Overall Good - Some Issues
- The Ship
The Norwegian Gem is a big, beautiful, clean and modern cruise ship. You'll notice that, to keep her in shipshape condition, they are constantly painting her and making minor repairs. Not only do they keep the ship clean, but they keep the passengers clean too - offering a hand sanitation spray to passers-by before and after eating, and near restrooms. This is their attempt to curtail an outbreak of norovirus that could occur on any cruise ship. The phrase "Washy-Washy, Happy-Happy!" is cheeryfully exclaimed by the hand washers while the hand santiser is proffered to the guests.
-- Stardust Theater
We actually spent quite a bit of time in this theater - at least an hour per day. The chairs are very comfortable and the climate control does a good job keeping the theater cool. Sometimes too cool - on the first night we had to go get our sweatshirts to wear in the theater. There are plenty of great seats, so you can arrive 5-10 minutes before the show times. (see further below for more detail on the entertaiment itself).
Like most casinos, this place reeks of cigarette smoke. Also, like most ship casinos, they have slots, blackjack, baccarat, some assorted other card tables, and a craps table.
Interestingly, the low-stakes blackjack table ($6 minimum) came equipped with an 'continuous shuffling shoe' which constantly reshuffles the cards after they are played. These devices are meant to speed up the game and deter card counters. The high-stakes table ($25 minimum) utilized a traditional multi-deck shoe.
-- Pool Deck
Deck 12 has two main pools, one of which is for adults only. The pools are quite small, and I understand that both pools are uniformily 5 feet deep, which does not seem kid-friendly. (I didn't actually swim in either of these pools - that is a 2nd-hand report) Lounge chairs by the pool are in high demand - folks seem to wake up early and claim their lounge chairs for the day.
-- Garden Cafe
(for a review of the food in the Garden Cafe, see the Food section)
This cafeteria on Deck 12 is enormous. We were always able to find seating for our family of 4 there. The floor gets a bit slippery at times, so watch your step.
-- Grand Pacific Dining Room
(for a review of the food in the Grand Pacific, see the Food section)
This is a very elegant space at the aft of the ship on Deck 6. So beautiful. To the aft is a wall of windows that looks out over the ship's wake and provides a stunning view of the ocean.
A giant video screen covers a wall in this central area of the ship. This is where Guest Services can be found. There is a separate desk for excursion planning. There is a WiiU hooked up to the giant video screen - this is where the scheduled video game sessions take place. Also, in the evenings, movies are shown here. Even though the ship was delivered in 2007, the video screen has the old fashioned 4x3 aspect ratio, which means that movie images which are in the normal 16x9 aspect ratio get 'squashed', which makes for unpleasant viewing.
-- Spinnaker Lounge
This lounge on Deck 13 has a bar and is a venue for smaller shows / activities. We watched the Deal or No Deal Game Show here, which was fun. The view from Spinnaker Lounge is spectacular - we watched the docking procedure in Nassau from this lounge - it was fascinating to see how the tugs guide the ship to dock. As a side note - you can also see what the ship's officers are doing on the bridge at the Bridge Viewing Room on Deck 11.
-- Kennedy Space Center
What an amazing place. The Space Shuttle Atlantis Exhibit is fascinating and interactive. This is a 5-hour trip, but we only spent 3.5 hours there, because we have small children (we used Uber to return to the ship early)
-- Stirrup Cay
A beautiful private island with a beach. Food is provided in the form of a BBQ. Ice cold water is also available for free all day (however, they really lost my respect with their scare-tactic bottled water sales pitch prior to the excursion - more on that later). We took the Reef Snorkeling trip in the afternoon. I've been on snorkeling trips where I've seen much more impressive marine life, however, the vibe of the trip was really, really fun.
-- Nassau / Atlantis
Getting to Atlantis Aquaventure was an absolute nightmare. Five ships were in port that day, and starting at around 9:20 am, which is when the excursions were supposed to leave for Atlantis, a massive crowd formed on the docks. Literally thousands of people had to squeeze through the town's entrance gate to get to the bus pickup area. It was hot and the crowd was stifling. We didn't get to Atlantis until about 11:00 - even though the resort is only a 10 minute drive from the docks. If I could do this again - I would NOT sign up for the Norwegian sponsored excursion, but would buy day-passes online prior to the trip and just go into town at 8:30am, (no crowds then) and take a cab to Atlantis. I'm not sure if those passes available online are legit though. Perhaps it is possible to buy day passes to the Atlantis Aquaventure at the door. It is definitely worth researching, if the water park is someplace you'd like to go to. The park itself is really amazing, however, everything there is a rip-off (for instance, lockers are available to rent for the day, for storage of personal items like wallets & purses - the fee was $21 for the rental. Wow.)
