Let's first preface this with the following statement, this was my 8th NCL Cruise and it will not be my last.
This was my partner's first cruise, he certainly enjoyed it and now that we are at home he is watching cruise ship YouTube videos. I assume we will be going on another cruise vacation together sometime in the future.
- BOOKING LAST MINUTE-
As far as price is concerned NCL does offer an enticing package for a competitive price. My partner and I never know when we are going to be able to escape from work. This trip we were last minute cruisers. For the Saturday, September 1, 2018, Florida and Bahamas itinerary I called NCL on Tuesday, August 28 and booked a solo cabin for myself. The price was $699 for a solo cruiser with a "guarantee" balcony, plus taxes and port fees, with no 'free at sea' perks. No beverage package. :( They allowed me to use TWO of my $250.00 Cruise Next deposits for the balcony cabin even though I was going by myself and I was not booking 6 months in advance.
On Thursday, August 30, my partner was able to block out some time for the week ahead and we added him to my room. That required some maneuvering on NCL's part. They had to refund my shore excursions and my spa package and I would have to rebook them on board. I am still not sure why this was necessary but okay. He was added to the room for another $699 plus tax and port fees.
The drawback to this was my thermal spa package price was increased from $137 to $179 because it had to be booked on board.
We never received our edocs because we booked less than 48 hours prior to sailing. I called NCL on Friday night and after waiting on hold whoever answered the phone transferred me over to tech support to reset my online account. Tech support was closed for the evening. I then called back and waited on hold again. When I got through to the next associate and explained my situation I was not greeted with the customer service I had learned to expect from NCL.
- GETTING TO THE PORT -
NCL's New York City Port is just North of where the Intrepid is docked on the west side of Manhattan. From Grand Central Station we took a cab at the cost of $12.
Getting through security on a long line with two thousand + people is never easy nor fast. We did not have a problem without our edocs and just used our printed confirmation.
Since we booked last minute there was a snafu and my partner's key card had a slight delay to get through another paperwork hurdle.
- CABIN -
Our cabin was 9644, a port side "family" balcony towards the aft of the 9th deck. The cabin was in very good condition. The only problem we experienced was two incidents of the toilet not flushing. They were both rectified immediately by the maintenance staff.
My partner complained that the bed was too stiff, I personally loved it. The cabin was the perfect size for the two of us.
My first time in a balcony cabin, I loved seeing the sunset over the ocean on the way down and the sunrise on the way home. At 6:30 AM on the last day we were greeted in NY by an amazing view of the Verrazano Bridge and Statue of Liberty before sunrise. Is it worth it? Maybe. If you don't spend much time in your room there's really no need for it.
- CREW -
Our cabin steward, Neil, was wonderful and attentive. He kept everything tidy, well stocked, and he was there when we wanted him.
There were many crew members that I had seen over the years on other ships. Erick (MacLoughlin?) from Columbia at Topsiders, one of my favorite bartenders, his barback, who I recognized from Maltings on the Breakaway.
I enjoyed Lorena as our Cruise director, she has an awesome demeanor and sense of humor. Her assistant cruise director hosted the Best Couple event which was hilarious.
My partner chatted up an officer, Richard from France, the hotel director, who turned out to be an approachable and cordial host. He sent us a complimentary evening at a specialty restaurant. We greatly thank him for that. He's the one that looks like Daniel Craig.
Our favorite waitress was Lee Ann at Grand Pacific she was the most amazing person, her eyes or so bright, her smile so wide, she was just wonderful every time we saw her.
- MEET THE OFFICERS -
We had three meet and greets with the officers. The first one was The Cruise Critic meeting, (thank you, Charlie, for organizing this!) the second the latitudes event, the third was a Q&A with the officers. The Officers are the cream of the crop they are all perfect for their roles and reflect wonderfully on what NCL is to me.
- WINE -
We attended three wine tasting events. The first one was the chocolate and wine pairing which was delicious. Juvy, the sommelier was knowledgeable and she was an excellent teacher. The second wine tasting was the black glass event where are you are presented with three wines in black glasses and you need to use your skills to determine what type of wine they are. The 3rd wine tasting was the progressive wine tasting. It was my first time at that event. You are given five different glasses of wine and learn how to pair them with food using their characteristics of sweet, dry, acidic, salty and savory. This class was phenomenal I'm glad I got to attend it.
Also present at the wine tastings was Sofi the wine Steward from Cagney's. We had met him one evening at Moderno where he recommended an excellent Cabernet to go with dinner.
- ENTERTAINMENT -
We saw three of the shows in Stardust on deck 7;
Swing - was an action-packed singing and dancing show. The costumes, the performers, the band, were all amazing.
Luminescence - was a beautiful exhibition of the human body and showcased light and acrobatics. I highly recommend attending this.
The final show was the 1970s dance show which was a lot of fun. Again the costumes and the props were very well done. At the end of the last show, NCL brings out their staff, the room stewards, chefs, officers, and desk staff to thank you for being part of the NCL Family. What's not to love!
There was one room steward who made an owl towel animal I'm still looking for the directions to make at home - let me know if you find it.
One night we enjoyed the band in Spinnaker Lounge the trumpet, trombone, saxophone, bass player, and drummer, are an excellent addition to NCL offering of an onboard entertainment package.
There was also a piano player Lounge singer, a lot of people seem to enjoy his method of music and comedy. He definitely has skills.
- THE SPA! -
Now let's talk about the spa. I will never go on a cruise again without booking the thermal Spa. To have unfettered access to a hot tub, a hydrotherapy pool, heated mosaic loungers, fruit infused water, a sauna, a steam room, large showers, robes, fluffy towels, and the silence which comes along with these things, is the only way to travel. The spa on the Gem is not as Lush and Grand as it is on the Escape and the Breakaway but it certainly serves its purpose. Maybe they can squeeze a snow room or Himalayan Salt room into one of the many therapy rooms.
- THE INTERNET -
Book it before you get on board for a discount - it works, not fast, you won't be watching Netflix.
- PHOTOS -
The photographers were really fantastic on this trip. We had our photos taken at two dinners, two ports, and then posed at the backdrops twice. Each of the photographers assists in posing you, the result is high-quality photos which we did purchase the package of 10.
What I didn't like was the fact that they print out all of the photos before you choose to buy them. It is very wasteful and does not reflect well on NCL's statement that they are an environmentally conscious company.
- THE PASSENGERS -
Over the years the demographic that NCL caters to has changed significantly. Nowadays there are a lot of people who enjoy the booze package a wee bit too much. There were quite a few incidents of idiots jumping from the hot tub into the pool, falling asleep drunk in a chair at Topsiders, white thong bathing suit wearing cell phone holding crowded into the hot tub twenty-somethings, tourists from faraway lands who lack manners and common sense in embarkation, disembarkation, and in the cafe. I don't believe that any of that is NCL's fault.
- PORTS OF CALL -
While in Port Canaveral we enjoyed a visit from my mom who retired down to FL. So I did not go on any organized excursions. In the past, we had traveled to Kennedy Space Center which is excellent and worth the trip for people of all ages.
We visited Great Stirrup Cay which only gets better every year. It's a beautiful place to relax, to swim, snorkel, to drink, and listen to music. our tender had a little delay because of rough Seas, but that is to be expected when you are in the Caribbean during hurricane season.
Our stop at Nassau Bahamas was probably the same thing everyone else experiences. As soon as you walk out of the terminal you are accosted by people who want to braid your hair, take you for a taxi ride, sell you a seashell, put a bracelet on your hand and tell you that you need to pay for it because it's a donation to some charity.
This time my partner and I went on the beach day Excursion to Atlantis. It is such a beautiful place. The aquarium is exquisite, the Predators Lagoon is phenomenal. The casino will steal every cent you have, the food is ridiculously expensive, you can bring food and drinks off of the boat and take them into Atlantis. as you are getting on the shuttle to Atlantis there will be a guy attempting to sell you bottled water stating that it is $1 to buy a bottle of water right there, and then $5 to buy a bottle of water in Atlantis. What he does not tell you is that there are water fountains and water bottle filling stations all over Atlantis. Bring a water bottle to fill.
