139 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

Our family of 5 ( three teen sons) arrived in Barcelona a day early ( highly recommend in case of flight delays which we had) and stayed a day late to sight see.  If you are a family of five in Europe, you will have to go in two taxis or ... Read More
Our family of 5 ( three teen sons) arrived in Barcelona a day early ( highly recommend in case of flight delays which we had) and stayed a day late to sight see.  If you are a family of five in Europe, you will have to go in two taxis or take one big van which mostly has to be arranged since they are not always available at airports or taxi stops.  We took the advice of cruise critics on this website and my husband wrote down the address of our port.  He also wrote several times the address of our hotels, etc and handed one  to each of our sons in case they got lost.  The port was most impressive because of its size and cleanliness.  We were helped upon leaving the taxi with our bags and check in was a total of 17 minutes.  We chose to stay in the Pent House Suite which is so worth the money.  It is single-handedly worth the free breakfast and lunch at Cagney's every day.  Our room was ready and it was only 11 in the morning.  The Gem:Highlights only:  Concierge and butler are very friendly and accommodating.  I loved being left alone for privacy when needed and this can be accomplished by adjusting the dial on the door of your stateroom. WONDERFUL. There is plenty to do on the ship.  My boys favorites were soccer, basketball and shuffleboard and hanging by pool.  The pool is great and the chairs are comfy.  You have to get there early if you want a seat...as early as 9 a.m.  I never did get one of those comfy chairs on the forward top deck; they were in high demand!!!  Very quiet zone there. Did not participate in shows  or casino as often as most but loved family Bingo. It was so fun and entertaining!!!!  Even kids can play.  Restaurants:  Garden Cafe was not my favorite but acceptable to the children for ice cream.  I liked Magenta and Grand Pacific and the poolside buffet much more.  Best deal we had was  going to Cagney's in the morning for breakfast ( penthouse suite and up) and having French press coffee and eggs benedict and excellent service.  Overall food was above average for the number of people being served on the ship.  At dinner, I stuck with beef.  My two experiences with fish were only average.  The specialty restaurants were always good.  Best experience with specialties was Mexican, French and Sushi not Teppenyaki but sushi only.  I told a friend that the ship food was not worth  gaining weight over but the mixed drinks were!  I recommend a yellow bird in that category.  Had one when we met the captain.  My experience with the beauty salon ( blowout) was wonderful.  I got to know the hairdresser and as the week progressed she offered me special deals and one was three mini treatments for $89!  LOVED IT> They took place in open room not behind closed doors but still private.  Spa was extra plus and part of the reason we chose this ship.I have not complained yet on my review but I must say that our cabin gave us a hard time because of its location.  With all of the research done, I still missed out on making SURE that there are no high traffic areas overhead.  We were in a luxurious penthouse with 5 people and the most comfortable bed ever in this world with the clean up crew overhead from midnight until six a.m.  To sum it up:  it awakened sleeping teenagers.  Norwegian Gem concierge was very understanding but had no where to move us.  Did get a credit on account which we hated to ask for but really affected our sleep.   Pompeii was our first NCL excursion and a very good one.  Highlight was climbing Mt. Vesuvius( level three tour and not easy at all; we wore our oldest clothes and shoes because they will be ashy in a big way when you return home) and we toured the area where the bodies were covered by ash. Port of Livorno my personal favorite was the tour of Pisa and Florence combined.  The only museum we entered was St. Croce in Florence but were able to skim the sights and have a wonderful lunch.  We were able to convince our NCL guide to give us two hours on our own and we ran to the sights we wanted to visit and ran back..literally.   I was so happy for this independence that she allowed.Last stop Cannes Frances and we were DETERMINED to get into the Mediterranean as we had sailed in it all week.  Slept in til ten, jumped off Gem and headed straight to beach.  ADVICE: wear your swimsuit.. no place to change but you can see the beach from the ship.  Had to be taken in by dingys and that was so fun!!!!  Teenagers will never be the same as French people have a wonderful body image and expose the better part of it.  There was nothing a Mother could do but go with it. Too late.  Swam for two hours and had a blast. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
NCL has loaded itineraries for a great value. This was our 4th cruise with the "Freestyle Dining". Even though, there were minor increases in some fees, cruising is a more affordable and convenient mode of visiting unchartered ... Read More
NCL has loaded itineraries for a great value. This was our 4th cruise with the "Freestyle Dining". Even though, there were minor increases in some fees, cruising is a more affordable and convenient mode of visiting unchartered waters. When you compare personal safety, the hassle of dragging luggage, transportation, hotel and food costs, cruising wins hands down. In less than 2 weeks, we saw about 17 different cities and/or villages. Even though we cruised, we were still able to experience the culture by taking trains, buses, subways, etc. In parenthesis below, I included our tour expenses in Euros, 100 Euros is approx. $140. - On our way to Barcelona, we had a 23 hour layover in Amsterdam. We had planned to take the train to our hotel, but we found a 3 1/2 hour tour that began at the airport with Holland Tours (50) and ended with them dropping us off at Anne Frank House to pick up our reserved tickets (8.50). Schiphol airport has lots of shopping and storage lockers. We took the train from Centraal Station to the airport (4.50). Amsterdam was very easy to get around and every thing was mostly in English. - ARRIVAL: We arrived in Barcelona a few days before the cruise. We took the airport bus (4.50) and it dropped us off at Plaza Catalunya. We booked 2 rooms on Las Ramblas at the Hotel Continental. All the rooms were decorated in pink. The inside rooms are not noisy. The balcony rooms are noisy. Every morning, they had a good breakfast with quiche, bacon, pastries, etc. Drinks & snacks, including wine and beer are available 24 hours. We caught the 2 day Hop on Bus (27) and night tour (16) by Busturistic at Plaza Catalunya. The night tour starts at 9:30pm and allows people to get off at Montjuic to see the dancing waters for about 1 hour. It ends about 11:30pm. In 2 days we saw the entire city. You can reserve these by going to the information booth, down the escalators at the Plaza Catalunya square directly across from El Corte Ingles. Some advice, for the night tour they recommend that you arrive at 9pm and wait for the tour, but people start lining up about 8:45pm to get a seat on the top level. There were so many people that 3 buses were used and there were still people waiting for last minute cancellations. -LAUNDRY: Near our hotel, we had a laundry with modern machines. It cost about 10 Euros to do a carry-on suitcase & shopping bag full of clothing. The laundry is located off Las Ramblas on Elizabeth street (2nd street that parallels Las Ramblas). Email me if you need exact location, but if you can locate Buenas Migas (excellent for cappuccinos, pastries, breakfast, etc., it's on the next street over. By the way, the hotel staff were very helpful in finding places we needed.- EMBARKATION 12pm: We planned to take the L3 to Drassanes near the port, but needed to pick up a few things on the way to the port. We found a luggage shop on Las Ramblas and purchased a rolling duffel bag (24) and then grabbed a taxi to the port (12). We arrived at the port around 12:00, purchased liters of water at the terminal (8) and flip-flops for the pool (5), ate at the buffet, went swimming and were in our cabin by 1:30, even though they say the cabins aren't ready until 2pm. We unpacked all our things and went to the bowling alley. The dining rooms were empty about 6pm. We had a table in the back and got to see ship pull away at 7pm.- MALTA 8am-3pm: We arranged a tour with Vince at Guide In Malta.net, 13 people (300), but ordered the Hypogeum (UNESCO World Heritage Site) tickets on our own. These get sold out several months in advance. We got off the ship at 8am, we toured the three cities, Hypogeum (20), Tarxien (6.50), Marsaloxx fishing village (excellent hand made souvenirs), Blue Grotto (7), St. John's Co-Cathedral (5), shopping through city of Valletta. While we were in the Palace Armoury, we had the opportunity of seeing the President of Malta, Dr. George Abela, arrive with his escorts. Vince was great, we saw a lot on our short time there.- NAPLES 8am -7pm: I had made inquires a few months back about trying to do Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri during our time in port. Most responses from independent drivers was "not enough time" (500). On cruise critic, we found train schedules by GSPLover that provided a very good itinerary for doing it yourself in several ports. We got off the ship about 8am and ended up in the 3rd row of taxis looking for a one-way to the train station. We were swarmed by taxi drivers in the 1st and 2nd row all wanting 20 Euros. We found Rafael with Abas Taxis who suggested 40 Euros each person for a stop at a cameo factory, Ercolano (Herculaneum), Pompeii, Amalfi Coast and Sorrento, so we jumped on that. While we were in Pompeii, we decided to catch the hydrofoil to the island of Capri (13.50). It was about a 15 minute ride and quite bumpy. We took the 1:45 and planned to take the 5:10 from Capri to Naples so we would have a few hours on Capri. They take MasterCard or Visa on the purchase in Sorrento for Capri, but only Euros in Capri to Naples. The hydrofoil to Capri was practically empty, except for a few groups from our ship. Upon arriving in Capri, we saw the boats to the Blue Grotto (11) also a short line. We took a funicular to the top of Capri to the city center for 1.50 Euros, had lunch and then took the funicular back down and got in line for the hydrofoil about 30 minutes before departure (16) to Naples. By the time it departed, all seats to Naples were taken. It was a 50 minute ride to Naples (also bumpy and at times, airborne LOL).  We arrived near our ship in Moll Beverallo by 6pm in time for boarding at 6:30pm and did our last minute shopping at the terminal. By the way, this is the 2nd time we were able to get wine bottles on board. It appears that Italy ports do their own screening and don't mind how many bottles you take back.-  ROME 7am-7pm: The port shuttles were late and people started to walk on their own to the train station. The shuttles started coming about 7:20am. They dropped us off on the main street and we walked to the train station. We purchased the BIRG ticket (9) and already had a detailed itinerary from another cruise critic member. If you want to see something special and not crowded, come out of the train station and make a left, you'll head past the Colosseum to St. Clement Church (backs to the same street), cross 2 streets, make a right and then a left on a side street to get to the front entrance. This church is definitely worth seeing and interesting for kids. The church is built in layers on top of another church from the 4th century. The bottom floor has a house from the 1st century with a spring still flowing through it. Back to the train station, we caught the train to the Vatican. We also had prepaid tickets (18) for 1pm and walked right in. Some sections of the museum close at 2pm, so we got into those first. On the way back to the train station, we found a pizza and gelato place, but got disoriented. We ended up taking a taxi to the train station. The train was packed with people sitting on the floor. This was the only bad part of the whole trip. We couldn't move until people got off the train a few stops later. On the way back to the ship, we found more shopping and gelato places in Civitavecchia. We waited until the last bus to the ship. This stop was the most reasonable of all. - LIVORNO 7am-7pm: We had no plans for this port. We really wanted to see Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I made reservations for the ship's tour (100), but canceled since it didn't stop at Pisa. We tried to take the train to Florence instead.  Phone reservations can be made to see the DAVID with no credit card required.  We grabbed a taxi to train station (20). When we arrived at the station, the driver, Elio from Livorno (cruise critic member), told us he would take us to Cinque Terre and then to Pisa for 64 Euros each. Because the Cinque Terre National Park entrance includes (8) the train between each village, we had time left over for Pisa. If you do the ship's tour, they use the ferries and it takes much longer and don't run as often as the train.- CANNES 7am-3pm: We considered the ship's tour on this stop (70), because it was a tendered port and the people with a tour had priority getting off the ship. The ship did not have a tour that combined the places we wanted to see, so we decided to take our chances with a train or taxi. We went to the gangway hoping to blend it with the tour people and it worked, we were off at 7:15 am. On a different gangway, they stopped other people in our group so we waited about 5 minutes for them at the port. One thing we noticed is that in the Spanish version of the Freestyle Daily Activities, the ship stated only people on tours have priority for getting on a tender. On the English version, it had no mention of it whatsoever. Either way, we ignored it because we pay those port charges and are entitled to the same time as other passengers. Cannes is a short walk from the port and very picturesque. We had no idea where we were going, the beach was empty. We asked around for a taxi and we were given different locations for the taxi stand. We walked about 5 minutes down the main street next to the marina, with other cruisers who got off the ship with us. We found a taxi stand across from the police station, but they wanted 400 Euros for 4 hours. We decided to take the train, so we continued and the locals told us how to get to the train station. It's about a 15 minute walk. Once inside the station, it was very easy to figure out where to go. While I was checking out the routes, my husband found a taxi for 5 people for 300 Euros for 6 hours. I gave him my list and he said he could do it all. So we stopped in Nice, passed the ship tours, made it to Monaco by 10 am for the changing of the guards, stopped at Monte Carlo, then continued to the Fragonard Perfume Factory for a free tour, purchased perfume cremes (so we wouldn't have problems in carryon bags), stopped in the village of Eze, St. Paul de Vence and then played on the beach as the ship tours waited in line to get back on the ship via tenders. -DISEMBARKATION 5am: We didn't get off the ship until about 9:30am. At this time, there was a long line for taxis and port bus. Eventually, an army of taxi's showed up and it cost 13 Euros to go back to Las Ramblas. We went to the same hotel, Hotel Continental, to check-in about 11am. Our rooms were ready and we had breakfast. We were going to do our laundry again, but discovered we could go to Montserrat Monastery on our own by train. The ship has this 4 hour tour for $85 each and we missed it. We also missed the Montserrat tour from Plaza Catalunya, because it leaves at 8:30am. Anyway, the hotel staff helped us again and we took the train to Plaza Espana where we caught the train to Montserrat, a tour booth for Montserrat is in the Plaza Espana train station. They had a package deal for 14 Euros. You have 2 options of getting up to the top, railway or cable. We chose the railway. They also have other tours that include lunch. If you make it there by noon on Sundays, you'll have the opportunity of seeing the boys choir sing. Pay attention to the last train that operates. We were back at our hotel by 6:30pm. - DEPARTURE, we were headed back to Los Angeles. We planned to take the airport shuttle (4.50), but the line was too long. We ended up doing a taxi (25). We wrapped all our luggage in plastic at the airport (6). 1 medium suitcase was loaded with souvenirs and wine bottles? We had a 23 hour layover in Paris and didn't want to drag all this with us. Air France held our luggage in storage at Charles De Gaulle. We chose a hotel that was next to a train stop (RER B) from the airport (5) in the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame so we would not use up our short time with train connections and getting lost. When we walked up the stairs onto a main street, I immediately recognized our surroundings, walked around a corner and found our hotel, Albe Hotel, with a bottom floor pâtisserie. The Latin Quarter is similar to Las Ramblas, with very affordable eating. I had previously studied the street view on google maps. I felt I had visited the city already. The next day, we jumped on the same train (RER B) and headed back to the airport (5). The flight on Air France was smooth and quick. Air France has great service, but the food served is too exotic for our American tastebuds. All our luggage arrived safely. - DISLIKES: NCL charges for all movies in the cabins and kids gratuities are full price. Items sold on NCL can be found all over Europe for much less. We were told that NCL owns the gift and jewelry shops they push at each port. NCL raised the price to $25 for a bag of laundry. Outrageous prices on ship excursions and drinks. For people who have young children, Kid's Crew doesn't receive any of the gratuities despite kids being charged as adults. Kid's Crew closed during time in ports unlike Carnival. Drop off at 7pm didn't coincide with certain adult activities such as the Mystery Dinner night at 6:30pm. In the evenings, some shows ran over the Kid's Crew pick up time of 10:30pm which was all the way at the other end of the ship.-LIKES: Itineraries/choices of ships Great value for seeing Europe Never a wait for dinner (Europeans eat later) Elegant cabins Freestyle Dining Military and Union discounts Cruise Rewards $100 ship credit for a $250 deposit on future cruiseCOST in Euros(15 cities) Amsterdam: Tours, Tickets, Boat, Train = 63. Barcelona: 4 days, Tours, tickets, train, shuttles = 65. Malta: Tours, Tickets = 61. Naples/Capri: Tours, Tickets, Ferry/hydrofoil, Funicular = 60 + 30 for hydrofoil. Rome/Vatican: Train, Tickets = 45. Cinque Terre/Pisa: Tours, Tickets, Train = 72. Cannes/Monaco: Tour = 60. Paris: Tour, Tickets, Taxi, Boat, Train = 70 SHIP EXCURSIONS: The ship won't be able to get tickets that are limited like the Hypogeum in Malta. If we had the option of combining ship tours (up to 3) to see what we saw on our own, the following would be the cost PER PERSON: Malta: 140 Euros (3 tours combined) Naples/Ercolano/Pompeii/Sorrento/Capri:, 270 Euros (2 tours combined) Rome/Vatican: 323 Euros Livorno/Cinque Terre/Pisa- 150 Euros (2 tours combined) Cannes/Nice/Monaco/Eze/St. Paul- 125 Euros (2 tours combined) Barcelona/Montserrat- 110 Approximate Total: 1100 Euros ($1500) vs. 400 Euros ($565, DIY-do it yourself) If you have time, do your research. Spend wisely, go on more trips.  Look at the UNESCO World Heritage List.  Quite a few sites are in Barcelona.  Rick Steves and other travel guides offer free podcasts, including language lessons, on Itunes, type "free travel" in the search. With pre-paid tickets, there was no wait in lines. With Google Maps, we were able to do a virtual walking tour in each city to become familiar with the surroundings. We used ATM's to take out the daily max. There's no need to take more than 100 Euros from the U.S. On Sundays on Las Ramblas, the banks tend to run out since it's a common cruise day. Bank of America is partnered with BNP Banks in France, we were told there would be no fees. - We have all the links, hotels, taxi numbers, and more details of the itineraries we did with our Cruise Photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/portsofcall/collections/ Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal ... Read More
