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First off, this was our first cruise on NCL and we enjoyed it very much. Many things felt much more relaxed than recent experiences on RCCL. The ship was mid-size by current standards, and it felt about right to us. There are some onboard activities, but with only two at-sea days, you did not need a lot of things onboard. We flew into Montreal, where we did our own 3-night pre-cruise visit. We arrived in Quebec City by train, and we arrived almost next to the dock and walked two blocks to our hotel. We stayed one night before boarding, and took an organized walking tour of the city on boarding day. Embarkation was smooth and easy, due to our arrival at the ship just after 1 pm. We were located at the first overflow pier, Wharf 30, and the only facility they had was a semi-permanent tent. Not the nicest start, but everything was better once we boarded. We bought a 5-meal specialty dining package, and went to four different restaurants: Teppanyaki - good experience, but menu choices were a bit limited. Le Bistro - very good to excellent meal, good choices and very tasty; this is the only restaurant on the ship that suggests "smart casual" dress. Moderno - very good meal; the servers came around with the meats, much like a regular Brazilian steakhouse, and they came around with each choice more than once. Don't overload on the salad bar or you'll be sorry! Cagney's - we repeated there since we thought this was the best of the ones we visited. Our first visit was better than the second. The lamb chops on the first visit were outstanding. I had the 20 oz porterhouse the second time; it had a lot of fat and other waste, but I still had plenty of meat. The service on the first visit was efficient. The service on the second visit was confused at best - more than one person asked what we wanted to drink, wanted to take our order, etc. It was almost like we had two separate teams assigned to the table. We skipped some desserts along the way, but what we had was good. Regular dining: The Garden Cafe (buffet) had a reasonable breakfast, but like many ships, it was crowded when everyone was trying to have breakfast before going ashore to meet up with their excursions. Food was decent but not always as warm as you'd like to see. I had the best luck with omelettes cooked to order, as long as I had the time. We had few lunches and no dinners there. Magenta/Grand Pacific - the same menu in both, but we liked the Grand Pacific better. It has a nice view astern and some to the sides, it's a bit larger and feels less cramped. I think the service was slightly better in the GP. We always said we'd share a table, and were seated with others about half the time. We had a few dinners we arranged with other cruisers we'd met on excursions. O'Sheehan's Pub - maybe the most underappreciated dining venue on the ship. Yes, the menu is somewhat limited, but the lunches we had were excellent. They are open 24 hours, make everything to order, and some menu items are unique to that location. The Caesar salad with grilled salmon came with a good-size slab of fish. We had the beverage package through the Free at Sea program, which made things feel more relaxed as well: no signing for each drink order along the way and coming back with a stack of receipts to review. I would not spend the money to buy the beverage package (at almost $100/person/day) but paying 20% of that as gratuity seemed like a pretty good deal. Wines and other beverages were very good overall. There's a basic selection of wines by the glass at all of the bars. The regular dining rooms have more choices than the bar menus. They have a more interesting selection of wines in the specialty restaurants, particularly Cagney's. We ordered everything by the glass, as drinks under $15/each were covered by our package but bottles were only discounted 20%. There were a few gems on the drink lists, and the under-$15 choices were very good. I did splurge a couple of times on a nicer glass and paid the difference. We did find that some of the choices were not available, since they claimed they had "run out" or "did not have that item at that location" (despite it being on the menu!). The evening entertainment was very good to excellent. The productions were well-done and not "cheesy". They had a good mix of comedians, magicians, singing/dancing, music, etc. so you don/t get bored. One note: Blazing Boots was good, but drifted towards the raunchy side just a bit more than some people might like. We joined some other cruisers toward the end for progressive trivia and wound up tying for first place at the end. They had a late-night dance party in Bliss, but due to the many early-morning port calls, few people wanted to stay up very late. The fitness center was smaller than I would have expected. Many classes were free, but the schedule was not that good if you wanted to go on shore excursions. We only went to one class, despite having big plans to be more diligent in keeping up with our regular workout schedule. The shore excursions were (for the most part) expensive, but the $50/cabin/port Free at Sea discount helped. We joined some other cruisers on their private shore excursions, and that was a much better option. We had many times where we were standing outside and enjoying the view when a bus pulled up, stayed for about 30 seconds, and then drove off without anyone being able to get off the bus. If you have time to research and book your own trips with others, you will probably enjoy the flexibility and lower cost. We did take some of the ship-offered excursions where we thought it would make sense. You'll have to decide this one for yourself. The overall level of service was very good to excellent. As I mentioned before, there was much less hawking of added-cost items than we have experienced on other ships. They did promote things like the art auction, bingo, casino, duty-free shopping, etc. They had a 60% off sale on much of the fine jewelry and clothing on the last sea day, and this was quite well-attended. If you like the clothing items, it (mostly) pays to wait until the end. We did take advantage of the onboard purchase of deposits for future cruises, at half the face value (4x $250 certificates cost $500 net). You can always use one certificate and take advantage of all other offers available at the time, and they allow use of two deposits if you book a balcony/higher more than 6 months in advance. NCL runs specials regularly, but these deposits are sold only on the ship. If you book your next cruise, they will upgrade the cabin from the lowest in a category (e.g., balcony) to the highest, which is worth an additional $300 or so. Not huge, but worth taking advantage of if you're in the market and see something you like. Disembarkation in New York could have been better. They called groups a few minutes after the projected time, but there was a big backup once we got off the ship to claim our bags and go through customs. It did not help that there were only three windows open, but just getting to the baggage area had some issues with traffic flow. They funneled everyone to one access point, and then we walked back almost to where we had entered the baggage hall. At least things sped up once we exited. We stayed 3 days in New York on our own post-cruise visit before flying out. Would we go again? Yes. I think we will be cruising more with NCL on future cruises, but we will pick the cruise based on dates/itinerary more than blindly picking any specific cruise line. We are going on an NCL cruise in January 2020 to Australia and New Zealand... maybe we will see you there!

Ideal fall colors cruise itinerary and ship

Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by MkeCruzn

7 people found this helpful
Trip Details
First off, this was our first cruise on NCL and we enjoyed it very much. Many things felt much more relaxed than recent experiences on RCCL. The ship was mid-size by current standards, and it felt about right to us. There are some onboard activities, but with only two at-sea days, you did not need a lot of things onboard.

We flew into Montreal, where we did our own 3-night pre-cruise visit. We arrived in Quebec City by train, and we arrived almost next to the dock and walked two blocks to our hotel. We stayed one night before boarding, and took an organized walking tour of the city on boarding day. Embarkation was smooth and easy, due to our arrival at the ship just after 1 pm. We were located at the first overflow pier, Wharf 30, and the only facility they had was a semi-permanent tent. Not the nicest start, but everything was better once we boarded.

We bought a 5-meal specialty dining package, and went to four different restaurants:

Teppanyaki - good experience, but menu choices were a bit limited.

Le Bistro - very good to excellent meal, good choices and very tasty; this is the only restaurant on the ship that suggests "smart casual" dress.

Moderno - very good meal; the servers came around with the meats, much like a regular Brazilian steakhouse, and they came around with each choice more than once. Don't overload on the salad bar or you'll be sorry!

Cagney's - we repeated there since we thought this was the best of the ones we visited. Our first visit was better than the second. The lamb chops on the first visit were outstanding. I had the 20 oz porterhouse the second time; it had a lot of fat and other waste, but I still had plenty of meat. The service on the first visit was efficient. The service on the second visit was confused at best - more than one person asked what we wanted to drink, wanted to take our order, etc. It was almost like we had two separate teams assigned to the table. We skipped some desserts along the way, but what we had was good.

Regular dining:

The Garden Cafe (buffet) had a reasonable breakfast, but like many ships, it was crowded when everyone was trying to have breakfast before going ashore to meet up with their excursions. Food was decent but not always as warm as you'd like to see. I had the best luck with omelettes cooked to order, as long as I had the time. We had few lunches and no dinners there.

Magenta/Grand Pacific - the same menu in both, but we liked the Grand Pacific better. It has a nice view astern and some to the sides, it's a bit larger and feels less cramped. I think the service was slightly better in the GP. We always said we'd share a table, and were seated with others about half the time. We had a few dinners we arranged with other cruisers we'd met on excursions.

