nothing to exactly rave about. Le Bistro was excellent and we used it to celebrate my wife's birthday. We had to try Cagneys for our last evening because of it's reputation. We are at an age where the dining experince is a large part of our overall cruise experience, but everyone's view will be different. For us, we both felt that our best of the week was actually at the Grand Pacific main dining room, one of the included restaurants. For me the least enjoyable experience was at the most expensive, Cagneys. Just goes to show that throwing money at something does not neccessarily make it any better. Overall though, we felt we ate well. My tip for people wanting to use Grand Pacific or Magenta restaurants would be to dine early if possible as queues form later. ENTERTAINMENT - Any notion we might have had that cruising was done by mainly 'older' people was repidly dispelled. This ship is geared towards and attracts the young in large numbers. Lass than 10 minutes of exploring the ship told us that the pool deck was not for us with its crowds, loud music and constant microphone announcements. Likewise we felt that the Bliss Nightclub and Spinnaker Lounge were also areas our age group should best avoid. But there is space on the ship for everyone and we found the Deck 6 Bar & Lounge areas to be just right for a quieter evening. We were impressed too, by the shows put on in the Stardust Theatre which we found to be very professional and gloriously colourful. Not being gamblers we felt no need to visit the large casino, and anyway its one of the very few areas on board to smell strongly of tobacco smoke. SHORE EXCURSIONS - Potentially a very large part of the budget if you throw yourself at the mercy of NCL. Do your homework and you can do it all for a fraction of what they charge. We left the ship at all ports but only twice with NCL. In Malta you can just walk off the ship and find taxi tours at reasonable cost right outside the terminal or just walk up into Valletta although it is quite a steep climb. In Italy we did each day by train from the ports to Pompeii, Rome and Florence/Pisa. We found every train to run perfectly to time and of course to be wonderfully inexpensive, if a little basic. I could go on forever but all it boils down to is prior research. The information you need is all out there. With great sites like this one and europeanportreviews.com there is no need to be apprehensive about tackling touring yourself. You will see just as much as organised tour members and probably have even more time to enjoy the sights. At the end of the day you can feel so good about what you didn't spend that you can enjoy an extra cocktail before splashing out on the French restaurant. When you talk to other guests you will automatically gain a certain kudos from being an independent traveller. At Cannes we took an NCL tour to Monaco and the village of Eze because it is a short port stop and the French rail system is so notoriously unreliable. At Barcelona following debarkation we had a 5.30pm flight so used the City Highlights tour with transfer to kill some time and it was well worth it. SUMMING UP - To the few poeple we shared taxi and train journeys with we would like to say Hi and thanks for your company and sharing your knowledge with us, especially to Alex and Cheryl (Mathmos cat), whose company we enjoyed very much. Hope everyone had a safe trip home. Would we use NCL again? Well maybe. I think we would be better suited to a more traditional and preferrably adults only environment but if the itinerary was what we wanted then we could be tempted out of school holiday periods for as I said earlier the ship is plenty big enough to find quiet areas away from noise and crowds. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think ... Read More
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think it had to do with the all American crew. The freestyle experience is quite good, especially when traveling with children. It gives you the flexibility to eat when you want with little to no wait at normal diner hours. There was plenty to do on the ship for the whole family. The bowling was a great diversion and my son even rang the bell on the rock climbing wall! Food was of good quality, with the specialty restaurants having a more interesting selection and great service. Yes, you do have to pay for the other restaurants but it can be worth it. The buffet was Ok and predictable all the time. The rudeness of the people was to be expected, but this trip took it to a whole new level since SOME Europeans have no concept of lines. I have dealt with that on every cruise we have been on even with all Americans, but this one was exceptional. One area of disappointment on the ship was the pool area, but we had a good time no matter what. Going in with a positive attitude lets you deal with the things you can't change. First, try to find a deck chair on the lower section by the pool. These chairs have the nice cushions and are hard to come by. Interestingly enough I always found the same people using the chairs even with the signs on the ship that after 30 minutes unattended they would remove your stuff. This never happened and was not enforced. Even on the port days it seemed guests would come down early and lay towels on the chairs before breakfast. I can not prove this but I think they went to port and saved their chairs at the same time. I seemed like the large groups sent scounts to get chairs for everyone, including 1 for each child even if they were in the pool the whole time. Very annoying! Second, the constant whistle at the pool. No one was allowed to jump in the pool, mainly while the ship was in motion. There must have been an accident and they took a no tolerance stance on jumping in the pool. As many of the guests were from Spain on our ship, there was little control in the pool. Third, the hot tub should be renamed to the kid tub as no adult could even think of going in one since they were full of kids and teenagers of large groups. I think this a by product of going on the cruise during the heavy European vacation period. At least two thirds of the ship was european, with almost 1000 Spaniards. I think the most disappointing thing on this cruise was not in the hands of Norwegian. The worst part were the people. I myself am Cuban and have lived in the US most of my life. Have traveled a great deal since my job takes me all over the world so I am aware of the cultural differences, especially working for a German company. That said, the nationality with the most people on the ship were extremely rude and felt more deserving than the rest of us on the ship. It was truly incredible. From the deck chairs, to the buffet line, to the rock climbing wall, we were constantly explaining to people in Spanish the rules of staying in line and following directions. While in line at the rock climbing wall a family came and when straight to the cabinet to grab shoes even though there was a line of people waiting. I mentioned we were all waiting and everyone used the same shoes. They went back on line and the father came forward to the cabinet again since there was one child on line with shoes on already. Everyone barked again and he said, "he has shoes on". He was the only child on line with shoes, helmet and a harness since he had already gone up the wall and was going up again. I could go on an on, but I wont. The only recommendation is to not go on the cruise in August. Pay extra to go when the Europeans are working. My family really enjoyed the cruise and the ports were fantastic. The port days can be exhausting since there is so much to see and do in a short time. I would recommend this cruise for the destinations and the overall quality on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
Please see the complete review with pictures on the Norwegian Cruise lines threads. Cruising the Norwegian Gem turned out to be a "George Bailey" moment for me - you know, the character from "It's A Wonderful ... Read More
Please see the complete review with pictures on the Norwegian Cruise lines threads. Cruising the Norwegian Gem turned out to be a "George Bailey" moment for me - you know, the character from "It's A Wonderful Life" who has a great impact on those around him, but never fully realizes it. This brainchild of mine began on a fluke back in May, when I was just perusing the internet in search of a long-overdue graduation trip for my twin daughters. I went on Expedia, and compared the itineraries of several cruises, with NCL having the best prices, and ports that were interesting. I knew that my cousin in California had a cruise travel agent, and so contacted her to find out the info. When I mentioned my idea, and asked if she would like to come, she didn't even hesitate and said "YES!" I then asked my parents, brother (who lives in LA) and another cousin from New York. Everyone was "on board" (pun intended) with this idea!! So the cast of characters for OUR EXCELLENT ADVENTURE is as follows: DH, DS (age 23), DD1, DD2 (the twins, age 19), DM, DD, DB, DSIL, DN (nephew, age 17), DC1, DCIL1 (my cousin and her husband), DCS (cousin's son, age 28), DC2 DCIL2 (the other cousin from New York and her husband), DCD1, DCD2, and DCD3 (their three daughters, ages 24,and twin 21 year olds), DA (My Aunt). That's 19 of us! We'll try to keep everyone straight throughout this review... So, after months of preparation, much of which involved obsessing on the CC message boards, we were off. I decided, after agonizing for weeks, to get money for our trip using three different methods: I ordered, through HSBC bank, Euros through the mail, which were delivered via UPS, I opened up a separate checking account with no overdraft (in case the card was stolen) from my bank and put $1000 in it, and I took about $800 in US currency. We kept most of the money in the room safe in the hotel/ship. This worked out great, because the exchange rate changed, so I hedged my bets. I was also paranoid about pickpockets, even though I worked in Manhattan for years, and am cautious by nature. I bought a small shoulder pack bag, which you will see in the photos, and this worked great. The zippers were really hard to open, so that was good. In Barcelona, a "gypsy" did try to pickpocket SIL, but she heard the zipper open, and thwarted the attempt. We flew Delta nonstop, and the flight was actually early arriving in BCN. We arranged early check in at Grand Hotel Central - which, as its name implies, is right in the heart of things. My DC found this one through Amex, and although it is not cheap (172 E for a standard double, breakfast included), it was a lovely hotel with an infinity edge rooftop pool. The rooms are small, but modern, and clean, and the bathrooms are first rate. The breakfast has wonderful options, much better than I anticipated. It is within walking distance to the Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona cathedral, and Las Ramblas. So, while DM and DD rested that first day (our family was the first to arrive), I changed and went up to the pool, with its wonderful views of the city. Boy was it hot!! After a short while DC2 and her family came, and we spent a few hours lounging by the pool until we became so exhausted that we ventured down to our rooms (which by now were ready) and slept for a couple of hours. Then DH and I headed out to the square near the cathedral to look around - there was live music, and great street vendors there. I made reservations, through DC2's Amex concierge (evidently my Costco AMEX does not provide such services!!) at Can Manel la Puda in the Barceloneta. Everyone piled into taxis and there we were, in our own private room at the restaurant. They couldn't have done more for us, kept the Sangria flowing, and we all had paella. No, most other people would give it rave reviews, but, by way of background, our family is of Spanish descent, and we have a family recipe for this dish. So, this version did not hold a candle to what we make - it was mostly rice, and a lot oilier than the family version. But it was still great to try it in its native country. The meal cost around 20 E each - with a very generous tip - so it was a bargain. The next day, we had booked Pepito Tours for a half day tour around the town - the HOHO bus was not an option because of the heat, and anyway, the tour, via private air conditioned minibus with a driver and guide came out to 35 E per person, and the HOHO is 21E. We saw all of the highlights - Montjuc, the Olympic Stadium, Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, the block of discord, and the outsides of Casa Mila, Casa Battlo. We went into Sagrada Familia, which is astounding - definitely the highlight of the city, IMHO. Our Guide, Miriam, was very knowledgeable. It still amazes me that this cathedral will take another 15 years or so to build!! I really wanted to go up into the tower via elevator, but there was no time that day, so I ade palns to come back the next day (by myself I may add, by taxi) to ascend to the top. After the four hour tour, some went swimming, some went to Las Ramblas, your truly included, to have a "light" lunch. NO such thing!! By way of explanation, we are a family of overorderers - we eat with our eyes. But this was over the top - for 11 of us, we ordered 5 tapas plates, which were HUGE, two small pizzas, and a glass of beer or sangria. Take a look!! This was more food than anyone could eat - and it was delicious. Now I know that you are going to ask me the name of the place, but all I can remember is that it had blue umbrellas, the name began with a "Z" and it was about midway down Las Ramblas. The tables were outside on the median of the street. The meal ended up costing us 30 Euros each (a little pricey for lunch, but hey, we're on vacay, right?) For dinner, we had reservations at Meson David, recommended by a CC member, but when the cabs arrived there, it seemed to be in a sketchy (as the kids would say) area, and we doubted whether we would be able to get cabs back, so we bailed on that idea, and headed for a place that Miriam recommended. "Centro Ciudad" was in the name (again, I do not remember it), but it was on the street perpendicular to Las Ramblas, with a fountain on it. It is a huge place, and the tapas were excellent, and we ate outside. At the end of the meal, we went inside to use the ladies room, and who was sitting in the restaurant? Miriam, of all people!! I just said hello and left, but DC began a conversation with her, necessitating her leaving her friends and coming into the street, where of course we took pictures! I am sure we were annoying Americans, just validating the impression that Spaniards have of us tourists. But Miriam was a good sport about it. The next day, I decided to return to Sagrada Familia to go up the elevator. What at view! To see Gaudi's work close up is not to be believed. Definitely worth the 2.50 Euros. To avoid long lines, get there when they open at 9 AM, I only waited about 20 minutes to enter the cathedral (I had to pay the 9 Euro entrance fee again, even though I paid the day before with the tour). Then it was a 2 minute wait for the elevator. I also took a cab to La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila - another amazing Gaudi site. They used to serve drinks in the evening on the roof, but no longer do. I could see why, given the stairs and the narrow walkways. I almost tripped a few times sober in broad daylight - I cannot imagine what happened at night!! I waited about 15 minutes to get in - 10 Euro entrance fee. Then I cabbed it back to the hotel to check out, and go to the Gem. The kids decided that they wanted to see Casa Milo, so they took off to do that, and DH and I checked some of the bags with the hotel, and then took some to the harbor. It was about 1PM and what a traffic jam up to the ship! I guess we hit peak time. It took us about 20 minutes to check in - we had a minisuite, and the line was a little long. By the way, they want you to check all of your bags, but just say no if you have carryons - they don't insist. I only travel with carryons, because once you have had your luggage lost, you never check again. After the xray machines, there are duty free shops where you can buy all sorts of stuff, wine and alcohol included. If you have a large tote or purse, the shop owners suggest putting it in there. By this time the rooms were ready, but what a line for the elevator! We took the stairs to 6, then walked through the casino to the forward elevators, rather than wait forever for the mid ship ones. The minisuite was not very large, but was clean, new, and had tons of storage, so I was happy. DD2 was staying with us, and DS and DD1 were across the hall in an inside cabin (they hate the light, so that was perfect for them). My DD and DM were also in a minisuite, as was DB and his family. My DCs had penthouse suites - those were amazing! After settling in, we had to return to the checkin in order to provide the kids with the necessary credit card so that they could check in, since they weren't with us. Then I changed and checked out the pool, which was already hopping. So here is a list of stuff that I brought, most of which was very useful - everyone made fun of me, until it came time for them to need it! Bubble wrap for all of the olive oil (very flavorful in Spain), wine, and Limoncello purchases, bungee cord for the door, extra hangers (there are only 12 in the closet), a power strip for the only 120 volt outlet (which is near the hair dryer on the desk), door decorations so we knew whose cabin was whose, scotch tape, birthday decorations (we had 2 birthdays on the cruise), battery operated candles, bandaids for blisters, a soft sided cooler for water bottles (which by the way, I also bought a case of at the duty free shop by the ship), ice packs (no freezer, but I put these in the fridge, helped to keep the water cold). I also copied info about each port and site, and also emailed everyone with the link to Rick Steve's free audio guides to the Colosseum, and the Gallerie Della Academia and Uffizi, and copied the maps from his guide books. First night DC made ressies at La Cucina - now, we are all native New Yorkers, so we have very high standards when it comes to our Italian food! This was okay, not fabulous, and the service seemed to fall apart when the restaurant got a little crowded. Definitely not worth the $10 per person cover charge, IMHO. We all had a blast looking at the sailaway, and we were all so happy to be together, so it was fine. Then it was off to the casino for most of us (big gambling family). The next day was a day at sea - so I was up early, checking out the Garden Cafe. Good choices here, grilled tomatoes were a favorite, egg white omelet, and lox. No one else was awake of course, but I enjoyed the time by myself, reading Angels and Demons again, because it takes place in Rome, and also because all I wanted to do was to visit the Santa Maria della Vittoria, where the Ecstasy of St. Theresa is. More on that later. Everyone came up to the pool, and boy was it a scorcher that day! We relaxed and recouped from Barcelona. DCS (my cousin's son) was ill with something - so he was in the cabin, for most of the cruise it turns out - so the rest of the kids, and various adults drifted in and out during the course of the day. Meanwhile, my family was forming a bingo cartel - they played every game every day - talk about obsessive. But they won, almost all the time! I had arranged a Meet and Greet, but no one else showed up but us, so it was disappointing to say the least. We made our recommendations, which were few - like not charging a $50 sitting fee for a group portrait (that is just wrong), and the fact that when we attempted to book more than two people in a cabin, it was denied, and my TA had a heck of a time getting 3 in a cabin, even in the penthouse suites. Other than those two complaints, however, we raved about the ship, service, and the amenities. My DC1, a very frequent, high-end cruiser (read Crystal) had nothing but wonderful things to say about NCL, and she and DCIL would absolutely cruise with them again. The butler turned out to be worth his weight in gold, because he pretty much took care of DCS for most of the cruise, because he was feeling so poorly. He couldn't have done more - we all wanted to bring him home with us. It was DC1's birthday, so NCL was kind enough to provide a card which gives a free cake (they usually give it to the recipient's cabin, but I picked it up at the reception desk on deck 7 because I wanted it to be a surprise). I had decorations, and when she was out of her cabin, I put them up. It was great to spend her birthday together, because we live so far apart we usually done get to do that. By the way, all of our cabins were under the fitness center, and we did not hear a peep! I had trepidations about booking these because I am such a light sleeper. No problems at all. Also, there were about 700 children on board, according to NCL, and no problems with them either. Once in a while, one of them would try to sneak into the adult pool, but they were promptly chased out by the guy manning the water slide. Next day was Malta - we had no plans, other than to walk around Valletta a bit. We woke up early (some of us, that is) to watch them sail into one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world. It was one of the hottest days of the summer - temps topped out at over 100 degrees. The bus into town is not air conditioned, which I didn't know, and after ushering my group on, I was immediately fired as cruise director (LOL). I told them to imagine our ancestors on such a bus, except with a chicken or two in their laps! They were getting in touch with their roots. The walk from the ship to the bus is around 5-10 minutes, and too long for my parents and DA, so we asked to be driven, which the ship did do, and the driver would not take a tip. I thought that was really accommodating of the staff, and to me, just demonstrated the high quality of service. Can you see us sweating in the pictures below? We went into St. John's Co-Cathedral, (you need to have your shoulders covered), and got the audio guides, which somehow were included in the 6Euro price. Well worth it, because it points out the highlights. Oh, and it is not air conditioned. Afterwards we ducked into an HSBC bank just to the left of the cathderal exit (the AC was on in there!) to exchange money and use the ATM - good rates. Then we sat in a cafe, and explored the bargains- and there were many - including a store where all the clothes were 5 Euros! I bought a lovely dress. Caffe Cordina is just down Republic Street and they have fabulous local food offerings including some of the best baked goods I have ever had - get the honey rings! If it wasn't so hot, I think that I would have explored a little more. DH and DS went to St. Paul's Shipwreck church, where they were duly impressed with the actual arm bone of St. Paul. I shopped instead. Then it was back on the bus (1 Euro roundtrip). DB and his family took a horse-drawn carriage down, and negotiated the price to 10 Euros, I think, from 50. They are really off as far as tourism goes - according to the driver, it was half of what it was last year. When we got back on board around 1:30, I headed straight up to the pool, and got to watch the sailaway, again breathtaking. They did play some really cool and dramatic music, which sounded as though it was from a movie soundtrack. Then the band came on, and really revved it up. That night, we went to the Grand Pacific - how beautiful to have dinner with a view off the back of the ship. We saw Mount Etna, but someone had said that you could see it erupting, but that was not true. It was still nice to see all of the land formations, Sicily and Italy. Of course, our usual is to go to the Casino - where we did quite well, thank you. DS was up several hundred dollars. The next day, it was up and at 'em! Rome in Limo met us at 8 AM sharp, right next to the ship. We had three vans and three drivers, Tony, Stefano, and Jenny. We piled in, and started to drive down the coast. I thought it was very interesting that someone should be selling doughnuts on the side of the road to cars stuck in traffic. They looked good! First it was off to Vico Equense, a small town that our ancestors emigrated from. Stefano is from that town, coincidently and showed us around, including a very old church from the 12th century, where perhaps my great grandfather was baptized. We saw the town square, with its beautiful fountain, and "little Italy" looking side streets. Then we stopped for what we were told (and now believe) is the best gelato on the whole peninsula, perhaps the whole country! If you ever get there, go to Gabriele's. Yummy!! Did I mention that most members of my family are "foodies?" We really appreciate good and delicious (and sinful I might add) food. So this fit the bill nicely, even if it was only 10:30 AM!! Next, it was off to Sorrento, where we were really limited in time, so kamikaze shopping!! DD2 bought two lovely high quality leather handbags, I bought a fun tote bag, and of course, some limoncello. We only had about 45 minutes. DC1 had been there before, so she guided me down the alleys and side streets for the best bargains! They had arranged a lunch for us high on the hilltop overlooking the town - it was just lovely, and relaxing, although some of us wanted to shop more... The food was fabulous, but way too much, if you ordered all of the courses. We just ate the appetizers, and split one entrEe between the four of us. The limoncello was outstanding!! The fresh mozzarella was the best I have ever tasted. Now, off to Positano, down the beautiful Amalfi coast. Those of you who have ever been on the road to Hana on Maui - this is much shorter, and they have guiderails now in Italy. Now we had a choice - either swim in the Med, or go shopping. I chose to swim. The beach was beautiful, if somewhat rocky. Again, it was 100 degrees, and the water was like a bath. I savored this view for quite a while, before it was time to go back up to the hilltop - I even managed to buy a little something before the van swung by and picked us up. Then it was back to the ship. The ride took about 45 minutes, but they allow more time because of traffic, which can be horrendous. As a parting gift, the drivers gave each van a bottle of limoncello as a souvenir, which I thought was a really nice gesture, and very much appreciated. I have to say, Rome in Limo made touring hassle free, and provided a needed respite from the strenuous walking that would normally be required. I cannot imagine doing this in a large tour bus, or having the flexibility to do what we wanted. Off to dinner that night, again at the Grand Pacific, which proved to be fabulous at meeting the needs of our diverse group. Each night there was an appetizer, entrEe, and dessert from Cooking Light cuisine, which had the fat, fiber, and calories listed beneath it on the menu. This really helped us keep track (if we wanted to). The other entrees were tasty, and just the right portion size. If we wanted to, we could always order more, as did some of the kids. Mt DCH ordered every soup they had on the menu each night - sometimes it was three of them!!! The restaurant manager, Sanya, took really good care of us, and even got one of the recipes for us from the kitchen! She really made the trip for us. We managed to see part of the Second City show, most of which was hysterical, and made fun of the NCL ship (especially the washy washy part). More winnings at the casino, then off to bed...tomorrow was Rome! Another early day, and Luca, Vincenzo, and Luigi met us right at the ship. We were in Luca's car. He gave us the entire history of Rome in 12 minutes (yes, there will be a test). His English was impeccable, and he attributed this to the fact that he spent a semester at Ohio State during his college years. This was a little bit of a problem, because we have two Penn State students in our group - they are really big football rivals. But my kids didn't hold a grudge! First stop was the Colosseum, where Luca explained the fascinating history of this monument. Again, the heat was brutal, and we had 30 minutes to explore, thankfully plenty of time, before getting back into the air conditioning. Right after the Colosseum, DC1 suggested a special side trip to the drivers, the only place in the world where you can see three different countries at once. I do not want to give it away, but if you ask the RIL people, they will know. We went to the Pantheon next, which is really fascinating, especially since I had just finished re-reading "Angels and Demons", where there is a scene in this landmark. I couldn't believe the narrow alleys the drivers were able to navigate. DC2 and her family wanted to visit Castel Sant'angelo, so they took off separately. The rest of us passed by the Spanish steps (no big deal really), and then went to the Trevi fountain. Luca and Vincenzo kindly drove me to the Santa Maria della Vittoria, which was closed!!! I guess I'll just have to come back... Next we had lunch at this little square with really good shopping - I bought 2 dresses for 9 Euro each and some glass jewelry for 3 Euros. There was a small pizzeria, where we got a pizza and a beer. The best pizza I have ever had! Now we had to rush to go to our Vatican tour - DC2 and her family were across from the entrance, munching on some pizza, not good pizza I might add, as a matter of fact it reminded me of school cafeteria pizza. So don't eat at the place across from the Vatican group tours entrance, if you can avoid it. We were ushered into the Vatican with our guide, and then he sat us down for an art history lesson, which I would have enjoyed a lot more if it wasn't so darn HOT!! I couldn't believe how uncomfortable it was - and I like the heat! We went into the museum, which you could spend weeks in, but we just had time for the highlights. The Sistine chapel was of course magnificent, and they left small patches of unrestored plaster so that you could see the difference. The colors were amazingly bright. It is hard to believe that one man designed and painted all of that - what patience and talent. After the Sistine, we entered the Basilica. I could not believe the scale of it, and how magnificent. I have been in St. Patrick's cathedral many times in New York, and this dwarfs it. Now, on to St. Peter's Square. It was beautiful, and large. Our guide showed us the spot to stand on where all of the columns appeared to be one. We only had a few minutes, before Luca was calling us so that we could return to the ship. A quick stop at the Vatican gift store and restrooms, and we were on our way. Exhausted, but fulfilled with all of the wonderful sites. Luca, Vincenzo, and Luigi bought us packages of postcards to commemorate our day. Unfortunately, DCS was still sick, and could not come on any of our Italy tours. Duman (RIL's owner) was nice enough to eliminate his portion of the charge for the tour, which he didn't have to do. We thought that was really nice of him, considering the cancellation policy is one week prior. Another fabulous dinner at the Grand Pacific - at now what had become OUR tables. We were really getting tired at this point, and a few of us had colds, but we shouldered on... Third day with RIL - our drivers were Maffi, MarieClara, and Giovanni. After extensive discussion, we were off to Pisa. I had originally told Jany from RIL when I booked, that I had wanted to do Florence first, but somehow that got lost in translation because our reservations were for 2:30. We went to Pisa for a little while, just to take pictures. It is a beautiful little town, and DCH bought wine in bottles that looked like the leaning tower (which DD1 now has in her college apartment). Another 45 minute ride to Florence, then in to see the David. Remember I had told you that I downloaded the Rick Steve's guides on our iPods? I used the map in his guidebook, turned on my iPod, and voila! My own guided tour! This worked great. We were only there for about 30 minutes (it's not a big place). Then we went with Maffi to the top of the city to view it from above. Maffi explained that there were 3 states represented by the three large buildings in the city. One represented the church (Duomo), one represented the politics (Uffizi), and one represented business (Medici Chapels). I was anxious to shop, as were many others, and some of us wanted to eat lunch (by this time it was noon). Maffi probably felt like the guide in "My Life in Ruins" (which I happened to see on the plane ride over), where she wanted to tell us about the great and rich history and architecture of the place, and all we wanted to do was eat and shop! I grabbed a Panini and beer, and wandered down alleys in search of bargains, which I found, and others sat and ate. The Duomo is spectacular, but we didn't have time to go inside. We went to the Uffizi, where we had reservations. Again, I used the Rick Steve's guide and map, and the timing could not have worked out more perfectly - I saw all of the highlights, Botticelli's Birth of Venus included. The escape from this place takes you through many more galleries; there is no direct exit so allow yourself another ten minutes to get back on the street once you are done. Back to the car, and then the ride back to the ship - about an hour. Now we are really exhausted, and we all vow to come back to this magical place to explore further. Dinnertime conversation included future vacation plans. That night was the chocolate buffet. I barely escaped with my life! People are crazy. Before almost being knocked down, I managed to capture a few pictures. By the way, some pax touched the food and then put it back - yucch!!! Sadly, there were already notices about disembarkation in our cabins. Now I know what post cruise depression feels like! Next day was Cannes, no more plans, so we were all on our own. It took a while for everyone to wake up. DH went to Monaco by himself by train. The casino wasn't open, but the ride there was amazing - the Riviera on one side and beautiful villages and castles on the other. The rest of us tendered into Cannes. The kids took the requisite pic on the red carpet. Then we split. DC2, her family and DD2 went to Antibes by taxi, which they had trouble getting. DD2 translated, and the driver had a real attitude. They ended up going to the tourism office, where the folks there procured a cab for them. Meanwhile, DD1, DB, DSIL, and DN went to the beach and then DB, DSIL, and I went on the little train tram around the city, which gave us the highlights. It begins right on the beach near the red carpet steps, and costs 10 Euros each for about a one hour ride. There are headphones on the train. We saw a wonderful food and flower market which DB went back to. I hung on the beach and swam for the last time in the Med with DCH, and DCS, who by now had recovered, just in time for the last day! They headed back to the ship by noon DB came back from his shopping expedition, and told me there were great stores just a block inland. He swam, and I took off to find treasures. He was right! About one block in from La Croisette (the street by the waterfront) there are both high end stores, and bargain shops. Ceramics and linens are especially good here, and I bought some stuff. The sales clerk started to dump my ceramic purchase into a shopping bag without wrapping. I asked for bubble wrap but instead got one - count it, one - piece of tissue around my purchase. The Dollar Store wraps its stuff better!! See what I mean about the bubble wrap? Thankfully, I had some spare pieces on the ship. I was back on board by 12:30, for a last afternoon in the sun. At 4:30 the last game for the bingo cartel - DC1 won the cruise for two!!! She plans to donate it to a hospice care auction she chairs each year. It was DM's birthday, so her cabin got decorated, and another cake was ordered for dinner. We all reminisced about our great adventure, and how it all came together so nicely, with everyone from around the country able to make it. Bright and early the next day, we left our cabin for the last time, self disembarking around 7:15. No trouble finding a cab - 30 minutes to the airport. There was a very short line for our 10:30 flight, which went to Paris. Then a four hour layover before the flight home to JFK. I didn't want to take the chance on an hour and a half stopover just in case the flight was delayed. The flight from Paris to New York was on a 747 - they still fly those things?! It was old, old, old, and to make matters worse there were several screaming babies, whose parents didn't bother to walk them up and down the aisles. They just let them cry. My mantra was, "it's only eight hours, then you are off the plane. You can survive this!" Our flight arrived pretty much on time, but it took forever for the bags to come. We ended up getting home at around 10:30. DD1 had college classes beginning the next day, so she slept until 3:30 and then a friend drove with her to Penn State. DH and I woke up a 4:30, and drive with DD2 upstate to her college to move her into her apartment there. I kept thinking, what a juxtaposition. I was swimming in the Med 48 hours ago, and now I am in upstate New York cleaning out kitchen cabinets and unloading clothes. Back to reality! All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime. The itinerary gave a taste of everything, so that you know what you want to come back to and explore a little more. Can't wait for my next adventure... Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
How to do Norwegian Gem's Western Mediterranian Cruise on Your Own: I just went on the Gem on August 9th and am going to write out my itenerary and suggestions for changes. Note that this itenerary included a good amount of walking ... Read More
How to do Norwegian Gem's Western Mediterranian Cruise on Your Own: I just went on the Gem on August 9th and am going to write out my itenerary and suggestions for changes. Note that this itenerary included a good amount of walking and days that were packed full, but in the end we had an awesome time. This was an excellent trip for someone who has never seen any of these destinations before. Tuesday- Valletta, Malta: -8:15: got clearance to get off boat, got map from inside cruise terminal with walking directions from boat to different parts of city. Walked around the Valletta waterfront which wasn't open yet, but the restored historic buildings were pretty. -Took a 20 minute walk to Upper Baracca Gardens for great views. -9:30: 5 minute walk to St. John's Co-Cathedral. Went in St. John's Co-Cathedral for €6.00. A beautiful cathedral with great works of art notably by Caravaggio and one of the best things we did in Malta. The audio tour was included in the price. They do not allow stiletto heels or uncovered shoulders, but they provide wraps for free. -Walked down Merchant Street for a local market with vendors selling souvenirs and walked by the Grand Master's Palace. There was a lot of construction going on. We did not pay to go in. - Ended the day with a 5 minute walk to Hastings Gardens for good views of the other side of the city and then walked back to the ship with another 20 minute walk. Had to be back on ship at 2:30. Wednesday- Docked at Naples, Went to Pompeii and Capri: -8:15- Were allowed to get off ship. Took a taxi for €15 to Circumvesuviana train by the port (not the Naples central station). It was probably a 10 minute walk to the station but we didn't know that. Visit http://www.vesuviana.it/web/en/homepage for train times and current prices. You don't need to buy tickets in advance, we got 1 way tickets for about €2.40 each to Sorrento via Pompeii. Validate the ticket in the yellow machine at the station before you get on the train. -Get off at Pompeii Scavi stop, a 30 minute ride. Take a right out of the station to go directly into pompeii. Admission is €10.00 and does not include audio guide. We just walked around for about 2hours. Make sure you see the bodies that were uncovered that are located behind bars with other pottery and artifacts. -Exit Pompeii where you entered and continue on the train to Sorrento to get to Capri. Exit at the sorrento stop and take a 10-15 minute walk to the port to catch a ferry (probably need to find a map or ask someone directions). Visit http://www.capri.net/en/ship-timetable for times and prices (prices are 1 way and jets are faster than the other ferries). We got the 1:50 jet for €13.50 and it took 15 minutes. -Exit ferry and go to the right to get the return ferry tickets back to Naples. The ride was 45 minutes and docked right at the cruise ship port, less than a 5 minute walk to the ship. Same website for times and pricing. We took the 5:10 ferry. -We did a group boat tour around the island of capri that took 1 hour and LOVED it. The boat we took was back towards the left where the ferry docked from the ticket office. I think the price was around €10.00. The blue grotto was already full and backed up so we did not buy tickets to it, but saw the green grotto instead on the tour. I recommend booking a private tour here on a smaller boat and do a little swimming in the green grotto and by the coast. The water looked very inviting and we wish we would have planned it better. -We had another hour until the ferry left and we just hung around the port. We tried to walk to the city center but there were a million stairs and quit before reaching the top. If you want to do this definitely get a taxi or take the cable car. -Had to be back on the boat by 6:30. Thursday- Civitavecchia/Rome: -The ship docks at 7:00am but you have to take a shuttle out of the huge port and that started at 7:30 (so stupid on Norwegian's part). You can take a taxi if you want to get an earlier start which I would recommend to get more time in Rome. If you want to get the shuttle it comes to the left of where the ship docks right as you come down the gangway and go through the fence. -From the port entrance/shuttle stop walk right down the street bordering the ocean for about 10 minutes to reach the train station. http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=ad1ce14114bc9110VgnVCM10000080a3e90aRCRD for times. Buy the B.I.R.G. ticket for €9.00 which gives you train ride to Rome, unlimited bus and underground in the city of Rome. Again validate the ticket in the yellow machines at the station once for the whole day. The ride to Rome takes about an hour. For Rome we bought a map at a bookstore in the US and went ahead and mapped out what we wanted to do. -Get off at Roma S. Pietro. Go to St. Peter's Square. Enter St. Peter's Basilica for free. Male and Females need knees and shoulders covered and I don't think they provide wraps here so wear pants/capris and bring a wrap at least. -Then go the Vatican Museum. The line might be long but it goes fast. The entrance is €14.00 not including audio guide. The museum is huge and you could spend the entire day in it. We just skimmed the museum until the got to the Sistine Chapel at the end (it is probably a 15-20 minute walk through the museum to get to the chapel). The entire museum was extremely crowded, but we really wanted to see Michelangelo's Sistine chapel and it was worth it. -Take the Metro to Spagna to see the Spanish Steps. Then walk to the Trevi Fountain and then the Pantheon (free entrance). It is a 5 minute walk between each of the sites and probably wouldn't be worth it to take the metro in between then, but you could try to take a bus if you didn't want to walk. -From the pantheon go to Via del Corso to catch a bus to the colosseum (colosseo). We walked around the colosseum, saw the arch of constatine. We then glanced at the Roman Forum and palatine hill from the street but didn't have time to go in because we had 3pm tickets to the Galleria Borghese. If you want to go in these places you can buy a €14.00 combo ticket and skip the galleria. -Take a Bus from the colosseum to Galleria Borghese- just ask which stop to get off at. I think it was Vle S. Paolo d. Brasile. (We walked and it took 20 minutes.) Take a 5 minute walk from the bus stop through Villa Borghese on Via del Museo to the galleria. Book tickets to the galleria at least a week ahead online . http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm They do not take walk-ins. The galleria has many Bernini statues that we loved. It will take about an hour to see the museum, it is small. -Walk straight out of the galleria down to the same bus stop and take a bus to the metro. Take the metro to Ottaviano S. Pietro and walk past to St. Peter's Square to get to the train station to go back to Civitavecchia. Friday- Livorno-Florence/Pisa. -Again the ship docks at 7:00am but the mandatory shuttle to get out of the port starts at 7:45am. You need a taxi anyway so just leave around 7:15 when you get clearance and share a taxi with one of the many people going to Livorno Centrale (€20.00 for a taxi van). - For times again see http://www.trenitalia.com/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=ad1ce14114bc9110VgnVCM10000080a3e90aRCRD. The ride is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Get off at Firenze Santa Maria Novella (S.M.N.). Again for florence we pre-bought a map and planned out our day. Florence is a very walkable city and everything is within 5 minutes walk. -Walk around Santa Maria Novella and then walk around San Lorenzo. There are street vendors by San Lorenzo if you want souvenirs. -Then walk to the Baptistry and Duomo. See the bronze doors of the Baptistry and the dome of the cathedral. We then climbed the Campanille or Giotto's Bell Tower for great views of the city and the dome for €6.00. Beware though that this was a ton of steps and was very tiring! It was about 15 minutes of continuous climbing tiny stairs and there was no elevator. When we reached the top it was worth it. -We pre-booked tickets for 11:00am to the Accademia. This was our favorite part of Florence. Book tickets at least a month or 2 in advance. http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/accademia/Default.asp They sell out, but you can still get tickets from other sites that buy blocks of tickets, but they are more expensive. The walk was 5 minutes from the campanille. Make sure you see the original statue of David by Michelangelo and some of his unfinished statues. -Then walk back by the Duomo to go to the Museo di S. Maria del fiore. You do not need to pre-book tickets. €6.00. The museum had the second pieta of Michelangelo and many Donatello works. Some of the Donatello's and other works were removed for refinishing though. -Head to Piazza del Signoria to have lunch at a cafe in the square and see the statues in the square (some original, some copies). -After resting a bit you can walk by Santa Croce to see where Dante and Michelangelo are burried (there is an entrance fee if you want to go in) and you can then walk by the outside of the Bargello. Vivoli is supposed to be the best gelato in the world right by the Bargello on Via Stinche and Via Lavatoi but it was closed for holiday when we were there. Also around there is a recommend store by Norwegian with free tastings of wine and olive oils, but you can try it there and get it cheaper at other stores. -Catch a train back to Livorno at Firenze S.M.N. Station. Stop at Pisa Centrale (the stop before Livorno) to see the leaning tower. It is a 15-20 minute walk straight out of the station to the Leaning Tower, so depending on time you can take a taxi. We spent about 20 minutes walking around the tower and taking photos. -Then catch the same train back to Livorno and split another taxi to get back to the ship by 6:30. Saturday- Cannes: -We were so tired from the other cities so we slept in and just went to the beach for the day. We went to a private beach and rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for €9.00. It was pretty crowded and the water was not all that great. There were also a few topless women who were mostly all older. -We then walked down the main shopping street and looked at the expensive stores. The we went to the Forville Market to see fresh foods and flowers which was a cool experience. The last tender to the boat was 2:30pm. With better planning and more energy we could have been able to do Nice or Monaco. This was our least favorite day. Sunday- Barcelona: -We got a hotel for a night in Barcelona, the Silken Gran Havana. The hotel was fine although there was no shower curtain and our electronics did not work in the outlets without a converter. -We did a hop-on hop-off bus. The bus turistica and it was fine. It was good to ride around the lines once for an overview of the city. We pre-booked the Segrada Familia to avoid lines and then did Park Guell. The National Palace had a great view of the city but we didn't go in. -In the city we looked at Gaudi's Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. Then we walked down Las Ramblas and observed the street performers and vendors. At the end there is Christopher Columbus square with the largest statue of Columbus. Ship Review: The ship was average. Our service was not great at the restaurants and our room steward did a less than average job. We ended up cutting the $12/day/person service charge in half because we didn't feel like any of the service we received was above and beyond. A previous Carnival cruise completely blew the Norwegian away with service. The activites were about average for cruises. The food was average and we definitely didn't go hungry but weren't impressed either. We didn't mind that our experience on the ship wasn't awesome thought because the itenerary was so good. I would recommend the Gem soely on itenerary. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We are a 59 and 60 year old married couple who wanted a dream vacation in the Mediterranean. When we first booked this cruise, we were a little concerned because of the negative reviews. But after taking this cruise on the Gem, we wonder ... Read More
We are a 59 and 60 year old married couple who wanted a dream vacation in the Mediterranean. When we first booked this cruise, we were a little concerned because of the negative reviews. But after taking this cruise on the Gem, we wonder why all the bad reviews. We absolutely loved it! Everything about it was nice - the ship, the room, the staff, the service, the food, and of course the ports! For the price, it couldn't be beaten. Embarkation was easy as could be. We had stayed at an NCL sponsored hotel which made the transfer a breeze. We were on the ship shortly after noon and went to the Great Outdoors for a hamburger. It was not crowded at all. Then we went up to the quiet zone on the 14th deck and relaxed in one of those comfortable chairs. Around 2:00 we went to our room and our luggage was there waiting for us. We would book the hotel through NCL again simply for the convenience of the transfer. We ate at the Garden Cafe for breakfast each morning. Typically we were early risers so there weren't crowds and we had no wait for our custom made omelets. For Dinner we ate in either Grand Pacific or Magenta. The food was very good and the service was ok. We're not sure if free style dining would be our choice - we missed the shows put on in the dining rooms of other cruise lines. But then, we did enjoy being able to eat when we wanted. We never had to wait long to be seated, but we ate relatively early each night. The staff was superb! NCL should be proud. The cruise director gave us an excellent tip about catching the hydrofoil from Naples to Sorrento. The ship was clean and with the constant sanitizing of hands before you entered a pubic room, there seemed to be no chance for any illness to brood. The ports are fantastic - no need to say more. Overall, we were extremely pleased with our Mediterranean cruise on the Gem. We will definitely sail NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We sailed from Barcelona, and a fantastic start, blue skies and champagne awaiting us, we got Easyjet flights and were at the ship by 1pm, very easy check in. We have previously sailed on The Jade, but The Gem although much the same, had ... Read More
We sailed from Barcelona, and a fantastic start, blue skies and champagne awaiting us, we got Easyjet flights and were at the ship by 1pm, very easy check in. We have previously sailed on The Jade, but The Gem although much the same, had a few more luxuries, like the Bowling Alley - which we called The Bling - it was so velvety and extreme and the Rock climbing wall also the loungers on the Gem were superb, lovely cushion ones around the pool (if you could get them, but if you kept any eye out one or two normally became available throughout the day)Also the brilliant huge round sunbeds on the upperdecks which anyone can use. My kids loved the slide. The food was brilliant, our favourite was The Grand Pacific, whereby all the staff sang Happy Birthday and presented him with a cake in the evening, the staff go above and beyond to make your stay a good one and the cabin girls who looked after us on Deck 5 were so so lovely, lovely animal shapes out of towels to greet us in the evenings and a lovely power shower, the beds you just want to bring home with you they are so comfortable. The Spinaker lounge top floor of ship was perfect for pre-dinner drinks as you have a brilliant view of the ocean and the popcorn handed out to kids went down well. We did soda passes for the kids which again they loved the independence of going to the pool bar to order their drinks. You feel very very safe on the ship too. The sailaway BBQ was great and the general party atmosphere, it would have been nice to have a couple of more days at sea, but the itinerary was very well planned by NCL and they even managed to dock at Villafranche when it was very windy, the next day another cruise liner got told the port was closed. We did all our own trips and thoroughly enjoyed all or stops. This trip is very affordable if you do your own flights and lets you experience some luxuries which certainly would not be on offer if you paid that money for a hotel in Europe. The only thing I could fault is that it did not sail from the UK and there were a lot of Med people on the ship, hence our children could not make as many friends as they normally do and the staff were having a job controlling some of the "rowdy" kids in the pool they did manage though I just felt sorry for them when the parents could not understand why the kids were being told off. Like I said superb choice, fantastic bars/dining/pool/sunbeds/views/staff, would definately like to sail with them again as a family of 5 the Freestyle dining at whatever o'clock and having our own tables suited us and was wonderfully relaxing. If you are umming and arring book it now, before they sell out, the only other thing is they do not do a cabin for 5, we would have to have a suite which is way over our budget. we managed this time by having 2 cabins with interconnecting doors. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
My husband and I arrived in Barcelona on Friday afternoon, to leave for our cruise two days later. This gave us 48 hours to get acclimated to the time difference. We explored Barcelona on our own, and found it to be a beautiful city. When ... Read More
My husband and I arrived in Barcelona on Friday afternoon, to leave for our cruise two days later. This gave us 48 hours to get acclimated to the time difference. We explored Barcelona on our own, and found it to be a beautiful city. When we arrived at the pier on Sunday, there was crowd already in front of us for check-in. Despite the crowd we were able to check out luggage within 5 minutes, and then we went into the embarkation area inside the facility. After clearing the security, in a few minutes we were on the on ship. We were pleasantly surprised by their efficiency and their whole process of check-in. The cabin we stayed in was very nice. We had two mini suites, one was the living room/dining room/deck with the bonus sleeper room for children which had its own bathroom. The other room was the master bedroom with a huge bathroom. We had access to the Courtyard pool, spa and sundeck. This was extremely relaxing; most times we had the area to ourselves or with just a few other people. I would not hesitate to book the same cabin for my next cruise! But overall the ship's food was very good with the one exception being the room service breakfast. Our preference in restaurants was Le Bistro instead of Cagney's. Beef I had in Le Bistro was much better compared to the same cut I had in Cagney's and the service was better. We love sushi and it was quite fresh and delicious on the ship: the Chef John was outstanding. He created any roll we requested, and we spent 15 USD each. Malta: we decided to go snorkeling on the Island of Comino. This is the only excursion I would have done in a different way it was entirely too short. Because of it we were taken to a small beach on Comino and there were no fishes so we did not get to fully enjoy snorkeling! However we did get to swim for awhile. For the Italian Ports we pre-booked all of them with Easitalytours.com and this was the best choice we could have ever make! Naples: Naples: In Naples we had Antonella. She was a delight, very sweet and knowledgeable too. She drove us to Pompei were we met another (not to be confused with the Antonella in Naples), our private tour guide Antonella. With her we visited the Ancient city and our tour with her, seemed much easier then the tourist groups. She was excellent, and gave us a wonderful tour. After Pompei, Antonella drove us to Sorrento were we bought cute souvenirs and we had a delicious cappuccino, the best in our trip. From there we continued on to Positano, where we had a seafood lunch on the water front at Chez Black, a great restaurant recommended by Antonella. We loved the time we spent with her and in Pompei as well. Rome: Rome with Max was the highlight of our trip. We arrived 15 min. early and we were worried that we might have to wait but Max was already there waiting for us! After few minutes we headed to Rome. Max speaks English fluently, and on the way to Rome he gave us some historical information. He really made us feel comfortable and at home interacting with him. He then took us to the Colosseum and we did not have to wait long despite the long lines. Then we visited the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. He was very knowledgeable and nice too. We had some delicious "Panini" for lunch near the where we met our guide for the Vatican Giulia. She was lovely, and we enjoyed her tour very much, in the Sistine Chapel she moved around like she was at home, and as such we learned a great deal. I don't have enough words to say thanks to Max and Giulia, the passion they have for their city made us to wish we were Roman too! Florence: In Florence we had Marco. He was a great guy! He speaks perfect English and was a perfect Italian gentlemen. We went to Pisa and then on to Florence. Marco like all of our guides was extremely knowledgeable and even though we had time constraints we were able to see a lot, including the David. We avoided the long lines, because the Company had purchased the tickets for us in advance. We were impressed to see the Duomo, and it was sobering to see Michelangelo's tomb in a Church. After a day of site-seeing we had worked up quite an appetite and Marco took us in a nice restaurant which I don't remember the name but had some wonderful Tuscany cuisine that Marco had suggested we try. Florence is much smaller than Rome, and you can walk to a lot of places, but Marco on the few occasions when it was necessary, he got us a close as possible to our stops. About Cannes, we did it on our own, between resting and shopping. I was not impressed, but maybe it we were worn out from our trip. Overall we had wonderful time on the ship, and Easitalytours.com did the rest for our stops in Italy. I highly recommend them, and I hope to use them again in the future. Here is their contacts: email Mario to info@easitalytours.com and he will arrange for you the best tours ever. Their web site is www.easitalytours.com About Cannes, we did it on our own, between resting and shopping. I was not impressed, but maybe it we were worn out from our trip. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
We've been on a handful of cruises and this was our 1st with NCL. (Family of 5 people) One thing about 'Freestyle' cruising is that everyone else on the ship can be 'Freestylin' at the same time you are!  ... Read More
We've been on a handful of cruises and this was our 1st with NCL. (Family of 5 people) One thing about 'Freestyle' cruising is that everyone else on the ship can be 'Freestylin' at the same time you are!  Thus leading to wonderful wait times.  Very crowded... the only place more challenging to find seats than the main cafe is the pool area.  Either that or there are more Invisible people on this ship than any other I've been on. I'll get the other negatives out of the way first... specifically with regards to NCL.... be prepared to be nickel and dime'd while on the ship.  I was afraid every time I flush a charge may appear.  I wish they would just charge a Higher rate initially as a pose to trying to make up for it in junk fees/charges and their 'used car salesmen' type tactics. We're not overly picky about stuff so I would say everything as far as amenities was sufficient and the food was average, although we didn't try all the Specialty Restaurants despite ncl's constant reminders.  Even while at dinner in the Pacific Room a lady comes around with menu's of the other Restaurants and how wonderful they are and to make a reservations.  Also, the bartender at the pool/deck bars automatically upgrade you for a souvenir cup when you purchase a drink... at this point we're on the ship for 4 days, can't I simply get a drink without purchasing another cup with an ncl logo? Ironically... the only tv channels are bbc and ncl shopping, ncl activities, ncl cruising and NCL NCL NCL! (but this is not a huge factor due to long port days and other activities) With that said...  the itinerary (main reason for choosing ncl) was terrific. We did not use any of ncl's excursions and I'm glad we elected not to!!  I'll just list a basic summary for each Port of call and tour companies used. Being that it's our 1st time in these places we did not want the hassle and stress of figuring things out on our own.  It is definitely better value to just book a tour guide.   I'll post the driver's names for each later since I can't recall some of them right now.  But each of them were extremely professional and knowledgeable! Malta: Tour Company used: SwanSea Car Hire  Http://www.malta-car-hire.com, very pleasant driver!  Went to Mdina first - It's like going back in time once you're in there... a quick stop at the glass factory and then to Blue Grotto - the buses drops you off further up the road but the vans can bring you right to the pier to purchase tickets. We also stopped at Marsaloxx (wrong spelling probably), a nice little fishing village, colorful boats, flea market type shops and places to sample local beer.  We then got dropped off at the Gardens in Valletta and then walked around and back to the ship. (This was all very manageable within 5 hours and we had a great time... Try and catch the sail in and sail away it really is beautiful!)  Naples: Tour company used:  Sorrento Silver Tours. Also very knowledgeable, friendly and pleasant! First stop at Pompeii - We elected not to chose a tour guide just so we can move at our own pace.  My parents would have preferred the color commentary as we walked around (the audio rentals or guide can help with that) but it's fairly easy to walk around and figure out whats going on.  Guides are available at the site (near the railway entrance if you don't pre-book one) We then drove along the coast, made a couple of stops to get pictures and a brief stop in Positano and then to Sorrento, nice place, had a nice lunch here and walked around and then took the ferry back from Sorrento to Naples (about 30 minutes) Our driver went down to the port ahead of time to confirm the ferry schedule and purchase tickets just to be sure... which is a good idea! Rome: Tour Company Used: AllArounditaly.net  Email: info@allarounditaly.net  Our guide was Fabrizio, a gentleman and a scholar... what a great call this was!  My family finally thinks highly of me just for choosing this company.  We covered all the highlights of Rome and no complaints with anything.  Email him directly and he'll customize the tour and provide recommendations for pre-purchasing Museum tickets etc.  Much more personable and better than the romeinlimo company that is posted everywhere.  Definitely recommend his services. Florence: Chose allarounditaly again.  (there seem to be plenty of Taxi's at the port eager to bring you into Florence at decent rates but we felt more comfortable using allarounditaly.  Also, it is key getting out before the tour buses hit the road and beat some of the traffic) Stopped by Pisa to catch the leaning tower (no need to climb it) We then drove through the countryside in the Chianti region and a quick stop for some Wine.  Then a stop at a Scenic Overlook of Florence and then into Florence.  Plenty to do there... museums, churches, restaurants, shops, and all within walking distance for the most part.  Pre-purchased tickets to see David and everything went very smoothly.  Florence was probably the nicest of all and very charming.  Cannes: We had nothing booked for Cannes but we walked out as there is plenty to see along the coast line and a beach right to the left of the pier.  But we ran into a guide who offered to bring us to Nice, Monaco/Monte Carlo and so we decided to do it since a cab would not be feasible for 5 adults.  What a great call this turned out to be as well.  Made a few stops driving along Cannes, the Blvd, towards Nice and then Monaco catching all the mansions, famous hideaways, raceway, casino etc.  Spent a few minutes walking around Cannes and then at the public beach (which is right outside the port) Overall, this was a great time!!  Again, do not be afraid of using private tour companies... better service and often they can get into nooks that a big tour bus just wouldn't have the time or a way to get into.  And at a fraction of the cost.  Happy Travels! 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Sail Date July 2009
Hopefully this review is helpful to any future cruisers on the Gem and or people following the same cruise itinerary. I'll try to give as many critical details as possible in order to assist those planning for this cruise or looking ... Read More
Hopefully this review is helpful to any future cruisers on the Gem and or people following the same cruise itinerary. I'll try to give as many critical details as possible in order to assist those planning for this cruise or looking into going on the Gem (NCL) in the future. I focused primarily on the ship and give short comments on the ports. The ports are all awesome, you can't really go wrong. I will give some critical info on each. We have cruised the Med, the Nile, and the Canary Islands all on different cruise lines that offer different styles of cruising. Last year we all did the Eastern Med with Costa Cruise lines (Costa Serena) and this year we all wanted to complete the Mediterranean by cruising the Western Med. We are traveling as a family of six, which can make it a challenge sometimes, but well worth it for the looks of awe on everyone's faces when they see the ship and the exotic ports of call. I want to put the biggest positive and negative right up front. First the biggest negative with NCL. Double charging on gratuity. This is really a low-class act and I feel like I was robbed (Not sure if I can forgive this of NCL). Beautiful ship with a great atmosphere, but you charge gratuity twice! What gives? not making enough money? I doubt it. Here's the deal: NCL charges each customer over the age of THREE, $12 every day for service charges, then if you go to the bar or a specialty restaurant they add 15% gratuity on to your bill automatically. This is tasteless. NCL...Hey! You are going to lose customers, not because its too expensive, but because people don't like to feel like they are getting robbed. Think about this policy (word is spreading). I paid for 6 people $72 everyday just in service charges, then another 15% when I ordered some drinks. Now, the biggest positive with NCL. The layout of the ship and dining options were excellent. The ship is an awesome ship and has something for everyone of any age, so many activities. Another big plus, the embarkation and disembarkation of the ship was "hands down" no competition - the smoothest ever, well done. Very professional crew and ship. The ship (Common areas): No doubt, The ship is beautifully decorated and very clean. All the common areas on the ship were unique from each other and nicely done with comfortable chairs, couches, and even beds! It is a very well designed ship with many areas for families, to include smaller children. For the most part there was plenty of room for all the passengers to hang out and not feel so crowded (With the exception of the sun decks around the pool, I'll get to that later). If you are traveling with or without children this ship has something for all. The ships crew was for the most part in good spirits and helpful. We had one incident with the crew at the port of Livorno that was a little disappointing (I'll get to that later). The rooms: We had 2 rooms. One was a balcony room and the other was an inner room directly across the hall (Our room numbers were 8028 and 8029). The rooms were very nice and the beds and linen are very comfortable. The bathrooms were the largest we had seen on a ship with nice roomy showers. The rooms were decent size with plenty of storage to unpack and stow away your suitcases under the bed. The TV were nice, but I have to say we don't go on a cruise to watch TV. I have seen people complain about how many TV channels there were on board. Are you kidding me? We like to put the TV on the Navigation channel so we know where we are and look out over the balcony trying to spot wildlife. We seen about 4 large groups of dolphins and some flying fish on this trip. Last year in the Eastern Med we seen dolphins and a sea turtle! Awesome! Hey! You can watch TV at home. The sun deck and pool areas: As expected on a cruise ship with 3000 passengers, it can be very crowded at times in the prime locations near and around the pools. One really good thing they have on the Gem is a separate pool for adults only (And they enforce it). I liked that because compared to the Costa cruise we took last year, it was nice to go to a pool that didn't have 200+ little screaming Italian kids and there mothers in it. The pool areas are very nice with lots of areas to relax in quiet areas or be closer to the action of the pool. No surprise I have to complain about the rude inconsiderate jerks that feel that they can reserve a spot on the sun deck all day long (You know who you are). I really hate these people that feel that they can place a towel or fold a chair down and reserve a spot when they go take a break or go eat and think they should have the same spot (Because its such a good spot). NCL has a policy that if you leave for more than 30 minutes they will remove the towels, but unfortunately it doesn't appear to be enforced (too bad). Note: To the people that came back to "their" chairs 2 hours later to find my family there and your towels missing, no apologies, and I hope you had to pay the missing towel fees! yes, it was me, kiss my you know what! If NCL won't enforce it, I recommend a little vigilante towel removal. Biggest violators appeared to be all the European passengers, they also have a problem with lines. What's up my European cousins? Why so rude? Dining: When looking for a cruise line we liked the idea of the NCL "Freestyle" dining options. Overall, I'd say the food was very good. Not always excellent, but very good. Sometimes it was more exceptional than others. Fact is, if you don't like what you have you can just eat again! There are so many free options to eat, that you are certainly not going to starve on this ship. We ate out at a specialty restaurant that had a cover charge. We ate Tequila's Latin (Tex-Mex) for a cover charge of $10 per person. It was good food, but to pay extra for it, I'd say no. There are many really good free options, so why pay? The free restaurants we ate at were the Grand Pacific (formal sit-down), Garden cafe (Buffet), Blue Lagoon (American Diner type), and the Great Outdoors (Buffet). All had great options and like I said, if you didn't like what you had, order something else or pick-up something else from the buffet. There are so many options, no reason to starve. Personally I liked the Grand Pacific (Be advised there is dress code- No swim suits or shorts for men). I liked it because I prefer a nice dinner with my family and to be served rather than being a part of feeding frenzy at a buffet. The buffet was convenient and the fastest way, but finding a table was occasionally a challenge. Recommend that you find a table first, then get your over-flowing plates of food. The Blue Lagoon was also good, but more like bar type food (Hamburgers, Wraps, hot wings, Fish and chips, a bunch of appetizers). Overall, we all enjoyed the dining on the Gem and liked the NCL "freestyle dining". The best time to eat dinner is before 8PM, after that the restaurants appear to start really filling up. The entertainment: We all really liked the shows, very entertaining. "Colors" was very good and performers did a great job. The improv comedy was hilarious! The comedians were awesome. we also did bingo, we didn't win anything but it was fun for all, kids play free with an adult. Casino was also very nice. The excursions: We did not do any excursions with NCL. Bottom line- Too expensive when your traveling with 6 people. It made more sense and was cost effective to go alone or use an independent tour operator (Which every port has). All the port calls were excellent locations with so much to see. We were not disappointed. Overall, I do recommend the Gem and the Western Med. It is a really great ship that will stay in our memories forever, unforgettable trip! Compared to the other cruise lines we have been with, I'd say NCL is not better nor worse, they all deliver a slightly different customer experience for approx. the same price. Like I had mentioned the only real downside with NCL is the double charging on service charges (Nickle and dime the customer at any chance). If you calculate that into the cost and forget about it then maybe it won't bother you (exactly what NCL would want you to do). I didn't let it bother me during the cruise (I was too busy), but I hope someone with some rank from NCL will read this and maybe make a change for the better (Show some class). There is so much potential with NCL, they are leading the way with modern cruising ideas (i.e. Free style dining, on-board activities). To the crew I say a big thank you for keeping the ship so clean and running so efficiently. Great job! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
As first time cruisers we were unsure what to expect on this cruise. We had a very busy summer and not much time to plan out a very detailed European travel itinerary so when I stumbled on this port intensive cruise I thought it would be a ... Read More
As first time cruisers we were unsure what to expect on this cruise. We had a very busy summer and not much time to plan out a very detailed European travel itinerary so when I stumbled on this port intensive cruise I thought it would be a very easy way to see several places on our list of places to see. I'll split this review up into several categories to make it easier to read. FYI, we are a 29 and 25 year old couple from a large city on the east coast. Ship Overall: Very nice. I thought it was a good size, not too large, not too small, very clean, and pretty easy to get around. I loved the promenade deck, had great walks around there and liked that it was so close to the water. Pool deck was nice, but music could have been a little quieter especially in the evening when I would go to have a fruity cocktail and watch the sunset. Apparently there were 1000 kids on our boat which made this area a little hectic during the sea day and later afternoons after sailing from ports, but I expected that given the dates we went corresponded to most US and European vacations. The upper forward deck was very peaceful and quiet, perfect for falling asleep on the big beds or in a lounge chair. We didn't go to any shows, but had fun in the Casino and came out ahead for the week (+$40 and 3 bottles of 'bubbly' from the quarters game). Embarkation was a breeze and disembarkation was even easier, we didn't give them our luggage, opting to do the 'freestyle disembarkation' where we just kept our bags and wheeled them off with us. While the boat wanted 40 dollars per person for a 6am transfer for our 10am flight we got off around 7:15 right into a cab that cost 30 Euros to the airport. Room: We were in balcony stateroom 9122. Which was sort of 'aft midship' This was a 'BB' cabin which was a free upgrade from a 'BC' cabin. As this was our first cruise I had a mini-panic attack about how small the room might be a few weeks prior to cruising. I called NCL and tried to upgrade to a suite but the ship was sold out. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the room. Our only complaint is that it didn't seem like it had been thoroughly cleaned prior to our check in, or the laundry had a bad load, as there were several black hairs on our bed and pillow cases when we checked in. The top shelf (above the tv) also had about a millimeter of dust on it and clearly hadn't been cleaned in a while, maybe ever. It was me and my girlfriend together and we found that while not overly large there was plenty of room for the two of us. She enjoyed that there was a vanity to help her blow dry her hair and do her makeup, while I loved having the balcony for both the view and the fact that I could sit out there for hours watching the water go by. I thought the balcony to be more than adequate size with rather comfortable chairs. My only complaint was that when we got on the ship our balcony glass was absolutely filthy, I asked for it to be cleaned but it wasn't and I ended up taking towels and doing it myself, made a huge difference. I believe we would have gone nuts in a window only room and probably would have killed each other in an inside stateroom, but that's just us. The bathroom was fine and there was ample closet and shelf space for all our clothes, we brought collapsible luggage which fit under the bed and saved us quite a bit of space. One hint, my gf said the hair dryer wasn't very powerful so if you have one at home that works it might pay to bring it. Food: I read lots of reviews on here prior to sailing which ranged from 'excellent food' to people saying 'inedible, I starved all week'. Frankly, I found the food to be excellent within reason. Were the meals equivalent to what we'd get in a five star restaurant in a major city? Not exactly, but we found them to be quite delicious and definitely more than edible. We ate at Grand Pacific the first night, then Magenta every other night except for one night where the wait for Magenta was over an hour (for two) and we decided to eat at Le Bistro and it was worth the money. Versace plates add a nice touch as well. We decided we liked Magenta more than Grand Pacific (slightly quieter more intimate setting). We made reservations for Magenta for the rest of the trip and had excellent meals each time. While I'm no cruise expert, I think that we had so much luck during our meals because we ordered entrees that seemed like they would be good given the fact that we were on a cruise ship. I don't know how to explain this well but some things just seemed like they'd be easier to make or seem fresher given that almost everything is frozen prior to cooking. Also, since I spoke to a staff member and found out that they reprovisioned in Rome, I figured that the night we sailed from Rome the tomato bisque would be excellent and it absolutely was (Roma tomatoes?). For breakfast we ate in the Garden Cafe every morning, and everything was great, could be hard to find a seat but never too difficult. After some excursions we would come back to the boat extremely hungry and found that the Buffalo wings, chicken fingers, and mozz sticks at the blue lagoon were great afternoon snacks to hold us over until dinner (which we usually ate at 8 or 9). We ordered the room service a few early mornings to get us out of bed for excursions, and if nothing else it was nice to have coffee, orange juice, and fruit to munch on while I watched the sunrise from our balcony. Hint: Make reservations for any restaurant, even the main dining room, as they get filled up sort of quick. This probably won't change until they make the rates for the specialty restaurants lower or the economy improves. Also, if you get a reservation for 2 in magenta you have a high (for us 100%) chance of getting a window table, which is nice. Service: This was sort of hit or miss. As one of our excursion friends said, the fixed daily service charge seems to lead to a sense of complacency among some of the staff. Bar staff was great (with auto gratuity they should be), and we had generally good service during dinners. Our cabin attendants weren't that great, they just didn't seem interested. I asked for 2 wine glasses for a bottle of wine we didn't finish at dinner and was simply told 'I don't have any'. If he had gotten them then or within a few minutes I would have directly given him a few dollars, but he made no effort whatsoever. Same thing after asking for my balcony glass to be cleaned. I think it would have been different had they actually been working for an unknown tip at the end of the week. The rest of the staff seemed better, but I think the whole 'pool of tips' for service staff is not a great idea. Maybe keep the service charge but give each passenger 12 small chips per day to hand out to service staff when good service has been performed, and let them redeem them for a larger share of the pool, would also help to weed out the poor service people as they would never receive any chips. Shore Excursions: I'm going to keep this short. Basically, why anybody would do an excursion through the ship is beyond me (we didn't). Get on the boards, and meet people in the roll call. Best idea ever. Valetta: Did this on our own, walked around Valetta, saw the War Museum, Old Theatre, Palace Rooms, and Cathedral. Had lunch in the square. I would recommend Valetta on your own, only go with a tour if you want to go out of the city. Naples: Met a group through the CruiseCritic.com boards and did a tour with Mariano with Pleasant Travel. Our group of 5 went to Pompeii for a few hours, then drove over the mountain to Amalfi for a little while, had lunch in Rivello, then drove along the coast through Positano to Sorrento. Had an hour to walk around Sorrento and then took the fast ferry back to the port. We had a great time, and excellent tour guide for Pompeii (got us into locked homes, away from the large ship groups, who he called 'the barbarians). Total cost per person was about 1/3 what it would have been through the ship, and we had a nice Mercedes van for our small group. My only reservation about this itinerary was that it was a lot of driving. I think it would be better to either do Pompeii alone, Pompeii and Sorrento, or Amalfi coast alone, but to do all three ended up being quite a bit of time in the car and not much time for sightseeing or shopping in Amalfi or Sorrento (which was our favorite stop of the entire trip, definitely get some limoncello) Rome: Same group as Naples, however our tour was with Fabrizio from AllAroundItaly (www.allarounditaly.net). He was fantastic, very enjoyable and entertaining during the drive from the port to Rome. He seemed to really enjoy what he was doing and gave us a great day. We saw the Coliseum, Pantheon, Circus Maximus, and then we split off from the rest of our group and did a private tour of the Vatican Museum with a tour guide Fabrizio set up for us, Serena. She was excellent, very knowledgeable. Anyways I would highly recommend Fabrizio, he seems to be well liked across Cruise Critic. He has a great new Mercedes van with very powerful a/c. Florence: Different group, our tour was with Rome In Limo, which I didn't think was very impressive. Our 'driver guide' was more of just a driver, and the 'air conditioned van' wasn't so air conditioned, we had the windows open a lot. We did see a lot in Florence, and had plenty of time to walk around. Florence is a city I'd like to go back to for a couple of days, there is a lot to see and it is in a beautiful part of Italy. We went to a Chianti vineyard on our way back to Livorno, unfortunately the wine wasn't very good (we aren't big fans of Chianti) so we didn't buy any but the people at the vineyard were very nice. Cannes: We decided to take it easy this day since it was a short port visit and we were exhausted from the previous 4 days of sightseeing. Walked around the shops, saw the yachts, helped the French luxury economy a bit, then after walking around looking for a lunch spot decided to just head back to the ship and eat at the great outdoors with a beautiful view of Cannes on the back of the boat (cost: free). Overall: We had a great time. We called our trip 'Italy light' since it was a little hectic to see all the sights in various cities in one day. Anyways it was easy, which was great, and gave us a good idea of where we would like to go back to the next time we visit Italy. We had spent a few days in Barcelona prior to the cruise and enjoyed that as well (not as much as Italy though). Basically, on the first day my girlfriend said to me 'are we gonna become cruisers', to which I laughed. By the end of the trip she was discussing trying to get on the new Epic ship when it first sails. I think we will probably try to do either the 7 or 14 day Greek Isles cruise on the Gem next summer. Bon Voyage Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
First day back at work after our cruise.  Here's a few personal observations.I thought the general attitude of the passengers was a little more inconsiderate than when I did the NCL Jewel on a similar itinerary two years ago.  There ... Read More
First day back at work after our cruise.  Here's a few personal observations.I thought the general attitude of the passengers was a little more inconsiderate than when I did the NCL Jewel on a similar itinerary two years ago.  There was a lot more cutting into lines and just pushing around you as if you didn't exist.  At the chocoholic buffet, we actually got disgusted and left.  When you see an inconsiderate boob carrying three plates of cake, pushing around you because they're going to starve to death if they don't get a fourth - give me a break already!I don't know why people have to stand in front of doorways to have their conversations.  The ship's large enough that they can move three feet so other passengers can walk through the doorways.  I felt like I was on a cruise going out of New York (where I live).  I'm not politeness-man, but when a 35 year old man pushes me out of the way on the ice cream line at the buffet - come on already you pig!  It's not going to run out.Chair hogs - well, you've heard all that before.Anyhow, my main purpose isn't to complain, just wanted to get that off my chest.The ship is wonderful.  We were in aft balcony 9674 and were very pleased with the room (although I wouldn't spend the extra $500 for a BA that I did versus a regular BB balcony again.  For a suite, that would be a different story).   Our room steward, Christopher, was great and kept us in clean towels and a tidy room, what more could you ask for?Every time you look over your shoulder, there was somebody cleaning something.  The public areas were well policed and cleaned, except the last day when 20-30 knot winds kicked up leaving Cannes and glasses, plates and food were blowing around the sun deck.  Nobody from the ship came up to pick anything up, and I wasn't going to clean up after the rest of the passengers.We didn't attend any of the shows - just weren't interested.  The earliest we dinned was 9:00, usually 9:30 and once at 10:30.  We ate at Cagney's twice, it was great both times.  The Grand Pacific dining room always had a line when we went there so we chose the Magenta dining room instead.  Food was good, service was great.  Blue Lagoon was so-so, very limited menu, more like appetizers than dinner.  Tequila's was really good - we had the fajitas for two and a pitcher of white Sangria that we couldn't finish.  We did the buffet for breakfast most mornings and had room service once.  Omlettes could have been made with a little less oil, scrambled eggs were delicious, if you like them soaked in butter (I do).  They had eggs Benedict with spinach instead of Canadian bacon, which saved me a good 50 calories for the week.The poolside bar makes a really good hamburger, and a little hint for you, the ketchup dispenser is always empty but the one labeled "Sauce" is ketchup.  The french fries at the pool were consistently great (hot, salty, crispy outside and potato-ey inside).Good choices for salads for the health conscious, if you take it easy with the dressing.Embarkation was a bit slow.  There was a bizarre twist with some international immigration law that between July 5 and July 15, the Italian government wanted the ship to collect our passports so they could be presented for inspection on docking in Naples.  (Don't ask me to explain, I'm just a guest.)  They took our passports on embarkation, gave us a photocopy, and gave them back on Wednesday afternoon when we left Naples.  I think that process was just for our cruise, your upcoming cruise shouldn't be affected.Disembarkation was a breeze.  We walked off the ship with our luggage at about 8:45 and there was no line.  However, at 8:15, you couldn't find a seat at the buffet because it was full, so I'm guessing people who waited until 9:30 to leave may have had a different experience.We didn't do any ship excursions.  The one I wanted they cancelled, so we did the Italian train system instead.Real quickly on the stops:Malta - Hired a private gondola for a harbor tour, right outside the boat.  I seem to remember 30 Euros for the two of us for a 40 minute ride.  Well worth it.  Then we walked through town.  The trip leaving Malta was fun.  The city is an amazing site to see and the ship plays some very dramatic music.  You'll probably love it.Naples - Hired a private taxi driver on the pier to take us to Pompeii.  He waited 2 hours while we toured the ruins, then drove us to Sorrento and waited another hour and a half while we walked around and had some pizza and wine.  We paid him 150 Euro, plus a 25 euro tip.Rome - Took the train from Civvitachevia.  We walked off the boat and walked out of the pier (yes, it is legal in Civvitachvia).  There is a shuttle bus but it was full and they told us it would be half an hour until the next one, so we walked.  We saw three shuttle buses go by while we walked!  Anyhow, it's about half an hour walk from the ship to the train station.  We bought a BIRG ticket for 9 Euro.  That gives you unlimited travel on trains and the Rome metro for a 24 hour period after you validate your ticket.  Another note:  after we bought our tickets, nobody checked them either in Civvatechia or in Rome.  We could have just walked onto the train.  Livorno:  We planned to take the 10:00 train to Florence and got off the ship at 9AM.  Big mistake.  The shuttle bus from the ship to Livorno got us there at 9:50, and we couldn't find a taxi willing to take us to the train station.  So instead, we took a 15 Euro bus tour to Pisa.  You pick it up where the port shuttle drips you off.   That was for round trip air conditioned bus to Pisa, and two hours at Pisa.  Cannes:  We walked off the ship, browsed in the flea market, shopped around for another half hour and spent two hours on the beach sunning ourselves.Our only real problem on the entire cruise was when my GF put a diamond necklace in a napkin to straighten out the chain, followed by yours truly deciding to tidy up the cabin by throwing out all the papers laying around.  (NCL does provide a bit of paper advertisement you know.)   When we realized the next day, we called ship's security and I asked them if they would look through the garbage, but I guess you know where this story is heading. (The steward told me garbage is incinerated quickly and yesterday's trash was definitely burned up by now).  The head of security offered to tear the cabin apart to search for the necklace, but we didn't want to waste half a day when we were sure the necklace was gone.  They filled out a report for us to give to our insurance company and we'll see what happens.My GF was very upset, but it was spilled milk and we focused on enjoying  the rest of the trip.  Which we did.  I think the cabin steward was even more upset - he must have figured we were going to blame him.Bottom line:  I'd go back in a second, even with all the slobs at the buffet! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
I read a lot of reviews to try to become informed as possible before embarking on this cruise.  It was only my second cruise and wanted to try to be prepared.  We used RomeInLimo at two of the ports and were extremely pleased.I ... Read More
I read a lot of reviews to try to become informed as possible before embarking on this cruise.  It was only my second cruise and wanted to try to be prepared.  We used RomeInLimo at two of the ports and were extremely pleased.I originally booked an inside cabin, but switched to an obstructed ocean view when they became available at a price cheaper than the inside cabins.  There was a view between the lifeboats from one of the two windows.  Lots of storage space and a great cabin steward, made the stay very pleasant.  The only annoying thing was that the Gem uses the life boats to tender into Cannes, and 2 of the 4 boats used happened to be outside my cabin. I got woken up about 6:15am by the noise of the boats being lowered.  I took advantage of the early wake up by heading out to the pool deck where I had the pool and hot tubs to myself and a nice view of the beautiful coastline.  (Mid-morning on, expect most chaises at pool to be "taken".   Although there are signs saying unattended items will be removed from chairs after 30 minutes, this is not enforced.We had dinner in the Magenta every night and were quite pleased most nights.  We dined on Lobster, Prime Rib and Rack of Lamb on various nights.  Only one night was the dinner selection a little sub-par.  The service was good on all but one night also.  Strangely, sometimes you were handed a wine list when you were seated and sometimes it took several requests to get one.  Several mornings we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific and had no complaints.  Great melon, made to order omlettes, etc.We only ate at the buffet for a snack or late lunch.  It can be somewhat chaotic, and difficult to find a table at peak times.  However, the food was mostly good and many offerings changed daily.  The Great Outdoors has a little calmer atmosphere, which we preferred.  We had breakfast there once and lunch a couple of times.  It has a more limited buffet but the calmer atmoshphere and great views make up for that.The chocoholic buffet was dissapointing and very chaotic.  (It was held in the buffet restaurant).The two shows I saw were fair to good.  They were the Second City show and the Around the World show on the final evening.  Botht took place in the Stardust.Read on for port reviews - Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Based on other reviews of this NCL ship, My wife and I thought we had made a good choice for this years holiday.How wrong can you be?Sunday 12th July 2009, Embarkation in Barcelona, - We were picked up at our hotel and dropped off around ... Read More
Based on other reviews of this NCL ship, My wife and I thought we had made a good choice for this years holiday.How wrong can you be?Sunday 12th July 2009, Embarkation in Barcelona, - We were picked up at our hotel and dropped off around noon. Completed the details and told we would get our passports back on Wednesday, with no explaination as to why. Got on board to be told the cabins would be ready after 2pm, left to find the cabin ourself, with the aid of the ship map. Shortly after we are handed a drink in a goldfish shaped bowl, however we were not told that they cost $10 each and the glass is a souvineer. I complained about this the following day and the cost was eventually removed.  In General       Cabins - Cleanliness in the cabin was not great. A layer of dust was on most surfaces (high shelves, table base, lights) but not the table or dresser unit. Well stocked mini bar ($7 for a minature of whiskey etc). Bed was comfortable.     Bar drinks wine / whiskey start at $5-95 plus 15% tip, however there is room on the tab for you to increase the tip if you like. Best bar for peace and quite (unless kids are going by) the Malting Bar.     Food - There may be 13 dining options but only 4 are included in the price, the others charge $15 - $25 per head. The Cafe Garden is self service. You have to get a table first the go for your food one at a time or you could end up eating off you plate as you search for a seat. The Grand Pacific has nothing grand about it, the staff are poor - mixing up orders, food in most cases not just cold but chilled, wine list is expensive for poor quality wine ($28 +15% for a bottle you might buy for £3.99 at the supermarket). Restaurants have short opening times so breakfast tended to be in the Cafe Garden.We tried the Sushi bar one night ($30) but instructions as to how to order would have been helpful. When you order a small roll, you get eight pieces of the same thing.     Pool side - NOISE and hard to find a lounger without towels (they are supposed to be removed by staff after 30 minutes. No they are not.    Excursions - examples Rome transfer $199 / Florence & Pisa (with lunch) $239 / PISA $87 - we took the local excursion 15 euros each. A couple told us the train was 4.40 return .    Two deck high video wall - WI fit played occasionally (good laugh watching some of the kids) mainly NCL advert screens. Beware you will be charged for coffee at the JAVA Cafe.   BING BONG - this could drive you mad. on some occasions this went off three or four times on the trot to tell us about bingo in 10mins, Art auction in 15mins, then five minutes later the same again to tell us the bingo would be in 5mins.    STAFF - to get served you have to approach the staff, though not in the Maltings Bar.     Casino - Opens 30mins after sailing. Table rate starts at $5 on one table and upwards at the others. Very few people played the tables. If the made the minimum bet $1 or 50c more people would play and NCL would not be out of pocket, staffing tables that no one wants to play.    Ship tips - you are expected to pay $12 per head (also for children over 3) on top of the £100 per day cruise charge. After the week we had, I complained about this and completed a sheet listing may complaints and got the charges removed.Final thoughts - NOISE, 2700 passengers approx. and around 1000 of them kids. Cold food . Over priced drink and excursions.Would I recommend NCL, what do you think. I could not agree more with David Boyes, who reviewed the Norwegian JADE. I will not be using NCL again.    Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
We left from Barcelona on Sunday.  Embarkation was a breeze.  The Gem is a very nice boat, very comfortable beds. Luckily, we had a day at sea on monday which we enjoyed relaxing by the pool  Went to Malta on Monday.  Itis beautiul ... Read More
We left from Barcelona on Sunday.  Embarkation was a breeze.  The Gem is a very nice boat, very comfortable beds. Luckily, we had a day at sea on monday which we enjoyed relaxing by the pool  Went to Malta on Monday.  Itis beautiul early in the morning when the sun is coming up.  The island itself is beautiful and very clean.  We got a cab for 2 hours for 60 euros.  Well worth it. We went to the presidential garden, a glass factory and then on to Mdina-a beautiful city within a fort-very well maintained.  Then we went to Valleta and walked around.  Very nice city-clean and the food is reasonable. We went to a church I think St. John's that was beautiful inside.  Many knights tombs wre in there.Then we walked back to the ship from there.The next three days we hired a drive from yourtourinitaly.com.  That was the best move we made!!! The first 2 days we had Aldo.  He speaks very good English, is most knowlegable of his country and extremely pleasant to be around.  We left the port of Naples and drove to Sorrento.  Walked around there for awhile, had a cappacno, and then on to Positano, a beautiful town overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  Shopped for awhile and then drove up to the top of the mountain to a  wonderful Italian retaurant that served lunch family style with wine.  Wonderful desserts and of course,Limoncello.  Then of to Pompeii.  Aldo  arranged for us to have ourown personal guide there for 2 hours.  well worth it.  Just an amazing place.  The next day we met Aldo at 7:30 and off we were to Rome.  We got to the Coliseum before any of the tour busses and the big crowds.  Aldo made sure we saw as much of Rome as we possibly could.We ate lunch at his favorite pizza place.  Very good, very thin pizza.  Als had some garlic bread that was to die for.  I think having a private driver is the only way to go.  We saw so much more of Rome than you could possibly see on a tour bus.  It may be a little pricey but well worth it!!  The next day we had a different.  driver.  He was good, also.  Went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then on to Florence.  Another beautiful cfity.   Saw  the swatue of David-absolutely breath taking.  The next day we went to Cannes.  We had hoped to get a cab but there were none around. Didn't realize it would be so hard to get a cab.  Took a trolley tour.  Just okay.  Should have  planned. this port better.                             The ship itself was nice enough.  The food in the main dining room was adequate, some nights there were no choices we lik ed and .  Ate at La Cucina twice.  It was good with good service.  Le Bisto is amust well worth the$15 cover charge!!!outstanding food, marvelous desser.. Also ate at the Blue Lagoon a couple of times.  It is on the 8th floor  far away from the maddening crowd at the buffet.  Good burgers dogs and fish and chips.  Didn't care much for the buffet.  Too crowded and food was  cold.  Enjoyed all the shows except the comedian/illusionist.  Second City was hysterical.  Enjoyed the casino.  It was just a most memorable week  Wish we were still there.ts                                                                                                                                                                                     Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
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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