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have found them to be comparable in quality.   This would be our first time on Norwegian Cruise Lines so I was eager to try out freestyle cruising. We left on Friday, June 12 for the journey to Barcelona. We flew from Dallas (DFW) to Barcelona with a layover in New York (JFK airport) for 3 hours on American Airlines and the flights went off without a hitch and were on time.  It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Barcelona and we were all pretty tired (I did manage to doze for about three hours on the flight but the leg room on our 767 from JFK to Barcelona was cramped at best so it was hard to get any true sleep).   We breezed through customs and proceeded to baggage claim (which was extremely overcrowded as there was only one carousel operating to handle multiple flights luggage).   As the luggage came out, people began to crowd and bump me, so it wasn't too pleasant but we manage to retrieve all of our luggage.   We got a taxi (no problems at all finding one although we had to try about three different taxis to find one large enough to fit our four large pieces of luggage in the trunk) and headed to Hotel Regina which is at the top of Las Ramblas in an ideal location.   I had printed out the name and location of the hotel, so I just showed that to the driver and he found it with no problems (the Barcelona taxi drivers seem to speak little to no English). It was only 10 am when we reached the hotel so our room wasn't ready yet, but the hotel held our luggage for free.   We ventured out and about a block away was Placa Catalunya and Las Rambles (which featured all sorts of vendors selling everything from typical souvenirs to birds, chipmunks, flowers, produce, chocolate, etc.)   I had heard about the pickpocket problems in Barcelona but never felt threatened (although I wore a neck pouch under my shirt to hold our credit cards, passports and most of our cash).  After exploring Las Ramblas, we headed back to the hotel at lunch time to see if the room was ready but it still wasn't.    Thus we ate lunch in the hotel lobby bar (club sandwiches) as we were really tired and didn't want to venture back out quite yet.   Finally after lunch, the room was ready and we headed up to our family room on the second floor.  The room was quite large by European standards and was basically a large room with a queen size bed and two other beds for the kids, so all four of us could fit in one room.  The bathroom was pretty nice sized too and had excellent amenities (shampoo, lotions, and individual toiletry kits for gentleman and ladies).  The one problem with the room is that the a/c didn't work very well and the room was hot.   The room was 78 degrees most of the time (I have a travel clock that also lists temperature) but we were so tired that I just let it go and didn't complain (since we were only here for one night).   We rested a bit and then headed back out to the chocolate museum which is a small museum featuring items made out of chocolate, information about how chocolate is made, and a small cafe/gift shop.  We then wandered into the Gothic quarter and really enjoyed the narrow streets and shops there.   We somehow ended up at the Christopher Columbus monument so we decided to go to the top for a scenic view.  The views are excellent from the top, but it's very cramped so I wouldn't recommend it for someone who has claustrophobia.    Finally, we took a taxi back near our hotel and ate a light dinner at a place called Fresco (salad bar buffet with some pasta and pizza) which was average (although the pizza with corn on it was pretty good).   It was about 8 pm by now so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  I think we were all asleep by 10 pm and I slept well even though it was hot in the room!   Day 1 - Sunday, 6/14 Embarkation We slept until 10 am and woke up feeling much better and refreshed.  We checked out around noon and took a taxi (the hotel had called one for us) to the pier.  Once again, I had printed out the name of the port, and just handed the print out to the taxi driver.  We arrived at the port around 12:15 pm and dropped off our luggage (there were plentiful luggage porters around to assist).  We went inside; breezed through security and got in a short check-in line for mini suites and balconies (they had separate lines for general check in, mini suites/balconies, suites and cash only).  About five minutes later, we were checked in and headed for the ship.   This was the quickest and easiest embarkation we've had for all of our cruises.  NCL does a great job in this regard.   We had the obligatory picture taken and boarded the Gem (I was handed a glass of champagne upon boarding which was nice).  We were starved so headed upstairs to the Garden Cafe (the Gem's buffet) for lunch.  The buffet is nicely laid out with separate stations for pasta, sandwiches, ice cream, soups, salads, etc.  All of the food was tasty and enjoyable and there was a good variety.  Seating was a bit limited and cramped but we always seemed to find a table whenever we came here.   The only negative about the buffet to me was that the items didn't vary from day to day.  I'd rate the Gem's buffet above RCCL, but I still think Carnival does the best job with their buffets.   We made our way to our balcony staterooms 10554 and 10556 which were smaller than the balcony cabin we'd had last year on the Carnival Destiny.  There definitely was not as much storage space but I do think the bathroom was better organized (it is small but it has a nice shower stall with a glass door and a separate toilet area).  The balcony doors also closed quietly (although they didn't always stay fully closed when at sea) which was nice (on RCCL the balcony doors slammed shut which was quite annoying).  Both rooms were decorated with birthday decorations and a birthday cake (it was my wife and step daughter's birthdays during the cruise) so we had some cake to celebrate!  We checked out the television (a small flat screen set) and noticed the channels were pretty limited (Fox news, nick, BBC news, AMC and a bunch of ships channels as well as pay per view movies).   The TV did have interactive features so I could check my account status, make shore excursion reservations, etc.  We also had papers in both rooms that indicated that we had $100 on board credit per cabin.  I'm not sure why we got this but I wasn't going to complain about it!   It helped keep our tab for the week under control.   The balconies were small (but nice) with two chairs and a small table.   We ventured out to explore the ship and visited the Stardust Theater, Spinnaker lounge (featuring a pool table, dart board, foosball, indoor shuffleboard and odd furniture), Bliss ultra lounge (with four bowling lanes and more odd furniture; even beds), the basketball courts, rock climbing wall, and the pools.  We made dinner reservations for Le Bistro for tomorrow night and Cagney's for Friday night (they let you make reservations on the first day for any day of the cruise).   We all enjoyed the interesting dEcor and furnishings of the Gem.   Upon return to the staterooms, our luggage had arrived.   Unfortunately mine had been damaged (and it was a brand new suitcase) so I talked with the employee who was delivering luggage and he called his supervisor.   I was told to bring my luggage (after unpacking) to the reception desk and they would address the issue.   We unpacked and then headed down to reception where they told me they would keep my suitcase and have it repaired (and they would notify me when it was ready).   It all turned out fine as they did fix the suitcase and I was notified two days later, so I felt it was handled adequately.   We decided to try the Magenta dining room for dinner tonight.  The food here was good but not great.  Freestyle dining (eating whenever you want) sounds great in theory, but I really missed the camaraderie and rapport that develops when you have the same waiters/waitresses for the entire week (and they learn your likes/dislikes).  I also missed getting to meet and know your tablemates (and potentially meeting new friends).   There also were no fun events at dinner (such as dancing waiters, singers, audience participation, etc).   It was nice though being able to eat when we wanted to and not having to rush back to the ship from excursions to fulfill a particular dinner time. I'd rate the main dining rooms on the Gem below our Carnival and RCCL experiences as the food was certainly fine but nothing outstanding. After dinner, we attended the Welcome Aboard show.  It was fairly dull as the main entertainment was an Italian singer named Enrico Cifiello, who sang Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones types of songs along with some classic Italian songs.  He had a nice voice but it was mostly laid back, low tempo type fare.   Our kids were pretty bored by it.  I didn't care much for the cruise director Andrea Olivieri or his assistant Bingo Joe (more about my dislike for Bingo on the Gem later).   The cruise director was basically a one trick pony (saying Hello USA, CANADA, UK, SPAIN, etc. for each and every show that he hosted) and wasn't very visible on the ship (on other cruises I've seen the cruise director all over the place, but not here).   After the show, the kids were hungry and I thought a snack sounded good too, so we checked out the Blue Lagoon.   I'd heard that the service was really slow here, but we didn't encounter that and enjoyed our snack.   I didn't order the wings or fish and chips (I had heard these were the best items) as I wasn't all that hungry but what we had was good (hot dogs, chicken strips, cheesecake).  We returned to the cabin and day one of the cruise was now in the books!   Day 2 - Monday, 6/15 At Sea Today was a day at sea so we slept in until 10 am or so and then ventured up to the Garden Cafe and encountered the legendary 'HAPPY HAPPY' guy at the entrance.   Every morning, he would be there to proclaim 'happy happy' and 'washy washy' and he definitely made even the grumpiest morning people smile.   The Gem is very conscious of cleanliness and everyone was strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer upon entering any of the dining rooms on the ship or whenever actually boarding the ship itself.   The ship was also very clean and I witnessed crew members cleaning carpets, windows, etc multiple times throughout the cruise.   Our buffet breakfast was tasty (they have scrambled eggs, made to order omelet's, fruit, Danish, muffins, cereal, cinnamon rolls, Eggs Benedict, and many other items).   Orange and apple juices are also available at breakfast time.  For lunch today at the Great Outdoors (a separate outdoors buffet at the rear of deck 12), they had an Austrian/Bavarian buffet (in addition to the normal buffet) featuring sausages, spatzle, etc.   I thought this was a great idea and would have loved to have seen a different theme each day but the rest of the days there were just burgers and hot dogs at the Great Outdoors.  After eating, my wife and I attended an Italian wine tasting event which was interesting (we got to taste 5 different wines along with various cheeses and crackers).  I'm not a wine expert by any means, but we enjoyed it.   There were many other tastings during the week (for sangria, beer, French wine, whiskey, and margaritas) but this was the only one we attended.  I would have gone to the sangria one but it was at an odd time midway through the cruise (one would think they would have had it on day one out of Spain).  We split up after this and my wife and step daughter headed to sun bathe while my step son and I went to play darts.   We also got in a game or two of ping pong which is always challenging with the winds at sea.   We gathered back together to try to go bowling but there was an hour wait so we skipped it. Before dinner, my wife and I went to play Bingo (we usually enjoy this on our cruises) and discovered that NCL has taken up-selling to a whole new level with their bingo games.  On Carnival and RCCL, we usually spent $10 to $20 (the high end for any of their bingo sessions) and had a good time.  On NCL, the basic packs were $20 to $25 and to really have a realistic chance of winning, one had to spend upwards of $100, which was totally ridiculous to us.   The reason for this is NCL uses bingo machines, which basically play the entire game for those who purchase them (they are idiot proof) and replicate 70 to 100 game cards for each game.  So, instead of spending our $10 to $20 per bingo session during the week, we played no bingo at all. We noticed a lot of others at the first bingo session leaving or not playing due to the excessively high pricing of game cards/game machines.  Tonight was our reservation at Le Bistro French restaurant so we got semi-dressed up and headed to dinner.  I really enjoyed dinner here.  I had escargot and French onion soup for my starters, both of which were quite good.  My wife and I got the rib eye steak for two which had an extra charge but it was really delicious.  My step son liked his scallops' appetizer so much that he asked if he could get some more, which they gladly brought him.  My step daughter loves Caesar salads so we asked if she could get one (as they don't have a Caesar salad on the Le Bistro menu) and that wasn't a problem either.  I really felt like they aimed to please in this restaurant and it was an enjoyable evening for all.  The 'fondue for two' dessert is quite good.   After dinner was the Colorz show which featured the Gem singers and dancers performing songs that have colors in the song title (such as Purple Rain, Yellow Submarine, etc).   The show was pretty good and enjoyed by all and was the nice cap to a relaxing day.     Day 3 - Tuesday, 6/16 Valletta, Malta The Gem docked at Valletta, Malta at 8 am this morning.   I'd heard that the entry into Malta was quite scenic so I immediately went out onto the balcony upon waking and was treated to a view of us entering a beautiful harbor.  Since it was an early day, we ordered room service for breakfast and it was right on time.   Room service for breakfast only consists of rolls and cereals but it was adequate for our needs.  We had a tour booked through the ship called Malta Jeep Adventure and met our group on the pier (we initially met in the showroom until our tour was called).  There were about fifty people on the tour and we were assigned to jeeps that held five passengers each; one up front and then four in the back on bench type seats that faced each other.  I sat up front and the rest of the family sat in the back along with a stray teenager whose party had been split up amongst several jeeps.  We first headed to the north end of the island for a scenic overview (we could see two other Maltese Islands - Gozo and Comino).  After this, we headed to Popeye Village which was built for the 1980 film Popeye starring Robin Williams.   I saw actors dressed as Popeye and Olive Oyl roaming the village down below so I imagine it must also be a theme park that can be visited.  Our next stop was at a nearby beach (they had filmed some scenes from the movie Troy at this beach) where we stayed for an hour and did some swimming (I just waded though and tried the local beer called Cisk).   Quite a few movies have been filmed in Malta (Popeye, Troy, U-571, Gladiator and many others) which surprised me.  After the beach, our final stop was at another scenic overlook looking down from some cliffs.  The tour description is a little misleading as the jeeps never really went off road at all (just onto a few bumpy roads), but regardless of that, I really enjoyed the tour and we had a phenomenal driver.   There is one tour guide for the entire group of jeeps and her commentary is played over a cb type radio.  We couldn't hear our radio very well though, so our driver provided his own commentary and made it a truly enjoyable experience.  We even found out that he had been an extra in U-571 and had met Jon Bon Jovi during the filming (he said that Bon Jovi was incredibly nice and gracious).   We got back on board the Gem with plenty of time to spare before she departed at 3 pm.  Sailing out of the harbor was equally scenic to when we sailed in this morning.   Around 8:30 pm, the cruise daily noted that we'd sail past Mount Etna on the port (left as you face forward) side of the ship and that was quite spectacular as well (luckily our cabins were on the port side).  Tonight was the 'formal or not' night so we got dressed up, had some photos taken, and ate dinner in the Grand Pacific dining room.   Food here was exactly the same as the Magenta dining room.  The show this evening was the Second City comedy troupe, who performed both rehearsed skits and completely improvised routines (based on audience suggestions).   We all loved this show and had a great time.   These are definitely talented individuals.      Day 4 - Wednesday, 6/17 Naples, Italy We docked in Naples, Italy at 8 am this morning and prepared for the first of our three tours with the highly touted company Rome In Limo.  We had arranged to share all three tours with a couple from Singapore that I had gotten in contact with through cruise critic so I was looking forward to meeting them as well.  We got off the ship and walked through the cruise terminal and sure enough, there was our tour guide from Rome in Limo holding a sign with my name on it.   Lorenzo would be our driver for the day and he greeted us warmly.  A minute or two later, our new friends from Singapore showed up, so we were off and running with no hitches.  We had Mercedes mini vans for all three days of our Rome In Limo tours, which were very comfortable (and there were no backwards facing seats) for our party of six.  We headed out of Naples and Lorenzo told us some facts about the area and culture which was interesting.   Our first stop of the day would be Mount Vesuvius, which is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last one hundred years (the last eruption was in 1944).  We drove almost to the top, at which point Lorenzo told us it was just a fifteen minute walk to the top.   We purchased our tickets (there was a nominal charge) and forty minutes later (that fifteen minute figure must be for trained athletes) I huffed and puffed my way finally to the summit.   My step son did make it up there in about 20 minutes but my poor wife and step daughter gave up halfway up and went back down.   The views from the top were spectacular so it was worth the effort.  I could see the Gem and Naples in the distance as well as Capri and several other islands.   The volcano itself was interesting too although I had to chuckle when I heard a nearby child exclaim "that's it, where's the lava" upon reaching the top.  Next we headed to Sorrento.   We were going to go to Pompeii next, but Lorenzo suggested we go to Sorrento first as otherwise all the shops would be closed by the time we arrived.   It was a good suggestion, so we drove along the coast to Sorrento and enjoyed some spectacular scenery (we stopped along the way to take pictures).  In Sorrento, we had two hours to eat lunch (Lorenzo suggested a nice local pizza/pasta type place which had excellent pizza) and shop.  I bought some limoncello (lemon products are popular here as there are many lemon trees in and around the region) and stopped to try some gelato (it was creamier than the gelato I've had back home) which was delicious.   Finally, we headed to Pompeii, arriving there around 2 pm in the heat of the day (it's better to come here in the morning but Mount Vesuvius is more strenuous so should be done as early as possible before it's hot).  It was about 90 degrees by now and sunny.  Our driver told us that they don't recommend visits to Pompeii during July and August because it gets so hot.  We met our private guide that Rome in Limo had arranged for us, and she led us on a fascinating tour.   Pompeii is much larger than I expected and I really found it interesting to see that they used bricks, sliding doors, and other modern techniques way back in AD 79.  We spent about one and a half hours exploring and were glad we had a guide to direct us to the most interesting spots, rather than wandering and wasting time.  I definitely recommend a guide if you have limited time here.  I got a little over heated at one point but had plenty of water with me so was fine and there was a breeze too which helped.   Our guide recommended that we see Herculaneum and the Naples National Archeological Museum (which contains Roman artifacts from both Pompeii and Herculaneum) on a future visit to get the entire picture. It was time to head back to the ship and we arrived at the port around 5 pm (the Gem sailed at 7 pm) and said good bye to Lorenzo.  He had done a good job but I wasn't completely overwhelmed like I had expected to be by Rome In Limo.  He was very good though and we had a quite enjoyable day.   We were all pretty tired so the wife and I went to the buffet for dinner and the kids ordered up some room service.   Later before bed, we were still a bit hungry so we went up to the Great Outdoors for some pizza and dessert.   We could see lights on some nearby islands as we ate outside and it was very relaxing and scenic.    Day 5 - Thursday, 6/18 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy The Gem was in port today from 7 am until 7 pm and it was day two of our Rome in Limo tours.   Today, our driver was David and he seemed more reserved than Lorenzo and much less eager to offer information as we drove, although he gladly answered any questions we had.  The drive to Rome takes about one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes.   Our driver did let us know that traffic can be pretty crazy in Rome and that many ride scooters to navigate through the congestion.  Sure enough, the closer that we got to Rome, the more scooters we saw weaving crazily in and out of traffic.  The first stop of the day (and the first sign of trouble with our driver David) was at the Roman Colosseum.   David dropped us off at the entrance to the Roman Forum, which was a short walk from the Colosseum, as the line to buy tickets here is much shorter than if you go into the Colosseum to buy tickets.   This was a good move.  The bad part though, was that he didn't tell us that we needed to ask for Colosseum only tickets, not Roman Forum/Colosseum combination tickets, which I mistakenly bought since all the signs were in Italian and the ticket sellers did not speak English.  Also, I inadvertently bought an audio tour for only the Roman Forum so all in all I wasted about 20 Euros by purchasing the wrong tickets.  This could have easily been avoided had David instructed us properly or gone to the ticket booth with us.   I'd read many other trip reports that indicated that the driver would actually take care of the buying the tickets for us and whisk us into the Colosseum but unfortunately that was far from reality.   Regardless, we loved the Colosseum.   I could just feel the history oozing from the place as we explored.   We had about ten minutes left when we returned to our rendezvous point so my step son and I hurried into the Roman Forum for some quick pictures.  I'd love to come back and spend more time there as I was truly fascinated. After the Colosseum, we stopped and visited the Pantheon which has amazing architecture, and drove past the Spanish Steps (time for a quick photo stop) en route to Trevi Fountain.  We all did the obligatory throwing of a coin (and making a wish) over our shoulders into the fountain upon our arrival.   It was now time to stop for lunch and David dropped us off a large square for a one hour lunch break.  I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he told me there was a pizzeria to the right.  Well, upon entering the square there were dozens of pizzerias so we just had to pick one at random.   Our random pick turned out to be an average and overpriced touristy type place so I wasn't happy with David about that.  He really made little to no effort to help us find a good place for lunch.  I tried a three cheese pizza at the place we ate at and was overpowered by the taste of blue cheese so I didn't even finish my pizza which is a rare occurrence indeed for me.   The meal was 70 Euros for some pizzas and drinks which I found ridiculous. It was time for us to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peters Basilica so David dropped us off and we met our private tour guide Sara.   She was very knowledgeable (although a little bit bossy) and we thoroughly enjoyed the art work, tapestries, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters Basilica.   St. Peters is really awe inspiring and is another location I could have spent much more time at (and the Sistine Chapel of course is amazing as well). We stopped at a shop for a quick break but before I knew it, I was practically pulled out of the store by Sara.  This really annoyed me as I wasn't quite done shopping and we had only been there five minutes.  We certainly had time to spend another five to ten minutes here but it seemed like she was in a huge rush to get done with us.  The portion of our tour with her came to an awkward ending as Sara then abruptly asked for her money.  I had been instructed by Rome In Limo in advance of the tour that I'd just pay their driver for her services at the end of the day.  Thus, I was really surprised to see her hold her hand out demanding money like that.  Also, our travel mates from Singapore and I had each brought exact change in Euros to pay our Rome In Limo driver (since we split up the tours) and it would have messed us up to pay her separately.   David did tell us to not worry about it and that he'd take care of it but it was really an awkward moment that could have been avoided.   I also had not had a chance to purchase any water since Sara was in such a rush, and to his credit, David did stop and buy me a bottled water. We headed back to the ship and arrived back around 5:30 pm with me wondering if I'd made a mistake by booking all three trips with Rome In Limo. Tomorrow would really tell the tale!   We ate dinner back at the Magenta dining room and returned to our cabins to rest, as it had been another long day (but enjoyable despite the issues with our driver).  My wife and I did attend a star gazing session on the top deck of the ship (they turned all the ships lights out and boy could we see a lot more stars than we see at home) which was fairly interesting.   Day 6 - Friday, 6/19 Livorno (Pisa and Florence), Italy The Gem was again in port from 7 am until 7 pm today and it was day three of our series of Rome in Limo tours.  The weather was once again sunny and hot (we had nice sunny weather in all ports which was great even though it was a bit hot).  I'd been fairly disappointed in Rome In Limo up to this point (Lorenzo on day one was good but David on day two was average at best) so we'd see how today would play out.  We met our driver Vinnie and before we left, he huddled with us to make sure of exactly what we wanted to see and to formulate a game plan for the day.  Good start!  We told Vinnie that we definitely wanted some shopping time built into our day, as we hadn't really had any time to do that in Rome.  We headed to Pisa first and Vinnie gave us detailed background information and history about the areas we were driving through and about Pisa itself.  He was extremely knowledgeable and a veritable encyclopedia of information.   I had a good feeling about the day now!   We stopped at the field of miracles in Pisa (where the leaning tower and a medieval cathedral are located) and Vinnie got out with us and gave us historical information about the tower. We were on our own for about 45 minutes to explore and take photos.   There were also numerous small stalls around the outside of the field selling souvenirs so we did some shopping as well.   I was surprised that the leaning tower was right in town as the pictures I'd seen always made it look like it was out in the countryside.  We tried to take some of the usual touristy pictures of us holding up the tower, but the sun was at an angle that made it difficult to do so.  As we drove out of town, Vinnie showed us a second leaning tower (another tower that had been built with foundation problems and was leaning) that most people don't know is there.  According to Vinnie, due to the soil in the Pisa area, many buildings there aren't standing straight and it's a common construction problem.  As we drove from Pisa towards Florence, Vinnie asked us about the kind of restaurant that we would be interested in for lunch.   He said that he knew of a good non touristy place that he could take us to, and we were all for that idea!   We took a detour through the Tuscan countryside and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  Chianti wine and olive oil are the main exports from this region and it was amazing seeing the various farms (Vinnie called them farms and not wineries) where the wine is produced.   We made another stop at an overlook on the way into Florence for an amazing view and then proceeding into the city itself.  My wife and I both loved Tuscany and Florence and already are talking about returning there for a land trip someday.   Vinnie had taken our shopping request to heart and asked us what exactly we wanted to buy.  It seemed that we all wanted to buy some Italian leather so he said he'd take us to two shops (one with excellent quality and good prices and another with even better quality but higher prices).   The first shop was great in that we loved the quality and the prices seemed pretty reasonable; my step daughter found a purse and my step son bought a beautiful leather jacket.  I found a wallet to buy for myself.  Amazingly, my wife didn't get anything though.  We decided to forgo the second shop and look at souvenirs (our new friends checked out the second shop and said it was good also).   Next up was the Accademia museum and Michelangelo's David.  We pulled up to the museum and there was a long line waiting to get in, but Vinnie whisked us in a separate entrance (he had made reservations for us in advance) so we had no wait at all.  This was more like the Rome In Limo experience I had been expecting!  Photos aren't allowed inside the museum so I took a photo of a replica of David in a nearby square in Florence.  The statue itself really is perfection and was created in Michelangelo's earlier years.   The Accademia is actually a small museum and contains some Florentine paintings and some other sculptures, in addition to David.  It was time for lunch and Vinnie parked and walked us into an amazing little restaurant.  We had to go downstairs into the cellar to eat but it was cozy and quaint, and not a tourist in sight (what a difference from the previous day's lunch in Rome).  The menu was hand written in Italian on a piece of paper so Vinnie interpreted the entire menu for us and made a recommendation of an appetizer (various meats and fishes served on top of Italian bread) that wasn't on the menu.   He also asked if we wanted to try some wine (which I did) so he grabbed a bottle of wine off the wall and instructed the waiter to serve us some.  It was a delicious Chianti and an excellent recommendation on his part.  He also advised us to try a sweet Italian dessert wine and pointed it out to us so we'd know what to order.  Two plates of the appetizers arrived and all the toppings were fresh and delicious.  I ordered both pasta and veal which were both excellent.   For dessert we had the sweet wine which was served with biscotti's to dip into the wine.  The waiter brought out a large rectangular block of dark chocolate and a chisel, and chiseled off chunks of fresh chocolate for us to dip into the wine (I liked this even better than the biscotti).  It was nothing short of an amazing authentic dining experience, all made possible by our wonderful guide.   Also, at lunch our new touring friends gave us some little gifts from Singapore (a bottle opener, some pens, etc) and I thought that was really kind of them and a neat idea.  Wish I'd thought of it too! I mentioned to Vinnie that I'd like to purchase some of the dessert wine and he said he'd walk me to a good wine shop at our next stop.  We stopped at the square where the replica of David can be found which is within walking distance of the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  Vinnie walked me to the wine shop as promised and I purchased some wine and also olive oil that he personally recommended.  We walked across the bridge and back and then headed to a nearby gelato shop.  Vinnie told us that it was half the price of the more touristy gelato shops and better quality.  Pistachio was the house special here so I ordered a cone of it and it was even creamier and more delicious than the gelato we'd had in Sorrento.  I'll be craving that gelato for years!   Sadly it was time to drive back to the ship and during the drive back, Vinnie and I chatted about Italian and American culture as if we were old friends.  He had provided us with an amazing day that exceeded my high expectations of Rome In Limo.  I made sure to write to the company when we returned and let them know how highly we thought of him (and to advise them of David's shortcomings).   This day had been the highlight of our trip so far and I was actually sad getting back on the Gem.   I gave Vinnie a large tip as I felt he really went above and beyond and deserved it.  We also said goodbye to our friends from Singapore, who we really enjoyed touring with.  As we left port in Livorno, a team of Italian rowers raced the ship which I found interesting.  They were quite loud as they urged each other on to beat the Gem, but alas we won! After freshening up, we headed to Cagney's for dinner which was surprisingly excellent.  I had read some negative reviews about Cagney's prior to the trip but I really enjoyed our meal.  I had Oyster's Rockefeller, a nice Caesar's salad and a delicious filet mignon.  Everyone else really enjoyed it too.   The only thing I didn't like there was my dessert.  I ordered a dessert sampler and it was a microscopic amount of three different desserts.  In general, the desserts aren't very good on the Gem.  I didn't have a single dessert during the week that I would call excellent (although the fondue for two was really good in Le Bistro).  This is definitely an area for improvement.   Second City had an entirely improvised show tonight so we attended it and laughed heartily once again.    Day 7 - Saturday, 6/20 Cannes, France We decided to use this as a beach day as I figured we'd be tired after three long days of touring and indeed we were tired.   We slept in all the way until 9 am.  Yeah!   We would have slept later but the Gem was only in port from 7 am until 3 pm today.   It would have been nice if we'd stayed until at least 5 pm or so, but we made the best of it.   We got on a tender (this was the only port where we had to tender; we docked at all other ports) and quickly made it ashore.   We walked through the parking lot towards the left and soon (within minutes) reached Plage Du Midi, which was a nice sandy beach.  It really was more like a series of small beaches divided up by restaurants which had beachfront tables and umbrellas.  We picked one of the small beach segments and laid down our towels (there weren't any chairs but there was a shower; only the restaurants seemed to have chairs).   I wasn't going to swim but the water looked so inviting that I changed my mind and took the plunge.  The water was cool and refreshing and the sand smooth and comfortable to walk on.  We did see a few European women going topless, but it was mainly a family atmosphere with lots of children around. After about an hour and a half, we had our fill of the sun, so we walked around a little bit to explore Cannes.  We pondered where we should eat lunch and happened upon a Tex Mex restaurant (we're from Texas) which was really humorous to me since we were in the south of France. My wife and step daughter were tired so they decided to eat lunch back on the ship at the buffet.  My step son and I continued to explore, and found an area with some sidewalk cafes and bakeries so we picked one at random and it was fairly good.  I had an assorted cheese and bread platter and my step son had steak tartar. It didn't seem like very many locals spoke English in Cannes (or they chose not to) but I got by with my limited French (I had taken three years of French way back in high school so I remember a few words).   We went to a bakery for dessert and had some excellent French pastries.   It was now almost 2 pm though so we stopped to by some quick souvenirs and then took the tender back to the Gem. We spent our last dinner on the Gem in the Magenta dining room and had a good meal.  My wife and I attended the Showtime: World Beat show which featured dances from around the world and we both thought it was very good (I liked it better than Colorz).  The captain warned that we might hit some high winds upwards to 40 mph and sure enough it began to get rough around dinner time.  The seas had been the calmest we'd ever sailed on up until now.  Fortunately we had all taken Dramamine (I always take one in the morning and one at night when on a cruise as a precaution) so no one felt sick at all.  It was interesting watching the dancers attempt their routines with the ship swaying from side to side, but they really did an admirable job with just a few misses and staggers here and there.  I know that I would have fallen flat on my face had it been me up there!   After the show came my least favorite moment of every cruise....packing.  We got it done though and then went to bed.  I had no trouble falling asleep but it took my wife awhile as the Gem was really rocking and rolling.    Day 8 - Sunday, 6/21 Disembarkation, Barcelona, and London We had decided to spend a few days in London after the cruise, but our flight to London wasn't until 6 pm today.  Thus I had scheduled us to take a Barcelona city tour through NCL with a drop off at the airport.  We met in the show room at 8:30 am and waited for our tour to be called.  It didn't take long and we were off the ship in minutes.  We easily found our luggage (they had luggage carousels like in an airport and of course mine was one of the last ones to appear, so I was convinced that my suitcase was lost) and our tour bus.  The bus tour was decent but not great as we had been spoiled by our private tours in Italy.  We stopped at a scenic overview with nice expansive views of Barcelona, drove past some Gaudi buildings and made stops at the Sagrada Familia (which was truly amazing) and in the Gothic Quarter for a short walking tour.  We were dropped off at the airport around 1 pm and then began the long, long wait for our flight.  British Airways wouldn't let us check in until two hours before the flight, so we had to wait in the main entrance area of the airport.   There were limited shops and amenities here so it wasn't the most pleasant wait.  Finally, around 3 pm I saw some activity at the BA counter so I tried the electronic check in machine and it worked!  We sweated it out as our luggage was weighed (we had gained a lot of weight in souvenirs) but it all was under the limit.  We breezed through security and near our gate there were many more shops and restaurants so it was much more pleasant.   Our flight was uneventful (they actually served sandwiches that were complimentary) and we arrived in Gatwick airport at 7:15 pm.  The UK is one hour earlier than Spain.  I had planned on taking the Gatwick express train into London but after reading some information in the BA flight magazine, it seemed that a taxi would cost just about the same since there were four of us.  We decided to take a taxi and avoid hauling the luggage through a train station.   Our driver was quite talkative which was fine (although I'd have rather dozed than chatted) and in about one hour we arrived at the London Metropole Hotel.  The hotel is located near Paddington Station and near the Edgware Road tube stop, so the location is pretty good.  Our hotel room was fine and had two queen size beds and a roll a way bed so there were beds for all of us.  We were starved and tired so we ate at the hotel restaurant which was really slow and over priced.  The bill was over one hundred dollars for some burgers and pizza and drinks.   After this, it was lights out!   Post-cruise Monday, 6/22 London We got up at 9 am today and it was already bright and sunny and much cooler than it had been in Spain and Italy.   The sun rises quite early (4:30 am) and sets late (almost 10 pm) in London in the summer time (we had arrived just a day after the summer solstice). I was tour guide for the day today so I led us to the Edgware Road tube station and we purchased four visitor passes for the day and headed to the Tower of London.  I'd been here before but the family hadn't and they seemed to enjoy it!   We saw the ravens, the crown jewels, various towers, a special exhibit featuring Henry VIII's armor and we even met the Queen's constable who talked to us for a minute or two.  After touring the tower, we ate a quick lunch at subway (of all places) and took the tube to Westminster Station.  From here I had planned to just walk by Westminster Abbey but we decided to go inside even thought there is a charge.   I am sure glad we decided to do this as it really is spectacular.  I had no idea that the tombs of Henry VIII's children were in the Abbey (Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I and King Edward VI).    We then walked to Buckingham Palace for some pictures (tours are only offered in July and August) and then took a taxi to the London Eye.   The London Eye was built for the Millennium celebration and is essentially a very tall and slow moving Ferris wheel that can hold 25 passengers per enclosed capsule, each of which features a bench seat and room to walk around.  My step daughter was a little apprehensive about this due to the heights involved but ended up loving it.  We had amazing views of London and could see Big Ben Tower, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc.  For dinner tonight we headed to Covent Garden and Porter's restaurant which I enjoyed more than the rest of the family.  My wife really didn't care for English food at all and the kids seemed like they could take it or leave it.  I had a version of Shepherds Pie which I really liked and a yummy pudding for dessert.  We walked around Covent Garden afterwards and found some souvenirs and then called it a night.   Post-cruise Tuesday, 6/23 London This was sadly the last day of our European adventure but we still had plenty to see.  First up, we had a morning tour scheduled with Premium Tours to see Windsor Castle.   We were met by a representative from Premium Tours in our hotel lobby at 7:35 am and boarded a bus which took us to their main terminal near Victoria Station (we made a few stops at other hotels along the way to pick up other passengers).  Once at the main station, everyone was then redistributed to the proper buses for their particular tour.   So finally at about 8:45 am we were on our way out of London towards Windsor.   The drive was a little more than an hour to the town of Windsor.   The castle itself is actually right next to the town which surprised me. The pictures I've seen always make it seem as if the castle is in the countryside by itself.    We were given a brief tour through the castle grounds, and then had two hours to explore on our own.   Most of the people on our bus to Windsor were actually on a full day tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath so we would have a separate smaller bus to take us back to London.   Those on the full day tour only had an hour at Windsor which definitely would not have been enough time.   For the inside of the castle, we were given audio players (included in our tour price) which guided us through the various rooms.  The most interesting parts to me were the areas where a fire back in 1992 had damaged many rooms and almost consumer the entire castle.  The restoration work that they completed in about five years is truly remarkable.  As we exited the castle we saw a gathering of people down the hill so we went to investigate.  It was time for the changing of the guard which consisted of a band and traditionally dressed guards.  After that, we went inside St. Georges Chapel where Henry VIII is buried.   There is a big plaque on the floor showing the spot (he is buried below the plaque somewhere) but I was a little disappointed that you can't see a sarcophagus or anything similar.  We had time for some quick souvenir shopping and then caught our bus back to London.  One thing that the tour company had failed to mention is that we would not be dropped off back at our hotel.  It wasn't a big deal but we were dropped off randomly somewhere in London and had to take a taxi back to the hotel.  Early this evening at 5 pm, we had a private Harry Potter tour scheduled.   Our driver met us in our hotel lobby and we ventured through London to see various sites where the Harry Potter movies had been filmed.   We stopped at King's Cross Station where platform 9 ¾ can be found (the driver had Harry Potter props that we could put on to take photos), Diagon alley, and various other sites where more minor scenes where filmed.  He also had a mini dvd player so he would show us a scene in the movie and then show us where the particular scene had been filmed.  We all really enjoyed it and I even bought some Harry Potter money from the tour guide as a souvenir.  The driver dropped us off in Covent Garden and we went into a random pub for dinner and it was pretty dreadful.  We had burgers and the meat had an odd taste to it and wasn't so good.  McDonald's burgers were gourmet fare compared to these.   We took a cab back to our hotel and thus our final day in Europe was over.   Post-cruise Wednesday, 6/24 Home Our flight home was at 10:25 am from Heathrow Airport on American Airlines, so we arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 6:45 am.   I wanted to leave plenty of time as I wasn't sure how long it would take to get out to Heathrow.   I'd also heard that security can take a long time to go through there, but this didn't turn out to be true.  We got to the airport by 7:30 and had one last breakfast in Europe before heading back home.  Our flight was on a 777 so we would get personal entertainment systems (each seat has a screen where one can watch movies, TV shows, play games, etc).  The flight home was uneventful (except my poor wife's personal entertainment system didn't work - we ended up getting her 10,000 frequent flier miles though for the inconvenience).  All of our luggage made it without getting lost so the trip so all's well that ends well!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We just came off the Norwegian Gem which started out in Barcelona, Spain and went to Malta, Naples, Rome, Livorno and Canne.  This was our first time travelling to this area and we had an amazing time.  It was like a true adventure - ... Read More
We just came off the Norwegian Gem which started out in Barcelona, Spain and went to Malta, Naples, Rome, Livorno and Canne.  This was our first time travelling to this area and we had an amazing time.  It was like a true adventure - very different from our caribbean cruises that we usually go on.  The Norwegian Gem was absolutely fabulous - the food was delicious, the cabin was beautiful, the beds were very comfortable and the staff were very friendly and willing to do anything for you.I travelled with 7 people in our goup and decided to do private tours while we where in Italy and were thrilled that we did this.  We used an agency called Romeinlimo.com which we found from the cruise boards and we were absolutely thrilled with them.  It was such a pleasure to get off the ship and immediately find someone there waiting for you who spoke perfect English and wisked you away in a beautiful Mercedez Van without waiting for a ton of people to board a bus.  All three ports in Italy we used them and they were absolutely fantastic.  I cannot stress enough how much more you can see by using a private tour guide and we were so happy to have hired them.  Carmine was our tour operator in Naples and he was just amazing - so if you can request him - you will be thrilled.  He was so warm and friendly and just made us feel like he was a close cousin taking us on the tour.All I can say is that the Norwegian Gem was an amazing vacation and I will definitely look into doing another cruise with them next summer. Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
We were a bit concerned about picking the Gem after reading some of the online reviews, but found the ship, the food, and crew to meet or exceed most of our expectations.  We enjoyed our first cruise a great deal. Getting on and off the ... Read More
We were a bit concerned about picking the Gem after reading some of the online reviews, but found the ship, the food, and crew to meet or exceed most of our expectations.  We enjoyed our first cruise a great deal. Getting on and off the ship was a breeze at every location- no issues! We ate in the main or non-cover charge dining locations for the entire time, and found the food to be very enjoyable and excellent quality.  The reports/reviews that they make the main dining lower quality to force you towards the cover-charge locations seems a bit over-stated.  We found nothing lacking, even if we had not tried the cover-charge locations.We had little trouble with waiting, just checking the video screens and making decisions on the fly helps!  It is about FreeStyle right?  Internet is slow! 56k speeds, be warned, but that is to be expected on a ship. Still, the wireless internet on the ship seemed to cover every inch.  I got to use on deck, in my room, and even in one bar.   The staff were friendly, helpful and seemed to enjoy their work.  The on board shopping consultant was helpful in port ideas, even if we were avoiding the NCL excursions, and assisted beyond just shopping.  The shows were good quality, what you might expect for a casino show or a main stage in an theme park.  We enjoyed our evening with the Second City Troupe a great deal!Perhaps I keep the big picture more than some, if everything is perfect over the period of 7 days, that might be asking a lot. Two small issues occured- in one port Livorno you had to pay  $5 to get a bus out of the port, or use a cab or excursion... so much for ALL the port fees being paid, but we found getting a cab to get the train was the best way to go anyway.  Also, in Villefrance the tender boat right outside our window was used for tendering passengers, so at 6:30 AM they were moving a boat right outside our cabin window without warning.  With all the flyers they sent us for other things, a little warning would have been nice. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
My wife and I have cruised 6 times.  One with Princess and all other with Royal Caribbean.  This was a first with Norweigan.  Let me address the ship first since this is the type of vacation that it is more about the destinations than ... Read More
My wife and I have cruised 6 times.  One with Princess and all other with Royal Caribbean.  This was a first with Norweigan.  Let me address the ship first since this is the type of vacation that it is more about the destinations than the ship.  I would rate the food average.  The entertainment was below average and the front desk and overall service and FRIENDLINESS below average.  The ship is clean and easy to navigate.  I more than likely will not choose Norweigan for a European type cruise vacation.  Will stick with Royal.  Also, after my second cruise experience, I stopped using excursions sponsored by the cruise line, even Royal's.  So, see below for my recommendations and experiences.  Having said all of this about the ship, understand that the cities in the itinerary is frankly the important aspect of the Western Mediterranean.  Embarkation was fast and easy as well as disembarkation.  Now to the cities.   We decided to take advantage of Barcelona 3 days prior to leaving.  This city is a destination in of itself.  We stayed at Hotel Montecarlo right on La Rambla.  Fantastic hotel and Fernando and Sergio, in the front desk were extremely helpful with restaurant suggestions and places to see.  To see the city, if you only have a couple of days, take the Turistic Bus.  Blue and Red Line.  Trust me, it is inexpensive, safe and organized.  Barcelona is one of those cities where you can spend a week.  The ship left at PM on Sunday so we had a full day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  See la Boqueria, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.  For Tapas, Restaurant Ciutat Comtal is fantastic.   First Stop:  Island of Malta.  We took no taxis or buses.  We walked to the city center and saw St. John's Co-Cathedral.  Unassuming church from the outside and absolutely majestic in the inside.  The picture of The beheading of John the Baptist is breathtaking.  Great people.  Easy to walk through and safe.  Naples:  I scheduled the tour for 17 people via Sorrento Silver Star (info@sorrentosilverstar.com) Luisa Sorrento is the owner.  Let me say this.  I wouldn't go with anyone else.  They are the best. In fact, the group I was with said that this tour was the highlight of our trip.  Imagine how hard it is to please 17 people.  Lucia was our excellent tour guide of Pompeii and all day tour and Aaron the fantastic driver.  I will request Lucia when I return to be our tour guide.  We visited Pompeii first.  It is a massive city and we were only able to see 1/4 of it.  Truly spectacular.  Then we went to Positano and had lunch at La Tortelia (I think that's the name/check trip advisor).  The best.  For 25 euros, a feast all the wine you can drink and lemonciello made fresh that morning. Mmmmmmm.......People couldn't stop taking about it all week.  Sorrento is beautiful but I think Positano the town and shopping is better and much prettier.  The ship excursion doesn't take you there since the buses are too big.   Rome: I scheduled the private tour for 5 of us with Stefania Cinotti ( stefania.cinotti@tiscali.it ) Stefania has over 10 years of experience as a certificate tour guide of Rome.  She was fantastic and will use her again when I return.  She gave us the important highlights in The Vatican, Colosseum, and The Pantheon.  We spent 6 hours with her.  Our driver who picked us up at the port (more than hour away from Rome) was Fabio Leotta from www.leottalimousine.com or www.romeinlimousineservice.com.  Fleotta@tin.it.  Fabio was excellent and definitely would use him again.  We chose to not take the train or a taxi within the city.  We only had 8 hours to see a lot and didn't want to waste time.  Best decision we made to get Fabio to be our driver within the city.   Pisa and Florence:  We used romeinlimo and contrary to I have read, we WERE very disappointed.  Will research another company when I return.  Pisa is an hour visit if that.  Go to Florence afterwards.  Beautiful city.  Uffizi museum too big for one day unless that is you target.  Accademia is a short museum but where the David's statue is housed.  We bought a leather jacket and a purse.  DO NOT pay the price they have.  Bargain with them.  We bought a jacket with a sticker price of 540 euros and bought it for 140 euros.  Nice:  Very surprised how much I loved this city.  Low expectations but is a destination I could spend 2 or 3 days in.  Montecarlo is a must see.  Ese as well.  Cote de Azur Chateau and Jardin d/Eze is a must see as well.  Do Nice last if you have time.  French Riviera beach, etc..We used Ricardo Scarafoni.  r.scarafoni@gmail.com.  Did a great job in only 5 hours.  He was the only tour guide who took credit cards by the way.  All others we had to pay in euros at end of the day.  All in all, an excellent vacation.  Very active.  You will be returning to the ship an hour or two before leaving port an unto the next stop the next day.   Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
We are truly people who appreciate a good value for money spent.  We tend to seek out the more modest rooms, but we do like to at least have a bit of a view and on this trip the porthole was all we needed.  For goodness sakes if ... Read More
We are truly people who appreciate a good value for money spent.  We tend to seek out the more modest rooms, but we do like to at least have a bit of a view and on this trip the porthole was all we needed.  For goodness sakes if you're on a cruise there is plenty of deck space and it doesn't mean just next the the loud musical combo playing poolside.  There were many places for us to be in the fresh air and not feel crowded or cramped.  In terms of the comfort our cabin was quite adequate.  We really liked the dark wood cabinets, the beds were comfortable, there was plenty of storage space for the way we travel...just don't bring steamer trunks.  Most importantly, we found the bathroom to be very usable in spite of the space limitations that naturally go with being in a modestly priced room.  The Norwegian Gem is nicely laid out and the unusually bright colors of fabrics and furniture was somewhat Alice in Wonderland in nature in the public areas.  This was the best part of our experience.In terms of Free Style Dining, I would not recommend it as anything more than college dormitory in quality.  Yes, the main dining room was visually pleasing and comfortable.  You really should ask one of the servers the hours of peak dining to avoid waiting in lines.  The servers are mostly very attentive and willing to please to the best of their ability.  Providing food for thousands of people in multiple dining facilities is no doubt a daunting task, but maybe they are just trying to do too much.  If you are not looking for a gastronomic delight the food has it's surprise moments and you certainly won't lack for quantity but stick with the Grand Pacific Dining Room because the specialty restaurants are not so special, they just add to your tab very quickly.  We were optimists and tried three of the specialty dining rooms thinking that we just hit a bad night.  The only one that seemed remotely worth the extra expense was the Bistro.  Absolutely forget the Teppanyaki restaurant and the Cagney Steak restaurant is great for those who like the flavor of frying pan steaks.  I understand that they don't want open flames, but my rib eye steak was not that appetizing especially when I could have had essentially the same thing in the main dining room and not paid the extra price.  So one can avoid lots of extra and certainly unnecessary additional expense by staying out of the specialty restaurants.  The best part of the buffet was the morning greeter who could put a smile on the grumpiest of faces.  The food was mediocre at best.  If you wanted capers with your bagels, salmon, and cream cheese you had to request it from a very busy attendant.  Ice tea stations were frequently empty and the dining area felt very cramped.  In general I would say that the best food we had was off the ship in the ports of call. Oh, by the way, you will be visited frequently by staff members assigned to promoting the specialty restaurants and they are very persistent and high pressure.  After being nice, I found that saying "go away" finally worked.If you like your cocktails, beer, and wine, brace yourselves for a really big bar bill.  Here is where they really make up for the teaser booking rate.  Most everything is $6 or more.  A bottle of wine will cost you a minimum of $25 dollars and we're not talking premium wine.  If you don't drink anything besides tap water, coffee, and iced tea, you will be just fine.  Whatever you do, don't buy the bottled water they are selling as you go on excursions.  At $4.50 per small bottle you are being charged more than double the price you can purchase out of a vending machine on shore.  Of course they are scaring you all the time about the dangers of going ashore without water to make the sale.  That is their catch and we learned early not to follow their advice.  Find an on shore market and you can buy a big bottle of water for half the price.Now talking about shore excursions.  Keep in mind that you really don't have enough time to see a great deal in any port.  The shore excursions are very expensive and I really suggest you stay away from them unless you are fortunate enough to have unlimited resources and you don't care.  Do some planning in advance and you can save a huge amount of money.  They again will scare you that if you don't take their approved tours you could end up missing the boat and be left behind.  We didn't do enough advanced homework and therefore we opted to take their offers in three ports.  The ports in Rome and Florence are too far away to walk to anything of interest, but you can do these cities without being fleeced...just be smart and alert.  If you plan to keep in touch with family while you are away, you will pay steeply for Internet availability and it is a satelite connection meaning something only slightly better than dial up speed.  Think you are bringing your own laptop and will be less costly?  Take your laptop on shore and find a free Internet zone at a coffee shop because they will charge you just as much on board to access their wireless connection as if using their 12 computer terminals.Don't get me wrong, the trip was fine.  It's just that I have great difficulty with matching my expectations developed from NCL's promotion with the actuality.  So their is my disappointment.  If I had expected to incur costs matching the cost of the cruise booking itself, I would have been fine with that.  I was not expecting that however, and therefore I'm annoyed more than angry.  I think this has put me off cruising for awhile.  For what it cost, I could have just gone to a couple cities in Italy and Spain, stayed in a nice hotel or apartment, found my own food and restaurants, and really enjoyed the cities more than the exhausting attempts to make it feel like I had actually been in the cities/ports of call. 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Sail Date May 2009
My sister had previously done two land tours of Europe and this Norwegian Western Med cruise.  She recommended the cruise for a few reasons:  most traveling is done while sleeping during the night (instead of during the day on a bus), ... Read More
My sister had previously done two land tours of Europe and this Norwegian Western Med cruise.  She recommended the cruise for a few reasons:  most traveling is done while sleeping during the night (instead of during the day on a bus), food is included on the cruise, and chances of finding clean public restrooms are much better!  This was our first cruise, my boyfriend and I.  We're in our early 50s.  We booked our airfare on our own, but booked a pre-night stay in Barcelona with the cruiseline.  When we arrived in Barcelona, we did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city, which was fun.  When we checked into our hotel, a person from the cruiseline was there to tell us exactly when to be downstairs in the morning for our transfer to the port.  She was there again in the morning.  Embarking was very easy and fast.  We had a balcony room and luckily had beautiful warm weather and calm seas for the entire trip.  I was fascinated by the navigation channel and loved trying to figure out what land mass we were seeing.  We did a Norwegian excursion in every port, basically because we didn't know what to expect and didn't want to worry about finding our way around on our own.  In Malta, we did the jeep safari, where we hopped onto the back of a jeep and rode around the island, stopping for pictures of the beautiful cliffs and blue sea.  In Naples, we went to Pompeii, on a guided tour that I found very interesting.  In Rome, we took the Vatican and Rome tour, where most of the day was dedicated to the Vatican, lunch at a restaurant in Rome, then a short drive around Rome with a stop at the coliseum. Always wanted to see the Vatican and our tour guide, Giuseppi, did not disappoint - he knew every detail.  At the port for Florence, we did the Pisa/Tuscany tour, which was and not as "educational" and more relaxing.  Would have loved to have seen Florence - maybe next time.  At Nice, we went to an ancient village fortress in the mountains overlooking the sea - another relaxing trip.  I was amazed at how smoothly the excursions were handled by the ship's crew and the tour contractors.  It's a no-brainer - they give you a ticket with a time and place to show up, put a sticker on you, send you to your bus and take care of you all day.  There are so many choices for excursions, I  could probably take the same exact cruise three or four times and never get bored. If I do that, I will probably choose tours that include more free time.  In fact, I discovered that I loved cruising so much I could probably have stayed on the ship and been perfectly happy.  The crew was wonderful.  I thought the food was wonderful - and if you don't like something you can always order something else.  Debarking the ship was simple, we had a transfer but there's no need for one - taxis were lined up early at the port.  Early May is probably a very good time to do this cruise - although the Vatican was crowded, it wasn't really that bad.  Our ship seemed to be full of people our age, so there wasn't any noise at night to deal with.  We were both very happy with the trip and plan to cruise again....maybe Alaska next time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem quite anxiously as we had read a lot of negative reviews about freestyle cruising, but those were all misleading as we found it quite the opposite! The reason we chose this over Royal Carribean was the fact ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem quite anxiously as we had read a lot of negative reviews about freestyle cruising, but those were all misleading as we found it quite the opposite! The reason we chose this over Royal Carribean was the fact we got more luxurious cabin( a Penthouse) with all the VIP perks for less money and as we like to eat whenever we want and whatever we want it really fit our needs as this was a port intensive cruise and we had to see a lot and we did not want to be restricted by set dinner times etc. The service and food in most of the specialty restaurants were very good to excellent and we did not mind the surcharge as we paid less for our cabin. We loved the VIP perks including option of breakfast or lunch at Cagney's even though we used the Garden Cafe for breakfast all days except the last day to avoid the crowds. By the way we did not have any problems finding a table any one of those days as most of you complained. The staff were all friendly and efficient. I will definitely sail Norwegian again especialy on port intensive cruises. The ports of call were all excellent and we got to see a lot as we had it all planned well ahead which you should definitely do. If you can afford to go ahead and splurge on luxury suites Penthouse and above, its well worth it! Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
My college friends and I were a mix of well experienced cruisers and first time cruisers (which included myself). With the exception of one let down excursion, we had an amazing time and NCL did a great job accomadating us while aboard ... Read More
My college friends and I were a mix of well experienced cruisers and first time cruisers (which included myself). With the exception of one let down excursion, we had an amazing time and NCL did a great job accomadating us while aboard their new ship. OTHER GUESTS We found the demographics of our cruise to mostly be older people, but there were also families and young adults. Didn't matter, we stuck with eacher other. Two of my friends immediatley began to idealize Joe Peach, the assistant cruise director. ROOMS We had the small basic interior rooms, but they were very nice - even for 7 days straight. ADVICE If you are taking this cruise as an affordable way to experience Europe (it certainly is) just be mindful that you will have very little time at each port so while this is a cruise, be ready to go go go to make the most of your time at each port. When looking at the itinery online remember you will have to spend time on transportation, de-boarding and re-boarding. Being at these wonderfall cities would leave anyone wanting more; you just can't take in these cities in the few hours available. EXCURSIONS The only semi-negative experience was our Florence excursion. We booked the one where a bus just dropped you off in Florence then took you back to the ship. It advertised that we would have 5 hours in Florence, but we were really only there for 3 1/2. Seemed like the best deal with the unreliable train system and my friends' previous knowledge of Florence. The ride took longer than we anticipated and our bus dropped us off on the outskirts of the historical city center. We had to walk through dirty allies to finally make it to 'the good stuff'. We hurriedly saw David, the Duomo, Ponte Vecchia and ate lunch before heading back our meeting spot where we waited thirty minutes for stragglers before heading back to the port an hour before guests had to be back. I wished NCL had worked the logistics out better to allow us more time in the city For Rome, we arranged a private tour on our own, expensive but I think worth it in the long hall so we could see all that WE wanted. Overall, food and staff and the ship itself were really great! Lot's of cute, small details made the cruise too. The cruise guide on the tv with funny sayings and our names, the buffet greeters... my and my experienced counterparts were impressed with NCL on this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Just a quick summary for those reading this that are cruising or considering cruising the Gem, she's a great ship with a very good crew. My husband and I booked the Gem a year in advance and had plenty of time to read the reviews ... Read More
Just a quick summary for those reading this that are cruising or considering cruising the Gem, she's a great ship with a very good crew. My husband and I booked the Gem a year in advance and had plenty of time to read the reviews before we sailed. We were a bit worried but had learned from prior cruises that a cruise is what you make of it.We had 3 nights in Barcelona prior to sailing and we booked our room at the Hotel Continental on the Ramblas. The hotel was lovely (very pink) but nice. The hotel manager Peter was extremely polite and helpful. Huge bonus with this hotel, food and drinks are available 24 hours a day. Lots of pots full of misc items such as creamy pasta and ham salad, curried potatoes, pasta with prego sauce, and yes...beer tap,wine, pepsi products, espresso/cappacino machine, etc. There was also a full bread and pastry bar with granola, danish, and fresh baked breads. All and all we were pleasantly surprised with this hotel after some of the reviews we read- we especially enjoyed the hot breakfast served every morning.The bedding was a bit firm in the room but after all the walking we didn't notice much. The bathroom was interesting, the room was large and all marble but the showering area was not enclosed causing a bit of a mess after showering. The room had a fantastic view of the Ramblas and at night we could press a button to lower a blind over the entire opening to quiet the room.Embarkation was 20 minutes top, we were greeted by the concierge Alex who had Anna show us to our suite after grabbing a glass of champagne. To our surprise when we arrived at our cabin our luggage was waiting already, not bad.The cabin was great! Two minisuites if you can visualize, one was the living room/dining room/deck with the bonus sleeper room for kids that had it's own bathroom. The other was the master bedroom with the giantic bathroom including tub wih picture window overlooking the ocean. The layout made the cabin hard to leave, especially with Jose our butler bringing meals to eat en suite. If you ever get a chance to upgrade like we did try to get this cabin type, we reccomend it highly!The next item on our agenda was purchasing our spa passes. This was our best investment as far as we were concerned. Fantastic hot stone beds, therapy pool, thermal steam sauna, and dry sauna made each day of intensive walking easy to recover from.                                           The ship's food was great in our opinion. I would say to skip Cagney's and do Le Bistro if you are going to spend extra. The tenderloin I had in Le Bistro was outstanding compared to the same cut in Cagney's and the service was better too. The sushi was great (we are avid sushi fans) and the Chef John (Japanese...lol) was talented and accomodating creating any roll we could think of- a great value for $15 a head.Ports of call were all special, our favorite was Livorno where we left for the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre was amazing and we had some of the best seafood of our lives. Just breathtaking seaside villages hugging the cliffs with vineyards and olive trees in the surrounding hillsides, a nice change of pace from the museum, church, archaeoligical sites.In Naples and Rome we used Romeinlimo and were very pleased. In Naples we had Jacomo (?) and he was very genuine and knoweledgable. He lived in Sorrento and was able to give us a great insight to Naples and the surrounding area. In Rome we had Vincenzo, also very helpful and full of information about the sights in Rome-great sense of humor as well. While in Rome we were able to meet the owner of Romeinlimo-Duman Kafelebasi, he greeted us and directed us into the Vatican, he was very helpful and we could tell he cared about his customers. All in all we are still smiling while thinking about our experience with NCL-the crew (especially our butler Jose) the ship itself, and the wonderful ports of call we visited. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
This was our first cruise, and it had its ups and downs.  We found we were bored. We also felt nickled and dimed, everything was an extra charge.  We expecting a movie theater on the ship, this didn't exist; instead you had to ... Read More
This was our first cruise, and it had its ups and downs.  We found we were bored. We also felt nickled and dimed, everything was an extra charge.  We expecting a movie theater on the ship, this didn't exist; instead you had to purchase movie at $11.95 each to view on the tiny TV in the stateroom. The library was somewhat out of date and was primarily made up of fiction. The person running the library was not knowledgeable and unhelpful.  You cannot buy a book or a magazine anywhere on the ship.    On the plus side the ship was very clean and the staffs, with the exception of the reception desk, were friendly and helpful.  It was pleasant to walk around the decks and to sit out on the balcony. We went to an Italian wine tasting that was quite nice, but we didn't care for the wine.  The French wine tasting was cancelled.  The pastry lecture was nice. We are not night people, so did not go to things that happened in the evening after 9:00.  The food that was included on the trip was not particularly good.  I work at a facility that has a cafeteria and my staff often complains about the food.  The food on the ship was not as good as the food at work.  We did go to two of the specialty restaurants, the French restaurant and the steakhouse.   The food was fairly good, but not great at these venues, they would probably get a 16-18 Zagat's rating.  The service is very good at the restaurants and the decor of the French restaurant is lovely.  It was quite disappointing that the same crummy desserts are served at the specialty restaurants that are served on the buffet line. The desserts are yucky and disappointing. The best general food was a nice goulash, and a pretty good hamburger.  We were bored. There was nothing to do.  The pool area was unappealing, and over crowded.  We don't gamble or dance and tend to limit our alcohol consumption to wine at dinner.  We hated that alcohol and drawing were constantly being pushed at us. The performances were OK, the dance shows were enjoyable but we were not excited by the comedians, the magician and musician.  The health and fitness area cost extra.  The art auctions were particularly cheesy.  The lectures by on Malta and Pompeii were boring.  We had a balcony room, and it was fine, neat clean comfortable bet.  We did most of the excursions, despite the expense.  They generally were rushed.  The best of the excursions was Lucca and Pisa.  Nice knowledgeable guides who provided the right mix between free time and information.   Malta was also good, but we were put off  by the guide who yelled at us for waiting in a line for the bathroom. (only 2 stalls and two busloads of women). The Sorrento, Pompeii excursion was OK.  There was not much to see or do in Sorrento.  Pompeii was interesting, I would have liked more time in Pompeii.   The worst was Rome, uncomfortable bus, nasty guide and less than mediocre restaurant.  We did Canne on our own and loved it. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
As background, my husband and I have been on 3 previous cruises (Royal Caribbean & Princess).  We selected this ship based on its port-intensive Western Mediterranean itinerary and unbeatable value.  We opted to save money on the ... Read More
As background, my husband and I have been on 3 previous cruises (Royal Caribbean & Princess).  We selected this ship based on its port-intensive Western Mediterranean itinerary and unbeatable value.  We opted to save money on the cruise and get a ocean view room and spend more money on the excursions.  My thoughts on Norwegian Cruise Line and the Gem:The Freestyle Cruising is fantastic!  We were optimistic about the freedoms it would present, but boy, were we in love with the concept once we participated in it!  The ship offers numerous dining possibilities and it is so nice to go to dinner whenever you are ready...eat solely as a couple for privacy and to reflect on the day's activities..and to wear more relaxed clothing if we wanted to.  After a long day in the ports, we found we wanted to eat right upon our return to the ship so it worked out nicely to drop our backpacks off in our cabin and head to dinner!  The staff appeared to have less interest in the guests.  I'm not sure if that was due to servers having different guests every night or what.  Those employed at the pursers desk were not overly helpful or polite; I found it frustrating when attempting to exchange currency.  Normally, we've had terrific experience with the staff on our cruises and they have really added to the experience!  The common spaces are nice; the decor is very trendy.  It's not nearly as "glamorous" as other ships but meets the needs and is pleasant.  We enjoyed several of the specialty restaurants; the food was very tasty and well presented.  I will warn future guests the ship had continual problems with both ATM's on board, so please be prepared and arrive with sufficient cash or traveler's cheques in case you do not make it to an ATM on land.The cabin was great!  The bed was by far the most comfortable bed we've had on a cruise.  Decor was nice- very relaxing and clean.  We did our own excursions through Rome in Limo (we HIGHLY recommend using them!) so we didn't participate on any through NCL.  The prices were steep, but we heard fantastic things from those who did them.  Though NCL wasn't the nicest cruise we've been on, it was a terrific value and would do it again.  In all honesty, we cruise to "sample" different places and the ship is just our means of transportation.  That doesn't mean we don't appreciate great food and nice accommodations- we do!, but we don't really participate in many on-board activities so I don't have any recommendations as far as activities go. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Some background:  I have been on four cruises prior to this one, all with carnival.  I went with my boyfriend who has been on one carnival cruise.  I also went with my father and his girlfriend and this was their first cruise.  We ... Read More
Some background:  I have been on four cruises prior to this one, all with carnival.  I went with my boyfriend who has been on one carnival cruise.  I also went with my father and his girlfriend and this was their first cruise.  We stayed in Barcelona the day before at HCC MontBlanc.  I recommend this hotel because of its location and its very nice.  If you have any questions about my review you can email me at k.m.ferguson13@gmail.com Day 1: Got to the pier around 11:00.  No lines at all.  We boarded around 11:30.  We weren't hungry at first so we just walked around the ship.  Our first impressions were great.  The ship was clean and beautiful!  After awhile we went to the grand pacific for a nice sit down lunch.  It was very good, and there was only 3 other tables filled!  Everyone else must have been at the buffet.  We then walked around to all the specialty restaurants because we heard they were giving samples.  Yummy.  We decided on le bistro for tonight.  We went to the bali bar outside by the pool for some drinks.  Pool area was awesome as well.  After that we went to our rooms...they were ready.  Showers were def in order.  Our luggage was brought shortly after the rooms were ready.  After some rest we went to dinner.  Le Bistro was amazing.  I mean everything was great about it:  the food was some of the best on the ship (esp the steak, cagneys should take a lesson from the French!).  The wait staff were awesome, they were soo nice and recognized us everytime we came in or saw us around the ship.  I got escargot (spelling?) it was awesome.  I also got the scallops and those were very good as well.  For main dish someone at my table got the salmon and loved it, I got the lamb it was awesome, and two people got the steak.  They said it was one of the best steaks they have had.  Dessert was good too, the whole meal was a great start to our cruise.  After that we went to the spinnaker lounge.  This became one our favorite places.  We listened and laughted to some karaoke.  After a few drinks we went outside to admire the night sky.  We did not go to the show, we were too excited about the ship that night.  Even though we had just had a great meal my boyfriend and I went to blue lagoon to try some things.  The food here was good, not a long wait to get food.  Off to bed!   Day 2: We had signed up to go to brunch and le bistro for $15 so no breakfast for us.  I got up early to goto the pool area and watch the sea.  Relaxing morning just hanging out by the pool drinking mimosas (on special from 8-11).  Off to brunch:  once again AMAZING.  I suggest it.  Part of it is a delicious buffet and then you order from a menu as well.  There was a string cortet.  Really great food and services.  After that I went into the Jacuzzis.  Nice temperature.  The casino was next on the list, won 20$ on slots.  Nice casino, remember to bring extra cash for it, they wont take it out of your card unless you want $100.  In carnival you could just stick your card in and play.  After that I went to the Italian wine tasting.  Informative and a lot of fun, if you like wine I suggest paying to $15 for a good wine lesson.  I went up and toured the spa area, booked a special(more about that later).  The spa was very nice, but I didn't get the spa pass because I was doing a lot of shore excursions and I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time to spend there.  We had dinner at tequilas.  This was a very good meal for only $10 cover charge.  Chips are brought out to the table with atleast 4 kinds of dips and we asked for guacamole.  Lobster tacos were good...very cheesy but good.  After dinner we went to the show, colorz.  It was okay, we left a little early so we could go to the newlywed show at 9.  Funny, as always.  After that we went bowling at the bliss bar.  There was never a line to bowl...I don't know what some of these other reviews are talking about.  I mean I went to play twice and spent some time in the bar and there was always atleast one lane open.  Maybe there were no bowlers on our ship?  Specialty restaurants were always empty too (except tepp) I think the ship was full of "buffet people"  that didn't want to spend the extra money.  Wish I had that will power!  Bed after bowling.   Day 3: We did not get off the ship at Malta.  My dad did, he said it was okay.  The view from the ship was awesome.  It made me want to get off and explore.  Instead we stayed on and had breakfast at the buffet for the first time.  It was pretty good, I was surprised how many hot stations there were.  Not a line either.  Spent some time at the pool.  Boyfriend and I played shuffle board and hit some golf balls.  Had a sit down lunch in grand pacific, very good.  After that we went to play wii on the big screen...once again no line, the employee was actually playing she was so bored.  We also bought an internet package and got on just to check email.  The email is very slow so I def suggest buying a package because I think you will spend more time on then you would think.  Went to a margarita tasting.  It was awesome.  They serve you chips and guacamole too.  They were very good drinks too.  This is the first time on the ship I started to really notice other peoples attitude on the ship.  The lady beside me took a sip out of each drink.  When the bartender came to ask if something was wrong she said it was the worst margarita she ever tasted and even if someone paid her she would not take another sip.  Now I understand not liking a drink but you could just say its not to my liking, you don't have to be nasty.  When the bartender came to me I told him it was the best margarita I ever had, hoping this would make him feel better!  Dinner was at the grand pacific tonight for lobster.  This was okay, I liked the specialty restaurants a little better.  But we dressed up and got some pictures taken so it was a good night.  Free lobster is free lobster, so Im not complaining!!  Never had to wait at the main dining room, and never saw anyone waiting the whole week.  Went to the comedian show after.  I thought this was great.  The group was soo funny.  I esp loved the cruise ship jokes, you could tell they had been on the ship awhile.  After that we went to bed early.   Day 4: Today was Naples.  Got up early for breakfast in the grand pacific.  It's nice to sit down during breakfast.  WE did an excursion through the ship, Pompeii.  It was okay, I wont give it a bad review because the reason I was disappointed was because of my lack of research.  I thought most of Pompeii was still exactly how it was left.  This was not the case, it fact there was a ton of construction to "modernize" it.  Our tour guide was constantly saying, now this is not authetic this is modeled after how it would look.  Seeing the people was cool, awesome view of the volcano too.  Also had the best pizza of my life (or maybe it was just in my head since we were in naples).  Great gelato too!  After our tour we went back to the ship and spent some time in the sun.  We had cagneys for dinner that night.  This is prolly the only bad thing I will say about the cruise's food.  Cagneys is now $25 cover charge.  It wasn't awful, but I felt robbed.  I got the crab cakes, lobster bisque, oysters rockafeller, and steak (ny strip I think).  The crab cakes were all filler...no crab.  The soup was not lobster, not sure tasted like beef broth.  The oysters were delic!  My steak was good, not as food as le bistro though.  I think the problem was that le bistro was soo good and cost us $10 less per person!  If I had to do it over I would not go to cagneys.  Spent the rest of the evening in the spinnaker lounge.  Cool furniture there and great views when leaving the port.  Also, there is always something going on there.  They also have popcorn and pretzels there for some snacks.    Day 5: ROME!  Now I know most people don't do excursions from NCL but this is exactly why I do:  our bus broke down.  We would have never made it back to the ship in time if I didn't book it through NCL.  Because of this even though we were stuck for over an hour we still got to see everything we paid for.  Luckily we broke down by a rest stop and the company even paid for everything we bought there.  Really great.  We did Rome and the Vatican.  In my opinion we spent way to much time in the Vatican and not enough in Rome.  But I loved it and it just made me want to go back to Rome very soon!  Didn't get back to the ship till 7.  Had dinner in the magenta.  It was pretty good, we were so tired they prolly could have served us anything and we would have been happy!  After dinner we went to another second city comedian show in the spinnaker lounge.  After our 10 hour tour we were ready for bed around 10.    Day 6: Florence today.  We did the tour Pisa and Tuscany winery.  I would def suggest this!! It was a great tour.  Pisa is def worth seeing.  There is plenty of free time to do whatever.  I will say this about the shopping, it is not just toursity shops there, I bought some cool jewelry and a leather purse.  Don't go to the shops outside of Pisa's gate...there all fake I think.  But the once right by the leaning tower are great.  Tuscany was beautiful.  The winery was soo much fun.  Everyone was drunk by the end of the amazing meal.  They give you as much table wine as you want.  Beautiful property.  The served us an amazing meal as well, so many courses I don't even remember.  I also bought two bottles of wine to take home with me.  Once back on the cruise ship we made reservations for teppanyanki (haha I don't have the info with me so not sure how to spell it).  I liked this meal, and we had a ton of fun eating it.  I got the lobster, scallops, and calamari.  Good meal.  After this my boyfriend and I went to the magic show.  He was funny and cheesey at the same time.  My boyfriend loved him.  After that we went to the star bar to listen to a jazz band.  This bar was very mellow and a great place to relax.  On another separate note, when you read these reviews keep this little story in mind:  While on the elevator this day a women came on very angry.  She explained to us that she went to the main dining room for lunch and they said it was closed.  It was  two thirty at this point.  She continued to say that she would not go to the buffet so now she would not be able to eat till later.  She then made it clear she was going to the front desk to complain and then would be writing a letter to NCL about eating times.  I guarantee you this woman let this ruin the rest of her day.  In return prolly wrote a bad review.  This is not the type of person I am, so I refuse to take many of these reviews too seriously.  If you are open minded and don't expect people to cater to your every whim you will be fine and really enjoy this cruise.  In fact, even if I was being picky I could still not find many things wrong with this ship.    Day 7: Waking up to the beautiful Nice was something to always remember.  We did the shore excursion  the charm of st. paul.  It was a little town with a lot of unique shops.  If I could do it again I prolly would do something else.  Nice was very pretty I could have prolly just walked around and been happy.  This excursion was okay, I got some great gifts for family back home.  We did look around Nice a little after the excursion.  It was a great port.  I've decided I want to live there for sure, ha yeah right.  Spent the rest of the day by the pool enjoying the view of Nice from the ship.  They had a lot of specialty drinks today including one that was made out of a coconut.  Overprices, but too much fun to pass up.  They also had pitchers of sangria.  On this day my dads girlfriend and I went to a sangria and tapas tasting.  No one except us showed up.  We were upset until the guy gave us a glass of sangria and tapas for free!!!  It seemed that no one on this ship wanted to do activities.  Almost all of the tastings I went to were cancelled except margarita and Italian wine.  It was a same because learning and drinking is always fun!  Now for dinner on our last night we of course had to go back to Le Bistro.  AMAZING again.  The waiters remembered us and it was just a great meal.  At night we went to another second city show that was again very funny.   Disembarkation: Easy!  We had some nervous travelers with us so we did the color code to ensure we would get off the boat in time.  Still this was not bad, although the other walk off whenever option would prolly be even easier!The luggage was out quickly and we were off to the airport in less than 20 min.    A few other notes:  The bars on deck 6 are awesome.  No one is ever there though!  We went to the martini bar a lot of times before dinner.  We were lucky if there was one other couple with us.  The bartenders are super friendly.  Also, don't forget about the tequilas bar.  Great drinks and you get chips for free.  Double check all prices, if your like me you read these reviews religiously and just assumed they were the same.  Not the case, a couple restaurants changed there fee, but that's common senses.  Also, be careful with your belongings.  I know this may seem like common sense but I cannot tell you how many people had huge bags with them.  Some of our tour guides told them do not bring that off the bus in touristy areas.  I can answer questions, as I am sure I forgot something! 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Sail Date May 2009
I planned this cruise for a long time and as the months became weeks then days, I found myself .... smiling more often.  I think everyone does on a much awaited cruise.  Well anyway, this was going to be a celebration of our 15th ... Read More
