I thought I would add this review since previous reviews didn't actually provide information that is useful to future passengers. I hope this will be helpful.
We just returned from the Gem March 8/08 cruise. What a great vacation!
There were four of us, my DH and my two sons (13 & 16). We drove from Ottawa to NYC on Thursday -- what a very smart move that turned out to be -- huge snow storm on the Friday. We had a great time in New York for a couple of days. We did get to see Young Frankenstein on Broadway -- a great new experience for the boys. This is our 5th cruise and our boys' 3rd cruise. We have cruised from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Port Canaveral in the past. We definitely prefer to leave from New York, it is the best pre or post cruise port for us for many reasons (shopping, shopping and did I mention shopping?).
It was a painless embarkation process and we were on the ship at around 1:30pm. We thought we would check to see if our cabins were ready, and theywere. We were in a mini-suite in cabin 11586 and the boys were across the hall in an inside, 11585. Great location, mid-ship. The cabin was excellent, clean and well appointed. The balcony was a good size, roomy enough for the two chairs that were there, but could have fit loungers. The boy's inside cabin was a wee bit small. It was able to sleep three, but two was enough. Our cabin stewards left our cabins spotless everyday and even made cute towel animals. We read the riot act to our boys not to leave every article of clothing around the room, the room stewards have enough to contend with without our lads leaving their drawers on door knobs!
The ship was just beautiful. Fabulous furniture!!! It was like something from Dr. Seuss or Alice in Wonderland. The décor over all was very modern and funky. As a realtor who sees dozens of homes each week and doing staging for clients, I really appreciate what the designers have done. Bliss lounge is hot hot hot!!!! My DH had a quest to lounge in the yellow or blue chairs (Loungers?) in the spinnaker lounge and read. Every time we were there it was "I really must try THAT chair."
The service was fantastic. We had terrific service from just about every staffer we encountered. I know so many people wonder how the restaurants and dining rooms are on the ship. In my line of work, I entertain a great deal and I spend far more time and money in restaurants than most people. I don't do Denny's or buffets. My standards tend to be very high and I am a tough cookie. I have to say the food and service that we encountered was excellent. We ate breakfast mainly at the Grand Pacific dining room, we went to the buffet with our boys a couple of mornings. There seemed to be just about anything most people would like in the breakfast buffet, omelets, pancakes, yogurt, fruits etc. The dining room had much of the same thing, only without the crowds. I prefer to sit down, have a cup of tea and get my French toast in a quiet place. I did see one old sourpuss in the dining room -- the miserable old bag had a face like a slapped arse -- she sniffed her nose that something came out in the wrong order (toast? jam?) and was rude and horrible to the wait staff. This crabby article was saying to her long suffering husband "it's the language issue blah blah". Meanwhile, two of the servers were waiting on this misery guts hand and foot. I doubt this old sourpuss would treat someone in their local diner with such distain. Just an FYI for all those rude/nasty/miserable people out there -- smile -- your face won't crack.
During the week we ate at La Cucina (twice), Tequila, Teppanyaki, Le Bistro and Cagney's (twice). We didn't venture into the main dining rooms for dinner, so I can't comment on those venues. La Cucina was very good and the service was terrific. The servers were very accommodating to our boys, they got served quickly so they could head out to the teen club activities and left us to have a leisurely dinner. Tequila was fun -- yummy sangria and the oddest looking meal. We had Il popo, which was chicken, beef and vegetables on this hanging contraption. Teppanyaki was delicious. My hollow legged boys walked away full. Le Bistro was a highlight -- excellent service and an excellent chateaubriand. We went to Cagney's with the boys one evening, and one without. Both evenings were very good, but the second evening it was a nice romantic dinner just DH and myself. We saw Prem, the Hotel manager and the Food and Beverage manager (sorry I forget his name at the moment) every single night. Each night we ate about 7:30 or 8pm, so that is when they do their rounds. We had absolutely no trouble getting reservations and we never waited to be seated. After a nice chat with Prem in Le Bistro it is clear that they take service and guest satisfaction very seriously. We were very impressed with the manager's level of visibility.
As an aside note, we brought several bottles of our own wine, which we paid corkage. Yes, we are wine snobs. We know they cannot store wine properly on a cruise ship, so there is a limited selection of really good wines. The $15 corkage was a bargain, as the wines we brought with us would have easily been marked up to the $80+ range -- so the $30+ per bottle we paid at the LCBO was money well spent. We also brought my diet caffeine free coke and Gatorade on board. We also did a bar set up.
My eldest son spent quite a bit of time in the gym, he didn't seem to wait for any equipment considering the number of spring breakers on board. The boys also played quite a bit of basketball. I don't think they got on the rock climbing wall -- the day the teen club was supposed to use it they couldn't for some reason. The boys also spent a great deal of time at the Blue Lagoon, ordering 'quadruple' order of chicken fingers (I am not kidding!!). They stayed up til all hours hanging out in the Leopard lounge and various places around the ship. They didn't haul their lazy carcasses out of bed til at least 11am. We laughed when the 'herd' of teenagers would go by, usually munching on something. The tall skinny one was my youngest. They all seemed to be quite well behaved and no reports of any mischief from this group. They just ate their way through the ship. One funny note -- the young lads booked a table at Tequila and all the lads were in their collared shirts and long pants -- no issues with these lads dressing appropriately for dinner (I guess only some adults have trouble getting dressed). They were all between 13 and 17 btw.
We saw the comedian Ross Bennett a couple of times, he is quite good. We saw the magician, my DH liked him more than I did, but it isn't my cup of tea. We saw the World Beat show -- usual cheesy stuff. One of the highlights was Carrie Stone in the Maltings bar -- she is a very talented singer/songwriter. She played lots of cover songs, but her original material was fantastic. We saw Second City (which I normally love) in the stardust theater, which was ok. We saw the scriptless show later in the week, again which was just ok. I know each show is different, lets hope this troupe gets a bit more on the ball for later cruises. We participated in the Quest on the last night -- oh my gawd was it fun!!! We had a crazy group and we all did our bit. The only thing we didn't come up with was false teeth (that's all I'm going to say -- nudge nudge wink wink).
It was a very mixed demographic on the ship. As to be expected there were hundreds of our fellow Canadians on board. It was our March Break in Ontario, so there were lots of families. There were also lots of US college/university spring breakers (lots from UConn it seemed). There were a fair number of seniors on board too -- I did hear a little bit of griping about the number of kids. But hey -- if those passengers didn't know it was school break time they should get a better travel agent or do more research online. We did see a good friend of ours from my boy's karate studio. He spent time trying to avoid my eldest so he didn't have to do push ups and chin ups (he says "Callum is an animal -- I am too old to keep up!"). Big ship, small world?
The first day at sea we went to the CC meeting. It was nice to see all the senior officers there for the M&G. We lounged around the Spinnaker, read and had a nice chat with Seashark (Len) and had a couple of drinks. Everyone was enjoying the funky furniture on the cool, sunny day. Many people were sound asleep on the beds and loungers. Perfect place for that! For Port Canaveral we didn't bother getting off the ship. We were going to go to KSC. We have been there a couple of times before. The day was so nice, there was so much going on around the ship we thought 'what the heck, let's just stay'. We had a great day! On GSC we got off, found a bit of a quiet spot (yes there is some there, you just have to stay away from the crowds on the beach) and had a wonderful day. In Nassau we booked a room at the Comfort Suites to use the facilities at the Atlantis resort. The boys had a fantastic time using all the waterslides etc. In the small world category, I saw my boss and his wife there. Huge resort, thousands of people, we met in the lazy river pool. In Freeport we took a taxi to the Sheraton and went to the beach. It was a very nice beach, the weather was great. The last sea day we just relaxed, went in the pool, read and lounged.
Overall we had a terrific week. Lounged, read, relaxed. Yes, I know I brought my laptop and did some work (don't give me a hard time Len!!). Our boys had a wonderful time meeting new friends and hanging out. We enjoyed going to a different restaurant every night, five minutes from "home". We had a great time bowling -- or at least my pitiful attempt at bowling. We even had a little luck at the casino. We would definitely do another cruise from New York.
First off, if you have never been, Barcelona is a beautiful city and deserves at least a 5 day pre-cruise visit if you can swing it. My wife and I combined my birthday, our 25th anniversary and a mutual Christmas gift as reasons for the trip -- hey, one has to justify things -- right? Not to mention the pricing for this crossing at $499 p/p for a balcony on a brand new ship with a 9 day itinerary was unbelieveably GREAT!
The GEM was truly that, a beautiful ship with the friendliest crew and attentive staff I had seen in a long time. They worked extremely well as a team and you really did not want for anything.
The makeup of the passengers for this crossing was approx. USA-1100, Germany-250, UK-250, Canada-100 and ROW (rest of world) making up the 1900 or so passengers on this 2400 capacity cruise liner.
Embarkation process in Barcelona was excellent and fast and very well organized. The area is new and there were ample staff to look after us and we were there within the first hour of the opening of the process. From arrival atthe pier to entry in our balcony cabin (deck 9) was less than 20 minutes.
Being a brand new ship, it was pristine and had that "new ship" smell -- lol. Our balcony cabin was nice (forward on the port side) and if you are doing a east to west crossing and want the sun -- that is the side of the ship to be on! The amenities in the cabin include a flat screen 17" TV -- although the selection of live TV channels was limited due to satellite coverage, there were other channels for various movies and ship information, I would rate that a 6 on the 10 scale. An in room coffee maker was there and the bathroom was an adequate size for my 6'3", 245 lb. frame. The sliding shower doors were great vs. other containment possibilities. Lighting in the cabin was good and the balcony was of a decent size. The cabin attendants were very thorough and attentive to all needs.
The ship's Captain Mikael Hilden was very visible and attentive and social -- we bumped into him daily all over the ship and passed on our comments and observations and solicited his. A charming "old man" of the sea! His daily 11:30AM "from the bridge" updates were informative and I looked forward to them. I would add though that the other audio systems around the ship should be turned off (or at least down) when the Captain is speaking -- if not for the information -- in deference to respect of his contributions.
There are 12 restaurants to choose from aboard. 4 of these include "extra charges" ranging from $15-20 but there are "specials" of 2-1 on occasion if you choose to eat between 5:30 and 6:30 in some of them. We tried Teppanyaki (Benihana type) which was very good 8 out of 10, and Le Bistro (french cuisine) was excellent 9 out of 10 -- although here you also had a surcharge for the menu selection which included chateaubriand, souffle and more -- but was well worth it!
Our favorite (non surcharge) restaurant was the Grand Pacific, a beautiful formal-ish dining salon. Although I would add here the NCL Free-style dining experience lessens the formality -- which for us was just perfect! This restaurant is available for all meals in a sit down non-rushed fashion. Our favorite server was Heidi, so ask for her and tell her Fay and Mike from Canada sent ya! She is a GEM.
The Garden Cafe is the main buffet style eatery and is always busy and typically it is difficult to find a seat without a bit of a chore. There are helpers to assist in taking trays to your table when you find one -- and if the ship had been at capacity, I am sure the challenge of eating there would have been much more difficult. The selection of things to eat was vast, regularly replenished and fresh. All in all I would rate it a 7-8 out of 10. The outdoor cafes were very good although the selection of items more limited, but one could get everything you wanted in the Garden Cafe and take it outside to the Outdoor Cafe areas as the seating there was usually more accessible -- weather permitting of course!
We did not try the room service.
The internet Cafe has at least 6 terminals but is pricey and transmission via satellite takes you back to pre-cable speeds -- spare the aggravation -- unless you just have to!! Wireless is throughout the ship as well if you bring your own laptop, but the speed is no better. The crew utilizes the same satellite so the competition for the available bandwidth adds to the degradation of the service.
The entertainment on board was decent but not spectacular -- a variety of musicians, magic, dance and all. The ship's cast is a 7 which is consistent with the overall assessment of the entertainment in the theatre (Stardust). The guest lecturer on marine topics was excellent and he gets a 10 in my book. The cruise director (Clint) was superb as was his staff -- friendly, energetic and helpful. The bars aboard were very good and we sampled almost all of them. The Bliss Lounge is awesome -- even if only for a look -- with its chic furniture, roman-like decadence in decor with two bowling alleys on either side. It's definitely "the happening" place on the ship -- especially after midnight!
As with a lot of cruise ships, your onboard alcohol consumption (beyond the duty free store purchases and chosen excursions) are likely your major extra charges.
The Spinnaker Lounge is a great place for relaxing during the day and catching whatever may be going on there, lecture, games, impromptu gatherings, drinks, etc. or just curling up in the bow of the ship with your reading material. In the evening, it is another happening spot for entertainment -- so our routine was to have dinner and finish around 9-ish, catch the Stardust theatre show from 9:30-10:30, head to the Spinnaker Lounge for its entertainment for another hour+ and if still feeling like partying, head to the Bliss Lounge -- all good!
The spa aboard is to die for. We took the $95 full cruise pass here and enjoyed it thoroughly and made it part of our daily routine. The steam room, sauna, chaise lounges in the his/her sections were excellent and they joined in the middle into a beautiful room with a hydro-like pool, hot tub and heated loungers. No doubt the best spa on the seas in our opinion! The exercise room is large, well equipped and typically busy but there was no waiting for the equipment.
The Casino aboard is large and has a variety of table and slots. No big winners were found -- lol -- on the crossing!
The weather for the crossing was unreal for that time of the year! Sunny for most of the days -- highs in the low 70's during the day for 7 of the 9 days. Only when we got within 2 days of Boston did it turn cooler and was in the low 40's upon arrival. The seas were pleasantly calm throughout the journey save for one half day and evening where 12-14 foot swells caused a gentle roll that was more pleasant than otherwise! The ship's stabilizers did their job extremely well.
The only negative I had for the trip was the excursion day briefing (immediately prior to the excursion) in the Stardust Lounge. It seemed very disorganized and with time pressure to get to the bus at a particular spot and time, and the 4 variations involved, the control was less than stellar by the onboard excursion staff. Let's hope they improve that!
Funchal I might add though is a magical location and if you do stop there, do take an excursion -- it is well worth it!
Tipping is included daily in your onboard charges and at $12/day I believe well worth it for the staff.
Disembarkation was decently organized. Being its first US port of entry ever made for perhaps a little longer process, but not noticeably. We docked around 7 AM, US authorities boarded just before 8 and we were off the ship after a leisurely breakfast by 9:45. I must add though that Boston has a lot to do to make their cruise terminal modern, passenger friendly and efficient. In a word, it is horrible!
Funny story -- we had a noon flight to catch (thank goodness Logan airport is within 15 min. of the terminal) and were concerned that the disembarkation process may delay us, but the ship's (NCL's) part was fine. Once off, we routed for our bags and a friendly porter assisted us and by-passed the huge taxi lineup to take us to a mini-van who he got to take a bunch of us to the airport. With my wife aboard and me outside making sure the bags got on the van, I ended up jostling with the ship's guest piano player entertainer for the final seat on the van -- next to my wife. He was relentless, but I beat him back. Funny, I had a feeling about that guy and his insincere "schtick" of a performance aboard!
Albeit the above negative, we would rate the entire GEM experience a 9.5+. The crew, the ship, the cabin, the variety of activities, the food (quality and choices) are the principal contributors to this rating. All in all, a terrific holiday leaving us wanting to do it again -- soon!
If interested in more info, email me -- firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be glad to help!
Great Sailing all!