139 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

My husband was skeptical, he is not the cruising type, but booking a European cruise got him on board, so to speak. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday morning and spent 3 days in that amazing city before we boarded the Gem on Sunday ... Read More
My husband was skeptical, he is not the cruising type, but booking a European cruise got him on board, so to speak. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday morning and spent 3 days in that amazing city before we boarded the Gem on Sunday afternoon. We took the subway train to the station closest to the port and then a taxi into the dock area. We boarded about 3 pm and embarkation was exceptionally easy, no lines at all. We were greeted with a glass of champagne and went to our cabin. We had a balcony room, not huge, but well laid out. The bathroom was nice and the bed was especially comfortable. The whole ship was very nicely decorated with lots of cherry paneling, other than the Vegas style carpeting in the hallways and our room. Especially liked the art-deco styling of the Main Dining Rooms. Although the ship is large and was at capacity, we never felt crowded or like there were huge crowds anywhere. The pool does seem small for the size ship, but we didn't use it since we were there in October. The food was good to very good. We live in San Francisco, so we have pretty high expectations. I'd say the food was always good, and sometimes great. We only ate in the buffet once, as the crowds and food made the experience just okay. We loved the main dining room for breakfast (never a line) and for dinner, as well as Magentas. Since it was such a port heavy trip, we never had lunch on board. We paid the up-charge to eat in Teppanyaki ($25pp - but worth it and fun), Sushi ($15 pp - great sushi!). We went to the wine tasting in the Italian Restaurant which was very nice as well. Entertainment on board was okay to great. The magician just okay. Musical numbers pretty good and Second City Comedy was great. Service was wonderful throughout the ship. We were constantly greeted by everyone from officers to cabin stewards. All the wait staff were attentive and helpful. By the time we went to the last show, when they had all the crew get up on stage, everyone in the audience actually gave them a standing ovation. We did all our own shore excursions, none with the cruise line. It was easy for us. In each port, we planned each day to visit one tourist site, have a great lunch and then do some shopping. We loved cruising, we loved NCL and can't wait to go on our next cruise with them Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona to the western Mediterranean on 5 October 2008. It was my third cruise and my husbands second. We are 40 years old (but it's the new 30). We had a balcony room. We are very well traveled so did ... Read More
We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona to the western Mediterranean on 5 October 2008. It was my third cruise and my husbands second. We are 40 years old (but it's the new 30). We had a balcony room. We are very well traveled so did not do any ship excursions. I would not cruise with NCL again, here's why. I was largely unimpressed with the onboard staff. They were neither warm, friendly, helpful or spoke english very well. They were mostly indifferent. Aside from our room steward, Bernard, the service was terrible. The reception desk was rude and snotty. I dreaded everytime I had to ask anything of them. I asked about a schedule for the hydrofoil from Naples to Sorrento, no help. I had asked if there was a hop-on-hop type of tour in Florence and they knew nothing (there is, but I really wouldn't recommend it for the money and the short time in port, the city center is pretty easy to navigate). But come on, they have been going there four times a month for six months now. How can you not have basic knowledge? We went to the internet center and found the answer in about 20 seconds (but paid $3.95 to log on plus 75 cents a minute to find out). Their main focus is sell you an excursion. Do your research before you go as they are no help whatsoever. We were drinking the $26 pitchers of Sangria that is served in a glass poolside without a pouring spout. With all the fruit and ice it was almost impossible to pour into a glass without spilling all over. We asked a server to pour it and you would have thought I asked him to drink poison. I must have been wearing my invisible suit all week as it was quite difficult to get the attention to any of the bartenders on duty. Speaking on on-duty. The on-duty stuff gets far better service than the guests. While at the fitness center one afternoon I had to fight to use the equipment in the weight room as three staff members were doing their weight training. My husband could not get in the weight room at all. We entered the sushi bar on night, there was no one seated at the bar but were told to wait so the hostess could attend to uninformed crew. This is one of the cover charge restaurants. I was never offered green tea. My husband had to ask twice to have his water glass refilled and it still went empty until dessert came. We had a flag down the waitress twice. There was only my husband and I and one other couple there our entire visit. The fine dining restaurant was my favorite. The food was decent but nothing to write home about. None of the desserts at any of the restaurants were exciting or even very tasty. It made it easy as they were not really worth the calories. It was a bummer though as I am a big desert eater. it's a bit odd to be in formal wear and the waiters are wearing T-shirts. I used the ladies toilet and observed a waitress come out of the stall without washing her hands. Another cruisers husband observed the same thing. We ate at Cagney's for steak one night. I made a request for a half order on one of the starters. They could not do this. It was the giant prawns, just take two of them off how hard can it be? They are hanging off the side of the serving dish. I ordered the surf and turf. It was another $10 on top of the $25 to eat there. It was dry and had no flavor at all. I am still angry at myself that I did not ask to have it removed from my bill. I am not a fussy diner but I felt ripped off. You'll enjoy the ports and with research and bravery you can tour DIY and not pay for the excursions. We did hire a driver for Rome. This was well worth the expense and we saw far more than those that toured with NCL. The ship is beautiful, the ports were great but the service was just too disappointing to give NCL another try. The food was just okay, and the buffet was a miserable experience trying to find seating. More restaurants on-board charged a cover charge than not and they just weren't worth the extra fees. You are charged an auto gratuity on everything you purchase plus the $10 a day. I am a great tipper. I just found nothing worth tipping aside from our room steward. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
We are a 50 something American couple, who have been on 4 cruises now. Joining us on this cruise were my mother (70's), my in-laws (80's) and my daughter (25). This is a very port intensive cruise and we knew ahead of time that ... Read More
We are a 50 something American couple, who have been on 4 cruises now. Joining us on this cruise were my mother (70's), my in-laws (80's) and my daughter (25). This is a very port intensive cruise and we knew ahead of time that we would not tour all ports. We had elderly people with us, who were not able to keep us with that pace and mostly, we were looking for a relaxing cruise and a ship that we could enjoy. I want to start this review talking about Norwegian's customer service and what happened BEFORE the actual cruise. A few days after I paid for the cruise, I received an email advertising a 3 category upgrade. It said to contact a Mr. Marco Martinez, which I did, by email. I asked Mr. Martinez if I could still take advantage of the 3 category upgrade. He wrote back to me and assured me that I could but needed to go through my travel agent. I contacted my travel agent and sent them a copy of his email. They then contacted Norwegian, who refused to give us the deal. Unfortunately, I had paid everything up front, something I will not do again. My travel agent tried to get them to give us the deal, but they refused, even though Mr. Martinez said that we could have it. I then tried to contact Mr. Martinez to get his help and he wouldn't answer my emails. I wrote to him several times but he never answered. Second issue..... my daughter is vegan. When we went on a cruise with Holland America, she contacted them ahead of time and they put her in touch with food service staff on the ship. She communicated with them by email and they ordered special food items for her. It was wonderful. We had similar expectations of Norwegian. My daughter called and spoke to someone who told her that she would have to email the access desk. So, she did. She got a very non-helpful response. She was basically told that there was no vegan menus and that she would have to wait until she got on the ship and then talk to staff and see what she could eat. I was not satisfied with this response so I wrote to the access desk, also. We both asked if there was someone we could speak to before the cruise. We were told NO. She said that my daughter would have to talk to staff once she was on the ship and they would have to use the resources they had on the ship to accommodate her. I asked for menus from the main dining rooms and after asking a couple of times and waiting, they were sent to me. My daughter and I reviewed them and found that there was not much she could eat from those menus, as we expected. We wanted assurances that someone would make sure that she would be taken care of, but got no such assurances. Because of these things, I felt that I had erred in choosing a cruise with Norwegian. I was disappointed that I could not get the upgrade. Had I booked a week later I would have gotten it. I was disappointed that Mr. Marcus Martinez was not professional enough to respond to me and that he wouldn't help me. I guess because they already had all of my money, they weren't interested in helping. I was disappointed that the Access Desk Coordinator, Yonaiky Trujillo, was being very unhelpful to my daughter. I would call this very poor customer service. This put a damper on the cruise even before we went. Now, about the cruise itself........ We live in Stuttgart, Germany. My mother and in-laws were visiting us for a month, so they were with us when we traveled to Barcelona. We traveled that morning., Oct. 12th. We flew RyanAir, which actually flies in to Girona, which is about an hour from Barcelona. We had to leave our house in Germany around 12:30 AM to drive to Hahn Airport, about three hours away. We had a very early flight - 6 AM and checked in around 4:00 AM. We rented a van in Girona and drove to Barcelona. We picked up our daughter at the airport in Barcelona (she was flying in from New York) at about 10 AM and then on to the port. Check-in was fairly quick and easy - within half an hour we were on the ship. Once on the ship, we went to Deck 12, Garden Cafe, to get some food. Very crowded, of course. No place to sit so they sent us to the La Cucina restaurant nearby to use tables. We were able to go to our cabins at about 2:00 PM. My husband and I saw that the beds were not together. We called and asked that the beds be put together and it was taken care of fairly quickly. The safety drill was the most "relaxed" that I had been to on a cruise ship. It didn't start on time and it consisted of putting on our life jackets, going to one of the bars on the ship, and listening to safety rules read to us in 5 or 6 languages. We were all exhausted and just wanted to get it over with, but it seemed to go on forever. After that, I tried to nap but couldn't fall asleep, so I unpacked. We were all very tired and not terribly hungry, so we skipped dinner and were all sound asleep by 8 PM. It had been a very long day. We had inside cabins on Deck 9. I believe they are smaller than the Celebrity Century, our most recent cruise (july, 12 day Baltic Cruise), where we also had an inner cabin. But, okay. Good closet space, but less drawers than the Century. Nice shower. Towel animals were cute. Our cabin attendants did a good job of keeping it clean. No complaints there. The ship itself is beautiful. I know some people complain about the bright carpets and decorations, but I think that's fine in a cruise ship. I found it to be a very comfortable and enjoyable ship. I'm not going to do a day-by-day, as I did with my last critique. But, let me say that we really enjoyed the pool and hot tub and I was very happy and very impressed that children were absolutely not allowed in the adult pool and hot tub. One day when I was in the hot tub, two young children came in and they were immediately shooed away. We also bowled one day and had a lot of fun - most of us had not bowled in years. I do think $10 per person per game is a bit ridiculous, but the guy working in there did give us a free game after we paid for two. We enjoyed the shows , for the most part. My husband was less impressed with the singers and dancers than the rest of us. I thought they were pretty good. Some of our group went to the magician/comedian and enjoyed it. And the Second City troupe were pretty good as well. We spent a little time in the casino and enjoyed ourselves. I won $100 on a 25 cent slot machine - that's always nice. We didn't spend much time in the bars, but we did go to the Spinnaker Lounge one evening so that our parents could enjoy a gentleman who does Frank Sinatra and we then watched a dance contest, which was pretty entertaining. I was disappointed that there was no movie theater on board. I had enjoyed seeing movies on past cruises. I didn't use the spa this time, so I can't really report on it. But, they had the usual "specials". We did not get off the ship at all the ports and we didn't do any of the ship tours. We couldn't see spending that kind of money - it's just not that hard to get around on your own. We live in Europe and we do travel a lot, so this is not a problem for us. We did get off at Malta. We also got up early for the entry in to the port and it was gorgeous and well worth it. We took the bus up the hill for one euro - it would be a pretty steep walk up. We walked around and did a little sightseeing, did a little shopping and went to see a movie called "The Malta Experience", which was pretty interesting and cost 10 euro per person. Nice day. We also got off the ship in Naples. My mother really wanted to get to Grumo Nevano, the birthplace of her father. It was about 10 miles away. So, we took a bus and then a train to get there. We spent a few hours walking around and taking pictures. It's a very small town. After that, we went back to Naples, did a little shopping, and then back to the ship and enjoyed the pool and hot tub. Only my daughter and husband went to Rome, by train. The rest of us relaxed on the ship because we had all been to Rome before. They had a nice day and said it was easy to take the train. None of us got off in Livorno - we had all been to Pisa and Florence. So, we had another nice day onboard. We did all go to Villefranche. What a delightful little place. We wandered and shopped and I highly recommend. the little train ride around town (6 euro). The food. My husband and I both felt that the food was decent but not as good as the food on our other cruises. We did not go to any of the pay restaurants. We ate breakfast and lunches either at the Garden Cafe, the Great Outdoors, or the Grand Pacific. We ate all of our dinners at the Grand Pacific. My daughter is the reason we did that. The first evening we ate there, she asked to see a supervisor. The Assistant Maitre'D, Fredrick Twerdorff, came to our table. She explained to him that she is a vegan. He told her that he wished he had been informed ahead of time so that he could be better prepared, but he assured her that he would take care of her. And he did! This wonderful man made it his personal quest to make sure she had full and tasty vegan meals every evening - soups, salads, appetizers, and main courses. Even desserts. We are so grateful to him. Every evening after dinner, he would chat with her about the next night and bounce some ideas off of her. He worked closely with the cooks and they did the absolute best they could for her with the resources they had available. He would personally deliver her meal every evening, explaining to her what they made for her and what the ingredients were. I think Freestyle Cruising is fine. We went to dinner early most evenings (6:00 - 6:30) and then on to the show. We never had to wait at that time, but often noticed a long line when we were leaving. My mother would have preferred that there be a formal night or two - she was looking forward to getting dressed up. However, my in=laws liked the fact that they never had to get dressed up and could just wear casual clothes all the time. I'm fine with either style cruise. After the cruise, I wrote to the Access Coordinator. I told her that the ship staff would have liked notice ahead of time about my daughter being a vegan, and they would have liked to be better prepared. I told her that she did her company a disservice and that she was not customer friendly. She told me that she didn't agree, felt she did all she needed to do and basically said it wasn't her job to help us - that her job was to take care of the disabled and special needs customers. I told her that perhaps she should have connected us to someone else then and that my daughter deserved attention as well. But, basically she doesn't get it that she could have been more helpful and customer friendly and that would have assured her company of return business. Although, we had a pretty good time on this cruise, it's doubtful that I would use Norwegian again because I'm so annoyed over these issues. I think we'll stick to Holland America or Celebrity - two really classy cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
My husband and I are in our early 30's and this was both our first time cruising as well as our first trip to Europe. We were pleasantly surprised with the entire experience. Barcelona We arrived two days prior to the cruise ... Read More
My husband and I are in our early 30's and this was both our first time cruising as well as our first trip to Europe. We were pleasantly surprised with the entire experience. Barcelona We arrived two days prior to the cruise in Barcelona. We loved this city! The public transportation system is great in all the European cities that we visited, but Barcelona was extremely easy and very clean. We were able to see most of Gaudi's sights and we spent some time on La Rambla. We stayed at the ME Barcelona which is a new hotel on the northern side of Barcelona. I was able to get a great deal on the room due to the grand opening in August but had I known more about Barcelona, I would have made the reservations at a hotel right on La Rambla because that is where all the action is. Embarkation Being that we have never cruised before, I don't have anything to compare it to, but things went very smoothly. We didn't wait in line at all and were on the boat about 10 minutes after we arrived on the pier. When we got on the ship, we drank our champagne and went to the shore excursion desk. Then we made reservations at Cagney's Steakhouse for that night so that we could use the 2 for 1 coupon. From there we went to find our room and check out the rest of the ship. We headed to the spa for a tour and set up massages for that evening. Dining The food was very good on the ship. We mostly ate at the buffet, but we did get to some of the specialty restaurants. Cagney's was wonderful! I had a 5 oz filet and my husband had the surf and turf. We both enjoyed our meals and the service was excellent. The next evening we ate at Teppanyaki. It was awesome! So much fun and the food was amazing. After that we mostly ate at the free places, however we did try Tequila. It also had great food. We also ate at the Grand Pacific and Magenta which were very good. Activities We only went to two shows, the first night and Colorz. Colorz was fun and the dancers were incredible. We spent most of our time up in the Star Bar listening to an acoustic guitarist who was awesome! We couldn't get enough of his music. There is not much time for the entertainment when you are so exhausted from the ports. We just wanted to come back, eat dinner and go to bed. Ports The ports were amazing! We chose to do two shore excursions, Malta and Villefranche. Malta is a port that we should have done on our own or stayed on the ship. It's a beautiful island, but not much to do. We chose to do Mdina and Wine Tasting. Villfranche was gorgeous and we chose St Paul de Vance. The city is so cool and we had a small tour and then were allowed to go off on our own to explore. The Italy ports we did by ourselves and had a great time. Rome was my favorite because there is so much to see and it's surreal just being there. Disembarkation Very easy. We chose to do express and take our bags off ourselves. Super quick and we got a taxi to our hotel fast as well. We spent one more day in Barcelona and flew out early Monday morning. All in all we really enjoyed the trip. An awesome boat and we will definitely be cruising in the future, most likely with Norwegian. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
Let me start by saying that we both work in the hotel industry and I have dealt with my fair share of unhappy guests and complaints. Because of this, I have never once complained anywhere I have been as I realize that no one is perfect and ... Read More
Let me start by saying that we both work in the hotel industry and I have dealt with my fair share of unhappy guests and complaints. Because of this, I have never once complained anywhere I have been as I realize that no one is perfect and mistakes happen. This will be the first poor review that I have ever written, but I feel that anyone who is thinking of cruising with NCL needs to hear our experience. This was our 5th cruise, first time with NCL and our last. We booked directly through their website and were excited about all the different dining options offered in conjunction with the "freestyle cruising" they advertise so heavily. Eat whenever, however and whatever you want! This is true if you want to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 per person to do so. They had 2 main dining rooms, your standard all-day-everyday buffet and 6 specialty restaurants (all with a cover charge). But, oh by the way, one of the main dining rooms has a dress code so they won't let you in if you have jeans on, even if they are paired with a dress shirt and shoes. So, "freestyle dining" is really limited to one dining room and a buffet. Consequently, what this creates is lines and wait times to eat dinner. Nothing like being on vacation and being put on a wait list for dinner and standing in the stairwell until they called your name. Not to mention, the food wasn't anything to write home about. I had asked 3 different staff members if there was somewhere you could get iced tea or juice and they said 1)you had to pay for the tea at the bars and 2)they only served complementary fresh squeezed juice in the morning for breakfast. So, they have a soda program that you can purchase for $50 that is supposed to get you free soda for the week. This is true except that they still charge you for drinking a soda from your own room. And you also have to deal with the bar staff and waitresses rolling their eyes everytime you ask for a Coke and they see that you have the soda sticker on your ship card because they won't be getting a tip off of it. The first full day of the cruise was also our day at sea. We find out on this day that they cancelled our shore excursion for the next day because not enough people signed up. They give you no time to plan or research what you could do in its place, so you are forced to choose another shore excursion that you aren't really that interested in. The only apology made was "well we aren't going to charge you for the one that was cancelled." Well of course you aren't, we didn't get to go! So, in trying to figure out what we are going to do, I go to the reception desk to vent my frustrations and the girl there, smirking at me the whole time I was talking, gives me comment card to fill out, assuring me that it would get the the managers (and no, she never offered for me to speak with a supervisor or manager at that time). She also informs me that there is a place to get iced tea for free after all! (Side note: the complementary "fresh squeezed" juice in the morning is concentrate and the actual fresh squeezed juice costs extra depending on what size you want.) And, if you do have to go to the reception desk at any time, fully expect to be cut in line by at least 3 different people and do not expect the staff to stop this from happening. So, I take this comment card and the one they left in my room and filled them both out front and back and turned them back in to the reception. I get a phone call that they had received it and we would hear something back. The next day, I get a voicemail message that I don't understand from someone I barely understand to call them back. I do so and, after about 4 minutes of me saying "I'm sorry but I don't understand what you are saying," I finally figure out that I am talking to the bar manager who is asking if I have a problem with my soda package. One sentence in my two comment cards mentioned that I was not happy about purchasing the package and not being able to drink the soda in my room. So, he sends me 6 cans of Sprite and tells me that will make me happy. This is the only thing I ever heard from my comment card. Talk about insulting! The entertainment on the ship was mediocre. The cruise director was boring and dull. The magician was decent and Second City was very funny (but don't get your hopes up because last week was their final week with the Gem). We went to Bliss, their night club, following the "Hot White" party towards the beginning of the week. We noticed that the employees were there drinking and dancing, so we thought that this was their one night they were allowed out. Not the case. As the week progressed, we realized that the employees are allowed to go out, drink and dance every night of the week. They are clearly marked by nametag and clique and are not mingling with the guests at all. They dominate the dance floor and take up all the seating around it, leaving the seats in the back for the paying guests. Now, we are in our mid-20's mind you, and even we found this extremely inappropriate. Here's one of my favorite parts...in this lounge, there are 4 bowling lanes. We saw this and thought "how cool is that!" So, when we went to go play a game, (I'm sure you see where this is going) its $10 per person per game to play! At this point, we're laughing it off because we are on vacation and trying not to let this cruise line ruin it for us. As on every cruise line, you have to check any alcohol you bring on from a port. So, we buy a bottle of Chianti from Florence and they make us check it as we get back on the ship. They take it and tell us that we have to pick it up ourselves on Saturday night between 5pm and 8pm somewhere on deck 6 aft. They don't even deliver it to your room for you! Needless to say, we had to plan our last night on the cruise around when we had to pick up our wine and then got lost with everyone else trying to figure out where it was. As was mentioned in other reviews, the TV options in the room are awful. Three channel in English, 2 of which are news and the other is TCM. Movies are only offered via pay-per-view and cost anywhere from $6 - $12 depending on how new the movie is. Overall, the ports were fabulous, the staff (aside from the room steward who was very good) was indifferent and you felt like you spent a week getting nickled and dimed everytime you turned around. My advise...definitely go to the Mediterranean but don't ever go anywhere on NCL. There are plenty of other cruise lines out there who will provide stellar customer service, fabulous food and the time of your life! Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
This is our 6th cruise and the second one with NCL. We arrived at Barcelona 3 days ahead and went home right after the cruise. Barcelona is very nice and easy to navigate on your own. We stayed at Hotel Principal and Confortel ... Read More
This is our 6th cruise and the second one with NCL. We arrived at Barcelona 3 days ahead and went home right after the cruise. Barcelona is very nice and easy to navigate on your own. We stayed at Hotel Principal and Confortel Barcelona. They are both very nice. Hotel Principal is off the beaten path around La Rambla which is very convenient. Confortel Barcelona is remote though somewhat near a Metro station. It is very nice but the location is odd so I won't recommend this hotel if you like to be close to tourist areas. We used the hop on hop off 2-day tour bus and enjoyed that very much. The embarkation is a breeze. We are Latitude members and did not have to line up to check in. They welcomed guests with sparkling wine free which is unusual. Since we are celebrating our 21st anniversary, they also offer us a complimentary sparkling in our room with glasses. This is very thoughtful of them. They also gave us a bottle of red wine with bottle opener when there was a malfunction in the toilet one night for a few hours. We ate all our meals in the dining room. The food is quite good except the sirloin steak. We tried medium and medium rare but they still turned out quite tough. However, the lobsters that they offered two nights were fresh and tasty. The food presentation was always nice. We've also tried the Blue Lagoon but that was so so. The Garden Buffet offered the same things everyday but we enjoyed the variety. I really like to chicken burger and fries which were always freshly done. There is plenty of ice cream and many flavors which is a nice touch. Overall the food is always plentiful at any hour. There were BBQ two times but the pork chops were always dried and the chicken is OK. The entertainment was good. We went to the first and last show where the dance group performed. They were both very good. There is also a magic and comedy show that we went and it was also entertaining. Shore excursions were expensive with NCL. We used the local transport (bus and railway) for all the ports and had a good time though it was quite adventurous when they don't speak English. It usually costs less than 10-15 euros round trip to get there and about 15 euros for admission if any. In Rome, we used one of the hop on hop off tours which costs 18 euros which took us to the major sites. We briefly visited Vatican but the line to St. Peter's chapel was too long. We could not get any information from NCL about how to get to bus or train station. They really wanted everyone to use the excursion. Either you do your research before boarding the ship or use internet cafe whenever you are in port to get local information. The internet service is 75 cents/min on the ship whereas in port is about $1.50-2 per hour but some internet points could be very slow. Another way to find out local information is to talk to the waiters/waitresses in the dining rooms since they would use the local transportation for sightseeing and the internet service at ports. The disembarkation process is easy. We travelled light so we could leave anytime using the express. There is shuttle service from the port to the city centre costs 3 euros round trip or 2 euros per trip. We took the shuttle from city to port before the cruise so we bought round trip. We don't know when the first shuttle starts from the port to city but when we left the ship around 8:30 a.m. there were already many shuttles (blue bus). This is much more economical than NCL transport. When arrived at city centre Barcelona, you can buy T-10 for 10 trips on metro to different places or use the hop on hop off tour for sightseeing (20 euros 1-day & 26 euros for 2-day pass). You could take the airport shuttle for 4.50 euros from the city centre to airport directly and arrives at airport in 25-30 minutes. Overall we had a good time on the cruise. The service is good but the staff was not as "aggressive" since the tips is automatically charged to account. We did leave extra tips for the housekeepers since they did an amazing job with the towel animals. The gym is opened 24 hours which is very helpful and usually empty. The ship was full but we never felt crowded except around the pool areas. It is a very nice ship and we enjoyed the cruise very much. We like to cruise freestyle and would recommend NCL for those who don't care for dressing up. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
To be fair I am a veteran of 15 cruises, I will say up front that the ports were excellent, we took excursions off the ship and they were all excellent. So I will concentrate on the ship in this review, my complaints are in line with ... Read More
To be fair I am a veteran of 15 cruises, I will say up front that the ports were excellent, we took excursions off the ship and they were all excellent. So I will concentrate on the ship in this review, my complaints are in line with other passengers, I felt nickel dimed and it seemed that every time I wanted to do something there was a pitch for an additional charge. The attraction of cruises has always been that expenses are up front and everything is all inclusive, but maybe thats changing??. The ship is clean and well maintained, cabins are small but comfortable and well maintained by the stewards, on one occassion after a trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum in the same day (definitly not recommended) I wanted to relax for a day while my wife went to Florence, the only free entertainment on tv was BBC news, Fox news or TCM movies that were run over and over for 24 hours and then replaced with another which was run over and over etc etc. If you wanted to watch a movie then you had a large selection of recently run movies to watch for $12 each. My big complaint is you cannot take on board your own bottle of booze, if you try and fail this is confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise, this seems like an infringement of my adult rights, I can see not allowing liqour on recreation decks, but in your cabin I think its your business. the food was high quality but not exotic and while lobster was served it was not listed on the menu as lobster, I never would have known it was on the menu if my wife had not ordered it unknowingly. The entertainment was good but I didn't see too much of it, not really my thing.  All in all it was a good cruise and for the money hard to beat....happy travels Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
We were a group of 4 in our mid to late twenties who decided we wanted to see Europe, but as we were all on a budget we saw cruising as the way to go. 3 out of the 4 of us had been on a cruise before so we were pretty experienced cruisers. ... Read More
We were a group of 4 in our mid to late twenties who decided we wanted to see Europe, but as we were all on a budget we saw cruising as the way to go. 3 out of the 4 of us had been on a cruise before so we were pretty experienced cruisers. This was our first time however on NCL. As we all had used Carnival previously for cruising. We sailed 9/708-9/14/08. We flew in the day before the cruise left out of the Port of Barcelona. I made reservations for Barcelona Day Tours to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. This was helpful as we would've needed two taxis to get us to the hotel due to all our luggage. We were greeted by our driver who held a sign with my name on it. My husband loved that. We stayed one night at Hotel Gaudi in the Las Ramblas district in Barcelona. This is a decent hotel and in an excellent location for tourist things. The next morning we flagged down two taxis to take us to the port. Remember many people speak little English, it helps to have the port's address written down or have the person who speaks the most Spanish do the talking. It costs us about 10 euros per taxi to get from our hotel to the port. Check in: We were able to use the balcony/mini suite line. We had reserved two mini suite rooms on the 11th floor. After checking in, we were greeted with champagne and orange juice at the door. Here the men played Nintendo wii while we waited for our rooms to be ready. We also ate lunch at the Garden Cafe buffet. Our rooms were ready after lunch. They were very clean and a bit larger than your average balcony room. ROOM: We had two mini suite balconies. They are larger than you average balcony room. The 11th floor is all mini suites. You have plenty of drawer space for clothes and storage. The balcony is also twice the size of your average balcony on ships. There is a bath tub and shower. Also, you get a fruit bowl that is refilled nightly. Just remember to fill out your fruit bowl card. This came in handy at time when I wanted a nice healthy snack or to put fruit in your backpack for excursions. FOOD: We opted to eat at the Grand Pacific for breakfast and lunch as the buffet was just to chaotic. There is just one long line to it was always crowded with kids. Don't expect 24 hr pizza and ice cream either like Carnival. My husband missed that. They do have the Blue Lagoon which has 24 hour comfort food items (mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, burgers). We ate dinner at both Grand Pacific(no jeans) and Magenta.. The restaurants both get extremely busy so service can be slow. Day 1 AT Sea: The ladies ended up spending most of the day at the spa. We bought the week pass to the spa. It is $75, but well worth it. They can only sell a set number of passes so while everyone and their children are out at the main pool and hot tubs, you can relax in a serene quiet environment, which my friend and I took advantage of throughout the week as our feet were killing us after excursions. We toured the boat, and were able to get to our rooms by 1PM. We had dinner at the specialty restaurant Cagney's this night as we had a coupon for buy one, get one free cover charge. The food here was great. Malta We did the Taste of Malta Excursion. Malta has a great view as the boat is docking in the morning. There is very little to see or do here however. Many would suggest just doing this port on your own. We visited a church, winery, and a glass blowing factory on our excursion. It was also extremely hot here. : Naples We did the Pompeii Excavation excursion. Pompeii is a lot of walking. It was also really hot here as well. This was a 4 hour excursion, but we were exhausted after it was over. Pompeii is a great place to visit and is definitely a must see. There is not much by the port area. Just a bunch of knock offs being sold and little alleys with random things. We bought pizza here as we were in Naples. Delicious! Rome We booked a private tour with RomeInLimo. We would definitely do this again. Our driver was Francisco. He was so friendly, and took us to so many places in 8 hours. The boat will only take tour groups to the Coliseum and the Vatican as big tour buses are restricted in parts of the city. We saw every highlight there is in Rome. IT was nice because Francisco would drop us off and they say I'll be back to pick you up in 45 minutes. So we go to see tons of sites, as we just kept going. We even got to eat an authentic Italian lunch for only 10 Euros each. The locals really know where to take you to eat. The port in Rome is a bout an hour from where all the ruins are located. This is also another reason why the cruiseline is limited on highlights here. Florence We went to the leaning tower of Pisa. When booking with a group you will not be allowed to climb the tower. Reservations have to be made in advance, and there are about 300 steps to climb. No elevators. Just getting to see the tower is a sight in itself however. Wonderful architecture. Amazing! Nice, France We visited the flowermarket, and Nice with the cruiseline. Then they took us to Monaco. Monte Carlo is wonderful! The men had a great time admiring all the exotic cars and of course the casino which you can't go in. Disembarkment: Was the smoothest I've ever seen. If you want to get off super early with all your luggage do express. We walked off at 645am with no one getting off besides us. You also do not have to go through immigration or customs at the port. If you have a later flight sign up for color tags if you do not want to handle your luggage. This allows people to get off at time slots, so it is not crowded at all on deck. We took a minivan taxi back to the airport. For the four of us it was 40 Euro. We made our 10AM flight with no problem. Overall, this is a very port impacted itinerary. You are constantly on the go. There is tons of things to do, and you will need another vacation to rest when you get home. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
This was my first ever cruise. I am British, married to an American and living in Tennessee. I speak French and Spanish fluently, and have been to all the countries in this cruise (except Malta) several times. My husband had never been ... Read More
This was my first ever cruise. I am British, married to an American and living in Tennessee. I speak French and Spanish fluently, and have been to all the countries in this cruise (except Malta) several times. My husband had never been to Italy. I am providing this background information because this is the reason we booked the cruise: it seemed like an excellent way to re-discover Italy at a reasonable price, when the US dollar is especially bad. The cruise did not disappoint in any way. I have to say I was a little concerned after reading some of the other reviews which mention badly behaved children, poor food, or an uncomfortable cabin. We had none of those problems. Embarkation: Very easy. We stayed at the Hotel Tryp Apolo which is very near the port. It has taxis at the door. This is a nice hotel, belonging to the Solmelia chain of hotels, which I always use whenever I am in Spain. Cabin: Can't remember what "class" this cabin is, but I can say that it is on the 8th deck and has a window with unobstructed ocean view, but no balcony. It was just fine, it was better than expected. Yes, the bathroom was small, but unless you are obese (we aren't) that should not be a problem. The bathroom was better equipped than some hotels: lots of shelf space, towel rails, hangers, soap and shampoo dispensers, nice easy to operate shower with sliding glass door. The cabin had space under beds for luggage, a hairdryer, a table and 2 chairs, minibar, 6 drawers, about 20 hangers in the closet. If anyone says that 20 hangers is not enough, they must have brought too many clothes for a week's cruise!! Public rooms: All just fine, very attractive, bright colors. Restaurants: We knew what to expect, that some of the restaurants you have to pay extra. If you go early, at happy hour, you get it for half price. we liked the Bistro best, because they had foie gras which I love. We didn't really care for Teppanyaki, we somehow managed to spend $75 there (the price of the reservation plus one bottle of wine). It didn't seem quite worth it, and I didn't care for the taste of the fried rice, and the undercooked vegetables. The food at the buffet was excellent, lots of choices. I LOVED the breakfasts: I had muesli and fruit some days, smoked salmon on brown bread other days. Pools: We did not have a problem with children, as already stated. In fact on our particular sailing, there were only 50 children, we were told. They did not get into the adult pool. I liked the salt water, I personally prefer it to chlorine. Entertainment: We did not go to any entertainment, as we preferred to get up early (5:30 or 6:00 AM) in order to the make the most of our days on shore. The entertainment were often at 9:00 PM, which is about when we were going to bed! We did listen to the string quartet, called Furioso, every night, with a glass of wine or a cocktail, they were very good. Fitness: I tried to go to the gym, to use the treadmill, and was turned away because I did not have the right kind of shoes. "Trainers" as the British call them, or "tennis shoes" as we might say in the US. I was rather disappointed. However, we did climb the rock wall, I was very proud of my husband for getting to the top (he is 65). I only got half-way. We enjoyed walking around the decks. 3 times round is one mile. It was easy to stay in shape. Ports of call: These, for me, were the raison d'etre of the cruise. We got up early each day, and we decided the excursions were very overpriced, and we did it on our own each day. I took a brief Italian class with an Italian acquaintance prior to the cruise, and I bought an Italian phrase book, so it was easy for me to buy train tickets, etc. In Malta, we took the #80 or 81 bus to Mdina, and there we did a self-guided tour, in English, with earphones. It was very interesting. we had a lovely lunch at an outdoor table, at a nice hotel in Mdina. In Naples, we took the train to Ercolano (Herculaneum) which is similar to Pompeii (which I have been to before) but less well-known, and less crowded. it was fascinating. After that, we continued on in the train to Sorrento, and had lunch at a nice restaurant near the station, called something like "Il Leopardo Rosso" (just going on memory) which was excellent: melon and prosciutto, sword fish, pizza. In Rome, we again got the train from Civitavecchia to Rome, and walked around ancient Rome, had lunch, etc, got train back. In Livorno, we did take the tour bus "Florence on your own" because I had read that the train took a long time. We loved Florence, and we had the most fantastic meal: fiochetti di pera, if you see that on a menu, try it. The guide on the bus was wrong, however, she said that the shops don't close at mid-day. Not true, Letitzia!! As we found, to our annoyance. In Villefranche, we took the bus to Nice (about 5 mins ride) and walked around the market, "Promenade des Anglais", etc. We shopped at "Galeries Lafayette". What else can I say? Perhaps it's because I have never been on a cruise before, but I just loved it. We met another couple of about our age with whom we went on the train, had lunch together in Florence and Sorrento, and had a great time. I was glad we met them, and perhaps that is one drawback of the freestyle dining: it is not necessarily easy to meet people. I certainly don't miss what some other contributors to this website seem to miss, getting to know one's waiter. I don't need to make friends with the waiter (or the cabin steward either). Disembarkation process was very easy. You choose a time, we chose 9:15 AM, and you leave at that time, and your baggage is waiting for you at the port. Plenty of taxis. We spent a nice day in Barcelona, meeting up with my son and his father, who are Spanish. We took the "funicular", then the cable car, to Montjuic, and from up there we watched the Norwegian Gem set sail, at 7:00 PM, and we wished we were still on it. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Just returned from first cruise on Gem 14-21st September. Good points were :- Lovely spacious cabins, we had inside cabin and it was lovely big double bed, plenty of wardrobes, flat screen tv, tea/coffee facilities, mini bar ... Read More
Just returned from first cruise on Gem 14-21st September. Good points were :- Lovely spacious cabins, we had inside cabin and it was lovely big double bed, plenty of wardrobes, flat screen tv, tea/coffee facilities, mini bar and great bathroom. Even went inside the outdoor cabin with balcony and that was lovely. Pool area and sunbeds were great and plenty off them even the day at sea. Good entertainment the show we saw and well organized. Different entertainment going on in various bars around the ship. Bad points :- Cafe garden was a scrum most times of the day and no trays so juggling food and looking for tables. The restaurants with cover charges were not great, we ate in Cagney's which had a $20 per person cover charge on last night and ordered steaks and my husbands arrived without the chips and mine was cold so had to send back. Then I got mine back while hubbie was still waiting for his. Nightmare and no apologies from the waiters they all looked stressed. Then the bill arrived and they charged $10 for my daughter who ate a childs meal. I was fuming and told the staff who said she has to pay for her SEAT. Absolute joke wouldn't have minded if the food was good. Orchid Garden another night meal arrived without the rice and then we must have had 3 staff come over telling us rice is on its way and turned up when meal was over. Grand Pacific no cover was a lovely restaurant in decor but again food was coming out luke warm and you try and get somebody to take it back. So overall food was disappointing in my eyes within the vessel. Drinks were a little on the pricey side especially when they put on the 18% on everything. We went to the reception on the Friday and stated we didn't want the $10 per day tip as we wanted to complete ourselves to which she stated then by you doing that nobody is going to tip us here in reception ever or the cooks. She then stated we needed to make an appointment time with her manager the following day got to the point were I thought I just cannot be bothered standing there arguing and wasting my time so ended up paying the $70 and tipped nobody else. This should be removed in my eyes. Kids Club was ok my daughter used in once but when we went past she was just crayoning in on her own she is 3 and nobody seemed interested alot of older spanish kids jumping round everywhere so we didn't take her again. Kids under 6 not allowed to bowl in the bowling alley either. Shops onboard were ok but expensive and usual tat. Be careful of photographs everywhere you go there staff were taking photos of you and then selling them. I ended up buying the embarkation shot and it cost $30 but a suppose something to keep or put in a cupboard and collect dust. Never did any excursions did our own and found them very easy and affordable. To sum up the vessel was lovely and spacious but the food let it down in my opinion. I would travel with NCL again but the tips situation and the tax was annoying. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Just back from a wonderful time on the Norwegian Gem. I am a woman in my early 50's traveling with my mother in late 70's. We have cruised before and traveled through parts of Europe before. We flew from Spokane to ... Read More
Just back from a wonderful time on the Norwegian Gem. I am a woman in my early 50's traveling with my mother in late 70's. We have cruised before and traveled through parts of Europe before. We flew from Spokane to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Barcelona. It was exhausting but all our flights on Northwest/KLM were on time and transfers went smoothly. Best of all our luggage made it through. We flew in a day early and stayed overnight at the Barcelona Cathedral Hotel. It was pricey but a very nice hotel in a great location just across the plaza from the cathedral. Room was clean and comfortable.They have three computers just off the lobby with free internet access so I was able to e mail home and let my DH know that we had made it to Barcelona in one piece. They offered a very good Sunday breakfast and a free guided tour of the Bari Gothic on Sunday mornings. It was a great way to pass the time before we left for the ship. Took a taxi to the port, no problem there, the desk staff at the hotel told the driver where we wanted to go. Embarkation was very quick and easy. The steward wanted to take us to the Garden Cafe. We let him lead us there but them turned in the other direction and headed straight for the spa. Made our appointments for a massage and then hung out in the library (with complimentary coffee), found a book to read for the week and waited for the announcement that the cabins were ready. We thought our cabin was very well laid out. It was plenty of room and storage for two people. My only complaint about it is how thin the walls are. I could hear everything in the next cabin including snoring at night. Luckily I brought ear plugs. There were always several stewards roaming up and down the halls and I was never sure exactly which ones were ours. However the room was made up daily,although sometimes not as early as I would have liked, we always had ice and if I needed something I left a post it on the mirror and whatever I asked for magically appeared. So I had no problem with the stewards. Speaking of the ice, I found that the melted ice makes great drinking water. I would fill our water bottles in the morning from the melted iced in the ice bucket. We only ate in the restaurants that didn't charge extra, Grand Pacific, Magenta, Great Outdoors and Garden Cafe. Food ranged from ok to really good. I never had anything that was terrible. The service was good and we never waited in line anywhere. We always ate dinner between 6 and 7. If you like to eat around 8 or later than you might have to wait for a table. We had room service breakfast twice, it came exactly when requested but was so-so. We had breakfast in the Garden Cafe the other mornings and thought the quality and selection were very good. There were always wait staff available to help with plates and find us a seat. I see now why people complain about the make up of the Garden Cafe, It is very long and you can end up eating very far away from the food but I also see now that the restaurant is arranged that way so that all the tables get a window view. Eating breakfast or dinner watching the sun rise or set over the Mediterranean is a wonderful experience. I only went to one show. Mostly we turned in early because of our busy sight seeing schedule. The show I saw was the flamenco one. Forgot the exact name of it. The guitarist was terrific and the dancing was pretty good. I enjoyed it. Usually in the evenings I went to the internet cafe,which really isn't a cafe but near the cafe/bar in the lobby. It was quite pricey and the connections were very slow but it was worth it to me to keep in contact with DH and DD. Especially since Verizon decided to mess up my service and I couldn't use my cell phone. Ports: Barcelona-only saw the Bari Gothic and the Placa Catalunya but thought they were fascinating and will probably go back someday to see the city better. Malta: Least favorite of the whole itinerary. The sail in was the best part of the it. We took the ship's excursion "Jeep Safari". It took us all around the island which was ok but the whole island looks the same, barren and monochromatic. The best part was Mdina. If I had known I would have just gone there. They stopped for an hour at a beach that almost no one made use of. If I had known we probably wouldn't have taken this tour. I think the stops should have been on the itinerary. Naples: We booked a private tour with RomeinLimo. All I can say is that everything you have read about them on the boards is true. We booked tours with them for Naples, Rome and Florence. All good. In Naples, being history buffs, we went to Herculenium, Pompeii and the archeological museum in Naples. Our guide, Lucia, and our driver, Rafael, couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating. We enjoyed Herculenium very much. Pompeii was fascinating but very difficult for my mother to get around. Do not go there if you have any trouble walking. Lucia was great about customizing where we went to minimize the amount of walking we had to do. The museum wasn't as interesting as I had thought it would be, especially since nothing is in English and the staff isn't the most helpful. Rome: Again RomeinLimo was right there to pick us up. Vincenzo, our driver, was absolutely wonderful. We had been to Rome before so he took us to some lesser known sights and was just great. We loved him. Florence/Pisa: John, our driver, was very nice and knowledgeable about his part of the country. He took us right up to the sights and we were able to wander and shop and see all the places of historical interest that you can in a few hours. I would love to come back someday and really see Florence more in depth. RomeinLimo made reservations for us to see the statue of David. No lines, just got right in and up close. Just fabulous. Villefranche: No tour, we had been to Nice, Monaco and Eze before. We tendered into town and just roamed around. At the tourist information building, where the tenders let you off, there is a little tourist train that drives you around the town and up to the citadel. Cute and fun. Very pretty, lots of good places to stop and have a bite. We were very sad that night to have to pack our things. We loved our time on the Gem. We opted for the express check out and was off the ship and in a taxi in a matter of minutes. I would book another tour without hesitation. I don't know what the other ships in NCL's line are like but the Gem is truly just that. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
