Onboard Norwegian Gem
After we received our keycards, we finally headed closer to our ultimate destination: Norwegian Gem. My past experience boarding the Celebrity Apex where many crew formed a reception line, had raised my expectations as to what the experience of boarding Norwegian Gem would be like. There were no welcome lines, but still a few crew with smiling faces greeted us. Looking back, it seems a good way to limit contact and maintain social distancing. Although all guests and crew are vaccinated on NCL ships, it still makes sense to me to remain cautious. In fact, even though masks are not required for guests (crew wear masks), we probably wore our masks about half the time, mostly when we were indoors and not eating or drinking. As for the crew wearing masks, it does provide a sense of security, but observing the way in which some masks were worn, it would be accurate to say that they weren’t really wearing masks. Chin diapers and nose holders hardly equate to proper mask wearing.
We immediately settled into our family balcony stateroom, which could hold four people. We noticed immediately that we had a scant amount of desktop space and only one of the “desks” had a stool for sitting. The small balcony was very appealing and a nice spot to spend some time enjoying the view.
One of my biggest beefs about balconies is the neighbors. On this cruise, they weren’t loud or blaring music like has happened on past cruises. This time, we had the neighbors who left their balcony light on every night. The light is not easy to find, so we thought that they didn’t realize it was on. We did ask our stateroom attendant to let the neighbors know that their light was on, just in case they were unaware. She said that maybe they slept with their door open, which doesn’t explain why they would need the light on. On our final night, the light was still on. A call to guest services resulted in no changes. Oh, well.
Our bathroom was quite compact and efficient. We wondered how some of the passengers that we had seen onboard could even fit into the separate areas for the toilet and shower. Speaking of the bathroom, we had trouble with our toilet almost every single day. The toilet would randomly quit flushing. We did find out that it was our entire row of cabins experiencing this problem. Living with a septic at home, I know how important it is to not throw anything into the toilet and suspect this may have been the cause. We chuckled when we got a call telling us that the toilet had been fixed and that we could now flush it. We did not chuckle when we were told in the morning that we should have a functioning toilet in the evening. This was a test cruise in many ways- we do hope that the plumbing issues have been resolved, especially considering that we were only at 25% capacity. Imagine even more guests having flushing issues.
Neither of us make the buffet our first choice for dining. So, once we dumped our bags, we headed to the beautiful Grand Pacific dining room for lunch. We were quite surprised to see so many people taking advantage of this elegant space. Usually when we board, we find that most passengers head to the Garden Café, the expansive buffet. By the time we had gotten on the ship, it was after noon, so a late lunch for us. That meant that we would not want a big dinner, so we opted for O’Sheehan’s, the 24-hour restaurant, a favorite of ours.
As part of the test cruise, we were offered two dinners in a specialty restaurant. We had tried to reserve prior to the cruise, but neither the app, nor our Latitudes page would let us reserve anything. When we did try to reserve, there were few options left. We had planned on Cagney’s and Le Bistro, but Cagney’s was not available. We ended up having two lovely dinners at Le Bistro.
One of the new menu innovations on the ship is the use of the QR code to prevent the handling of menus. We had difficulty with the app and difficulty with the QR codes rarely connecting, but it did randomly work.
The full complement of daily activities was found in the Freestyle Daily newsletter. We skipped the shows, mostly because they were loud and one was a genre that my traveling companion didn’t care for. We were also tired at the end of the day.
One activity that we did select was an excellent mobile photo seminar where we learned some new tricks on improving photos taken with our phones. We enjoyed the tutelage of our affable instructor as much as he seemed to enjoy presenting the seminar.
A favorite activity of ours is the martini testing. We learned long ago that it is best to split the martini tasting, which currently is $25 per flight of six martinis. As is always the case, the crowd is rather quiet at the beginning of the tasting event. Then again, in our session, a woman who had just finished a whiskey tasting was far from a quiet wallflower. She animately jumped up from her seat and announced that she had to go potty and invited the other participants to join her. Nobody took her up on her offer. After a few shared martinis, we got to know our table mates better. As always, the tasting made for a very enjoyable time.
With only about 600 passengers on the ship, everything seemed relatively quiet and uncrowded. The Gem usually sails with 2394 passengers. Considering that we were sailing at about 25% capacity, we were shocked that we had trouble getting reservations in Cagney’s, a restaurant that has a capacity of 168 and offers several seating times.
Be aware that if you ate at a specialty restaurant in the past that you may have paid a set fee for your meal. Many of the restaurants that used to have a set fee are now à la carte. Sample menus with pricing are on the NCL website.
To find your way around, remember that the fish on the carpet swim forward. It’s an easy way to get your bearings.
In spite of a few minor glitches, the Norwegian Gem offered a fairly typical and satisfying cruise experience. Knowing that everybody was vaccinated relieved a lot of stress. And because everybody needed to be vaccinated, that meant that we were virtually on an adults-only cruise since kids under 12 aren’t elegible for vaccines! We hope that NCL continues its strict policy requiring vaccinations, which has already been extended through the end of 2021. It was a thrill to be back home again.