-- Garden Cafe
Hit or miss cafeteria food. The crowds can be difficult to navigate. The soft serve ice cream machines were a big hit with everyone.
-- Grand Pacific / Magenta
Hit or miss restaurant experience. All of the seafood dishes I had were poor. The Mahi Mahi, in particular, was so fishy that I almost gagged. I've caught my own Mahi Mahi and have had it grilled fresh - so I know what good fresh-caught Mahi Mahi (also called Dorado) should taste like. This was horrible - it had clearly passed it's 'expiration date'. I had a very good Tika Lamb dish at the Grand Pacific. I thought the service in these two dining rooms was better than average.
-- La Cucina
I found this to be an above-average Italian restaurant The restaurant requires reservations and the food here is not complimentary, you have to pay for it. I had grilled shrimp scampi dish which was quite good, but it was a very tiny portion. One of my kids had the lasagna from the adult menu - he loved it. Filet mignon was better than average.
-- O'Sheehan's Pub
Not a great selection here, but the burgers are excellent!
- Entertainment / On-Board Activities
-- Singers / Dancers
Great group of young entertainers. Some are still perfecting their craft, but others are quite good. We really enjoyed their Swing revue.
-- Second City Comedy
I didn't think they were funny. At all. Just being honest.
-- Comedian Heath Hyche
Now, this guy's funny!! LOVED his act. He does hilarious characters and is very high energy.
On one of the days at sea, we took our kids to do Origami. The lady who ran this session, "B", was really pleasant. Thanks "B"!
-- Game Shows
As already mentioned we enjoyed watching Deal or No Deal. We bought a 'game card' for $20 so that we could play along with the contenstant. We did not win anything.
We stayed in an Ocean View Picture Window stateroom - rm# 8110. Lots of storage, the bathroom was good, with lots of hot water and high water pressure. Mattresses were extremely comfortable. Noise was not an issue, with one exception - Bliss nightclub closed its doors around 1am, and guests would continue the party out on deck 7 near the club - all of the noise from that area was somehow funnelled into our room, and it woke us up. We should have called to complain immediately, but for the first two nights, we just waited until it died down after an hour or so. We found out later that the noise policy is that they will not try to quell any loud guests, unless there is a noise complaint that has been made. We wish they would be more proactive in making sure that party-goers are directed to an area of the ship where they can continue partying without bothering guests. When we finally did complain on the next morning after the 2nd night - we a bit of a weird interaction with Guest Services - they essentially told us that they would not be able to do anything about the noise unless we complained each night. However, on subsequent nights there was no noise - so, someone did rectify the situation for us.
- Cash Grabbiness
There are two sketchy things (in my opinion) which I want to point out: the internet cash-grab and the bottled water cash-grab.
-- Internet Cash-Grab
We signed up for the Free WiFi package. To me, "Free Wifi" means unlimited wifi access during the trip, free of charge. To NCL, it means "1 block of 250 minutes in which one device in your family can be connected to a wifi router". The minutes count even if now internet traffic is being received or sent from your device. So, unless you know how it works ahead of time (good luck reading the fine-print), you will probably connect a device, leave it connected for 250 minutes, and then you will have used up all of your "Free WiFi". This is what happened to us. I didn't worry about the time restriction, because I was not aware of the "1 block restriction" - I thought that I would be eligble for more free 250 minute blocks - it was not made clear to me. If your 250 minute block runs out, I think the fee was $180 for another 250 minute block. You can also pay $4 to sign up for the pay-per-minute plan (~ $1 per minute). We did the dollar-a-minute thing, pre-writing any emails offline using notepad, then just logging in to send/receive emails as quickly as we could.
-- Bottled Water Cash-Grab
So, on the day of the Stirrup Cay excursion, I witnessed something so shady that it is hard to believe. So, that morning, over the PA, several times, we were warned that we needed to bring our own water to the island, and that it would be hot and we would want to avoid dehydration. Well, like any sane person, I started to worry about how to get water to the island. Luckily, I had brought a water bottle from home, so I just filled it up from the tap in the bathroom. Other guests were not so lucky - I saw some that had grabbed the artisinal water bottles from their rooms ($6 each). Then during disembarkation I saw a table that had been set up by the crew - they were frantically selling water bottles to the guests as they headed out to the island. Well, as it turns out, there is plenty of ice-cold water on the island, so, I can only guess that, they decided drum up some extra cash by profitting off of peoples' fear of going without a basic necessity - water. That was pretty low, NCL.
All in all it was a really fun vacation - we relaxed, enjoyed some decent meals, got to see some good shows, and just generally enjoyed ourselves. However, there were a few irritating aspects that we could have done without. We would be willing to try agina and go on another NCL cruise.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom