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Norwegian Gem
December 2007 Preview

by Linda Coffman

Boston Introduction
It wasn't exactly a tropical kind of day when I boarded Norwegian Gem for a two-night introductory cruise from Boston. In fact, the morning was cold and dreary in Bean Town and it wasn't long before Old Man Winter struck the city with a vengeance. As I dined on made-to-order pasta in the Garden Cafe I noticed something strange outside, something that I've never seen on a cruise ship before. Yes, I'm talking SNOW and a lot of it. NCL is all about Freestyle and weather is well, whatever... In our case, a late-afternoon departure was delayed to allow late arriving passengers time to get to the ship.

Norwegian Gem's new winter homeport is New York City and, as in Boston, winters there can be bitterly cold and the weather unpredictable. Isn't that why a cruise to warm and sunny destinations is so appealing? However, NCL says that only rarely is it so stormy that their schedule into and out of New York is adversely affected by winter weather. That isn't to say that an occasional weather system with strong winds and rough seas can't occur. When it does, NCL would delay sailing until conditions allow for safe departure. When that happens, NCL's Winter Weather Guarantee comes into play:

"If your departure from New York is delayed for longer than 12 hours due to weather, you will receive an onboard credit of $100 per person (maximum $200 per stateroom) on your current departure. Or, if you do not wish to continue the cruise, you may choose to leave the ship and receive a cruise credit equal to the amount you paid, to use on a future NCL cruise, sailing within one year from the date of the cruise credit, and any reasonable incidental expenses you incur in rearranging your travel/vacation plans will be reimbursed by NCL."

Norwegian Gem
Purpose-built for NCL's Freestyle Cruising concept, at 93,530 tons Norwegian Gem is the last in the series of Jewel-class ships in NCL's string of ultra-modern vessels. She has numerous dining options, a variety of entertainment selections, a spa equal to any on land or at sea, and expanded facilities for children and teens. All of this, plus the most family-friendly accommodation configurations can be found on a ship dedicated to the freedom of choice. Oh, and we can't overlook two way-cool features: a rock-climbing wall and the four lane 10-pin bowling alley set to bowl you over in the striking Bliss Ultra Lounge. Norwegian Gem's 2,394 passengers will find they can tailor a cruise vacation to fit their personal tastes, not someone else's. That's what Freestyle on the youngest fleet afloat is all about.

Dining
Norwegian Gem's array of traditional and exotic eateries are ready to tempt even the least adventurous palate to sample a variety of international cuisines. With ten restaurants, guests never have to dine in the same place more than once.

  • Grand Pacific—The larger of the two main restaurants features dark woods and the style of Art Deco lighting that passengers might have found on grand ocean liners. A 'figurehead' greets guests as they descend to dine in French shipboard fashion.
  • Magenta—The second main restaurant boasts a floral motif and a chic "boutique hotel" atmosphere
  • Cagney's Steak House—Aged Angus beef, seared to perfection, just the way you like it, served in a 1930s style steakhouse 
  • Le Bistro—NCL's signature upscale French Mediterranean restaurant features modern and classic French cuisine.
  • Orchid Garden—Upscale Asian dining featuring Japanese-Thai-Chinese cuisine and a sushi/sashimi bar and Teppanyaki room
  • Tequila's Tapas & Salsa Restaurant—Overlooking the Crystal Atrium, an authentic tapas bar offering a taste of Spain and Mexico with a menu of hot and spicy Latin/tapas food
  • La Cucina Italian Kitchen—A trattoria-inspired restaurant where pasta and pizza are served any way you like them and authentic Italian desserts are to die for
  • Garden Café/Kid's Café—Buffet style indoor/outdoor eatery with special kid-sized serving buffet and tables. For sun worshipers, The Great Outdoors features tables overlooking the stern.
  • The Grill has burgers and the trimmings poolside. 
  • Blue Lagoon—A casual eatery offering snacks and fast-food around the clock (try the chicken fingers from the children's offerings!)

For hot or cold specialty coffees and pastries, head for Java Café in the Crystal Atrium, or satisfy your sweet tooth with ice cream, sherbets, and sundaes at the Ice Cream Bar. Room service never closes.

Teppanyaki

An innovative state-of-the-art restaurant reservation system allows passengers to make reservations for a single night or every night of their cruise. Screens strategically placed in public rooms show each restaurant's availability status, the size tables available, and estimated waiting time. If a restaurant is full, pagers are issued and passengers are invited to enjoy other activities until their table is ready. New for occupants of balcony cabins and mini-suites is an “at your service” hotline for reservations.