- THE SHIP -
While at Nassau we docked next to a Carnival Cruise lines ship, it was filthy and covered in rust. I felt bad for that Carnival ship and its crew. :( Looking at the Gem side by side with that Carnival ship made me realize and then pay attention to how much work the maintenance staff is constantly putting into the Gem and the NCL fleet. 24 hours a day they are cleaning, buffing, scrubbing, painting, screwing, washing, sanding, the ship - their hard work certainly shows. The Gem gleams!
Another big difference was that NCL literally rolls out the red carpet, gives you water, hot towels, and greets you as you return from your day in the Bahamas.
A must see on the Gem is the bridge viewing room at the bow on Deck 11 - it's awesome to see!
The layout between decks 6 to 8 is bizarre. There are places where "you can't get there from here." The kitchen is somewhere in there and it interrupts the flow between the restaurants.
The elevators on the Gem are fabulous - three banks of four elevators - enough for everyone, everywhere. The mega-ships have two banks of elevators - so you are walking... and walking.. and walking...
Another thing that the Gem beats the mega-ships is the wider hallways and common areas in common places. (Or maybe just because there are fewer people and fewer jogs in the hallways?) The Gem does not have the 8 layers of cabin only decks which you have to through to get to any common area like the Escape.
- FOOD -
I've probably said this in my other reviews, skip the buffet. If you like food, take the time out of your morning and evening to go to the main dining rooms which are included in your cruise fare.
We had amazing breakfasts, spinach pancakes with lox, eggs any way you want them, and on what you want. For lunch, we often went to O'Sheehans which is very good. The staff members are on top of everything. We had dinner in the main dining room, the Grand Pacific, the other main dining room, Magenta. One of the desserts was banana souffle with caramel sauce it was to die for.
We had to Specialty dinners, Cagney's, and Moderno. Cagney's was fine, nothing to write home about. If you have a steakhouse anywhere around where you live it's similar in quality. Moderno is absolutely wonderful. The filet, bacon-wrapped filet, marinated chicken, grilled pineapple, the pork was so tender. This is the go-to place on the Gem.
- RESCUE AT SEA -
There was one crazy event while we were aboard. On Monday, Labor Day, there were two men from the Bahamas in a tiny boat out in the middle of the ocean for 3 days without food or water or a radio, who somehow managed to flag down the Gem. The Gem launched a tender to go rescue the men and take them back to the Bahamas. I even uploaded a YouTube video of it. I guess this makes it a five-star Cruise.
- WHAT DID THE NEW CRUISER THINK?-
What bothered my partner about the trip was the constant selling. You are bombarded with offers to spend more money. The high-pressure salespeople from the Spa and Tradewinds were tacky. The trivia even sells the next ships and ports of call! The Cruise Next push is a bit overbearing - however, this may be what keeps NCL in business and allows them to bring out the new ships.
- $ -
The total overall price for two people, seven days, last minute balcony "guarantee" cabin, taxes, port fees, 2 specialty restaurants, three bottles of wine, three wine tastings (for two people), six frozen drinks, Atlantis Beach Day shore excursion for two, extra cash tips for our favorite server and cabin steward, a $70.00 Pandora charm exclusive to the Bahamas, 10 photo package, two seven day thermal spa passes, the unlimited time internet package which did not include video streaming, prepaid gratuities, transportation from CT on Metro-North, $100 of souvenirs, a bottle of Sheridan coffee liquor to take home, covered private parking at the train station for 7 days, taxis from Grand Central Station to the pier and back was over $3000.00.
Bringing the first time cruiser partner to experience a cruise and he loved it - PRICELESS!
- FINAL THOUGHTS -
Comparing the Gem to the Breakaway and the Escape is comparing grapes to watermelons. The Gem is perfect for first-time cruisers, the older demographic, the younger demographic, families .... oh.. maybe that's everyone. The Escape and the Breakaway are huge, a bit cold and impersonal. The Gem is the perfect size with a fabulous crew, meticulously maintained, big enough to cut through a storm and small enough to find your new best friend.
All in all, it's my second time on the Gem and I hope it's not my last. Maybe next time I will get into the Haven. Keep it up NCL! Read Less