I planned this cruise for a long time and as the months became weeks then days, I found myself .... smiling more often.  I think everyone does on a much awaited cruise.  Well anyway, this was going to be a celebration of our 15th year anniversary and my 40th birthday.  We usually sail with our 2 kids (D 10, S 4) but this time it was just me and my hubby.  Thanks to my Mom and Dad for looking after the kids while we go on vacation.  This is our first time on NCL and we cruised on Princess four times, Disney once and Carnival twice.  Let me just start by saying that the GEM is beautiful!!!!  I was worried when I booked NCL because of the reviews I read on cruisecritic.  However, the itinerary was perfect, the price was great and the service was beyond compare.  I liked the fact that it starts and ends at the same port and that it was only 7days.  To me it was perfect because I didn't have to be away from the kids for a long time.  We originally booked a balcony but 2 weeks before we sailed I saw an opening for an aft penthouse suite on travelocity for a very good price.  I also read that the suite came with extras so I called my TA to upgrade.  I love love love the suite.  We had Alex our concierge and Andres as our butler.  I think our NCL experience went up another notch because of these extras and the room was wonderful too.  Alex made sure our dining reservations were always for a table next to the window.  Plus, I think because Alex made the reservation we never had any problems even if we were late, there was always a table waiting for us.  I mentioned this because other people were either told to wait or had to sit with other groups.  Andres, our butler, gave us the best service.  If you are lucky enough to get him as your butler, you will have the best time.  I told him that when I'm back at home making breakfast I will remember him.  From the moment we met him at the registration desk until the last day, he was very accommodating.  After checking in, and I should add was a breeze, Andres took our hand carry and led us through the building into the ship to our room.  It was about 1pm and people were waiting in the lobby area because their rooms were not ready but we bypassed all that.  In our room, Andrew acquainted us with the amenities plus chit chat about the Philippines since we came from the same country.  Let me tell you about the suite, the espresso machine was heavenly that my hubby was making coffee probably 5x a day!  The room was very spacious, lots of cabinets, big flat screen tv with a choice of DVD (I needed this because there's only a few channels in English), our own wireless phone to use everywhere on the ship, spacious bathroom with tub, thick towels, nice furniture indoor and out on the balcony.  But the best feature of this room was the bed.  I was in heaven and felt like the bed was hugging me.  The pillows were wonderful too and you get a pillow menu to choose from.  My only complaint about the room was that you feel the vibration of the engine some nights (not too bad, I'm just a light sleeper) and by the middle of the week, there was soot on the balcony from the smoke exhaust.  By the middle of the week, they gave us an advisory that they were going to clean the balcony while we were off shore.  I didn't notice the soot before that but I did notice it the day after they cleaned.  I think next time I would go for a suite elsewhere because of the soot and vibration.  Being in the aft though protected the room from the wind if you want to leave the sliding door open.  Another perk of the suite is being able to eat at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch.  Andrew would bring our Cagney's breakfast and we'd eat by the balcony.  Lunch at Cagney's was also nice, they had enough selections for the whole week.  We loved the colossal shrimp cocktail which was truly colossal.   We were so spoiled that we didn't go to the buffet anymore.  I think the only time I went was to have ice cream or their crepe with a scoop of ice cream, yummm.  I thought the buffet area was chaotic with everyone trying to get their food.  It was nicely laid out, even better than at Princess ships, but of course with the number of passengers this cannot be avoided.  As for the specialty restaurants, we tried La Cucina, Le Bistro and the Sushi bar.  We loved them all but would go to La Cucina again anytime.  This place had a $10 cover charge as opposed to $15 for the other two and I thought that for the price the food was excellent.  Le Bistro was okay and the Sushi bar was awesome, all you can eat sashimi/sushi.  The other restaurants we didn't try had a cover charge of $25 plus another $10 (if I remember correctly) if you get lobster.  I thought that was too much.  As for the main dining rooms, I agree with the other reviews that they tend to make the food less appetizing to sway people to the specialty restaurants.  I thought that the food at Princess or Carnival was much better.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed every night.We decided to take tours offered by NCL even though they were outrageously expensive.  We wanted to relax on this cruise and didn't want to be worried all the time.  I heard a lot of horror stories of being left and then having to find a way to get to the next port that I decided going on our own might be more expensive in the end.  Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
Embarkation:My wife and I arrived in Barcelona on Saturdaya afternoon, the day before the cruise was scheduled to leave Barcelona.  This gave us approx. 24 hours to catch up on sleep, and explore a bit of Barcelona.  When we arrived to ... Read More
Embarkation:My wife and I arrived in Barcelona on Saturdaya afternoon, the day before the cruise was scheduled to leave Barcelona.  This gave us approx. 24 hours to catch up on sleep, and explore a bit of Barcelona.  When we arrived to the pier on Sunday at about 2pm, there was a sizeable crowd already in front of us for check-in.  Regardless, we were able to check out luggage quickly (within 5 minutes), and then proceeded into the embarkation area inside the facility.  After getting through security in about 5 minutes, we were then led to a separate check-in area for those with mini-suites.  We were pleasently surprised by being first in line.  As a result the check-in process was quick and we were given a group boarding number of "7".  After waiting for about 15 minutes, our number was called and we proceeded to board the ship.  All in all a painless process and off to a good start.Ship - Public Areas & Mini-Suite stateroom:Once we were on the ship we went directly to our balcony mini-suite on the port side of deck 11.  Upon opening the door I was a bit dissapointed in the size.  Being my second cruise and having been only on the Crown Princess (balcony mini-suite) in 2005, I couldn't help but think that the NCL gem mini-suite size compared unfavorably.  There was hardly any room to walk between the bed and wall, and the overall size of the room seemed quite a bit smaller than Princess.  The positives were that the balcony seemed roomier (perhaps because NCL has a very small table on the balcony), and the bathroom seemed a bit larger.  I should also note that from our cabin 11594, we constantly heard banging from what seemed like above us when trying to get to sleep between 10pm-12am.  We were below the Italian restaurant - La Cucina but could not believe how noisy the kitchen area apparently was.  Somehow we ended up with a complimentary bottle of champagne that we are still unsure of why we received, but nonetheless a nice touch.  The only other glaring drawback to the stateroom in retrospect was the limited # of television channels.  Besides TMC, a sports channel, and 2 news channels, the TV offered nothing else interesting. Overall we found the public areas of the ship to be quite nice from the beginning of our trip and throughout the voyage.  The only dissapointing piece was the unimpressiveness of the atrium area of the middle of the ship - but a small issue with an otherwise positive reaction to the public rooms on the ship.  On the positive side, the gym and spa were both nice and the gym was never full, meaning we could always get in a workout without a crowd.  Unfortunately like any ship any group class at the gym you had to pay for.  The result- almost completely empty classes.  What's the point?  Lower the fees & you will see increased usage.Food:Unfortunately the food was dissapointing aspect of our cruise.  The room service was absolutely dreadful and also confirmed by fellow cruisers.  The quality of the free food - Garden Cafe (buffett), Blue Lagoon (comfort food), main dining rooms were marginal at best.  You can absolutely tell that NCL skimps on the quality & quantity of the free food and instead focuses on the delivery and service of food in the cover charge restaurants.  At a minimum we expected the presentation of the food (espec. desserts) to be nice in the main dining room, yet were sorely dissapointed.  Princess definitely kills NCL by comparison.  On the positive note the "freestyle dining" of both dinning whenever and wherever was good.  There were never lines for restaurants (except for Teppenyaki), and the various options of restaurants was nice.  But again, the nickle and diming of having to pay most restaurants was unfortuante.  In fact, Tequila - the latin tapas restaurant is a great example.  The restaurant was completely empty every single night because no cruisers were willing to pay $10/pp for burritos when that isn't even necessarily a good value on land!  I can see dining at Cagney's a good steakhouse for $25/pp when it might cost $50-70/pp on land, but why would anyone pay to dine at a latin restaurant where the ingridients aren't expensive to begin with.  The restaurant was so empty in fact that waiters from that restaurant would end up going to the main dining rooms to help serve food because they had nothing else to do.  In my opinion NCL should consider lowering all their cover charges by $5/pp and I think they would see an uptake in the usage at the restaurants, while at the same time increasing revenue. Read Less
Sail Date May 2009
This was my 14th or 15th cruise, and I've been on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and several times on my favorite NCL. We arrived in Barcelona on Saturday, November 8th, one day prior to the cruise departure on ... Read More
This was my 14th or 15th cruise, and I've been on Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and several times on my favorite NCL. We arrived in Barcelona on Saturday, November 8th, one day prior to the cruise departure on Sunday, the 9th. Stayed one night at the Hotel AC Diplomatic which I recommend. Excellent quiet location close to Paseo Gracia. Wish we had booked more time in Barcelona as it's a great city with lots to see and do. Will go back. The port of Barcelona is absolutely top notch! We easily arrived by taxi just past noon and waited in no lines whatsoever. Baggage quickly handled and we checked in. As we originally were booked in an AE category Penthouse we also had access to the VIP arrival room where we met our lovely Concierge and hero as you'll read, Lisa Meyer. We were escorted onto the ship, received a mimosa, and led to our cabin. The entire ship still "smells new" and is spotless. Our Penthouse, category AE, number 8630, was nicely sized and just what we imagined as we've been in this category on NCL before. About double the width of a standard cabin with room for a four seat dining table which is convenient. Since suite guests exclusively can dine for breakfast and lunch at Cagney's with no additional charge we headed there for lunch, which was excellent. Perfect service! We were located at the aft of deck 8, which I love for the panoramic views from the balcony and less wind. However, around 11 p.m. we went to bed, and heard crashing and rumbling beneath our cabin. This continued constantly for an hour before I decided to call the reception desk to find out what was going on? I was told that there is a bowling alley, actually two lanes, located directly beneath the cabin! Cabin 8630 is directly over the end of the bowling lane and pin setting equipment! Why in the world was this designed without any regard for the noise it creates? Long story short, Lisa Meyer and Irina Ionita, Front Office Manager, created a resolution the next morning that was out of this world! An onboard credit, access to the private courtyard on deck 14, and we were upgraded to an AB Penthouse cabin 11012, which blew me away so much I couldn't help but literally cry for joy! Ms. Meyer and Ms. Ionita, you saved our trip and we will be forever grateful to you both! We cannot thank you enough! If you want to splurge this is the category to get! Two bedrooms, each with own bath, great for traveling with kids, a full living room and dining room, balcony, separate King sized bedroom, and a master bathroom that will amaze you, guaranteed! Picture window over the bathtub overlooking the ocean with a flat screen T.V. A walk-in stall shower with floor to ceiling window overlooking the sea, and multi-head shower system. Marble floors and double sinks. The bathroom itself was actually the size of a standard cabin! Absolutely incredible! We could have stayed in that cabin for a month. They also have an automatic espresso and coffee machine which I loved! Full hot breakfast service each morning in cabin served by our Butler, Totaram, thank you! It was pure heaven. We ate twice at Le Bistro, first time excellent, second the pits regarding quality and service. Two dinners at Cagney's were excellent. One dinner at La Trattoria which was wonderful. Only once in the main dining room Magenta which was very good, but too big and noisy for me. I'm not bothered by the cover charges as the experiences we had in the speciality restaurants was much more like dining at a private restaurant. The spa is fantastic but not free. I paid $75 for a week pass and it was worth every penny! The men's sauna and relaxation area have panoramic windows facing the front of the ship. Snacks, chilled water, tea, coffee, OJ all served complimentary. Only played craps in the casino and had one amazing night of luck, and one typical night during which I gave back some, but not all, of the money won previously. Casino was small and not very busy. We took NCL shore excursions in every port even though they were pricey. But, in all honesty, for what we saw and for the extremely knowledgeable tour guides, they were worth every penny in our opinion. Plus, one of the tour buses broke down returning from Rome. It wasn't ours but it was another NCL tour. The ship waited for the bus because it was an NCL excursion. If you're on your own, good luck getting to the next port if something happens to you as the ship won't be held for you. Peace of mind has a cost and I'll pay it every time! Tours were Historic Towns and Crafts in Valletta, Pompeii/Sorrento/Capri in Naples, Classic Rome, Splendour of Florence, Nice and Monte Carlo. I recommend them all. Paced very well and you will see so much in the amount of time allotted. A lot of walking involved over rough services so beware if that's an issue for you. Disembarkation was the smoothest ever. We carried our luggage off at about 7:15 a.m. after breakfast in the dining room, and were at the airport before 8:00 a.m. sadly ready to depart Barcelona. It was the best trip of my life and I am a fan of NCL for life, particularly for the way we were treated on this cruise. Excellent customer service! Freestyle cruising is the only way I'll go! Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
I'm posting this several days after our return. It was a wonderful itinerary, a great ship, but NCL really needs to get their act together in terms of customer service. We also found a number of great companies to use to avoid ... Read More
I'm posting this several days after our return. It was a wonderful itinerary, a great ship, but NCL really needs to get their act together in terms of customer service. We also found a number of great companies to use to avoid NCL's over priced shore excursions. November 2, 2008 We arrived in Barcelona about 9:30AM. NCL pre-departure told us we couldn't check in and/or get rid of our baggage until noon, so we contacted Barcelona Taxi to pick us up at the airport and take us on a 4 hour tour. The charge was €45 per hour and it was money well spent. We met our driver just outside customs. He spoke great English and gave us a perfect overview tour throughout the entire city, even though it was raining. Barcelona is beautiful and the architecture is different then you will see anywhere else. The driver dropped us off at the ship a little after 1:00PM and we easily boarded. We found out that we could have dropped off our luggage much earlier, although it didn't cause a problem it was just the first of NCL's many miscommunications. Pre-departure we received a coupon book from NCL via our travel agent. Most were for discounts on pictures and the gift shop. But two seemed to provide us some value. The first coupon provided dinner for two with the first paying the coverage charge at any one of their specialty restaurants—at least that is what we understood. This is NCL's signature feature, Freestyle dining with two main dining rooms and 6 specialty restaurants. The specialty restaurants have a cover charge ranging from $10 to $25. We found out that the coupon was only good at 3 of the specialty restaurants—the least popular restaurants. We used it anyway, since we were going to try most of them out during the cruise. The second coupon's conditions, however, really set me off. In the large and medium font it said that if you dined at 5 specialty restaurants, you would get the 6th dining experience for free. However, much to my discontent, in small print that I couldn't even read with my glasses, it stated that it was only good for one person per stateroom. So if you have 2-4 people each paying a cover charge and going to dinner together at the same restaurant every night, only one gets a cover charge-free meal. Of course, we didn't find this out until the meal was over. The waiter took the issue up about 5 levels to the Food and Beverage Manager, but they all refused to use common sense. Thus for refusing to honor the $20 coupon, I had the $10 per day service charge deducted from our total ship invoice, or $140. I have also told my favorite cruise specialist Beth Christie and now you. I realize that this may hurt the crew who share in the service charge, but I felt the need to make a point. While I'm on the subject of food, overall I was disappointed. It's cruise food, no matter how much they try to oversell the quality. Also, you don't get what you pay for when you pay a cover charge at the specialty restaurants, what you get is freedom to eat when and where you want. Steaks at all dining rooms are equivalent to Ponderosa. The Teppanyaki Room was the most popular, but it was mostly for the show. The seafood was over cooked and drowning in garlic. The French restaurant and the steakhouse had great appetizers, but weak entrees, the Italian had good entrees, but the appetizers were mediocre. Almost no one (including us) ate at the Tex Mex restaurant. It was always featuring a 2 for 1 coverage charge. We had one forgettable meal at the main dining room, not completely forgettable, the steak was bad, a ½ inch of choice sirloin. November 3, 2008 A sea day. I came in about 15th in the Texas Hold'em tournament out of 29 and lost my investment. November 4, 2008 A day in Malta. This is my second visit to Malta and our shore plans were the same. We ignored NCL's shore excursions that averaged about $50 per person and hailed a taxi just off the pier. The fare is €60 for up to 4 people to get a 4 hour tour, including Mdina. We found another couple and we were off. The taxi ended the tour at the medieval part of Valletta and we walked on our own through the streets and then down the hill to the ship. This was a short day on shore, with all aboard at 2:30 pm. Luckily there was a second poker tournament. Only 16 players, but I won! Not bad for my 3rd time playing. November 5, 2008 We docked in Naples. From searching on the internet I found Pompeii Taxi and hired them to take us from the ship to Pompeii and then on to Sorrento. The charge was €140. This probably was high, but we really wanted to focus on Pompeii and not be rushed by being on a tour with 4 or 40 others. The biggest mistake we made was not paying the €100 for a guide. There is so much history and houses open and close for touring so guidebooks are frequently outdated. Plus a guide might have had an extra umbrella that could have prevented us from getting soaked that day. After visiting the Villa of the Mysteries, the driver took us on to Sorrento. Overall the driver was OK, but a little too quiet as he didn't impart any information about the surroundings unless questioned. We spent about an hour and a half walking the streets and enjoyed a pizza. From there we walked down the hill and took a hydrofoil to Capri. We wondered about a bit, taking the funicular up the hillside and walked to the gardens. Although the gardens and view were beautiful, 1-2 hours was more than enough if you intended on avoiding the high end shopping. There is supposed to be a wonderful blue grotto, but we were told the seas were too rough, so it was closed. We then took the slower ferry back to Naples and the ship. All in all we spent about $300 for our day compared to the $560 NCL would have charged the two of us for the exact same itinerary. Plus we did it at our pace rather than going with 30 others. They may have had a guide in Pompeii, but we believe we were able to see more. November 6, 2008 Rome! Or more precisely Civitavecchia. Once again we just winged it and left the ship and took the short walk to the train station purchasing an €8 day pass that included roundtrip transportation to Rome, plus the Rome metro. We did hire a guide to see the Coliseum, which would have also include a tour of the Forum area. We skipped the forum half and then walked and walked the city. From the Coliseum to Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peters Basilica and everything in between. November 7, 2008 Using CruiseCritic.com we meet up with 5 others and had a fantastic day seeing Pisa, Florence and visiting the Principe Corsini winery in Tuscany. Our driver was Paolo Bonetti and I would highly recommend him for a day of sightseeing. The cost for 7 (or 8) passengers was $520, so for the 2 of us it cost $150, plus $15 each for the wine tasting. The vineyard was fascinating as it also included a tour on how they extract olive oil. November 8, 2008 We tendered into Villefranche. I probably should have done a little more research. After getting a quote from the local taxi stand for €210 for a 3 hour tour to Monte Carlo and Eze, we decided to wonder down to the train station. The train one way to Monte Carlo for the both of us was only €5. We were a little confused after exiting the train station, but a local helped us understand the bus system and for €1 were off to the casino, and had a 29 minute transfer to get back on board to continue on to the palace. We experienced a few glitches in not understanding the map topography, but all in all a good stop. We tried to go back on the train to Eze, but after disembarking the train, found it would take too long to visit the medieval city. This was another short day requiring us to back on board at 2:30 again. A short day however called for a third poker tournament. This time there were 11 competitors. After 2 hours it came down to 3 players (top 3 win cash prizes). NCL really wanted to hurry us up and proposed we all split the pot. So I guess you could say I tied for 1st! I actually was slightly ahead in chips. My poker winnings, covered all the extras on board; wine, cover charges and a little laundry. November 9, 2008 Disembarkation. Soooooooo easy. We picked what time we wanted to get off the ship, and we just walked off and immediately found our luggage. When we made the booking, NCL told us that we should not book any flight before noon. We could have booked a 9:00am flight and made it easily. Why can't NCL tell their phone people how things really work? Once again, things did work out, because we took an 11:55am flight out of Barcelona for home via Amsterdam, we could get off in Amsterdam for 23 hours and not have it cost any more. We found a great hotel bargain at the Sheraton in the airport using Skoosh.com. It was hundreds cheaper than Orbitz or hotels.com. Again, we used local transportation and rode the train to the city central. We took a walking tour through the old section of Amsterdam and then had a great dinner at Cafe Bern. This was the best meal of the trip and it cost us less than the cover charges at any of the restaurants on ship. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
My husband and I planned this vacation last March. We are a middle aged couple that are active. This itinerary offered many places that we had never been and was anxious to visit. We departed Charlotte NC airport on Friday, November ... Read More
