23 Barcelona to Europe - Western Mediterranean Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

My wife and I were traveling with another couple. We stayed at the Confortel Barcelona Hotel the night before the 7 day cruise and also the night after the cruise ended. The room was clean but looked more like a dorm room than a hotel ... Read More
My wife and I were traveling with another couple. We stayed at the Confortel Barcelona Hotel the night before the 7 day cruise and also the night after the cruise ended. The room was clean but looked more like a dorm room than a hotel room - very austere. We took a taxi from the hotel to the dock on day of embarkation. The embarkation went smoothly accompanied by a glass of champagne upon entry into the lounge area on deck 7. Our luggage arrived earlier than some cruises we have been on. The staff and service was superb during the complete cruise. The food served was better than average and a wider selection than on other cruise lines. We especially liked the "freestyling" concept where you do not have to dress up for a formal night. The staff paid great attention to having cruisers use hand sanitizers upon re-entry to the ship and into food service areas - a big positive! The layout of the ship was very logical and easy to find your way around, which can't be said for some ships we have been on. We would highly recommend this cruise line if all the ships in their fleet (and staff) were like this ship. WE took advantage of NCL's shore excursion on 4 of the five ports. Our experiences were not bad but, in my opinion, a customized tour from reputable local guides at each of the ports would provide a more memorable and pleasant experience and for roughly the same price. Buses do not maneuver as easily as a van in some of the bigger cities and there is no waiting for stragglers to get on the bus. You can also take in more and spend more time at a particular location if desired, which is not an option on the cruise line's canned excursion. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
First and foremost I want to talk about the excursions. I would say don't book with the ship because it's overpriced and you'll sit on a bus with 100 other people and be on their schedule. Booking a private tour offers ... Read More
First and foremost I want to talk about the excursions. I would say don't book with the ship because it's overpriced and you'll sit on a bus with 100 other people and be on their schedule. Booking a private tour offers flexibility and convenience. I reviewed each port individually but I cannot say enough about Your Tour in Italy (www.yourtourinitaly.com). We booked all three days in Italy with Aldo (the owner) and were so very pleased with every aspect of his service. The cars were in great condition and very clean. Each driver was native to the area we visited that day which was key - they were able to provide personal accounts of each area we visited and recommend restaurants and shopping first hand. I read several reviews on this site looking for a tour company and Your Tour in Italy came up often. There were several companies with great reviews but Your Tour offered a tour in each Italian port. It was much more convenient to have 1 company to book with than 2 or 3. There were no hidden costs. We paid the driver at the end of the tour. We used travellers cheques so we wouldn't need cash but my conversion rate was different than theirs so I would recommend asking Aldo for the rate before you buy your cheques. Also we tipped our drivers/guides in cash (Euros). Please find the contact info below and see my specific port reviews for more details. Your Tour in Italy di Aldo Monti P.Iva n 02341610596 Via Ferrazza 986 04100 LT Rome Italy www.yourtourinitaly.com info@yourtourinitaly.com As far as the ship is concerned - it was very clean. We had a stateroom with a balcony and that was very nice. The bigger bathroom was worth it. The TV station selection is poor, there's about 5 options. The Internet was extremely slow and very expensive (you pay by the minute and it's about $1/minute). We never dressed up and enjoyed being casual the whole time. Restaurants: We tried the steak place our first night - Cagney's. It was $15 cover plus another $10 if you wanted seafood. The food was ok but not worth the additional cost. The king crab legs were not king crab legs and the lobster was a very small portion. We tried the Italian place our second night, it had a $10 cover. It was again - just ok. The food was not worth the cover. Our third night we tried the Mexican /Tapas place with a $10 cover and were again disappointed. We ate in the included restaurants from t hat point forward. The service in the restaurants was generally poor. We waited for a while for drinks and sometimes for anyone to even greet our table. You can get unlimited soda for a flat rate and if you drink a lot it's worth it. If you don't have that you will $2.50 for a can of soda. You can't bring any food or drinks on the ship so if you buy anything at a port they will hold it until you disembark in Barcelona (pretty standard for a cruise). There's a guy who gives "talks" about each port on a daily basis - he has good tips and knows a lot. It's worth your time for sure. Docking into Malta is beautiful, just make sure you're out there early enough. We asked the desk what time to be there and were given a time that was too late. We saw most of it but I would have liked to be on deck for the whole thing. They add a gratuity to your bill every day so DON'T TIP on every check. You'll be tipping twice. The conversion commission on the ship is horrible, change money before you go on your trip or in a port at a local bank. It will save you some money. You don't need Euros on the ship, everything is paid in USD. Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
First of all, let me give a disclaimer. There are up to 3,000 people on each cruise. Each person is going to have a different experience from the next. Your experience also depends on your level of expectation. This also varies from person ... Read More
First of all, let me give a disclaimer. There are up to 3,000 people on each cruise. Each person is going to have a different experience from the next. Your experience also depends on your level of expectation. This also varies from person to person. Read these reviews and do your best to create the experience YOU want. The possibilities to do so are endless on a trip like this. That being said, I would like to share the experience of my husband and I, and to tell you up front that we had no real expectations as we had never cruised with NCL nor been to Europe. We'll start from embarkation: absolutely a breeze! No lines, no issues. Cabins were ready when they said they would be and luggage was delivered promptly thereafter. (Cabin was awesome, beds were like a Westin Heavenly Bed, very comfortable!). Overall, we very much liked cruising with NCL and on this ship. Yes, there are surcharges for certain restaurants and yes, there are "up-sells" around every corner. However, that being said, working in the hospitality sales industry myself, I can certainly appreciate the up-sell effort, especially in these tough economic times! My biggest issue with some of the reviews on CC is about the extra charge for specialty restaurants. This is an OPTION...you don't HAVE to go to these restaurants and pay extra. There are at least 5 other places for you to eat each night for "free". Malta: In Malta we did the Island Jeep Tour through NCL. While I think it was slightly overpriced, we absolutely had a ball. We were able to see just about every inch of the island and took some of the most gorgeous pictures. We even had some beach time and some time in Mdina. My only complaint: it is very hard to hear the guide speaking over the radio with traffic and such flying by. That night, we had dinner in the Asian Fusion restaurant, which was absolutely fantastic. TIP for sushi lovers: You can eat in the Asian Fusion restaurant and order off the sushi menu as well! This also works in reverse! Our waitress, Erna, was FANTASTIC! Wonderful service, amazing food! Naples: In this port we hired a private driver (not through NCL) to take us all over the Amalfi Coast. We used Marcello Maresca (http://www.seesorrento.com/index_eng.html) and he was amazing! Marcello is born and raised in Sorrento and is very passionate about where he comes from. Where most companies stop their coast tour in Amalfi, he takes you along the entire coast line to Ravello and then back down the mountain on the other side to Pompeii. If you want to stop in every village along the way, go where the tourists go or shop, 1) you will never get to see the entire coast as it was meant to be seen, and 2) this is not the tour for you. My husband and I hate tourist traps and large crowds. Plus, there's no way to enjoy the beauty of where you are if you're shopping. Marcello came highly recommended from a travel buddy who has been to the coast over 5 times and used a number of different private drivers. He has recommended other companies in the past, however has received unfavorable reviews....Marcello consistently gets the best feedback from those who use him. Keep in mind, you get what you pay for. Most of the companies who claim to "specialize" in Naples, also seem to "specialize" in Rome, Florence, Pisa, etc. I don't think you will find another guide who is more authentic than Marcello. (email me for pictures!). **No dinner on the ship this night as we were still full from the amazing full course lunch we had in a tiny village below Ravello - authentic, homemade, amazing views and not another tourist in site! Rome: Rome we decided to do "on our own". We took the train from port to the city (purchase the Birg ticket for just 9 Euro and it serves as an all day metro pass too!). My husband being Catholic, it was very important for him to see The Vatican and spend the appropriate amount of time there. If you have the budget, a private guide is the way to go here! You can skip the lines, your guide knows their way around and can help you avoid some of the crowds, plus they are extremely knowledgeable! We used myvaticantours.com and the tour lasted 3 hours, plus we were able to get in St. Peters. From The Vatican, we had a list of 3 things we wanted to see: The Coloseum, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We took the train to Piazza del Popolo and then were able to walk and see all 3 things before getting back on the train! There is NO WAY to see Rome in a day, don't try (either with a driver or on your own). My suggestion is to decide on 3-5 things you want to see beforehand and budget your time accordingly. Purchase any and all tickets in advance to avoid lines. **Dinner back on the ship was with friends in Magenta Dining room. We had to wait for a table but not too long. Florence: Here we opted for another private driver of the Tuscany region with a great group of wine drinkers! We used Guido from http://www.guidos-tours.it. Guido, a certified sommelier, knows his stuff! He took us to 2 great, yet very different wineries. We learned so much of the history of not only the area, but also about wine making itself. The ride was comfortable and the views were amazing (email me for pictures!). Be sure to bring extra cash for the purchasing of wine!! Our only regret was that we didn't purchase more! **Dinner was back at the Sushi Bar, where we were able to order both sushi as well as items off the Asian Fusion menu. Same great food and service! Cannes: At this point in the trip, we were exhausted. We only made plans for the beach and some site seeing in Cannes, however the rain killed it all:( We did a short walking tour and then sadly, made our way back to the ship. On our last night, we enjoyed dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse and it was well worth it! The food and service were amazing. My only complaint between the specialty restaurants and the main dining rooms is service. To my husband and I (who dined in the specialty restaurants 3 times and in the main dining rooms 3 times), there was a very noticeable lack of service in the main dining rooms (Magenta and Grand Pacific). I would hate to think that you have to use the specialty restaurants and pay extra to receive the service that is due. Overall, we LOVED the Gem and the ports! Ryan, concierge and Duncan, cruise consultant, both provided outstanding service throughout our vacation. We are looking forward to cruising the Greek Isles next year, on this same ship! ericamuddiman@yahoo.com Read Less
Sail Date September 2009
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think ... Read More
The overall cruise was a great experience with fantastic ports. The food was good and the boat was quite clean. A far cry from the Norwegian Hawaii cruise we took two years ago that did not have good service and was not as clean. I think it had to do with the all American crew. The freestyle experience is quite good, especially when traveling with children. It gives you the flexibility to eat when you want with little to no wait at normal diner hours. There was plenty to do on the ship for the whole family. The bowling was a great diversion and my son even rang the bell on the rock climbing wall! Food was of good quality, with the specialty restaurants having a more interesting selection and great service. Yes, you do have to pay for the other restaurants but it can be worth it. The buffet was Ok and predictable all the time. The rudeness of the people was to be expected, but this trip took it to a whole new level since SOME Europeans have no concept of lines. I have dealt with that on every cruise we have been on even with all Americans, but this one was exceptional. One area of disappointment on the ship was the pool area, but we had a good time no matter what. Going in with a positive attitude lets you deal with the things you can't change. First, try to find a deck chair on the lower section by the pool. These chairs have the nice cushions and are hard to come by. Interestingly enough I always found the same people using the chairs even with the signs on the ship that after 30 minutes unattended they would remove your stuff. This never happened and was not enforced. Even on the port days it seemed guests would come down early and lay towels on the chairs before breakfast. I can not prove this but I think they went to port and saved their chairs at the same time. I seemed like the large groups sent scounts to get chairs for everyone, including 1 for each child even if they were in the pool the whole time. Very annoying! Second, the constant whistle at the pool. No one was allowed to jump in the pool, mainly while the ship was in motion. There must have been an accident and they took a no tolerance stance on jumping in the pool. As many of the guests were from Spain on our ship, there was little control in the pool. Third, the hot tub should be renamed to the kid tub as no adult could even think of going in one since they were full of kids and teenagers of large groups. I think this a by product of going on the cruise during the heavy European vacation period. At least two thirds of the ship was european, with almost 1000 Spaniards. I think the most disappointing thing on this cruise was not in the hands of Norwegian. The worst part were the people. I myself am Cuban and have lived in the US most of my life. Have traveled a great deal since my job takes me all over the world so I am aware of the cultural differences, especially working for a German company. That said, the nationality with the most people on the ship were extremely rude and felt more deserving than the rest of us on the ship. It was truly incredible. From the deck chairs, to the buffet line, to the rock climbing wall, we were constantly explaining to people in Spanish the rules of staying in line and following directions. While in line at the rock climbing wall a family came and when straight to the cabinet to grab shoes even though there was a line of people waiting. I mentioned we were all waiting and everyone used the same shoes. They went back on line and the father came forward to the cabinet again since there was one child on line with shoes on already. Everyone barked again and he said, "he has shoes on". He was the only child on line with shoes, helmet and a harness since he had already gone up the wall and was going up again. I could go on an on, but I wont. The only recommendation is to not go on the cruise in August. Pay extra to go when the Europeans are working. My family really enjoyed the cruise and the ports were fantastic. The port days can be exhausting since there is so much to see and do in a short time. I would recommend this cruise for the destinations and the overall quality on the ship. Read Less
Sail Date August 2009
First day back at work after our cruise.  Here's a few personal observations.I thought the general attitude of the passengers was a little more inconsiderate than when I did the NCL Jewel on a similar itinerary two years ago.  There ... Read More
First day back at work after our cruise.  Here's a few personal observations.I thought the general attitude of the passengers was a little more inconsiderate than when I did the NCL Jewel on a similar itinerary two years ago.  There was a lot more cutting into lines and just pushing around you as if you didn't exist.  At the chocoholic buffet, we actually got disgusted and left.  When you see an inconsiderate boob carrying three plates of cake, pushing around you because they're going to starve to death if they don't get a fourth - give me a break already!I don't know why people have to stand in front of doorways to have their conversations.  The ship's large enough that they can move three feet so other passengers can walk through the doorways.  I felt like I was on a cruise going out of New York (where I live).  I'm not politeness-man, but when a 35 year old man pushes me out of the way on the ice cream line at the buffet - come on already you pig!  It's not going to run out.Chair hogs - well, you've heard all that before.Anyhow, my main purpose isn't to complain, just wanted to get that off my chest.The ship is wonderful.  We were in aft balcony 9674 and were very pleased with the room (although I wouldn't spend the extra $500 for a BA that I did versus a regular BB balcony again.  For a suite, that would be a different story).   Our room steward, Christopher, was great and kept us in clean towels and a tidy room, what more could you ask for?Every time you look over your shoulder, there was somebody cleaning something.  The public areas were well policed and cleaned, except the last day when 20-30 knot winds kicked up leaving Cannes and glasses, plates and food were blowing around the sun deck.  Nobody from the ship came up to pick anything up, and I wasn't going to clean up after the rest of the passengers.We didn't attend any of the shows - just weren't interested.  The earliest we dinned was 9:00, usually 9:30 and once at 10:30.  We ate at Cagney's twice, it was great both times.  The Grand Pacific dining room always had a line when we went there so we chose the Magenta dining room instead.  Food was good, service was great.  Blue Lagoon was so-so, very limited menu, more like appetizers than dinner.  Tequila's was really good - we had the fajitas for two and a pitcher of white Sangria that we couldn't finish.  We did the buffet for breakfast most mornings and had room service once.  Omlettes could have been made with a little less oil, scrambled eggs were delicious, if you like them soaked in butter (I do).  They had eggs Benedict with spinach instead of Canadian bacon, which saved me a good 50 calories for the week.The poolside bar makes a really good hamburger, and a little hint for you, the ketchup dispenser is always empty but the one labeled "Sauce" is ketchup.  The french fries at the pool were consistently great (hot, salty, crispy outside and potato-ey inside).Good choices for salads for the health conscious, if you take it easy with the dressing.Embarkation was a bit slow.  There was a bizarre twist with some international immigration law that between July 5 and July 15, the Italian government wanted the ship to collect our passports so they could be presented for inspection on docking in Naples.  (Don't ask me to explain, I'm just a guest.)  They took our passports on embarkation, gave us a photocopy, and gave them back on Wednesday afternoon when we left Naples.  I think that process was just for our cruise, your upcoming cruise shouldn't be affected.Disembarkation was a breeze.  We walked off the ship with our luggage at about 8:45 and there was no line.  However, at 8:15, you couldn't find a seat at the buffet because it was full, so I'm guessing people who waited until 9:30 to leave may have had a different experience.We didn't do any ship excursions.  The one I wanted they cancelled, so we did the Italian train system instead.Real quickly on the stops:Malta - Hired a private gondola for a harbor tour, right outside the boat.  I seem to remember 30 Euros for the two of us for a 40 minute ride.  Well worth it.  Then we walked through town.  The trip leaving Malta was fun.  The city is an amazing site to see and the ship plays some very dramatic music.  You'll probably love it.Naples - Hired a private taxi driver on the pier to take us to Pompeii.  He waited 2 hours while we toured the ruins, then drove us to Sorrento and waited another hour and a half while we walked around and had some pizza and wine.  We paid him 150 Euro, plus a 25 euro tip.Rome - Took the train from Civvitachevia.  We walked off the boat and walked out of the pier (yes, it is legal in Civvitachvia).  There is a shuttle bus but it was full and they told us it would be half an hour until the next one, so we walked.  We saw three shuttle buses go by while we walked!  Anyhow, it's about half an hour walk from the ship to the train station.  We bought a BIRG ticket for 9 Euro.  That gives you unlimited travel on trains and the Rome metro for a 24 hour period after you validate your ticket.  Another note:  after we bought our tickets, nobody checked them either in Civvatechia or in Rome.  We could have just walked onto the train.  Livorno:  We planned to take the 10:00 train to Florence and got off the ship at 9AM.  Big mistake.  The shuttle bus from the ship to Livorno got us there at 9:50, and we couldn't find a taxi willing to take us to the train station.  So instead, we took a 15 Euro bus tour to Pisa.  You pick it up where the port shuttle drips you off.   That was for round trip air conditioned bus to Pisa, and two hours at Pisa.  Cannes:  We walked off the ship, browsed in the flea market, shopped around for another half hour and spent two hours on the beach sunning ourselves.Our only real problem on the entire cruise was when my GF put a diamond necklace in a napkin to straighten out the chain, followed by yours truly deciding to tidy up the cabin by throwing out all the papers laying around.  (NCL does provide a bit of paper advertisement you know.)   When we realized the next day, we called ship's security and I asked them if they would look through the garbage, but I guess you know where this story is heading. (The steward told me garbage is incinerated quickly and yesterday's trash was definitely burned up by now).  The head of security offered to tear the cabin apart to search for the necklace, but we didn't want to waste half a day when we were sure the necklace was gone.  They filled out a report for us to give to our insurance company and we'll see what happens.My GF was very upset, but it was spilled milk and we focused on enjoying  the rest of the trip.  Which we did.  I think the cabin steward was even more upset - he must have figured we were going to blame him.Bottom line:  I'd go back in a second, even with all the slobs at the buffet! Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
