Enjoyable cruise on NCL GEM: Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by PDXTraveler

Norwegian Gem 5
Member Since 2011
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Enjoyable cruise on NCL GEM

Sail Date: October 2012
Destination: Canada & New England
Embarkation: New York (Manhattan)
We chose this cruise for our 25th anniversary vacation. It was three weeks before our actual anniversary to accommodate my wife's work schedule.

We left home four days before the cruise. We visited family and friends on Long Island while staying in hotel in Jamaica NY. We did two days sightseeing seeing Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and 9-11 Memorial. And we saw Times Square light-up at night. Beyond that, we bought a 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus pass (Grayline) that we used just once. Somewhere along our visit into NY City on Tuesday, my wife tweaked her ankle and began limping. Not sure exactly where but it happened Tuesday - the day before the cruise.

We took a taxi from our hotel in Jamaica to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal on 12th Avenue.

The embarkation process was streamlined but seemed very long. Many Latitudes members arrived at 11:30am as we did. It seems NCL loaded passengers by lot number but at one point gave-up and everyone boarded the ship by More 1:00pm. We headed to our stateroom and we dumped our carry-on bags there. Our luggage arrived at about 4pm, after the mandatory emergency drill concluded.

Our ship left port on-time for a ten night cruise/adventure to Halifax, Quebec City, Corner Brook, and Sydney before returning to NY City - covering 3,000+ nautical miles.

The ship published an activity paper each day called the FREESTYLE DAILY. Very informative.

My wife's ankle sidelined her for the first three days. She saw the ship doctor our first day at sea (Thursday October 11). The ship's doctor prescribed medication, recommended diet change, & apply ice on the ankle; my wife stayed in bed that Thursday while I roamed the ship. Our first stop at Halifax on Friday October 12th, she hobbled off the ship to go sightseeing as we walked along the waterfront. After Halifax, she had 1-1/2 sea days during which she rested. When we stopped at Quebec City, Sunday October 14th, she was able to walk -- but was very slow. By our stop in Corner Brook (Newfoundland), she was back to walking as her "normal" self. This was not the cruise line's fault.

Second, the weather did not cooperate for 8 days/nights. Rain and wind cursed this cruise every day (with rough seas) beginning Thursday afternoon October 11th and continuing through Thursday early-morning October 18th. Eight-plus days & nights of rain, wind, and rough seas. Neither my wife or I brought a heavy winter jacket... We brought a jacket with hood that's great for 50 degree weather but not the blustery 40-42 degree weather we encountered. Gale-force winds every day except our last port Sydney NS. Even had some snow flurries in Quebec City. We were not ready for the weather. I had two heavy hoodie sweatshirts that are great for 50-degree weather but not the blustery 40-42 degree weather we encountered. Even our last night at sea (October 19th) had rough seas and lightning storm. Again, not the cruise line's fault.

None of these two points was the cruise-line's fault. But they impacted our ability to fully enjoy the cruise and the ports we visited.

The people on board the cruise were mostly 60's and 70's. Several 80's. Fewer in the under 60 crowd (I am 55 and my wife is 46); about 50-60 youth. 20 in the 9 and under. They were kept away from the adults and NCL did a fabulous job managing them. Several people we mingled with were friendly and raved about the services for children and teenagers on-board.

The entertainment was GREAT. Magician David Merry was GREAT! The World Beat show was GREAT! Comedian Hypnotist Scott Lewis was GREAT! Comedian Ventriloquist Michael Ziegfeld was GREAT! Harry O'Donoghue was GREAT! Comedian Jeff Harms was GREAT! Greg London (entertainer) was GREAT! Second City was GREAT! The Colorz show was GREAT! The Get Down Tonight show was GREAT! The Farewell Variety show was GREAT with Fountains giving me the most laughs! I had chairs in the STARDUST theater break on two occasions and had to sit a certain way. By cruise's end, about twelve seats in STARDUST 1200 seat theater were broken. Overall, my wife and I really enjoyed the entertainment but Irish music from Harry O'Donoghue really hit our hearts. We hope NCL has Harry O'Donoghue on future cruises.

Scenery was great. Entering Quebec City along Saint Lawrence saw lots of yellow & orange leaves on trees. Entering and exiting Corner Brook had lots of color too. And leaving Sydney NS had colorful trees. The scenery was GREAT!

Workers were great and helpful.

Food was very good! I have read complaints about the lobster tail served. The lobster tail I had was very juicy & tasty for a 4 ounce portion. It was served two times (and I had it both times). Prime rib was great, cooked to perfection and a decent serving size! Steak and other main entrees were very good.

There was also a buffet that was open from 6am to 10pm. In general, I try avoiding buffets as people breath on the food... germs can spread. I typically get sick after a buffet meal so I tried avoiding buffet. BUT on the few occasions we had it, we found their breakfast & lunch options good. Freshly made omelet with egg whites and cheese, onions, & spinach was excellent... then get potatoes... bacon... sausage... then the big challenge of finding a place to sit which was nearly impossible w/o waiting ten minutes or so holding one's food. Several ugly pushing matches and name calling matches between grown men broke out. By the time one was seated, their warm food was cold but still tasty. We tried getting seats first and because there was no food yet, we were asked by NCL workers to vacate the table until we had food. That was our buffet experience.

The ship served from the same menu for breakfast & lunch throughout the cruise but had five dinner options that were different each night with five options that were not different. (Would be nice if NCL published the daily dinner specialties in the Freestyle Daily.) Ten dinner entree options to select from. There are two main dining rooms for dinner and one dining room open for breakfast & lunch. Grand Pacific (largest dining room) was nice and elegent but the servers really did not engage in conversation with guests. You ask them how they were and they'd give you a puzzled look, not sure how to respond. Most were from Philippines and my wife, being from Philippines too, engaged in light (very light) exchanges. I saw just a few servers from other countries.

One night, the ship had a chocolate buffet in the buffet area (Garden Cafe). Chocoholic buffet. Had a 3-foot tall castle made from chocolate. White chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate options. Cakes and pastries and puddings galore. Very nice. And yummy too.

We ordered room service several times at 10pm. The food arrived warm to hot and was very tasty. Our compliments to the room service staff.

Overall, I'd give the food an 8+ rating on 1-to-10 scale... My wife would give food a 7 rating.

Now the not-so-good experiences on food:

I must repeat - the food overall was very good... but smaller than expected portions of supporting dishes were served in dining rooms. Example... one night for dinner had salmon fillet with mashed potatoes and green beans. Good sized salmon fillet (6+ ounces) but only a few whole green beans and a small scoop of mashed potatoes. Looking at food served at other tables, it appeared everyone was similar. Another example... had vegetable mix of carrots & peas that was not tasty but the main entree (rib eye steak) was about 8-ounces and very tasty and cooked to perfection. (The carrot and peas resembled those found in frozen foods.)

A common gripe I have with NCL is the bread served with dinner. It was always served COLD. I wish the bread served with dinner was placed in a bread warming tray before being served. Please listen, NCL!

Our 2nd night on the ship, I ordered the broiled salmon filet with small red potatoes and spinach in Grand Pacific dining room. Tasted oily... and there was oil -- lots -- left on my plate as I finished eating; I was stunned. I complained to the waiter and then to the front desk and was told about 20 others who complained too; showed digital photo of my empty plate with the oil and the service desk person turned white herself. The oil left on my plate was awful, about 3 tablespoons; it was not juices but oil from salmon and potatoes. Talking with other passengers, I was glad to hear this was corrected at some point that evening and did not repeat itself.

One night, my wife had a meal with vegetable lasagna. To her surprise, the lasagna noodles were, in a way, undercooked. The entree was excellent and she focused on it and on the insides of the lasagna but was hungry later so we ordered room service.

One afternoon, in Grand Pacific dining room, I had a penne pasta with marinara vegetable sauce for lunch (as the ship arrived in Quebec City). Had a great view of the dock as the captain parked the ship. The penne pasta was partially cooked; the sauce was great. I think the pasta was timed cooked and some was partially undercooked.

After these mishaps in Grand Pacific dining room, we focused on Magenta dining room for dinners after the 3rd night and had more personal service. We had a waitresses from Philippines who did engage in conversation with us - we hope we did not get her into trouble.

Last dinner on board, we both selected the prime rib. Delicious option. Cooked to perfection.

Our last dinner on-board, we shared a table with another couple. They agreed about the food being very good but not great. We shared a laugh about the green beans... the main entree was excellent each night but the supporting vegetables were not as good as the main entree which is disappointing overall. Great appetizers and desserts choices and one could pick two appetizers. But even a comedian one night at Magnum cracked a few jokes about the "green beans" served with dinner -- being a form of rationing valuable resources. Got a good laugh.

One last observation about food. The ship's menus were all pre-printed -- in January 2012. They all carried the same date at the bottom. So meals are planned months in advance. It would be nice if the dinner specialties were included in the FREESTYLE DAILY instead of having passengers check the menus outside the dining rooms.

The casino had good payouts. We played penny slots... 25 or 30 lines at 1 cent per line. Or 9 lines at 2 cents per line. We had F-U-N and that is important. The last night, I turned $20 into $38 and walked away... cashed-in... and left not going ack. Overall, I think my wife lost that wich I won so I think we broke even. Again, we had FUN!

Also, BINGO. We played bingo twice at $59 per card-set (9 cards per game). Did not come close to winning. But again, we had lots of fun playing.

The cruise ship layout was not great. Deck 6 (casino, bar lounge, and dining rooms) ... one cannot walk from one end to the other without ascending to 7th deck for a segment or descend to deck-5 for a segment - to reach the Grand Pacific dining room.

The lounges were great. My wife & I had many strawberry slushes. (Strawberry puree and crushed ice.) $5 each. Added up but we enjoyed it.

We did a shore excursion tour on Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Footsteps of Captain Cook. Went to the west coast area on Little Port Road past Governors Island. Saw Bottle Cove and Crow Cove and Little Port and thenn to church. It rained but was still a very nice tour. Saw lots of colored leaves and waterfalls. Very good tour guide (Glenda).

We really had FUN...

I really enjoy walking on a cruise ship's deck, absorbing the sea air. But early on our trip, a passenger fell on the wet deck and after passenger was evacuated, the captain closed off access to outside by all passengers due to weather (gale force winds). I tried 12 times to go out on Deck-7 and there were signs saying deck is closed due to high winds. That was a big disappointment to me. Heard a second passenger fell on the 7th day and the crew began enforcing the no outside rule.

The fact we missed the deadline for signing up for bus transfers was upsetting to us. When we boarded the ship, we inquired and was told to wait to the last sea day, that sign-ups would be then. The last sea-day, we were told there was an insert in our FREESTYLE DAILY the prior day but we did not get one with our stateroom. (NCL had a noon cut-off in Sydney to submit manifest.) We looked back at each day's guide to day-1 and we did not see anything about arranging bus transfers by the stop in Sydney NS. Questioned our room attendant and he said he did not have an insert for arranging bus transfers on any day. He added he was asked by others. So, we arranged a taxi to JFK which was $52 plus $6 toll and I tipped $10.

Disembarking the ship in NY City took far too long... The ship docked at 8:30am... 30-minutes early. Passengers began lining up at 6am. By 8am, it seemed over 500 passengers were lined up for self disembark; on deck-7, passengers were everwhere from Stardust theater to Bliss and back to the Atrium. We chose to place our luggage outside our stateroom and have NCL move it to customs for us. We disembarked by 10:30am... but had to vacate our stateroom by 8am. For over two hours, we did nothing... not allowed outside... not allowed to eat or drink... told by NCL workers to stay in atrium with 1500 other passengers; and when we were disembarked, our luggage was there waiting for us. Suggestion - try to find a way to stop the passengers from lining up at 6am. Maybe have later departure from NY City to allow normal breakfast hours and arrive in port at 10am... shift hours a little. The customs stopped disembarking at least five times due to over crowding and sent passengers back to the line.

Overall, I'd rate the cruise very good (8+) on a scale of 1 to 10.

Thank you NCL. Less

Published 10/23/12

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