My husband and I planned this vacation last March. We are a middle aged couple that are active. This itinerary offered many places that we had never been and was anxious to visit. We departed Charlotte NC airport on Friday, November 7th flying Iberia Airlines into Madrid and then onto Barcelona. It was an overnight flight and was on schedule. Our arrival at the Barcelona airport was uneventful. We traveled with carry on luggage. A quick call to the hotel resulted in a timely pick up in their van. The Renaissance Barcelona Airport Hotel was clean and neat and very contemporary styled. The hotel also provided a ride to the ship for ten euros each the next morning. Dining was available on sight at reasonable prices. Two restaurants are open for a choice in menus. On sight was a fitness center stocked with fresh fruit and bottled water. Our timetable to depart on Sunday morning was eleven AM. After an approximate 20 minute drive we arrived at the port. We were immediately welcomed aboard the ship with no wait whatsoever to board. Complimentary champagne and orange juice were being offered as we arrived. Being optimistic we went to our stateroom and it was ready for our occupancy. Loved finding bathrobes in the closet! It was almost noon and time for a quick lunch at the Garden Buffet. As on all NCL ships that I have sailed on there are action stations throughout the buffet area. Many, many items to choose from. Seating inside and also lots of room outside at the rear of the Garden Buffet with even more food. Smoking and non smoking sections. After lunch we walked around the ship stopping in the library to check out the book selection. Our fire drill was at 5 PM and we were to set sail at 7 PM. Dinner on our embarkation day was at Cagney's with excellent service by our waiter Mark. I had the five ounce filet, Lobster Bisque and the Chocolate Moulden Cake for dessert! Then on to the show at 9:15. Monday, November 10th was our sea day as we sailed towards Malta. I had arranged our Meet and Greet with Anna Gural, the Group Services Coordinator. Meeting was held in the Magenta Restaurant at 11 AM. There were 40 in attendance as well as many from the crew's staff. Ray Carr, the Cruise Director and Scott Hamby, the Hotel Director answered questions from our members. Pastries, coffee and tea were provided. We introduced ourselves and discussed the various excursions planned for the remainder of the week. Many thanks to one of our roll call members who helped so much with our excursions and scheduling so that our little group of sixteen could stick together. Had lunch in the Garden Buffet and dinner at Tequila's on Monday night. Melania, the assistant Maitre'D gave perfect service. The show was at 8 & 10 PM and was the World Beat which featured the NCL singers and dancers. The White Hot Party was held at 10:45 PM but we went back to our stateroom and were fast asleep before 11. Tuesday, November 11th we arrived in Valletta, Malta at 7 AM. It is a beautiful old authentic city. It was cloudy but 65 degrees. Our day was with our Cruise Critic group of 16 and we toured with Rabat Tours. The driver was Stephano. It was a short port day but we saw Mdina, the old capital city, Dingi Cliffs, the highest point in Malta. Also visited TaQali Village which demonstrated glass blowing techniques as well as the President's residence and beautiful gardens. Had a reception with the ship's captain, Frank Juliussen and then dinner in the Grand Pacific. It was the Lobster Extravaganza and Beef Wellington night. Both were excellent. The evening entertainment was Bob and Sarah Trunell which was illusion and magic. Wednesday, November 12th Arrived in Naples Italy at 8 AM. Had a busy day planned. Traveled with RomeInLimo and our driver Carmelo. Franko was our tour guide for the ruins of Pompeii. Both were knowledgeable and showed their enthusiasm for their country. We stopped at a local restaurant for a typical Italian lunch in Sorrento and then it was onto the drive to the Amalfi Coast. Hairpins turns abound with breathtaking views. What an exciting afternoon! Back to the ship at 5:30 PM. Dinner at Orchid Garden was good but I had way too much food, knew there wasn't the option of a doggie bag to go. The show was Second City which personally was probably my least favorite entertainment all week. Thursday, November 13th Arrived in Civitavecchia to a lightning show as well as some spotted water spouts and hail on the pool deck. Many of the employees had never seen hail before and one Filipino lady told me that she was scared. Nonetheless, we were not going to let the weather put a damper on the port I had anticipated the most. We thought we were well prepared with raincoats, umbrellas and ponchos. Our tour was with Rome Cabs and our driver was Maurice. The drive to Rome was approximately one hour and forty minutes in the rain and traffic. We toured the Colosseum, it did not rain for this part of the tour. Then it was onto the Arch of Constantine and the Circus Maximus, the large ancient stadium for chariot races. Since we were running behind schedule we did not stop for lunch, just grabbed a quick piece of pizza or sandwich at a stand up counter. Now it was time to visit Vatican City. We had a private tour guide "Max". I was amazed to learn that he had went to high school with my brother in Norman, Oklahoma, talk about small worlds..... We visited the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica bringing me to tears with the most beautiful site of the entire trip for me personally. Stopped very quickly to pick up a few Vatican souvenirs and then we were off to the Trevi fountain to toss a coin in to ensure our return visit to Italy. Our last stop was the Spanish Steps. It was raining so hard at that point all we did was snap a quick photo. Long ride back to the ship. We were all soaking wet. I know our driver did not enjoy this day, he was out of sorts and trying to hurry us along. Immediately upon returning to our cabin a hot shower was in order. Dinner was at Blue Lagoon, yummy fish and chips. Afterwards we listened to the piano player in the atrium. Friday, November 14th The Gem arrived in Livorno at 7:10AM. Had a quick breakfast at the Garden Buffet. Off ship at 7:45 to meet our group. Sixteen of us traveled with Unforgettable Tuscany Tours with our driver Paolo Bonetti. Saw Tuscan landscape. Stopped at a roadside cafe for coffee on our way to Florence. We stopped at Piazzale Michelangelo - beautiful overview of the city. Then it was onto Academia Museum with the statue of David. He is huge! Went onto San Gimignano with its historical palaces, churches and lovely shopping - all old world and up a hill. We were back at the ship by 5:15 PM. Dinner was at Le Bistro. Wonderful service by Tanberg D'Souza. He and my husband discussed different points of the world in great detail. Saturday, November 15th Our arrival in Nice, France brought a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Our group used Revelation Tours. They were excellent and made the very most of our four hour tour. We visited Eze, Monaco and Monte Carlo. There were very beautiful gardens and very expensive shops. After arriving back at the ship we had lunch outdoors. Then went back and returned our library books. Then we stopped and dropped off our Cruise Rewards certificate to Duncan Fouche, the Cruise Consultant Manager insuring a future cruise in the not too distant future. I began packing, my dear husband waited until evening. Our last dinner was at Teppanyaki's. The show on the final night gave a big shout out to the entire ship's staff. We had wonderful room stewards and made certain they had extra tips. Sunday, November 16th We chose to carry our own luggage off the ship and catch an early cab. We were on our way to the airport at 6:20 AM. Arrived at the airport in about 20 minutes. Had to wait in line for over an hour to check in. Our flight was to depart at 10:15 AM and we had plenty of time to catch this flight. All flights went well until we had to fly from JFK. Big delay there. We were three hours late and arrived home at 1 AM. With the six hours time difference we had traveled for over 24 hours. My poor husband had to get up early and go to work, I felt so sorry for him. In summary, this was probably the best vacation of my life. We were treated like royalty aboard the ship and the itinerary was superb. I can't wait to go back! Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
We are a young couple in our late 20s from Philadelphia. We previously cruised last year on the NCL Star to Alaska in September, and we came back to immediately book our next vacation. We booked this cruise over a year out, and the price ... Read More
We are a young couple in our late 20s from Philadelphia. We previously cruised last year on the NCL Star to Alaska in September, and we came back to immediately book our next vacation. We booked this cruise over a year out, and the price was unbeatable. We had heard bad things about cruising and the seas in November, but we must have lucked out! We left PHL on Thursday evening around 9:00 pm. The flight was uneventful; however, no one had warned us for what a disaster Madrid airport was! We missed our connecting flight on Friday morning, and had to hang around the airport for 5 hours to get on the next flight to BCN. If you can avoid flying into Madrid, please do! We arrived in Barcelona late Friday afternoon. We quickly got our luggage, and took the Aeroport Shuttle to Placa Cataluña. It was very convenient, and much cheaper than taking a cab. I would recommend it, if you are staying near one of its' stops. We had booked our pre-stay at the Hotel Continental on Las Ramblas. Great service, free Wi-Fi, free drinks, and a great breakfast buffet (the clementines are so fresh and delicious!). Spent the next day and a half exploring Barcelona. Too many people for our taste, but we enjoyed the normal sights, and using the Metro is very easy. Took a cab late Sunday afternoon to the port, boarded very easily, and quickly located our cabin on Deck 10. Deck 10 of the Norwegian Gem is situated between 2 decks of cabins, so there's not too much noise. There was a good mix of all nationalities on our ship; 100 kids, but we didn't see too many, excluding the screaming child in the cabin next to us. Our cabin was just how we remembered our last one, an inside. Everything about it was great. However, the one downfall was the tv. Half the time, the ship webcam was not working, and the other half of the time, it was frozen. Charging for the movies seems cheap to us, since last time we cruised, there was no charge. We used the Grand Pacific Dining Room most of the week. We liked the variety and the set choices for each night. Liked the service they provided; never had a problem with my fiancE getting sodas. We ate in the Blue Lagoon twice; again, great service. We dined in Cagney's as well. Food there was great, but what we did notice about most of the specialty restaurants was that there were not too many people in them at any time besides the Teppanyaki. Our room stewards were great; each night that they came we had a new towel animal (and they probably think kids only like that!). Cabin was always kept in great condition. We attended the first night's Welcome Show. It was alright. I think the cruise director Ricky has such a great personality; he was always very pleasant, answered all the questions and more at the meet n greet, and his videos which were shown throughout the trip were great! Because of the long days in port, we didn't attend any more of the shows, but we did have a chance to see the string quartet and the piano player in the main Atrium. They were really enjoyable to listen to. Don't know if it's because we're young, but we're not into shopping on the boat, or attending many of the seminars. There seemed to be a great variety. We had originally booked all our shore excursions through NCL, but changed as the date got closer. Thru the message boards, we shared tours with a large group in Malta & Nice. Our time in Malta was short; we spent a lot of time at the shops and not enough time at the sights. The driver was polite and informative. In Nice, we shared a tour with a group using Revelation Tours. We were in a van with Michel, who was absolutely wonderful. He had so much information to add to the beautiful sights! In Naples, Rome, and Florence, my fiancE and I used our own private tour guide. We were unsure about the cost up front, but it was completely worth it. For our day in Naples, we used Giovanni of Pleasant Travel. He arranged a private guide for us in Pompeii. Do not do Pompeii without some kind of guide! It's totally worth it. We then traveled to the Amalfi Coast, where the weather was great, the food was great, and we always felt that we were on our own schedule and not rushed. All of our drivers made it very accommodating for us. Though it poured rain in Rome, we had a great day. We used Giuseppe from LimousineServicesinRome . We saw all the sights and more; we were taken to a great little trattoria, where no one spoke English but us. It was the freshest and best food we'd ever had! Florence was our favorite, where we used Andreas through Unforgettable Tuscany. He was so enthusiastic about Florence that we couldn't help but love it. My recommendations for tours, if you're looking to see all you can see: don't climb the tower in Pisa, do climb the Duomo, eat authentic food, don't go to the Vatican and Museums unless you plan on never going back; keep shopping to a minimum if you care about the history of the place; hire a private driver b/c you'll learn more that way; walk, walk, walk; don't take taxis! Go to Pompeii!! It's absolutely unforgettable! Our Med cruise was great. The boat was clean, quiet, and enjoyable. If you don't use the extras, the trip is very affordable. Go in the off-season; there are certainly less tourists. All of our pictures look like there isn't anyone else around. Go with your instincts on what you want to see and do; don't let others tell you it can't be done in 8 hours. It can! We thought more things on the ship should be tailored to the ports of call (more lectures, movies, etc.) but no major complaints here! Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
We traveled on the Gem from Barcelona. Traveled with another couple, all 4 of us in our early thirties and from the U.S. We stayed in a mini-suite. Second Cruise for us, first cruise to the Mediterranean. Stayed a couple days before ... Read More
We traveled on the Gem from Barcelona. Traveled with another couple, all 4 of us in our early thirties and from the U.S. We stayed in a mini-suite. Second Cruise for us, first cruise to the Mediterranean. Stayed a couple days before departing in Barcelona at Le Meridien. Great location, right on La Rambla. Rooms comfortable, average dEcor, very modern. If you are in Barcelona before cruise would recommend El Quatre Gats (good atmosphere) and Le Quince Nits (good food at a good price). We also took the Bus Turistic one day. Price is 20 euro per passenger - great way to get to the sights, but beware that there are long lines at each stop you get off to get back aboard the bus. Cabin: stayed in a mini-suite. Great room, lots of space and bed was pretty comfortable. Bathrooms were very nice and roomy. We did not regret paying more for a balcony because it was awesome being able to see the ports first thing in the morning - especially Villefranche, very pretty. Disappointed in the TV options in the room - although didn't spend a ton of time there, it would have been nice to have more options for unwinding after a long day of touring. Only English channels were fox news and cnn...also turner classic movie channel but they played one movie all day (wizard of oz, and other older movies). You could pay for movies, but they were $12 apiece, older movies $6. If you bought a movie you could save it, although you would have to rewind (slowly) each time you rewatch it. There was not a theater room or any other movie viewing options offered by the ship. Ship Info: Ship dEcor was nice, however felt the ship was missing a 'central area'. Our previous cruise on RCL had a much more 'open feel' with a main promenade area. Also found this ship to be harder to navigate, I thought they could use more maps posted around the ship. Elevators were very crowded, took stairs most of time to get between floors. Service: Restaurant service was disappointing, servers seemed annoyed and lacked personality. Room stewards were great. Bar service was very pushy and annoying, especially at the pool bar Shore Excursions: Although we did a lot of research on ports before cruising it would have been helpful for NCl to provide more information on the ports - the only thing they gave us was a high-level map of a couple shopping areas. If you can get maps of each port before getting on the ship (including bus lines, etc) you will save yourself some headaches! Malta: very easy to do on your own, walked off ship and took a taxi (~10 euro) to the co-cathedral. Very pretty, worth a visit. Amount of time at this port is just right. Naples: Also did this port on our own. Took a ferry to Capri, the ferry terminal is very close to where you get off the ship. Finding the ferry schedule was a little more tricky. Once off the ferry we could not find the bus station so ended up in a cab which cost 25 euro for 4 people. Kind of a ripoff but the cabs are convertible and the view along the way made it worth it. Once in Capri we visited Villa San Michele. The building itself was not all that impressive, however it is worth it for the views. After that we had lunch and took a ski-lift type ride to the top of Capri - definitely a must do. The ride is a little scary on the way up but the view at the top is priceless. Rome: used a car service we found online - great way to get around...you just cannot see enough of this port in the time allowed. Would suggest picking your top 3 sights and hitting those. Vatican took about 2 hrs, Colosseum another 2 and we made a quick trip to the Trevi fountain. All of the sights were very crowded for October which I found surprising. Livorno: Did the NCL excursion "Pisa and Taste of Tuscany" tour. Loved it. Leaning tower is quite a sight to see. The winery was a really fun experience, very charming little Italian restaurant where you have lunch and the wine tasting is much more than a 'tasting'. Each table is provided with 2 bottles of wine, dessert wine and a shot of something else at the end. The meal includes large appetizers (proscuitto, bruschetta, cheeses, olives, garlic bread) and then a pasta meal with biscotti for dessert. I learned about this tour from another cruise critic reviewer and would highly recommend this tour!! Villefranche: Very pretty port. We did this port on our own, after a busy week of touring we just wandered in to town and took a bus to Monaco. About a 25 minute ride. Navigating the bus system was tricky since drivers did not speak any English. If I were to do it again, I would have just stayed in Villefranche vs going to Monaco... Dining: One of the things that drew us to this ship was the advertisement for "freestyle dining" and the option to choose when/were/what you ate. The ship had a good selection of specialty restaurants, however they were all at additional charge. It was very frustrating. The main dining room and buffet were free of charge, but basically all others had an upcharge. There was a charge to get into the restaurants and ALSO upcharge for many food items. Most of our servers seemed annoyed to have to wait on us - and we were not demanding customers. One even rolled his eyes when I asked for another glass of wine. We ate at Tequilas, Cagney's, and Orchid Bistro. Cagney's was not worth the upcharge, the steaks were horrible. We had expected more after experiencing the Royal Caribbean upcharge steakhouse dining experience. Tequilas and Orchid Bistro were good - better food than free restaurants. After getting hit by all of the other ship upcharges, we gave up on the 'freestyle' options after a few nights! Would recommend NCL including restaurant fees in overall price of ship! Also, it was hard to find a seat in the Garden Cafe. We never encountered trouble getting a table at any of the restaurants as previous reviewers had expressed. Entertainment: Welcome aboard show was boring, the cruise director took about 30 minutes to introduce about 10 staff members. The cruise director lacked personality. We enjoyed comedian/magician show and the Second City show. There was a 'white hot party' one night where the staff dressed up in all white, many of them with very little clothing...definitely not a 'family' event. Apparently crew members are allowed to drink while on the job... Also, I didn't see it mentioned anywhere that you should pack a white outfit, and since it was October, only a few passengers had something to wear to the part, in fact there were a handful of cruisers who wore their white bedsheets draped around them... Fitness Center was very nice, all new top of the line equipment. Nice selection of group classes. There is a card/game room which is nice if you are with a group. There was a lounge outside the Champagne/Martini bar area that a frank Sinatra-type piano singer played at several nights. He was pretty good, and it was a good place to sit and enjoy a drink. There were also several days where they had bands and bbq out by the pool area. It was a little too cold and windy to enjoy this time of year. Disembarkation: NCL also advertises 'freestyle disembarkation'. That was kind of a joke because they kept saying "stay as long as you want" as long as you are off the ship by 9:30 am...I did not find that different from our other cruise, except they didn't tout "freestyle" disembarkation...kind of ridiculous. Also, the last couple days they were very pushy about trying to sell another cruise - offering an onboard credit of $100. The amount of advertisements and ship announcements/signage for this was rather annoying. Especially when you are trying to enjoy your last couple of days on the ship. Summary: Disappointed in the number of upcharges/fees onboard. From the freestyle dining fees, extra menu fees, even the foosball and pool tables had a charge of one or two dollars. It all adds up and you will find yourself asking "what did I pay for in my lump sum when booking this trip...?" The concept of freestyle is just a marketing ploy...did not feel this ship was anymore 'your way' than our last cruise...if anything it was more restrictive due to the charges. Although the ship itself and rooms were nice, there was just nothing that really stood out. Would not cruise again with NCL. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
This was our first cruise but certainly not our last, we have got the bug. I was travelling with my 2 children aged 15 (girl) 12 (boy)and my mother who is a very fussy 73yr old. We flew from Edinburgh Scotland to Frankfurt and then to ... Read More
