139 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

Good Freestyle dining - we liked the concept and ate in nearly all the restaurants which were worth the extra charge. Teppanyaki was full every night and we made full use of the extra 24 hours we had to book by being in a balcony ... Read More
Good Freestyle dining - we liked the concept and ate in nearly all the restaurants which were worth the extra charge. Teppanyaki was full every night and we made full use of the extra 24 hours we had to book by being in a balcony cabin. Our favorite was the French restaurant but all were good. The food in specialty restaurants was of a good standard and the service while not brilliant was at least better than the regular restaurants. Layout/design of the ship - with 700 under-school age children on board it could have been a difficult environment for adults without kids. However there were good lounges away from the popular areas particularly the area by the champagne and martini bars. Well laid out and with good windows to view out. On deck there was a quiet zone high at the front of the ship with big double circular layouts that had to be grabbed early but were worth the effort and the wait. Entertainment - the entertainment was good, although we don't know how the comedian and magician came across to the high number of Spanish guests on board. Highlight was a three-person modern Flamenco group that played and danced with will passion and spirit and drew a standing ovation from the (largely Spanish) audience. Probably the best show we've seen on any ship and a real change from the rather formulaic songs and dances on most ships. Stargazing - why don't all cruises feature this? The Cruise Director organized a viewing of the night sky with great explanations. All the lights were turned down and we had perfect viewing of the enormity of the cosmos. We've had it once before but the oceans give you great opportunities to view the heavens without the light interference we get on land. Well done NCL for organizing this. Embarkation and Disembarkation - really good. No fuss boarding and no waiting for cabin. Also good options for disembarking with self-service baggage tagging option. We didn't take the opportunity to stay on board as we had a mid-morning flight, but next time we may plan this in. Shore excursions - we feel experienced enough to do our own thing, which we did at every port. Those offered on Gem were comprehensive and a good selection for those that like to take ship's excursions. Not so good Smoking - we don't like smoking and Gem had a anywhere outdoors and in-cabin smoking policy. This meant you could have smokers either side of you when you were sitting out on deck, and on the balconies either side of you. There was a non-smoking area at the outdoor eating area, but a ghetto for non-smokers is the opposite of what we expect. With a high proportion of Southern Mediterranean guests on board this was an issue for us and would stop us returning and inhibit us recommending NCL to friends. Automatic tipping - We reckon that automatic tipping inhibits good service. Why try hard if the tip is coming anyway? All cruise lines need to grasp this nettle. We have no problem tipping for good service, but the general level of service on our cruise was at best adequate and in some instances, not good at all. We couldn't tell you who our cabin steward was and the general restaurant staff outside the speciality restaurants were less than engaging. We understand that Freestyle dining breaks the link between guest and staff but if all we are doing is topping up wages then add it to the up-front cruise cost - don't pretend the tip is rewarding good service. Staff - there seemed to be a layer of staff missing somewhere between the greeter on the front desk and the waiting staff. Also there was a lack of warmth and engagement which we put down to a cultural difference but may be a lack of training. The Magenta dining room was not a good experience - average food and uninvolved service. Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
 We had the great misfortune of cruising on the Norwegian Gem with 700 rude, screaming, poorly behaving Catalonian children, along with their parents who were just too happy seeing their children off on their own, while creating general ... Read More
 We had the great misfortune of cruising on the Norwegian Gem with 700 rude, screaming, poorly behaving Catalonian children, along with their parents who were just too happy seeing their children off on their own, while creating general havoc on the ship. Every area was treated as if it was a playground rather than a cruise ship. From the Captain on down, NO staff member was willing to intervene or say anything to these rowdy children, who had literally taken over the boat and ruined the cruise experience for everyone other than these children's parents. MORAL TO THE STORY: Ask the cruise line, before you book, how many youngsters are expected on the sailing,and if it is a "school holiday week" in the port area from which you are departing. If the answer is "yes", take your money and run! GIANT POOL SLIDE: Yes the Gem has a giant,circular pool slide. This should have been a "hint" that the boat would be flooded with kids. From early in the morning till late at night, you were certain to hear the "blaring" of the whistle of the slide monitor. Note-this is the only area on the ship where a staff member was trying to control the children's behavior. Trying to keep them out of the adjacent, "Adults Only Pool" was a near impossibility. SHIP DECOR: Gaudy you would expect on a lower-end line. Very disappointing for a brand new ship. (Of course, if NCL keeps booking large groups of unruly youngsters, the ship will look 20 years old within 2 years. Don't expect a soaring atrium or marble stairways-no such amenities on this ship. ACCOMMODATIONS: We had booked a two-bedroom penthouse suite.(#11030) Decor was early Chinese Brothel, but the amenities were wonderful-four flat screen TV's, Jacuzzi tub and separate(8 head)shower with picture windows, huge dressing area, king-size bed in the master bedroom,a second smaller bedroom with bath, a butler on call,a large balcony as well as a sitting/dining room area. The suite also came with a "worthless", don't bother me Concierge. SOME OTHER "JOYS" OF SAILING ON THE GEM: Children sticking their hands in the buffet food, no washing of hands or using hand sanitizer before or after using the bathroom, doing cartwheels up and down the corridors in their underwear, sitting in the Casino using the gaming machines, blocking entry to and from the elevators and stairwells, shoving and pushing even disabled passengers, putting their shoes on the upholstered furniture in the dining rooms and using the eating utensils as musical instruments. I could go on and on, but it just makes me more upset to remember this cruise from the netherworld !! NOISE: The ship is poorly insulated for noise deflection. We could hear screaming children, slamming doors, and loud music from the 12th deck until the wee hours of the morning. At times, it felt as if the ceiling would collapse into the suite. If you go, take earplugs! FOOD: Mediocre at best, unless you ate in one of the "pay extra" specialty restaurants. Since these restaurants also came with "screaming children", the extra cost was not worth the investment. There was little variety of food on the menu. A large group of appetizers, entrees and desserts were repeated night-after-night. DINING ROOM STAFF: As other reviewers mentioned, the staff were poorly trained. The wait staff in the main dining rooms should have been employed at fast food restaurants sensibility for table manners, placing or removing dishes,or ordering wine. Dining was a rather sad experience-something not worth getting dressed up for. (On at least two nights, the dining room staff were wearing tee shirts-bizarre!) CUSTOMER SERVICE: As mentioned by other reviewers, it was nonexistent. The reception desk staff were rude, and would stare a hole through you rather than make pleasant eye contact. Everything, without exception, was too much trouble for them. PHOTO STAFF: Take it or leave it attitude. Even when they made errors on the prints, they were unwilling to re-run the photos to take out the blems-So, they got none of our usual cruise photo money. SHOPS: Too few, with very little selection for a boat of this size. ENTERTAINMENT: Mediocre to really bad. In the theatre, there was one singer with a strong, broadway-style voice and an excellent Flamenco guitarist. Unfortunately, the guitarist was accompanied by a dancer who hadn't a clue about Flamenco. For most of the shows, the dancers were not even in step with each other. At times, you actually felt sorry for them-and then you remembered that "you were paying for this"! EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION: A breeze ! They were just too willing to see you get your own luggage on and off the ship, which was OK by us. SHORE EXCURSIONS: Refused to purchase any. With a little preparation, you could see all the highlights at 20% of what they were asking for shore excursions. Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
Freestyle cruising fits our lifestyle perfectly. My husband and I (51 and 49) cruised long ago on the SS Norway. Our 17 year old son had never cruised. Cruising has come a long way in 20 years! We were completely blown away by the size and ... Read More
Freestyle cruising fits our lifestyle perfectly. My husband and I (51 and 49) cruised long ago on the SS Norway. Our 17 year old son had never cruised. Cruising has come a long way in 20 years! We were completely blown away by the size and cleanliness of the ship, the quality of the food, the size and features of the cabin, and the friendliness and service level of the crew. We are ready to go on the Gem again tomorrow! We plan to do a future cruise on NCL - we do not see another cruise line that better fits our lifestyle. We spent 3 days in Barcelona pre-cruise, making our own air and hotel reservations. We stayed at the Hotel Arts, a Ritz-Carlton property. Very expensive, but great location and great rooms. We enjoyed the Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas as well as casual dinners at the Olympic port as we adjusted to the jet lag. I can't imagine flying in the day of departure. You would not enjoy the first few days on the ship as much. Day of departure: we took a cab to the ship - 20 Euro for 3 people, 3 large and 3 small bags. We arrived about noon and there was no line to check in. Our checked bags were taken away and we went through a security check similar to the airport, but without the restrictions on liquids. We had two small carry-ons filled with water and sodas, and no one stopped us. We had a special check in line for Courtyard Villas, but even the regular check in lines weren't busy. We were escorted to a special waiting room where we hardly got in the door before we were greeted by Claudio, the concierge, Ivana, the shore excursion specialist, and Putu, our butler. We gave Claudio our dinner preferences for the first two nights and Putu took us on board. After swiping our cards and sanitizing our hands, we were given champagne/orange juice and escorted to our room. We then had lunch in Cagney's, found that our bags had been delivered already, and walked each level of the ship to get oriented before the sail away and lifeboat drill - a sit-down affair in the Blue Lagoon restaurant! Cabin: We splurged on a Courtyard Villa. The extra perks and service were well worth it. They included: The concierge who made our dinner reservations - and got us great tables each time, Putu, the best butler ever, who was so friendly and accommodated our every need and whim, reserved balcony seats at the shows so we could arrive late and still have a great view, a choice of snacks every day (chips, cheese, cookies, fruit, etc), private breakfast and lunch in Cagney's - the portion that overlooks the pool deck where no one can see in the windows- , free bottle of wine one night at dinner, bottle of champagne and bottled water in the room on arrival, the ability to wait in our room for the short excursion instead of going to the theater with the masses, free DVD selection of 100 DVDs, and probably more stuff I can't remember by now. The room was huge by cruise ship standards. It was actually a place we enjoyed being in - not just a place to sleep. Having the large room really made the cruise perfect for us. I was concerned about the possibility of smoke smell in the room - even took my Febreeze spray along - but I couldn't smell a thing - and I'm very sensitive. Actually the only time I ever smelled smoke the whole trip was when I walked by an outside door to the promenade deck right by a smoking area and got a big blast - easy enough to avoid! The master was barely bigger than the queen bed but also had a tv/ dvd player and lots of bedside shelves. The tv had cabinet above and below for storage. The bed had a heavy curtain to separate it from the master bath. The master bath was huge - giant closet with large overhead shelf - we put two suitcases there - 2 safes and 3 drawers and two small shelves. The double sinks had lots of counter top space and drawers/shelves underneath. The shower was large with a hand spray arm. The bathtub wasn't a whirlpool, but was large with another tv. The toilet was in it's own room. The only drawback was that the door to the living room was frosted, but not entirely private for dressing. The living area had a large bar with a free expresso machine - little packets of expresso or tea went in the machine and out came your drink with no mess. There was a good sized frig - we took out all their drinks and put in our own - no issues with doing this - and it saves a ton of money! There was a square table - game table sized with 4 chairs, a 2-seat sofa and two other side chairs, another tv/dvd and a nice-sized coffee table - even a pair of binoculars for use during the week. We saw one CV with a rollaway bed in the living area, so there's even room for another bed if needed. The balcony was probably the same size as in the normal cabins since the bathtub took up what would have been balcony space, but it was totally private as it was between two bathtubs.... Two nice-sized chairs and a small table - not loungers. The extra bedroom had a pullout double sofa bed and a drop down single, a large closet with 3 drawers, and a decent sized bath with a full shower and plenty of counter space and shelves. It also had a tv and phone. The room opened onto a hall with only 5 rooms. The entrance to the Courtyard was off this hall. The area was nice but always seemed very steamy as they only opened the roof part way each day. It wasn't really comfortable to sit out for too long. The pool was freshwater! And had a current machine. There were always snacks available - we had breakfast there one morning when our short excursion was at 7. There was also a menu to order from and a waiter ready to assist. The hot tub was nice and there were also two saunas, a treadmill, and exercise bike. Upstairs, on the port side, there was a private sundeck, which was never busy. There were nice loungers and two hammocks. We watched the sailaways from there and were the only ones there a couple of times. The only complaint is that they didn't have any umbrellas for shade, but they might have put them up if we had asked. Another nice feature of our room was the security. You had to use your swipe card on the elevator to get to the 14th floor - only the mid-ship elevators go that high. Then you had to swipe to get on our hallway, and again into the room. We had the wheel system on our door also - welcome, do not disturb, clean room, or turn down - which worked very well. Ship in general - we were amazed at how many different areas the ship had and how they had been decorated to match the theme - like the paintings on the sports deck of people playing tennis, etc. The ship is so big we kept discovering new ways to get from point a to b and seeing areas we hadn't found the first day. It really was like being in a small city. The restaurants were especially surprising in their dEcor matching the food theme. And the GP looked like it was straight out of Titanic. We wandered in there the first afternoon and had the place to ourselves so we got some great pictures. We didn't spend much time on the pool deck - only one afternoon -they had a system that allowed you to check out beach towels to your room - so don't pack one! The band was a bit noisy, but all in all it was good fun and we could go to the courtyard for quiet times. My son enjoyed the slide into the kids pool - even though he didn't think he would. It was hard to find chairs, as others have said, but we did. There was a lot of shaded area, too, which was nice. Food: I'm surprised at the number of people writing reviews that didn't know there is a surcharge on several restaurants. NCL clearly states this on the website and pre-cruise information. We were not upset about having to pay $10 to $20 extra for the specialty restaurants. Note that if you don't cancel by a certain time, (5pm I think), you'll be charged the cover charge anyways. We enjoyed each one we tried. Everyone has different tastes in food, but for us, Cagney's was by far the best, followed by the Italian and the Asian. We didn't try the French because we were spending a week in France after the cruise and knew it would not be as good as the actual food in France. We ate in the Garden Cafe for lunch one day and dinner another. Yes, it was crowded and we had to scout out and hold a table, but the variety and quality of the food was much better than we expected for a buffet-style restaurant. There was something for everyone and we could mix and match cuisines. At night they even had tablecloths and someone seating you. We also ate in the Grand Pacific two nights. One was the "lobster galore" night - probably our most disappointing meal. The lobster was small and tough. Our other meal was very good, however. Service was definitely better in the specialty restaurants, but not really bad in the GP. The breakfast for the suites in Cagney's was fantastic - buffet with breads, fruit, cereals, plus a menu with steak and eggs, eggs benedict, pancakes, waffles, all you could eat. Lunch in Cagney's was also great - one day we were the only ones there! It was always a 3-course meal with about 4 choices per course. We loved the fact that we could dine at a different restaurant and time each night. We had a table just for the 3 of us so we could have family time, not chat with people we'll never see again. For us, there was no desire to "get to know our waiters" so it didn't bother us to have a different group each night. The casual dress was perfect for us as well. I wore a skirt or capris, my son and husband wore long pants - ie khaki's and golf or short sleeved shirts with nice shoes - something between wing tips and bright white American tennis shoes. We didn't take any special clothes for dinner, which is a real help when you're gone on a 3-week vacation! Entertainment: We only went to part of one show - the "World Colors" showcase - basically the crew doing songs from around the world. It was just ok... not worth staying for. We wanted to see the magician, but never could work it into our busy schedule! There was a nice string quartet playing in the atrium most nights, also. We're not "sit in the bar and listen to music" people so we couldn't comment on that. Teen program: Our son did a few events - rock climbing, poker, bowling - and enjoyed them. It was nice for him to be able to do those things with his peers not his parents, but he wasn't interested in most of the activities since they conflicted with other things we did as a family. Each night it looked like the teens could go to dinner and the show together, but he chose not to. Spa and Casino - didn't do either - not our thing. Excursions - We did a lot of research before we traveled so we didn't attend the port information sessions. Malta - did it on our own. 15 Euro taxi to the old part of town -it's very steep and hot walk otherwise. Saw St John's and just wandered the streets - enjoyable. Best part is the view of the city as you sail away. The views as you pass through the narrow straight by Sicily are great, too - later in the day. Naples - we were booked on an excursion to Pompeii, but were told how easy it was to do on our own (by the concierge) so we cancelled. It wasn't so easy. The train that he said was just 2 stops was 20.... Took way to long. We ended up taking a cab all the way back to the ship - 50 Euro, I think - but at that point we were so exhausted, we didn't want to mess with the train. Pompeii, however, was amazing - so big and so much more to see than we expected. We were glad not to be stuck with a guide limiting our time there, but we would have probably taken a cab there instead of the train. We got back too late to make our reservations for dinner, but they did not charge us the cancellation fee - probably another suite perk. Rome - did the NCL excursion to the Colosseum, St Clemente's and the Vatican (Eternal Rome and the Colosseum, I think). We had been told this was a train ride into Rome which is why we booked it - my husband has chronic back pain and the train would have allowed him to move around in transit - but that morning we found out it's a bus - we still did it - they had a bathroom/souvenir stop on the way that allowed him the chance to stretch out - so it was fine, but we were very disappointed at the misinformation. The tour itself was great - the lunch was excellent - as was the guide. Yes, we ended at a souvenir shop recommended by NCL... but that's to be expected. We just felt that Rome was too big to try to do on our own - our son had never been - especially to get in the Colosseum - the lines are very long in the summer. Pisa - we booked tickets on the internet to climb the tower. None of the NCL tours actually go up the tower. We had planned to take the train to Pisa, but after our experience in Pompeii, just took a cab - 30 Euro. Plus to get to the train station in Livorno, you have to take the port shuttle (1 Euro), then a public bus... too many stops just to get TO the train. The cab worked out well. It was really cool to climb the tower. I'm not sure it would be worth going to Pisa otherwise. Villefrance - no excursion here - see disembarkation Other activities on the ship - my husband enjoyed the art auction and bought a beautiful piece which has already arrived out our house in perfect condition. I attended a couple of the food demonstrations. I tried to get to the lecture on Pompeii, but the room was packed long before it started. We missed the ice carving and towel folding demos, but they sounded fun. We enjoyed the bridge viewing room - we had it to ourselves both times we went and it was amazing how much you could see and all the interactive displays they had. Shops - I'm not a perfume or jewelry shopper, but there were several opportunities to buy both at "discounted" rates. The NCL Gem merchandise went fast - when they have the buy 2 get 1 deal on tshirts - buy them right then - they will be gone later in the week - we learned that the hard way! Although I will say the shop worker spend 20 minutes going down to the storage room looking for what we wanted in our sizes.... With a smile on his face. Service was excellent everywhere on the ship. Other comments - The hand sanitizing was a great idea. One of the reasons we picked the Gem was because of the perfect score on the CDC inspections. You can see these at www.cdc.gov for all ships that stop at non US ports. You can even see the specific violations and what the ship is doing about it. Anyways, on the GEM, the entrance to every restaurant and most public areas had the Purell stations and someone standing there to make sure you used it. They also had them at the gangway when you returned from a port. Passports were not held on the ship as we had read in some posts. We took them with us each day to shore just in case we got stranded. Laundry - they did offer a discount on laundry on Wednesday - 30 US dollars for a good sized bag - to be returned to you on Saturday afternoon. We used the internet cafe a couple of times to check weather for our disembarkation - there was always a spot. The response time was slower than we have at home, but then again, you're in the middle of the ocean. My husband took his laptop, but never used it - that's the sign of a great vacation! The ship had a huge library - I'm a big reader and I took some books of my own just in case I couldn't find anything, but I should have left them at home. I went the first day as soon as it opened and checked out 5 books - only got through 3 of them - but they were all pretty recent and there seemed to be a lot of variety - all on the honor system to check out - with a sensor so you don't leave the ship with them. Other passengers seemed to be about our age, maybe some younger, but definitely not an old person's cruise. There were kids of all ages and people from all countries. My son played Texas hold-em with 3 boys from Morocco.... There were opportunities for formal family photos each night - in addition to all the casual ones during the week. We didn't do that, but it would be nice especially if you were traveling with your extended family. Disembarkation - We got off the ship in Villefrance as we were spending the next week in France before returning to the states. We didn't want to leave, but it didn't make sense to go all the way back to Barcelona then drive 6 hours back to Nice. Claudio made this process go smoothly. We had checked with NCL before departure and they said that they couldn't pre-arrange for us to disembark in France, but that it would not be a problem and that they couldn't prevent us from doing so - especially since it's an EU country. The night before we landed, Claudio took our passports, so he could meet the French officials at 7 am to clear us. He then arranged for us - and 3 other groups with - to be on a tender at 11 - after the crowds had left for the tours. A porter took our bags down and we went to shore. Someone from the ship even helped us get our bags to the taxi stand just outside the tender dock. We called the number on the stand and a very nice gentlemen came with a large car and took us to our hotel in France. We spent our week in France missing the GEM! Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
For a little background, my husband and I are in our late 20's early 30s and have cruised with Carnival, Princess, and Holland America. We were traveling with my in-laws and this was their first ocean cruise. We encountered a few ... Read More
For a little background, my husband and I are in our late 20's early 30s and have cruised with Carnival, Princess, and Holland America. We were traveling with my in-laws and this was their first ocean cruise. We encountered a few problems but overall had a great cruise. July 12, 2008 We left Boston flying on Aer Lingus. After a little trouble with figuring out which gate was ours (they kept flipping between gates 4 and 5). We settled into our flight and ended up arriving in Dublin a full half hour early. The Dublin Airport is a bit crazy! You first have to go through customs (whether or not you are staying), then through security, then to get to your gate you have to go through basically it's a mall with tons and tons of people. We found our gate and then decided that since we were in Ireland let's have a pint of Guinness - at 6:00 a.m. Boarded our next flight and again arrived in Barcelona a full half hour early. July 13, 2008 Barcelona We went through customs, got in a cab and I had read on the boards to write down the pier and ship name for the cab drivers. What I did was learned how to pronounce and also wrote down the pier name but in Spanish. The pier in Spanish is called Muelle (pronounced Moya) Adosado. Our cab driver recognized it immediately. We arrived at the ship and checked into the VIP line (both of us booked Romance Suites). After check-in we were escorted to the VIP Area where we met Claudio and Ivana. After reviewing our keys and our shore excursions we noticed a problem. Our excursion in France was completely wrong. We had to provide Ivana with our printed confirmations (always a good idea to print everything from their website) and she said she would remedy it and have our corrected excursion tickets delivered to us later that day. Around 11:30 we were escorted onto the ship and brought to the Bliss lounge until the restaurants were open at noon. For some reason not one person mentioned that we could go to Cagney's until I asked about it. We did have lunch at Cagney's and it was very good. The menu offered a lot of options as well as lighter meals considering it was a steak house. After lunch we went to check on our rooms. Both rooms were "ready." Problem number two of the day - our bathroom was dirty, the chairs and the dresser with lined with dust. There isn't a number for the room stewards so we contacted the butler who in turn contacted the stewards to come and re-clean our room. Apparently on embarkation day the actual room stewards do not clean the rooms. Romance Suite 10664 Good - the room is of good size (small than other lines though), a great balcony, great storage space, with restaurant reservations you get window tables, daily treats are nice little snacks. Bad - Occasionally there is a strange smell in the hallway upon entering the room. Our butler, Orlando was very inconsistent. We didn't actually meet him until the 2nd day. The entire trip we only received one card to write down what daily snacks we wanted. The fruit bowl was not always replenished. My in-laws had the same problems with Orlando regarding their room. My husband did tip him and tells him it was going to be my birthday during the cruise so he did decorate the room and after that the service did seem a bit more consistent. Our Concierge, Claudio was nice when we met him. The only contact we had with the concierge was the first day to make dinner reservations for the week. Problem number 3 - we made all of our reservations for 9:00 p.m. one night the system listed it as 8:00 p.m. and so the hostess gave us an attitude and assumed we just were running late and didn't show up until we felt like it. After dinner I contact Claudio regarding this problem and nothing was done and we were given a not so heart felt apology. After exploring the ship a little jet lag finally caught up. We attended the life boat drill which was done efficiently. That evening we had dinner in Tequila's. The food and service were terrific. After dinner we headed to the Casino and played some automated Roulette (very addictive). July 14 2008 Sea Day We ordered breakfast to our room (great tip on the boards to write in other requests). The activities planned on the ship sound great the one downfall is so many of them are at the exact same time and are only hosted for one time during the whole week. Therefore you really don't get to do everything you would like to do. Having the AFT balcony is great not only do you get to relax in the sun without the wind but you have full view of everything around you. The only downside to the balcony is that you do tend to get ash from people's cigars and cigarette from the Great Outdoors. For dinner we dined in Cagney's the food and service was again great. I still need to email NCL and get a few of their recipes! July 15 2008 Malta We woke to the message that Malta was having a transportation strike. Luckily for us we didn't have an excursion planned. The view from our balcony was great, we arrived as all the fishermen were heading out for the day. We walked up to Valletta, and this is not an easy hike for some people especially when it's 80% humidity out! The town of Valletta is nice within the main touristy areas. The architecture is beautiful, stores are both upscale and small craft shops, churches and museums are close. Once you get out of the touristy areas though that city is rather dirty and rundown. After walking back to the ship for some much needed air conditioning, we headed across the pier to a restaurant for a couple of Cisk beers (local beer) and snack food. We met up with my in-laws and decided to order lunch from Cagney's to our room. This is another area where Orlando (butler was inconsistent) we ordered 4 different lunch entrees and he only brought us two sets of silverware. That evening we went to the Spinnaker lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Another good tip from the boards was that you can see Mt Etna around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. on the port side of the ship. We headed to the Grand Pacific dining room for dinner. The service and the food were horrible! It took 15 minutes to get water and menu's. The food was bland, dry, small and the service was nonexistent. It seemed that the main dining room is an after thought when compared to the pay restaurants. July 16, 2008 Naples Today we had booked the excursion Capri, Sorrento, and Pompei. All of us loved this excursion and at the end of it we were energized rather than exhausted like others have mentioned. The only downside is that there are many tours that head to Capri first thing in the morning. Therefore, lots of people loading on the boat and funicular. Capri is very pretty, and the gardens and cliff views are spectacular! Capri is small and with so many people it can seem very crowded. We just wandered around, ordered some gelato, and people watched. We then drove over to Sorrento where we had lunch at ristorante parrocchiano. We were seated in the garden area of the restaurant. Which had lots of flowers, lemon trees, and was picturesque. Lunch included water and wine. A first course of cannelloni, second course of chicken with roasted potatoes, and a third coarse of a lemon cake. After lunch we were given some time on our own for shopping. We boarded the bus and headed over to Pompei. Pompei is amazing! Enzo (our guide) was terrific when talking about life in Pompei. This is one location you do not want to miss when visiting this area. That evening we went to the Orchid Garden for dinner. Service was really slow at first, the restaurant appeared to only have two people for wait staff. After 10 - 15 minutes more help arrived and from then on the food and service was very good. July 17, 2008 Civitavecchia Today we booked Rome on Your Own. I had previously been to Rome but only saw the Pantheon and the Vatican so I was hoping to see a lot of the other sights. The bus drops you off right around the corner from the Colosseum. Another great tip from the boards - go to the Roman Forum to buy tickets to the Colosseum (no line)! We ventured into the Colosseum - truly amazing and different from what we pictured based on movies. Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain. Here I found a little pizza shop (go to the shops where it isn't listed in English) that had terrific eggplant pizza! Our next site was the Pantheon - this is one of my favorite places and has been since I was in H.S. A few blocks from the Pantheon are Gelateria Della Palma. It is a little touristy but very good gelato! From here we walked to the Piazza Navona. We stopped at a restaurant for some wine, antipasti and people watching. We definitely got all three - as we were leaving a couple of men were selling purses in the piazza when all of the sudden two plain clothes officers chased them, tackled and arrested one of them. This was done literally 5 feet in front of us. After that little excitement we walked to the Campo di Fiori (an open air market). Before we had to head back to the bus we went into the Roman Forum and in addition to seeing the ruins we were able to watch a team excavate new ruins. In the evening we went for our pre-dinner drinks. We chose the martini bar tonight. The chocolate and key lime pie martini's are really good. For dinner we ate at Le Bistro. We all agreed this was our favorite restaurant on the ship. July 18, 2008 Livorno Today we booked Siena and the View of Tuscany. The two-hour drive to Siena can be good and bad. You do get beautiful pictures thanks to the amazing scenery. The bad is that you are pretty tired from the previous days and therefore you tend to fall asleep on the bus. I must admit I was a little disappointed with this tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about Siena but that also meant she was very long-winded. We spent about 2 and ½ hours seeing two churches and a courtyard. For lunch we went to La finestra where the food was terrific but lunch was definitely on Italian time! Lunch consisted of wine and water, a first course of asparagus risotto plus pasta with mushrooms, a second course of veal in tomato sauce (but they were kind enough to make me chicken), and a third course of a berry panna cotta. Unfortunately, this left us with about 45 minutes of free time to shop. We ran over to a small store to buy wine, and olive oil. Next onto Nannini's a bakery known for its panforte and riciarelli cookies. Finally, a quick stop for gelato at Brivido. Tonight we had pre-dinner drinks at Maltings. My husband now loves Mythos Beer. We dined at the Teppanyaki restaurant. Where the food and service were also great but be warned this is not a health conscious meal! Lots of butter, oil, and salt! July 19, 2008 Villefranche Today we booked Nice and the view from Eze. Nice is a beautiful, friendly, and welcoming city! We were first driven through nice to see a few sites. The bus parked so that we could have some free time to wonder around the flower market. The produce here is amazing! My husband and I are both foodies so this was fabulous to us! We were able to pick up some truffle oils, jams, mustards, candies, herbs etc.! A definite must try are French macaroons! We then drove over to Eze, the drive over has wonderful panoramic views of the coast and city. Eze is a bit of a climb but definitely easier than Malta. Our guide showed us a few sites along the climb and then gave us another hour of free time. The shops are so cute, some of them built right into the rock so they are like little caves. Eze is great for finding local crafts to bring home. After the excursion we had lunch had a restaurant adjacent to the pier. Delicious French lemonade and seafood! Problem number 4 - tendering back to the boat! NCL really needs to rethink their tender process! They are far behind other lines. After lunch the line was along the pier, through the building, and around the corner. We waited for probably 45 minutes - insane! Back on the ship we tried another of the daily special drinks and some more automated roulette. We were able to go and retrieve our liquor purchases - unlike I had previously read they seemed very organized about this. Since it was our last day, we decided to try out the Bingo. Honestly, kind of a rip off - tickets are a minimum of $30 and up to $50. You can also spend more money on instant win tickets. Each game has very specific symbols you have to make. Also, the game has lots of rules to help the house have the advantage. We have played on other lines and NCL really seemed out to just make more money rather than entertain. For tonight's pre-dinner drinks we headed up to the Great Outdoors where my father in-law made friends with a bartender throughout the week. The two of them together are good for some laughs! We dined at La Trattoria which the food was good but the service was definitely lacking. July 20, 2008 Disembark THE VIP'S get to either take their luggage off or have it picked up and held in a designated area. We chose to have ours picked up. Claudio was there waiting with the luggage and of course my husband's wasn't where it should have been. No help was provided. Once we had everything together, we asked for help from a porter who loaded us into a taxi. The Barcelona airport was insanely busy! I had read on the boards about confusion regarding where to check in for Aer Lingus. The problem is that Aer Lingus does not have a permanent check in area. They switch between Terminal A and Terminal B. Most airport staff doesn't know where Aer Lingus should be. We did find one information desk in the airport that did know the location. It's best to check all the screens (they are updated based on the flight departure times). We finally found our check in desk but it was still being used by another airline. We decided to just stay there and wait - it was a good thing we did because here came 50 students all traveling to Ireland together! We boarded our flight and then Problem number 5 - delayed! Apparently the Dublin airport has been having radar problems for a week so we were grounded for 50 minutes. This left us with only 10 minutes connection time in Dublin! We asked the flight attended for some help regarding this and she was able to have the pilot contact the airport for help. When we arrived in Dublin there was an agent to meet us. Aer Lingus was going to hold the plane for us and have this agent escort us to it. In 15 minutes we got another couple their boarding passes, went through Irish customs, security, filled out U.S. customs forms, went through Immigration, to another terminal and onto our plane. I really was overwhelmed with how helpful Aer Lingus was, most airlines wouldn't have gone through this for us. Problem number 6 - - I caught the flu! I was sick and in bed for the week after our cruise! Oddly enough the last time I went to Europe I came home and ended up with mono! See a pattern? Summary We chose NCL really based on the itinerary more than the ship and that's why I think we were able to enjoy our vacation. Food - Avoid the main dining restaurants! The specialty restaurants were good to great! Service really depended. There were those on staff who were obviously with NCL prior to freestyle cruising and they were the ones who went above and beyond. Excursions - The excursion staff set up the meeting times and locations rather well. I don't know if it was just our tours or that particular week but there was someone from the staff on all of our excursions. The excursions themselves were really terrific with the exception of us wanting more time to be on our own. Staff - Almost all of the staff was friendly and seemed happy. When we compare NCL to Princess or HAL though they are definitely lacking in attention to detail, service, and consistency. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Two nights in wonderful Barcelona prior to our July 13 departure. City is easy to navigate taking the Bus Turistic on and off unlimited (2 days 26 euro). The Gem was our floating hotel as we were off the ship for five full days. Cabin with ... Read More
Two nights in wonderful Barcelona prior to our July 13 departure. City is easy to navigate taking the Bus Turistic on and off unlimited (2 days 26 euro). The Gem was our floating hotel as we were off the ship for five full days. Cabin with balcony was well attended and food at the main dining rooms was more than adequate. Ate in Cagney's one night. That was superior and worth the $20 pp charge. La Cucina was not! We booked an excursion in Malta (canceled due to bus and taxi strike) but had to walk it. Hot and hilly. The other excursions were Sorrento and Pompeii, Classical Rome, Splendors of Florence, Scenic Monte Carlo and Monaco. All were worth it, although some were better than others due to the quality of the tour guides. Also, be aware that to get into Rome and Florence require extended bus rides of an hour and a half each way without traffic. Remember that you really can't go in depth on a cruise vacation, so it just whets your appetite for the places you want to return to. The shows on the Gem were average. I have cruised three times on Norwegian, and I am getting sick of the Second City Comedy. Improv is not always funny. The other complain from sun worshipers is that the outside lounges were hogged all day. They say that 30 minutes without occupancy will have your towels removed, but I didn't see it that way. The crew was outstanding. Mostly from the Philippines, they were always pleasant and accommodating. Departure was seamless, but if you were going back to Barcelona instead of the airport, your wait for taxi(on a long line) was forty-five minutes dragging your luggage. After the cruise we stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar by the beach. We needed time to relax after getting up at 6AM almost every morning. The hotel was magnificent, but not near most of the tourist sites. On a whole we loved the vacation and really enjoy "Freestyle". Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Many of the reviews previously posted were from travelers who stayed in suites or rooms with balconies. I hope this helps the traveler who is staying in a regular stateroom. My husband and I (both in early 40s) traveled with our 2 children ... Read More
Many of the reviews previously posted were from travelers who stayed in suites or rooms with balconies. I hope this helps the traveler who is staying in a regular stateroom. My husband and I (both in early 40s) traveled with our 2 children (6 &9) and they stayed with us in our stateroom. (More on that in a minute) Although I am a first-time cruiser, I have traveled to all-inclusive resorts and have traveled to Europe before. Travel to Barcelona- Not sure how this is helpful as I think all that depends on where you come from and airline you use. We traveled via Continental from Newark and had no problems. We came in a day early and used Saturday to see a bit of Barcelona. We cashed in hotel points and stayed at Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is not centrally located to the city, but fairly close to the port. It was 20 euros to go by taxi from the hotel Sunday morning (and that includes the extra charge for our 4 bags). If you do stay in Barcelona, the metro system is extremely easy to use. We used public transportation to get from the airport to our hotel and to get all around on Saturday. My kids were real troopers wheeling their suitcase through the city streets We arrived for embarkation around 12:00 pm and had our luggage immediately received and the check-in line was fairly short, with about 3 people in front of us. Boarded the ship and the all clear to go to our cabins was given at 1:30. We had a window (not port-hole) mid-ship on the 5th floor, with 4 people. There was plenty of room to move around in and plenty of storage for all of our things. Our luggage did not arrive until about 3:00 and by then, we had lost the opportunity to get lounge chairs by the pool. I strongly recommend packing your bathing suits in your carry-ons. State-room- With the 4 of us in 1 stateroom, it is obviously not the romantic way to travel, but worked for us.The cabins were always kept clean. Unlike hotels, the cabin stewards did not stay on top of our usage of shampoo/conditioner, and with 4, it runs out and we did have to ask, but usually got it within 30 minutes. The kids always loved the towel animals and was something to look forward to at turn-down time. Saw previous posts about toilet back-ups, but we did not experience it, but you could smell it in the hallways as you passed some cabins. Activities- We enjoyed the deck games out (chess boards, tennis court, basketball court- which are one and the same-, and hitting some golf balls. My daughter (9 y/o) went rock climbing a few times and loved it. Biggest disappointment of the sports activities is that all the equipment is locked up at 5 pm. No idea why. There were a few times after dinner that we wanted to play some tennis, but could not. Ping-pong was impossible because of the winds across the deck. We did a few shows and enjoyed them, but because we were with our kids, we did not go clubbing, or gambling in the evenings, and can't help out with comments on the night scene All the posters were spot on regarding the pool. For 2600 passengers, the pool(s) is just too small. Unlike other posters, the week were out (July 13th sailing), no one ignored the signs of the adult only pool. All kids stayed in the kids pool. But my kids did not really enjoy it because it was so crowded. Excursions- I picked excursions that I thought my kids would enjoy, and my husband and I had already been to Rome, Florence and Sorrento- so my comments may not be useful to many. As you would expect, the excursions are overpriced, but useful way to economize time because you are in port for a short period of time. I called in advance and booked most before we even arrived. I am glad I did because the staff on board were not the most helpful. They are definitely not tour guides, but I would think they would know a little bit more about the tour highlights. Malta- We had picked to see the ancient temple ruins. Was really looking forward to seeing something different. Through no fault of NCL, the day we were in port, the drivers in Malta pulled a 1-day strike because the government doubled the fuel tax the week prior. No bus drivers meant no excursions. While Malta is extremely charming, if you want to do it on your own, it really is no problem. With our 6 y/o slowpoke, we walked the main area of Valletta in about 4 hours. We did not see much because, not only was there the strike, but the military museum and fort was closed to the public as was the palace. It would have been interesting to see what we could have learned from our tour guide. Naples- We picked Pompeii and hiking up Vesuvius. Our tour guide was wonderful. Very up to date on the latest learnings from the continued excavations of Pompeii and gave colorful stories of the Neopolitan way of life and some history in the role of Naples in Italian history. Only waste of time was the first stop at the Cameo school. Was used as the "bathroom stop" but since we had only left 20 minutes before, was definitely used as a sales pitch as the overview on how cameos are made was 5 minutes and then there is a store. Please note that for all excursions, travel from port to city is included in the length of the excursion, so be aware the ports for other cities are not that close. I have been to Sorrento and Capri, and did not think more harbor views would be something that would appeal to my kids, but if you have never been, it is beautiful. Rome- We picked Rome on our own. Essentially it was a $400 bus ticket from the port to the city. Hubby not too happy, but based on what we did in Villefranche,(see below) glad I picked this. The excursion is listed as 9 hours, but you only get about 6 hours in the city, as it does take about 1 hour 40 minutes to get to the drop-off point from the port of Civitavecchia. In the guided tours that include lunch, I asked and was told lunch generally takes 1 to 1.5 hours. We wanted to see the city, not spend 1/4 of the time we had inside a restaurant so that is why we went with this. We were dropped off across the street from the Coliseum and walked the exterior (we chose not to pay the 11 Euro per person admission). From the outside, you can see fairly well into the interior. We walked through the forum up to the Fountain of Trevi and then up to the Spanish steps. That area is a pedestrian area, and that is why none of the tours include that part of Rome. From there, we walked to the Vatican. Did want to get into the Sistine Chapel, but were afraid that we would not make it back to the meeting place in time, so just visited St. Peters. Sistine Chapel and Vatican museum truly are a half-day minimum. Told my kids that is something they will have to come back for on their own. Not based on my experience but in line me some other cruisers who were traveling in a larger group, and they had hired a private driver from Roma Limo (I think) all via the Internet. They said the cost for a private driver was the same if not less, than the cruise excursions. It would not have been cost effective for a family of four. They used the same company for Naples and Rome. If you really want to use your time efficiently, please check it out. Livorno- Florence is a city for art-lovers and shoppers, and we decided to skip Florence as those descriptions do not apply to my children and do Pisa and the beach. Our tour guide was sweet but overly chatty and told us alot about herself since there is not much to tell about Pisa. Based on the tour description, and knowing that is now allowed, I really expected to be able to walk up the tower. Nope-- that is on your own. The tour brings you to Pisa, and then you are told to meet back in 1 hour. The tour description actually happens while you are traveling on the bus. You could buy tickets on your own, but the number of people allowed on the tower is metered, so the the next time they were selling tickets for was 1 hour after we had to leave. That was a bit disappointing. But if all you want to do is see the tower, the hour is more than enough time. The beach resort was actually quite beautiful and made the day worthwhile. It is one of the few beaches on the Western Italian coast that is white sand and not rocky. The water was very warm, and it was a challenge to get my kids rinsed off and back on the bus. The beach club they bring you too also has a pool, so there is both options. And there is no fighting for space. The majority of the families who picked this excursion actually had kids who were teenagers, and were not as young as my 2. Villefranche- None of the cruise-offered excursions held any appeal for me, as they all sounded as if they were "drive-bys". I really enjoying walking the city streets to get a sense of the city. When we docked, we took the tender over and decided at the last minute what to do. The tender brings you literally a 5-minute walk to the train station. You can take the train 1 stop to Nice or 4 stops in the opposite direction to Monaco. We opted for Monaco. This experience is why I was glad we chose to buy the Rome on your own through NCL. It was Sunday, and the train to Monaco was 35 minutes late. (so we ended waiting at the train station almost a full hour). Did not pre-print any maps (my own fault) so we thought we would just get the map at the station and walk. Big mistake. The maps make the city look like the streets are laid out next to each other, but Monte Carlo is built into the cliffs, so the streets are actually underneath each other. We spent another 40 minutes walking in circles. Finally caught a local tour. By then it was time to head back, and we then screwed up the bus line. Did not get to see as much as I would have liked. Monaco is stunning, and it is only 15 minutes. If you choose to go on your own, make sure you are well planned. It is not something you can just wing. Another option would have been to stay in Villefranche. It is a beautiful little town on the French Riviera. There is a small beach. The water is incredibly blue. My kids were dying to go swimming, but did not bring the bathing suits with us when we came over on the tender. Big mistake. Re-embarkation after this day was not the smoothest. Last tender is at 2:30 and everyone waits for that. By 2:00, the line was already at 20 minutes. We waited 40 minutes for the tender Barcelona- we took the city highlights as we had a late afternoon flight to Venice (we extended our trip) and thought we would see a bit more of the city and kill a few hours. That was a well done excursion and the guide was great. We chose to bring our luggage down ourselves and it was not big thing. Entertainment- we saw a few of the shows. My son fell asleep at the dances of the world show, and is was OK. The whole time I watched the show I kept hearing Simon Cowel, of American Idol and his "you sound like a cruise performer" in my head. It had the feel of my daughter's annual dance recital. We saw the magician perform twice, and was enjoyable. Again, it was geared toward the kids, but there was enough content to keep the adults entertained as well. We saw 1 of the 2 Second City performances (the clean, family version). It was very well done. We would have loved to have seen the adults only version, but it was at 10:30, and since we were up early every day, we were not the night time party animals. Dining-- the food is what I expected. I rate it alongside many of the other all-inclusive resorts I have been to. Nice selection at the buffet meant to target all the nationalities on board (this week, the cruise was about 1/3 American, 1/3 from UK, and 1/3 from Spain, with a smattering of other nationalities). We tried all the "free" restaurants, and our favorite was Magenta. The service was the best, and the menu selection was the most global. We found the most to choose from. As far as 'freestyle', please note that none of the restaurants will allow the gentleman in after 5:30 in shorts. And that was enforced. Big bummer for the hubby. He had some very nice long shorts and the description we received was resort wear, and nothing about pants required. The only paying restaurant we went to was Tepanyaki. Entertainment value was there, but the food was no better than in the other restaurants. Not sure why I would want to pay. In speaking with some of the other passengers, they said the Italian restaurant was so-so. After eating lunch out in Italy, I was not going to pay for so-so Italian. The positives I heard was that they were more quiet. Kids club- My kids are daycare kids and they go to summer camp, and so they are used to the group activity thing. I signed them up, but they absolutely refused to do the kids club thing. It seemed that not many kids in their age group were there, so can't comment on the services. My daughter saw them playing some game on the last night, but at that point in the cruise, I was not bringing her. Overall summary- Cruising the Mediterranean is nice way to get 2 vacations in one. You can get the relaxing "beach/pool" and the culture of Europe in 1 trip. It worked for us as my youngest is not the most flexible, and knowing I could get back and have his chicken and french fries, allowed me to not have to fight everything little thing. The down side is you really don't experience the country in the whole experience. I am glad I was able to extend it and have them immersed in the city for a few more days. I have to agree with comments of other posters that there is a sense of nickle and diming. The free aerobics class was offered during excursions. Drinks were not inexpensive, and I would pay a little more for the cruise and have drinks (soft drinks included) included. Also, I have heard from friends who traveled with other cruise lines, that if you booked a ship-based excursion, they received a box lunch. For those who are budget conscious- here is a tip. I packed a box of sandwich zip lock bags. At breakfast, I grabbed some rolls and made sandwiches, and some fruit. Through those in the back-pack we carried with the water and cameras. While we still grabbed lunch, it really helped tired little travelers. On a separate note- In defense of Americans, you always hear about the rude American, but I was surprised by the rudeness of the Spanish (recognizing that I am generalizing). They cut lines, and had no idea of elevator etiquette. I was surprised at the amount of pushing that occurred. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Before I begin with the detail let me first say that overall this is the worst cruise I have ever taken. Now I would love to say that there was one thing that has made me bitter and hence this review but this is not the case. Therefore I ... Read More
Before I begin with the detail let me first say that overall this is the worst cruise I have ever taken. Now I would love to say that there was one thing that has made me bitter and hence this review but this is not the case. Therefore I will try to be objective and state before I go on that if you are the type of person who enjoys large Resort style holidays with fast food, buffets and the anonymity then you would undoubtedly enjoy this cruise line. Similarly if you have children I think you would have a good time as it did seem very child friendly and the menus would definitely appeal. Personally I dislike the impersonal service and production line feel of Resort holidays, now I'm not attacking them, but they just aren't for me. Also I don't have any children. I prefer holidays with a bit of style, sophistication, elegance; somewhere where you can indulge in fine cuisine, feel totally relaxed, enjoy the finer things in life and of course all backed up with stellar service. If this sounds like you, if like me you choose cruise holidays to get a few precious weeks of luxury each year then I do urge you to reconsider your choice of cruise company if you are thinking of taking a trip on the Norwegian Gem. Having cruised with a number of cruise lines before including the obvious large operators such as Carnival, RCI, Princess, P&O as well as the smaller niche players such as Clipper and Seabourn (Part of Carnival Group and simply the best operator out there - I would say beg, steal or borrow to take a cruise on the Legend) I was drawn to NCL in the belief that they operated in the premium end of the large ship players. Attracted by a fantastic itinerary I booked on the Norwegian Gem cruise sailing out of Barcelona on the 27 July 2008 for my partner and myself. I booked a BB cabin, in English that is an Outside room with a Balcony. Arriving in Barcelona we had elected to make our own way to the ship, something I would definitely recommend since the taxi ride was 25 Euros all in, so at 12.5 Euros per person much better value than an organized transfer, and no waiting around. Obviously this is Barcelona, I can't say this is valid for all embarkation ports. First impressions of the ship were very positive. There was far more deck space than I had envisaged and the pools were big. They had some nice touches like the double lounge pods on deck. Inside the standards are high as you would expect for a ship so new (completed October 2007) and when we got to our cabin its was a nice size and the lay out was well designed. The problems started to become apparent that night when we sat down for dinner. For me the single most important aspect of a holiday is the food. Let me say if you know what a Zagat guide is or read the Square Meal then this is definitely not the cruise for you. The standard of food on the cruise is simply appalling, the staple food is burger and chips by day; bland, poorly prepared dishes in the evening from limited menus. The level of ingredient recycling is high and by time it hits the table the food is always cold. A word on variety - when researching the ship I was pleased to see that it had many restaurants, I would personally be embarrassed to call them restaurants based on the standards I saw. And please don't even bother wasting your hard earned cash on eating in one of the many Pay Extra rooms onboard - they are equally as bad. Now as I stated earlier if you have children the menus are fantastic, based around simple dishes and packed with junk you won't have to hear the kids complaining. Even the small details were missed - the choice of breads was limited, the presentation of food was poor, deserts unsatisfying, lack of fresh fruit. Also you need to make reservations all the time - if you don't make one, forget it, you will not be dinning when you want and you certainly won't be where you want. For me one of the most enjoyable aspects of a cruise is having the opportunity to sit down to a gourmet meal every day, not with NCL - had I known that the taste was going to be more back street cafe than upmarket restaurant I would have picked another line. Now the food may be bad but at least the drink may have rescued the situation. And indeed there were a few highlights on the Wine List, perhaps one of the best being a Lafite Rothschild for circa $350 (Obviously you can guess the vintage by the price) however I was only to sample one bottle of wine on the holiday, in that one bottle was the only alcohol for the entire trip. Now I admit this was my choice, but I felt I had to make a stand against the outrageous policies of NCL that are there to extract cash out of its guests in any manner possible. You see they make it very clear that they charge $10 per day per person to cover tipping. After this $10 they state very clearly "Unlike most other ships in the cruise industry, there's no required or recommended tipping on NCL America or Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Guests should not feel obliged to offer a gratuity for a service that is generally rendered to all guests." Let me say this is not true. They add 15% to all bar bills including your Mini Bar and soft drinks. I found this deeply insulting and so refused to drink for the duration (lucky we had purchased the soft drink option). Cruise companies make a huge margin on drink sales and prefer to fill cabins with people who will have large accounts to settle. His was my not so silent protest. You see I did complain and they told me they would get back to me with a solution but alas it never came. This leads nicely onto service. Generally the level of service is below average for the cruise industry, I can't help but say this is a result of the tipping policy. Where is the incentive to provide good service if tips are not optional but are automatically levied each day AND on each purchase. Deck service is non-existent if you are asking for soft drinks, if you have lunch at the aft veranda then forget it, got a complaint - don't bother. However the cabin stewards are superb, very attentive and I certainly hope they get my $70 and my partners $70. Other quick comments the quiet zone on deck is completely ignored and not enforced, children run wild in the adults pool which is always very busy, elevators are inadequate, and they hold up disembarking each day by taking photos which means you need to queue to get off the ship. With an eye on this review getting pretty long I will say that the ports of call were excellent and while the excursions are very expensive they are rewarding. Please note that if you live in Europe as I do some of the excursions are so expensive that for the same price you could get a weekend there - eg. Rome; a full day excursion with guide started around $270 pp - you can get a no frills flight and hotel for the weekend for this. Obviously for guests from further locations the excursions are simply a must. Disembarkation - generally pretty efficient but be warned the Freestyle ethos may be promoted but in fact you have to choose a disembarkation time the latest being 9.30 am, and these labels go fast!!! Also breakfast that morning is like a food riot, want a table - good luck. I hope this review is helpful to some of you, it is clear this cruise line is not for me, but looking at other reviews it seems many enjoy it, I think you need to be honest about what type of holiday you want and what level of expectations you hold - this is certainly not a classic cruise line and if you are looking for 5 star luxury (I use the 5 Star in the UK sense), service, style and substance there is far better out there AND for less money. If you are looking for 3 star Resort style then you will find this at the top end of expectations. Happy Cruising. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Background: Myself, husband, son 21, daughters 18 and 15, and in-laws. We've been on 7 previous cruises, 1 Princess and 6 Disney. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday afternoon before the cruise. Took the aerobus from the airport to ... Read More
Background: Myself, husband, son 21, daughters 18 and 15, and in-laws. We've been on 7 previous cruises, 1 Princess and 6 Disney. We arrived in Barcelona on Friday afternoon before the cruise. Took the aerobus from the airport to Hotel Continental. Very easy to do, but we did struggle with luggage getting on the bus! Got off out the Plaza Catyluna stop and walked about 3 minutes to hotel. Very well located, easy to get to many attractions. The hotel is old and small, but very nice for 2 nights. We loved the 24 hour continental buffet with free juices, sodas, water and beer! Sat: Toured Barcelona on the Hop on hop off bus! Great way to see the sights! Ate at Tapas 24, nearby walk. Great authentic food, no english though, so be prepared! Sun: Took 2 taxis to the ship, very easy boarding. Lovely ship! Grabbed a bite from the Garden Cafe and sat and relaxed! Rooms ready by 1:30 with luggage! We had 3 balcony suites and one inside cabin. I loved the bathroom set up! Shower space is much better than Disney! The cabins are very nice, plenty of space for two, might be cramped with older children if your had 3 or 4. Our room stewards were Felipe and Theodora. They were wonderful! I had them empty our mini fridges for each room, there was no space unless you do this! My husband , son and father in law got the spa use for the week which they loved. We also got the girls soda cards. We had dinner at Grand Pacific. Really enjoyed the food! Mon: Day at sea, pools were very crowded! There were many Europeans on board and they lived at the pools! Most ignored the signs for no children in adult pool and nothing was every said. I'm not sure they were able to understand the signs. Anyway, we're not big pool people. Did find chairs late in the day on deck 13 near the bar, which was nice! We had lunch at the Japanese Steak House, again, wonderful food and service. Dinner at Garden Cafe, nice variety and plenty of food!Tues: Malta: Breakfast at GP, good. We were up early to see the ship pull into port! Amazing sight! Left ship around 9:30. Took the bus for 1 Euro into town. Saw the St. John Co-Cathedral. Very impressive, but hot! Walked to the Upper Barracca gardens, well worth the walk and then walked back to the ship! Dinner at Cagney's excellent! Wed: Naples: up early, took the hydrofoil to Capri. This was a little difficult, there are two ferries and both have different places to purchase tickets. We had to ask many times to find the correct place. It was 17 Euros each. We had arranged a private boat tour of the island with capritime.com. It was the most incredible experience! We had a private lancia boat with a wonderful drive who showed us everything! We were able to drive into many grotto's and jump off and swim. The tour was 2 1/2 hours for the 7 of us cost on 250 Euros! Well worth it, then had lunch at Cafe Auggusto! Great!!! Took the ferry back to ship. Dinner at GP again. They change part of the menu each night, have the same food as Magenta.Thurs: Rome: We arranged with Bob's limos a tour of Rome. We spent about 2 1/2 hours touring highlights, then had a private tour of the Vatican. It was extremely hot and very crowded! But, still amazing! We ate at Magenta. Food was ok, service was poor that night. Only time we had bad service! Fri: Livorno: Slept late and took a van from the ship to Pisa around 1:00. We were going to take the bus and train, but the van was there and it seemed easier and nut much more expensive. Spent 2 hours touring Pisa and shopping at small outside vendors. Dinner at Orchid Garden! Again wonderful! Sat: Cannes: Took tender to port. Walked to a nearby beach and rented chairs and umbrella's for about 3 hours. Walked around, shopped and ate. Very hot and the shops were too expensive for us! Had a late dinner ate Tequila's good food, good service. Other: Saw 1 show, ok but nothing special. Comedy show was good, but the adult improve with the same folks was poor both nights. My daughter the stone massage, loved it. I had inotherne (sp?) loved that too! Embarkation: Left with 9:15 guests with own transportation, we had a 1:25pm flight out of Barcelona. Used the taxi's to airport. We had to use 3, they're small and they charged 30 Euro's each, but still cheaper than $25 per person for NCL bus, which wanted us to leave at 8:15 for our flights! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
We were 13 people (from the US and England) on our second family cruise. We spent four fabulous days in Barcelona touring and exploring on our own. Our accommodations at the Villa Emilia in Barcelona were terrific and the staff there went ... Read More
We were 13 people (from the US and England) on our second family cruise. We spent four fabulous days in Barcelona touring and exploring on our own. Our accommodations at the Villa Emilia in Barcelona were terrific and the staff there went out of their way to ensure us a good time. Our group was so excited to board the Norwegian Gem and travel the great itinerary through Italy and onto Villefranche. I planned this trip in September and our wonderful travel agent booked it. We had 1 penthouse suite, 1 mini suite (my hubby and I) and 4 outside balcony cabins. The accommodations were lovely and the food good but that is where it stops. Let's just say the service was lousy and the staff that we encountered fairly incompetent. First and very importantly, NCL does not receive closed captioning on the Gem (didn't bode well with the 2 cabins that have hearing impaired people). Our TV set worked for a total of 1 1/2 days. Now I know TV is not an important component, however, when you are in your stateroom and have 1/2 hour or so of downtime it is a good thing!!! We had "technicians" in our cabin on 2 different nights at 11:15pm. Since we were getting up to enjoy the wonderful ports we were really not happy about these "late night" intrusions. Out of the six cabins booked my husband and I paid for three. The other two did not have TV for 3 days. Our cousins in the penthouse suite did have TV but never had sunlight on their balcony due to the overhang. Their concierge took them to a "private" deck area and ensured them they would have a key for this area so they could enjoy the sunshine. Our cousins were pleased with this compromise until they never received a key and every time they wanted to sit in the sun they had to call the concierge who in turn would have to call someone else to let them onto this "private" deck area. We did eat in one of the two main dining rooms, the Magenta Room as the other, the Grand Pacific had a stringent dress code. We didn't have the necessary "dress up clothes" as all the information sent prior said it's "freestyle" with no worries!! There are several restaurants that charge per person on board. The first night was buy one get one free so we dined at Cagney's. It was very good. We were 4 non-meat eaters in the group and the food was perfect. The next night we dined at Teppanyaki at a cost of $25 per person. The food, prepared at the table, was very good. However, we were asked to move to the main part of the Asian restaurant for dessert so they could sit another group. There was no set up for 13 people in this part so it was confusing and to be frank rather rude to uproot us for dessert especially since we were paying $25 per person. That was it for our group. We decided our "freestyle" from that point on would be what was include!!! The food in the Magenta Room was quite good as was the service. As far as the spa goes, the manager at the spa was quite unfriendly but at least those of us that used the facilities managed to put that out of our minds. Our cousins paid for use of the spa for the week and even they were wondering why there was an air of unpleasantness. There were empty wine glasses around the spa area that were not picked up, so they had to be careful of where they stepped. The entertainment was about what you expect on a cruise ship. The magician was very good. The musicals that we saw were ok. Other activities our group didn’t partake in as we were enjoying our reunion with each other. Embarkation was a breeze. In fact it was the easiest embarkation we had ever encountered. Disembarking just had us shaking our heads. We paid for transfers ahead of time (in doing so you do not receive paper vouchers) and the staff had a hard time figuring us out since we didn't have paper vouchers. Finally I said check your passenger list and there we all were!!! My advice is to check into cab fare off the ship. NCL did not help at all with our luggage during disembarking including putting it on the bus!!! They also drop you off at one location at the airport and it is a good 10-15 minute walk to the other end of the next terminal if you are British Airways (and with heavy luggage that is unpleasant). One interesting sidebar: I filled out a comment card mid cruise and wrote about the nice ship and good food. Then I went on to ask that a supervisor contact me due and if a supervisor did not call then I would know that the comment card NCL requested we fill out was never read. GUESS WHAT? No one called!!!! Oh I could go on and on but in the end the ports on this cruise were fantastic and to be fair to NCL their excursions were good. We did our own thing in Malta which worked out perfect. We booked the Sorrento/Pompeii excursion with NCL that included a lunch stop at a working farm. It was a wonderful tour. Rome we booked a private guide, as NCL did not offer all the spots we wanted to see. It was wonderful as well and allowed us to pack everything we wanted to see in Rome in one day. We booked an NCL excursion for Florence and Pisa that included lunch. This was also a wonderful tour. We did our own thing in Villefranche (took a short train to Monaco) and had a great time. I wouldn’t hesitate to book tours through NCL and their pricing is fair. Would I recommend NCL to my friends- probably not? It truly spoils a vacation when too much time is spent trying to rectify situations on board the ship with people that either don't understand you or really don't care- but hey the Captain did a great job!!! We do cruise a fair amount and never had these personnel issues before. Anyway happy sailing to whatever ports you travel............................. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
Embarkation: We got to the boat around 1-2pm and really didn't wait in any lines. Everything went quick and smooth. Got the nice glass of champagne on board and our room was ready for us. I'd say that is really not necessary to ... Read More
Embarkation: We got to the boat around 1-2pm and really didn't wait in any lines. Everything went quick and smooth. Got the nice glass of champagne on board and our room was ready for us. I'd say that is really not necessary to scramble to the boat at noon or anything. I'd make travel plans to be there early or even the night before, but once you're in town, looking around that morning in Barcelona might be a better use of your time than worrying about getting to the boat at noon or something. Rooms: We had a regular stateroom with a window. It was small but well designed. Bathrooms were great with the separate stalls for the toilet and shower. I can see how the toilets would be difficult to use for a big/tall person but they were ok for us. Had the toilet stop flushing on the last night of the cruise, but it was working again by morning. The staff did a great job cleaning. We noticed that they came through the rooms twice a day. They made up the room the first time, probably in the morning and the second time, before evening, they gave you little mints before bed, towel animals and the next day's activities newsletter. Dining: We really enjoyed the food overall. We ate mostly at the Magenta dining room as it was close to our cabin. The main dining room is in the back of the boat and a little hard to find. My impression was that it didn't fill up as quickly because it was a little out of the way to get to the entrance. On that note, the dining rooms tended to fill up each evening after 8pm or so. Not sure if that's because of the non-US passengers who typically eat later at night. If you plan to eat before 7:30 you shouldn't have any problems getting a seat immediately almost anywhere except Teppanyaki which was pretty much always booked full ahead of time. The service at the dining rooms ranged from adequate to excellent. The first two sit down meals we had, at Blue Lagoon and Tequila had waiters who didn't make much effort to serve. They were quick, but didn't do a whole lot and seemed to just want to get us in and out. After that, our servers were very good to excellent. I actually saw one waiter, our favorite, who actually went to another dining area to get a special item for a table. Unfortunately, I think I overheard him getting scolded for his efforts since he left the dining room, although it wasn't very busy at the time. It was a shame, because, his excellent service to us was what changed my mind about the dining staff as a whole. We tried the lobster in the dining rooms. The tails were cut in half, but were still pretty good portions. If we didn't have enough food at the main dining rooms we typically went to the buffet later for some fruit/dessert. The buffet (they use the term action stations since you can just go to any counter and not wait to progress through a line) was ok. Food quality was pretty good, but it was a little crazy and did have the feel of a buffet restaurant on land. (Lots of loud kids and crowds of people with varying levels of manners and hygiene) The one thing to be said for it is it was the quickest way to eat, although our dining room meals went fairly quick and smooth. Shore Excursions: We did Malta on our own and unless you are very excited about a specific ships excursion, I don't think there's any need to do it through the ship. The one shore excursion we booked through NCL was just ok. It was the Flavors of Sorrento and Pompeii. The visits to Sorrento and Pompeii were nice but were a little rushed. This was due, in part, to stops at a furniture company, a local farm, and a cameo making company. These stops were somewhat interesting, but there certainly seemed to be some arrangement between the cruise line and these locations so they could us sell us stuff from their stores. It would have been nicer to skip or shorten these stops to have more time in Pompeii or Sorrento. Lunch was provided at the farm, but I would have almost rather have eaten on my own in Sorrento to have more time there. Rome we did with some Cruise critic friends on a private 8 person tour. Our driver was Mauritzio from Steffano's, who was recommended by Mylisa on the CC boards...this was a great tour and left me wanting to return to Rome. I think our driver did a great job explaining things and giving us a taste of the city given the time limitations. Florence was also done with a private tour with our Cruise critic friends. This was with a different Mauritzio from Taste of Tuscany tours. He wasn't as descriptive of the places we were visiting but he also did a good job taking us around given our time limitations. Nice we did on our own. We were given a little pamphlet that told how to get into Nice from Villefranche where the boat sailed to. (Nice's port is too shallow) After walking to the train station, we found out the next train was cancelled and we would have to wait an hour. So, we decided to head to the bus station and take it to Nice. It worked out fine and we found the flower market in town which was very nice. We stayed in Barcelona for a day before and after the cruise. We did the hop on hop off bus for a day, which was well worth it if you don't have tons of time to see the city. Sagrada Familia looks much more impressive in person as compared to in pictures. Park Guell was also interesting but a lot of walking up and down steps. Las Ramblas is...well...Las Ramblas...hard to put into words, but interesting and worth seeing. One note is that the ship leaves and returns to Barcelona on a Sunday, when a lot of markets and shops are closed. Ship Entertainment/Activities/Areas: Tired from all the shore excursions, we didn't go to a lot of the shows. The first night's introductory show was ok, and we really enjoyed the second city show. The World Beat show was a little odd. I'd agree with a previous review that it was basically taking a bunch of cultures and showing you the stereotypes from them. As an Asian, I thought having a bunch of non Asians doing an uninspiring dragon dance to a song from Mulan was a bit demeaning. Missed the magician and the other shows, but heard mixed reviews for them. Probably just people's different tastes in shows. We spent a lot of time after dinner in the ship's outdoor quiet area. It's a little hard to find...I think on deck 13 towards the front of the ship. Not many people up there, and except for one day where a family who probably couldn't read English were talking loudly there, it was very quiet and relaxing. Some suggestions would be to display the quiet area message in other languages and to extend when the workers close up the area. We had to leave the quiet area about an hour or so before sunset each day, and it would be a great place to see the sunset. We were at the casino only long enough to take advantage of the deals they provided. It was smoky but the areas near the exits weren't as bad. Misc: Cruise critics meeting went well. Ships officers came out and said a few words. Some of us voiced some complaints to them which were well received although I don't know how many of them were acted on...some of them were out of the hands of the ships staff. One concern brought up was the issue of nickel and diming discussed frequently on CC. I'd say that people probably differ in their opinions on many of these issues. Personally, there did seem to be quite a few things that have additional charges, however, I wasn't too upset by it. I'd probably agree with one issue that $10 to see a movie on the TV in your stateroom is a bit much, considering I could select and watch movies for free on the flights to and from the cruise... The ships staff were on a whole, excellent. A few exceptions like what I noted for two waiters, but we were very impressed overall with the service and friendliness. The chocolate buffet could have been better. It was a crowded mess of hyper kids up past their bedtime and people stuffing their faces with plate upon plate of sweets. Desserts were pretty much the same as what you'd find throughout the cruise at the buffet. Ice sculptures were nice, but way too many people were crowding around the inedible plastic displays snapping pictures for who knows what reason. From what I read about it, I enjoyed the Freestyle 2.0 additions, but I haven't cruised with NCL before so I can't give a very good comparison. Disembarking was very smooth with NCL's program to take your own luggage off the boat. If you are capable at all of carrying your own bags, I'd recommend it. It's as simple as noting it at the front desk, having your card swiped, and walking off the boat. Summary: We were overall, very pleased with our trip and would cruise with NCL again, although probably only if there were trips that also had many port days. We weren't as involved in the activities on the boat and wouldn't want to spend too many days at sea. (Just our personal preference, I'm sure) NCL and the Gem compared very favorably with my one previous cruise (on Carnival about 10 years ago) and I was happy with all that we got for the price of the cruise, although NCL, of course, shouldn't take that as a sign to raise their prices. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
Traveled Norwegian Gem June 8-16. Have cruised many times previously with several other cruise lines. In comparison, Norwegian was okay. The food and service didn't come close to other lines; however, since we weren't onboard for ... Read More
Traveled Norwegian Gem June 8-16. Have cruised many times previously with several other cruise lines. In comparison, Norwegian was okay. The food and service didn't come close to other lines; however, since we weren't onboard for those aspects, it didn't affect our overall experience too much. Cabin-we had an inside cabin. It was a little smaller than those we've had on previous ships; however, we spent very little time in the cabin so it wasn't a problem. We LOVED the larger shower & the shower door! What a great improvement! Unfortunately, the shower wasn't leveled properly and water didn't drain well. Again, a small problem. Our cabin stewards never came and introduced themselves. They were very unavailable; however, when we needed something and called for it, we got it. Food-fewer choices than on other cruise lines and quality not as good. We chose not to eat at one of the restaurants that had a surcharge. We spoke to people who did and they said the food was pretty good, but there were also surcharges for many of the items on the menu, so in addition to the surcharge per person, you paid for the item. It could get very expensive. We loved the chocoholic buffet! My husband enjoyed the cappuccino machine (& loved the fact that he didn't have to pay for each one). The buffet was very nice; however, the reviews we read about lack of seating were correct. It was usually hard to find a table. We had also read that they do not have trays in the buffet, so you have to carry everything on your own--that is true and quite inconvenient. They do have the silverware wrapped in napkins on each table though. I think they do it to try to reduce the amount of waste (you don't take as much at the beginning and only go back if you really want more). We never experienced having to wait for a table at the Grand Pacific restaurant (the nice-no jeans or shorts restaurant). We had read a lot about having to wait even when there were tables open. Activities-because we were in ports 6 out of the 7 days, we didn't take part in too many on board activities. We did notice that pretty much every thing ran a few minutes late though. The shows always started 5-10 min. after the starting time. They called Bingo for a certain time and by the time they gave the rules and sold cards, it actually started about 45 min. after the printed time. Again, not a big deal. Ship's Tours-We took two ship's tours. One in Sorrento & Pompeii which we really enjoyed and one in Nice/Monaco which was just fair. We spoke to some people that took a ship tour in Rome and were extremely disappointed. They were going to request a refund. (We chose to hire a private driver, which worked out very well.) Service-We felt that because the waiters were not working for their tips, the quality of service definitely suffered. We didn't feel like the quality of service was what you would get on Royal Caribbean or Princess (which are our two favorite lines--though we have never been on Celebrity or Holland America). Shows-We felt like the shows were just as good as most other cruises we've been on. The female entertainer was very good! Comedy group was very good too. OTHER-We definitely understood what others meant about them trying to nickel and dime you to death; however, you didn't have to "buy into it." Being a "germophobe" I really appreciated that they had hand sanitizer everywhere and asked you to use it before reboarding the ships and before entering the restaurants. I know that doesn't stop all germs, but I think it helps. All in all, it was the ports that made the trip what it was. We had a great time, especially in Italy! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
Background Info: Independent travelers 40+, prefer to make our own travel arrangements and get value for money. We live in Ireland and holiday in Spain two or three times a year, but are now cruising so that we get to see more of Europe ... Read More
Background Info: Independent travelers 40+, prefer to make our own travel arrangements and get value for money. We live in Ireland and holiday in Spain two or three times a year, but are now cruising so that we get to see more of Europe without the hassle of airports, and packing/unpacking. Travel to Port: We flew with Air Lingus from Dublin to Barcelona and took a taxi to the port - 25 Euro Embarkation: Arrived at the port at 11:30 am, our bags were taken off us as soon as we got out of the taxi by a porter and were delivered to our cabin by 2:30 pm. There were a number of NCL representatives directing passengers to various check-lines, tea/coffee/juice was available, we were only in line for 15 minutes. There are a number of shops in this area before you board where you can buy water etc. to take on board - we found these most beneficial. Hand luggage was not scanned on this occasion but it was at every other port. Once on board we were offered a glass of Champagne or orange juice and directed to the Garden Cafe where lunch was being served - it was at this point that we really become aware of the hand cleansers - they are at the entrance to every restaurant and also before you get on the ship at all the ports. NCL have a staff member stationed to remind you to use them. Our cabin was ready well before the 2 pm announcement. Fellow Cruise Critic 'hhchu' had arranged a meeting which most of the senior crew members including the captain attended and answered our questions. As Prem Kainikkara the Hotel Director said, if we don't tell them there is a problem how can they fix it. Cabin: We like an inside cabin because we are light sleepers and really like the blackout effect. Our cabin was 140 sq ft but the clever placement of mirrors made it look more. There is a lot of storage space, our cases fitted under the bed, the bed itself was so comfortable we miss it. There are tea/coffee making facilities which is great, a mini bar - which is expensive. The bathroom is an adequate size, the shower is great there is a hairdryer and even though I am only 5 ft I can understand previous review comments about the toilet. There is a washing line in the shower section to hang your wet swimming suit etc. Our cabin stewards were Onofre and Merianne and they came twice a day and were excellent. We were on deck 5 and there is a laundry room with a washer, dryer and iron. NCL offer a special on laundry on the 3rd last day - all you can jam into a bag provided to be washed, dried and folded for $20. The on board information sheet 'Freestyle Daily' is delivered to your cabin each evening. Dining: Previous CC's have given well informed and in depth information on all the restaurants so I am not going to go there. We had a number of meals in the Garden Cafe/Great Outdoors which we were happy with - we loved being able to sample a little of everything on offer and they did have a wide range of dishes. Buffet/Food stations - it is all relative; personally I did not miss having a tray too much and it probably helped reduce the quantity of food we consumed. There is extra seating available in the Le Bistro area at breakfast time. Food is available 24/7. Bars: Euro 08 was in full swing - what can I say ladies - only I went shopping!! There were 800 Spaniards on board and they really had a good time. Soft drinks package is available at $6.25 per day. Fosters in cans 750ml -$6.95, Stella, & Heineken on draught - $5.50 per pint. Coors/Miller/Bud bottles - $3.95. There is also 'buckets' of 6 bottles of beer for the price of 5. Check out 'Cruise Critics/articles/alcohol policies' for a full list of beer available. Star Bar - this is located right beside Cagney's Steakhouse and is really under utilized due I believe to the fact that the signage for bars/restaurants could be better. If you like to have a quiet drink this is the place to go. Open from 4 pm with background music from 'Old Blue Eyes' Frank Sinatra, after 7 pm Kenny Stringer singer/guitarist provides the entertainment and is very good. Lyndsey & Shama the bar staff looked after us very well. Spinnakers Lounge at the front of the ship has some funky seating and was a good spot to be in on the days you leave port mid afternoon. Hubby enjoyed the banter with the bar staff during the football matches and the floor staff were attentive without being pushy. Bingo is played here and although not our scene it seemed to be very popular despite the minimum charge of $30. Other entertainment included 'Mr & Mrs', Line dancing and the comedy team 'Second City'. Bliss Lounge: This is were the bowling alleys are located. They had an 'Ice Party' were guests were encouraged to wear white and also a Toga Party. There are lots of other bars on board but draught beer is not available in all bars. Shops on board: Prices are in $US dollars - I bought some great make-up & perfume at nearly half the price I would pay in Dublin. There are also various promotions every evening such as jewelry, bags, watches - Guess, Lacoste, DKNY, and Fossil to name just a few. It is possible to buy everything from 'an anchor to a needle' in the shop. Entertainment: This was hit and miss for our taste. The Gem Entertainment Team put on a number of entertaining shows. The comedy team Second City we did not get at all. The magician Bob Trunell was entertaining. Jose Manuel Rodrigues was very good and together with the Gem Showband gave passengers the opportunity to do some ballroom dancing. Most other Europeans we spoke to on board were disappointed in the entertainment and NCL might want to consider offering Karaoke for longer than 1 hour and maybe introduce more audience participation games. Children's Club: No kids with us on this trip but I did notice that there seems to be lots on offer for kids and an in-port baby sitting service at something like $5 per hour. The usual video arcade and a designated dining area for children with little tables and chairs - beside the Great Outdoors - fresh orange juice was available for kids at breakfast. There were 600 children on board but we hardly noticed. Shore Excursions: As stated we are independent travelers and feel comfortable making our own travel arrangements in Europe so did not take any NCL trips - just did our own thing. Barcelona: There is a shuttle bus to take you out of the port, and there is a Hop on Hop Off bus pickup at the Columbus monument which costs about $30. Malta: Local information desk as soon as you disembark. A local taxi was offering a 2 hour trip around the island for 15 Euro which took in Mdina. A local bus is available just across the road and cost 1 Euro return into town centre. It stops at the local bus terminal where you can pick up a local bus to other parts of the island for a couple of euro. We stayed in Valleta and took in the Malta Experience video show - 11 euro and also St John's Co Cathedral - 6 euro both very enjoyable. As we left the port the Captain did tell us that Mt Etna would be visible later that evening. It was very impressive, we could see a lava flow quite clearly. Naples: Lots of local taxi drivers just outside the port offering trips - bartering skills necessary. There is a bus stop right across the road from the port where you can catch the No.1 bus to the train station. The bus gets very crowed, be very careful with your wallets - we heard about people getting pick pocketed and hubby thought some people were getting too close for comfort. We took the train to Herruculeum which is smaller than Pompeii but have been told it is better preserved. Be sure to ask for the audio guide hand set - it was not offered when we paid our admission of 11 Euro and has to be collected from a different building. There are toilet facilities on site but no restaurant. The train cost 9 Euro and the trip took about 20 minutes. Rome: This was one of our lazy days so we stayed on board and while I enjoyed the pool, hubby enjoyed the library - which is well stocked. The shuttle bus will take you from the ship into town, the train station is only a short walk and the train to Rome costs 9 Euro return, the travel time is 1 hour approximately. Last year we took the Hop on Hop Off bus which cost 20 euro and had time to get off at many of the important sites. Livorno: The shuttle bus costs 1 Euro from port to town, there is a tourist information booth in the square where you are dropped off. They had maps and were very helpful giving directions to the main shopping area - Via Grande and other areas of interest within walking distance. We took a tourist sight seeing bus from this area which was good value at 5 Euro and lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. If you plan on going to Florence or Pisa on your own, you can buy a bus & rail ticket in the tobacco shop across the road from this square which will take you to the train station. Again, there were local taxis offering trips, we spoke to one couple who had taken a trip to Florence & Pisa with a group of 6 people they had just met in this area that morning and negotiated the price at just 35 Euro each. Villefranche: We were tendered ashore in this port, there is an information booth just inside the terminal and the local 'tourist train' is parked just outside this building. Villefranche is very pretty but very hilly so the train is a good idea for getting around this port. As it was Saturday the trains to Nice & Monaco are not as regular as mid week, the train times for Monaco are 8:45 am & 9:51 am and 11:47 am, 12:38 pm & 1:13 pm. The information booth in Monaco train station was not very helpful, they did have information on the 'local tourist train' but totally misdirected me as to how I could get to where I could pick it up. I took the lift in the station as directed to ground level and did end up on a street where after asking for directions from a local did manage to catch the no. 2 bus which took me to the Museum Oceanographic where the 'train' starts from. This is not a hop on hop off and takes about 30 minutes to do the entire circuit, it cost 7 Euro. The friendly local had told me that if I had taken the escalator down to platform 'C' and exited through that door, I would have had the option of catching the No. 1 and No. 2 bus. There was a long queue to get the tender back onto the ship, it was very hot and the air conditioning in the terminal was nil. NCL did have a member of staff handing out cold water which helped a little. Disembarkation: We opted for the 'express option' and took our own luggage off the ship. You just have to complete a form which is delivered to your cabin and hand it in at reception. I would definitely recommend it. Summary: Overall we were impressed with the Gem, it is not as gaudy as it appears on the internet. Freestyle dining suits us and we did not feel any more 'nickled & dimed' than in any hotel we have stayed in. Staff on the whole were pleasant and attentive - given the long hours they work it amazes me that they can remain so pleasant. We will definitely cruise with NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
I'll cover some of the basic review items plus some tips I had questions about before we left. 10 of us in total (5 kids) all inside cabins. 10th cruise for me - 4th on NCL. June 8 Gem cruise from BCN. Cab from airport to port was ... Read More
I'll cover some of the basic review items plus some tips I had questions about before we left. 10 of us in total (5 kids) all inside cabins. 10th cruise for me - 4th on NCL. June 8 Gem cruise from BCN. Cab from airport to port was about $35 Euros for four of us with luggage (there are extra surcharges for luggage and people). You can exchange money right by luggage pick-up. An ATM is supposedly outside airport but didn't look for it. Have address of port ready as first cab driver didn't know - good thing we showed him before getting in cab. Had no problem getting cab back to airport at end. Plan 30 minutes. Easy embarkation and luggage arrived by 3pm. Room was nice as was the refer. Overall, I thought the food was good and variety was fine, but the opinion varied among our group. Service overall was good-excellent for food and beverage. Cagney's and Mexican restaurant were both very good. Main dining room food is still just o.k. - not too impressive. Why can't they give you a good steak? Did room service for kids once. Quick delivery but only some of the items ordered were actually delivered. One note about trays - I did have a waitress help take our breakfast when I was with my kids. She took us to the Italian restaurant which is used for overflow and was very nice. As compared to other NCL cruises, the overall service was excellent. I seemed to notice the presence of officers in key areas which I didn't remember too much of on the other NCL ships. I believe this is part of the difference. The pick-up of dirty plates was also excellent as compared to other NCL. The area where I never saw an officer and where we had issues was in the room. Yes, the staff worked hard, but they miss some very obvious issues that I then had to call and get resolved. Obvious #1 - toilet seat not tight and wiggles - this was like this as soon as we got in room. Had to call to get fixed which it was quickly. Obvious #2 - soap in shower dispenser runs out. Go 1.5 days (3 clean-ups) and never filled. Have to call to get fixed. Obvious #3 - come back from excursion and toilet seat hinge clearly broken after room had been cleaned up. Had to call to get fixed. Asked for bar soap (I hate liquid soap in the shower) and told not available - something to do with "PH". I asked and got bar soap on the Spirit 12 months ago! TV also intermittently not working over the trip. Had to call 3 times (I was always told a "network" problem). I also noticed several pieces of tape on the ceiling from a prior cruise that weren't removed and not noticed by crew the whole trip. Yes, these are trivial things, but the crew should notice these things and I haven't ever had to call about more than one issue on any other cruise. These "little" things leave you frustrated. You would think that they would have a system that if you have to contact them for more than x times, an officer would contact you to see what is going on (i.e. Are we just complainers or is the staff not on their toes). Malta - If you do on your own, get off ship and go up the hill then to the right to see the "tourist" part town. We accidentally went left and ended up in the more residential part of town. This was o.k. though and was interesting to see with stores and churches. We did make it to the other area, but could be too much walking for some. Two ATMs are located right by dock if you need EUROs (one was Bank of Valetta). Pompeii - Nothing much else to add from previous reviewers other than I was under the impression that you went to Pompeii and a Cameo factory at two different stops. We actually were dropped off at the Cameo factory for the obligatory tour and then given 15 minutes free time and then walked a few feet to the start of the Pompeii tour (the 3.75 hour tour). Rome - As others have said, be careful with valuables. Will need to take passport with you on this stop (but not the others). Pisa - We did the shorter afternoon tour and found it perfect. Nice - We went on our own. In Villefrance, get off the ship and they give you maps of the town (in the little building right by the tenders) and directions to the bus stop. To find it can be confusing, but we did and you can take the #100 bus to Nice for $1 euro each one way. This bus ends in Nice at the bus terminal and then goes back to Villefrance. It appears to run every 15-30 minutes??? Shows - Second City was funny. I didn't like the magician, but as you'll see from other reviews, much is of personal taste/opinion when it comes to food, service, entertainment. Our youngest - 5 - did go to Kid's Crew most nights. The best thing is that they extended the pickup from what used to be 10pm to 10:30pm. Kid's Crew has always been great for the kids. Don't forget to tip these people if you do use. At first I thought that NCL was cutting themselves short when they were calling it "Freestyle 2.0" and should probably have called it "Freestyle 3.0" due to improvement from my prior NCL experiences. I was very impressed by the improved service, bedding, champagne, pagers for main restaurants, cruise terminal, etc. But as the cruise went on, I did realize they had not made the jump from 1.0 to 3.0 and that 2.0 was appropriate. Overall, a great cruise and very reasonable when you consider the price (even the nickel & diming) to see some of the wonderful sites. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