I read a lot of reviews to try to become informed as possible before embarking on this cruise.  It was only my second cruise and wanted to try to be prepared.  We used RomeInLimo at two of the ports and were extremely pleased.I ... Read More
I read a lot of reviews to try to become informed as possible before embarking on this cruise.  It was only my second cruise and wanted to try to be prepared.  We used RomeInLimo at two of the ports and were extremely pleased.I originally booked an inside cabin, but switched to an obstructed ocean view when they became available at a price cheaper than the inside cabins.  There was a view between the lifeboats from one of the two windows.  Lots of storage space and a great cabin steward, made the stay very pleasant.  The only annoying thing was that the Gem uses the life boats to tender into Cannes, and 2 of the 4 boats used happened to be outside my cabin. I got woken up about 6:15am by the noise of the boats being lowered.  I took advantage of the early wake up by heading out to the pool deck where I had the pool and hot tubs to myself and a nice view of the beautiful coastline.  (Mid-morning on, expect most chaises at pool to be "taken".   Although there are signs saying unattended items will be removed from chairs after 30 minutes, this is not enforced.We had dinner in the Magenta every night and were quite pleased most nights.  We dined on Lobster, Prime Rib and Rack of Lamb on various nights.  Only one night was the dinner selection a little sub-par.  The service was good on all but one night also.  Strangely, sometimes you were handed a wine list when you were seated and sometimes it took several requests to get one.  Several mornings we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific and had no complaints.  Great melon, made to order omlettes, etc.We only ate at the buffet for a snack or late lunch.  It can be somewhat chaotic, and difficult to find a table at peak times.  However, the food was mostly good and many offerings changed daily.  The Great Outdoors has a little calmer atmosphere, which we preferred.  We had breakfast there once and lunch a couple of times.  It has a more limited buffet but the calmer atmoshphere and great views make up for that.The chocoholic buffet was dissapointing and very chaotic.  (It was held in the buffet restaurant).The two shows I saw were fair to good.  They were the Second City show and the Around the World show on the final evening.  Botht took place in the Stardust.Read on for port reviews - Read Less
Sail Date July 2009
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal ... Read More
Pre-cruise - Saturday, 6/13 Barcelona  Just for some background, this was my sixth cruise, my wife's fourth cruise and my step kids (daughter age 13 and son age 17) second cruise.   I have previously cruised on Carnival and Royal Caribbean and have found them to be comparable in quality.   This would be our first time on Norwegian Cruise Lines so I was eager to try out freestyle cruising. We left on Friday, June 12 for the journey to Barcelona. We flew from Dallas (DFW) to Barcelona with a layover in New York (JFK airport) for 3 hours on American Airlines and the flights went off without a hitch and were on time.  It was sunny and warm upon our arrival in Barcelona and we were all pretty tired (I did manage to doze for about three hours on the flight but the leg room on our 767 from JFK to Barcelona was cramped at best so it was hard to get any true sleep).   We breezed through customs and proceeded to baggage claim (which was extremely overcrowded as there was only one carousel operating to handle multiple flights luggage).   As the luggage came out, people began to crowd and bump me, so it wasn't too pleasant but we manage to retrieve all of our luggage.   We got a taxi (no problems at all finding one although we had to try about three different taxis to find one large enough to fit our four large pieces of luggage in the trunk) and headed to Hotel Regina which is at the top of Las Ramblas in an ideal location.   I had printed out the name and location of the hotel, so I just showed that to the driver and he found it with no problems (the Barcelona taxi drivers seem to speak little to no English). It was only 10 am when we reached the hotel so our room wasn't ready yet, but the hotel held our luggage for free.   We ventured out and about a block away was Placa Catalunya and Las Rambles (which featured all sorts of vendors selling everything from typical souvenirs to birds, chipmunks, flowers, produce, chocolate, etc.)   I had heard about the pickpocket problems in Barcelona but never felt threatened (although I wore a neck pouch under my shirt to hold our credit cards, passports and most of our cash).  After exploring Las Ramblas, we headed back to the hotel at lunch time to see if the room was ready but it still wasn't.    Thus we ate lunch in the hotel lobby bar (club sandwiches) as we were really tired and didn't want to venture back out quite yet.   Finally after lunch, the room was ready and we headed up to our family room on the second floor.  The room was quite large by European standards and was basically a large room with a queen size bed and two other beds for the kids, so all four of us could fit in one room.  The bathroom was pretty nice sized too and had excellent amenities (shampoo, lotions, and individual toiletry kits for gentleman and ladies).  The one problem with the room is that the a/c didn't work very well and the room was hot.   The room was 78 degrees most of the time (I have a travel clock that also lists temperature) but we were so tired that I just let it go and didn't complain (since we were only here for one night).   We rested a bit and then headed back out to the chocolate museum which is a small museum featuring items made out of chocolate, information about how chocolate is made, and a small cafe/gift shop.  We then wandered into the Gothic quarter and really enjoyed the narrow streets and shops there.   We somehow ended up at the Christopher Columbus monument so we decided to go to the top for a scenic view.  The views are excellent from the top, but it's very cramped so I wouldn't recommend it for someone who has claustrophobia.    Finally, we took a taxi back near our hotel and ate a light dinner at a place called Fresco (salad bar buffet with some pasta and pizza) which was average (although the pizza with corn on it was pretty good).   It was about 8 pm by now so we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  I think we were all asleep by 10 pm and I slept well even though it was hot in the room!   Day 1 - Sunday, 6/14 Embarkation We slept until 10 am and woke up feeling much better and refreshed.  We checked out around noon and took a taxi (the hotel had called one for us) to the pier.  Once again, I had printed out the name of the port, and just handed the print out to the taxi driver.  We arrived at the port around 12:15 pm and dropped off our luggage (there were plentiful luggage porters around to assist).  We went inside; breezed through security and got in a short check-in line for mini suites and balconies (they had separate lines for general check in, mini suites/balconies, suites and cash only).  About five minutes later, we were checked in and headed for the ship.   This was the quickest and easiest embarkation we've had for all of our cruises.  NCL does a great job in this regard.   We had the obligatory picture taken and boarded the Gem (I was handed a glass of champagne upon boarding which was nice).  We were starved so headed upstairs to the Garden Cafe (the Gem's buffet) for lunch.  The buffet is nicely laid out with separate stations for pasta, sandwiches, ice cream, soups, salads, etc.  All of the food was tasty and enjoyable and there was a good variety.  Seating was a bit limited and cramped but we always seemed to find a table whenever we came here.   The only negative about the buffet to me was that the items didn't vary from day to day.  I'd rate the Gem's buffet above RCCL, but I still think Carnival does the best job with their buffets.   We made our way to our balcony staterooms 10554 and 10556 which were smaller than the balcony cabin we'd had last year on the Carnival Destiny.  There definitely was not as much storage space but I do think the bathroom was better organized (it is small but it has a nice shower stall with a glass door and a separate toilet area).  The balcony doors also closed quietly (although they didn't always stay fully closed when at sea) which was nice (on RCCL the balcony doors slammed shut which was quite annoying).  Both rooms were decorated with birthday decorations and a birthday cake (it was my wife and step daughter's birthdays during the cruise) so we had some cake to celebrate!  We checked out the television (a small flat screen set) and noticed the channels were pretty limited (Fox news, nick, BBC news, AMC and a bunch of ships channels as well as pay per view movies).   The TV did have interactive features so I could check my account status, make shore excursion reservations, etc.  We also had papers in both rooms that indicated that we had $100 on board credit per cabin.  I'm not sure why we got this but I wasn't going to complain about it!   It helped keep our tab for the week under control.   The balconies were small (but nice) with two chairs and a small table.   We ventured out to explore the ship and visited the Stardust Theater, Spinnaker lounge (featuring a pool table, dart board, foosball, indoor shuffleboard and odd furniture), Bliss ultra lounge (with four bowling lanes and more odd furniture; even beds), the basketball courts, rock climbing wall, and the pools.  We made dinner reservations for Le Bistro for tomorrow night and Cagney's for Friday night (they let you make reservations on the first day for any day of the cruise).   We all enjoyed the interesting dEcor and furnishings of the Gem.   Upon return to the staterooms, our luggage had arrived.   Unfortunately mine had been damaged (and it was a brand new suitcase) so I talked with the employee who was delivering luggage and he called his supervisor.   I was told to bring my luggage (after unpacking) to the reception desk and they would address the issue.   We unpacked and then headed down to reception where they told me they would keep my suitcase and have it repaired (and they would notify me when it was ready).   It all turned out fine as they did fix the suitcase and I was notified two days later, so I felt it was handled adequately.   We decided to try the Magenta dining room for dinner tonight.  The food here was good but not great.  Freestyle dining (eating whenever you want) sounds great in theory, but I really missed the camaraderie and rapport that develops when you have the same waiters/waitresses for the entire week (and they learn your likes/dislikes).  I also missed getting to meet and know your tablemates (and potentially meeting new friends).   There also were no fun events at dinner (such as dancing waiters, singers, audience participation, etc).   It was nice though being able to eat when we wanted to and not having to rush back to the ship from excursions to fulfill a particular dinner time. I'd rate the main dining rooms on the Gem below our Carnival and RCCL experiences as the food was certainly fine but nothing outstanding. After dinner, we attended the Welcome Aboard show.  It was fairly dull as the main entertainment was an Italian singer named Enrico Cifiello, who sang Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones types of songs along with some classic Italian songs.  He had a nice voice but it was mostly laid back, low tempo type fare.   Our kids were pretty bored by it.  I didn't care much for the cruise director Andrea Olivieri or his assistant Bingo Joe (more about my dislike for Bingo on the Gem later).   The cruise director was basically a one trick pony (saying Hello USA, CANADA, UK, SPAIN, etc. for each and every show that he hosted) and wasn't very visible on the ship (on other cruises I've seen the cruise director all over the place, but not here).   After the show, the kids were hungry and I thought a snack sounded good too, so we checked out the Blue Lagoon.   I'd heard that the service was really slow here, but we didn't encounter that and enjoyed our snack.   I didn't order the wings or fish and chips (I had heard these were the best items) as I wasn't all that hungry but what we had was good (hot dogs, chicken strips, cheesecake).  We returned to the cabin and day one of the cruise was now in the books!   Day 2 - Monday, 6/15 At Sea Today was a day at sea so we slept in until 10 am or so and then ventured up to the Garden Cafe and encountered the legendary 'HAPPY HAPPY' guy at the entrance.   Every morning, he would be there to proclaim 'happy happy' and 'washy washy' and he definitely made even the grumpiest morning people smile.   The Gem is very conscious of cleanliness and everyone was strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer upon entering any of the dining rooms on the ship or whenever actually boarding the ship itself.   The ship was also very clean and I witnessed crew members cleaning carpets, windows, etc multiple times throughout the cruise.   Our buffet breakfast was tasty (they have scrambled eggs, made to order omelet's, fruit, Danish, muffins, cereal, cinnamon rolls, Eggs Benedict, and many other items).   Orange and apple juices are also available at breakfast time.  For lunch today at the Great Outdoors (a separate outdoors buffet at the rear of deck 12), they had an Austrian/Bavarian buffet (in addition to the normal buffet) featuring sausages, spatzle, etc.   I thought this was a great idea and would have loved to have seen a different theme each day but the rest of the days there were just burgers and hot dogs at the Great Outdoors.  After eating, my wife and I attended an Italian wine tasting event which was interesting (we got to taste 5 different wines along with various cheeses and crackers).  I'm not a wine expert by any means, but we enjoyed it.   There were many other tastings during the week (for sangria, beer, French wine, whiskey, and margaritas) but this was the only one we attended.  I would have gone to the sangria one but it was at an odd time midway through the cruise (one would think they would have had it on day one out of Spain).  We split up after this and my wife and step daughter headed to sun bathe while my step son and I went to play darts.   We also got in a game or two of ping pong which is always challenging with the winds at sea.   We gathered back together to try to go bowling but there was an hour wait so we skipped it. Before dinner, my wife and I went to play Bingo (we usually enjoy this on our cruises) and discovered that NCL has taken up-selling to a whole new level with their bingo games.  On Carnival and RCCL, we usually spent $10 to $20 (the high end for any of their bingo sessions) and had a good time.  On NCL, the basic packs were $20 to $25 and to really have a realistic chance of winning, one had to spend upwards of $100, which was totally ridiculous to us.   The reason for this is NCL uses bingo machines, which basically play the entire game for those who purchase them (they are idiot proof) and replicate 70 to 100 game cards for each game.  So, instead of spending our $10 to $20 per bingo session during the week, we played no bingo at all. We noticed a lot of others at the first bingo session leaving or not playing due to the excessively high pricing of game cards/game machines.  Tonight was our reservation at Le Bistro French restaurant so we got semi-dressed up and headed to dinner.  I really enjoyed dinner here.  I had escargot and French onion soup for my starters, both of which were quite good.  My wife and I got the rib eye steak for two which had an extra charge but it was really delicious.  My step son liked his scallops' appetizer so much that he asked if he could get some more, which they gladly brought him.  My step daughter loves Caesar salads so we asked if she could get one (as they don't have a Caesar salad on the Le Bistro menu) and that wasn't a problem either.  I really felt like they aimed to please in this restaurant and it was an enjoyable evening for all.  The 'fondue for two' dessert is quite good.   After dinner was the Colorz show which featured the Gem singers and dancers performing songs that have colors in the song title (such as Purple Rain, Yellow Submarine, etc).   The show was pretty good and enjoyed by all and was the nice cap to a relaxing day.     Day 3 - Tuesday, 6/16 Valletta, Malta The Gem docked at Valletta, Malta at 8 am this morning.   I'd heard that the entry into Malta was quite scenic so I immediately went out onto the balcony upon waking and was treated to a view of us entering a beautiful harbor.  Since it was an early day, we ordered room service for breakfast and it was right on time.   Room service for breakfast only consists of rolls and cereals but it was adequate for our needs.  We had a tour booked through the ship called Malta Jeep Adventure and met our group on the pier (we initially met in the showroom until our tour was called).  There were about fifty people on the tour and we were assigned to jeeps that held five passengers each; one up front and then four in the back on bench type seats that faced each other.  I sat up front and the rest of the family sat in the back along with a stray teenager whose party had been split up amongst several jeeps.  We first headed to the north end of the island for a scenic overview (we could see two other Maltese Islands - Gozo and Comino).  After this, we headed to Popeye Village which was built for the 1980 film Popeye starring Robin Williams.   I saw actors dressed as Popeye and Olive Oyl roaming the village down below so I imagine it must also be a theme park that can be visited.  Our next stop was at a nearby beach (they had filmed some scenes from the movie Troy at this beach) where we stayed for an hour and did some swimming (I just waded though and tried the local beer called Cisk).   Quite a few movies have been filmed in Malta (Popeye, Troy, U-571, Gladiator and many others) which surprised me.  After the beach, our final stop was at another scenic overlook looking down from some cliffs.  The tour description is a little misleading as the jeeps never really went off road at all (just onto a few bumpy roads), but regardless of that, I really enjoyed the tour and we had a phenomenal driver.   There is one tour guide for the entire group of jeeps and her commentary is played over a cb type radio.  We couldn't hear our radio very well though, so our driver provided his own commentary and made it a truly enjoyable experience.  We even found out that he had been an extra in U-571 and had met Jon Bon Jovi during the filming (he said that Bon Jovi was incredibly nice and gracious).   We got back on board the Gem with plenty of time to spare before she departed at 3 pm.  Sailing out of the harbor was equally scenic to when we sailed in this morning.   Around 8:30 pm, the cruise daily noted that we'd sail past Mount Etna on the port (left as you face forward) side of the ship and that was quite spectacular as well (luckily our cabins were on the port side).  Tonight was the 'formal or not' night so we got dressed up, had some photos taken, and ate dinner in the Grand Pacific dining room.   Food here was exactly the same as the Magenta dining room.  The show this evening was the Second City comedy troupe, who performed both rehearsed skits and completely improvised routines (based on audience suggestions).   We all loved this show and had a great time.   These are definitely talented individuals.      Day 4 - Wednesday, 6/17 Naples, Italy We docked in Naples, Italy at 8 am this morning and prepared for the first of our three tours with the highly touted company Rome In Limo.  We had arranged to share all three tours with a couple from Singapore that I had gotten in contact with through cruise critic so I was looking forward to meeting them as well.  We got off the ship and walked through the cruise terminal and sure enough, there was our tour guide from Rome in Limo holding a sign with my name on it.   Lorenzo would be our driver for the day and he greeted us warmly.  A minute or two later, our new friends from Singapore showed up, so we were off and running with no hitches.  We had Mercedes mini vans for all three days of our Rome In Limo tours, which were very comfortable (and there were no backwards facing seats) for our party of six.  We headed out of Naples and Lorenzo told us some facts about the area and culture which was interesting.   Our first stop of the day would be Mount Vesuvius, which is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last one hundred years (the last eruption was in 1944).  We drove almost to the top, at which point Lorenzo told us it was just a fifteen minute walk to the top.   We purchased our tickets (there was a nominal charge) and forty minutes later (that fifteen minute figure must be for trained athletes) I huffed and puffed my way finally to the summit.   My step son did make it up there in about 20 minutes but my poor wife and step daughter gave up halfway up and went back down.   The views from the top were spectacular so it was worth the effort.  I could see the Gem and Naples in the distance as well as Capri and several other islands.   The volcano itself was interesting too although I had to chuckle when I heard a nearby child exclaim "that's it, where's the lava" upon reaching the top.  Next we headed to Sorrento.   We were going to go to Pompeii next, but Lorenzo suggested we go to Sorrento first as otherwise all the shops would be closed by the time we arrived.   It was a good suggestion, so we drove along the coast to Sorrento and enjoyed some spectacular scenery (we stopped along the way to take pictures).  In Sorrento, we had two hours to eat lunch (Lorenzo suggested a nice local pizza/pasta type place which had excellent pizza) and shop.  I bought some limoncello (lemon products are popular here as there are many lemon trees in and around the region) and stopped to try some gelato (it was creamier than the gelato I've had back home) which was delicious.   Finally, we headed to Pompeii, arriving there around 2 pm in the heat of the day (it's better to come here in the morning but Mount Vesuvius is more strenuous so should be done as early as possible before it's hot).  It was about 90 degrees by now and sunny.  Our driver told us that they don't recommend visits to Pompeii during July and August because it gets so hot.  We met our private guide that Rome in Limo had arranged for us, and she led us on a fascinating tour.   Pompeii is much larger than I expected and I really found it interesting to see that they used bricks, sliding doors, and other modern techniques way back in AD 79.  We spent about one and a half hours exploring and were glad we had a guide to direct us to the most interesting spots, rather than wandering and wasting time.  I definitely recommend a guide if you have limited time here.  I got a little over heated at one point but had plenty of water with me so was fine and there was a breeze too which helped.   Our guide recommended that we see Herculaneum and the Naples National Archeological Museum (which contains Roman artifacts from both Pompeii and Herculaneum) on a future visit to get the entire picture. It was time to head back to the ship and we arrived at the port around 5 pm (the Gem sailed at 7 pm) and said good bye to Lorenzo.  He had done a good job but I wasn't completely overwhelmed like I had expected to be by Rome In Limo.  He was very good though and we had a quite enjoyable day.   We were all pretty tired so the wife and I went to the buffet for dinner and the kids ordered up some room service.   Later before bed, we were still a bit hungry so we went up to the Great Outdoors for some pizza and dessert.   We could see lights on some nearby islands as we ate outside and it was very relaxing and scenic.    Day 5 - Thursday, 6/18 Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy The Gem was in port today from 7 am until 7 pm and it was day two of our Rome in Limo tours.   Today, our driver was David and he seemed more reserved than Lorenzo and much less eager to offer information as we drove, although he gladly answered any questions we had.  The drive to Rome takes about one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes.   Our driver did let us know that traffic can be pretty crazy in Rome and that many ride scooters to navigate through the congestion.  Sure enough, the closer that we got to Rome, the more scooters we saw weaving crazily in and out of traffic.  The first stop of the day (and the first sign of trouble with our driver David) was at the Roman Colosseum.   David dropped us off at the entrance to the Roman Forum, which was a short walk from the Colosseum, as the line to buy tickets here is much shorter than if you go into the Colosseum to buy tickets.   This was a good move.  The bad part though, was that he didn't tell us that we needed to ask for Colosseum only tickets, not Roman Forum/Colosseum combination tickets, which I mistakenly bought since all the signs were in Italian and the ticket sellers did not speak English.  Also, I inadvertently bought an audio tour for only the Roman Forum so all in all I wasted about 20 Euros by purchasing the wrong tickets.  This could have easily been avoided had David instructed us properly or gone to the ticket booth with us.   I'd read many other trip reports that indicated that the driver would actually take care of the buying the tickets for us and whisk us into the Colosseum but unfortunately that was far from reality.   Regardless, we loved the Colosseum.   I could just feel the history oozing from the place as we explored.   We had about ten minutes left when we returned to our rendezvous point so my step son and I hurried into the Roman Forum for some quick pictures.  I'd love to come back and spend more time there as I was truly fascinated. After the Colosseum, we stopped and visited the Pantheon which has amazing architecture, and drove past the Spanish Steps (time for a quick photo stop) en route to Trevi Fountain.  We all did the obligatory throwing of a coin (and making a wish) over our shoulders into the fountain upon our arrival.   It was now time to stop for lunch and David dropped us off a large square for a one hour lunch break.  I asked him for a restaurant recommendation and he told me there was a pizzeria to the right.  Well, upon entering the square there were dozens of pizzerias so we just had to pick one at random.   Our random pick turned out to be an average and overpriced touristy type place so I wasn't happy with David about that.  He really made little to no effort to help us find a good place for lunch.  I tried a three cheese pizza at the place we ate at and was overpowered by the taste of blue cheese so I didn't even finish my pizza which is a rare occurrence indeed for me.   The meal was 70 Euros for some pizzas and drinks which I found ridiculous. It was time for us to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peters Basilica so David dropped us off and we met our private tour guide Sara.   She was very knowledgeable (although a little bit bossy) and we thoroughly enjoyed the art work, tapestries, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters Basilica.   St. Peters is really awe inspiring and is another location I could have spent much more time at (and the Sistine Chapel of course is amazing as well). We stopped at a shop for a quick break but before I knew it, I was practically pulled out of the store by Sara.  This really annoyed me as I wasn't quite done shopping and we had only been there five minutes.  We certainly had time to spend another five to ten minutes here but it seemed like she was in a huge rush to get done with us.  The portion of our tour with her came to an awkward ending as Sara then abruptly asked for her money.  I had been instructed by Rome In Limo in advance of the tour that I'd just pay their driver for her services at the end of the day.  Thus, I was really surprised to see her hold her hand out demanding money like that.  Also, our travel mates from Singapore and I had each brought exact change in Euros to pay our Rome In Limo driver (since we split up the tours) and it would have messed us up to pay her separately.   David did tell us to not worry about it and that he'd take care of it but it was really an awkward moment that could have been avoided.   I also had not had a chance to purchase any water since Sara was in such a rush, and to his credit, David did stop and buy me a bottled water. We headed back to the ship and arrived back around 5:30 pm with me wondering if I'd made a mistake by booking all three trips with Rome In Limo. Tomorrow would really tell the tale!   We ate dinner back at the Magenta dining room and returned to our cabins to rest, as it had been another long day (but enjoyable despite the issues with our driver).  My wife and I did attend a star gazing session on the top deck of the ship (they turned all the ships lights out and boy could we see a lot more stars than we see at home) which was fairly interesting.   Day 6 - Friday, 6/19 Livorno (Pisa and Florence), Italy The Gem was again in port from 7 am until 7 pm today and it was day three of our series of Rome in Limo tours.  The weather was once again sunny and hot (we had nice sunny weather in all ports which was great even though it was a bit hot).  I'd been fairly disappointed in Rome In Limo up to this point (Lorenzo on day one was good but David on day two was average at best) so we'd see how today would play out.  We met our driver Vinnie and before we left, he huddled with us to make sure of exactly what we wanted to see and to formulate a game plan for the day.  Good start!  We told Vinnie that we definitely wanted some shopping time built into our day, as we hadn't really had any time to do that in Rome.  We headed to Pisa first and Vinnie gave us detailed background information and history about the areas we were driving through and about Pisa itself.  He was extremely knowledgeable and a veritable encyclopedia of information.   I had a good feeling about the day now!   We stopped at the field of miracles in Pisa (where the leaning tower and a medieval cathedral are located) and Vinnie got out with us and gave us historical information about the tower. We were on our own for about 45 minutes to explore and take photos.   There were also numerous small stalls around the outside of the field selling souvenirs so we did some shopping as well.   I was surprised that the leaning tower was right in town as the pictures I'd seen always made it look like it was out in the countryside.  We tried to take some of the usual touristy pictures of us holding up the tower, but the sun was at an angle that made it difficult to do so.  As we drove out of town, Vinnie showed us a second leaning tower (another tower that had been built with foundation problems and was leaning) that most people don't know is there.  According to Vinnie, due to the soil in the Pisa area, many buildings there aren't standing straight and it's a common construction problem.  As we drove from Pisa towards Florence, Vinnie asked us about the kind of restaurant that we would be interested in for lunch.   He said that he knew of a good non touristy place that he could take us to, and we were all for that idea!   We took a detour through the Tuscan countryside and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  Chianti wine and olive oil are the main exports from this region and it was amazing seeing the various farms (Vinnie called them farms and not wineries) where the wine is produced.   We made another stop at an overlook on the way into Florence for an amazing view and then proceeding into the city itself.  My wife and I both loved Tuscany and Florence and already are talking about returning there for a land trip someday.   Vinnie had taken our shopping request to heart and asked us what exactly we wanted to buy.  It seemed that we all wanted to buy some Italian leather so he said he'd take us to two shops (one with excellent quality and good prices and another with even better quality but higher prices).   The first shop was great in that we loved the quality and the prices seemed pretty reasonable; my step daughter found a purse and my step son bought a beautiful leather jacket.  I found a wallet to buy for myself.  Amazingly, my wife didn't get anything though.  We decided to forgo the second shop and look at souvenirs (our new friends checked out the second shop and said it was good also).   Next up was the Accademia museum and Michelangelo's David.  We pulled up to the museum and there was a long line waiting to get in, but Vinnie whisked us in a separate entrance (he had made reservations for us in advance) so we had no wait at all.  This was more like the Rome In Limo experience I had been expecting!  Photos aren't allowed inside the museum so I took a photo of a replica of David in a nearby square in Florence.  The statue itself really is perfection and was created in Michelangelo's earlier years.   The Accademia is actually a small museum and contains some Florentine paintings and some other sculptures, in addition to David.  It was time for lunch and Vinnie parked and walked us into an amazing little restaurant.  We had to go downstairs into the cellar to eat but it was cozy and quaint, and not a tourist in sight (what a difference from the previous day's lunch in Rome).  The menu was hand written in Italian on a piece of paper so Vinnie interpreted the entire menu for us and made a recommendation of an appetizer (various meats and fishes served on top of Italian bread) that wasn't on the menu.   He also asked if we wanted to try some wine (which I did) so he grabbed a bottle of wine off the wall and instructed the waiter to serve us some.  It was a delicious Chianti and an excellent recommendation on his part.  He also advised us to try a sweet Italian dessert wine and pointed it out to us so we'd know what to order.  Two plates of the appetizers arrived and all the toppings were fresh and delicious.  I ordered both pasta and veal which were both excellent.   For dessert we had the sweet wine which was served with biscotti's to dip into the wine.  The waiter brought out a large rectangular block of dark chocolate and a chisel, and chiseled off chunks of fresh chocolate for us to dip into the wine (I liked this even better than the biscotti).  It was nothing short of an amazing authentic dining experience, all made possible by our wonderful guide.   Also, at lunch our new touring friends gave us some little gifts from Singapore (a bottle opener, some pens, etc) and I thought that was really kind of them and a neat idea.  Wish I'd thought of it too! I mentioned to Vinnie that I'd like to purchase some of the dessert wine and he said he'd walk me to a good wine shop at our next stop.  We stopped at the square where the replica of David can be found which is within walking distance of the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  Vinnie walked me to the wine shop as promised and I purchased some wine and also olive oil that he personally recommended.  We walked across the bridge and back and then headed to a nearby gelato shop.  Vinnie told us that it was half the price of the more touristy gelato shops and better quality.  Pistachio was the house special here so I ordered a cone of it and it was even creamier and more delicious than the gelato we'd had in Sorrento.  I'll be craving that gelato for years!   Sadly it was time to drive back to the ship and during the drive back, Vinnie and I chatted about Italian and American culture as if we were old friends.  He had provided us with an amazing day that exceeded my high expectations of Rome In Limo.  I made sure to write to the company when we returned and let them know how highly we thought of him (and to advise them of David's shortcomings).   This day had been the highlight of our trip so far and I was actually sad getting back on the Gem.   I gave Vinnie a large tip as I felt he really went above and beyond and deserved it.  We also said goodbye to our friends from Singapore, who we really enjoyed touring with.  As we left port in Livorno, a team of Italian rowers raced the ship which I found interesting.  They were quite loud as they urged each other on to beat the Gem, but alas we won! After freshening up, we headed to Cagney's for dinner which was surprisingly excellent.  I had read some negative reviews about Cagney's prior to the trip but I really enjoyed our meal.  I had Oyster's Rockefeller, a nice Caesar's salad and a delicious filet mignon.  Everyone else really enjoyed it too.   The only thing I didn't like there was my dessert.  I ordered a dessert sampler and it was a microscopic amount of three different desserts.  In general, the desserts aren't very good on the Gem.  I didn't have a single dessert during the week that I would call excellent (although the fondue for two was really good in Le Bistro).  This is definitely an area for improvement.   Second City had an entirely improvised show tonight so we attended it and laughed heartily once again.    Day 7 - Saturday, 6/20 Cannes, France We decided to use this as a beach day as I figured we'd be tired after three long days of touring and indeed we were tired.   We slept in all the way until 9 am.  Yeah!   We would have slept later but the Gem was only in port from 7 am until 3 pm today.   It would have been nice if we'd stayed until at least 5 pm or so, but we made the best of it.   We got on a tender (this was the only port where we had to tender; we docked at all other ports) and quickly made it ashore.   We walked through the parking lot towards the left and soon (within minutes) reached Plage Du Midi, which was a nice sandy beach.  It really was more like a series of small beaches divided up by restaurants which had beachfront tables and umbrellas.  We picked one of the small beach segments and laid down our towels (there weren't any chairs but there was a shower; only the restaurants seemed to have chairs).   I wasn't going to swim but the water looked so inviting that I changed my mind and took the plunge.  The water was cool and refreshing and the sand smooth and comfortable to walk on.  We did see a few European women going topless, but it was mainly a family atmosphere with lots of children around. After about an hour and a half, we had our fill of the sun, so we walked around a little bit to explore Cannes.  We pondered where we should eat lunch and happened upon a Tex Mex restaurant (we're from Texas) which was really humorous to me since we were in the south of France. My wife and step daughter were tired so they decided to eat lunch back on the ship at the buffet.  My step son and I continued to explore, and found an area with some sidewalk cafes and bakeries so we picked one at random and it was fairly good.  I had an assorted cheese and bread platter and my step son had steak tartar. It didn't seem like very many locals spoke English in Cannes (or they chose not to) but I got by with my limited French (I had taken three years of French way back in high school so I remember a few words).   We went to a bakery for dessert and had some excellent French pastries.   It was now almost 2 pm though so we stopped to by some quick souvenirs and then took the tender back to the Gem. We spent our last dinner on the Gem in the Magenta dining room and had a good meal.  My wife and I attended the Showtime: World Beat show which featured dances from around the world and we both thought it was very good (I liked it better than Colorz).  The captain warned that we might hit some high winds upwards to 40 mph and sure enough it began to get rough around dinner time.  The seas had been the calmest we'd ever sailed on up until now.  Fortunately we had all taken Dramamine (I always take one in the morning and one at night when on a cruise as a precaution) so no one felt sick at all.  It was interesting watching the dancers attempt their routines with the ship swaying from side to side, but they really did an admirable job with just a few misses and staggers here and there.  I know that I would have fallen flat on my face had it been me up there!   After the show came my least favorite moment of every cruise....packing.  We got it done though and then went to bed.  I had no trouble falling asleep but it took my wife awhile as the Gem was really rocking and rolling.    Day 8 - Sunday, 6/21 Disembarkation, Barcelona, and London We had decided to spend a few days in London after the cruise, but our flight to London wasn't until 6 pm today.  Thus I had scheduled us to take a Barcelona city tour through NCL with a drop off at the airport.  We met in the show room at 8:30 am and waited for our tour to be called.  It didn't take long and we were off the ship in minutes.  We easily found our luggage (they had luggage carousels like in an airport and of course mine was one of the last ones to appear, so I was convinced that my suitcase was lost) and our tour bus.  The bus tour was decent but not great as we had been spoiled by our private tours in Italy.  We stopped at a scenic overview with nice expansive views of Barcelona, drove past some Gaudi buildings and made stops at the Sagrada Familia (which was truly amazing) and in the Gothic Quarter for a short walking tour.  We were dropped off at the airport around 1 pm and then began the long, long wait for our flight.  British Airways wouldn't let us check in until two hours before the flight, so we had to wait in the main entrance area of the airport.   There were limited shops and amenities here so it wasn't the most pleasant wait.  Finally, around 3 pm I saw some activity at the BA counter so I tried the electronic check in machine and it worked!  We sweated it out as our luggage was weighed (we had gained a lot of weight in souvenirs) but it all was under the limit.  We breezed through security and near our gate there were many more shops and restaurants so it was much more pleasant.   Our flight was uneventful (they actually served sandwiches that were complimentary) and we arrived in Gatwick airport at 7:15 pm.  The UK is one hour earlier than Spain.  I had planned on taking the Gatwick express train into London but after reading some information in the BA flight magazine, it seemed that a taxi would cost just about the same since there were four of us.  We decided to take a taxi and avoid hauling the luggage through a train station.   Our driver was quite talkative which was fine (although I'd have rather dozed than chatted) and in about one hour we arrived at the London Metropole Hotel.  The hotel is located near Paddington Station and near the Edgware Road tube stop, so the location is pretty good.  Our hotel room was fine and had two queen size beds and a roll a way bed so there were beds for all of us.  We were starved and tired so we ate at the hotel restaurant which was really slow and over priced.  The bill was over one hundred dollars for some burgers and pizza and drinks.   After this, it was lights out!   Post-cruise Monday, 6/22 London We got up at 9 am today and it was already bright and sunny and much cooler than it had been in Spain and Italy.   The sun rises quite early (4:30 am) and sets late (almost 10 pm) in London in the summer time (we had arrived just a day after the summer solstice). I was tour guide for the day today so I led us to the Edgware Road tube station and we purchased four visitor passes for the day and headed to the Tower of London.  I'd been here before but the family hadn't and they seemed to enjoy it!   We saw the ravens, the crown jewels, various towers, a special exhibit featuring Henry VIII's armor and we even met the Queen's constable who talked to us for a minute or two.  After touring the tower, we ate a quick lunch at subway (of all places) and took the tube to Westminster Station.  From here I had planned to just walk by Westminster Abbey but we decided to go inside even thought there is a charge.   I am sure glad we decided to do this as it really is spectacular.  I had no idea that the tombs of Henry VIII's children were in the Abbey (Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I and King Edward VI).    We then walked to Buckingham Palace for some pictures (tours are only offered in July and August) and then took a taxi to the London Eye.   The London Eye was built for the Millennium celebration and is essentially a very tall and slow moving Ferris wheel that can hold 25 passengers per enclosed capsule, each of which features a bench seat and room to walk around.  My step daughter was a little apprehensive about this due to the heights involved but ended up loving it.  We had amazing views of London and could see Big Ben Tower, Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc.  For dinner tonight we headed to Covent Garden and Porter's restaurant which I enjoyed more than the rest of the family.  My wife really didn't care for English food at all and the kids seemed like they could take it or leave it.  I had a version of Shepherds Pie which I really liked and a yummy pudding for dessert.  We walked around Covent Garden afterwards and found some souvenirs and then called it a night.   Post-cruise Tuesday, 6/23 London This was sadly the last day of our European adventure but we still had plenty to see.  First up, we had a morning tour scheduled with Premium Tours to see Windsor Castle.   We were met by a representative from Premium Tours in our hotel lobby at 7:35 am and boarded a bus which took us to their main terminal near Victoria Station (we made a few stops at other hotels along the way to pick up other passengers).  Once at the main station, everyone was then redistributed to the proper buses for their particular tour.   So finally at about 8:45 am we were on our way out of London towards Windsor.   The drive was a little more than an hour to the town of Windsor.   The castle itself is actually right next to the town which surprised me. The pictures I've seen always make it seem as if the castle is in the countryside by itself.    We were given a brief tour through the castle grounds, and then had two hours to explore on our own.   Most of the people on our bus to Windsor were actually on a full day tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath so we would have a separate smaller bus to take us back to London.   Those on the full day tour only had an hour at Windsor which definitely would not have been enough time.   For the inside of the castle, we were given audio players (included in our tour price) which guided us through the various rooms.  The most interesting parts to me were the areas where a fire back in 1992 had damaged many rooms and almost consumer the entire castle.  The restoration work that they completed in about five years is truly remarkable.  As we exited the castle we saw a gathering of people down the hill so we went to investigate.  It was time for the changing of the guard which consisted of a band and traditionally dressed guards.  After that, we went inside St. Georges Chapel where Henry VIII is buried.   There is a big plaque on the floor showing the spot (he is buried below the plaque somewhere) but I was a little disappointed that you can't see a sarcophagus or anything similar.  We had time for some quick souvenir shopping and then caught our bus back to London.  One thing that the tour company had failed to mention is that we would not be dropped off back at our hotel.  It wasn't a big deal but we were dropped off randomly somewhere in London and had to take a taxi back to the hotel.  Early this evening at 5 pm, we had a private Harry Potter tour scheduled.   Our driver met us in our hotel lobby and we ventured through London to see various sites where the Harry Potter movies had been filmed.   We stopped at King's Cross Station where platform 9 ¾ can be found (the driver had Harry Potter props that we could put on to take photos), Diagon alley, and various other sites where more minor scenes where filmed.  He also had a mini dvd player so he would show us a scene in the movie and then show us where the particular scene had been filmed.  We all really enjoyed it and I even bought some Harry Potter money from the tour guide as a souvenir.  The driver dropped us off in Covent Garden and we went into a random pub for dinner and it was pretty dreadful.  We had burgers and the meat had an odd taste to it and wasn't so good.  McDonald's burgers were gourmet fare compared to these.   We took a cab back to our hotel and thus our final day in Europe was over.   Post-cruise Wednesday, 6/24 Home Our flight home was at 10:25 am from Heathrow Airport on American Airlines, so we arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 6:45 am.   I wanted to leave plenty of time as I wasn't sure how long it would take to get out to Heathrow.   I'd also heard that security can take a long time to go through there, but this didn't turn out to be true.  We got to the airport by 7:30 and had one last breakfast in Europe before heading back home.  Our flight was on a 777 so we would get personal entertainment systems (each seat has a screen where one can watch movies, TV shows, play games, etc).  The flight home was uneventful (except my poor wife's personal entertainment system didn't work - we ended up getting her 10,000 frequent flier miles though for the inconvenience).  All of our luggage made it without getting lost so the trip so all's well that ends well!   Read Less
Sail Date June 2009
This was our first cruise but certainly not our last, we have got the bug. I was travelling with my 2 children aged 15 (girl) 12 (boy)and my mother who is a very fussy 73yr old. We flew from Edinburgh Scotland to Frankfurt and then to ... Read More
This was our first cruise but certainly not our last, we have got the bug. I was travelling with my 2 children aged 15 (girl) 12 (boy)and my mother who is a very fussy 73yr old. We flew from Edinburgh Scotland to Frankfurt and then to Barcelona, it was a long day but when we arrived at Barcelona the staff from NCL made themselves known to us telling us what to do when we had our luggage. They took our luggage and the next time we saw it it was in our cabin. Booking in was very straight forward and quick got our allocated cabin keys and went on board to be greeted with "champagne". The rooms were spotlessly clean, the bathroom was also spotlessly clean. I loved the idea of the waterless soap used for embarking on the ship and everytime you went into a restaurant, although it did make my hands very dry and I had to use hand lotion more than normal. I was not so keen on the buffet restaurants as I prefer to be served but it was fantastic for the kids as they could go and play and then eat when they wanted and I wasn't being asked for money for food and drinks all the time. I bought the drinks tag for both of them and they had no problem using it. they just went to the bar themselves and asked for what ever they wanted. We loved the Blue Lagoon for lunch and had breakfast there 3 times. Staff were very attentive and couldn't do enough for you. When we went to the garden cafe for breakfast there was staff waiting to carry your tray, as I walk with a stick it was very convenient for me and they always found a table for us even though it was busy. We loved the Italian restaurant, great food and service both times. Wasn't so keen on Cagney's but I don't eat red meat of fish so I was limited to one chicken dish which was very tasty. The Pacific and the Magenta were also served good food and it was also very tasty. The only one I ate in and wasn't that keen on the food was the Asian as I have had better takeaways but the service was second to none. We booked a ship trip in every port, we felt Valletta was a waste of money and didn't enjoy it that much, but the other trips were value for money, we especially loved Pisa/Tuscany and Villafranche they really completed our cruise for us. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
We are a 50 something American couple, who have been on 4 cruises now. Joining us on this cruise were my mother (70's), my in-laws (80's) and my daughter (25). This is a very port intensive cruise and we knew ahead of time that ... Read More
We are a 50 something American couple, who have been on 4 cruises now. Joining us on this cruise were my mother (70's), my in-laws (80's) and my daughter (25). This is a very port intensive cruise and we knew ahead of time that we would not tour all ports. We had elderly people with us, who were not able to keep us with that pace and mostly, we were looking for a relaxing cruise and a ship that we could enjoy. I want to start this review talking about Norwegian's customer service and what happened BEFORE the actual cruise. A few days after I paid for the cruise, I received an email advertising a 3 category upgrade. It said to contact a Mr. Marco Martinez, which I did, by email. I asked Mr. Martinez if I could still take advantage of the 3 category upgrade. He wrote back to me and assured me that I could but needed to go through my travel agent. I contacted my travel agent and sent them a copy of his email. They then contacted Norwegian, who refused to give us the deal. Unfortunately, I had paid everything up front, something I will not do again. My travel agent tried to get them to give us the deal, but they refused, even though Mr. Martinez said that we could have it. I then tried to contact Mr. Martinez to get his help and he wouldn't answer my emails. I wrote to him several times but he never answered. Second issue..... my daughter is vegan. When we went on a cruise with Holland America, she contacted them ahead of time and they put her in touch with food service staff on the ship. She communicated with them by email and they ordered special food items for her. It was wonderful. We had similar expectations of Norwegian. My daughter called and spoke to someone who told her that she would have to email the access desk. So, she did. She got a very non-helpful response. She was basically told that there was no vegan menus and that she would have to wait until she got on the ship and then talk to staff and see what she could eat. I was not satisfied with this response so I wrote to the access desk, also. We both asked if there was someone we could speak to before the cruise. We were told NO. She said that my daughter would have to talk to staff once she was on the ship and they would have to use the resources they had on the ship to accommodate her. I asked for menus from the main dining rooms and after asking a couple of times and waiting, they were sent to me. My daughter and I reviewed them and found that there was not much she could eat from those menus, as we expected. We wanted assurances that someone would make sure that she would be taken care of, but got no such assurances. Because of these things, I felt that I had erred in choosing a cruise with Norwegian. I was disappointed that I could not get the upgrade. Had I booked a week later I would have gotten it. I was disappointed that Mr. Marcus Martinez was not professional enough to respond to me and that he wouldn't help me. I guess because they already had all of my money, they weren't interested in helping. I was disappointed that the Access Desk Coordinator, Yonaiky Trujillo, was being very unhelpful to my daughter. I would call this very poor customer service. This put a damper on the cruise even before we went. Now, about the cruise itself........ We live in Stuttgart, Germany. My mother and in-laws were visiting us for a month, so they were with us when we traveled to Barcelona. We traveled that morning., Oct. 12th. We flew RyanAir, which actually flies in to Girona, which is about an hour from Barcelona. We had to leave our house in Germany around 12:30 AM to drive to Hahn Airport, about three hours away. We had a very early flight - 6 AM and checked in around 4:00 AM. We rented a van in Girona and drove to Barcelona. We picked up our daughter at the airport in Barcelona (she was flying in from New York) at about 10 AM and then on to the port. Check-in was fairly quick and easy - within half an hour we were on the ship. Once on the ship, we went to Deck 12, Garden Cafe, to get some food. Very crowded, of course. No place to sit so they sent us to the La Cucina restaurant nearby to use tables. We were able to go to our cabins at about 2:00 PM. My husband and I saw that the beds were not together. We called and asked that the beds be put together and it was taken care of fairly quickly. The safety drill was the most "relaxed" that I had been to on a cruise ship. It didn't start on time and it consisted of putting on our life jackets, going to one of the bars on the ship, and listening to safety rules read to us in 5 or 6 languages. We were all exhausted and just wanted to get it over with, but it seemed to go on forever. After that, I tried to nap but couldn't fall asleep, so I unpacked. We were all very tired and not terribly hungry, so we skipped dinner and were all sound asleep by 8 PM. It had been a very long day. We had inside cabins on Deck 9. I believe they are smaller than the Celebrity Century, our most recent cruise (july, 12 day Baltic Cruise), where we also had an inner cabin. But, okay. Good closet space, but less drawers than the Century. Nice shower. Towel animals were cute. Our cabin attendants did a good job of keeping it clean. No complaints there. The ship itself is beautiful. I know some people complain about the bright carpets and decorations, but I think that's fine in a cruise ship. I found it to be a very comfortable and enjoyable ship. I'm not going to do a day-by-day, as I did with my last critique. But, let me say that we really enjoyed the pool and hot tub and I was very happy and very impressed that children were absolutely not allowed in the adult pool and hot tub. One day when I was in the hot tub, two young children came in and they were immediately shooed away. We also bowled one day and had a lot of fun - most of us had not bowled in years. I do think $10 per person per game is a bit ridiculous, but the guy working in there did give us a free game after we paid for two. We enjoyed the shows , for the most part. My husband was less impressed with the singers and dancers than the rest of us. I thought they were pretty good. Some of our group went to the magician/comedian and enjoyed it. And the Second City troupe were pretty good as well. We spent a little time in the casino and enjoyed ourselves. I won $100 on a 25 cent slot machine - that's always nice. We didn't spend much time in the bars, but we did go to the Spinnaker Lounge one evening so that our parents could enjoy a gentleman who does Frank Sinatra and we then watched a dance contest, which was pretty entertaining. I was disappointed that there was no movie theater on board. I had enjoyed seeing movies on past cruises. I didn't use the spa this time, so I can't really report on it. But, they had the usual "specials". We did not get off the ship at all the ports and we didn't do any of the ship tours. We couldn't see spending that kind of money - it's just not that hard to get around on your own. We live in Europe and we do travel a lot, so this is not a problem for us. We did get off at Malta. We also got up early for the entry in to the port and it was gorgeous and well worth it. We took the bus up the hill for one euro - it would be a pretty steep walk up. We walked around and did a little sightseeing, did a little shopping and went to see a movie called "The Malta Experience", which was pretty interesting and cost 10 euro per person. Nice day. We also got off the ship in Naples. My mother really wanted to get to Grumo Nevano, the birthplace of her father. It was about 10 miles away. So, we took a bus and then a train to get there. We spent a few hours walking around and taking pictures. It's a very small town. After that, we went back to Naples, did a little shopping, and then back to the ship and enjoyed the pool and hot tub. Only my daughter and husband went to Rome, by train. The rest of us relaxed on the ship because we had all been to Rome before. They had a nice day and said it was easy to take the train. None of us got off in Livorno - we had all been to Pisa and Florence. So, we had another nice day onboard. We did all go to Villefranche. What a delightful little place. We wandered and shopped and I highly recommend. the little train ride around town (6 euro). The food. My husband and I both felt that the food was decent but not as good as the food on our other cruises. We did not go to any of the pay restaurants. We ate breakfast and lunches either at the Garden Cafe, the Great Outdoors, or the Grand Pacific. We ate all of our dinners at the Grand Pacific. My daughter is the reason we did that. The first evening we ate there, she asked to see a supervisor. The Assistant Maitre'D, Fredrick Twerdorff, came to our table. She explained to him that she is a vegan. He told her that he wished he had been informed ahead of time so that he could be better prepared, but he assured her that he would take care of her. And he did! This wonderful man made it his personal quest to make sure she had full and tasty vegan meals every evening - soups, salads, appetizers, and main courses. Even desserts. We are so grateful to him. Every evening after dinner, he would chat with her about the next night and bounce some ideas off of her. He worked closely with the cooks and they did the absolute best they could for her with the resources they had available. He would personally deliver her meal every evening, explaining to her what they made for her and what the ingredients were. I think Freestyle Cruising is fine. We went to dinner early most evenings (6:00 - 6:30) and then on to the show. We never had to wait at that time, but often noticed a long line when we were leaving. My mother would have preferred that there be a formal night or two - she was looking forward to getting dressed up. However, my in=laws liked the fact that they never had to get dressed up and could just wear casual clothes all the time. I'm fine with either style cruise. After the cruise, I wrote to the Access Coordinator. I told her that the ship staff would have liked notice ahead of time about my daughter being a vegan, and they would have liked to be better prepared. I told her that she did her company a disservice and that she was not customer friendly. She told me that she didn't agree, felt she did all she needed to do and basically said it wasn't her job to help us - that her job was to take care of the disabled and special needs customers. I told her that perhaps she should have connected us to someone else then and that my daughter deserved attention as well. But, basically she doesn't get it that she could have been more helpful and customer friendly and that would have assured her company of return business. Although, we had a pretty good time on this cruise, it's doubtful that I would use Norwegian again because I'm so annoyed over these issues. I think we'll stick to Holland America or Celebrity - two really classy cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008
