December 20, 2018

That Time Thanksgiving Was on The Norwegian Gem...

After thoroughly enjoying my cruise on the NCL Breakaway and especially being able to drive to a cruise instead of flying, I decided it was time for another Norwegian cruise.

I found an 11-day cruise on the Norwegian Gem that took place over the week of Thanksgiving which meant that I'd only have to use 5 vacation days in exchange for me and Husband ditching both of our families...

What really sold me on is was that when I booked it, Norwegian was running both the Latitudes Insider Offer (aka Past Guest Offer) and the Distinctive Voyages promo.
The Latitudes promo gave me double loyalty points for the cruise and some on board credit ($50 for oceanview or lower, $100 for balcony or higher). Basically you can book any cruise (after your first one) with this offer if you book at the right time.

The Distinctive Voyages promo gets you $50-per-cabin/per-port excursion credit, $100 hotel credit (for before or after the cruise), 250 of wi-fi, 120 minutes of free phone calls, and $100 airfare credit per person. 1) I'm pretty sure this promo no longer exists unless you've already booked with it. 2) Since you have to use NCL's few options for hotels and flights, it's probably going to be less $$ to book both as you normally would, and not use the credits.
These photos are just to break up all the text.

Day 1: Embarkation Day

This cruise on the Gem left from NYC and went to 6 ports in the Southern Caribbean: San Juan, Puerto Rico; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; St. John's, Antigua; and St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. 

This itinerary is only done a couple of times a year on the Gem and I was excited to snatch it up. 

We took the Megabus to New York because it's better for the environment, and also then we didn't have to pay for parking.

Our first stop on embarkation day was pizza. Yes, even though there is food on board.

We went to Sal's pizza where we enjoyed some legit NY style slices.

This is a good choice either before or after a NY cruise because it's fairly close to the pier, and it's decently good pizza. 

Then on to Pier 88. We walked.

This was our second NCL cruise which gave us bronze Lattitudes status. It means mostly nothing, but better than Carnival's second level because on NCL they give you an $8 (retail) bottle of champagne.
I don't know why they're green.
Since we had the drink package as a free-at-sea, there wasn't much use in drinking it on board. So it came home with us.

We waited in a long security line, which was probably only 30 minutes long, but after that we breezed though check-in as there was no line, and were able to board right away.

We boarded into the atrium on deck 7 which was decorated with tons of balloons for everyone's our arrival.

We carried our bags up the one flight of steps and got drinks at O'Sheehans while we waited for our cabin to be ready.

I always like to start off with champagne to celebrate getting to go on another cruise! We didn't order any food because we just ate.
My assessment of the Gem's O'Sheehan's is that I like the Breakaway's version better. It has one side that is a traditional restaurant with a hostess and everything. And the other side is bar style - bar-height tables, and self seating. But I think the bar side only had the late-night menu.

The chandelier/light feature was one of the coolest that I've seen on a ship, but I think the Breakaway's is my favorite so far.

I really liked the dual stairway. I thought it looked weird in photo's I'd seen, but it was cool - and useful because you could go in whichever direction you need to.

The announcement was made and we headed to our cabin, #8592: obstructed oceanview!
Yes, I did say I booked an interior cabin, which I did originally. I was going to test my luck with bidding on a balcony with the Upgrade Advantage program, but instead, this better option came along.

Some time in April this past year, NCL ran a "Tax-Free Spree" which meant that (for qualified itineraries) the taxes-and-port-fees were free for oceanview-and-higher cabins. 
I was booked in an interior, but was able to upgrade to an Obstructed Oceanview room for a total of ~$200 and was able to add a second free-at-sea promo.

I was a little torn between another $50 excursion credit and Specialty Dining package, but decided on the dining package. The gratuities I had to pay on the dining package was included in the $200 upgrade.
My primary interest in the Oceanview room was because I heard that NCL's interior cabins are so very teenie and it was a pretty long cruise. Also, we'd get a window and the view of the side of a lifeboat! It wasn't a hard decision to make.

Our cabin was great. I really liked the sideways room layout and recommend it - at least on the Jewel-class NCL ships. The one draw back was that it looses some closet space, but it worked great for us.

It also had this weird art which I still can't decide if it's a jellyfish someone stepped on or  an angler fish.
You decide. Tell me what you think in the comments!
One thing I didn't like about the window was that, unlike a balcony cabin, a ton of light came under the curtain. I solved this by rolling up some clothes and pushing the curtain up against the window. We made it right at home by putting up our magnetic hooks and magnets to keep our papers from getting lost and some other stuff handy.
I also set up my over-the-door storage (it's a shoe holder) to keep our non-clothes items further organized. I'm so glad I decided to try one of these on a cruise, it is so helpful. I would sacrifice an entire outfit to fit this in my suitcase.

Additionally, I loved the proximity to the atrium and especially O'Sheehans. We were just steps away from tasty treats night and day (except from 11 to 11:30. They close to switch from breakfast to lunch. 24 hours my a**).

Sometime after boarding it had started to snow.
I walked around to get some good photos of the event and came across what looked like the beginning of a snowman.
Snowman: bottom left.
 So I decided to finish it.

As a bonus, it snowed so much back home that work was canceled no only that day but also the next day! That means I got two vacation days back to use on future cruises!

We went to the sail away party in Spinnaker Lounge and watched the windows get covered in snow. There was very little viability so I wasn't able to see the statue of Liberty, but I did run outside when we went under the Verrazzano bridge.

Dinner that night was at the Grand Pacific dining room.
We had a reservation, but we had to wait in line anyway. We did get to be seated after waiting in line, while everyone else was given pagers to come back.
I don't remember everything we ordered, but I got the Shrimp & Mushroom Alfredo which is on the menu every night and it was good enough to get more than once. But I really like mushrooms.

Before going to bed, we hit up Maltings for Husband's favorite NCL drink which is only available there: the Matador. He discovered it on the Breakaway and was so looking forward to getting a ton of them on this cruise.
The Matador, only at Maltings
On the Breakaway we were 7 floors away from Maltings, so it was excellent to be only 2 floors away this time.
We dress up even though we don't have to.

Day 2 & 3: Sea Days

The next two days were sea days and nothing unexpected happened. We played a lot of trivia and found there wasn't a whole lot else to do on board aside from eating, especially with it being chilly out still.  This was fine for me because I like to get some TV/movie time in on cruises.

From playing trivia on this cruise, I realized that we never actually played any trivia on our Breakaway cruise. I thought that NCL would be like Carnival and have one prize at the end of each game. Instead, Norwegian gives you a little card and you get one point per person for playing each time - double points if you win.
These look like old ones. I didn't take a photo - this is from the internet.

There were a couple of non-trivia activities that also got you points, but I didn't do any of them. Prizes are redeemed similar to an arcade where you get tickets. Depending on how many points you get, determines your prize. More on this later.

We also ate a LOT of wings at O'Sheehans, pretty much everyday for lunch because Husband loves them so much and they were so close. The MDR menu also didn't sound that exciting.
Buffalo (sort of, but still good)
And I ate a lot of Caesar salads with salmon at O'Sheehan's because I was trying to not gain a million lbs.
Salmon > Chicken
Also I got to do a bunch of Karaoke because it wasn't very popular the first few days.

Day 3, I had a reservation at Moderno Churrascaria. There was some confusion when trying to check in because there was a line for Cagneys' but not for Moderno, and what looked like one host stand, with two hostesses doing different tasks, was actually two stands each with their own hostess.

So if you get to Moderno, and see a line, go to the host stand on the left because the bigger host stand is for Cagney's and it's not all one line.

The salad bar was meh. There was sushi on it that was 90% rice (don't waste the room in your stomach). And there were only a few salad toppings. I filled a plate with random stuff that was all good-not-great.

How it works from there is that there are servers that go around to the tables with big metal sticks covered in meat.

You get coasters that are green on one side - red on the other, that you use to indicate if you want more food or not.
We left the coasters on green until we were done eating as they didn't come by as frequently as I would have liked. All the food was great, I just would have liked to have all the different meats at once.

My favorite item was the skirt steak; the lamb was a close second.

After dinner we hit up the Mojito bar which is inside Moderno which I thought was a little strange, but fine.

We finished the night with a stand-up comedy show. The current comedian is a guy named Tim Kaminski who we thoroughly enjoyed.

He alternated nights with some Magician-comedian that we didn't see because I don't care about magic. They each must have only had 3 shows because the comedy stopped after day 6.
Hangin' at Spinnaker

Days 4-9: Puerto Rico, St. Kits, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Thomas

As usual, I will be writing about my in-port adventures in separate posts. On-ship it was pretty much more of the same.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not actually complaining about it, because I like being able to just relax on cruises, but such could be very boring for people who need stuff to do be active.

We saw some more comedy, played more trivia, ate more wings, sang more Karaoke, and drank more drinks.
Thai chili - also very good.

Okay, that wasn't really all there was, that was just the majority of it.

One highlight was Cagney's. I don't think I would ever pay for it a la carte, but definitely will go again if we every book with the dining package included again.

Things to know:
1) The $8 "colossal" shrimp cocktail is pretty much regular sized shrimp. 

2) The mac & cheese is weirdly spicy, the mashed potatoes is surprisingly good, and the fries are surprisingly bland.
 3) The porterhouse steak was very good, and was good with the chimichurri sauce.
 4) The veal chop was excellent - I dumped my side of mushrooms on top.
 5) The raspberry creme brulee was good but not very raspberry. The apple crisp was really good. 
6) We worked this out on like day 4, but weirdly, Irish coffee is included in the drink package, whereas anything made with espresso (latte, cappuccino, etc.) is not included (we got burned at the atrium bar buying a cappuccino).

I don't think there was anything we really didn't like. Overall we loved it.

I started to notice that all hours of the day, people just sat in the atrium waiting for... nothing? Most of them were just sitting, facing forwards, no drinks, no book, not talking to the person next to them and all that was on the big screen was promos for other NCL ships.

A cool thing on the Jewel-class ships and the Epic, is the Bridge Viewing Room. It's exactly what it sounds like.
We meant to go back when the boat was moving, or ideally when leaving a port, but we failed to do so. Maybe on the Pearl.
Wasn't supposed to take a photo of this. You're welcome.

The White Hot Dance Party was fun for a little bit, but they didn't let you take drinks on the tiny dance floor, so we didn't stay very long. We decided to move on and check out Bliss after they played the "Take a Selfie Song."
With CD, Lorena
We also used the photobooth (not actually, but sorta) thing to better capture our white attire.
These come super-high res. I promise (but don't try to print them).

Thanksgiving was enjoyable, but some of the themed menu items missed the mark (pumpkin pasta and squash Caesar salad).
The turkey was very good.
We saw Swing! the musical which was fun, but it was hard to follow the plot. Also they were not swing dancing the whole time which feels like a bait & switch (I don't actually care, just something I noticed).
I was not supposed to take this photo either. You're welcome.

I liked Blazing Boots a lot more than I expected. The performers dance to popular country songs, and I don't like country music, but they were the most mainstream country songs, that are basically pop songs, so I liked it.

Beware the front row for this one; it's the "splash zone." Okay, there's no water, but during "Save a Horse; Ride a Cowboy" three have-to-be-gay-so-I-was-fine-with-it totally-straight  "cowboys" jumped down and air-um...-love-maked... three girls in the front row. I was definitely not one of them...

No, it was fine. Just beware.

We went on the waterside exactly once.  It was fine, but see that pretty-low angle of the slide? Yeah, I had to scooch myself down it. Husband did not have that problem, so guessing its a momentum thing (*cough* if you aren't aware, weight is a big factor in an object's amount of momentum *cough*).
At some point, Husband decided his hair was annoyingly long (rolls eyes) and he decided to get a haircut at the Spa.
He had done so on the Horizon and it was only $25 which was a decent price. NCL's spa listed men's haircuts "starting at" $25 so we believed them. It was $35. Oh well. 

And we tried out the Orchid Garden and Sushi Bar Restaurants.
We ended up going twice, so we got to try several different things on the menu. Some were better than others but the Chinese food is free so didn't care that much.

My favorite thing was the Peking Style Shrimp & Chicken. I got it both times, and it was actually better the first time. But still good the 2nd time. 
There's also mushrooms which I <3. I know it's weird.
We were able to order sushi from Orchid Garden, so we also got salmon nigiri (we got two peices for $4) and a Two-Timing Tuna Roll ($5!!) which just had like an entire tuna in it.  

It was spicy tuna (another favorite) inside and then topped with MORE TUNA. We got this twice also.

Just look at all this fish at the Sushi Bar!

We ended up hitting up Bliss for some late-night par-tay-ing. It was actually a pretty cool place to hang out. The bar was never too crowded, and the music wasn't so loud that you couldn't talk to the people you're with.

As a bonus, it's also pretty close to Maltings, which was important to Husband.

Days 10 & 11: Sea Days

Day 10 was when it finally hit me that our cruise was almost over. But I was glad to be done with ports and be able to relax for two days.

But we didn't run out of stuff to do!

There was of course, more trivia, karaoke, Matadors, and O'Sheehan's.

Day 11: Sea Day

One priority was (finally) redeeming our trivia points.They had a weird redemption... idk process... system...scale?... but we were able to get a crappy sweet pack of NCL playing cards. We play poker regularly with some friends so I will actually use these.
Crappy cause they're not laminated - really more eco-friendly though.
And with my remaining points we got a bottle opener and a badge holder (can be used with Freestyle card if you get it punched at customer service).

 So actually better than I was expecting.
There were a couple of other prizes that I didn't have enough points to get. Planning on getting the coffee mug when I go on the Pearl in April!

I also want to warn future Gem (and probably other NCL) cruisers that they don't always have trivia in the same part of the ship. So check your Freestyle Daily before you head to it each time.

We had a reservation at 6pm at Teppanyaki, but there was a problem. The only trivia we would be attending that day was at 5:45 (because morning trivia is too early). And I needed to go because I didn't yet know how the points worked and I wanted as many as possible.

So I called the restaurant reservation number and asked if I could move our reservation. The only available time was 10. 30. pm. Yup. I told her no. Then I started thinking about it. And Husband begrudgingly agreed to have dinner at 10:30pm.
I decided that this might actually be better because we wanted to get sushi again, and this way we'd be able to enjoy it when we were done with trivia, and then be hungry again for Teppanyaki!

I was pretty concerned that we would be the only people in the restaurant, but there were 10 other diners who were equally not super excited about eating so late.
But it actually worked out great! We were seated with two ladies who were an actual pleasure to dine with and the restaurant was only 1/3 full so it was not as noisy as it would otherwise be.

My only regret was not ordering an item with calamari. I thought it would be weird because in my head I was thinking fried calamari.
But see those weird curly white things? They did some knife sorcery that made it do that and our new friend who ordered it said it was excellent. The steak, shrimp and scallops that we got were all amazing.

For dessert there were two options: Green tea cake and "Fresh Fruit Sashimi." I chose the cake because I've worked as a hotel-banquet server for enough years that I expected the "Sashimi" to be honeydew, cantaloupe, and melon chunks (regular sashimi is raw fish sliced into thin rectangles).

The green tea ice cream was as good as I expected but the cake actually exceeded my expectations. The menu listed it as coming with a cashew nut brittle, but it was apparently a glaze that was delicious. Especially with the ice cream I didn't know it was coming with.

The Fruit Sashimi was such a lie. The menu claimed it would be exotic fruits. Oh look, I was right. Wait. There is also watermelon, one strawberry (super exotic!), and kiwi (minimally exotic because it doesn't grow in the northeast... I think).
It was fine, just sad and available on the buffet.
I'm so glad we changed our dinner time. We're night owls anyway and the whole evening went perfectly. I'm not really advising that anyone's first choice be 10:30pm, but it was not nearly as bad as we thought.

One last thing I needed to do was get a flattened penny since I collect them. You don't even need change to do it, after lining up the design you want, you swipe you card and a penny falls down to be flattened.
mmm blurrrrry.
I think it cost more than the standard $.51, but it was worth it.

Day 12: Debarkation Day

We were told that we would be getting into NY late and disembarkation would start at 10am so they let us stay in our cabins until 9am. Yes, that 15 minutes makes a big difference. We don't usually manage to pack the night before.

We finished packing and were able to get food from The Great Outdoors which had food until 9:30am.

Buffet hack: the La Cucina tables are available to sit at durng lunch (probably also breakfast but we were never awake for it.

The only thing we had to do that day was get pizza at Rocky's (again) and then get on our Megabus at 2pm. So we weren't in a hurry. We wandered down to the comfy chairs at Maltings and waited until they announced that everyone should be getting off.

We took one last photo with the not-photobooth and our cruise was officially over. 

More on cruises :)


  1. Thank you for so much useful information & tips. We're first timers and will be sailing on the Jewel from Sydney to New Zealand, 14 days. Can't wait. Liked your tip re the over the door holder - I'll be getting one of those!!!!

  2. This was an excellent review, the Gem was our first cruise ever and since then we have been on the Breakaway twice to Bermuda, the Pearl to Alaska, and God willing the Encore in 2020 to Bermuda. I do prefer the smaller ships like the Gem and the Pearl.Smaller crowds, let time getting on and off of the ship, especially during Port stops.

  3. Thanks for your very thorough review. I booked the 2019 Thanksgiving cruise on the Gem so this has been very helpful!