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My husband and I have two children (12 y.o. son and 18 y.o. daughter) at the time of this cruise). We had been on two prior Caribbean (Western) cruises with Disney (first was on the Magic and the second on the Fantasy). NCL Gem is about the size of the Disney Magic. We LOVED our Disney experience, but the cost of leaving from Orlando and the options for my son on board seemed to be limited...so we looked at other options and found NCL Gem departing from NYC. We had a wonderful vacation. It wasn't the "magical" experience of a Disney Cruise, but we will certainly cruise with NCL in the future. Cruising for us is a family vacation, so we don't gamble, drink alcohol or party late. All of this is available on the GEM and many people appeared to enjoy it. I just can't comment on it. We were able to select a free service (beverages, upgraded dining, service, wifi). The free beverage package is the most valuable if you drink alcohol. We did the free service charges ($270 value). Next time I'd select free wifi. We decided just before leaving to purchase the unlimited wifi ($300) to allow my son to keep in touch with school and his homework assignments. Very worthwhile. Parking - at the terminal is convenient, but expensive ($400 for 10 days). Some of the passengers from Canada stayed at a hotel in NJ and were able to leave their car parked there for less money. It's worth it to do some research or get a food friend to drive you! Embarkation - we arrived early (10 a.m.), checked in and then waited until the ship was ready for us to board (around 11:30 a.m. - earlier than expected). It was easy and we met very nice people while waiting. Arriving early helped with parking and getting a seat in the waiting area. Packing - we all had one small suitcase and one backpack. This is important because we shared on inside stateroom - which is small. Glad I packed: - a lanyard for the key card (either one with a sleeve you can slip the card into or a clip and they'll punch a hole in the card for you). - water shoes - a number of the excursions recommend/require them - a large, collapsible beach bag for towels to take on excursions - LIGHTLY - I wore everything I brought. Take less than you think you'll need. - Empty water bottles to fill on board. I don't like to pay for water. - reading material and card games - a zippered hoody/sweater to wear in air conditioned venues and on deck. Inside Stateroom - the inside state room on the Disney ships is about 30 square feet larger and seem to make the best use of that space. The NCL inside stateroom is very tight. Frankly, it was initially difficult for all four of us to be in the room at the same time. I sent everyone off to explore the ship while I unpacked the suitcases and stored them under the beds. Fortunately, we are all light packers. Sleeping arrangements: the twin beds are pushed together to make a King-size bed on one side of the room, a lower trundle bed is pulled from under that bed (imagine wall-to-wall bed) and a bunk bed is pulled from the wall above the trundle. It's doable, but cramped and everyone needs to be flexible. We found it was best when only two people were in the room at a time - so my husband and I would get up early, dress and go for breakfast. Our kids would get up later and get ready for the day. The bathroom was a good size (larger than Disney) and the soap/shampoo products provided were nicely scented. I will explore other larger stateroom options for future cruises. It is fine for two adults or two adults with younger child/ren who don't need a lot of time in the room. IT WAS VERY STABLE WHEN WE HAD ROUGH SEAS off the NC coast. Also, we weren't the only four-person family in an inside stateroom, but everyone needs to work together and be good sports. Free Style Dining - we enjoyed the "event" of our evening meals on Disney BUT found that we didn't necessarily want such a fancy dinner every night. NCL's free-style dining fits our family's eating style. We liked that we could go to either of the main dining rooms without a reservation or enjoy the Garden Cafe buffet. We really liked the buffet's options and variety - morning, noon and night. Unlimited ice cream (hard scoop and soft serve) was also appreciated. There are TWO filter coffee machines in the Garden Buffet that grind the beans and then filter the coffee - which is delicious (the machines have a double spout, but are otherwise unlabeled). Look for them in the two beverage areas between the main serving area and the Great Outback (eating area outdoors). Speaking with other passengers, some missed the "family style" seating at restaurants where you have people to sit with for dinner. If that is your primary way to meet others, this is not the cruise line for you. However, our family met lots of folks on our excursions, in the dining rooms, on deck, etc. Library and Game Room - my happy place was the library. A silent place to read and watch the ocean go by. This was particularly important during the days at sea when it wasn't warm enough to be out on deck. Books can be checked out (small supply, but a pleasant find). The game room (with tables for card and board games) is next door. Sometimes the noise from the game room comes through the adjoining door. My son and husband used the game room to do and review his homework before he'd run off for the day. Activities on board for our 12 y.o. son - the rock climbing wall was one of the attractions that enticed me to book the cruise. It is only open 2 hours per day, weather permitting. Though he didn't ultimately use the rock climbing wall, we met several young people who did and they enjoyed it very much. My son didn't use the wall because he had met friends at Splash (kids club) and was ALWAYS off doing things with them. Splash is not well-suited for older kids and it isn't a compelling a space for youngsters either (in my opinion). I saw a wide-open space with mats and toys. It worked as a meeting place for my son and the friends he made, but I wouldn't have left him there and expected he'd be entertained or engaged. There is a sports deck and he and his buddies were there a lot. The soccer balls are only brought out at 5 p.m. I read other reviews that the basketballs may also be limited, so if a sport is important to your child's enjoyment of the trip, you may want to consider bringing a ball. Full disclosure: I'm grateful my husband squashed that plan since we wouldn't have had the space in our stateroom. However, our son isn't THAT into basketball and soccer. Table tennis/ping pong is also available. He enjoyed most of the evening shows. Unlike Disney, there weren't current movies and the television options were nonexistent. That being said, I don't want my kids in the stateroom watching TV while we are on a cruise. We did miss having a movie theater on board. Movies were shown in other venues during the day - they just weren't of interest to us. Activities for my 18 y.o. daughter - having just completed her first semester at college, our daughter was not interested to put herself out there to meet new people. So she didn't go to the mixer for 18 - 20 year olds the first night - and that was the only activity I saw targeting that age group. I recall on the Disney ship there was a different event everyday for 18 - 20 y.o. We had planned to watch the Rose Bowl on board since our daughter's college was playing. Unfortunately, NCL didn't pay Disney (which owns ESPN) for the licensing rights to broadcast college football so the Rose Bowl couldn't be broadcast on the ship's screens. They DID have NFL games and other sports (hockey, soccer). The Cruise Director was VERY helpful and we were able to stream the game over wifi to our computer. It wasn't a big-screen experience, but it allowed us and a few others to gather around a see the Rose Bowl. The evening entertainment was enjoyable for her. Entertainment - Comedian Tim Kaminsky was our headliner and he is well-traveled on NCL (eight months a year for the past 12 years). He does several shows throughout the cruise AND he makes point of meeting and interacting with the passengers while he is on the ship. He involves the audience in most of his shows and was suitable for all ages (one exception is his late-night show, but that is billed as an adult show). The 4 singers and 10 dancers who are the NCL cast are wonderful. They are talented and very entertaining. Some of the dancing is more suggestive than what would be allowed on a Disney ship, but nothing you wouldn't see on television watching an awards show. They put on a couple of shows while the ship was going through rough waters and they didn't miss a beat. We had another entertainer (a comedian/hypnotist) who our daughter and son really enjoyed. NCL Staff - everyone was polite, welcoming and any request we had was attended to...they just aren't Disney trained to extend that extra bit of service without being asked. On NCL, when I would smile at staff , they'd always smile back...but rarely did they smile at me first. This is a big difference from our Disney experience where it felt like staff were always engaging and wanting to provide excellent service. A special note about the medical team. Our daughter was diagnosed with tonsillitis while on board - this was done promptly, at the end of the day (isn't that when these things always happen) and she had her prescription within the hour. The medical staff were attentive and caring. Because of her diagnosis we needed to cancel a pre-book excursion and that was done very simply by the excursion staff. We were grateful she didn't have to suffer with a sore throat and could return to college feeling better. Ports of Call and Excursions: San Juan, PR - Husband and son - Ziplining and had a great time. Daughter and I did a bicycling tour of Old San Juan. We were VERY fortunate to be there on inauguration day for the new governor so there was no traffic. Apparently that is not typical. It was a very doable ride - one hill that if you need to you can push the bike. It was a nice way to see more of the city in less time. St. Thomas, V.I. - Husband and son - Snuba diving. We wanted to introduce our 12 y.o. to SCUBA and thought this would be a good first step. It was fine - though I think my son would have just preferred SCUBA. Daughter and I did Ecotours Kayak, hike, snorkel trip and it was WONDERUFL. Highly recommend it. St. Martaan/St. Martin - Husband and son - SCUBA diving. LOVED IT. Daughter and I signed up for an afternoon on the beach - that was cancelled, so we changed to a day at Orient Beach (included lunch). It was WONDERUFL - very relaxing. We are on the CLOTHING side of the beach. I took a walk to the other (clothing optional) side of the beach. As our guide said, "Some people will be wearing their birthday suits - and some will be more wrinkled than others". Tortola, B.V.I. - plan was for our family to do the Dolphin Experience, but because our daughter was ill, she and I canceled our part of the excursion. My husband and son went and upgraded their adventure to the Dolphin Swim - and they are glad they did. My husband and I had done a similar event in Hawaii 20 years ago. From their stories and the photos it was a GREAT experience. Note: you must buy the photos from them (you can't take photos - don't even try, leave your camera on the ship). Bottomline: Our Disney cruises were EXPERIENCES (my husband says "theme parks") and we paid a lot of money for those experiences, NCL was a floating Hilton with good dining options that conveniently left from NYC and went to wonderful places we enjoyed seeing. NCL gave me very good value for my money and I will definitely cruise with them again.

Very good value, convenient departure port and great ports of call

Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by kimmathias

18 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: December 2016
  • Destination: Eastern Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Inside
My husband and I have two children (12 y.o. son and 18 y.o. daughter) at the time of this cruise). We had been on two prior Caribbean (Western) cruises with Disney (first was on the Magic and the second on the Fantasy). NCL Gem is about the size of the Disney Magic. We LOVED our Disney experience, but the cost of leaving from Orlando and the options for my son on board seemed to be limited...so we looked at other options and found NCL Gem departing from NYC. We had a wonderful vacation. It wasn't the "magical" experience of a Disney Cruise, but we will certainly cruise with NCL in the future.

Cruising for us is a family vacation, so we don't gamble, drink alcohol or party late. All of this is available on the GEM and many people appeared to enjoy it. I just can't comment on it. We were able to select a free service (beverages, upgraded dining, service, wifi). The free beverage package is the most valuable if you drink alcohol. We did the free service charges ($270 value). Next time I'd select free wifi. We decided just before leaving to purchase the unlimited wifi ($300) to allow my son to keep in touch with school and his homework assignments. Very worthwhile.

Parking - at the terminal is convenient, but expensive ($400 for 10 days). Some of the passengers from Canada stayed at a hotel in NJ and were able to leave their car parked there for less money. It's worth it to do some research or get a food friend to drive you!

Embarkation - we arrived early (10 a.m.), checked in and then waited until the ship was ready for us to board (around 11:30 a.m. - earlier than expected). It was easy and we met very nice people while waiting. Arriving early helped with parking and getting a seat in the waiting area.

Packing - we all had one small suitcase and one backpack. This is important because we shared on inside stateroom - which is small. Glad I packed:

- a lanyard for the key card (either one with a sleeve you can slip the card into or a clip and they'll punch a hole in the card for you).

- water shoes - a number of the excursions recommend/require them

- a large, collapsible beach bag for towels to take on excursions

- LIGHTLY - I wore everything I brought. Take less than you think you'll need.

- Empty water bottles to fill on board. I don't like to pay for water.

- reading material and card games

- a zippered hoody/sweater to wear in air conditioned venues and on deck.

Inside Stateroom - the inside state room on the Disney ships is about 30 square feet larger and seem to make the best use of that space. The NCL inside stateroom is very tight. Frankly, it was initially difficult for all four of us to be in the room at the same time. I sent everyone off to explore the ship while I unpacked the suitcases and stored them under the beds. Fortunately, we are all light packers. Sleeping arrangements: the twin beds are pushed together to make a King-size bed on one side of the room, a lower trundle bed is pulled from under that bed (imagine wall-to-wall bed) and a bunk bed is pulled from the wall above the trundle. It's doable, but cramped and everyone needs to be flexible. We found it was best when only two people were in the room at a time - so my husband and I would get up early, dress and go for breakfast. Our kids would get up later and get ready for the day. The bathroom was a good size (larger than Disney) and the soap/shampoo products provided were nicely scented. I will explore other larger stateroom options for future cruises. It is fine for two adults or two adults with younger child/ren who don't need a lot of time in the room. IT WAS VERY STABLE WHEN WE HAD ROUGH SEAS off the NC coast. Also, we weren't the only four-person family in an inside stateroom, but everyone needs to work together and be good sports.

Free Style Dining - we enjoyed the "event" of our evening meals on Disney BUT found that we didn't necessarily want such a fancy dinner every night. NCL's free-style dining fits our family's eating style. We liked that we could go to either of the main dining rooms without a reservation or enjoy the Garden Cafe buffet. We really liked the buffet's options and variety - morning, noon and night. Unlimited ice cream (hard scoop and soft serve) was also appreciated. There are TWO filter coffee machines in the Garden Buffet that grind the beans and then filter the coffee - which is delicious (the machines have a double spout, but are otherwise unlabeled). Look for them in the two beverage areas between the main serving area and the Great Outback (eating area outdoors). Speaking with other passengers, some missed the "family style" seating at restaurants where you have people to sit with for dinner. If that is your primary way to meet others, this is not the cruise line for you. However, our family met lots of folks on our excursions, in the dining rooms, on deck, etc.

Library and Game Room - my happy place was the library. A silent place to read and watch the ocean go by. This was particularly important during the days at sea when it wasn't warm enough to be out on deck. Books can be checked out (small supply, but a pleasant find). The game room (with tables for card and board games) is next door. Sometimes the noise from the game room comes through the adjoining door. My son and husband used the game room to do and review his homework before he'd run off for the day.

Activities on board for our 12 y.o. son - the rock climbing wall was one of the attractions that enticed me to book the cruise. It is only open 2 hours per day, weather permitting. Though he didn't ultimately use the rock climbing wall, we met several young people who did and they enjoyed it very much. My son didn't use the wall because he had met friends at Splash (kids club) and was ALWAYS off doing things with them. Splash is not well-suited for older kids and it isn't a compelling a space for youngsters either (in my opinion). I saw a wide-open space with mats and toys. It worked as a meeting place for my son and the friends he made, but I wouldn't have left him there and expected he'd be entertained or engaged. There is a sports deck and he and his buddies were there a lot. The soccer balls are only brought out at 5 p.m. I read other reviews that the basketballs may also be limited, so if a sport is important to your child's enjoyment of the trip, you may want to consider bringing a ball. Full disclosure: I'm grateful my husband squashed that plan since we wouldn't have had the space in our stateroom. However, our son isn't THAT into basketball and soccer. Table tennis/ping pong is also available. He enjoyed most of the evening shows. Unlike Disney, there weren't current movies and the television options were nonexistent. That being said, I don't want my kids in the stateroom watching TV while we are on a cruise. We did miss having a movie theater on board. Movies were shown in other venues during the day - they just weren't of interest to us.

Activities for my 18 y.o. daughter - having just completed her first semester at college, our daughter was not interested to put herself out there to meet new people. So she didn't go to the mixer for 18 - 20 year olds the first night - and that was the only activity I saw targeting that age group. I recall on the Disney ship there was a different event everyday for 18 - 20 y.o. We had planned to watch the Rose Bowl on board since our daughter's college was playing. Unfortunately, NCL didn't pay Disney (which owns ESPN) for the licensing rights to broadcast college football so the Rose Bowl couldn't be broadcast on the ship's screens. They DID have NFL games and other sports (hockey, soccer). The Cruise Director was VERY helpful and we were able to stream the game over wifi to our computer. It wasn't a big-screen experience, but it allowed us and a few others to gather around a see the Rose Bowl. The evening entertainment was enjoyable for her.

Entertainment - Comedian Tim Kaminsky was our headliner and he is well-traveled on NCL (eight months a year for the past 12 years). He does several shows throughout the cruise AND he makes point of meeting and interacting with the passengers while he is on the ship. He involves the audience in most of his shows and was suitable for all ages (one exception is his late-night show, but that is billed as an adult show). The 4 singers and 10 dancers who are the NCL cast are wonderful. They are talented and very entertaining. Some of the dancing is more suggestive than what would be allowed on a Disney ship, but nothing you wouldn't see on television watching an awards show. They put on a couple of shows while the ship was going through rough waters and they didn't miss a beat. We had another entertainer (a comedian/hypnotist) who our daughter and son really enjoyed.

NCL Staff - everyone was polite, welcoming and any request we had was attended to...they just aren't Disney trained to extend that extra bit of service without being asked. On NCL, when I would smile at staff , they'd always smile back...but rarely did they smile at me first. This is a big difference from our Disney experience where it felt like staff were always engaging and wanting to provide excellent service. A special note about the medical team. Our daughter was diagnosed with tonsillitis while on board - this was done promptly, at the end of the day (isn't that when these things always happen) and she had her prescription within the hour. The medical staff were attentive and caring. Because of her diagnosis we needed to cancel a pre-book excursion and that was done very simply by the excursion staff. We were grateful she didn't have to suffer with a sore throat and could return to college feeling better.

Ports of Call and Excursions:

San Juan, PR - Husband and son - Ziplining and had a great time. Daughter and I did a bicycling tour of Old San Juan. We were VERY fortunate to be there on inauguration day for the new governor so there was no traffic. Apparently that is not typical. It was a very doable ride - one hill that if you need to you can push the bike. It was a nice way to see more of the city in less time.

St. Thomas, V.I. - Husband and son - Snuba diving. We wanted to introduce our 12 y.o. to SCUBA and thought this would be a good first step. It was fine - though I think my son would have just preferred SCUBA. Daughter and I did Ecotours Kayak, hike, snorkel trip and it was WONDERUFL. Highly recommend it.

St. Martaan/St. Martin - Husband and son - SCUBA diving. LOVED IT. Daughter and I signed up for an afternoon on the beach - that was cancelled, so we changed to a day at Orient Beach (included lunch). It was WONDERUFL - very relaxing. We are on the CLOTHING side of the beach. I took a walk to the other (clothing optional) side of the beach. As our guide said, "Some people will be wearing their birthday suits - and some will be more wrinkled than others".

Tortola, B.V.I. - plan was for our family to do the Dolphin Experience, but because our daughter was ill, she and I canceled our part of the excursion. My husband and son went and upgraded their adventure to the Dolphin Swim - and they are glad they did. My husband and I had done a similar event in Hawaii 20 years ago. From their stories and the photos it was a GREAT experience. Note: you must buy the photos from them (you can't take photos - don't even try, leave your camera on the ship).

Bottomline: Our Disney cruises were EXPERIENCES (my husband says "theme parks") and we paid a lot of money for those experiences, NCL was a floating Hilton with good dining options that conveniently left from NYC and went to wonderful places we enjoyed seeing. NCL gave me very good value for my money and I will definitely cruise with them again.
kimmathias’s Full Rating Summary
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Cabin
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Ages 10 to 12
Service
Onboard Experience
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Cabin Review

Mid-Ship Inside
Cabin IE 5605
Inside Stateroom - the inside state room on the Disney ships is about 30 square feet larger and seem to make the best use of that space. The NCL inside stateroom is very tight. Frankly, it was initially difficult for all four of us to be in the room at the same time. I sent everyone off to explore the ship while I unpacked the suitcases and stored them under the beds. Fortunately, we are all light packers. Sleeping arrangements: the twin beds are pushed together to make a King-size bed on one side of the room, a lower trundle bed is pulled from under that bed (imagine wall-to-wall bed) and a bunk bed is pulled from the wall above the trundle. It's doable, but cramped and everyone needs to be flexible. We found it was best when only two people were in the room at a time - so my husband and I would get up early, dress and go for breakfast. Our kids would get up later and get ready for the day. The bathroom was a good size (larger than Disney) and the soap/shampoo products provided were nicely scented. I will explore other larger stateroom options for future cruises. It is fine for two adults or two adults with younger child/ren who don't need a lot of time in the room. IT WAS VERY STABLE WHEN WE HAD ROUGH SEAS off the NC coast. Also, we weren't the only four-person family in an inside stateroom, but everyone needs to work together and be good sports.
Deck 5 Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews