A First-Time Cruiser Takes The Gem To... Nowhere: Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by Tralfie

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A First-Time Cruiser Takes The Gem To... Nowhere

Sail Date: November 2013
Destination: Cruise to Nowhere
Embarkation: New York (Manhattan)
I didn't intend to take a cruise to nowhere.

Originally, the plan was that my very first cruise would be in March of 2014 aboard the Norwegian Breakaway. I booked it over a year ago as a present to myself for my 50th birthday, even treating myself to an aft-facing balcony.

But then I saw the one-night Cruise to Nowhere, and the price was just too good to pass up. So I decided to get my feet wet, so to speak, by using the overnighter as sort of a sampler to see how I'd like the world of cruising.

I'm a single guy -- what they called a "confirmed bachelor" in more civilized times -- who lives in Manhattan, so getting to the port on the morning of the trip was a breeze. As was, honestly, the entire process. It helped that almost as soon as I arrived at the terminal, I met fellow Cruise Critic member Lellie and her son, two of the nicest people you could hope to meet! She basically walked me through the entire process and by noon, we were on the boat. More

By 12:05, I had my first cocktail in hand. 'Cause that's how I roll!

Lellie and her son invited me to join them for lunch, and I gladly accepted. While I'm very, very good at traveling solo -- and have no problem eating (or doing much of anything else) on my own -- when good company presents itself, why turn it away? We wound up going to the Grand Pacific dining room.

So, how was my first experience with cruise food? In a word... pretty darn good. Okay, technically, that's three, but... you get the point.

One of the things I really loved about the meal -- aside from the whole "order as much as you care to" -- was the portions. I know some people probably complain when they order, say, fried calamari and receive 8-10 pieces (with a delicious aioli accompaniment) -- as opposed to the mound you might get at a landlocked restaurant -- but I found it ideal. I ordered the calamari, a delicious shrimp Caesar salad and the fish and chips. (Lellie's son, it should be noted, is a human garbage disposal. He must have had three appetizers, two main courses and three desserts! But the kid burns it off and is thin as a rail.) In any case, both my order and his illustrate the point: the smaller portions left me pleasantly full but not overly so, while Lellie's son was free to order to his heart's content. (Did I mention that as soon as we finished this fantastic meal, he was ready to go to the buffet? Ah, to have that metabolism again... )

The calamari wasn't hot (it wasn't really even warm), and oddly, the "warm bread pudding" was borderline chilly. And yet, the food was actually very tasty. Look, I'm a foodie, and -- having read a lot of mixed things about meals aboard the ship -- I came in with fairly low expectations. And yet I wound up really enjoying just about everything I ate over the next 24 hours. I'm also very much of the mindset that I'm on vacation, and it's going to take a whole lot to get me even warm under the collar, let alone hot.

By the time lunch was over, the cabins were ready. This was a good hour earlier than they'd told us it would be, which was an unexpected treat. I went to my cabin -- room 8005 -- to drop off my stuff. Now, I'm a big believer that balconies are the way to go, but on a one-nighter, I just couldn't see paying the price, so I went with an inside.

A couple notes about the room.

As I expected, it was small. While it was fine for a solo traveler on an overnighter, I most definitely would not want to spend a week in it. I suspect I'd feel very claustrophobic after a few days. And if you had two -- let alone three of four? -- occupants... yeah, that might get real ugly real fast, especially if you planned to spend any significant time in the room.

The other thing to note is that room 8005 is as far forward as a room on level 8 can get... and as a result, the ride was, at times, a little rough. I'm not talking things falling off shelves or anything, but there was a fair amount of noticeable motion that I assume was the boat sort of plowing through the water. While I didn't actually get sick sick, I did get a little... sea sick.

This may also have been me, however. I do have a tendency toward car sickness in certain circumstances, and I noticed that at around 9 p.m. or so -- by which time I was in the casino -- I was feeling a bit queasy. A walk around the promenade deck and some brisk air cleared that up.. which is why I'm glad I have an aft-facing balcony on the Breakaway: easy access to all the fresh air I can suck into my lungs!

Over the course of the evening, I really did my best to see as much of the ship as possible, so let me hit a few highlights:

* Bliss Lounge: This is just a fantastic, groovilicious spot to hang out. Four bowling lanes, air-hockey tables, good music, a great vibe. It's sad that, by all reports, this was turned into sort of an uncomfortable cave on the Breakaway, because on the Gem, it's fantastic. (It definitely could have used more staff, however. The poor girl working the bar alone was clearly in over her head. Nice as could be, but out of her league. It didn't help that -- this being a one-night cruise filled to the brim with a whole lotta people wanting to party hard -- she was getting slammed with customers, not all of whom were of the patient variety.)

* Stardust Theater: Really nice space, very comfy. Lellie, her son and I met up to see comedian Jeff Harms here. (He was, by the way, fantastic. I love a comic who plays with the crowd and manages to do circular humor that all ties together in the end, which was exactly what he did.) We went directly from here to...

* Spinnaker Lounge: ... where we caught the Second City improve group. Spinnaker is a fantastic space, nice big bar, lots of seating for shows (although it was standing room only for Second City). As for the show itself... they say adult, and they mean it. It was raunchy as heck... in the best way possible. It's also true that how successful the show is depends entirely on the audience. Unfortunately, our audience tended to be a little shy when it came to shouting things out. (Except for one man, seated in front of me, who was calling out some pretty dark stuff... much to my amusement).

* Casino: I had a blast here. They had a great selection of games, and a surprising number of penny slots. The staff was a LITTLE pushy when it came to selling the nightly Paradise Lotto tickets. I bought tickets, and then was asked every 10 minutes by someone else if I wanted to purchase tickets. It's not a huge casino, so it can feel a little claustrophobic, but I walked away a winner and had a blast. What more can you ask, right?

* Star Bar: I'd actually like to have spent a bit more time here, but there just wasn't time. Also, there were two groups in the place when I entered... a crazy-drunk group of girls celebrating a birthday, and a group in the corner who were apparently using an iPhone or something similar to loudly play their own music over the music played by the lounge.

* Shakers Martini bar: I never actually got drinks at either of these, because they were jam packed with very loud, very drunk people most of the night. Totally not my scene... unless I happen to be one of the very loud, very drunk people. :)

And that IS one thing to know about a cruise to nowhere: There are a lot of people on board who have one night to party, and man, are they intent upon doing so. By 8 p.m. or so, there were folks so drunk they couldn't walk. I have to think that the bar staff hates the cruises to nowhere, with everyone trying to drink as much as possible in the course of the evening.

After cashing out at the casino, I headed to the Garden Café, the only place open for late night snacks (it was around 12:30 a.m. by now, and I'd skipped dinner... unless you count bourbon!). They had a nice selection of food, including a surprising (to me) number of vegetarian options. The pizza was fantastic, as were the ham-and-cheese on sourdough bread mini sandwiches.

I took one last walk around the promenade deck -- a real highlight, to me -- taking time to stand at the very back of the boat, look off into the distance and contemplate life. (My conclusion? "I'm on a one-night cruise having an awesome time... life is good.")

The bed in my cabin was super comfy. The bathroom was odd... the shower stall is pretty roomy (although it would be helpful to have H and C indications on the handles, as it wasn't the easiest thing to figure out which was what or how it worked). But the toilet is oddly angled so that should you need to... er... do your business sitting down, your knees are gonna be pressed against a wall. I can't begin to imagine how some of the more... um... corpulent of my fellow cruisers would possibly use the toilet. Then again, public restrooms are plentiful...

I don't know if it had to do with the far-forward location of my cabin or if this is just common (remember, this was my first time on a cruise ship), but man, there is no way you'll sleep through arriving in port! I woke to the cabin shaking and I thought, "Good lord, are the alarms going to go off? Are we goin' down?" On the plus side, you won't miss breakfast! (On the down side, you may WANT to, given that the Garden Café was a madhouse with folks trying to get in that last meal! I'm not really a breakfast person, so I skipped, but the food looked pretty tasty!)

Disembarkation was a breeze. Although the announcement said I'd have a customs form in my room, I didn't... but it was easy to grab one either from guest services or even after getting off the boat.

In summary? My one-night cruise to nowhere was a fantastic experience. I'd do it again tomorrow in a heartbeat... and it definitely got me excited for my first "real" cruise on the Breakaway in March! Got any questions? Hit me up, I'll try to answer them!

Happy Sailing!

Tralfie/Richard Less

Published 11/23/13

Cabin review:

As an inside stateroom, it is what it is: Small, but serviceable. I was traveling solo, so it was fine for me... but I couldn't imagine two, three or (God forbid) four people in it! There was a fair amount of rumbling as we pulled into port - it actually scared the heck outta me! Noise-wise, I can't say I heard anything from other cabins or from the hallway.

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