My husband and I had never sailed on NCL before, so we were quite excited to try "Freestyle". Simply put, NCL lets you dine wherever, whenever and with whomever you wish. Sounds great, right? For this privilege, you give up ... Read More
My husband and I had never sailed on NCL before, so we were quite excited to try "Freestyle". Simply put, NCL lets you dine wherever, whenever and with whomever you wish. Sounds great, right? For this privilege, you give up quality and quantity of food in the main dining rooms. Our dinner meals were poor to inedible in both Magenta and Grand Pacific main dining rooms. Because of the poor food, you feel you are forced to make reservations in their specialty restaurants for an extra up charge of $15-20 per person. We ate at Cagney's, Tequila, and Le Bistro. Even within Cagney's Steakhouse, you are charged an extra $10 per person for ordering the Surf 'n Turf dinner. Cagney's was a big disappointment. The filet mignon was a perfectly round, vacuumed- packed piece of tasteless meat, and the lobster was sub-par; overcooked and chewy. Tequila restaurant was quite good. The lobster tacos were great, along with the tequitos and salsa with chips we had as appetizers. The margaritas were perfect! Le Bistro was probably the best specialty restaurant we went to. Again, I tried the filet, and this time was presented with a great cut of beef done to my specifications. Service was fair to poor, probably due to the fact that you pre-pay service charges of $10/pp per day. Our room steward was personally tipped 20 euros the first day of our cruise to assure us of ice in our staterooms every afternoon. We finally received the ice on the 5th day of our cruise without chasing him down like we did the previous 4 days. Apparently it is customary that on the night before disembarkation, the room steward will remove one set of towels and the robes from your stateroom. My husband and I did not appreciate having to share a bath towel in the morning. A big negative for NCL! The stateroom was excellent. We had a balcony room with more than adequate space for clothing, personal items in the bathroom and odds and ends on the small desk and tables. The overall ship is well maintained and public areas are clean. The excursions we went on were very good. Although a bit pricey, they were well thought out, excellent guides, and overall a great value. We had 10 in our group and signed up for different excursions in each port. All of us had positive experiences with our individual tours. In summary, I will probably not cruise NCL again. In my opinion, the food and service were fair to poor. I would rather have an assigned eating time with better quality of food and tip my waiters and stewards at the end of the cruise, like I have always done before. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
we travelled as a family of 4 in one inside cabin, 4 friends also joined us...booked through internet and got what we thought was a good price.. Embarkation at Barcelona was straight forward and very quick..The ship being so new was ... Read More
we travelled as a family of 4 in one inside cabin, 4 friends also joined us...booked through internet and got what we thought was a good price.. Embarkation at Barcelona was straight forward and very quick..The ship being so new was spotless and very funky..our cabin was small but perfect, i was originally worried that 4 would be too much, but it was fine and we actually enjoyed the chatting at the end of the night whilst in bed. The food we enjoyed,plenty of choice in garden buffet, but resembled a cattle market sometimes and was difficult to find a seat. Went to Cagney's one night had a lovely steak, but went to magenta another night and also had a lovely steak, so decided why bother paying extra for speciality restaurants and stuck with grand pacific & magenta, would of liked to try Teppanyaki but thought $50 dollars surcharge per couple was a bit excessive. Our kids age 9 and 12 went to the kids club a few times but as the majority of kids attending didn't speak english they got fed up quite easily.our kids liked a movie at night which they got, but again i thought $12 was excessive, soda package was $62 for both, and it was $5 dollars for a game of bowling. the pool deck was great and i loved the large beds for sunbathing, the only downside was the waiters, who constantly asked if you required a drink, (no chance of reading your book here)..also be aware of befriending any waiters because if you do, you unofficially become theirs. One night when entering the spinnaker lounge the waiter who served us mostly by the pool approached and said he would get us a seat, when he couldn't get us one we found one ourselves, however the seat we had found wasn't his area and when another waiter appeared to take our drinks order, they had words and the new waiter walked off in a strut, he then approached us and asked that we also order drinks from him. This really angered me, i wanted to tell them all to leave us alone... The casino, we hated.. was more like a games arcade..on our last cruise we always ended the night in the casino,not here, Minimum bet of $10 , no wonder it was quiet and lacked atmosphere. We got off ship at all the ports and did Malta, pompeii,Rome,Pisa,and Monte Carlo on our own, the ships excursions were far to expensive for a family of 4.. We only did one show on the ship and that was the Magicians, and it was good. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
The SHIP Overall the ship is new, clean and bright. Its neither subdued nor gaudy. The layout is different with restaurants all over the place and the main lobby is not that big nor central. Embarkation/Disembarkation Top marks. ... Read More
The SHIP Overall the ship is new, clean and bright. Its neither subdued nor gaudy. The layout is different with restaurants all over the place and the main lobby is not that big nor central. Embarkation/Disembarkation Top marks. Maybe we were late, but there was no queue to get on. When our color (which we picked - about middle of the timings) was called we went to the exit and walked off, found our bags, and walked out - WOW! Why can't this happen all the time with other cruiselines. The only problem was that we did sit in the bus waiting for it to depart to the airport for a while. Cabin We always go for a balcony cabin. Well it was new and clean. Top marks for the shower/toilet, which was the best laid out of any similar cabins we have been in. The floor was mosaic tiles and the shower had a sliding door so no water cascaded onto the main area - the toilet had a sliding door too. We thought the size of cabin was a bit tight, but there was room for everything. The balcony was average size and the chairs were quite comfortable. Freestyle Dining Or is this aka "how to charge more for eating". The Great Outdoors/Garden Cafe (the always open buffet) seemed small and has an odd layout, but we always found a window seat at breakfast and lunch and the food was very good with good variety. However, if you don't drink coffee or iced tea then the drinks stations are lackluster - its water. On other cruiselines you get juices, punch etc as well - we are still waiting for a response to our request for something to be suggested as an alternative, which we wrote to them on during day2. There are 2 "main" dining areas - The Magenta did not look appealing so we did not use it but instead we went to the Grand Pacific for dinners. This is a bit dimly lit, but the food was quite good and the choice was decent. We were sat with 2 Germans on the first night, but after that they whistled us along to a 2 seater (nearly always by a window) every other night. We did feel a little rushed with the courses and it was difficult to strike up any relationship with the waiters as we had different ones every night (this - and not seeing the same passengers each night - is one of the features of freestyle - like it or not. another feature is the confusion over dress attire in the evenings) We did have a couple of lunches in the small Blue Lagoon, but the menu is fixed and limited - but the food was good. There are 7 paying choices for dinner eating elsewhere. We did not do any of them for 3 reasons. First the steak place and Teppanyaki were pricey (we think - at $20 and $25pp) The Teppanyaki was always full though. We tried some samplers in the Italian and thought the food was poor. Of the other choices ($10 to $20pp) we thought the menus were uninspiring and presumably others felt the same as they were poorly attended. Having all these eating areas has reduced the amount of space available for other things on the ship. Our conclusion is that we prefer not to have Freestyle Dining. Tours We went on a couple of tours which were well organized, but we thought they were a bit pricey. We did not cruise for the ports on this occasion as we have been to some of them before. Activities/Pool etc We are not big users of these and so have little comment. The Gym was a bit small for the number of guests and the treadmills were often all taken. The pools are fine but the jacuzzis were also well used as there are only 4 of them. Lectures and trivia sessions were not well attended, and this is probably presentation and timings as much as guest desire. What little we saw of the shows was uninspiring. Staff The staff were all helpful where they could be, but there was a bit of pushiness in selling extra services/goods which made one think of how many things they were selling/needed to sell lots (too many!)But maybe not in the shops where the choice was poor. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
I am a "loyal to royal" fan (32 cruises with RCCL) also AZAMARA,CELEBRITY,COSTA and MSC I was rather apprehensive as this was my first cruise with NCL. 1.We checked in at 2.45pm.Check in was swift and the staff at ... Read More
I am a "loyal to royal" fan (32 cruises with RCCL) also AZAMARA,CELEBRITY,COSTA and MSC I was rather apprehensive as this was my first cruise with NCL. 1.We checked in at 2.45pm.Check in was swift and the staff at Barcelona were just excellent. 2.We were greeted by friendly NCL staff and offered champagne or juice (start to take note RCCL)we were then greeted by an attendant who took our carry on bags and escorted us to our cabin. 3.Cabin was smaller than RCCL but was very clean and compact. 4.Cabin Attendant Eduardo greeted us straight away,he was always around to assist but never bothered you.Never saw him in the cabin but cabin was always made up and clean. 5.The dining on board was good and varied and the buffets offered more than enough choice and I am fussy. The Grand Pacific and Magenta were very good and the service excellent(we always dined about 8.15pm )we had really good dining experience in all the restaurants...not one bad meal.I particularly liked the efficiency and attentiveness of the staff in the buffet areas,used plates etc were cleared immediately and staff always polite ,smiling and friendly.Waiters were always available to assist you with your trays,particularly elderly. I liked the compulsory hand Sanitizers through out the dining areas.The ship was spotless through out. 6.I purchased $75 spa pass for week which was worth it.Gym was very good and again staff friendly. 8.Ship had some real funky areas and huge relaxing chairs in lounges and on sun decks. 9.Pursers desk were always friendly,helpful and smiling (big problem with RCCL) 10.Shows were different and entertaining and onboard singers and musicians were excellent. 11.Disembarkation and embarkation at ports were hassle free.And disembarkation on last day was the easiest and quickest ever ! (we took our own suitcase) 12.My only negative points were smoking areas were not adhered to,pool area was a bit tacky and sun beds often reserved with towels.. from early morning. Some of the guests were a bit inconsiderate. 13.All in all this was a great cruise and I was pleasantly surprised after reading so many indifferent reviews.It was made all the more so by the attentive and friendly NCL staff.Ships officers were always walking around at dinner greeting passengers.Freestyle cruising is a great concept and NCL have created their niche. NCL really do deserve a pat on the back.They focus on traditional customer service and you feel they are really trying to make a difference in the cruise industry .. not bigger or grander ships.just good old fashioned customer service..watch out RCCL !! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
My husband and I traveled on the Gem in late September, and after reading almost every review on cruise critic, we're pleasantly surprised by our experience! There was much negative feedback about too many kids running wild and ... Read More
My husband and I traveled on the Gem in late September, and after reading almost every review on cruise critic, we're pleasantly surprised by our experience! There was much negative feedback about too many kids running wild and average food. Our experience was quite different. Let me say, we are a middle-age couple, traveling on our third cruise without our kids! First off - we spent 2 nights pre-cruise in Barcelona at the Hotel Del Mar. Great location near the waterfront and Barri Goti. While the room was small, we were on the top floor with a walk out patio and views of the water - great! The buffet breakfast was adequate and there was an ATM and Hop on/Hop off bus stop just across the plaza! The Ship: Embarkation, as everyone said, was a breeze! Were greeted with sparkling wine and OJ when boarding and our cabin was ready by 2PM - luggage there by 5! We had lunch and then lounged on the big couch-like chairs on the top of the ship, overlooking Barcelona. Very nice! We also had no problem finding deck chairs the first day at sea. And, not too many kids around. They were probably all in school! (Not like in August!) We found the ship very easy to navigate and very colorful ! Having a ship diagram near every staircase was a great idea! Cabin: We had an outside cabin with a window. While it was smaller than other ships we've been on, it was fine for 2 people and had plenty of storage. The bathroom set-up was the best on any ship we've seen. Great to have the separation between shower and toilet with sliding doors. Our only complaint was the Movie channel. It played the same movie all day long and often repeated on other days. Couldn't they get a little more variety! Sometimes it was nice to come back to the cabin and relax with a movie, and not the grim economic news on CNN and Fox! Food: While not outstanding, it was overall very good! Some meals, in fact, that we had in the Grand Pacific were excellent. Our service in all the restaurants was good. Ate at Cagney's' the first night out and found it very good. But we would not have spent the $25 per person had it not been a 2 for 1 special. The food wasn't that much better, nor the service. But, overall, the atmosphere was lovely and we enjoyed it! Otherwise, we ate at the Garden Cafe - no trouble finding seats if you walk toward the back or go outside, and the variety was good. My only complaint was the scrambled eggs (awful!!) and the oatmeal (runny!) As usual, the desserts were mostly fluff - done with lots of gelatin filler to cut costs. But, there were some outstanding ones here and there. Loved the crepe station at night! The ice cream was also good quality. Ate at Blue Lagoon -average fare. Just to note: some friends also ate at Teppanyaki and Tequila and did not like either one very much. Entertainment: Adequate. The Second City Troupe was excellent. Also enjoyed the magician and the 70's(or was it 80's) retro music and dance show. The others were rather campy. Saw a good singer in the lounge doing Sinatra and the classical music in the main reception area was very nice in the evenings. Ports: Barcelona is a great city. Leave yourself time to enjoy pre or post cruise! My husband and I did all the ports on our own, using private tour companies in Florence and Rome (Limo in Rome) and a taxi-driver who managed to snag us and our little group as we left the ship in Naples. (His name was Mazzimo and he was great! - he hangs out away from the crowd who will accost you as you leave the dock) I'd highly recommend doing the ports this way. Go where you want to, when you want, for less cost than any ship tour. We never had a problem getting back to port on time. We shared some tours with a couple we met on Cruise Critic roll call boards and others with shipmates we met by the pool! Malta and Villefranche are very easy to do on your own - just walking and taking local bus (Malta) and train (Monaco). Make sure you go to Medina while on Malta. it's an easy 30 min. bus trip and very neat part of this small island. Also, St. Johns Cathedral is amazing! By the end of the week you're exhausted! Disembarkation: We did self-serve! Very easy and we got to leave the ship at our relative leisure. Overall, we loved our experience on the Gem! The crew was friendly and helpful, the ship clean and beautiful, and the ports fantastic! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Went on the Sep 7 to 14 Western Mediterranean cruise; had a really fantastic time and would like to share some thoughts and tips. Embarkation is very easy, if you like the silk scarves with Picasso motif from the souvenir shop but them ... Read More
Went on the Sep 7 to 14 Western Mediterranean cruise; had a really fantastic time and would like to share some thoughts and tips. Embarkation is very easy, if you like the silk scarves with Picasso motif from the souvenir shop but them then, as you won't find them anywhere else in Barcelona! Embarkation starts at 11am, you can wander round the shop and have lunch before the cabins are ready (wait for public announcement at about 2pm). Dinner at the specialty (payable) restaurants are buy 1 free 1 on the first night. We lunched mostly at the Garden Cafe for convenience (usually crowded) and dinner at Magenta which was less formal than Grand Pacific (same menu). Did not have to wait more than 10 minutes any one time. Food was good if not great. Lobster is served on Malta and Florence nights. Blue Lagoon is good for a light snack. One of the most difficult decisions you will need to make especially if you plan to visit places on your own is whether to maximize you time in port, or have a workout and more leisurely breakfast. They allow you to disembark as soon as the ship is cleared (unlike lines which allow shore excursion passengers to go first). We took only one shore excursion (Mt Vesuvius/Pompeii) as we figured out the public transport might be more difficult. Visited the other places on our own, manageable but a little rushed. Civitavecchia (for Rome) is very easy, and the train ticket includes all metro rides in Rome. Livorno (for Florence/Pisa) is far more complicated involving 2 bus rides and train. Bring plenty of coins for Villefrance to avoid waiting in ticket line as the ticket machines only take coins or credit cards (with PIN). There are lots to do on the ship; bingo, jewelry presentations, dances, games. Pool area, as said by many, tends to be crowded but there is quiet area one and two decks up. It is worthwhile paying USD75 for the spa pass for the whole week, very relaxing especially after a long day in port, and no kids running around! Some gripes - photos are very expensive and you don't really need to have a photo taken with a staff in costume every time you leave the ship! Internet usage is quite expensive too. Disembarkation was very smooth, just walk off any time you like before 9.30am if you take your own luggage. All the shows are very good and thoroughly professional, the magician was world class. I would definitely recommend this cruise to anyone looking for a good holiday! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Med on the Gem My wife and I were celebrating our 10th anniversary and after trying to decide where we wanted to spend a week (Italy, Hawaii, France) we chose to do a 7 nighter in the Western Mediterranean. We figured we could see which ... Read More
Med on the Gem My wife and I were celebrating our 10th anniversary and after trying to decide where we wanted to spend a week (Italy, Hawaii, France) we chose to do a 7 nighter in the Western Mediterranean. We figured we could see which cities in Italy we wanted to visit and how long to spend there whenever we decided on Italy. Disclaimer: This was our third cruise, first NCL. A southern Caribbean cruise (Royal) wonderful experience. 5 nighter out of Ft. Lauderdale, less than memorable. We used our frequent flier miles to get from Atlanta to Barcelona and decided to go a day early (highly recommended to go a day early). Obviously a long flight, overnight, but we did manage two or three hours of sleep. We stayed at the Melia Barcelona, a modern, hotel in a business district. We started our splurging (paid by the many hours of OT we'd worked this year) by upgrading to their "Level" rooms. It go us priority check in, top floor rooms, concierge service and access to their spa area. Wife fell in love with their heated benches. Got great diner reservations through the concierge. The room was very clean, and the service was wonderful. There was a NCL rep in the lobby, but considering they wanted $40 euro for the transfer, we took a cab and for $20 euro including tip, we made it to the dock in 15 minutes. The second part of our splurging was upgrading to an AE penthouse on the back of the boat. There was a small mix-up as we were directed to the balcony line first, but I eventually figured it out. There was no one in the Penthouse line, so we breezed in, and was directed to concierge lounge (wife is really getting spoiled now). Lisa explained all of our benefits. (including to call her for any and all diner reservations) made a reservation for that night and the following, and we were escorted by a staff member to our room. The room was quite large (our last cruise was a standard balcony), with a decent sized bathroom. The push button sliding glass windows led onto the nice sized balcony. Apparently after cleaning the ship, the crew neglected to lock the connecting balcony doors, and our "neighbors" from two cabins down were exploring the "expansive" communal balcony. We had a good laugh, and called the Gary, our butler to get someone to lock the connecting balcony door. We also met Mary Ann our steward. It was 12:30 now, so while the majority of the ship headed to the buffet, we went to Cagney's for lunch (another Penthouse and up perk). There were only a few others in there and we had a nice, relative quiet meal. First day was at sea, and in hind sight we wish we had a day on the end at sea. We hit the spa and hung out afterwards in their relaxation area. They had the heated benches as well. If the wife could have stuffed one in her luggage, she would have. First Port: Malta We backed into port and had a beautiful view from our balcony. We took the $1 euro bus from the port up the winding streets to outside the city center. Very convenient except it was very hot and humid that day (96º, 102º heat index). We walked around the inside of the fort city, and found our way to the St. John's Cathedral, a working church, and they were handing out wraps for the women's shoulders, and wraps to women wearing shorts. It was beautiful inside, but miserably hot. Even my cold natured wife was about to pass out. We stayed as long as we could, but left and took the bus back to the bottom. Met a nice couple, bought some Maltese blown glass for souvenirs and went back to our air conditioned room for a nice shower. We sailed that night between Sicily and the boot of Italy. Very narrow passage, but a full moon made for a beautiful view. Second Port: Naples We backed in again. Not quite as pretty as Malta, but still unique. Normally we are not opposed to doing things on our own, but we've both been very stressed at work, and being in a foreign city, we didn't want the added stress of not making the boat, so we opted for a guided tour of Pompeii. We stopped at the cameo factory (of course) but the wife always wanted one. We arrived at Pompeii, and began our tour. It was another hot day, but the humidity wasn't as bad as it was in Malta. Our guide spoke very good English. We had about an hour and a half at Pompeii, but it wasn't enough. We'll definitely be going back so we can linger around. We had thought about leaving our tour and taking the train to Sorrento, but we were told the last ferry from Sorrento to Naples was at 2:30 which left us with very little wiggle room, so we stayed with the tour back to Naples. We watched ferries arrive until almost 4:00, so as it turns out we could have gone, but no harm. We will definitely want to come back to spend a few days visiting Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri. Third Port: Civitavecchia (Rome) An industrial port, able to handle cruise ships. No sight seeing here. We did the guided tour thing here. Thought about doing one of the private "limo" tours but didn't know anyone on the ship to split it with. Did the Vatican and Coliseum tour. An hour and a half bus ride to Rome. The Vatican was pack, as expected, but no Pope that day. Our tour guide spoke o.k. English, but the little radios were useless (15 foot range). We did our best to stay beside him. Tour Guide in Pompeii was much better. The Vatican was beautiful. You could spend days looking at all the art work (painting sculptures) and still miss a lot. Definitely going back to the Vatican. Lunch was included in the tour. We ate a local place. We were so tire and hot that we didn't think. They brought out a big plate of fresh pasta and sauce. It was delicious. We finished it all, then the main course came. Lesson learned. We stopped outside the Coliseum on the way back for some pictures and a Gelato break. Not enough time to go in the Coliseum. Long day. Glad we could make diner reservations ahead of time. Fourth Port: Livorno (Florence) Much easier to pronounce. It was overcast, which made it slightly cooler than in Rome. Another hour and a half ride, but a good portion of it was through the Tuscan country side. We made a brief stop for pictures at an overlook of Florence. We then proceeded to a drop off point. There are no cars allowed in much of Florence, and the few areas that are, only locals. We did a guided walking tour of Florence seeing a lot of the major sites. We toured the Accademia where the original statue of David resides. We saw the Ponte Vecchio bridge, Piazza della Signoria, among others. Lunch was included again, so we took it easy on the pasta. The only bad part was the "pizza" area of the restaurant was in the next room, and they were constantly bringing the delicious smelling pizzas right by our table. We didn't have time for the Duomo, Uffizi, Piti Palace, etc, so we definitely want to come back for a few days. We loved the grandeur of Rome, but this was our favorite stop to date. Final Port: Villefranche This was our least favorite port. We attempted to go to Nice on our own. We couldn't decide on the train or the bus. We got turned around through the winding streets and wasted about a half an hour. We took the bus to Nice and attempted to find the market. We eventually wandered around long enough to make it close, but since we were only in port until 3:00, and had to tender, we bought a few souvenirs and found our way back to port. We definitely want to visit France, but probably won't be back here. Food: I won't rehash the freestyle thing, but just give our experience. Garden Café: Food was typical buffet. Finding a table was not easy. Several of our tours were early, so we didn't have time for the sit down breakfast at Cagney's except the first and last days. La Cucina: Wonderful breads and appetizers. Wonderful. Service was o.k. Main course was ok. They were having a two for one. Restaurant was right below the basketball court. We were expecting it to be like the Italian specialty restaurant on Royal (Portofino's), but it didn't come close. That was the only time we ate there. Cagney's: Service was wonderful. Food was good, but not $20 pp good. Again, we thought Chops on Royal was better. Tequillas: Great service, great food. I was really surprised considering it was the cheapest of the specialty restaurants and least assuming as it was above the Crystal Atrium. We ended up eating hear twice. Chips with 3 kind of salsas, wonderful appetizers, wonderful main courses and the best Sangria we've had in years. Even got the recipe. Had we eaten here the first night, we may have ended up here 3 times instead of two. Le Bistro/Orchid Garden/teppanyaki: Did not eat. Teppanyaki was a $30 pp cover. That was more expensive than going to one of the Teppanyaki places back home, but they were constantly full so apparently some didn't mind spending that much. Grand Pacific Main We ended up eating here 3 times. It was great being able to call Lisa and make our reservations well in advance. Just walked right in. Food was always good. Sometimes really good, but always consistently good. Service was also very good. I don't know if it was because we made reservations, but we got a window table for two every night. Blue Lagoon Another free option that had surprising good appetizers. We went one afternoon just for the appetizers. Activities: We were too tired after most of the ports to do a lot. We had signed up for a murder mystery diner, but we were exhausted and cancelled. We stumbled upon the Star Bar across from Cagney's. We met an entertainer who played and sang various songs on the Guitar. He played every night, and we were there listening to Beatles songs, Irish Pub songs, and some originals. Don Dunn. He was very entertaining and very personable. He played some of the original songs he wrote. One of them owned me, and I suggested he get Toby Keith to listen to it. Last night back to Barcelona was rough. There were serious winds generating 15 to 20 foot swells. We were kicking back in the Star bar with Don and some others of the crew we met, and while looking out we kept seeing the bright light in the sky dance around. It would move greatly up down, left right. Eventually we realized it was a star and the ship was bouncing around that much! It was a Dramamine night for the wife. The last perk for having an AE Penthouse or better was being able to walk off at our own time (actually that's just a NCL thing for everyone). Our heading to the concierge lounge where Lisa was waiting with our luggage was the perk. No sifting through piles of luggage wondering if you luggage was in the Pink color area or the light red. We walked straight out, got in line for a cab, and 5 minutes later we were in a cab headed to the airport. We are thinking about an Alaskan cruise in the future. The wife is spoiled to the Penthouse, so I'm afraid there will be no going back. We will definitely try NCL again and can't wait to see what F3 has to offer. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
We had never been on a cruise, but tried this way of travel because we wanted to have a very relaxed week together with our 7 months old baby boy and assumed a cruise might be perfect. After reading the reviews on this site we took the ... Read More
We had never been on a cruise, but tried this way of travel because we wanted to have a very relaxed week together with our 7 months old baby boy and assumed a cruise might be perfect. After reading the reviews on this site we took the chance. We had a courtyard villa, which we though would be ideal given the fact that it has a second (small) bedroom - ideal for the baby - and seemed rather big - ideal for all the stuff we needed to bring with us. Nevertheless, we never considered a cruise before, because we think of ourselves of very independent travellers and a cruise always seemed a bridge too far for us. We feared lots of crowds and a tacky atmosphere. After reading all the reviews (the very good and the very bad) we still were preparing for the worst and concentrating on the possibility to totally relax for a week in our room and on our balcony. We couldn't have been more wrong! But first the less good. As written in most previous reviews, the pool area is much too small given the situation (lots of people and lots of kids). Moreover, the 30 minutes rule (bed being cleared if not used for 30 minutes) indeed is not enforced. If you are late, you are stuck. Although most beds are empty. Furthermore, the no-kids-in-the-adult-pool-rule also was not enforced. I really think this is not good. We didn't use the pool area only because we weren't able to find a bed, whereas pool and hot tubs were overcrowded with kids. With a baby with us seeking a bed one floor higher was not an option. Luckily for us the private courtyard sun deck was totally empty, so we used this a few times. Talking about this private sun deck area, it seems that the staff in charge tries to keep this as empty as possible. Yes, there are nice beds and yes it is quiet and yes they bring drinks (sometimes....) but that's it. When asking for an umbrella (available in the public area) this was refused. Enquiries at the concierges' office resulted in silence. The private courtyard pool area is nice, but the roof is closed most of the time fully or almost closed (has something to do with wind falling down and being a nuisance for the staff) resulting in a sauna-effect. We didn't use it for that reason, apart for a late night swim. NCL made an awesome ship with very good public spaces, very good restaurants, professional staff and a very good atmosphere. Embarkation and disembarkation was superb. To be honest, by far we didn't spend as much time in our room as we expected. Having the courtyard villa you have your "own" floor with a separate pool, hot tub and sun deck. But we didn't use that much (although the fact that it was there was a very nice feeling) because the public area are very good. Talking about the courtyard perks. They are more limited than expected. Yes there is a concierge, but although she (Lisa) was very nice and very adequate, we only used her services for some restaurant reservations (that we also could have done ourselves if she would not have existed) Although she was able to get very good tables, which was very nice but not critical. And yes, there is a butler (Akhmed) and he also was very nice and very adequate but his added value is very limited in my opinion. Nice was that he brought us hot water for the babies bottle, but I expect that without him we also would have been able to find someone that would have been able to provide us with this. Some of the projected extra's (like the let us unpack your bags service) we didn't see. But maybe we are just not the butler type. Also we expected a deck chair on the balcony, but what you get are just two normal garden chairs and a small table. A bit disappointing. But having a platinum swipe card that brings the elevator to get to this mysterious 14th floor gives (a very safe feeling) makes up for this a bit. And expect muffled oohs and aahs and some I-havn't-seen-this-card-but-I-still-am-jealous-looks from most other passengers. Very funny. Also you will be invited to a special captain's cocktail party and this is an unsuspected nice happening. Anyway, the fact that the courtyards villas have so much space, the bed room is so cosy and the bathtub and shower have full windows is very nice and I would advice anyone who can afford a garden villa to book one. It is worth the money. So now about the other good things. As to the food. The restaurants are good to excellent without any exception. Of course, the speciality restaurants offer more from a certain perspective and we have enjoyed them very much. Also it is possible to get in without any problem, as long as you make a reservation in time. We have specially enjoyed The Bistro (but expect small portions so take an extra course before hand) and Cagney's (meat is really good, do not believe those who say it is mediocre). But what surprised me that the always open Blue Lagoon that suggests to just offer fast food, has very nice stuff, although it is simple fare. Of the main dining rooms, we only used the Grand and although it is big and crowded, the food is good and so is the service. We also used the Buffet restaurant a few times and we enjoyed it for what it is (a Las Vegas style buffet restaurant with good choices). As to the dEcor of the restaurants. Nice, but not always my taste. Especially Cagney's has a funny (to say the least) dEcor with pictures of crooks being arrested, police officers and hand cuffs. I didn't understand the rifles that were door grips. I expect this to be a form of the tongue-in-cheek-humour that you can find all around the ship: strange colors and fish everywhere (look for the one swimming upstream, that's clearly supposed to be you). Some call it tacky, but I can appreciate this. But still, handcuffs for dinner was a bit weird. As to the drinks. We are wine lovers (not experts but we recognize a nice taste) and ordered a bottle every evening. To my astonishing all wines were very good and the wine list is excellent. I really didn't expect this at all. Prices are very reasonable in my opinion if you compare it with restaurants on the shore. Sodas also are very reasonable priced. The price of a glass of champagne is a relatively high and this is a bit strange (although it didn't withhold me from ordering). The bars are nice. What I missed was a nice quiet cocktail bar for during the day (at night there are more options). Only one is near the pool area that is so crowded, not the place to enjoy a nice cocktail quietly. Although the Great Outdoors (terrace with bar and small buffet) is indeed great and you can get cocktails there. But this is not a cocktail bar, more a coffee and soda bar. Be sure to grab a nice table there before the ships leaves a port. The views are excellent and so are the drinks and 15 minutes before sail away the crowds that just came from the shore get the same idea.... As to the service. In general I was impressed with the service in restaurants and bars. Everyone tries to do their best (as everywhere, sometimes something could have been better, but this really were exceptions). The desk staff is less cooperative, unless you leave money instantaneous. Some of them are not very well trained and most of them are really sales persons. But if you are adamant and aware, this isn't a problem. Our cabin steward (Rommel) did a very good job. His work was perfect. The person that I enjoyed a lot was the Finnish captain (Mr. Mickael Hilden). His daily talks via the ships intercom was informative and he has a big sense of understated humor (again if you look/listen and recognize). I especially laughed about his comment on the fact that the ship without any technical reason was being towed out of the port of Civitavecchia by the port authorities: "That we are very glad to be able to make our contribution to the local community". Very funny. As to the ports. Barcelona is great, no need to mention that. We didn't like Malta, though. Malta looks very neat from the harbor, but once you get on land its all not so interesting old stuff et cetera. Also you pay extra everywhere you are being recognized as cruisers. For instance. We had to pay money to enter a certain church (not for Maltese people off course). This is not my cup of tea and we decided to return to the ship after a walk through the old city. Naples is much nicer than expected. It is a very unorganized city, but on the other hand very interesting and Italy as it is. My advice is to ignore all the tours and just wander through the city itself with maybe a drive with the Circumvesuvius (a metro) from the central train station to Pompeii (like we did). In Civitavecchia (Rome) we stayed on board, because we have seen Rome several times and are not sure how to enjoy this special place in three hours. I had a relaxed time with the kid and a drink and the lady went to the spa (according to her very nice). The same goes for Livorno (Florence/Pisa): we didn't do the tour and we decided to just do Livorno, that in fact is rather nice. Talking about Nice (that we know well). I went ashore in Villefranche, did some nice wandering, bought a newspaper, had some coffee and a croissant and had a wonderful time. For us this was nicer than a busy tour for a few hours. My conclusion is that this cruise is very dense with ports and that you really should pick a few cities to explore and leave the rest in order to keep your cruise relaxed. Doing Italy in a few hours is impossible and there are better ways to see Italy if you are on a tight schedule. My overall impression and experience of our trip is very good. I think NCL has managed to create something excellent and my impression is that their concept beats the competition by far. We will certainly book a cruise with NCL in the future. Maybe this last conclusion is the biggest surprise to us. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
As soon as my husband and I found out that we were expecting our first child, we booked a Mediterranean Cruise on the Norwegian Gem for our "babymoon". We wanted to go to Europe and figured that a cruise was a great way to avoid ... Read More
As soon as my husband and I found out that we were expecting our first child, we booked a Mediterranean Cruise on the Norwegian Gem for our "babymoon". We wanted to go to Europe and figured that a cruise was a great way to avoid some of the high hotel / restaurant expenses associated with the current dollar to Euro conversion rate. It also enabled us to visit a lot of sites in a short amount of time with limited hassle and guaranteed comfort - ideal when pregnant. In the last three years we cruised on the Norwegian Jewel (NCL), the Crown Princess (Princess), and Jewel of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) in the Caribbean. We enjoyed all three ships but really liked the flexibility of NCL, particularly the Freestyle dining. We decided to book on the Norwegian Gem due to our previous past positive experience with NCL, the 7-night itinerary (one of the few one-week Mediterranean cruises), and the reasonable expense. We also liked the fact that the Gem is a new ship. Before we booked, I checked the pregnancy policy. You must complete your cruise before entering your sixth month of pregnancy, and a doctor's note is needed to attest to the fact that you're in good health to travel. (We had friends who booked a cruise on NCL during their 6th month of pregnancy and were told that they couldn't take the trip. They ended up losing money when canceling their reservation.) STATEROOM - We booked a Balcony Guarantee room (where you're guaranteed a balcony but don't have the ability to pick the actual room - this approach saves some money). We enjoy having a balcony room so that we can have some privacy outside and have flexibility to easily check out the view / temperature from the comfort of our room. We were assigned room 8530. I wouldn't recommend this particular room. The room itself was very nice - it's fully updated with a flat screen TV, sofa, comfortable bedding, good storage space, and a well-designed bathroom. However, the room is directly above the Stardust Theater (which is on decks 6 and 7), and we were able to faintly hear the music from the shows each night. In addition, the balconies on deck 8 had smaller openings that most of the balconies on the other floors (while the size of the balcony was the same as other floors, the opening to the outside was more limited). A few tips about any of the rooms - fully unpack your bags and put your luggage under your bed to save some space in the room. Also, bring your own bar soap and shampoo and conditioner. The ship provides liquid soap and shampoo but no conditioner. The rooms do have nice blow dryers and hangers. EMBARKATION - The embarkation process for the Gem was very easy. We arrived at the dock around 3:00 and didn't have to wait in any lines. We quickly boarded the ship and were immediately greeted by multiple NCL employees with free orange juice and champagne. Our luggage arrived outside our room within an hour of boarding (very fast compared to other ships). DINING - We enjoyed the specialty restaurants when we previously sailed on the Norwegian Jewel, so we made a point of visiting our favorites. You can get 50% off of the cover charge the first night at all of the specialty restaurants (except for Teppanyaki) if you're seated by 7:00. I'd recommend making a reservation for Cagney's (the steak restaurant) the first night, since the normal cover charge is $20 a person. The menu and service are very good at Cagney's. We celebrated our wedding anniversary in the restaurant, and they brought us a "happy anniversary" cake and sang us "Let me Call you Sweetheart" (my husband stopped by the restaurant early to let them know that we were celebrating a special occasion). We also really enjoyed Le Bistro (French), Tequilas (Tex-Mex - not great if you're used to good Tex-Mex, but a nice alternative to the normal ship food), and Teppanyaki (a Japanese hibachi grill). The food in the main dining room was average and didn't offer a lot of variety. The main dining rooms also seemed to get fairly crowded later in the evening, especially for tables of two. We never had to wait for a table, but we ate fairly early (around 6:45). I'd recommend making reservations for the specialty restaurants and eating fairly early in the main dining rooms to avoid the crowds. We ate breakfast every morning and generally had lunch in the Garden Cafe, the buffet. The food was pretty typical for a buffet. Not a lot of variety, but it was fast and easy to get in and out. The Garden Cafe tended to get really packed, especially at breakfast. We liked to eat at the back of the ship outside to avoid some of the noise and crowds. ENTERTAINMENT - We enjoyed the entertainment on the ship. The musical production numbers were a little cheesy but good as cruise ship entertainment goes. We especially enjoyed the Second City comedy group from Chicago (unique to NCL). They put on a very funny show in the main Stardust Theater, and we attended two Improv shows in the Spinnaker Lounge. My husband also went to their Improv workshop. The magician was fine and fairly similar to other acts that we've seen on other ships. OTHER SHIP COMMENTS - The Gem had some great areas for relaxation. We really enjoyed the outdoor quiet area on deck 14, where they had classical music playing and really comfortable outdoor beds (which were in hot demand). The Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 also had comfortable chairs inside for lounging (although you had to find a time with no show or activity in the lounge to enjoy the quiet). The main pool and deck areas were pretty crowded in the afternoons and on the day at sea, but deck 7 was nearly empty and had a lot of lounge chairs (just no sun, since deck 7 is covered). Our only complaint about the outside area was that a lot of people were smoking. It was hard to avoid the smell of smoke outside on the ship (which I was particularly sensitive to, being pregnant). It's easy to spend a lot of money on an NCL cruise. The basic cabin rates are fairly cheap, but a lot of the extra services carry a fee. For example, you'll have to pay a cover charge for many of the specialty restaurants, some of the NCL University classes had fees, there were fees for some of the exercise classes, and certainly the drinks, bingo, and spa services can add up. We've found that the fees are fairly similar to what you see on Princess or Royal Caribbean, but we were more aware of them on NCL. PORTS BARCELONA - We flew into Barcelona a day early and stayed at the Olivia Plaza Hotel. The hotel is in an excellent location - right in the Placa de Catalunya, the main plaza in Barcelona at the top of La Rambla (within easy walking distance to the Barri Gotic and many of the sites). We were really pleased with the hotel and our room. It was very modern, and despite the fact that we faced the plaza, it was very quiet. I'd highly recommend the hotel. However, I'd definitely skip the breakfast buffet. We were under the impression that the buffet was included until we were mid-meal and were brought a bill for 20 Euro each. The buffet was fine when we thought it was free, but it was certainly not worth 20 Euro. If you stay at this hotel, it's very easy to take the Aerobus from the airport rather than a cab. The Aerobus leaves from outside each terminal very frequently and only costs 4.10 Euro per person (you can pay with cash on the bus or via credit card using a machine at the bus stop). It drops passengers off at Placa Espanya, Placa Universitat, and Placa de Catalunya (less than a block from the hotel). The other benefit of the hotel is that the Bus Turistic ticket booth and pick-up spot is right across the street from the hotel. We spent the first day walking around the Barri Gotic (the gothic area) and had lunch at an excellent restaurant with a lot of ambience called 4 Gats (Founded in the late 1800's, it's where Picasso had his first art exhibit. Picasso painted a mural on the wall, which is used as the cover of the menu). We ate dinner that night at a very good tapas restaurant just north of Placa de Catalunya called Ciudad Condal (ask for an English menu to help with the translation). We took the Bus Turistic on the second day (a hop on / hop off tourist bus) to see the Gaudi sites. The bus was an easy way to get around, but we had a hard time getting space on the top of the bus once we tried to get back on after the Gaudi sites (Sagrada Familia and Park Guell). It's difficult to enjoy the bus from inside. The bus has two routes that each take about 2 hours without taking time to get off. You can buy a one-day pass that covers both routes or for a little extra buy a two-day pass. MALTA - I'd recommend waking up early to get a great view of Malta as the ship sails into port (go to the front of the ship on deck 14 for the best view). It's very easy to explore the capitol city of Valletta on your own. You can catch a bus for 1 Euro round-trip right outside of the pier that takes you up to the city center. The main sites of the city are within easy walking distance of the bus stop. We enjoyed exploring the St. John Co-Cathedral church. The Upper Barracca Gardens offer a great view of the harbor and the city. I wouldn't recommend doing a short excursion in Malta - it's not necessary if you just want to explore the main city and check out the ancient streets and pretty views. NAPLES - We did the Pompeii Excavations shore excursion, which made exploring Pompeii very easy. Our tour guide gave a good overview of the Naples region on the way to Pompeii in the bus. We were a little irritated that we were taken to a cameo factory for about 30 minutes just outside of the gates of Pompeii before our actual tour began (it felt like a tourist trap). Once inside Pompeii, though, the guided tour was very interesting. In retrospect, we felt that we should have taken the train to Pompeii and got an audio tour or guide book to explore on our own. (We talked to other passengers who said that it was very easy to take the train.) We got back from the shore excursion at 12:30 and decided to stay on the ship for the afternoon. We read and heard that Naples isn't the safest or nicest port, so we chose to spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the sunshine on the ship. CIVITAVECCHIA / ROME - We were very happy that we chose to skip a shore excursion and do Rome on our own. It's very easy to get to the train station from the ship in Civitavecchia. Free shuttle buses run from the pier to the main part of town. When you exit the bus, turn right and walk along the waterfront to the train station (which is only about 4 blocks away). The round-trip ticket to Rome was only 9 Euro each, and the train took a little over an hour to get to the main Rome terminal (faster than the buses from the ship, which were significantly more expensive). Make sure you validate your ticket in one of the machines at the train station before you board the train. We had a really good map of Rome and a Frommers walking tour book, and we spent the day exploring the main sites (the Colosseum, the Forum, the Piazza del Campidoglio, the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps). (We didn't try to do the Vatican - it's too much to try to see the Vatican and all of the ancient sites in one day.) LIVORNO - We took the Cinque Terre shore excursion through the ship and had an excellent time. Our guide, Andrea, was the best guide that we've had on a tour, and he provided a great overview of the region and each town (with a lot of humor). The Cinque Terre was a great counterbalance to our day in Rome - we visited four quaint, small towns right along the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, with some nice free time to explore. Generally, the tour travels between towns by boat, but due to the rough seas, we took quick train rides between villages (less than 10 minutes). We had a great pasta with pesto meal in the last town, Monterosso, at Ristorante Al Pozzo (on the main street of the town). I'd highly recommend this excursion and visiting the Cinque Terre. VILLEFRANCHE - You have to take a tender from the ship to the port of Villefranche, a very quaint town on the French Riviera. We took the short 20-minute train ride from Villefrance to Monaco. (It's a quick 10 minute walk from the tender drop-off to the train station - just turn right and walk along the harbor.) We had some confusion once we got to Monaco regarding where to go from the train station to get to the sites. If you exit toward the front of the train and head up the escalators, there's a tourist office to the left with free maps. I'd highly recommend getting a map before trying to explore. If you like to walk, I'd recommend going back down the escalators and walking all of the way to the back of the train platform. You'll see a tunnel to the left with three long moving walkways. Take the moving walkways / tunnel all the way to the end, turn right when you exit the tunnel, and walk less than a block to the main street. When you come to the main street, turn left. In the distance, you'll see a stairway path the leads up the side of a cliff on the right. This pathway takes you directly up to the Grimaldi Palace area, where you'll also find the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried and the Aquarium / Oceanographic museum. There are beautiful views from the walkway and the plaza outside the palace. We didn't have time to visit the Grand Casino, which is across the harbor on the other side of town. You can take bus #1 or #2 between the two main tourist areas. We really enjoyed exploring Monaco and found it to be beautiful. FINAL THOUGHTS - We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and had an excellent time. In the past, we've typically done a lot of shore excursions through the ship, but we found it very easy and cost effective to tour several of these ports on our own. Public transportation is inexpensive and very reliable in these countries, and it's nice to have the flexibility to move at your own pace and explore the cities. (However, I would highly recommend the Cinque Terre shore excursion.) The Norwegian Gem is a very nice ship and offers a lot of flexibility with Freestyle cruising. Just be aware that Freestyle cruising lends itself to a more casual environment (a lot of people wore jeans to dinner) - great for some people, but not for those who like a more formal environment. It's easy to get overwhelmed in Europe and to leave the trip exhausted from site seeing. Make sure you plan your days so that you have some free time. (Malta and Villefrance are shorter days, with the ship leaving by 3:00, which provides a nice opportunity for extra relaxation.) Enjoy your cruise! Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Background Information having cruised with NCL before and being a latitudes member decided on this cruise mainly because of the ports of call and the latitudes benefits (or not). tried booking via NCL but were quoted a price £250 dearer ... Read More
Background Information having cruised with NCL before and being a latitudes member decided on this cruise mainly because of the ports of call and the latitudes benefits (or not). tried booking via NCL but were quoted a price £250 dearer than at another provider, including cabin upgrade. Travel To Port of Embarkation included in our package were BA flights from Gatwick which were good and the reception at Barcelona airport was equally good quite an impressive ship when you first see it. i thought the layout was a little poor. having to walk through restaurants to get to stairs or to and from staterooms was not good. i found the activities arranged quite disappointing, we were off the ship most days and on our return there was very little to pass the time until dinner. on the whole service was ok, we had a major problem with staff in one of the speciality restaurants and received a bottle of wine as compensation(still had to pay the cover though). we became known at a couple of bars and the wait staff more often then not remembered our order which was good. i had heard horror stories about Shore Excursions, if you don't book via the ship and your late they sail without you (scary) so we booked all our trips via NCL did feel it was a bit of a rip off but enjoyed them none the less our stateroom was better than expected for the amount of time we spent in there, although we requested a king and got twin (steward re-arrange it to king) in the main we enjoyed the dining, although the best bit of our previous cruise with NCL was meeting a lot of different people by sharing tables. on this one we were always given a table for two except in magenta where the service was appalling. did meet a nice couple from Newcastle though. the food was okay. although we did think that only 3 restaurants without a cover charge was a bit mean. we used the speciality restaurant twice, le bistro to celebrate my birthday and had a great time food excellent service great, but cagneys was another matter. i was shocked at how many children were on board and how many of those had free reign to do anything (parents suspiciously absent when kids doing something inappropriate) also thought the fact there was only two pools(and not big ones at that) on a ship so big was strange. we tried to go to all the late performances thinking kids would be at the first didn't work either. they were everywhere all the time. not impressed by the entertainment on offer. shops few and the range of items was limited. disembarkation was a breeze, although we had a 6 hour wait at the airport for our flight home. okay overall don't know whether we would use NCL again though Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
I've been on a lot of cruises...and i mean a lot...over 100 and have worked as an entertainer for some years on crystal, seabourne and ncl...so hopefully I've got a balanced view of things by now. NCL doesn't pretend to be a ... Read More
I've been on a lot of cruises...and i mean a lot...over 100 and have worked as an entertainer for some years on crystal, seabourne and ncl...so hopefully I've got a balanced view of things by now. NCL doesn't pretend to be a 5* cruise line and it isn't. Myself, my wife and our 3 kids booked a cheap holiday in peak season...only about £500 each and got a flight for only £25.00! Overall, it was quite good value for money but with hindsight, i would have preferred to pay more and get a bit more class. THE GOOD POINTS: 1. Very quick embarkation for latitudes members. 2. The quickest disembarkation I've ever had...straight off, no queues at all! 3. Ice cream was free. 4. The gym was open 24 hours...i went at 1.00am which was great for me. 5. Cabin was cleverly designed...it had a lot of extra storage space. 6. Cabin steward was excellent in every way. 7. Kids club was open all day from 9am to 10.30pm and then baby sitting till 1.30am....this is the best times I've seen from a kids club on any ship. 8. Pool musicians were very good quality...played some lovely music...also a spanish singer with a guitar...loved him. 9. Selection of food at buffet was generally good. 10. Sun loungers around the pool were very comfy and well padded although the ones on the upper decks were more basic. 11. I liked the double beds around the shady area by the pool...pity there wasn't space for more of them! 12. Furniture around the ship was imaginative and unusual. 13. The theatre was great...really well set out with great views all around...one of the very best. 14. The shows were generally good. 15. The overall cruise price was cheap. 16. The organized 'star gazing' seemed an interesting idea...had it not been cloudy!!...i like the idea though. 17. There were NO pool games!!!...no belly flop or sexy knees etc! 18. The open air buffet at the back of the ship was a nice touch...nice to sit out at night after the show and have a snack with the breeze! 19. The lift doors were quick...i preferred this so gossiping families couldn't dawdle keeping everyone waiting. 20. This is the first ship I've seen have reduced tipping rates for kids...half price....therefore it was the first time I've left the kids tips on our account as i usually have them taken off. 21. Nice view from Grand Pacific dining room over the sea and sunset. 22. Nice seating in theme rooms like Bliss and Spinnaker Lounge...double beds and 4 posters...i thought it was great fun. 23. Bowling alley seemed to work well and our kids liked it. 24. The cool air misting over the sun best was cool. THE BAD POINTS: 1. It was way too crowded around the pools...just not enough sun beds or space. We walked around all day on the first sea day and couldn't get a sun bed for love nor money! I hated this and it was a major point for the whole cruise. You had to be out at 9.00am on the sunbeds to stand any chance. Lots of arguments seen with disputes over who had this or that sun bed first. 2. The sun bed 30 minute rule was not enforced so people just left their clothes and towels on the beds all day. By the end of the cruise i had resulted to the same...put my stuff on the bed in the morning, went out on tour, came back mid afternoon and it was still there! 3. The two pools were way too crowded....i counted 40 people in the pool at one point...my idea of a cool, relaxing swim is not being shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of big hairy Spaniards jostling you for space....and the men weren't very respectful either!! I felt like i was in one of those communal football pools that the players bath in together after a match! 4. Not enough seating in the buffet....it was bedlam and close to a riot! 5. Over 600 kids on board!! Need i say more? I know, 3 of them were mine....but i hadn't wanted another 597 to add to the ambiance! 6. Multilanguage announcements! All the time and usually in 3 or 4 languages....it was the Costa ships all over again! 7. Constant revenue touting over the speakers. 8. No free Sauna ...you had to pay to go into the spa to use a sauna. 9. Salt water swimming pools....our kids don't like them as makes their eyes sore. 10. The ship needs another pool. 11. Needs either more deck space or less passengers. 12. Gaudy carpets...especially in cabins...3 shades of blue with orange and red shells and starfish on them. The designers must have had their work cut out to blend that with the wood paneling, yellow cabin door and cerise pink headboards! 13. The ship was 2/3 full of Spanish...nothing wrong with them except i don't feel the ship knows who its catering for...spanish, english, american, german, french and maltese who got on at Malta. It was hard to make friends with anyone as hardly anyone spoke the same language....and to be honest...the cultures are very different and i don't feel it works that well. 14. Dancing with the Stars competition...the ships own professionals turned out to be anyone the ships staff could cajole into it...we had the ships Nurse, tours office staff, shop assistants, fitness staff etc...some of which couldn't dance at all...i'd have thought the ships own dancers would have had more idea and would have been a more logical choice. 15. Sick of revenue touting....even selling bingo tickets in the theatre just before the curtain went up. There was a 'pool casino' so you cold gamble by the pool, yoga, pilates, abs , cycling classes...all chargeable. 16.If you booked a massage you got free use of the spa...but only for 30 mins...should have been for the whole day as all the treatments were expensive. 17. Dance production shows need more imagination & storyline as it was really just a load of singing and dancing with little or no connection to anything. The individual dancers, singers and lighting were all of a very good standard though. 18. The huge tv screen in the reception lounge was very glaring...no one could watch it with its glaring neon psychedelic colors, heat images and electro funk clips...who this added to an ambiance of the room i'll never know. And to top it, they put the classical quartet playing in front of it. It needs something more relaxing and beautiful to watch to match the music and purpose of the room. It was so bright, people were having epileptic fits looking at it! To sum up, the ship has a lot of good ideas and good points that i liked. The food wasn't too bad but neither was it memorable. I preferred it to the Costa ships but it was also similar in many of the negative ways. If it hadn't been so crowded around the pools and buffet...i would be recommending it as very good value for money....but as it was im more in the middle on it. I overheard two couples talking saying the ship was vulgar.....i did know what they meant when i looked at the sea of sprawling bodies around the pool, kids and burgers. And yet the ship does have some charm and innovative ideas that did impress me. Would i go again...yes for the right price but with an itinerary that attracted less of a cocktail of nationalities. Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
We sailed on August 10, 2008 from Barcelona. We had reserved a Mini-Suite for 2 adults and 2 pre-teens, which would have been OK, but we opted for the upgrade which does sometimes come available. So we landed in the AB Penthouse suite. ... Read More
We sailed on August 10, 2008 from Barcelona. We had reserved a Mini-Suite for 2 adults and 2 pre-teens, which would have been OK, but we opted for the upgrade which does sometimes come available. So we landed in the AB Penthouse suite. It's worth the 20% difference, no matter what anyone says about cabins not being that important on a cruise. Aside from all the extra space, extra bath and simply more luxurious cabin (e.g. bathtub overlooking the ocean with flat screen TV), the other perks alone are worth the cost (butler, early boarding, access to Cagney's for sit down, no rush breakfast and lunch seatings, portable on ship phone for family and kids to stay in touch, VIP receptions with Captain.) Embarkation was easy for us. Short lines and VIP pre-boarding room. Folks in the other lines seemed satisfied with the speed of boarding too. We were able to check bags upon arrival at 9:30am and board before 10:30am. We were greeted with champagne, walked around a bit and went to get some lunch at the garden cafe (go as soon as you get on because by 12:00 on boarding day, it is packed). The rooms are ready by about 12:00 on average. Sea Day: Truth -- The pool is not the place to be. Too many people, even for my kids. The bowling was cool for $5.00/person. The kids club was great according to my kids who would never leave it, even for dinner. Good day to drink, eat, sleep and re-evaluate your excursions well -- a must do. Malta: Good port TO DO ON YOUR OWN! LESSON #1 - EXCURSIONS AREN'T ALWAYS NEEDED! Take the bus from the boat up the hill to Valletta for 2 Euro. Walk around for about 2 hours. See a chapel or two, eat a gelato, and take the public bus to Medina for 2 more euro. Its a great little town. Clean and interesting with great views of the country. BTW, Malta is not part of Italy. Its a separate country that was a British colony. Maltese is the first language, English the second. I just saved you about $300. Just my opinion, but trust me. Naples: Heard Capri was great, but we opted for Pompeii excavations excursion. Again, do do the excursion. Its too rushed, and hot in the summer. Take a cab of 4 people from the ship for about 15-20 euro and pay the small entrance fee. You can walk along with the million other tour groups to hear about the history. Just saved you another $400. I walked Naples in the afternoon, after lunch on the ship. Downtown is close to the port. I walked the shopping area and the main plaza. Nice Basilica! Then had a beer by the plaza. Naples is dirty and uninteresting except for the small area close to the port. The old neighborhood is dangerous too according to a couple of the port authority security staff. Rome: If its your first time, take the tour. Too much to see on your own. Amazing, and hot place. The tour lunch was not great, but not too bad either. Was good not to worry about lunch in town. Livorno: Road to Pisa and Florence. Don't take the Pisa excursion. You can do it on your own. Bus from the boat round trip 2 euro. Then connecting bus to train station 1 euro. Train to Pisa 5 euro. total travel time 45 mins - 1 hr. Its really easy to do. The walk to the tower is about 30 mins, with some cafe's along the way. Many people walk the path along with you. Buy your tickets to the tower on line ahead of your trip. I heard Florence was great, but too rushed because of the long drive there from the port the boat leaves early. BTW, Livorno is pretty ugly, with some shady folks walking around, along with the good. Nice: The most beautiful port. I took the Nice, Monaco, Monte Carlo excursion. Same cost as Monte Carlo/ Monaco tour. The guide was not great, but the vistas were amazing. Bad part--all the tours get back at about he same time, and this is a boat tender port. So the line to catch the tender back to ship was about an hour wait. Crazy!! Debarkation and Overall: A mad house to catch a cab! I miss the staff. They were great! Tip them if they've gone the extra mile, even if you're charged $10/day tip fee already. And the Captain and Head Hotel Manager are great, attentive people! ... Also The Spa is worth a look. Awesome! And for specialty restaurants (Le Bistro is great. Tapenyaka was over-rated, but still good). But my best experiences consistently were in the Grand Pacific and Magenta. Good food every night!! Barcelona: Cool City to stay over a night or two. See Las Ramblas, and the Segrada Familia Church. Check out the Olympic Stadium. Many cool places and great food.... That's it! Have fun! It's a great NEW boat Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
NCL - Norwegian Gem Sail Date: 24th - 31st Aug 2008 The following is an outline of the good and the bad of the cruise, as we found it. My little family troop consists of: - Myself (male, 35+) - Wife (female, *cough* how old?! ... Read More
NCL - Norwegian Gem Sail Date: 24th - 31st Aug 2008 The following is an outline of the good and the bad of the cruise, as we found it. My little family troop consists of: - Myself (male, 35+) - Wife (female, *cough* how old?! *cough*) - Daughter 4.5yrs old - Mother in law... immune to arsenic and we found she now floats to ... bugger We had two cabins. One stateroom with balcony (deck 11). And one interior (deck 10). I will conduct this as a Good vs Bad list with a conclusion. Just like good old science class. The Good Kids club The children's "club" called Treetops, was nothing short of fabulous. I left a double line break there so that statement sinks in. It really is that good. I did not meet one incompetent "teacher/play mate/ organizer" or whatever you would like to call them. The area is deceptive at first as it is split into many sections. But as my four and a half year old said in her own words "it's magic daddy, it's awesome!". If you have kids and they are 3+ then I'd recommend this club over anything. Its open hours that you are not in port for free. Or five US dollars per hour if you are in port. Times if I recall correctly are something like 7:30-10:30pm but don't quote me on that. My experiences are simple enough with the kids club. My daughter woke up in the morning DEMANDING to be taken to play with her new "friends" at "school". And on top of that. She skipped in and said "see you later".  To any parent you know you cannot ask for more. It really makes your holiday. They provide the parent that signs the child in with a ships phone on request. Any problems and they call you. It really is that easy. Security for the child's area is excellent and the "teachers" really do try to get to know the parents. On port days if you decide to leave the child on board and venture off. They take your mobile number if you want/have one available. Not once did my daughter ever say "I don't like it" or "it's boring". And usually they are her most beloved quotes. Don't worry about them being fed on port days if you leave them in either. They take care of that to, don't expect anything too nutritional though. But a week of junk food won't hurt them; they do get enough exercise to burn it all off so it's really not an issue. Please be aware here though my daughter has no "special needs" or allergies. So check up on this if this affects you. A final personal note on the kids club. I am a typical over protective father. But to the extent I have only ever left her in the care of her grandmothers or the school she attends. I cook and prepare all meals for her outside of school time. Your really can't get more over protective and I am aware of that failing. Yet even I felt totally at ease with leaving her with the staff in the kids club area known as Treetops. So from me and my wife THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH. The functional furniture The furniture was great; it was comfortable for my large rear end and very funky in design. It's hard to describe the furniture so you would do best looking online for pictures people have taken. The colours were bright and vibrant and the design wholly unique. Exceptional comfort and the person that took the leap of faith from the conventional uncomfortable furniture should be given a pay rise immediately. The shows I have been on the MSC so you'll have to forgive me not giving this an "amazing" rating as others have. But it was adequate and entertaining for the most part. What on earth they were thinking with the tacky flamenco dancers I'll never know. People were leaving in droves when it came on. My heart went out to the dancers it must have been humiliating. But that being said for a cheap enough cruise it was good enough. And the Second City entertainment troop was a riot of laughs. The Freestyle main evening meals The main meals in the evening were simply put. Fine. The Cagney's restaurant I heartily do recommend as the food and the service was spectacular. Everything else for main meals in restaurants was just fine. Nothing to write home about but certainly not disappointing. The Bad This part may drag on but I feel I should justify each negative point by describing the situation it happened in. all too often we read reviews and have to take it with a pinch of salt so ill save you that trouble by giving you the real situation. I am brutally honest in real life and I don't pull my punches when I deal with people so you should know that before we begin. Gift shops / boutiques etc On board there are a pitiful selection of stores, there is virtually nothing for you to buy a child as a toy. I saw a few rattles and other than that a yo-yo, which my daughter did buy, nothing else. The items are shoddy, poor quality by enlarge and frankly insulting if they believe people will buy them. Ill not spend any more words describing it, it just is not worth giving it space. The shops staff was awful I had the opportunity to bring it to an officer's attention onboard via the cruisecritics.com meeting with the staff. But that really did nothing to be honest, I received a follow up call to try and make me feel like I was perhaps being "mistaken".  The issue wasn't resolved and was left. The issue: I took my daughter down to buy a toy on the first day onboard. My wife immediately ran for a facial and so I thought to score "browny points" by getting her a toy or some such thing to make her laugh. As it turned out the stuff was dismal but I tried to make the best of it. Then I ran into "sales guy #1". I asked him if any of the other stores sold toys (save me looking!) and I was told "I don't know, just look". I told him he should try doing his job and left him to mutter under his breath as I walked to "sales girl #1" I asked if they sold any kids jewelry, colouring books or anything to keep "monster" busy? (monster is my nickname for my daughter). She tried to sell me something entirely non suitable for a child values at 90+ US dollars... At this point I saw this was going to be harder than I though.  They were both yanks (Americans) so I forgave them. And was foolish to try "sales guy #2". I walked up to him and was about to just say something silly like "all the staff new this voyage" but sadly I didn't get a single word in. He waved me away and dismissed me from his presence. I had my daughter with me, that is the only reason his wrist was not broken I assure you of this. Total time 25mins and my holiday was taking a nose dive, but I thought "bah they are probably new" and I knew the next day I'd get to talk to an officer onboard and I thought id give him the heads up that his "staff" were perhaps in a reality check that they are service people onboard a ship that its passengers pay around 5,000 U.S. dollars to be on per cabin. We bought the yoyo and a pink cup and left without further confrontation. Reception If a "how not to talk to paying guests" example were ever needed. Then just record these guys. Offensive, snotty, cheap, ZERO education beyond stringing syllables together and to top it all off, they truly believe they are untouchable. he single worst customer relation experience I have ever had the misfortune to be involved in. Period. Issue: The cruise charges 18% "gratuity" on everything you purchase. Now forgive my rudimentary primitive thinking but that's well ... a tip. From soft drinks to duty free.They put a Service charge on things as well as "gratuity" on everything. When I read that they charge $10 per person and $5 per child, per day. I was determined to remove it. I may be a mug, but I'm not about to be taken for a ride. Tuesday: I call reception and ask how to remove the added surcharge for tips per person per day. I asked it clearly and precisely. I have no accent and I spoke slowly for them, I didn't do so to be insulting but I know it helps when you talk to other nationalities so I was trying to be polite and make life easy for them. "the what?"  "I would like to remove the added surcharge you add to my bill. The one where you charge $10 per person per day". "you cant" "I think I'm not making myself clear. I would like to remove the added charge where you.." "I know what your saying sir (the first and only instance of "sir" I heard from these people) but you cant its not fair as it goes into the tip pool." At this point I've had enough. "I don't care, Ill tip whomever I want to. You do not get to dictate that to me. Now how or whom do I need to talk too." "you cannot do that till Thursday" ::phone goes dead:: Deep breaths. Thursday: I go to the counter and we are told its not possible till later, fine.. I go back later and its now not allowed till Friday. I get another lecture about how its not fair but at this stage I'm just auto switching off. Friday. My wife decides maybe I'm being a bit aggressive so she decides to do it herself. She comes back shaking and upset. The girl had humiliated her by shouting in a loud voice about this business. So I go down stairs and decide to sort this rubbish out. I tell them I want to do it and she starts with the lecture AGAIN. I stop her and tell her I owe her no explanation. I am happy to write this down for them but I can no longer be bothered to deal with her or waste my time. She basically says it's not possible till the Saturday. Saturday: I get up at 6:30am and think I'll just go finally get it over with. I go down stairs and they look a smug lot so I knew something was up. She doesn't try to give me a lecture, goes to fetch the form. 10 minutes later she comes back. No apology for the delay. But I don't bite I want to get it over with now out of principle and never have to speak with these people ever again. "I'm sorry sir, your wife is the signature on the account. You'll have to go WAKE her" she says.  The girl next to her laughs. At this point I blow my top. "Take that smug little sadistic look off your face. In 30mins you'll be hearing from your boss. At that point you'll not be so happy." I go to my room and call the number I had memorised (not a difficult number!) and I WAKE him up. He is a little groggy but I have no forgiveness and I proceed to inform him what has happened. It takes 10minutes for him to wake fully and realize I was not going to go away anytime soon. And I have this horrible habit I have learned in life of asking them questions about information I have given them so it sticks in their minds. I never did get the promised call from their boss with an apology. Nor do I care to be honest. But my wife did go down and sign with little to no words from the girls on the desk. This series of incidents almost ruined our holiday. But I am sure it's not a common thing, but you should be wary. Gratuity and that $4 bottle of water 18% is more than the tax of England or Spain for VAT. Its extortionate, and frankly greedy. By all means bump the price of the cruise up and by €300 and remove it and give bottled water free. My daughter does not drink cola or lemonade or anything other than pineapple/ apple juice or water. Yet for quality water that didn't taste like someone poured drops of vinegar in it, we were forced to pay a ridiculous amount for water.Don't be so greedy or just add it on to the initial ticket price so you don't annoy so many of your customers. Yes every person I spoke to onboard mentioned it. Shame on yourselves NCL. The endless hawking and money grabbing My wife spent a grand total of just under $1,000 US dollars on cosmetics and facials etc on board. She would have spent that regardless so was it really necessary for NCL staff to badger her while she was supposedly "relaxing" with getting her to buy yet another product and offending her by trying to sell her BOTOX! There should be a strict rule unless asked or part of a consultation you should not recommend anything which is not relevant. This issue was corrected on the second visit by my wife simply telling the staff to stop but for a cruise line that is aimed at upper middle class of passengers. It's simply embarrassing. $4 dollars for a can of beer. I can understand not wanting drunken behavior but that's going to far. Enough said people now know the price and can judge that themselves. We ate at a restaurant each night. And each night we asked "what is the house wine". NCL waiters neither knew nor cared. The staff is by enlarge totally untrained and lacking any sort of "customer care" training. My mother in law I know can be annoying but for a shop assistant to blatantly ignore her attempts to buy perfume as it was far too much effort to do something. Says a lot about the shop staff and this was 9pm on the Saturday before we were due to disembark the following day. I did not mind the lottery ticket sales before the shows. Nor do I mind the gambling in weird places. But I did mind the lack of enforcement onboard about smoking in bad places. Like near the kids section. They need to clean their act up. TV For families with kids believe it or not it helps to have something like Cartoons available in the morning while the parents take showers etc. How this over sight of lack of children's programming occurred I'm not sure. But it really needs to be corrected. The films were extortionately priced often more expensive than buying the DVD in the highstreet! Staff to Crew ratio Simply put NCL needs more staff. You can never find waiters when you want to order a drink. Out of 30 mojito's I ordered for my wife and myself TWO arrived. Thankfully the other drinks were never charged to our account. But the waiter service anywhere outside of the Cagneys restaurant was down right awful. Conclusion: I hated the staff by enlarge. They were talentless in their profession and to be frank had no customer service knowledge at all. The "officers" put on a show but the words were hollow and everything was timed... however badly. I'm referring here to the cruisecritics meeting with them. Would I do it again? You'll be surprised to hear "Yes. Definitely". Let me explain. My wife and I actually got to enjoy ourselves, even off the boat and we knew our daughter was loving every second of her holiday. The kids club is the sole redeeming aspect of this ship. It is highly talented and makes the holiday a reality. We did all the excursions ourselves as it was all in Europe and it's not exactly rocket science organizing a cab from A to B with a guide included for half the price of what the ship was often charging. I feel NCL have done themselves a huge injustice here. They could be so much better than they are and it would make them even more money. People don't mind the prices being marginally higher if they see they are gaining in something else. They however do hate to be robbed after they have paid for their tickets. Raise the ticket prices by 300€ and provide unlimited water or at least a set quantity of bottles of water per day free in the minibar. A last note: I have no idea which bright spark thought of the "cool" annoying/flashing/ultra colourful clips for the main big screen in reception.., but please fire him. The only design fault on a beautiful ship I found. If NCL wish to address any of this to me personally they can reach me on kabben@msn.com and im happy to talk to them. Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem August 3-10, family of 6 - four sons ages 24,21,15 and 6. We had a wonderful time, had a great cabin with lots of amenities - the boys were down the hall in a balcony cabin. First, I want to thank all the ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem August 3-10, family of 6 - four sons ages 24,21,15 and 6. We had a wonderful time, had a great cabin with lots of amenities - the boys were down the hall in a balcony cabin. First, I want to thank all the people who wrote reviews before me, I read them all, and it gave me a great idea of what to expect, what "perks" I could expect in my cabin class, and pros/cons of the ship and cruise itself. Since nobody but me had been on a cruise, nor had been to Europe, it was great information, so I thank you all. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday, 8/1 and were fortunate enough to be staying at the Hotel Arts, a Ritz Carlton property in Port Olympic. The staff all spoke English, they were lovely, the rooms were heaven, we had 2 adjoining rooms that looked out on the Mediterranean. My DH was not at all excited to go on a cruise, nor to go to Europe, so staying here really psyched him up. The older boys loved Barcelona and it's bohemian nightlife, so we were off to a great start. We slept until noon on Saturday(haven't done that since college!!) b/c of the time difference, but it worked out well, as restaurants in Barcelona do not open until 8:30pm anyway. We did not see much of the city unfortunately, just the Gothic Cathedral and las Ramblas and the market. The older boys hung out until the very wee hours (5:30am) along the waterfront - I understand it is quite a party going on until sunrise. They checked out some clubs and casinos and it was slow going on Sunday morning to get them on the boat. Checkout was not until 1:00 pm, which only emphasizes the slow moving mornings of this lovely city. A word of caution - there were many topless bathers at the pool and the beach - our 15 yo quickly realized that 90% of people really look better with clothes on, so it was not as big a deal as I had initially feared. Also, we did run into a totally nude older gentleman strutting up and down the boardwalk along the beach - again, after a certain age, clothes can hide a multitude of shortcomings!! We got on the boat around 1:00, no issues, went to our rooms, our penthouse suite was quite large for a stateroom, more than enough storage, big closet, and bathroom. Clean, large deck, which was great for when the ship was in port, but we could not use it while sailing b/c we were in the forward section of the boat, it was just too windy. (I had read about that before we sailed so I was not surprised). That was kind of a bummer, maybe next time I would choose a cabin on the side, our sons room although much smaller, had a balcony you could use more often. As far as the ship and staff goes, they were wonderful,especially Amato, our cabin steward. He was always so cheerful and kind, and I know our older boys and the condition of their cabin (a hot mess) were a challenge for him. I would agree with most every posting I read, the pool area is too crowded, the Garden Cafe buffet is not as good as the restaurants so we never ate there except to grab slices of pizza for the kids. The staff did their best to keep the crowd under control and the mess down to a minimum, sometimes to no avail. We did have a small CC meeting on our day at sea, which was only attended by about 15 of us, but we had a full contingent of officers there. I thought that was nice. They did tell us that this particular sailing had very few "English" speakers on it, the majority of sailers were from Europe. That was evident to me and culturally, you could see it in the kids club, and the "running amok" at the pool area, and the exhausted kids screaming and having melt downs at 11:30 every night. The staff cannot control how kids behave (or in this case, don't). Again, I had read all the comments beforehand, about elevator etiquette and lax manners, so it came as no surprise and didn't really bother us. Before I run out of space, I do want to give a short re-cap of our tours and what did/did not work for us. In Malta, we got off the boat and there was a stand for a "special" hop-on/hop-off bus tour for 15 euro. DO NOT DO THIS! We waited for 30 min on the bus, got a tour of the island with a skipping taped tour guide. There was no hopping on or off. We stopped for 15 min at a glass factory and for 15 min at Mdena. Not enough time to see squat. It was broiling hot on the bus, it was just a waste, we were all sweltering. Just go it on your own on the "real buses" or walk up the hill and see Valetta. Malta looked like a pretty cool place, full of history, and all we can remember is the heat. We are a pretty hearty bunch so we should have walked it and done it on our own. For the not so hale and hearty, this is a good option, but not for anyone who has a sense of adventure. We did Pompeii the next day, it was magnificent, we hired a taxi this time, but did not have a guide thru the ruins. Although nobody else seemed to mind, I wish we had guidance. Our driver also took us to Sorrento, we had a great lunch so I think everyone enjoyed that day. Please bear in mind, that all the shops close from 1-4'ish every day for Siesta,(in all cities) so I did no shopping, but I know DH was happy about that. Another tip - if you have small children (under 10 or so and especially for the stroller set) you can leave them on the ship at the Kids Club for $5 per hour. My 6 yo is a great traveler, never whines or complains, but when I saw him sitting on a rock in Pompeii with sweat streaming down his face, I knew this sightseeing stuff was completely lost on him. He spent the Rome and Florence days on the ship at the kids club, had a great time and was much happier. Best $150 we spent - it was a bargain! We took him on the tender with us to Villefrance since there was not much to see or do there as we chose this as a sleep in day. We took an NCL trip to Rome, against my better judgement, but DH did not want to venture on the train, and it was OK, but we did not have enough time at St.Peters. I would not have chosen to go to Vatican Museum, but would have done Sistine Chapel and St.Peters, we did not have enough time there to suit anyone, and the Colosseum is easily accessible by subway. But while on the bus, we did pass thru ancient Rome and the commentary was good. It was horribly expensive for the 5 of us, but again, DH felt safer doing it this way, and compromise is part of any marriage, huh? Good news is that he wants to go back to Rome (soon!) and spend time there. We had a taxi take us to Florence, saw the David, which was more magnificent than I thought. Did the Duomo, walked around, had lunch, the boys went up the bell tower instead of the dome (no line) so that was a good day as well, but again, I wish we could have done the train thing and saved a bunch of money. A few more tips - If you are traveling with kids over 18, warn them about purchasing drinks for under age. If caught, they(you) will be fined $1500. My sons wound up partying until the wee hours every night with a group, and one of the boys in their group got fined twice (ouch!). For those of you with almost 18'ers, I guess you will have to figure out how to deal with the drinking thing. According to my sons, every girl said she was over 18, but they do clip the corner of the room card for under-agers. My sons would have dinner with us, and then head off to party with their new friends, and they had a blast. At least we did not worry about drinking and driving. We did not do any shows. Also thought the shopping on the boat was horrible, but you should have seen the crowds every night. Not my style of stuff, but judging from the mob scene, somebody was buying!! My DH took the younger two to the chocolate buffet and said it was the most disgusting thing he had ever seen. People just stuffing their faces with chocolate, pushing and shoving, it was a mob scene. Not our idea of a good time, but at least others liked it. We thought the wine prices were reasonable, found a good bottle of Argentinean Cab for $37 and drank it every night for the whole cruise. You can take the bottle back to your room if you don't finish it or leave it there for them to store. Anyway, hope this helps someone, we had a great time and would most certainly do the freestyle again. It really worked for us. Read Less
Sail Date August 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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