To be fair I am a veteran of 15 cruises, I will say up front that the ports were excellent, we took excursions off the ship and they were all excellent. So I will concentrate on the ship in this review, my complaints are in line with ... Read More
To be fair I am a veteran of 15 cruises, I will say up front that the ports were excellent, we took excursions off the ship and they were all excellent. So I will concentrate on the ship in this review, my complaints are in line with other passengers, I felt nickel dimed and it seemed that every time I wanted to do something there was a pitch for an additional charge. The attraction of cruises has always been that expenses are up front and everything is all inclusive, but maybe thats changing??. The ship is clean and well maintained, cabins are small but comfortable and well maintained by the stewards, on one occassion after a trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum in the same day (definitly not recommended) I wanted to relax for a day while my wife went to Florence, the only free entertainment on tv was BBC news, Fox news or TCM movies that were run over and over for 24 hours and then replaced with another which was run over and over etc etc. If you wanted to watch a movie then you had a large selection of recently run movies to watch for $12 each. My big complaint is you cannot take on board your own bottle of booze, if you try and fail this is confiscated and returned to you at the end of the cruise, this seems like an infringement of my adult rights, I can see not allowing liqour on recreation decks, but in your cabin I think its your business. the food was high quality but not exotic and while lobster was served it was not listed on the menu as lobster, I never would have known it was on the menu if my wife had not ordered it unknowingly. The entertainment was good but I didn't see too much of it, not really my thing.  All in all it was a good cruise and for the money hard to beat....happy travels Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
We were a group of 4 in our mid to late twenties who decided we wanted to see Europe, but as we were all on a budget we saw cruising as the way to go. 3 out of the 4 of us had been on a cruise before so we were pretty experienced cruisers. ... Read More
We were a group of 4 in our mid to late twenties who decided we wanted to see Europe, but as we were all on a budget we saw cruising as the way to go. 3 out of the 4 of us had been on a cruise before so we were pretty experienced cruisers. This was our first time however on NCL. As we all had used Carnival previously for cruising. We sailed 9/708-9/14/08. We flew in the day before the cruise left out of the Port of Barcelona. I made reservations for Barcelona Day Tours to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. This was helpful as we would've needed two taxis to get us to the hotel due to all our luggage. We were greeted by our driver who held a sign with my name on it. My husband loved that. We stayed one night at Hotel Gaudi in the Las Ramblas district in Barcelona. This is a decent hotel and in an excellent location for tourist things. The next morning we flagged down two taxis to take us to the port. Remember many people speak little English, it helps to have the port's address written down or have the person who speaks the most Spanish do the talking. It costs us about 10 euros per taxi to get from our hotel to the port. Check in: We were able to use the balcony/mini suite line. We had reserved two mini suite rooms on the 11th floor. After checking in, we were greeted with champagne and orange juice at the door. Here the men played Nintendo wii while we waited for our rooms to be ready. We also ate lunch at the Garden Cafe buffet. Our rooms were ready after lunch. They were very clean and a bit larger than your average balcony room. ROOM: We had two mini suite balconies. They are larger than you average balcony room. The 11th floor is all mini suites. You have plenty of drawer space for clothes and storage. The balcony is also twice the size of your average balcony on ships. There is a bath tub and shower. Also, you get a fruit bowl that is refilled nightly. Just remember to fill out your fruit bowl card. This came in handy at time when I wanted a nice healthy snack or to put fruit in your backpack for excursions. FOOD: We opted to eat at the Grand Pacific for breakfast and lunch as the buffet was just to chaotic. There is just one long line to it was always crowded with kids. Don't expect 24 hr pizza and ice cream either like Carnival. My husband missed that. They do have the Blue Lagoon which has 24 hour comfort food items (mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, burgers). We ate dinner at both Grand Pacific(no jeans) and Magenta.. The restaurants both get extremely busy so service can be slow. Day 1 AT Sea: The ladies ended up spending most of the day at the spa. We bought the week pass to the spa. It is $75, but well worth it. They can only sell a set number of passes so while everyone and their children are out at the main pool and hot tubs, you can relax in a serene quiet environment, which my friend and I took advantage of throughout the week as our feet were killing us after excursions. We toured the boat, and were able to get to our rooms by 1PM. We had dinner at the specialty restaurant Cagney's this night as we had a coupon for buy one, get one free cover charge. The food here was great. Malta We did the Taste of Malta Excursion. Malta has a great view as the boat is docking in the morning. There is very little to see or do here however. Many would suggest just doing this port on your own. We visited a church, winery, and a glass blowing factory on our excursion. It was also extremely hot here. : Naples We did the Pompeii Excavation excursion. Pompeii is a lot of walking. It was also really hot here as well. This was a 4 hour excursion, but we were exhausted after it was over. Pompeii is a great place to visit and is definitely a must see. There is not much by the port area. Just a bunch of knock offs being sold and little alleys with random things. We bought pizza here as we were in Naples. Delicious! Rome We booked a private tour with RomeInLimo. We would definitely do this again. Our driver was Francisco. He was so friendly, and took us to so many places in 8 hours. The boat will only take tour groups to the Coliseum and the Vatican as big tour buses are restricted in parts of the city. We saw every highlight there is in Rome. IT was nice because Francisco would drop us off and they say I'll be back to pick you up in 45 minutes. So we go to see tons of sites, as we just kept going. We even got to eat an authentic Italian lunch for only 10 Euros each. The locals really know where to take you to eat. The port in Rome is a bout an hour from where all the ruins are located. This is also another reason why the cruiseline is limited on highlights here. Florence We went to the leaning tower of Pisa. When booking with a group you will not be allowed to climb the tower. Reservations have to be made in advance, and there are about 300 steps to climb. No elevators. Just getting to see the tower is a sight in itself however. Wonderful architecture. Amazing! Nice, France We visited the flowermarket, and Nice with the cruiseline. Then they took us to Monaco. Monte Carlo is wonderful! The men had a great time admiring all the exotic cars and of course the casino which you can't go in. Disembarkment: Was the smoothest I've ever seen. If you want to get off super early with all your luggage do express. We walked off at 645am with no one getting off besides us. You also do not have to go through immigration or customs at the port. If you have a later flight sign up for color tags if you do not want to handle your luggage. This allows people to get off at time slots, so it is not crowded at all on deck. We took a minivan taxi back to the airport. For the four of us it was 40 Euro. We made our 10AM flight with no problem. Overall, this is a very port impacted itinerary. You are constantly on the go. There is tons of things to do, and you will need another vacation to rest when you get home. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Just returned from first cruise on Gem 14-21st September. Good points were :- Lovely spacious cabins, we had inside cabin and it was lovely big double bed, plenty of wardrobes, flat screen tv, tea/coffee facilities, mini bar ... Read More
Just returned from first cruise on Gem 14-21st September. Good points were :- Lovely spacious cabins, we had inside cabin and it was lovely big double bed, plenty of wardrobes, flat screen tv, tea/coffee facilities, mini bar and great bathroom. Even went inside the outdoor cabin with balcony and that was lovely. Pool area and sunbeds were great and plenty off them even the day at sea. Good entertainment the show we saw and well organized. Different entertainment going on in various bars around the ship. Bad points :- Cafe garden was a scrum most times of the day and no trays so juggling food and looking for tables. The restaurants with cover charges were not great, we ate in Cagney's which had a $20 per person cover charge on last night and ordered steaks and my husbands arrived without the chips and mine was cold so had to send back. Then I got mine back while hubbie was still waiting for his. Nightmare and no apologies from the waiters they all looked stressed. Then the bill arrived and they charged $10 for my daughter who ate a childs meal. I was fuming and told the staff who said she has to pay for her SEAT. Absolute joke wouldn't have minded if the food was good. Orchid Garden another night meal arrived without the rice and then we must have had 3 staff come over telling us rice is on its way and turned up when meal was over. Grand Pacific no cover was a lovely restaurant in decor but again food was coming out luke warm and you try and get somebody to take it back. So overall food was disappointing in my eyes within the vessel. Drinks were a little on the pricey side especially when they put on the 18% on everything. We went to the reception on the Friday and stated we didn't want the $10 per day tip as we wanted to complete ourselves to which she stated then by you doing that nobody is going to tip us here in reception ever or the cooks. She then stated we needed to make an appointment time with her manager the following day got to the point were I thought I just cannot be bothered standing there arguing and wasting my time so ended up paying the $70 and tipped nobody else. This should be removed in my eyes. Kids Club was ok my daughter used in once but when we went past she was just crayoning in on her own she is 3 and nobody seemed interested alot of older spanish kids jumping round everywhere so we didn't take her again. Kids under 6 not allowed to bowl in the bowling alley either. Shops onboard were ok but expensive and usual tat. Be careful of photographs everywhere you go there staff were taking photos of you and then selling them. I ended up buying the embarkation shot and it cost $30 but a suppose something to keep or put in a cupboard and collect dust. Never did any excursions did our own and found them very easy and affordable. To sum up the vessel was lovely and spacious but the food let it down in my opinion. I would travel with NCL again but the tips situation and the tax was annoying. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
The SHIP Overall the ship is new, clean and bright. Its neither subdued nor gaudy. The layout is different with restaurants all over the place and the main lobby is not that big nor central. Embarkation/Disembarkation Top marks. ... Read More
The SHIP Overall the ship is new, clean and bright. Its neither subdued nor gaudy. The layout is different with restaurants all over the place and the main lobby is not that big nor central. Embarkation/Disembarkation Top marks. Maybe we were late, but there was no queue to get on. When our color (which we picked - about middle of the timings) was called we went to the exit and walked off, found our bags, and walked out - WOW! Why can't this happen all the time with other cruiselines. The only problem was that we did sit in the bus waiting for it to depart to the airport for a while. Cabin We always go for a balcony cabin. Well it was new and clean. Top marks for the shower/toilet, which was the best laid out of any similar cabins we have been in. The floor was mosaic tiles and the shower had a sliding door so no water cascaded onto the main area - the toilet had a sliding door too. We thought the size of cabin was a bit tight, but there was room for everything. The balcony was average size and the chairs were quite comfortable. Freestyle Dining Or is this aka "how to charge more for eating". The Great Outdoors/Garden Cafe (the always open buffet) seemed small and has an odd layout, but we always found a window seat at breakfast and lunch and the food was very good with good variety. However, if you don't drink coffee or iced tea then the drinks stations are lackluster - its water. On other cruiselines you get juices, punch etc as well - we are still waiting for a response to our request for something to be suggested as an alternative, which we wrote to them on during day2. There are 2 "main" dining areas - The Magenta did not look appealing so we did not use it but instead we went to the Grand Pacific for dinners. This is a bit dimly lit, but the food was quite good and the choice was decent. We were sat with 2 Germans on the first night, but after that they whistled us along to a 2 seater (nearly always by a window) every other night. We did feel a little rushed with the courses and it was difficult to strike up any relationship with the waiters as we had different ones every night (this - and not seeing the same passengers each night - is one of the features of freestyle - like it or not. another feature is the confusion over dress attire in the evenings) We did have a couple of lunches in the small Blue Lagoon, but the menu is fixed and limited - but the food was good. There are 7 paying choices for dinner eating elsewhere. We did not do any of them for 3 reasons. First the steak place and Teppanyaki were pricey (we think - at $20 and $25pp) The Teppanyaki was always full though. We tried some samplers in the Italian and thought the food was poor. Of the other choices ($10 to $20pp) we thought the menus were uninspiring and presumably others felt the same as they were poorly attended. Having all these eating areas has reduced the amount of space available for other things on the ship. Our conclusion is that we prefer not to have Freestyle Dining. Tours We went on a couple of tours which were well organized, but we thought they were a bit pricey. We did not cruise for the ports on this occasion as we have been to some of them before. Activities/Pool etc We are not big users of these and so have little comment. The Gym was a bit small for the number of guests and the treadmills were often all taken. The pools are fine but the jacuzzis were also well used as there are only 4 of them. Lectures and trivia sessions were not well attended, and this is probably presentation and timings as much as guest desire. What little we saw of the shows was uninspiring. Staff The staff were all helpful where they could be, but there was a bit of pushiness in selling extra services/goods which made one think of how many things they were selling/needed to sell lots (too many!)But maybe not in the shops where the choice was poor. Read Less
Sail Date September 2008
Background Information having cruised with NCL before and being a latitudes member decided on this cruise mainly because of the ports of call and the latitudes benefits (or not). tried booking via NCL but were quoted a price £250 dearer ... Read More
Background Information having cruised with NCL before and being a latitudes member decided on this cruise mainly because of the ports of call and the latitudes benefits (or not). tried booking via NCL but were quoted a price £250 dearer than at another provider, including cabin upgrade. Travel To Port of Embarkation included in our package were BA flights from Gatwick which were good and the reception at Barcelona airport was equally good quite an impressive ship when you first see it. i thought the layout was a little poor. having to walk through restaurants to get to stairs or to and from staterooms was not good. i found the activities arranged quite disappointing, we were off the ship most days and on our return there was very little to pass the time until dinner. on the whole service was ok, we had a major problem with staff in one of the speciality restaurants and received a bottle of wine as compensation(still had to pay the cover though). we became known at a couple of bars and the wait staff more often then not remembered our order which was good. i had heard horror stories about Shore Excursions, if you don't book via the ship and your late they sail without you (scary) so we booked all our trips via NCL did feel it was a bit of a rip off but enjoyed them none the less our stateroom was better than expected for the amount of time we spent in there, although we requested a king and got twin (steward re-arrange it to king) in the main we enjoyed the dining, although the best bit of our previous cruise with NCL was meeting a lot of different people by sharing tables. on this one we were always given a table for two except in magenta where the service was appalling. did meet a nice couple from Newcastle though. the food was okay. although we did think that only 3 restaurants without a cover charge was a bit mean. we used the speciality restaurant twice, le bistro to celebrate my birthday and had a great time food excellent service great, but cagneys was another matter. i was shocked at how many children were on board and how many of those had free reign to do anything (parents suspiciously absent when kids doing something inappropriate) also thought the fact there was only two pools(and not big ones at that) on a ship so big was strange. we tried to go to all the late performances thinking kids would be at the first didn't work either. they were everywhere all the time. not impressed by the entertainment on offer. shops few and the range of items was limited. disembarkation was a breeze, although we had a 6 hour wait at the airport for our flight home. okay overall don't know whether we would use NCL again though Read Less
Sail Date August 2008
For a little background, my husband and I are in our late 20's early 30s and have cruised with Carnival, Princess, and Holland America. We were traveling with my in-laws and this was their first ocean cruise. We encountered a few ... Read More
For a little background, my husband and I are in our late 20's early 30s and have cruised with Carnival, Princess, and Holland America. We were traveling with my in-laws and this was their first ocean cruise. We encountered a few problems but overall had a great cruise. July 12, 2008 We left Boston flying on Aer Lingus. After a little trouble with figuring out which gate was ours (they kept flipping between gates 4 and 5). We settled into our flight and ended up arriving in Dublin a full half hour early. The Dublin Airport is a bit crazy! You first have to go through customs (whether or not you are staying), then through security, then to get to your gate you have to go through basically it's a mall with tons and tons of people. We found our gate and then decided that since we were in Ireland let's have a pint of Guinness - at 6:00 a.m. Boarded our next flight and again arrived in Barcelona a full half hour early. July 13, 2008 Barcelona We went through customs, got in a cab and I had read on the boards to write down the pier and ship name for the cab drivers. What I did was learned how to pronounce and also wrote down the pier name but in Spanish. The pier in Spanish is called Muelle (pronounced Moya) Adosado. Our cab driver recognized it immediately. We arrived at the ship and checked into the VIP line (both of us booked Romance Suites). After check-in we were escorted to the VIP Area where we met Claudio and Ivana. After reviewing our keys and our shore excursions we noticed a problem. Our excursion in France was completely wrong. We had to provide Ivana with our printed confirmations (always a good idea to print everything from their website) and she said she would remedy it and have our corrected excursion tickets delivered to us later that day. Around 11:30 we were escorted onto the ship and brought to the Bliss lounge until the restaurants were open at noon. For some reason not one person mentioned that we could go to Cagney's until I asked about it. We did have lunch at Cagney's and it was very good. The menu offered a lot of options as well as lighter meals considering it was a steak house. After lunch we went to check on our rooms. Both rooms were "ready." Problem number two of the day - our bathroom was dirty, the chairs and the dresser with lined with dust. There isn't a number for the room stewards so we contacted the butler who in turn contacted the stewards to come and re-clean our room. Apparently on embarkation day the actual room stewards do not clean the rooms. Romance Suite 10664 Good - the room is of good size (small than other lines though), a great balcony, great storage space, with restaurant reservations you get window tables, daily treats are nice little snacks. Bad - Occasionally there is a strange smell in the hallway upon entering the room. Our butler, Orlando was very inconsistent. We didn't actually meet him until the 2nd day. The entire trip we only received one card to write down what daily snacks we wanted. The fruit bowl was not always replenished. My in-laws had the same problems with Orlando regarding their room. My husband did tip him and tells him it was going to be my birthday during the cruise so he did decorate the room and after that the service did seem a bit more consistent. Our Concierge, Claudio was nice when we met him. The only contact we had with the concierge was the first day to make dinner reservations for the week. Problem number 3 - we made all of our reservations for 9:00 p.m. one night the system listed it as 8:00 p.m. and so the hostess gave us an attitude and assumed we just were running late and didn't show up until we felt like it. After dinner I contact Claudio regarding this problem and nothing was done and we were given a not so heart felt apology. After exploring the ship a little jet lag finally caught up. We attended the life boat drill which was done efficiently. That evening we had dinner in Tequila's. The food and service were terrific. After dinner we headed to the Casino and played some automated Roulette (very addictive). July 14 2008 Sea Day We ordered breakfast to our room (great tip on the boards to write in other requests). The activities planned on the ship sound great the one downfall is so many of them are at the exact same time and are only hosted for one time during the whole week. Therefore you really don't get to do everything you would like to do. Having the AFT balcony is great not only do you get to relax in the sun without the wind but you have full view of everything around you. The only downside to the balcony is that you do tend to get ash from people's cigars and cigarette from the Great Outdoors. For dinner we dined in Cagney's the food and service was again great. I still need to email NCL and get a few of their recipes! July 15 2008 Malta We woke to the message that Malta was having a transportation strike. Luckily for us we didn't have an excursion planned. The view from our balcony was great, we arrived as all the fishermen were heading out for the day. We walked up to Valletta, and this is not an easy hike for some people especially when it's 80% humidity out! The town of Valletta is nice within the main touristy areas. The architecture is beautiful, stores are both upscale and small craft shops, churches and museums are close. Once you get out of the touristy areas though that city is rather dirty and rundown. After walking back to the ship for some much needed air conditioning, we headed across the pier to a restaurant for a couple of Cisk beers (local beer) and snack food. We met up with my in-laws and decided to order lunch from Cagney's to our room. This is another area where Orlando (butler was inconsistent) we ordered 4 different lunch entrees and he only brought us two sets of silverware. That evening we went to the Spinnaker lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Another good tip from the boards was that you can see Mt Etna around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. on the port side of the ship. We headed to the Grand Pacific dining room for dinner. The service and the food were horrible! It took 15 minutes to get water and menu's. The food was bland, dry, small and the service was nonexistent. It seemed that the main dining room is an after thought when compared to the pay restaurants. July 16, 2008 Naples Today we had booked the excursion Capri, Sorrento, and Pompei. All of us loved this excursion and at the end of it we were energized rather than exhausted like others have mentioned. The only downside is that there are many tours that head to Capri first thing in the morning. Therefore, lots of people loading on the boat and funicular. Capri is very pretty, and the gardens and cliff views are spectacular! Capri is small and with so many people it can seem very crowded. We just wandered around, ordered some gelato, and people watched. We then drove over to Sorrento where we had lunch at ristorante parrocchiano. We were seated in the garden area of the restaurant. Which had lots of flowers, lemon trees, and was picturesque. Lunch included water and wine. A first course of cannelloni, second course of chicken with roasted potatoes, and a third coarse of a lemon cake. After lunch we were given some time on our own for shopping. We boarded the bus and headed over to Pompei. Pompei is amazing! Enzo (our guide) was terrific when talking about life in Pompei. This is one location you do not want to miss when visiting this area. That evening we went to the Orchid Garden for dinner. Service was really slow at first, the restaurant appeared to only have two people for wait staff. After 10 - 15 minutes more help arrived and from then on the food and service was very good. July 17, 2008 Civitavecchia Today we booked Rome on Your Own. I had previously been to Rome but only saw the Pantheon and the Vatican so I was hoping to see a lot of the other sights. The bus drops you off right around the corner from the Colosseum. Another great tip from the boards - go to the Roman Forum to buy tickets to the Colosseum (no line)! We ventured into the Colosseum - truly amazing and different from what we pictured based on movies. Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain. Here I found a little pizza shop (go to the shops where it isn't listed in English) that had terrific eggplant pizza! Our next site was the Pantheon - this is one of my favorite places and has been since I was in H.S. A few blocks from the Pantheon are Gelateria Della Palma. It is a little touristy but very good gelato! From here we walked to the Piazza Navona. We stopped at a restaurant for some wine, antipasti and people watching. We definitely got all three - as we were leaving a couple of men were selling purses in the piazza when all of the sudden two plain clothes officers chased them, tackled and arrested one of them. This was done literally 5 feet in front of us. After that little excitement we walked to the Campo di Fiori (an open air market). Before we had to head back to the bus we went into the Roman Forum and in addition to seeing the ruins we were able to watch a team excavate new ruins. In the evening we went for our pre-dinner drinks. We chose the martini bar tonight. The chocolate and key lime pie martini's are really good. For dinner we ate at Le Bistro. We all agreed this was our favorite restaurant on the ship. July 18, 2008 Livorno Today we booked Siena and the View of Tuscany. The two-hour drive to Siena can be good and bad. You do get beautiful pictures thanks to the amazing scenery. The bad is that you are pretty tired from the previous days and therefore you tend to fall asleep on the bus. I must admit I was a little disappointed with this tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about Siena but that also meant she was very long-winded. We spent about 2 and ½ hours seeing two churches and a courtyard. For lunch we went to La finestra where the food was terrific but lunch was definitely on Italian time! Lunch consisted of wine and water, a first course of asparagus risotto plus pasta with mushrooms, a second course of veal in tomato sauce (but they were kind enough to make me chicken), and a third course of a berry panna cotta. Unfortunately, this left us with about 45 minutes of free time to shop. We ran over to a small store to buy wine, and olive oil. Next onto Nannini's a bakery known for its panforte and riciarelli cookies. Finally, a quick stop for gelato at Brivido. Tonight we had pre-dinner drinks at Maltings. My husband now loves Mythos Beer. We dined at the Teppanyaki restaurant. Where the food and service were also great but be warned this is not a health conscious meal! Lots of butter, oil, and salt! July 19, 2008 Villefranche Today we booked Nice and the view from Eze. Nice is a beautiful, friendly, and welcoming city! We were first driven through nice to see a few sites. The bus parked so that we could have some free time to wonder around the flower market. The produce here is amazing! My husband and I are both foodies so this was fabulous to us! We were able to pick up some truffle oils, jams, mustards, candies, herbs etc.! A definite must try are French macaroons! We then drove over to Eze, the drive over has wonderful panoramic views of the coast and city. Eze is a bit of a climb but definitely easier than Malta. Our guide showed us a few sites along the climb and then gave us another hour of free time. The shops are so cute, some of them built right into the rock so they are like little caves. Eze is great for finding local crafts to bring home. After the excursion we had lunch had a restaurant adjacent to the pier. Delicious French lemonade and seafood! Problem number 4 - tendering back to the boat! NCL really needs to rethink their tender process! They are far behind other lines. After lunch the line was along the pier, through the building, and around the corner. We waited for probably 45 minutes - insane! Back on the ship we tried another of the daily special drinks and some more automated roulette. We were able to go and retrieve our liquor purchases - unlike I had previously read they seemed very organized about this. Since it was our last day, we decided to try out the Bingo. Honestly, kind of a rip off - tickets are a minimum of $30 and up to $50. You can also spend more money on instant win tickets. Each game has very specific symbols you have to make. Also, the game has lots of rules to help the house have the advantage. We have played on other lines and NCL really seemed out to just make more money rather than entertain. For tonight's pre-dinner drinks we headed up to the Great Outdoors where my father in-law made friends with a bartender throughout the week. The two of them together are good for some laughs! We dined at La Trattoria which the food was good but the service was definitely lacking. July 20, 2008 Disembark THE VIP'S get to either take their luggage off or have it picked up and held in a designated area. We chose to have ours picked up. Claudio was there waiting with the luggage and of course my husband's wasn't where it should have been. No help was provided. Once we had everything together, we asked for help from a porter who loaded us into a taxi. The Barcelona airport was insanely busy! I had read on the boards about confusion regarding where to check in for Aer Lingus. The problem is that Aer Lingus does not have a permanent check in area. They switch between Terminal A and Terminal B. Most airport staff doesn't know where Aer Lingus should be. We did find one information desk in the airport that did know the location. It's best to check all the screens (they are updated based on the flight departure times). We finally found our check in desk but it was still being used by another airline. We decided to just stay there and wait - it was a good thing we did because here came 50 students all traveling to Ireland together! We boarded our flight and then Problem number 5 - delayed! Apparently the Dublin airport has been having radar problems for a week so we were grounded for 50 minutes. This left us with only 10 minutes connection time in Dublin! We asked the flight attended for some help regarding this and she was able to have the pilot contact the airport for help. When we arrived in Dublin there was an agent to meet us. Aer Lingus was going to hold the plane for us and have this agent escort us to it. In 15 minutes we got another couple their boarding passes, went through Irish customs, security, filled out U.S. customs forms, went through Immigration, to another terminal and onto our plane. I really was overwhelmed with how helpful Aer Lingus was, most airlines wouldn't have gone through this for us. Problem number 6 - - I caught the flu! I was sick and in bed for the week after our cruise! Oddly enough the last time I went to Europe I came home and ended up with mono! See a pattern? Summary We chose NCL really based on the itinerary more than the ship and that's why I think we were able to enjoy our vacation. Food - Avoid the main dining restaurants! The specialty restaurants were good to great! Service really depended. There were those on staff who were obviously with NCL prior to freestyle cruising and they were the ones who went above and beyond. Excursions - The excursion staff set up the meeting times and locations rather well. I don't know if it was just our tours or that particular week but there was someone from the staff on all of our excursions. The excursions themselves were really terrific with the exception of us wanting more time to be on our own. Staff - Almost all of the staff was friendly and seemed happy. When we compare NCL to Princess or HAL though they are definitely lacking in attention to detail, service, and consistency. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Many of the reviews previously posted were from travelers who stayed in suites or rooms with balconies. I hope this helps the traveler who is staying in a regular stateroom. My husband and I (both in early 40s) traveled with our 2 children ... Read More
Many of the reviews previously posted were from travelers who stayed in suites or rooms with balconies. I hope this helps the traveler who is staying in a regular stateroom. My husband and I (both in early 40s) traveled with our 2 children (6 &9) and they stayed with us in our stateroom. (More on that in a minute) Although I am a first-time cruiser, I have traveled to all-inclusive resorts and have traveled to Europe before. Travel to Barcelona- Not sure how this is helpful as I think all that depends on where you come from and airline you use. We traveled via Continental from Newark and had no problems. We came in a day early and used Saturday to see a bit of Barcelona. We cashed in hotel points and stayed at Hilton Diagonal Mar, which is not centrally located to the city, but fairly close to the port. It was 20 euros to go by taxi from the hotel Sunday morning (and that includes the extra charge for our 4 bags). If you do stay in Barcelona, the metro system is extremely easy to use. We used public transportation to get from the airport to our hotel and to get all around on Saturday. My kids were real troopers wheeling their suitcase through the city streets We arrived for embarkation around 12:00 pm and had our luggage immediately received and the check-in line was fairly short, with about 3 people in front of us. Boarded the ship and the all clear to go to our cabins was given at 1:30. We had a window (not port-hole) mid-ship on the 5th floor, with 4 people. There was plenty of room to move around in and plenty of storage for all of our things. Our luggage did not arrive until about 3:00 and by then, we had lost the opportunity to get lounge chairs by the pool. I strongly recommend packing your bathing suits in your carry-ons. State-room- With the 4 of us in 1 stateroom, it is obviously not the romantic way to travel, but worked for us.The cabins were always kept clean. Unlike hotels, the cabin stewards did not stay on top of our usage of shampoo/conditioner, and with 4, it runs out and we did have to ask, but usually got it within 30 minutes. The kids always loved the towel animals and was something to look forward to at turn-down time. Saw previous posts about toilet back-ups, but we did not experience it, but you could smell it in the hallways as you passed some cabins. Activities- We enjoyed the deck games out (chess boards, tennis court, basketball court- which are one and the same-, and hitting some golf balls. My daughter (9 y/o) went rock climbing a few times and loved it. Biggest disappointment of the sports activities is that all the equipment is locked up at 5 pm. No idea why. There were a few times after dinner that we wanted to play some tennis, but could not. Ping-pong was impossible because of the winds across the deck. We did a few shows and enjoyed them, but because we were with our kids, we did not go clubbing, or gambling in the evenings, and can't help out with comments on the night scene All the posters were spot on regarding the pool. For 2600 passengers, the pool(s) is just too small. Unlike other posters, the week were out (July 13th sailing), no one ignored the signs of the adult only pool. All kids stayed in the kids pool. But my kids did not really enjoy it because it was so crowded. Excursions- I picked excursions that I thought my kids would enjoy, and my husband and I had already been to Rome, Florence and Sorrento- so my comments may not be useful to many. As you would expect, the excursions are overpriced, but useful way to economize time because you are in port for a short period of time. I called in advance and booked most before we even arrived. I am glad I did because the staff on board were not the most helpful. They are definitely not tour guides, but I would think they would know a little bit more about the tour highlights. Malta- We had picked to see the ancient temple ruins. Was really looking forward to seeing something different. Through no fault of NCL, the day we were in port, the drivers in Malta pulled a 1-day strike because the government doubled the fuel tax the week prior. No bus drivers meant no excursions. While Malta is extremely charming, if you want to do it on your own, it really is no problem. With our 6 y/o slowpoke, we walked the main area of Valletta in about 4 hours. We did not see much because, not only was there the strike, but the military museum and fort was closed to the public as was the palace. It would have been interesting to see what we could have learned from our tour guide. Naples- We picked Pompeii and hiking up Vesuvius. Our tour guide was wonderful. Very up to date on the latest learnings from the continued excavations of Pompeii and gave colorful stories of the Neopolitan way of life and some history in the role of Naples in Italian history. Only waste of time was the first stop at the Cameo school. Was used as the "bathroom stop" but since we had only left 20 minutes before, was definitely used as a sales pitch as the overview on how cameos are made was 5 minutes and then there is a store. Please note that for all excursions, travel from port to city is included in the length of the excursion, so be aware the ports for other cities are not that close. I have been to Sorrento and Capri, and did not think more harbor views would be something that would appeal to my kids, but if you have never been, it is beautiful. Rome- We picked Rome on our own. Essentially it was a $400 bus ticket from the port to the city. Hubby not too happy, but based on what we did in Villefranche,(see below) glad I picked this. The excursion is listed as 9 hours, but you only get about 6 hours in the city, as it does take about 1 hour 40 minutes to get to the drop-off point from the port of Civitavecchia. In the guided tours that include lunch, I asked and was told lunch generally takes 1 to 1.5 hours. We wanted to see the city, not spend 1/4 of the time we had inside a restaurant so that is why we went with this. We were dropped off across the street from the Coliseum and walked the exterior (we chose not to pay the 11 Euro per person admission). From the outside, you can see fairly well into the interior. We walked through the forum up to the Fountain of Trevi and then up to the Spanish steps. That area is a pedestrian area, and that is why none of the tours include that part of Rome. From there, we walked to the Vatican. Did want to get into the Sistine Chapel, but were afraid that we would not make it back to the meeting place in time, so just visited St. Peters. Sistine Chapel and Vatican museum truly are a half-day minimum. Told my kids that is something they will have to come back for on their own. Not based on my experience but in line me some other cruisers who were traveling in a larger group, and they had hired a private driver from Roma Limo (I think) all via the Internet. They said the cost for a private driver was the same if not less, than the cruise excursions. It would not have been cost effective for a family of four. They used the same company for Naples and Rome. If you really want to use your time efficiently, please check it out. Livorno- Florence is a city for art-lovers and shoppers, and we decided to skip Florence as those descriptions do not apply to my children and do Pisa and the beach. Our tour guide was sweet but overly chatty and told us alot about herself since there is not much to tell about Pisa. Based on the tour description, and knowing that is now allowed, I really expected to be able to walk up the tower. Nope-- that is on your own. The tour brings you to Pisa, and then you are told to meet back in 1 hour. The tour description actually happens while you are traveling on the bus. You could buy tickets on your own, but the number of people allowed on the tower is metered, so the the next time they were selling tickets for was 1 hour after we had to leave. That was a bit disappointing. But if all you want to do is see the tower, the hour is more than enough time. The beach resort was actually quite beautiful and made the day worthwhile. It is one of the few beaches on the Western Italian coast that is white sand and not rocky. The water was very warm, and it was a challenge to get my kids rinsed off and back on the bus. The beach club they bring you too also has a pool, so there is both options. And there is no fighting for space. The majority of the families who picked this excursion actually had kids who were teenagers, and were not as young as my 2. Villefranche- None of the cruise-offered excursions held any appeal for me, as they all sounded as if they were "drive-bys". I really enjoying walking the city streets to get a sense of the city. When we docked, we took the tender over and decided at the last minute what to do. The tender brings you literally a 5-minute walk to the train station. You can take the train 1 stop to Nice or 4 stops in the opposite direction to Monaco. We opted for Monaco. This experience is why I was glad we chose to buy the Rome on your own through NCL. It was Sunday, and the train to Monaco was 35 minutes late. (so we ended waiting at the train station almost a full hour). Did not pre-print any maps (my own fault) so we thought we would just get the map at the station and walk. Big mistake. The maps make the city look like the streets are laid out next to each other, but Monte Carlo is built into the cliffs, so the streets are actually underneath each other. We spent another 40 minutes walking in circles. Finally caught a local tour. By then it was time to head back, and we then screwed up the bus line. Did not get to see as much as I would have liked. Monaco is stunning, and it is only 15 minutes. If you choose to go on your own, make sure you are well planned. It is not something you can just wing. Another option would have been to stay in Villefranche. It is a beautiful little town on the French Riviera. There is a small beach. The water is incredibly blue. My kids were dying to go swimming, but did not bring the bathing suits with us when we came over on the tender. Big mistake. Re-embarkation after this day was not the smoothest. Last tender is at 2:30 and everyone waits for that. By 2:00, the line was already at 20 minutes. We waited 40 minutes for the tender Barcelona- we took the city highlights as we had a late afternoon flight to Venice (we extended our trip) and thought we would see a bit more of the city and kill a few hours. That was a well done excursion and the guide was great. We chose to bring our luggage down ourselves and it was not big thing. Entertainment- we saw a few of the shows. My son fell asleep at the dances of the world show, and is was OK. The whole time I watched the show I kept hearing Simon Cowel, of American Idol and his "you sound like a cruise performer" in my head. It had the feel of my daughter's annual dance recital. We saw the magician perform twice, and was enjoyable. Again, it was geared toward the kids, but there was enough content to keep the adults entertained as well. We saw 1 of the 2 Second City performances (the clean, family version). It was very well done. We would have loved to have seen the adults only version, but it was at 10:30, and since we were up early every day, we were not the night time party animals. Dining-- the food is what I expected. I rate it alongside many of the other all-inclusive resorts I have been to. Nice selection at the buffet meant to target all the nationalities on board (this week, the cruise was about 1/3 American, 1/3 from UK, and 1/3 from Spain, with a smattering of other nationalities). We tried all the "free" restaurants, and our favorite was Magenta. The service was the best, and the menu selection was the most global. We found the most to choose from. As far as 'freestyle', please note that none of the restaurants will allow the gentleman in after 5:30 in shorts. And that was enforced. Big bummer for the hubby. He had some very nice long shorts and the description we received was resort wear, and nothing about pants required. The only paying restaurant we went to was Tepanyaki. Entertainment value was there, but the food was no better than in the other restaurants. Not sure why I would want to pay. In speaking with some of the other passengers, they said the Italian restaurant was so-so. After eating lunch out in Italy, I was not going to pay for so-so Italian. The positives I heard was that they were more quiet. Kids club- My kids are daycare kids and they go to summer camp, and so they are used to the group activity thing. I signed them up, but they absolutely refused to do the kids club thing. It seemed that not many kids in their age group were there, so can't comment on the services. My daughter saw them playing some game on the last night, but at that point in the cruise, I was not bringing her. Overall summary- Cruising the Mediterranean is nice way to get 2 vacations in one. You can get the relaxing "beach/pool" and the culture of Europe in 1 trip. It worked for us as my youngest is not the most flexible, and knowing I could get back and have his chicken and french fries, allowed me to not have to fight everything little thing. The down side is you really don't experience the country in the whole experience. I am glad I was able to extend it and have them immersed in the city for a few more days. I have to agree with comments of other posters that there is a sense of nickle and diming. The free aerobics class was offered during excursions. Drinks were not inexpensive, and I would pay a little more for the cruise and have drinks (soft drinks included) included. Also, I have heard from friends who traveled with other cruise lines, that if you booked a ship-based excursion, they received a box lunch. For those who are budget conscious- here is a tip. I packed a box of sandwich zip lock bags. At breakfast, I grabbed some rolls and made sandwiches, and some fruit. Through those in the back-pack we carried with the water and cameras. While we still grabbed lunch, it really helped tired little travelers. On a separate note- In defense of Americans, you always hear about the rude American, but I was surprised by the rudeness of the Spanish (recognizing that I am generalizing). They cut lines, and had no idea of elevator etiquette. I was surprised at the amount of pushing that occurred. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
Traveled Norwegian Gem June 8-16. Have cruised many times previously with several other cruise lines. In comparison, Norwegian was okay. The food and service didn't come close to other lines; however, since we weren't onboard for ... Read More
Traveled Norwegian Gem June 8-16. Have cruised many times previously with several other cruise lines. In comparison, Norwegian was okay. The food and service didn't come close to other lines; however, since we weren't onboard for those aspects, it didn't affect our overall experience too much. Cabin-we had an inside cabin. It was a little smaller than those we've had on previous ships; however, we spent very little time in the cabin so it wasn't a problem. We LOVED the larger shower & the shower door! What a great improvement! Unfortunately, the shower wasn't leveled properly and water didn't drain well. Again, a small problem. Our cabin stewards never came and introduced themselves. They were very unavailable; however, when we needed something and called for it, we got it. Food-fewer choices than on other cruise lines and quality not as good. We chose not to eat at one of the restaurants that had a surcharge. We spoke to people who did and they said the food was pretty good, but there were also surcharges for many of the items on the menu, so in addition to the surcharge per person, you paid for the item. It could get very expensive. We loved the chocoholic buffet! My husband enjoyed the cappuccino machine (& loved the fact that he didn't have to pay for each one). The buffet was very nice; however, the reviews we read about lack of seating were correct. It was usually hard to find a table. We had also read that they do not have trays in the buffet, so you have to carry everything on your own--that is true and quite inconvenient. They do have the silverware wrapped in napkins on each table though. I think they do it to try to reduce the amount of waste (you don't take as much at the beginning and only go back if you really want more). We never experienced having to wait for a table at the Grand Pacific restaurant (the nice-no jeans or shorts restaurant). We had read a lot about having to wait even when there were tables open. Activities-because we were in ports 6 out of the 7 days, we didn't take part in too many on board activities. We did notice that pretty much every thing ran a few minutes late though. The shows always started 5-10 min. after the starting time. They called Bingo for a certain time and by the time they gave the rules and sold cards, it actually started about 45 min. after the printed time. Again, not a big deal. Ship's Tours-We took two ship's tours. One in Sorrento & Pompeii which we really enjoyed and one in Nice/Monaco which was just fair. We spoke to some people that took a ship tour in Rome and were extremely disappointed. They were going to request a refund. (We chose to hire a private driver, which worked out very well.) Service-We felt that because the waiters were not working for their tips, the quality of service definitely suffered. We didn't feel like the quality of service was what you would get on Royal Caribbean or Princess (which are our two favorite lines--though we have never been on Celebrity or Holland America). Shows-We felt like the shows were just as good as most other cruises we've been on. The female entertainer was very good! Comedy group was very good too. OTHER-We definitely understood what others meant about them trying to nickel and dime you to death; however, you didn't have to "buy into it." Being a "germophobe" I really appreciated that they had hand sanitizer everywhere and asked you to use it before reboarding the ships and before entering the restaurants. I know that doesn't stop all germs, but I think it helps. All in all, it was the ports that made the trip what it was. We had a great time, especially in Italy! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
I'll cover some of the basic review items plus some tips I had questions about before we left. 10 of us in total (5 kids) all inside cabins. 10th cruise for me - 4th on NCL. June 8 Gem cruise from BCN. Cab from airport to port was ... Read More
I'll cover some of the basic review items plus some tips I had questions about before we left. 10 of us in total (5 kids) all inside cabins. 10th cruise for me - 4th on NCL. June 8 Gem cruise from BCN. Cab from airport to port was about $35 Euros for four of us with luggage (there are extra surcharges for luggage and people). You can exchange money right by luggage pick-up. An ATM is supposedly outside airport but didn't look for it. Have address of port ready as first cab driver didn't know - good thing we showed him before getting in cab. Had no problem getting cab back to airport at end. Plan 30 minutes. Easy embarkation and luggage arrived by 3pm. Room was nice as was the refer. Overall, I thought the food was good and variety was fine, but the opinion varied among our group. Service overall was good-excellent for food and beverage. Cagney's and Mexican restaurant were both very good. Main dining room food is still just o.k. - not too impressive. Why can't they give you a good steak? Did room service for kids once. Quick delivery but only some of the items ordered were actually delivered. One note about trays - I did have a waitress help take our breakfast when I was with my kids. She took us to the Italian restaurant which is used for overflow and was very nice. As compared to other NCL cruises, the overall service was excellent. I seemed to notice the presence of officers in key areas which I didn't remember too much of on the other NCL ships. I believe this is part of the difference. The pick-up of dirty plates was also excellent as compared to other NCL. The area where I never saw an officer and where we had issues was in the room. Yes, the staff worked hard, but they miss some very obvious issues that I then had to call and get resolved. Obvious #1 - toilet seat not tight and wiggles - this was like this as soon as we got in room. Had to call to get fixed which it was quickly. Obvious #2 - soap in shower dispenser runs out. Go 1.5 days (3 clean-ups) and never filled. Have to call to get fixed. Obvious #3 - come back from excursion and toilet seat hinge clearly broken after room had been cleaned up. Had to call to get fixed. Asked for bar soap (I hate liquid soap in the shower) and told not available - something to do with "PH". I asked and got bar soap on the Spirit 12 months ago! TV also intermittently not working over the trip. Had to call 3 times (I was always told a "network" problem). I also noticed several pieces of tape on the ceiling from a prior cruise that weren't removed and not noticed by crew the whole trip. Yes, these are trivial things, but the crew should notice these things and I haven't ever had to call about more than one issue on any other cruise. These "little" things leave you frustrated. You would think that they would have a system that if you have to contact them for more than x times, an officer would contact you to see what is going on (i.e. Are we just complainers or is the staff not on their toes). Malta - If you do on your own, get off ship and go up the hill then to the right to see the "tourist" part town. We accidentally went left and ended up in the more residential part of town. This was o.k. though and was interesting to see with stores and churches. We did make it to the other area, but could be too much walking for some. Two ATMs are located right by dock if you need EUROs (one was Bank of Valetta). Pompeii - Nothing much else to add from previous reviewers other than I was under the impression that you went to Pompeii and a Cameo factory at two different stops. We actually were dropped off at the Cameo factory for the obligatory tour and then given 15 minutes free time and then walked a few feet to the start of the Pompeii tour (the 3.75 hour tour). Rome - As others have said, be careful with valuables. Will need to take passport with you on this stop (but not the others). Pisa - We did the shorter afternoon tour and found it perfect. Nice - We went on our own. In Villefrance, get off the ship and they give you maps of the town (in the little building right by the tenders) and directions to the bus stop. To find it can be confusing, but we did and you can take the #100 bus to Nice for $1 euro each one way. This bus ends in Nice at the bus terminal and then goes back to Villefrance. It appears to run every 15-30 minutes??? Shows - Second City was funny. I didn't like the magician, but as you'll see from other reviews, much is of personal taste/opinion when it comes to food, service, entertainment. Our youngest - 5 - did go to Kid's Crew most nights. The best thing is that they extended the pickup from what used to be 10pm to 10:30pm. Kid's Crew has always been great for the kids. Don't forget to tip these people if you do use. At first I thought that NCL was cutting themselves short when they were calling it "Freestyle 2.0" and should probably have called it "Freestyle 3.0" due to improvement from my prior NCL experiences. I was very impressed by the improved service, bedding, champagne, pagers for main restaurants, cruise terminal, etc. But as the cruise went on, I did realize they had not made the jump from 1.0 to 3.0 and that 2.0 was appropriate. Overall, a great cruise and very reasonable when you consider the price (even the nickel & diming) to see some of the wonderful sites. Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
We traveled from JFK to Barcelona via Iberia Airlines which did stop in Madrid where we had to change planes to Barcelona. The one strange occurrence was when we changed planes we had to go through security again in Madrid which may be ... Read More
We traveled from JFK to Barcelona via Iberia Airlines which did stop in Madrid where we had to change planes to Barcelona. The one strange occurrence was when we changed planes we had to go through security again in Madrid which may be problematic if you had purchased any liquid duty free items in JFK that were more than 3oz. and didn't fit in your quart size zip lock bag. We arrived in Barcelona and found the railroad which we took to the Barceló Sants Hotel which is located directly above the Sants train station and was approximately 15 minutes from airport. Although some prior reviews I had read complained about the hotel distance from central tourist areas we found the location fine as you could take the Metro system for a brief ride easily to any area. The price of this hotel was much more reasonable than many of the hotels in Barcelona that the extra few minutes on subway was well worth the savings of staying at this hotel. The hotel was fine but we all did complain about the bed and mattress being very hard. We used Saturday afternoon to do some sightseeing in Barcelona and were a little disappointed that we awoke on Sunday morning to heavy rain which did curtail the amount of sightseeing we planned on doing before going to cruise terminal that day. Although we were told we could take the Metro to the port we did take a taxi and were very glad as the cruise terminal was a very long distance from nearest Metro station. My recommendation for any passengers who are considering taking train to pier is to when you get off the train hail a taxi as it is not a convenient walk to cruise terminal. The embarkation process was extremely smooth when we arrived around 1pm and boarded the ship within 15-20 minutes after arrival. We were greeted with free champagne as we walked on board and were directed to lunch at the buffet area or Grand Pacific restaurant. We stayed in a Mini Suite which was located on Deck 11 midship and an ideal location to access pool deck and buffet areas. Our stateroom was quite spacious and had adequate storage spaces for 4 people when compared to other balcony cabins we have stayed in on prior cruises. The bathroom was large and did include a full size tub which we never used. I loved the little wheels outside each cabin where you could indicate do not disturb, make up my cabin, and turn down service for the cabin steward. The regular beds were the most comfortable I have ever slept on while cruising. We did eat at most of the restaurants on board with the exception of the Asian Grill and La Cucina and had few complaints. The buffet was plentiful with a wide selection of foods available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. My husband did not like the omelettes and scrambled eggs (possibly made from prepackaged mix as opposed to fresh eggs) but otherwise no other complaints. I have mixed feelings about having to pay additional surcharges in some of the specialty restaurants because after eating superb meals at Le Bistro and Cagney's it can be a little bit of a letdown when you go to eat at Magenta and Pacific Grill. We also enjoyed Tequila which did not involve a surcharge. Free style dining was great but we did try to make our reservations 48hrs in advance as we preferred to dine around 7-8pm which was a popular time for many passengers. We did not do any of the NCL sponsored shore excursions and were able to navigate the various ports on our own. Malta was our first port and we walked up the hill to the Valetta and explored the beautiful fortress city. The highlight was touring the cathedral and learning about the various knights buried there. We took the ferry from Naples directly to Sorrento and had an enjoyable day walking around the town and experiencing authentic pizza at a local restaurant with and drinking some regional wine. In Civitavecchia we exited the shuttle bus from pier and walked to railroad station and took train into Rome which costs about 9 Euros round trip per person. The train ride was about 1 hr but when we arrived in Rome it was raining hard and it was not enjoyable walking to various attractions in the downpours especially as the streets were flooded and very slippery. We saw some sights but ended up staying dry in a restaurant eating pasta and drinking wine to avoid the heavy downpours. Livorno ended up being our most frustrating port as passengers had to take a shuttle bus from ship to town center and then take a bus from there to train station to get to Florence. It took us approximately 3 hrs from when we exited ship to arrive in Florence which did not allow us a lot of time to explore the city. There were many lines for main attractions so we chose to just view outside buildings (I believe if you took the NCL excursions you may bypass some of the lines but I am not sure of this) and wander around the city which is just so beautiful. Too bad that the weather was not cooperative again and decided to rain most of this day too. The last day of cruise we decided to just walk to the local beach in Villefranche and finally enjoy the most sunshine we saw this week. We definitely needed a relaxing day after the previous hectic days of rushing to get off the ship to see the sights with limited time constraints. We had a 10 am flight back to New York and chose to do the express checkout and left the ship at 6:30am and took taxi to airport where we encountered no delays in checking in for our flight. Probably the worst part of our trip was not having enough time to spend in Rome and Florence but it did give us a taste of Italy and hopefully we will return there in the future to see the sights we missed this trip. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
Cruise History: 3 previous cruises with Disney. My husband and I (30 and 26 respectively) traveled alone (no kids or family). Getting there: We flew from ATL to BCN; flight was delayed, but we still had plenty of time. BCN took a while ... Read More
Cruise History: 3 previous cruises with Disney. My husband and I (30 and 26 respectively) traveled alone (no kids or family). Getting there: We flew from ATL to BCN; flight was delayed, but we still had plenty of time. BCN took a while to get out of because there were lines and people were confused about which ones to get in. We had no prearranged transport to the port, but the NCL counter was near and they set us up on the next NCL bus. With the dollar being so weak against the euro at this time, we found it was typically advantageous to book things through NCL, even though it seemed more expensive. It all came pretty close once you figure the conversion rates. Embarkation was pretty simple and our rooms were ready by the time we boarded. Cabin: We got an inside cabin, which is the absolute smallest we have ever been in (even compared to other interior cabins), but the bed was great, plenty of storage, includes coffeemaker and mini-bar. We figured we would not spend much time in the room, but we ended up spending a fair amount of time in there because it rained several times. We will probably not book a room this small on any cruise over 3 days in the future, but that is just personal. Food: Overall the food was absolutely wonderful. Plenty of options all the time. The Great Outdoors is open pretty much anytime the Garden Cafe is not (walk through the Cafe to get to the Outdoors). Plus there are outdoor places by the pool, weather permitting. NCL has quite a few specialty restaurants, but most charge a cover. We ate at the Sushi Bar ($15 pp, no reservations, but never crowded) and Tequila (no cover, but make reservations). We liked the main dining areas and decided not to pay too much extra for the specialties. They suggest, but do not require reservations, but I advise making reservations. We got my husband the soda package, but had a hard time the first day getting the cup or sticker or whatever he needed to get sodas. You can only get sodas from the bars, most of which do not open until around lunchtime. No one ever offered any sodas in the dining areas, even when we brought his cup along. It was still a good deal, as he drinks a lot of Diet Coke. Freestyle Cruising: We did not find it to be that much different than what other cruise lines are now offering, with the exception of dinner seating. We typically eat late and the time difference threw us off anyway, so we ate at times that were not too crowded. Be advised that if you choose a busy time, you may have to wait, even in the main dining rooms. This only happened to us once and we were offered a pager to let us know when we could be seated. It was nice just to have the two of us at the table...for the first few days. I do not mind being seated with other couples (provided we all speak the same language!) and I really missed it this cruise. Freestyle is not bad (no required dress-up night either), but I think we prefer a dinner seating in general. Pools & Such: I had read previous reviews about the horrors of the lounge chairs, but we did not find this to be a huge problem. There is a sun deck overlooking the pool deck and tons of chairs. Plus, head up another level and find more lounge areas with fabulous loungers (if you can grab one, otherwise there are regular loungers). There is a quiet deck all the way to the front of this same deck with pod-like cushioned loungers that will fit 3 people on them and offers a great view. Fitness Center: The fitness center aboard the Gem is nice; it does get crowded at peak times. Classes were offered in the fitness center room overlooking the pool (one-way glass, so the pool patrons don't see you!) but most cost extra. I had taken advantage of several classes on previous cruises with Disney, but they had been free. So, did not do any classes this time. Service & Staff: We had excellent service during the entire cruise; cabin steward knew our names before we even introduced ourselves. He also made fabulous towel animals. All of the staff we met spoke English, and many spoke 3+ languages quite well. All announcements were given in English, Spanish, German, and usually French as well. They took a bit of time, but we had quite a diverse group on board. The staff seemed to have quite a good time and I believe some of them were even enlisted to "party" with the patrons at some of the events/activities. Activities: We saw a few shows and they were pretty good. Second City was very funny, right up our alley. We skipped the musicals and such, as my husband was not too enthused about those (although others said they were pretty decent). He very much missed a sports bar, which we have loved on previous cruises. We also definitely felt the absence of a movie theater on board (especially when it rained) and will definitely look for this when making future bookings. The majority of passengers were middle age and beyond, and some of the activities seemed a little out of sync with the majority of the passengers. They were also not the crowd to hang out at the super-swank "Bliss" which features bed-like lounge areas. It was nearly always empty when we went, except for the occasional bowlers. Tours: We did three excursions through NCL and did two days on our own. We were satisfied overall. I was a bit frustrated in Rome (rain, noisy fellow passengers, other things that are not really anyone's fault), but the tour was decent overall. We received a note in our room that one of our tours had been booked in French (although we had booked it in English), but to see the desk if that was not correct. They explained that a computer glitch had messed up a few of the language reservations for that tour and promptly fixed it. Glad they pointed it out because I did not look at the tickets very closely! Disembarkation: We did express and carried our own luggage. Getting breakfast was a beast that day, and we ate standing up. Getting off the ship was easy though, and plenty if taxis lined up outside to get everyone. Odds & Ends: A tip in Europe: Go to the restroom whenever you see one, because there will NOT be another!!! Also, one of our waiters let us know that you can purchase a bottle of wine in a dining room and finish it later, even in another dining room. I usually only have 1-2 glasses at dinner and the hubby does not drink wine, so I found this rather helpful. I never saw this advertised anywhere, but it is available. Heard rumors on previous postings around self-service laundry but never found it. Overall: We had a decent time, although we missed a sports-type bar/pub and will look for a movie theater in the future. I might try NCL again in the future, but I'm not devoted. I missed meeting people at dinner, and I especially missed the dinner service that Disney provides (you see the same wait staff each night, they move restaurants with you). I felt a bit nickel-and-dimed the whole time ('Freestyle' does not mean 'free' as another passenger commented), but that's becoming the norm with cruising and airlines. Food and service are very good on the Gem and it is new and VERY clean. Read Less
Sail Date May 2008
We stayed in an AF cabin which supposedly had 285 sq ft. The layout of the cabin was not good. We could not completely open the closet doors as the bed was too close to the closet. I have stayed in smaller cabins was more conveniently ... Read More
We stayed in an AF cabin which supposedly had 285 sq ft. The layout of the cabin was not good. We could not completely open the closet doors as the bed was too close to the closet. I have stayed in smaller cabins was more conveniently arranged. The refrigerator is actually a minibar with little room for your personal items. The Garden Cafe was the main buffet restaurant on the boat. The seating in the Garden Cafe was very limited and it was frustrating to walk around trying to find a place to sit after picking up your plate of food. No trays were provided to carry the food. This started most days out on a bad note as we normally had to eat at the buffet if we had a tour as time was limited. It was either get up earlier to eat in dining room or fight for buffet seating. The tours were mostly ok, but one was absolutely terrible. It was The Saadian Capital of Taroudant in Agadir, Morocco. We drove the Taroudant, stopping to see goats climbing trees which was a unique experience. We were then taken to an area which was nice and a drink was provided. The worst part of the tour was when we were taken inside the Berber Market and Jewish Market. We were led around the markets up and down the aisles without stopping to look at anything for one hour. There were areas that were dimly lit and the floors were uneven. Beggar children followed us constantly making us worried that our pockets would be picked. The tour director finally stopped at one store (probably his brother's or someone else giving him a kick back) and left us there for about one half hour. There was no seating provided for someone that did not want to go into the junky store. This was supposed to be an easy walking tour, but we were on our feet for 1 1/2 hour and there were several people in the group that had canes. The bus finally came for us which was a relief. The tour guide also expressed his opinion on American politics, hoping that Hillary Clinton would be elected as the Morrocans love her. That was nice to know that Muslims want Hillary elected! I thought this was not appropriate. The tour was $49.00 each and was a total rip off. I complained to NCL, but they failed to refund the money. There were exactly nine washers and dryers on the boat for about 2300 passengers. This was an additional frustration as launderette was constantly occupied. There were the normal cruise activities on the boat. There were only 2 pools available for general use. This was not a problem with us as we did not want to use the pools as the weather was cool. However this boat is continuing to spend the winter in the Caribbean. I would imagine this is going to cause some real problems as cruisers in the Caribbean expect suitable areas to swim and sunbathe. This boat is not the place to do that. The price for the cruise was good and we were able to see some countries that we had not previously visited, but we probably will not use NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date November 2007
NCL GEM Med 9th-21st Nov 07 Having not cruised before I was not sure what to expect from a first cruise. There were 9 of us, out of the group my mother and father in-law had cruised before several times but not with NCL. I had in the ... Read More
NCL GEM Med 9th-21st Nov 07 Having not cruised before I was not sure what to expect from a first cruise. There were 9 of us, out of the group my mother and father in-law had cruised before several times but not with NCL. I had in the past typically stayed at long haul tropical destinations in 5 star hotels so was interested how a cruise compared. I had to convert to Europe as I have a baby and they don't like to transatlantic travel very well :-( So to start off I was very impressed with the whole cruise experience and I am now converted to this way of having a holiday. Some basic plus points: 1) Ease of getting on and off the ship in multiple destinations 2) Entertainment quality 3) Consistent standard of food and service So on to the cruise experience, lets say that the there are many more pro's than con's with NCL. The Pro's: "Ship" It was big and new and had all the mod cons that you would need. It was also very smooth and at points of the cruise it did not feel like we were actually moving. Staff overall would do anything you needed to make sure you were happy on board. They work very hard and are typically on board for up to 10 months away from home. They deserve the extra $10 surcharge paid per an adult. Boarding and unboarding was a dream (mins rather than hours) apart from the extra wait to leave Barcelona airport for the ship outbound (had to wait for all passengers before leaving instead of having multiple coaches). "Service" was very good, my daughter of 20 months has a diary allergy and the staff made her a special meal three times daily (I was surprised to find everything typically had butter in otherwise!). On some minor cases the service was slow on first arrival i.e. the Pacific ballroom however after a quiet word with the Maitre'D this was soon resolved. "Restaurants" We tried all the restaurants (both payable and free) both as a family and as a couple and the experience of good food and service was consistent. "Children's Area's" We had three children under 6 and found the children's areas very good (Swimming pool, under 2's toy area) there was even their own kid's cafe with high chairs etc. It was a shame that the garden cafe buffet restaurant was so packed every day that adults without children chose to sit in this area even though we needed the seats. "Rooms" In a suite on the 11th deck which was in the middle which was more than enough for three persons. The beds were great they were the most comfortable I have had in a hotel in years. The Con's: "Lack of manners" of a minority of other guests actually astounded me. We had small children in buggies and always queued for transfers, meal queues etc. However it seemed that some people did not give a dam and pushed and shoved under any occasion. At one port we were totally pushed out of the way even after waiting 20mins for the bus and we decided to pay the 20 euros to town. In all we did find some very well mannered people (Like the majority were) who like us took the cruise in our stride. NCL in general could help with this situation by making sure they offer enough buses at all locations and monitor the queuing systems to provide some order. "Spa" was over priced and the best option is to look out for offers which came later in cruise (but not on the couples based treatments). They then try and do a hard sell with additional body products that nearly cost as much as the treatment at the end. I was put out that I had just paid $330 plus 18% service, then had to still pay to use the standard hot pools area which is free in any 5* hotel spa. "Trips" seemed quite pricey and as we had children we decided to miss these so can't comment on quality "Drinks" pricing was inline with high street pubs middle to high end even considering that they were in $$ "Itinerary" Looking back at the complete itinerary I would remove Casablanca as I found this city had no comparison with the others on the tour. The port area was industrialized, dirty and an unfriendly place to be with children. Summary In all I will travel on a cruise again, NCL would be my primary choice because of the freestyle dining options, new ships and facilities. Read Less
Sail Date November 2007
To say that my wife had to work hard to convince me to take a cruise holiday is akin to saying that The Norwegian Gem is quite a nice boat! Only when I was assured that I didn't have to get all dressed up every night, and that I could ... Read More
To say that my wife had to work hard to convince me to take a cruise holiday is akin to saying that The Norwegian Gem is quite a nice boat! Only when I was assured that I didn't have to get all dressed up every night, and that I could eat when I wanted, with whom I wanted, did I relent. I felt very much like the rebellious fish that featured on the tie of the warmly welcoming Manuel at the check-in desk. But it was from that first moment that I began to realize that all my prejudices were about to be exposed for what they were - uninformed, out-of-date and plain wrong. The check-in process in Barcelona was very quick, clear and efficient, and the Norwegian Gem itself is a simply magnificent ship. The standard of accommodation is superb - comparable indeed to the very best hotels. The only slightly garish dEcor in time seemed absolutely appropriate. Our suite was fitted out beautifully and accommodated the four of us [two adults and two teenagers] very easily - with separate bedrooms and well appointed bathrooms. A shower with a full-length window overlooking the sea was a particular feature! Our room certainly provided a comfortable refuge when we wanted quiet time away from all the fun, and there was something very romantic about sitting on the balcony with a glass of something fizzy in hand as the sun went down and the ship slipped gently out to sea destined for the next port on our journey. The facilities on-board are really impressive to the extent that we wondered how we would fit everything in. The children were particularly taken with the ten-pin bowling [a first in the industry I understand], and the climbing wall. My wife and I made great use of the enormous gym. Doing a hard work-out overlooking the sea certainly eased the pain! And while the girls enjoyed the amazing array of treatments in the spa, the boys checked out the wide variety of bars - our favorite being the Star Bar, with its Sinatra sound-track. I suppose it was meal-times that had me most worried. I had in mind either an enormous bun-fight over a slightly tired buffet, or being stuck on a table with people with whom I had nothing in common working my way through an over-elaborate 3- or 4-course meal. Well, neither image was true. There are in fact 12 different restaurants aboard and we used the excellent concierge service to book tables as and when we wanted. We particularly enjoyed the Italian restaurant, La Cucina, but for sheer theatre and excellence of its food, the Teppanyaki restaurant is not to be missed. Whilst dining in the main restaurants, the Grand Pacific and the Magenta, is included in the cruise price [and is by the way excellent] a small supplement is payable for the speciality restaurants - in our experience worth the money. A special mention must go to Ashish, who served us in Le Bistro, a speciality French restaurant. Ashish is one of around 400 Indian staff aboard the Gem, and, as with so many of the wonderful, friendly staff, we got into conversation about his country and its cuisine - a firm favorite of ours. Without any prompting on our part Ashish went out of his way to arrange for us to have a special Indian feast the next evening. It was service beyond the call of duty indeed but was by no means the only act of exceptional kindness and warmth we received from the ship's crew. Of course, one of the main purposes of a cruise is to see the sights along the way, and we took full advantage of the highly efficient shore excursion service. The excursions are as structured as you want them to be - we had the full guided tour of Pompeii, but decided simply to take the transfer into Florence and be left to our own devices. Either way, the booking service is very simple and the management of the excursions is highly efficient. By the time we had arrived back at Barcelona, it really did feel that we had been away on an adventure around the Mediterranean. We managed to fit so much into our week away but had been able to relax as well. I had to admit to my wife that it hadn't been so bad after all! Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Norwegian Gem Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.7
Entertainment 4.5 3.9
Public Rooms 3.5 4.1
Fitness Recreation 3.5 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.6
Enrichment 3.0 3.4
Service 5.0 4.1
Value For Money 5.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 3.8

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