We are experienced cruises and travelers that always look for value for our dollar no matter what location or means of travel we have chosen. Our first NCL cruise was no different.
We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Time Square in NYC prior to our April 18th cruise to Barcelona. This hotel has a prime location and we found that the convenience of the location was well worth the price. As a surprise for my DH I hired realnewyorktours for a 6 hour private tour of NYC. It is rated the #1 NYC excursion for a reason, it is fantastic. Our guide was Zac who was a born and raised New Yorker who gave us an upbeat history lesson on NYC as well a pop culture tour. All I can say is after 24 hours "I love New York" and will go back in a heartbeat, if only the hotel rooms were not so expensive!
After a short taxi ride to the port we embarked easily for our 15 day cruise.
Our inside cabin was adequate and the washroom was actually bigger than other cruise lines. The Gems public rooms sparkle and our maintain often throughout our cruise. We particularly enjoyed the aft bar, the star bar and the martini bar areas. The main theater has good seating and was large enough for the crowds on board, we never went without seats.
We bought the spa package and enjoyed some of the spa specials we were able to get because of the purchase of the package. We also found the photo special package to be good value.
ENTERTAINMENT: We like the entertainer in the Star Bar, the String quartet and the NCL Dancers.
The weak link of this cruise was the dining, from cold eggs in the buffet (even at 6:30 in the morning) to the saltiest won ton soup imaginable in the Blue Lagoon. The dining rooms were slow and the food lukewarm at best except on four occasions when the team of Shamella and Janet in Magenta served us hot food in a normal timeframe, try to ask for these servers they are as good as any on any cruise line. The Bistro was lovely, the Italian restaurant not worth paying extra, not as good as most ship dining rooms.
AZORES: Village of Setes Cidades and wine tasting from NCL. This was a lovely drive through the coastal road up to the mountains. Stopping at the green and blue lakes and then to the small village. We went to a lovely church and walked thru town to the lake. The wine and cheese was located at the dock not what we expected however the cheese was tasty. I would rate it 5/5 for value. We walked through Ponta Delgada and took some lovely photos. A family missed the ship at this port and met us in Lisbon, they did not have there watches on ships time!
LISBON: Through the internet I found lisbonwalkers for 15 euros for a 4 hour walking tour. Our Guide met us at the specified spot at Placa Commerce at 9:45. There were 6 other tourist that joined us on this walk through 4 areas of Lisbon. We took the elevator and the tram for a complete experience of downtown Lisbon. Make sure you are on deck arriving and leaving this port as the views are wonderful.
CADIZ: We were delayed into port as were fighting a rain storm. Once at port we lined up for the hop on hop off bus, because of the bad weather they only boarded the inside of the bus so it was a bit of a wait to get on the bus. Within two stops we headed to the top of the bus as the skies cleared for a glorious day in this underrated city. I had copied walking maps off the internet and we used these along with the bus to see the many highlights of Cadiz. There are beautiful beaches, statues , churches and parks. The narrow streets lead to wonderful squares with outdoor restaurants.
MALAGA: We took a horse drawn carriage from the port to downtown. There are wonderful parks to explore and photograph. In the afternoon we took the NCL excursion Charming Mijas and Countryside. We enjoyed the drive along the Costa del Sol and up to Mijas. The wine tasting was lovely as was the wonderful white town. 5/5
CORSICA: Ncl excursion Scenic Towns and Local Flavors showed us the countryside of this wonderful area. We drove to 3000 ft were there is still snow on the mountain caps. We had wine and cheese at a lovely mountainside restaurant where the wood fire kept us warm from the sleet outside. The guide was British which seemed odd. 4/5
In Ajaccio we went to Napolean's birthplace and the Citadelle, we also took a 10 eur bus tour which took us out to the lighthouse. We finished the day by shopping at some upscale stores and a drink along the beautiful harbor.
ROME: For 9 Euros we got a BIRG train ticket to Rome. We went to St Peters, up the dome, the cupola and into the Basilica. We walked to Castle San Angelo, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Victoria Emmanual Monument (go up the stairs for the view of the Colosseum. We found our way to Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps and had pizza and wine at a local restaurant. We finished our day by taking in the view from Pincio Park and taking the Flaminio Metro to Termini for the train back to the port. GREAT DAY!
LIVORNO: We took the NCL excursion PISA and TUSCANY. We took some photos of the Miracle Square in Pisa and did a bit of shopping. We walked around town and made our way to the river for some nice photos. We travelled through the countryside to a farm/winery www.fattoriailpoggio.com. Here we enjoyed lunch of Pasta, bread , cheese , and lots of wine. If you eat and drink lots it will be worth the price, for me it was by far the best meal of the cruise! 5/5
CANNES: We did the GRASSE/ St Paul de VENCE tour. The perfume factory tour was interesting but could have been shorter. ST Paul de Vence was spectacular. So many great vistas and good shopping. We would have loved to have the time to have lunch here as the location was awesome. Returning to Cannes we had time to go to the beach to have cocktails and stick our feet in the sea. After a short walk we boarded the tender back to the Gem. 5/5
BARCELONA: Simply wonderful, a blend of old and new. We stayed at Hotel Duquesa de Cardona near the Ramblas and the Marina. The rooftop terrace and pool were a highlight. We enjoyed taking breaks from the hop on hop off bus and just relaxing on the terrace. We went to the Picasso Museum on Sunday as it is free the first Sunday of the month. We took the Gothic walking tour and enjoyed the hop on hop off bus for two days.