Norwegian Gem Embarkation in New York Cruise Port Manhattan/Carmel Limo Review
The EWR to New York Cruise port transfer via a private car was about $86 using Carmel Limo including gratuity and. The driver was 10 minutes early and to our surprise we were picked up in a luxury sedan (Lincoln MKZ or MKS). The ride was smooth and he was courteous and helpful with our luggage. We would certainly not hesitate to use Carmel Limo again.
The embarkation process at the port was one of the fastest and easiest we have encountered- and this was our 13th cruise. We arrived at the New York Cruise Port to board the NCL Gem at around 10:15 AM from the hotel (Crown Plaza Newark Airport EWR- see our review), and were amongst the first group of passengers to arrive. Cold water was offered, though no snacks which was a bit disappointing. At the waiting area NCL already had personnel who you can book spa treatments with. We quickly discovered, however, that someone had forgotten to give us a boarding group number slip. No big deal as one of the people "herders" told us we could get on-board with the first group. And we did, at about 11:20 AM.
No memorable welcome was given, and no champagne like in our NCL cruises from a couple years ago. But it was great being amongst the first to get on board the Gem. We quickly went up to the Garden Cafe on deck 12 and had lunch. The chicken skewers were one of the best we had tasted- very tender and satisfying- even our 3 year-old toddler enjoyed it.
The sail-away party by NCL is amongst the best we have encountered. And the one for the Gem was no exception. MC'ed by cruise director Julie on the pool deck, cooks cranked out BBQ chicken, burgers & pork chops from BBQ grills and loud music blared as the entertainment staff danced. This included a woman on stilts and Nickelodeon characters Spongebob, Patrick, Sandy Squirrel, Dora & Diego! Sailing past the Statue of Liberty with patriotic music playing was quite the experience, as was passing under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Norwegian Gem Inside Stateroom Cabin Review
Our cabin was an interior with the stateroom number of 9019. It was ready at around 1 PM, which was great as it was quicker than what we were used it. In the past sometimes the cabin wouldn't be ready until 1:30 or 2 PM. As we had been on the Norwegian Pearl, the Gem's sister ship, twice already, the cabin was nothing new to behold for us. A pair of twin beds were strapped together to form a queen size bed, with small night stands on either side. With our toddler, we requested a crib, so we moved the bed against one side of the wall and the NCL-provided crib fit perfected on the other side.
The bed was firm but comfortable. A nook at one corner held a small flat-screen TV (with no exactly the best viewing angle), and a small desk.
The bathroom was small of course, but very functional and clean. The NCL ships (other than the silly sink from the Norwegian Epic) we have been on all have a decent depth sink with enough space between the facet and the sink bottom for us to fit a water filtration pitcher we had brought along. The same can't be said on most other cruise ships we have been on.
The shower was of decent size, and NCL provides push-button dispensers for shampoo/conditioner & body gel. You get instant hot water in the shower, and the nice thing is that the temperature doesn't vary even if you spend 10-15 minutes inside. Water pressure was excellent- same goes for the faucet on the sink.
Overall, the cabin decor isn't the most modern, but it's a very comfortable & neutral approach. The walls are a light beige with shiny wooden accents. Furniture have rounded wooden edges and the same tone of wood. Even the bathroom utilizes the light wooden tone on its walls, with an attractive small blue-green tiles for the floor. Versus the our outdated cabin in Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, the Norwegian Gem cabin certain has a distinct advantage in functionality and decor. It is not as good as the amazing interior cabin of the Disney Wonder, nor does it have as much storage space as the Caribbean Princess inside stateroom, but certainly very nice, comfortable, and not much to complain about.
Thoughts on the Norwegian Gem Public Areas
Built in 2007, the Norwegian Gem is not exactly a newer ship, but nor is it an old vessel. From the pool deck to the atrium, there really were not many memorable features that stood out in a good or bad way. As this was a colder weather cruise to Canada/New England, there was rarely many people staying on the pool deck with its ho-hum slide & pool. One of the more exciting areas of the ship is the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Decorated with statues & funky furniture, it is certainly the hippest lounge/night club on-board. There are is a two lane bowling alley (costs extra) there which is certainly a standout feature amongst cruise ships.
Another area with notable decor is the Shakers Martini & Cocktail bar on deck 6 with its zig-zag counter-tops & neon-green-ish soft glow lights. Also on deck 6 is the Casino. We may have passed through it once, but we avoided at all possible since we abhor cigarette smoke. NCL did a pretty good job keeping the smoke from spreading out of there. Outside on deck 7, colorful & attractive human silhouette art with vacation scenes adorn the walls.
The atrium of the Gem has circular, colorful green & blue seats, with blue & purple "gemstones" atop the ceiling. There was also a Medusa-like glass art sculpture overlooking the atrium from deck 8.
Norwegian Gem Entertainment
During the cruise, the Norwegian Gem dancers & singers performed several times. The cast is amongst the most attractive looking we have seen. Their performances were solid and entertaining, though nothing amazing.
Comedian Jeff Harms was funny, though he only had his own solo show for one night, and there wasn't any adult comedy either. It was nice having a comedian who is more classy with his material, and he had nice improvisation when a large group of unruly guests from Louisiana kept shouting comments during his performance. Stephen Cane was the only other main stage entertainer. The pianist and singer gave an enjoyable show playing tunes from different eras with nice vocals as well in several songs.
So quality-wise, the entertainment was pretty good, but variety-wise, it was one of the poorer ones we have experienced on an NCL cruise. In the past there would be at least another main stage entertainer or group that did magic, juggling, or additional comedy. Speaking of comedy, oddly enough, it was the first Norwegian cruise we have had in years where the Second City was missing.
Norwegian Gem Splash Academy Kids' Program
This cruise marked the first time we utilized any sort of kid's program on a cruise. We registered our 3 year-old toddler with Splash Academy, the Gem's age 3 through 11 activities/baby sitting program. Kids in the program wear a bracelet with a bar code which you are not supposed to cut off before the end of the cruise. Checking a child in is very easy- no need to sign/write anything. The Splash Academy staff carry with them a portable tablet that is used to swipe your kid's cruise card, and then one of the parents, and the process is complete just like that. We would discover later on our Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas cruise, that advanced technology in checking in a child into the kid's program shouldn't be taken for granted. Aboard the Explorer of the Seas, you have to manually write down the child's name, your name, the time, sign, etc. every time you drop him off.
The Splash Academy staff offered many activities such as a Pirate Parade and face painting. The main gripe we have is that the age difference in the group (3 through 11) is simply too wide ranged. On the Explorer of the Seas, they had a 3 to 5 year old program which our toddler seemed more comfortable in.
Norwegian Gem Food/Dining Review
Being on 7 previous NCL cruises, we didn't expect amazing food at the Gem main dining rooms (Magenta & Grand Pacific), and had the same expectations for the ship's buffet restaurant, the Garden Cafe. Breakfast at the Garden Cafe was mostly satisfying. As usual, NCL had two fresh egg/omelet stations with 2 stoves each delivering custom hot egg dishes for you in minutes. Something new we encountered for breakfast was a simple white rice congee soup with fresh ginger on the side. That and fried rice (yep, they had fried rice for breakfast) were widely enjoyed by us & other Asian guests.
With so many ports of call on this cruise, we skipped lunch most of the time. For dinner we spent 3 nights in Magenta, 3 in Grand Pacific, & one at our favorite NCL specialty restaurant, the Le Bistro. The main dining rooms Grand Pacific & Magenta offered very good service overall. Even though they had the same menu, they had distinctively different feel.
The Grand Pacific had a classic look with amazing views out of the aft of the ship if you are seated at the very end of the restaurant (arrive early to get one of those tables). Magenta is the dining room with modern decor. You can also get nice ocean views through side windows, again, if you arrive early.
Lobster night was the very first night of the cruise in the form of a Lobster Tail & New York Strip Steak Surf & Turf entree. The tail was small but well-cooked, much better than overcooked versions from our recent NCL cruises (aboard the Epic, Dawn, Pearl, and Star).
Other good dishes from the main dining rooms throughout the cruise included the Salmon with Capers, Louisiana Blackened Red Snapper, Pork in Mushroom & Beer Sauce, Wild Mushroom Ravioli with 3 Cheese Sauce, Beef Stroganoff, & Blue Crab Cake (an appetizer). The NCL cheesecake was probably one of the best desserts.
Le Bistro was terrific once again. The Atlantic Salmon with Swiss Chard was incredibly delicious and tender- make sure you have it done medium-rare (or rare), the way the chef intended. The Rack of Lamb was very yummy and delightful as well. You can order multiple appetizers per person, and we had Steam Mussels (highly recommended), Salad with duck (very tiny amount of duck in it), Asparagus with Shitake mushrooms (pretty good), and Escargot in Herb Butter (thumbs up). For dessert, the Vanilla Creme Brulee was good, but avoid the weird tasting Apple Tatin.
Our ritual is usually to go up to the Garden Cafe despite having eaten dinner elsewhere, usually to see what they have & have some extra salad, fruit, and dessert. The crepe station is always a good bet, and their selection of ice cream + delightful desserts is top notch.
Occasionally the Garden Cafe had good dishes that were very impressive. For instance, the Seafood Bouillabaisse was probably one of the best dishes on the cruise despite being served at the Garden Cafe. It contained large shrimps plus tender calamari in a broth infused with seafood flavor- not too salty. The Bouillabaisse, however, the only instance where dish using semi-large shrimp was available at the buffet, which was a bit disappointing versus we experienced on Princess Cruises (see our review of the Caribbean Princess). Overall, Princess still provide the better food at the buffets & main dining rooms. We definitely liked how the Garden Cafe doesn't close until 9:30 PM, and opens at 5PM. Aboard the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, the Windjammer cafe doesn't open until 6:30 PM, and shuts down at 9 PM.
A great event that Norwegian offers is the Chocoholics Buffet. It took place on the 4th night of the cruise. Despite being only barely mentioned in the back page of the Freestyle Daily (the ship's daily newsletter/schedule), the Chocoholics Buffet was a huge hit with the passengers. We arrived about 25 minutes early before opening, and there was already a group of around 20 people waiting before us. The dessert pig out event to us was more of a spectacle for the eyes than actual taste. It was certainly festive & a fun event that we will be sure to keep enjoying on future NCL cruises.
Cruise Ports/Itinerary Review
With 5 ports of call, this cruise was the most action-packed we have ever been on. After the first night, then a sea day, we were busy with five places in a row to explore. Halifax, Nova Scotia was the first port. There we visited the downtown area, the beautiful Public Gardens, and the historic Halifax Citadel fort. We also had enjoyable strolls through the Harbour Walk & the Halifax Waterfront boardwalks.
At Saint John, New Brunswick, we visited Market Square & the the City Market. The New Brunswick Museum inside the Market Square mall had some nice historical, art & science exhibits, and cost only $8 a person (there is discount for AAA members). The Saint John City Market, reminiscent of Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver we visited several years ago, was a fun place to stroll through and just look at all the fresh (and sometimes interesting) fruits, meats/fish & home-made goods sold.
Our luck of beautiful weather ran out in Bar Harbor, Maine, where it was raining throughout the day. We were able to try out lobster roll & clam chowder at Stewman's Downtown restaurant, and check out some historical parks. The stroll down Main St saw interesting shops, and we walked section of the scenic oceanside Shore Path as well.
In Boston we took a cab from the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal to Boston Common. From there we were able to explorer the surrounding area for several hours, including the beautiful Public Garden & the Cheers bar. Chinatown was nearby so we took a stroll through there as well.
Like Bar Harbor, we had to take a tender boat to shore in Newport, Rhode Island. We waited over 10 minutes before the tender boat would leave, and then we spent literally over 30 minutes more getting to shore & then waiting way too long before there was a dock open for the boat to drop us off. Looked like communications could have been better between the NCL tender boat operators. Since we were avid tennis players & fans, we decided to check out the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum. It was about a 25 minute walk from where the tender docked, and we stayed there for about 2 hours. Very interesting place and a must visit if you are a tennis fan & visiting in Newport. Afterwards we walked for another 10 minutes or so to get to the Elms Mansion. The entrance fee was not cheap, but it worth it as an impressive historical display of opulence of craftmanship throughout. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to check out the Breakers Mansion, but will be sure to next time. If you are planning on visiting both famous mansions, you could take an inexpensive bus that will take you, plus there is a combined discount when you buy a pass good for both the Elms & the Breakers.
We really enjoyed this particular cruise. The Norwegian Gem is not the newest ship so it didn't have any dazzling features, but the stateroom was comfortable, and the service was good overall. Food was middling but there were some nice surprises. The kids' programs were well done, and made more interesting but Nickelodeon characters & themes (yes you can meet & take pictures with Dora, Patrick & Spongebob). Best of all, the ports of call on this New England & Canada cruise featured terrific combinations of history and beautiful scenery. I highly recommend cruising the northeast aboard the Norwegian Gem, and rate the cruise a 4.5/5.
Norwegian Gem Canada & New England Cruise Pros
Itinerary full of interesting/historical ports
Good service in main dining rooms, especially last night at Magenta
Chocoholics buffet was a fun, festive activity
Nickelodeon characters such as Spongebob, Patrick, & Dora available for meet and greet (photo-ops)
Splash Academy had nice programs, and check-in check-out was high-tech & easy
Norwegian Gem Canada & New England Cruise Cons
Entertainment didn't have the usual variety (e.g. no magic show or juggling)
Long wait before tender boat docked at Rhode Island
Few movies on TV
Splash Academy mixes wide range of kids aged 3 through 10
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