Background - My wife and I cruise two to three times per year. We are Norwegian Latitude Members, Cunard World Club members and Royal Caribbean Crown and Anchor Society Members. This was our fifteenth cruise. My wife is 46 and I am 42. We have two boys ages 10 and 5. This cruise was our first holiday cruise with the kids.
Embarkation - We arrived later than planned due to traffic delays at the Lincoln Tunnel. When we arrived there were tons of people checking in and we had delays in every line. It took us about 90 minutes to board and arrived on the ship by 2:45pm. It certainly wasn't the worst embarkation we had from New York. The good news was that our room as ready, so we could dump our carry on bags and get a snack.
The Ship - It is new at just over a year old. The ship was built in Papensburg, Germany like many other of NCL's ships. The ship was nicely appointed and well maintained. The German design is rather compartmentalized and most spaces are single deck, which does not allow for much natural lighting. All of the dining venues are small with virtually no natural lighting. The Grand Pacific dining room is the nicest looking dining room on the ship. It was two decks high and had nice views of the ocean. It is located at the aft end of deck 6, but you must access it though the aft staircase of deck 7. The lobby is also a very nice two deck space with a lovely piano bar and coffee shop. There is also a two deck high TV screen that plays videos, sports programs, and Nintendo Wii games. The kids loved the Wii tournaments in that room. The casino is large and well serviced. The slot machines are also very quiet, so you can hear yourself think when in the room. The most glaring error in design is the Garden Cafe. This is a buffet dining area with a traditional buffet line instead of buffet stations. The area is cramped and there is not enough seating for folks at peak times, so eat early or late. The Great Outdoors is an outdoor dining area on the aft end of the ship to the rear of the Garden Cafe. It is a nice area to eat when the weather is warm. The other public spaces are pretty standard to other NCL ships and I found navigating the ship very easy. I liked the fact that the Tree Top Kids Club is located mid ship, so the movement of the ship through the water is minimal.
Accommodations - Since this was a holiday cruise and pricing was higher than usual, so we chose an inside cabin for the four of us. When we first walked into the room, we looked at each other and wondered where all of the clothes and luggage will fit. We had five bags with us. To NCL's credit, the room held all four of us, our clothes and bags. There were two adult size beds, a drop down bed from the ceiling and a cot that was stored under one of the adult beds. It was snug and we won't get an inside for four again. The room was approximately 150 sq.ft. The bathroom was small, but the shower was a decent size. The water pressure was great and we never had an issue in getting plenty of hot water. The housekeeping staff was horrible. Our cabin was not made up until almost dinner time every day and was not turned down until almost 11pm each night. We never saw our cabin stewards.
Itinerary - It was a good itinerary for kids. I liked four ports in a seven day cruise from New York. The port reviews are below. They were Port Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay, Nassau and Freeport.
Shore Excursions - Were poorly organized. There was alot of waiting time and the kids got anxious. I realize that local tour companies were running the tours, but NCL needs to make sure they are providing the level of service required. The worst tour was the Atlantis Aqua Adventure. I'll explain below.
Entertainment - Good solid entertainment. The Gem Singers and Dancers had three good shows. We enjoyed the comedian, Peter Sasso. We missed the shows when we were in port, but comments by other guests were positive. The New Year's Eve party was not well advertised. When I asked one of the kids club counselors what they were doing for the kids on New Year's Eve, they had no idea. They wound up having a New Year's party complete with top hats and face painting, but I passed on that because their late night party fee, which is usually $5.00 per hour per child was doubled to $10.00 per hour for the first child for New Year's Eve only. I thought that was an awful thing to do especially since there was no notice to the parents until you arrived to drop off your kids at 10:30pm. The kids did like the overall program. My 10 year old loved the Nintendo Wii freeplay.
Passenger demographic was diverse with many families traveling with children. There were 642 kids on board for this trip.
Dining - The food quality and presentation in the main dining rooms (Magenta and Grand Pacific) was very good and exceeded our expectations. The wine lists were diverse and good. Wines from $14.00 per bottle to $1,350.00 per bottle. We stayed with the $14.00 per bottle stuff. The Garden Cafe buffet was also very good. However, the food quality and presentation in the specialty restaurants we patronized (La Cucina and Tequila) was poor at best. Very bland tasting food with little going for it. My wife put it best when she said the red sauce at La Cucina tasted like Chef Boyardee.
Disembarkation - Was very smooth and well organized. One of the best I have had in New York.
Overall - We all had a good time as we always do on a cruise, but this ship's service and lack of organization left us with a feeling of emptiness. We did not make any friendships with anyone for the first time. I said to my wife on the last day that I always start missing the ship and it's crew on the last sea day, but not this one. This Gem needs alot of polishing before I would go on her again.
Small inside, but fit four people, two adults and two kids, their clothes and bags. Great shower, poor toilet.
We had a very good time going to the beach. We took an excursion to Cocoa Beach and had a great time. The kids loved playing in the sand and hitting the waves. The resort we went to was also very nice. We also used their pools and hot tubs. It was supposed to be an all day trip, but since the boat was 2 hours late docking in Port Canaveral due to the Right Whale migration down the east coast, we only got about a 1/2 day. That was fine though. We heard that the excursion to Disney World was crowded and the lines at Disney World were huge. I am glad we did not go on that one.
Nassau is a large city and the capital of the Bahamas. This time we took the Atlantis Aqua Adventure excursion. What a mistake. The tour met on the pier at 9am and we did not get to Atlantis until 11am. You can see the Atlantis from the pier. It was a slow march down the pier to the water ferry terminal, then there was confusion about what ferry the tour should use, then when we got to Paradise Island (the island that houses the Atlantis Resort) we needed to ask the ferry driver when the last ferry of the day was and how often they ran and then we had to walk to the Atlantis. When we arrived at the Atlantis the tour guide walked us through he casino, big surprise, and then dumped us off by one of the pools and gave us a map. We never saw the guide again. When we got lost trying to find the water slides and places to eat, we asked Atlantis staff for help and they referred us to the map we had. We wound up eating some lunch when we arrived and paid a king's ransom for food. We hit the water park around 1pm and left due to heavy rain that moved into the area at 3:45pm. Not a good experience for $150 per adult and $129 per child.
Our stay in Freeport was limited to five hours instead of seven hours as the ship needed to leave for New York early again due to the Right Whale migration. We took the kids on the Dolphin Encounter tour and it was great. We needed to take a bus to the boat in order to get to the dolphin preserve, but it was well worth the trip. The kids and adults had a great time learning about the dolphins and getting in the water, chest deep, in order to pet and interact with them. We could not use our camera as it is not waterproof, but we bought the pictures from the tour company for a reasonable price of $10 per picture.