O'Sheehan's Pub - maybe the most underappreciated dining venue on the ship. Yes, the menu is somewhat limited, but the lunches we had were excellent. They are open 24 hours, make everything to order, and some menu items are unique to that location. The Caesar salad with grilled salmon came with a good-size slab of fish.

We had the beverage package through the Free at Sea program, which made things feel more relaxed as well: no signing for each drink order along the way and coming back with a stack of receipts to review. I would not spend the money to buy the beverage package (at almost $100/person/day) but paying 20% of that as gratuity seemed like a pretty good deal. Wines and other beverages were very good overall. There's a basic selection of wines by the glass at all of the bars. The regular dining rooms have more choices than the bar menus. They have a more interesting selection of wines in the specialty restaurants, particularly Cagney's. We ordered everything by the glass, as drinks under $15/each were covered by our package but bottles were only discounted 20%. There were a few gems on the drink lists, and the under-$15 choices were very good. I did splurge a couple of times on a nicer glass and paid the difference. We did find that some of the choices were not available, since they claimed they had "run out" or "did not have that item at that location" (despite it being on the menu!).

The evening entertainment was very good to excellent. The productions were well-done and not "cheesy". They had a good mix of comedians, magicians, singing/dancing, music, etc. so you don/t get bored. One note: Blazing Boots was good, but drifted towards the raunchy side just a bit more than some people might like. We joined some other cruisers toward the end for progressive trivia and wound up tying for first place at the end. They had a late-night dance party in Bliss, but due to the many early-morning port calls, few people wanted to stay up very late.

The fitness center was smaller than I would have expected. Many classes were free, but the schedule was not that good if you wanted to go on shore excursions. We only went to one class, despite having big plans to be more diligent in keeping up with our regular workout schedule.

The shore excursions were (for the most part) expensive, but the $50/cabin/port Free at Sea discount helped. We joined some other cruisers on their private shore excursions, and that was a much better option. We had many times where we were standing outside and enjoying the view when a bus pulled up, stayed for about 30 seconds, and then drove off without anyone being able to get off the bus. If you have time to research and book your own trips with others, you will probably enjoy the flexibility and lower cost. We did take some of the ship-offered excursions where we thought it would make sense. You'll have to decide this one for yourself.

The overall level of service was very good to excellent. As I mentioned before, there was much less hawking of added-cost items than we have experienced on other ships. They did promote things like the art auction, bingo, casino, duty-free shopping, etc. They had a 60% off sale on much of the fine jewelry and clothing on the last sea day, and this was quite well-attended. If you like the clothing items, it (mostly) pays to wait until the end.

We did take advantage of the onboard purchase of deposits for future cruises, at half the face value (4x $250 certificates cost $500 net). You can always use one certificate and take advantage of all other offers available at the time, and they allow use of two deposits if you book a balcony/higher more than 6 months in advance. NCL runs specials regularly, but these deposits are sold only on the ship. If you book your next cruise, they will upgrade the cabin from the lowest in a category (e.g., balcony) to the highest, which is worth an additional $300 or so. Not huge, but worth taking advantage of if you're in the market and see something you like.

Disembarkation in New York could have been better. They called groups a few minutes after the projected time, but there was a big backup once we got off the ship to claim our bags and go through customs. It did not help that there were only three windows open, but just getting to the baggage area had some issues with traffic flow. They funneled everyone to one access point, and then we walked back almost to where we had entered the baggage hall. At least things sped up once we exited. We stayed 3 days in New York on our own post-cruise visit before flying out.

Would we go again? Yes. I think we will be cruising more with NCL on future cruises, but we will pick the cruise based on dates/itinerary more than blindly picking any specific cruise line. We are going on an NCL cruise in January 2020 to Australia and New Zealand... maybe we will see you there!
MkeCruzn’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Mid-Ship Balcony
Cabin BA 9020
The cabin was nice, with a great starboard location. We used the balcony most mornings to observe the scenery as well as watch our arrival into port. The bathroom felt larger than other ships we've been on, with enough room to maneuver easily. Beds were comfortable and faced forward, unlike many ships where your head is against the window, but I guess that's what you get with a balcony cabin.
Our cabin attendant did a pretty good job overall, but they were repainting the bathroom trash cans during our voyage and we did not have a trash can for a couple of days. Not that big a deal.
Deck 10 Inside Cabins, Balcony Cabins, Suite Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews