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36 Dover to Europe - Western Mediterranean Cruise Reviews

First time cruising for both my husband an me....Trepidation of what to expect!! Arrived by car to Southampton to be faced by the 'mother of all liners'. Transfer from car to ship was efficient and effortless, even when my ... Read More
First time cruising for both my husband an me....Trepidation of what to expect!! Arrived by car to Southampton to be faced by the 'mother of all liners'. Transfer from car to ship was efficient and effortless, even when my husband had to return to shore after realizing he'd left his wallet in our car (men for you!). Baggage took a number of hours before it arrived at our stateroom, which incidentally, was totally practicable and comfortable (exceeding a lot of 4* hotels we have stopped in). Food and Dining - Firm believer in having the opportunity to 'dress up' for evening dinners, the Independence has the structure perfectly set up with 3 formal nights and 2 smart casual and the rest being casual. Ship and facilities - Beyond belief!!! The Independence promises so much in the brochures and delivers with aplomb. Three days of intense investigation (never mind the shoe leather), just to gain an impression of the ship and what it has to offer. It is beyond description!!! Destinations - Some good, some indifferent. Villefranche was the showstopper with Cannes and Monaco, Vigo was extremely disappointing especially as this was the last port of call before arriving home. Entertainment - Luxurious surroundings in the Alhambra theatre sadly let down by the quality of the live shows. We could never quite understand why better quality of entertainers could not be engaged by RCI. Disappointing!!....Never mind the multitude of different bars and their associated themes made up for this. Staff - Overall, more than I expected. Majority of staff were kind and courteous and always presented a smile on their faces. Only area that did not reflect this was during the breakfasts in the main dining area, service there was occasionally lax bordering on the disappointing (wrong orders, late service of tea....And the toast...Yuk!!). Evening dining - Probably our biggest grievance (see below). Positives - The Independence of the Seas promises so, so much in the brochures and only just fails to deliver across all spectrums. RCI have a wonderful asset to their cruising portfolio with the addition of this ship. Whether you are a couple or a family with children, then the ship will deliver the majority of your aspirations with ease. This, I can only applaud RCI for. Negatives - Surprisingly few. However, the area around dining is a fundamental concern. Catering for upward of 1500 guests per sitting at dinner did represent challenges to RCI that sadly they missed. This was not reflective of their wonderful chefs or the supporting waiter service but is a more deep routed problem around Logistics. The bigger they build these ships the greater the logistical challenge faced...One that I feel they are destined too lose, especially with the advent of their latest liner next year! Overall - If you are happy o accept the few culinary failings then the Independence of the Seas is the holiday for you. It is magical beyond belief..... Would I do another??...Darn right I would! Read Less
Sail Date June 2008
We were on the Poesia's inaugural cruise (April 6th - 19th; London (Dover) to Venice. I was interested to see the member reviews here as well as the comments on this board. Most of the complaints seem to be about the food while the ... Read More
We were on the Poesia's inaugural cruise (April 6th - 19th; London (Dover) to Venice. I was interested to see the member reviews here as well as the comments on this board. Most of the complaints seem to be about the food while the ship itself got generally high marks. I'm writing this primarily as a ship review, but I will briefly go through the ports (I loved them all): • London - We spend two and half days here before the cruise. It's a beautiful city with so much to see in the way of history and architecture. We particularly enjoyed the British Museum. Excellent mass transit system. • Cork/Cobh Ireland - Scenic, friendly, nothing specific I'd describe as a must-see. If I did it again, I think I'd spend more time in Cobh (where the ship docks) and less in Cork. • Lisbon - I loved it. I would definitely like to go back. Friendly and helpful people. Beautiful stone and tile work everywhere. We enjoyed the Castle and the Jeronimos Monastery. • Barcelona - Attractive city. Nice parks. You have to see the Sagrada Familia. • Rome - I wouldn't know where to start. I think the must-sees in Rome are known by all. St. Peter's Basilica was amazing. • Naples - Naples, at least in the midst of its current garbage crisis, was not pleasant. I'm sure there are things to do and see there, but our experience was limited to walking through the city to the train station where we caught the Circumvesuvius line to Pompeii (wonderful) and then on to Sorrento (gorgeous, one of my favorites). • Messina, Sicily - Our time here was also limited to walking to the train station where we caught a train to Taormina. Unfortunately we didn't have much time there and found out only too late that we had gone to the waterfront when the main town was high on the hill above. • Dubrovnik - A lovely city. The main attraction is the Old City, but the whole area is beautiful. I want to get back there someday for a longer visit. • Venice - A place everyone has to visit at least once. We stayed 2+ days there and really enjoyed it. Just roam the streets and take it all in. Piazza San Marcos is a must see. Get a Water Bus pass for the duration you're going to be in port - it's a fun and easy way to get around. Aside from the main island, I would also recommend going out to Murano (glass!) and Lido. We saw all these ports on our own. We gave up on ship-offered excursions after about our second cruise having found them to be overpriced and over-restrictive. While we made significant use of public transportation (which, compared to Seattle, is outstanding everywhere we went, with the possible exception of Dubrovnik), mostly we saw these ports on foot. I would recommend that method to anyone with the energy to do it as the best way to get a real feel for a city when you are only there for a short time. It also helps work off all of those cruise calories. Now, back to the ship ... We've been on about a dozen cruises over the last 20 years, about half on Princess and the remainder on Sitmar, HAL, RCL, and now MSC. In my opinion MSC falls at the bottom of those lines in terms of the things important to me, but I wouldn't go so far as to say I'd never sail with them again (though I felt that way at times during the cruise and heard that view from many other passengers). I thought the food was OK. There were high and low points. The pasta courses were good, the main dishes often not, etc. It was definitely NOT 5-star cuisine, but it was still good. As with the ship as a whole, I'd rate it at the bottom of the lines I've been on, but not by a lot. Some things I didn't like: • The casual dining (buffet) was not even close to 24 hours and was closed entirely at dinner. That wasn't a huge deal for us on this trip, but it would have been on if we had brought the kids. We have friends that, on cruises, eat exclusively in the casual dining when dining room attire is other than casual because their idea of a vacation is never having to dress up. • It was very difficult to get ice water (that is tap water as opposed to purchasing bottled water) in the formal restaurant or the buffet. • There was no self-service water/tea/coffee anywhere and no free service except during buffet hours. • Free room service - available and extensive on the other ships we've sailed on - was nearly absent (limited to very bare-bones breakfast). Some things I did like: • The wait staff was polite and friendly • Lunch in the dining room featured a full six-course menu (appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, entrEe, and dessert) and was often better than dinner. • The buffets were of generally good quality though the desserts were unimpressive. For the most part I did NOT like the ship itself. Issues: • Very few of the public areas (library, card room, lounges, ...) even had a view of the outside. • The decorating was sometimes nice but sometimes jarringly unpleasant. The disco, for example, was about the ugliest room I've ever seen. Obviously this is a matter of taste and only my opinion. • I'm fairly sensitive to smoke which made many of the public areas unusable for me. For example, I completely steered clear of the casino. Also, since smoking in the cabins is merely "discouraged" I think you can be certain that all cabins will have been "smoking" cabins at some point within the first several cruises. That wasn't a problem for us since the ship was brand new. • Some of the public areas that I generally use on ships were sub par. For example, the library was only open for a couple of hours, twice a day - even when at sea, was very small, and had no exterior windows. • There was not enough pool/pool deck space for a ship this size. Further, they closed the pool and hot tubs at 8:00 pm. • The workout room was small for a ship this size. • The beautiful art collections that are a feature of so many ships were mostly replaced by mirrors and flat-screen TVs (promoting the ship). Everything else ... Good • The ship was new and the condition of everything was pristine. • The service staff was friendly certainly tried to be helpful. • Embarkation and disembarkation were handled well. • The music in the central atrium, particularly the classical string trio/piano, was very pleasant. The music in the lounges was generally good as well. • They were less strict than other ships about bringing your own alcohol aboard. I was even told by other passengers that they allowed passengers to buy liquor in the duty-free shop and take it back to their cabin. • The Captain's welcome aboard and farewell cocktail parties were well done. Not so good • While it's happening on all lines (except perhaps the super-premiums), MSC has taken nickel and dimeing you to new heights. For example, there is a charge (about $24, if I remember right) for a one-time use of the sauna/steam room - I've never had to pay for that before. Personally, I'd rather pay a bit more for the cruise, up front, and have the vacation itself be more all-inclusive. • The drinks, at least for an American, were very expensive. When converted from Euros to dollars, a beer or a well drink was around $9-10. • The cabins were smaller than we've seen on other ships. In general it wasn't too bad, but the storage space for clothes was MUCH less than I've seen on other ships. We had to leave a portion of our clothes in the suitcases under the bed because they just wouldn't fit. • There was often a language barrier when trying to deal with the staff - not surprising on a ship that caters to so many different nationalities, but still an issue. It was, in fact, impossible to ask anything directly of our cabin steward. We had to make requests to the main desk. • The on-board activities were, BY FAR, the sparsest of any ship I've ever been on. That made at-sea days - often my favorite - rather dull. The activities they did have were often available for only very short hours. • No deck chairs on promenade (a favorite place of mine to sit and read). • It was necessary to check out pool towels and other items (e.g. putter and ball for the putting area) on your cruise card and then wait in line to return them. They frequently reiterated the point that you would be charged for anything not returned, that there were cameras in all the shops, etc. Conveying the unmistakable message: WE DON"T TRUST YOU. The so-so: • The shows I saw were of mixed quality. In my experience, that's always the case. We had late seating and the shows followed so we tended to skip them when we were going to be in port early the next day. The number of different languages on the ship led, I'm sure, to a different mix of performers. Comedy, for example, would be difficult if you had to deliver the punch line in 5 languages. • The cruise staff and officers were polite, but certainly not friendly. • They handled the multitude of languages well, but hearing all of the announcements in 5 languages gets tiring after a while. In summary, I'd sail with MSC again, but only if it was either a very good price and/or an itinerary I really wanted and couldn't find elsewhere. Beware of choosing them based on any relatively small price advantage, because you will probably end up spending more on the ship for the same experience. Read Less
Sail Date January 2008
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) ... Read More
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) and it is a perfectly decent place to spend a night. The next day we took the Hotel Hoppa back to Heathrow and picked up the NCL coach to Dover. Check-in had an issue in that there were so many Latitude Members that check-in in that line was actually longer (we went over to the regular check-in; however, we boarded early with the Latitude group). They should have redirected some personnel to address the issue or directed the Latitude members to use the regular check-in lines. Once aboard ship we were able to store our carry-on luggage in our room and began to explore the ship, it's big and beautiful in a rather gaudy way (lots of bright colors and some funky furnishings such as bright yellow velvet lounges for two in the Spinnaker Lounge). The tennis/basketball court is full size with bleachers! The bowling alley is four lanes in the midst of the Bliss Lounge (a nightclub atmosphere) We had lunch at the Garden Cafe. DH had fruit and I had a taste of their Indian Vegetarian offerings (Dal, Baigan Bharta, Rice, Papadum and some Cilantro Yogurt), which were quite good. The Garden Cafe is set up for many things to be prepared to order and there are a couple of coffee stations with machines to make regular and decaf Lattes, Espressos and cappuccinos (there is also one of these machines in the Outdoor Grill). Another nice touch is the Soft-Serve machine in the Garden Cafe and Outdoor Grill; however, they either broke down or they ran out of ingredients as they were both "out of order" about halfway through the 11 day cruise. Our inside cabin is small, but adequate for two. I don't think I'd want to have someone using that third bed. The bathroom has a real shower with a sliding door and the closet had enough hangers for all our stuff (perhaps we have finally learned to pack light). We ate dinner at the smaller Main Dining room called Magenta (rather bright in daylight hours; however, quite attractive in the softer evening lighting). The two main dining rooms share a menu and the other included restaurants are the Garden Cafe, the Italian restaurant (La Cucina), the Tex- Mex Restaurant (Tequilas), the 24-7 restaurant (Blue Lagoon), the Tapas Bar and all the outdoor facilities (open as weather permits). For extra you can eat French (Le Bistro), Steakhouse (Cagney's), and Asian, which includes Fusion, Teppanyaki & Sushi facilities. Anyway, we split a bottle of Spanish Cava (the Spanish answer to Champagne) and I had a Mushroom Caramelized Onion Crostada (outstanding), a Mixed Green Salad, Skirt Steak, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bavarian Cream cake and a cappuccino. DH had a Smoked Salmon appetizer, Caesar Salad, Grilled Mahi Mahi with polenta and 3 scoops of ice cream. Parts of the meal were outstanding (the appetizers) and nothing was bad, however, the skirt steak was a trifle chewy. Of course, this is the very first "long" cruise of the Gem, so some kinks are expected. We had some free Champagne at the Art Auction (bought nothing) and went to the evening's entertainment (introduced one of the Lounge Acts, a guitar playing singer, and the magician who will have a longer show later in the cruise. Generally we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific. The menu is the same every day and while there are a variety of choices, we missed the Cooking Light breakfast selections that used to be available on NCL. We also had breakfast on a few occasions at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed their made to order omelets. On our first sea day I went to the Cruise Critic meeting where I had a long conversation with the Cruise Director and put faces to the names of several people from the message boards. I had another lunch of the Indian Vegetarian dishes (Garbanzo Stew and a Cauliflower dish) from the buffet and DH waited for the appetizers from the Latitudes party. This one had more than the usual free champagne and rum punch as they added wine and beer to the offerings. However, it was still too early to drink for us (we are officially middle-aged!). We are having the good fortune of calm seas in the Bay of Biscayne (rather unusual, even the Captain commented on our luck). We had a lovely dinner at La Cucina (one of the included specialty restaurants). It started with selections from the antipasto trolley and was followed by sharing a California pizza (goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, sausage, pinenuts and other yummies) and pasta pesto. DH had salmon and I had manicotti. We could not eat everything and had to skip dessert! Shocking, shocking, shocking. In Vigo we took the excursion to Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela: Up early for a quick breakfast and then it was hurry up and wait as we had to dock very slowly due to low water. This caused a 40 minute delay in setting out for Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela. The Pazo comes from the same root word as "palace". However, it is a Country Manor house of the Galician nobility. This one has a lovely Garden that the "oversell" by calling it the Galician Versailles. We drove from Vigo (Europe's largest fishing port, but not a lot of sights) through some lovely green countryside (Galicia is the part of the country known as "Green Spain") to get to the Pazo and take our garden stroll. From there we went to Santiago de Compostela. This is the third holiest pilgrimage in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome as tradition states this is where St. James is buried. In any case, it has a beautiful cathedral and many pilgrims still walk, bike or ride a horse a sufficient distance to become official pilgrims. We saw lots of pilgrims at the cathedral as we arrived during noon Mass and the place was packed even if this is a Wednesday. This was followed by a traditional Galician lunch. Tapas of grilled peppers, fried cheese with ham, the Galician sandwich (onions & chicken), followed by salad with tuna and eggs, roasted beef, potatoes and veggies all served with both red & white wine and ending with coffee and their traditional almond cake plus the traditional spirit (similar to Italian Grappa; however, steeped with coffee beans and fruit) It is known for the "burning" and it is said to drive away the bad spirits and witches. In any case, it is strong stuff. We actually would have preferred to have them take a few dollars off the price of the excursion and to make it on "on your own" lunch or roam around the city period. Oh well. We were not that hungry for dinner after that big lunch so we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon for a "light snack". Of course, that snack turned into a dinner of some very yummy Chili and a plate of fish & chips (tasty; however, the fish had clearly sat on a steam table as it had lost its crispness. To be fair they offered to make up some new fish fillets for us). In Lisbon, we took the excursion to Evora as we have toured Lisbon before. Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site as most of the Medieval City has been preserved. This is the place where the St. Francis Church has one chapel completely decorated with Human Bones. It is supposed to be a place of meditation and states at the front "Our bones lie here in wait for yours". There is also a Roman Temple, a Cathedral that goes from Gothic to Romanesque, lots of other churches, palaces and forts and remains of the city walls. Plus the maze of streets (thank goodness, we had a guide to orient us). After we saw the main sites, we were on our own and we tried the local specialty for lunch. It is a Fish Soup that is also full of garlic, coriander and olive oil. Back on the ship we had dinner in Tequilas. We both had Tortilla Soup (absolutely delicious) and Vegetarian Enchiladas (made with flour tortillas, so really more of a Burrito or a Flauta). DH also had a Caesar Salad (extra anchovies, of course). We had some Dos Equis with this meal. I had the yummy Berry Tostada for dessert (almond wafer cookie filled with mixed fresh berries that at our waiter's suggestion was topped with vanilla ice cream. FYI: Thomas our waiter was someone we first met on the Spirit and he is just terrific). DH just had some Coffee ice cream. Dinner was followed by the evening's entertainment, a juggler who is an 8th generation performer going back to the very early Circuses. He was very good and very funny (a bit politically incorrect in his banter). DH thought he was not as good as the juggler who performed on our very first NCL cruise several years ago (this is our 5th NCL cruise). Gibraltar: This was a short port day (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Therefore, even though we have been here before, I signed us up for a Gibraltar in Depth Tour. We had a great guide, 10 years in the British Army and the mother of 5 boys, so she knows how to keep a group in line! She also really knows her history. We took the cable car up to the Top of the Rock and there were lots of monkeys hanging around including a family group with a 7-week old infant. One member of the group apparently did not hear the guide when she said to eat your food in the Cafeteria and not walk out to the deck with it. She came out eating a Mars Bar and it was a scene from "When Monkeys Attack". The Monkey won and just gobbled down that Mars Bar. DH referred to the event as "the Monkey Mugging." We also went into St. Michael's Cave and The Great Siege Tunnels with lots of walking between the Top of the Rock, the Caves and the Tunnels, so I got my exercise in. Anyway, either I forgot a lot from a trip in the early 90s or this Guide was just so good that much of what we saw seemed new. We went back to the Italian venue tonight as the Main Dining Room menu just didn't strike our fancy. Once again the meal was quite delicious and the soup (Pasta e Fagioli) was outstanding. The comedian who performed tonight was rather funny (at least to Americans, I understand that many of the Brits on board were not amused). At Sea: I had another nice light Indian vegetarian lunch at the Garden Cafe. Today there was a Dal (Lentil) and a vegetable dumpling in gravy along with Lemon Rice. Of course, one of the outdoor grills (the weather has been great, knock wood, so all the outdoor venues have been operating) has a German/Austrian buffet today with an Oompah Band playing. So if I wanted something really heavy, there is all this goulash, wursts and kuchen available. They also have a Soft Serve ice cream machine (one in the Buffet and one outside that run pretty much 24-7 and regular ice cream will be scooped for you from lunch through the evening). I found a book that I wanted to read in the Ship's Library. The day continued with relaxation and fun, Bingo, reading, playing games and eating. We had dinner at one of the main Dining Rooms. We both had French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. Bob had the vegetarian main dish (an eggplant, lentil thing) and I had Corvina (a white fish) with roasted fennel and crushed potatoes. We both had Chocolate Cheesecake. I think DH is finally getting the hang of vacation as he also decided we need to head up to the buffet and taste a few more desserts (bread pudding, carrot cake and ice cream). Tonight was one of the production revue shows. This one had a 70s theme, which will be followed by a Disco party later tonight. However, we were sleeping by the time of the Disco party. Earlier in the day, I went to the comedian's "lecture" that was about the healing nature of laughter and the things that are funny in real life. Day 8 -At Sea: It was another day of reading, relaxation and eating. Tonight we went back to the Tex-Mex Restaurant where our waiter from the Spirit (last year's cruise ship) is now working. We shared an order of Mexican Spring Rolls and we both had the Tortilla Soup. We then had a dinner for two called El Popo. It's basically a fancy presentation of Fajitas. The norm is made with Chicken & Beef; however, for us, it was made with Chicken and Shrimp. We also had a bottle of Cava (Thomas remembered from last year that we liked Cava). I had another Berry Tostada with vanilla ice cream. DH held out for tonight's Chocoholic Buffet; however, he was disappointed in the offerings. We went to the show and ended up leaving early. We really enjoyed The Second City last year; however, the troupe on this ship is very lame. We had a lovely day in Naples. We took the Corsa Italia from Naples to Sorrento, past the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples and the picturesque villages hugging either the coast or the cliffs. Glad someone else was driving. Although that road was never really made for a tourist motorcoach. We spent some time walking in Sorrento, which is quaint and almost a movie version of an Italian village. We went to a farm in the cliff area to see the Lemon and Olive Trees and learn about the making of both olive oil and cheese. They fed us lunch at the farm (3 kinds of cheese representing different levels of aging, some cured meats, crostini, tomatoes and pasta with tomato/ricotta sauce, followed by Lemon cake). They also included their wine and tastes of the liquors made on the farm, which included Limoncello and Cream of Melon (you can really taste the cantaloupe flavor). From there we went to Pompeii. It is quite amazing and certainly was incredibly preserved by the volcanic eruption. We've now completed the "three great preserved Roman cities" as we've been to Ephesus in Turkey and Jerash in Jordan. Pompeii is definitely the most complete of these cities. I know we only touched on the edges of all there is to see in Pompeii. Then again the excavation began before the USA was even a country and it is still not finished. Because we had such a substantial farm lunch, we just had some beers and Tapas in the Ship's Tapa's Bar for our dinner before going to the show. We enjoyed tonight's entertainment, it was a salute/recreation of a Nat King Cole show. The singer was very talented. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome): We had a "do it yourself" day. We got off the boat around 8:30 a.m., walked to the train station and caught the 9:02 train from Civitavecchia to Rome. It took about an hour and ½ to reach Rome's main train station. The trains from Civitavecchia use the last few tracks that we could not figure out how they connect through the main station, so we ended up walking outside the station. In any case, we got to the front and began our walk around Rome. We found the Trevi Fountain (it was in scaffolding the last time we were here), the Spanish Steps (only had a "drive-by" sighting on our prior visit), the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel/Unknown Soldier Monument and other sites of interest. We also got a real feel for the city just walking around its very busy streets. I don't think I ever heard so many sirens (DH says there were more in NY). However, given the way people drive and walk (both ignore the traffic signals), I'm amazed there are not more accidents. I played "travel guide" in Spanish! I don't know why this woman thought I spoke Spanish; however, she came up to me and asked "El Pantheon, es cerca?" Anyway, I told her how to walk there. We had our favorite European ice cream bars (Magnum) for "lunch", a Double Chocolate and a Vanilla with very dark chocolate. We hopped the train back and were back on board around 5:30 (all aboard was 7:30; however, we were not going to "risk" a later train, so we had about 5 hours in Rome). We were supposed to leave port at 8:00 p.m.; however, 6 people were still missing (we saw 4 of them arrive in a speeding taxi when we went outside to walk on the deck, not sure if the other two ever made it, they might have needed to take an overnight train to Livorno to meet the ship the next day). We had a really delicious dinner in the Magenta Main Dining Room, we both had Spinach Salad with Candied Walnuts, grapes & pears, Bob had them make an appetizer serving of the goat cheese ravioli and I had a really wonderful Mushroom Bisque. I followed my soup with Chicken Stew and Bob had Braised Cod. We both had the Chocolate Lava Cake and vanilla ice cream. YUM! Day 11 - (Livorno for Pisa and/or Florence) Excursion to Pisa & Lucca: We got up early and left for our tour of Lucca and Pisa right after breakfast (this time I had the healthy oatmeal and DH had an omelet). Lucca is where Puccini was born and lived. It still has these huge city walls (with a park and a street on top of the wall as a result of changes made by Napoleon's sister who he put in as the ruler of this city). She also opened up several squares by removing buildings and such, including removing the houses that had been built in the middle of the old Roman Amphitheater (she left the houses that were built into the walls (using the walls of the amphitheater as one of the walls of the house). It is another one of those medieval cities of tiny, winding streets that create quite a maze. Lucca was a very rich city due to silk and there are 99 churches in a very small area (some are right across from each other; they were not needed, it is just a status thing). We visited the Cathedral, it seems Pope Alexander II was from Lucca so when he became Pope they began really making a fancy cathedral with a different facade. However, it did not get completed as the Plague hit Lucca and 3/4s of the city died as a result. There is a crucifix in the cathedral that was said to be made from the wood of the original cross. After it was sent for carbon dating, it was found to be only 1200 years old (as opposed to 2000 years), so now it is just a legend. One of the other signs of status in Lucca was building tall towers on your house. A law was passed that no house tower could be higher than the tower of city hall or the cathedral. This led the family that was the richest to build a tower as high as allowed and then to plant trees on top to make it taller! From Lucca we went to Pisa. Our "lunch" was some incredibly delicious Gelato. Mine was Bacio (chocolate & hazelnut), Bob had "plain" chocolate. So rich and wonderful. Of course, what can one say about Miracle Square with the Baptistery, Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Monumental Cemetery other than to say that it is truly a beautiful collection of buildings. The road from Pisa goes by an American base on the way to Livorno. Sitting on Plastic chairs between the road and the fields are various "professional" women waiting to "greet" the troops. One had a trailer, the others must just get in the car with the soldiers driving by and head for somewhere in the fields. They were waving to the bus as we drove by. Dinner tonight was outstanding. We ate at La Cucina, the Italian venue, which very nicely does not have an additional charge. We started with our selections from the Antipasto Trolley. I had marinated mushrooms, mozzarella & tomato with basil, Parmesan with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. DH had the same plus sardines (poor baby, no anchovies). We both had the Pasta e Fagioli soup (the soups on this ship have been excellent). We shared an order of Linquini Putanesca (about the best we have ever eaten) and also a Pizza Sierra Nevada (pesto sauce, olives, arugula and other stuff although we replaced the air-dried beef with pepperoni). We shared a bottle of Cabernet and also had some yummy desserts. I had Tiramisu and Bob had cheesecake. We also split some Macadamia nut ice cream We really got decadent tonight. The crew did their "Norwegian Family" song tonight and we caught it at the end of the first show as one of our Room Stewards was performing it at the first show. We caught the rest of the production show at the second performance. In Nice we took the city tour and Excursion to Eze Village. We tendered into Nice. Fortunately the seas are calm and the sky is sunny so no problems in the tender process. We began with an orientation drive of Nice, driving by the seaside Promenade (the English Promenade, named for the first tourists), the Negresso Hotel, the two casinos, the war memorial and the beautiful villas. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was built by Russia's last Czar for all the Russian immigrants living in Nice. It is quite a beautiful structure. We stopped at the Flower Market in Old Nice. It is really an open air market where they sell everything. Although I have to say that the flowers are beautiful and the blooms are quite large. We also walked along the promenade and checked out the Nice's first theater and some of the other nice buildings as well as the fountain in Messena Square. This Square was recently redone because they had to rip it up to put in a tram. It was a good thing we arranged a tour today as the trains are on strike. We even got to experience a demonstration of the strikers. It looks like they are against privatization and want to be paid more. From Nice we drove up the mountains to the Village of Eze. There are two hotels in this village. You have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. One hotel uses donkeys to bring up your luggage and the other uses porters. What surprised me was that until 1930 or so when an American paid for the building of a public fountain, the only water in the village was brought up by donkeys and there was no running water in the houses or shops until 1952, a year after I was born! (guess, that makes me officially "older"). While it could be quite charming, some of the effect was diluted by the shops. They also did something odd, they put in bricks in the middle of the cobblestone "roads" as those are less slippery, except that if you used the handrails (where those existed), those were on the sides forcing you to walk on the slippery cobblestones! Anyway, I would not have included Eze in my list of the 1,000 places to see before you die; however, it is in the book and now we have seen it. I cannot imagine living in Eze and walking those winding, mountain, cobblestone, medieval streets on a daily basis. I would probably fall at least once a week (no, I didn't fall today). We were going to have another ice cream lunch in Eze; however, the proprietor never came out to scoop the ice cream and the small grocery called Mini-Casino was closed at lunch. We had a lovely dinner in Tequila's, the Tex-Mex venue where our favorite waiter is working on this ship. We split the Latin Spring Rolls (sort of an extra big chicken taquito or a small fried burrito) and we both had the really yummy Tortilla soup (the soup maker on this ship is outstanding). DH had Cesar Salad and the Seafood Kabob and I had a salad tostada (without the chicken) and shrimp fajitas. We had a bottle of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling Wine) to toast our final night aboard ship. We both had the Berry Tostada (fresh berries, creme anglaise in an almond cookie shell) with vanilla ice cream. DH and an espresso and I had a cappuccino. Back in the room we split the small bottle of cream of melon liquor that I bought DH back in Sorrento. I went to the Passenger Talent Show and then met DH for the last night's entertainment (a piano player). Then I packed up and put the main luggage outside our room before we went to bed. Barcelona: After disembarkation, which went very smoothly, we caught a cab (and were probably overcharged about 10 Euros for the trip) to our hotel, which is a converted convent on a side street off of Las Ramblas. It has a beautiful courtyard/atrium. The rooms are quite Spartan (perhaps as originally designed for the nuns); however, it's a great location and the price is right (75 Euros per night). We oriented ourselves to the city by taking both routes of the Bus Touristic. We also walked Las Ramblas, spent some time in Placa Catalunya as well as a visit to Barri Gothic and the Gothic Cathedral. We also spent time in La Bogueria yesterday. What an amazing marketplace. Although I think that I would end up a vegetarian if I tried to purchase meat where whole dead pigs, chickens and rabbits are on display. Dinner was Sangria and Tapas (DH also had a Beer). Barcelona Day 2: Today was devoted to Gaudi. We had breakfast of Churros & Chocolate at Cafe de Opera. Tomorrow before catching our plane we'll just eat the continental breakfast that is included at our hotel. However, we thought we should not leave without having some Churros and Chocolate. We spent the morning at The Sagrada Familia. That Gaudi masterpiece will not be finished in my life time. The midday was spent at Parc Guell and the afternoon at La Pedrera, that apartment building of curves, wrought iron and a most interesting roof. Tonight we had another Tapas dinner although this time we split a bottle of Spanish white wine. Later we had some Gelato (not as rich as the Gelato in Italy, more like American ice cream. Earlier in the day, when I was in the room, DH tried to arrange for a taxi to the airport; however, the clerk on duty did not speak English and DH does not speak Spanish. When I got there, it was clear there was a communication problem. DH stated that he was having trouble arranging for the taxi. I turned to the Clerk and said "Buenos Dias" to which he responded by asking "Habla espanol?" I said "algunas" and was then told the following: "Por favor, habla con su esposo en ingles y habla conmigo en espanol, porque su esposo no entiende nada." So I now have proof that DH "understands nothing." Barcelona, return to Los Angeles: After breakfast at the hotel (an included Continental breakfast of muffin, two rolls, juice & coffee) we took a cab to the airport and caught our flights (Barcelona to London, London to LA). One piece of our luggage did not arrive with us (it was delivered two days later). Anyway, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the Gem, all the ports and our few days in Barcelona. Now we just have to pay the bills (really bad because the dollar is weak and the Euro and Pound are strong) and plan for next year's trip. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have ... Read More
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have always wanted to see London we spent 3 days in London before the cruise. We flew direct from Houston on Continental. Since I knew it was a long flight, I splurged and we flew BusinessFirst Class. So glad we did. Since we got sleep on the plane (the seats extended nearly flat) we were ready to go as soon as we landed at Gatwick. We took the Gatwick Express train into Victoria Station. One big tip is take a cab from Victoria Station if you have a good amount of luggage. We took the tube and it was a nightmare. Not all the stations have lifts, so I was left to lug my 50lbs suite case up many many stairs. But I have to say that a few London gents helped me out. Our hotel was The Grand at Trafalgar Square, also known as Club Quarters. Fabulous hotel! Just off Trafalgar Square on a quiet street. It is half way between two tube stops, Charing Cross and Embankment. Our room had a fridge and microwave which helped us save some money. There is also a small Tesco right near the hotel that sells prepacked meals and snacks. We spent the next few days exploring London. I can't wait to go back. On Monday it was time for us to leave and head to Dover to meet the Gem. The Charing Cross station was an easy walk from our hotel, even with my large luggage. We left London around 10am and were in Dover by 11:30 or noon. We met some people on the train that were heading to the ship that did not know were they were going. Since I researched this trip like crazy, I knew exactly were to go and for showing them, they paid for our cab ride to the port. Really nice people! The port was very well organized. They took our luggage and we were off to check in. I saw the line and figured it would be awhile before we got on the ship. When we went to check in they asked if we were in a suite and since we were, we were taken to a special check in that was fabulous. We were all checked in in about 10 minutes. The others at the check in desk recognized my name from our CC role call and they ended up being in the room right next door! Claudio, the concierge, greeted us and took us through the security line. Since the rooms weren't ready, we headed to Cagney's for lunch, great perk for suite guests. We ended up eating breakfast and lunch there every day we were on the ship and not on excursions. After lunch we took our things to our room, aft AE suite number 8130. Best room I have ever had on a cruise. We had plenty of room, even for two girls worth of clothing! The double sided closet was great as well as the vanity area. The tub was also a nice perk. There was also a small sofa and table and chairs. The balcony had some really comfy chairs that were great for reading. After exploring the ship, taking a tour of the spa and checking our Bliss (we referred to it as the Velor Palace) it was already time for dinner. We took our time getting ready and headed down to The Grand Pacific dinning room. Got in with no wait. The food was really good. During the cruise we ate at Grand Pacific 3 nights, Maganeta (same menu as Grand Pacific) 2 nights, Cagney's 1 night (went early for the 2 for 1 deal), Tequila 1 night, ordered room service 3 nights and the last night we went to Orchid Garden with some friends we met through the CC meet and greet. All the food was fabulous. I still miss my peppermint tea after dinner every night! I digress back to the first night. We went to the show at 9:30, it was a variety show of all the shows to come on the ship, and then turned in for an early night. Since I was lucky enough to catch a cold, the fact that our first day was a sea day was great. I rested in the morning. Then we went to the cc meet and greet. It was at Le Bistro. Very nice. Since the average age of the guests on the ship was 56, my friend in I were looking for some other guests our age to hang out with. At the meet and greet we met another CCer that was traveling with her husband and daughter who was our age. They were so much fun! We hung out with them the rest of the trip. From the meet and greet we went to play bingo and then off to get a day pass for the spa. The steam sauna was great for my cold. The day pass is $20 and I think it was totally worth it. There were heated lounges, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms. With the day pass you can go as many times as you like during that day. They also sell a cruise length pass. If our voyage was not as port intensive, I probably would have gotten that. But with all of our excursions, I knew that when we got back to the ship we would be too tired to use it. The next day was our first port of call, Vigo Spain. While eating breakfast at Cagney's, Claudio was at Cagney's every morning. It was so nice because he could answer questions, he would make our dinner and spa reservations, and he was just a really fun guy! I cannot say enough great things about him. How he remembers everyones names, I do not know! When we got back from port, he always wanted to know what we did, and what we bought. He took time with us and never seemed rushed. He called us "His Ladies." But when he slept, I don't know! He was at breakfast and partying with us in the Spinnaker late at night! Claudio also had maps for us for some of the ports. For Vigo he pulled out the map, showed us two things, and told us that was really all there was to see. He was a hoot! We went into town and just wondered around and were back on the ship in time for lunch at Cagney's. Spent the rest of the day on our balcony, in those comfy robes, just reading. Later that night we headed to dinner (Magneta, really good food) and the show. Next day was Lisbon. Claudio had maps again which was so helpful. We just wondered around again. We took one of the little trollies up to a fort. Great views! Then we headed back down, shopped and took the tram back to the ship. That day it was about 80 degrees. (That was why I had so much luggage. We went from being cold in London, to sweating in Lisbon, to really freezing in Paris.) After we got back to the ship, I put on my suit and heading to the pool. It was really nice. All my other cruises were to the Caribbean with lots of children onboard. It was so quiet and relaxing being that the ship had an older crowd. Later dinner at Cagney's. We went to dinner early so that we could take advantage of the 2 for 1 deal. The food at Cagney's was fantastic and the staff was great as well. We had already gotten to know a lot of the Cagney's staff from breakfast and lunch. I had the Ahi tuna (biggest portion of tuna I have ever seen) and my friend had the fillet. We could decide on desserts so we got 3 and shared. The chocolate obsession was so good! Then the early show at 7:30. I wasn't feeling so hot so I spent the rest of the night in the cabin. My friend went up to the Spinnaker for the 50's sock hop and she had a blast. Gibraltar was on tap for the next day. Due to my cold we didn't go up the rock. We went shopping but since there were 3 other ship in port it was so crowded that we were back on the ship by 12:30 for lunch at Cagney's. The rest of the day was spent at the pool again. Dinner at Grand Pacific. It was the only time we had to share a table, but the people we shared with were really nice. Late show and then we went to the Spinnaker for the County night. The entire cruise host staff would be at the Spinnaker every night. The cruise director (Clint) and his staff were great. They got people involved and tried to make sure that everyone was having a good time. During the day, they had Nintendo Wii on the big screen in the Atrium. I think due to the lack of children on our ship, they had a tough time getting people to play, but not for a lack of trying. Joe, the cruise host in charge of the Wii, tried his best to get people to play, but had very few takers. In his attempts to get people up though, he was pretty funny and that was entertaining in itself. The next two days were sea days. Just rested up for Italy and took advantage of a special they had in the spa, 3 20 minute treatments for $100. Yeah, they tried to sell us stuff ($120 bubble bath, I don't think so) but a simple no was all it took. That night was 70's night in the spinnaker and it was a lot of fun! We even had Claudio out there dancing with us. The next night was Ship n' Mates, a take off of Chippendales. It was so much fun. Some of the older ladies were really really into seeing the staff strip down! Our first stop in Italy was Naples. We hired a driver through aptours.it. Great tour! We first went to Herculanium. We had hired a guide through the same company. It was great with just the two of us and the guide. Then it was off to Sorrento. Lorenzo (our driver/guide) took us to a great restaurant. The best gnocchi I have ever had. After a little shopping we heading to Positano. We made a few stops along the way and Lorenzo pointed out a lot of really interesting stuff. Positano is beautiful! Back to ship after that. Dinner was at Tequila, try the Il Popo, and the churros was so good I had them three time during the rest of the cruise. Later off to the show and spinnaker then off to bed to rest up for Rome. My friends headed to Bliss and hung out with for a while. At least while we were on the ship, you could have turned Bliss into the crew bar. That morning, Claudio gave us a call to let us know that our guide was ready for us. Rome was fantastic. Marco was the driver/guide that we hired. He is the owner of ROMECONNECTION.COM. He was the best guide and driver. When I go back to Italy, Marco will be my first call! Marco had lots of great information and since he grew up there he knew all the short cuts. We probably got to see twice as much with him versus a ship tour because he could drive right up to the entrances where the busses could not. He also hired a guide for the Vatican for us. On our way back, Marco took us for gelato and he took us by a beautiful hotel that Claudio had told us about. It was straight out of a 1960 cinemascope movie. One tip for those doing Rome on there own. The Italian trains truly do run when the Italians feel like it. Our friends did the train thing and ended up having to take a cab back to port because there wasn't enough room on the train for everyone to get back on time. I think they ended up paying around 50 euros per person. Thats nearly half of what our tour cost. That night we ordered room service from Tequila. Great perk for suites is that we could order room service from the restaurants. Florence and Pisa was a good day. We got to Pisa before all the busses did. We didn't go up but we got some really great pictures. It was really cold that morning! After Pisa we headed into Florence. Our guide took us around town, then we went to see David. After that, Vincchio our guide, took us to a truly local place for lunch. The only person who spoke english was the bus boy so he took care of us. That was truly what we wanted. Real Italian food. It was really good. After lunch we went to Ponte Vecchio. With the long drive back to the ship, we headed back a little early. Dinner (room service, from the regular menu, really good), show, spinnaker then to Bliss for a little while. Our last port of call was Nice. I had wanted to head up to Monaco. I'm a huge Grace Kelly fan. But due to a train strike in France, there was a lack of taxis. So we walked around in Nice. Went to the flower market. It was wonderful! Stalls of flowers, spices, candies, fruits and vegetables. Great day in Nice. It was a short port day. We had to be back on the ship by 2:30pm. This was also the only port were we tendered. Very smooth process for tendering. We were back on the ship for our last lunch at Cagney's. Not only was the food there really really good but the staff went out of there way to make sure that you had everything you wanted. Every day they have a different hamburger. They were HUGE and really good. Also every day they offered a different hot and cold soup every day. We met up with our friend at Cagney's that day. Since she and her parents were in a Courtyard Villa we asked if we could see and she showed us around. Wow, when I have the money I will be up there for sure. The private pool and sun deck were really nice. They also had access to saunas for CV guests only. They also had a snack bar that they had access to, when ever we would meet up we always asked our friend to bring us some gummy bears and m & m's from the snack bar. It was nice that Nice was a short day because it gave us time to pack. We met our friends for dinner at Orchid Garden. The food there was really really good. There were not that many guests there that night. Besides having to pack up, the sea was very very rough that night. After dinner many of us, myself included, had to lay down for awhile. It smoothed out around 10pm and I headed down to Bliss to meet up with my friends. Usually after Bliss, we went to The Blue Lagoon. It is the 24 hour restaurant. I always had the chicken fingers and my friend always had the tomato soup. Both were really really good. Barcelona was our disembarkation port. Freestyle makes it really smooth. We got up, had breakfast at Cagney's, said good by to our friends and got off the ship. The suite guests can disembark whenever they fell like it. That was really nice. Also, the suite guests luggage is sectioned off so you don't have to wait for it on the carousel. Claudio was there and we said our good byes to him. I would book a trip with the Gem again solely because the staff on the ship was so great. We spent the day in Barcelona on the hop on hop off bus. Then took the night train to Paris. Never ever again will I take that night train. I splurged and got a room with a shower, which completely flooded our room. We spent two nights in Paris. Little did we know that it was the Rugby World Cup final game in Paris. That doesn't mean so much to us Americans but it is a huge deal to everyone else in the world. We spent a day at the Louvre then we had a dinner cruise on the Seine. We had a little trouble getting there due to the trains being full due to the rugby game. But luckily our hotel was not that far and we walked it. On the walk back, I don't think I have ever seen so many drunk english guys in full rugby fan mode. What makes it even funnier is that England lost! But they were still out there having a good time! We flew home from Charles DeGuille. It is a very unorganized airport. We thought we left enough time to check out the duty free shops but after turning in our VAT forms, checking in and getting through customs we got to the terminal just as boarding started. Flight home was great. They served lunch right away. A few hours later, you could smell fresh baked cookies! And we were also served a snack right before we landed. Continental sure doesn't let you go hungry! Went through customs in Houston. Not bad at all. But it was so nice to be home. The trip was really great. If I had to do it all over again, I would book the Gem in an instant. Our suite was really really comfortable. Room 8130. I loved the aft balcony. We heard a little bit of noise but nothing major. The staff on the ship was fabulous. The only thing we would do different was I would do Paris, then London and then fly home right after the cruise. The reason for this is that you get so used to being pampered on the cruise that it's tough to go back to land travel were you have to worry about dinner and where everything is and how you are going to get there. Where on the ship you don't have to worry about any of that. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess ... Read More