This was our 9th cruise, 5th with NCL. We arrived in Barcelona a day before the cruise and stayed at the Hotel Claris. Very nice hotel. We picked it because Samantha Brown stayed there. Got to the ship at 1pm and were were on board ... Read More
This was our 9th cruise, 5th with NCL. We arrived in Barcelona a day before the cruise and stayed at the Hotel Claris. Very nice hotel. We picked it because Samantha Brown stayed there. Got to the ship at 1pm and were were on board drinking champagne by 1:30.We went right to our room and it was beautiful. Plenty of room and storage. This is the first ship we have been on that there was more than 1 electrical outlet. They had 5, (4-110 and 1-220). The balcony had an electric sliding door, that stayed where you put it. It was nice to have at night so we could hear the ocean. The bathroom was bigger than most other ships. We ate mostly in the main dining room. Great food and service. The buffet was also better than on previous ships. We also ate at LeBistro and Cagney's, excellent choice!The waiters were mostly fast and efficient. The only place we had to wait a long time for our food was the Blue Lagoon. The ship pool has a waterfall,that we thought was a great feature.It was hard to find a lounge chair on the sea day though. In Malta, we just took the bus to town went to St Johns Cathedral and shopped. In Naples, we took the train to Pompeii.It was very hot in Pompeii, at it was only 9-10am.We walked around and were very impressed by the ruins. We then took the train to Sorrento, a beautiful town built into the mountain side. We walked around and shopped, had a wonderful Italian pizza and took the hydrofoil back to Naples. The hydrofoil is right next to the ship, very easy. In Rome we took the train with a wonderful group we met from the CC boards.It was very easy. We went to The Vatican in the am, then took the HOHO bus to the Coliseum, Forum and Spanish steps. In Livorno we took the train to Florence, saw The David, the Duomo, and then walked around. We then took the train to Pisa, walked up the leaning tower, and took the train back to Livorno. In Nice, we took a private tour with 2 other couples we found from the CC boards. We went with Michele ofAP tours and he was great. We saw Nice and Monaco, and had plenty of time to shop and walk around. We only saw a couple of shows on the ship as we were exhausted from our daily sightseeing. The comedian and magician were very good.We would have liked to have a sea day in the middle of the week, as this cruise is very port intensive.We got home exhausted. The ship was kept very clean and the crew was very visible and attentive. This was our best experience with NCL, and we are already planning our next one!!! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
EMBARKATION It was effortless. There were no long lines; the procedure took less than 15 minutes. A taxi will take you right up to the ship, but be aware that they charge an extra fee on weekends (usually when the cruise begins from ... Read More
EMBARKATION It was effortless. There were no long lines; the procedure took less than 15 minutes. A taxi will take you right up to the ship, but be aware that they charge an extra fee on weekends (usually when the cruise begins from Barcelona port) and if you call for them as opposed to hiring them on the spot. We boarded the ship at around 2:00 pm, but you can basically board anytime from 9:00 am (since we saw people entering the ship when we disembarked). Personally, I think that it'd be a good idea to spend the afternoon exploring Barcelona before embarking, since it is indeed a fascinating city. The ship leaves Barcelona at 7:00 pm; we thought that boarding at 2:00 would be considered early, but it turns out that the Garden Cafe buffet was pretty crowded by then. The fresh and hot food was welcoming, however. We were also greeted with free champagne upon embarkation, something I consider a nice touch. Our luggage arrived at our cabin around 8:00 ROOMS/FACILITIES Our inside cabin was quite small (at least compared to Carnival's inside cabins). This was a part of the cruise that I disliked. Even though we were a family of 4 in there, I felt that Carnival's inside cabin was more comfortable. On the first night of the cruise, the staff pulled out a bed from under one of the main beds, completely covering what little space there existed between the 2 beds. We informed them that we would rather use 2 beds plus the one bunk, and they quickly fixed this for us. As the stateroom was quite small and there were 2 large mirrors, we had to fashion a little "compartment" by opening the washroom door and the closet doors, using them as "barriers" against the door to the outside hall to change (I know it's hard to visualize). The washroom was clean, and the shower stall was always nice and dry. On the last night of the cruise, the toilet did not flush; but the problem was fixed by midnight. The TV has a decent selection of channels; we mostly watched BBC World, EuroSport and CNN. I looked at the balcony staterooms that were just across from us; and they looked quite spacious. We explored the gym area a bit; it seemed a nice and decent area overlooking the sea. The Magenta and Grand Pacific dining rooms are accessible by a stairwell on the 7th floor, with the former being easier to find. I found that the service in the Magenta was faster than that in the Grand Pacific (we had to wait 1.5 hours to finish an entire meal). We, unfortunately, did not try any of the specialty restaurants. The Crystal Atrium was a nice place, especially to lounge around in the afternoon and enjoy music from the Polish violin quartet. There's a perfume and cosmetics shop there, and they were always selling jewelry (Inch of Gold, amber, ammolite, etc.) outside of it. The Internet Cafe, located in the Atrium, was quite small. Euro Cup fever was sweeping through our cruise (abundance of European passengers), so they showed all matches in the huge TV screen in the Atrium. It was a wonderful experience watching these matches (especially with the boisterous, chanting Spaniards). When the TV screen was not showing these matches, it was used for advertisements, random NCL images/videos and for Wii Sports tournaments (usually at 1:00 pm every day). As for the pool and deck, we never really got to use it, as it was always crowded with children and sunbathers. We enjoyed frequent strolls on the promenade deck (though it was very windy!). Also, the rock-climbing wall looked fun, though you'd have to wait for it since they only allow one climber at a time. Lastly, the Bliss lounge is a great little area for bowling fun. FOOD Food is usually the most important, if not memorable, part of the cruise (at least for us). NCL failed to impress in this aspect. The food in Magenta and Grand Pacific was just mediocre, like anything you'd get at a casual family restaurant. There was lobster on 2 nights: one during which it was served with mussels, scallops, shrimp as part of pasta dish, and another during which it was broiled and served traditionally with melted butter. The lobster formerly mentioned did not taste fresh, but the latter was definitely better. The escargots appetizer on the last night of the cruise was excellent, succulent and served with plenty of butter (in which we dipped pieces of baguette - simply heavenly!). In the buffet, the food was nice as well. The fruit was fresh. However, the burgers were like cardboard and the hot dogs were too salty. The desserts also were the same ones served the previous night in the dining rooms (I hope they did not use leftovers). One of my favorites was the freshly-prepared-for-you Asian noodle soup in the buffet (they called this the "Hawker Stand"). Another thing that was simply outstanding, too, was the Coconut Souffle served with Mango Coulis in the dining room. ENTERTAINMENT There were nightly shows in the Stardust Theatre, three of which featured the Gem Cast, one of which featured a great singer named Elvy Rose, two sessions with a magician and another with the Second City troupe. I missed the first night's show and the magician because I was watching the Euro Matches in the Crystal Atrium. However, the other performances were impressive. The Gem Cast did an excellent job with their musicals; the World Beats show was a bit strange; the one about the 70's was good and their last one, Colorz, was a nice finale. Elvy Rose is very talented as well. The Second City show was funny, but I enjoyed the musicals more. There are plenty of seminars to keep you entertained during day. Two of us attended this seminar about shore excursions and were given tickets to a raffle by Colombian Emeralds. With only 2 tickets, we managed to win a loose gemstone, a bottle of Dior Poison and a bottle of Ralph Lauren cologne! So, remember to retain your tickets from any purchases/seminars and attend the raffle on the last night of the cruise at 8:00! SERVICE The whole Freestyle Dining concept, in the end, did not work very well for us; we missed interacting with our waiters, who changed everyday due to the absence of organized dining times and settings. Some of the waiters simply did their job, but others did make an effort to talk and interact with us. The housekeeping crew always greeted us whenever we passed by them in the hall. Making up our room 2 times a day, they kept it impeccably clean. However, some staff members (waiters, jewelry shop employees) that we randomly asked did not know basic information, such as port arrival times and show times in the theatre. We thought that this was quite strange, as most guests do indeed expect the crew to know the ship inside and out. Despite this, I must commend the cleaning staff for keeping the Gem, as a whole, extremely clean. The surfaces gleam! SHORE EXCURSIONS Barcelona: We arrived a day prior to the cruise so that we could explore the city on our own. It is definitely worth spending a day or two here. Our adventures in Barcelona were made possible through the Bus Turistic sightseeing bus. Highly recommended is Hotel Turin, which has recently been renovated and is a great, modern and convenient place to stay (located just off Las Ramblas, five minutes walk to Placa Catalunya). And we recommend tapas at Ciudad Condal too! Just ask the front desk...they should know because it's supposedly a favorite with the locals. Malta: Just right outside where you disembark, there is a little kiosk selling tickets for the Hop-on-hop-off Sightseeing bus. It is pretty convenient, but you won't get much time to complete the entire tour since the time ashore that the cruise allows guests is painfully short. We visited Valetta, which is just OK. Then, we hopped off the sightseeing bus at Mdina, which is serene and unique; it was one of our favorite port stops. And when the cruise director told us that seeing the cruise enter Valetta port is a must-see; he was not lying. It was certainly worth waking up at 6:00 to go on the deck and watch this; it felt like going back in time! Naples: We took the Amalfi and Pompeii excursion from NCL, and it was great. Amalfi is a gem of the Mediterranean with splendid views. The guide, Antonio, was also very informative when we explored the ruins of Pompeii. The restaurant to which he took us served an absolutely fantastic meal. Rome: We bought a package of train tickets and sightseeing bus tickets to Rome from the Civitavecchia train station; they were not too expensive. Again, the sightseeing bus was a great, affordable way to see most of Rome's great sights. However, we were sweltering that day (38 celsius!). Livorno: We took the Pisa and Lucca excursion from NCL. Lucca is a small, walled town; there was not much to see and it was somewhat boring. Pisa, however, was wonderful! Beware of pickpockets disguised as tourists. We were given ample time to explore the Leaning Tower and other areas of the city. Villefrance: We had to get to shore by tender, a short ride of 15 minutes. Then, we took the train to Monaco. Monaco is a gorgeous place; we just wish that we were given more time for this port. The local bus was a good, inexpensive way to get around in Montecarlo. Overall, some things on the Gem do need a bit of tweaking, but they are forgivable. NCL gave us a truly fabulous and unforgettable experience. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
It was our first time on Norwegian and we didn't have any expectations as to what was waiting for us. We just wanted to get pampered on a nice cruise!!! And did we get spoiled! Embarkation : Barcelona is one of the best embarkation ... Read More
It was our first time on Norwegian and we didn't have any expectations as to what was waiting for us. We just wanted to get pampered on a nice cruise!!! And did we get spoiled! Embarkation : Barcelona is one of the best embarkation port I have ever been, fast efficient within 10 minutes we were on board....a nice champagne glass was waiting for us and on top, a crew member took us for a private tour on the ship, that was very nice!!! Didn't expect this at all!!! Cabin : Great we were in a mini-suite Aft of the ship with a magnificent view. Very clean cabin and spacious. You have to love colors because they are overall the ship, depends on everyone taste, we just loved it... colorful and very bright and lively. From the pool deck to the different restaurants there was always a smile on the way and all the staff was more than happy to give you information. We notice that the Captain and his crew were all over the ship, we saw them more then once during the cruise, which is very nice. On all the Restaurants we tried, they were from very good to excellent, the 2 main dining rooms were very nice and good, service also. We went twice to the French Bistro, which was fantastic!! Yes there are a supplement from $15 to $25, but to us it was worth it. Freestyle? Even if we love the classic style, we also like the freestyle it was nice to have the option of going where you want and when you want. Only once overall the cruise we had to wait for our table, but waiting with a drink in hand and enjoying the classical quartet was so great that we haven't seen the time go by and quickly we had to go have dinner! Frankly, after doing a Transat with Celebrity ( which we loved! ) an an Asian cruise with RCCL ( which was ok. ) Norwegian has nothing to envy to the other cruise companies. They offer a different product that works and is very pleasant. The only point is freestyle means to a lot of passengers t-shirts and jeans or shorts in the dining rooms...even if it says not to wear jeans and T-shirts in the dining room, it wasn't respected. ( but it wasn't the end of the world either) Thanks to the fabulous NCL Gem crew, it was great and we definitely recommend this ship to everyone!!! Happy Cruising! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
We went on the Norwegian Gem from Barcelona, the check in was quick and easy and we embarked within 5 mins of checking in at 2.00pm, there was champagne available the moment you stepped onboard and we were told that our luggage would be ... Read More
We went on the Norwegian Gem from Barcelona, the check in was quick and easy and we embarked within 5 mins of checking in at 2.00pm, there was champagne available the moment you stepped onboard and we were told that our luggage would be delivered to our stateroom ( the down side of this was that the luggage did not turn up until 7.30pm) so on our first night we only had the clothes we stood in and missed the show as we didn't want to go out in the clothes we had been travelling in all day. We managed to have a shower and change of clothes and went out at about 8.30 to our first meal, we went to the Garden Buffet, where the choice of food was excellent there really was something for everyone. We decided as we had a very long day as we left home at 4am to have an early night the first night. The beds were among the most comfortable that I have ever slept in even in 4 and 5 star hotels. The cabins had been turned down and we sat on our balcony having a coffee from the coffee machine provided in the room. We slept really well and spent the next day at Sea, We went bowling, great fun and novel on board, and then had lunch, again we opted for the Buffet as the choice was so good. In the evening we went to the casino and then to a show the magician was excellent. We ended the evening in the Spinnaker lounge. The following day we arrived in Valleta, getting off the ship is made simple no long queues, and everyone got off and headed off to their choice of of tours. We met friends who live in Malta and went around on our own. The boat left around 3pm that day which was a shame as it would have been nice to stay a little longer at this port. That evening, again we went to the show, excellent singers and dancers, to the casino and decided to try one of the restaurants with the service charge, We went to The Bistro. Found the cover charge a little excessive for the menu offered. They tend to charge you around $20.00 per head on all restaurants apart from about 3 of them where there is no charge. In addition to this the wine is very expensive cheapest being around $40 per bottle. What we did not find out until a couple of days later is that if you don't finish your wine, they will label it for you and any other restaurant that you visit they will bring your remaining wine out for you or deliver it to your stateroom for you to enjoy in your cabin. It would have been nice to know this prior to the first couple of bottles which we did not finish. The other additional charges even in the restaurant are the 15% gratuity charge on all the drinks you purchase, this is added in all the restaurants and bars and is in addition to the $10 per day tips that you pay per head. The service on board this ship though is excellent you cannot fault it, everything is catered for, once thing I would have thought would have been nice is to have had dressing robes provided. We had a balcony stateroom and these were not provided, a shame because most decent hotels provide these for you. However you do have towels wash cloths shower gels and shampoos and hand soaps all provided in your stateroom so do not need to pack these prior to going. Each evening we had the local cruise news delivered to our stateroom, this gave you all the information you needed for the next day, which port we would be docking in, embarkation details maps of the local area and also the days activities on the ships and the times. It really was excellent. On board there are a few shops, and also a photography shop, this was only open a couple of hours each day though. There was also a lot of emphasis and pushing on the sale of Gems ( obviously this was because of the name of the ship) I don't think there was one day that went by that there was not a different push on a type of gemstone and the jewelry that you could purchase. The art gallery was novel and there was also art auctions on board which were fun to watch and join in with. I think probably the highlight of the week was our murder mystery dinner evening. It was a shame this was only held once a week with a max of 60 guests, so a lot of people would have missed out here, but it was an excellent way of meeting other guests, as there did not seem to be a lot of emphasis on meeting others. There was a singles meeting each night which seemed a good idea but it would have been a nice touch to have other nights themed towards this perhaps an over 50's couples night, the youngsters were well catered for as they had their own club where they meet others. The ship is so large, that even when full it did not feel crowded there was always a quiet corner to retreat to if you needed it the library and the card game rooms were always nice and quiet. A selection of board games in the cards/games room would have been nice, perhaps scrabble cluedo etc. There is only so much you can eat and drink, and other than sports, jogging, rock climbing, gym, swimming, basket ball and tennis there was not a lot to do. The activities that I did want to do unfortunately coincided with the shore days and excursions, so for example if you really wanted to see the towel folding demo or the sushi demo you would not have been able to go on the shore excursions that day as it started at 1pm and you would not have got back on board until around 5.00. But as they say you cant please all of the people all of the time. However if you want a quiet relaxing holiday this really is the way to go. One more word of warning. If you do go on a shore excursion and purchase local wines etc when you get back on board the ship these are taken off you and you are told that that they will be delivered to your stateroom the day of embarkation on the night prior to it. But as we found out, from others as well, this did not happen, a couple of people we met, as well as ourselves remembered about this only at the airport. So lost our presents that we were bringing home for family members. One couple said they actually remembered it the morning of disembarking but as they only had 15 mins after breakfast until their colors were called thought the queue at reception would not give them time to find their purchases so reluctantly left it there. This is a little disappointing, so my advice would be don't bother buying any wines at the ports, wait until you get back to duty free at your airport and purchase them there instead, at least you will get them back home with you. I would certainly go back again, but this time a little more prepared. A cruise is never a cheap option and if this what you are looking for then it really is not for you. However if you are prepared to pay a little more for a touch of luxury this is well worth it. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
Background: This was my 5th cruise and my husband's 4th. Our first on NCL. We're in our late twenties and this was our first time in Europe. Arrival/Barcelona: We flew out of Philly Friday night with a stop in Brussels. As ... Read More
