But I was very pleasantly surprised...so much so that I bought another future cruise certificate while on board.
Some info about me...This was my 21st cruise, having cruised with Celebrity, HAL, Carnival and twice before with NCL. ... Read More
But I was very pleasantly surprised...so much so that I bought another future cruise certificate while on board.
Some info about me...This was my 21st cruise, having cruised with Celebrity, HAL, Carnival and twice before with NCL. I am now a solo cruiser for the past 13 months. Several years ago, while still a couple, we bought cruise certificates while on a fabulous New Year's Eve cruise. I used one of them in 2008 on the Dawn & that was the cruise that turned me off NCL. This Gem cruise redeemed the cruise line in my eyes. :)
Embarkation in NYC was a breeze. I arrived at the pier at 9:30, handed my large piece of luggage to the porter & drove out of the terminal & then turned back in to park on the upper deck. I've left from NY all but 3 times, and always arrive very early. This was the first time I wasn't permitted to park immediately. After paying the $210 parking, I was instructed to pull over & wait until 10AM when I would be allowed to proceed & park at the pier next to the Gem. No big deal, it was a gorgeous day.
Once inside the terminal I sat & waited about an hour until they directed us to line up, & follow the rope barriers, to security. When we got to the security checkpoint is when NCL staff handed everyone a notice of itinerary change. No Bermuda for us! We would, instead, be heading off to Port Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay & Nassau because of impending Hurricane Katia. I was OK with that because I'm not a port-driven cruiser...I just love being on the ship. We could go nowhere for 7 days and I'd still be happy. Check-in continued very smoothly, I had boarding zone #5 & was completely shocked, when we boarded just before noon, that an announcement was made that the cabins were open & ready! Well, THAT was a happy first!
I proceeded to my cabin, which was indeed clean & ready, and looked exactly as I had expected it to look. I dropped off my carry-on, went to the Great Outdoors (Deck 12 aft) for lunch. On the way I met my cabin steward Jose who introduced himself and who was fabulous all week. I'm always up & out fairly early, and I asked him to do my cabin very early, and he always did. The cabin had a nice-sized closet, plenty of shelving & drawers for storage, a small but perfectly adequate flat-screen TV, 2 lamps at either side of the bed for night reading, and the bonus was a full-size, full-power hairdryer (which I don't remember from the prior 2 NCL cruises).
Muster was a piece of cake in the Stardust lounge, & then it was up to Bali Hai (Deck 13 Forward) for DOD's (yummy) and sailaway. Unlike the 3 prior weeks when the Gem left NYC in rain at sailaway, ours was beautiful. As we passed under the Verrazano Bridge, one could hear a huge roar of passengers cheering!
My luggage was waiting outside my cabin when I returned from celebrating Sailaway. Easy-peezy!
I had a quick dinner that night in Blue Lagoon because I wasn't very hungry. I had some wings which were fat & delicious!
I conked out very early that night as it had been a very long day for me...I had been up since 4AM! I was so happy to be at sea again and looking forward to the rest of my vacation!
My opinion about the important things:
The Food: I'm something of a foodie & did not enjoy my meal in the Grand Pacific MDR on our 1st sea day. I enjoyed the company, as I was dining with fellow CC Roll Call members I had been anxious to meet. The MDR itself was very impressive, the waitstaff was fine, but the menu choices didn't appeal to me, and I ended up choosing from the "classics" side of the menu...I ordered a strip steak (very thin & tasteless) and a "baked potato" with sour cream. I put quotation marks around "baked potato" on purpose. I guess, by definition, it WAS a "baked potato"...however I feel compelled to advise you that it was a baked FINGERLING potato with a pearl-sized dollop of sour cream. Too funny.
The remainder of the cruise I had dinner in the specialty restaurants. La Cuccina twice...the first time it was great, the second time my entree choice wasn't so good (Pork Saltimboca), but the antipasto, the pizza & pasta choices were very good. I had dinner in Cagney's once...the filet mignon was very good. I was surprised that the dessert choices in Cagney's weren't very notable. We had dinner in Orchid once & it was a very memorable meal...so many excellent choices. The Maitre'd at Orchid went out of her way to please our little group because she ran out of someone's dessert choice ( I guess it had been popular that night!) After my friend picked a different, & available, dessert...Maitre'd Yunjie invited us all to come back the next day, at any time, and enjoy another dessert on the house! Her efforts were much appreciated.
And my favorite restaurant of all was Le Bistro, which was exceptional. The food (french onion soup, escargot, lobster, chocolate tarte) was to die for! Waitstaff in all of the specialty restaurants were sharp & attentive. I never had a problem making reservations & always got my time choice.
The Activities: Without question, hands-down, Sinan is the best Cruise Director I've ever cruised with on any ship, on any cruise line. And I'm not the kind of passenger who goes from activity-to-activity and am busy-busy-busy all day...I like alot of down time, reading time, serene time...but he is the type of leader who clearly inspires his staff to be fun, upbeat, engaging... and I loved the fact that the activities I DID choose to join were over-the-top major fun! Me, and some of my fellow Roll-Callers, went on the pub crawl ($25). Pub Crawl Leader Joleen Duncan, was a master of joyfulness! We had a blast doing 6 full-sized drinks (and a zucchini pass) at 5 bars...major fun! And thereafter, at the Stardust lounge, on the Promenade Deck, at disembarkation, Joleen never failed to know me by name & stop to chat. I predict she'll be a Cruise Director herself one day.
Other activities I attended were the daily Trivia (host Henry was a riot, and sooo quick with a funny response when a non-playing passenger walked by our area & shouted out the answer to a question he had just asked! I wonder if she's swam her way back to shore yet!). I went to the french wine tasting ($15) which was fun & educational. I attended the Flavored Martini clinic ($15) which was yummy AND very educational..learning who invented the concoction, where it was born, et al...and very fun. Danny the bartender presented this clinic & told us that he would ask a question at the end of his presentation & that the person with the correct answer would win a full-sized martini of one's choice. The question was completely unrelated to all the information he had just provided, but WAS related to the ship...that's all I'll tell you! But I won it & asked for a chocolate martini which became my favorite drink for the remainder of the cruise! I specified FLAVORED martini clinic here, because there was also a Classic martini clinic held earlier in the week. I didn't go to that one, but friends said it was good.
I went to the Second City show which was fabulous! These comedians are extremely talented & I would recommend this show. I also recommend comedian Jeff Harms. In addition to his nighttime show, he presented a terrific discussion on the last sea day (Q&A allowed and encouraged) about comedy in general and famous comedians who we all know and love.
Some of my fellow Roll Callers and I went to Quest...and we had a blast. Not for the faint-hearted or anyone even mildly repressed! Sinan did a fabulous job here as the host, as he (and his staff) did all week. I made the decision to cruise again on the Gem next year, and bought the future cruise certificate, largely because of Sinan and his staff. The other deciding factor was the fact that I loved this ship. If you're happy and you know it clap your hands....!
A major (most certainly THE major) highlight of this cruise, for me, was a private tour of the bridge for our group. Captain Roger Gustavsen was incredibly compelling, as he spent about 40 minutes with us, as did his Staff Captain, explaining everything, all instruments, technology, history, planning, decisions...and the view from the bridge is nothing short of amazing, including the one panel of clear glass on the floor...so the officers can look directly DOWN upon the ocean!
The cruise and ports: As mentioned above, I cruise for the ship and the ocean experience. I did not get off the ship at Port Canaveral because there was nothing I wanted to do or see there. I've done countless land vacations in Orlando at Disney, Epcot, Sea World, Universal...plus 2 of my cruises originated in Port Canaveral (and we did a post-cruise day at Kennedy Space Center)...so I felt no desire to get off in Orlando. Had a great day onboard though!
At Great Stirrup Cay I did not get off the ship. I could see the small private island from my balcony &, while it looked very pretty, it clearly had no shade whatsoever. Friends who did take the tender to the island returned before the day was over. I've been to Half Moon Cay, which is a more developed island with cabanas, grown trees, much more foliage, etc. I think Great Stirrup Cay will be better in a few years when it's more fully developed.
In Nassau I walked down the aft gangway, walked down the pier with the intention of shopping in town and at the straw market, and walked back up into the ship at the forward gangway instead. It was (for me) unbearably hot in Nassau...and I had just been there last year on the Miracle (Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay & Nassau). Last year we did the Atlantis Aquaventure which was so much fun. On prior cruises we did the Dolphin Encounter twice. I just enjoyed the ship that day, as I did the 2 days prior.
Disembarkation: Was something of a challenge this time, but through no fault of the ship or the cruise line. Three other ships arrived within minutes of us back in NYC...the Veendam, the Miracle and an Aida ship. I think this scenario strained the resources of the port, so things moved very slowly. Sinan kept apologizing over the loudspeaker. It wasn't his fault. I think it was further complicated by the fact that we arrived back on 9/11 with tighter than usual security, high government officials in town, events going on, etc. They stopped disembarkation for moments of silence at 8:46 and 9:03 which, as a New Yorker and American, I appreciated. I expected a slower process this cruise, & wasn't upset by it at all. Some people around me, however, were unprepared for the delay, & were desperately trying to contact their car services to forestall their pickup.
One constructive comment: I was in the cigar bar at one point or another every single day. There was never an attendant in there from whom to purchase cigars. A bar waiter came by infrequently. The ashtrays, if they were there at all, were often tiny little things that got filled up fast & weren't cleaned often enough. Just a note to NCL to ask that they pay more attention to this small area of the ship.
All in all, this cruise, this particular ship, far exceeded expectations. I look forward to cruising again next year on the NCL Gem. Read Less