Our perspective - This was our second NCL TA for my husband and I. We had also previously sailed on the Gem repo between London and Barcelona.
Embarkation - We arrived at the Terminal around 12:45. There were no lines for check in. By the time we finished with the paperwork, our number had been called and we walked right on the ship. After a glass of champagne, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the Grand Pacific dining room until our room was ready. This was a totally stressfree way to begin the vacation.
Cabin - Our last 4 cruises had been in penthouse suites, so I was concerned about 15 days in a minisuite. We chose the cabin because it was on the aft and it was an excellent value. We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of room, the accommodations and the rear facing balcony. We enjoyed sunny and warm afternoons on the balcony as we crossed the chilly North Atlantic. There are no butlers or concierge or nightly canapEs with a minisuite. But the cabin stewards were attentive and kept the cabin spotless.
Demographics - Because of the nature of a TA, it was an older crowd. There were only 27 children on board as opposed to the Gem Caribbean cruise the previous week which had 900 kids!!! I find the passengers to be experienced travelers with fascinating life stories. The active cruise critic group organized by Ron and Diane contributed positively to the cruising experience. The Cabin Crawl organized by Dancin' Mike and Rich was enjoyed by all 60+ participants.Specialty Restaurants - The Specialty restaurants were empty except for Teppanyaki. You could walk into any of the others and get a table at any time. The 2 for 1 specials were discontinued. We ate multiple times at all the specialty restaurants except Teppanyaki. We loved Le Bistro the best. The 'crepes suzettes flambe' no longer are prepared at the table due to fire regulations, but they still taste the same. I would recommend skipping Tequila, although the lobster tacos were tasty.Magenta and Grand Pacific - The benefit of the older population is that many preferred to eat at 5:30 in the free restaurants. That worked out well for us. We would hit the Garden buffet early to take au d'hoeuvres back to the cabin and then have a leisurely dinner in one of the restaurants later on. We ate dinner at Magenta 4 times and were seated in less than 5 minutes, enjoyed excellent service, and good food. We really appreciated that the portions were small. It enabled us to try several different starters and soup and entrees and desserts. We never went to bed hungry.
Garden Buffet and Room Service - One common complaint about the buffet is the lack of seating, especially when it was too cold to eat outside. We always found empty tables in La Cucina and enjoyed the nice quiet ambiance especially on chaotic port mornings. The expresso/capaccino machines and the availability of ice cream were nice extras. Room service was disappointing.Shows - Again another benefit of the demographics, was that there were always plenty of seats at the 9:30 shows. We enjoyed the 3 song/dance productions. Second City was very funny on this ship. On past cruises, Second City wasn't always funny. The diversity of entertainment was good from the Chocolate Goddess of Love to the classical pianist to the Skinny German Juggle Boy who was hysterical.
Ship Activities - We are not fans of bingo, art auctions or jewelry presentations. The NCL U lectures were well attended although the speakers were very dry. The Murder Mystery dinner was fun. The 'Behind the Scenes' tour was outstanding. The cruise director, Andrea, was the best in the industry. He gave a talk on mathematics, taught dancing, led a nighttime astronomy experience on the top deck, spoke many languages and displayed no annoying egomania typical of many in his field. Maybe the unorthodox combination (for a cruise director) of a gracious Italian upbringing with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Southern California, contributed to his approach. He was truly a renaissance man!Laundry - The self service laundries have been removed on the Gem. A laundry special was offered every Thursday. We viewed the Laundry Days as a competition - how much stuff can we stuff into the little bag. It was $25 a bag. It was worth it on such a long trip.Spa Package - Conflicting information on this one. On the first day, we were given a tour of the spa and told that the spa package was $165/person and day passes were $20. Other passengers were told there would be no day passes. Later in the cruise, the Spa was advertising in the Freestyle Daily day passes for $10 on one of the port days. I bought the day pass for $20 on another port day. I was the only one in the entire facility from 10 am to 1 pm. It was glorious!!!!
Shore Excursions - We normally do not book shore excursions because most of the fun is in researching and discovering new places. Because of the May 1 holiday weekend and the anticipated European crowds, we booked an NCL excursion from Civitavecchia and one from Livorno. The excursion to Pisa from Livorno was good. The bus was efficient and the tour guide was excellent. No regrets. It certainly cost more than taking the port shuttle-Livorno bus-train- Pisa bus each way, but the total lack of hassle was worth it. Last year, we took the train on our own to Florence and almost missed the ship as well as almost killing each other! Never Again!! Before we left home, we booked NCL's Tarquinia Biking Adventure from Civitavecchia. It combined a tour of the Etruscan city of Tarquinia with a biking trip which ended with a wine tasting at a local farmhouse. I was obviously the only one on the ship excited about this excursion. It was cancelled because my husband and I were the only 2 signed up. How sad but certainly not NCL's fault.
Fitness Center - The Cardio and Weight machines were well maintained and in good shape. Again because of the demographics of the cruisers, you could always work out without waiting.
Disembarkation - This could not have been easier. Based on our schedule, we walked off the ship. Our luggage was waiting. A porter took our luggage to one of a long line of taxis and we were off to the airport. From the ship to the cab was less than ten minutes!
Price and expectations - Our 7 day cruise to Bermuda last year on the Dawn was more expensive than the 15 day TA on the Gem. I have been on the QE II and other cruise lines that offer more gourmet food than the Gem, but they were much more expensive than NCL. I think the Gem TA was a bargain and I altered my expectations and ratings accordingly.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Transatlantic cruise on the Gem. We have already booked an aft cabin on next year's TA to Venice and the Greek Isles on the Gem.
Nice sized room. Ample closet and storage space. Beautiful aft facing balcony which was sunny and warm while crossing the chilly North Atlantic. Bathroom was a good size. Shower/Tub combination was awkward and slippery. A very quiet location.