16 New York (Manhattan) to Transatlantic Norwegian Gem Cruise Reviews

We approached this long cruise with great anticipation. We are people who can spend days just hanging out and amusing ourselves and yet love to explore new places. With that in mind, we felt that the combination of a Transatlantic and a ... Read More
We approached this long cruise with great anticipation. We are people who can spend days just hanging out and amusing ourselves and yet love to explore new places. With that in mind, we felt that the combination of a Transatlantic and a Greek Isle B2B cruise would be a perfect adventure for us. And for the most part it was. For some background, we cruised on NCL twice before and have also cruised on RCCL, Disney and Princess. We have also traveled extensively on land trips. We are both retired and are enjoying life. For this cruise, we were a part of a large and active Cruise Critic group. The people we met and shared meals and adventures with were the best and made the trip wonderful. We met our fellow cruise mates at sail away parties planned by one of our members. We had a great Meet and Greet (well, actually two) that included visits and presentations from Captain Mikael Hilden and seven other top officers. It was a pleasure to have them attend our gatherings. We had also arranged for two group dinners on the TA and one on the Greek Isles portion. For these events we were given a quiet side room in the Grand Pacific dining room so we felt we were in our own private restaurant. The room was set up with tables for four and six, so we could actually have conversations with our new friends. They were all wonderful experiences and we had the chance to get to know our fellow cruisers. I had put together a website for the cruises which allowed people to connect for bridge, canasta, scrabble and other games and tours. We also met people who had seen our posts and website, but had not joined in. I was amazed at how many people are part of the Cruise Critic community, even when you don't "see" them. One disappointment was that some of our friends we were supposed to meet on the Greek Isles cruise couldn't make it to the ship because of the volcano in Iceland and the subsequent havoc with the airlines. We missed you! Cabin: We splurged this time and had a penthouse suite, which was an excellent choice for this particular journey. My husband uses a mobility scooter so we had a handicapped AE suite that worked very well for us. It was only a little larger than a regular balcony HC cabin, but it had a much more luxurious feeling. We had lots of nice storage space, a Lavazza coffee maker, a large (32"?) flat screen TV and an overall nice ambiance. The bathroom was a typical HC one, but with nicer finishes. There is only a shower with lots of grab bars and it's at the same level as the floor - no tub. It worked very well for our needs. Our deck was narrow, but had nice chairs and was the perfect perch for watching the wake. The aft location allowed us to use it even in the middle of the Atlantic since it was sheltered from the wind. Suite Perks: The priority embarkation and disembarkation, priority tender tickets, snacks in the afternoon, breakfast (always) and lunch (sometimes) at Cagney's, and just the "special" treatment made the upgrade so worthwhile for us. Ruth was our concierge who greeted us warmly each morning and Maxi was our ever elegant and helpful butler. We probably didn't utilize them as much as others, but it was just extra nice having them check in on us. It was our first suite and we loved it. Food: I tend to have the philosophy that any meal I don't have to cook is a good one. We ate at both main dining rooms, Le Bistro, Tequilas, Orchid, Blue Lagoon (our favorite for lunch) and Cagney's. We didn't dine in our room since the HC units did not have a table and we wanted to be out anyway. We tried the buffet a couple times for lunch (good) and once for dinner (not so good). I must say that we had only that one really disappointing meal, many good ones and perhaps two "wow" ones. Our favorite meals, though, were those we shared with our new friends - where we really didn't notice the food. Most of our breakfasts were at Cagney's, where we enjoyed the quiet, the service and the company of other people there. The service in all restaurants was friendly and efficient and we enjoyed the interaction with the staff. Activities: Keep in mind we had nine sea days out of fourteen on the TA leg of the trip and only one (the last day) on the Greek Island part. We brought lots of books along to read, which was a good thing. My husband signed up for bridge with our Cruise Critic friends. I planned to wander, read, watch movies, relax and see what other activities piqued my interest. This is where NCL missed the boat, so to speak. The only programs available on the in-room TVs were news (MSNBC, Fox and BBC), sports (ESPN and some European channel) and the usual collection of NCL infomercials. No free movies, not even TV reruns. You could purchase movies for $12.99 (!) each. No problem, I thought, our suite has a DVD player. Let's see what movies are available for that. Well, uh, no more DVD's available for the suites. Corporate decision. Okay, what about movies outside? Well, no movie theater - three movies were shown in rotation in the atrium on the big screen there. And the three movies were Up, Michael Jackson's This is It and a Star Trek movie. That's it for nine sea days. And shown in a large noisy public space with vendors hawking the various promotions of the day and people wandering through having their own conversations. There were a couple language classes offered - and hour or so each, the shopping talks and trivia. Otherwise the activities consisted of pay-to-play things like bingo, wine and martini tastings, the casino - and not much else. There were the usual evening shows and evening entertainment, but this doesn't help for the long sea days. The library is available, but I heard there was a rush the first day to get the limited supply of material. I'm just glad I packed a lot of my own. The planned activities works for a seven-day port intensive trip, but is really disappointing for a long journey. As I said before, we are pretty self-sufficient and able to amuse ourselves pretty well - and we did Just be forewarned and bring along your own activities when you go on a long cruise. Ports and Tours: How great is it to be able to sail from New York to Venice then on down to the Greek Isles in one trip! We enjoyed the ports, some more than others. It was overcast or drizzly or very windy (a shear gale in Mykonos) in many of the ports, normal for this time of year. We especially enjoyed the cruise tour that took us to Seville from Cadiz. It dropped us off, and then told us when to be back. It was a perfect way for us to see the town at our own pace. We were less enamored with the cruise tour in Lisbon. It was supposed to be a level 1 tour (which was supposed to mean some walking, mostly sightseeing and suitable for everyone). It was great until the end when we were told that the "grand finale" was a long trek (at least a half mile straight down) from the castle to the port on a street that had slick cobblestone steps and no handrails. A third of the tour members had to sit in the bus for almost an hour waiting for the others to make the trip. When we reported to the excursion desk that this was probably not appropriately labeled, we were greeted with accusations that perhaps we had not read the description properly (we had) and that all tours require some walking (that's fine, we can walk, just not down the side of a mountain). They eventually begrudgingly took off 15%, but acted as though we had done something wrong. We hadn't even asked for a discount, we only wanted to let them know. Otherwise we did our own private tours or just went out and wandered. We did enjoy the opportunity to see a lot of different places in a short amount of time. Overall we had a wonderful time. The ship is beautiful and the staff for the most part helpful and friendly. We made several friends we will keep in touch with and hopefully cruise with again. Will we do another Transatlantic - absolutely. Will we do it on NCL? Perhaps. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
Norwegian Gem is a tutorial in what not to do in the cruise world. Their business model is to take as much of your money as possible and give you as little as possible in return. Our 14 day transatlantic cruise involved two days at sea ... Read More
Norwegian Gem is a tutorial in what not to do in the cruise world. Their business model is to take as much of your money as possible and give you as little as possible in return. Our 14 day transatlantic cruise involved two days at sea during which they drained, sanded and painted both pools, rainy days during which they recarpeted the lounges, 2 to 2 1/2 hour meals in the main dining rooms, searching endlessly for a table in the buffet dining room...............what else does one do with all that free time? The optional resturants were no better; SLOW service and overcooked, flavorless food. If you like flavorless, overcooked food, this is a great cruiseline! We four all LOST weight. They have lobster some nights..........we were served 1/2 of small lobter tails. The prime rib was at least 1/2" thick!!!! But the shrimp cocktails contained a whole tablespoon of salad shrimp. The "cheescake" was not even as good as the Jello boxed version. Their shore excursions were an exercise in patience and generosity.....on our part. Outrageously expensive, we did not receive the full value of the tours described. We learned that "panoramic tour" amounts to a drive-by, and "time for shopping" means whatever you can pick up during a gas/ bathroom stop. We left 40 minutes late for one tour while the ships' rep allowed a guest to leave the bus and go back on the ship to buy bottled water!!!!! We never got the time back in the tour even though they said "we'd get the full value" of our tour. I've never been asked to tour a ship and expected to pay for it. I've never been dogged about buying raffle and pull-tab tickets while waiting for a show in the theater. I've never been humiliated with a laser pointer for trying to take a SOUVENIR photo at a floor show. I've never fought so hard for a seat in a buffet or at a pool. I've never been expected to pay $12.00 for a movie in my stateroom. I've never gone on a cruise (not one of 20 or so) and lost weight! That is, until THE NORWEGIAN GEM!!!!!!!!!!! NEVER again!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
I have been loyal to Royal (and Celebrity) for over 20 cruises. It was definitely time to try something else, because I was sick and tired of the never changing food and the never changing entertainment on RCCL. In addition I was angry at ... Read More
I have been loyal to Royal (and Celebrity) for over 20 cruises. It was definitely time to try something else, because I was sick and tired of the never changing food and the never changing entertainment on RCCL. In addition I was angry at RCCL´s extremely lousy customer service in Europe. So I decided to give NCL a try. The price was right so I decided book a penthouse suite, facing the front of the ship with a giant balcony. Not sure if I would be able to use it on the transatlantic portion but was looking forward to NCL´s Suite Service. What a great choice! From start to finish NCL did everything right. Embarkation was easy and quick. Escorted to the cabin before all other passengers were allowed to board, lunch in a special restaurant, only for suite guests. Fabulous way to start a cruise. Here is where NCL really does it right, much better and much more efficient than RCCL /Celebrity. I was very impressed during the whole cruise with all the extras I received. The ship is beautiful and extremely well mainained. It still looks brand new EVERYWHERE! Furniture is very cool and stylish. It does take a little to find everything but once you get used to the layout it works great. Freestyle worked excellent on this cruise. The main and free dining rooms were always busy but even if you had to wait a little it was no big deal and very well organized. They handed out little beepers which gave you 2for1 drinks at the bars during your waiting time. Great! The special restaurants were never full on our cruise and you could get a table easily on every night at any time. My favourite restaurant was definitely the Asian restaurant Orchid Garden. Excellent food and sushi. Well worth the extra money. Cagney´s steakhouse was the only disappointment. Tex/Mex was quite good and so was the Italian restaurant. Did not try the others. The buffet was very very good. I usually do not like buffets, also for health reasons (NORO is the word here..), but I have to say that NCL did a great job here. Excellent selection at all times, plenty of space to sit inside and outside. Perfect! The ship has the best spa I have ever seen on any ship, well worth the extra money for the pass. Staff was extremely nice there. Overall staff seemed happy on the ship, some more some less but in general I was very pleased with them. The DJ could have been better, but after 22 cruises I finally gave up thinking that cruise lines undertsand that you can make a lot of money if you have a good DJ that "rocks the house". No, they couldn´t care less unfortunately. Bowling at Bliss nightclub however was a lot of fun, even when the ship was rockin and rollin which happened only for 2 days after we passed the Azores. Weather was mostly good, I was able to use my front balcony with its fabulous furniture every single day ! Shows were OK. Did not see them all. Cruise director was OK. Not the best not the worse I ever had. Nice guy but coudl have had a bit more energy for my taste. Overall a fantastic cruise with great ports, a great ship and a rocket high onboard bill at the end. Yes you might pay a tad bit more on NCL, but it was worth it. My next cruise on the Pearl is already booked! Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
My husband and I became serious cruisers with our first Transatlantic Cruise on the NCL Dream. We left Barcelona for Miami in October, 2007. Having only done a 7 day Alaskan cruise on Celebrity in 1999, we were almost first timers. We were ... Read More
My husband and I became serious cruisers with our first Transatlantic Cruise on the NCL Dream. We left Barcelona for Miami in October, 2007. Having only done a 7 day Alaskan cruise on Celebrity in 1999, we were almost first timers. We were so impressed by the service, food, high quality and varied entertainment, guest speakers, comfortable cabins and beds,the friendly, helpful, and highly motivated crew,free cappuccinos at the back of the ship, and free in-room entertainment. This included free recently released movies which were repeated on different times and days. News shows were basically limited to Fox News and BBC when it came in. A paper TV schedule was provided for your convenience. The Ports of Call (Marojca, Alicante, Ceuta, Madeir, St. Thomas)were well-planned and organized. Being pleased we booked another Transatlantic cruise in September, 2008. This is when the cutting back seems to have begun. There were no longer any recently released movies only a couple of Turner Classic type movies which were recycled the entire trip and never changed In April, 2009 we sailed on the NCL Gem from NYC to Barcelona with stops at The Azores, Lisbon, Cadiz, Malaga, Corsica, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Monaco. It was on this trip that the cutting backs became more obvious. There was no longer any free entertainment in the cabins. There still was Fox News and the occasional BBC, but movies were $12.00. On April 10, 2010 we sailed on a back to back transatlantic cruise to Venice to the Greek Isles back to Venice. The wonderful free cappuccinos were gone, BUT you could now pay for them. NCL had added CNBC, MSNBC, and CNN to Fox and BBC so that was an improvement, but movies were still $12.00. There were no guest lecturers as on previous cruises and the big shows such as Colorz, World Beat which are lavious shows were shown in 2009 and then repeated twice during this last cruise. Another talented entertainer, Edmundo Rahme, was repeated four times. For those people who do not gamble, want to participate in art auctions, or drink at the lounges, varied and new entertainment is one of the reasons to cruise. Having also sailed the Queen Mary 2 in 2009, we know that in-room entertainment is free and that interesting guest speakers are provided on other carriers. We enjoy relaxing in our cabin when we are at sea and not having to pay such a high fee. NCL needs to take notice of this or will find that their customers will locate other ships that meet their needs. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
We left NYC on a Saturday afternoon. All went well. The embarkation was organized and there were minimal frustrations. That was not so with disembarkation (noted later). We weren't shown to our room, but that was ok. We knew how to ... Read More
We left NYC on a Saturday afternoon. All went well. The embarkation was organized and there were minimal frustrations. That was not so with disembarkation (noted later). We weren't shown to our room, but that was ok. We knew how to find it. A pre sailing meal was easy to find and lines were minimal. Sailing from NYC is always exciting, and this one was too. We were in a DD ocean view. The price was right and we have seen the Atlantic on other crossings. Most days were nice on the crossing, so a veranda might have been useful. We have cruised on Oceania and Celebrity before so we were curious to see how NCl compared. Generally the food was good. The disappointing fact is that the food in the main dining rooms were not at the quality level of other cruises, and also that of the specialty restaurants. Freestyle gets a little lost in that equation. On cruises we look for quality not quantity. Its some how disheartening to know that you have to pay $50 for two to have an exceptional meal. Buffets were a nice surprise though. The ship is beautiful and well designed but with some inherent flaws. The Theater holds a large number of people but without aisles on both sides people must move by everyone in the row to get in. And NCL holds open seats for the suite and villa people even if they don't attend the show. So some people are sitting in the aisles while 50 seats are left empty but unavailable. Movies...the movies (only 3) were show in the atrium which also serves as a shopping mall and bar. So it was hard to hear and concentrate while people were buying watches and beer next to you. There were only pay movies in the rooms. TV...very limited satellite stations...... Bingo... a necessary evil. NCL gives out free bingo cards to get people into the session. The assistant Cruise Directors then calls you "bingo stalkers" when you show up for the free game card. It was said in a somewhat comic vein, but it still hits home. The assistant cruise director tended to be more annoying than entertaining. Casino...friendly and play was available for all dollar and skill levels. Entertainment...sometimes very good and sometimes just good...ship cast shows were good not great. Ship's special parties were what you would expect and not too much more. Having entertainers available for Q & A and general discussions are a great idea. State room....DD Ocean view was comfortable while not huge. Stewards were fantastic! Our room had a couple of broken pieces of furniture and maintenance was slow to repair them. Dining Room service...staff ranged from good to excellent. I still think staff are different when they know their service only to you determines the gratuity. Freestyle means no assigned dining staff. Freestyle is over played. Freestyle tends to = a la carte. Not much in freestyle is free. If there was a love boat, this is the a la carte boat. IE bowling at $5 per game on a rolling sea is quite pricey. Drinks were not pushed to the extreme as on other ships. This voyage tended to over promote scratch type lottery tickets and other simple gambling devices We didn't do much on the way of excursions, so we'll leave that to others. Embarkation was amazingly disorganized. I'm not sure if it was the Venice authorities or NCL. But they left a large number of guests waiting early in the morning for the buses to the airport. They actually kept calling for additional groups to disembark before they were letting people off the ship. All in all a nice cruise on a nice ship. It was a great cruise but well worth the price. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
The overall trip was a real blast transatlantic plus Greece.I had bred having some medical problems looking forward to this trip kept me going.the ship is just as good looking as a year ago when we went on the 10 day Caribbean ... Read More
The overall trip was a real blast transatlantic plus Greece.I had bred having some medical problems looking forward to this trip kept me going.the ship is just as good looking as a year ago when we went on the 10 day Caribbean cruise.because of the longer trip we went with the mini suite Which is only marginally larger but the bathrooms were livable. The Trip from NY was very smooth considering the Stories of the fall ta.we started by booking tours with nil.in Lisbon my wife had been looking forward to Fatima.we were told to be at the assembly for 9:15 it was a half hour before we were called and forced to wait in a very stifling hallway .when we got to the front it turned out the employees line of those on shore leave were holding us up.next the was a race in the town that diverted us.next the tour guide decided to take us to tourist trap for one hour.when we got to the shrine she informed that only30 minutes were left for what the trip was about.the others on different buses had at least 1 1/2 hours.When we complained they gave 15 percent off.when we pointed out this was not acceptable and if they did not do better we would cancel the Greek tours they naturally did nothing for us. The tour people want sell and take no responsibility for there actions.when we got to Mekinos I had wanted to to go to Delos but the white caps convinced us of the folly.Naturally the scheduled tour took place.The level of discomfort of those inboard was severe.the care of customers not on there list. Last year there were self service laundry.this year none.last year the specialty restaurants had special price days this year none.we don't remember no free entertainment chanells on tv. The food to me was mostly ok to good. in three weeks we went to several restaurants several times Keeping in mind if you did not like it order 2 others .And if you did order them anyway.the deserts could be improved.the help at the meal seemed always helpful happy and willing to go extra including at the free dinning. At the end in Venice it was a fine mess.the pileup leaving wilt luggage was not controlled.we left at 9:15 there bus showed up at 10:15.we get to the airport for there booked flight at 11:00 and find Out there are no agents untill12: so every one is in one huge line. One last thing several passengers had asked if there would be duplicate bridge on board.they were assured yes.I ended up being that person at no pay. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
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 ... Read More
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! EMBARKATION: After a short taxi ride to the port we embarked easily for our 15 day cruise. THE SHIP: 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 FOOD: 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. PORTS: 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. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Embarkation: We arrived at the port of NY at 12 pm. Check in went smoothly and we were ushered into the suite passengers waiting area. At 12:45 we were escorted to our cabin by our Butler Jose. Although our cabins were not ready, we were ... Read More
Embarkation: We arrived at the port of NY at 12 pm. Check in went smoothly and we were ushered into the suite passengers waiting area. At 12:45 we were escorted to our cabin by our Butler Jose. Although our cabins were not ready, we were able to leave our carry on bags and head off to lunch in Cagney's. Cabin: We were in a Penthouse Suite (11512) on deck 11 forward right by the elevators. The cabin was very spacious and the bathroom was incredible. Double sink, bathtub with TV and window, separate shower with window as well. Since there were only two of us, my hubby used the second bedroom as his closet and dressing area. The second bathroom and shower was also a plus. Due to the strong breezes, we were rarely able to use the balcony while at sea. There are DVD players in the bedroom and living room, and they did have a DVD library, although most of the videos were old. Coffee machine used pods for both tea and coffee, which was not as good as the fresh bean machine we had on the Jade, but did the trick. It did break down during the week and it took a day to get it fixed Ship: The Gem was just that. A beautiful and well kept ship, the crew was always cleaning and performing routine maintenance Dinning: The biggest complaint I have is with the food. I found the dinners in the main dinning rooms rather mundane. Nothing was bad, just far from gourmet. The Garden Cafe (buffet) at dinner time was fair. We enjoyed Le Bistro and Teppanyaki. The Mexican restaurant was pretty good as well. Breakfast and lunch in Cagney's was a great perk. Blue Lagoon for a late night snack was good, although the service was rather slow Sea Days: Our first five days were at sea. It was quite breezy and cool outside, so we were not able to enjoy much time out on deck. We had purchased a Spa Pass and spent many hours relaxing there with a good book. There were many activities and port lectures to choose from. The casino was open as well, and we did make our daily "deposit." On our first sea day we had our Meet and Greet in the Magenta dinning room. It was attended by almost 100 of us. It was great to finally meet everyone we had been "talking" to for the past several months. Many of the officers attended as well. Our M&G organizer designed t-shirts which we were able to order before hand and wear for the M&G. They were a big hit on the ship. Great job Ron! Day two, we held our CC Cabin Crawl. There was a large turn out for this as well. We managed to see cabin categories all over the ship. It was one long parade from one end of the ship to the other...and back again! Our first port was Ponte Delgada, in the Azores. We arranged to tour with four of our CC friends. We got off the ship and set out to hire a taxi to take us around. There is a lack of vans on the island, so we needed two cars to take all of us. We split up three to a car, so one couple had to separate for the ride. We went to Sete Cidades, saw the blue and green crater lakes and the town. We stopped at many other wonderful points of interest as well. The island is so green it reminded us of Ireland. We had our driver drop us off in town on the way back to do some shopping and walked back to the ship along the seaport. We ate dinner that night in the Grand Pacific dinning room. Late night Quest game in the Spinnaker Lounge, always good for a laugh Lisbon was wonderful. We joined another CC couple, hired a driver at the port and headed off for a wonderful tour. The tour company was ActionTur. Our driver Vitor was very knowledgeable and his English was good. Their web site is www.actiontur.pt. or actiontur.turismo@gmail.com. Vitor showed us all of the highlights of Lisbon, Sintra, Cascais, Belem, and the Alfama. Unfortunately, that day was a holiday and many of the museums were closed. The highlight of the day was the Belem Pastry shop, a must stop for the best pastry I have ever had. I highly recommend Vitor as a tour guide, he knew all the ins and outs of the city and we covered a lot of ground. We had Dinner in the Garden Cafe as we were exhausted after a long day of touring Cadiz: Our day in Cadiz started out rainy. We got off the ship and headed to the Cathedral of Cadiz. By the time Mass was over, the sun started to come out and the day turned out beautiful. We followed the Cadiz walking tours around the city. They have each of the four tours marked by colored lines down the streets so that you can follow them easily. The walk along the shore was beautiful. Be sure to check out the trees along the water front, they are amazing. Being Sunday, many of the stores were closed. Dinner in the Mexican restaurant that night was pretty good Malaga: Our stop in Malaga was terrific. We once again hired a taxi with CC friends and he took us to the wonderful town of La Ronda, a medieval village about half an hour ride from the pier. When we arrived, he set us up with a local guide who walked us through the town, telling us all the local history. As he described it, it is the "little Grand Canyon." I was amazed at the orange trees growing along the streets in the town. The area is steeped in Roman and Moorish history. We had a drink and snack in the town square before heading to the Cathedral of Malaga which is incredible. The art work there was amazing. Our driver was Jose Luis Torres. He spoke English, although not fluent. His cell number is 645 01 0608 and is taxi #1073. Dinner in the Grand Pacific was ok The next day was a sea day. It was beautiful and sunny and the pool deck was crowded. We spent the afternoon relaxing in the sun. We also had a second meet and greet to catch up with each other. We ha dinner in the Magenta dinning room that night Ajaccio: We walked around Ajaccio on our own. Many statues of Napoleon Bonaparte, as this was his birth place. There was a local market a few blocks from the pier that had local cheeses, fruit and cured meats. Walked the shopping district and then headed back to the ship. There was a cocktail party held in the courtyard for suite passengers that evening and then we ate dinner at Tepanyaki, which is always good Rome: This was the day I had been looking forward to. We arrived in Rome and were off the ship by 8am. I had arranged a tour through RomeInLimo a few months before the trip. I had asked on our CC role call if anyone was interested in joining us and sharing the cost of the tour. (The price you are quoted is for 2-8 or 10 people for the day.) We were joined by two other couples. We were met by Duman, our driver as we got off the ship. He settled us into his Mercedes van and off we went. He was very knowledgeable and took us to so many places that the ship tours do not get to go. We walked around the Coliseum, Pantheon, threw coins into Trevi Fountain, saw the Spanish Steps and looked through the Keyhole with a view to St Peters. He also arranged a fantastic lunch at a Trattoria before we headed off to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. We had also booked a tour guide for the Vatican through RomeInLimo. I would highly recommend doing this. We had such an amazing day Florence: The next day we arrived in Florence and found our driver Gian, also from RomeInLimo, waiting for us as we left the ship. It was a national holiday in Europe, so once again the museums were closed. We had arranged a winery tour in Tuscany with them before we left home. We headed off to Pisa and spent some time admiring the tower, and taking too many pictures before heading to Tuscany. Our first stop was at the medieval village of San Giminano. Although crowded because of the holiday, we really enjoyed strolling through the village, looking in the shops and having a gelato. Then it was off to the Torciano winery for lunch and wine tasting (drinking !!!!). I don't think I ever saw so many wine glasses on one table! We bought wine which they shipped directly to our home. We ended the day with a short stop at another village before heading back to the ship. I highly recommend RomeInLimo for your Italy tours. They were the best tour company we have ever encountered. The Mercedes vans were clean and new, drivers knowledgeable and personable and the reservation process with Jany was a breeze. They were very easy to work with and our two days with them were stress free Cannes: We are not too fond of ships excursions, but due to our short stay in Cannes, we chose a tour of St Paul De Vence that included a stop at a perfume factory through the cruise line. Although we enjoyed the perfume factory, our time there could have been shorter, giving more time to explore St Paul. Unfortunately, some people thought they were the only ones on the tour and had no regard for meeting times. Because of this, we got back to the pier later than expected and did not have enough time to walk around Cannes itselfBarcelona: What an incredible city. We spent two days post cruise at the NH DucDeLa Victoria Hotel, about two blocks off Las Ramblas. Our room was clean and spacious for a European hotel, with a little balcony overlooking the street in front of the hotel. We were off the ship by 9:30 and checked into our hotel by 10:30. The room was not ready, but they held our bags and off we went. We went to the Cathedral of Barcelona for the dancers at 12 pm and found many of our CC friends there as well. After the dancers, we bought tickets for the HoHo bus and spent the day touring the city. We had a great late afternoon lunch of Paella at a restaurant called Can Majo on the beach. Back on the HoHo and off to Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia. Don't miss it ! Las Ramblas was very interesting, the mimes were great, but watch your bags and wallets. Pickpockets abound! The next day we took the train to Montserrat which was beautiful. Take the cable car up and enjoy the view. Catch the choir in the cathedral at 1pm. The train ride out to Montserrat takes about an hour and very easy to do. Don't forget to have Tapas and Sangria at one of the many Tapas restaurants in Barcelona Overall, this was an amazing cruise. The Gem is a great ship, clean and well kept. The crew was accommodating. Our Butler Jose and the Concierge Alex were always available and our room steward Antonio really went out of his way the day of the cabin crawl to have our cabin ready early. We are looking forward to sailing on her again in October 2010! Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Here is our review of the Gem's 15 day transatlantic cruise, which departed from New York on Apr 18 and arrived in Barcelona on May 3. Cabin: We were in an AD suite on deck 10 aft. Loved the extra space and wide balcony at the rear ... Read More
Here is our review of the Gem's 15 day transatlantic cruise, which departed from New York on Apr 18 and arrived in Barcelona on May 3. Cabin: We were in an AD suite on deck 10 aft. Loved the extra space and wide balcony at the rear of the ship. We were able to use the balcony during the Atlantic crossing even though the weather was cool because the ship blocks a lot of the wind. The only negative to being at the aft is that we were a long way from the spa. The main reason we went with a suite is the VIP perks. NCL has the best suites in the industry. Our cabin steward was Barrington, and he was great. Our butler Mark Santos was fabulous. He couldn't do enough for us. For example, one of the VIP perks are the suite snacks delivered to your cabin in the mid afternoon. These treats vary on rotation from canapes, to truffles, to chocolate covered strawberries, to cheeses, etc. Well, on the third day of the cruise my wife mentions to Mark that she really likes the chocolate strawberries. So every day since then Mark brings both the regular treat of the day, plus a plate of strawberries. If the treat of the day was the strawberries, we would get 2 plates of them. Then a week later, she mentions to Mark that she really liked the giant soft pretzels that we got last year on the Sun. Mark said he would talk to the chef about it. So every day since then Mark brought the regular treat of the day, plus the plate of strawberries, plus a plate with two soft pretzels. Another VIP perk is being able to have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, avoiding the crowds in the Garden Cafe. The food is great, and although the breakfast menu doesn't change, there's enough variety that you could go over a week without having the same thing twice. Food: We ate at every restaurant on the ship except for Teppanyaki. We found that the service in the main dining rooms was a bit slow, but that could be due to the crowds. The main rooms had a rush right at opening at 5:30, and the specialty restaurants were not overused at all. The demographic on this cruise was an older crowd that tended to eat early, which freed up space in the restaurants for late diners. The quality of the food was fine in our opinion. It was not 5 star dining, but we didn't have one meal that we regret ordering. The portions were small, especially for the appetizers, but that is OK. You can always order multiple appetizers or entries or desserts if you like. We never left the table hungry or dissatisfied. Our favorite restaurant was Le Bistro. We had 2 dinners there, and the beef tenderloin was excellent both times. Our least favorite experience was the Garden Cafe. Ports: The main reason we chose this cruise was the ports. We had never been to Europe and this cruise had a great itinerary of places we wanted to see. We were amazed at how beautiful the Azores were. We had a fun day in Lisbon on a jeep safari that took us to some out of the way places. In Cadiz, we loved wandering around the medieval streets, and in Malaga we took a hike up the hill to the old castle of Gibralfaro for some great panoramic vistas. It was interesting to see how much Corsicans still loved Napoleon Bonaparte. In Rome and in Livorno, we arranged for private tours with Rome In Limo. They were fantastic. We highly recommend using them. They're attentive, knowledgeable and courteous. In Rome, we saw a lot of the major sites like the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Trevi fountain, and we also had a private guide for the Vatican. In Livorno, we first went to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, then we went to the medieval village of San Gimignano before we had a private wine tasting at a nearby winery. Our last port was Cannes, where we strolled the promenade looking for the rich and famous. We had a nice mix of NCL tours, private tours and DIY tours and we loved each one. The cruise ended in Barcelona, where we stayed two nights to see the sites. We loved the architecture there. Ship Activities: We purchased the spa package, which was $165 for the entire cruise. The heated ceramic beds and the hydrotherapy pool were incredible. We thought the price was worth it, especially during the lazy sea days and after a busy day of walking around the ports of call. On other cruises I usually get a number of massages, but I didn't need them this time. I just spent time in the pool letting the massage jets do the work instead. We were part of the Cruise Critic roll call for this cruise, so we got to meet a large number of great people at a couple of Meet&Greets. The ship sent 8 officers to our first M&G, and the hotel director Richard introduced each officer and actually gave us each of their telephone numbers so we could call them if we had any problems. They wanted to hear from us while we were onboard, rather than read about it here afterward. The roll call also got together for a cabin crawl which was cool because we got to see all the different types of cabins available, including the Garden Villas. Because of all the extra suite snacks mentioned earlier, we tended to have late dinners which meant we didn't attend many shows. We saw a couple of comedian shows that made us laugh, but that was all. We did try the bowling in the Bliss lounge a couple of times. Don't go expecting to bowl your best. The ship's motion makes the ball act unpredictably, often with hilarious results. All in all, we had a great time. The Gem is a beautiful ship. We found most of the crew to be very friendly. We would sail with her again. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Warning - do not wear any jewelry you are fond of keeping to the ship's spa.  The spa does not provide any secure area for your belongings.  Learn from my experience. I had a spa appointment, for which they were 20 minutes late (no ... Read More
Warning - do not wear any jewelry you are fond of keeping to the ship's spa.  The spa does not provide any secure area for your belongings.  Learn from my experience. I had a spa appointment, for which they were 20 minutes late (no apologies or excuses offered).  The attendant led me back to the treatment room and instructed me to place the jewelry I was wearing in my pant pocket and hang my clothes on the wall hooks. At the end of the treatment, the attendant place my clothes on the treatment table and left the room.  My clothes fell to the floor - scattering the contents of my pockets onto the floor. Due to an emergency, I needed to leave the room before gathering my belongings. I returned to the room a few minutes later to discover my jewelry was missing.  Needless to say, the jewelry was never located.  The head of the NCL Gem security assured me that NCL had zero tolerance for theft. If you are interested in museums and/ or shopping in local stores, be sure to check whether the ship is docking on a day when these places are open.  The day that the NCL Gem docked at five of the six ports was a local holiday where museums and/or stores were closed.  NCL does provide a "Port & Shopping Guide."  This is generally a one - two page flyer that does little to assist in sightseeing or shopping.  The flyer contains unusable maps of the area.  Little or no information on products unique to the area is provided.  Although given that for the most part shops were not open, the failure to provide such information does not impact your tour.  The maps do not highlight the location of attractions. You are much better doing your own research. The personnel at the reception desk need to be trained to help passengers on a first come first serve basis.  Frequently, they allowed passengers to "cut" in front of others who had been patiently waiting in line. The stores on the NCL Gem were still stocked with Caribbean merchandise.  The ship never fully converted to European merchandise.  Most of the merchandise was of average quality.  Merchandise on sale was displayed as one would expect to find in a Wal-Mart or Target. The tour guides for the NCL sponsored tours were in general knowledgeable and very pleasant.  However, they should mention special accommodations available to the disabled.  For instance, the Vatican has a special entrance for the handicapped.  [We only learned of this from another tourist.]  Also, the tour guide failed to indicate that the "easy ten minute walk" to the Vatican was over uneven cobblestones.  Level 1 tour guides should be sensitized to the impact of such things on the disabled. The nightly entertainment was varied and generally good.  The NCL Gem had musicians, magicians, a juggler and singers.  The bar areas had very entertaining lounge singers.  The ship is beautiful and well maintained.  The personnel at the specialty restaurants are exceedingly pleasant.  The cabin stewards do a good job cleaning the cabins.  Disembarkation procedures at the various ports are well organized. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Our perspective - This was our second NCL TA for my husband and I. We had also previously sailed on the Gem repo between London and Barcelona. Embarkation - We arrived at the Terminal around 12:45.  There were no lines for check in.  ... Read More
Our perspective - This was our second NCL TA for my husband and I. We had also previously sailed on the Gem repo between London and Barcelona. Embarkation - We arrived at the Terminal around 12:45.  There were no lines for check in.  By the time we finished with the paperwork, our number had been called and we walked right on the ship.  After a glass of champagne, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the Grand Pacific dining room until our room was ready.  This was a totally stressfree way to begin the vacation. Cabin - Our last 4 cruises had been in penthouse suites, so I was concerned about 15 days in a minisuite.  We chose the cabin because it was on the aft and it was an excellent value. We were pleasantly surprised at the amount of room, the accommodations and the rear facing balcony.  We enjoyed sunny and warm afternoons on the balcony as we crossed the chilly North Atlantic.  There are no butlers or concierge or nightly canapEs with a minisuite.  But the cabin stewards were attentive and kept the cabin spotless. Demographics - Because of the nature of a TA, it was an older crowd. There were only 27 children on board as opposed to the Gem Caribbean cruise the previous week which had 900 kids!!!  I find the passengers to be experienced travelers with fascinating life stories. The active cruise critic group organized by Ron and Diane contributed positively to the cruising experience. The Cabin Crawl organized by Dancin' Mike and Rich was enjoyed by all 60+ participants.Specialty Restaurants - The Specialty restaurants were empty except for Teppanyaki. You could walk into any of the others and get a table at any time. The 2 for 1 specials were discontinued.  We ate multiple times at all the specialty restaurants except Teppanyaki. We loved Le Bistro the best.  The 'crepes suzettes flambe' no longer are prepared at the table due to fire regulations, but they still taste the same. I would recommend skipping Tequila, although the lobster tacos were tasty.Magenta and Grand Pacific - The benefit of the older population is that many preferred to eat at 5:30 in the free restaurants. That worked out well for us. We would hit the Garden buffet early to take au d'hoeuvres back to the cabin and then have a leisurely dinner in one of the restaurants later on. We ate dinner at Magenta 4 times and were seated in less than 5 minutes, enjoyed excellent service, and good food. We really appreciated that the portions were small. It enabled us to try several different starters and soup and entrees and desserts. We never went to bed hungry. Garden Buffet and Room Service - One common complaint about the buffet is the lack of seating, especially when it was too cold to eat outside.  We always found empty tables in La Cucina and enjoyed the nice quiet ambiance especially on chaotic port mornings. The expresso/capaccino machines and the availability of ice cream were nice extras.  Room service was disappointing.Shows - Again another benefit of the demographics, was that there were always plenty of seats at the 9:30 shows. We enjoyed the 3 song/dance productions. Second City was very funny on this ship. On past cruises, Second City wasn't always funny. The diversity of entertainment was good from the Chocolate Goddess of Love to the classical pianist to the Skinny German Juggle Boy who was hysterical. Ship Activities - We are not fans of bingo, art auctions or jewelry presentations.  The NCL U lectures were well attended although the speakers were very dry. The Murder Mystery dinner was fun.  The 'Behind the Scenes' tour was outstanding. The cruise director, Andrea, was the best in the industry. He gave a talk on mathematics, taught dancing, led a nighttime astronomy experience on the top deck, spoke many languages and displayed no annoying egomania typical of many in his field.  Maybe the unorthodox combination (for a cruise director) of a gracious Italian upbringing with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Southern California, contributed to his approach. He was truly a renaissance man!Laundry - The self service laundries have been removed on the Gem.  A laundry special was offered every Thursday. We viewed the Laundry Days as a competition - how much stuff can we stuff into the little bag. It was $25 a bag. It was worth it on such a long trip.Spa Package - Conflicting information on this one. On the first day, we were given a tour of the spa and told that the spa package was $165/person and day passes were $20. Other passengers were told there would be no day passes. Later in the cruise, the Spa was advertising in the Freestyle Daily day passes for $10 on one of the port days. I bought the day pass for $20 on another port day. I was the only one in the entire facility from 10 am to 1 pm. It was glorious!!!! Shore Excursions - We normally do not book shore excursions because most of the fun is in researching and discovering new places.  Because of the May 1 holiday weekend and the anticipated European crowds, we booked an NCL excursion from Civitavecchia and one from Livorno.  The excursion to Pisa from Livorno was good. The bus was efficient and the tour guide was excellent.  No regrets. It certainly cost more than taking the port shuttle-Livorno bus-train- Pisa bus each way, but the total lack of hassle was worth it. Last year, we took the train on our own to Florence and almost missed the ship as well as almost killing each other! Never Again!!  Before we left home, we booked NCL's Tarquinia Biking Adventure from Civitavecchia.  It combined a tour of the Etruscan city of Tarquinia with a biking trip which ended with a wine tasting at a local farmhouse.  I was obviously the only one on the ship excited about this excursion.  It was cancelled because my husband and I were the only 2 signed up.  How sad but certainly not NCL's fault. Fitness Center - The Cardio and Weight machines were well maintained and in good shape.  Again because of the demographics of the cruisers, you could always work out without waiting. Disembarkation - This could not have been easier.  Based on our schedule, we walked off the ship. Our luggage was waiting.  A porter took our luggage to one of a long line of taxis and we were off to the airport.  From the ship to the cab was less than ten minutes! Price and expectations - Our 7 day cruise to Bermuda last year on the Dawn was more expensive than the 15 day TA on the Gem. I have been on the QE II and other cruise lines that offer more gourmet food than the Gem, but they were much more expensive than NCL. I think the Gem TA was a bargain and I altered my expectations and ratings accordingly. We thoroughly enjoyed the Transatlantic cruise on the Gem. We have already booked an aft cabin on next year's TA to Venice and the Greek Isles on the Gem. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
This was a honeymoon cruise.  I am 28 and my wife 27.  Having never cruised before, I picked this transatlantic crossing because of its great itinerary and ability to relax during multiple days at sea.  I  booked my penthouse suite on ... Read More
This was a honeymoon cruise.  I am 28 and my wife 27.  Having never cruised before, I picked this transatlantic crossing because of its great itinerary and ability to relax during multiple days at sea.  I  booked my penthouse suite on deck 9 almost a year prior to the cruise.  I read multiple conflicting reviews about the Gem and NCL in general.  Being rather easy going people, my wife and I decided to give the cruise a try.  We are certainly not affected by minor nuisances and felt we could deal with any little issues, not allowing them to ruin the trip for us.  After all, 8 great ports sounded stupendous.Embarkation at the Manhattan cruise terminal was easy.  We arrived at 11 am, left our bags with the loading area attendant, and were quickly ushered to the check-in counter.  The VIP area was basically a holding area away from the other 2,400 or so passengers on the ship.  We thought the snacks provided were thoughtful and weren't very put off by the fact that they weren't particularly tasty.  We had no idea how many other bad food items we would have during this cruise.At 12:40, the concierge (Alex), started calling groups to be escorted onto the ship by their different butlers.  Ours was Andrew, and he was very nice.  We were lucky to meet another nice honeymoon couple that were in the suite right next to ours!  Andrew took us to our suite and gave us the rundown on the different channels, the portable phone that worked all over the ship, how to contact key people, etc.  He then gave us some free time to get comfortable while our bags were delivered (at around 5 pm we got all 3).  We were so pleased to find that we had a huge balcony right at the bow of the ship.  I had researched it, but never imagined the balcony was so big.  We then met up with our new fellow honeymooners and went the Cagney's steakhouse for a VIP-only lunch.  Everyone had the 10 ounce steak and I had the fish.  They were good, but not particularly stupendous.  This was now 2 mediocre meals in 3 hours time!  We left port at 4 pm and truly enjoyed the view of the city from our balcony.  Complimentary bubbly was included, which we enjoyed greatly.We had 5 days at sea at the beginning of the cruise, which proved to be a great time to make up for all the sleep we've lost during our regular busy lives. It was too cold and windy to really spend time on our balcony or on any deck, so we mostly stayed indoors.  Seas were relatively calm, and my motion sickness-prone wife had no problems the entire cruise.  Being suite guests, we had a selection of 100 DVD's to choose from, which were delivered by Andrew as needed.  We enjoyed relaxing in our very comfortable bed, just watching movies or visiting with our new found friends.  Something we did find bothersome was the frequent announcements made on the overhead PA system, which were easily heard inside staterooms from the hall.  These tended to interrupt our sleep early in the day, but weren't truly an issue.  Our suite was very comfortable for 2 people.  We had a full-size tub, a nice closet with hangers, a nice table with 4 chairs, a CD/DVD player, a loveseat, and seating for 7 people on the balcony.  Our only issue with our suite was the strong odor of smoke.  We are not smokers and were really put off by it.  Our steward, Felipe, sprayed some chemical all around the room, which merely masked the odor for a few hours.  We couldn't understand how smoking was permitted inside staterooms.  After a while, we got used to the odor.We signed up for a "spa pass" that was valid the entire trip, for $330 for the both of us.  This gave us access to individual whirlpool tubs, steam room, sauna, a large unisex hydrotherapy pool, and an average size jacuzzi tub.  With the temperature in the 50's and 60's most of the cruise, the outside pools weren't really an option, so it was nice to have the spa pass.  We used it almost every day.  We used the gym a few times.  They had all the latest machines available, with individual TV screens.The ship, in general, is very attractive.  There are lots of public areas to keep your interest.  There are lots of colors and bold designs, and we enjoyed the decor immensely.  It seemed like you could always find something new to admire on the ship.  This being a transatlantic crossing, we knew it would be an older crowd.  This simply meant that the trendy areas, such as the Bliss Ultra Lounge, were all but deserted the entire cruise.  Shore excursions/ports:We had 8 ports: Ponta Delgada (Azure islands), Lisbon, Cadiz(Seville), Malaga(Granada), Ajaccio(Corsica), Civitavecchia(Rome), Livorno(Florence, Pisa), Cannes(Monaco, Monte Carlo).  We took shore excursions in 7 of 8 ports.  We didn't take one in Ajaccio (I knew from reviews that there wasn't enough to see for a shore excursion, so we took a little sightseeing train available 2 blocks from the terminal).  We could have done without an excursion in Cadiz, as there is lots to see right in town.  We booked all the excursions through NCL, as we like to play it safe, trying to avoid independent tour operators.  Once we hit Ponta Delgada, getting lots of sleep was over.  We had to be up early in almost every port to be herded onto buses for the excursions.  Be aware that almost every major excursion requires an hour and a half bus ride to the location (e.g. Granada, Rome, Florence, Pisa, etc.)  We didn't mind it, as the sightseeing was nice.  Every tour guide was excellent, except for one in Cadiz that seemed to barely speak English.  We didn't know how she was allowed to conduct the tour.  Fortunately, the tour was mostly a view of the countryside, so we didn't mind it too much.  Overall, our excursions were great.Food:I could probably write a small book about our dining experience on the ship.  There are 2 main dining rooms open for dinner (Grand Pacific and Magenta) and one for lunch (Grand Pacific).  The buffet (Garden Cafe) is open all three meals.  The Blue Lagoon is a table service restaurant that was open 24 hrs. a day with a very limited menu (no fee required).  For suite guests, Cagney's Steakhouse has breakfast and lunch available.  There are several specialty restaurants, which all charge a fee of $10 to $25 per person.  In addition to the fee, some restaurants charge an additional fee for specialty items like lobster.  We found these fees to be excessive, surely a terrible value for what you received.  This being a "Freestyle" ship, the dress code was lax.  You could wear just about anything to eat, except all table service restaurants required pants and Grand Pacific did not allow jeans after 5:30.  Being casual people, we enjoyed the dress code.  80% of the food on the ship was mediocre.  10% was excellent, and 10% was not fit for human consumption.  They couldn't even get simple food items right.  The room service chocolate cake and brownie were the worst I've ever had.  My elementary school cafeteria was a gourmet eatery, compared to the room service menu items we had.  The bread in my club sandwich was stale/dry.  My wife had a chicken noodle soup that was simply some broth with a single noodle and piece of chicken.  We felt guilty leaving food uneaten, but we simply couldn't' stomach so many items we had.  The buffet was very average, but the bad food was only made worse by the fact that you could only find a table if you got there as soon as they opened.  After a while, we came to realize that people would send a single person to sit at a table before food was available, just so that they could have a place to sit.  Often times, there would be only 1 or 2 people sitting at a table that could hold many more.  One woman actually refused for my wife and I to sit at an 8 person table with her and her husband.  The nerve of some people!  Often times, we noticed single people simply reading a book at a table during peak eating times.  They really need a person to facilitate this area to move it along better.  The worst meal we had was at the italian restaurant (La Cucina) with a $10 cover per person.  Just about every item we had seemed like it was from a TV dinner box, and not a very good brand at that.  I had lobster ravioli which tasted like the only part of the lobster it contained was the shell.  Simply awful and fishy tasting, and I love seafood!  The maitre'd admitted that they bought the ravioli pre-made from Sysco.  This was the only place we complained, and they only comped half of our fees.  Incredible!  Le Bistro (French) was quite good.  I had a wonderful beef tenderloin, and my wife had the lamb, which was also delicious.  Tequilas (Tex-Mex) was quite good.  Cagney's steakhouse was quite average, with the lobster certainly not worth the extra fee on top of the cover.  The Teppanyaki was good (akin to Benihana).  Orchid garden (Asian fusion) was average to poor.  They couldn't get even the basics (chicken lo mein) right.  I had a lobster which tasted like it was cooked in fish head stew.  Awful!  The highlight of the food scene on the ship was the sushi restaurant.  The sushi was absolutely delicious!  We enjoyed sitting at the sushi bar and talking to the chef, John.  It was a great value, but was nearly deserted at all times, even at peak hours.  Most specially restaurants were half empty, but they never offered an incentive, such as half-price or buy one/get one.  Also, service at the table service restaurants was spotty at best.  Once we waited 20 minutes after sitting to have someone greet us.  Often, servers would forget to bring you something you ordered.  Drinks were not refilled, and sometimes appetizers and entrees would come out all at the same time.  I could go on and on about the food, but suffice it to say that it was simply a disappointment.  Without a doubt, food is the one area that will keep us from cruising with NCL again.Disembarkation was a bit confusing at first, but it actually worked quite well.  If NCL booked your flight back home, they delivered luggage tags to your cabin the night before disembarkation.  They were color coded, in relation to the time you needed to be of the ship to make your flight on time.  We received VIP tags, which didn't seem to serve any purpose.  You still had to carry your own luggage to the transfer bus.  We were really upset at the airport.  NCL booked our travel, so the airline had NCL's contact information instead of ours.  This was an issue, as our flight was changed while we were on the cruise, putting us home 4 hours later than we were supposed to be.  NCL should have communicated the change to us.  We only found out after waiting in line at the airport for an hour and having the agent tell us that our reservation was cancelled!  I then had to wait in a second line for a ticket agent to clarify the mix up.  Very frustrating.  We then had a 5 hour layover in Madrid, while waiting for our flight to Miami.All in all, we greatly enjoyed the physical ship.  The itinerary was excellent, if not exhausting, but we enjoyed seeing so many different things.  Food quality and service really need to be examined on this ship.  Were it not for these glaring flaws, we would likely cruise on NCL again.  We will definitely try another cruiseline in the future. 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Sail Date April 2009
Too many Cruise Critic members define "critic" as "someone who frequently finds fault or makes harsh and unfair judgments".  Actually, the word comes from the Greek word meaning "able to discern", which in ... Read More
Too many Cruise Critic members define "critic" as "someone who frequently finds fault or makes harsh and unfair judgments".  Actually, the word comes from the Greek word meaning "able to discern", which in turn derives from the word kritEs, meaning 'a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation".  It is in this spirit that I offer my critique of our 2009 eastbound transatlantic crossing and Mediterranean cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem from New York to Barcelona from April 18 through May 3, 2009.  On the whole, it was the trip of our lifetimes (so far, anyway) which exceeded our expectations in some areas and fell short in a few others. I cruised with my wife as an early (it's next year) 25th wedding anniversary celebration.  This was our seventh cruise since being bitten by the Cruise Bug in 2006, and our fourth with NCL.  We are approaching 50; our two kids are in college and class schedules kept them there for this trip.  We had previously sailed on a 2-nighter aboard the Gem in December 2007, and although she no longer looked brand-new she was well maintained.  The public areas and open decks were always kept spotless. Embarkation at Pier 88 in New York was relatively smooth and quick.  The representative who handled our boarding barely said a word; good thing we knew what to expect - a first-time cruiser would have been confused.  That was the only glitch, and after we were handed our numbered passes we waited in the crowded terminal for boarding to begin.  Standing there (there were four times as many people waiting as there were available seats) we got our first look at our fellow passengers.  I expected Rodney Dangerfield to appear and say to one of them: "So, how does this ship compare to the Mayflower?" Ba-DUM dum!  I had expected an older crowd, but I was surprised at how old - the majority had to be over 70.  Later, I'd learn the implications of sailing with this bunch. Our cabin was a mini-suite, which is not in the suite category but is actually a "deluxe balcony", on Deck 11 approximately amidships starboard.  We knew that the standard balcony staterooms were on the smaller side, and the extra space in our mini-suite was valuable for a 15-night sailing.  The cabin location was ideal, with only minimal noise from the pool deck above.  Plus, it was up one flight to get to the Garden Cafe buffet and down 5 flights to Magenta, one of two main dining rooms.  There was a curtain which could be drawn to separate the sleeping and sitting areas, handy if you stay up later than your companion.  The highlight of the cabin was the bathroom, which was divided into three separate sections with the toilet on one side, the sink in the middle and the tub and shower on the right.  Yes, a bathtub!  It was a first for us, and a hot soak was a great way to relax after a busy day. Far and away, the Gem boasted better bathrooms than any cabin we'd ever booked.  On embarkation day it was announced that the cabins would not be ready until 2PM, so after boarding at 1 PM, we spent the next hour or so having lunch at the Grand Pacific, the other main dining room.  Afterwards, we headed to our cabin, but it was still not ready.  We stowed our carry-on bags in the closet and left to explore the ship.  In the end, the stewards were not finished until almost 4:30 PM, just after sailing time.  Even then, it wasn't very clean.  It was obvious that, for whatever reason, preparing the cabins had been given a low priority that day.  However, by the first morning the stewards had recovered from the rough start, and Deival and Jeffrey did a competent job for the rest of the cruise.  They always followed through if we mentioned something that needed attention, but I would have preferred that they took care of things before being asked.  Service staff on the Gem, whether in the hotel or food service areas, was always friendly and cheerful.  In a competition with a typical American waitress or hotel chambermaid, they'd win hands down!  Sometimes, though, attention to detail was lacking and as a rule I'd call their approach reactive rather than proactive. We chose this cruise because of the unbeatable itinerary.  We had never taken a transatlantic cruise and we had never been to Europe.  This itinerary accomplished both, with more ports and fewer sea days than most transatlantics, and allowed for a 15-night cruise while using only ten vacation days.  After departing Saturday afternoon and enjoying splendid views of the Statue of Liberty and our passage under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, we headed out to sea, with the next landfall not until Thursday morning in the Azores at Ponta Delgada, over 2300 miles away. After that we'd have another sea day, then hit Lisbon on Saturday, Malaga in Spain on Sunday, Cadiz, Spain on Monday, enjoy a final sea day Tuesday, arrive in Ajaccio, Corsica on Wednesday, dock in Italy at Civitavecchia (Rome) on Thursday, Livorno (Florence, Pisa) on Friday and Cannes France on Saturday.  Then we'd disembark in Barcelona on Sunday.  Looking back, it felt like two separate cruises - the first week was relaxing and unhurried with lots of free time, and the second a frantically paced, port-heavy grind.  We lost an hour's sleep each night for most of that first week, finally ending up six hours ahead of New York.  I thought it would be easier to adjust a bit at a time, not all at once as in jet travel.  However the process left me with a sleep deficit and I was quite tired as we neared the end of the cruise.  Some of our shore excursions required meeting times as early as 6:40 AM.  That certainly didn't help! The seas were smooth, the weather cool and a bit windy for the crossing.  The outdoor decks were deserted and the pools empty as we made our way east.  The temperature was between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our balcony was crunchy with the crusty salt spray that continually dried there, blown by the wind even to Deck 11.  The highlights of those early days were our Cruise Critic meeting, the Cabin Crawl that was organized through the roll call, and the destination lectures given by Marianne and Peter Bonenberger that familiarized us with the countries we'd visit.  We enjoyed bowling in the Bliss Ultra Lounge, where I came in dead last, even with the bumper rails up.  I blamed the ship's movement for my poor score!  One night there was a Murder Mystery dinner, and we participated with our Cruise Critic friends. We did not use the casino or the spa, and we only attended one evening show...we'd enjoyed Comedian Bill Hildebrandt on the Norwegian Dream in October 2008, and he repeated his act, word for word, on the Gem.  Not quite as funny the second time around.  Our favorite entertainers aboard were Furioso, a string quartet from Poland.  We'd stop by to listen for awhile after dinner most nights, which is certainly not an option back home.  We didn't find much else worth staying up for that we had not seen already. Dining aboard the Gem was the biggest disappointment of the cruise.  The food was rarely the proper temperature, the soups thin and watery.  Comparing the menu descriptions to what you were served was always interesting. I remember one bit of "menu honesty" though.  What we normally call a Hot Turkey Sandwich at home here was referred to as a "Warm Turkey Sandwich". And, the portions were very small.  I estimated that you'd have to stack three servings of NCL prime rib to come close to what we enjoyed on Princess in 2008.  If I were a host I'd be ashamed to serve such meager dishes to my guests.  There were probably only three or four dishes that I truly enjoyed during the cruise, but most were of no better than average quality, and some a lot worse.  The "Always Available" "Baby" Shrimp Cocktail was like eating a bowl of grubs.  The "shrimp" were thin and stringy, and the whole mess was covered by a cocktail sauce and mayonnaise concoction.  The Fish & Chips in the Blue Lagoon 24 hour eatery certainly wasn't haddock.  Nor was it any other fish I've ever eaten fried.  I loved their tomato soup, though, and most times it actually arrived hot. The Blue Lagoon had the worst service of any eatery.  They didn't use an order pad, and as a result you sometimes didn't get everything you ordered, or all the items would arrive at once.  It might take 20 minutes to have your water glass refilled.  "Comfort food" indeed!  At one meal in Grand Pacific, we were served a breadbasket that looked like it had been already used.  At the same meal, my wife's Caesar Salad was very warm.  She asked for another, but it was no better.  They should put the entrees wherever those salads are kept - maybe they'd warm up closer to the proper temperature!  Paying more to eat in the specialty restaurants was not always a solution.  The Lobster Ravioli at La Cucina were gummy and too fishy-tasting.  Rumor has it they're purchased in bulk, not made onboard.  Worst of all were the "nachos" in Tequila.  We were served a plate of thin chips with Cheez Whiz poured on top - that's it!  I haven't had nachos that were quite that bad since a visit to a drive-in theater in 1980!  The filet mignon at Cagney's was cooked perfectly and the Oyster's Rockefeller was outstanding, but if those French fries weren't frozen shoestrings I'll eat my napkin.  They sure didn't taste like they'd come anywhere near the truffle oil the menu said they were cooked in.  The servers would address a problem if it was brought to their attention, but again, it was after the fact.  We met some friendly servers and chatted with them.  One, Shamilla in Magenta, was particularly personable.  What they serve is decided on a corporate level, and I'll bet all cruise lines have reduced their food budgets. But these hard working servers carry out their duties with hospitality and aplomb. Yes, they have difficult guests to contend with.  Especially on this cruise!  I'm not prejudiced against any group, but the elderly aboard this cruise were the most rude, crabby, and cantankerous crowd I'd ever seen.  They continually pushed in lines.  They cut in front of people in the buffet.  As a matter of fact, the Garden Cafe was such a free-for-all of rudeness and crudeness that after the first week I never returned.  It was not worth the aggravation to fight for the poor-quality food and lack of seating.  The undersized seating area was especially a problem when it was too cold or windy outside to eat.  The opened the nearby La Cucina for overflow seating, but by the time you got there, your food was stone cold.  And if you wanted anything else, you'd have to walk all the way back.  The service was generally better in Magenta than in Grand Pacific, where orders were frequently mixed up, beverages never arrived and where the meals were often unevenly paced. Mealtime on the Gem meant another chance to see how cost cutbacks affect the product.  On the positive side, because the senior set lined up to wait for the included dining rooms to open at 5:30, there were plenty of tables available later in the evening, and the specialty restaurants were practically deserted.  These food frustrations were what led us to reconsider purchasing a future cruise credit.  There are others lines out there.... We booked excursions through NCL in all ports except Ajaccio.  Ponta Delgada, located on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores, was beautiful - a green, hilly island which looked completely undeveloped outside the towns.  It's volcanic in origin, and we loved seeing the caldera lakes and thermal vents on our "Hot Springs & Botanical Gardens" excursion.  There are many cows, and we saw them effortlessly standing on the impossibly steep slopes, presumably not worried about the sheer drop to the sea a few feet away.  The island was clean, with evidence of new infrastructure improvements funded through membership in the European Union.  Tea is produced here, and we enjoyed a sample while visiting a plantation. Lisbon, Portugal's capital seemed a bit less affluent than most capital cities I've visited.  They have all the trappings of modern life, but also cling to their rich history, heritage and culture.  It was a real treat to sail under their 25 de Abril Bridge, which spans the Tagus River on the very day it was named for, which is the anniversary of the day the country replaced their dictator with a democracy in 1974.  The bridge reminded us of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we learned it was built by the same company.  We chose the tour "Monumental Lisbon".  After visiting Rossio Square, the Alfalma, and the Jeronimos Monastery, we headed to both the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower.  There's a row of restaurants close to the port, and after our excursion we enjoyed a drink and a snack at one of them near the river.  Because it was a holiday in Lisbon, some things that were normally open may have been closed.  At sailaway, one of our fellow Cruise Critic members invited us and a few others to a party in their bow penthouse suite, with excellent views of our passage under the bridge, up the river and out to sea. On Sunday morning we arrived at Cadiz, Spain in a 50-knot, wind-driven rain.  We waited a few miles offshore for the storm to subside.  The wind buffeted the Gem's side and I could not open the balcony door because of the pressure.  The ship actually listed a few degrees too.  The captain came on the intercom to reassure the passengers.  Finally, the storm broke and we proceeded to the dock for a late arrival.  Our excursion was delayed as well; we finally boarded the bus at 11:30 and headed out into the rain and the "Arcos & Sherry" tour.  Arcos de la Frontera was a Pueblo Blanco, or white village, where the whitewashed homes are situated along a sandstone ridge. The top of Pena Nueva provided spectacular views of the valley below.  The skies began to clear as we began the 30-mile ride to Jerez de la Frontera and the home of the Estevez Group, a winery that makes the region's specialty, Sherry.  The tour covered the bodegas, or aging cellars, but nothing else.  It seems that every time we choose a shore excursion to learn how something is produced, we'll see it, and maybe taste it, but nothing else.  At tables inside, four Sherries were offered for tasting.  The last one tasted like raisins or prunes.  Very sweet, and not my style.  I overheard one of our elderly fellow passengers saying "I'm not paying $8 for prune juice"!  It seemed, though, that folks were much more jovial on the ride back to the ship after the wine tasting. That night, the Gem would pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean Sea.  I would have loved to see Africa so close off to starboard, as the Strait is only 7.7 nautical miles wide at its narrowest, but our transit was scheduled between 1:15 and 2:40 AM.  Because I had a much-needed appointment in my very comfortable bed, I skipped my chance to see the lights of Morocco. When we awoke the next day, we were approaching Malaga, Spain.  As the Gem maneuvered toward the dock, we passed two naval ships, one from Greece and one from the U.S., and a beautiful Star Clippers vessel.  Today we'd see the Alhambra, about 2 hours away by bus - and there were six buses headed there from the ship, so we knew we'd have plenty of company.  "Granada and the Magnificent Alhambra" included a 2 ½ hour tour of the palace and fortress complex, a remnant of the days when the Moors ruled Granada almost 800 years ago.  From there we moved to the Generalife Gardens to see the flower beds, hedges and fountains.  Our tickets were repeatedly scanned as we moved from exhibit to exhibit, causing some our fellow passengers to complain loudly.  The kvetching increased considerably at our next stop, a local hotel for a buffet lunch.  It was very crowded, and not particularly well-managed, but I thought it was unnecessary for someone to shout "Help!  Would somebody PLEASE tell us what to do?" at the top of their lungs because they couldn't figure out where the two lines began and ended.  After lunch, we headed straight back to the pier, skipping the promised "panoramic tour of the city" and photo stop at the Albaicin.  I have no idea why that happened - no explanation was offered. Then came Tuesday and our final sea day of the cruise.  We slept until 9AM, and enjoyed every minute.  The weather had turned nicer and the seas smoother once we were in the Mediterranean, and we hit the pools for the first and only time during the cruise.  The chair hogs were out in full force, and lounge chairs were at a premium.  It was a nice, relaxing day.  By 11 PM we had sailed 4,150 miles since New York and had another 145 miles to sail before reaching Ajaccio, Corsica the next morning. Corsica is a French island 110 miles from the Côte d'Azur.  We had planned to venture out on our own in this port.  We got off the ship at about 9:30 and headed out to find Le Petit Train d'Ajaccio, similar to a Disney World tram but resembling a train engine with cars full of tourists in tow.  I had discovered this online, and it sounded like a great way to see some of the city for only 10 Euros each.  We found the office, but they told us that the trains were departing from... the pier!  So, we walked all the way back, bought our tickets, and waited about an hour for one to show up.  While we were waiting, an elderly man collapsed just outside the cruise terminal.  His companions tended to him until the ambulance arrived.  It's a good thing that one came - despite running back to the gangway and asking that the ship's doctor come down to help - NCL staff would only say that the ambulance was coming.  Finally, trains began to arrive and the passenger backlog began to clear.  As we boarded I watched more than a few portly passengers hoist themselves into the cars with a great deal of heaving and hoeing in an effort to navigate the narrow openings.  Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, so a stop at his monument was obligatory.  Then we set out for Les Îles Sanguinaires, rocky wind-swept islands where we saw a tower dating back to the time when the Genoese ruled Corsica.  The tour ended back at the town square, and we continued our explorations on foot.  There was even time to by a baguette at a boulangerie before re-boarding the Gem in time for a late lunch in the Blue Lagoon. A day later we were docked in Civitavecchia and on our way to the Eternal City on the "Rome and the Vatican" tour, which was the most expensive excursion of our cruise.  My wife looked forward to this port the most.  She had waited all her life to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Michelangelo's Pietà.  First stop was the Vatican Museums. Our guide had a deep knowledge and great passion for Michelangelo and we benefited from her experience as we negotiated the displays using "strategy, my dears!"  I expected crowds here, and I got 'em.  It was hard to keep up with the group due to the crowding; there was only time for brief glances at the wonders on display.  Soon enough we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel gazing upward in awe Michelangelo's unbelievably impressive paintings.  Amazing.  Four years, on his back, working alone.  It took our breath away.  We were warned not to take pictures, and we didn't - at least none that used a flash...  After another buffet lunch at a hotel we were taken by bus past some ancient Roman ruins, with a stop at the Coliseum.  We were not able to go inside, but we snapped photos from a block away.  We discovered a gelateria where I first tasted the awesome wonders of lemon gelato.  I hope it won't be my last taste!  I wonder why something that good isn't widely available in the States. By now we were getting that "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" feeling, but it was Friday and we had docked in Livorno.  It was also May 1, a holiday in Italy.  This we knew - but we couldn't have guessed how it would ruin the day for us.  We picked the "Cinque Terre" excursion because we thought the museums in Florence might be closed, and instead we would enjoy some quiet time off the beaten path in the remote "five lands" which are inaccessible except by boat, train or a long, arduous walk.  Wrong!  Double wrong!  I think the entire population of Italy descended on the Cinque Terre that day.  The plan featured a bus ride to La Spezia, where we'd board a boat for the trip to the first town we'd visit, Manarola.  From there, we'd walk the Via Dell'Amore, or "Street of Love" to Rio Maggiore.  Then, we'd climb aboard another boat and make our way to the fishing village of Vernazza.  Finally, we'd spend time in Monterosso al Mare, and maybe have lunch before taking the train back to La Spezia and the bus.  Well, we did it, but we certainly were not alone.  I later learned that the Cinque Terre is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is often crowded, and more so on holidays.  The stretch of the Via Dell'Amore that we walked was a narrow path along the cliffs overlooking the sea - so narrow, that with the crowds, the pace was "STEP, wait, two, three, four, STEP, wait, two, three, four" at its fastest.  At the worst of the bottlenecks we stood, cheek to jowl, for minutes at a time without moving.  The tour guide made a valiant effort to keep the group together, but this was next to impossible.  An elderly couple with mobility problems kept falling behind.  Understandably so, as the paths were narrow, steep in spots, with many stairs and tight corners to slow them down.  I think the activity level of most of the European excursions should be adjusted to show the true level of difficulty for passengers like this in areas where easy accessibility such as we in the U.S. enjoy because of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not exist.  Looking back, we picked the best excursion on the worst day.  The Via Dell'Amore was not romantic - it's was more like a cattle drive.  The restaurants weren't quaint, they were jammed.  We got separated from our group and wandered around alone for an hour before we relocated our guide.  But we did find a quiet dirt path in Monterosso that led up a hill past houses where fresh laundry hung outside the windows and lemon trees grew in the sunny side yards, and we discovered a centuries-old church where we lit a candle in thanks for our amazing adventure. Then, Saturday, (a lil' French lingo here) the pièce de rEsistance... Cannes, France.  The French Riviera.  Not the original Riviera, though, as that honor goes to the Italian Riviera and the area from La Spezia to the French border.  But when we tendered ashore in Cannes and boarded yet another bus for the trip to "Monaco and Nice", we knew this Riviera was no slouch.  We passed the venue for the famous Cannes Film Festival and famous hotels like the Carlton along La Croisette and the sea.  Arriving in Nice, we had time to stroll a spectacular open-air market with the most incredible variety of fruits & vegetables, meats, cheeses and flowers imaginable: the famous Cours Saleya.  What a shame that we couldn't bring any of that magnificent produce home with us.  But we feasted with our eyes, and took lots of pictures.  We snapped up a small jar of pesto and a selection of local mustards as all-too-precious souvenirs.  Back aboard the bus, we motored to Monaco.  Along the way, we caught a glimpse of Nice's harbor from the road above.  Eze was visible across the ridge, a medieval village we'd have to come back another time to visit.  Then, we arrived in Monaco, where lifestyles of the rich and famous play out on a daily basis.  It's tiny, too.  Imagine: during one cruise were we able to visit the two smallest countries in the world.  Monaco, at 0.7 square miles, is second only to Vatican City in size at two-tenths of a square mile.  We had two stops in the Principality; one on "The Rock", the oldest part of Monaco and home to the Palace and the most breathtaking views of the harbor - and the other in Monte Carlo, home to the renowned Casino and ostentatious displays of wealth at every turn.  The weather was spectacular as we drooled over the yachts in the harbor, saw the guard marching at the Palace and then took a quick lunch at a nearby shop. A short time later we stared in awe at the luxury sports cars, opulent jewelry stores and lavish hotels in Monte Carlo.  We saw the viewing stands and the guardrails in place for the Grand Prix later in the month, the Formula One race held yearly through the heart of the Principality.   What an exciting place to visit!  All too soon it was time to climb into the bus and head back to the Gem.  The ladies sunbathing without the hindrance of a top on the beach at Cannes kept many a male nose pressed to the bus windows on the return trip to the ship.  That night, we'd have to face the fact that it was time to pack and prepare to disembark in Barcelona the next morning.  Disembarkation was easy - your luggage is placed on airport-style carousels for retrieval. Truly, it was the trip of a lifetime for us.  Was everything perfect?  Of course not.   Would we do it again in a heartbeat?  Absolutely!  We have seen much more of this wide world now and we've seen its people - and we're richer for the experience.  We met a great group of people on the Cruise Critic roll call that we would love to sail with again, and who added immeasurably to our enjoyment of the cruise.  We loved the itinerary, but not the type of crowd a transatlantic attracts.  I don't get it:  they have money, the time and the physical ability to go on a cruise like this - so why are these older folks so petulant and rude?  And, despite a few disappointments or places where we thought the cost-cutting had gone too far, Norwegian and the Gem and especially its crew were a good choice to help us get there.  What a trip: over five thousand nautical miles of memories to last a lifetime.             Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Our family of four went on our third cruise with NCL in April/May 2008. Glenn (Dad), Jenn (Mom), Alex (13) and Nick (9) make up our family; we are from upstate NY. The cruise was a 15 day transatlantic out of New York to Barcelona. Ports ... Read More
Our family of four went on our third cruise with NCL in April/May 2008. Glenn (Dad), Jenn (Mom), Alex (13) and Nick (9) make up our family; we are from upstate NY. The cruise was a 15 day transatlantic out of New York to Barcelona. Ports of call were Ponta Delgada (Azores, Portugal), Lisbon (Portugal), Malaga (Spain), Cadiz (Spain), Rome (Italy), Florence/Pisa (Italy), Nice (France), and Corsica. Having taken three cruises with NCL over the last three years to the Caribbean, we are familiar with typical NCL service and facilities. We were pleasantly surprised to find the new Gem to be well above our expectations, which were already quite high. The kid's program was greatly improved since our last cruise a year before. On our last cruise, we had a major problem with the director of the kids program, although the other kids program workers were wonderful. The changes in the program this year on the Gem included greatly expanded hours. Prior to this year, the hours that the kids could attend were scattered throughout the day with no real logic; they could come for a few hours in the morning, then leave for several hours, come back for a few, leave again, come back for a few more, leave again, and then come back for a few more. It was very disruptive. This year on the Gem, the program opened up in the morning and was open until 10pm on at sea days, and the kids could stay as long as they wanted. This was great, as our nine year old would much rather hang with other kids and participate in their very well thought out activities than sit by the pool with the adults. The kid's club workers had a very creative, child centered schedule for each day, beginning to end, and they did not spend the whole day in the center. They went bowling, went to play Wii on the big screen, went to the shows, went rock climbing, and many other activities. My son loved it, and we appreciated that they put so much effort into entertaining him. We had to drag him out of the program to feed him or at the end of the day! The teen program was just as good. Our somewhat shy 13 year old son made friends the first day and also joined in on all the well thought out activities that the separate teen center leaders designed. One of his favorites was dressing in a very realistic gorilla suit and going around the ship scaring people... Both the kid's club and the teen center were amazing facilities. They had huge plasma screen tv's, Wii's with many games, ball pits and play areas, every kind of craft supply imaginable, all kinds of creative toys and activities, a teen bar and lounge, and lots of other great stuff. We had a great cabin-a mini suite near the stairs on the 11th floor. The balcony was nice, I loved sitting there watching Europe float by after getting back from our trips to explore on land. The cabin was large, with a thick curtain to divide our bed from the boys' bed and the balcony area. The bathroom had a shower and tub, with a separate area for the toilet. Bathrobes were provided. Cabin stewards were terrific, and were always there whenever we needed anything. They made great towel critters! When we ordered room service, it was there almost before we ordered it, even if it was late! As for the food, the Garden Cafe could use some variety, as well as better hours. The food they do have is great, but I found myself always looking for something that was never there. I guess that is the best way to put it. Also, it seemed like they were closed a lot; they should be open at least til midnight, if not later. How difficult is it to keep a buffet open? I know that NCL has supposedly improved this so this may now be taken care of, but we have noticed a distinct decline in the quality of food in the main dining rooms over the past few years. Not as much lobster or prime rib, etc. Not as many fancy deserts either. We found ourselves pitching out the extra money to eat at Cagneys most nights (hmmm...maybe THAT is why...). We thought Cagneys was great. There is one thing that we were most unhappy about, and this has been something that we consistently think NCL does poorly. Shore excursions are poorly described, perhaps even purposely misleading. We have caught on to this and wised up. We don't buy 'em anymore, but do our own thing. However, there were a lot of old folks on this cruise who bought in to their ridiculously expensive tour to Rome (almost $200 a person, I believe), and the wording indicated that it included the Vatican museums and other Roman areas. What they did not tell people is that you could take a train there for 7 Euros (which was also good for the metro for the whole day), and that the day the tour was taking place was a national holiday and all the museums were closed (they got away with it by saying that they were "seeing" everything just not "touring" it. There were similar issues with other cities, selling tours for huge amounts of money when you could just get off the ship and the town was right there, or you could walk a few blocks to a train that cost about a tenth of what they were charging. And when you asked them directly (we did to see if they would 'fess up), they lied about it. We don't get why NCL doesn't just get honest about the tours, because I am sure many people, even knowing what we know about being able to do it much cheaper without a shore excursion would still choose to buy theirs simply for the security of their group. We won't anymore on principal, because of how they handle themselves in this area. I know, however, that many retired folks feel safer that way, but they deserve to have someone be honest with them about what their options are. The only other thing I can think of (and it is not negative at all) is that we choose to do our own tipping. NCL absolutely hates it if you will not buy in to their 10%adult 5% kid daily "service charge". However, be aware you do NOT have to participate in this. You do have to tip, but you can make them take that off your bill the last night and get envelopes and tip people individually. That is what all the other cruise lines do. We get a bit of attitude about it, but then they hand over the envelopes and take it off. Our waiter, cabin people, kid's club folks, etc. are way happier to get our tips directly than to get some service charge thing added to their paycheck. Just something to think about. Overall, we absolutely love NCL and the Gem. They are a great fit for our family. We have two new cruises booked with them. Glenn and I are going away for four days on the NCL Sky in November for four days to the Bahamas, and we loved last years transatlantic so much we are doing it again this April/May. Check it out...an excellent deal for a 15 day cruise. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Bio: We were a group of 6 people ages 44, 45, 53, 54, 20, 21 we booked category JJ cabins 9069, 9071, 9073. We are frequent cruisers this was my 11th and my 5th with NCL. We embarked on NCL Gem on April 19, 2008 on the transatlantic ... Read More
Bio: We were a group of 6 people ages 44, 45, 53, 54, 20, 21 we booked category JJ cabins 9069, 9071, 9073. We are frequent cruisers this was my 11th and my 5th with NCL. We embarked on NCL Gem on April 19, 2008 on the transatlantic repositioning in Barcelona. Please excuse any typos. Embarkation: We left Bayonne, New Jersey via car service AMS Limo they are located in Bayonne 201-339-7776 they were very reasonable in price $70 plus tolls and tip from Bayonne to NYC Port, and on the return home $95 plus tolls and tip out of JFK to Bayonne. Total cost for all 6 of us with luggage. The company was on time picking us up in Bayonne and we were at the port Pier 88 by 9am. We were early at the port because the Pope was visiting NYC and we did not want to get stuck in traffic etc. Once we arrived at the port we waited in the open area. Not very much organized before they open, but once they started forming lines it was smooth. My daughter works as a check in Agent for the cruise line and we were allowed to check in with the VIP's and were the first group to be let on the ship before 12:00AM. Others that were not in the VIP section were given numbers and they started calling group numbers once the VIP and the Handicap people were let on. The regular waiting area was full of people. In the VIP section we had coffee, tea, juices, water, breads etc to pick on while we waited. Cabin: We had inside category JJ cabins on deck 9 mid ship, cabin 9069, 9071, 9073, our cabins were nice enough for two people. Two night tables, two twin beds put together, a vanity table with a chair, mirror, and blow dryer. A small table with another chair and a coffee maker. Above that was a small flat screen TV. In the bath room was a shower, a sink and mirror and a toilet. The shower was nice in size and we had plenty of room to move around in the shower. The toilet on the other hand is not exactly in a good position. If you have long legs you have to sit sideways otherwise you're on top of the wall with your knees pressed. One closet with hangers. Shelving and three drawers also. This was a 15 day cruise so we had a lot of clothes with us. I didn't think we had enough space for all our clothes, so one of us practically lived out of the suit case. Our room stewards were good; we had towel animals in our cabin each night to surprise us. They did not go out of their way, but the room was clean etc. Pool: They have two pool areas in one section, the regular area where families can swim together (Tahitian Pool) and then an adult only area which I found very nice, two hot tubs in each section (total 4 hot tubs), and two of them were for adults only. We used this area quite a bit when we got back from ports, and at times were the only ones out swimming. The adult only pool is heated, we loved that! I can't say if the other pool was heated as we did not use it. Lounge chairs, many times they were all taken etc and people would leave their belongings on it for long periods of time, I did not see anyone remove any items to free up the chairs. The new lounge chairs are great when you can find one, some are round and funky in style, I loved the look of the entire area. They also had a quiet section on the 14th floor forward with chairs the same style and they were also great to take a nap in, which I personally did. Kids Area Pool: We did not use this area, but my observation was that they had a slide which was heated, and a small section where your pre K or under children could get wet without going into the pool area, they have an entire section on deck 12 for kids and teens to hang out etc. Tree Top Kids Club - This area is where the kids get check into the age appropriate age groups etc. It looked cute, not many children where in there at the time I checked it out. The Leopard Lounge - This is a cool area where the teens can hang out in and I saw several groups enjoying the space. Video Arcade: They had a lot of games for the kids to entertain themselves. Restaurants: On this cruise the rates for the specialty restaurants were changed to benefit us, since this was a 15 day cruise. The captain had announced this at the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet Meeting. Taking that into consideration we tried two of the pay specialty restaurants, more on that later. Blue Lagoon (Free no charge) : Located on Deck 8, it was very nice and it was open 24 hours. We did not try it for breakfast, but at lunch and at night the food menu is the same. The food was always good. One of the waiters Delfin was very nice, and always had a smile on his face and always went out of his way to make sure you were happy. On the menu you could find hot wings, French fries, burgers, hot dogs, Sheppard's pie, mac & cheese, chili, potato wedges, fried rice. Everyone in our group ate there several times when we got back from ports. Cagney's ($20.00PP service charge): We ate here twice each time we got in on the ½ price special, so instead of paying $20.00 PP service charge we only paid $10.00PP. The food here was good, our waiters were not overfriendly, we ordered the T-bone steak, salmon, filet minion, shrimp cocktails, cesar salad, clam chowder soup, cheese cake for desert. On the first night we ate here the room filled up with smoke and the fire alarms were going off. Finally they got the fire / smoke under control and they opened up the door to let some of the smoke out. They did not clear the area while this was going on, everyone was allowed to stay in the room while they tried to control the problem. We enjoyed our meal on both days. Well worth paying $10.00 extra for the meal. I wouldn't pay more than that. La Cucina ($10.00PP service charge): We ate here twice each time we got in on the ½ price special, so instead of paying $10.00 PP service charge we only paid $5.00. Our waiter here was Ricky he was so nice that we decided on booking a second night and requesting him as our waiter. I had the risotto with shrimp, cesar salad, and for desert I had the Copa Ida it was delicious. Others in my group had Pizza, Chicken Parm with pasta. They came around with a cart and you got to choose things from it as an appetizer, example anti pasto, mushrooms, cheese, mozz and cheese etc. Well worth paying $5.00 extra for the meal. I wouldn't pay more than that. Tequila: (Free no service charge): Deck 8 mid ship. We ate here 4 times even though we weren't too happy with the food. I don't think Tequila should be an extra fee restaurant, unless they upgrade on the quality of the food. On the nights that we ate here the food was always luke warm. Even the sizzling shrimp fajita was not sizzling, but since the menu at the main dining room was not impressive, and the Garden Buffet always had the same items we kept going back to Tequila hoping that the quality would improve. On separate nights we tried the Tortilla Soup, the Quesadilla, the nachos and cheese, the ll popo, the fajita, for desert we tried the pineapple coconut ice cream, and another desert but I can't remember the name. It tasted like coffee ice cream it was rather good. Teppanyaki: ($25.00PP service charge): Deck 7 Mid Ship. My daughter and her boyfriend ate here once (Note: no half price special was ever offered here). My daughter said the food was great and that the show that the waiter puts on was awesome. She said that if they offered a ½ price special on it she would have done it again. Orchid Garden ($15.00pp service charge): We did not try it out, but the menu looked really good. We did take pictures of the area and it was very elegant. Le Bistro ($15.00pp service charge): We did not try it out, but it was a beautiful restaurant, and I heard the fondue was great. Garden Buffet: Well I have plenty to say about this area; whoever designed it was definitely not thinking. It is 3 sections and to be honest with you, it's as if they took over the rest of the area that should have been used for it to make into the children's areas. Made no sense to me on sea days or when we returned from port it was always packed with people trying to find chairs etc. On the days that we were docking at port it was impossible to find seats to have breakfast before going off the ship. On several occasions I saw people taking over an entire booth to sit and read a book, while others were still trying to find seats to eat their meals. On other occasions you saw only 2 people in a booth that fits six. We were a group of six and it was virtually impossible to find seats on some days, we even resulted into sitting in the children's areas to eat our meal. Not that I'm complaining but some people have no consideration what so ever. The meals - Breakfast they had a nice selection of hot cereals, cold cereals, eggs made to order, omelets, bacon sausage, fruit, breads, and pastries, but after a few days it's all the same food day after day. Nothing really changed on our 15 day cruise. Choice of coffee, teas, hot chocolate, and juices were available at no charge. They did have a pay station for special juices made to order, but we did not see the need to pay for that so we did not try it. Lunch - Normally two soups, a salad station, pizza station, burgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, deserts, ice cream and other breads, pastries and fruit as well were offered. Always the same food day after day, nothing really changed. No juices were offered only coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water. Dinner - two soups, salad station, pizza station, burgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, a Mexican section, an Indian section, same as above with all the trimmings. Nothing really changed. This was a good option for people who did not want to spend two hours waiting to dine in the main restaurant. No juices were offered only coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water. Magenta Main Dining Room: We had dinner three or four times in the main dining room. The only night that we loved it was on the Seafood extravaganza night. It was delicious. The other nights were not as great; dinner service usually ran 2 to 2 ½ hours. The room was beautiful. Grand Pacific: We ate lunch here three times, and dinner here once. The room is beautiful, the food was good, but service was always slow and took 2 to 2 ½ hours. Great Outdoors: Deck 12 Aft. They served breakfast, lunch, and between 9:30pm till 11:30pm they had items for those that were hungry after 9pm. The food selections were similar to the Garden Cafe. Topsiders Grill: Deck 12 mid ship. Was a good spot to get a quick meal after you came back from port normally open between 12:30 pm to 4pm Room Service: We used the service 2 or three times. They had a pretty decent selection of items and the food always came quick. I recommend the grill cheese sandwich or the blt sandwich. Sushi Bar ($15.00pp service charge): We did not eat here but it seemed to be a hit with others on the ship. Spa Area: We toured the area and we were considering the Spa Special for $150.00 for the 15 days, this gave you access to the pool, the hot tub, lounge hairs, steam room, showers, etc. Fitness Center: Body waves fitness center is located on Deck 12 we only used it twice and we found it to be small with not many machines. But it served its purpose and people were waiting for the machines while we were working out. Card Room: We used this room often. We played Uno almost every night! They have board games, card games, etc that you can use while you're in the room. They a lot of tables and the room was wonderful and was frequently used by a lot of people on the cruise with family and friends playing games. Latitudes Lounge: This was the first time I had ever seen a Latitudes Lounge on any of the NCL Ships, what a wonderful idea, we used this room frequently when the Card Room was full, you sign in and there are tables for groups to play games etc. They also have several reading chairs for those that don't want to play games. The room is set up with coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and muffins and cookies for Latitudes members to enjoy while in the room, even though others did come to steal a cookie or two while passing by etc. It was just a wonderful idea. Two points for NCL! Excursions: We did not book any shore excursions with NCL more on that when you get to the ports of call area. Shopping: On the ship the shops offered good selections of items to purchase. Cigarettes were $24.95. On several occasions they offered specials on T-shirts, handbags, and other items. If you need to purchase batteries while on the cruise they sell them for $5.99 for a package of 4 AA's. So stock up at home before the cruise or be willing to pay as I did. We had to purchase 4 packs. (We take too many pictures) Disembarkation: In Barcelona we booked the transfer with the ship. Our color was called at 7:30am and we exited to the luggage area. We were surprised and impressed to see that the luggage was on conveyor belts going around for you to pick it up. Several of NCL reps were down in the area to help you if you needed help. They guided us to the correct bus and we were shuttled away about 8:00AM. We drove to the Barcelona Airport and they unloaded the luggage before we even got there. It went pretty smooth. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:20am. Air Line: We booked our airfare independently we used Aer Lingus when we arrived at the airport it was rather confusing since they had sent me an email indicating that they were at terminal A. Once we couldn't find it when then asked around and were told that they are in terminal B. Went from one area to the next and couldn't find it either, asked again and they told us that it was booth 75 and 76, aer lingus was very difficult to find. Once we found it the lines were horrible. I was worried that we might not make the flight but the line moved quickly and we made the flight. This of course was no fault of NCL. Just wanted to warn anyone that is using this line so they can prepare accordingly for any problems. TV: No movies are shown on the TV, a fee of 11.95 is offered for viewing newer movies, so I'd suggest brining a small DVD player with your own movies from home. Otherwise be prepared to pay or not watch TV at all. Only CNN and Fox News are free, besides the channels that NCL shows what's going on throughout the ship. Entertainment: We went to several of the shows, why NCL has decided to hold most of the shows in Spinnakers Lounge is not clear, but seats were hard to come by if you didn't get there early. The shows were ok, we did not like the Cruise Director (Julie). She was rude to several people on different instances. For example on the Newly Wed not so Newly Wed game she asked who has been married less than a month and a couple raised there hands, she started drilling the couple and asking them to prove they were married. The lady was so offended, that she replied to Julie that if only men can have younger women as spouses. The lady was probably in her 60s and her husband looked to be in his late 30's early 40's. She insulted the couple. They refused to participate after that. Stardust Theater: The theater is beautiful but was not used for all the shows. Gem Club Casino: If you don't like to gamble avoid this area if you're not a smoker, the smell was horrible and even walking through the area to reach the other side of the ship was horrible due to the smell. I would have thought that NCL would make it a smoke free zone. I'm sure others avoided the casino for the same reason and NCL lost a lot of money due to this problem. The Chapel: Unless the doors retract and the area opens up more (which we did not see) this area is too small to hold a wedding, unless you have less than 12 people attending. No walking down the isle is available. Not a place I would hold a wedding. Photo Gallery: We purchased all the port pictures and several others, the staff was friendly and helpful. NCL should offer package deals. Each of the port pictures was $14.95 with 9 ports it sure adds up. Ports: Ponta Delgada, Portugal 4/24/08 We arrived and got off the ship, we did not pre book anything in this port as we could not find much information on the web. Everything is within walking distance, once you get off they ship get on the free shuttle bus that brings you to the port entrance, make a right and you will see all the sights. We spent several hours walking around taking pictures of water fountains, churches, statues. The ship docks in Sao Miguel at the port of Ponta Delgada. Lisbon, Portugal 4/26/08 we arrived and got off the ship, we had pre booked a hop on hop off bus through viator.com the cost was 22.28 per person in US currency. When you exit the port cross over the parking area straight ahead the bus picks you up right there. We did not know this the first time and we wound up taking the free shuttle bus into town and picked up the hop on hop off bus near the bus stop. The bus drops you off in the same exact location. This ticket can be purchased when you get on the bus, but they only charge in Euros, no US currency is accepted. We stood on the bus for one entire loop and then we got off at different locations to take pictures, once we got back on we continued the steps above. We really enjoyed this port and this port had many things to see. Cadiz, Spain 4/27/2008 we arrived and got off the ship, we had pre booked a hop on hop off bus through viator.com the cost was 18.76 per person in US currency. When you exit the port entrance on the left hand side you wait for the bus right at the port entrance form a line as people will try to cut in. It was very unorganized and we wound up missing the first two busses, they only have two busses that do the loop the bus comes around every 45 minutes. There was lots to see at this port as well we stood on for one loop and then got off at the beach exit and walked the entire way back. Malaga, Spain 4/28/2008 we arrived and got off the ship, we had pre booked a hop on hop off bus through viator.com the cost was 22.28 per person in US currency. When you arrive at the port you have to take a ship shuttle bus to the entrance of the port, once you exit the port gates turn left. Walk to the bus stop area, you will see a hop on hop off bus sign wait for the bus right there. They have three buses that do the loop they come every half hour. We stood on the bus for one entire loop and then we got off at different locations to take pictures, once we got back on we continued the steps above. We really enjoyed this port and this port had many things to see. Ajaccio, Corsica, France 4/30/2008 we had not found much information about this port on the internet. Once we arrived at the port we had to take a tender to the dock. As your about to exit the port there are several options for you to tour the area. We saw a hop on hop off bus and went to get information the cost was 10 Euros per person it took you on a tour of the city and to a light house. Once the bus bought us back to the port we got off and walked around, lots to see at this port also. Civitavecchia, (Rome) Italy 5/1/2008 we arrived and got off the ship, we had pre booked a hop on hop off bus through viator.com the cost was 26.73 per person in US currency. When you arrive at the port exit the ship as soon as you get the clearance. You have to take a ship shuttle bus to the entrance of the port, once you exit the port gates turn right. Cross the street to the opposite side, walk to the train station. Once you reach the train station purchase a round trip BIRG ticket to Rome the cost was 9.00 Euros per person, this ticket will also give you free access to the subway. Once you get to Rome exit the train station make right. Walk 4 blocks down on the left you will see the Hop on hop off bus. There is so much to see here we did one loop and then got off as close as possible to the main areas. We did a lot of walking here as well. Once we reached the Spanish steps we took the subway to the Train Station. If you must be back by 6pm to Civitavecchia make sure your on the 4:30 train. Don't forget to VALIDATE your ticket each way. You will see the Validating machines at the train stations. Livorno, (Florence / Pisa) Italy 5/2/2008 at this port a shuttle bus is offered by NCL for 1.00 Euro round trip ticket. It will leave you at the center of town exit the bus cross the street to the smoke shop purchase round trip ticket from Livorno to Pisa plus bus ticket from bus stop to train station the total cost was 6.40 Euros. Walk 1 block up cross street to bus stop wait at bus stop pick up the 1R bus to Train Station. At train station VALIDATE ticket and get on the train from Livorno to Pisa. Once you arrive in Pisa the hop on hop off bus stops where the buses stop. Do not exit the circle wait for the bus there the cost for the hop on hop off bus was $22.28 US currency per person. We did one loop and then got off at the Tower lots to see here. The tower will leave you speechless if its your first time seeing it. We got on the 15:30 train back to Livorno, then got on the 1R and it dropped us off in the same location as we got on. Walk one block down to your bus shuttle. The bus shuttle will bring you to the cruise ship. Villefranche, (Nice), France 5/3/2008 we had not found much information about this port on the internet. Once we arrived at the port we had to take a tender to the dock. As your about to exit the port there are several options for you to tour the area. We saw a train that takes you on a tour of the city for 6.00 Euros per person. We did that tour, then when we returned to the port we went walking on our own, basically following the same route the train had done. This port is very pretty and it has lots to see. Barcelona, Spain 5/4/2008 Since our flight was at 11:20 am we did not have time to tour the city. We took the NCL transfer from the ship to the airport. The cost was $25.00 in us currency. It was very organized. Our Meet and Greet for Cruise Critic Members: We had a group of a little over 100 people we met on the 1st sea day in one of the Dining Rooms. The captain and officers attended. It was nice to finally meet the people we've been chatting with for several months. We had a gift exchange, and chit chatted with each other for a while. Bowling: Deck 7 Ultra Bliss Lounge $5.00 a game per person. We bowled on two separate days here. The first one was with the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet Group. About 30 people attended and we had a really good time. NCL let us book the four lanes for our group. Lane one was not working correctly and our game lasted about 2 ½ hours because the balls kept getting stuck and it took the technician about 20 minutes each time to come and repair it. Otherwise it was very nice to hang out with the friends we had been talking to on cruise critic for months! Due to the rough seas I think the highest score was in the 70's (LOL). The second time it was on the last night on the cruise, if you went in your pajamas it was buy one get one free. Two people could bowl for $5.00 total. My daughter and her boyfriend went on that night. NCL had forgotten to tell the Bowling attendant about the special and they made my daughter go back all the way to her room to get the Freestyle daily to prove it. (Not nice), but the problem was solved and they got to get in on the special. Lounges: Spinnakers Lounge: Not a lot of seating is available and because several of the shows and events are held here the seats fill up fast, so go early. After 5pm free pop corn is given here, but not advertised. Enjoy! Laundry Rooms: Are located on deck 10, 9, and 5. The washing machines on 9 were always turned off after 9pm, and were not reset until after 9am, the dryers were still usable and this made no sense to me, but we washed on either 10th or 5th fl and then bought our clothes to deck 9 to dry as our room was only a few doors away. Gas surcharge: We did not have to pay this as we booked prior to this being implemented. Tips: The $10.00 a day per person was charged directly to your credit card, but we gave an extra tip to several people who did an excellent job. The bottom line is the NCL Gem ship is beautiful. You will love the ports it visits. Europe was more than what I expected and I would do it again. The food was not great, but there was plenty of choices. We loved our cruise and were looking forward to our next one. Hope this helps anyone that may want to do the tours we did. It saved us hundreds of dollars. For those that go with the ship excursions I'm sure others will post a review with information on what excursions they did. Happy Cruising! Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Norwegian Gem - Transatlantic - April 19 through May 4, 2008 New York to Barcelona This was my 12th Cruise, but first on NCL. I have sailed with Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Cunard, and Grand Circle. Booking I ... Read More
Norwegian Gem - Transatlantic - April 19 through May 4, 2008 New York to Barcelona This was my 12th Cruise, but first on NCL. I have sailed with Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Cunard, and Grand Circle. Booking I booked this cruise on-line with a travel agent. I normally book with my local travel agent, but the price was so much less I couldn't justify it this time. My agent was unable to get Norwegian to match the online price. There was very little pre-cruise information supplied by NCL except what could be obtained from there web site. This could present some problems for someone new to cruising. Embarkation Arrived at the dock in New York at about 11:30 AM. With two Norwegian ships in port the dock was very busy (mass confusion). The embarkation hall was upstairs. NCL separates new cruisers from the past cruises (Latitude members) for registration purposes. They give a group number and you stand in line to register. There were many more Latitude members than new NCL Cruisers. I think there intent was to treat Latitude members special. Just the opposite happened. I received a group number of 4 when I registered and the Latitude group number being given at the same time was 21. It thus took much longer for Latitude members to register. The embarkation room was large, but all of the available chairs were taken in short time leaving many people standing and sitting on the floor waiting to board the ship. The total time for registration for me was 45 minutes. Other ships I have sailed on have been somewhat better, but overall the time frame was acceptable. Other ships I have cruised on had refreshments in the hall prior to boarding, but there were none on this cruise. We started boarding the ship about 12:30PM which was a little ahead of their predicted boarding time. Once boarded we were able to get into our rooms about 2:00PM. This gave us time to get something to eat and to explore the set-up of the ship. We embarked New York at about 6:00PM which was two hours late. Loading of necessary supplies was late. Cabins On this cruise I chose an inside cabin to save on costs. The cabin was about 130 Sq ft. This was a smaller than most of the cabins I have been in on other cruise ships. The cabin was well laid out and nicely decorated with bright colors. The bathroom had a good size shower and shelves for toiletries. The toilet was very close to the wall, which might make it difficult for a large person to comfortably use it. There was a Flat Panel HDTV. The number of TV stations available was limited and many times the satellite signal wasn't adequate. There was channels dedicated to ship information and you could book shore excursions from you TV. That was a good feature. There was a cost associated with any of the movies available ($5.95 to $11.95). On other cruise lines I have been on there was never a cost. On a transatlantic cruise it would be nice to be able to view movies at no cost. This may be something that is changing industry wide. Clothes storage space was limited, but adequate. There was a refrigerator supplied with water, pop, and alcohol. A liter of water was $4.50 plus a 15% gratuity. Luggage got to my cabin about 5PM. Luggage tags had the cabin number on them making it easier to get the luggage to the cabin in a reasonable amount of time. Some of the other cruises I have been on didn't have that feature and luggage was slow to get to the cabin. Cabins were kept clean. It did involve leaving the room on occasion to allow the cabin stewards to clean and make up the room. I believe the cabin stewards had too many rooms to clean. Between two stewards they were required to clean 34 rooms. The steward I talked to had been doing the cleaning on ships for 23 years and she indicated they use to do 14 rooms a person and the 17 was an increase. Public Rooms There were a lot of public rooms available. Library, game room, bars. The spinnaker Lounge on the 13th floor was large and used for a lot of activities that required more than just a few seats. Much of the late night activities occurred in this lounge. The other lounge that was used quite frequently was the Crystal Atrium. There was a two story TV screen on one wall of the lounge. Dining There were twelve restaurants to choose from. The main dining rooms were Grand Pacific(7th floor) and Magenta (6th Floor). These restaurants do not take reservations. It is on a first come first serve basis. The wait in the evening was initially a problem, but after people settled down into a routine it became more manageable. They provide beepers when traffic is heavy so they can beep you when a table is ready. We had to wait 45 minutes to be seated early in the cruise. The Grand Pacific is the larger of the two, but they don't use the dining room to capacity. I found the service very good and the food Ok. Not as good as some of the other ships I have been on. You can eat breakfast and lunch in the Grand Pacific as well. The Magenta is the smaller of the two main dining rooms. The first time I ate in the Magenta it took 2 1/2 hours to get through the meal. This made it impossible to make the first show time. The wait I believe was from understaffing of the dining room. Food was OK, but not as good as other ships I have been on. The Garden Cafe (12th Floor) is the buffet type dining area. Food is at different stations through out the dining area. You basically pick up a plate and go to the area for the food you want. There are no trays to carry your food and that is a problems if you have several plates and glasses. You essentially have to make several trips. Seating is limited. At busy times it is impossible to find a seat.If you avoid the busy times, seating is adequate. You can sit in the pool area just outside of the Garden Cafe weather permitting. There is also covered outside sitting area in the back of the Garden Cafe. In the pool area there is also a place to get food such as hamburgers ect. Behind the garden Cafe there is another outside food area to get food as well. The food in each of these area was not as good as the other dining venues, but equal to most of the other ships I have been on. There are two other restaurants that do not charge a cover Tequila(Mexican) and Blue Moon (fast food 24 hrs a day). The other restaurants charge a cover. Cagney's (Steak-$25), Lacucine (Italian - $10), Lebistro (French - $20), Orchid (Chinese - $15), Sushi ($20), Teppanyaki ($25 - Cooking on a grill in front of your table). I went to the Lacucine and the Tequila restaurants. I didn't consider the food to be any better than the main dining rooms. When they bill you for the charge there is an option to leave an additional tip. I assume they expect you to leave a tip, although I don't know if the tip goes directly to the person that waited on you.The service was a little more personalized. In all of the specialty restaurants you can make reservations from 7:30 AM to 4:30PM on the day before or the day of dining. There is limited seating in each of the restaurants. Entertainment The show lounge was very nice and seemed to provide adequate seating for two evening shows. Entertainment took place in all of the bars on a regular basis, and it the show lounge twice each night. The Gem singers and dancers were excellent and performed three times. A group called Cats Pajamas performed twice in the show lounge and once in a bar and were also excellent. There were other sings, guitar player, piano player, magician, and comedians. A well rounded group of entertainers. The entertainment was better than most of the other ships I have been on. Spa and Fitness I didn't use the Spa and Fitness center, but it appeared to be well laid out. prices seemed to be high for Spa treatments and there were charges for pilates and Yoga. Shore Excursions There were a wide variety of shore excursions. They seem to be higher in cost than the other ships I have been on in the past. This could be as a result of the valuation of the dollar against the EURO. I took two shore excursions. One in Cadiz to Arco. This went out to small town outside of Cadiz and basically left you on your own to look through the town. It also went to a Sherry plant with some Sherry tasting. The trip wasn't all that great. I also took an excursion to Florence and Pisa in Italy. We were late getting into port and were told by the shore excursion people that were would still get the complete excursion. As it turned out we didn't get the full excursion time. When we got to Florence the guide wasn't where she was suppose to be and we got a late start. Lunch was nothing special. It was so crowded in Florence you could hardly walk. When we went to PISA we only had a few minutes to look at the leaning Tower of PISA and then return to the bus. NCL discovered that our Rome stop on May 1 was their Labor day holiday and many places would not be open, because of the holiday. Then they hurried around to decide what they were going to do about many of the Shore excursions that went to places that were not going to be open. It seemed curious to me that wouldn't have known this ahead of time and let people know. Shore excursions staged in the show lounge. Most days there were many excursions going out and the lounge was nearly full. When they announced excursions going out from either side of the lounge it was mass confusion. You had 500-100 people trying to get out and it was gridlock. People sitting on one side of the lounge had to go out on the other side and cross by each other in the process. There must be a better way to organize these departures. Port Discussions There was a person on the ship who gave a port talk each day at sea for the upcoming ports. On other ships I have been on in the past the port talk included a little history of the port and some detailed information on things you could do on your own in the port. The port lecturer on NCL provided some historical information on the ports, but very little detailed information on how and what you could do on your own in the port. On some ports I enjoyed doing things on my own. Other ports I would rather count on the shore excursions to get me to the places I want to go. This cruise had a lot of good ports to stop in especially for a transatlantic cruise. Porta Delgada Portugal - Azores Islands. This was a small town that was easily accessible from the ship. A free shuttle bus was provided to get you from the ship through the dock area to downtown. The town had a nice shopping area with a lot of craft type items and souvenirs. I spent the day walking through the downtown area. There were some shore excursions to the outlying countryside. As it turned out it was foggy out in the countryside making it difficult to see much of the mountain area. Lisbon Portugal There were a number of shore excursions in and around Lisbon. I had been to Lisbon before into the countryside. This is where the port lecturer could have provided a little information. Just about 1/4 mile from the ship was a train station that took you downtown. For 1.1 Euro each way you could ride the train down and back. It was a five minute ride and once you got downtown you could get a map and within reasonable walking distance you could see most of the sites downtown. NCL provided a free shuttle bus to downtown city gates. You had to catch another bus when you got downtown to get further into the city. Bus didn't run on a regular basis. Cadiz Spain I had been to Cadiz Spain a couple of times before. We were in to Cadiz on a Sunday so many of the shops were not open. The old part of Cadiz is very easy to walk around and you are able to see most of what is there. The ship docks right across the street from the old downtown area. I opted to take a trip to Arcos a small town outside of Cadiz. I was a little disappointed in the shore excursion. There was an open topped bus available for tours. Malaga Spain Malaga is the home of Picasso. It is a city of about 545,000. There were shore excursions available that took you to the outlying countryside they sounded very good. I choose to walk into the the old downtown area. A free shuttle bus was provide from the ship to the entrance to the dock area. It was a short walk across the street to the old downtown area. There was a Picasso Museum and an old church in the old downtown area. There was stores and souvenir shops through the old and new downtown shopping areas. There was a stop and go open top bus that you could take a tour of Malaga and get on and off at thirteen different areas. It costed about 15 EROS. Ajaccio France Corsica Islands We tendered at this port and got in by boat. This was a small town with a limited amount of things to do other than walk around the shopping area. Civitavecchia Italy (ROME) This is a very large port. I had been to Rome about 1 1/2 years ago so decided not to go back. Because it was a holiday many things were closed. I chose to go into Civitavecchia. It is a town at the port location. NCL provided a free shuttle from the ship through the dock area to the gates to the city. I walked around the downtown area, but because of the May day holiday there was very few places open. Not alot to do in Civitavecchia. Livorno Italy Florence-Pisa A lot of good shore excursions available. The problem was having time to do more than one. I chose to go to Florence and Pisa. I was a little disappointed in the excursion, but there was definitely alot of good things to see. I also heard a lot of good things about Cinqa Terra. Wished I had time to go on that shore excursion as well. One thing you have to be careful about when going out on your own is getting back to the ship on time. I spoke with one couple who had gone into PISA on there own by train. The trains were running behind when they wanted too come back. They called the ship and told them they were going to be late and the ship said they would wait for them to a certain point. They ran a little later than they expected and saw the ship pulling away from the dock. They then had to find a way to get to the next port. This involved getting enough EURO to make the trip and finding a train that would get them there. As it turned out they were able to get Euro and catch a train to the next stop which was Villefrance France for about 40 Euro. It could easily have been a situation where they couldn't get enough money or there wasn't transportation available. Sometimes you think the cruise line is just telling you the problems that could exist to encourage you to take a shore excursion. If a shore excursion gets back late the ship waits for those passengers. Villefrance France We tendered for this port and went in by boat. The town is carved into the side of a mountain. The town is about 6,000 people. Nice France is on one side (4 miles) and Monte Carlo is on the other (7 miles). I had been to Monte Carlo so chose to walk around the town. It is very hilly. Is you want to go to Nice or Monte Carlo you only need to walk up one of the streets in town to the train station and catch a train to either destination. I didn't do the train, but I would imagine the cost was not that much. That would have been something the port lecturer could have provided information on to help people do it on their own. We were in port a shorter amount of time that some of the other ports so you had to choose what you wanted to do. Barcelona Spain Barcelona was the last stop on the cruise. Unless you had a late flight there was no time to do anything in Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona before so it didn't matter. Disembarkation We got into Barcelona about 5:00AM. NCL provides the option of walking off the ship with your luggage. All others are set up in colors. You put your luggage out in the hall by 11:00Pm the night before with your color tag on the luggage. Once your color is called you go to the port area and the luggage was flowing through on conveyers. Barcelona is set up very nicely for disembarkation. As you walk off the ship and go down the escalators you come to conveyor belts where you luggage is going by, very similar to an airport. I have been in situation where you have to go into a large room to find your luggage. This is much more convenient. I chose to have NCL provide the transfer and air so they had representatives directing you to a luggage truck and a bus to go to the airport. Airport is Barcelona is 20-30 minutes from the port. The luggage was loaded on a truck and went out ahead of the buses to unload the luggage. We came later on a bus. There are two terminals in Barcelona. The luggage was dropped off in a parking lot near terminal A. Our bus driver dropped us in a parking lot past terminal B. He didn't speak English and pointed to terminal A as the location of the luggage. Nobody near for sure where the luggage was. After walking about 1 mile we started seeing people pulling luggage with the same color case as ours and asked them where the luggage was. We were finally able to find the luggage. There were a large number of unhappy people. For some of the older people carrying luggage it was to far to walk. NCL's transfer company dropped the ball. Summary The Gem is a new ship about 6 months old. The ship is pretty well laid out with the exception of the Garden Cafe. The ship was kept in tip top shape. Overall the service was very good with a few exceptions. The crew were pleasant and always greeted you with a smile on their face. Entertainment was excellent. The food was average in comparison with other cruises I have been on. There seemed to be a lot of extra cost involved in things that were included on other cruises I have taken. Overall the value was excellent. Transatlantic cruises generally cost much less than regular cruises and are many times an excellent value. Free style cruising takes a little adjusting to get use to. i liked not having to dress up to go to an evening meal. I found the cruise to be a good experience and would consider sailing with NCL in the future. Read Less
Sail Date April 2008
Norwegian Gem Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.7
Entertainment 4.5 3.9
Public Rooms 3.5 4.1
Fitness Recreation 3.5 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.6
Enrichment 3.0 3.4
Service 5.0 4.1
Value For Money 5.0 3.7
Rates 4.0 3.8

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