89 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

One couple traveled from the US to meet the other three couples in the UK for our flight to Barcelona, where we had booked the two-day pre-cruise package. Our British Airways flight to Barcelona was delayed an hour when a already ... Read More
One couple traveled from the US to meet the other three couples in the UK for our flight to Barcelona, where we had booked the two-day pre-cruise package. Our British Airways flight to Barcelona was delayed an hour when a already checked-in family misplaced a child, frighteningly not located by the flight time. The general mood on the plane was of sympathy with the parents and concern, and the pilots soon made up most of the time enroute. Flawless transfer to our hotel, Hotel Confortel Barcelona, a luxurious and modern hotel very close to the beach (which we didn't find out until the last morning). Transfer to the ship on Sunday November 1 took an hour, during which time we meandered around the city only picking up at one other hotel and finally coming back very near our hotel to enter the pier area. We think the driver was killing time so we wouldn't arrive till noon at the ship - we probably should have been picked up 30 minutes later. Once we got there, embarkation was amazingly quick and we were on the ship before 1pm, where they had a lovely buffet ready for us in the Garden Cafe. The Norwegian Gem is a beautiful ship, large but not overwhelming. Once we found favorite places to hang out, we didn't keep exploring, so I'm sure some nooks remained hidden to us. We took all our breakfasts in the Garden Cafe, finding seating sometimes challenging, but lots of room (and different good food) on the back deck, divided into smoking and non-smoking sections. Based on previous travelers' reviews, we bypassed the "extra cost" restaurants and varied between the Grand Pacific and the Magenta, always making a reservation. We ate early at 6:30, because that's when we could get reservations and because we were usually up and out early the next morning on tours; after 6:30, the main restaurants had a "first-come, first-served" policy. We preferred the Magenta, because it was smaller and a little less noisy, but both were nice in that they had sea view windows. We found the food "nice restaurant" quality and liked that we could order two appetizers - or desserts - if we wished. We only had one day at sea, so I don't have much to say about occupying oneself on the ship. We did go to several port lectures, and especially enjoyed informative ones on Pompeii and on Michelangelo. Several of our group liked the ping-pong tables, one enjoyed the putting green, and all of us relished a dedicated card room, where we took up residence most nights after dinner. We did appreciate two shows, one featuring songs and dances from around the world. I'll treat the ports separately. I have to commend NCL for their efficient embarkation and disembarkation process. This was our fifth or sixth cruise, all on different cruise lines, and theirs was by far the most painless. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
Service: great, no complaints. Our steward, Michael, was s sweet. On the first day we asked for 2 extra towels and he made sure we had extra towels every day. He was always around, and was glad to help us in every way possible. The servers ... Read More
Service: great, no complaints. Our steward, Michael, was s sweet. On the first day we asked for 2 extra towels and he made sure we had extra towels every day. He was always around, and was glad to help us in every way possible. The servers at the Italian Restaurant were also very nice, we had a great time dining there. And I can't forget to mention the "washy washy" guy at the Garden Cafe. It was so fun! Entertainment: the 3 shows by the Norwegian Gem singers and dancers cast were excellent. A must see!!! Second city was funny and the magic show was also very nice. The Strings Quartet played almost everyday in different places of the ship. I recommend it!!! Dining: we ate at the Garden Cafe, Magenta, Sushi Bar, and La Cucina. Sushi Bar and La Cucina had a cover charge, but it so worth it. The food at La Cucina was amazing (for only $10 pp). Sushi was also great and the charge was $15 pp. Cabin: we could not have asked for more. We had a balcony at starboard, fwd.The only downside of having a balcony on the front was that on 2 of the 7 nights the weather was terrible. On the first bad night(leaving Malta), our balcony door kept opening due to the wind. On the second bad night they locked all the balconies and we were not able to go outside in any place of the ship due to strong winds (hurricane force winds, actually). It went on from 7 PM to 1 AM (and it was advised by the captain prior to leaving the port (Cannes). But that has nothing to do with the cabin,it was the weather that was not good. Note: The bed is extremely comfortable! Spa: we bought a spa package and we were able to use the relaxation facilities at any time. Steam bath, jacuzzis, warm beds,etc. It was nice to relax after a day walking!! Embarkation and Disembarkation were very smooth, we were able to leave the ship at 6:30 AM, in time for our early flight. Public rooms: very clean, well maintained, beautiful ,and comfortable. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
After months of research, looking for a vacation for a group of 11 family members that included teenagers and senior citizens, we decided on the Gem. My wife and I have sailed on Princess, RCCI and our favorite, Holland America and were a ... Read More
After months of research, looking for a vacation for a group of 11 family members that included teenagers and senior citizens, we decided on the Gem. My wife and I have sailed on Princess, RCCI and our favorite, Holland America and were a little concerned about the reviews of NCL. Here is the good and bad as honest as I can be. GEM - Beautiful ship, we were in a AE suite(aft) and it was great. Others were in Balcony and inside cabins and not one complaint was heard. Service was friendly and generally good. Heave on port calls so activities on board were limited, fine for us. Embarkation and Deparkation was as smooth as any cruise line we have sailed. Tender service was smooth. Casino staff friendly. DINING ROOM - Main dining room service was SLOW, servers were friendly but I think they are overworked, some trying to wait on up to 5 tables at a time. We would sometimes sit for 15 minutes before they would even take our order and the time between courses would sometimes be as much as 30 minutes. 3 hours for dinner is too long. The food was fine, nothing special, but no complaints. Just way to slow. We ate at 2 specially resturants, Tequilla - pretty good and La Cucinna - pretty good. Cagneys for breakfast and lunch was very good. Buffet was fair, room service was prompt. One thing we enjoy is watching movies on our in cabin TV but on this NCL cruise, there was none. Poor selection of shows on TV and no movie theatre. Bingo was too expensive, went to 2 shows, the magician was horrible and 2nd City was good. For the price and overall quality of service and the ship, we had no regrets. Would go again in a heartbeat. MALTA - Loved it, beautiful. Naples - Surprised, really liked walking around and took taxi to Pompeii. Civitecchia - Easy walk to train station for nice 50 minute train ride to Rome. Livorno - Nice town for a lunch or walking around, 20 euro for taxi to train station, the train ride to Lucca and Pisa cost less. Cannes - Nice surprise, beautiful city, walked right off tender, to old town, outdoor market on the way and lots of sidewalk cafes and loved the bakeries, ate bread as we shopped. Barcelona - Beautiful city, big and lots of walking but the metro is clean and modern, would like to go back someday. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
Just back on the GEM- and have just booked the GEM again! We loved the NCL GEM on its Nov. 8 '09 W. Mediterranean sailing -- and have booked it again for its Jan. 24 '10 Caribbean sailing from NYC. That should say something! ... Read More
Just back on the GEM- and have just booked the GEM again! We loved the NCL GEM on its Nov. 8 '09 W. Mediterranean sailing -- and have booked it again for its Jan. 24 '10 Caribbean sailing from NYC. That should say something! NCL: The Nov. 8 sailing was our 6th NCL cruise in the past 4 years, and our 3rd NCL cruise this year. Obviously we enjoy cruising (though we do independent land travel too). We're fans of NCL because of their good pricing, also their freestyle concept and the flexibility that gives us, the vibe it creates, and the type of passengers it attracts. TIP: We've cruised on NCL from a single carry-on bag; other times we've lugged luggage and brought the tux. It depends on what port we're going from, how we'll get there, and how much time we'll spend on land and sea. Be free. NCL GEM: This was decidedly our favorite ship of the six we've sailed on. The food was the best in all dining venues, the furnishings in both public areas and cabins most classy and comfortable, and the management especially accessible and interested in making us happy (and resolving any problems). Special praise to Richard Janicki, who oversees all hotel and food services on board. Also Shridhar Dhuri, maitre d' of Cagney's. Also have to mention our personable and handsome Captain, Mikael Hilden and our genuinely warm Cruise Director, Andy. TIP: Despite the great ports, give yourself some downtime on the ship. We wish we'd spent more time loafing and exploring onboard - which is why we're going back! GETTING THERE / GETTING AROUND: Many people book air, port connections, and tours through NCL, and the simplicity and peace of mind are worth it to them. We, however, tend to be do-it-yourselfers, preferring flexibility and saving money, so we book air and hotel on our own, use buses or cabs to get us to hotel and port, and find like-minded people through the CC Roll Calls to put together small-group van tours to the places we want to see. (We should mention however that in Egypt last spring, we took an NCL bus to see the Pyramids.) Main thing: feel comfortable. TIP: For anyone touring, the more research you do, the more you'll get out of it. We like to borrow through inter-library loan Fodor's, Frommer's, D& K, and Rick Steves, photocopy the relevant pages, and bring them. Also Google things like "Barcelona taxi" "Malta," etc. BARCELONA: Took Aerobus (3.75 or 5 euros) to Placa de Catalunya at north end of Ramblas, walked to our hotel Grupotel Gravina. Getting around Barcelona is easy via subway: went to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, the old Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, walked the Ramblas (La Boqueria Market, the living statues), ate Tapas. Because we overslept the day of the sailing, we took a cab to the port (about 30 euros which included charges for entering the port, for our 2 suitcases, and for the taxi being called and a typical small tip). After the cruise, we took the Blue Port Bus (2 euros) to the Columbus statue near foot of the Ramblas, walked a few blocks north to catch a regular city Ramblas bus to Placa de Catalunya, and then the Aerobus to the airport. It was easy - but we only had one wheelie carry-on suitcase each. TIP: As with many big cities, be careful with your wallet, passport, etc. We like to keep our valuables in a money belt, under our waist band. PORTS OF CALL: MALTA: We got a good free map in the port building everyone has to walk through, took a regular city bus up the hill to Valetta (1 euro roundtrip),visited the Archeological museum (okay), the St. Paul's Shipwreck church (nice, free), saw the cannons fired at noon from the Upper Barracca Gardens (not sure it's everyday). Walked around the town, shopped the shops (everyone speaks English), caught an outdoor market, had cappuccino at an outdoor cafe. Others took a bus around the island. TIP: The most beautiful sail-in port. Be somewhere where you can see it. NAPLES: With 6 other cruise critic members, we went with Guemar Travel (inexpensive, flexible, responsible) to visit Pompeii on our own (okay), and then down the Amalfi coast (amazing sea vistas and olive harvest), stopped in Positano, split up to walk on the beach and/or have lunch, then to Sorrento to shop, and took the ferry back to the port -close to our cruise ship! TIP: We could have gone to other towns, but the 8 of us decided we wanted a time cushion before the boat sailed. Our driver also made sure the ferry was sailing and got our tickets while we walked around Sorrento; otherwise she would have driven us back to Naples. ROME: Having been to Rome before on land trips and a recent cruise, we'd seen most of Rome and the Vatican before, so we took the train from Civitavecchia to Rome Termini (easy) to see some Bernini sculptures we'd missed. Regrettably, two of the churches we planned on seeing were closed from noon to 3:30 - the exact time we were there. We visited the Barberini palace (okay). TIP: If you're touring on your own, make sure you check the hours of the sites. Wished we'd stayed on board for a relaxing "day off." LIVORNO: With 6 other cruise critic members, we went with Your Tuscany Tours to Pisa (just for exterior photos), then a lovely detour through the Chianti hills to see the end of the grape harvest (gorgeous views), then to Florence (aka Firenze), stopping at San Miniato al Monte,a pre-Renaissance church with splendid ikons and a matchless view over the city, then across the Arno to Piazza della Republica, where we split up to have lunch and/or walk to the Duomo (wonderful inside and out) and see the dazzling Baptistry doors (don't miss them). Then 4 of us went to the Uffizzi Gallery (lots of renowned paintings), and the other 4 went to the Academia to see Michaelangelo's David, (Florence's most famous work of art, but not much else there). Back to the Piazza with free time to explore the city center, or walk across the Ponte Vecchio with its lovely views and jewelry shops, or browse the leather market. TIPS: Your tour driver can reserve tickets for you at the major museums. You just pay when you get there. (Years ago, we waited 2 hours to get into the Ufizzi). Florence is a walking city, bring a map. CANNES: A quick port day, we walked around the town, visited the Cathedral up top and browsed the shopping streets and yachts down below. (Others found an inexpensive bus to take them along the coast to Cagnes sur Mere with the Renoir Museum.) TIP: It's the last port and a short day, time to buy those souvenirs and postcards. Enjoy the Gem! Hope to sail her with you someday! Joan & Jim Murray Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
BARCELONA, SPAIN Our plane landed about 7:30 AM. By the time we went through customs, got our money exchanged it was nearly 8:15. One interesting thing was that they had us fill out the Immigration forms before we arrived. I had left ... Read More
BARCELONA, SPAIN Our plane landed about 7:30 AM. By the time we went through customs, got our money exchanged it was nearly 8:15. One interesting thing was that they had us fill out the Immigration forms before we arrived. I had left ours in the pocket of the plane so figured I would have to refill them out. The custom agent looked at our passports and said to go ahead. Real security, huh!! We then went out front of the airport to find a taxi. We kept asking for a driver who spoke some English. We had a very nice taxi driver and asked him to take us on a tour of the city. We drove around for over an hour, went by the Olympic stadium, the Castill, plus some monuments and other buildings. He took us to a very high point overlooking the harbor and we were able to see our ship. He offered to take us to the big cathedrals plus another special site but we decided to opt out. We had seen enough and just wanted to be taken to the port. Our fee for this was 50 euros plus whatever my husband tipped him. I forgot to ask him. Arrived at the port about 9:30 AM and were able to check out luggage in right away. We then just went and sat down. They told us that they would begin embarkation about 10:30 AM. The shops in the port opened about 10:00 AM and had some interesting things available. A little after 10:30, over 50 people (most of them in their 20's) came out the door and lined up to start checking the people in. I had never seen this many people checking passengers in and they were quick about it. Fortunately most of them spoke very good English. We then were told to wait until the ship was cleared and then we could board. They had people taking your boarding pictures while you waited. We boarded a little after 11:00 AM. Before boarding the ship an employee met us with hand sanitizer spray. One of the things I appreciate about NCL is they have hand sanitizer everywhere. They had two men up in the Grill they would meet you at the door with the spray and say, "Washy, washy, happy, happy, smiley, smiley." You would hear passengers on the ship throughout the week saying it and laughing but everyone appreciated the sanitary ways of the ship. We ate in the Grill while waiting to get in to our room. This ship is only two years old and the nicest ship we have been on it. We loved the Grill. The food was awesome and so many choices. They make it seem so personal and not like a big cafeteria. Our room was ready about 2:00 and was very nice. It probably had more drawer space than we have ever had. It had cubbies everywhere and very roomy. We loved the location which was forward. You have to remember to tell your room steward that you want ice or you won't get it. The Muster Drill was at 4:30 although we didn't set sail until 7:00 PM. They had a make-up drill the next day. It was a little rough seas the first night and day but then calmed down. The next day was a sea day so it was a great day to just get caught up on the sleep we had lost on the airplane trip over. MALTA Left the ship and were going to walk to Valleta the city centre. On the way we were stopped by a girl asking us to take a sightseeing bus tour. (15 euros each) We had already passed up taxis and horse drawn carriages but decided to try the bus. It was a great decision. Just as we got our tickets it started to rain. We had not even thought of bringing our umbrellas. They were still on the ship. So we were grateful to get on the bus. It was a double decker that you could get on and off if you wanted. The bus took us on a tour of the island which included headphones telling all about what we were seeing. It is a walled city for the most part and so many stone walls everywhere dividing properties. We stopped at a glass blowing factory in the area called Mdina. It was awesome watching them blow the glass and bought a few pieces. We left there and headed out to the former capital city of Mdina. It is so beautiful and quaint. The beautiful stone buildings were amazing. Walked around the museum area and took lots of pictures. Boarded the bus and headed back to the port. It was such a wonderful drive. He stopped at Valetta Centre for those who wanted to shop but we decided to opt out of shopping. Then he took the rest of us to the port where we did do some shopping in the terminal shops before boarding the ship. We will be setting sail in less than an hour. We will be going by Sicily on our way to Naples. The scenery is unbelievable. Naples and Pompeii Got off the ship about 9:00 AM and bought bus tickets to Pompeii (9 euros round trip for the two of us). Then we walked the two blocks to the bus. We waited about 25 minutes on the bus. While waiting we met a young lady who was from Naples who was a tour guide in Pompeii. She speaks four languages and is very fluent in English. Naples is a very busy and chaotic city so we were glad we were on the bus. It was about a 30 minute drive to Pompeii. Upon getting off the bus another couple approached Teressa (the tour guide) about how much she would charge for a tour of Pompeii. She said if we could find another couple (making it 6 of us) she could do it for 15 euros each. We found another couple who were from Holland so we proceeded to the entrance to Pompeii and purchased our entrance tickets for 11 euros each. She showed us the ladies room and then we headed out on our tour. Pompeii is an amazing place to visit. She was a young woman of 33 yr old and had been doing this for ten years. We were so thrilled to have found someone who was so well informed and so knowledgeable. It was a beautiful day and she made the day more interesting. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and glad we had decided to go this route. We could have gone on to Sorrento or Capri but that would have been for shopping or looking at scenery. We had to wait nearly an hour for the return bus but had allowed ourselves plenty of time. We also had taken some zip-loc baggies with us and had put cheese and bread in to the bags plus carried our own water with us. That was a real help while we were waiting on the bus. The bus trip back took us through the city of Napoli. It was very interesting and again we were thrilled we were not driving. The drivers have no respect for people walking. This city is also known for its thieves so we were told to beware. Many on our ship took the train or bus on to Sorrento and then on to Capri or you can take a hydrofoil boat to Capri from near the ship. I do not know the cost on these. Tomorrow we are headed to Rome. Should be an interesting day. ROME (Civitavecchia) We got off the ship about 8:15 AM and you have to take a shuttle to the entrance to the port. It is against the law to walk to the entrance and it is a distance. We walked about 10 minutes along the waterfront to the train station. We purchased the B.I.R.G. ticket for 9 euros each to Rome. This ticket is good for the round trip ticket plus any bus or underground in Rome. The train ride was about 45 minutes and we got off at Roma St. Pietro. We caught bus #64 right outside the station and took it to St. Peter's Square. It is not easily navigated since no entrance signs. Don't hesitate to ask questions. We did purchase a tour ticket for 25.00 euro each that included our Vatican Museum ticket plus ticket in to see St. Peter's Basilica. This is to keep you from being held up in lines. Although going at this time of the year was awesome. There wasn't the heat or the real long lines. If we had it to do over we would have just paid the 14 euros to get in to the museum since we did not have time for the Basilica. The ticket we bought was also good for on and off of their busses and tours. The walk to the museum is nearly a mile. Fortunately there weren't any lines so we were able to go right in and not wait. Upon entering we showed our tour pass and were given a radio with the information corresponding to the rooms you were entering. It was very helpful since the museum is LARGE and the frescas and paintings are unbelievable. I could not believe how long it took us to walk through the museum before we got to the Sistine Chapel. Upon entering the chapel I was overwhelmed with how many people were in there all looking up at the ceiling at the paintings of Michelangelo. It is amazing all the paintings and how large that ceiling was. Be sure if you are going to the museum, chapel or Basilica that no shorts on men or women be worn. Also women must have their shoulders covered. Also if you need to use the restroom this is the place to do it. After leaving the museum we walked back toward the square but met a young man who was a tour guide and he guided us to the local bus #84 which would take us to the Forum and the Coliseum. On the bus we met a couple from South Dakota who were vacationing for the week in Rome. They were very helpful in telling us where to get off. We got off the bus at the Forum and the buildings surrounding it are awesome. We walked alongside that road to the Coliseum which can be seen when getting off the bus. While walking to the Coliseum we decided to take a break and eat the lunch that I had packed for us. Someone on Cruise Critic had recommended packing a lunch if you didn't want to pay to eat in the city. I had taken zip lock baggies with me so we filled them with cheese and bread plus we had brought peanut butter crackers with us from home. We also had bought two bottles of water before getting on the ship and filled them every night and put them in the refrigerator. We then took bananas with us also each day. It was a beautiful day in Rome and a wonderful place to have a "picnic." After eating we walked on down to the Coliseum. We decided against doing the inside tour since we were not too sure of train times, etc. Plus remember that the Coliseum closes at 3:30 P.M. Taking pictures of the Coliseum is easy plus there are people dressed as Roman Soldiers outside to take your picture with. Directly across the street from the Coliseum is the Colossee underground station. We went there and caught the underground to the main Rome terminal. It can be very confusing so ask questions and watch signs. The couple from South Dakota met up with us in the underground and helped direct us to the correct underground and trains. We found where the trains were loading and of course ours was on one of the last tracks. A lot more walking to get on the train. We only had to wait about 20 minutes for our train. The return trip took longer since we had left from the main terminal which is on the other side of the city from the square. The trains are nice and comfortable. One thing I forgot was that you are suppose to get your tickets validated upon purchasing them and before boarding the train, bus or underground but on all the different modes of transportation we were on our three days in Italy we only had one person ask to check our tickets. Arriving at Civitacheccia we walked back to the port entrance. Right at the entrance is an internet cafe which is very reasonable. It cost me 1 euro for 10 minutes which of course is cheap compared to the ship. Across the street from there is the local McDonald's for those who need their America fix. The shuttle busses were waiting to load people. There were six ships in port so they moved us along quite quickly. We arrived back at the ship about 4:30 PM. We could have spent a little bit more time in Rome but we did not want to be late back to the ship. There is no way you can do justice to the city in one day. It is a little bit overwhelming when you realize what all there is to see. FLORENCE, PISA (LIVORNO) When you get off the ship you have to pay 5 euros each to take the shuttle to the city center. There are taxis there if you have a few people who would like to share a taxi with you to the train station. They also have rental cars available at the gangway. The bus ride takes you to the center where you get off and purchase bus tickets for 2 euros each round trip to the train station. Then you walk just a couple blocks (in front of the McDonalds) to catch bus #1 to the Livorno Station. The train tickets to Florence cost 13.50 euro each round trip. We caught the 9:20 AM train for Florence. It was a more express train since it only made a few stops. The trip took an hour and 20 minutes. When you get to Florence you get off at the Santa Maria Novella station which is the last stop. Upon exiting the station can be confusing. We stopped and purchase a map of Florence so we knew which direction to go. We wanted to go to the Museum Accademia. Since it was not their busy season we did not have to prepurchase tickets. It is a very unassuming building and can be missed if you are not looking for it. It cost 10 euros each to enter the Accademia. We were very surprised that upon entering the museum you are at the statue of David within minutes. It is definitely worth seeing. To think Michelangelo carved this out of marble so many years ago. The paintings on the wall are awesome also. The details he put into this carving is amazing. This is another good spot to use the restroom. Very clean and this one even had a toilet seat!!! I had purchased a post card in the Accademia and had to go to a Tobacco shop to purchase a post card stamp. We then continued walking down the streets which are fascinating. Be very careful walking since the sidewalks and streets are somewhat uneven at times. We followed one of the streets and ended up at the Duomo which is absolutely beautiful. Directly across from it is the bronze doors of the Baptistry and the cathedral is directly next to it. The dome is beautiful. This is a very interesting area to walk around, shop and there are street vendors all over the place. We stopped at a pizzeria and got fresh pizza. Stood on the street and ate it. It was delicious. It was a straight walk back to the train station. Upon arriving at the station we located our train leaving in about 10 minutes. This was a slower train that made stops all along the way. It was a little over an hour ride to the city of Pisa. We got off at Pisa and outside the station, in front of the hotel across the street; we caught the Lam Rosa bus to the leaning tower area. You can walk it but we didn't want to take the time. The bus stops right at the entrance to the Duomo and Leaning Tower. It is quite an amazing sight and of course had to take the pictures with us trying to hold up the tower. We walked around the area for about 30 minutes taking pictures and just enjoying the sights. There are many vendors in this area also if you are in need of souvenirs. Walked back to the entrance and crossed the street to catch the Lam Rosa bus back to the station. Only had to wait about 10 minutes for the bus, maybe less, and then we were right at the station. Upon arriving at the station we found that the next train to Livorno was leaving in 10 minutes so we headed to our spot and caught the train. Livonro is the next stop so it only took about 20 minutes. We came out of the station and caught bus #1 back to the center of town (in front of the McDonalds), got off this bus and walked the two blocks to the shuttle bus to the ship. Be sure you have kept your round trip ticket stub. Arrived back at the ship about 5:00 PM. It was a great day even though the weather was cooler and overcast. Canne, France Today was a very relaxing and enjoyable day. Since it was Saturday it was market day in the city. We got off the tender boat about 10:00 AM and walked about four or five blocks to the market. On the walk there we were walking along the harbor with many beautiful sailboats and yachts. The market is an amazing place. There are fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, fish and just about everything else you can think of. It was so much fun just walking among the people and sampling their foods. It is a shame you cannot bring them back on the ship. We left the market and walked down the "shopping street". It was amazing being among the French people. We did some Christmas shopping and then walked to the big open wares market and ate the lunch that we packed. After our lunch we went back to the "shopping street" and found one of the many bakeries and bought French pastries. It was at Pauls and was absolutely delicious. Along all these streets there are numerous outdoor cafes. They are everywhere. The food looked delicious. But expect to pay an average of 15 or more euros for your lunch. Walked back to the ship, took many pictures and then boarded about 2:00 PM. Went to the grill to eat lunch and since the weather so beautiful we ate outside. Since this was our last night we decided to eat in the Grand Pacific again for dinner. We loved eating in that dining room. My husband had two entrees - lamb and a surf sampler platter. I had the sirloin steak which was delicious. Went back to the room and started packing. Tried to get to bed early since we had an early flight and wanted to be early off the ship. We like to take our own luggage with us. We were off the ship by 7:00 AM. Caught a taxi and were at the airport in about 20 minutes. Taxi ride cost 40 eruos plus tip. The transports from the ship to airport are $40.00 per person which with the exchange rate only about $15.00 difference. The trip was an awesome trip and we would love to do it again but it will be a long time before we can do that. Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
We flew into Barcelona the day of the cruise, arriving BCN around 1pm. There were many taxis waiting. It took about a half hour to get to the port. The taxi was metered, when we arrived, the driver added other fees to the meter, port ... Read More
We flew into Barcelona the day of the cruise, arriving BCN around 1pm. There were many taxis waiting. It took about a half hour to get to the port. The taxi was metered, when we arrived, the driver added other fees to the meter, port fees, bag fees, etc. The meter said 26 euros, we paid 32 with the add ons. Embarkation was a breeze, no wait at 2:30. We were on the ship by 2:45, greeted with smiling faces of the crew offering us champagne! Our cabin was the last minisuite aft. We took the aft bank of elevators, I walked all the way aft, confused when I couldn't find out cabin number. There are a few inside cabins that were aft of ours. One of the crew asked my cabin number, when I told him, he said, Welcome Mrs.J. your room is to your left! Our wonderful cabin stewards, Wilber and Joel, knew our names before we got on board and used them throughout the cruise. They always greeted us with a smile and a how are you today, plus kept our cabin sparkling clean with changes of towels 2 times daily, fresh ice, and a requested pitcher of water each day....also they made some impressive towel animals that would always make me smile. Our minisuite was very large, with an amazing balcony. There were 2 bottle of champagne in an ice bucket, waiting for us in the room, along with chocolate covered strawberries. One bottle from our TA, the other from the Anniversary package I ordered. This package was wonderful, everything about it we enjoyed. Especially the meal in Le Bistro, as well as the champagne/cake party, where we met other couples celebrating an anniversary or honeymoon. There is a lot of space in this room, we didn't fill the drawers there are so many and they are very large. The luggage fits under the extremely comfortable bed! We ate in 4 specialty restaurants. Le Bistro, Tequila, Orchid Garden, and Teppanyaki. We had Thanksgiving dinner in the main dining room, the Grand Pacific, we also had 2 dinners at the buffet. All the meals were very good to excellen, the food always arrived hot and cooked to perfection. There is much to choose from at the buffet, from soups to a wonderful salad bar, a carving station, pastas, Indian food, I could go on and on. We felt the specialty restaurants are very much worth the extra price, the service is exceptional. At our Anniversary dinner, Mary in Le Bistro, really made it a special evening. We saw 4 main shows, 3 musicals and the Second City comedy show. The Gem Singers and Dancers are wonderful. I also appreciated the work put into the costumes!!! The comedy show was very funny. One of our favorite evenings was listening to Chaslau play classical music from 6:30-7:30 at the Champagne bar. This extremely talented musician received a well deserved standing ovation! This being Thanksgiving week, our ship was FULL! There were many families traveling, we had 1500 Americans. There were quite a few children who seemed to be having a great time in the kids club. This cruise is port intensive. We chose to do our own thing in Malta and Cannes. We formed a group with other CCs to tour Naples and Florence/Pisa. In Civitavecchia, we walked the small port town, as we have been to Rome numerous times. I will write port reviews at another time. We enjoyed our private tours with likeminded cruise critics. We were usually up early, before the sun, remember, this is winter! We didn't visit any of the late night venues. There were quite a few on this ship. We are fans of freestyle cruising, eating when and where we want! NCL has this down perfectly. We were blessed with sunny skies most days, no rain any day! We were spending time in Barcelona, no need to rush off the ship. We got off at 9:40. There was a 30-40 minute que for taxis. NCL, we will return! Hopefully to do the Baltic in 2010! Read Less
Sail Date November 2009
GEM Oct 11—18 Ports: Barcelona, Malta, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Barcelona I would like to start this review by saying I am not a real spontaneous person. Sure, maybe going out to dinner unplanned, or even a trip to the ... Read More
GEM Oct 11—18 Ports: Barcelona, Malta, Naples, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Cannes, Barcelona I would like to start this review by saying I am not a real spontaneous person. Sure, maybe going out to dinner unplanned, or even a trip to the mall, but I always plan my vacations VERY far ahead. Well, this vacation broke that rule for me. Less than 24 hrs before take off, I planned the entire thing! I enjoyed this adventure from start to finish. I love the GEM, and everything about her. The staff was excellent as usual, the food was good to great, as was the entertainment. I made some new, albeit temporary friends, spent some quality time with my DD and enjoyed a getaway I desperately needed. Pre-Cruise Flew from Newark to Brussels to Barcelona. Great flight, easy connects! Arrived in Barcelona on Saturday, check into the lovely Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina (full review on TA)—just one dock over from where the GEM docked at the World Trade Center. They graced us with a complimentary Cava while our room details and keys were prepared. From our window we could see the pier, and Sunday morning were able to see the GEM from our window. We were hungry and went "next door" to the shopping mall and had tapas and paella at TapasTapas. I know it seems sacrilegious to eat at a mall in such at beautiful city, but we were able to dine outdoors overlooking the sea on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The seafood crepes were divine, and the paella delicious—full of seafood. The white sangria was a little sweet, but the sunny afternoon assured it went down easily. From here we took the metro to Park Guell. We had not visited the Park on our previous trip to Barcelona, and were anxious to see it. From the metro, the walk was up a steep hill, but there were several escalators (yes—on the street) to help with the upward climb. Once you get to the park there are lovely hiking trails to get to the "famous" Gaudi bench area overlooking the city. The view is lovely, as are the wonderful mosaic benches. We continued up the trails to the castle area, with a walkway carved into the stone of the mountain. Gaudi's love for combining his art and nature are very evident here. We found our way back down to the metro—leaving by a less steep pathway than we took up and enter the metro closer to Las Ramblas. We got out at La Catalunya, and made our way down Las Ramblas, stopping at the famous market, where I purchased a bottle of Cava for the evening. We freshened up, and were talking about dinner, but were so tired, we completely crashed at 9pm. I awakened about 12am, and bored, but not tired, I made my way down to the lobby to take advantage of the free internet. Unfortunately, the computers were turned in for the night, so I spent some time chatting with a lovely couple from the Netherlands who had attended a wedding that day, and a gentleman from LA who was heading out on RCCL the next day also. Next day we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel. Large buffet that for some guests was complimentary. We were not one of those guests and paid 25E, but were still a bit tired and didn't feel like walking up to Las Ramblas to find the pastry shop we had planned on eating at. We checked out, they hailed a cab for us (after first trying to convince us to use their Mercedes car service for 50E—for heavens sake the ride all the way from the airport was only 24E!). A quick ride and we arrived at the pier Embarkation Day At the pier there was a bit of confusion since we had only booked a few days before, and did not have a cabin # assigned. The supervisor at baggage, quickly rectified the situation, and off our bags went. We breezed through security, and easily found the Latitudes line. We had nobody waiting in front of us. We were through the entire process in less than 15 minutes. No sooner than we had our cards, than they announce boarding could begin! My DD commented that we had timed things perfect. We circumvented the "Welcome Aboard" photo line, and we were back on the beautiful GEM—sparkling wine in hand! We proceeded down to the Grand Pacific, only to learn that they would not open for another 15 minutes. So we went back to the Atrium, signed up my DD for the soda card, and headed back to the Grand Pacific for lunch. We had a lovely lunch, while sipping on my sparkling wine, and enjoying being back on the GEM. After lunch we went and enrolled DD in the Teen Club, and stopped by the front desk to see if I could purchase onboard the Honeymoon/Romance package. I was able to and went right next door to make reservations for that evening for LeBistro (DD wasn't sure if she would be available other nights to dine with me!) We walked around the ship to reacquaint ourselves with the layout, and before we knew it our room was ready. At 5pm the Muster Drill was conducted. After that we took a quick tour of the spa, and signed up for their raffle—DD won runner up $50 off any regular priced service! We headed up to the deck for the Sailaway Party. It was a pretty typical party, and the entertainment staff did a great job of getting lots of people up and dancing. We had an 7pm reservation for dinner, which was around the scheduled sailaway time. We had a lovely dinner at LeBistro, but by the time we finished we still had not sailed. Before dinner we had heard an announcement "code alpha alpha alpha". I commented to DD that this didn't sound good. At some point the captain came on and stated that there was a medical emergency, and sailway would be delayed. Unfortunately, the captain came on later and advised us that the gentleman had passed away and we would be off once the authorities in Barcelona arrived. We didn't end up sailing away til almost 8:30. How sad, this really hit home because I was using this trip to help me deal with the recent death of my father. On the plane my horoscope had specifically warned against doing any unplanned travel (EEK!!!). I worried, should I be concerned that this was just the start of what was to come? After dinner, DD headed off to the Teen Club and I went to the show that evening. The show was a new show that had been added since last year. The show was a music/comedy featuring three Spanish guitarists. I have mixed feelings about the show. Some of it was funny, but it was wayyyyyyy too long for what it was. There was a running joke that kinda of got played out fairly fast. It was a show that I would have more expected in the Spinnaker lounge, or as a featured act as part of another variety type show. I finished off the evening dancing to Prism (VERY GOOD—they also performed many days poolside) in the Spinnaker lounge. Day 2—Sea Day Since this was the only sea day, the schedule was PACKED! There were so many activities that I would have liked to attend, but so many of them conflicted. After a solo breakfast at Grand Pacific, I headed for the pool to do some reading before my proposed schedule. There was a special Oktoberfest buffet at the Great Outdoors, where I headed for an early lunch. There were several German specialties. It was ok—but it was sooooo windy that chairs were blowing around, so I ate quickly. There was no official M&G on this cruise, but several CC'ers were meeting at the JAVA cafe at 1pm to discuss tour sharing. I met with a family who I had emailed on Thursday night to share a private driver in Rome. The itinerary sounded good, and they had a 13yo DD, so it seemed like a GREAT plan. I quickly darted off to the Spinnaker lounge for the Latitudes party at 1:30. I arrived around 1:35, and all the hors d'eaurves were already distributed, but I was able to enjoy a cocktail, and won 100 min to the internet cafe.! From there I was off to the Margarita Tasting at Bali Hai. There was only one other couple there, but they allowed us to have the tasting, even though we fell below the threshold of 10 participants. The Margaritas were tasty, and I made some news friends—a newlywed couple from BC. ? After the tasting, I was ready for my next NCLU class. There was an informative seminar about the history of Malta. The information was good, but the presentation was a little dry—instead of photos, the presenter showed a power point of his narrative. Ready for more excitement, I was off to NCLU class #3—Martini tasting at Shakers. Arriving a bit early, I looked on at the NCLU Beer and Food pairing seminar. The presenter had a great knowledge of beers, and even though I wasn't imbibing, I enjoyed his presentation. Lindsey, the head bartender at Shakers was giving the presentation. He was also very informative (STYLE card!) and made some GREAT Martinis! I also made some new friends here—5 friends from CA, a group of friends from LBI, NJ, a few singles, and a few newlywed couples, including my pals from the Margarita tasting. I met up with my DD who while having fun at the Teen Club, was disappointed that most of the teens only spoke German. We had dinner together at Magenta, and parted ways. I spent some time at the internet cafe, and signed up for my 100 minutes. I was concerned that I had forgotten my voucher for my free minutes, but Neil of the cafe assured me I could bring it at any time. I headed off to the show—Colourz. Nice show, good music. I had some time to kill, so headed to the Casino. Didn't take long before I was ready for the PUB CRAWL!!!!! The Pub Crawl was probably the most fun I had on the entire cruise. Lots of the friends I had made were there, plus some new ones. 5 bars, 5 (well more than 5) drinks, crazy games, and LOADS of fun. I will not discuss the details to protect the GUILTY!!!!! The Crawl ended up at Spinnaker's where the White Hot Party was going on. GREAT WAY to end the night—dancing and partying—the night ended with a BANG!!! Day 3, Malta Needless to say, I woke up on Tuesday feeling less than energetic. I went up to the buffet and got some breakfast, and brought chocolate croissants and juice back down for DD. Around 9:30 we made our way out to Malta. Having been here before, we decided we would like to see the ancient Temples and caves, and had a plan to take the busses. As soon as we were off the ship, there were taxi drivers and HOHO bus sales people. Since I was feeling uninspired, DD and I decided to take the HOHO bus. Unfortunately we choose the wrong tour (oopps!), which did not go to the Temples. We instead went to the glass factory and Mdina. Beautiful glass works, and the ancient city of Mdina was breathtaking. My only complaint was that the driver said to be back to the bus at a certain time. Well, we waited about 20 min. Finally our bus arrived. However, it was already full and we were told to wait 5 minutes for the next bus, which arrived a half hour later. I would have loved to have spent the extra hour or so exploring Mdina. Oh well. Last stop was Valetta, and since we were tired and had seen Valetta before, we decided to head back to the ship. When we got back on the ship we had a late lunch at the Great Outdoors. DD then headed off to the Teen Club, and I headed off to LeBistro for the French Wine and cheese tasting. The head sommelier was well versed in the wine and cheese selections, and how to pair and why. I sat with another lovely newlywed couple from San Diego. After the tasting was over, we sat at LeBistro for quite a while chatting, until the pretty much threw us out—LOL! I met DD and we headed out to the Grand Pacific for dinner. It was dress up or not, and we both decided to dress up. There was a long line for portraits, so we passed. We arrived at Grand Pacific, only to find there was a line. Our name was taken and we were given a beeper. We went back to the Atrium—yippee—no line to have portraits with the Captain! No sooner was our photo taken, than our beeper went off. Dinner at Grand Pacific was nice. I couldn't decide between the Beef Wellington and the seafood extravaganza (lobster tail!), so the server offered to bring both. I asked for just the lobster tail on the side, but the entire dish was brought. This was unfortunate—I ate nearly the whole thing! DD headed back to the Teen Club, and I headed to the show—Magic and Comedy. Once again, I enjoyed the show, but found it may have been better suited as PART of a variety show, not a headliner all by itself. I went to the Casino for Monte Carlo night. My favorite—roulette—table was completely packed. A little slot play, and I was done. I headed in for a (relatively) early night. Day 4, Naples/Sorrento We started the day off having breakfast in Grand Pacific, and were off the ship by 9:30 am. Our plan was to take the ferry to Sorrento and then the bus to Positano (since we had already seen Pompeii). We walked from the ship to the ferry station, past the numerous OBNOXIOUS taxi drivers and beggars (do not look at them or engage them in any way—they are relentless and our friends from Kentucky were taken advantage of one of these "gypsy" cab drivers), we found that the next ferry was not leaving for Sorrento until 11. I guess it would have been helpful to get the ferry schedule the day before (oh well). We went back to the ship because we had no desire to explore Naples. An hour later, we went back to the ferry and enjoyed the 40 min trip to Sorrento—the scenery is beautiful. When we arrived, we were not in the mood to wait for the bus, so we climbed up the stairs to the village area of Sorrento. Be warned this is NOT for the faint of heart!!! We found our way to the bus stop, only to watch the bus to Positano pulling away. The next one did not come for another hour, so we decided to spend the day in Sorrento. Sorrento is lovely with many shopping and eating areas, all with a beautiful backdrop. We found the wonderful restaurant we had eaten at last year and my DD had the pasta Bolognese she has been dreaming of for the past 1+yrs. We wandered around for a few hours and headed back to the ferry (easier going down the steps!) to Naples. Since I was dining solo, I cleaned up and headed to Salsa for dinner. I have to say, I was very happily surprised. I love Mexican food, but do not think of it as the most gourmet style of food. My meal was the BEST one I ended up having all week onboard(yes—it was better than LeBistro and Cagney's). After dinner, I went to the show—Get Down Tonight. This is a fun show if you grew up in the 70's like I did. The music made me feel nostalgic, and there was even a (corny, but cute) segment saluting the sitcoms of the 70s. Day 5 Rome This was the day we shared a private driver with the family from Kentucky. I would like to thank Michael again for setting this us. And to the entire family for sharing the day with us. Our driver Alexander was excellent and got us around to see so much! We hit a great deal of traffic heading into Rome. This did not stop him from getting us to all fo the following: Fountain overlooking the city, Square featuring the Tomb to the unknown soldier, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon (where we lunched—yummy!), Trevi Fountain (where we had gelato—also YUM!), Spanish Steps and the Vatican. We did not get to see St. Peter's Basilica, the line was way too long, and we were concerned about traffic going back. All I can say is WOW what a day! After all the walking—a soak in the hut tub felt wonderful! That night I dined alone at Grand Pacific—another wonderful meal. I then went to BOTH shows—Kwame Remy (singer par excellance). He mentioned that he and several others were leaving the GEM on St for their hiatus, and weren't sure what ship (if any) they would be returning to, so it seemed like a poignant performance for him. Second City also performed that evening. It was completely different from the last two times I saw them on the GEM (both of those were the same). Great improve—I give these guys credit making this stuff up on the fly.... Ended the night in Bliss Lounge, dancing the night away with two sisters from the Netherlands. Day 6 Livorno/Florence Began the day again with room service—ordering non breakfast items since neither one of us are big breakfast eaters—it was great—just what we needed to start our day. Although Pisa is considerably closer than Florence, we decided to bypass Pisa and go straight to Florence. Our time in Firenze last year was spent entirely in the Accademia and Uffizi, and there was so much more we wanted to see. We left the ship around 9 and took the bus to the bus to the train to Florence. We arrived in Florence around 11am (yes—that is how long it takes between the bus rides and waiting for the train, unless you luck out and the train is leaving shortly after you arrive at the station). We saw several lovely Palazzos on the way to the went to the road where the vendors are (can't remember the name)and enjoyed looking in the booths—"window" shopping. I really wish I had budgeted extra cash to buy some nice Italian leather coats and boots, but when you vacation on the fly—there is no budget! From there we went to the Duomo—magnificent! By this time we were well past being ready for lunch and had another wonderful lunch in Italia! From the ristorante, we went to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and walked along the river back to the train station. Magnifico! We both slept on the hour long train ride, and then the bus to the bus...... That night, I dined alone (again) at the Grand Pacific. Yet another wonderful meal. I went to the World Beat show (nice), and then up to Spinnaker's for Second City scriptless. The opening bit was VERY funny—they took suggestions from the audience, wrote them on paper, put them in the middle of the floor and did their skit from there. Once again—I am amazed how they can do this off the top of their head. The other skits were fun, but some of them were a bit of a stretch.... A quick drink and some time at the casino, and I was hungry. At around midnight, I went to see fi there was anything left at the Chocohalic Buffet—sadness—it was all closed up. I went downstairs to the Blue Lagoon and had a not so light snack! I was WAY past being ready for bed by this time! Day 7 Cannes I pre ordered room service this day, but it wasn't to DD liking, so she went to the buffet and brought me back the delish chocolate croissants. This was the only port with a tender, and the only location we had not been to (last yr's cruise tendered in Ville Franche.) We got to the tender around 9:30 am—no wait—went right onboard, and were off in minutes. Cannes is a beautiful port, but the most "US" feeling—with the least amount of English spoken. WE thought about taking the HOHO bus, but when the public bus pulled up, we hopped on! (LOL). The bus went all the way down the Blvd De la Croisette—to Palm Beach. We enjoyed the view and about ½ way back, we exited the bus, since DD saw some shops she wanted to go to. We walked the rest of the way back, disappointed that it wasn't warmer out, so we could enjoy the beautiful beach. There were shops, bistros, outdoor vendors, amusement areas for young children, and of course the facility that houses the Cannes film festival. All around the area, there are cutouts where you can place your face next to movie stars. DD refused to take my picture with any of them! I kept trying to tell her I needed her to have my pic w/Brad Pitt in Ocean's 11!!!!!!! She wasn't feeling well, so we went back to the ship by 1pm, and I had lunch with a lovely woman I had met on the spa tour at the Garden Buffet. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading by the pool and soaking up the sun. It was a beautiful day, and I really wanted to see sunset. Since we were heading directly west, Spinnakers seemed like an obvious choice, but alas the blinds were all down with BINGO in full swing. Tried the Star Bar—ok , but not in the front of the ship. Then it occurred to me—the bridge observation room! It was perfect. I had one glass of champagne left from the bottle with the Romance Package, and I toasted to the sunset, the cruise and the captain and his staff. It was a beautiful sunset, and it was fun to see the captain arrive just in time to enjoy it. I also found the GEM "IT" girl's home here, and the nice dedication by CC's own Coka! Since DD was going to the final Teen Club dinner, I decided to go to Cagney's for dinner. Only reservation I could get was for 8:45. Went down to Shaker's for a cocktail while I was waiting and bumped in to some friends I met, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner. Enjoyed Cagney's, but I don't think that it really lived up to it's hype. I enjoyed one last dance at Spinnaker's and it was off to bed. Day 7 Disembarkation/Barcelona DD and I stayed in bed late, and did the late walk off. Easy as pie! We took our bags to the airport and headed back to Barcelona. We headed straight to Sagrada Familia—via the metro—this was a great choice, since there was a special festival going on. There were performers making human replicas of the Sagrada Familia—with accompanying music. It was really a sight to behold! The church itself, although unfinished is equally amazing. Gaudi's love of nature and God is evidenced in even the smallest detail. We had lunch in a nearby cafe—very disappointing—but I just ordered the wrong thing.Back to Placa Catalunya, one last stroll down Las Ramblas, and off to the train back to the airport. Our flight took off at 9pm and landed in Brussels at 11pm. Since our next flight was not until 10am the next morning, we procured at hotel at an internet cafe on Las Ramblas--Campanile Brussels Vilvoorde—a Spartan hotel that provided us an inexpensive place to sleep (full review on TA). Day 8 Home Again We had a wonderful uneventful flight home, made it through customs and package claim in record time, and were back home within less than an hour of landing. I now have to wait over 10 months to be back on the beautiful GEM—did I hear somebody say CTN???? On yeah—that was my onboard credit burning a hole in my pocket. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
We had arranged a Meet and Greet in Magenta on Monday, and that turned out very well, with about 40 people attending, and representatives from the ship introducing themselves, as well. We've been on more than 14 cruises, mostly with ... Read More
We had arranged a Meet and Greet in Magenta on Monday, and that turned out very well, with about 40 people attending, and representatives from the ship introducing themselves, as well. We've been on more than 14 cruises, mostly with NCL, but the Gem was the nicest ship we've been on.We had a fantastic cruise on the Gem, and look forward to sailing on it again. As usual, we enjoyed the freedom and options available to us on NCL. The atmosphere was very upbeat, and everyone was very helpful. We ate at Cagney's one night, and the steaks are great, as are the varied appetizers you can choose. The other nights, we enjoyed Magenta and the Grand Pacific restaurants. We even found the buffet restaurant to be better than those on other ships. We ate breakfast at the Grand Pacific, and Cagney's, and they were excellent. We chose an obstructed oceanview cabin that faced sidewards, and it seemed roomier than the others. We did private tours of Italy with a group of 8 people from CC, with romeinlimo, and it was great. They always got us back in ample time. We also went on private tours that others from CC had arranged in Malta and Cannes. I don't know the companies, but they were also excellent tours, although we only had a half day for each. So, we recommend the ship and private tours; although we had to get up at 6 AM to leave at 8 AM for each tour, it was well worth it. The shows and entertainment were varied and we enjoyed them, too. Our favorites were the Andy Buenger Show, the Newlywed Game, the Kwane Remy Show, and the Second City, Improv and Comedy. Our only criticism was that the chocoholic buffet was poorly organized for crowd control. We spoke to someone about it the next day, and hope that it will be corrected for future cruises. We were also concerned about the long lines waiting for taxis at the pier in Barcelona. In Barcelona, we stayed at the Acta Atrium Palace for 3 nights, and the room, facilities, and staff were excellent. We got a discount by booking well ahead of time. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
We are a couple in our 70's, both widowed and retired, going together for nearly a year. It was my first cruise for ~30 years, while my girlfriend (GF) has taken an NCL cruise down the Mexico coast within the past 3. She had never ... Read More
We are a couple in our 70's, both widowed and retired, going together for nearly a year. It was my first cruise for ~30 years, while my girlfriend (GF) has taken an NCL cruise down the Mexico coast within the past 3. She had never been to Europe, I had been to Italy twice before, but a long time ago. Our intent was to have a great time, see the sights, without overspending too much. The results were mixed. I had read all the reviews I could find about the Norwegian Gem by others who had taken the same cruise, and gained a lot of useful information beforehand. First of all, the Gem is a huge, great ship. It was clean. You couldn't finish a dish without an attendant taking it away almost instantly. The idea of being sprayed with hand sanitizer every time you go into a restaurant makes a lot of sense. GF found the Gem to be quite similar to the one she had taken before, I believe it was the Star. Freestyle cruising is great. It makes for a relaxed, happy atmosphere. On my first cruise in the dim distant past, we dressed for dinner, ate in time slots, sat at the same table each meal. We had great weather for the last week in October, never a wave over a foot high, always cool, even in Malta. I think I felt a drop of rain, once. Not quite sure. Remember, as a miser, my intent was to minimize cost, and the GF left the details up to me. This was probably a mistake on her part. I chose the lowest cost airfare, which turned out to be American to Chicago, Iberia to Madrid, Iberia to Barcelona, leaving the night before, arriving on the day of the cruise. In retrospect, I shouldn't have taken Iberia, didn't do enough research. They had a two-day demonstration strike scheduled for the day after we flew, and that was worrisome. The overseas flight was OK, although the TV screens were overhead, about 3 or 4 to a cabin. In economy class, the seats were only 17" wide, knee room was almost non-existent. GF had looked up their website and discovered they only sell food, and it's expensive. There was nothing to say it was different on overseas flights, and we disagreed on whether that would happen. I thought no airline could be so cheap as to sell food on an overseas flight, and fortunately I was right. The meals were good. But she brought a lot of snack stuff, which came in handy on the Madrid to Barcelona legs, where they did indeed only offer food and drink for Euros. Arriving at the new Madrid airport was an amazingly awful experience. Walk, walk, escalator up 3 floors, escalator down 3 floors, passport control, more escalators, much more walking, full inspection, take the train to the correct terminal without knowing the gate, a constant stream of Spanish babble over the loudspeaker but almost no English, and a board that displays the flight number and terminal but not the gate. We had to find an information desk to learn the gate. When we got to the gate, we saw a list of flight numbers rotate through the display but ours wasn't among 'em. Asking a desk attendant got us an answer of "wait." Yet, after a while, our flight number joined the others on the display. It was confusing to have multiple flight numbers show on one gate. I believe the others were some of the favored connecting flights on from Barcelona. I'll never know for certain. The announcements were only in Spanish. IMO, the US should retaliate and drop all Spanish announcements. Evidently they haven't discovered seating by rows in Spain; they just turned the mob loose and as a result, boarding the flight to Barcelona was painfully slow. At least Iberia aircraft were fairly new Airbus types. I probably should have taken us to Barcelona a day or two early and sprung for a hotel, because in our cab ride to the port, 40 Euros, we saw what looked to be a very interesting city. But we arrived a bit before noon, and sat in the port terminal waiting, until the desks were manned (they parade in like Swiss Guards and man the many desks at the same time), then checked in and boarded just after 12:00. All our luggage was carry-on. A sad note: before leaving Chicago, we pooled our money and changed dollars to Euros at O'Hare and got totally screwed there. Of course, they're going to take a cut, but it was more like a bite from a T-Rex. I was a math major (which is no guarantee of accuracy), so I'll lay it out: the exchange rate for a Euro was about $1.50. Our price was effectively about $1.69, which doesn't sound like much but on $1500 turned out to be a difference of $172, the amount of money I figured we paid to convert. ($1500 got us 885 E and change, should have been much closer to 1000 E.) As soon as it hit us how badly we had been taken, we were sick. All numbers are approximate. Next time, if there is one, we'll try to find a better way, probably go to a bank in the destination city in Europe. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship. The ship sailed promptly at 7:00 PM and we sat on the deck and watched the scenery flow by - it takes a long time to leave the Barcelona port area. That was great. Monday was entirely at sea and that's good. It takes time to adjust. Monday night, we attended Colorz, a song and dance revue. Excellent singing and dancing, lots of talent on the cast, but I hated it, because the amplification level was about 4000 decibels. There was never a change of pace, only frenetic singing and dancing. The GF didn't seem to mind the volume as much. The other revue show by the same cast, forgot the name, was just as bad. Other shows we saw were by Second City, a comedy troupe - hilarious, loved it. I'm terrible with names: a lady singer from Australia and her husband, a base guitar player, excellent, sound levels OK. Another show was a musician who played many instruments, mostly marimba and pan pipe, and he was very good (not nearly as much amplification.) A magician who did sleight of hand with cards and foam balls, was not great. His continuous vocal patter was in about 4 different languages, English, Spanish, German and I believe French, and it was distracting. Tuesday morning, arrival in Malta. Very interesting and picturesque, great views. I had cleverly figured that we would just take a cab up to the city, mess around aimlessly there until about 1 PM, then walk back down to the ship. However, after walking off the ship, we fell into the evil clutches of a cab driver who offered to take us around the island for more than two hours for 50 E. We bit. What he did was take us to 4 places we really didn't want to see, then turn us loose for a few minutes and wait for us: a garden, beautiful plants - GF liked that, it was pleasant enough. A cathedral, never learned the name, but it was miles from Valletta and reputedly had a replica of an unexploded German bomb which had landed there, but which we didn't find. The problem with cathedrals in Europe is there are so many of them, and they're all beautiful, but in the same way. We walked in on a funeral. Next was a glass factory, where we watched them shape molten glass into useless multicolored items, bottles and such, then went through the inescapable shop, where a water tumbler was 12 E, and the prices went way up from there. I tend to buy my water tumblers at K-mart, so I wasn't totally impressed. Finally, we went to a medieval castle/town called Mdina (the spelling is correct, no e) and had all of 15 minutes to walk around, and that was 14 too many. On our cab ride we had seen a lot of Malta, but at high maniac-cabdriver speeds and no coastal views, for which Malta is famous. We did enjoy his point of view and information, and he was the only driver we encountered on the cruise who spoke English well. Once back in Valletta, he let us off near the gardens, which is the correct end of the peninsula from which to walk down to the ship. Not knowing much about Valletta, I had suggested the Co-Cathedral, then the War Museum. We found the cathedral, but there was an enormous line to buy tickets, so we passed. The War Museum was next; Malta took an incredible pounding during WWII so I thought it would be impressive. It wasn't very. Also, it was down a long, steep hill, so steep the sidewalk was laid out in steps for a long stretch. We walked. My GF is part superwoman, part mountain goat, so she had no trouble. Every now and then she would kindly stop and wait for me. Along the way, we discovered a McDonalds, so I ordered a small milkshake and she had a coke. They did small to a ridiculous extreme: perhaps 4-6 ounces, and almost 2 E. We did the War Museum, hot and stuffy, largely unimpressive, then asked a guard how to get back down to the ship, and learned we had to go back to the gardens. It was now uphill. The GF danced up the hill while I painfully labored but finally made it. I figure it's about 2 miles each way. The cruise out at 3 PM was gorgeous. Grading myself for Malta planning: F-. Tuesday morning, we arrived in Napoli at 8 AM. I had planned to be flexible. We took the jet ferry to Capri for about 17 E per person. It is a beautiful island, and the ride there was good. Once unloaded, we found ourselves in an area of shops and restaurants around the harbor. The GF's eyes glazed over as they always do around shops, but she didn't find anything she wanted to buy, so we took the rail car up the hill (called the funicular, I believe) to Anacapri, but it was only about halfway up the mountain. More shops, more robotic shopping behavior by the GF. She finally finished after about and hour, and we took a bus back down to the harbor. The road must have been constructed during Capri's donkey cart days, and the width of it took up almost the entire lane. It wound it's way down the mountain, and pedestrians and motor-scooter riders looked as it they would be crushed against walls, but somehow the driver missed them. The exciting part came when we met another bus coming up. Both drivers stopped, and then we passed each other slowly, and I doubt if you could have slipped a sheet of typing paper between them or between our bus and the stone wall on the other side. Scary. We had a nice lunch in one of the harbor restaurants, then took the ferry over to Sorrento, where we wanted to take the train to Pompeii. Inevitably, it was a long way to the train station, and all uphill. I believe all of Italy is that way on purpose. We spent no time in Sorrento, and even though there were shops, the GF knew we didn't have a whole lot of time and wasn't distracted. We found the train, which runs back to Napoli, stopping at Pompeii Scavi, and I remember the cost as 2.40 E per person. The trains are by far the cheapest mode of transportation in Italy. We went though several tunnels and finally got there, but not before being joined by a huge crowd of kids getting out of school. Evidently they commute on the train. They were like kids anywhere: cute, happy, and constantly jabbering and kidding each other. I figured we had an hour in Pompeii, the entrance to which was a steep climb, naturally. By then I regarded any steep climb with great horror. It's a mistake to go there without a guide, it's too spread out. However, mistakes have become my way of life. We therefore had a very superficial encounter. We saw some of the temples and the forum, some of the petrified casts of people, but never did find any of the well-preserved villas of wealthy residents. I had been there twice before, with guides, but many years before. We wanted to make the 4:15 train back to Napoli because we wanted a cushion, and we made it. (We later talked to folks who told us the train after ours was very late, and they almost missed the ship.) The train eventually made it to the Garibaldi station, which according to the Google map, was where all the tracks ended, but they must go on underground, and it confused us when people stayed on the train at the point we thought was the last stop. We got off anyway, figuring we could get back on, and asked someone how to get to the port. We got the same story: Bus One. We finally managed to find our way out of the Garibaldi station, not easy, it's huge. We kept coming to side corridors leading to more trains. Outside, there was a huge open square with lots of streets leading into and out of it. We asked a policeman how to get to the ship, and he said Bus One and pointed. We walked that way, found a place where buses stopped, and the numbers were listed, but no Bus One. We asked someone else, who said Bus One and pointed. The procedure continued again and again, and there was never a Bus One. By now I had decided, the truth was that Bus One is a practical joke they play on tourista; much like a snipe hunt. I had also determined there are no English-speaking Italians. So, I decided we needed to hop a cab to the port. We did so. It wasn't easy telling the driver how to get there. I finally wrote NCL on a slip of paper and he got it. My grade for planning the day: D-. The next day, our luck took a turn for the better. I had put out a feeler on the NCL Gem's Roll Call for our cruise date, and had connected with a nice group from Paris, and a mother of one of the ladies, from Montana. We shared the cost of a (Rudi's) van and driver for about 200 E all together, about a third of what he charged. The driver was great, had tickets for the Colliseum and the Vatican so we didn't have to stand in long lines, knew where to take us, and was flexible. We saw the forum, the Trevi Fountain, drove by the Spanish Steps. I had wanted the GF to have a great Rome experience, and she did. My grade for planning: A+. Had we not connected, it would have been the train for 9 E, with a much shallower experience. The only flaw was that we whizzed through the Vatican Museum, with a guide, with almost no stops. But we spend more time in St. Peters and the Sistine Chapel, and that was good. Walking on the Rome streets is a great way to get run over, because cars and motor-scooters are always coming, and the streets are narrow. The favorite driving game is chicken, and it's almost fun to see which driver will give way. Our driver never did, but it was close at times. Now and then he would mercifully slow up for a pedestrian. The pedestrians would pretend cars didn't exist, and weren't approaching at 50 mph, and stepped into the street right in front of us. The motor-scooter riders weaved in and out of traffic constantly. The driver said only about 200 of them are killed annually in traffic, a figure which I found incredible. I would have figured 200 a day. Or maybe even per hour. Friday was Livorno. This time I had signed us up for a ship's excursion: Pisa and Tuscany, $179 pp. Wise choice. I hadn't been particularly attracted to Firenze (Florence, as we call it, doesn't exist.) I know there are some attractions there, but there just isn't enough time to do anything well on a cruise. Pisa is very interesting. By now both the GF and I were in full shopping mode, and I suppose my eyes glazed over too. We found some good gifts in the shops there. After Pisa we were driven to a grape and olive farm where they made wine and olive oil, and we had a great lunch, with six or seven bottles of wine for every 8 people, and we finished them, with everyone becoming very friendly and cheerful during the meal, for some reason. The meal was served backwards, salad last. As a bonus, we learned more than anyone would ever want to know about olive oil and how it is made, and the various qualities of it. It was a nice drive as well. My grade for planning, another A+ Saturday, a half hour late getting off the ship. The ship was late several times, which could screw up precise planning. It was even late leaving the night before, but arrived on time. We took the tenders, really ship's lifeboats, to the port of Cannes, as the ship remained offshore. It really gives you confidence in the lifeboats. They are neat little boats which can rev up pretty well and hold more people than I ever imagined. The Titanic could have used some. To do more than Cannes means no shopping, and the short time there doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room. I had wanted to go to Monte Carlo but must have been struck by an attack of wisdom. The GF and I decided to merely spend the day in Cannes and shop. Unfortunately Cannes is closed until 10 AM, except for the bars, which were open when we arrived there just before 9 AM. There were few people on the streets until 10, at which point they magically became crowded. The streets facing the harbor are lined with restaurants, the shops begin the next street over. As an officially old man, I need to go about every 15 minutes, so not long after we arrived, I felt the urge. There were signs leading to public toilets. Locked. I went into a McDonald's located at the harbor. Knowing the loos are always on the right side as you face the front, I confidently proceeded through a door, and they got really excited, no doubt thinking I was a terrorist. I was in the kitchen area. They directed me to the other side, almost getting physical in the process. Locked. The sign on the door said it could be opened by passing your receipt, but on principle I didn't buy anything. By now the shops were beginning to open, so I held it somehow, and we shopped. There are good shops in Cannes. Just after eleven I persuaded the GF it was time to eat, and we found a restaurant on the second tier of streets (We had walked the first tier, only bars were open.) I asked if they had a restroom before committing to sitting down. The French really have style. I went into the restroom, and there were no lights, and I had to stoop over. I had to hold the door partly open to see how to flush and redress, and when I got back to the GF she pointed out I was unzipped. I was lucky to even have my pants up to my waist. So ended that particular adventure - she has an embarrassing tale to tell about me if she ever chooses to use it. About 2 PM we got on a tender and went back to the ship. My grade for planning, D. It might have been C but I never managed to get us to any topless beaches. We departed the next morning. Plenty of cabs waited, like vultures, as we debarked about 6:30, and the driver wanted 45 E to take us to the airport. This cab had a meter, and it clicked .05 E about every two revolutions of the rear wheels. Nevertheless, it was only at about 28 E when we got there. I figured the 45 E was mostly gravy for the driver so I didn't leave a tip, unfeeling clod that I am. Flying back the same day, cheap style, is long and exhausting. Barcelona to Madrid to Dallas and then home. Madrid just as confusing as before. I don't plan to come through Madrid again, if I can avoid it. A great cruise. Spent more than intended, darn it. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
We arrived in Barcelona a few days before the cruise, checked into Hotel Jazz, and decided to take the hop on hop off bus. The hotel was very accommodating - our room was ready and very comfortable. After freshening up, we checked with the ... Read More
We arrived in Barcelona a few days before the cruise, checked into Hotel Jazz, and decided to take the hop on hop off bus. The hotel was very accommodating - our room was ready and very comfortable. After freshening up, we checked with the hotel about the bus tour, and not only got directions to the closest stop, but also got discount coupons for the tour. This was a very good choice for our first day as we could see most of the city without walking and could get off and on the buses as we wished. Headsets are provided to give you an overview of what you are seeing and it was just a great way to get acclimated to the city. Tip: do not start your trip for the bus at Placa de Catalunya square as it is very crowded and the lines are long. Go a few blocks to the previous stop and board, less crowded and you can get a better seat. After returning to the hotel late that afternoon, we had a very nice meal of tapas and Sangria just around the corner from the hotel - again a recommendation from the hotel. Made it an early night and overslept the next morning getting a late start to Montserrat - yikes! Our second day in Barcelona was spent at Montserrat. Again, this was easy as we took the metro right near the entrance to the hotel to the Espana train station. There we bought our tickets to Montserrat, boarded the light rail train with all the other tourists and got off at the Montserrat Aerie stop. We boarded the cable car up to the top and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere and views all around us. Our only problem was that we overslept, and had tickets for a performance at Palau de la Musica at 7pm. So we had to watch our train schedules closely. By not seeing everything we wanted to see, we were able to make it back to the hotel for a quick change and short cab ride and made it to our show on time. The performance was wonderful. Tip: go see a performance at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona - it is a beautiful venue and seeing a performance is exciting and to me more interesting than just taking a tour. We heard a wonderful performance by a very talented and expressive Argentinian singer and the language barrier was no problem - music is the universal language. But we will definitely have to see Montserrat again - a beautiful place. Finally, embarkation day! Again, as everyone has already said, this is probably the easiest embarkation you will ever do. We caught a cab at the Taxi kiosk close to the hotel - again, Hotel Jazz is in a wonderful location for all manner of transportation - and very quickly were on the ship. We immediately made our way to the spa as I knew that with the port intensive days I would need the spa package to get me through it. They had a special of 2 for $169 for the whole week - a deal when you are tired, sore, and out of energy after touring all day. The best investment we made. As for the ship: The ship was in immaculate condition, food was good and plentiful, the service was excellent, and only a few children on board - life was good! Not that we don't like children, but our steward said that on an early cruise, the kids were rolling toilet paper down the halls for entertainment - yikes! Our balcony cabin was as expected, we have sailed with NCL several times and were very familiar with cabin layout - clean, well appointed and comfortable. Our cabin stewards were very friendly, efficient and accommodating with our needs (not many, just some extra pillows), and did a great job of keeping our cabin neat and tidy - I do love when the "fairies" visit during the day and take care of the housekeeping. Worth every penny of the $12 per day per person charge. All of the crew work hard on this ship and deserve our respect and admiration for the cleanliness and order they maintain with thousands of people needing almost constant attention. Entertainment: The entertainment on this ship was very good, especially the performers in the lounges. We only saw the first and second shows in the theater - too tired the rest of the week to bother and again, the lounge performers were excellent. But I will say that there is a definite difference between the quality found with the Jean Ann Ryan performers and the "Colorz" performance on the Gem - NCL, stick with Jean Ann! Our day at sea was wonderful, sunny, warm, but not hot, and again knowing what was coming we spent time laying out in the sun resting, eating and spa-ing in preparation for the port intensive itinerary. We also took the opportunity to eat in Le Bistro (we have tried most of the other specialty restaurants), and we both agreed that it was the best of them. The food was very good and worth the up charge. Malta: Arrival in Malta is just a dramatic as promised - a beautiful, ancient city perfect for a getaway vacation - unfortunately we only had till 2:30 for our short visit. The weather was again perfect. We walked off the ship to the bus stop, passing many cab drivers offering tours. At the bus stop we find that the bus will not come by for another ½ hour - and from CC we know that the walk into town can be strenuous. Since we had planned to go on to Mdina, this was going to be a problem. A very nice German lady also approached the bus stop and we discovered that she was on another cruise and had only had till 12:00 to see the sites. So we all decided to walk into town. While walking we were again approached by cab drivers wanting to show us the sites. Since the walk uphill would take some time, we asked one of the drivers to take us only to Mdina and for $20 he agreed. Our new friend was included in the drive and would split the fare. As we went along in the comfortable taxi, she and I discussed taking the whole tour and splitting the $50 fee. Our driver was very happy with this arrangement and began to narrate the sites. This was one of the best things we did and well worth the money. Tip: you can usually find someone else to share your tour without pre-planning everything, so find a friendly person or couple and discuss touring together - you will save money and meet some interesting people along the way. Our driver took us to a beautiful garden where we strolled about the grounds, then it was on to the glass works where I bought some beautiful Maltese glass (we skipped the other shops since we had no interest in them, again, you can tailor the trip to your preferences). And then it was on to Mdina where we arrived before the tour busses. We were able to tour the city in the quiet, early morning sun, walking along charming streets and viewing the countryside all about us, and be on our way before it became crowded with everyone about. We were there before all the stores opened and did not tour the museum, but for this first trip we wanted an overview. Then it was back to Valletta where we paid our driver and said goodbye to our new friend. We strolled through the town, visited St. John's co-cathedral (beautiful) and walked back down towards the harbor. Strolling along the harbor back towards the ship, we visited the hanging garden, and the monuments along the way. The views were breathtaking! Then it was back to the ship for lunch and a stunning sail away to another adventure. We truly loved Malta. Naples/Pompeii: We started out early the morning we arrived in Naples (a beautiful, warm, sunny day) - but for some reason the ship did not dock until 8am (I think it was supposed to be 7am). Based on excellent guidance from CC, we had decided that we would do this day on our own by train to Pompeii, then to Sorrento, and the hydrofoil back to Naples. The port area around Naples is loud, busy and dirty at 8am in the morning and we only knew that we should go to the right to get to the train station knowing it was approximately a mile to walk. Again, it can be done and we were not very sure which bus to get on, and I think you need exact change to board which we did not have. But luck was with us: as we studied a "you are here" map on the sidewalk, another couple (A&A) joined us in trying to find the train station - and to our delight we became friends for the whole cruise - a lot of fun. And as we four studied the board, another fellow cruise traveler came up looking for the boat to Capri. "J" was going in the wrong direction, but when he learned we were on our way to Pompeii, he hooked his star to us and we all joined forces to find the train station - 3 new friends to share our adventure. With some local help and Mr. A's blackberry navigation we found the station and waited for the next train to arrive. Ms. A was very anxious to keep on schedule and I think I finally met my match in the "tour until you drop" department. While chatting on the train another family also from the cruise ship were on their way to Pompeii and we all decided to arrange a tour together. With 10 people at $10 euro each, we got a two hour private tour - a bargain! Tip: get into a guided tour group, you get personal attention, see the most important sites and use your time more wisely. After the tour it was back on the train for Sorrento. Ms. A was again very nervous that we return to the ship on time. As I was not sure if the hydrofoil was still running in Oct., we decided to try to find that information on first arriving. So we went towards the harbor and discovered that getting that information was not going to be easy. But I had come to see Sorrento and with the return schedule for the train in hand, I was determined to enjoy the moment and not fret. However, Ms. A was not as laid back as I was - she had not done her homework on CC. While A&A tried to find the hydrofoil, DH, J, and myself ate lunch in a very charming restaurant. The manager who had excellent English did not know about the hydrofoil, but to our delight obtained the information before we left. The boat we needed left around 4:30. A&A returned with no luck, but once we explained about the shuttle everyone relaxed and decided to tour the city. What a charming and beautiful city it is! Every corner revealed even more delights - the lovely shops, the gorgeous buildings and the friendly people. I have to go back to Sorrento for a longer visit next time, I miss it already. It was my favorite discovery of the cruise. As we had a 4:25 boat shuttle to catch, we soon headed down to the harbor and the return to our ship. What beautiful views from the harbor, breathtaking! From the hydrofoil dock it is a short walk back to our ship. A&A had other plans for their day in Rome, but we invited J to join us and he readily agreed. We all agreed to get together for our tour of Florence. Rome: Our next stop was Rome (another sunny, gorgeous day) and we had prearranged for Rome in Limo to take us around the city. Meeting J on the pier the next morning we waited a short time for our RIL driver - he arrived at 8am as promised. Discovering another passenger, his only worry was that we had pre-booked Vatican tickets and J might not get a ticket. But no worries now, we were off in style eager for our dream day in Rome. And what a day it was! The Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, Capitol Hill, the Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain (what a magical moment to through our coins into the fountain!). Tip: Download Rick Steve's audio tour for the Colosseum - with his narration, we had a great tour on our own. The whole day was like a dream - we kept saying "can you believe we are really here!" When Angelo, our driver, mentioned lunch, I told him I really wanted some good Gnocchi, and he found a wonderful place for us to eat, really good food and I believe reasonably priced. J was so delighted to have been included in the day that he graciously insisted on buying lunch - thanks again J for your kindness! It was our best meal in Italy. After lunch on to the Vatican Museum and St. Peters Basilica. Because it is October and the crowds were mostly gone, J had no problem buying his ticket and we all entered together. By the time we went through the museum to the Sistine Chapel we were so overloaded, that I know I saw Michelangelo's masterpiece, but I honestly can't remember it! There was so much to see inside this beautiful chapel, and the whole museum. It is beyond words the glorious works of art on display - floor, walls, and ceilings. St. Peter's was our last stop and so incredible. The Pieta was more beautiful that you can imagine. Everything was so over the top and beautiful. Our day in Rome was over, but our memories would last a lifetime. Then it was a comfortable drive back to the ship. As a parting gift, Angelo gave us a set of postcards to remember our day. RIL was our one splurge for touring and I very strongly recommend that you do this. Every day is very port intensive, so having someone else do the planning, and maneuvering for one day is worth the expense - you won't regret it! While planning this trip, I kept thinking, "no worries for Rome, RIL will plan that for us" and they did an incredible job making sure that we had a wonderful day. We ended our day back of the ship in the great outdoors, buffet dining while listening to our favorite Spanish Guitar player and singing "Volare" as the ship set sail -- no we really could not believe that we were really here! Florence: We had made plans to meet up with A&A and J as soon as the ship docked for our train trip to Florence. Again, we shared the $20 euro cab ride to the station and caught the train into Florence. We had discussed taking the hop on hop off here, but on arrival found out that the college students were protesting something.... Yes, these kids still protested, and apparently on a regular basis. DH and I had called ahead and booked our tickets into the Accademia to see the David so our new friends would have to wait in line to purchase their tickets. On our way, we discovered that all of the protesters were meeting in the park near the museum so after wading through the crowd we finally found the museum. Luckily for our friends there was only a short line to enter and while they waited in line, we walked directly into the pre booked entrance and were immediately admitted with no problem. Again, no crowds in October, and although the weather was not as good this day (we got some sun with light rain and a little drizzle) we were grateful for the beautiful weather so far and could not complain. No photos allowed of the David, but we were thrilled to be actually seeing it. The rest of the museum is OK, you are really there only to see the David, so it was a quick visit. Then we walked to the Duomo (spectacular), did some shopping (I got a gorgeous hand tooled leather handbag), and a stroll past the Uffuzi gallery (no time to go in, we must save it for another day), and we are standing by the river and gazing at the Ponte Vecchio. DH is not impressed with the bridge, but he does love the views of the city across the water. Then it is over the Ponte Vecchio pass all the jewelry shops (no interest for any of us),and into a wonderful little Gelato stand on the other side of the bridge where we ate gelato at 10:00 in the morning and watched the light rain fall. After the rain stopped we ventured out again and walked around some more. What a beautiful city, and yes, we can hardly believe we are actually here. Lunch this day was not as good as DH and I had a calezone that was really terrible, but the others were generous and shared some pretty good pizza with us, so no worries. Not even a bad meal could get us down in such a beautiful city with such delightful companions. Then it was back on the train and back to the ship. I strongly suggest that you do this day on your own - it is just as easy as recommend by our friends on CC. And unless you are traveling during peek summer times, no need to pre-book all of your tickets. Cannes (Nice, Monaco, and Monte Carlo): This was the only time we took a ship excursion, and my least favorite day. We had decided on the ship excursion because of the time constraints associated with tendering instead of docking and the short day in Cannes (back on the ship by 2:30). We were suppose to take the Grasse and St. Paul de Vincent tour. However, the day before we arrived in Cannes we were notified that due to a "lack of interest" our original excursion was canceled. Very disappointed, but still wanting the safety of the ship excursion, we decided to take the Nice, Monaco, and Monte Carlo tour - and as an added bonus A&A were also on this tour. So, up before dawn (again), and on our way to Nice in the dark we saw A&A on the tender boat and after exchanging bus numbers with another couple, so we were all on the same bus - and there were many buses for this tour. At the first stop we suspected that we should have chosen another tour. After riding in the dark and arriving in Nice at first light, we made a very brief stop near the waterfront - where we were all quickly marched down a charming street to a beautiful market filled with fresh vegetable and flowers (nice, but what are we going to do with these???) and given approx. 30 minutes to look around on our own. Ms. A, like myself, was not pleased with how the day is starting. We quickly walked a few streets into the city area and realized that we would not see any of this beautiful city in the small amount of time given. 30 minutes to "see" Nice?? I was able to run into a cafe and get a croissant and chocolate (my favorite breakfast while visiting Paris), then it was back on the bus for a drive to Monaco. Scenery blearing by the windows, waiting in traffic, maneuvering the bus around construction and we finally alight in a parking deck to go up to Disneyland...whoops, that would be Monaco.... home to the perfect little country. Our guide was very into Princess Grace because everything she talked about included her - and she kept talking about her. Now I liked Grace Kelley and her movies, and I know quite a bit about her story, but my thought is: if you really cared about Grace Kelley, you don't need a 30 minute lecture about her wedding, life, death, etc, because you already know it. And if you don't know the story, then you didn't care in the first place. But my main gripe is that she would announce we had 30-45 minutes and THEN KEPT TALKING! Passing by the Princess's homes were instructed to "walk quietly" to give them their privacy. This was a public street, not a cathedral. So hearing another lecture on Princess Grace, I gave up, and wandered off to see Monaco, hoping DH and A&A would take the hint and follow me. Monaco is a beautiful place and the views are spectacular. There was a foot race that day ending at the palace with people cheering as the runners came in at the finish line - real life in a fairy tale setting. After buying a few souvenirs for our sons, and purchasing quick sandwiches for lunch (no time to actually stop and eat), it was back to catch the bus. Then it is a short drive to Monte Carlo and a group climb on foot up to the casino area. Again, very pretty, but not much to see (we weren't actually going to the casino for gambling), no time to really see the area (another 30 WHOLE minutes!) and too expensive for our blood. Ah but the scenery (not!)- pretty, exclusive shops, a few beautiful people obviously not tourists (we were the ones in comfortable shoes, wandering around with cameras) and my husband playing "name that expensive sports car." Then back down the hill en masse following our fearless leader (and she was, braving cars not inclined to let our large group across the streets) and literally running to use the facilities before the bus came, then discovering that the bus is late, and waiting for the bus...and waiting for the bus.... and waiting... you get the picture. Then a non-scenic drive back to Cannes, no time to see any of Cannes, and back on the tender boat to the ship. Glad I saw some of the sites, but take my advise: stay in Cannes or take the train to Nice. We would have done much better on our own and had less travel time. That evening we had a nice meal in La Cuchina with our friends and almost closed out the restaurant enjoying the company. Then it was back to pack and get some well earned sleep. Back to Barcelona! Slept in since we did not have to fly back out until the next day. We ate a leisurely breakfast, did a very easy walk off with our luggage, caught a cab to our hotel near the airport (Marriott points!) and caught another cab back into the city to stroll down Las Rambles and see the Gothic Quarter. Enjoyed the Sunday strollers, the cafes, flower stands, and again, a picture perfect day. We decided to tour the Picasso museum (after 3pm entry is free on Sunday) and although not huge fans of Picasso, the museum is interesting since it shows the progression of his work and thought processes. My only problem this day: by not having a hotel room nearby to take an afternoon break, we overdid some of the walking. But we did take coffee breaks in lovely little sidewalk cafes, and enjoyed a long lunch and dinner. After whiling away the hours until dusk walking the charming streets, we finally caught a cab back to our hotel and went to bed early for the long flight home the next day. I took over 1500 photos (yes, I am crazy) but each moment was a memory I wanted to try to recapture in the cold winter to come. But now that we have been home a week, I mostly remember the quiet moments sitting in cafes while watching the regular folks stroll by, meeting new friends, listening to the music of the many languages spoken all around us, seeing the smiles of our fellow travelers and experiencing the hospitality of the lovely people of Barcelona, Malta, Italy and France. I loved our European adventure, but am now busy planning our next cruise: Alaska this May on the lovely NCL Pearl. And maybe in May 2011, the Greek Isles? We really love to travel and the Gem was a great vehicle to get us where we wanted to go. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
CRITICS: We are a couple in our 30s from Georgia, USA. This was my fourth cruise, and my wifes third. Previous cruises were on RCL, HAL and NCL. BARCELONA - Arrived on Friday morning and were booked 2 nights at the Hilotn Diagonal ... Read More
CRITICS: We are a couple in our 30s from Georgia, USA. This was my fourth cruise, and my wifes third. Previous cruises were on RCL, HAL and NCL. BARCELONA - Arrived on Friday morning and were booked 2 nights at the Hilotn Diagonal Mar so upon landing we took the Renfe train to Passig de Gracia, transfered to the subway and then walked the 2 blocks to the hotel. No problem checking in early at 10am. Hotel staff all spoke english and gave us a great welcome pack with city map and guide book. Room was very nice with seperate shower and a soaking tub, large lcd tv and we had a nice view of the city. While not exactly in the middle of the action the hotel was only 2 blocks from the subway (get a T10 pass for easy ticketing) so we really didn't find it a problem to get anywhere. Stayed here free on points so can't comment on the relative value. There is a large shopping mall across the street. Had a great time touring the Gothic Quarter, Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas and Montjuic. Wish we had another day or two here actually. CRUISE: Embarkacation was easy cheezy. Lines were very short at about 1230pm. There were seperate lanes for suite, balcony and latitudes members but we waited in the main line not more than 5 mins. Once aboard we got our mimosas and headed to Grand Pacific for a lesiurely lunch while waiting for our cabins to be ready. I toured around the ship after lunch to familiarize myself. One thing i thought was great was up on deck 14 forward they have wonderful cushined loungers you can lay in and look forward over the bow. We found ourselves up here a few times during the cruise. The ship layout is a little quirky at times and you get the "can't get there from here" feeling as a hallway will just end and you will need to backtrack or switch sides. One such oddity is the MDR, Grand Pacific which is on deck 6 aft but can only be accessed from deck 7, and then walk down the stairs. Magenta is likewise oddly placed midship. Room steward, Mr Mike, was excellent. Always had a smile and was very personable. We had an inside on deck 9 and could not be happier. While certainly not spacious there was ample room for us and having a sliding door for the shower instead of a "sticky" curtain was great. All cruise lines should follow this design. Clearance btw toilet and wall left something to be desired for this six footer but i managed. We did typically have a wait at the MDRs. Our waits were from 2 mins to 25mins. You are issued a beeper which entitles you to 2for1 well drinks at the nearest bar. Also, VERY hard to find seating at the buffet at all meal times. Quite simply nowhere near enough chairs. NCL should really consider relocating the Italian restaurant to somewhere else and freeing up that seating area. If the onboard displays are any indication the only specialty restaurant that was ever more than 10% busy was the Teppanaki so obviously there is room for space consolidation onboard. FOOD: We ate at the buffet, both MDRs and once at Cagneys. Buffet was great for dinner, we thought the indian food was a great unexpected find. Also crepe station. There were several nights we left the MDR after dinner and came up here for our dessert crepes. We thought Magenta, the smaller of the two MDRs was better, not that the food was any different but just had a more intimate feel and was quieter and the decor more subdued. One night they had a pecan crusted halibut in a gumbo which was one of the best entrees i have ever eaten in my life...period. Other foods ranged from very good to just ok but nothing was actually bad except...we ate our last dinner at Cagneys. The crab cakes we started with where great. We ordered steaks and my medium rare came out closer to well done. I sent it back and while i was waiting for a refire the manager was walking through, noticed i didn't have a plate while my wife did. He asked if anything was wrong, i explained my steak was overdone and he said, "oh, ok" and walked off. Not even an apology or can i get you something while it is refired. Honestly the dining staff was just plain disappointing in all the restaurants we went to. They seemed there just to take your order and clean your plates and don't really have the desire to be congenial or social with you. Oh well. ENTERTAINMENT: We only saw 2 of the shows, on our sea day the production show named Colorz. Basically the cast singing and dancing to american pop/rock songs that had references to various colors: red, blue, green, black, etc and a shadowbox on the stage changing color each few songs. Still trying to wrap my arms around why "Life is a Highway" is red? Also saw the magician, who was ok but he repeated all his lines 4 times in different languages which got a little old. Would have loved to see Second City but honestly with this touring schedule we were way to tired. SEA DAY: NCL had set up our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet for this day. They had a small drink and pastry station set up in the Magenta dining room for us and they had all the senior officers show up, even the captain, for a brief welcome. I thought it was fabulous of them to take the time to welcome us so thank you NCL!! Also went to the latitudes reception which was basically a hard sell for the cruise rewards program but it came with free rum punch and canapes, some nice live piano and a few giveaways so i think it was a fair tradeoff for about 45mins of my time. Then went to the margharita tasting in the Bali Bar above the pool. $15 for 5 kinda midsized drinks wasn't too bad and it was fun meeting some new friends. We all agreed the purple one was the best - it had chambourd in it. MALTA: There might not be a grander entrance into a port in the world. Just stunning. We had a private tour here with tour guide booked through Malta TravelNet. Our guide, Joan, was absolutely wonderful. Without a doubt the best tour guide i have ever had. Being a tour guide for 30 years she had her history down pat and sprinkled in enough personal stories and local information to keep us interested. We first travelled to the Hypogeum, an underground burial chamber dating from around 4000BC. An absolute wonder to see, definitely try to do this if stopping in Malta. Next up we drove to Mdina and did a walking tour of the medieval city. Then back to Malta where we visited the gardens overlooking the bay and St Johns Co-Cathedral. St Johns is just wonderful, an amazingly beautiful church with intracate detailing on the walls a fabulous fresco on the ceiling and wonderful art and sulpture along the side chapels. Just WOW!! NAPLES: We planned to visit Herculaneum and the Archeology Musesum here today. Right outside the port buy a transit ticket from the newspaper stand and take the T1 tram to the Garibaldi station, then the Circumvesuvia train to Ercolano Scavi. Walk down the road and you come to the entrance archway to the site. Much bigger than i thought it would be and a nice contrast to Pompeii which i had visited previously. We got audio tours (10euro for 2) and spent about 4 hours walking through the ruins. Definitely get the audio tours here, they really do enhance the experience and are well worth the money. We spent so much time here we didn't have enough time to make it to the museum so we just went back to the ship. CIVITAVECHIA: Off the ship took the port bus to the entrance, then walked the short distance to the train station (basically from were the port bus drops you off walk directly straight out of the bus doors to the main road, cross at the crosswalk and take a right. The station will be ahead about half a mile on the left. It is elevated a bit from the sidewalk so when you see a wall start to rise from street level take the stairs to the left). Check the train schedules on the trentalia web site, we got on the 841 train but there were earlier ones. It takes a little over an hour to get to Rome, depending on what train you get and where you get off. We got off at Ostencie, transfered to the Yellow subway and got out right at the foot of the Colisseum. Seeing lines we first went to Palentine Hill and got the combo tickets that would allow us to enter the Colisseum later without waiting. We wondered through Palentine Hill for awhile, then went into the Forum and listened to the Rick Steves audio tour. Then made our way to the Colisseum and also did the Steves tour. Once finished we walked by the wedding cake on our way to Trevi Fountain. We tossed our coin in and walked to the Pantheon. Payed our respects to Raphael and went down a few blocks to the Torre Argentina cat shelter (some of the oldest ruins in the city have been blocked off and made into a cat santuary where volunteers care for the strays - worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood). From there we headed to Piazza Navona and then northward to the Tiber, across the bridge Castel San'Anglo and to the square of St Peters. Not quite enough time to go in here as we needed to get to our train which we were picking up at the Stazione San Pietro. Turns out we got turned around finding the station and missed our scheduled train at 417 but we had left a buffer in case of an emergency, the 459. That train ended up being late as we found out later the 417 was cancelled and the 459 was jammed packed of people. We somehow squeezed on, though i heard later not everyone made it. A nervous ride as we knew we were late but as we got closer to the port we realized nearly everyone on the train was going to the ship and they wouldn't have left all of us? In any event the ship didn't even leave until 11pm due to what was explained as an inspection by the port authorities. LIVORNO: Heard this port was a pain to get out of so we went on a private tour here through RomeInLimo to Pisa and Florence with a quick drive through some of the Tuscan countryside as well. Pisa was fine, just a half hour visit to snap a few pics and walk around a bit. Drive through the countryside was beautiful, the leaves were begining to change color and the vistas of the rolling, grape-lined hills was wonderful. Stopped off at the hill above Florence first to get a magnificent view of the city. Stopped for lunch at a great local restaurant our tour guide recommended. Try the ribollita, a wonderful local dish, kinda like stew. Unfortunately we didn't have a whole lot of time here, only went into the duomo and the Accedemia and walked around Piazza del Signoria and outside the Uffize (lines were very long here) before having to head back to the port. CANNES: Had planned to take a ship tour to St Paul de Vence but ended up going the private tour route with some other CCers for the same cost. We drove through Cannes to the older villages of Antibes (where we stopped off at a wonderful fresh market), St Paul de Vence and Tourrettes Sur Loup. St Paul is a sleeply little artist village which was very, very cute and picturesque. I would imagine during high season its small lanes could get busy but there were times we were fully on our own while wondering around. Tourrettes was even more deserted and just as cute. Cannes does not have a pier so we tendered ashore. No tickets or queues, just go down and get on a boat when you want to get off. We had no issues getting off at a little after 8am to meet our driver. DISEMBARKMENT: NCL didn't make the first announcements until 8am i think, though you could walk off earlier if you wished. We had picked out later tags and had a leisurly breakfast at the buffet first. Got off right after 9am which proved to be well timed. The taxi lines really started backing up about this time. They seemed to release the taxis in "waves", about 10 would come and leave and then there was a gap of time until the next 10 came in. It was an easy drive to the airport and about 30euro if i remember correctly. Make sure you know which terminal you are flying out of, as there are two different ones at BCN. LAST THOUGHTS: It was a wonderful, albeit very tiring, time. Up early each day to maximize our time in the cities got old, would have been nice to somehow have the sea day in the middle of the cruise instead of the first day. Being such a distance from Rome and Florence makes it a very long day of traveling and touring. Also, really wish we had a full day to explore Malta in more detail. In all though a great adventure that we would love to do again. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
Western Med Cruise On Your Own We have been on over 11 cruises and have traveled to Europe several times, so were interested in trying to do our NCL Gem cruise, roundtrip from Barcelona, booking our own shore excursions as much as ... Read More
Western Med Cruise On Your Own We have been on over 11 cruises and have traveled to Europe several times, so were interested in trying to do our NCL Gem cruise, roundtrip from Barcelona, booking our own shore excursions as much as possible. We had an online "booking special" that included $200 obc, a balcony cabin, air from and to Miami, all transfers, and one night pre-cruise stay in Barcelona at the Mont Blanc Hotel which was very nice and conveniently located near Las Ramblas. The hotel has in room internet (ask for a cable at the desk), breakfast buffet, and an in room safe (5 euros extra) for leaving our passports and most of our money while we were out. We took copies of our passports with us, one credit card (Capital One because they don't have a foreign currency transaction surcharge), driver's license, and about 50 euros, all hidden in passport holders under our clothes in most all ports, except Cannes. Remember to notify your credit card company before you leave the country and tell them what countries you will be in to help avoid any unpleasant experiences of being denied use because of "suspicious activity". For communication back home we signed up for the on board internet package of 100 minutes, but were sorry we did this because it is too slow to be much use. We ended up just using our unlocked gsm quad band phones that we have (you can pick one up on Ebay) and inserted global sim cards when we arrived overseas. Mine cost around 69 cents per minute for me to call the U.S. for the countries we were in, but I just kept the calls to a minimum. My sim card was purchased at acetelecomstore.com , or you could also get one on ebay. If you are going to do the excursions on your own, as we did, make sure you get good city maps of all the port cities in advance and take a look at where you want to go. You can easily find them on the internet or copy them from a public library book. You can get a map of Cannes when you disembark the tender by immediately going up the stairs to your left where there is a tourist information office which will give you both a city and a bus map. BARCELONA: We walked and took the metro to get around. It would be a good idea to print out both a metro and city map before you go to Barcelona. The works of Gaudi are absolutely amazing and we enjoyed seeing La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. On Sunday morning we were transferred to the ship, and checked in with no wait. There is a Latitudes check in line (the last one...it's pink), but the other lines didn't look too long either. They gave us a complimentary glass of champagne when we boarded and then we went to the Grand Pacific dining room for a nice sit down lunch. I don't think many folks were aware the dining room was open because it was not at all crowded and they did try and persuade us to go elsewhere as we entered by politely asking, "Don't you want to eat at our buffet which is open?". Our room was ready by 1:30pm and we dumped our carryon luggage and left the ship again to return to Barcelona via the port bus right at the ship's pier. It only cost 2 euros one way or 3 euros return. The bus runs right to the Christopher Columbus statute at the end of Las Ramblas. Right across from that is the Maritime Museum, which does not charge admission on Sunday, and which we enjoyed touring before returning to the ship by the port bus in time for the 5pm lifeboat drill. The Maritime Museum also has a place to store luggage if you want to visit it before or after your cruise. We even were given a 2nd glass of champagne when we reboarded! The lifeboat drill was quick and painless, as our meeting location was indoors. Our luggage, including our box of wine, made it on just fine. We signed up for the spa package and were glad we did as we used it every evening to relax in the whirlpools and hot stone loungers. I cannot comment on the shows because we opted to be in the spa instead. We ate most dinners in the Grand Pacific, that we enjoyed, but did have 2 in the smaller Magenta dining room. I personally preferred the smaller quieter more intimate atmosphere of Magenta, but they were both just fine and have the same menu. We had to wait a short time at the Grand Pacific (10-15 minutes at 6:30pm), but they do give you a beeper giving one the option of 2 for 1 drinks in the Bliss Lounge if you so desire. They do still offer cappuccino in dining rooms (including decaf) and there is a machine for them at the buffet, but they are much weaker and not as tasty at the buffet. Our room was a category BA balcony on the port side and our neighbor was in a similar cabin right next to us. We still enjoy the towel animals they leave at night, and I was kind of surprised that they still left mints on our pillows after reading that they had cut back on this. Our room steward was kind enough to unlock the balcony partition between our 2 balconies so we had one long shared balcony with our neighbor who was traveling on her own. I understand that it is not always possible to get the steward to unlock the partition. We propped open the partition door with a deck chair and had smooth seas the entire trip, but I can see that if the sea was rough, that the door might bang around a bit. Our stateroom had a hairdryer, small fridge, 2, 110 volt outlets, 1, 220 volt outlet and large in room safe (my 10" netbook fit easily in it). We used room service every morning (it also served as our wake up call) and on the card I wrote in a request for a large pot of coffee and an omelet made with egg whites which was honored with no questions. We also wrote in a request for 6am delivery, even though the card says breakfast room service starts at 6:30am, and we received it right at 6am. They always call first before delivery, and we keep a small package of dollar bills handy in our stateroom for tips. DAY AT SEA: I highly recommend that if you are going on a cruise that you sign up on your Cruise Critic roll call. We were excited to meet our fellow Cruise Critic members (about 30 of us) from our roll call at 11am in the Magenta dining room. The Captain made a brief, but welcoming appearance, as well as 7 other officers and crew members. They made a point of asking us to let them know if we had any complaints or suggestions to improve our cruise experience, as they would rather we tell them first before we complain about it on the boards. I think his request was fair enough. Having the meet and greet with our fellow cruise critic members was a good way to make new friends to drink, dine, and share a taxi or train ride with, as well as share suggestions and ideas. The Latitudes event with drinks with the Captain was around 1:30pm and was crowded, but nice. NCL was really pushing their new rewards program where you could get onboard credit for this cruise if you gave a deposit for a future cruise, but we decided to wait to book our next one. It was "formal" night in the dining room and I always look forward to the lobster for this night. It was a little tricky finding it on the menu as they call it "Surf and Surf" or something like that with no mention of lobster in the name. Just ask your waiter. I was a pig and ordered the duck, too, which was also delicious. MALTA: It is very pretty sailing into this walled city of knights and we were lucky enough to have pre-booked tickets online to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. This hypogeum consists of several levels of underground burial chambers and passages, the oldest of which dates back to 3600 B.C.! Seeing this was one of the highlights of my cruise. They only permit 10 visitors per hour in a strictly controlled environment, so tickets sell out well in advance. If you know you are going to Malta, I highly recommend you try and book this at the Heritage Malta website. Malta is known for their buses, and you can easily reach this site by taking the #11 bus from the city center to Paola, walking up the hill and turning right at the signs on the side of the building (a 10 minute walk at most). The bus only cost .47 euro and change for small bills or euro coins can be made on the bus. From Paola, you can also walk to another interesting ancient archeological site (above ground and not limited in the number that can be admitted) called the Tarxien Temples. You do not need to purchase these tickets in advance. We took a bus back to Valetta (just ask the driver if he is going to town) and walked downhill from the main road to the museum of Archaeology which has a lot of artifacts from the 2 sites we just visited. From there we viewed St. John's Co-Catherdral (there is a charge to enter) from the outside and walked on to the Grand Master's Palace where we saw the stunning State Rooms, Tapestry Chamber, and Armoury. It was a 10-15 minute walk back to the ship and we had time for a nice glass of wine on the way. If I ever return to Malta again I would probably want to see the city of Mdina, and it looks like it would be easy to take the bus to that from the City Center, too. Back on the ship we had fish and chips at the Blue Lagoon, which is always open for a late lunch. That night we ordered sandwiches from room service (cheese because they were out of peanut butter) and put them in ziplock baggies in our fridge. We took them with us the next day for our port day and did this for all our long port days to have something to munch on with us. We also took sunscreen, water bottles, hand wipes and granola bars. I highly recommend a hat if you go to Pompeii, too. NAPLES/POMPEII: We disembarked the ship as soon as we were allowed around 7am and walked to the Piazza Garibaldi train station where we purchased tickets to Circumvesuviana line getting off at the Pompeii Scavi stop. Make sure it says a local train...not direct to Sorrento because otherwise it won't stop. It was a rather long walk to the train station and you might want to consider sharing a taxi with others and saving your time and legs for Pompeii. Naples is not really very scenic and if you walk, you're probably safer and better off being in a group, as we were. There will undoubtedly be others that you can share a cab with to the train station. The taxi drivers will try and persuade you to hire their services for the whole day, but it will cost you a lot more. When we arrived at Pompeii you can purchase your entrance tickets there. Don't forget to pick up your map and little guidebook at the entrance with your ticket. We also downloaded and printed out Rick Steve's written walking guide to Pompeii. He is supposed to come out with a free mp3 and Ipod audio walking tour in December, 2009 which would be handy for those of you that go in the future. Pompeii is an amazing place to see. We took the train back to Naples Central station and then got on the local train to "Cavour" station, where there is a walk through to metro station "Museo" which leads to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. This museum contains most of the stunning artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum. If you go, you might want to see the "Secret Room" located up the first flight of stairs off to the left that contains a lot of erotic artwork from Pompeii. We walked back to the ship from the museum stopping long enough for a quick sit down drink at an outdoor cafe. CIVITAVECCHIA (ROME): Again we were first off the ship at 7am and shared a taxi van with fellow cruise critic members that took us directly to the train station (paid 5 euros each). Do not try and walk, it is quite a distance and it is an industrial port. Often NCL representatives will not let you walk out anyway. The NCL shuttles do not start until 7.30am. We purchased a B.I.R.G. ticket for 9 euros that is good for the roundtrip train fare to and from Rome as well as the metro and buses in Rome. This is a real bargain, and the train is actually the fastest way to get to and from Rome as it avoids traffic jams. Make sure you validate your ticket in the little yellow box on the wall before getting on the train at Civitavecchia. We took the train to the St. Peter's stop (San Pietro) where we got off and took the #64 bus to St. Peter's Square that was right outside the train station. Be very careful on this bus because I have read numerous articles indicating there are many pickpockets on this bus that is frequently used by tourists. Perhaps it was too early in the morning still for them, but we were fortunate to not have experienced anything bad. We had purchased advance reservations for the Vatican museums (includes the Sistine Chapel) for 10am online and walked around to the other side for the entrance to the Vatican museum. They let us in 45 minutes early. If you have reservations, go to the reservations desk downstairs to pick up your entrance tickets before proceeding upstairs. We walked through the Vatican museum admiring the art for about 40 minutes before arriving at the Sistine Chapel (no pictures allowed here). We used the Rick Steves's free downloadable audio guide and maps for this place as well as St. Peter's Basilica, the Coliseum, and the Forum and found it very helpful. We also used his guides in Florence for L'Accademia and the Uffizi museums. Upon departing from the Sistine Chapel, one of Mr. Rick's helpful tips is that in the back right hand corner of the Sistine Chapel there is a door marked for tour groups. Just hang out till you see a tour group exiting and exit with them. You can go from there directly to St. Peter's Basilica (which is free and pictures are allowed) and this will save you at least 30 minutes from walking all the way around and standing in line again. Note, if you rent an audio guide from the Vatican, you cannot do this as you have to go back to return you guide. We then took the metro from the metro stop directly north of the Vatican over to the Spagna stop where we briefly saw the Spanish Steps and took a few photos. From there we walked to Trevi Fountain and then on down to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill where we had prebooked tickets so we didn't have to wait in line. They are amazing! Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the Pantheon, but since we threw coins into Trevi Fountain that means we will be returning to the "Eternal City" for another visit. The metro near the Colosseum will take you back to the main train station, Termini, where you can get the train to Civitavecchia, which is the last stop. You can easily walk back to the port gates and there was just a short wait for the free shuttle back to the ship. LIVORNO (FLORENCE): We had originally planned to take the train again from this port into Florence, but our ship was about an hour late due to the police investigating some unknown incident that happened on the ship the night before. When we finally received clearance to disembark we tried to get a taxi to the train station, but all the taxi drivers just wanted to be hired for the whole day and take us all the way to Florence instead of the train station. Since we were already an hour late and were meeting friends in Florence, we went in with several other cruise critic members who also originally planned to take the train, and we all hired a taxi van together to take us to a central spot in Florence. The cost without tip was 45 euros each roundtrip, but it was worth it for us to have the extra time. We met up with our friends for coffee, a stroll around the local market, a climb up Brunelleschi's Dome for a spectacular view of Florence, and then on to L'Accademia (we had pre-booked tickets) to see David and other magnificent art. We had lunch at a cafe, walked to see the Ponte Vecchio and went to the Uffizi museum in the afternoon with pre-booked reservations for 2pm. We had just enough time for a nice glass of wine and gelato before meeting the taxi driver at 3:30pm and then drove back to the ship. Florence is a beautiful and fantastic city with many remarkable buildings and art. The taxi driver, Massimo (who was wonderful) will include a side trip to Pisa, but that costs more. CANNES: You only have part of a day here and have to tender, but it was very easy and simple to get around. It isn't too big, and if you want to wander around and see the shops, I recommend you find the Marche Forville (Market, not far from the port). There is lots of interesting and colorful good smelling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc. There is a beach further on down from the port that you can swim in, or you can take the open top Tourist bus around a loop for 2 euros. We met up with some relatives and had a nice lunch with some delicious French wine before heading back to the ship. We ate our only meal in the specialty restaurant, Le Bistro (well worth the $15. up charge), on this night, and really enjoyed the excellent food and service....a wonderful end to a fantastic and memorable cruise of a lifetime. If NCL is reading this review as our Captain indicated they do, thank you for a great cruise (and of course I was only joking about sneaking on that box of wine)! Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
We sailed on October 4-11 2009. Two couples mid 50's. Balcony cabins,deck 10. NCL made our flight/transfer/1 night hotel arrangements. We were met at the airport and driven to the Confortel Barcelona in a private van. Very modern, ... Read More
We sailed on October 4-11 2009. Two couples mid 50's. Balcony cabins,deck 10. NCL made our flight/transfer/1 night hotel arrangements. We were met at the airport and driven to the Confortel Barcelona in a private van. Very modern, clean hotel with a rooftop deck that overlooks the Mediterranean ( buffet breakfast included).We chose not to use the provided shuttle to the ship the next morning,they did transport our luggage to the ship however. There is a NCL rep. in the Lobby if you have any questions. We wanted to get in as much sightseeing as possible before going to the ship and this gave us an additional 2 hours of sightseeing time. Don't miss walking down Las Ramblas. Lots of fun. Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo were on our list. By the time we arrived at the port around 3:30 there were no lines and we checked in right away. The GEM is a beautiful ship. Laid out very well and easy to get around. The itinerary was the main reason for choosing this cruise, the GEM was a plus. Naples... We did a private tour with allarounditaly.com, Fabrizio picked us up at the ship at 8am and gave us the tour of a lifetime. We went all around the Amalfi Coast,stopping in Positano for shopping and lunch. The scenery is breathtaking and his insight and comments made the day! We spent a few hours in Pompeii,totally incredible, before heading back to the ship in time to sail. Fabrizio made us feel like we were family and it was truly an unforgettable day. I highly recommend his company. I found him by reading the boards on this site and others and it was well worth it. The price was 450 euros for 4 people,not including tip and lunch. It was so much more relaxing to tour the Amalfi Coast and little towns in a car instead of being herded around on a tour bus with 100 other people. We'll book him again in the future. email...info@allarounditaly.net Rome.... We took the train ourselves into Rome, Very easy and not as confusing as I thought it would be. We bought a round trip ticket and were off. Just be sure to check the schedule for the return. We had no trouble at all. Florence.... We took a taxi from the port area as soon as the ship cleared to Pisa. Spent less than a half hour there taking photos and caught a taxi to the train station to go to Florence. Again, very easy, we bought round trip tickets. Pisa-Florence-Livorno. The trains are fast and cheap. Cheap being the word our husbands liked to hear!! I pre-booked and purchased tickets to see David online. This is the way to go. Lines were long,long,long! We waited about 5 minutes, showed our voucher that was emailed to me and off we went. We did alot of pre-planning for this trip. Rick Steve's Travel book was a great source of information. That book went to every port with us. I was unsure at first of using the local trains, but they were very easy to use in spite of the fact that none of us speak anything except English. Very inexpensive way to get around. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
First of all we enjoyed this cruise very much. We were a group of 4 traveling me, my husband, my mom, and my sister (2 cabins). Our group were all veteran cruisers. We have cruised several lines before; Carnival, Princess, RCCL...this ... Read More
First of all we enjoyed this cruise very much. We were a group of 4 traveling me, my husband, my mom, and my sister (2 cabins). Our group were all veteran cruisers. We have cruised several lines before; Carnival, Princess, RCCL...this was our first NCL cruise and for the most part I enjoyed this cruise more than the others. Perhaps it was the port heavy destination of Europe...I'm not big on many days at sea so this fit nicely into my travel ideals. So let me just give a breakdown by port. The Ship: Very nice and spacious. This was the first time I payed the extra money for a balcony room. For this trip it was well worth it. We spent a great deal of time sitting on the balcony. If you can afford it I definately advise it for Europe. We did a few speciality restaurants, Le Bistro, Tequila, and Cagneys. As you might expect If you don't mind paying the extra $, the food and service is better in the specialty restaurants than the free restaurants. But, the service/food was never terrible in the free restaurants like Magenta/Blue Lagoon/Grand Pacific just not outstanding. My only main complaint is concerning the buffet. There is only 1 drink/ice machine for the entire buffet. Other cruises give you more drink options like juices but w/ this cruise line at the buffet only tea/water/coffee and you have to fight the crowds at the 1 drink station. But, all in all have no other complaints. The ship is very clean and spacious with plenty of ammenities but on this port heavy cruise we really didn't have time to use all the ammenities. Barcelona: We stayed 1 night prior to our cruise at Hotel 1898 on Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas had so much to see and do! Hotel 1898 was very nice although a wee bit pretentious...maybe too modern I'm a pretty simple gal. I definately advise an extra day or so before or after the cruise in Barcelona. This is a lovely city in fact one of my favorites of the entire trip. Since we had only 1 day in Barcelona I booked a private tour w/ Barcelona Day Tours. Kudos to Juan our guide he did a great job of showing us all the highlights of Barcelona in 4hrs. We saw La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Montjuic, and so many other things. However, for the rest of the trip we booked all excursions we took we did through NCL. Malta: As many other cruisers have noted the view coming into this city is fabulous! We found a cab for 52 euro and he took 4 of us to Mdina, a glass factory and the president's palace. Mdina was a very interesting place. The cab dropped us off near St John's Co-Cathedral which was very beautiful as well. This was about all we had time for in Malta. But it was very nice. Naples: We did the NCL excursion Capri/Sorrento and Pompeii. This was a VERY long day. Pompeii was very interesting and you could probably spend just a day here (although I saw enough on the tour). Next we went to Sorrento which was very charming, would like to go back here. We had lunch in Sorrento and went onto Capri. Capri was gorgeous but it was jam packed full of tourists which made it somewhat less appealing. Perhaps in the evenings when the cruise ships leave Capri is less crowded? Could have lived without the stop at the cameo factory to have more time in Capri/Sorrento. Overall this was a good but tiring day. Rome/Civitavecchia: We did the Rome and The Vatican Tour. This tour should prob be renamed The Vatican with 20min of Rome. The Vatican had so much to see. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter Bascillca, Vatican square. We had a great guide at the Vatican who gave us a lot of information. We had lunch nearby then went to the coloseum for about 20min then back to the ship. Prob wishful thinking that you could do Rome in day and was somewhat disappointed that we didn't see Trevi Fountain but...I'm glad I got to see everything at the Vatican. Guess I will have to go back to Rome one day! Florence: We did Cinque Terre. It was absolutely gorgeous! This was one of my favorite days. I wish I could have done Florence and Cinque Terre but, I have been reading about Cinque Terre and have wanted to go there for a long time so...This tour gave us a great deal of free time to see Cinque Terre on our own. We enjoyed a glass of the local Cinque Terre white wine at lunch and shopped around a little bit. Would be nice to stay here for a week and hike around and take it easy! Will have to come back here and spend some more time in Florence/Tuscany/and Cinque Terre. Our traveling companions did the Florence and Pisa tour. They complained the tour guide spent more time talking about buildings and then they didn't have time to go in them so they were somewhat disappointed. But, if I ever wondered about whether we should have booked a private tour on our excursions instead of w/ NCL...My mom broke her pinky finger in Florence and had to have a MD at our next port put it in a splint but, since her injury occured on an NCL excursion it was on their dime....everything from the cab ride to the hospital, the MD fees, the MD fees on the boat...so there goes all the $$ you saved on a private excursion. Although I will say got very tired of being in big groups being bused around everywhere.Cannes: We did the Highlights of Monaco and Nice tour. It was a very delightful tour. Not as hectic as the other tours and had lots of free time. Stopped in Nice and enjoyed a market. Went to Monaco and saw Monte Carlo and the tomb of Princess Grace. The French Riviera is stunning! Now that I have seen Monaco if I ever go back would just stay in Nice or Cannes and lay on the beach. Overall: Great cruise...saw so much in such a short time! It was all fabulous! Wish I could go back tom! Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We are a 50+ couple that decided to go on this cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We had been on a cruise to the Caribbean on Carnival 10 years ago so we were familiar with cruising. The idea of Freestyle cruising attracted us ... Read More
We are a 50+ couple that decided to go on this cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We had been on a cruise to the Caribbean on Carnival 10 years ago so we were familiar with cruising. The idea of Freestyle cruising attracted us because of the casual aspect when it comes to dining. I learned from the Carnival cruise you select a dining time, get dressed up and sit with the same group whether you like them or not. If you miss the time you are SOL. With Freestyle you can get dressed up or not. I would prefer to sit with just my wife and eat whenever and wherever I want. This worked out well for us. Naturally the Garden Cafe which is buffet style can get crowded and a little crazy depending when you go but I had no complaint with the variety and quality of selections offered. There was something for everyone. The "free" restaurants Magenta and Grand Pacific were fancy, had great food including "cooking light" dishes and we found the service fine. They did however get crowded because they were free. We ate at LeBistro French and Cagney's Steakhouse and they both were outstanding with service and the food. After all what's another $10 or $20 when you are on vacation. We had a porthole room on the 4th deck and loved it. Perfectly adequate for the amount of time you are in it. The only complaint I had was with the dial on the outside of the door that could rotate from "Welcome, Make up room, Do not disturb". We went on an excursion one day and set it on "make up room" and came back to a messy room because someone changed it to "do not disturb". I saw a kid playing with the dials and I also saw an adult too. After a call to guest service the room was quickly cleaned. The top nationality of people on board was Spanish followed by USA, UK, French, German Malta and all others. The ship starts in Barcelona and I think some Spanish will bring the kids for a vacation but there is not a lot for the kids to do so they will horse around. We did not care to use the pool so we don't care about that. We did find the "quiet" sunning area up past the climbing wall on the 14th deck which was really nice and quiet. It's no surprise that the cruise line makes it's money on all the extras so if you are going to complain about it then don't go. We went on one of the ship's excursions every day and loved every one. We even got the last one, a $194 value for free! The ship's excursions will always wait for you to get back. If you go on your own I can't see how you will know all the information that the tour guides tell you. Also with a group you bypass the long lines other's are waiting on, further optimizing your time. Sometimes we had to be on the excursion early but we came to see Europe, not sleep late. The excursions did seem to cost more in Europe but with 3 of them we had a great meal with wine and dessert. There was plenty of things to do on the ship and were never at a loss for something to do. The staff were always friendly even when we had a hospital charge added to our bill. It was a clerical error and was immediately corrected. We definitely going on another "Freestyle" cruise again, in fact we are planning it now. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on September 20, 2009. This was an incredible cruise, the staff was first-rate, and we consider it a trip of a lifetime. The shows were great (especially "Second City"), and the piano player in the ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on September 20, 2009. This was an incredible cruise, the staff was first-rate, and we consider it a trip of a lifetime. The shows were great (especially "Second City"), and the piano player in the main area of the ship has an angel's touch on those keys. Our room came with a butler, Andrew. It was like he magically appeared when you had a whim. If anyone made our trip feel special, it was him. He was great!! Our suite steward was Mickle (prounounced Michael). He was very very helpful and seemed to love his job. He is also a towel-animal artisan. Nice touch. The ship is very clean and well kept. I had read the food was terrible, but did not experience that at all. We both thought the food was top-notch at all meals. There are some crowded times at the buffets, but you don't HAVE to eat at those if you lack of patience. We did a couple of times and it was just fine. Of the places on the ship that charge a little extra, we enjoyed Cagney's the most. Teppanyaki's is fun, but probably the priciest of the pay-extra places at 25/ per person plus drinks. Of the "included" eateries, The Grand Pacific is really nice. Embarkation: Sooooooooo easy. Show up, show your documents, get on the ship. Period. You can go eat as soon as you walk onboard or go look around. It's freestyle... it's up to you. First day at Sea: We met up with some friends we had contacted on cruise critic before the cruise who were to share our Rome tour with us. They were amazing people and we had tons of fun with them right away. Those two, my wife, and I attended the wine tasting/ food pairing class. We learned a lot, and drank quite a bit as well. I remember the laughter and familiarity we felt in this group of "strangers." I highly recommend this class. The show that night was a magician. He was unique. Some people walked out on this show too soon (no regard for how hard the entertainer is working). It started slow, but ended with a bang! Those who left early missed it! Valletta, Malta: You must be awake when the ship sails into this port. It's the most scenic of all the entries. The sunrise over the fortress city walls bathes the stone in a golden light that can't be recreated in pictures. Breathtaking. We did not have an excursion here. Our new friends walked with us around the city. We headed right out of the port and along the seashore, took some pictures back across the water of our ship. Continued our path to a bell-tower erected in memory of fallen soldiers. As we circled the city along the water, we came along the fort, and the museum next to it. At this point we cut back across the city through tiny allyways and saw real citizens going about their respective lives. Sounds boring, but was immensely interesting. We worked our way back to St. John's Co-Cathedral. This place is AMAZING. Your mind won't be able to take it all in, but it's worth a shot to see this masterpiece of a church. We ate at a little outdoor restaurant across from St. Johns. I don't recall the name, but it was great for people watching and the food was decent with decent prices. Naples, Italy: Pulling into this port is nothing special. Kind of industrial looking. In fact, I recommend doing an excursion that takes you well OUT of Naples all together as it is a very dirty city with garbage lined streets. Sad. However, once you leave the city limits hold onto your hats for the views you are about to see. We did the NCL excursion "Pompeii and a taste of Sorrento." The tour guide was great. The bus ride was pleasant. And, the scenery enroute to Sorrento along the coast was world-class. Sorrento was a quaint little town with lots of little shops. We then were taken to a farm where we watched a cheese making demonstration, and were fed homemade lunch by the farm owners. Wine was included. Yes! After lunch, we were taken to Pompeii. I had no idea this place was as big as it is (I believe close to 4000 acres). You can not see it in one day, much less a two hour tour but you definitely get the flavor. Do not miss this. Rome, Italy: We used a private tour guide through www.romecabs.com. I don't see many people using them, but a friend of mine had just gotten back from this cruise and they came highly recommended. I agree. Our driver was Maurizio (ask for him). We felt like we were leaving an old friend at the end of our day. We saw all the major sites. Circus Maximus, Roman Forum, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican. He even took us to a local restaurant to eat that tourists don't go to. This was the best meal of the vacation for me. I had seen where people were trying to do Rome on their own. I, for the life of me, can NOT imagine that. This place is huge, the traffic is very heavy, and there's so much to see that you would have to sacrifice a lot to try to see this city on your own. Livorno/ Pisa, Italy: Here, we did another NCL excursion called "Pisa and a taste of Tuscany." The bus with tour guide take you on a nice ride to Pisa. They give you a little history and some facts along the way. Then, you are dropped off near the leaning tower and Field of Miracles for two hours to see and do as you please. I've always wanted to see the leaning tower, so I had to do this tour. It looks just like the pictures you've seen. There were thousands of people here, but it didn't seem crowded because the tower and Duomo are in a large field. After viewing the leaning tower, we were taken to a winery and got information on olive oil production and wine making. I thought we were going to get to SEE them make olive oil or wine, but it was just talking. Then, the fun part... the wine tasting and food began and all was ok. We met more people here and had a fine time. We also bought a lot of wine and olive oil from this place. They are really raking in the cash hand-over-fist. Cannes, France: You have to take a tender on this stop. We did not do an excursion here. I had read where people said they didn't even get off the ship for this place, and others that said they took a train to Nice or Monte Carlo and intimated that Cannes itself really had nothing to offer. I beg to differ. This town was the most beautiful of all the towns we visited.... By far! We just started walking. We walked through backstreets, allyways, and major roads. By sheer accident, we found the castle at the top of a hill. Nice views from here. Then we made our way back to the main road near the beach for some window shopping and people watching. There are nice beaches really close to the port if you want to have some beach time. I was light-heartedly warned by several Italians about how rude French people were and how I was not going to like my stop in Cannes. Not true. We do not speak any French at all, but the people were warm, helpful, and very friendly in all our encounters. Look for the buildings with the nice paintings on them. They are really interesting. You can feel the "lifestyles of the rich and famous" at this stop. Enjoy! Barcelona, Spain: We stayed in two different hotels in Barcelona because we flew in a day early and stayed one extra day after our cruise. This is where some negatives are going to fly. Before the cruise, we stayed at Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel. I believe it's listed as 4 stars, but it's just a room, nothing special. The staff seems detached and uncaring... dare I say "bothered" you are there. The concierge told us an out-and-out lie that affected our trip just to move us on so she wouldn't have to help us. Enough about them. We will not be staying there ever again. Upon our return, we stayed at Hotel Arts-Barcelona. Just the opposite from Eurostars. Incredible staff of helpful, caring, prompt, knowledgeable people. The room had a spectacular view of the harbor and the giant whale sculpture and the beds were comfortable. For our tour of the city, we hopped on one of the double decker buses that go around town for 21 euros per person. You can hop on and hop off, but we only got off once to see park Guell. Gaudi's works in this city are unique and need to be seen. If you only have one day in Barcelona, you will not have time to see everything for sure. We didn't. This is a city of almost 4 million people, so you know it's huge. We ate that evening at a place right across from Hotel Arts called Barnabier. Our waiter didn't speak English, but he was fun! He recommended (pointed at on the menu) a wine that ended up being the best wine we'd had all vacation. The food was also good here. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We spent 3 days at the Renaissence Barcelona prior to departure not only to see that wonderful colorful city but to ensure that we would board completely relaxed. This great hotel takes you to the front door of the Gem for only 10 Euros. ... Read More
We spent 3 days at the Renaissence Barcelona prior to departure not only to see that wonderful colorful city but to ensure that we would board completely relaxed. This great hotel takes you to the front door of the Gem for only 10 Euros. The welcome staff was so efficient and polite that it seemed they knew us forever. They greet you with a glass of champagne , swipe your room card and your on board at 1 pm . We slipped the key card into our room on the 5th floor and were pleasantly surprised with a super comfortable King size bed , flat screen with Fox news, and a huge 3 x 5 picture window and a bathroom so clean you could eat off the floor . After a quick hello to " Coma " our room steward , we are off to explore this magnificent freestyle ocean liner . The Theater was huge and resembled something you would find on Broadway and the entertainers were top quality . The pool had a giant slide and the water was blue. It wasn't even 1:30 and the chairs were filling up. By the way ,the free dining immediately offered up / Spanish/ Indian/ Mexican/ Chinese/ German/ Arabic , I could go on + on they had every meal possible including Sushi . Not hungry but ready for dessert ? -how about 15 kinds of ice cream ? The casino was also very nice but it took the entire 7 days for us to win our money back. Listen up folks ! If you do take this wonderful cruise you must take the tours . At first we were sceptical and they were a little expensive but now that we are home and have stories to tell about Malta castles and churches,the ruins of Pompeii with mumified people , the leaning tower of Pisa that is in such great condition , it looks like they built it yesterday , the delicious ice cold Gellato in downtown Roma , the collosium , the Trevi Fountain ( we threw in a couple of coins )the powerful feeling of standing in Vatican square which is its own country , the easy subway system , and who will ever forget seeing the lovely Grace Kelly's picture on every corner of Monaco or St Nicolas church where she got married to Prince Rainer and is buried there alongside him , the coffee at the Cafe de Paris and winning a few bucks in their casino and taking our pictures next to the Ferrari's and Mesarati's parked just in front, dozens of them . WOW ! THANK YOU , Capt Jules for your private world of non stop fun . Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Our first impression of the Gem as we spotted it in Barcelona harbour when we arrived at 12 noon was wow. The ship is truely huge and very impressive at first sight. The embarkation process was carried out without fuss or delay and we were ... Read More
Our first impression of the Gem as we spotted it in Barcelona harbour when we arrived at 12 noon was wow. The ship is truely huge and very impressive at first sight. The embarkation process was carried out without fuss or delay and we were onboard in no time. Though we couldnt get to our rooms until 2pm there was champagne being served in the Crystal Atrium and we were able to wonder about the ship at our leisure, which allowed us to get our bearings a bit. We had booked a BD balcony room (Deck 8) but the exact room number was to be allocated on arrival. We found we had been upgraded without charge to a BB room on deck 10 which was lovely. These rooms were not large but were well laid out and the balcony was an absolute must. We had our own view coming into and leaving each post and saw the most amazing sunsets. I think this would have been the same on deck 8 but we heard from other guests on deck 8 that there was some noise in the evenings from the Theatre below. When we got to the room we had champagne and chocolate covered strawberries for our anniversary. Absolutely lovely and complimentary. As others have reported the pool area is lovely but it can be difficult to find seats and the hot tubs were full of teenagers. We managed to get in once during the week but we had many full days in port so this really wasn't a big problem. Most mornings we ate in the Garden Cafe which was self service and had something for everyone. Seating could be a problem but we found we could take our breakfast through to La Cucina next door and get a seat without any problem. We had breakfast in Grand Pacific on our last morning as we had more time which was lovely. For our evening meals we used Grand Pacific, lovely food and excellent service, Magenta, same food as Grand Pacific but a more casual environment. We had 2 meals in speciality restuarants and had very mixed experiences. We used Le Bistro once and had a beautiful meal with great service. On our last night we went for La Cucina but found the food to be quite poor considering there was a cover charge. If you love Italian food, dont waste your money. We enjoyed the evening entertainment but didnt stay up too late as we had many early starts for port tours. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We flew from Phoenix to Barcelona via London. Too bad our flight was late and we missed our connection. We had to stay in London, dead tired and frustrated. We arrived in Barcelona at 12:30 Sunday, collected our luggage and got a taxi ... Read More
We flew from Phoenix to Barcelona via London. Too bad our flight was late and we missed our connection. We had to stay in London, dead tired and frustrated. We arrived in Barcelona at 12:30 Sunday, collected our luggage and got a taxi right away. My wife had written the name of the port on a piece of paper and handed it to the driver. The fare was about 31 Euro. Check in was very easy and quick, they snapped a horrifying photo of the two of us and we did a brief tour of the ship before being notified our room was ready. Royal treatment upon arrival! Handed a glass of champagne and roamed around a bit. The ship was clean and very well staffed. We didn't have much trouble finding our room and found it to be very cozy, attractive and clean! We both took showers and collapsed for a nap. An announcement was made regarding an embarkation bbq party so we got ready and headed up for that. One thing that threw us a bit was that there was a table full of drinks on deck as we entered the pool area and wait staff handed each of us a drink with an umbrella in it. I thought," oh boy, more free drinks"! But, I was then asked for my room number and to sign a slip for $9 each. Had I not taken a sip immediately, I would have handed them back! I also did not realize until I had a drink later on that there was a %15 gratuity added "for my convenience", yet it sure seemed like the staff expected you to leave a little more... Our experience on the ship was great, everything was kept very clean, plenty of staff available and plenty to keep us entertained. The food overall was good but the buffet food was usually a little cool temperature wise. One night in the Grand Pacific, the wine service was terribly slow but aside from that the service was usually very prompt. I think our only real complaint for the week was that on Friday night, they had someone performing a show called "The power of music". I'll tell you, that show was very powerful! So powerful that we could not stand to be in our room during the show! There were two shows that night and we ended up staying up later than usual until the show was over before going to bed. All I can say is, if you want the quietest part of the ship DO NOT get a room in the front and especially not under the Stardust theatre! We were in room 4022. Overall, we had a great time! We overall liked the ship better than the MSC Musica we sailed on last year. (Our first cruise) I think the Freestyle Eating was the biggest benefit we saw other than the much larger number of Americans on the ship. It was nice, but I wonder if maybe the people watching would have been better on a more European saturated cruise.... I got a final statement Saturday night late and there were no mistakes, so that was good! Disembarkation was a breeze, we just opted to carry our luggage off, got into a taxi and away we were to the airport. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on NCL, so we knew what to expect. We spent 2 days discovering Barcelona prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is a stone throw from the beach. As expected, it was a superb choice, ... Read More
This was our 5th cruise, 2nd on NCL, so we knew what to expect. We spent 2 days discovering Barcelona prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is a stone throw from the beach. As expected, it was a superb choice, since you can't go wrong with the Hilton, especially in Europe. Part of the NCL's appeal is it's easy embarkation/disembarkation. Both went without a hitch, no lines, no waiting. Very well organized. Bravo, NCL. ACCOMMODATIONS: absolutely wonderful. Spotless rooms, very comfortable beds, well designed bathrooms and plenty of closet space. I booked an outside cabin and the little window was all we needed as we only used the cabin to sleep, shower and change clothes. AMENITIES: again, better than average. We read many reviews where people complained about the lack of lounge chairs by the pool. We did not encounter this problem for several reasons. First of all, unless you need to keep an eye on your kids in the pool, why would you want to stay on that deck? It's very noisy with the loud music, screaming children, etc. We used the "quiet area" on deck 14 with it's awesome round sun beds and the best views. Also, on rare occasions when the chair/bed we wanted was occupied by someone's towel, I simply moved aside it and used the chair. Yes, people think that they can reserve the best spots if they put their towel down, but no towel ever objected when I put it on the floor. Feel free to do the same and don't let it bother you. FOOD: No complaints here either. We did not eat at any of the "specialty" restaurants. We tried them in the past and have determined that it wasn't worth the extra $$. We were very pleased with all the "free" restaurant choices. The service at every single one was consistently excellent. Food-wise, there were definite "hits" (such as their chilled soups) as well as "misses". Still, given the quantity of food they prepare on a daily basis, I think the Gem did an exceptional job. The quality and variety at the Garden Cafe was very good, and on several occasions we completed our meals there after a disappointing menu at the Magenta or Grand Pacific. Also, we never encountered any lines, although I should mention that we usually ate at around 7:30 pm. I believe the lines started an hour later. Breakfast was a bit difficult, seating-wise. The Garden Cafe was very busy in the morning, likely because most people tried to eat at the same time so they can get off the ship early. Also, we read some unflattering reviews about the Midnight Chocolate Buffet so we skipped it. My reward was coming off the cruise without gaining a pound. ENTERTAINMENT: We found it disappointing. To be fair, we only attended the main night performances at the Stardust Theater but out the 4 shows we saw only Colorz was OK. The rest were unimpressive: lame comedy at best. Many reviewers mentioned that they felt "nickel-and-dimed" and subjected to the "pressure sale" tactics. I would have to agree: we experienced that as well and it was unpleasant. However, we realize that cruise industry is big business and it's their objective to take you for everything you've got. It's up to you not to let them. We became very good at saying "No, thanks" and returned home with our bank account intact. THE PORTS: If you plan on taking the NCL-provided excursions, skip this section. This is for people who plan on getting a private tour or seeing the ports on their own. We wish we knew some of the information prior to taking our cruise. First of all, the only port that is difficult to do on your own is Naples. It's hard to see the Amalfi coast without having a car. However, don't try booking a guide based on the names you read in the reviews. We found out that All tour guides are a "one trick pony". ALL of them will show you the EXACT SAME sites, and you will like it because the scenery/art/historic aspect speak for itself. I always wonder: when people gush about their guide being the best, what their reference point is? How can they actually make a comparison? Case and point: We booked a tour of Sorrento/Amalfi Coast/Pompeii with the guide who was supposedly the best and highly recommended, therefore we paid the top dollar (or Euro, to be exact) for his services. We did enjoy our tour with Marchello. However, our friends took the exact same tour with a different guide (a driver, actually), went to the exact same places and saw the exact same things for less than half the price. Also, keep in mind that there isn't really any competition between them. We booked Aldo Monti from yourtourofitaly.com because some previous reviewers recommended him. Instead, he "pawned" us off to Nick who worked for a different tour company. Not that I'm complaining. We liked what Nick showed us in Rome and all the historic info he provided us with. We thought he did a good job, but again, we wouldn't know any different. My point being, when choosing your tour guide for any port, let the price determine who you book for your tours. Another thing: EVERY tour guide will bring you to a restaurant for lunch, likely owned by his friend or a family member. They'll claim that the food there is something special. In reality, you should skip the sit-down meal, if only because there's no time. Plus, you'll pay 20-25 euro per person (minimum). Keep in mind they add a hefty "cover charge" to your bill. Instead, ask your guide (and be VERY FIRM about it) to bring you to a local market, where you can get the locally grown/produced food of your liking for a fraction of the cost and soak up the local culture. Saves both, time and money. I actually brought some plastic containers and packed lunch on the ship. Of course, we bought those "must try" things: gelato, coffee, grapes, etc. If you decide to take the public transportation, it's quite simple and convenient in most ports. To find taxis, particularly in Livorno, you need to get past the first line of "pretend" taxis who will try to sell you the tour. Since it was our 1st trip to Naples, Rome, Florence and Cannes, we wanted to cram every sight we wanted to see in only one day that we had. In fact, it is an impossible task. All of our tours were very rushed, and I wish we did our homework and picked a few sights we really wanted to see instead of trying to rush through everything. For example, Vatican should be a separate trip as it takes (at the very least), an entire day. So, when your tour guide tells you to book tickets for 2 pm, be prepared to miss a LOT, especially if you don't book a private guide specifically for the Vatican. (You can't enter the Basilica from the museum without a guide). Also, make sure that your guide gets your Colosseum tickets in advance, otherwise you'll waste a lot of time waiting in line. I would recommend joining the Roll Call and finding people to share the tours with. We were glad we did. We would've never got so much helpful information without it. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on ... Read More
We were concerned after reading reviews about unruly kids on the cruise. We switched our cruise to a week when European kids were in school (All European kids, since we pick up passengers from other ports). There were 2,100 passengers on the cruise and only 200 kids. The previous week we were told there were 3,000 passengers and as many as 1,000 kids. Good choice on our part. The cruise was the best vacation ever!! Best cruise line we've been on. Getting on and off the ship from Ports of Call/Disembarkation was seamless. The food was good in both paid restaurants and free restaurants. We always found something to eat at the buffet as well. Only complaint would be Tappanyaki not worth the $25...although I must be in the minority because the place was sold out every night. Cagney's and Asian Fusion Restaurant well worth the money. We had an outside cabin, plenty of room for all my clothes...packed 3 outfits for each day!! No iron provided though, brought my own. VERY CLEAN CABINS!! We never felt crowded in any areas. The Martini Bar was our favorite. Lindsay and staff were GREAT!! Love the olive & cheese tray!! The bar felt very private to us, which we liked. Gambled most nights until 2:30 am, what a blast. Thanks for the free drinks. Staff was Excellent, Loved Elena!! Get the Coupon Book on first night, we hit for $200. We never felt "Sold To"...not ever. No one tried to up sell us or pressure us to purchase anything, none of the stuff others complained about. We are booking the same ship for Venice/Greece/Turkey for September/2010...that's how much we Loved It. I'm not going to review Ports of Call...so many others have done that. But I thought it was important to give our experience on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
Just got back from a Western Med cruise on the Gem. I just thought I'd add my own review of my experience. For the record we booked an aft Penthouse suite on deck 8, so this review might be useful to others who book a suite. I am just ... Read More
Just got back from a Western Med cruise on the Gem. I just thought I'd add my own review of my experience. For the record we booked an aft Penthouse suite on deck 8, so this review might be useful to others who book a suite. I am just going to concentrate my review the cruise but not the ports of call as they have been covered in detail already. Embarkation. Dropped our luggage off at the desk outside the terminal building at Barcelona. Went inside and was asked our room number. We gave it and was sent to the wrong desk for suite passengers. Double-checked it with another member of staff who insisted the wrong check-in desk was correct. So we checked in at the wrong desk and was then taken by the check-in staff to the VIP suite passenger check-in area and then on to meet the concierge. It would have been better if the staff at the cruise terminal knew what they were doing and directed us to the correct check-in area. The concierge, however, was helpful and offered a snack and a soft drink. One of the butlers showed up and escorted us to our room, picking up a glass of champagne on the way. A bottle of champagne was also waiting for us in an ice bucket in our room. The Room. This was REALLY nice. As others have said a very comfortable bed with memory foam mattress. Nice bathroom with shower over bath, a sink area and toilet, being able to separate these with glass screens. A separate vanity area and loads of drawers, cupboards and a decent wardrobe. Nice large wall mounted LCD TV but we only used info channels as we don't cruise to watch TV. It also had a useful sofa, table and chairs and bar area. Really nice balcony area looking over the aft wake, which sounds like a waterfall when going at full speed but we found it soothing and the patio doors were very good at sound proofing it when indoors. We found the aft room has the advantage of the best sail-away view from each port - loved it. The cabin was situated above Bliss nightclub and bowling alley which you could hear slightly at night when all else is silent, especially the bowling alley when in use but it did not disturb my sleep. However, all in all, a delightful and colorful room. The room steward was a very friendly chap who serviced the room to a high standard each day, refreshed the ice and did the nightly turndown. Room Service. This was all taken care of by our butler, who basically provided all the room service via a cordless phone (which worked ship-wide). We tried room service breakfast a few times, where the butler delivers the food and lays the table. Menu selection was very good. Butler also delivers Hors d'"uvres around 5pm daily. We got two invitations to private cocktail parties where we had free drinks and food and had a "photo opportunity" with the captain. We saw the garden villa area this way, which was very nice. The butler expects tips by the way as he doesn't get any of the stateroom service charge applied to your account. The butler will also deliver DVD's for you to watch, which you can select from an in-room list but we did not have time to use the DVD player (thankfully). Concierge. This person was made available to us to make any arrangements. We did not book any of the very expensive NCL shore excursions so did not need him for this but he was good for booking up the restaurants the whole week in advance or at short notice when the restaurant is full (only he can do this). He was always available for good info about the ports of call where we made our own arrangements and saved a heap of cash. The way we looked at this was to spend our hard earned cash on a room upgrade and forget the high excursion costs and this worked very well for us. Restaurants. We ate dinner at most of the premium restaurants which charge a service fee but found them excellent and worth it. It was exciting to eat at a different place each evening. We avoided the Garden Cafe as the "buffet experience" is not for us, especially in the difficulty of finding a table at peak periods. The best place we found for breakfast was the private concierge lounge in Cagney's where they served an excellent Eggs Benedict's and waffles, away from the madding crowd of the Garden Cafe. For lunch we preferred the Blue Lagoon which serves excellent food 24 hours a day. NOTE!! Money saving tip about the water!!. At some restaurants, especially the premium ones, the waiters hold bottles of water in front of you and kind of give the impression that is the only option for water at over $6 per bottle. NOT SO!! We cottoned on to always asking for "ICE WATER". When you do this they take the bottles away and keep your glass full of ice water for the duration of the meal, helping to keep your expenses down. The Blue Lagoon served ice water by default and thought the others should do that but they obviously try to make something on the water. Ship and Common areas. These were all magnificent. The ship is truly stunning and a lot bigger than I imagined. It is modern - only a couple of years old, well maintained and spotless. A very well run operation I thought. The pool area is obviously crowded on sea days but you can take your pick of the comfortable sun beds on port of call days if you decide to stay onboard. Onboard there is always loads to do and see. We did not see any of the shows but were told they were ok. There were also some nice shops but not necessarily cheap. Wireless internet is available ship-wide as well as in the internet cafe. But it is expensive and slow as it is satellite based. I tried to pick up free wifi from the ports of call but was unsuccessful each time. On the penultimate day we paid about $12 for a special 30 minutes offer to do an online check-in for our flights home which proved a good move when we got back to the airport. Staff. I found virtually all of the staff friendly and helpful and had no complaints. Most of them could not do enough for us, in my opinion. They work very hard long hours and I am amazed they always have a smile for you. Tipping. As most will know a $12 per person per day is charged to your room. This seems a lot but it goes to the staff who serve you and personally I think they deserve it for their hard work. We occasionally tipped extra in the restaurants when we had good, friendly service (i.e. most of the time). The butler, concierge and room steward we also tipped what we thought was fair. The drinks auto-gratuity is a hot subject and does make the drinks prices quite expensive, i.e. posh-hotel prices I would say. A vodka and coke was $6.80 for example. Needless to say we didn't see any drunks on board. Marketing. Others have said this is too strong but I kind of expected to be sold photos, spa massages, art, excursions, etc. but we found it very easy not to buy any of these to keep our costs down. Disembarkation. We decided to do the easy walk off option and walked off the ship with our luggage at 09:30 back in Barcelona. No worries at all on that score. Overall. We had such a fantastic time, met some great people and visited some lovely places. We were so sad to leave the ship and get back to reality when it was time to get off. I could so easily have stayed on for another week. I would not hesitate to recommend the NCL Gem to my family and friends. We can't wait to do something similar again. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
As a first time cruiser, the Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to me. I'll try to touch on some of the areas I was concerned about prior to our Mediterranean vacation. The Ship - We sailed out of Barcelona on 9/20/09 on Gem. ... Read More
As a first time cruiser, the Cruise Critic reviews were very helpful to me. I'll try to touch on some of the areas I was concerned about prior to our Mediterranean vacation. The Ship - We sailed out of Barcelona on 9/20/09 on Gem. This is a newer ship. The ship was very clean and everything seemed to be in very good condition. I was pleasantly surprised with our rooms. We had a balcony room on the 9th floor. The room was well layed out and had plenty of closet space for 2 people. The rooms were modern and clean and the beds were very comfortable. I would recommend that anyone cruising during periods of warm weather get a room with a balcony. During our trip the temperatures averaged in the high 70's and we were able to keep our sliding door open while sleeping. The sound of the waves with the cool breeze made for perfect sleeping weather. There were 2 outlets in the room. The room contained a good hairdryer and refridgerator. We had plenty of hot water for the shower and great water pressure. The rooms also had a flat screen tv (limited channels) and a coffee maker. Service - With the exception of housekeeping I found the service to be average. Our 2 housekeepers were extremely friendly and made-up our rooms 2x daily. Food - There are a few dining areas that do not charge an extra cover charge. The buffet offers the biggest selection. Breakfasts were good, with the exception of the coffee, which was extremely watered-down and I believe contained no caffeine. Stay away from the desserts. They look pretty but are flavorless with odd textures. Great selection of fresh fruit. Also the drinking water is fine, so there is no need to purchase bottled water. A warning about the buffet -- fellow cruisers were extremely rude at areas where there were usually delays (beverages and made-to-order stations). People would just get into the front of the lines and help themselves. My friend even had juice spilt on her and not even a sorry or excuse me from the other person. I was really surprised at how many cruisers had poor manners. On our last night we paid the extra $10 a person and ate at Tequillas. The food was plentiful and tasted wonderful. Great salsa and crab dip. We wish we ate there more often. We also ate at Le Bistro one evening. The entree was above average and the dessert was excellent. Amenities - the fitness center was beautiful, the pools were lively, but it was often difficult getting a chair. Entertainment - the casinos were fun but smokey. We saw 3 shows in the Stardust. The NCL performers were very talented. The shows were entertaining but a little cheesey. The magician/"illusionist" was pathetic, so we walked out of that one. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I took this cruise with 3 of my girlfriends. Three of us had never been to the Mediterranean before and one had never cruised before. We decided on the Gem because of the great itinerary and the newness of the ship. I volunteered to be ... Read More
I took this cruise with 3 of my girlfriends. Three of us had never been to the Mediterranean before and one had never cruised before. We decided on the Gem because of the great itinerary and the newness of the ship. I volunteered to be our "cruise director" and did all the research for our trip. Even though I have been on more than 10 cruises, this was the first time I had the luxury of Cruise Critic and was able to get invaluable information from all the wonderful people out there. Thank you all. Since we were going so far, we wanted to spend a little time in Barcelona before and after the cruise. We left Newark on Friday evening and had an uneventful flight and even landed in Barcelona almost an hour early. We had no problems with our luggage (unlike some others on our cruise). Our plan was to get some Euros from the airport ATMs but the only one that I was able to find wasn't working properly. Luckily our first time cruiser didn't realize you could do this and brought US dollars to exchange. We hailed a taxi to our hotel which I found on Tripadvisor. We were only staying one night and didn't want to spend a lot of money. The Hotel Condal was a basic, but clean hotel in a great location. We were less than 100 yards off Las Rambles near the Boquiera Market down a small side street. Our location was wonderful; close to a lot of great restaurants, bars and the excitement of Las Rambles. Since we were so early, our rooms were not ready so we dropped our luggage off and headed out down Las Rambles to do a little sightseeing. We picked up the HOHO bus and enjoyed a tour of Barcelona. What a wonderful city. At this point, we were getting hungry so we found a little restaurant right around the corner from our hotel. Our waitress was very friendly and enjoyed the fact that we were Americans and she could practice her English on us. At the end of the meal to show her gratitude, she brought over 4 shot glasses for us. We asked what it was and she said Crème Catalan. It was like Bailey's only so much better. We thanked her and headed back to our hotel. I was starting to get a little worried at this point about the hotel that I picked out. My fears were for nothing. We had 2 rooms which each had 2 twin beds, a desk with chair and a large (by European standards) bathroom. The rooms were basic but clean and our windows opened into an alley so there was virtually no noise. I was extremely pleased with the hotel and for less than 100 Euros for each room, you couldn't beat the price. After settling in, 3 of us ventured out again for more sightseeing. After wandering around for a few hours, we found a nice little Irish pub and had a glass of wine outside. At this point, it was time to eat again and we found a wonderful tapas restaurant right on Las Rambles (La Xerinola). We sat at the bar and had the all you can eat tapas dinner for 14.95 Euros per person. The food was delicious and there was so much of it. I love the fact that you get a little taste of everything and not too much of any one dish. Back to the hotel after dinner. I knew we'd all sleep well - by this time we had been up for much longer than 24 hours. Embarkation After a great night's sleep, we headed out to the same restaurant where we had lunch the day before. Both the owner and waitress remembered us and thanked us for coming back. After an almost American breakfast we did a little more sightseeing and found an ATM for Euros (Citibank). No problem using my Capital One ATM card tied to my Money Market account. Great exchange rate and no fees. Checked out of the hotel and hailed a cab down to the pier. We had to wait a few extra minutes to find a cab big enough for all four of us and our luggage but it really wasn't a bad wait. Headed down to the pier where we got our first glimpse of the Gem. What a beautiful ship. It's been almost 6 years since my last cruise and this was by far the largest ship I've ever been on. Embarkation was unbelievably quick and easy. After getting out of the cab, we were on board in less than 15 minutes. I've never experienced that. Great job NCL. We were told that our cabins would be ready between 2:00 and 3:00 so we headed up to the pool deck. I was surprised at how many people were already on board and it wasn't even 1:00 yet. We ordered our first cocktail and immediately made friends with Adonis, one of the bartenders at the Bali Hai bar. We wandered around the pool area and checked out this area of the ship. We decided to go check and see if our cabins were ready about 2:15. We were immediately greeted by our cabin stewards, Jeffrey and Deval. We had booked 2 adjoining mini-suites (11062 & 11064). This was my first cruise with a balcony and now I understand what all the hype is about. It was amazing. The cabins were set up with 2 twin beds, desk, pull out sofa and table. The bathroom (with tub) is so spacious and there is so much storage. We actually didn't have enough to fill the closet or all the drawers. My travel agent was kind enough to send us each a bottle of wine so we opened them and enjoyed them on our balcony after unpacking. After the muster drill, we headed back up to the Bali Hai bar, which became the place you could find us every night during the week. We grabbed a bite to eat at the sailaway BBQ and just enjoyed our first night on the ship. It started to rain a little and there was a storm coming in over Barcelona but we were heading away from it. I never saw lightning like that in my life but it was all off in the distance and continued all night long. Our day at sea was very relaxing. We started our day with breakfast at the Garden Cafe. We did find that it was a little crowded but there were plenty of servers available to take you to a clean table. We had omelets made to order which were very good. The fresh fruit was also delicious. Our CC meet and greet was scheduled for 11:00 so 2 of us went to meet a lot of folks I had been communicating with over the past few months. I booked private tours in Italy and was able to get 4 people to join us in each port so it was nice to meet them all as well. There were quite a few officers that attended the meeting and gave us their phone numbers in case we had any problems during the week. They would rather hear about them while you are still on board so that they can correct them. It's too late for them to help you out if you wait until you get home to complain. It was my impression that they read the CC message boards and want to do whatever they can (within reason) to insure you have a great trip. We knew we had a busy week ahead of us so we spent the day exploring the ship and just enjoyed our time outdoors. We had made reservations the day before for dinner at Cagney's tonight. Our reservation was at 7:00 and we were seated right away. The food was delicious and worth every penny. I had the jumbo shrimp cocktail, filet mignon and apple crisp for dessert. The service was excellent - like dining in a nice restaurant at home. After dinner it was back up to the Bali Hai bar. We didn't make a conscious decision not to go to any of the shows, but it just seemed to work out that way. We met a lot of very nice people on board and preferred to spend our time with them rather than sitting in a theater. I'm sure a lot of people go to the shows but we found it just wasn't our thing this trip. Malta Our first stop, Malta. Listen to what everyone says and get up for the sail in. It is by far the prettiest port and the sunrise reflecting off the buildings is just beautiful. Our room was in a perfect location to run up to the Garden Cafe and bring our breakfast back to the room to enjoy on our balcony. We did this every port day and it worked out perfectly. We did not have a set plan for this port and it was just as well. Our new Canadian friend joined us for the day. We took the HOHO bus up to Mdina where we got off and walked around for a bit. Another beautiful city. We didn't do too much else here. On our way back to the ship it started to rain a bit and this was the only rain we had all week. We stopped for a gelato before getting back on the ship. Later on we had a late lunch in the Blue Lagoon which was very good. I liked the casual atmosphere and the food was very tasty. We had decided that tonight we would try the Grand Pacific for dinner. As it turns out, it was a very good choice. We had 2 friends join us for dinner and had no trouble getting a table for 6 around 7:30. This was lobster night in the main dining rooms and most of us tried it. It was pretty good but could not compare in portion size to what some had in Cagney's the night before. They served it along with a piece of grouper which was tasty. A few in our party ordered extra lobster tails and our waitress happily brought them out. This night was by far the best for dessert. I ordered the crème brulee with chocolate ganache on the bottom. Wow is all I can say. It was delicious. I don't think I've ever had anything like it. One of our new friends liked it so much he ordered 2 more and again, our waitress brought them without issue. Naples Now the fun begins. Our primary reason for booking this trip was the Italy ports. Malta and Cannes were just a nice bonus to what we wanted to see. I booked private tours through Romeinlimo and was able to include 4 others that I met on cruise critic. We had 2 gentlemen from Florida who took all three tours with us and we had a great time with them. The other 2 spots were filled by different people each day. Today we had 2 ladies from Philadelphia join us. Our driver, Giovanni, picked us up at 8:00 a.m. sharp and we headed towards Pompeii. As we drove we told him what we wanted to see that day and he told us that to leave it to him and we would have a wonderful day. We were one of the first groups to reach Pompeii where we purchased our tickets (no line) and met our guide, Alfonso. He was great; so knowledgeable and personable. We spent a few hours here just taking it all in. It is truly an incredible place. After leaving Pompeii, we headed down the Amalfi coast towards Positano. Giovanni was terrific. He stopped numerous times and let us out to take pictures. At one point, when we stopped, he brought out a bottle of wine and some snacks for us - very thoughtful. Back into the car and into Positano. Here he dropped us off so we could do a little shopping and exploring of the area. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to and we enjoyed wandering the streets and walking down to the beach. After our nice little break we headed back into the car and Giovanni took us to lunch. The drive itself was pretty intense, up narrow, winding roads until we reach what feels like the top of a mountain. He had already made reservations for us at Trattoria La Tagliata and they were expecting us. As soon as we sat down, the food and wine started to arrive. What a feast! There was so much of it and everything was magnificent! We all got to sample a little bit of everything including dessert and of course, the limoncello. After a very relaxing and enjoyable lunch, we headed back towards Sorrento where our driver let us out for about 45 minutes. Unfortunately that is just not enough time as Sorrento was a gorgeous little town. We wandered around and bought a few souvenirs to take home. We headed back towards Naples where we arrived in plenty of time. As what was becoming our routine, we enjoyed a cocktail out on our balcony and just reminisced about what a fantastic day we just had. We skipped dinner tonight because we were all still full from our amazing lunch. We ended our evening back at the Bali Hai bar comparing our day with our new friends. Rome Up again early for our day in Rome. I had booked Romeinlimo again and I knew after yesterday we were going to have a terrific day. We met our driver, Nicola at 8:00 along with our new travel companions for the day, a young couple from Oklahoma celebrating their 5 year wedding anniversary and our new friends from Florida. The drive into Rome is pretty long and kind of boring. There really isn't too much to see but Nicola shared some history with us as we drove. After all my research and reading, I was still surprised when we arrived at the Coliseum. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting it to be right in the city. After Pompeii yesterday, I just imagined it would be off on its own but it is still an amazing place. Nicola took us to a place where we could purchase our tickets (again, no waiting) and then told us exactly which line to get into (bypassing a very long line of people waiting to purchase tickets) and we went right in. We were able to spend some time here walking around and of course, taking pictures. Nicola picked us up and we headed up to a spot overlooking the Coliseum and the Forum. He then took us over to the Pantheon where we walked in on an impromptu concert given by a girl's choir from Australia. They sounded incredible - the acoustics are amazing. Nicola dropped us off for a quick break to see the Trevi Fountain where we threw our 3 coins in guaranteeing our return. It was now time for lunch and Nicola took us to a restaurant in the city where he had made a reservation for us. The food was good but not nearly as good or as much as yesterday. After lunch it was time for our tour of the Vatican. We had booked a private guide through Romeinlimo to take us in. We met Sarah outside and she took us right in where we purchased our tickets (no line). We spent more than 2 hours here and could have spent even longer because there is just so much to see. Sarah was extremely knowledgeable and filled our head with so much information; it was hard to take it all in. After the museum portion, she gave us a few minutes in the Sistine Chapel. There are no words to describe it. You have to see it to really understand and appreciate it. We were all in awe of everything we saw. We headed into St. Peter's which is another amazing site. We spent some time here and then made a quick stop in the gift shop for some souvenirs before meeting up with Nicola again. By this time we were a little behind schedule and traffic was starting to build up getting out of the city. No worries here. Nicola was on the phone with some of the other drivers and Duman himself found us in traffic to let us know there was a minor delay ahead but after that we would be back on the ship in plenty of time. Of course he was right. They are very conscious of making sure that their cruise passengers get back on time and do everything in their power to make sure no one gets left behind. Great job, Romeinlimo! After an exhausting day, we headed to Magenta for dinner which was excellent. Both main dining rooms on this ship are very nice and the service was wonderful. Florence & Pisa This was the day I had been looking forward to all week. By this time though, we were looking for a day where we could actually enjoy the city without rushing from place to place. When we met our driver, Laura, we told her that the main goals for Florence today were to have a nice lunch, have some time to shop and I needed to have some really good gelato. She said she would take care of us. We headed towards Pisa first and were there before the crowds. We took some pictures, walked around a little and then headed to Florence. Laura was a terrific guide. She gave us the history of the region and just had an all around great personality. Before we even entered the city, she took us to a point overlooking the entire city where we were able to take some great photos. We had an elderly woman with us today from England who was traveling with her daughter so Laura was going to drop us off for some shopping while she drove the 2 ladies closer to where they wanted to be. My friend and I were looking to purchase leather bags and Laura took us to her friend's store where we each purchased a beautiful leather bag for only 60 Euros each! What a bargain and I love having it as a souvenir. We walked around for a while and then met everyone for lunch. We thought today would be a good day to have some pizza but Laura told us that it was not as good in Florence as it is everywhere else. We didn't want to be disappointed so she took us to a wonderful little restaurant (Cucina Tradizionale Boccadama) whose specialty was lasagna. We all ordered it along with some wine and we were not disappointed. The pasta was incredible and the portions were huge! We also had some appetizers, fresh mozzarella and basil and another house specialty, an assortment of cheeses served with honey and walnuts. It sounds strange but it was terrific. This was also the most reasonable of lunches - 69 Euros for 4 of us. After lunch the group split up again to do our own thing. My group decided that we wanted to spend some time just walking around the city rather than going to any museums. Laura told us where we could see the replica of the David which you can actually take pictures of. I reminded her about my gelato and she told me not to purchase it in the city center - it would cost between 8 - 12 Euros and would not be that good. She would take us someplace before we left. We walked all around the city and over the Ponte Vecchio Bridge before heading back to meet Laura. During this time we ran into the couple we toured with the day before along with another couple we had met from Canada. It's very strange hearing your name called in another city where you don't know anyone. After a couple hours it was time to meet up with our group again. Laura took us just on the outskirts of the city and pulled over so we could get gelato. This was worth the wait. For just 2 Euros we got 2 pretty large scoops of homemade gelato. I had the dark chocolate and crème caramel. It was by far the best thing I've ever tasted! Everyone loved the stop and I'm still talking about it today. Our stop cost us a few minutes and we hit some traffic on the way back. Nothing to fear though because we were in front of at least 3 NCL tour buses that were also on their way back. We knew the ship couldn't leave without those people so we were safe. Back to our room to reminisce about our day over a glass of wine. For dinner tonight we decided to go back to Magenta and had another great meal. Cannes This was our final port as well as a short day so we knew we just wanted to take it easy and do a little exploring on our own. We had 2 of our Canadian friends join us as well. We met up about 9:00 and took a tender into Cannes. There was absolutely no waiting to board and we left almost immediately. Once on the dock we noticed all the sailboats in the marina. There was a regatta scheduled for the next day so we enjoyed looking at all the boats tied up. One thing we wanted to do this trip was to stick our feet in the Mediterranean and what better place to do it than the French Riviera. We walked along the beach for a while enjoying the water and the beautiful views. We grabbed a walking tour map at the marina and used this as a guide as we walked around. We passed through an outdoor food market along with a pretty large flea market. We picked up some chocolate croissants as we walked. It was a very nice enjoyable day and before heading back to the ship, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe and had a drink. We walked right onto a tender and were back on the ship in no time. We happened to be sitting across from Brett, our cruise director and spent some time telling him how much we enjoyed our trip. He was happy to hear it and told us about the Gem's new itinerary for next year. It includes two different itineraries for Greece, Croatia and Turkey. (Two of us were so intrigued; we booked the Greek Isles trip for next October!) As we made our way onto the ship, all the sailboats that were docked this morning were now out in the water - what a sight! I was able to get some fantastic photos. Since we were back on the ship so early, we decided to sit down by the pool where we were miraculously able to get 6 seats together right in front of the pool! This was the only day we used the pool and it was so nice sitting out there soaking up every last bit of our vacation. I had made dinner reservations for all of us at LeBistro tonight and we were extremely pleased. Everything about the meal was wonderful; the food, wine and especially the company. We spent our last night up at Bali Hai where we all exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to keep in touch (we have). Embarkation Day We were staying in Barcelona for one more day so we did not have to rush off the ship. We kept our bags and after a leisurely breakfast at the Grand Cafe, we said our farewells to our cabin stewards, Jeffrey and Deval and walked off the ship. There was about a 30 minute wait at the taxi line but it seemed to go quickly because we were still excited that we had another full day in Barcelona. One of my friends was able to get us to rooms at the Hilton Diagonal del Mar with her points so we headed right there. Our rooms were ready immediately and we had the entire day in front of us. We ended up spending most of the day at the rooftop pool relaxing and reliving our trip. We did venture out for lunch and dinner but that was it. Going Home We were up pretty early for our 10:45 flight home and were able to get a taxi for 4 (plus luggage) right away with the help of the bellman at the Hilton. There was a little traffic but it was Monday morning so I guess that's to be expected. Check-in at the airport was relatively easy and all we had to do was wait for our flight home. Arrived in Newark on time and had a quick trip through Customs and no problems with lost or delayed luggage. Overall, we had a fantastic time and the Gem is a wonderful ship. I've heard people complain about the smallest things and can't imagine what that does to your vacation. When I'm on vacation, I don't expect everything to be perfect but I'm not about to let it ruin my trip that I've worked hard for all year. But I can honestly say that there's not one thing I would change about my trip and I'm looking forward to sailing on the Gem again next October. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
I work for a financial planning firm that as a fun perk, offers a group trip for clients and friends of clients who want to take trips once a year to different locations. I am not a travel agent, but since I travel the most out of our ... Read More
I work for a financial planning firm that as a fun perk, offers a group trip for clients and friends of clients who want to take trips once a year to different locations. I am not a travel agent, but since I travel the most out of our office, the research, planning and execution falls on me... which is great because that means I get to go too. This year there were 20 of us and we took a 7 night cruise on the Gem to the Western Med. I was a little concerned since I had not ever cruised with Norwegian before and I really did not want to let anyone down. Our group had cabins from inside cabins on deck 4 to the mini-suites on deck 11, so I was able to get feedback from most cabin types. My husband and I had a mini suite on deck 11, midship. While the cabin was very clean and the decor was better than I was expecting from the pictures on the website, there were several things I was disappointed in. The entire cabin had two single electric outlets, both over the "desk". There were none near the bed, bathroom or couch. It was a hassle to have to switch things out for use and charging. There was not a place to plug in a clock by the bed and there was not a clock provided in the room, unless you wanted to leave the tv on at all times. Everyone in out group had the same complaint about that. One lady (also in a mini suite)in our group has to use a breathing machine at night and the cord would not reach from the desk to the bed FORCING HER TO SLEEP ON THE COUCH TO BREATH! If not for the balcony and larger bathroom, the "mini suite" is the same size of an inside cabin on a Holland America ship. I was expecting something larger but since we did not spend too much time in the cabin, it was not a huge issue for me but I heard people who were a little larger than myself complaining about the amount of space from the foot of the bed to the wall. You have about 1.5 ft from the bed to the wall that is the "walkway" to the couch and balcony. There is a table in front of the couch that takes away any from for standing or walking in the "living area", so we moved the table to the corner of the balcony and it freed up space making it feel less crowded. The only other thing I was disappointed in were the chairs on the balcony. I would have preferred lounge chairs (which would have fit) instead of patio chairs. When we sat in the patio chairs out view was of the wooden railing. If we had lounge chairs we would have been able to enjoy the view without standing the whole time. Our whole group had no problems with ever finding a variety of dining options. The Garden Cafe was the buffet which seemed to not have enough seating but the two outdoor grills always had tables available. The blue lagoon had a wonderful lunch menu and the two "main dining rooms" were very nice. They both had the same menu, but still nice all the same. We did upgrades to Cagney's Steakhouse (very nice manager who came and spent time talking for a while with our table) La Cucina, very good Italian food but they charged for water??, and the Teppanyaki which was also very good. The company I work for is a financial planning firm so being over charged or wasting money on things I could find for less expensive, is just not an option. That being said, we only booked two days shore excursions through NCL, which were Malta and Cannes. Since we were a group of 20, several broke off to do different things and the only complaint I heard was the "Little Train and Nice" at the Cannes port. Apparently the little train only took them to a flower and vegetable market for shopping. This was the last port so no one could purchase anything or customs would have taken it from them when re-entering the USA. 10 of us did "Historic Towns and Crafts" in Malta, which was old town, catacombs glass blowing factory where you can get great deals and a filigree shop, not so great deals. "Grasse & St. Paul De Vence" in Cannes, which we all enjoyed completely. St. Paul De Vence was picture perfect. The days in Naples, Rome and Florence, I did research and booked through two private companies that offered MUCH more for the money. I don't know if it would have worked out so well without it being a group, but it cost less per person than any of the NCL options. It was fantastic to be able to get out at each of the locations and walk around instead of driving by them with NCL and praying the pictures you had to take from a moving bus, would come out. I mean really, why go to the Rome if you cant get out and play? Let me first say that I was VERY nervous about booking three days worth of excursions with companies that I had only ever read about online and who held the whole experience for the trip of a life time, in their hands. My worst fear was that they would not show up and we would be standing at the pier with no one to take us anywhere. I do have a few gray hairs that I did not have before from worrying about it, but if it worked out like I hoped it would, we would get to see so much more for so much less money and would be in the safety of our own little group. It made me feel a little better that they did not want prepayment and would take cash or travelers checks at the end of the trip. Anytime I contacted either of the following two companies via email, they responded back within an hour. Very professional. Naples we booked a private bus and private guide for the whole day which ended up costing 1400 euro divided by 20. Great price! The name of the company was Sorrento Silverstar and our guide was Lucia. We walked off the ship and to the line of buses and she was standing there with a sign with my name on it and a very welcoming smile! Ah, relief!! She was fantastic, friendly and very knowledgeable. We went to Pompeii, where she was able to get our tickets without standing in the very long line and we went straight in. From there we did a drive on the Amalfi coast to Sorrento where we stopped for shopping. She was able to reserve us a table ahead of time at a family run restaurant on the way to Positano. It was 25 euro per person but was worth it. They brought plate after plate of fantastic "local cuisine" and all the wine and lemoncello we wanted. It was on a cliff that over looked the bay and had amazing views. For Rome and Florence we booked through another private company called romeinlimo. Rome was our first day with them and the only day we had a "mishap". When we got off the ship, there was no bus, no guide, no driver. Panic set in and I immediately called their local contact number where Jany (I think I woke her up) said she would check it and call me right back. 15 minutes later, no phone call. I called again and she said that the security for the port would not let the bus through. She said, of course, that this is the first time that had ever happened. She said that the bus, guide and driver were waiting for us outside the port gate and we would have to walk to them... just over half a mile away. Not a big deal until I mention to her that we have a 90 year old in our group! So, we start walking to the gate, with me on the phone letting her know how upset I was with the whole thing. If they had just called and let us know as soon as the bus told them that they could not get in, we could have taken a shuttle to the gate and saved ourselves 1.5 hours. Anyway, we finally get to the gate where the bus and guide are in fact waiting on us. You can imagine the guide already had a uphill battle to get us back in a good mood. Her name was Paula and to her credit, did her best to put the "incident" behind her and give us the tour we wanted. We were able to go the the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum and the Vatican. We went to eat at a local pizza restaurant, where again giving credit where credit is due, Duman (the owner of romeinlimo) personally came to meet us and buy our whole group lunch. He also went ahead to the Vatican where he prepurchased our tickets and got our headsets for the tour so we would not have to wait in line. He also paid 8 euros toward each persons ticket for the Vatican (keep in mind, there are 20 of us). So after lunch and the payment for the Vatican, we received a 20% discount for 2 hours of tour time we lost. We did end up running, literally, through the Vatican and had no time for shopping to make sure we made it back to the ship on time, which we did. Unfortunately, things just happen sometimes outside of our control but I feel like he did his best to make up for it. The next day in Florence we also had booked with romeinlimo, where Duman promised our guide would be there the minute we stepped off the ship. We walk off the ship with baited breath. I see a line of guides with signs held up so I walk to where they are.... and my name is no where to be found. Back on the phone quickly where I tell her I have no bus or driver. She tells me he is at the ship with a sign and is waiting for me. This is where the humor comes in. There were two walkways off the ship. Marco, our guide, was at the one at the front of the ship, literally leaning on the railing so it would be impossible for us to miss him. He was not standing with the guides because he wanted us to make sure we saw him before we ever set foot on the ground,,, we came off the ramp at the back of the ship. Everyone in our group LOVED Marco. He asked me for the list of things we wanted to see and do and made sure that each of them happened in the course of the day. Even down to the request from one of our members to try real Italian Gelato. There was ALOT of walking, our course, we are in Europe after all. The 90 year old lady took a little tumble on the uneven cobblestone streets where she tore up her knee and had a pretty good bump on the forehead. It could have been anyone of us since we were all walking looking up at the buildings instead of down at the street. It luckily happened almost directly in front of the Accademia Museum. Marco immediately put everyone else in the "reserved" line and took her and myself in the side door so we could get her seated and looked over by the first aid. He even sprinted down the street to get her ice packs to hold on her head and knee. He was able to secure her a wheel chair for the museum because she refused to stop for even a second. Let's keep in mind that she is 90, that means she is a little fire ball from the generation that plowed fields, didn't have ac, would never dream of missing Sunday service and saved the free world from Hitler and Stalin. She says she wants to keep going, myself being 32, the only answer is "Yes ma'am". When the cruise was over, we opted for "Freestyle disembarking". This means that we did not get color coded luggage tags and leave our bags out the night before. We met at 6:45 at the Crystal Atrium and took our own bags with us. I had arranged for a private bus to and from the ship, saving each couple around $100.00 from what NCL charged for the round trip transfer. We walked straight past the lines, off the ship to the bus and were on our way to the airport in 10 minutes. The company we used to arrange for the bus is European Tour Connections, ask for Walter. Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
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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