While there is a charge for some of the alternative restaurants, no one is pressured to dine in them. Colin Veitch, President & CEO of NCL, explains the dining fees are levied for capacity control, not exclusivity.

Freestyle Cruising means passengers can choose resort casual attire every night or dress up for a special dinner. Formal attire during one evening is optional with one or more restaurants set aside for those who don't want to forgo this shipboard tradition. The only "dress code" caveat is that no t-shirts, shorts, cut-offs, or tank tops are allowed in any of the restaurants at dinner. Jeans, make that nice jeans, are okay. Most of my fellow passengers opted for an array of "country club casual" outfits, ranging from pant-and-top ensembles to cocktail dresses. Pack light and think mix 'n match with various accessories. Without assigned dinner partners, it's unlikely that anyone will notice a "repeated" garment.

The flexibility of dining when you wish and with whom you choose is my favorite aspect of Freestyle Cruising. What a concept... you can eat when you're actually hungry! However, cruise traditionalists who prefer the same table and waiter every night at a certain time can simply inform the Maitre d' and those  arrangements will be made. For parents who wish to share a romantic dinner for two, the Kid's Crew program and group babysitting solves the problem of child care.

Accommodations
While there is a somewhat confusing array of fare categories listed in the brochures, Norwegian Gem's accommodations range from Standard Inside and Oceanview Staterooms to Oceanview staterooms with Balconies, Mini-Suites, Penthouses, Owner's suites, and the fantastic Courtyard Villas and Garden Villas. More than 70% of all staterooms are outside. (Follow this link to representative Stateroom Photos.)

All accommodations have gleaming cherry wood cabinetry and paneling accents, a small refrigerator and personal safe for valuables, as well as in-cabin coffee service to heat water for tea or brew coffee. A professional-style hairdryer with real power is provided at each dressing table. Bathroom amenities include shampoo and soap dispensers and hold your hats... most bathrooms are split into sections. Yes, the toilet is separated from the sink area by a wall and sliding glass door. The shower is roomy and also has a sliding glass door. No more clinging shower curtain or problem retrieving dropped soap.

At approximately 172 square feet, standard Oceanview Staterooms are generous. Even Inside Staterooms are cheery and the  clever use of primary colors and strategically placed mirrors achieves an open feeling. One of the most desirable of all stateroom amenities is a balcony and more than half of Norwegian Gem's outside staterooms have them. Book yours fast—Oceanview Staterooms with Balconies are a hot seller. Mini-Suites with a balcony are even more desirable with additional square footage, generous storage, and bathtubs. Stepping up to more space, Penthouses and Owner's Suites are some of the chicest digs at sea. We were particularly fond of the decor in the Romance Suites.

The pièce de résistance are the two Garden Villas. High atop Norwegian Gem, they are the ultimate in opulence. At 4,390 square feet, with living room, dining room, three bedrooms with luxury baths, and more toys than I could count, they are complete homes afloat. Occupants need only step outside to enjoy a relaxing soak in their hot tub or al fresco dining in their private garden. If you want one, book early. They are not at a loss for occupants, even at rates that make my gold card shudder.

Private Courtyard

As on her earlier Jewel-class sister ships, Norwegian Gem has ten Courtyard Villas. At 572 square feet, they are essentially identical to the Penthouse categories (eight have "children's bedrooms" and sleep up to five; two do not). All share a private courtyard with pool, whirlpool, and small gym. Balinese-style sunbeds, lounge chairs, hammocks, and ocean views are found on private rooftop sun spaces one deck above. They are ideal for families or groups traveling together; however, the  possibility of a problem might exist if a group doesn't book them all. Couples who anticipate a serene atmosphere could find their relaxation disturbed by such a group (including small children, although they will probably be more attracted to the waterslide at the Lido pool than the smaller Courtyard pool.)

With theses deluxe digs comes the services of a butler and concierge. The private amenities and ability to order meals from any restaurant onboard create almost a "ship within a ship" for those who can afford the best. 

For large families, interconnecting standard staterooms and suites can create a two to five bedroom area and passengers with disabilities haven't been overlooked—twenty-seven cabins of various types have been designed for their special needs.

Continued --> Norwegian Gem Preview (Part 2)

More --> Stateroom Photos

Photos © Linda Coffman; Norwegian Gem Aerial Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line


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