This was our first cruise but certainly not our last, we have got the bug. I was travelling with my 2 children aged 15 (girl) 12 (boy)and my mother who is a very fussy 73yr old. We flew from Edinburgh Scotland to Frankfurt and then to Barcelona, it was a long day but when we arrived at Barcelona the staff from NCL made themselves known to us telling us what to do when we had our luggage. They took our luggage and the next time we saw it it was in our cabin. Booking in was very straight forward and quick got our allocated cabin keys and went on board to be greeted with "champagne". The rooms were spotlessly clean, the bathroom was also spotlessly clean. I loved the idea of the waterless soap used for embarking on the ship and everytime you went into a restaurant, although it did make my hands very dry and I had to use hand lotion more than normal. I was not so keen on the buffet restaurants as I prefer to be served but it was fantastic for the kids as they could go and play and then eat when they wanted and I wasn't being asked for money for food and drinks all the time. I bought the drinks tag for both of them and they had no problem using it. they just went to the bar themselves and asked for what ever they wanted. We loved the Blue Lagoon for lunch and had breakfast there 3 times. Staff were very attentive and couldn't do enough for you. When we went to the garden cafe for breakfast there was staff waiting to carry your tray, as I walk with a stick it was very convenient for me and they always found a table for us even though it was busy. We loved the Italian restaurant, great food and service both times. Wasn't so keen on Cagney's but I don't eat red meat of fish so I was limited to one chicken dish which was very tasty. The Pacific and the Magenta were also served good food and it was also very tasty. The only one I ate in and wasn't that keen on the food was the Asian as I have had better takeaways but the service was second to none. We booked a ship trip in every port, we felt Valletta was a waste of money and didn't enjoy it that much, but the other trips were value for money, we especially loved Pisa/Tuscany and Villafranche they really completed our cruise for us. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
My husband (33) and myself (37) live in Austin, TX, and just returned from the Western Mediterranean Cruise on the Gem (10/26 sailing). This was our 12th cruise we have cruised with RCCL 8 times, Carnival twice and Princess once. We ... Read More
My husband (33) and myself (37) live in Austin, TX, and just returned from the Western Mediterranean Cruise on the Gem (10/26 sailing). This was our 12th cruise we have cruised with RCCL 8 times, Carnival twice and Princess once. We flew to Barcelona and arrived on Wednesday, October 22nd, four days before the cruise. Barcelona is an extremely beautiful city; if you have an opportunity to spend any time there, I would highly recommend it. We bought a two-day pass on the Bus Turista for 26 euros each; there are two bus routes that run this time of year, one which covers the northern part of the city and the other covers the southern part and all the points of interest. It's a great way to see a lot of the city and not worry about transportation to and from locations. We stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, right on the coast, and had great service and a wonderful room. The people there are wonderful and helpful highly recommend it! Embarkation: We left our hotel at 11:00 am on Sunday, October 26th and headed to the port by taxi. When we arrived, our bags were taken immediately by a porter, and we walked right into the cruise terminal, through the metal detector, to the ticket counter, onto the escalator, up the gangway and onto the ship. This whole process took 17 minutes, no waiting whatsoever. I don't know how Norwegian manages this process differently than other cruise lines, but this was by far the easiest, most convenient and painless embarkation we have ever experienced. Kudos to Norwegian in this area they have got it right! The Ship: We visited our stateroom (8032, Deck 8 forward) just to find it, then went to tour around the ship. I thought the stateroom was quite nice plenty of space for us and our 12 days worth of luggage. We did find the TV viewing options to be disappointing. I know, I know, you don't go on a cruise to watch TV, but it is nice in the evenings while getting ready for dinner or before bed just to have it on. We only had FOX News (ugh), CNN (UGH!), BBC News, Turner Classic Movies and Ship Information. You can purchase movies for $12 each (!!!). In my opinion, having been on many other cruise ships, I found this ship very easy to navigate and thoughtfully laid out. There is no 'main promenade' like the RCCL Voyager Class, but Deck 7 mid-ship is kind of the main hub of the ship, housing the Reception Desk, Shore Excursions, Purser's Desk, the Crystal Atrium, a bar and Java Cafe as well as the gift shops and the Orchid Garden, Teppanyaki and Sushi Bar restaurants and the Bliss Ultra Lounge and Bowling Alley. We made reservations for the Teppanyaki restaurant for our first night, and Cagney's (the steak house) on our second night, thinking they would book up quickly. After that, we made our way to the pool deck, where the band was already playing, lunch was up and running in the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors and drinks were being served. The weather was gorgeous, and we found the bar staff in the pool area to be extremely friendly and on top of the service. My husband was so excited to find a waiter who was a HUGE Patriot's fan he found us all week to talk football and really gave us the hook-up with our drinks (not for free, just really good service and making sure we were taken care of. Melvin you're the best!). We found all the public areas and lounges on board to be very clean and nicely furnished. We did not spend any time in the casino or the Stardust Theater, but they seemed nice and clean. One thing we did notice is that even with the large number of smokers on board, the ship does NOT smell smoky, which is something we noticed on Carnival. NCL does a good job with their signage and is very accommodating to both smokers and non-smokers. There was also a noticeable number of children on board, mostly teens and pre-teens, but again, it was not terrible or inconvenient. We did have one encounter with a young teenaged boy who decided it would be appropriate to hit a ping pong ball over the railing and into the ocean, but other than that, the children did not bother us at all (we do not have children, and tend to be very sensitive to loud or unruly children when we vacation). The ship has free laundry facilities on decks 5, 9, and 10, and they sell detergent for $1.00 per box at reception or in the laundry rooms in dispensers. The washers and dryers (at least on deck 10) were always very busy, so plan accordingly if you need to do some laundry (early early morning or late in the evening seemed to be better times). After the lifeboat drill (5:00 pm), we made our way back to the cabin to find that our luggage had already been delivered very quick and efficient. Freestyle Dining Okay, here's the one area I was not 100% happy with. We fully understood the FreeStyle concept before boarding the ship that there were multiple restaurant options, and that some of them charged a cover. Here's what we found at the dining venues we ate at: Teppanyaki: This is the most expensive cover, at $25 per person. If you have never been to a Teppanyaki-style restaurant, it might be worth it for the experience, and it is somewhat novel that it is onboard a cruise ship. They can't do any of the cool 'flaming tricks' that traditional Teppanyaki restaurants can do (because they cannot have open flames on board), but overall the 'performance', service, selection of menu items, and most importantly, the taste of the food was quite good. It wasn't as good as a traditional show, but we enjoyed it. The garlic fried rice was my personal favorite awesome! The staff also gave us a cake for our 5th wedding anniversary (the reason we took the cruise) and sang to us very sweet, and a nice touch. Sushi Bar: At $15 per person, the sushi bar is 'all you can eat'. We put this to the test, and found it to be true they will make you as much sushi as you want! The sushi is good not awesome, but pretty good for a cruise ship, actually. A fair selection of rolls / sashimi, and the fresh fruit sashimi and green tea ice cream for dessert were also pretty good. Good service overall, though sometimes we waited a bit of time for a water refill or to get our check. Not that we were in a hurry (it's vacation, after all), just that it was noticeably slower service later in the week. Cagney's: This was our favorite of the dining options, we ate here twice. At $20 per person, the quality of the food and service is extremely good. Janis and Mary Ann, our wait staff team, were WONDERFULthey practically made our cruise with their incredibly attentive and personal service. My husband had the prime rib and the rib eye, both of which he enjoyed, but said the prime rib was better. I had the 5 ounce filet (delicious) and the 6 ounce lobster tail (also good). Their garlic mashed potatoes kick butt (seriously delicious). Again, great service and delicious food definitely worth a reservation. Note: the last night of the cruise, this place was PACKED! If you plan to save any of the cover charge restaurants for your last night, I would strongly recommend reserving in advance. The Blue Lagoon: Located on Deck 8 mid-ship, The Blue Lagoon is a 24-hour restaurant offering a somewhat limited menu of 'comfort food' items things like wings, mozzarella sticks, tomato soup, tuna melts, panini sandwiches, fish and chips, etc... This is a 'free' restaurant, and is a good option when the buffet is too crowded (which is always more on that in a bit). However, we found the service to be quite slow and inattentive, and three out of the four times we ate here, they got at least part of our order wrong. Oh well it's vacation, so whatever, but just an observation. The food is decent not bad, not awesome. The Garden Cafe: Ugh here's the unhappy part of our Freestyle experience. I had read many reviews that were unhappy with the buffet, and I'm sad to say that we were also quite disappointed. After cruising with Princess, RCCL and even Carnival, where you can get the same selection and quality of food on the buffet as you can in the dining rooms, the Garden Cafe was a real disappointment. The food was WELL below the caliber of what was offered in the cover charge restaurants, and although we never had anything that was improperly prepared or 'unacceptable' taste-wise, the selection, presentation and taste were nowhere near the other venues, and paled by comparison to what is offered by other lines. It certainly does leave one with the impression that you have to pay more money for better food on NCL, and since dining is such a huge part of the cruise experience for so many people, one would think they would look more closely at this disparity. As for seating, honestly, forget it. If you go during peak times (you know, when everyone wants to have breakfast, lunch or dinner), there is not a table to be found. At breakfast, they do offer overflow seating in La Cucina (the italian restaurant), which helps, but it's like a mile away from the buffet. The Grand Pacific dining room and the Blue Lagoon also have limited breakfast menus in the morning I would highly recommend one of these options over the Garden Cafe if you'd actually like to sit and enjoy your meal. We did not eat in either the Magenta or Grand Pacific dining rooms, so could not speak to the food or service there. We did look at the menus a couple of times, and were a bit underwhelmed with the selection (at least on paper). We also did not use room service at all. One cool thing we noticed is that all over the ship, there are digital monitors that show you how full all of the restaurants are at any given time. The only one we found to be inaccurate was, not surprisingly, the Garden Cafe. We got coffee frequently from the Java Cafe on Deck 7, which has a great variety of coffee drinks and is reasonably priced. The service was not exactly 'warm and fuzzy', but they do have good coffee and complimentary pastries in the morning, which was great for port mornings when we wanted to 'grab and go.' We spent most of our evenings on board in the Star Bar on Deck 13, where they had a great acoustic guitarist and singer (Mark O'Bitz)he was a lot of fun). We met a lot of nice people here as well and had fun making new friends and getting to know the servers and bartender. Ports: We did not buy any of the shore excursions offered by NCL, because we found them ridiculously overpriced compared to other lines. We are somewhat experienced travelers, and so were okay with doing a bit of research in each of the ports and using public transportation to get around. If you are not an experienced traveler, or want a 'worry free' experience in the ports, then I would always recommend the excursions, as they are planned start-to-finish by NCL. Everybody that we spoke to on board who did choose shore excursions really enjoyed them, but most did feel they were very expensive. Malta: Very pretty location. We did a three hour walking tour on our own, with a map we downloaded from the internet. Had lunch at a nice outdoor cafe. Spent four hours or so on shore and felt it was plenty of time to see and experience Malta. Naples: We commissioned a taxi to take us to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. We were unable to climb to the summit of Mt. Vesuvius as we planned because the weather at the top was quite bad (the guides didn't even want to go, so we figured we shouldn't, either!). Pompeii is amazing worth the trip!! Afterwards, our driver took us on this great, crazy taxi tour of Naples. It was awesome the highlight of our day. Some parts of Naples are extremely dirty, but the city itself is very very scenic and beautiful. We were treated very nicely by everyone we came in contact with. Civitavecchia (Rome): Whew 12 hours is not enough time in this port. Keep in mind, the ship docks 1 1/2 hours from the city itself if you do not take a shore excursion, you have to either take the train (recommended a round trip ticket is 9 euros), taxi (very expensive, $350 euros one way) or hire a private car service (expensive, but good, experienced and personalized service). If you are nervous about making it back to the ship in time for departure (because if you choose to see the sights in Rome, you WILL be gone a long time), I would recommend springing for a shore excursion in this port. We took the train to the Vatican, then made our way over to the Coliseum. Both very worthwhile, but I wish we had had more time in this gorgeous city. Livorno (Pisa / Florence): We were so exhausted from Rome, we did not visit this port. Plus, when we got up, it was pouring rain, so we took the day to rest and relax. I used the spa services for a manicure (very nice, although the receptionist from Ireland was a bit cool and disinterested), we used the fitness center (also very good facilities and equipment) and of course, took a nap! A wonderful friend we made on board told us that the shore excursion to Florence and Pisa was awesome, worth the money she said the Statue of David in Florence made the whole trip worthwhile. Villefranche (France): A beautiful and picturesque place do make a point of visiting Nice. You can catch a bus for the 10 minute ride from Villefranche for $1 euro! Extremely nice people here as well we had lunch at a lovely port-side french seafood restaurant. Disembarking: Again, I don't know how NCL manages this process differently than other lines, but we chose the express disembarking option, which lets you walk off the ship with your luggage anytime after 6:30 am. We left our cabin at 7:00 am, as we had an early flight from Barcelona (10:30 am). There was no crowd, no line, no waiting, and we checked in for our flight at the airport at 8:00 am. Seriously easy NCL gets high marks from us in this area. Overall, we were very pleased with this cruise, and I would cruise NCL again IF the overall value (factoring in the $$$ you have to spend in the cover charge restaurants for their best quality food) was better than other cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
Doing some research and looking at this Cruise Critic site gives nobody any single excuse for complaining about Norwegian Gem. Everything you need to know has been said by others. Info: I'm just back from a week in the Western ... Read More
Doing some research and looking at this Cruise Critic site gives nobody any single excuse for complaining about Norwegian Gem. Everything you need to know has been said by others. Info: I'm just back from a week in the Western Med with my wife and three teenage sons. (17.14,14) Activities: Plenty. From the rock wall, the pool, the sports pitch to bingo. I wouldn't see my kids for hours. They loved the ship. Service: Much is said that the service is not up to scratch because tips are "included" in your on-board account, meaning that the staff do not have to make any great effort to secure them. That idea is rubbish. They will all do all that they can to make your trip a good one. Shore Excursions: We didn't take a single one. The prices are way too high. The simplest (drop-off, pick-up) trip to Rome was $95 each. We did it by ourselves for just 45 Euros for all five of us. 9 Euros each. Metro and buses included. There are plenty of options at each stop. But do your research and go it alone. Embarkation: Very efficient, no longer than ten minutes in Barcelona. Dining: Plenty of options here. Both smart and casual. The Grand Pacific is the most traditional restaurant. It's no jeans or t-shirts policy is rigidly enforced with the exception of the final evening. Dinner service is quite quick. Breakfast quite slow. The Garden Cafe (self-service) can get a little crowded, and resemble a service area on a motorway. But it's impeccably clean, and the supply always endless. I would not wish to eat in here at night, preferring to be served by waiters than helping myself. Blue Lagoon (open 24 hours) is ok for breakfast. But the food is a little basic for an evening meal after a day out exploring a European city. Pay restaurants are a little more refined and a lot quieter because of their much smaller size. Under 40 people in both Teppanyaki ($25) and Tequila ($10) Entertainment: OK. Nothing fantastic, but not too bad. Facilities: Great pool deck with lovely warm water in the pool as well as the hot tubs. Quiet areas are good as they tended to be where you could escape not only any pool noise, but also the sea breezes whilst on the move. The poolside loungers do get short in supply on a sunny day. There are plenty of bars to choose from all over the ship, and you will rarely go more than ten minutes without being asked if you want a drink. The prices aren't cheap, which perhaps explains why the two happy hours in my week proved so popular. Disembarkation: Pretty well organized, and no queues. Would I go back on the Gem again? You bet I would. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
My husband and I used the cruise critic to prepare for our cruise in October 2008. A few things we would like to add. We're from the US and the flight was long. To make things easy we booked the NCL pick-up at the airport. If you ... Read More
My husband and I used the cruise critic to prepare for our cruise in October 2008. A few things we would like to add. We're from the US and the flight was long. To make things easy we booked the NCL pick-up at the airport. If you arrive in Barcelona before 11am this service will include a 2 - 2 1/2 hour tour of Barcelona. It was worth the 25.00 per person fee for us and we enjoyed it, but if you're really tired or traveling with a family and your children do not want to sit longer, this may be something to think about. Also the terminal does not open until 11am. For those that like to travel light, there are washers and dryers on board and the only fee is for detergent. Bring your own because the machine dispenser wasn't always working. They did bring detergent for those that lost there quarters. There are also irons and ironing boards. We found this "laundry room" in the middle of deck 10. It wasn't a big deal to do laundry. You start it when you're at sea, leave it to wash for 50 min and come back to switch it. Have drinks inbetween. If watching TV is important to you then good luck. There is nothing to watch except news, 1 sport channel, Turner Classic Moviesone movie a day and the voices were out of sync, or ship info. They charge 5.95 for old movies and 11.95 for new releases. Not that people need to watch TV on a cruise but if you're looking for an hour of down time now and then, TV is not the answer. Nothing for children! We booked a few tours and found them to be overpriced but good. We loved the Cinque Terre. It was well worth the money and a escape from the city. We decided to take a tour to Sorrento, Pompeii, and a farm. Sorrento was very busy and not worth the long drive. Pompeii was wonderful. The farm was alright. If you decide to do this port on your own be aware that Naples is very dirty and very large. The train is not that inviting. I felt it made the NY subway look good. Rome was very easy to see on your own. For those that are afraid of big cities you will find this one to be very tourist friendly. We stayed an extra night in Barcelona after the cruise because our travel agent told us we needed to catch a flight after 12pm. This is true if you use NCL travel. But if your flight leaves early in the morning you can get to the airport without a problem. The cruise line will let you off the boat as early as 6AM. You just walk off the boat and there are taxis waiting to take passengers anywhere in the city. If we had known that we would get the free tour before boarding the ship we would not have stayed the extra night. The tour covered a lot of the city and we had time to get off the bus to see things. Our flight left everyday at 10am and we could have left the day of disembarkment. NCL does nickle and dime you for everything but the cruise is priced lower than other cruise lines and the ship is new and very clean. Alcohol was very expensive and not easy to get on board. Beer and wine are the best buy. A "bottle" of wine is the better value than a glass. They will let you take that bottle anywhere it's free style. We felt the staff to be friendlier than Royal Caribbean. You can choose to buy all the frills or not. The free style dinning is for those people that like to eat alone or when ever. The food was fine, not great, but fine. Be aware...A bottle of water bottle will cost you 4.50 so a word of advice. Save a few bottles from shore or the airport, have room service bring you in a pitch or ice water every morning then fill your bottles and put them in your fridge. Each room has a refrigerator. Each day you have cold water to take with you. 4.50 a bottle will add up. Also, our cruise was filled with a lot of adults. At least 50% were US passengers. Very few children were on board. This may not always be the case if you travel during school holidays so if you're looking to get away from children do your research and find out when school is in session in Europe. This itinerary picks up passengers as it travels from port to port. All in all we would take NCL again. Done Carnival and Royal Caribbean and NCL does make their guests feel special. And they do let you have it your way. For a price. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
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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