Monday, November 19, 2007

Norwegian Gem Pre-Inaugural Sailing Review

Photos and Personal Review of NCL's Brand New Gem Below:
NCL GEM Bowling Alley
NCL Gem Balcony Stateroom
NCL Gem Lounge NCL Gem Courtyard Villa NCL Gem Lobby

As owners of Direct Line Cruises, my wife, Helen, and I were among the privileged few travel agents onboard the very first sailing of the Norwegian Gem. Following the official delivery of the ship to Andy Stuart, Executive Vice President of Norwegian Cruise Line, we departed on October 1 from Eemshaven, Netherlands (where the ship was built) en route to the city of Rotterdam. I must admit that it was a rather unusual experience to be on a ship of this size (i.e., nearly 1,000 feet long and weighing in at 93,000 tons) with only 70 passengers (45 travel agents plus about 25 executives from NCL) and a full crew. With more than 10 crew members for every passenger, there were literally more dining room attendants than people eating.

Upon our arrival in Rotterdam the following day, we were joined by several hundred Dutch and German travel agents, as well as some European “cruise buffs” who were honored to be among the first “paying passengers” on this new ship as she made her way from Rotterdam, Netherlands to Dover, England. Photographers were also in abundance, which made my wife and I feel like celebrities as we (along with other travel agents and guests) were interviewed and had our pictures taken for several travel publications.

But the undisputed star of the show was NCL’s new “It Girl”, the beautiful Norwegian Gem. As a sister ship of the NCL Jewel, Jade and Pearl, the Gem has the same well-planned, spacious layout and signature onboard features, including 12 “free-style” restaurants, enormous Garden Villas, exclusive Courtyard Villas, and even a 4-lane bowling alley. But, although the Gem is very similar to her three sisters, we thought that the d├ęcor on the Gem was just a little bit more elegant while still retaining the warm, colorful character that we found on the Jewel and the Pearl.

Despite the fact that it was the Gem’s first sailing, the dining and housekeeping staff were surprisingly well-organized and efficient (something you don’t always experience until a ship’s crew has had some time to become acclimated to the vessel and to each other). We did notice, however, a few minor timing flaws in the first night’s entertainment as the talented singers and dancers premiered a lively new stage production show for us. As always, practice makes perfect.
Of course, no review of a cruise ship would be complete without a critique of the food. To be perfectly honest, my wife and I have generally preferred the food on some of NCL’s competing cruise lines (such as Celebrity and Royal Caribbean). But, the food on the Norwegian Gem far exceeded our expectations. In particular, the Gem’s streak house (Cagney’s) and Japanese restaurant prepared two of the best meals we’ve ever had at sea (or anyplace else for that matter). And, although we had heard that NCL totally upgraded the quality of their regular breakfast and lunch buffets throughout their fleet, we were still very pleasantly surprised at just how good they were.

So, all in all, we think that the Norwegian Gem is going to be very well received by cruise lovers everywhere.

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