1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2007
This was to be my first time on a new NCL Freestyle cruising ship. I didn't know what to expect and wondered if it would suit me as I have been used to the more traditional cruise vacation. I arrived at the Port of Rotterdam at 1230 ... Read More
This was to be my first time on a new NCL Freestyle cruising ship. I didn't know what to expect and wondered if it would suit me as I have been used to the more traditional cruise vacation. I arrived at the Port of Rotterdam at 1230 midday and was given a yellow card with a number 25 on it. I was told to take a seat in the waiting area until my number was called. I was only waiting for 15 minutes and then proceeded to the check in counter. The process was quick and efficient by friendly NCL staff. Rotterdam Terminal is not the best and needs a face lift. As I boarded you couldn't help but admire the Gem. As you enter the ship you are greeted by rich colors and smiling staff. I proceeded to my stateroom which was to be a Balcony BC grade on deck 9. Cabin number 9168 which is at the back of the ship. I opened the door and right away was more than happy with the look and size. The most impressive thing that stood out to me were the bathrooms. It is the first time that I have seen the toilet with a sliding glass door to separate it from the rest of the bathroom. A great idea. The showers are hot and powerful which is what you would expect from Grohe!! These bathrooms are standard even in the lower categories and this puts NCL ahead in my opinion. All plug sockets are American 2 pin so if your from the UK/Europe you will need adapters. All staterooms have Flatscreen HDTV with a good selection of TV channels although I would have liked to have seen Sky News or BBC World available and not just Fox News !! The air conditioning system is good and has a 'quick cool' button if you want instant temperature reduction. Plenty of wardrobe space and hangers are available and a easy to use safe. The beds were very comfortable with good pillows that provide good support. I decided to then go to the top of the ship and work my way down. I wanted to familiarize myself with the facilities on offer. Deck 14 and 15 had plenty of sun deck space with nice new loungers. Also the rock climbing wall is here. Then down to deck 13 for the Spinnaker lounge, the decor is quite eye opening to put it mildly but is a really nice place to chill by day and socialize by night. Cagneys Steak house is a must and did not disappoint. The meal I had there was amazing and the food exceeded all expectations. Deck 12 houses the Spa and it really is a tranquil place to come to at least a few times during your cruise. The hydro pool is very inviting and the hot ceramic loungers are most welcoming. The sauna I saw in the mens changing rooms was really nice and a good size. It looks out to sea and was the ideal temperature. The spa has all the normal facilities with Elemis treatments etc... The Library was well stocked and a nice place to come for peace and quiet. Next door is the card room very similar to other cruise lines. The Tahitian Pool is really nice and the hot tubs are a good place to spend a few hours to wind down and relax the muscles. The swimming pool is heated to a comfortable temperature. The water slide is fun and I have to admit I tried it Once! The loungers have really soft mattresses and look really well. On either side of the ship in the pool area they have these double bed like chairs where you can relax and even take a siesta. I thought they were a brilliant idea. The grill served hot dogs hamburgers and salads which were of a good standard and fresh. The Garden cafe was really nice and the amount of choice was impressive. I had the best Indian lunch there in a long time. There was always a wide choice of Chicken,Beef,Pork,Fish dishes with soups,salads,desserts and the Pecan Ice cream is a must. On a sunny day take your food to the back of the Garden Cafe 'The Great Outdoors' where you can sit outside which was really nice. All of the restaurants are impressive in design. I managed to eat in the Grand Pacific dining room,Cagneys Steak house and Lotus Garden. Grand Pacific is your traditional cruise ship main dining experience and the food was of a high standard and service was also good. Cagneys as stated above was amazing. Lotus Garden was a real gourmet experience and the Chinese dishes were all presented in a unique way. You will know what I mean when you dine there. The choice was huge and it was hard to decide what dish to go for as they all looked so good. I went for the Chicken Satays with peanut sauce for starter then the beef Szechuan strips with chicken fried rice. It was perfect and service was second to none. On this particular cruise the restaurants , especially Cagneys and Orchid got really busy between 8pm and 9pm. Best to make reservations. The Teppanyaki looked very impressive but I didn't have enough time to try it although I would love to in future. Down to Deck 8 where the Blue Lagoon is housed and offers 24 hour dining. I went one night at 11pm and decided to try the Singapore Fried rice with chicken,shrimp and pork. It was simply delicious and makes a great snack at anytime. There was also fish and chips in a basket which I thought was a great idea. The bowling alley and nightclub are impressive. The nightclub has private VIP areas with four poster beds and other such novelties. The DJ was very good and knew how to get a crowd on the dance floor. The show on both nights was 'Worldbeat' which was a mix of Greek,Irish, American and Japanese music fused into one 45 minute presentation. It was very professional and for someone that doesn't really go to alot of shows , I went to the same show on both nights so that says it all. The Java Cafe and the crystal Atrium are really nice meeting places. This area houses the reception,shore excursion desk,internet cafe and cashier. The Java Cafe does a mean cappuccino and is well worth a visit. I was lucky enough to see most types of cabins with the highlight being the Courtyard Villas. As you enter you just go 'WOW'. It is pure luxury and offers the ultimate 5 star cruise vacation experience. The facilities on offer are mind blowing and if your budget can stretch to it then why not. They are like apartments, in fact they are bigger than some apartments I have seen!! So what's my impression?? Well before I got on board I was wondering if the vibrant colors and 'different' furnishings would be to my taste and would I find it all a bit too much. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised because NCL have got it right, they know what they are doing. It really does work and creates the perfect vacation environment. Would I go on NCL again ?? Yes I really have to say I'm seriously thinking about booking the Gem for my next vacation. The FreeStyle experience has changed my opinion of what I want from my cruise vacation and has opened up a whole new world to me. I love the idea of dine when you want with whom you want and being able to choose whether to wear a suit or just go smart casual. For all of you lucky people booked on Gem prepare to be amazed!! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
This is my first review. Maybe I should wait until I've had more time to digest my thoughts, but decided to write something while it's still fresh in my mind. Since I had very little sleep last night having disembarked this ... Read More
This is my first review. Maybe I should wait until I've had more time to digest my thoughts, but decided to write something while it's still fresh in my mind. Since I had very little sleep last night having disembarked this morning and driven straight to work, I do hope what I'm writing will make some sense and be useful somehow. Our cruise was the 2 nighter from Dover to Amsterdam and back to Dover on 6th Oct 2007. The Good The Ship and Crew 1. This was our first time on a new ship having been on the Jewel and Dream previously. The brand new ship was very impressive. Everything was so shiny! Loved the new dolphin carpet. However, by this morning we had already found scuffed carpeting on the stairs. Our balcony stateroom was compact but still lovely. The new partition door for the toilet was a nice useful addition. 2. Being one of the first cruises on this new ship, the friendliness and efficiency of the staff was the best we have experienced so far. Everyone was making so much effort to give the best first impression possible. One of our staterooms had a faulty heater and repair was carried out promptly. 3. The layout of the ship is much improved from the Jewel. Switching the locations of the Bliss Ultra Lounge and the Trade Routes Boutiques made much better use of both spaces. I believe it's very similar from the Pearl though. The Bliss Ultra Lounge was lovely and the velvety new furniture they've scattered at different locations was gorgeous. Provided us with plenty of funny photo opportunities! Dining 4. Being only a 2 nighter, we only ate at the Garden Cafe, the Grand Pacific Main Dining Room, La Cucina Italian Restaurant and the Blue Lagoon. There were 8 in our group, some had travelled on other cruise lines (RCI and MSC, I think) and their verdict was NCL served the best food. 5. The first night was Lobster Night at the main dining rooms and the lobster was pretty good! Our waiter was very helpful and the service was very quick. Some may not appreciate this, but for us having hardly any waiting time between courses was great! 6. On our Jewel cruise we had tried every restaurant apart from the Italian so we made a booking by phone for La Cucina as soon as we got to our stateroom! The food was good, risotto a little underdone and too salty but generally it was good. Great atmosphere in that restaurant and the large windows gave great views. 7. The new layout of the Garden Cafe meant more choice of food and having servers meant less mess and better appetite! The area is very well lit and welcoming, unlike on the Jewel. However, the actual eating area felt very cramped and was difficult to navigate through, they've tried to fit too many tables and chairs in that area. Entertainment 8. The general standard of all the different performers at the various dances and shows was very high, much higher than our previous cruises. The pool band playing at the Sailaway Party was excellent, the lead singer was so pitch perfect they could have been playing a CD! The show at the Stardust Theatre was also very good with much better singers and dancers than on the Jewel or the Dream. 9. Didn't catch his name, but the guy on the piano, who I think was the Music Director, was very good. Not only was his piano playing excellent, he was very funny and even provided music to those waiting to sort things out at reception during disembarkation. 10. On our second night we wandered into the Teen's Leopard Lounge and found "free play" in the games arcade! We spent time playing on all the machines and had a lot of fun! Disembarkation 11. We were able to disembark whenever we were ready rather than deck by deck. Some people were still sleeping by the time we left. Very quick disembarkation at Dover as usual. Now, the Not so Good… I must admit most of these are just minor teething problems… Parking 1. They really need to get their act together at Dover Cruise Terminal Parking. Customers with bookings wait in line with those without bookings. Expect at least 30 minute wait at peak times. Embarkation 2. Embarkation was chaotic. Seemed like everyone arrived at Dover at the same time! Being Latitude members didn't benefit us in any way this time. The rest of our group checked in normally waiting behind a queue of at least 70+ people and us with only 1 family before us in the Latitude check-in, we still finished at the same time! It appeared that the lady checking us in was on training… Lifeboat Drill 3. This point probably had nothing to do with the ship, but I'm still going to rant. Scheduled at 3:30pm., some passengers didn't turn up until after 4:00pm. What usually takes about 15 minutes took more than 45 minutes to complete! I suspect these late passengers had been watching the rugby and couldn't tear themselves away from the screens. If all services ceased at 3:30pm for the drill as advertised, then I'm sure the rest of us wouldn't have been held up unnecessarily. Sailaway Party 4. There was no party. There was a band, but they had been playing as soon as we embarked. There was no BBQ, although it was never advertised, but we had come to expect it due to our other 2 NCL cruises. No special food was laid out (you take the food from the Grill or the Garden Café), no games were organized, it was just an extended lunch! And so we move on to the next point… Cruise Director Clint 5. He was a no-show at the Sailaway Party. Maybe that was why nothing was organized. In the 2 days we were on the ship, we saw Clint once, for about 1 minute at the end of the Stardust Theatre show. Entertainment 6. On our 2 nighter there was only a show on one of the nights. At first we thought this was understandable, this was a shakedown cruise after all. But since reading the first Gem review we have become less understanding because they saw a different show to ours which means they had 2 shows prepared and rehearsed already! Special Request 7. A lady in our group had a birthday during this cruise and I had made a request in the booking for her stateroom. This did not materialize, but understandable since I only ticked a box indicated the birthday in the booking and didn't pay extra. At dinner I made another request for a birthday song and after much clarification and having identified the lady in our group to the staff, this also did not materialize. Well, 11 major good points against 7 minor bad points, I think that's a very good score for a shakedown cruise! I look forward to sailing on the Gem again on a full length cruise once they've perfected everything! Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
We did use the Gem one nighter from Rotterdam - Dover just to see the new ship and compare it to the pearl, which we did use in february for 9 nights . Transfer to Port of Rotterdam is very easy .. Just fly into Amsterdam and use the train ... Read More
We did use the Gem one nighter from Rotterdam - Dover just to see the new ship and compare it to the pearl, which we did use in february for 9 nights . Transfer to Port of Rotterdam is very easy .. Just fly into Amsterdam and use the train .. runs every 20 minutes and then it is a short ride by metro. As we did leave the station , the Gem was right in front of us .. only a 2 minutes walk. the Cruise terminal is a little bit older but we did check in in the first group at 11.30 am and were on the ship within 2 minutes. The cabins and layout is a 100% copy of the pearl, which is a good thing .. we booked an inside at Deck 9 which was just fine for the few hours of sleep we wanted to catch . The overall colors on board have been toned down just a little bit compared to the pearl , so it looks very sparkling and animating . It was actually the 2nd night they were running the boat for passengers and we were highly impressed with the service and stuff on board. Everything was running smoothly , bar service, casino , restaurants .. We did choose the Garden Cafe for an early lunch and the food was outstanding and presented very nicely ... We did like the indian dishes and the soup varieties best .... but naturally there were all kinds of salads, burgers, roasts ... pizza/pasta station available .. In the evening we went to Magenta and really liked the atmosphere .. a little bit more light and colors than in the sister restaurant Indigo at the pearl made the difference. The service was immaculate ... food was well prepared, my lamb rack was melting in the mouth .. We were amazed how well everything was working together .. if you did not know you would think this crew was running the boat for at least a couple of months ... not much to improve .. We booked our transfer from Dover to London by bus in advance with NCL and everything worked pretty well .. it is a 3 hours drive so be prepared .. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation ... Read More
Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise Views of the newbies We decided on the Norwegian Gem Inaugural Cruise when it became difficult to fly long haul and thus got our first sight of the ship on the coach from London to Dover. The embarkation was painless with the photo being taken as we embarked after losing the luggage to the porters. Some minor formalities and we were onboard looking for our Mini Suite 11538. We had seen a lot of postings about comparisons between Balcony staterooms and Mini-Suites but were very pleased with ours especially the two "zones" both with their own temperature controls and with a large heavy curtain that could be pulled the width of the suite allowing one to read and the other to snooze, excellent and used every day. The balcony was a good size, with comfortable loungers and a table. The bed was very comfortable and an excellent size, with good quality pillows. Because we had the "luxury" bathroom there was a lot of room for two and the bathroom was perfect with a good shower and all the facilities you would need. A 15" flat screen TV, bigger than in the Balcony stateroom and a coffee maker were there along with a complimentary fruit bowl and still Evian water, one refilled the other not. The Roll Call meeting the next morning when we met Captain Mikael Hildern, Klaus, and Claudio and Clint plus officers was an excellent treat and very informative, leading to many nods and chats later in the cruise from people we met that morning. We would recommend everyone to use Roll Call for that reason. Now onto the food, fabulous, we tried Le Bistro twice, Cagney's twice, Grand Pacific and La Cucina twice and Orchard Garden, Magenta, Tequila once each. We had Short Rib and Tenderloin, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, Rib Eve and New York Strip sirloin and all were historic. The rack of lamb was exactly pink, the Il Popo (in Tequila and for two) was superb and the only meal to struggle to meet excellent was the Coq au Vin in the Magenta. Pasta in La Cucina was excellent and the Orchard Garden was superb. Breakfast collected from the Garden Cafe and eaten in the Great Outdoors was always a pleasure and we grazed through lunch when onboard at the Garden Cafe. The chilled soups were out of this world, Chilled Granny Smith Bisque, yum. We had an invite to Cagney's for breakfast one day and will very seriously consider a Penthouse or above next time just for that pleasure. We tried the Champagne bar mostly but the Maltings did have a cask strength single malt that was a treat. The bottle of wine following you was a good idea but ours always died at the table. We went ashore at Gibraltar, big mistake with three cruises in port, and at Naples, Pompeii Excavations was very interesting, A Taste of Rome didn't work for us but the Pisa and Wine Tasting was the best of all with an excellent visit to Pisa and an excellent wine tasting and meal. The Cabin staff were always smiling and the Towel sculptures were something we looked forward to every night. Every where you went people smiled and seemed pleased to see you, obviously proud of the ship and the staff. Disappointments, only when we disembarked at Barcelona, the flawless professional service fell apart after we got off, come on NCL spread your excellence to everyone involved until we get to our front door, as the shock of the real world was unsettling. Will we cruise with NCL again, you bet, we made a lot of good friends both amongst the crew and the passengers and Freestyle cruising certainly worked for us. Fabulous. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a ... Read More
This cruise package included an inclusive arrangement to park the car at Heathrow for the period of the holiday. When parked up we caught the shuttle bus to Terminal 3 and met up with the NCL representative who soon had us boarded on a coach for Dover. Upon arrival our Latitude membership gave us fast track boarding on to the ship where our Stateroom awaited us, this was spotless and inviting with a fruitbowl and flowers to welcome us. Feeling a little hungry after our journey we went to the Garden Cafe where a magnificent hot & cold buffet awaited us, we were spoilt for choice. Prior to the ship sailing the Captain briefed everyone on our departure and the necessity to participate in the Lifeboat drill which was completed very efficiently. The Freestyle Daily Newssheet kept us informed on all shipboard activities while the in-cabin multi channel TV kept us up to date with the ships progress and briefings on the ports of call. The meals in Grand Pacific and Magenta were of the same high standard menu and waiter served, while the Blue Lagoon provided a simpler menu but still with waiter service.The Great Outdoors and the Garden Cafe provided both hot and cold meals of a high standard on a self service basis. There are seven other speciality restaurants to choose from albeit that there is a supplement per person to be paid on some ranging from $10to$20 per person on each occasion of use. The food in all outlets was of an extremely high standard with something for all tastes. Staff tipping is taken care of by NCL adding $10 per day to each adult account so all staff benefit, as many different members serve you throughout the voyage. It is a good idea to ask for a copy of your shipboard account the day before your cruise finishes in order that you can check it at your leisure. The final accounts arrives at your cabin around 4am on the day of your disembarkation thus time is limited for checking and queries. There appeared to be a considerable number of queries on the accounts and there was quite some wait to get them resolved before departure home. The cruise was most punctual with each port arrival on time and a good choice of tours to choose from at each destination. The Shore excursion staff were most helpful and showed great enthusiasm for their tasks. the crew overall were without exception helpful and prepared to go that extra mile. This is indeed a happy ship commanded by a fine Captain & officers who were friendly and approachable. The Entertainment in the ship`s theatre was of a high standard with only one exception that being a comedy troupe who were not appreciated on one night however the other ten night`s entertainment were first class with the ships resident Showtime cast delivering exceptionally high performances.The Casino,Sports facility, Fitness Suite and Spa were all first class. The Kids Club kept the youngsters busy and happy,they even had there own small servery in the Garden Cafe. All in all this cruise delivered what it advertised.The disembarkation process was smooth and unhurried we stayed in our cabin until called around 9am unlike our last cruise on a different line where we had to vacate our room at 8am and wait in public areas for some hours prior to being allowed to leave the ship. The trip to the airport was efficient and the flight home uneventful. It was a good cruise, our fourth with NCL and we have just booked up for the Panama Canal cruise with them for Apr 08. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
Hi everyone - this is my first time review from my cruise on NCL's Gem, so please be patient if I waffle on a bit. Belive me there is a lot to say on this beautiful ship. However, as seems customary, I will start with the pre-cruise ... Read More
Hi everyone - this is my first time review from my cruise on NCL's Gem, so please be patient if I waffle on a bit. Belive me there is a lot to say on this beautiful ship. However, as seems customary, I will start with the pre-cruise bits. I flew into Barcelona from Liverpool in the UK (I live about an hour or so from Liverpool airport in the North West of England) which took roughly 2 hours on Sunday 21st October. We had arranged transfers to the ship with NCL, which, whilst there was a bit of waiting, were pretty much OK. We were dropped right outside the terminal at roughly 12:30 in the afternoon, and the embarkation process was smooth, and we were onboard the ship with a drink in hand by 1PM. OK, the ship. I have sailed with NCL before on Norwegian Spirit, which whilst I enjoyed, found certain things lacking. Sailing onboard Gem has restored my faith in NCL, and then some. From the minute myself and my girlfriend walked onboard, we were simply blown away. The decor may not be to everyones taste, as there are a lot of bright colors - blues, yellows, greens, turquoise, purples seem to be in the ascendency, however, I thought it worked extremely well. We had an inside stateroom - 11037 - which whilst I thought a little on the small side, had everything we needed. The storage space was good, the flat screen tv was adequate, and the bathroom was fine, with the shower and glass sliding door, proving to be excellent. We ate at most of the free restaurants on board, as well as two of the restaurants that require a cover charge. The Grand Pacific dining room located aft of the vessel was beautifully decorated, quite traditional with none of the bright colors in here. The food was good, hot and plentiful. We also tried the Mexican place Tequila, and the 24 hour dining venue Blue Lagoon. Tequila had an excellent choice of food, and again service was good, and the food hot, whilst the Blue Lagoon had a limited menu, but what they did serve was always excellent, no matter what time of day or night. We also tried the Magenta restaurant, which again was good, and La Cucina which is the Italian themed restaurant deserves a special mention, as the food in here for one of the free restaurants was outstanding. The 2 pay restaurants we ate at were Le Bistro, which was French, and Cagney's Steakhouse, which, funnily enough specialized in steak. Le Bistro was $15 per head, but we ate at 9:30 in the evening, during the 2 for 1 timeslot, so worked out at $7-50, whilst Cagney's was $20 per head. I cannot compliment both restaurants enough. The quality of the food was outstanding, with service to accompany it. I would even have to say the meal I had in Cagney's, consisting of crab cakes, Ceasar salad, Filet Mignon, followed by New York cheesecake was quite possibly the best meal I have ever had. Drinks - the bar service wherever you went was good, if at some times a little pushy for my liking. However, beer was reasonably priced, averaging roughly $4-50 for a bottle of Bud light or similar, with the option of having a bucket for $24 for 6. The other areas of the ship were well laid out with the big screen in the atrium being a source of movies, NCL presentations, and best of all Nintendo Wii for adults and kids every day. Also in the atrium is the Reception area and Shore Excursion desk. Again, staff at both these areas were polite and helpful. We spent a lot of our time in the evenings in Maltings Beer and Whiskey bar after we had eaten. They had ESPN showing most of the time in the evenings which kept me happy, but they also had a female vocalist playing guitar and singing in there every night by the name of Kim Doolittle. I do like live music anyway but Kim was outstanding. She took requests, played a nice mixture of old and new music, and has a wonderful voice. On the last evening, I requested a song from Kim, which she actually forgot about. However, as she was leaving she saw me sat in the bar, remembered that I had requested the song, took her guitar back out of it's case, came and sat opposite me and gave me my own personal rendition of Margaritaville. Amazing. I can't complete the review without a separate mention for the Bliss Ultra Lounge. What a place. Again, the decor may not be to everyone's taste, lots of crushed velvet, red, orange, black color scheme, and a mixture of comfy chairs, bar stools and beds to sit around on. And of course 4 ten pin bowling lanes to play on at $5 dollars per person. Some idiot did manage to smash one of the flat screen tv's with a bowling ball, but that aside, the place is amazing. The DJ's could perhaps have played a more varied choice of music - most of it seemed to be modern R&B, Hip-Hop stuff, could have done with some older songs to really get the party going. Disembarkation - We registered for express self-disembarkation, meaning we carried our own luggage of the ship, and if you can manage it, would recommend it. It was no hassle at all. We had an early flight out of Barcelona at 10:50 AM so we were a little worried about taxi availability, but it proved to be unfounded. We walked straight off the ship at around 07:30 after eating breakfast as we had most mornings in the Grand Pacific, to find no queue at all for the taxis. A perfect end to a perfect cruise. Hope you enjoyed the review. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
We just got back from our cruise on the Norwegian Gem 7 day cruise around the Med Sea. This was the second full cruise for the Gem and she was up to speed like a ship that had been around for years. That was attributed to the management ... Read More
We just got back from our cruise on the Norwegian Gem 7 day cruise around the Med Sea. This was the second full cruise for the Gem and she was up to speed like a ship that had been around for years. That was attributed to the management team that they had and I heard from many staff members that the group that they had on board got a crew up to speed faster than ever before. Here is the recap: Background This was my honeymoon cruise with my new DW. Pre-Cruise We arrived in Barcelona on Saturday after flying British Airways from Boston to Heathrow to Barcelona. We arrived in Barcelona at 10:30, picked up our luggage, and hopped on the Aerobus to the Hotel Continental Barcelona. We arrived at the hotel at 11:30am and were able to check in right away. Everyone that was checking out on Sunday had NCL Jewel tags on their bags and everyone checking out on Sunday had Gem tags. The hotel was great and we had a balcony room which we sat out on a lot. We stocked up on soda and water for the ship at their free 24 hour buffet. We checked out on Sunday at noon and got a taxi to the pier and were there in about 15 minutes. Embarkation Embarkation was painless in that we dropped our bags off with the porters outside and then went right over to the Latitudes line and was checked in less than 10 minutes. We then got on board and headed to Grand Pacific for lunch because the rooms were not ready until 2pm (A crew member gave you a piece of paper that said that they recommend Garden Cafe, but we saw and new from this board that one restaurant is open). We had a nice relaxing lunch that ended right at 2pm. We went to our room and everything was there including the paperwork for the week, shore excursion tickets, and a bottle of champagne from our TA. Room We had a category II inside room on the 11th floor which was really nice. The only complaint that I had was that we were right below the Garden Cafe kitchen and during the day if there were moving large carts, we could here them rumbling around. Our room stewards were great. The room has a large closet, 4 cubby shelves outside, 4 cubby shelves, in the closet, and 3 sliding shelves. There is a mini fridge, which we had cleared out by our room stewards on the first day. The TV had ESPN Int'l, Fox News, BBC, a German Station, a Spanish Station, 3 Music Channels (just music, no videos), a couple of ship channels, bow cam channel (the camera has a night vision setting which keeps the screen bright all night and trump the keep the TV on all night for the sun to wake us up), and movie channel. There are on demand recent movies for $11.99 (the same that they had on our BA plane for free) and adult movies for $14.99. Cruise Critic Meet and Greet We had a nice turnout of I think around 45 people at 10:30am in Le Bistro on Monday morning. The whole cruise officer team was there including the captain Mikael Hilden, Clint Wells the CD, Klaus the hotel manager, and other officers. They did a Q&A with the attendees, and Klaus did point out that he and people under him do read these boards and websites. He says that he would rather have you talk to him on the board then ripping them apart on the boards. Food and Restaurants We tried all the free restaurants except Tequila. We are not big on the specialty restaurants so I will leaves those reviews for someone else: Grand Pacific: Located on Deck 7 Aft, it is the restaurant that is open for all 3 meals. We had breakfast 5 of the 7 days and thoroughly enjoyed the breakfast here than in the Garden Cafe. The service was really efficient and we were usually out of there in 30 minutes for breakfast. If you have a time deadline, the server will suggest things that can be made in that time period. The menu had a variety of hot and cold items. For Dinner this restaurant and does not allow jeans to be worn. They were so strict on jeans that my DW had a jean jacket with her and put it on because it was cold and the hostess from the front door came over and yelled at her to take it off before someone complains about her wearing jean material, so it is (one 1 of 3 customer service black marks because she could have said it in a nicer manner). Magenta: Only open for dinner and the place were the reservation desk is during the day. Magenta allows jeans all day and consists of tables and booths with pillows. We both liked Magenta more than Grand Pacific. Blue Lagoon: Blue Lagoon is located in the same area as Tequila and in a U shape overlooking the Crystal Atrium. During dinner, half the space allocated for the Blue Lagoon is taken over by Tequila leaving about 10 tables for Blue Lagoon. The service was really slow and unorganized because the waitstaff was not dedicated to a set number of tables. One night that we went for snacks, it got so bad that the restaurant manger was taken orders for the waitstaff. Garden Cafe/Great Outdoors/Pool Grill: I am not a big buffet fan but the place does the job. For breakfast there are hot and cold foods at the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors, and a continental breakfast at the Pool Grill. The one thing that I did like was that the Garden Cafe was open until 11:30 each night so we could get some dessert or a snack after the show. La Cucina: We went there because we got back from Rome early in the day before most people did. We went at 5:30 when it opened saw that there was no one there and asked the hostess if we could get in without a reservation. She started this speech that this is a specialty restaurant and you need a reservation but she made it think that she was doing something great to get us in. When we walked in there was one table full and when we left there was 3 tables full. The food was really good and that made up for the hostess' attitude. Entertainment: Gem Production Company: The Gem Production Company did three shows during the week. The first show was called "World Beat" which I thought was really bad because it was supposed to be about the music from around the world. What it turned out to be was the cast singing pop songs that had the names of different continents in costumes from that continent (i.e.: Africa-Rain over Africa and Asia: Theme from the movie Mulan. The second two shows were better in "Get Down Tonight", a 70's music review and "Colors" a review of songs that have colors in them. Romano Frediani: Romano is a great juggler, from a family of performer for over 250 years, who does a wide variety of different kinds of juggling including off of drums and in the dark. He is also really funny and was great as the special guest for the Liar's Club Duck Cameron: Duck is a great magician who did a wide variety of tricks and got a lot of the crowd involved. Donny Ray Evins: He did a tribute to Nat King Cole for the embarkation day welcome show and he is really good and sounds just like Nat King Cole. Second City: Second City is a comedy troupe who does shows all over the country and has a exclusive contract with NCL to do shows. They do a mixture of scripted and improve comedy for their show. Bars (that we went to) Spinnaker: Spinnaker is your normal layout compared to other ship, expect that they added somethings to get people to come in during the day. They have coin operated pool, shuffleboard-like game, table soccer, darts, and an electronic roulette game. Frank's Place (Star Bar): This bar is on deck 13 and has been turned into a gangster themed bar. Bliss: Bliss is home of the bowling and the late night parties. They have couches, beds and chairs throughout. There are also some video poker machines along the walls for gamblers. Each night there was a theme party like shadow dancers, PJs on the last night, toga party, and blacklight. Pools: There are three pools, one for everyone, one for adults, and a kiddie pool connected to the Kid's Club. There are four hot tubs around the pools, two for everyone, two for adults. The pools and hot tubs were open each day 8am to 11pm each day. The water slide is open from 10am-6pm. The pools are heated to about 80 degrees and they are saltwater. Excursions and Ports We were late into the first port Messina because there were a lot of ships coming in that day and we had to wait for the pilot to park the ship in the dock. We did two excursions and had no problems with them. We did Livorno on our own and Mt Etna and Taromina. Disembarkation: We did the express disembarkation and left the boat at 8:30am. We were off and out the door with no issues in five minutes and were off to the airport. Recap: The Gem is a beautiful ship and she is running like a well oiled machine even though she is not even a month old yet. Good job NCL. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) ... Read More
We left Los Angeles around 6 p.m. Saturday and arrived in London at Noon on Sunday. The flight was uneventful (the best kind) and all our luggage arrived with us. Spent the night at the Sheraton Heathrow (Internet Special of 48.5 pounds) and it is a perfectly decent place to spend a night. The next day we took the Hotel Hoppa back to Heathrow and picked up the NCL coach to Dover. Check-in had an issue in that there were so many Latitude Members that check-in in that line was actually longer (we went over to the regular check-in; however, we boarded early with the Latitude group). They should have redirected some personnel to address the issue or directed the Latitude members to use the regular check-in lines. Once aboard ship we were able to store our carry-on luggage in our room and began to explore the ship, it's big and beautiful in a rather gaudy way (lots of bright colors and some funky furnishings such as bright yellow velvet lounges for two in the Spinnaker Lounge). The tennis/basketball court is full size with bleachers! The bowling alley is four lanes in the midst of the Bliss Lounge (a nightclub atmosphere) We had lunch at the Garden Cafe. DH had fruit and I had a taste of their Indian Vegetarian offerings (Dal, Baigan Bharta, Rice, Papadum and some Cilantro Yogurt), which were quite good. The Garden Cafe is set up for many things to be prepared to order and there are a couple of coffee stations with machines to make regular and decaf Lattes, Espressos and cappuccinos (there is also one of these machines in the Outdoor Grill). Another nice touch is the Soft-Serve machine in the Garden Cafe and Outdoor Grill; however, they either broke down or they ran out of ingredients as they were both "out of order" about halfway through the 11 day cruise. Our inside cabin is small, but adequate for two. I don't think I'd want to have someone using that third bed. The bathroom has a real shower with a sliding door and the closet had enough hangers for all our stuff (perhaps we have finally learned to pack light). We ate dinner at the smaller Main Dining room called Magenta (rather bright in daylight hours; however, quite attractive in the softer evening lighting). The two main dining rooms share a menu and the other included restaurants are the Garden Cafe, the Italian restaurant (La Cucina), the Tex- Mex Restaurant (Tequilas), the 24-7 restaurant (Blue Lagoon), the Tapas Bar and all the outdoor facilities (open as weather permits). For extra you can eat French (Le Bistro), Steakhouse (Cagney's), and Asian, which includes Fusion, Teppanyaki & Sushi facilities. Anyway, we split a bottle of Spanish Cava (the Spanish answer to Champagne) and I had a Mushroom Caramelized Onion Crostada (outstanding), a Mixed Green Salad, Skirt Steak, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bavarian Cream cake and a cappuccino. DH had a Smoked Salmon appetizer, Caesar Salad, Grilled Mahi Mahi with polenta and 3 scoops of ice cream. Parts of the meal were outstanding (the appetizers) and nothing was bad, however, the skirt steak was a trifle chewy. Of course, this is the very first "long" cruise of the Gem, so some kinks are expected. We had some free Champagne at the Art Auction (bought nothing) and went to the evening's entertainment (introduced one of the Lounge Acts, a guitar playing singer, and the magician who will have a longer show later in the cruise. Generally we had breakfast in the Grand Pacific. The menu is the same every day and while there are a variety of choices, we missed the Cooking Light breakfast selections that used to be available on NCL. We also had breakfast on a few occasions at the Garden Cafe and enjoyed their made to order omelets. On our first sea day I went to the Cruise Critic meeting where I had a long conversation with the Cruise Director and put faces to the names of several people from the message boards. I had another lunch of the Indian Vegetarian dishes (Garbanzo Stew and a Cauliflower dish) from the buffet and DH waited for the appetizers from the Latitudes party. This one had more than the usual free champagne and rum punch as they added wine and beer to the offerings. However, it was still too early to drink for us (we are officially middle-aged!). We are having the good fortune of calm seas in the Bay of Biscayne (rather unusual, even the Captain commented on our luck). We had a lovely dinner at La Cucina (one of the included specialty restaurants). It started with selections from the antipasto trolley and was followed by sharing a California pizza (goat cheese, artichokes, peppers, sausage, pinenuts and other yummies) and pasta pesto. DH had salmon and I had manicotti. We could not eat everything and had to skip dessert! Shocking, shocking, shocking. In Vigo we took the excursion to Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela: Up early for a quick breakfast and then it was hurry up and wait as we had to dock very slowly due to low water. This caused a 40 minute delay in setting out for Pazo de Oca and Santiago de Compostela. The Pazo comes from the same root word as "palace". However, it is a Country Manor house of the Galician nobility. This one has a lovely Garden that the "oversell" by calling it the Galician Versailles. We drove from Vigo (Europe's largest fishing port, but not a lot of sights) through some lovely green countryside (Galicia is the part of the country known as "Green Spain") to get to the Pazo and take our garden stroll. From there we went to Santiago de Compostela. This is the third holiest pilgrimage in Christendom after Jerusalem and Rome as tradition states this is where St. James is buried. In any case, it has a beautiful cathedral and many pilgrims still walk, bike or ride a horse a sufficient distance to become official pilgrims. We saw lots of pilgrims at the cathedral as we arrived during noon Mass and the place was packed even if this is a Wednesday. This was followed by a traditional Galician lunch. Tapas of grilled peppers, fried cheese with ham, the Galician sandwich (onions & chicken), followed by salad with tuna and eggs, roasted beef, potatoes and veggies all served with both red & white wine and ending with coffee and their traditional almond cake plus the traditional spirit (similar to Italian Grappa; however, steeped with coffee beans and fruit) It is known for the "burning" and it is said to drive away the bad spirits and witches. In any case, it is strong stuff. We actually would have preferred to have them take a few dollars off the price of the excursion and to make it on "on your own" lunch or roam around the city period. Oh well. We were not that hungry for dinner after that big lunch so we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon for a "light snack". Of course, that snack turned into a dinner of some very yummy Chili and a plate of fish & chips (tasty; however, the fish had clearly sat on a steam table as it had lost its crispness. To be fair they offered to make up some new fish fillets for us). In Lisbon, we took the excursion to Evora as we have toured Lisbon before. Evora is a UNESCO world heritage site as most of the Medieval City has been preserved. This is the place where the St. Francis Church has one chapel completely decorated with Human Bones. It is supposed to be a place of meditation and states at the front "Our bones lie here in wait for yours". There is also a Roman Temple, a Cathedral that goes from Gothic to Romanesque, lots of other churches, palaces and forts and remains of the city walls. Plus the maze of streets (thank goodness, we had a guide to orient us). After we saw the main sites, we were on our own and we tried the local specialty for lunch. It is a Fish Soup that is also full of garlic, coriander and olive oil. Back on the ship we had dinner in Tequilas. We both had Tortilla Soup (absolutely delicious) and Vegetarian Enchiladas (made with flour tortillas, so really more of a Burrito or a Flauta). DH also had a Caesar Salad (extra anchovies, of course). We had some Dos Equis with this meal. I had the yummy Berry Tostada for dessert (almond wafer cookie filled with mixed fresh berries that at our waiter's suggestion was topped with vanilla ice cream. FYI: Thomas our waiter was someone we first met on the Spirit and he is just terrific). DH just had some Coffee ice cream. Dinner was followed by the evening's entertainment, a juggler who is an 8th generation performer going back to the very early Circuses. He was very good and very funny (a bit politically incorrect in his banter). DH thought he was not as good as the juggler who performed on our very first NCL cruise several years ago (this is our 5th NCL cruise). Gibraltar: This was a short port day (11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). Therefore, even though we have been here before, I signed us up for a Gibraltar in Depth Tour. We had a great guide, 10 years in the British Army and the mother of 5 boys, so she knows how to keep a group in line! She also really knows her history. We took the cable car up to the Top of the Rock and there were lots of monkeys hanging around including a family group with a 7-week old infant. One member of the group apparently did not hear the guide when she said to eat your food in the Cafeteria and not walk out to the deck with it. She came out eating a Mars Bar and it was a scene from "When Monkeys Attack". The Monkey won and just gobbled down that Mars Bar. DH referred to the event as "the Monkey Mugging." We also went into St. Michael's Cave and The Great Siege Tunnels with lots of walking between the Top of the Rock, the Caves and the Tunnels, so I got my exercise in. Anyway, either I forgot a lot from a trip in the early 90s or this Guide was just so good that much of what we saw seemed new. We went back to the Italian venue tonight as the Main Dining Room menu just didn't strike our fancy. Once again the meal was quite delicious and the soup (Pasta e Fagioli) was outstanding. The comedian who performed tonight was rather funny (at least to Americans, I understand that many of the Brits on board were not amused). At Sea: I had another nice light Indian vegetarian lunch at the Garden Cafe. Today there was a Dal (Lentil) and a vegetable dumpling in gravy along with Lemon Rice. Of course, one of the outdoor grills (the weather has been great, knock wood, so all the outdoor venues have been operating) has a German/Austrian buffet today with an Oompah Band playing. So if I wanted something really heavy, there is all this goulash, wursts and kuchen available. They also have a Soft Serve ice cream machine (one in the Buffet and one outside that run pretty much 24-7 and regular ice cream will be scooped for you from lunch through the evening). I found a book that I wanted to read in the Ship's Library. The day continued with relaxation and fun, Bingo, reading, playing games and eating. We had dinner at one of the main Dining Rooms. We both had French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. Bob had the vegetarian main dish (an eggplant, lentil thing) and I had Corvina (a white fish) with roasted fennel and crushed potatoes. We both had Chocolate Cheesecake. I think DH is finally getting the hang of vacation as he also decided we need to head up to the buffet and taste a few more desserts (bread pudding, carrot cake and ice cream). Tonight was one of the production revue shows. This one had a 70s theme, which will be followed by a Disco party later tonight. However, we were sleeping by the time of the Disco party. Earlier in the day, I went to the comedian's "lecture" that was about the healing nature of laughter and the things that are funny in real life. Day 8 -At Sea: It was another day of reading, relaxation and eating. Tonight we went back to the Tex-Mex Restaurant where our waiter from the Spirit (last year's cruise ship) is now working. We shared an order of Mexican Spring Rolls and we both had the Tortilla Soup. We then had a dinner for two called El Popo. It's basically a fancy presentation of Fajitas. The norm is made with Chicken & Beef; however, for us, it was made with Chicken and Shrimp. We also had a bottle of Cava (Thomas remembered from last year that we liked Cava). I had another Berry Tostada with vanilla ice cream. DH held out for tonight's Chocoholic Buffet; however, he was disappointed in the offerings. We went to the show and ended up leaving early. We really enjoyed The Second City last year; however, the troupe on this ship is very lame. We had a lovely day in Naples. We took the Corsa Italia from Naples to Sorrento, past the beautiful views of the Bay of Naples and the picturesque villages hugging either the coast or the cliffs. Glad someone else was driving. Although that road was never really made for a tourist motorcoach. We spent some time walking in Sorrento, which is quaint and almost a movie version of an Italian village. We went to a farm in the cliff area to see the Lemon and Olive Trees and learn about the making of both olive oil and cheese. They fed us lunch at the farm (3 kinds of cheese representing different levels of aging, some cured meats, crostini, tomatoes and pasta with tomato/ricotta sauce, followed by Lemon cake). They also included their wine and tastes of the liquors made on the farm, which included Limoncello and Cream of Melon (you can really taste the cantaloupe flavor). From there we went to Pompeii. It is quite amazing and certainly was incredibly preserved by the volcanic eruption. We've now completed the "three great preserved Roman cities" as we've been to Ephesus in Turkey and Jerash in Jordan. Pompeii is definitely the most complete of these cities. I know we only touched on the edges of all there is to see in Pompeii. Then again the excavation began before the USA was even a country and it is still not finished. Because we had such a substantial farm lunch, we just had some beers and Tapas in the Ship's Tapa's Bar for our dinner before going to the show. We enjoyed tonight's entertainment, it was a salute/recreation of a Nat King Cole show. The singer was very talented. Civitavecchia (Port of Rome): We had a "do it yourself" day. We got off the boat around 8:30 a.m., walked to the train station and caught the 9:02 train from Civitavecchia to Rome. It took about an hour and ½ to reach Rome's main train station. The trains from Civitavecchia use the last few tracks that we could not figure out how they connect through the main station, so we ended up walking outside the station. In any case, we got to the front and began our walk around Rome. We found the Trevi Fountain (it was in scaffolding the last time we were here), the Spanish Steps (only had a "drive-by" sighting on our prior visit), the Pantheon, the Victor Emmanuel/Unknown Soldier Monument and other sites of interest. We also got a real feel for the city just walking around its very busy streets. I don't think I ever heard so many sirens (DH says there were more in NY). However, given the way people drive and walk (both ignore the traffic signals), I'm amazed there are not more accidents. I played "travel guide" in Spanish! I don't know why this woman thought I spoke Spanish; however, she came up to me and asked "El Pantheon, es cerca?" Anyway, I told her how to walk there. We had our favorite European ice cream bars (Magnum) for "lunch", a Double Chocolate and a Vanilla with very dark chocolate. We hopped the train back and were back on board around 5:30 (all aboard was 7:30; however, we were not going to "risk" a later train, so we had about 5 hours in Rome). We were supposed to leave port at 8:00 p.m.; however, 6 people were still missing (we saw 4 of them arrive in a speeding taxi when we went outside to walk on the deck, not sure if the other two ever made it, they might have needed to take an overnight train to Livorno to meet the ship the next day). We had a really delicious dinner in the Magenta Main Dining Room, we both had Spinach Salad with Candied Walnuts, grapes & pears, Bob had them make an appetizer serving of the goat cheese ravioli and I had a really wonderful Mushroom Bisque. I followed my soup with Chicken Stew and Bob had Braised Cod. We both had the Chocolate Lava Cake and vanilla ice cream. YUM! Day 11 - (Livorno for Pisa and/or Florence) Excursion to Pisa & Lucca: We got up early and left for our tour of Lucca and Pisa right after breakfast (this time I had the healthy oatmeal and DH had an omelet). Lucca is where Puccini was born and lived. It still has these huge city walls (with a park and a street on top of the wall as a result of changes made by Napoleon's sister who he put in as the ruler of this city). She also opened up several squares by removing buildings and such, including removing the houses that had been built in the middle of the old Roman Amphitheater (she left the houses that were built into the walls (using the walls of the amphitheater as one of the walls of the house). It is another one of those medieval cities of tiny, winding streets that create quite a maze. Lucca was a very rich city due to silk and there are 99 churches in a very small area (some are right across from each other; they were not needed, it is just a status thing). We visited the Cathedral, it seems Pope Alexander II was from Lucca so when he became Pope they began really making a fancy cathedral with a different facade. However, it did not get completed as the Plague hit Lucca and 3/4s of the city died as a result. There is a crucifix in the cathedral that was said to be made from the wood of the original cross. After it was sent for carbon dating, it was found to be only 1200 years old (as opposed to 2000 years), so now it is just a legend. One of the other signs of status in Lucca was building tall towers on your house. A law was passed that no house tower could be higher than the tower of city hall or the cathedral. This led the family that was the richest to build a tower as high as allowed and then to plant trees on top to make it taller! From Lucca we went to Pisa. Our "lunch" was some incredibly delicious Gelato. Mine was Bacio (chocolate & hazelnut), Bob had "plain" chocolate. So rich and wonderful. Of course, what can one say about Miracle Square with the Baptistery, Cathedral, Leaning Tower and Monumental Cemetery other than to say that it is truly a beautiful collection of buildings. The road from Pisa goes by an American base on the way to Livorno. Sitting on Plastic chairs between the road and the fields are various "professional" women waiting to "greet" the troops. One had a trailer, the others must just get in the car with the soldiers driving by and head for somewhere in the fields. They were waving to the bus as we drove by. Dinner tonight was outstanding. We ate at La Cucina, the Italian venue, which very nicely does not have an additional charge. We started with our selections from the Antipasto Trolley. I had marinated mushrooms, mozzarella & tomato with basil, Parmesan with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. DH had the same plus sardines (poor baby, no anchovies). We both had the Pasta e Fagioli soup (the soups on this ship have been excellent). We shared an order of Linquini Putanesca (about the best we have ever eaten) and also a Pizza Sierra Nevada (pesto sauce, olives, arugula and other stuff although we replaced the air-dried beef with pepperoni). We shared a bottle of Cabernet and also had some yummy desserts. I had Tiramisu and Bob had cheesecake. We also split some Macadamia nut ice cream We really got decadent tonight. The crew did their "Norwegian Family" song tonight and we caught it at the end of the first show as one of our Room Stewards was performing it at the first show. We caught the rest of the production show at the second performance. In Nice we took the city tour and Excursion to Eze Village. We tendered into Nice. Fortunately the seas are calm and the sky is sunny so no problems in the tender process. We began with an orientation drive of Nice, driving by the seaside Promenade (the English Promenade, named for the first tourists), the Negresso Hotel, the two casinos, the war memorial and the beautiful villas. We visited the Russian Orthodox Church which was built by Russia's last Czar for all the Russian immigrants living in Nice. It is quite a beautiful structure. We stopped at the Flower Market in Old Nice. It is really an open air market where they sell everything. Although I have to say that the flowers are beautiful and the blooms are quite large. We also walked along the promenade and checked out the Nice's first theater and some of the other nice buildings as well as the fountain in Messena Square. This Square was recently redone because they had to rip it up to put in a tram. It was a good thing we arranged a tour today as the trains are on strike. We even got to experience a demonstration of the strikers. It looks like they are against privatization and want to be paid more. From Nice we drove up the mountains to the Village of Eze. There are two hotels in this village. You have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk up. One hotel uses donkeys to bring up your luggage and the other uses porters. What surprised me was that until 1930 or so when an American paid for the building of a public fountain, the only water in the village was brought up by donkeys and there was no running water in the houses or shops until 1952, a year after I was born! (guess, that makes me officially "older"). While it could be quite charming, some of the effect was diluted by the shops. They also did something odd, they put in bricks in the middle of the cobblestone "roads" as those are less slippery, except that if you used the handrails (where those existed), those were on the sides forcing you to walk on the slippery cobblestones! Anyway, I would not have included Eze in my list of the 1,000 places to see before you die; however, it is in the book and now we have seen it. I cannot imagine living in Eze and walking those winding, mountain, cobblestone, medieval streets on a daily basis. I would probably fall at least once a week (no, I didn't fall today). We were going to have another ice cream lunch in Eze; however, the proprietor never came out to scoop the ice cream and the small grocery called Mini-Casino was closed at lunch. We had a lovely dinner in Tequila's, the Tex-Mex venue where our favorite waiter is working on this ship. We split the Latin Spring Rolls (sort of an extra big chicken taquito or a small fried burrito) and we both had the really yummy Tortilla soup (the soup maker on this ship is outstanding). DH had Cesar Salad and the Seafood Kabob and I had a salad tostada (without the chicken) and shrimp fajitas. We had a bottle of Prosecco (Italian Sparkling Wine) to toast our final night aboard ship. We both had the Berry Tostada (fresh berries, creme anglaise in an almond cookie shell) with vanilla ice cream. DH and an espresso and I had a cappuccino. Back in the room we split the small bottle of cream of melon liquor that I bought DH back in Sorrento. I went to the Passenger Talent Show and then met DH for the last night's entertainment (a piano player). Then I packed up and put the main luggage outside our room before we went to bed. Barcelona: After disembarkation, which went very smoothly, we caught a cab (and were probably overcharged about 10 Euros for the trip) to our hotel, which is a converted convent on a side street off of Las Ramblas. It has a beautiful courtyard/atrium. The rooms are quite Spartan (perhaps as originally designed for the nuns); however, it's a great location and the price is right (75 Euros per night). We oriented ourselves to the city by taking both routes of the Bus Touristic. We also walked Las Ramblas, spent some time in Placa Catalunya as well as a visit to Barri Gothic and the Gothic Cathedral. We also spent time in La Bogueria yesterday. What an amazing marketplace. Although I think that I would end up a vegetarian if I tried to purchase meat where whole dead pigs, chickens and rabbits are on display. Dinner was Sangria and Tapas (DH also had a Beer). Barcelona Day 2: Today was devoted to Gaudi. We had breakfast of Churros & Chocolate at Cafe de Opera. Tomorrow before catching our plane we'll just eat the continental breakfast that is included at our hotel. However, we thought we should not leave without having some Churros and Chocolate. We spent the morning at The Sagrada Familia. That Gaudi masterpiece will not be finished in my life time. The midday was spent at Parc Guell and the afternoon at La Pedrera, that apartment building of curves, wrought iron and a most interesting roof. Tonight we had another Tapas dinner although this time we split a bottle of Spanish white wine. Later we had some Gelato (not as rich as the Gelato in Italy, more like American ice cream. Earlier in the day, when I was in the room, DH tried to arrange for a taxi to the airport; however, the clerk on duty did not speak English and DH does not speak Spanish. When I got there, it was clear there was a communication problem. DH stated that he was having trouble arranging for the taxi. I turned to the Clerk and said "Buenos Dias" to which he responded by asking "Habla espanol?" I said "algunas" and was then told the following: "Por favor, habla con su esposo en ingles y habla conmigo en espanol, porque su esposo no entiende nada." So I now have proof that DH "understands nothing." Barcelona, return to Los Angeles: After breakfast at the hotel (an included Continental breakfast of muffin, two rolls, juice & coffee) we took a cab to the airport and caught our flights (Barcelona to London, London to LA). One piece of our luggage did not arrive with us (it was delivered two days later). Anyway, it was a great trip. We enjoyed the Gem, all the ports and our few days in Barcelona. Now we just have to pay the bills (really bad because the dollar is weak and the Euro and Pound are strong) and plan for next year's trip. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess ... Read More
Background - NCL Gem inaugural cruise, retired exec traveling with wife, 20th cruise, 3 previous freestyle cruises on Princess and AIDA, first freestyle with NCL, 2nd cruise with NCL, 2nd inaugural cruise first with Island Princess Embarkation - very good Internet information with documentation provided on the NCL web site, and very smooth and well-organized travel to London and smooth connection and bus ride to Dover. Embarkation formalities completed and on board in 10 minutes. Well done NCL, fastest and smoothest embarkation ever. The ship as expected on an inaugural cruise was super clean. The decor was 21st century garish in places (fluorescent green roll seaters and plastic pseudo crystal roof in the Atrium), and heavy wood finish throughout the boat, but was generally (just) acceptable to us. Good walking areas onboard and found plenty of space on sea days to be alone and quiet. Cabin - mini suite deck 11 amidships. Unfortunate to have New Zealand family with two wild, unruly children on one side next door (obvious members of the child freedom culture? - note, you may be oblivious but it spoils it for others). Complained to NCL who did best to correct problem, family were not responsive, but as ship full could not move us or them. Fortunately only a daytime problem but inhibited our use of balcony. We pre booked 4 months ahead, why cannot NCL be sensitive to family demography and allocate suites accordingly - get with it NCL. Suite was average size compared to others we have sailed in. Good sized balcony but spoilt by having 2 cheap tacky standard chairs (no loungers) and a very small (12 inch square) table. Nice to have a full glass wall facing the ocean. Cabin dEcor is not the brightest we have been in, the fairly dark simulated wood and the wall tapestry were a little too oppressive for our taste. Drawers and cabinets were ample for two for an 11 day cruise, only complaint was that the closet doors could not open fully as the closet was at the side of and too close to the bed. What happened to the concept (as on Princess) of walk in closets? The beds were great and the large extra pillows, provided without asking, made for good sleep. The towel animals on the bed every night were fantastic, a superb touch and greatly appreciated. Lighting was good, and we found no difficulty accommodating our mixture of 115v and 220v appliances. Bathroom was small. My wife found it nice to have a female friendly hand held shower. The separate, glass partitioned toilet cubicle was a good idea but it is narrow. If you are broad of beam (as I am), it makes for an uncomfortable visit, and susceptible to "accidents" in rocky seas. The mini bar was kept well stocked at all times, but beware, only the first bottle of water is free, the rest cost and are expensive. Food and dining - this was our 4th freestyle dining cruise, first on NCL, and we were very interested to see how it compared to others we had been on. We took into consideration it was an inaugural cruise but could compare it with similar inaugural cruises on Princess and AIDA. In general we found it only average, on a par with Princess, better than AIDA, with some faults in some areas. We used the buffets in Garden Cafe and Outdoors for many breakfasts and lunches when not on shore excursions, and for snacks. The quality of food here in general was good, but in many cases lacked variety. A large portion of the buffets was taken up by fixed hamburger, hot dog, pizza, salad, deli and sandwich bars, which did not change much over the day and from day to day. The carvery, pasta and fish stations did change daily and were very good. Two complaints registered by both us and others were that there was only one fish dish served per day and no seafood, strange considering the high fish area we were sailing in. We were told this was a cost factor with food menus dictated by head office. The other complaint was that all the food was highly salted. We only suffered one occasion when we found it hard to get a place to sit in the Garden Cafe/Outdoors - a far cry from the crowded freestyle dining situation on AIDA boats. Eating in the Outdoors cafe under the awning gazing out to sea was definitely the hit for us on the cruise. A big plus for NCL was the many free self serve coffee/tea stations around on deck 11 available 24 hours with Cappuccino available at the stations. No ordering or having to pay extra here. Also free ice cream was available in the Garden Cafe, and free soft ice cream machines at the buffets on deck 11, disappointingly these machines were not available after the first day, the joke going around was that NCL had discovered a new flavor going by the notices on the machines - "Out of Order". The specialty restaurants - we love Italian food and La Cucina Italian restaurant was a disaster. The Veal Marsala (one of my favorite dishes) was served up like roast beef and gravy, with a thick brown tasteless sauce. Investigation showed the chef was Indian and kitchen staff all Indian, not an Italian in sight. We gave it a miss for the rest of the cruise. Cagney's Steak House (prime rib) was excellent, although had to ask for horseradish, Le Bistro (Duck a L'orange) was superb with excellent service, ambiance and dEcor, hard to imagine we were on board a boat. Blue Lagoon good for snacks (fish and chips), likewise the Grill. Main dining room food was average with basically the same food on offer as at the Garden Cafe but with good service. Didn't get to any of the other restaurants. The nightly shows in the Theatre were above average with good variety, the Theatre was always full. Tendering to shore was well organized and efficient. Shore excursions were excellent, well organized with in the main good guides, but were very, very expensive. We prefer to reward good service personally ourselves, and object to the NCL policy of adding $10 pp/day to the bill to be distributed to all service staff. There were the odd service people who perhaps were complacent in this policy and who we felt annoyed that would be rewarded. Here is a tip for other NCL Gem cruisers. Accordingly we went to Reception (one can go up to the next to last day of the cruise) and filled out a form with the reason we wanted to withdraw (for personal choice reasons), and withdrew from the automatic charge, and got envelopes and made our own rewards. NCL do not publicize this, but were happy to comply with our wishes. Disembarkation was smooth and painless but we did not see the free and easy disembarkation style NCL advertise. We were hustled and even though we were the last group to disembark and our flight was not until 2.30 pm, they still had us off the ship by 9 am. Overall rating of the cruise and would we go again - well above average, and NCL Gem is on our acceptable list. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful holiday on the Norwegian Gem which celebrated its first month in service during our cruise. The ship was fantastic, the weather was almost perfect (a little less wind on some days would ... Read More
My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful holiday on the Norwegian Gem which celebrated its first month in service during our cruise. The ship was fantastic, the weather was almost perfect (a little less wind on some days would have helped) and the itinerary was varied and interesting - it's a shame that concerns over security meant that we missed a scheduled stop in Casablanca. The Ship The ship lives up to its name - it really is a gem. We have sailed on both the Dawn and the Jewel in the past 3 years and so we were familiar with the basic layout. The largest dining room - the Grand Pacific, was just as grand, but a little more subtle and a little less glitzy than the Venetian or the Tsar's Palace. A wonderful room to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, light lunch or dinner. The furnishings and decoration of the Crystal Atrium had been emboldened compared with the Jewel and a feature was made of the Java Cafe/Bar. On the Gem the Atrium was used more as a venue for evening/late-night musical entertainment than we remembered on either the Dawn or the Jewel, but there was insufficient seating for the really popular events like the Mardi Gras. The biggest difference was the new Bliss Ultra Lounge on deck 7 aft. NCL have put the shops where the Fizz Lounge is on the Dawn/Jewel and put Bliss at the back. The lounge houses a wall of slot machines (we never saw them being used) and two pairs of ten-pin bowling lanes which flank a central bar, dance-floor and lounge. We thoroughly enjoyed our two games of bowling ($5 per person, per game). Shoes are provided but socks were required. The lounge was extravagantly decorated and furnished with two areas capable of being curtained off, plush sofas and chairs and several four-poster day beds. Some of the late evening entertainment were scheduled in Bliss rather than in Spinnakers. The space did seem to be more popular than the Fizz lounge on the Jewel. One disappointment was that NCL appear to have given up on the Star Bar on deck 13 as a venue for live entertainment. They simply offered looped Frank Sinatra music - it appeared to have become just a pre-dinner bar for the adjacent Cagney's restaurant. The pool deck provided two pools - one with a water slide - the other was for adults only and each had two adjacent hot tubs. There was a mix of tables and chairs, day-beds and loungers. We seldom had trouble getting a bed or chair - even on sea days. However, I couldn't help getting annoyed at passengers who took padded cushions from the hard wicker-effect pool deck loungers to use instead on the fabric-covered loungers on decks 13 and 14 - in effect making the loungers on the pool deck uncomfortable at best and unusable at worst. Our Cabin We are firm fans of the aft cabins which overlook the rear of the ship and its wake and have had aft BA cabins on both the Dawn and the Jewel, but this time we had to shift up to an AF mini suite to get a cabin at the back. The cabin (11656) was very comfortable, well-appointed and kept immaculately clean and tidy by Limbo and Wayne our room stewards. Whilst bigger than a BA stateroom the mini suite had more furniture which cancelled out much of the feeling of extra space. The wardrobe, right next to the bed, was rather awkward to get to and we had to move the bed to allow the door to open to more than 900 . But there was plenty of storage and the three part bathroom - WC cubicle, central basin and tub/shower, was excellent. The bed was very comfortable and there was a sofa bed that appeared to be significantly larger than those in BA staterooms. A curtain could separate the bed from the sitting area/sofa bed and I would expect this would be very useful for privacy if the cabin was accommodating more than a couple. There was an in room safe, minibar, hair drier and illuminated vanity mirror. A flat screen LCD TV played navigational and ship information, pay per view films ($12) and films/news in English, Spanish, French and German There was also a US and a European socket outlet (UK passengers will require adaptors). Being tea rather than coffee drinkers we didn't think that the provision on a coffee-maker, rather than a kettle, was a step forward. I was a little disappointed that the bathtub wasn't full size. I had to sit up to submerge my legs, or shuffle down the tub to put my head under water. With an anti slip surface on the bottom of the tub to ensure safe showering, it wasn't easy to do either! This was one of the mini-suite perks I had been looking forward to enjoying. After one bath I stuck to using the shower. The bathroom had the standard NCL soap, shower gel and shampoo dispensers. We were provided with bathrobes for our use and two pool/beach towels were waiting for us in our room. These could be changed, whenever required, by our room steward - our only obligation was to ensure that we left two towels in the room at the end of our stay. Additional towels could be signed out at the pool and, provided they were returned, there was no charge - otherwise a $25 per towel charge was levied. Twice during the cruise we were offered the opportunity to fill a laundry bag and have its contents washed and pressed for $20. Neither the room, nor the balcony suffered for being directly under the Great Outdoors Buffet. There was no noticeable noise from above. The balcony was bigger than we had enjoyed in a BA on deck 9 (Dawn and Jewel), but slightly smaller than our BA on Deck 10 (Jewel). The balcony was furnished with 2 fixed back chairs and a very small side table. Dining Grand Pacific is the larger of the two main dining rooms with a good mix of tables for 2, 4 6 and upwards. The room is elegant and guests were asked not to wear jeans on an evening. We never had to wait for a table for two except for one lunchtime when the room was very busy because of a 1pm sail away. The Maitre 'D was trying to exert some pressure to encourage us to share a table (this has never happened to us before), but we politely held out and were seated after a matter of minutes. The food was generally good. Service and breakfasts were excellent. Magenta is the smaller main dining room and is slightly more informal and contemporary. The menu, food and service matched the Grand Pacific but we slightly preferred the more subdued atmosphere of Magenta. We did have to wait 20 minutes once when we tried to eat immediately after the early show. We were given a pager, chose to sit in a bar, and were bleeped when our table was ready. We ate three times in the Orchid Garden Asian restaurant. (Cover charge of $10 per person). The food and service were consistently excellent and we enjoyed listening to the piano music played in the Magnum Champagne Bar immediately next to and below the restaurant. As for making reservations we rang the reservations desk an hour before we wanted to eat on the first occasion, rang the day before on the second and turned up without a reservation and were seated straight away on the last. We tend to eat between 8 and 9pm. The Peking Duck Crepes, Beef in Black Bean Sauce and Salmon Teriyaki are to be recommended. One night the Captain seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his Sushi. We ate once at Le Bistro ($15 pp supplement), having made a reservation in the early evening on the day before and got our choice of time (8.30pm). The food and service were almost perfect but we both missed the chocolate fondue - I did ask but it wasn't available. We enjoyed Cagney's so much on our first visit that we went again on our last night - again no problem getting a reservation for 8pm about 24 hours in advance. I got the impression that Cagney's, rather than Le Bistro, was now NCL's premier speciality restaurant. The menu appeared to have been upgraded in Cagney's but downgraded a little in Le Bistro. The Crab Cakes, Shrimp Cocktails, Fillet and T Bone Steaks were excellent as were the creamed spinach and sauteed mushrooms. The apple pie (apple crumble to those of us from the UK) with cinnamon crème was wonderful. NCL offered a wine package whereby if you bought 10 bottles the 11th was free. The free bottle being to the value of the average of your previous ten purchases. We bought our tenth bottle in Cagney's on the last night and brought our free eleventh bottle home unopened. We are not fans of the buffet, regarding the garden cafes on both the Dawn and Jewel as little more than canteens. However NCL have tried harder with the furnishings and decorations on the Gem. We did have dinner in the Buffet one evening and tried to have breakfast twice. I say tried because we gave up. The buffet almost always appeared full at main mealtimes, tables were either occupied or laden with discarded plates and cutlery - we regularly saw parties of adults sat in small chairs in the kid's corner for want of chairs anywhere else. However, when we did eat dinner (7.45pm) there was plenty of space and the food was surprisingly tasty. Having sailed with RCI in May I am at a loss to know what NCL were doing differently but on the Voyager of the Seas the buffet was a much more pleasant place to eat breakfast and lunch than on the Dawn, Jewel or Gem. The Chocoholic Buffet took place in the Garden Cafe from 10pm to 11.30pm on the second to last night. Teppanyaki ($20pp supplement) was good food very entertainingly prepared and presented. When we ate at 9.30pm one evening most of the fellow diners were officers and staff. One final accolade. The Blue Lagoon is a small treasure overlooking the Crystal Atrium. Open 24 hours a day it offers waiter served informal eating - soups, salads, chicken wings, rice and noodles, fish and chips, burgers and hot dogs - and best of all teapots for tea!. We often ate lunch there and sometimes visited again for tea before turning in - listening to the live music in the Atrium below. Can't comment on either the Italian or Latin/Tapas restaurants (both free) because we didn't eat in either. The Italian restaurant seemed to be consistently busy/popular. Menus for all of the speciality restaurants can be inspected and bookings made each day at a desk outside the Magenta restaurant or by phone (there is speed dial button on your cabin phone) or with the Maitre 'D at each restaurant. 2 for 1 was offered most evenings for bookings between 5.30pm and 6.30pm and some nights for bookings after 9.30pm. I understand that reservations can only be made within 48 hours of your chosen booking, though we never tested this to the full. The claim that you have to set your alarm to get up and get in the queue for bookings when the desk opens at 7am each day was not bourne out by our experience. Entertainment We enjoyed a very varied mix of entertainment over our 12 nights. Donny Ray Evins presented an excellent tribute to Nat King Cole, Romano Freddiani was a very funny juggler and we enjoyed an evening of popular and classical music with a twist from a quartet of musicians playing electric violins and a cello. David Naster was a very funny comedian who made three different appearances over the second week. We had to miss the ventriloquist - other things to do - and didn't find The Second City very amusing - perhaps they were having an off night! We went to nearly all of the dance classes offered by Willard (Bill) and Margaret - Swing, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba and Cha-Cha but missed the Waltz and Mambo and enjoyed them all. The Norwegian Gem Show Band were excellent and also played in the Crystal Atrium. Julio Urbanez (Piano), Stacey Ward McAdam (Piano and Vocals), Kay Doolittle (Guitar and Vocals) and Modal Magic were also first rate. I am guessing that NCL has ended its relationship with the Jean Ann Ryan Company and the three theatre shows were provided instead by the Norwegian Gem Show Cast - five singers and seven dancers. The shows were an entertaining diversion and some of the singers were very good, but the shows - A Musical Journey Round the World; Music from the Seventies; and Colorz (sic) were more than a little clichéd and obvious. We missed the variety of performers that JAR seemed able to present. Ports of Call Barcelona - We sailed from Barcelona and flew in the day before. We stayed in an excellent hotel on La Ramblas (Hotel 1898) and enjoyed an afternoon and evening wandering through the city. If you haven't been to Barcelona before a pre or post cruise stay is well worth it. Embarkation was very easy. The port is a 5 minute taxi ride from La Ramblas, we checked in at 11.45am and were on board within 20 minutes. Our cabin was ready for us by 2pm and our luggage was with us by 5pm that afternoon. Malaga (Spain) - The ship stayed longer than planned in Malaga because the next port Casablanca had been cancelled. We took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city and enjoyed spectacular views of the coast, port and ship from the Castello overlooking the town. Casablanca (Morocco) - This port was cancelled because of concerns over security and an increase in violent incidents in the city. Of all the towns in all the world… Agadir (Morocco) - We took an NCL Tour to the inland, walled city of Taroudant and to its souk, a panoramic photo stop overlooking Agadir and a visit to a crafts centre/shop. A good, safe way to see something of the country. Arrecife (Lanzarote) - We stayed on the ship in the morning and had the pool almost to ourselves. In the afternoon we walked into the town just as it was closing for siesta. We had to be back on board by the time the town came back to life. However, we enjoyed a warm sunny stroll and an ice cream. Arrecife and its harbors are very picturesque. The ship was docked nose to nose with the QE2. Las Palmas (Grand Canaria) - Again we spent the morning on board ship and ventured out in the afternoon. Las Palmas is a large town with major shops and department stores. We walked through town and back to the ship via a small beach. There is a modern shopping mall adjacent to the port which offers a good vantage point for photos of the ship. Lisbon (Portugal) - The highlight for us. Rather than queue for the free shuttle bus we took the local train from the Port (Alcantarra Mar) to the city centre (two stops and €1.10 each). You could walk it in about 30 mins. We visited the Commercial Square, walked up to the Rossario Square via a trip up the Elevador de Santa Justa and through to Praca dos Restauradores. When we were walked out we returned to Commercial Square and took a hop-on-hop-off bus (€14pp) around the rest of the city and out to Belem. We could have walked back to the ship from the Belem stop but didn't realize this until we were past. Cadiz (Spain) - We took an NCL half day tour to Jerez to visit a Sherry Bodegas. After a short tour of the highlights of Cadiz with stops for photos, we set off for the 30 minute drive to the Gonzales-Byass Bodegas in Jerez de la Frontera. After a well organized visit to the cellars and brandy distillery, learning about the history, manufacture and inhaling the aromas, there was a chance to taste the different sherries and then shop for more. Everyone seemed very happy on the journey back! In the afternoon we just missed the last hop-on-hop-off bus of the day (4.30pm!) so we walked! Gibraltar (UK) - A morning stop in Gibraltar gave us a chance to walk into town to the cable car station, visit the top of the rock and gape at the apes (£8 or €13 return). The High Street reminded us of a slightly run down High Street anywhere in the UK except that there were more duty free shops and the locals were bilingual. Gibraltar appeared used to half day stops and the local taxis were offering tours at just under 2 hours for around £25 pp. Palma (Majorca) - Having visited Palma more times than we care to remember we spent this half day stop on the ship. Again we almost had the ship to ourselves - just us and hundreds of Majorcan travel agents taking a look around the ship. Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. We chose the colored luggage labels that got us off the ship just before 9am. We were at the airport within an hour and on our way home by 12.20pm Overall the cruise was an excellent mix of ports, relaxation on board, entertainment and good food. We were told that guests were from 42 different countries and I would guess that the average age was 55+. We saw people (not many) in black tie alongside guests in track suits and training shoes. Contrary to some reports we always find NCL staff and crew friendly and obliging and service was seldom less than first class. We wouldn't choose a mini-suite over a standard BA stateroom again - unless it was the only way to get the back of the ship - you don't feel the full benefit of the extra space, the bath is not full size and we had no need to use the concierge service (which was still available to mini-suite guests). We really appreciate the flexibility of freestyle and never found eating when we wanted, where we wanted and with whom we wanted to be a problem. That's what brings us back to NCL. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
We booked out NCL Gem cruise to the Western Med online. At one time NCL was my favorite cruise line and I did my first 5 cruises with them, since they started the Freestyle cruising I do not care for them any more. In spite of that I ... Read More