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess Embarkation - very good Internet information with documentation provided on the NCL web site, and very smooth and well-organized travel to London and smooth connection and bus ride to Dover. Embarkation formalities completed and on board in 10 minutes. Well done NCL, fastest and smoothest embarkation ever. The ship as expected on an inaugural cruise was super clean. The decor was 21st century garish in places (fluorescent green roll seaters and plastic pseudo crystal roof in the Atrium), and heavy wood finish throughout the boat, but was generally (just) acceptable to us. Good walking areas onboard and found plenty of space on sea days to be alone and quiet. Cabin - mini suite deck 11 amidships. Unfortunate to have New Zealand family with two wild, unruly children on one side next door (obvious members of the child freedom culture? - note, you may be oblivious but it spoils it for others). Complained to NCL who did best to correct problem, family were not responsive, but as ship full could not move us or them. Fortunately only a daytime problem but inhibited our use of balcony. We pre booked 4 months ahead, why cannot NCL be sensitive to family demography and allocate suites accordingly - get with it NCL. Suite was average size compared to others we have sailed in. Good sized balcony but spoilt by having 2 cheap tacky standard chairs (no loungers) and a very small (12 inch square) table. Nice to have a full glass wall facing the ocean. Cabin dEcor is not the brightest we have been in, the fairly dark simulated wood and the wall tapestry were a little too oppressive for our taste. Drawers and cabinets were ample for two for an 11 day cruise, only complaint was that the closet doors could not open fully as the closet was at the side of and too close to the bed. What happened to the concept (as on Princess) of walk in closets? The beds were great and the large extra pillows, provided without asking, made for good sleep. The towel animals on the bed every night were fantastic, a superb touch and greatly appreciated. Lighting was good, and we found no difficulty accommodating our mixture of 115v and 220v appliances. Bathroom was small. My wife found it nice to have a female friendly hand held shower. The separate, glass partitioned toilet cubicle was a good idea but it is narrow. If you are broad of beam (as I am), it makes for an uncomfortable visit, and susceptible to "accidents" in rocky seas. The mini bar was kept well stocked at all times, but beware, only the first bottle of water is free, the rest cost and are expensive. Food and dining - this was our 4th freestyle dining cruise, first on NCL, and we were very interested to see how it compared to others we had been on. We took into consideration it was an inaugural cruise but could compare it with similar inaugural cruises on Princess and AIDA. In general we found it only average, on a par with Princess, better than AIDA, with some faults in some areas. We used the buffets in Garden Cafe and Outdoors for many breakfasts and lunches when not on shore excursions, and for snacks. The quality of food here in general was good, but in many cases lacked variety. A large portion of the buffets was taken up by fixed hamburger, hot dog, pizza, salad, deli and sandwich bars, which did not change much over the day and from day to day. The carvery, pasta and fish stations did change daily and were very good. Two complaints registered by both us and others were that there was only one fish dish served per day and no seafood, strange considering the high fish area we were sailing in. We were told this was a cost factor with food menus dictated by head office. The other complaint was that all the food was highly salted. We only suffered one occasion when we found it hard to get a place to sit in the Garden Cafe/Outdoors - a far cry from the crowded freestyle dining situation on AIDA boats. Eating in the Outdoors cafe under the awning gazing out to sea was definitely the hit for us on the cruise. A big plus for NCL was the many free self serve coffee/tea stations around on deck 11 available 24 hours with Cappuccino available at the stations. No ordering or having to pay extra here. Also free ice cream was available in the Garden Cafe, and free soft ice cream machines at the buffets on deck 11, disappointingly these machines were not available after the first day, the joke going around was that NCL had discovered a new flavor going by the notices on the machines - "Out of Order". The specialty restaurants - we love Italian food and La Cucina Italian restaurant was a disaster. The Veal Marsala (one of my favorite dishes) was served up like roast beef and gravy, with a thick brown tasteless sauce. Investigation showed the chef was Indian and kitchen staff all Indian, not an Italian in sight. We gave it a miss for the rest of the cruise. Cagney's Steak House (prime rib) was excellent, although had to ask for horseradish, Le Bistro (Duck a L'orange) was superb with excellent service, ambiance and dEcor, hard to imagine we were on board a boat. Blue Lagoon good for snacks (fish and chips), likewise the Grill. Main dining room food was average with basically the same food on offer as at the Garden Cafe but with good service. Didn't get to any of the other restaurants. The nightly shows in the Theatre were above average with good variety, the Theatre was always full. Tendering to shore was well organized and efficient. Shore excursions were excellent, well organized with in the main good guides, but were very, very expensive. We prefer to reward good service personally ourselves, and object to the NCL policy of adding $10 pp/day to the bill to be distributed to all service staff. There were the odd service people who perhaps were complacent in this policy and who we felt annoyed that would be rewarded. Here is a tip for other NCL Gem cruisers. Accordingly we went to Reception (one can go up to the next to last day of the cruise) and filled out a form with the reason we wanted to withdraw (for personal choice reasons), and withdrew from the automatic charge, and got envelopes and made our own rewards. NCL do not publicize this, but were happy to comply with our wishes. Disembarkation was smooth and painless but we did not see the free and easy disembarkation style NCL advertise. We were hustled and even though we were the last group to disembark and our flight was not until 2.30 pm, they still had us off the ship by 9 am. Overall rating of the cruise and would we go again - well above average, and NCL Gem is on our acceptable list. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a ... Read More
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a coach for Dover. Upon arrival our Latitude membership gave us fast track boarding on to the ship where our Stateroom awaited us, this was spotless and inviting with a fruitbowl and flowers to welcome us. Feeling a little hungry after our journey we went to the Garden Cafe where a magnificent hot & cold buffet awaited us, we were spoilt for choice. Prior to the ship sailing the Captain briefed everyone on our departure and the necessity to participate in the Lifeboat drill which was completed very efficiently. The Freestyle Daily Newssheet kept us informed on all shipboard activities while the in-cabin multi channel TV kept us up to date with the ships progress and briefings on the ports of call. The meals in Grand Pacific and Magenta were of the same high standard menu and waiter served, while the Blue Lagoon provided a simpler menu but still with waiter service.The Great Outdoors and the Garden Cafe provided both hot and cold meals of a high standard on a self service basis. There are seven other speciality restaurants to choose from albeit that there is a supplement per person to be paid on some ranging from $10to$20 per person on each occasion of use. The food in all outlets was of an extremely high standard with something for all tastes. Staff tipping is taken care of by NCL adding $10 per day to each adult account so all staff benefit, as many different members serve you throughout the voyage. It is a good idea to ask for a copy of your shipboard account the day before your cruise finishes in order that you can check it at your leisure. The final accounts arrives at your cabin around 4am on the day of your disembarkation thus time is limited for checking and queries. There appeared to be a considerable number of queries on the accounts and there was quite some wait to get them resolved before departure home. The cruise was most punctual with each port arrival on time and a good choice of tours to choose from at each destination. The Shore excursion staff were most helpful and showed great enthusiasm for their tasks. the crew overall were without exception helpful and prepared to go that extra mile. This is indeed a happy ship commanded by a fine Captain & officers who were friendly and approachable. The Entertainment in the ship`s theatre was of a high standard with only one exception that being a comedy troupe who were not appreciated on one night however the other ten night`s entertainment were first class with the ships resident Showtime cast delivering exceptionally high performances.The Casino,Sports facility, Fitness Suite and Spa were all first class. The Kids Club kept the youngsters busy and happy,they even had there own small servery in the Garden Cafe. All in all this cruise delivered what it advertised.The disembarkation process was smooth and unhurried we stayed in our cabin until called around 9am unlike our last cruise on a different line where we had to vacate our room at 8am and wait in public areas for some hours prior to being allowed to leave the ship. The trip to the airport was efficient and the flight home uneventful. It was a good cruise, our fourth with NCL and we have just booked up for the Panama Canal cruise with them for Apr 08. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation ... Read More
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation was painless with the photo being taken as we embarked after losing the luggage to the porters. Some minor formalities and we were onboard looking for our Mini Suite 11538. We had seen a lot of postings about comparisons between Balcony staterooms and Mini-Suites but were very pleased with ours especially the two "zones" both with their own temperature controls and with a large heavy curtain that could be pulled the width of the suite allowing one to read and the other to snooze, excellent and used every day. The balcony was a good size, with comfortable loungers and a table. The bed was very comfortable and an excellent size, with good quality pillows. Because we had the "luxury" bathroom there was a lot of room for two and the bathroom was perfect with a good shower and all the facilities you would need. A 15" flat screen TV, bigger than in the Balcony stateroom and a coffee maker were there along with a complimentary fruit bowl and still Evian water, one refilled the other not. The Roll Call meeting the next morning when we met Captain Mikael Hildern, Klaus, and Claudio and Clint plus officers was an excellent treat and very informative, leading to many nods and chats later in the cruise from people we met that morning. We would recommend everyone to use Roll Call for that reason. Now onto the food, fabulous, we tried Le Bistro twice, Cagney's twice, Grand Pacific and La Cucina twice and Orchard Garden, Magenta, Tequila once each. We had Short Rib and Tenderloin, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Rib Eve and New York Strip sirloin and all were historic. The rack of lamb was exactly pink, the Il Popo (in Tequila and for two) was superb and the only meal to struggle to meet excellent was the Coq au Vin in the Magenta. Pasta in La Cucina was excellent and the Orchard Garden was superb. Breakfast collected from the Garden Cafe and eaten in the Great Outdoors was always a pleasure and we grazed through lunch when onboard at the Garden Cafe. The chilled soups were out of this world, Chilled Granny Smith Bisque, yum. We had an invite to Cagney's for breakfast one day and will very seriously consider a Penthouse or above next time just for that pleasure. We tried the Champagne bar mostly but the Maltings did have a cask strength single malt that was a treat. The bottle of wine following you was a good idea but ours always died at the table. We went ashore at Gibraltar, big mistake with three cruises in port, and at Naples, Pompeii Excavations was very interesting, A Taste of Rome didn't work for us but the Pisa and Wine Tasting was the best of all with an excellent visit to Pisa and an excellent wine tasting and meal. The Cabin staff were always smiling and the Towel sculptures were something we looked forward to every night. Every where you went people smiled and seemed pleased to see you, obviously proud of the ship and the staff. Disappointments, only when we disembarked at Barcelona, the flawless professional service fell apart after we got off, come on NCL spread your excellence to everyone involved until we get to our front door, as the shock of the real world was unsettling. Will we cruise with NCL again, you bet, we made a lot of good friends both amongst the crew and the passengers and Freestyle cruising certainly worked for us. Fabulous. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the 13 night inaugural voyage of the Norwegian Jewel around the Mediterranean this summer (August 2005). An easy, swift and orderly embarkation procedure at Dover was soon to be followed by the ... Read More
My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the 13 night inaugural voyage of the Norwegian Jewel around the Mediterranean this summer (August 2005). An easy, swift and orderly embarkation procedure at Dover was soon to be followed by the materialization of the colourful ribbons and jewels that adorned the Norwegian Jewel herself. (We had some idea of what to expect - yet only artist impressions of the ship!). On first inspections we were amazed by the vivid and modern interior throughout the ship that was highlighted with contemporary armchairs in many of the bars and restaurants. On closer scrutiny we started to notice however subtle accents of 50's and 60's in some of the furniture choices in the bars. Outside there was an energetic feel around the pool area incorporating the theme of the circus that appealed to the child within. There were also many large colourful palm trees that bejeweled the jewel at night. The interior theme throughout the stateroom decks incorporated mahogany wood and turquoise that flowed effortlessly into the staterooms. We resided in a category JJ inside stateroom which was designed with storage as top priority. There were seven ample storage shelves, and a roomy wardrobe. Of course other features were a separate dressing table with hairdryer, safe, fridge, a well laid out bathroom and TV (although not flat screen as in the more superior staterooms). All over the ship there were many strategically placed flat screens displaying information about all of the ten restaurants and their occupancy - rating from busy to full. This proved vital in avoiding the rush at the Garden cafe (buffet style restaurant) and to generally gauge busy eating times. As Norwegian Cruise Line prize themselves on their freestyle cruising we attempted to sample some of the ten restaurants - ranging from Cagneys steak house, Mama's Italian kitchen, Le Bistro French restaurant and the Chin Chin Asian restaurant (including a sushi bar!). The booking of the desired restaurants proved easy at first using the reservation desk at reception, however as word got out amongst fellow guest there were many queues and block booking of meal times over the two weeks. Another point to make here is that many of these speciality restaurants had a cover charge ranging from $10-$15 which would have to be considered with large groups. These cover charges had been reduced by $5 per person from the original printed prices on the menus. Overall the speciality restaurants provided excellent service, using more experienced and efficient staff. Only on one occasion the booked dining time of 8.00pm was made later due to large numbers and hence we were offered a complimentary bottle of wine which pleased us. The main dining restaurants differed in design from being modern as in the Azura restaurant and grand as in Tsar's palace. Both were equal in terms of broad taste/themed menus and good service. The chocolate buffet was the best that we have ever experienced on a cruise and we were stunned by the artistry shown in the chocolate "Big Ben clock" and ice sculptures. The bars and lounges were regularly called upon throughout the two weeks and we were most impressed with the efficient and friendly service throughout. Most drinks were reasonably priced however some of the speciality cocktails and alcoholic smoothies were over $9. "Bar city" on deck 7 compromised of many of the Jewels unique bars - Malting's beer and whisky bar, Shakers Martini cocktail bar and our favourite -Magnum's Champagne bar which offered a deluxe range of champagnes to be indulged on formal nights. However the night always ended in the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 which had live music and then a DJ. Overall the entertainment from many of the performers around the bars and lounges was excellent and could not be faulted. The dance company produced two impressive shows with acrobatic expertise. There was a hugely talented comedian on board and some great lectures provided during the day. There were a good range of activities provided during the day and many art auctions to tempt you to part with cash. The assistant cruise director had a jovial personality and created many quiz nights (jeopardy, Mr & Mrs, The weakest link etc.) for guest participation - which were hilarious. There are very few if any negatives that we can find with the Norwegian Jewel. Given the fact that this was the inaugural voyage and lots of mistakes could happen we and NCL we fortunate. It was clear that there was good management and swift action throughout to prevent any guests from having a good holiday. We would wholeheartedly recommend the Jewel to fellow cruisers and hope you have an enjoyable time as much as we did. Read Less
Sail Date August 2005
The reason I'm writing this review is that there is only one other review presently for this ship, and it is so positive, I can only think they went on a different Norwegian Jewel to the one my family went on! Don't take me ... Read More
The reason I'm writing this review is that there is only one other review presently for this ship, and it is so positive, I can only think they went on a different Norwegian Jewel to the one my family went on! Don't take me wrong, there were very strong positive points about the ship itself; however, the way it was run, and the fellow passengers that had been attracted to this cruise, due to incredibly reduced prices for booking last minute, rather spoiled it for my little family. We ourselves had a very nice time on the Jewel on its' Maiden"ish" Voyage, but truly only because we did our usual thing of spending a lot of time on our own balcony during the day, and going to areas such as the Atrium/Promenade Deck where few passengers were attracted. Unlike some British travellers, we go into a holiday determined to have a good time, whatever the circumstances. Let's face it, we came away from last year's holiday saying we'd had a good time, having been stuck in our villa for a total of 5 days with 2 hurricanes going by! Truthfully, there were numerous faults with the facilities (for us). I know others we spoke to felt the same, so I don't feel I'm whinging or making comments that are consistent across all NCL ships. 1) Getting food at anywhere other than the Garden Cafe was a nightmare from about day 3 onwards. All of the prime times got booked up (for the whole cruise booked ahead), leaving dining times of 5:30pm or 10pm in some restaurants; others were consistently fully booked. Luckily we caught on to this early enough and booked at T'Sars for the whole cruise, which is basically the only place we ate other than a couple of nights in Mama's Kitchen. 2) The Buffet Restaurant was in terrible condition. Bits of food everywhere, tables not being cleaned, food ground into the floor, etc. In addition, compared to Carnival, we found this food quite "School Dinner" like, with dry burgers, grotty sausages, and burned pizzas. 3) NCL did something rather foolish. Having been unable to fill the boat just one month before the cruise, they opened it up to the British at bargain rates, including children for free! Unfortunately, that attracted a type of person on to the ship that I wouldn't normally share a bus with! I've been on a number of cruises out of Miami, where Carnival have opened it up to very poor people from Southern Florida. However, I can't say I've ever met an American who is at all disrespectful, and certainly nobody as scummy as some of the people on board the Jewel. By the way, I'm British myself, and am completely ashamed of some of the antics I witnessed onboard, such as one 10 year-old child who was walking down the corridor wiping the chocolate cake from his feet into the carpet, creating a chocolate mark several metres long, laughing as he went! How the chocolate cake got there in the first place I didn't want to know! Basically, out of 500 children onboard, 100 were signed up to Kid's Club (including our daughter), the other 400 being allowed to run riot round the ship, day and night! 4) The staff in T'Sars were very badly trained. The food wait times were ridiculous, very few of the waiters spoke sufficient English, the food was often not very hot, the wrong drinks were usually delivered, etc. 5) The Garden Cafe is extremely badly laid out, so that you pick up your food and then have to walk miles for a clean table. This gets worse of course when you've inevitably forgotten something or can't carry everything at once. 6) The state of Deck 12 (created because of point 3) made it unusable, with teenagers hogging the pools and Jacuzzis, not to mention the fact that there was food squashed into the deck, and drinks spilled everywhere. Disgusting! 7) Most of the stops were very good, but Almeria was horrendous. My advice is if you're doing a cruise there, don't bother getting off the ship! The place stank and the roads were stacked high with rubbish (unto 3m high - I'm not kidding!). One of the crew I spoke to said that his little group were attacked verbally by locals, and people were later in the streets smashing bottles, kicking passing cars, and generally acting drunk and disorderly. 8) Ice cream machines – These broke down after about 3 days, and were replaced by a member of staff serving scooped ice cream. This was fine in some ways, but they did not run it as regularly as they would have with the machines. We often found it to be unavailable, such as before 1pm and after about 5pm! 9) Splashdown Kids Club – Despite only a fifth of children being signed up, this was too busy really. My wife works in childcare, and she feels that if kids are shouting and all excitable 100% of the time, she's failed. Kids in big groups need to be kept calm, and that certainly wasn’t the case at all. Amy had nightmares regularly during the cruise due to simply being over excited, and it got so noisy that she refused to go a few days, as she just wanted some peace and quiet! 10) Employee relations – During my cruise, I witnessed about 10 tellings off of employees by senior managers. I do not expect to have this sort of thing going on around me during a so called luxury cruise. Managers should take employees off to offices or quiet areas in order to do this sort of thing. Anyhow, it ended up we felt, with employee relations becoming very bad, and staff were quite obviously working to rule. And yes, I had to agree with them. 11) Disembarkation – We booked a long while ago at a high price, for a balcony room. However, that seemed to make very little difference to the disembarkation process, and we were actually the last colour to leave the ship. People who have booked onward travel with NCL get preferential treatment, closely followed by people flying out, even if that flight isn’t that same day! The next to leave bizarrely were decks 4 & 5 who had been the troublesome crowd throughout the cruise, and were then able to join the queue for the buses ahead of all of us people who had paid 3 times as much for our cruises. 12) Dover – If you can avoid a cruise in and out of Dover, do so. There were over 400 people waiting for buses to get to the car park, and they were only managing 2 buses per hour (they claimed every 15 minutes, but I only witnessed two go by during our walk). We were at the back of the queue, so we walked 2 miles with all of our luggage, having been unable to get a taxi also! However, on reaching the car park an hour later, the car park was still jam packed of us Jewel cruisers, and I suspect some people would have waited another 2 hours beyond that! So in conclusion, were these problems the fault of NCL or the people onboard? I guess it was NCL that invited them onboard by reducing last minute prices ridiculously, and then did very little to encourage these people to supervise their children, nor did they do much to tidy up after them. Also, I think the whole Freestyle cruising attracts a type of British person onboard (irrespective of price), who would not normally go on a cruise at all. Would I sail with NCL again? No chance! Read Less
Sail Date August 2005
My husband and I chose a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was a dream of ours to cruise the Med. It was an amazing experience being on an inaugural cruise in the Mediterranean on our honeymoon! There were some wonderful aspects to cruise. ... Read More
My husband and I chose a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was a dream of ours to cruise the Med. It was an amazing experience being on an inaugural cruise in the Mediterranean on our honeymoon! There were some wonderful aspects to cruise. The embarkation was a breeze, the quickest that I had ever encountered. We had splurged and got a room with a balcony which was incredible. We were very happy with our room. The cruise director's staff was amazing, they really kept us entertained. The excursions were fantastic, it was really hard choosing, you could not have gone wrong with any of them. The staff at the excursion desk were very helpful and professional, and knew what they were talking about. The spa was very professional and what a treat! Well worth it! (just make the appointment well enough in advance, especially on a sea-day). The entertainment was spectacular, especially their 'Cirque Bijoux' show. Very talented performers were on board. The decor on the ship is beautiful, very colorful, each area being very unique. There was not a wide variety of artwork however, mostly photos. I found that there was always somewhere to go and something to do. We had spent a lot of money on this trip, especially coming all the way from Canada, it was disappointing to hear that there were discounts given to other passengers. My husband and I noticed a lot of young children on-board. We figured since it was holiday season, that we just picked to cruise at the same time as several families. What was unfortunate was the behavior of some of the children. I had to yell at two young boys to stop throwing their shoes around on the staircase, they could have hurt someone! Their father was at the elevators totally oblivious to the fact that his kids were acting inappropriately. The cruise staff it seemed were helpless to do anything either. It was difficult getting a reservation to the specialty restaurants i.e. Mama' Kitchen and the Tepanyaki, you pretty much had to make the reservations on the first couple of days on the cruise. A suggestion to NCL would be to work on improving the service and food selections in the main dining rooms. However I have been on an NCL cruise before, this wasn't the case, therefore this might be just something that will work itself out with experience. Since we were on our honeymoon, and spent quite a bit, it was disappointing that the cruise line didn't do anything to help us celebrate our honeymoon. My sister bought us a honeymoon package, but if it wasn't for that, you would have never known that we were on our honeymoon. No upgrades what-so-ever on the plane; NCL hotel; cruise itself. And no special "little somethings". It was on our second last day on the ship that we discovered that there was a laundry room with an iron. There was absolutely no mentioned of this ANYWHERE. Not even a sign outside the door. What would help is if NCL mentions this on their website, or includes in on their floor-plan! We ended up paying for ironing services! In the end we figured that since this was their first sailing, that all of the wrinkles still needed to be ironed out. However, since it was our honeymoon, it was difficult to get angry. We pretty much had smiles on our faces the whole trip. :) I would recommend this ship to anyone considering it. Read Less
Sail Date August 2005
My husband and I have just returned from a 14 night cruise aboard the Legend of the Seas sailing out of Southampton to the Canary Islands. To say we were extremely disappointed is an understatement. They ran out of beer on the 1st ... Read More
My husband and I have just returned from a 14 night cruise aboard the Legend of the Seas sailing out of Southampton to the Canary Islands. To say we were extremely disappointed is an understatement. They ran out of beer on the 1st night of the cruise, then 3 times subsequently. They ran out of fresh milk after 7 days. The entertainment organised by the cruise staff (what little there was)was childish and embarrassing. The Viking Lounge was often closed for private functions and I was asked to leave one day as they apparently wanted a staff meeting in there. The food in the main dining room was below average. Often cold, badly presented and service very slow. In general, the staff were unhelpful, undertrained and disinterested by anything other than tips. The on-board prices, which were in British pounds, were outrageously high. Paying £5 for a brandy!!! And £5.99 for Paracetamol??? Lots of other things but too many to mention. All in all we do not believe that we received anywhere near value for money. Read Less
Sail Date May 2005

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