Background: This was my 5th cruise and my husband's 4th. Our first on NCL. We're in our late twenties and this was our first time in Europe. Arrival/Barcelona: We flew out of Philly Friday night with a stop in Brussels. As always, US Airways was late and we had to run through the Brussels airport to make our connection. While we made it, our luggage was not as fortunate. On arrival in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon, the pilot politely informed us that we would have to come back to the airport at 11pm to get our luggage and he was sorry for the "slight inconvenience". To make a long story short, we eventually did get our bags (delivered to our hotel Sunday morning - we did not go back to the airport thankfully!). Yet another good reminder of why to travel a day or two early! Luckily we had packed a change of clothes in our carryon and it wasn't a big deal. We stayed at the HCC MontBlanc Hotel in Barcelona, a few blocks off of Las Ramblas. The hotel was perfect for our needs - nothing luxurious but clean and close to lots of attractions. We walked Las Ramblas, had a tapas and sangria lunch, saw a few cathedrals, and the Picasso museum. After a siesta, we headed out for a quick dinner and then back to the hotel bar where we met a very boisterous group of Norwegians (the country, not cruise line!). They were very fun to mingle with and the hotel security kept telling us to keep it down. Overall a very fun night. Embarkation: We took a taxi (about 30 euros) to the pier and arrived around 12:30pm. There was a slight line to go through security, maybe 10 minutes or so. Once through, we went to the minisuites/balcony line and we checked in right away and onboard the ship in minutes. A crewmember escorted us onboard and we received our champagne. After explaining our rooms wouldn't be ready until 2pm, the crewmember offered to direct us to the buffet. We opted for the Grand Pacific instead (thanks to reading the boards!) and he took us there with no problem. Lunch was nice and relaxed and hubby and I took the time to go over the Freestyle Daily and plan some activities. I won't go through everything that happened that day, but I will tell one funny story. Apparently the Freestyle Daily given at the check-in counter was different than the one placed in your stateroom (a.k.a. the "right" one!). After having a few (too many?) sail away drinks, hubby and I noticed trivia was starting in the Spinnaker Lounge. We went up, had a seat, ordered some more drinks and were relaxing before we noticed no one was handing out trivia papers. And everyone, including the waitress who took our drink order and the crewmember currently addressing the group, was speaking in Spanish. Hmm.....Turns out the correct Freestyle Daily listed a Spanish orientation in the lounge at this time. Oops! Stateroom/Ship: We stayed in a forward minisuite (11508) and thought it was perfect for the two of us. Hubby is 6'8" so he needs some room to spread out and he was fine in the shower, bathroom, bed, etc. The balcony was great - awesome to see the port cities first thing in the morning (especially Villefrance - very picturesque!) Everything was very well laid out with tons of storage and enough room under the beds for luggage. Our butlers were Carlo and Edwin and they were very nice. Our room was always made up when we returned and they left lots of towel animals (monkey, lobster, dog, elephant, and rabbit). We didn't receive a fruit basket as some had mentioned, but we did get the cookies on the last night. I thought the ship was great, very nicely laid out. I know some people mentioned the decorating as being a little over-the-top, but it didn't bother me at all. Plenty of lounges, bars, quiet spots, etc. The pool deck was a little crowded, especially on the day at sea and at sail away times. We never had a problem getting a lounger though, even getting one of the "beds" in the shade one day. We like to gamble so we spent quite a bit of time in the casino. The Freestyle Daily advertised free drinks to all Casino at Sea members while playing which was a huge bonus for us. (And kept our bar bill for the week very reasonable!). We played mostly blackjack, and some slots. The bartender and waiters/waitresses knew us after a day or two and called us by name and had our drinks ready to go. We had won a little in the beginning, and then lost some at the end. Overall a small loss, but probably a wash when you consider the free drinks! Food: Cagney's - we had dinner here twice, the first and last nights. Overall, it was probably my favorite restaurant onboard. I recommend the crab cake, stuffed mushroom, rib eye, gratin potatoes, and definitely the bananas foster (seriously, get the bananas foster!). I wouldn't recommend the prime rib as they bring around a cart and slice it tableside. Sounds nice, but I found the meat a little cold and tough (who knows how long the cart was sitting out?). It wasn't bad, but I had better prime rib in Magenta later in the week. Definitely go for one of the big steaks instead. Teppanyaki - this is your typical hibachi-type restaurant. The chef was very friendly but didn't do too many tricks. The food was delicious - we both had the steak and shrimp combo. Dessert was just ok - only two choices and the ice cream was all melted by the time it was served. Definitely good, just not sure it's worth the $25 charge. Tequila's - we had dinner here twice as well. I love Mexican food (ok, "American" Mexican food) and thought it was very good. If you like melted cheese and sour cream (and who doesn't?!?) then you'll like this restaurant. My only disappointment was I didn't see the cream puff with coffee ice cream dessert everyone talked about. La Cucina - sweet mercy, I've never seen (and eaten) so much food in my life. The antipasto cart is great - lots of fresh veggies, meats, and cheeses. Then there are the appetizers, salads, pizza/pasta, entrEe, and dessert. I really like oil and garlic pasta and wanted chicken parm too so I ordered both. Hubby, now free to be a glutton too, ordered a pizza and chicken parm. I'm sort of embarrassed, and yet somehow proud, to say we finished our meals! (Weight Watchers just called to request my gold Lifetime keychain back....) Magenta - we had dinner here once and it was really good, much better than expected after reading the horror stories of the "free" dining available. Seriously, this was not Applebee's quality, it was a very nice meal with great service. Grand Pacific - we only had lunch and breakfast here a few times. Food was very good, service a little slow, but not too bad. Much better than the buffet though! Garden Cafe - strictly addressing the quality of the food, it was decent. Tons of variety and everything was always well stocked. Seating however, was horrendous. I started bringing sweaters with me to claim a seat before going to the buffet. By the time you get your food, wait for a drink (one ice tea/juice machine for over 2000 passengers?!?) and get to your seat, your food is cold. Also, the chairs are ridiculously oversized with giant arms and impossible to maneuver. Whoever designed the seating in there should be forced to eat there every night for the rest of their lives as punishment! Ok, I exaggerate, but seriously go somewhere else for meals. Entertainment/Activities: We didn't go to a lot of shows (we were busy gambling!) but we did see both of the Second City shows and thought they were pretty good. The scripted night was much better than the unscripted. Only one or two could really think well on their feet (one guy, reminded me of Jimmy Fallon, was hysterical). I didn't think there were enough onboard activities offered. Maybe because this was such a port intensive cruise? We did trivia twice and had fun. There was lots of b-b-b-b-ingo offered (don't worry, you won't miss it - they announce it every 5 minutes on the loudspeaker!). We played only once and I found it odd that there were probably 30-40 people who paid $40 to play and the prizes were less than a hundred dollars each for 4 games. I don't know the exact amounts as they weren't announced except for the last game (which I would assume was the highest prize). That's a nice racket they've got going....Not complaining as it was completely expected - just advising you not to get your hopes up to win lots of cash. Ports: Valletta, Malta - we did the "Taste of Malta" tour and liked it. We saw the cathedral and its infamous dome, the San Anton gardens, and a winery. Nothing too exciting, but a nice day. I felt bad for our tour guide because we were running late and he was very stressed. One woman was late for our first meeting spot and the same woman was late at the second meeting spot. It was in front of a jewelry store, so we joked that we hoped she was buying a watch in there! Naples - we did the "Pompeii Excavations" tour. There were a ton of options for this port and had to pick something. Pompeii was a good choice - it was really cool seeing the ruins. It was very hot and there's no shade, so if you do this tour bring sunscreen and water (they sell water right before you go up). By the end of this tour we were pretty exhausted so I was glad we didn't have an afternoon tour booked. Civatasomething (Rome) - sorry, our guide said it a million times and I still have no idea what the port name is. We did the "Rome - Classical City" tour and got to see the Coliseum, Forum, and the Vatican. Lots of walking involved (in the rain), and unfortunately we didn't get to go into the Coliseum or the Sistine Chapel. We had an hour of free time in the Vatican and I asked our tour guide about the Sistine Chapel and she said it was closed. Others I talked to on the ship afterwards said they went in, so I was a little disappointed. I would probably not recommend this tour. It's just too much to see in one day and I'd rather see one thing in depth than 3 things briefly. Livorno - we did the "Pisa and Wine Tasting" tour and loved it. The morning was a little rough as it was pouring when we went to Pisa. Our guide made the best of it and we got to see the Field of Miracles and the famous tower and take the typical silly pictures. Afterwards, we went to a vineyard in Tuscany and had a brief tour followed by a lunch with lots of wine (I mean, lots of wine!). This was the best part of the trip. We sat at tables for 10 and by the second bottle we were best friends. There were 4 courses each with a wine pairing. Everything was family-style and you could have as many bottles as you could drink. Then there was the special reserve win poured (no bottles put out) and then the grappa....oh my, the grappa....be careful, is all I will say! We bought some wine to take home (6 euros each) and this stop was definitely a highlight of our trip. Villefrance - we did the "Highlights of Monaco and Monte Carlo" tour, like most of the ship. We had a scenic drive to Monaco where we saw the palace and the cathedral where Grace Kelly (and others, of course) are buried. The area we were in was very picturesque - seriously the cleanest town I've ever seen. We then took a short drive to Monte Carlo. It was somewhat disappointing as the Grand Casino wasn't open yet. There was a small slot area that was, so we tossed a few euros in for fun. Some of the area was not tourist-friendly (i.e. we were clearly out of place among the Bentleys and Rolls). The hotel there costs 8200 euros a night to give you an idea of their usual clientele. It was nice to have a glimpse into the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Another scenic drive back along the coastline and we were back at the port. This port was probably the prettiest, so save some space on your camera's memory card. Debarkation: We opted for the do-it-yourself method as our flight was at 11am and we were concerned about time. We filled out the form, but never received any confirmation and the captain (to my knowledge - maybe I missed it) didn't make an announcement for when the ship was cleared. Hubby and I walked around to make sure people were getting off before grabbing our luggage and heading off. There were no lines at all and we were in a taxi within minutes. NCL offers an airport bus for $25 per person, but the taxi is actually cheaper (25 euros - about $40 instead of $50) and we were tired of riding in buses at that point. Overall it was a great trip and I would go back in a second! Thanks to the Gem crew who were always friendly and provided great service! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We just got back from the cruise and still recovering from the time change. It is definitely worse returning from Europe than when you fly over for the cruise. In summary we had a great cruise and two day pre cruise stay in Barcelona. Now ... Read More
We just got back from the cruise and still recovering from the time change. It is definitely worse returning from Europe than when you fly over for the cruise. In summary we had a great cruise and two day pre cruise stay in Barcelona. Now for the details: We arrived on May 2nd flying in on Continental non-stop from Newark. Flight was great with good service but we did experience a ground delay due to congestion at Newark. All told we were about 45 minutes late arriving into Barcelona. We hopped on a free shuttle offered by Marriott and got to the hotel around 11:15 am. After checking in and using my points for the stay we talked to the concierge and got free transportation back to the airport to catch the airport express into town. We used this method the entire time and did not find any problems with it. We later found out that this one of hotels the NCL puts people in if they choose the pr/post cruise option with NCL. Nice hotel. We made it to Plaza de Catalunya in about thirty minutes. We strolled the Las Ramblas and took in all the sites and sounds. We found out the Burger Kings and McDonalds were good places to use facilities with no problems. We walked all the way through Las Ramblas and then on to Port Olympic. We ate at La Barca de Salmanca based on a recommendation here on the boards. We had the seafood paella and it was excellent. Cost was approx. 38 euros. We then took the metro and bus to get to the Tablao de Carmen to see the flamenco show. We enjoyed the show. We left the area and walked down the hill and happened on the fountain show at Montjuic. It was excellent. A big crowd was there to enjoy the show and it was beautiful. We then caught the transportation back to the hotel and slept in on Saturday morning. We went to the Sagrada Familia and the Bari Gothic area and had tapas on Saturday afternoon. We went back to the hotel early to get ready for the cruise the next day. We ate most of our breakfasts at Cagney's. Great perk! On the Civitavecchia port, Madea, our butler brought us breakfast. We attended three out of the six shows. With this being a very port intensive cruise we just did not have the energy to stay up until 11:00 to watch the shows during the Italy port stops. The Gem Shows were good. No more Jean Ryan shows. On Sunday we arranged transportation to the port through the concierge at the hotel for 10 euro per person. It took about 35 minutes to get to the port and I got real excited when I saw the Gem waiting for us. We got to the terminal at 11:35 and checked in, met Claudio our concierge, and walked on to the Gem at 11:45 am. He said our cabin was not ready but I went by room 9670 the AE suite and it was ready for occupancy. The room was excellent and the view from the aft is great. I now know why everyone falls in love with these aft cabins. We met our room stewards and proceeded to the Grand Pacific for our first meal on board. We later found out we could have gone to Cagney's but we did enjoy the Grand Pacific. The muster drill took place at 5:00 pm and we went to dinner at 7:30 pm at Magenta for another great meal. Throughout the week the menu changed and outside of a couple items, we thought the food was better than our trip on the Pearl last year. The next day was our only sea day and it was glorious. The seas were the smoothest I have ever been on. We went bowling that day and I got my high score because the ship was so steady. I also set up a meet and greet that was better attended by the NCL staff then by cruise critics. There were 7 of us and 9 NCL people that include the captain. Julian Brackenbury was the hotel director and answered a few of our questions. He told us that Freestyle 2.0 would be fully implemented on 5/18. Later on during the week I could see the room steward loading up the new bedding in the rooms. The new room service menus were not out yet. I also asked Julian about the new shows on the Jade and if they would be coming to the Gem also. He would not confirm this but it looks like NCL is testing the new format of shows like Tony and Tina's Wedding on the Jade in preparation for the new F3 concept. We talked about the logistics of 4000 people eating after returning from long shore excursions in the Med. It will be interesting to see the reviews from the Jade this summer. We could not get any more information about the F3 ships from the crew. Julian (Hotel Director) was excellent and available throughout the cruise. The Gem is toned down a little bit from the Pearl. We definitely liked the Gem color scheme over the Pearl. The afternoon I arranged for our butler to bring in the goodies for an afternoon tea that my wife and I enjoyed looking out over our aft balcony. All of the crew we came in contact with was pleasant and smiling. Now for the ports. We did the scenic Malta trip with NCL. The island is very dry but has some scenic areas to the south and west. We stopped by a fishing village for some shopping and Kodak moments. The town of Valletta is completely walled off and looks like a fortress. A good amount of history was given to us by the tour guide. In Naples we did the NCL tour that took us to Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri. A full day to say the least. We loved all of the places. We had lunch in Sorrento and enjoyed the Cannelloni as the first plate but was surprised on the second plate looking more like a Thanksgiving dinner. What is up with that? It did not ruin our day though as the scenery was awesome. The next day we did Rome on our Own through NCL. The tour guide gave us a map and good in sight on getting around the town. We probably walked around 4 miles that day. I used Rick Steve's book for sight seeing as well as finding a restaurant the served an excellent pizza in the Pantheon area. In Livorno we did the Florence on your Own tour. Again the tour guide gave us maps and good info to get around town. I arranged tickets for the Accademia through TicketItaly. That worked out really well for us. In Villefranche we did the Nice and Eze tour again with NCL. Because the Grand Prix of Monaco is coming up next week there were a lot of fancy cars to look at. The view from Eze is great. The next day was a sad day as we had to disembark from the Gem. By far this was our best cruise. We enjoyed the ship, crew, and ports. We had priority tags for our luggage that Claudio provided for us and was off the ship at 7:20, in a cab at 7:30, and at the airport at 8:00 am. We took a taxi with another person and it cost 32 euro for a minivan for the three of us. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Our Background: A group of 5 consisting of my mother (50's), my boyfriend and myself (late 20's) and my brother and sister who are in their early 20's. None of us have ever cruised before but we all travel 3 or 4 times a ... Read More
Our Background: A group of 5 consisting of my mother (50's), my boyfriend and myself (late 20's) and my brother and sister who are in their early 20's. None of us have ever cruised before but we all travel 3 or 4 times a year visiting mainly warm destinations (and escaping the cold Canadian winters). Pre-cruise: Our cruise departed Barcelona on May 11th and we didn't want to worry about flight delays so we left Calgary on May 9th. We flew with British Airways from Calgary to Heathrow and then flew to Barcelona with Iberia. We didn't arrive at our hotel until 11pm May 10th due to some flight delays and lost luggage. We stayed at the Olivia Plaza hotel in Placa Catalunya at both the beginning and end of our trip. This hotel was very modern, clean and comfortable and had the best possible location for heading out to the lively Las Ramblas area. We stayed out exploring and visiting restaurants until 2am that night. We didn't have to be onboard until the late afternoon on May 11th, so we woke up early and headed to the Las Ramblas. We had some of the best pizza we have ever eaten at a restaurant called Nuria at the tip of Las Ramblas. We really enjoyed the markets and cafes and were sad to have to head over to the ship (but still excited of course!). Embarkation: When we arrived at the port we were shocked at the size of the Gem. Never having been on a cruise before, we knew the ship would be large, but were still overwhelmed at how big she was. We dropped out bags off with the porters/bellboys around 2:30 or 3:00 and then went to look for the Garden Villa line to check in. At this point, the regular check in lines did not look to be that long either. I had some read some stories about 2 or 3 hour waits in line, but this did not seem to be the case. The Garden Villa and Owner Suite line was at the end of the terminal and we were the last of these guests to arrive, so had no wait. The check in took all of 5 minutes before we were whisked to the "VIP lounge" to meet our concierge, Claudio, and to receive our keys. Claudio very quickly made us feel comfortable and introduced us to Putu, our amazingly competent butler. After a 10 minute introduction to the GV perks by Claudio, Putu took us on a quick tour of the Gem's common areas (where all guests received a glass or two of sparkling wine) and then we finally reached our suite. The Garden Villa was exactly what I thought it would be, and was the perfect suite to accommodate a family of 5. The bedrooms were all large enough for their minimal use (we barely slept at all this trip), and the living room, dining room, balconies and sundecks were fantastic. The private hot tub was great, and definitely well used. We don't typically use public pools and hot tubs, so this was a great perk for us. The suite has both an indoor and outdoor dining area (which we used for almost every meal). When we arrived there were a couple of bottles of Champagne chilling on ice, bottles of still and mineral water, and every type of soda. When we asked Putu about our complimentary 6 bottles of liquor, he informed us that this service had been cancelled and only those guests who inquired about it would be receiving this perk, so I am glad I asked. The bottles were in our room by the next morning. I had asked the ship coordinator previously for a blender to be in our room (to make some fun drinks) and it was also there when we arrived. About an hour after arriving on the ship, Claudio tracked down my Aunt and cousin who were also travelling with us, but staying in an outside cabin on a lower floor. They spent most of their time in our room unless they were sleeping. We went and looked at their room and it was TINY. I would have been claustrophobic in a room that small, and don't know if I would be able to cruise in such a small room. That night we were all a little tired and jet lagged, so we had Putu bring us dinner from Cagney's and Le Bistro. The ability to order dinner from any restaurant (and more than 1 at a time) was the best perk of the GV. With 5 (and many times 7) people, we often did not all want the same type of food, and this way there was no fighting. As well, with such a port intensive cruise, it was nice to be able to stay in the room in casual clothes (or even pj's) and enjoy a nice meal. That night we explored the ship a little bit, but spent most of the evening chatting around the dining table in our room. BF and I woke up at around 3 am confused, jet lagged and hungry, so we ventured over to Blue Lagoon for a late night snack. Day 2: This was our only Day at Sea and the weather (from what I can remember in my completely jet lagged state) was miserable, but we were able to keep ourselves entertained with some onboard activities. We didn't feel like eating the Cagney's breakfast that morning, so we ran down to the buffet to grab some croissants and yoghurt and brought it up to the Courtyard Pool area to eat it there. This was an area that my BF and I used alot on the trip. Due to the rainy weather we had, they kept the glass roof closed and the room was nice and warm and a great place to wind down in the afternoon with a book or eat a quiet breakfast. We all napped a bit in the afternoon and then went to Blue Lagoon for lunch. That evening we ate dinner at Tequila which is the tex mex restaurant, and one of the few free "specialty" restaurants on the ship. We actually enjoyed the food, as we don't have too many Tex-Mex restaurants in Calgary and do not eat it often. The spring rolls were great (we ordered them as appies to our room a few other nights) and I really thought the presentation of the Il Popo I ordered was fantastic. We were in too much of a rush to eat dessert as we were on our way to the show, so the waiter had 4 orders of Churros and 3 orders of the Chocolate cream puffs sent up to the room at 11:30 that night. The show that evening was dancing and singing from around the world. It was not that great, I actually fell asleep, and after that we didn't see any more of the shows on the ship. Day 3: Valetta, Malta. I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this port. We did not do an excursion, instead picked up the bus right at the port for I believe 1 Euro each (round trip). The bus took us directly to the city centre. The buildings in Malta were all very beautiful and varied. The 80ish year old gentleman driving our bus was quite a character and told us some the history of the country on our way, which was a charming addition to our ride. There are many shops, cafe's and restaurants lining a cobblestone main street going down the centre of Valetta. We shopped and explored for a few hours, grabbed some lunch at an outdoor cafe and ate some gelato (real gelato is a treat that is hard to find in our part of Canada so we indulged almost every day). The weather was beautiful and hot this day so we went back to ship at around 1:30 and spent the rest of the day enjoying girly $12.00 drinks on the private sundeck for Courtyard and GV guests. We had Putu bring us wings from Blue Lagoon around 3:30 for sailaway. That evening BF and I had a romantic dinner for 2 at Le Bistro, and had the best dinner of the entire cruise. I had the short ribs, goat cheese tart, and chocolate fondue. He had some sort of sea food appie, chicken and creme brulee. We drank a couple bottles of wine with dinner (which made for a nice hangover in Sorrento the next day). The service in Le Bistro that evening was absolutely perfect. Afterwards we went to the Spinnaker which was packed. We couldn't find a table so went to Bliss afterwards, which was dead. We had a couple of drinks and then went back to the room and went to bed. Day 4-Sorrento and Pompeii. We had an excursion set up for this day and had to be in the theatre by 8:30. Thanks to some late sleeping family members, we almost missed the bus, but made it just in time. We took the Flavors of Sorrento and Pompeii tour. Sorrento seemed quite small, and an hour of free time was enough to visit the shops here. Afterwards we were taken for lunch at an organic lemon and olive farm. The food was not great, but it was a great experience anyways. By the time we arrived at Pompeii we were a little tired and the weather was a bit drizzly. I would have rather explored on our own as we had quite a few slow-movers in the group and only were able to visit a few sites. On the way back to ship we had to stop at a Cameo factory, which is apparently a rule for all tour busses in the area. We waited on the bus as we were just wanting to get back to the ship by this point. We all took naps when we got back on the ship and then ordered dinner from the main dining room, Tequila and I believe Cagney's. This was the only night we ate food from the main dining room (Duck and Beef Wellington), the rest of the time the menus did not appeal to us. The food was great and we enjoyed sitting around the TV watching a movie while we ate (we were completely exhausted). Day 5- Rome. We did the Rome on your Own tour. Again we had to be up early for the bus, and this was starting to feel more like a school trip then a vacation. Putu had breakfast waiting for us in our room by 7, which was fantastic. The waffles and eggs benedict seemed to be popular, but I stuck with croissants and yoghurt. We were all a little grumpy and tired on the bus and were hoping to sleep for the hour plus drive, but our "tour guide" (we did the Rome on your Own Tour and did not expect a guide) really liked to hear herself talk and spoke the ENTIRE drive. Most of what she said was useless, and I never want to hear the word "Civitavecchia" again, she said it ever 10 seconds! (This was repeated for the drive home) Rome was great to see, but I would not go back again. It is so busy with tourists I felt like I was in Disneyland at times, which ruined it a bit. I think we also went to Rome with too high expectations, never a good idea on vacation. At 8:30 that night 5 of us went to LeBistro again, but this experience was the complete opposite from the night my BF and I went. 2 hours into dinner we still had only received our appetizers and half our group left (it was 10:30) without even receiving their mains. We had all ordered the short rib and filet cooked rare, they all arrived more than well done. Disappointing, but this can happen at home too. Just more upsetting when you only have a few nights left. We complained (which we hate doing) and had the meal charges removed. Day 6 Villefrance/Nice-Sea Sickness finally hit me. I had been lucky for most of the trip, but being prone to motion sickness, I couldn't escape it the whole trip. I slept for the day and did not get off the ship. I heard that this port was fantastic from the rest of my family and am going to try and get back there. Putu served BF and I (he stayed to keep my company) breakfast in the courtyard, which I think ended up being our favorite spot on the ship. For lunch we tried the buffet, but again we couldn't find anything that we liked. We couldn't eat the Cagney's lunch that day (due to my food allergies to shellfish/nuts) so we again went to Blue Lagoon. The food was consistent with what it had been, but we were starting to get sick of it by the end of the cruise (although I am craving their hot wings right now). That evening the 7 of us had dinner at Cagney's compliments of the HD (I believe). Our meals were all wonderful (I had the Veal Chop). The desserts were only ok, Le Bistro's desserts are far better....mmmm fondue. We were using the VIP disembarkation the next morning so we organized our bags after dinner. Half of us had our bags ready to go with the porter that night and sent them off, while the rest didn't get them packed until 9 the next morning. Day 7-Back in Barcelona. Putu brought us our final breakfast that morning, which was perfect as usual. We were all sad to leave, and I think my mother seriously tried to get Putu to come home with us. Such tough jobs the NCL staff have, 10 months straight without a day off seems impossible to me. They are all such hardwokers. At 9:45 the porters brought down our luggage and we met Claudio at the gangway. He brought us to where 2 hired vans were waiting to bring us to our hotel. This way of disembarking seems to be one of the best perks we received (apart from Putu). The whole morning seemed quite chaotic for the rest of the passengers. We spent another couple days in Barcelona which were fantastic, and then suffered through 18 hours of travelling back to Calgary. All in all, it was a great vacation, and the Garden Villa was definitely worth it for us. I am not sure that cruising is my favorite way to vacation, but I think I will try it again, maybe next time with an itinerary that is more relaxing and less port-intensive than Europe. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
It's a fact - you can't please all of the people of the time. However in my opinion Norwegian, at least on the two NCL cruises we have been on, really tries and does a good job. This is a long review Background: My wife and I are ... Read More
It's a fact - you can't please all of the people of the time. However in my opinion Norwegian, at least on the two NCL cruises we have been on, really tries and does a good job. This is a long review Background: My wife and I are average age 48, with maybe just a middle class income. We have two kids, a mortgage, two car payments etc. We have to be careful with money (not cheap, but frugal) We have both traveled a great deal, but this was my first trip to Spain and Italy. We had talked about Italy for our 10th anniversary, so when it arrived this spring, and the brand new Gem was in the Med, it was too good to pass up. We were on the sister ship Pearl last year in Alaska and had a wonderful time, so we knew at least we'd like the layout of the Gem We both like good food (in very moderate portions), and we also love to drink lots of beer and wine when on vacation. So this will also be a handy review for those wanting to know what's what in the bars! In addition when visiting new towns we are power walkers and can hoof it anywhere. Day 1 - Thursday Flew from Tampa to JFK, and then onto Spain. This was on American Airlines as they have now a non stop from JFK to Barcelona. Crew was nice, but plane right out of the Flintstones. Day 2 - Friday Arrived about 8.30 am at the Barcelona airport. It's relatively new, or recently remodeled. It was a breeze getting the luggage and going through customs. The taxi stand was very well run, and we got a taxi right away to the hotel. Cost 30 euros. (HINT: Very few cabbies spoke English, so if your Spanish is poor, have the hotel address on a piece of paper ready to give to the driver). We stayed at the Hotel Gallery. On the map it looks north of "what's happening", but in reality if you want to see Gaudi architecture then the hotel is well located. It's also right next to Metro station. Staff very pleasant and locally nice non crowded tapas bars and cafes. There is a small 24 hour shop two blocks west on same street for bread, cheese, cheap bottles of beer and wine. It had very good reviews on Tripadvisor, and we both thought it was a good well priced hotel. You could walk from there to the water in 30 minutes. Meet a number of people who stayed on Las Ramblas and it was just too crowed for them. Amazingly the room was ready at 9.30 am when we arrived, so we dropped off the luggage, showered and headed off south to see that part of town. We saw all the major sights in that area, and also had a nice tapas lunch down by the water, and got back to the hotel about 6pm. I had gotten a list of local English style pubs which were near the hotel, so we went out that evening to explore. Got back to hotel about 9pm after stopping to buy crusty bread, cheese and salami, and a bottle of local wine and had a late snack in the hotel room. Watched on the TV, believe it or not, the Poseidon Adventure in Spanish. Day 3 - Saturday Lots of nice cafes for coffee and bread, rolls etc for breakfast. Then headed east for the Gaudi cathedral, followed by north to the Gaudi museum and park (long but pleasant walk). Took lots of small streets on way back to see houses and mom and pop shops. Had dinner at a great but not expensive tapas bar two blocks south . Stopped for bottle of vino (four euros and quite nice). Went back now very exhausted to hotel. Unfortunately Titanic was not on the TV. Barcelona is a great city. I would highly recommend two days here before you get on the ship (HINT: Europe is Expensive!! The exchange rate stinks, and you could easily blow a lot of money. Look in your guide books for cheap places to eat. There are lots of them. Day 4 - Onboard! Went for a very nice Sunday coffee and pastries, followed by a leisurely stroll. (Hint: May was a good time to go. Warm, but not hot and not jammed with summer tourists) Took a taxi from the hotel to the dock. Again had address ready for the non English speaking driver. There are lots of piers and ship there. Cost 14 euro. The Gem was there and she is really good looking. Got to the NCL pier at 12 noon. There are porters right next to the taxi drop off that takes your bags, so you don't have to haul them yourselves or walk with them thru the x-ray. Very nice! There were already a lot of people there, but NCL had it quite well organized. They scan your hand luggage, then off to get your boarding cards. (HINT: I asked about Latitudes line when I got there but the agent didn't understand me. It's at the end of the check in area and you'd save some time checking in if you are a Latitudes member.) All in all we were on board in 30 minutes. New touch - glass of actually quite nice bubbly when you come aboard! We went to check out the Atrium and strolled around to see what the differences were between the Pearl and Gem. Basic same layout, but Gem had even wilder color carpets than the Pearl, which we liked and thought was fun. We then headed to deck 13 for a drink at our secret bar. (HINT: The Star Bar next to Cagney's is a very under utilized bar, hence its great. Classy leather chairs and cool couches and really nice views with Frank Sinatra music playing all the time. Just a great atmosphere for relaxing) About 1.30 we went for lunch at the Great Outdoors and the end of the ship. Found a seat outside and had a very nice lunch looking at the hills around the town. At 2pm they announced that the rooms were ready so we went down. We had booked an inside cabin, which is perfect for us. We had booked room # 10103, which is exactly the same room we had on the Pearl! The 10th deck is well located. Walk down or up two flights to almost anything, and you don't have to wait for the elevators. The inside cabin is small but it has plenty of space for two people who don't spend a lot of time in there anywhere. It's very well laid out, but unless you are newly weds get the beds separated as it makes for easier movement in the cabin. (HINT: Read the CC beards before you go. You'll learn all sorts of good ideas. I had read about the Honeymoon/ Anniversary packet and booked it without telling the wife. Hence there was a bottle of sparkling wine and champagne classes ready in the room when we went in. Believe me gents it's worth it! In addition you get a free dinner at Le Bistro, which is our favorite, plus a free bottle of house wine with dinner. Also a free champagne, cake, and picture party later. Its great value for money. Just book at least two weeks before you sail) The sail away party was lots of fun, and we left at 7pm and headed out to sea. That night we ate at Tequilas. We never managed to eat there on the Pearl, so we were curious and it turned out to be excellent. I don't know, maybe the vacation gods smile on us when we are on board but the service contrary to a lot of reviews was fantastic. Every dish showed up very quickly, and to be honest every night we had to tell the waiters to slow down as we were in no rush. Day 5 - Sea Day One good thing about the inside cabins - it pitch black and cool and you could sleep all day if you wanted. Had a leisurely breakfast, then went to the 11am CC Meet and Greet (thanks again Sapsucker for organizing this!) Not many CC'ers here, but the crew well attended with even the Captain being there! Their message in a nutshell was if you don't ask or tell, how can they help you? They really do not want to hear about complaints on day 7 if something could have been done on day 2. So don't be shy to them. They gave us the "key "phone numbers if we had problems. I highly recommend that you go to the Meet and Greet. After that went up to deck 12 and got some nice deck chairs and a bucket of beer. (HINT: best beer deals are the 700ml can of Fosters for $6 and two glasses, or the pool deckside bucket of beer where you buy five 16oz cans and get number six free for about $25. If you can't finish them take them back to the cabin and put them in the fridge). At 4pm I went to the Martini tasting which I liked very much. Four martinis (small ones thank goodness) and good stories from the bar tender. Hint to NCL. Please don't have all the party ideas at 4pm. You have the martini tasting, the beer tasting, the margarita tasting, the cake and champagne tasting, all at 4pm!! Spread it out as there were a number of conflicts. The Martini tasting overran so the wife went to the Latitudes party which she really enjoyed, to the point where she purchased the $250 OBC deal. Here if you buy a $250 "down payment" towards your next NCL cruise, they take $100 off your current room bill. Good job I had had the martinis! Still a great deal and we will use it next year. That night we had the anniversary dinner at La Bistro. It was just excellent. We dressed up, and did almost every one that night and it was a wonderful atmosphere. All in all a very pleasant sea day. Day 6 - Valetta, Malta Don't rush out of bed for this port. If you haven't been to Europe before, and thought this would be reflective of the other stops, you might be concerned. We got off at 9am to wonder around Valetta (quite a steep walk but not bad - there in ten minutes). Sorry but it's just not a nice place. We walked to every site listed on the cruise critic and ones I had downloaded, and were done by 10.45. The only highlight was that I had found on the internet an English style pub called "Ollie's Last Inn" (also know as The Pub). This very nice small pub was a few years ago the bar where the English actor Oliver Reed had a bender after the filming of the movie Gladiator, and died. So they actually changed the name of the place after him. We had two nice beers there and a good chat with the landlord, and were still on board by noon. Other CC'ers took an excursion around the island and enjoyed that, so either stay on board and relax or catch and island tour. Back on board in time for the Austrian Bavarian lunch and Oompah band on the Great Outdoors. Very good. That night we had signed up for the Murder Mystery. Dinner was in the Grand pacific with your fellow potential criminals (groups of 6). We had done this on the Pearl, and it's a blast. I highly recommend it. Dinner itself was fine. The grand Pacific is a stately dining room. We went to the late show of Second City comedy which was quite funny, and then afterwards to the Newlywed show which was a hoot. Day 7 - Naples Woke up to the dreaded sewage small in the bathroom. Had that on the last Carnival cruise, but didn't think it would happen on a brand new ship. However I left a note for the room steward (great guy) and when we got back from the excursion it was gone and never reoccurred. We took an NCL excursion called "Flavors of Sorrento and Pompeii". Guide very good and nice tour with plenty of time in both places. In the morning you have a really scenic drive past Mount Vesuvius, and on to Sorrento. This place is nice but quite touristy. Had lunch at a farm and we were expecting the hard sell to buy stuff, but as it turned out they gave us a interesting show on making Mozzarella cheese and the lunch was perfect, with big jugs of wine on every table, and afterward tastings of lemoncello. Then onto Pompeii was was fascinating. Back to the ship by 6pm. Had a nice cigar in the Cigar bar. It's another "secret" room that nobody goes to but it's a nice quiet place to have a drink and smoke a cigar. Ate at Tequilas and again good service and good food. Went that night to the 9.30 "Colorz" show at the Stardust. Lots of fun, and very well done. Day 8 - Rome Booked the "Eternal Rome and the Colosseum" tour via NCL, so up at 6.30 for departure at 7am. (Hint: The price of excursions booked on ship are $20 to $30 more than if you pre book them) The tour was excellent, with a very nice lunch which included lots of wine. Not too much walking involved. Rome is a big town so it would be very difficult to see a lot in the approximate 5 hours you have there. This tour was a good introduction. St Peters Basilica was breathtaking. Had dinner that night at La Cucina. We split each of all six courses which was a lot of fun. The seafood dishes are quite nice. The service was fantastic. Went to the Bliss lounge to see the Shadow dancers but the show never occurred. The Bliss had four bowling lanes, and late at night a fun place to hangout as all the gorgeous girls from the Gem dance cast arrive to party. Day 9 - Florence Up early again and on the bus to Florence by 8am. Takes about 90 minutes to get there, but pretty countryside. We did the "Florence on your Own", so the coach dropped us off and the tour guide walked us into town to a specific "drop off and pick up point". I had already planned our walking tour, and believe me you can see (from the outside) all the major spots in town if you walk quickly (and we still had time for a beer in the Fiddlers pub and a carafe of wine in a little pizza place near the Ponte Vecchio. You just need a good map and be have a plan. The weather was again great and it's a very pretty town. The Duomo is jammed in the morning, but the queue drops to a trickle by 2ish. Then coach back to boat, with most people falling asleep. Had dinner that night in Magenta. Got a window seat and had a very nice dinner. Although it wasn't on the menu I asked for a steak and got a pretty good one. If they can get you anything they will. You just have to ask. Went to the 9.30 "Get down tonight" show. Very well done. Its odd though as 90% of the entertainment is geared for Americans, but they made up only 35%of the total number of passengers. Day 10 - Villefranche Took the tender into the town for a wonder round. As its turns out Villefranche is a beautiful little town built into the cliffs. We stumbled into a wedding at the fort and a baptism in the little church. Really nice. It will take you say two to three ours tops to wonder around. Then stop for a wine or beer on the front to see the harbor and watch the boats go by. Back to the ship via well organized tenders, and they had a bountiful poolside BBQ going. So we got deck chairs and a bucket of beer, and enjoyed the sail away party. Later we had a cigar and a bottle of wine and listed to the Furioso Strings, a brilliant group playing violins and cello. We were still so full from the BBQ we skipped dinner. We went to the Star bar for one last farewell drink, then back to the cabin to sadly pack and put out the bags Day 11 - Disembarkation The Gem was about an hour late getting docked, but we were up early and had a nice breakfast at the Great Outdoors. We had booked the NCL bus to the airport ($25 a head), which was very well organized. I think there were snags before, so NCL had representatives all over the place to make sure it went smoothly. In hindsight I'd just catch a cab, as early on Sunday morning there is no traffic and plenty of taxis at the port. Got to the airport to find the American Airways plane for JFK had never shown up, and our flight was cancelled. But that's a whole other story. The airport is not organized, so I would advise getting there early as there are massive queues all over. Summary I can honestly say we did not have one major problem or complaint. The restaurants were well run, and service was almost too fast in them. (There were no ½ price nights for the specialty restaurants on our cruise, and still they were packed every night. Sorry to you non stop complainers, but I think it's fantastic you have the choice of five free restaurants (two large, two small , plus the buffet) and if you want to eat at a small venue you pay really only a few dollars. You are on vacation, you do have a choice, it's not a lot of money and believe me a drop in the bucket when you get your final bill). The NCL excursions were very well organized with great local guides. The entertainment was super; the bars were plentiful with lots of musicians playing at them. I would highly recommend this cruise, and next years it's the Eastern Med for us. We already have $250 towards it! Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We highly recommend the Gem's Western Med cruise. We were in an inside cabin on the 5th deck and got a great deal for less than $500 apiece. Because of that we were able to do shore excursions, eat at the specialty restaurants and go ... Read More
We highly recommend the Gem's Western Med cruise. We were in an inside cabin on the 5th deck and got a great deal for less than $500 apiece. Because of that we were able to do shore excursions, eat at the specialty restaurants and go to the spa. THE SHIP The decor is colorful and fun, befitting of the ship's name. We found it to be clean and gleaming new, with plenty of seating pretty much anywhere you wanted to go, and enough loud and quiet hangouts to accommodate many different types of vacationers and moods. THE DRINKS/FOOD The garden cafe quickly became our favorite food establishment. Because we were only two, it was always easy to get a table. Groups of more than four might have problems during peak hours. The buffet was elaborate two different types of eggs benedict each morning! Unfortunately we didn't discover this until the second day. We ate at the sushi bar and the french restaurant as well, although we could probably have done without. Having been to very nice french restaurants in france, it just wasn't worth it for me. The food was mediocre. Sushi bar was good too fresh but not fancy. The specialty restaurants are good if you're not expecting higher than what would probably correspond to a 20-21 on Zagat. Resist the urge to tip extra in those places. I was tipping way too much in the beginning. And it added up fast. As for the drinks, we had many. For breakfast, bloody marys. For lunch, pina coladas. This can become expensive. Especially because the staff is so attentive that they encourage those extra orders. If I had it to do over, I might sneak my own alcohol on the ship and try to cut down on the expense. SHORE EXCURSIONS/PORTS Malta- We didn't do a tour and instead walked around the quaint city of Valetta on our own. It was very cute sort of a wannabe Venice, fortified and with a greater stench. NAPLES - I wanted my sister to see the Amalfi Coast, so we booked the Amalfi bus tour through NCL. It was very impressive. Sorrento was the first stop. Because we covered so much ground, we only stayed for about an hour, and the time flew by. Then on to the scenic coastal drive, which, because of steep drops and narrow roads, is not for the faint of heart. We went to Sofia Loren's restaurant, which was beautiful. The food would probably be impressive for someone who's never been to Italy before and eaten authentic food. If you have, don't get your hopes up for the restaurants on the tours. They're feeding a group, so it's no frills. We stopped in Amalfi for over an hour, which was a pleasant surprise. FLORENCE - We hired our own private tourguide from here: http://www.viaggidambra.com/uk/index.html I had used them before so I knew they'd be great. Azzurra took us to two wineries, the small town of Greve, and then dropped us in Florence for a couple hours - a real whirlwind tour of Tuscany. I highly recommend this tour service to anyone going to Livorno or in the vicinity. ROME - Unfortunately, we did the Rome and the Vatican tour. I say unfortunately because we spent the entire day in the Vatican, not Rome. The tour was filled with stragglers who kept getting lost and people who had difficulty walking and had no business being on such a tour. And our tourguide insisted on waiting for these people, which slowed down the whole day and left us with no time to see Rome, which was a huge disappointment for my sister, who had never been. Many people on the tour complained afterward, and I ended up getting $60 off the price. I wouldn't recommend this tour unless you want to focus on the Vatican. Even without the delays it was just too Vatican focused. We did not just the basilica, but also the museum and sistine chapel. Just way too much crammed into so little time. VILLEFRANCHE/NICE - We actually slept somewhat late on this day and were sort of blase about taking the train from Villefranche to Nice. But we were so glad we did! Nice was amazing. Definitely our favorite port. It was like Amalfi with Paris behind it. I don't know how else to explain it. Just make sure you go. If I could do it over again, I would have been the first one off the ship that day. SPA - On our sea day, we had a side-by-side pedicure, which was great. OTHER STUFF There are photographers all over the ship taking pictures of you, which is really convenient. But those prices were ridiculous. The shows in the stardust theatre were pretty cheesy. We liked the improv show and the karaoke much better. We had the lowest level cabin but thought it was very efficiently arranged. We didn't see any need to upgrade for a space we weren't going to spend a ton of time in. Plus, the TV said our names, a nice personal touch. Lastly, the staff were fantastic. Very friendly and so well-mannered. They definitely put the cruise over the top as far as quality. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Background We are a couple in our early 30's from Florida, with no children and our stateroom was a mini suite. We have only taken one previous cruise and that was on the Carnival Legend Western Caribbean itinerary. Flight over and ... Read More
Background We are a couple in our early 30's from Florida, with no children and our stateroom was a mini suite. We have only taken one previous cruise and that was on the Carnival Legend Western Caribbean itinerary. Flight over and embarkation We flew in the day of the cruise using US Airways Orlando to Barcelona through Philadelphia. No problems at all with our flights, every flight was on time and our bags made it through Philly. All flight attendants and gate agents were friendly. Upon arriving in Barcelona getting through customs and immigration was a breeze, we grabbed our bags found the first taxi and managed to be some of the first people at the port arriving around 9AM. It was raining in Barcelona so we did not attempt to do any sightseeing. At the port we happened to meet the Concierge for the Gem, Claudio Shulze while we were trying to check our bags, what a nice guy! We talked to him for a few minutes before it got busy and later before we boarded the ship he offered to make reservations for us a Teppanyaki for whichever seating we liked. Those of you traveling in rooms with concierge should not be disappointed with Claudio! We ran into him multiple times over the course of the trip and he was always so friendly. The embarkation process was easy, the only problem is that we were so early we had to wait for hours to board the ship and we were extremely tired from our long flight. Upon boarding the ship, a staff member was waiting to show us to wherever we desired to go, we told him we would like to eat lunch at the Grand Pacific and he promptly escorted us there, asked for a table for us and assisted us to our table! A very nice touch I thought. We were seated at a table by the window and had a very nice and relaxing lunch. I had the Tilapia and my husband had the BBQ ribs, the fish was excellent and the ribs were good but a little tough. After this we found a comfortable and quiet place to sit and wait on the announcement that the rooms were ready. First impressions of the ship Overall first impression of the ship was that it was sparkling new and very clean, not a speck of dust anywhere, we even saw the room stewards dusting the baseboards in the hallway. All of the crew was very friendly and accommodating. Our mini suite was AFT 11632; it was very nice and ample storage room. We had fresh flowers in the entryway, the bathrobes and the fruit bowl. We also received the fresh baked cookies the last night. The fruit bowl was the only inconsistent service we received, it didn't arrive until late the second day and was only replenished once. Our room stewards were Mario and (I think) Amani. We had a towel animal every night, including the last night, which they didn't do on Carnival. The only noise issues due to location were on days in port when you could hear a loud thumping noise. We also had some very rude neighbors across and down the hall who let their children run and scream in the hallways at all hours for the entire cruise. The only issues that we had for the entire cruise were these people and other rude Passengers in the buffet so we just avoided that area at peak times if we could and all was good. We did not use the pool or see any shows, it was too cold and rainy for most of the trip for us Floridians to use the pool and we just don't enjoy theatrical shows. THE FOOD The food was very good in my opinion and considerably better than Carnival. We enjoyed the Freestyle dining and ate at most of the specialty restaurants. I want to address the complaints by some regarding "nickel and diming" We were given a $100.00 onboard credit when we booked and it covered almost all of our specialty dining and we only ate in one of the main dining rooms 1 night. We feel that the decent price we paid for the cruise justified some splurging on the ship as well. Teppanyaki The first night we dined at Teppanyaki (thanks to Claudio) and it was fantastic! I wanted lobster but wanted filet with it instead on the calamari and scallops, they were very accommodating of my request. The steaks, chicken and seafood brought out to be cooked all looked very fresh and our dinner was excellent. We dined with a very nice group from San Diego and they had each received the coupon booklets from NCL (we didn't) and they gave us one of their buy one get one free vouchers. Blue Lagoon Later that evening we went to the Blue Lagoon for buffalo wings, my husband loved them even though they were not very hot he thought they tasted great. Because of this we visited the Blue Lagoon quite often, also trying the spinach artichoke dip, potato skins and a few of the desserts. It was all pretty good. The service was sometimes a little slow but we usually went in the evenings and were in no hurry anyway. Grand Pacific The second day we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific dining room with our cruise critic tour group. Breakfast was very good, I have to say the orange juice and coffee on NCL is much better than on Carnival. They had waffles with a Bananas foster type topping that were really good. The only thing that was only okay was the scrambled eggs but they weren't good on our Carnival cruise either. We ate breakfast every morning at Grand Pacific and it was always good and never very crowded. The Buffet Lunch on the second day was at the buffet and was the reason we only went there at off peak times or if there were no other options. I have to say this only because Americans have a bad reputation for being rude when they travel, but this cruise was primarily European and I witnessed rude behavior on or exceeding the level I witnessed on our primarily American cruise. I had a woman try to steal my table and when I wouldn't let her take it she sent her husband to try to bully me out of it! I told them both what I though about her. Anyway I think that no matter where you are from a lot of peoples attitudes about vacation are about putting themselves first at the expense of everyone around them. A lot of people that we talked to had bad experiences with the buffet and fellow passenger behavior there. My take on the problem (aside from peoples attitudes) is that the buffet area on this ship is rather small and all of the stations are crammed together on one side of the ship so everyone is herded into this small area, also there is nowhere near enough seating (this is where Carnival outshines NCL, the Carnival ships buffet was the entire width of the ship with the service stations spread out with adequate seating) We only ate here one other time (after returning from our Malta excursion) when it was too late to have lunch at grand Pacific. Once again found it to be a rather miserable experience. Tequilas On the second night we had dinner at Tequilas, which was NOT charging a service charge on this cruise. The fajitas were very good and we loved their chips and salsa as well as the margarita tartlets YUMMY! We had dinner here a second time with our group from Cruise Critic; I had the swordfish that time and found it to be bland. Service was good here. Cagney's Steakhouse On the third night we dined at Cagney's. The service was excellent and the food was very good. I had a very nice and properly cooked filet and my husband had the T-bone. We also tried the lobster bisque, crab cakes, bananas foster (flambEed in the dining room) and molten chocolate cake and everything was delicious. We were also presented with a cake for our anniversary; we were too full to eat it so it was delivered to our room by room service. It was really pretty good, yellow cake with whipped icing and a raspberry filling. La Cucina Had dinner here on the fifth night, they bring around a trolley of appetizers, serve an assortment of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and have an appetizer menu. Needless to say it would be hard to leave here hungry. We tried the fettuccini carbonara, lobster ravioli, chicken parmesan, chocolate torte and tiramisu. We enjoyed everything here and the service charge was only $10.00. Magenta We ate here on lobster night and I like that they serve split tails that are grilled, they were very good. I ordered two ? we also tried the spring rolls and honey crème brulee which were good as well. Service was good. Orchid Garden This was probably our least favorite specialty restaurant because the food was a little bland. We had the Szechwan braised beef, orange beef, dim sum and banana pancakes. The service was good here. The shops A warning about the quality of the NCL logo shirts and sweatshirts, one tee I purchased had a rip in it that I didn't notice until I got home so inspect those carefully prior to purchase (I am not complaining because they were only 10 dollars just giving a heads up). The sweatshirt I purchased however was 40 dollars, I spilled something on it so used my spray and wash stain treatment on it and ended up with a big discolored area. They are not very colorfast so be careful when cleaning them. The ports!!!!! Malta We booked the ships ancient temples excursion; it took us to 3 ancient temple sites as well as to a fishing village. We enjoyed our day here, especially the stop at the fishing village where we had a gelato and did some shopping at a local market. They had some very nice linens here and we purchased a tablecloth and placemats for a very reasonable price. After the excursion those of us that wanted to shop in Valetta were dropped off near the city gate. We just roamed around and did a little shopping, found the people in Malta to be friendly and they were all fluent in English. Naples Loved it! We had a private tour booked with some fellow cruise critic members. Our driver was Michael with Drive Amalfi. He was a lot of fun and very knowledgeable. We very much enjoyed our day with him. We drove up the Amalfi coast, had lunch at the Ristorante Pizzeria San Giovanni, it was located in a small hillside town and had gorgeous views. We all had pizza which was excellent and reasonably priced. We stopped in the town of Amalfi for some shopping, had the best gelato of the whole trip here! The gelateria is located right across from where the busses and vans drop you off, I must recommend the chocolate with chili pepper, almond, blood orange and Limon cello flavors. We also bought some of the beautiful locally made ceramics. We next drove to Pompeii and I have wanted to visit this place for a very long time. I was not disappointed! It is absolutely amazing to me how advanced the Romans were at 79 AD. Our Pompeii guide was Franco and he was the best, very knowledgeable! If you can book Franco by all means do. Would also book Drive Amalfi again without hesitation, Rome Loved it too! We had another private tour with our CC group. This one was with Stefano of Rome Cabs. He also comes very highly recommended. He was very professional, personable and knowledgeable. We would book a tour with him again, and have already talked about possibly going to Rome for a week and booking him for a few tours. We visited the Coliseum, forum, pantheon, trevi fountain, the Spanish steps and the Vatican. The Vatican was very crowded and hard to enjoy because of this. We are not Catholic so unless we return at a less busy time we would probably skip it on a return trip. Lunch in Rome was at L'Insalata Ricca; it was very good and very affordable. The white pizza was fantastic. Florence Was a good day but the weather was pretty bad (cold and rainy). Our tour was with Rome in Limo and our guide was Laura. She was very nice and knowledgeable. We just didn't have enough time here to see everything and because the Uffizi takes so long to see we had to skip it. We started the day by stopping at Pisa to see the leaning tower. We then headed to Florence and stopped along the way at The Olivicoltori Toscani associati Factory store for wine and olive oil and got a really good deal on some very nice Tuscan Olive Oil. I believe it was 6.50 euro for a large bottle. We visited a church that had beautiful views of Florence as well as the Michelangelo Square, the academia and Santa Croce Square. We had lunch at Boccadama at Santa Croce; the food here was good and reasonably priced. We had time to do some shopping in Florence as well. Villefranche Sur Mer We did this port on our own. What a beautiful town Villefranche is, we got off of the boat early and kind of roamed around. We found the market that they have on Saturdays and bought some wonderful herbs de provence from a very nice lady who also spoke fluent English (which we found to be very rare here). If you go to the market you should stop at her stall, it faces the street and is quite large selling herbs and other food items. We had pastries from the G. Galli Boulangerie Patisserie that was located beside the market, you have never seen such beautiful pastries in your life and they tasted wonderful. The folks in there spoke no English but were friendly and we managed to get what we wanted. After this we took the train over to Nice and happened to meet fellow CC member Missty and her family. I have to mention I had been looking for her the whole cruise because she missed the meet and greet. It was quite funny meeting her in Villefranche and we enjoyed our time in Nice with her group. Her husband is an excellent navigator and he guided us through town and to the beach. There was a market located a block off of the beach and we stopped there and bought some French soaps, the lady at this stall also spoke English. We returned to Villefranche and went our own separate ways. For lunch we had burgers and fries at L'escale on Rue DE L'Eglise. I just had to have some FRENCH fries. The burgers were awesome, I had a goat cheese burger and highly recommend it. The waitress here was very nice but spoke no English so ordering was an adventure, it all worked out and was worth it. Our time on the French Riviera was too short and after lunch we had to get in a very long line to tender back to the ship. One note, all of the restaurants that are directly on the water are VERY expensive, if you walk down some of the side streets you will find plenty of cafes with more reasonable prices. Debarkation and trip home Very smooth, we had breakfast at the buffet but it wasn't extremely busy. We then walked off the ship at 7:30AM, no big lines or anything. Met Pam and Steve, with whom we were sharing a cab and had no trouble finding a cab to accommodate us. At the airport we had to wait about 30 minutes for the US Airways ticket desk to open, but once it did there were no lines. If you are flying a European carrier be prepared to wait in enormous lines, I have never seen lines that long in an airport before! The US Airways jet parks out on the tarmac and you are bussed to and from the plane, it looks like it would be inefficient but it went very smoothly. The flights home were pretty much on time, if you are flying through Philly you need to plan to have at least a 3 hour layover. It took us 2 hours to get off the plane, get our bags, clear customs and immigration, recheck our bags and go back through security. We really didn't care for the Philly airport, their were too many rude employees and it was very crowded. We did have good service at the TGI Fridays there and no trouble with the US Airways gate agents. Final thoughts We really enjoyed this trip and we met some great people both on our flight over, from Cruise Critic, on the boat and in port. I would not hesitate to sail with NCL or on the Gem again and most importantly I did NOT feel nickled and dimed to death, I thought the price of the cruise was very fair and with the on board credit we received from NCL we paid very little out of pocket for dining. We also had absolutely no problems making reservations in any of the restaurants and most days we made them that morning before leaving for our excursions. I really have trouble understanding the complaints that some people have about NCL and freestyle cruising. While I can still appreciate traditional dining and getting to know your wait staff, I think I prefer the freestyle and the freedom and selection it provides. One last thing: I know this is silly but a lot of people either missed it or did not realize what they were seeing. Between Malta and Naples be sure to keep an eye out to what I believe it is the Port side of the ship, you will be able to see Mt. Etna! We were dining at Cagney's and I kept telling my husband that I thought it was a volcano we were seeing and that maybe it was Mt. Etna but we thought the captain would say over the intercom if it was. Well it was so large it stayed in view for hours and I thought it has to be a volcano so after dinner we went and checked the navigation channel on our TV and what do you know it was Mt. Etna! I will post some pics of it in the balcony shots. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We traveled from JFK to Barcelona via Iberia Airlines which did stop in Madrid where we had to change planes to Barcelona. The one strange occurrence was when we changed planes we had to go through security again in Madrid which may be ... Read More
We traveled from JFK to Barcelona via Iberia Airlines which did stop in Madrid where we had to change planes to Barcelona. The one strange occurrence was when we changed planes we had to go through security again in Madrid which may be problematic if you had purchased any liquid duty free items in JFK that were more than 3oz. and didn't fit in your quart size zip lock bag. We arrived in Barcelona and found the railroad which we took to the Barceló Sants Hotel which is located directly above the Sants train station and was approximately 15 minutes from airport. Although some prior reviews I had read complained about the hotel distance from central tourist areas we found the location fine as you could take the Metro system for a brief ride easily to any area. The price of this hotel was much more reasonable than many of the hotels in Barcelona that the extra few minutes on subway was well worth the savings of staying at this hotel. The hotel was fine but we all did complain about the bed and mattress being very hard. We used Saturday afternoon to do some sightseeing in Barcelona and were a little disappointed that we awoke on Sunday morning to heavy rain which did curtail the amount of sightseeing we planned on doing before going to cruise terminal that day. Although we were told we could take the Metro to the port we did take a taxi and were very glad as the cruise terminal was a very long distance from nearest Metro station. My recommendation for any passengers who are considering taking train to pier is to when you get off the train hail a taxi as it is not a convenient walk to cruise terminal. The embarkation process was extremely smooth when we arrived around 1pm and boarded the ship within 15-20 minutes after arrival. We were greeted with free champagne as we walked on board and were directed to lunch at the buffet area or Grand Pacific restaurant. We stayed in a Mini Suite which was located on Deck 11 midship and an ideal location to access pool deck and buffet areas. Our stateroom was quite spacious and had adequate storage spaces for 4 people when compared to other balcony cabins we have stayed in on prior cruises. The bathroom was large and did include a full size tub which we never used. I loved the little wheels outside each cabin where you could indicate do not disturb, make up my cabin, and turn down service for the cabin steward. The regular beds were the most comfortable I have ever slept on while cruising. We did eat at most of the restaurants on board with the exception of the Asian Grill and La Cucina and had few complaints. The buffet was plentiful with a wide selection of foods available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My husband did not like the omelettes and scrambled eggs (possibly made from prepackaged mix as opposed to fresh eggs) but otherwise no other complaints. I have mixed feelings about having to pay additional surcharges in some of the specialty restaurants because after eating superb meals at Le Bistro and Cagney's it can be a little bit of a letdown when you go to eat at Magenta and Pacific Grill. We also enjoyed Tequila which did not involve a surcharge. Free style dining was great but we did try to make our reservations 48hrs in advance as we preferred to dine around 7-8pm which was a popular time for many passengers. We did not do any of the NCL sponsored shore excursions and were able to navigate the various ports on our own. Malta was our first port and we walked up the hill to the Valetta and explored the beautiful fortress city. The highlight was touring the cathedral and learning about the various knights buried there. We took the ferry from Naples directly to Sorrento and had an enjoyable day walking around the town and experiencing authentic pizza at a local restaurant with and drinking some regional wine. In Civitavecchia we exited the shuttle bus from pier and walked to railroad station and took train into Rome which costs about 9 Euros round trip per person. The train ride was about 1 hr but when we arrived in Rome it was raining hard and it was not enjoyable walking to various attractions in the downpours especially as the streets were flooded and very slippery. We saw some sights but ended up staying dry in a restaurant eating pasta and drinking wine to avoid the heavy downpours. Livorno ended up being our most frustrating port as passengers had to take a shuttle bus from ship to town center and then take a bus from there to train station to get to Florence. It took us approximately 3 hrs from when we exited ship to arrive in Florence which did not allow us a lot of time to explore the city. There were many lines for main attractions so we chose to just view outside buildings (I believe if you took the NCL excursions you may bypass some of the lines but I am not sure of this) and wander around the city which is just so beautiful. Too bad that the weather was not cooperative again and decided to rain most of this day too. The last day of cruise we decided to just walk to the local beach in Villefranche and finally enjoy the most sunshine we saw this week. We definitely needed a relaxing day after the previous hectic days of rushing to get off the ship to see the sights with limited time constraints. We had a 10 am flight back to New York and chose to do the express checkout and left the ship at 6:30am and took taxi to airport where we encountered no delays in checking in for our flight. Probably the worst part of our trip was not having enough time to spend in Rome and Florence but it did give us a taste of Italy and hopefully we will return there in the future to see the sights we missed this trip. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Cruise History: 3 previous cruises with Disney. My husband and I (30 and 26 respectively) traveled alone (no kids or family). Getting there: We flew from ATL to BCN; flight was delayed, but we still had plenty of time. BCN took a while ... Read More
Cruise History: 3 previous cruises with Disney. My husband and I (30 and 26 respectively) traveled alone (no kids or family). Getting there: We flew from ATL to BCN; flight was delayed, but we still had plenty of time. BCN took a while to get out of because there were lines and people were confused about which ones to get in. We had no prearranged transport to the port, but the NCL counter was near and they set us up on the next NCL bus. With the dollar being so weak against the euro at this time, we found it was typically advantageous to book things through NCL, even though it seemed more expensive. It all came pretty close once you figure the conversion rates. Embarkation was pretty simple and our rooms were ready by the time we boarded. Cabin: We got an inside cabin, which is the absolute smallest we have ever been in (even compared to other interior cabins), but the bed was great, plenty of storage, includes coffeemaker and mini-bar. We figured we would not spend much time in the room, but we ended up spending a fair amount of time in there because it rained several times. We will probably not book a room this small on any cruise over 3 days in the future, but that is just personal. Food: Overall the food was absolutely wonderful. Plenty of options all the time. The Great Outdoors is open pretty much anytime the Garden Cafe is not (walk through the Cafe to get to the Outdoors). Plus there are outdoor places by the pool, weather permitting. NCL has quite a few specialty restaurants, but most charge a cover. We ate at the Sushi Bar ($15 pp, no reservations, but never crowded) and Tequila (no cover, but make reservations). We liked the main dining areas and decided not to pay too much extra for the specialties. They suggest, but do not require reservations, but I advise making reservations. We got my husband the soda package, but had a hard time the first day getting the cup or sticker or whatever he needed to get sodas. You can only get sodas from the bars, most of which do not open until around lunchtime. No one ever offered any sodas in the dining areas, even when we brought his cup along. It was still a good deal, as he drinks a lot of Diet Coke. Freestyle Cruising: We did not find it to be that much different than what other cruise lines are now offering, with the exception of dinner seating. We typically eat late and the time difference threw us off anyway, so we ate at times that were not too crowded. Be advised that if you choose a busy time, you may have to wait, even in the main dining rooms. This only happened to us once and we were offered a pager to let us know when we could be seated. It was nice just to have the two of us at the table...for the first few days. I do not mind being seated with other couples (provided we all speak the same language!) and I really missed it this cruise. Freestyle is not bad (no required dress-up night either), but I think we prefer a dinner seating in general. Pools & Such: I had read previous reviews about the horrors of the lounge chairs, but we did not find this to be a huge problem. There is a sun deck overlooking the pool deck and tons of chairs. Plus, head up another level and find more lounge areas with fabulous loungers (if you can grab one, otherwise there are regular loungers). There is a quiet deck all the way to the front of this same deck with pod-like cushioned loungers that will fit 3 people on them and offers a great view. Fitness Center: The fitness center aboard the Gem is nice; it does get crowded at peak times. Classes were offered in the fitness center room overlooking the pool (one-way glass, so the pool patrons don't see you!) but most cost extra. I had taken advantage of several classes on previous cruises with Disney, but they had been free. So, did not do any classes this time. Service & Staff: We had excellent service during the entire cruise; cabin steward knew our names before we even introduced ourselves. He also made fabulous towel animals. All of the staff we met spoke English, and many spoke 3+ languages quite well. All announcements were given in English, Spanish, German, and usually French as well. They took a bit of time, but we had quite a diverse group on board. The staff seemed to have quite a good time and I believe some of them were even enlisted to "party" with the patrons at some of the events/activities. Activities: We saw a few shows and they were pretty good. Second City was very funny, right up our alley. We skipped the musicals and such, as my husband was not too enthused about those (although others said they were pretty decent). He very much missed a sports bar, which we have loved on previous cruises. We also definitely felt the absence of a movie theater on board (especially when it rained) and will definitely look for this when making future bookings. The majority of passengers were middle age and beyond, and some of the activities seemed a little out of sync with the majority of the passengers. They were also not the crowd to hang out at the super-swank "Bliss" which features bed-like lounge areas. It was nearly always empty when we went, except for the occasional bowlers. Tours: We did three excursions through NCL and did two days on our own. We were satisfied overall. I was a bit frustrated in Rome (rain, noisy fellow passengers, other things that are not really anyone's fault), but the tour was decent overall. We received a note in our room that one of our tours had been booked in French (although we had booked it in English), but to see the desk if that was not correct. They explained that a computer glitch had messed up a few of the language reservations for that tour and promptly fixed it. Glad they pointed it out because I did not look at the tickets very closely! Disembarkation: We did express and carried our own luggage. Getting breakfast was a beast that day, and we ate standing up. Getting off the ship was easy though, and plenty if taxis lined up outside to get everyone. Odds & Ends: A tip in Europe: Go to the restroom whenever you see one, because there will NOT be another!!! Also, one of our waiters let us know that you can purchase a bottle of wine in a dining room and finish it later, even in another dining room. I usually only have 1-2 glasses at dinner and the hubby does not drink wine, so I found this rather helpful. I never saw this advertised anywhere, but it is available. Heard rumors on previous postings around self-service laundry but never found it. Overall: We had a decent time, although we missed a sports-type bar/pub and will look for a movie theater in the future. I might try NCL again in the future, but I'm not devoted. I missed meeting people at dinner, and I especially missed the dinner service that Disney provides (you see the same wait staff each night, they move restaurants with you). I felt a bit nickel-and-dimed the whole time ('Freestyle' does not mean 'free' as another passenger commented), but that's becoming the norm with cruising and airlines. Food and service are very good on the Gem and it is new and VERY clean. Read Less
Sail Date May 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 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.8

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