We booked out NCL Gem cruise to the Western Med online. At one time NCL was my favorite cruise line and I did my first 5 cruises with them, since they started the Freestyle cruising I do not care for them any more. In spite of that I booked this cruise because of the good price and the itinerary which included Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar. I could not find another line with this combination of port stops. We booked our own air and flew to Barcelona a day early; stayed at a nice hotel, the Barcelona Princess, which is just a few block from the sea shore and also next door to a shopping mall with plenty of restaurants. I do recommend the hotel ($155. Euro per night). We took a taxi to the port around noon and check in went smoothly and quickly. We saw after check in that there were special windows for Latitudes members but we didn't need them. We were informed verbally and in writing after we checked in that one of the port stops, Casablanca, Morocco, had been canceled due to safety concerns. Many passengers were upset about this and especially since they had not been informed via email or otherwise before getting to the ship. Overall I would rate this ship about a 5 on a 10 point scale. Other than being nice due to its newness (we were on its third voyage) it does not have any special features that stand out. Its one unique feature is the bowling alley but as a serious bowling I declined to pay the $5.00 per game to bowl. In my opinion the ship is not decorated very well. It has a lot of dark wood grain wall panels and not much in the way of good decor to complement the dark wood. Consequently, many areas of the ship are very dark. The ship has a Promenade Deck that allows you to walk all the way around the ship. But the walls of the rooms on deck 7 have been extended out a couple feet and that, along with equipment, the deck lounger chairs, and two shuffle board places on each side of the ship, restricts the ability to enjoy walking on the Promenade deck. There was no passenger access to the bow of the ship. The main dining hall is single story and accessible by a stairway between decks 6 and 7. It is also rather dark although it has picture windows looking out the back of the ship. The ship has a nice roomy casino with table games and a variety of slots, including a good selection of penny and multi-denominational slots. The main showroom is also dark and is not of a very good design. It can be accessed from deck 6 or 7 but if you enter on deck 6 you find yourself halfway toward the front of the room. Navigation in the room is not good at all because you have to cross over other passengers to access seats other than those on the two isles. Access would be better if there were isles along the walls. The ship's gym was adequate with about a dozen each treadmills, and stepper/elliptical, plus some weight machines. I did not tour or use the spa facilities. The pool deck has two pools that are about 20 ft by 40 ft. They are separated by a stage for the band. One pool is for adults only and there are 4 hot tubs which will accommodate about 8 people each. The couple times that I used these the water was not very hot. There is a kids water play area and a water slide. The pool deck has some nice thick padded lounge chairs and different type sitting/lounging areas. But space was limited; there is no covered pool or hot tub. There is a game room and library and these were quite often full. The ships atrium is not much of an atrium as far as I am concerned. It is mid ship and two story with the purser's desk, tour's desk and a very small Internet cafe on deck 7 and on the second level reached by stairs as well as elevator, two of the free specialty restaurants. The ceiling and furniture in the atrium could stand a make over; not very pretty or stylish. The ship has several shops with the usual fare. BUT, what was conspicuously missing was any souvenirs at all from any of the countries we made ports stops in. Instead there was "stuff" that looked like it was from Holland (windmills, shoes, etc.) but not a single item from Spain, Portugal or Morocco. The ship has a very nice lounge called the Spinnaker which is on the front of the ship on deck 13. Its nice and also has some very unusual decor and furniture. It has a couple TV screens, an automated Roulette table for gambling, a couple dart boards, a pool table, and a table top shuffle board game. These latter two you must pay to use; do not know how much. Our balcony cabin was nice but not as nice as others I have had. It had a nice bed, a rather small 15 inch HD TV, plenty of closet space, lots of shelf space, but only 3 drawer. It has a fee basis mini bar and a safe. It also had some furniture that I do not think needed to be there, i.e., a stool, a straight chair, and a pedestal table that all seemed to be out of place. The TV had more channels devoted to things on ship, like tours, activities, the art sale, etc., than it did usable channels for viewing. It had one English language movie channel and two others that were Spanish and German/French. The TV program guide advertised CNN but all we got was FOX news and BBC World. The TV had ESPN but all it ever had on it both in our cabin or anywhere else we saw it on ship was soccer or tennis. There were TV screens at various places on ship but no real sports bar. As I said up front we booked this cruise knowing we did not care for freestyle cruising and nothing on this cruise changed our minds. My plan was to just book a standing 6:00PM reservation for the main dining hall each day. But we found that they would only accept reservations for 2 days at a time. So every other day we had to remember to make a reservation. Those who did not reserve were often left standing in line awaiting a table or to be seating (the line was usually about 10 couple deep). At some point each evening they went to issuing buzzers for those waiting a table. Service in the main dining room the first day was terrible; took an hour and a half. After that the service was OK. The meals were OK, nice food but nothing I wanted to order seconds of. The lobster night turned out to be half a lobster tail along with a couple shrimp, scallops and muscles. There was a prime rib night but not a fillet mignons night. There were no special deserts either and most were passe and the same as what was available in the leisure meal buffet area, the Garden Cafe. The Garden Cafe was the buffet meals place and you always had to hunt for a seat there. It was always crowded and on a couple occasions I reported to the staff that they needed to do something about the flies that were buzzing around in the window wells. I had several things happened that sealed my/our never going on another NCL cruise. First, on the first day of the cruise we never saw our cabin steward until about 9:30 PM when we were headed in for bed. Before that she never came around to introduce herself. On several occasions after she came in she did not remove dirty dishes and glasses from the room and her cleaning schedule was more suited to her than to us. We would go out for 3 hours and when we returned she had not cleaned or made up the room. On the first formal, or as they call it "dress up if you want" night, we went to the atrium to have photo taken. We wanted just one on the atrium stairs. The photographer refused to take the picture unless we also took three other shots in front of painted canvasses. In addition, when we went to look at our boarding picture we found that all of the photos in the gallery were locked under glass and you had to have the attendant unlock the cabinet to retrieve them. This was not like I have ever had it on any other ship. On the day of one of our port stops I went to the purser's desk to get a $50 Euro bill changed; all I wanted was 2 twenties and a ten. The purser refused, saying that he didn't have that much change. Then as I stood there the next person in line behind me asked to BUY $200 worth of Euros and the purser then had plenty of change for that. Seems that he wanted to save all of his Euros for people buying money. A few days later I learned from another passenger that she had the same problem with the purser refusing to change a $50 Euro bill. Three tours that we took from the ship were really good and I do recommend them. One was called Fire Mountain and Camel Ride on Lanzarotte. The second good tour was the Horse Show and Fantasia in Agadir. And the third was the Gibraltar In Depth in Gibraltar. The other tours that we took were nice and informative but kinda passe. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have ... Read More
I had wanted to visit Europe for a long time and I figured a cruise would be a great way to get a sampling of a lot of different countries. I'm 27 and traveled with a friend who is 33. Since we were leaving from Dover and I have always wanted to see London we spent 3 days in London before the cruise. We flew direct from Houston on Continental. Since I knew it was a long flight, I splurged and we flew BusinessFirst Class. So glad we did. Since we got sleep on the plane (the seats extended nearly flat) we were ready to go as soon as we landed at Gatwick. We took the Gatwick Express train into Victoria Station. One big tip is take a cab from Victoria Station if you have a good amount of luggage. We took the tube and it was a nightmare. Not all the stations have lifts, so I was left to lug my 50lbs suite case up many many stairs. But I have to say that a few London gents helped me out. Our hotel was The Grand at Trafalgar Square, also known as Club Quarters. Fabulous hotel! Just off Trafalgar Square on a quiet street. It is half way between two tube stops, Charing Cross and Embankment. Our room had a fridge and microwave which helped us save some money. There is also a small Tesco right near the hotel that sells prepacked meals and snacks. We spent the next few days exploring London. I can't wait to go back. On Monday it was time for us to leave and head to Dover to meet the Gem. The Charing Cross station was an easy walk from our hotel, even with my large luggage. We left London around 10am and were in Dover by 11:30 or noon. We met some people on the train that were heading to the ship that did not know were they were going. Since I researched this trip like crazy, I knew exactly were to go and for showing them, they paid for our cab ride to the port. Really nice people! The port was very well organized. They took our luggage and we were off to check in. I saw the line and figured it would be awhile before we got on the ship. When we went to check in they asked if we were in a suite and since we were, we were taken to a special check in that was fabulous. We were all checked in in about 10 minutes. The others at the check in desk recognized my name from our CC role call and they ended up being in the room right next door! Claudio, the concierge, greeted us and took us through the security line. Since the rooms weren't ready, we headed to Cagney's for lunch, great perk for suite guests. We ended up eating breakfast and lunch there every day we were on the ship and not on excursions. After lunch we took our things to our room, aft AE suite number 8130. Best room I have ever had on a cruise. We had plenty of room, even for two girls worth of clothing! The double sided closet was great as well as the vanity area. The tub was also a nice perk. There was also a small sofa and table and chairs. The balcony had some really comfy chairs that were great for reading. After exploring the ship, taking a tour of the spa and checking our Bliss (we referred to it as the Velor Palace) it was already time for dinner. We took our time getting ready and headed down to The Grand Pacific dinning room. Got in with no wait. The food was really good. During the cruise we ate at Grand Pacific 3 nights, Maganeta (same menu as Grand Pacific) 2 nights, Cagney's 1 night (went early for the 2 for 1 deal), Tequila 1 night, ordered room service 3 nights and the last night we went to Orchid Garden with some friends we met through the CC meet and greet. All the food was fabulous. I still miss my peppermint tea after dinner every night! I digress back to the first night. We went to the show at 9:30, it was a variety show of all the shows to come on the ship, and then turned in for an early night. Since I was lucky enough to catch a cold, the fact that our first day was a sea day was great. I rested in the morning. Then we went to the cc meet and greet. It was at Le Bistro. Very nice. Since the average age of the guests on the ship was 56, my friend in I were looking for some other guests our age to hang out with. At the meet and greet we met another CCer that was traveling with her husband and daughter who was our age. They were so much fun! We hung out with them the rest of the trip. From the meet and greet we went to play bingo and then off to get a day pass for the spa. The steam sauna was great for my cold. The day pass is $20 and I think it was totally worth it. There were heated lounges, whirlpools, saunas and steam rooms. With the day pass you can go as many times as you like during that day. They also sell a cruise length pass. If our voyage was not as port intensive, I probably would have gotten that. But with all of our excursions, I knew that when we got back to the ship we would be too tired to use it. The next day was our first port of call, Vigo Spain. While eating breakfast at Cagney's, Claudio was at Cagney's every morning. It was so nice because he could answer questions, he would make our dinner and spa reservations, and he was just a really fun guy! I cannot say enough great things about him. How he remembers everyones names, I do not know! When we got back from port, he always wanted to know what we did, and what we bought. He took time with us and never seemed rushed. He called us "His Ladies." But when he slept, I don't know! He was at breakfast and partying with us in the Spinnaker late at night! Claudio also had maps for us for some of the ports. For Vigo he pulled out the map, showed us two things, and told us that was really all there was to see. He was a hoot! We went into town and just wondered around and were back on the ship in time for lunch at Cagney's. Spent the rest of the day on our balcony, in those comfy robes, just reading. Later that night we headed to dinner (Magneta, really good food) and the show. Next day was Lisbon. Claudio had maps again which was so helpful. We just wondered around again. We took one of the little trollies up to a fort. Great views! Then we headed back down, shopped and took the tram back to the ship. That day it was about 80 degrees. (That was why I had so much luggage. We went from being cold in London, to sweating in Lisbon, to really freezing in Paris.) After we got back to the ship, I put on my suit and heading to the pool. It was really nice. All my other cruises were to the Caribbean with lots of children onboard. It was so quiet and relaxing being that the ship had an older crowd. Later dinner at Cagney's. We went to dinner early so that we could take advantage of the 2 for 1 deal. The food at Cagney's was fantastic and the staff was great as well. We had already gotten to know a lot of the Cagney's staff from breakfast and lunch. I had the Ahi tuna (biggest portion of tuna I have ever seen) and my friend had the fillet. We could decide on desserts so we got 3 and shared. The chocolate obsession was so good! Then the early show at 7:30. I wasn't feeling so hot so I spent the rest of the night in the cabin. My friend went up to the Spinnaker for the 50's sock hop and she had a blast. Gibraltar was on tap for the next day. Due to my cold we didn't go up the rock. We went shopping but since there were 3 other ship in port it was so crowded that we were back on the ship by 12:30 for lunch at Cagney's. The rest of the day was spent at the pool again. Dinner at Grand Pacific. It was the only time we had to share a table, but the people we shared with were really nice. Late show and then we went to the Spinnaker for the County night. The entire cruise host staff would be at the Spinnaker every night. The cruise director (Clint) and his staff were great. They got people involved and tried to make sure that everyone was having a good time. During the day, they had Nintendo Wii on the big screen in the Atrium. I think due to the lack of children on our ship, they had a tough time getting people to play, but not for a lack of trying. Joe, the cruise host in charge of the Wii, tried his best to get people to play, but had very few takers. In his attempts to get people up though, he was pretty funny and that was entertaining in itself. The next two days were sea days. Just rested up for Italy and took advantage of a special they had in the spa, 3 20 minute treatments for $100. Yeah, they tried to sell us stuff ($120 bubble bath, I don't think so) but a simple no was all it took. That night was 70's night in the spinnaker and it was a lot of fun! We even had Claudio out there dancing with us. The next night was Ship n' Mates, a take off of Chippendales. It was so much fun. Some of the older ladies were really really into seeing the staff strip down! Our first stop in Italy was Naples. We hired a driver through aptours.it. Great tour! We first went to Herculanium. We had hired a guide through the same company. It was great with just the two of us and the guide. Then it was off to Sorrento. Lorenzo (our driver/guide) took us to a great restaurant. The best gnocchi I have ever had. After a little shopping we heading to Positano. We made a few stops along the way and Lorenzo pointed out a lot of really interesting stuff. Positano is beautiful! Back to ship after that. Dinner was at Tequila, try the Il Popo, and the churros was so good I had them three time during the rest of the cruise. Later off to the show and spinnaker then off to bed to rest up for Rome. My friends headed to Bliss and hung out with for a while. At least while we were on the ship, you could have turned Bliss into the crew bar. That morning, Claudio gave us a call to let us know that our guide was ready for us. Rome was fantastic. Marco was the driver/guide that we hired. He is the owner of ROMECONNECTION.COM. He was the best guide and driver. When I go back to Italy, Marco will be my first call! Marco had lots of great information and since he grew up there he knew all the short cuts. We probably got to see twice as much with him versus a ship tour because he could drive right up to the entrances where the busses could not. He also hired a guide for the Vatican for us. On our way back, Marco took us for gelato and he took us by a beautiful hotel that Claudio had told us about. It was straight out of a 1960 cinemascope movie. One tip for those doing Rome on there own. The Italian trains truly do run when the Italians feel like it. Our friends did the train thing and ended up having to take a cab back to port because there wasn't enough room on the train for everyone to get back on time. I think they ended up paying around 50 euros per person. Thats nearly half of what our tour cost. That night we ordered room service from Tequila. Great perk for suites is that we could order room service from the restaurants. Florence and Pisa was a good day. We got to Pisa before all the busses did. We didn't go up but we got some really great pictures. It was really cold that morning! After Pisa we headed into Florence. Our guide took us around town, then we went to see David. After that, Vincchio our guide, took us to a truly local place for lunch. The only person who spoke english was the bus boy so he took care of us. That was truly what we wanted. Real Italian food. It was really good. After lunch we went to Ponte Vecchio. With the long drive back to the ship, we headed back a little early. Dinner (room service, from the regular menu, really good), show, spinnaker then to Bliss for a little while. Our last port of call was Nice. I had wanted to head up to Monaco. I'm a huge Grace Kelly fan. But due to a train strike in France, there was a lack of taxis. So we walked around in Nice. Went to the flower market. It was wonderful! Stalls of flowers, spices, candies, fruits and vegetables. Great day in Nice. It was a short port day. We had to be back on the ship by 2:30pm. This was also the only port were we tendered. Very smooth process for tendering. We were back on the ship for our last lunch at Cagney's. Not only was the food there really really good but the staff went out of there way to make sure that you had everything you wanted. Every day they have a different hamburger. They were HUGE and really good. Also every day they offered a different hot and cold soup every day. We met up with our friend at Cagney's that day. Since she and her parents were in a Courtyard Villa we asked if we could see and she showed us around. Wow, when I have the money I will be up there for sure. The private pool and sun deck were really nice. They also had access to saunas for CV guests only. They also had a snack bar that they had access to, when ever we would meet up we always asked our friend to bring us some gummy bears and m & m's from the snack bar. It was nice that Nice was a short day because it gave us time to pack. We met our friends for dinner at Orchid Garden. The food there was really really good. There were not that many guests there that night. Besides having to pack up, the sea was very very rough that night. After dinner many of us, myself included, had to lay down for awhile. It smoothed out around 10pm and I headed down to Bliss to meet up with my friends. Usually after Bliss, we went to The Blue Lagoon. It is the 24 hour restaurant. I always had the chicken fingers and my friend always had the tomato soup. Both were really really good. Barcelona was our disembarkation port. Freestyle makes it really smooth. We got up, had breakfast at Cagney's, said good by to our friends and got off the ship. The suite guests can disembark whenever they fell like it. That was really nice. Also, the suite guests luggage is sectioned off so you don't have to wait for it on the carousel. Claudio was there and we said our good byes to him. I would book a trip with the Gem again solely because the staff on the ship was so great. We spent the day in Barcelona on the hop on hop off bus. Then took the night train to Paris. Never ever again will I take that night train. I splurged and got a room with a shower, which completely flooded our room. We spent two nights in Paris. Little did we know that it was the Rugby World Cup final game in Paris. That doesn't mean so much to us Americans but it is a huge deal to everyone else in the world. We spent a day at the Louvre then we had a dinner cruise on the Seine. We had a little trouble getting there due to the trains being full due to the rugby game. But luckily our hotel was not that far and we walked it. On the walk back, I don't think I have ever seen so many drunk english guys in full rugby fan mode. What makes it even funnier is that England lost! But they were still out there having a good time! We flew home from Charles DeGuille. It is a very unorganized airport. We thought we left enough time to check out the duty free shops but after turning in our VAT forms, checking in and getting through customs we got to the terminal just as boarding started. Flight home was great. They served lunch right away. A few hours later, you could smell fresh baked cookies! And we were also served a snack right before we landed. Continental sure doesn't let you go hungry! Went through customs in Houston. Not bad at all. But it was so nice to be home. The trip was really great. If I had to do it all over again, I would book the Gem in an instant. Our suite was really really comfortable. Room 8130. I loved the aft balcony. We heard a little bit of noise but nothing major. The staff on the ship was fabulous. The only thing we would do different was I would do Paris, then London and then fly home right after the cruise. The reason for this is that you get so used to being pampered on the cruise that it's tough to go back to land travel were you have to worry about dinner and where everything is and how you are going to get there. Where on the ship you don't have to worry about any of that. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
NCL Gem 10/28 - 11/09 Barcelona 12 day RT Review (LONG) A lot of things go into making a cruise experience. We took NCLA Pride of Hawaii in Feb. '07 and were delighted with every aspect of the voyage. Great service, food, ports and ... Read More
NCL Gem 10/28 - 11/09 Barcelona 12 day RT Review (LONG) A lot of things go into making a cruise experience. We took NCLA Pride of Hawaii in Feb. '07 and were delighted with every aspect of the voyage. Great service, food, ports and staff provided for an overall wonderful trip. We have recommended POH to many people but since she will become "Jade" in a few months I wonder what will happen to the NCLA Hawaii trips? We booked "Gem" because of our fantastic POH experience and also for the wonderful itinerary. The NCL booking agent could not give me the special rate advertised in a flyer that we had just received in the mail and she could not book me airfare from our local airport. I reserved the cruise through NCL despite the fact that I could have gotten a better rate through a TA. I booked the air on my own and but worried about making the ship on time since the air line kept changing the flight times. We ran into several people who had similar problems and my recommendation is to book air a day or two early and see some of Barcelona. I regret not having done that but it is not NCL's fault. Arrival: Once we finally arrived at BCN, we collected our bags and went to an ATM outside the terminal for some Euros. An NCL agent was lining up folks for the shuttle which would have cost us $25 pp to the ship. We took a cab, which I read cost from 25 to 30 Euros, but ours cost 36 Euros with 3 pieces of luggage. We were finally at the terminal and I was smiling ear to ear. We arrived at our stateroom by 3:30 pm, amazed that we finally made it with time to spare, and were ready to see the new ship. She is a beauty and after we unpacked, we explored and were ready for our adventure. After fire drill we met CC roll call group for a quick "hello" and with plans to meet in Le Bistro in the morning. In exploring the ship we located several bars, lounges, library, game room, bowling alley, rock climbing wall and lots of lounges to make for a great time. There is something for everyone to do during leisure hours. We didn't get pool time because of the wind and cloudy sea days but would love the Gem's set up on a Caribbean cruise. DH went to the shore excursion presentation while I met with the Cruise Critic roll call group. We were delighted to have several of the chief officers attend our CC gathering and they were ever so nice. However, later in the cruise when I met the Asst. Food Service Director he took offense that I mentioned that food selections were rather exotic and several people complained about the food being too salty. He reminded me that they are cooking for many nationalities - not just Americans - however, people of all nationalities did comment about food and service. One couple told us that if this were their first NCL cruise they would not book the line again. We had a great group of people that we met through CC and did several things with them. DH and I went on only one excursion with several member of the group and it was wonderful. I would have done a couple more private tours more but he wanted to stick with the ships tours for safety and reputation. One night we participated in the "Murder Mystery Dinner" with two other CC couples and it was fun. We also dined with several of the CC couples throughout the week. The best group of CC people you could imagine were on this cruise. Dining: For our first meal we chose the Mexican restaurant and were not disappointed. The menu selection is small but we ate there twice and had four good entrees between us. Great Mexican beers are offered and the room, while small, is festive. Across the atrium is the Blue Lagoon which is probably the best of all the (non fee) restaurants for service and food quality (in our opinion) and the only 24 hour food option. Breakfast was served there until 11 am. We also ate in the Italian restaurant three times with great enjoyment but were sadly disappointed with both food and service in the Grand Pacific and Magenta dining rooms. Many travelers wondered if NCL is putting such an emphasis on the "fee" dining that the main rooms are suffering for it. I love lamb and it was offered many times but the "rack of lamb" turned out to be two tiny chops that supplied 4 total bites of meat. Another evening, my leg of lamb was so fatty that the other people at our table were shocked that any chef would let it leave the kitchen. When I told the waitress that it was inedible she brought me a new plate (after all others at our table were done eating) and asked me if it was well done enough. That was not my issue but trying to get across the mistakes that the wait staff made became tedious so we would just chalk it up and go get a snack at the buffet later. The evening of the "Seafood Extravaganza" (a small dish of pasta with the tiniest piece of lobster you ever saw - but lots of calamari) my husband and another guest at our table ordered "strip steak", (a nightly option not on the menu) as there was nothing appealing, but they did not get a steak. One of our Cruise Critic friends addressed the waiter (very politely) for his bringing the wrong meal to his wife and they were provided with wonderful service the rest of the cruise (and a free bottle of wine.) My DH would not complain and we did not get any special attention throughout the entire cruise. The buffet is another story! We did not dine there other than snacks because the passengers, on this ship, did not understand what common courtesy is. They cut in wherever, touched food with their hands instead of the utensils provided, filled water bottles from the water spout and one man tried to fill a water bottle with orange juice until the juice ran all over the counter onto the floor and made a mess for everyone else. We usually order room service breakfast on cruises (since we are not big morning eaters) but I just ran to the buffet for fruit and a bagel. Having a coffee maker in the cabin is the best idea NCL came up with. Ditto for the fridge which we emptied of the honor system bar so I could chill water and caffeine free Coke and Sprite. Beds are sooooooo comfortable --- we had a king in a balcony cabin. The bed took up a lot of the room but provided a good night's rest. DH always takes an alarm clock for which I tease him but this time we needed it as none was provided. Room steward was very friendly and made cute towel animals for us daily. Activities: The staff was friendly and shows delightful for the most part. The juggler and British ventriloquist were outstanding. The comedian was just okay - I don't care for bathroom humor -- and Second City was lacking in taste on some of their skits. Singers and dancers were good and costumes and lighting very well done. The best show, in my opinion, was the "talent" from the cruise staff including some fantastic singers and the hysterical "Fountains" show that was brought over from POH. The Cruise Director is the best that we have ever encountered and he did not make any unnecessary announcements or get in your face every time you turned around. Like most cruise lines, NCL is offering Bingo, peel off lotteries, photo opportunities, drink specials, etc. but they didn't bug you to buy them. The ports were fantastic and the actual purpose of this cruise. While some people took the cruise specifically to see Casablanca (and Marrakech) when it was announced that we would not be docking at Casablanca because of unrest we were satisfied with that choice. I inquired about a "room credit" adjustment but was told that none was being issued. That gave us another sea day in which I added more money to the NCL coffers by playing slots. I met some nice people at the machines and kept running into them throughout the cruise. Tours: Our tours through NCL were very good but that was not true in all cases. One NCL tour did not take passengers to all the designated points and the tour guide became surly and would not talk for a good part of the trip. NCL issued a partial refund to cruisers on that tour. Another couple told us that they were dropped off in Cordoba and told to "do something" for an hour. One of our tours started out poorly but was recovered and turned out to be really nice. All the bugs have not been worked out yet and I felt especially sorry for the poor Shore Excursion staff member who had to get everyone to the Starlight Theatre and off on the proper tours. She repeatedly had to request that people not jam the isles and was interrupted constantly while she was trying to call groups in four different languages. Not NCL's fault but we encountered the rudest people everywhere on this ship. After a while, most people start to become defensive and this does not make for a pleasant experience. Ports: At Malaga we did "Granada and the Magnificent Alhambra" ($139 pp through NCL) and was more than pleased with the trip. The lunch was lousy but I had taken some fruit from the buffet and was okay with that. You'll be amazed by the Alhambra. Casablanca was canceled but we did "The Saadian Capital of Taroundat" in Agidair ($49 pp through NCL) which was interesting but we didn't have much shopping time. No lunch provided and it was a long tour so take something to eat. The most fascinating thing we saw was goats in the trees -- they like the leaves at the top of the trees best. The tour takes you where they have camel rides which we did not want to do and baby goats that you can have your photo taken with. Merchants were as pushy as in Jamaica so I got back on the bus after taking in the beautiful view of the coast of Africa! At the port dancers in local dress provided entertainment which was delightful. The Canary Islands are spectacular and we took the "Jameos Del Agua Caves" tour ($65 through NCL) on Arrecife and it was just great. Could have used more time at the desert gardens but the caves and the mountains are worth the visit. Las Palmas was our next stop and we took a CC group tour that was well organized. There were two vans of us and we saw cave homes, a cave church, drove up very winding roads with switchbacks like we've never seen and had wonderful guides. We had local lunch (optional) at a superb outdoor cafe and it was spectacular to see all the old buildings and the local people we all so friendly. Out stop in Teror proved to be very interesting and there are nice shops there. All day trip was well worth the 70 euro per couple price (including tip.) Lisbon was our favorite stop. We took the "Rocky Peaks of Pena" tour ($129 pp through NCL) and it was a long day but not disappointing. Some CC people did Ho Ho buses but we saw what they saw and much more and the views were breathtaking. Sintra is just beautiful with a national palace and Pena Palace. Lunch was really good and we had time to hit a few shops. Prices on pottery were much higher in Portugal. Funny how many of the same people were on the same tours as us and we made friends there also. From Cadiz we went to Seville on "An Andalusian Gem" ($169 pp through NCL) which was well worth the price. Lunch was included. It was just amazing what the Spanish people went through with the Moors, Muslims etc. Fascinating history and eons of buildings and narrow streets that was just incredible to see. No cars are allowed in the historic part of Seville which was fantastic as we could walk in the streets to take photos of the cathedral and sites. Nice shopping in the Jewish ghetto where "Toro" tees were found for our young grandsons. The 1929 World Expo buildings are in Seville and they are interesting to view also. We passed a bull fight ring and a Lemans race track on way back to the ship. Gibraltar we did on our own. I thought the CC group would get cabs together but everyone went at their own time. We got off the ship and a driver was looking for two more people to join his tour. So for 35 pp we got to see what the ship offered for $69 pp. Nice port and a short stop but we managed to see the desert gardens after touring the rock, had time to shop, and it was an easy walk back to the ship. Got a cute toy "Rock Ape" for our only Granddaughter. On Palma we did "Palma in Depth" ($39 pp through NCL). There is also a free shuttle (that they don't tell you about) which comes right to the pier that will take you near the Cathedral and you can enter it for 4 euros pp. You would not see the castle on the shuttle and the views from there are (again) breathtaking, nor would you have narration about the Cathedral. By this stop we were pretty weary from this port intensive cruise. We found the Spanish people to be much friendlier than the Italians (from our trip with Globus in May of '06.) The streets are clean and we lucked out with perfect weather. In fact, it was much warmer that I had expected and I kept washing the one pair of shorts I brought and wore them almost daily. Free laundry on the ship you know. Debarkation: Easiest time getting off a ship we ever experienced. Took our own bags as we had an early flight (which was help up for two hours) get a cab right at the pier and arrived at the airport with lots of time to spare. Summary: The Exotic Western Mediterranean Cruise itinerary is an incredible one. Passengers were able to get on and off the ship without the extremely long lines that you see for the larger ships. The staff on the Gem is friendly and will try to make your needs met. They are still new and working out all the kinks. Free Style is good when it works; I think the huge ships make it difficult on staff to provide consistently excellent service for so many people. This was my third free style cruise and it offered the poorest quality of food and consistency of portions and service. It would be nice to see the next day's dinner menu posted as we did miss some meals that we would have preferred but had previous reservations for alternate restaurants. We did not dine in the specialty restaurants that charge a fee but those who did raved about the selections, service and taste of their dinners. My belief is that you should not have to pay extra to get a fine dinner. I would recommend the Gem for ports, comfort and an overall fantastic time. Who knows, you might even enjoy the menu better than we did! We certainly didn't starve. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2007
To say that my wife had to work hard to convince me to take a cruise holiday is akin to saying that The Norwegian Gem is quite a nice boat! Only when I was assured that I didn't have to get all dressed up every night, and that I could ... Read More
To say that my wife had to work hard to convince me to take a cruise holiday is akin to saying that The Norwegian Gem is quite a nice boat! Only when I was assured that I didn't have to get all dressed up every night, and that I could eat when I wanted, with whom I wanted, did I relent. I felt very much like the rebellious fish that featured on the tie of the warmly welcoming Manuel at the check-in desk. But it was from that first moment that I began to realize that all my prejudices were about to be exposed for what they were - uninformed, out-of-date and plain wrong. The check-in process in Barcelona was very quick, clear and efficient, and the Norwegian Gem itself is a simply magnificent ship. The standard of accommodation is superb - comparable indeed to the very best hotels. The only slightly garish dEcor in time seemed absolutely appropriate. Our suite was fitted out beautifully and accommodated the four of us [two adults and two teenagers] very easily - with separate bedrooms and well appointed bathrooms. A shower with a full-length window overlooking the sea was a particular feature! Our room certainly provided a comfortable refuge when we wanted quiet time away from all the fun, and there was something very romantic about sitting on the balcony with a glass of something fizzy in hand as the sun went down and the ship slipped gently out to sea destined for the next port on our journey. The facilities on-board are really impressive to the extent that we wondered how we would fit everything in. The children were particularly taken with the ten-pin bowling [a first in the industry I understand], and the climbing wall. My wife and I made great use of the enormous gym. Doing a hard work-out overlooking the sea certainly eased the pain! And while the girls enjoyed the amazing array of treatments in the spa, the boys checked out the wide variety of bars - our favorite being the Star Bar, with its Sinatra sound-track. I suppose it was meal-times that had me most worried. I had in mind either an enormous bun-fight over a slightly tired buffet, or being stuck on a table with people with whom I had nothing in common working my way through an over-elaborate 3- or 4-course meal. Well, neither image was true. There are in fact 12 different restaurants aboard and we used the excellent concierge service to book tables as and when we wanted. We particularly enjoyed the Italian restaurant, La Cucina, but for sheer theatre and excellence of its food, the Teppanyaki restaurant is not to be missed. Whilst dining in the main restaurants, the Grand Pacific and the Magenta, is included in the cruise price [and is by the way excellent] a small supplement is payable for the speciality restaurants - in our experience worth the money. A special mention must go to Ashish, who served us in Le Bistro, a speciality French restaurant. Ashish is one of around 400 Indian staff aboard the Gem, and, as with so many of the wonderful, friendly staff, we got into conversation about his country and its cuisine - a firm favorite of ours. Without any prompting on our part Ashish went out of his way to arrange for us to have a special Indian feast the next evening. It was service beyond the call of duty indeed but was by no means the only act of exceptional kindness and warmth we received from the ship's crew. Of course, one of the main purposes of a cruise is to see the sights along the way, and we took full advantage of the highly efficient shore excursion service. The excursions are as structured as you want them to be - we had the full guided tour of Pompeii, but decided simply to take the transfer into Florence and be left to our own devices. Either way, the booking service is very simple and the management of the excursions is highly efficient. By the time we had arrived back at Barcelona, it really did feel that we had been away on an adventure around the Mediterranean. We managed to fit so much into our week away but had been able to relax as well. I had to admit to my wife that it hadn't been so bad after all! Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
NCL GEM Med 9th-21st Nov 07 Having not cruised before I was not sure what to expect from a first cruise. There were 9 of us, out of the group my mother and father in-law had cruised before several times but not with NCL. I had in the ... Read More
NCL GEM Med 9th-21st Nov 07 Having not cruised before I was not sure what to expect from a first cruise. There were 9 of us, out of the group my mother and father in-law had cruised before several times but not with NCL. I had in the past typically stayed at long haul tropical destinations in 5 star hotels so was interested how a cruise compared. I had to convert to Europe as I have a baby and they don't like to transatlantic travel very well :-( So to start off I was very impressed with the whole cruise experience and I am now converted to this way of having a holiday. Some basic plus points: 1) Ease of getting on and off the ship in multiple destinations 2) Entertainment quality 3) Consistent standard of food and service So on to the cruise experience, lets say that the there are many more pro's than con's with NCL. The Pro's: "Ship" It was big and new and had all the mod cons that you would need. It was also very smooth and at points of the cruise it did not feel like we were actually moving. Staff overall would do anything you needed to make sure you were happy on board. They work very hard and are typically on board for up to 10 months away from home. They deserve the extra $10 surcharge paid per an adult. Boarding and unboarding was a dream (mins rather than hours) apart from the extra wait to leave Barcelona airport for the ship outbound (had to wait for all passengers before leaving instead of having multiple coaches). "Service" was very good, my daughter of 20 months has a diary allergy and the staff made her a special meal three times daily (I was surprised to find everything typically had butter in otherwise!). On some minor cases the service was slow on first arrival i.e. the Pacific ballroom however after a quiet word with the Maitre'D this was soon resolved. "Restaurants" We tried all the restaurants (both payable and free) both as a family and as a couple and the experience of good food and service was consistent. "Children's Area's" We had three children under 6 and found the children's areas very good (Swimming pool, under 2's toy area) there was even their own kid's cafe with high chairs etc. It was a shame that the garden cafe buffet restaurant was so packed every day that adults without children chose to sit in this area even though we needed the seats. "Rooms" In a suite on the 11th deck which was in the middle which was more than enough for three persons. The beds were great they were the most comfortable I have had in a hotel in years. The Con's: "Lack of manners" of a minority of other guests actually astounded me. We had small children in buggies and always queued for transfers, meal queues etc. However it seemed that some people did not give a dam and pushed and shoved under any occasion. At one port we were totally pushed out of the way even after waiting 20mins for the bus and we decided to pay the 20 euros to town. In all we did find some very well mannered people (Like the majority were) who like us took the cruise in our stride. NCL in general could help with this situation by making sure they offer enough buses at all locations and monitor the queuing systems to provide some order. "Spa" was over priced and the best option is to look out for offers which came later in cruise (but not on the couples based treatments). They then try and do a hard sell with additional body products that nearly cost as much as the treatment at the end. I was put out that I had just paid $330 plus 18% service, then had to still pay to use the standard hot pools area which is free in any 5* hotel spa. "Trips" seemed quite pricey and as we had children we decided to miss these so can't comment on quality "Drinks" pricing was inline with high street pubs middle to high end even considering that they were in $$ "Itinerary" Looking back at the complete itinerary I would remove Casablanca as I found this city had no comparison with the others on the tour. The port area was industrialized, dirty and an unfriendly place to be with children. Summary In all I will travel on a cruise again, NCL would be my primary choice because of the freestyle dining options, new ships and facilities. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
We've just returned from the 12 day Med cruise on the Gem including Lisbon, Morocco, Canary Islands etc. I have to preface this review by saying that we much prefer the smaller ships and were somewhat hesitant about this much bigger ... Read More
We've just returned from the 12 day Med cruise on the Gem including Lisbon, Morocco, Canary Islands etc. I have to preface this review by saying that we much prefer the smaller ships and were somewhat hesitant about this much bigger ship but really liked the itinerary. Were we surprised! There were none of the problems we expected. If you've seen the pictures of the ship you may wonder about the wild color schemes, but it really works. There are a lot of small details that have been incorporated in the new ship that really seem to make a difference. I'll start with the food as that's important on a cruise. When we first started cruising with NCL, we considered the food average. But they seem to have raised it to a new level. The dishes are innovative and very tasty. The main restaurant, Grand Pacific, has all the usual meat, fish & vegetarian choices, all were very good. I found the restaurant itself quite dark and wish they would open the drapes to let some light in. The buffet Garden Cafe seems to be a victim of it's own success. It has many food stations with the food fresh & hot. Everyone seemed to like it making it very popular. That creates a problem as there is not enough seating for everyone - way too busy. We saw people even sitting in the children's area (yes they have a separate children's buffet area and smaller seating). Going on to the specialty restaurants, we had no difficulty making reservations, you just dial 050 to make reservations for the same day or next day. Only the smaller Teppanyaki seemed to fill up quickly. Cagney's had one of the best filet mignons I've ever had and you have to try their fries. Not sure how they make them, but they are great. Orchid Garden has really good Dim Sum. We didn't try Le Bistro as assume it's the same as the other ships. All these restaurants you have to pay for but they have a 2 for 1 time which makes it worthwhile. Tequila(free) also excellent and if you get Thomas as a waiter, even better. Cucina(also free), the Italian one was also very popular and great pasta. Going on to the cabins - we had a balcony on deck 9 and found the deck nice & quiet as was deck 10. Watch out for the cabins near some of the public areas. In the Grand Pacific, below the bowling alley you could hear the noise so assume they could hear it in the cabins above in deck 8. There's coffee machines in the cabins which means you can have your morning jolt on the balcony instead of getting dressed or calling room service...just loved it. For our European friends, the cabins have both 110/220 plugs. There's also a great professional style hairdryer in the cabin which was much better than my travel hairdryer. Really liked the "wheel" outside the cabin door that replaces the "do not Disturb" & "make up cabin" tags that always fall off the door. Unlike other postings, we had no trouble with our cabin steward. He introduced himself the first day, asked if there was anything else we needed and always remembered our names whenever he saw us. The bathrooms are designed really well and the separate toilet & shower area are roomier and even allow for 2 people in the bathroom at the same time. Non- smokers will be happy to hear that most of the ship is smoke-free. As a smoker, I found my balcony was quite sufficient for that. As for the public areas - Spinnakers lounge & Bliss, the 2 main bars were great and the design quite unique. The "beds" were very popular. As on most ships, the drinks are expensive but watch for the 2 for 1 specials. The theatre always has a 2 for 1 just before the show & other places do at certain times. The coffee bar was also a popular place. The fitness center is very well equipped. The pool area is very nice with comfortable lounges & beds. But here again, a victim of it's own success. People insist on saving lounges and even though they have a posted policy saying you can't save for more than 30 minutes it was not enforced, I found them saved for over an hour. I witnessed one confrontation between passengers over saved lounges. The ship should really make announcements and enforce the rule for the benefit of everyone. The production shows in the Stardust theatre were really excellent. They were very high energy and had the audience just rocking. We found the other entertainment average but that's changed on a regular basis so could be different with every cruise. The itinerary on this cruise was really good but I'll post some comments in the ports of call area. All in all, have to say this was, by far, the best cruise we've been on. The ship beautiful, the staff just great, the food the best we've had. Had to look very hard to find something to criticize. NCL has really outdone themselves. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
We sailed from Barcelona on the new Norwegian Gem. I believe that this was either the fourth or fifth voyage for this brand-new ship, and it is beautiful. Our main reason for selecting this cruise was the itinerary which included mostly ... Read More
We sailed from Barcelona on the new Norwegian Gem. I believe that this was either the fourth or fifth voyage for this brand-new ship, and it is beautiful. Our main reason for selecting this cruise was the itinerary which included mostly ports that we had not visited in the past. My wife and I have been on nearly twenty cruises (I've lost exact count) over the years with various companies (Princess, Celebrity, RCCL, etc.) , so we have a varied basis for comparison. This was my first experience on NCL since a Caribbean cruise on the Norway in 1990, at which time NCL was a very different company. Embarkation NCL provided at least twenty check-in windows, plus more for Latitudes members, suite guests, and disabled. We arrived at the terminal at 12:30 and were onboard looking for our cabin by 12:50. It helped that we had completed the pre-embarkation questionnaire in advance. Surprisingly, our cabin was ready, and we were able to stow our carry-on bags and go to the Garden Cafe for lunch. Cabin We stayed in a "mini-suite" on Deck 11. Although I considered it somewhat of an overstatement to refer to the cabin as a mini-suite, it really was quite functional and comfortable. We made good use of the attached balcony. The bed was comfortable, and there was plenty of closet and storage space. Dining The Garden Cafe is, by far, the worst designed buffet on any ship on which I have cruised. The facility is long and narrow, occupying just one side of the Gem, with serving stations all located near the midships entrance at one extreme end. Once you grab your food, you have to navigate narrow corridors with passengers moving in both directions to attempt to find a table. Our experience was that tables were rarely available at all inside. The Cafe connects to what NCL calls the Great Outdoors, a smaller outdoor buffet with tables, which also were rarely available. Across the deck from the Cafe and Great Outdoors is the Italian specialty restaurant, La Cucina, which is open for overflow Garden Cafe seating during the day. It was here that we often finally found a table after hauling our food from either the Garden Cafe main buffet, or from the Great Outdoors. By the way, for some unknown reason, the Garden Cafe does not provide trays, so guests have to attempt to handle separate plates and glasses as they search the narrow corridors for a table. I do have one positive comment: Food in the Garden Cafe offered excellent variety and was generally quite good. My wife and I were not overwhelmed with the various specialty restaurants, of which there are twelve on board the Gem. La Cucina, the Italian venue, offers an interesting appetizer selection with each meal and has no additional cover charge (as four of the specialty restaurants do). The salmon entrEe was particularly good, although the manicotti was very disappointing. We also tried the Oriental Restaurant ($10 cover), and it was nothing special. Actually I felt that I have had better beef broccoli and noodles at Panda Express. The French Restaurant charges a $15 cover and offered excellent French Onion soup. However, our entrees here were disappointing (salmon and duck), and not worth the extra cover Tequila, the "Tex-Mex" restaurant was our favorite of the specialty venues, and it did not charge a cover. Tequila serves a special dish for two that is quite tasty (I forget the name), excellent margaritas and quesadillas, and good desserts. We did not visit the steakhouse or the Teppanyaki venues, both of which charge $20 per person cover. Overall, our impression was that the food in the two main dining rooms was as good or better than most of what is offered in the specialty restaurants. We did not have difficulty booking reservations for the specialty restaurants. Just remember that reservations are available each morning for that day and the day following. Also, be aware that you can make reservations for the main dining rooms, in addition to reservations for the specialty restaurants. Many passengers seemed unaware of this, and lengthy lines materialized each night in front of each of the main dining rooms. With our reservations, we breezed past them to our table on several occasions. Entertainment The Gem offered excellent entertainment, which I would classify as being as good or better than any I have experienced on a ship. The three production shows were particularly exceptional. The two singers, the comedy juggler, and the magician were very good also. I give NCL kudos for offering a Second City troupe on one of the last nights of the cruise, something different and very entertaining. By the way, the juggler displayed his versatility by serving double duty in several of the late-night events in the Spinnaker Lounge as MC and panelist, and proved to be extremely witty and engaging. The show lounge itself is excellent with few obstructions. My only complaint here is a lack of any sort of drink holders or tables on which passengers can place drinks. Too Many Passengers? The Gem accommodates nearly 2,400 passengers, and there are times when it is all too obvious that you are one of a very large crowd. I mentioned above the problems with locating a place to sit in the Garden Cafe or Great Outdoors during any of the regular breakfast or lunch hours. One day, my wife and I decided that we could not face the obstacle course in the Garden Cafe anymore, and went to one of the main dining rooms for lunch. Unfortunately, here we discovered a line stretching into the hallway and a wait of more than one half hour. For the first production show, we arrived just ten minutes before showtime to discover all seats taken and people standing all around the back of the showroom. After this, we learned that the showroom doors were opened thirty minutes before each performance. We made it a point to arrive at that time and claim a seat. It is easiest to enter the showroom from Deck 6 (rather than 7) as this puts you right in the center of the room. Also, each night the Gem offered two-for-one pricing on most cocktails in the showroom, so we spent the half hour before the show enjoying a cheap cocktail. Each evening the Gem presented entertainment in the Spinnaker lounge at 10:30PM. Although it is a large room, again you must plan ahead to get a desirable seat. If you go to the 9:30PM show in the main showroom, plan to leave a few minutes before the end of the show if you plan to go to the Spinnaker. On the Sun Deck, the Gem has a selection of various comfortable lounge chairs. On a sea day with good weather, be prepared to claim these very early, as they go quickly. Fortunately we had a balcony and were able to spend the nice sea days there. I really did not savor getting up at 7AM to claim a deck chair. Staff and Crew Everybody was extremely friendly and helpful. We discovered that the Gem was having a contest for its staff members who received mentions on passenger comment cards for prizes that included partial days off. Still, the friendliness and enthusiasm seemed genuine, and probably would have been there with or without the contest. Disembarkation I debated whether to purchase the ship's transfer at Barcelona, and asked the shore excursion people what the taxi situation would be at the pier. I was told that there would be a long wait for taxis and that I should purchase the transfer. When we disembarked, there were at least twenty taxis waiting and no line whatsoever. Since we had purchased the transfer, we were directed to place our bags next to a waiting truck and then were escorted to a bus. Upon reaching the airport, the driver dropped us in front of Terminal B and said that the truck would be along soon. He immediately drove away. After nearly a half hour standing there with no truck in sight, we spotted several other passengers from the Gem wheeling their bags toward the terminal. We asked where they had gotten their bags, and were told that the truck had dropped them at Terminal A, nearly a quarter mile away. After walking to Terminal A and crossing the airport's main driveway, we finally located our bags piled at the curb, and then had to wheel them back to Terminal B. Obviously I was quite unhappy with NCL's transfer. Overall, we were very happy with our experience on the Norwegian Gem, and will consider NCL for future cruises. Be prepared though for times when there are just too many people trying to access a particular venue on the ship. If my experience with the disembarkation transfer was at all representative, take the taxi! Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona on 11/9 on a 12 day itinerary. This ship is brand-spankin' new and our sailing was only the 4th cruise for this ship, the second on this particular itinerary. What attracted us to this particular ... Read More
We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona on 11/9 on a 12 day itinerary. This ship is brand-spankin' new and our sailing was only the 4th cruise for this ship, the second on this particular itinerary. What attracted us to this particular cruise was the itinerary, the newness of the ship and the price. We've sailed on NCL four previous times and on Celebrity once so we're not newbies and we absolutely love NCL's Freestyle Dining and the whole Freestyle experience. In short we thought the Norwegian Gem was a real "gem" of a ship & a worthy addition to the NCL fleet. I will try to structure this review based on the rated categories. We had around 2300 fellow pax on our cruise & it was a VERY international mix; 840 Germans, 730 Americans, 150 or so each Brits & Canadians and the balance French, Spanish, Scandinavian and others. Major ship's announcements had to be made in FOUR languages. Average pax age was late forties. There were less than 20 children under 10 years of age. Food - the only restaurants we DIDN'T dine in were Teppanyaki, the Sushi Bar & Cagney's (DW is not a big Oriental or steak-person). There are two main restaurants, both on Deck 6 aft & mid-ship; the Grand Pacific and Magenta, resp. Magenta is a tad more "cozy" than the Pacific and is only open for dinner. We ate at both for dinner and in the Grand Pacific for lunch most days. We can honestly state that we didn't have a bad meal in either throughout the cruise and the food & service was excellent in both venues. There wasn't a "lobster night", per se, but one evening we had a "seafood combination" choice which featured a half of a lobster tail and other assorted seafood goodies. The beef choice was prime rib that evening. One frequent complaint heard re: NCL's Freestyle Dining are long waits for the restaurants. We usually eat between 5:30 & 6:30PM. At NO TIME did we ever wait for more than 5 minutes for a seat in either the Grand Pacific or Magenta during the aforementioned times. Now if you insist on eating during the peak dining hours (between 7PM & 8:30PM) you WILL encounter a longer wait time. NCL has flat screen monitors located throughout the ship showing the average wait time in ALL the restaurants so you can plan accordingly. The Grand Pacific and Magenta also hand out beepers that work throughout the ship that will alert you when your table is ready. You may also be asked if you wish to share a table during these peak times. Specialty restaurants fall into 2 categories; those that require a cover charge & those that don't. Cagney's (Deck 13), LeBistro (Deck 6), Orchid Garden (Deck 7), & Teppanyaki (Deck 7) require a cover charge that ranges from $20 per person to $10 (note: the Sushi Bar on Deck 7 doesn't have a cover charge and the menu items are individually priced). Cagney's & LeBistro also have specialty menus which will also require an additional charge. LaCucina (Deck 12), the Italian specialty restaurant and the Mexican/Tapas specialty restaurant (Deck 8) are free. ALL of the specialty restaurants require advance dinner reservations which can only be made up to 24 hours in advance. Reservations can be made by phone or up in the Garden Cafe during breakfast hours or at the Magenta restaurant on Deck 6 all day except during dinner. They were running a "happy hour" reservation promo while we were aboard; half-price cover charge for reservations made for 5:30PM - 6:30PM. The half-price did NOT apply to the specialty menus. We dined in LeBistro once & the Orchid Garden once during the cruise. The food at both was great (the escargot at LeBistro & the Peking duck at Orchid stand out). We also ate in LaCucina twice and the Mexican/Tapas restaurant once. Unlike LaTrattoria on the Dawn & Spirit, LaCucina is a dedicated Italian restaurant decorated in old world rustic style (old-style wooden tables & chairs - check out the pix on the main NCL site for details) and is not "re-created" every evening from the buffet seating. LaCucina was VERY popular and was filled to capacity every night of the cruise. The salmon Florentine was outstanding! They also wheel around an appetizer cart filled with different antipasto selections. We let our waiter make a selection for us. The Mexican/Tapas restaurant features a variety of tapas, Mexican, and Southwest Tex-Mex dishes. There's a menu item for 2 diners (the name escapes me now) that was delicious that you should check out. A word about the Garden Cafe buffet; this is NOT your typical cruise ship buffet! If, like us, you are accustomed to the typical NCL buffet you will find the Garden Cafe a welcome change for the better. First off, check out these pictures that show the seating arrangements: http://travel.webshots.com/photo/2138256850102204076VremHg You almost think you're in the Grand Pacific! We ate breakfast every day, lunch on several days and almost always stopped up every night after the first show (8:30PM) for a "snack"...lol. There's a separate section for kids with its own kid-sized tables, chairs, and food-serving station that's located aft near the Great Outdoors. It wasn't used during our cruise (there were less than 20 kids under 10 aboard) but it's a nice addition and will probably get a LOT of use on other cruises. The buffet itself is divided up into different food stations. As you walk in from the mid-ship elevator to your right begins the stations; soup/salad then pizza then the various entrees. There was an Indian vegetarian station on our cruise, for example. The plethora of stations gives the menu planners a lot more flexibility than they had in the past. The setup is very similar to what a lot of colleges are using nowadays for their student food services. The central section has the desserts on one side and the bread/toast/baked stuff on the other side. On one end station in the morning a terminal is set up to take specialty restaurant reservations (they even have the menus there!). This same station is then converted into a bar for lunch & dinner! On the opposite end a juice bar is set up for breakfast (costs $2.50 - $3.50) and is changed over to the ice cream station for lunch & dinner. VERY nice! Food selection itself varied greatly; a nice change! There were always two carved meats available at dinner. There was rotisserie chicken available for lunch almost every day. They also had several theme night dinners. On our cruise, for example, there was an Octoberfest night that featured German food and beers. There were hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza available for lunch and dinner. There was a vegetarian selection also available for lunch and dinner. Seating can get VERY tight during peak hours. We saw a LOT of people, for example, attempting to eat in the dedicated kids section! If the weather is nice you can also eat outside by the pool or aft in the Great Outdoors. After 11AM in the mornings and 3-ish in the afternoon, the aforementioned food stations in the Garden Cafe are roped off (to prepare for the next meal) but a goodly selection of food is moved outside to the Great Outdoors, which is located all the way aft and a sign directs late-arriving pax to the location. This is a scaled-down version of the Garden Cafe which is used for snacks (afternoon after 3PM), late breakfasts (10:45AM - noon) and late evening snacks (9PM - 11:30PM). The food selection is quite good and there's coffee, juices in the morning and a soft ice cream machine in the afternoon/evening. The will also have a lunch selection available by the pool at the Bali Hai Grill. A word on the self-serve coffee machines; they have the usual machine plus a new machine that offers coffee, espresso, latte's and cappuccinos in both caff & decaff versions. There's also the Blue Lagoon on Deck 8 (mid ship - across from the Mexican/Tapas restaurant) that has snack-type foods available 24 hours (hamburgers, wings, fish-and-chips, soups, etc). We did not order anything from room service; we prefer to eat outside of our room! We found the food aboard the Gem both plentiful and of very high quality. We were very pleasantly surprised by the Garden Cafe buffet both in terms of dEcor and the quality of the food served there. We ate lunch there on several occasions and dinner once & would not hesitate to eat there instead of the Grand Pacific. Public Rooms Much has been said in other postings/reviews re: the overall color scheme & dEcor on NCL's Jewel-class ships. When you first walk onboard you are, almost literally, "hit" by the bright colors and the "loudness" of the overall dEcor. However by the second day we were completely accustomed to it and never commented or noted it again. So to us it was a non-issue. The easiest way to describe the public rooms is to start at the top and work down: Upper Decks - Deck 13 forward features the Spinnaker Lounge. The furnishings in this lounge are...well...different. There are the usual bar stools, comfy sofa-type seating near the dance floor but check out these pix: http://www.depping-design.de/test/displayimage.php?album=62&pos=19 I predict that these furnishings will get a lot of use on spring break cruises...'nuff said! We attended several shows in the Spinnaker & found it a great venue for watching a band perform, a game of Quest or just hanging out. The view during the day from here is spectacular! Deck 13 also has a sun-bathing area, a jogging track, a full-sized tennis/basketball court, a golf cage and a rock-climbing wall. There's also a set of stairs mid-ships on Deck 13 that lead to an area labeled "Freestyle Sunbathing". I assume this is for the more adventuresome sun bathing types... There's also a bar available above the pool area. Deck 12 forward has the spa and exercise equipment rooms. I'll describe this under Spa & Fitness. There's also a nice library and two game rooms located across from the exercise room. One frequent complaint heard on ALL cruise ships is voiced by adults re: little kids in the pools. NCL has solved this problem by having TWO pools on the Gem, right next to each other. One pool is for kids and adults and the other is for adults only. There's also a quite spectacular slide next to the kids pool that will get a LOT of use. There are several hot tubs available. NCL's new "Pool Towel" policy is in full effect on the Gem, so be warned! Extra towels are available pool-side; have your room card available for the deposit. We didn't notice any problems with this new policy on our cruise. There are also several signs stating that your belongings may be removed & stored after an hour to free up chairs for other pax. So chair-hogs, be warned! lol There's a nice covered area on both sides of the pool with tables and chairs for those who wish to stay out of the sun or just relax and eat. They also have some electronic gambling tables available, similar to the ones in the Casino on Deck 6. We didn't see them get much use on our cruise. Aft on Deck 12 is the Garden Cafe and the Great Outdoors. We should also mention that Deck 12 has the Kids Crew area, a movie theater and the Leopard Lounge for teens. These are located near the Garden Cafe. These did NOT get much use on our cruise due to the demographics I described at the beginning of this review. Deck 11 has the Bridge Viewing Room located all the way forward on the port (left) side. The shades are up & you can see into the bridge from sunrise to sunset except during docking. The shades are shut during the evening to prevent light from messing up the bridge crew's night vision. Decks 9, 10 & 5 have self-service laundry rooms available. They are on the starboard (right) side forward across from cabins 10082 & 9084. There are three washers and three dryers available in each. Also two ironing boards & irons. Laundry soap is available for $1. The one on Deck 5 is usually used by the crew so we didn't use that one. Deck 8 has the Mexican/Tapas Restaurant and the Blue Lagoon located midships above the Grand Atrium. Deck 7 - all the way forward is the Stardust Theater. This also has an entrance on Deck 6. This theater has all the usual embellishments of a Broadway-style theater and is very similar to the ones aboard the Spirit and Dawn. I would estimate that it seats 1800-2000 people. There were shows each night of the cruise which I will describe later. This entrance leads to balcony seats and seats in the upper part of the theater. As you walk aft on deck 7 from the Stardust you'll pass through the shopping area. This is MUCH bigger than the ones we've seen on other NCL ships we've sailed on. There is a jewelry/watch emporium, a clothing/souvenir section and duty-free liquor store that also has some food and sundries (toothpaste, soaps, candy, snacks, etc). Liquor prices are reasonable; they have sales on specific items which are pretty good. They will also set up tables and run 'sales" on some of the clothing items. Continuing aft on Deck 7 is the Orchid Garden restaurant area. This consists of the Sake Bar, the Sushi Bar, the Orchid Garden restaurant and the Teppanyaki restaurant. Teppanyaki has a window on the hallway so you can watch the chef cook/perform for the diners! Continuing aft on Deck 7 you'll enter the Crystal Atrium. This atrium goes up to Deck 8 and you can look out on the atrium while you dine in the Mexican restaurant or in the Blue Lagoon. The Atrium itself has a HUGH video screen at one end that can show movies, slide shows and is used in the afternoons to play Wii video games. The main reception desk is located at the other end. The Shore Excursions desk is on the port side as well as the Internet cafe. This cafe is small (only 10 terminals) compared to the Spirit and Dawn. This is because Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship, including the pax cabins. There's also a perfume/men's fragrance's store on the starboard side of the atrium as well as a coffee bar. During the evenings there's a piano player in the atrium who's quite good and personable...and he takes requests! You can proceed aft from the Atrium by two different corridors. The port side will lead you through the Art Gallery. This gallery has the Art Director's desk and a selection of art displayed that will be auctioned during the cruise. The starboard corridor goes through the Photo Gallery. Both corridors terminate at entrances to the Bliss Lounge. The Bliss Lounge has two bowling alleys which consist of two lanes each for a total of 4 lanes. Cost is $5 per game which also includes shoe rental. The rest of the lounge consists of a large bar, a disco-type dance floor, two "private" rooms/lounges and "furnishings" that are similar to the ones in Spinnaker. Check out these pix: http://www.depping-design.de/test/thumbnails.php?album=63 If you've sailed on the Spirit the theme here is similar to the one in Maharinni's Lounge in the Casino on the Spirit. On our cruise Bliss got a lot of use by the younger crew members in the late evenings and it was fun watching these kids "unwind" after a hard day's work. They had a "Toga Party" one night and the Gem Dancers performed in this lounge on several nights. I will predict that the Bliss Lounge will be a VERY popular destination during Spring Break cruises out of NYC... Outside on Deck 7 there's a promenade walk that stretches around the entire ship. You can take a nice walk around the ship and there are deck chairs, shuffle board and a couple of ping-pong tables. Deck 6 forward has another entrance to the Stardust Theater. This entrance will lead you to seats in the front of the theater. Exiting the theater and walking aft you next enter the Casino. It has the usual assortment of slots, roulette, craps, poker, blackjack, etc. etc. Yes, there IS a Texas Hold 'Em Table; several of them. We're not gamblers so we'll let some other reviewer describe the casino. Continuing aft you enter what the crew refers to as Bar Central. This is a sort of mini-atrium that stretches up to Deck 7. Le Bistro is on the starboard side. There's a champagne bar, a martini bar and a pub-type bar (hence the name, "Bar Central"). There's a piano in the center that's usually in use during the evenings. In the pub-section there is also usually a singer during the evening. We were a tad disappointed by the ambiance of this section; it seemed too modern. I guess we're used to Henry's Pub on the Spirit which resembles an old-style English pub a lot more than this one on the Gem. If you continue aft on Deck 6 you'll walk into the Magenta restaurant. Cabins We are "no-frills" cruisers and pretty much go with inside cabins. Because we specified a "guaranteed" cabin type & booked fairly early we got Cabin 8069. The location was great; we were midships & close to just about everything. The cabin had two twin beds that could be pushed together to form a queen. These beds were VERY comfortable. The closet & drawer space was enough for the 2 of us. There's a safe, hair dryer, 2-110V outlets and a European outlet. One nice addition was a fully stocked refrigerator! You can also ask your room steward to remove all the items from the fridge if you bring your own water, soda, whatever. The price list for the items was right on the front of the fridge. They WILL add the usual 15% gratuity to your bill for any items consumed. The lavatory has a very good shower. There's an outlet for electric razors. Our room stewards were outstanding! We had towel animals every night. Our room was made up/turned down every day. Our towels were also replaced daily. Our cabin had a HD flat-screen TV (15", I think). TV stations available were three movie channels (one English the other two non-English), two news (Fox & BBC International), ESPN, a Feature TV channel and the usual assortment of NCL-specific channels (shopping, excursion, ship cam, navigation, etc). The cabins are also supposed to have WiFi Internet access. I also noticed an Ethernet cable connection. I did not bring my laptop on this cruise so I cannot state how good the WiFi access was or whether the Ethernet connection actually worked. One nice little addition; on the outside of each cabin is a little wheel which you can turn to read "Welcome", "Do Not Disturb", "Turn Down Cabin", and "Make Up Cabin". There's also a slot on top where a small envelope can be placed. VERY nice! We were VERY please with our cabin & its location! Entertainment There was stuff to do EVERY night. NCL has a good reputation for keeping its pax entertained in the evenings & the Gem certainly lived up to this reputation. The Crystal Atrium and Bar Central had piano players/singers entertaining throughout the evening. The English Pub also had a singer every night. What follows below are the main shows that took place in the Stardust Theater, the Spinnaker Lounge & the Bliss Lounge. The Stardust shows were at 7:30 & 9:30. The Spinnaker around 10:30 and Bliss was late night (after 11:30PM). Most of the shows in the Stardust featured the Norwegian Gem Showband accompanying the singer. This band was VERY professional & VERY good! Also at several stops they brought aboard some local singers/dancers to perform in the afternoon in the Stardust Theater. I should also mention for the die-hards out there that the Spinnaker had karaoke almost EVERY night… Night #1 - The Stardust featured a singer named Donny Ray Evins who "channeled" Nat King Cole. He was VERY good. There was a Welcome Aboard Party up in Spinnaker which featured the house band; Modal Magic. They were quite good. The CD for our cruise was Clint Wells. The Bliss Lounge had a Fire and Ice Party which was interesting… Night #2 - The Gem Production Company Dancers performed a show called World Beat in the Stardust for two performances. We liked it & thought it was quite good. Spinnaker had a New Years Eve party. Bliss had the Shadow Dancers which are the Gem Production Company dancers doing some improv dancing to the recorded music in the Lounge. They also showed the movie Casablanca in the Spinnaker lounge. Night #3 - The Stardust featured a juggler named Romano Frediani for 2 shows. This guy is a hoot & QUITE a good juggler. Also had a good repartee with the audience. Spinnaker had a Latin Night featuring Modal Magic. Night #4 - The Stardust featured a singer named Lorraine Brown who did R&B and some old faves. Quite good. Spinnaker had a 50's Sock Hop which was fun to watch & dance to. Bliss had the Gem Production Dancers doing a thing called Moroccan Nights; think of the Bangles video Walk Like an Egyptian and you get the idea… Fun. Night #5 - Stardust featured a comedian named David Naster for one show only. VERY funny guy. He's written several books on using laughter to cope with life's difficulties. Spinnaker featured a Dancing Through the Decades party and Bliss had a White Ice Night featuring the Gem Production Dancers. I should also mention that this was Octoberfest night up in the Garden Cafe complete with German oom-pah music, food, beer, etc. Night #6 - This was a 70's Night theme throughout the ship. The Stardust featured the Gem Production Dancers doing 2 shows called "Get Down Tonight" which featured 60's music & 70's Disco-type music. Spinnaker had a Disco Night complete with the Village People (or what looked like them…lol). Bliss was quiet tonite. Night #7 - Stardust featured a magician named Duck Cameron for 2 shows. Quiet guy but very good. Up in Spinnaker Romano Frediani (the juggler from Night #3) did an absolutely great job at emceeing The Quest. If you don't know what The Quest is, btw, then you should book an NCL cruise RIGHT NOW so you can find out…lol. Seriously, it's an absolute hoot!! Bliss had their Toga Party tonite…'nuff said! Night #8 - Stardust featured Donny Ray Evins again this time doing Soul plus some R&B. Guy is very talented. David Naster, the comedian, did an adults only show in the Spinnaker. Night #9 - Stardust had a double-bill of the magician, Duck Cameron and the singer Lorraine Brown. Sounds odd but it worked quite well. Duck proved he could talk tonite & did a very elaborate illusion for us. Ms. Brown did her usual great performance. Spinnaker had Country Night with the cruise staff trying to teach us how to do a line dance…need I say more? Bliss had the Shadow Dancers. Night #10 - Stardust featured the Second City improv comedy group for 1 show. I like improv comedy (I am a big SNL fan) while DW doesn't care for it as much but we agreed that this group of Second City-ers was MUCH better than the Second City-ers we had seen on the Spirit last year. Spinnaker featured the Liars Club which is always good for great laughs. The "panel" was our CD, Clint Wells, asst. CD Matt, juggler Romano Frediani and Ben Johnson from the Second City. They also had a Ship 'n Males show up in Spinnaker for the ladies. Night #11 - Spinnaker featured the Gem Production Dancers in a show called Colorz which was GREAT!!! Best show they did of the three. This was also the Farewell performance with the Captain, officers & crew. If you have never seen this it's quite good. Second City did two unscripted shows up in Spinnaker; an early show and a late adults only show. We went to the second one. This is a show where they ask for the audience to supply ideas & they act those ideas out. This is improv comedy in its purest form. This was also the Chocoholic Buffet Night up in the Garden Cafe. Night #12 - last night of the cruise (sniff!! sniff!!). Stardust had a single Variety Show that featured Romano Frediani for one last time, several VERY talented crew members doing some musical numbers and only 2 (TG!!!!!) very UNtalented fellow pax; one doing a belly dance & the other attempting to do "comedy"…I sat there and kept thinking, "Where is Simon Cowel when you REALLY need him????" Bliss had a Pajama Party…I'll leave that to your imagination… ¬Spa & Fitness¬ As mentioned above, we do not do the spa "thang". To use the spa on Deck 12 you need to cough up $10 per person, per day. They do offer a discounted package for the entire cruise which will save you a lot. That's just to use the facilities. The massages, rubs, treatments, etc are all extra $$. We did a tour on Day #1 and will say that the facility is absolutely beautiful & first class in every way possible. They have steam & sauna & an indoor pool as well. Separate lockers are available for male & female pax. I used the Fitness center's treadmills for 4 days until I started walking on Deck 7 to burn off excess calories. The Fitness center is free and has about 20 treadmills, each equipped with head phones and an LCD monitor that has the same programs you can see on your cabin TV. There's also stair climbing machines, weights and a separate weight room. Also a refrigerator with hand towels for sweaty exercisers! (a nice touch!). Family & Children As I mentioned above, there were very few kids aboard. This is one of the benefits of cruising in late September & October-November. I love reading posts on these boards by older pax (like us) who complain about the number of kids onboard when they cruise during Xmas or Spring Break. I guess these are the same folks who also complain about having to wait for a table in the main restaurant when they insist on eating at 7:30 PM…lol ¬Shore Excursions We very rarely do the NCL-sponsored shore excursions. As we stated above, we're "no frills" cruisers and cannot see spending more on the shore excursions than we paid for the whole darn cruise! We DO get off at the ports but we'll usually either walk around by ourselves & see the sights or do a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. One of the selling points for this particular cruise was the rather exotic ports of call featured; Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, etc. These were places that neither of us had ever travelled to. Here's where we went & what we did: Malaga, Spain: we visited this port on a Sunday so the shops & such were all closed. Beautiful city. We did a hop-on-hop-off bus tour & saw everything we wanted to see. Would like to visit again on a day when the shops are open. Casablanca & Agadir: I got off in Agadir & took the NCL shuttle bus into the city. Not impressed with the city. Nothing to buy & not much to do. We didn't get off in Casablanca at all. Cabs were available at the pier but the only way to see Casablanca was to take one of the NCL "official" shore excursions. Hopefully some other reviewer will have more to say about these two ports of call than we did. Canary Islands: two stops here; Arrecife & Las Palmas. NCL had a free shuttle bus in Arreciffe that took you to the shopping district. In Las Palmas you can walk to the town in less than 5 minutes (think docking at Hamilton in Bermuda). As to the islands themselves; think of a Caribbean island with a Spanish twist; that's the Canarys! Very pretty towns and the shopping was good. Lisbon, Portugal: NCL had a free shuttle bus that let you off in the center of the city near the other side of the port. We did a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. VERY beautiful city!!! We would definitely come back to Lisbon! Excellent shopping. Cadiz, Spain: the ship docks close enough to be able to walk into the city. Our hop-on-hop-off bus tour had a stop right at the dock. VERY convenient! This was another Sunday port of call so all the shops were closed. After our tour we decided to strike out on our own & followed the people walking around to see where they were going. This led us to an open air market near the Cathedral where you could do some shopping. VERY beautiful city!! We would definitely come back to Cadiz! Gibraltar, UK: ship got in at 0700 & left at 1300. Definitely not enough time. The port ran a shuttle from the dock to town that cost us 8 Euros total. The town itself has a lot of shopping. We walked around the town for a couple of hours then headed back. Would like to see Gibraltar again but would like to spend an entire day there. We would probably have done one of the NCL excursions had we been there longer. Palma, Mallorca, Spain: another half-day port of call; we docked at 1300 and all aboard was 1830. NCL provided shuttle busses (cost $6 for both of us) into the city. Very beautiful city. Check out the Cathedral area. Looking back we should have done a hop-on-hop-off bus tour again in this city; there was a stop near where the ship docked. We were very satisfied with the itinerary with the exception of the two stops in Morocco. Agadir & Casablanca are simply not set up to handle cruise ship tourists so this is not an NCL issue. The comedian, Dave Naster, probably described Casablanca best when he said, "Yeah and Casablanca! It'll be great in 10 years when they get it finished!" We were also a tad disappointed that two stops were on Sundays. However with a 12-day itinerary that was simply our bad luck. Embarkation & Disembarkation We took a cab from our hotel in Barcelona to the cruise port where the Gem was docked and arrived at 11:30AM. We jumped right into the Latitudes line and were processed promptly and onboard by 11:45. Our room was not available until 1300 so we walked around a bit. There were crewmembers directing arriving pax to the elevators to the buffet on Deck 12 but we went right to the Grand Pacific on Deck 6 for a nice leisurely lunch! We then toured the ship, took pix and just got to know our way around. Sail away was at 1900 which we watched from our dinner in Le Bistro. We usually avail ourselves of NCL's Express Disembarkation when we cruise out of NYC. We've had hit-and-miss experiences with this aboard other NCL ships but decided to try it again on the Gem. For this cruise the Express Disembarkation form is dropped in your cabin along with the Freestyle Daily on the 10th night of the cruise. All we had to do was to fill in our cabin number and how many of us & drop it at the Reception Desk. Simple! The ship docked the final morning right at 0500. Clint started making announcements at 0545 and announced the Express at 0600. We stayed in bed until 0800 and decided to get breakfast. The Garden Cafe, unfortunately, was JAMMED so we just grabbed coffee, some apples, bananas & oranges & cold cereal & went back to our room. They don't give you a Freestyle Daily on the last night so we didn't know if the Grand Pacific was open or not. Based on the crowds we saw in the Garden Cafe at 0815 we'd guess it wasn't open or that it opened/closed VERY early. NCL might do a little better job of informing pax what their breakfast options are on the final morning. We decided to leave rather than fight the crowds for breakfast so we grabbed our bags & headed for the gangway on Deck 5. I guess everyone else was getting breakfast because we walked right off & into a waiting cab at the dock by 0845! We were at the airport by 0930 (there was some rush hour traffic in downtown Barcelona!). Taxi fare was 34 Euros total. A tad pricey but cheaper than the NCL transfer they were offering at $30/each! Service As mentioned above our two room stewards were outstanding. The service provided by all the crew was great! Every crewmember we encountered was polite, friendly and always had a smile and a "Hello" when you saw them. Clint Wells and his Cruise Staff did a great job of running the activities. Watching them one night attempting to teach us how to do a line dance reminded me of the old adage about trying to herd cats. Klaus Lugmaier, the Hotel Director, has this ship running like a Swiss watch! He came to our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet on Day #2 & even gave us his portable phone number to call if we had any problems!! He and staff did an outstanding job on this cruise, so far as we're concerned. Value for the Money - Rates One of the main reasons we cruise with NCL is "bang for the buck". As we noted above, we're "no-frills" cruisers who aren't looking for a lot of amenities (balcony, suite, room service, concierge, etc) that other cruise pax seem to look for. Our motto is: ANY day on ANY cruise ship on ANY cruise line is better than a day at home! Our past cruises with NCL have always been great experiences and this cruise on the Gem was no exception. We booked this cruise online about 5 months in advance. We always book our cruises with online TA's and haven't had any problems. We booked our air (from NYC) and our hotel in Barcelona through Hotwire.com. We've never tried booking directly with NCL as we've never seen online or brochure prices as good as we get from the online TA's. If one of the "Latitudes Weekly Specials" we receive through e-mails, though, looks inviting we may try booking directly through NCL. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
We stayed in an AF cabin which supposedly had 285 sq ft. The layout of the cabin was not good. We could not completely open the closet doors as the bed was too close to the closet. I have stayed in smaller cabins was more conveniently ... Read More
We stayed in an AF cabin which supposedly had 285 sq ft. The layout of the cabin was not good. We could not completely open the closet doors as the bed was too close to the closet. I have stayed in smaller cabins was more conveniently arranged. The refrigerator is actually a minibar with little room for your personal items. The Garden Cafe was the main buffet restaurant on the boat. The seating in the Garden Cafe was very limited and it was frustrating to walk around trying to find a place to sit after picking up your plate of food. No trays were provided to carry the food. This started most days out on a bad note as we normally had to eat at the buffet if we had a tour as time was limited. It was either get up earlier to eat in dining room or fight for buffet seating. The tours were mostly ok, but one was absolutely terrible. It was The Saadian Capital of Taroudant in Agadir, Morocco. We drove the Taroudant, stopping to see goats climbing trees which was a unique experience. We were then taken to an area which was nice and a drink was provided. The worst part of the tour was when we were taken inside the Berber Market and Jewish Market. We were led around the markets up and down the aisles without stopping to look at anything for one hour. There were areas that were dimly lit and the floors were uneven. Beggar children followed us constantly making us worried that our pockets would be picked. The tour director finally stopped at one store (probably his brother's or someone else giving him a kick back) and left us there for about one half hour. There was no seating provided for someone that did not want to go into the junky store. This was supposed to be an easy walking tour, but we were on our feet for 1 1/2 hour and there were several people in the group that had canes. The bus finally came for us which was a relief. The tour guide also expressed his opinion on American politics, hoping that Hillary Clinton would be elected as the Morrocans love her. That was nice to know that Muslims want Hillary elected! I thought this was not appropriate. The tour was $49.00 each and was a total rip off. I complained to NCL, but they failed to refund the money. There were exactly nine washers and dryers on the boat for about 2300 passengers. This was an additional frustration as launderette was constantly occupied. There were the normal cruise activities on the boat. There were only 2 pools available for general use. This was not a problem with us as we did not want to use the pools as the weather was cool. However this boat is continuing to spend the winter in the Caribbean. I would imagine this is going to cause some real problems as cruisers in the Caribbean expect suitable areas to swim and sunbathe. This boat is not the place to do that. The price for the cruise was good and we were able to see some countries that we had not previously visited, but we probably will not use NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
Summary: We enjoyed our cruise. It was overall a positive experience with minor hiccups, will probably cruise with NCL again depending on the itinerary and the price. Background: Husband and I had cruise over 7 times before, across ... Read More
Summary: We enjoyed our cruise. It was overall a positive experience with minor hiccups, will probably cruise with NCL again depending on the itinerary and the price. Background: Husband and I had cruise over 7 times before, across different cruise lines: Carnival, Holland America, Princess and NCL. This was our 8th cruise, third times with NCL, therefore, we are very familiar with the freestyle concept and we absolutely love it. Pre-cruise: We flew into Barcelona three days before the embarkation date. Overall impression of the city was good with lovely architectures, and good food (tapas and paella). We stayed somewhere near Arc del Triomf, and used taxi to travel everywhere. Some places we went and their ratings: § Las Ramblas - B+, a lot to see, shops, markets (the juice was heavenly), outdoor cafes, artists... § Sagrada Familiar - A+, Gaudi is a genius, we ascended in the old part (the back, with less people on line to go up, 2 Euro) and walked the spiral staircase down, and it's not for the faint of heart... § La Pedrera - A-, we enjoyed the terrace immensely, love the view as well. § Barri Gotic - A-, lovely old street with the Cathedral. We took a walking tour from the tourism office; we enjoyed the history and the sights. Embarkation: arrived at the port via taxi @ 11:15am. We didn't wait for too long before they allow us to embark @ 12. The room wasn't ready then, so we just went to get our first meal. Cabin: We got an aft balcony cabin on the 10th floor. It is very similar to what we have on the Dawn, with newer bed and bedding, compartmentalized bathroom, a fridge and a huge safe. The room had enough closet space for the two of us, since we travel really light. We had to do laundry 6 times during our 12-nights journey, which is usually done in the middle of the night (2-4am) because of its popularity. Overall, we were happy with the cabin with the only major negative being our cabin stewards who were not very attentive to our needs even after we left notes pointing them out. For example: § Shampoo and shower gel containers were empty for two days before I had to phone main desk for a refill. § Dirty glasses are left in the room § Untimely make up/turn down of our cabin - because our cabin is at the border of the next cleaning station, our cabin is often the dead last to be service. There were two occasions that our "please make up cabin" was on for the whole morning, when we come back to our room in the afternoon, it was still undone. There are some nights that our cabin weren't turn down because I need to sleep, and it just took way too long for them to get to our room. A bit annoying, but not enough to spoil our vacation. Activity: We didn't partake in the ship's activity except may be the first and the last major production show. The dancers and the singers are enjoyable at times. I find many of the activities boring and I'd rather stay in the spa for a little reading/nap time. Clint is the cruise director, can't say much about him, definitely not as good as John Heald over at the Carnival Freedom. Dining: We enjoyed the food, found it to be better than Holland and Princess, but Carnival has better dessert. Breakdown as followed: § Cagney's - steakhouse fare, I had the 1 ½ lb lobster, husband had the ahi tuna steak, both were good. I had the most amazing crab cakes ever, it was very yummy with loads of crab. § Tequila - tapas, it was ok, guacamole wasn't that good, but I enjoyed the margaritas though § Sushi Bar - three times, my husband usually get a boat load of Salmon and a half boat load of eel sashimi…be forewarn that their rolls are usually consists of more than 8 pieces, I think their standard size is 10 pieces, which is really a lot. They also have good miso soup, and for dessert, you can order out of the Chinese menu in addition to the standard green tea ice cream. § Orchid garden - Chinese, the peking duck wrap, the thai chicken curry and the ginger crème bulee were good. § Le bistro - French, the duck leg main dish was to die for, other dishes were unremarkable for me. § Magenta - twice, average § Grand pacific- twice, average § Blue lagoon - they expanded the blue lagoon, it took longer for food to arrive compared to the Dawn. I love the self-service drink station on the Dawn's blue lagoon which the kitchen visible from the seating area. It took much longer for food to arrive even at 3am, sometimes a quick bit in the blue lagoon took us an hour…go figure. Also, the blue lagoon also serves breakfast, one time I got fed up in the garden cafe (buffet) upstairs because I couldn't find a space to seat down, I wandered into blue lagoon for a served breakfast, it wasn't bad. § Garden cafe - most of my breakfasts were done here, same thing for breakfast, over 12 days…it was getting to me at the end of the trip. Shore excursion: We did two tours with private guides, and 5 ship's tour. § Malaga - ship's tour to Grenada to see the Alhambra palace. Since the palace is up in the hill in Grenada (more inland), it was really COLD, and we were properly dressed. I was surprised that we didn't get sick. Beside from freezing to death, the palace and its garden were absolutely gorgeous. § Casablanca - ship's tour to Rabat and Casablanca city tour. We ate couscous and saw the palace and some other places. The shop where the guide brought us was a bit overprices, and it has tourist trap written all over it. I would rather go into the local market, but we never did. § Agadir - Saadian capital of Tarabout, the berber market was scary, we hardly have time to stop for picture taking. The electricity was out on that day so some parts of the market were very dark with uneven terrain. A bit of the culture shock for me. My husband got sick after breathing in some dusty winds. § Arrecife - private tour with Simon Williamson @ cymmonn@hotmail.com, for a tour of the whole island with another couple. We had to walk outside of the port to meet him; he came with a big van for the four of us. He is an experience coach driver who lives on the island. He was absolutely fantastic. We went to so many places, so much more than the ship's tour, we had a marvelous time with him and could recommend him in a heartbeat. We went to: o Timanfaya national park - Fire Mountain volcanoes, Simon advised us to seat on the left side of the bus for a much better view. The scenery is indescribable, one has to see it and experience it. A++++++ o A charming little church where it was built for a woman who saved the village three times from the lava. o Wine tasting and shopping, I bought two bottles of red, it was delicious (it's all gone now) o Lunch on top of a hill, I had paella (the dry kind) and the rest of the group had cured ham with goat cheese sandwich. We also tried some kind of liquor with whip cream for dessert; it was good, almost got me drunk. Took some lovely photos overlooking villages. o Outlook point at the northwestern end of the island, it was unbelievably beautiful. Endless sky, island, and sea…A++++ o Beach stop, we saw the raging sea with the rugged terrain, another lovely photo spots. o Jameos del Agua - the cave with the albino crab, it was really amazing. The pool outside was also very pretty with the palm tree. Brought a book about lanzarote's volcanoes and history. o Cactus garden - saw a lot of cactus and a windmill, and brought some jams. It was quite enjoyable. § Las Palmas - we just randomly roamed about, we were too exhausted after arrecife that we spent most of the day at the spa. § Lisbon - private tour with www.toursforyou.pt, our guide was Joana, who was nothing but fabulous. She is a safe driver, courteous and very knowledgeable of her city. She spoke excellent English and brought us to many places. I was most impressed with Sintra, and the Pena palace. Overall, Lisbon warrants a longer visit because it is such lovely city, will definitely come back. § Cadiz - a lovely seaside city. We took the hop-on-hop-off bus at this port; saw most of the city this way. It has a very long beach with monument. We did some shopping and wandered around. § Gibraltar - ship's tour, tour the rock. We went to St. Michael's cave, and it was really nice. Saw the infamous Gibraltar ape, we were robbed of two muffins by the apes. They were adorable. One of them wouldn't stop pressing our driver's car honk. It was very nice. § Palma de Mallorca - ship's tour, panoramic palma with Valldemossa, where Chopin and his mistress lived. I was very impressed with Valldemossa, it reminds me of the Almafi coast of italy, except it's more inland. Very quaint town with nice shops and hot chocolate. We had 1.5 hrs to explore the town and took a lot of photos. Facilities: Both husband and I purchased the "cruise pass" to use their spa facilities which includes a number of jet tubes, sauna, steam room, relaxation area with tile lounger. It was worth it to be able to unwind after a long day of touring. I often found myself relaxing in the sauna room as the ship departed from the port. Since the sauna is situated in the front of the ship, it had great view. Disembarkation: We took advantage of the express checkout; we were able to get to the airport at 7am for our 10:30am flight. The taxi took exactly 18 minutes; I could have slept in, because our flight was delayed until 2pm. Flight was uneventful, as it should be, and now it's back to reality. Oh well… Read Less
Sail Date: November 2007
By way of introduction, my wife and I have been on 21 cruises including three on Norwegian Cruise Line. Prior to this trip we had not been terribly impressed with NCL. This cruise changed our mind. Let me start with the two negative ... Read More
By way of introduction, my wife and I have been on 21 cruises including three on Norwegian Cruise Line. Prior to this trip we had not been terribly impressed with NCL. This cruise changed our mind. Let me start with the two negative aspects of the trip; both of which had been identified previously by Cruise Critics members. The first is a safety issue and concerns the dark color of the main stairways. The carpeting is dark blue, the same color as the landings. It is quite difficult to tell where the landing ends and the stairs begin. This problem is further exacerbated by the dim lighting on the stairs (ambiance, of course). We saw a number of passengers lose their balance. The second deficiency is the lack of seating in the Garden Cafe, the primary buffet. Unlike most ships, the Gem only has seating on one side of the ship and it was almost impossible to find a seat. You did have the option of going outside to the pool area, but when the weather is cool or rainy, this isn't much of an alternative. Ship The Gem was absolutely gorgeous and, by far, the prettiest ship on which we have sailed. It also had the friendliest crew. This latter attribute can be traced to the Captain who was everywhere. He often just stood in the Garden Cafe greeting passengers. In fact, during one of the performances, the lead was singing "Love Will Keep Us Together" made popular by the Captain and Tennile, when the ship's Captain appeared on stage and took part in the festivities. Embarkation City (Barcelona) We flew to Barcelona two days early and toured the city. I would strongly recommend the "Bus Turistic" which consists of three city routes and provides "get on/get off" services to every part of the city. The cost is 19 Euros ($28 US) and well worth it. You can also get a two-day pass for 23 Euros. You can buy tickets on the bus, at information kiosks, and many hotels. Embarkation Embarkation was very smooth. As has been mentioned many times on Cruise Critics, Latitudes membership means nothing when embarking; that line is normally significantly longer than other lines. We ignored it and went to one of the other lines and were through in about five minutes. Room We had a balcony and our stateroom was more than adequate with ample closet space and drawers. The size was about average with respect to other ships on which we have sailed. All the furniture (love seat, writing desk, chairs, balcony tables and chairs, etc.) was excellent. Services As I have mentioned previously, the crew was outstanding. This includes all aspects of the ship -- room stewards, dining room personnel, maintenance personnel, waiters, bartenders, etc. The one negative aspect was that the room stewards were significantly overworked. They had way too many rooms and would always be working about two hours past their published working hours. Of course, that manifested itself in delays getting all rooms cleaned. Hint: There are self-service Laundromats on the Gem. I could find nothing in their literature that identified this beforehand and nothing on the ship, but they are there!! Dining NCL makes a major advertising campaign of their "free style dining" and, personally, I think it has its positive and negative aspects. The big thing is to understand the system and work within it. NCL allows you to make reservations the morning of the day before you're going to eat. We ate at 8 of the 11 restaurants on board and always got the time we desired, never waited more than two minutes to be seated, and always got a table for two without any hassle. This occurred even though they claimed the ship was full and we ate at 7:30 to 8:00 PM. There are 11 restaurants on the Gem: Cagney's Steakhouse ($20 surcharge) - We had filet mignon and, although it was outstanding, it was no better than the steaks in the main dining rooms (Grand Pacific and Magenta). However, the banana foster was unbelievably great and the service impeccable. Le Bistro (French - $15 surcharge) - Again, quite good and probably worth the cost (one time). However, once you entered, it cost an extra $10 per person to get the two signature meals, Chateaubriand or leg of lamb. This seemed to be a bit "cheesy". Teppanyaki ($20 surcharge) - We did not eat here, but it was always full; probably because there was very limited seating. Orchid Garden (Asian - $10 surcharge) - We did not eat here. Sushi Bar ($15 surcharge) - We did not eat here. There was always "sushi" available in the Garden Cafe buffet line, but it was of the California roll variety rather than specific fish. Grand Pacific Dining Room (free) - This was the larger of the two main dining rooms, was very nice, and the food was excellent. It was a little noisier than the Magenta because of the number of people. Magenta Dining Room (free) - This was the smaller of the main dining rooms, had beautiful dEcor, and was our favorite. La Cucina (Italian - free) - Outstanding; always crowded (second only to Teppanyaki). Tequila (Mexican - free) - Good food; not the ambiance of the typical cruise ship restaurant, but an interesting change of pace. Blue Lagoon (Casual - free) - We ate lunch here a number of times, but never dinner. It was a welcome relief from the overcrowded buffet and featured burgers, fish and chips, chili, salads, and other popular items. Garden Cafe (Buffet - free) - Food was quite good; selection was very good; multiple stations made the ability to get food easier; HOWEVER seating was abominable. The Gem also had numerous grills where they would periodically set up shop. Four suggestions: 1.Make reservations. Although we had no trouble getting seated when we wanted, we saw many people denied seating or told they would have to wait 30 minutes to be seated. 2. Don't call to make reservations. The call goes directly to the entrance to the Magenta dining room where there are probably 10 people in line and your requests are going to get mixed up. Make reservations in person. 3. Although they only advertise the reservation station at the Magenta, there is usually one set up at the Garden Cafe buffet each morning. 4. There are electronic boards set up throughout the ship indicating how full each restaurant is. If you haven't made reservations, check them out. Overall, the food was excellent, but not the best we have ever had. That honor goes to a toss-up between Princess and Celebrity. Entertainment The entertainment on the NCL Gem rivaled the best we have seen on any ship. The Gem show band, singers, and dancers were outstanding. They also had two individual singers who were outstanding. Additionally, there was the normal assortment of jugglers, comedians, and magicians, all of whom I could have done without - however, each to his own..... The Stardust Lounge was quite nice. The Spinnaker Lounge was a bit gaudy, but that's what a cruise ship is all about !! We didn't attend the shows in the Bliss Ultra Lounge (that is for the younger folks), but the bowling alley was definitely a unique item. We enjoyed most of the lounges and bars which all had some variety of entertainment. The fitness center was very modern with a wide variety of aerobic machines and weights. We did not partake of the salon features. The casino was something else. In addition to numerous slot machines, they had 11 Black Jack tables (three of which were $100 minimum), two craps tables, a couple of roulette wheels, numerous other gaming tables, AND a Texas Holdem table. Although there was not a significant amount of gambling on this cruise, it is quite apparent that the Gem is being "groomed" to relieve the Dawn as the "East Coast Gambling Ship" - from New York to Miami to the Bahamas. Shore Excursions We took four ship's tours and did the rest of the ports on our own. The tours were OK - depending more on the specific guide you were assigned rather than anything NCL arranged. There was one major glitch however. Rather than have the individual tours meet in separate parts of the ship like most other cruise lines, NCL had EVERYONE taking ANY tour meet in the Stardust Lounge. At both stops in Morocco, there were 1500 to 2000 tour participants (their count, not mine). You can imagine the chaos with all of these people trying to get into and out of the 500 (?) person capacity theater. It was a good thing most of the passengers were relatively old because there was the definite opportunity for more than pushing and shoving. Disembarkation Our disembarkation was outstanding. We took a shore excursion and were dropped off at the airport. If you go to Barcelona and have the time, take a tour to Montserrat. There is only one word that can describe it: FABULOUS. We don't know how the rest of the passengers made out with the disembarkation. Summary We sailed on the Norwegian Dawn about 4 ½ years ago within a year of its fleet introduction and were disappointed; the ship was beautiful, but most other things left a lot to be desired. This was our first foray back into the NCL world and we loved it. We'll be back!! Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
