Fodor’s Expert Review
Choice and flexibility are the key attributes of sailing on the Gem, exemplifying Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Freestyle” sailing concept. Built in 2007 and updated in 2015, the Gem is recently out of dry dock, during which time its public-area flooring, lighting, and upholstery were refreshed with a lighter, brighter color palette.Read More
The Gem is considered a mid-size ship (about two-thirds the size of the newest NCL ships, the Prima and Viva). But the Gem is no slouch, either, with over 1,000 staterooms spread over 14 decks and 12 elevators, three pools, six hot tubs, 17 restaurants, 15 bars and lounges, a casino, a duty-free shop, a large theater, a spa and salon, a fitness center, a sports level with walking track and rock climbing wall, and areas just for kids and teens.
The ship’s itineraries range from NYC to Bermuda; Miami to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal; Boston to Quebec City; and Venice to the Greek Islands.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
What to expect on board
Staterooms & Cabins
The Gem’s staterooms range from inside cabins (138 to 278 square feet) to outside rooms with a porthole or picture window (138 to 161 square feet) or cabins with balconies (200 to 289 square feet) that can house between one and four passengers. The smallest inside rooms are a tight fit for two people. The décor is handsome, elegant, and traditional, with crisp white-and-blue linens and warm wood paneling. Standard amenities include 110/210 volt outlets, hair dryers, a safe, a refrigerator, a small TV, a desk, a closet, and ample shelving, mirrors, and drawers. Beds can be separated into two twin beds or pushed together to form a double bed. Soap, shampoo, and body wash are provided via pump bottles mounted by the bathroom sink and in the shower.
There are also more upscale club balcony mini-suites with separate sitting rooms and luxury baths (272 to 416 square feet) for up to four guests, and penthouse suites (334 to 578 square feet) that have spectacular views and large bedrooms (and even separate bedrooms in some cases or a sofa bed), and can accommodate three to six people. A perk of the suite option is that passengers receive butler and concierge service.
And then there is “The Haven,” a private area of sophisticated luxury suites and villas atop the ship that can only be accessed by a special key-card protected entrance. Guests in these exclusive suites and villas, which range in size from 440 to 4,252 square feet, have high-end bathrooms and full-size bathtubs, one or more bedrooms, separate living and dining rooms, private balconies and courtyards, and other amenities. Twenty-four hour butler and concierge service is included, along with access to a private lounge, sundeck, pool, bar, and restaurant. Passengers also receive priority boarding and disembarking.
A limited number of wheelchairs are available for those who need help embarking and disembarking. All NCL ships have handicapped-accessible public restrooms and seating at the buffet and the Gem has a total of 27 handicap-accessible cabins. Guests are asked to fill out a Guest Special Needs Request Form when they book their cruise, after which NCL assigns a specially trained crew member to reach out and discuss specific needs such as the need for help at the buffet, for instance, or getting into or out of restaurants. In addition, accessibility staff members are available 24 hours a day. There is also a dedicated toll-free number for these guests to call: 866-584-9756.
Food & Drink
NCL has done away with assigned dining times and tables in favor of “Freestyle dining,” which permits guests to choose from numerous free and paid dining options onboard the ship. The following restaurants are included in the cost of the cruise:
The Garden Café on Deck 12 is open for all meals and late-night snacks, offering a large buffet catering to a wide variety of tastes and including vegetarian and vegan options and unlimited coffee, tea, and juices. The food quality is comparable to what you’d expect at a casino: Hamburgers, hotdogs, fries, salads, and fruit are always good options, but pizza, which is akin to soggy frozen pizza, is not. The buffet can be overwhelming and has a tendency to get crowded, especially on at-sea and embarkation/disembarkation days, and it can be tough to find a seat.
The Great Outdoors is located just outside the Garden Café on Deck 12 and offers a similar but smaller buffet in an outdoor setting at the ship’s aft.
The Grand Pacific on Deck 7 is considered one of the Gem’s two main dining rooms. It’s a semi-formal, traditional restaurant with ocean views that is typically open for breakfast and dinner. The cuisine focuses on classic American meat, fish, poultry, and pasta dishes.
Magenta on Deck 6, the other main dining room, has a more contemporary vibe with similar cuisine but is smaller than the Grand Pacific. Equally elegant, it is usually open for dinner.
Orchid Garden is an Asian-fusion restaurant on Deck 7 that is always open for dinner, and sometimes lunch and even breakfast.
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, which serves 24 hours a day and is located on Deck 8, is set above the Atrium on the ship and serves traditional pub grub like burgers and fries.
Topsiders Bar & Grill on Deck 12 offers standard poolside fare like burgers and hot dogs.
Reservations are recommended for the specialty restaurants aboard the Gem. These restaurants include:
Teppanyaki, a Japanese hibachi restaurant ($59.99 per person) tucked behind the Orchid Garden on Deck 7 that offers a prix fixe menu of soup and salad, plus steak, chicken, and shellfish entrees prepared on a large table-side grill by a chef who aims to entertain as well as cook.
Sushi Bar, also on Deck 7 in the Orchid Garden, which serves a la carte sushi rolls and sashimi.
La Cucina, on Deck 12, a traditional Italian restaurant offering pasta, pizza, and other Italian staples for a prix fixe price of $59.99 per person.
Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse serving slow-roasted meats carved right at your table (Deck 13, a la carte).
Cagney’s Steakhouse, also on Deck 13, a classic New York-style steakhouse that charges a la carte for premium Angus beef—filet mignon, New York strip, rib eye, porterhouse, and the like.
Le Bistro, a French restaurant on Deck 6, which serves escargots to filet de boeuf and coq au vin and is perhaps the most elegant restaurant on board (a la carte).
Room service is available at all times for an added charge.
Guests can contact NCL to convey special dietary needs, such as gluten- or nut-free meals, or to request Kosher dining.
The chance to drink without having to drive is one of the main draws of a cruise vacation, and the Gem doesn’t disappoint in this regard. There is a wide array of bar choices catering to specific tastes.
Deck 6 is ‘Bar Centrale’— home to Magnum’s Champagne & Wine Bar, Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar, and Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar. Deck 8 features O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar, while Deck 12 has the poolside Topsider’s Bar & Grill, and Deck 13 has the Bali Hai Bar, which overlooks the pool below, and the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, which is located in the Moderno Churrascaria restaurant. Also on Deck 13 is the Spinnaker Lounge, which is where partiers go to drink and dance into the night.
Liquor packages run $109/day, though you must buy a full package rather than individual days. Soda packages run $9.95 a day and Starbucks packages $12.95 a day (the coffee bar is located in the Atrium on Deck 7). A premium beverage package including all beverages is $138 per person/per day. All beverages can also be purchased a la carte. Bottles of water can be purchased on board as well, but there are also free “hydration stations” situated throughout the ship.
NCL is well-known for the professional quality of its entertainment, which ranges from full-length Broadway shows like “Beetlejuice,” “Jersey Boys,” and “Six,” to themed cruises such as “The Broadway Cruise,” to comedy and music shows every night of your trip. The main venue is the 1,000-seat Stardust Theater located on decks 6 and 7. There is also a small casino on deck 6. The Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub on deck 6 and the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 13 offer opportunities for late-night dancing and revelry.
The Freestyle Daily newspaper, delivered to each cabin daily, lists a full complement of activities to engage in whether in port or at sea, including trivia games, cards, movies, bingo, auctions, dance classes, demonstrations, and duty-free shopping.
Spa & Fitness
Adult and kids’ pools plus hot tubs are located on deck 12 and, quite naturally, are popular destinations for most guests.
Nearby, a Mandara Spa offers Balinese-inspired body and face treatments as well as hair and nail services. A limited number of passes are sold to the spa’s VIP Thermal Suite for the duration of a cruise. This adults-only area is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and features saunas, eucalyptus steam rooms, tropical showers, ceramic heated loungers, hot tubs, and a large Thalasso-therapy pool, which propels forceful jets of water to create soothing waves. Lounge chairs in the women’s and men’s locker rooms and the unisex areas offer panoramic views of the sea. On the negative side, there are no private changing rooms, and lockers and showers are not available to guests of the spa who have not purchased a Thermal Suite pass. And although it has wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and showers in the locker rooms, the constant wet state of the floors and the unwieldy entrances to hot tubs makes it slightly nerve-wracking to walk around the Thermal Suite even for people without mobility issues.
Just around the corner from the spa is the Pulse Fitness Center, a full-scale gym for adults only that allows you to exercise while taking in the view. Exercise classes (yoga, Pilates, stretching, cycling) and personal training sessions are available for an added charge.
If you are an active person, you’ll definitely want to spend time on deck 13, where you’ll find a walking/jogging track; a golf cage; a tennis/volleyball/basketball court; shuffleboard; a climbing wall; and larger-than-life chess and checkers’ games.
Key cruising tips
Health & Safety
A muster drill is held before the boat launches on the first day as required by the U.S. Coast Guard. Muster stations are indoors with ample seating.
Crew are positioned at entrances to the Garden Café buffet for “washi-washi” service—basically a spritz of hand sanitizer. Purell stations are found throughout the ship as well.
A medical center staffed by a doctor and a nurse is located on deck 4 for medical emergencies.
The dress code is informal: Resort casual clothing and even shorts are acceptable in most restaurants except the Grand Pacific and Le Bistro.
Splash Academy Youth Center and Entourage Teen Club plus a video arcade, all on deck 12, are specially designed to entertain kids 6 months to 12 years old and teens 13 to 17 years old with a variety of group activities, games, movies, and sports. Parents can bring babies to the center to play but must stay with them. Free supervision is provided during the day for children age 3 and up but there is a $6 charge per child per hour from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Service is adequate throughout the ship, but you may not be bowled over by the attention, knowledge, or friendliness of crew members. There are, of course, long lines for the front and shore excursions desks early on during the cruise as many guests try to book activities.
A $20 service charge per person per day is added to all inside, outside, balcony, and mini-suite shipboard accounts; guests in full-size suites and The Haven are charged $25 per day per guest. These tips are shared among service staff members on board. Additional tipping of staff members such as stateroom stewards who provide excellent service is encouraged.