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Norwegian Cruise Line: Norwegian Gem

Norwegian Gem Review

Insider Take

Overview

One of the better "previous generation" NCL ships, many dining options, look for 7-day bargains.

Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer

Quiet settings, understated decor, all-inclusive cruises where all dinners are taken at pre-set times in the dining room with the same table and waiters every night.

Onboard Experience

Nowhere at sea can you enjoy something more closely resembling a terrestrial resort vacation than on Norwegian Gem, especially when it comes to dining options. For those who like to try a different cuisine every night, Gem is absolutely heaven-sent. The days at sea are jam-packed with activities, from cooking/carving demonstrations, gaming lessons, art auctions, health seminars, putting contests, diamond and gem seminars, basic language courses, and snorkeling demos, to makeover seminars, bridge play, and even finance-themed lectures. And if all that isn't quite enough for you, there are, for extra fees, wine, martini and margarita tastings; yoga; Pilates; indoor cycling; bingo; and instruction in massage.

On the pool deck, the water slide takes up a lot of acreage and most of the foot traffic is on the deck opposite the teen facility, so on sea days the pool areas get crowded. The upper deck, though, is a fairly reliable refuge. There are 1,047 deck chairs on board, and not a single cushion, unless someone's smuggled one aboard.

Restaurants

The two main dining rooms, Azura and Tsar's Palace, seat 310 and 552, respectively. The very attractive Russian themed Tsar's, all royal burgundy, green, and gold, with chandeliers, marbled pillars and faux Faberge egg balustrades, is two stories tall, with fabulous huge windows aft. There are seldom lines for either Tsar's or the smaller, sleeker, pop-art-decorated Azura. Traditional cruise-ship style dining arrangements are offered; if you want to be seated at the same time each night, at the same table, simply arrange it with the maitre 'd. Either Tsar's or Azura is open for breakfast and lunch.

The Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors buffet areas offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are always varied, occasionally with a culinary theme. Multiple serving stations are surprisingly efficient to preclude crowding, even on days at sea. Serving stations for breakfast include custom-made waffles and omelets, while lunch and dinner feature pastas and sauces in the combination of your choice.

Le Bistro, the line's signature alternative restaurant, does French. Each of the other four other restaurants has its own specialty. Cagney's does steaks, Tango's Tapas does Tex-Mex; Chin Chin does Chinese, Teppanyaki, Shabu-Shabu and sushi; and we'll let you guess what Mama's Italian Kitchen does. Neither Mama's nor Tango's levies an extra charge. The others charge a modest $10 or $15. All are open for dinner. Cagney's, Chin Chin, and Le Bistro all halve their cover charge between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Next to the buffet area, the casual Blue Lagoon, overlooking the water or the atrium, is a great place to grab a snack when returning from a shore excursion. It is open from 10 p.m. at night until 4:30 the following afternoon.

In an impressive leap forward in the art of free-style dining, NCL's all original and innovative reservations system lets guests book tables anytime they want during the cruise for the entire week, beginning as soon as they board. There a TV-style monitors throughout the ship showing the hours of operation for each restaurant and how busy they are at any given moment. If the restaurant you walk up to is too crowded, you can ask the Maitre D' to book you in another restaurant right on the spot. No other cruise line does this. Upon making a selection, the party is given a beeper, allowing them to wander the ship until their table is ready.

Service

The staff, recruited from all over the globe, is generally attentive and pleasant.

Tipping

$10 per adult per day and $5 per child are added to your folio automatically. Fifteen percent is automatically added to bar bills and spa services. NCL suggests that concierges and butlers be tipped separately in accordance with the services they provide.

Entertainment

The main entertainment venue, the Stardust Theatre, customarily packed, presents nightly Broadway and Vegas-style productions, comedy and magic acts, and a Cirque du Soleil-style aerial thriller, Cirque Bijou, including gymnasts, acrobats and bungee jumpers. Or you might prefer the justly celebrated Second City Troupe, which has produced many of North America's best-loved comedians the past few decades, including Martin Short and Rick Moranis.

Evening and late-night attractions include a 50s/60s dance and comedy show, the Not-So-Newlywed Game, and Liar's Club. The Spinnaker's lounge is a big favorite for people of the 60s and seventies with a great rock-n-roll band including lead guitar, sax and three "chick singers."

The attractive casino's two hundred video games and slot machines include penny slots; to the delight of serious players, the craps tables offers Las Vegas betting odds.

Shore excursions run the gamut from canopy zipline tours for thrill-seekers to sedate sightseeing trips. What they all have in common, unfortunately, is an often endless tender process between ship and shore.

Fitness/Spa

Body Waves Center, Deck 12, open 24/7, has 14 treadmills with their own TVs, more than 25 other pieces of fitness equipment, abundant free weights, and a large workout area with lots of aerobic equipment, such as steps and balls. The Bora Bora Health Spa and Salon, operated by Mandara, has 20 treatment rooms for such exotic treatments as algae detox, lime and ginger salt glows, coconut rubs, and milk ritual wraps, including three for couples. Men's and women's sides are set up with stream and sauna rooms, whirlpool, indoor lap pool, jet-current exercise pool, hydrotherapy pool, and Jacuzzis.

Children's Facilities

Norwegian Gem is wild about them, as witness: interconnecting cabins, a kids-only pool and water slide, and the Splashdown Kid's Club, featuring a kid cinema and video arcade. Where most at-sea children's programs turn their backs on the under-threes, NCL welcomes even those in their terrible twos.

In addition to selections from their own menu, young passengers can eat hot dogs and chicken nuggets in the Kid's Corner buffet, with mini stools and low tables. The complimentary Kid's Crew program is organized by age group: Junior Sailors (2 - 5), First Mates (6 - 9), Navigators (10 - 12) and Teens (13 - 17). Families can gather in the Card Room for a game of Monopoly or Clue, sing together during family karaoke night, or compete in a "Family Feud" game show.

Best For People Who Want

A terrestrial resort-style vacation, but at sea; very flexible dining with a large variety of alternative restaurants.

Public Rooms

In keeping with the burgeoning trend by NCL to take on Carnival for the "most like a theme park" decor award, one word that will never come to mind aboard Gem, is "understated." In contrast to elegance, whether simple or not, as on Princess or the luxury lines, this ship will appeal to people who enjoy raising their pulse. The color and design in Spinnakers Lounge is bright enough to send you back to your stateroom for sunglasses. The chaise lounges for two seem like something from the decadent Roman age, while the deep blue sateen, inverted comma-shaped, tables and chairs seem to grow out the similarly colored carpet also filled with similar design patterns. These cushy couches are punctuated by chairs that evoke NASA nosecones.

The Bliss Nightclub is even more decadent with its king-size bed chaise lounges that evoke the silent question "What time does the orgy start?" Deep blue, orange and gold sateen cover every surface except the cocktail tables, dance floor and the the four bowling lanes on either side of the room.

The Internet cafe, open 24 hours a day, features eight computer stations. After an account activation fee of $3.95, the basic charge is .75 per minute. Frequent users do better with package rates: 250 minutes for $100 or 100 minutes for $55. Shorter plans the last day of the cruise include 15 minutes for $8.25 and 30 minutes for $12.

The wood burl shelves of The Library groan happily beneath the weight of a good selection of self-help, sports, travel, science, history, fiction and children's books in multiple languages. Passengers can check out three at a time.

Cuisine

The restaurants are more conducive to relaxation, especially Le Bistro and Mambo's Tapas Restaurant. La Cucina's appetizers and pasta are very delicious, as too is Le Bistro's filet mignon. Many passengers seem to enjoy watching the Teppenaki's predictably exhibitionistic chefs through the large picture window design. The $5 all-you-can-eat sushi menu, effective day or night, is a remarkably good deal. The menu at the two main dining rooms is the same each day.

Cabins

The ship has 1,188 cherry wood-finished rooms broken down into 32 categories, a positively dizzying range best considered group by group. The largest group, with 1,008 rooms, includes inside rooms at 143 sq. ft.; ocean-view rooms at 158-166 sq. ft.; and ocean-view rooms with balcony at 205 sq. ft. All have safes, hairdryers, TVs and refrigerators, beds that convert from queen to twins, and enough drawer and closet space for two people on a seven-night cruise.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the two groundbreaking Garden Villas, 4,390 sq. ft., have living rooms, dining rooms, sun decks and three separate bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. Each Garden Villa sleeps up to six adults, two kids/adults in rollaway beds and three infants in cribs - great for a big family. The smaller (574 sq. ft.) 10 Courtyard Villas share a central courtyard with its own pool and small gym.

For those wanting something between the wonderful Villas and the regular inside/outside rooms, there are 168 Owner's Suites, Penthouses, Romance Suites and Mini-Suites. Many of them are placed on the Garden Villa deck and share a common area with a "swim against the current" swimming pool, private massage areas, a private workout area with stair stepper and treadmill and a hot tub.

On the topmost deck is an expanse of suites all surrounding a private Garden Villa outdoor pool deck. This private area has a swim against the current pool, a hot tub, a private exercise room, massage services available and pool cabanas with double-bed size comfy cushions.

Attire

Determinedly casual, though T-shirts, shorts, and tank tops are forbidden in the dining rooms after 5 p.m., except for the Garden Cafe/Great Outdoors. Very few people dress up for the one "formal optional" night.




Ship Overview

The fourth and final Jewel-class ship, Norwegian Gem was launched in 2008. Although it's almost identical to its classmates, the Jewel-class was evolutionary, so each ship tweaked until all the elements came together in Norwegian Gem. Norwegian Gem is based in New York City and offers Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries for much of the year, with some New England and Canada cruises primarily in the summer and fall.

Jewel-class ships were designed as the next step in the continuing evolution of Freestyle ship design: the interior location of some public rooms and restaurants has been tweaked since the introduction of Freestyle cruising vessels, and new categories of deluxe accommodations have been added.

These ships have more than a dozen dining alternatives, a variety of entertainment options, and expansive areas reserved for children and teens. Pools have waterslides and a plethora of lounge chairs, although when your ship is full, it can be difficult to find one in a prime location. Norwegian Pearl and Norwegian Gem introduced the line's first rock-climbing walls, as well as Bliss Lounge, which has trendy South Beach decor, and the first full-size 10-pin bowling alleys on modern cruise ships.

Norwegian Cruise Line set sail in 1966 with an entirely new concept—regularly scheduled Caribbean cruises from the then-obscure port of Miami. Good food and friendly service combined with value fares established the line as a winner for active adults and families. Innovative and forward-looking, Norwegian has been a cruise-industry leader for decades, and its fleet is as much at home worldwide as in the Caribbean. Several of the line's ships cruise Alaska's Inside Passage, including one of its newest, Norwegian Bliss.

Noted for top-quality entertainment, Norwegian combines action and high-energy activities as well as a variety of dining options in a casual, free-flowing atmosphere. Norwegian's freestyle cruising signaled an end to rigid dining schedules and dress codes. Norwegian ships now offer a host of flexible dining options that allow passengers to eat in the main dining rooms or any of a number of à la carte and specialty restaurants at any time and with whom they please. The ships' accommodations include some of the largest suites at sea, studio cabins for solo travelers, and a private ship-within-a-ship complex called The Haven, a more luxurious area with personalized service.

From a distance, most cruise ships look so similar that it's often difficult to tell them apart, but Norwegian's largest, modern ships stand out with their distinctive use of hull art. Each new ship is distinguished by murals extending from bow to midship.

What You Should Know

Pros

  • There are themed parties galore with no cover charge
  • The ship's tranquil library offers a quiet escape with a sea view
  • Courtyard Villa accommodations are like a ship within a ship and have a private pool area

Cons

  • There is a fee for use of the thermal suites in the spa
  • Freestyle dining doesn't mean you get to eat precisely when you want to
  • For such a large ship, the Internet center is tiny
Ship Stats
  • Crew Members 1,092
  • Entered Service 2007
  • Gross Tons 93,530
  • Length 965 feet
  • Number of Cabins 1,197
  • Passenger Capacity 2,394
  • Width 105 feet

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