My husband and I just returned from our Transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Gem. To say the least, we were very disappointed in almost every aspect of this ship. We booked our whole trip through NCL. Our flight from Cincinnati, OH, ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from our Transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Gem. To say the least, we were very disappointed in almost every aspect of this ship. We booked our whole trip through NCL. Our flight from Cincinnati, OH, through JFK, to Barcelona went very well. Our transfer from the airport to the Princess Sofia Hotel was excellent. The Princess Sofia was located in the center of Barcelona, with only a short walk to restaurants and city tour buses. The transfer from the hotel to the ship went well, too. When we got to the ship, there were refreshments provided, before embarkation. Since we are Latitudes members (this was our fifth cruise with NCL), our line was very short and boarding went smoothly. Our luggage was delivered to our stateroom in a timely manner. Last year, when we traveled on the first Transatlantic voyage of the Norwegian Pearl, we had booked a mini-suite. We loved everything about our trip on The Pearl, so were really looking forward to traveling on her "sister ship". This year, we booked a balcony room. It was much smaller, than the mini-suite, with much less storage room. The feeling was very cramped. Before coming out of the bathroom, I had to shout a warning, so that I didn't hit my husband with the door. Since the closet and clothes drawers are directly across from the bathroom, we learned the hard way about opening the bathroom door too quickly. The bed was comfortable, with at least 5 pillows. The mini-bar was very mini. There was a 15" TV. Unfortunately, we did not know about CruiseCritic.com, when we booked this cruise, so we did not find out about the new policy for movies. Twelve dollars for a pay on demand movie is outrageous! Only last year, on The Pearl, all new release movies were FREE. One of the reasons that we book Transatlantic cruises is to watch newly released movies and to read books. What else is there to do that doesn't cost you extra money? Next, I guess that they will charge per book, too? We hardly saw our room stewardess and steward. There were several times that we went to bed without a turn down, even though we had put on the turn down sign, several hours before. Several mornings, the same thing would happen with the "make up cabin" sign. Often, it would take several hours to have it done. By the end of the cruise, they did not even spend time tidying up the bathroom. Because we complained about the movie situation and the problem with our cabin stewards, the Assistant Hotel Manager met with us. He said that the movie situation was a NCL corporate decision. Apparently, the reason that we never saw much of our steward and stewardess is because they have increased the number of rooms that they clean, from 16 to 32. In the past, there was one person for every 16 rooms, now there are two people, for every 32 rooms. Because they are spread out so far, there is less personal contact and some of the rooms, in my opinion, suffer. The Assistant Manager said that different designers design different rooms and lounges. Since the decor is such a mess and does not flow throughout the ship, I now understand why it is so. However, we did appreciate the time that the Assistant Hotel Manager spent trying to explain NCL's position about our concerns. The new no smoking policy from NCL is great! Since I have a lung disease, I cannot be around smoke. NCL has reduced the number of areas that smoking is allowed, which was great for me. However, if you are a smoker, then you might not want to take an NCL cruise. Most of our breakfast and lunch meals were taken up in the Garden Cafe. For the whole cruise, it was too crowded. Most of the time, the overflow would have to go into La Cucina, which is one of the "specialty restaurants". There were four German/Bavarian theme days. Since I do not care for German food, I thought that one day was nice, but four was definitely too many. The quality of the food in the Garden Cafe was just alright, nothing great. The Grand Pacific dining room was nice, but not as nice as the main dining room on The Pearl. The decor was very dark. The first night was very disorganized. Our waiter was late, so another waiter took our order. When it arrived, our waiter had no clue to whom the food was to go. It took about an hour and a half to get through the meal. We ate down there one more night and the service was much improved. The only "cover charge" restaurant that we enjoyed was Cagney's. The filet mignon was very good. We took advantage of the early 2 for 1 price, which made it more reasonable. The decor was very dark and not nearly as nice as the decor on The Pearl. It was hard to remember to make reservations for the non cover charge restaurants, like La Cucina. On one day of the cruise, I used the Spa. I did enjoy it, although thought it very pricey. There is a very nice thermal indoor pool, which costs an extra $10, if you have a Spa treatment, If you don't have a Spa treatment, it costs $20 per day. My husband used the gym and found it quite crowded. There were plenty of extra pay classes (pilates and yoga), which we did not attend. There were treadmills, cycles, rowing machines, toning equipment and physio balls. I usually walked a couple of miles on deck 7. The folks playing shuffle board made it difficult, because "the game" was more important than the folks who were walking. There were several times when a disk hit the walkers, as they passed. The Spinnaker lounge had extremely strange decor. It had only three of the wave reading chairs, which we loved on The Pearl. Everything else was done in bright yellow, aqua, raspberry velvet like materials. There were giant, uncomfortable, strangely designed chairs. Some chairs had giant leaf like decorations attached to the backs and arms. There were two queen sized beds, which were done in the raspberry color. Yes, I said beds. The game room, which was a "pay for all games", on one side of the lounge detracted from the whole purpose of the room. Thumbs down on this designer. The shops leave much to be desired. When we first left Spain, they had a few small items, which came from Spain. They were not on the shelves for very long, before they were replaced with the usual NCL logo stuff. On the "special sale days", most of the prices were the same as the non sale days. They would put everything in the Atrium, so more folks would see the stuff and think that they were getting a deal. However, if you asked if the price was reduced, they would admit that it was not. Buyer, beware. Madiera was the only port, at which The Gem stopped. It was awesome! I wish that we could have had more time there. We took the toboggan excursion. It was a blast! It was well worth the cost. However, we wanted to purchase some gifts and were not given very long to shop, except at the wicker store. When asked if there were any other shops, the guide said no. As we were leaving the town, we passed a lovely Christmas shop, just on the other side of the square. If you don't want wicker, then there are other places to shop. While on board, we saw several of the productions. The juggler was good. Second City, from Chicago was great. The crew talent show was good, too. The Gem production numbers were alright, but I have seen better. When we arrived in Boston, it was raining. There were plenty of people to help you find the correct transfer to the airport. However, it was cold, raining and there were not enough buses. They told us to go to one bus, but it filled up. They said that another bus was on the way, but it didn't show up. Then, they said to go to another bus, all the while, we were standing with our suitcases out in the cold rain. It took about 20 minutes of standing in the rain before we got on a bus. Everything went smoothly for the rest of our journey home. As I stated in the beginning, our expectations of The Gem were high, because of the wonderful experience that we had the prior year, on The Pearl. There was no comparison. The Gem does not glitter, as NCL would have you believe. The decor is a bit garish in some areas and boring in others. You have to pay extra for everything. The amenities like free movies and a free paper are a thing of the past. The services provided are just not what we had come to expect from NCL. Until this year, we have been very happy with our NCL cruises. Because of this disappointing experience, we will be trying other cruise lines, in the future. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
Greetings to my fellow Cruise Critics! I bear happy tidings about sailing the Gem from Barcelona to Boston and hope this review will be helpful to you. The short version is: Don't miss a chance to board "The IT Girl." ... Read More
Greetings to my fellow Cruise Critics! I bear happy tidings about sailing the Gem from Barcelona to Boston and hope this review will be helpful to you. The short version is: Don't miss a chance to board "The IT Girl." She's a beauty! TA Flight: Our group of four took the nonstop Delta flight from Atlanta to Barcelona. Time in the air: approximately 8 hours. We landed slightly ahead of time in Barcelona on December 3, 2007 at 7:00 a.m. Yes. I know. We were cutting this very close because The Gem was set to sail that evening! All of us made sure we purchased trip insurance - something we do for every trip we take. Additionally, we were counting on Atlanta having temperate weather (It did), and the nonstop flight reducing problems and complications (It did). We were thrilled with how smoothly everything went. Absolutely no issues at all. Our experience in the Barcelona airport was very pleasant. We were processed in an expeditious way, found our luggage easily, and were ready for the next step of our adventure. In order to keep our passports, credit cards, and money secure, I wore both a neck pouch and fanny pack. Both had the type of wires that can't be cut by a pickpocket. As it turned out, we had no need to worry because our driver from Angie's Taxi was right where he said he would be, holding a sign with my name on it. Tour of Barcelona with Angie's Taxi: After lots of research (done by my cousin SolidGoldCruiser), we decided to use Angie's Taxi for a tour of Barcelona and subsequent transportation to the ship. For those who are considering using Angie's Taxi, may I urge you to book with confidence. Angie went out of her way to communicate with us and design the tour to suit our needs. We had the option to hire a certified guide but decided to just take the tour with our driver. We're glad we did because he did a fine job. After such a long, cramped flight, we were delighted to be ushered to a modern, clean, and roomy minivan. All luggage pieces fit easily in the back. Two of us occupied the first back seat while two of us occupied the "second" back seat. It was time to lean back and enjoy our tour of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We weren't sure how much of Barcelona we would be able to see in a mere two hours. The good news is we saw all the major sights and/or sites. It's true we didn't go inside the various gorgeous buildings and cathedrals, but we were too jetlagged to care. Throughout the tour, our driver talked to us about his hometown. He may not have been a certified guide, but he certainly knew his history and had a good grasp of the modern political situation. Fascinating. For those interested in booking with Angie's Taxi, we'd like to let you know that our cost of the two hour tour for four passengers + luggage was 150 Euros (total). We were driven to the pier where we gave our driver a well deserved tip. Angietaxi33@yahoo.com Gem Embarkation: For this cruise, my husband and I were booked in an AE Penthouse Suite. Our concierge, Claudio, greeted us with a broad smile. (Claudio was our concierge on the infamous "Animal House at Sea" spring break Spirit cruise in February 2005. I don't know what we would have done without him. He truly saved us from the 800 out of control University of Florida college students. Boy! Was I disappointed in my alma mater, but that's another story.) Anyway, this was a new day and a new cruise on a new ship. It was clear Claudio was proud of the Gem and eager to make our voyage as perfect as possible. We enjoyed the VIP treatment as he escorted us onto the ship. The Gem's interior is funky and fun - much like the Pearl and Jewel. We've sailed all three ships now and love the bold color choices and wild designs. This is not a ship for those who insist on quiet elegance. Instead, every inch of the Gem invites you to, "abandon your inhibitions and play, play, play!" AE Penthouse 9670: Anyone who books this aft penthouse is in for a treat. It was our first time booking an aft cabin, and we loved it! Penthouse Cabin Design: Bed, end tables, and long table positioned at the foot of the bed. This sleeping area can be curtained off. Reading lights on each side of the bed. Loveseat, chair, and glass table. This area can be curtained off as well. Small dining table with four chairs. Double sided closet. By "double sided," I mean the closet has entrances on each side which is very nice. Private vanity area with strong blow dryer and makeup mirror. Bathroom with tub/shower combination. (This isn't a whirlpool tub but it's a nice size.) Toilet is separated by a sliding glass door. Two safes (his and hers). An incredible coffee/tea machine that makes anything your heart may desire! Fridge. Shelves with various types of glasses. Plenty of drawers and two great cubby holes (located above the vanity area.) I loved those cubby holes! A beautiful verandah from which we had an amazing view. A cell phone! It was wonderful to carry around and stay in touch with each other! Chilled champagne, fresh fruit, and flowers. Penthouse Suite Amenities: Of course, the most important perk was having a butler. Maxi was ready to serve us immediately. For a Sail Away Celebration in our suite, Maxi served dinner (all courses) for five people. Everyone had a great time. We are Platinum Latitudes Members so I sometimes get confused about whether we're receiving extras because of the Platinum status or the Penthouse Suite booking. (We rarely book a penthouse so this was a real treat for us.) Anyway, throughout the cruise, we received special invitations to LeBistro (twice), complimentary wine, various "event" party invitations, appetizer plates daily, and access to Cagney's for breakfast and/or lunch. Additionally, Klaus (hotel director), Claudio (concierge), and Duncan (Latitudes Services) made themselves available to help in any way. We truly felt pampered! Penthouse Cabin Stewards: Kudos to Johnson and Susanna! My goodness! They kept our cabin spotless and went out of their way to make us comfortable. My husband found the bed to be too firm. We requested a foam "egg crate cushion," and it made all the difference in the world. Each night we returned to the cutest towel animals and chocolates on our pillows. We could not have been more pleased. Our Butler, Maxi: I must commend Maxi for being so wonderful to us. In the mornings, I like to eat breakfast in the cabin. The Butler's Menu allows you to order bacon, ham, sausage, cheese omelets, plain omelets, scrambled eggs, pastries, rolls, muffins, yogurts, fresh fruits, three types of juice, cereal, milk, etc. Maxi never missed serving us at our requested time of 6:30 a.m. One morning, I discovered the remote to the flat screen television didn't work. My husband was already working out in the gym so I decided to ask Maxi for help when he brought breakfast. In no time, he had my favorite news station playing for me and called the electronics expert to come and fix the remote. Within an hour, everything was repaired, and we encountered no more problems. (Evidently, the problem was more than a rundown battery.) In addition to serving us for our Sail Away Party, Maxi did a beautiful job of serving all of us again for a second dinner party. Moreover, I can't forget how helpful Maxi was during my mild bout with sea sickness the last two days of the cruise. (I was so proud of myself for not having to wear the patch and marveling at how well I was feeling UNTIL I woke up sick Sunday night. Application of the patch ultimately helped but was too late to completely stave off the nausea.) By Monday afternoon, I was still feeling queasy so I called Maxi with a request for a ginger ale. In no time, he arrived with four cans of ginger ale, a full basket of saltine crackers, and a whole box of gourmet crackers! I must say this remedy worked, and I was feeling much better by Monday evening. Thank you, Maxi! The Gem Spa: Of all places on the ship, this was my favorite. For $95, I purchased access to the spa for the entire cruise. Where do I begin? In the "community area" for both men and women, there is the most amazing heated pool. Press the buttons of your choice. If you want to lie in the half-submerged lounge and be massaged by water jets, press a button. If you would like to stand under an incredible waterfall for a fantastic back massage, press another button. If you want your whole body massaged in every direction, press the button, move to the center, and hang on to the rings. Utter heaven! Heated tile lounges provided a marvelous way to relax and read a good book. Equally comfortable lounges looked out on the sea and sky. The Ladies' Only area was beautiful. We had access to two full-sized, heated tubs with massage jets. (Again, press the buttons for your chosen massage.) Also included in this area are: Sauna, showers with bath gel and shampoo, ocean view lounge chairs, and private lockers. Self-serve water was always available. At all times, the spa was kept gleaming. Thanks to this amazingly restful place, I was able to complete my 400 page Gem library book in complete comfort. Gem Dining: We did not try all the restaurants, but I can provide feedback on those we tried. Tequila: We LOVED this Tex/Mex restaurant! Service was outstanding and choices were available for the die hard Tex/Mex fan to the less enchanted with spicy foods (me). Our highest recommendation is that you try an order of Il Popo. Excellent. We ate at Tequila twice. There is no special charge for this restaurant, but make sure you take time to make reservations. Magenta: Menus for this restaurant change on a daily basis. I wish I could recall exactly what I ordered, but my memory is faulty. I remember being pleased with the service and the meal. Like Tequila, there is no cover charge for Magenta. Note: Lobster night did not happen on the Gem. Instead, a seafood extravaganza that included lobster tail was offered. Because I opted for the duck (which was quite good), I'll leave reviews of the seafood extravaganza to others. La Cucina Italian Restaurant: For SolidGoldCruiser's dinner party, we were served from La Cucina. The food was absolutely delicious. I ordered veal marsala and was not disappointed. The menu provides lots of pasta choices, and my fellow cruisers seemed to enjoy everything they ordered. La Cucina is not a specialty restaurant but do make reservations. Le Bistro: Le Bistro is a specialty restaurant, and the food is superb. We were especially impressed with the escargot, mushroom soup in sourdough bread, lamb, and beef dishes. Don't miss the chocolate fondue! Delicious! Shore Excursion: I must use the singular because we had only one port of call - Funchal Madeira, Portugal. My husband and I elected to go on the "Taste of Madeira" NCL excursion. Although we aren't fond of bus tours, this was a good way to drive through the mountain ranges and learn about Madeira from a certified guide. The cost of this excursion was very reasonable at $49 per person. Madeira is a place of striking beauty. At any time of the year, it is both harvest and planting time. To say the island is lush is an understatement. In early December, it was a real treat to see various flowers in full bloom and trees, heavy with fruit. Our day was especially nice because the temperature was comfortable and the day sunny. Our guide told us the lowest temperature in winter for Madeira is 50 degrees at night. The highest summer temperatures hover around 82 degrees. Madeira has so much to offer, and we were sorry we couldn't stay longer to explore. Our tour gave us a chance to view the sea and lush vegetation from various high vantage points. We also had to opportunity to taste wines and enjoy breads and cheeses. We would love to return again and really explore. The Laundry Mat: Here are some tips about washing clothes in the Gem's washers. There is no charge for using the three washers and three dryers in the laundry rooms. These washers are computerized. Once you press, "Start," the door locks, and you can't go back. Therefore, don't press "Start" until you've selected all the correct settings. These are front loading washers, and they will become overly sudsy if you pour in a whole box of Tide. (Small boxes of Tide are on sale for 4 quarters. The instructions on the Tide box tell you to pour the whole thing in the washer. DON'T! Half a box is more than enough with these washing machines.) My cousin put the whole box in and had to run her clothes through twice in order to get them properly rinsed. I brought my own travel packets of Woolite. Next time, I will try to remember to bring dryer sheets. Be mindful that the laundry room can be a busy place. If you leave your clothes, please return in a timely manner. I brought a book and stayed the whole time. (When I arrived, all washers and dryers were in use, and I was behind two other people, waiting to get started.) It was disconcerting to see a washer and/or dryer end its cycle and no person present to remove the clothes. Summary: We could find very few faults with the Gem or our transatlantic adventure. The days flowed in a seamless fashion. Opportunities for onboard activities were plentiful. If we HAD to complain about something, it would be the tightness of the slot machines and the lackluster payouts. (I guess you can tell we didn't have good luck in the Casino!) The suggestion we put on our comment cards was: My husband would like to see more recumbent bikes added to the gym. Overall, we loved our cruise, and we loved the NCL Gem. We are Freestyle cruisers who get a huge kick out of the wild colors and designs you will find on the Gem. (After sailing on both the Jewel and the Pearl, we were more than prepared for The It Girl.) I hope this review was helpful to anyone planning a cruise on the Gem. I suspect there will be many reviews posted on Cruise Critic that provide different views of the same experience. That's what makes such interesting reading (in my opinion). Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
Boarding the Gem was a pretty easy process; although there was a long line for Latitudes members and absolutely no line for non-Latitude members. Not one single NCL agent in the other area made any attempt to call those of us in the ... Read More
Boarding the Gem was a pretty easy process; although there was a long line for Latitudes members and absolutely no line for non-Latitude members. Not one single NCL agent in the other area made any attempt to call those of us in the Latitude line over to help us. I found my cabin with ease but when I opened the closet door there was trash on the floor and every single wooden hangar with on the floor as well. I was disappointed to have had to clean up before even leaving on the cruise. I was traveling alone and had an "obstructed view" cabin on Deck 8. I chose this category on purpose as I like the location. The cabin was small, but it was fine for one person. The life boat drill was the most organized and smoothest operation I've ever experienced. As a person traveling alone, NCL has always treated me like I was the most important person on the ship. Sadly, not on the Norwegian Gem. On two occasions I had to get a manager as servers walked right past me to wait on groups or couples. This happened consistently in the bars and in the restaurants. There were many times I felt invisible. My cabin was never made up before 2:00 PM even though the "make up cabin" sign was visible. It is difficult not to compare the Gem to her sister ship, the Pearl. Many of the staff from the Pearl transferred to the Gem. However, there still were not enough staff, especially in the Grand Pacific dining room. The room was large, beautiful and decorated in a dark high-seas theme. The serving staff were always visibly harried. Service was painfully slow. In Magenta, a smaller non-cover restaurant, the atmosphere was much more relaxed. The specialty restaurants were "okay". The Blue Lagoon which is open 24 hours was a good respite from the craziness of the other restaurants, despite the limited menu. I enjoyed macaroni and cheese and some chicken fingers one night at midnight. NCL has a nice little deal called a "bucket or helmet" of beers - pay for 5 and get 6. You can take these with you - to your cabin, up on deck, anywhere on the ship. I got my bucket...but I had no way to open the bottle. The bartender acted like no one ever had asked for a bottle opener. After about 5 minutes of explaining to him that it would be a problem to have a bucket of beers with no way to open them I suggested he contact his bar manager. Finally he did come up with an opener, but I was left wondering why I had to go through such a hassle. They had some unique activities for passengers on the Gem. They had trivia 3 times a day which was a lot of fun and soon became a social event to meet up with your new-found friends. They had lectures daily. Every afternoon, Joe, and enthusiastic member of the staff with unlimited patience, helped passengers navigate the new Nintendo Wii system. They had a wonderful "expo" where a specialty restaurant was cleared out and tables were set up displaying fruit and vegetable carvings, napkin foldings, wok cooking, etc. Every aspect of the ship was represented at the expo. The theater on the Gem is fantastic. The seats were comfortable; plenty of leg room and wonderful acoustics. They even had a tour of the stage and sound booth one day that was very informative. The entertainment was varied and fun. Most got the audience involved. Least impressive, was the band that played outside on deck. It always seemed like they were "going through the motions" halfheartedly. Often times the common areas of the ship were more about "art" sales than anything. Every day carts of framed art were displayed in areas that took up seats and spaces that were perfect for reading or relaxing. It truly seemed like an "art" cruise at times. I never thought I'd see the day when Art was pushed more than Bingo....but yup, on this cruise it was. Drinks, other than the buckets of beer, were expensive. I ordered a Cosmopolitan and when I got my receipt is was over $11. The first night they advertised a meeting of singles or people traveling alone. There was a turnout of about 10 people. We decided to meet again the next night. There was no advertisement in the bulletin, however. I guess they just try one night and then we're on our own. We did ask them to publish it again which yielded about 40 travelers coming to meet. Staff on the Gem were pretty passive and uninterested in coordinating activities for single-unaccompanied guests. Finally I asked a crew member to please organize a dinner for us so that we could all get together. The day we arrived back in Boston - it was a free for all. There was one announcement that "walk offs" could get off. This created chaos in the elevators and stairwells. Because NCL had always been top notch in my mind based on my past experiences cruising with them, my trip on the Gem as a single passenger was disappointing. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2007
First, let me say I am a travel agent, but my review here is to give the potential NCL guest a taste of what to expect from this ship and the cruise line. I did arrive a day early via SAS to catch up on sleep - I do recommend this when ... Read More
First, let me say I am a travel agent, but my review here is to give the potential NCL guest a taste of what to expect from this ship and the cruise line. I did arrive a day early via SAS to catch up on sleep - I do recommend this when embarking at a foreign port. The cab ride from the airport hotel to the pier was easy - and not too expensive ($27 US.) The embarkation process was very easy - there were a number of NCL reps to guide you through the process of check-in. Everyone was very helpful and seemed genuinely glad to see us. Upon arriving at the ship's entryway, they shot a photo of us (common to most lines) and I purchased the photo later in the cruise. Once right on board, there was no one to meet us, but there was a cart of drinks for sale and two people to place the charge on the onboard account. Where were the greeters? NCL advertises the Blue Lagoon restaurant on deck 8 above reception is open 24 hrs. My cabinmate and I did not find this to be the case. Between 4 and 5 am it is not open. My cabinmate complained to the Food and Beverage Mgr and she said the info was going to be changed. I doubt this very seriously. The Stardust Theater on decks 6 and 7 forward is perhaps the most poorly designed theater I've seen at sea. The decor is dark, there are no cupholders or tables for drinks (although there were plenty of staff to take orders for drinks) and there is virtually no legroom except for front row, and seats at the end of the balconies. There is also no side aisles on either side of the theatre. The Garden Cafe is not well designed either. The sitting area stretches from midship to almost the end of the ship, just prior to entering the Great Outdoors cafe. Please check the Freestyle Daily to see when the Cafe opens. If you don't get there within a half hour of opening, you will be walking a great distance with your food and may find yourself sitting outside at the Great Outdoor Cafe or the Kid's Korner, which is a great place, except for the fact it was designed for kids, not adults, where I saw an older gentleman fall back on the kids seat. The food in the Garden Court and Great Outdoors is comparable to Las Vegas buffets. The positives: The ship has a fantastic Filipino and Romanian crew - very, very respectful and always with a salutation (Sir) and wanting to go out the way to be helpful. The food in all fee restaurants was excellent - it should be, the cost was $15 - $20 per person, except between 5:30 and 6:30P when it was usually 2-for-1. There were several great shows, the Showband and the Ship showpeople were excellent - the show World Beat and Colorz was excellent! A singer by the name of Lorraine Brown brought the house down each of her performances, and a Maritime historian by the name of Melvyn Foster brought a lot of history to life with his enthusiasm and self deprecating humor. I also must give kudos to Rachel and Pia in the Magnum's Champagne Bar for their excellent service throughout this cruise. Note: if you purchase a less expensive cabin, you will probably be taken to tables at the restaurants that are less than desirable. You don't have to accept those. I routinely told a hostess or host to move us. They did, graciously. Read Less
Norwegian Gem Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.7
Entertainment 5.0 3.9
Public Rooms 5.0 4.2
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 3.0 3.6
Enrichment 4.0 3.4
Service 4.0 4.1
Value For Money 5.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.8

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