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Norwegian Gem Cruise Review
Sailing From San Juan
November 2016

by Keith Henderson

We sailed on the Norwegian Gem leaving San Juan on November 13th, 2016 and returning on the 20th after stops at Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, Antigua, and Tortola of the British Virgin Islands.

It was our 17th cruise with Norwegian and 27th overall. We have sailed on Carnival 9 times and Royal Caribbean once.

This was our third-time cruising on the Gem. We had sailed on her in 2008 during her inaugural season with NCL and then again in 2013. She had a dry dock refurb in 2015, so we were curious about the improvements made. Norwegian’s Jewel class ships are our favorite ones to sail on. We like their layout.

We had chosen this cruise specifically for its itinerary. Normally, the Gem sails out of New York City to either the Bahamas or New England. This year, NCL had her repositioned to San Juan for 2 months in the fall with alternating cruises to a different set of southeastern Caribbean islands. The itinerary of this specific cruise would let us visit 3 island nations that we have not seen before (Grenada, Dominica, and Antigua).

One positive thing with this cruise would be that all our port stops would be at piers and we would not have to worry about tendering into any ports which is always a hassle.

One negative thing is that our cruise starts by leaving San Juan at 9:00 pm. We enjoy the thought of starting our cruise with a sail away in the daylight to see the harbor sights as we leave.

When we booked this cruise, NCL offered a Specialty Dining Package where we would have 3 meals each at a specialty restaurant. That, in addition to the 2 nights of specialty dining included in our Platinum Latitudes benefits would give us 5 nights of dining in a specialty restaurant during the cruise. Unfortunately, unless you want to dine after 9:00 pm each night, you had to book reservations online several months ahead of the cruise which is not very freestyle.

Day 1 – Embarkation – San Juan
We had flown into San Juan the day before. As we came in for our landing, we saw the Celebrity Summit at the same pier we would be visiting the next day for our cruise. We spent the night at the Embassy Suites near the airport. We live on the east coast and had just recently changed our clocks for standard time. But, they do not change the clocks in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands we were going to visit. So, when we landed, we changed our watches ahead by one hour. The clocks on the Norwegian Gem were the same time as the local time.

It was a day that started as partly sunny in the low 80's and humid. It became warmer as the day progressed with a very light breeze. We checked out of our hotel at noon and took a taxi ($24) to the Pan-American cruise terminal located on Isla Grande across the harbor area opposite of Old San Juan. The ride was only 10 minutes long.

Besides the Norwegian Gem, there were two other cruise ships in port this day; the Carnival Fascination and the Anthem of the Seas. The Anthem of the Seas was docked along the same pier as our ship while the Fascination was docked at the piers in Old San Juan.

The scheduled departure time for our ship was 9:00 pm. When we first arrived at the cruise terminal, we dropped off our two suitcases with a porter before heading into the building where we went into the line for security screening of all passengers. Past that, there were 4 lines. One was for Latitudes members. Another line was for Latitudes Gold, Platinum, and VIP members. The third one was for non-Latitudes members and the fourth was for Haven Suite Guests. We are Platinum Latitudes and took that line which did not have anyone in front of us. The other lines were not very long. We were guessing that there wasn’t a big rush of guests due to the ship not leaving until later in the evening. The friendly agent quickly logged us into the system, took our photos, and gave us our keycards. With our keycards in hand we were directed to the entrance ramp for the ship. We were walking onto the ship by 12:30 pm. Of all of our previous cruises, this was our best experience with the embarkation process.

As we boarded, they were announcing that the cabins were open to let you drop off your carry-on bags but that the room stewards were still working on preparing them. We went to our cabin (10569) to drop off our one bag and met our room steward, Ryan who was working on cleaning our cabin at that time. We dropped off our bag and went topside to the buffet for lunch and to then walk around the ship to explore and take pictures. At 1:00 pm, they announced that the cabins were now ready.

As we walked around the ship, we could see many changes to the various areas of the ship that had been refurbished in the last dry dock. They had replaced carpeting, furniture, and fixtures with ones with a more modern look to them. Everything seemed brighter and more appealing to the eye. This included the Spinnaker Lounge, La Cucina Italian Restaurant, Cagney’s Steakhouse, and the Bliss Lounge (the bowling alleys are gone).

When we went back to our cabin around 2:00 pm, we were surprised to see that our bags that we had dropped off with the porters were already in our cabin (Ryan had brought them into the cabin for us). We quickly unpacked the bags before heading back out.

Considering that it was a mid-November cruise, we were expecting on older group of passengers and were surprised to see so many young families on board. We found out that it was a vacation week for students in Puerto Rico.

The muster drill was scheduled for 4:30 pm and everything was closed at 4:00 pm in preparation of the drill. For the muster drill, we were told to go to our assigned station in the Bar City area (without our life jackets) to watch a demonstration of how to put on life jackets and where to go in case of an emergency. This process is much easier than the drills we have experienced on Carnival ships where you have to line up on the outer decks in the hot weather.

After the muster drill, we went to our first trivia game which was held in Magnum’s located in the Bar City area. They used a computer to show the questions on a screen to make it easier to understand the questions (what a great idea). After the trivia game, we decided to have dinner at O’Sheehan’s which replaced the former Blue Lagoon restaurant on deck 8 overlooking the atrium area on deck 7. For the first night of a cruise, they offer a prime rib. On a previous Norwegian cruise, my wife thought that the prime rib she had at O’Sheehan’s was one of the best she ever had. We placed our orders and in about 10 minutes, the waiter came with our salad appetizers and only a minute later, they brought the entrées. We asked the waiter to not have the entrées at the same time, so he took them away. He stopped by our table about 15 minutes later and asked if were ready for the rest of our order. He returned with the two plates and it was apparent that they had just placed the dishes he had brought earlier under a heat lamp while we were having our salads. My wife’s prime rib looked dried out and was not appetizing. We decided to just leave instead of reordering.

We went to another trivia game before going up to the Garden Café buffet to have something to eat. We were happy with our choices there. Next, we went to the Spinnaker lounge to listen to one of the bands on the ship. They were called “Great Ideas”. The musicians were very good. We found it entertaining listening to one of the singers as it was apparent that English was not his primary language as he sang lyrics he was reading from his iPad. He mangled quite a few words along the way.

The only show for the evening in the Stardust Theater was the “Welcome Aboard Show”. The Stardust Theater has just over 1,000 seats and most have good views. The show was hosted by the Cruise director, Drew who did a great job of welcoming us and introducing some of the various acts in the show that we would see later during the cruise. They were the cast of the production shows, an aerial acrobat duo named Aaron and Prudence, and a singer/guitarist named “Leo”. He also mentioned that we had 2,700 passengers on our cruise with almost a quarter being residents of Puerto Rico. (They were making all announcements in both English and Spanish.) Later, they had “Great Ideas” playing again in the Spinnaker Lounge while “Leo” was playing at the Magnum’s stage.

Day 2 – Day at Sea
It was another warm day in the mid-80’s F and partly cloudy as we sailed south towards our first port visit in Grenada which is about 520 miles from San Juan. We had planned to sleep in, but we had a toilet issue. It would not stop flushing. We called the front desk who paged a plumber. We got dressed and went to a morning trivia (9:30 am) and then breakfast before returning to our cabin. The toilet was all set. We wondered if our issue affected other cabins on the same water lines.

While my wife showered, I went to the Promenade deck (deck 7) for a 3-mile run (8 laps around). I enjoy running when at sea. It is relaxing watching the waves go by. At noon, we checked the navigation channel on our TV and saw that the closest island on our current position sailing to Grenada was Montserrat.

After having lunch in the Garden Café buffet, we attended the Latitudes guest party at the Spinnaker Lounge. They had the band “New Ideas” playing while offering drinks and light snacks. They introduced the captain and his staff and then raffled off some small prizes to the guests. We spent the rest of the afternoon by the pools.

The Tahitian pool area on deck 12 has two large pools with a pair of hot tubs by each one. There is a kiddie’s pool off to the side in one corner and a water slide that ends up by one of the two large pools. One pool is 5’9” on one end and 4’11” at the other with steps leading into it. The other pool for adults only was 5’9” all around. By the pools are loungers that are open to the sun along with chairs and loungers under the overhang from the deck above for shade. They have a covered gazebo between the two pools where they had bands playing in the afternoon and sometimes the evenings. When we came aboard, we found that 2 beach towels were issued to our cabin and that we were responsible for them and that we would be charged $25 for each towel not returned by the end of the cruise. You could get extra towels that you had to sign out for at a room in one corner of the pool deck area.

Our favorite area on the Jewel class ships is the Bali Hai Bar above the pool deck on deck 13 where we could sit in the shade, catch a breeze, watch the waves go by, and listen to the bands playing below us on the pool deck. Unfortunately, they have made a change to this area in that they were allowing smoking on both sides of the area instead of the previous rule where smoking was only allowed on the starboard side of the ship (we are not smokers). While there was a breeze, we found ourselves having clothes that reeked of smoke and we needed to take a shower before dinner.

We had dinner in Cagney’s Steakhouse before going to the evening’s show. My wife likes steak but was disappointed with her filet mignon as it was overcooked. The manager came by and brought an immediate replacement that she said was very good. I ordered the tuna steak and it was just okay.

The evening’s entertainment in the Stardust was a production show called “Get Down Tonight” with song and dance numbers from 60’s and 70’s. The show had 4 singers and 10 dancers along with a show band of 6 musicians. Even though we have seen this show several times over the year, it was still good. Later in the Spinnaker lounge, they had the “Newlywed Not-So-Newlywed” game with four couples which were funny as they asked embarrassing questions of the spouses while their partners were taken to an area where they could not hear their responses until they returned. After that, they had the “Norwegian's Night Out Party” in the Spinnaker Lounge.

Day 3 – Grenada
We were scheduled to arrive at the port of St. George’s in Grenada at 8:00 am and leave at 5:00 pm. These times would be the case for each of the next four cruise ports on our itinerary as well. The weather was sunny and temps in the high-80’s. The island would be the furthest south of our port visits after which we head north to visit our other planned ports.

Grenada is a small island of 133 square miles with a population just over 100,000. It is known as the Island of Spice as it is an exporter of nutmeg, mace, and other spices. It is located about 100 miles north of the coast of Venezuela. Grenada’s currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar where one ECD equals about 37 cents in USD. US dollars are accepted. English is the main language of the island. St. George’s is the capital of Grenada as well as the main cruise port for the island. The nation is divided into 6 parishes.

We were docked at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal by 7:45 am and at 8:00 am, they announced that the ship was cleared by the local authorities and that we could disembark. We had arranged for a private tour ($140) with Allan Medford who had a driver meet us at the terminal at 10:00 am. Our guide/driver, Sheldon Noel took us on a 4-hour tour that started in the city and then headed north along the coast where we passed the National Cricket Field and Halifax Harbour. We then drove inland up into the rain forest where we stopped to view the Concord Waterfall. It is 70 feet tall and we watched some brave lads jumping off a small cliff face into the pool at the bottom the falls. They have several shops located there including a viewing platform.

After we left the falls, we stopped to visit the Dougladston Estate. It is an old spice plantation that closed about 100 years ago which is now used to show how spices were processed here years ago. Sheldon explained the process for each spice, fruit, and leaves as well as their uses. Our next stop was in a small city called Gouyave, where we visited a Nutmeg Processing Station ($1 entrance fee). A guide took us through the building explaining the steps in preparing nutmeg to be shipped in large bags to locations all over the world.

Our final stop was near the middle of the island as we drove though the rain forest to visit the Grand Etang National Park ($5 entrance fee) and to see Grand Etang Lake which is in a volcano crater. There was a visitor’s center that had displays showing the history of the park and the plants and creatures of the area. Nearby was a viewing platform to had wonderful vistas of the valleys below.

Sheldon drove back to the harbor and cruise terminal returning around 2:00 pm. We thought that Sheldon did a great job and was very knowledgeable of both the island’s history as well as the flora and fauna to be found there. We did learn that unemployment on the island is at 35% which was a big improvement from when it was 50%. They are building several resorts on the island and that will help the local economy and employment.

Before returning to the ship, we spent an hour visiting a nearby sports bar having some local beers (Carib and Stag) while chatting with some fellow cruise ship passengers. We spent the rest of the afternoon back on the ship where we grabbed a quick snack and relaxed in the shade near the pool. We left the harbor at 5:00 pm for our 130 mile trip to Saint Lucia.

Before dinner, we went to a trivia game and then headed over to the Le Bistro Restaurant for dinner. The service at dinner was super slow. We thought the meal was just okay.

We attended a music trivia game and then went to the Spinnaker lounge to listen to the Showband playing jazz music which I enjoyed (I play the upright bass in jazz bands). I thought they were very good. The evening’s entertainment in the Stardust Theater was two performances by the “Second City Improv” troupe. We have seen Second City shows on previous cruises, so we decided to go elsewhere. Later in the evening, they had a steel band called “Caribbean Wave" playing at the “Caribbean Tropical Party” between the two pools on deck 12. “Leo” was performing at the Magnum’s stage as well.

Day 4 – St. Lucia
We were scheduled to arrive in Castries at 8:00 am and leave at 5:00 pm. St. Lucia is an island that is larger than Grenada at 238 square miles and with a population of closer to 200,000 people. Like Grenada, English is the main language and the ECD is their currency. Castries is the capital of the island and the main cruise port as well.

We were docked at the Castries cruise pier by 7:50 am and were cleared shortly after 8:00 am. It was going to be another hot day with temps in the mid-80’s and partly cloudy skies. We had been to St. Lucia before, so we decided to sleep in and not worry about taking any tours.

Before going up for a late breakfast, I went for another run on the promenade deck. Located across the harbor was another cruise ship, the MSC Armonia. After breakfast in the buffet, we walked off the ship and walked around the cruise terminal shopping village and pubs. We did a little shopping and then stopped for a few cold local beers called Piton at a pub called the Rum Therapy Bar. They hit the spot on a hot day.

We were back on board the ship by 3:30 pm where we relaxed on some lounge chairs we found on the promenade and stayed until the sail away. Around 4:30 pm, we heard the horns from the MSC ship tooting as she pulled away from her pier. Around this time, there were dark clouds over the middle of the island and then we spotted a double rainbow created by the setting sun against the dark clouds. By 5:15 pm we were sailing off to our next stop, Dominica which is only about 107 miles away.

For dinner, we had reservations at Cagney’s where we had a good meal (Filet Mignon for her and Shrimp for me).

In the Stardust, the two productions shows called “Swing” in which the singers and dancers were performing a variety of swing jazz songs of the 30’s and 40’s songs along with the Gem Show Band. They had two numbers that were very cute. The first was a song with just the upright bassist being alone on the stage when a dancer appears from behind and she dances around the stage while he follows her playing the bass. The other was a song (Cry Me a River) that had a female singer on stage with the trombone player. Their interplay was interesting. We thought it was a great show to watch. After the show, we watched the “Weakest Link” game in the atrium area. For music, they had “Leo” playing at Magnum’s and “Caribbean Wave” in the Spinnaker Lounge.

Day 5 – Dominica
We were scheduled to arrive in Roseau at 8:00 am and leave at 5:00 pm. Dominica is an island that is 290 square miles and has a population of less than 80,000 people. Its nickname is the “Nature Isle of the Caribbean”. The island is separated into 10 parishes. While it started as a French colony, the British took over in the 1700’s and English became the main language of the island (but locals also speak Creole). Like other islands in the area, their currency is the ECD. Roseau is the capital city and the main cruise port for Dominica.

We arrived at 7:45 am and were cleared by 8:00 am. The weather would be in the high-80’s and partly cloudy. I had arranged for a private 4-hour tour of the island with My Sister Tours ($200). We met our driver/guide Angus at the pier at 10:00 am and went on a tour that started with a tour of the city highlights before we drove up to Morne Bruce which was an overlook above the city and harbor. We could see that our ship was clearly the largest structure in town. From there, we drove to the Botanical Gardens where they have plantings of every type of tree and flowers found on the island including a banyan tree and bamboo. They also had a cage with several Sisserou Parrots, the national bird of Dominica. We spotted several large colorful caterpillars on flowers. There was a school bus that was crushed by a fallen tree caused by a hurricanes several years ago. No one was injured. We did not see signage showing the name of the plantings though.

Leaving the gardens, we drove up into the rain forest to a small town called Trafalgar to view two large falls found there called the Trafalgar Falls. There was a $5 entrance fee to enter a trail that led you to a viewing platform. The two falls are referred to as the mother and father. The trail took about 10 minutes to reach the platform. After returning to the car, we met up with Helen, the owner of the tour company. She was very friendly and welcoming as we talked and enjoyed a cold bottle of their local beer called Kubuli.

Our next stop was a visit of nearby Sulphur Springs which was not very interesting. Leaving the rain forest we headed back to Roseau where we stopped to visit a small church (St. Alphonsus) before returning to the cruise pier area. The tour only took about 2 ½ hours. But it seemed that everyone on the ship was returning at the same time so I am guessing that there wasn’t too much else to see on the island without spending a full day.

When we came back on board, the pool area was already filled with guests. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in lounge chairs under shade above the pool area listening to “Caribbean Wave” play at the pool gazebo. We spotted a rainbow over the mountains in the middle of the island. We sailed away at 5:00 pm heading to Antigua which was 117 miles away.

For dinner, we returned to Le Bistro where we had a better meal and service than the last time.

After dinner, we went to the Atrium to listen to “Leo” play and then watched a game called “Ultimate Challenge” where contestants had to do tasks timed against each other. The evening’s entertainment in the Stardust were 2 shows by a musician called “El Gaucho” described as playing Spanish music with dazzling effects and interactive comedy. We decided to just listen to music in other spots instead. We went to the Spinnaker where we listened to “Great Ideas” play for an hour. Next was a dance competition called the “Ultimate Dance Clash” where they paired passengers with dancers from the production shows. It was hilarious watching them compete. We ended the evening in the Spinnaker listening to “Great Ideas” play Beatles tunes.

Day 6 – Antigua
We were scheduled to arrive in Saint Johns at 8:00 am and leave at 5:00 pm. Antigua is a leeward island and is part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. It is only 108 square miles and has a population of 80,000. Its currency is the ECD and English is the main language. Saint Johns is the capital city and main port city for Antigua. The island is separated into 6 parishes. It was going to be another hot day with temps in the high-80’s and partly cloudy skies.

We had signed up for a local tour with Unique Island Tours where we joined up with other passengers for a half day tour of the island ($75 for the 2 of us). We walked off the boat and met our group at a spot near the cruise pier. Our driver/guide was Nellie Beazer, the owner of the tour company. She led us to a parking lot outside the cruise pier area and had the 8 us get into her van.

We started with a brief tour of the local city area passing by the museum of Antigua and Barbuda. We also passed the local prison that was built in 1735. Our first stop was to visit Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Field which is the national cricket field. The colors of the seats in the stadium represented the Antiguan flag. There were a lot of people working on sprucing up the stadium grounds as there was to be a royal visit by Prince Harry in a few days (when we returned home, we saw a news video showing the prince at the stadium which we recognized immediately by the brightly colored seats).

From the cricket field, we drove inland to a town called Liberta and stopped to visit St. Barnabas Anglican church which was built in the early 1800’s. After that we continued to the south coast passing through Falmouth Harbour to visit the area around English Harbour.

We stopped at a guard shack to pay an entry fee for the national park area ($8 ea) and then continued up a large hill to reach a point called the Blockhouse which was a lookout point for the British military. It offered wonderful of the sea below along the nearby coastline that included Indian Creek, Stand Fast Point, Mamora Bay, and St. James Bay. Off in the distance we could see the outline of Monserrat Island. Nellie pointed out a large cluster of buildings at the end of Stand Fast Point which she said was the home of Eric Clapton. There were vendors there offering souvenirs and drinks. I tried a cold bottle of the local beer Wadadli which was good. While there, it briefly rained even though it was sunny.

Our next stop was another nearby hill overlook called Shirley Heights which had wonderful views of English Harbour below. There was a restaurant and souvenir stands here as well. After a while, we drove down the hill and went into the Nelson’s Dockyard area of English Harbour. The tickets we purchased at the guard shack were collected as we entered the grounds. Nelson’s Dockyard was a main location for the British fleet in the 1700’s and 1800’s. The geography of the harbor made it safe for ships during storms and fortifications made it very difficult for any opposition to be able to enter the harbor area. The dockyard became idle at the end of the 1800’s and was restored as a historical park in the late 1900’s. There are a variety of buildings to visit including a museum with artifacts that were interesting. Many of the buildings have been converted to restaurants. We stopped by a bakery where some of our group grabbed a quick bite for a lunch.

Leaving the dock yard we headed north and then turned up a road to drive through a rain forest which had a variety of fruit trees. Nellie stopped at a stand and bought pineapples that she had cut up and brought to us in small bags each with a fork. The local pineapple is not as large of the ones from Hawaii, but they were much sweeter. Continuing through the rain forest, we passed a zip line park area. At the end of the road, we reached the western coast from which we drove north towards Saint Johns. We stopped at Ffrye’s Beach briefly which was a beautiful area. All beaches on the island are public. We returned to the cruise pier around 2:30 pm and thanked Nellie for a great tour. The only negative part of the tour was that we were sitting in the last row of the van which made it difficult to hear Nellie describe things and to see anything she was pointing at as we were driving along the way.

We walked back on board the ship and grabbed a quick snack in the buffet before we headed to deck 13 to find a shady spot under an overhang and listened to “Caribbean Wave” play. They started a pool game around 4:30 pm when it started to rain. We left Saint Johns at 5:00 pm for our 200 or so miles to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

For dinner, we went back to the Garden Café buffet. We were happy with what they had to offer.

They had two shows in the Stardust this evening. It was called “When Two Worlds Collided” which featured the aerialists that we had seen perform at the "Welcome Aboard Show". We have seen these types of shows before, so we decided to go elsewhere. We started by listening to “Great Ideas” in the Atrium and then headed up to the Spinnaker to see the “The Perfect Couple Show” which was entertaining. We ended the evening at the Mangum’s bar city area listening to “Dana”, a pianist accompanied by music sound tracks and then “Great Ideas”. They ended the evening up in the Spinnaker with their "White Hot Party" which we did not attend.

Day 7 – Tortola, British Virgin Islands
We were scheduled to arrive in Road Town at 8:00 am with a planned departure at 5:00 pm. The British Virgin Islands is a series of islands and cays. The island of Tortola is the largest island of the British Virgin Islands. It is only 21 square miles and has a population of about 24,000 people. We have been to Tortola before back in 2007 and after taking tours on the two previous days of our cruise, we did not have any set plans for our day in port here.

Just like the other days, the Captain announced that we had docked by 7:45 am and then the CD announced that we were cleared by the local authorities by 8:00 am. We slept in for a bit before we went up to the Atrium to attend a morning trivia game. After that, we went to the buffet for breakfast. After dining, I went up to deck 13 for a run. It was in the mid-80’s with very little breeze and mostly cloudy skies. Next to us at the pier was the cruise ship Viking Star.

Around noon, we walked off the ship. Things were different at the cruise pier compared to our last visit 8 years ago. Instead of a long pier and a very long walk into Road Town, they have built a Pier Park with several upscale shops and a few pubs right next to the docks. We walked around the park for a bit of time before returning to the ship for a late lunch and then went back to our cabin to pack our suitcases. If you wanted them to take your luggage, you had to have them placed outside of your cabin before midnight with your assigned color-coded luggage tags affixed.

After packing, we were hoping to find a safe spot by the Bali Hai Bar that would be smoke free while listening to music, but the entire area was filled with smokers. With hardly any breeze it was very uncomfortable for us to stay there, so we found a spot in the shade on deck 13 to listen to the band “Caribbean Wave”. The sun came out in the late afternoon and we spotted a rainbow over the hills of the island. We sailed away at 5:00 pm for the final 100 miles of our cruise back to San Juan.

For dinner, we had another dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse which we both thought was good.

After dinner, we went to the Atrium for our last trivia game which we won. We stayed in the Atrium to watch another “Ultimate Challenge” match. The final Stardust shows were a new production show being introduced on our cruise called “Blazing Boots” which had the performers singing and dancing to mostly current country pop songs. It was listed as a PG+13 show and the CD made several announcements during the evening to that point. We went to the 9:00 pm. The show was okay, nothing special.

We ended our last night on the cruise up in the Spinnaker lounge. At 10:00 pm, they had a “Second City Scriptless Show (18+)” which was funny at s few times. Then at 10:45 pm, they had “The Quest Game Show” where teams of people had to have someone run up with an article of some sort. As the game progressed, the items became a little more risqué. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

We were back to our cabin just before midnight and I put out our bags for the porters to take away. As Platinum Latitudes, we were issued Yellow colored tags which were be the first color announced once they started the process of passengers to get off the ship who had their bags taken by the porters.

Disembarkation Day – San Juan
The schedule for the day would have the ship docked and cleared by 7:00 am and from 7:15 am to 8:15 am, passengers who chose the easy walk off option and carried all their luggage would be allowed to disembark. The colored tags would be announced starting at 8:15 am. You could stay in your cabin as late as 9:30am if you wanted to.

I went up for teas at 6:30 am and saw that we were already docked. Just after 7:00 am, they announced that walk off guests could start to disembark. I went back up to the buffet to bring back pastries for breakfast. We were ready to go, when they announced that guests with yellow and aqua colored tags could start disembarking at 8:10 am. We walked down to deck 7 aft and then headed down the outside promenade deck mid-ship to get off the ship. We were one of the first guests to walk into the large hall to pick up our luggage before going up to a customs agent to be waved through.

Once outside, there was a rank of taxis almost a quarter mile long, so we had no wait at all to get a taxi back to the airport ($24). We were at the airport by 8:30am. A tip for those flying back to the States from San Juan. Before you can drop off your luggage, it must be inspected by USDA agents to be sure that you do not have any fruits/plants in your luggage.

The ship –
Launched in 2007, the Gem is a Jewel Class ship for Norwegian with a capacity to carry 2,400 to 2,800 passengers. She is the last of the four Jewel class ships along with the sister ships Jewel, Pearl, and Jade. We enjoy the full wrap-around outside promenade and the outdoor bar area overlooking the pool area, both of which are missing from the latest versions of ships from NCL like the Breakaway, Getaway, and Escape.

The Spa, Gym, and Sports Deck – SPA - Hours: 8:00am-11:00pm
The Ying and Yang Spa is located on deck 12 forward. It offered steam rooms, heated mosaic lounge chairs, hot tubs, and lounge chairs with a view of the front of the ship. You could buy a week-long spa pass or a day pass. They offered spa treatment specials during port days. The hair and beauty salon is located there as well.

FITNESS CENTER - Hours: 6:00am-11:00pm
The Body Waves Fitness Center on deck 12 has a large variety of equipment. They had plenty of tread mills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes as well as a free-weight room.

The jogging track is found on deck 13 aft to mid-ship. It took 5 and ½ laps to run one mile. It was much easier to run the course during the early morning before most people were up and about as the track narrows along the sides of the basketball court in two spots and a lot of people are walking along those points. Along the running track were two golf driving net areas as well as a small basketball court area surrounded by a net. For walking, deck 7 offered a wide promenade area that went totally around the ship. It was only 2 and 2/3 laps to walk a mile.

On deck 12 mid-ship, there are two large pools and 4 hot tubs. Both pools have heated salt water. One pool had depths starting at 4’ 11’’ graduating up to 5’ 9” and was next to a water slide that was open most of the day. That same pool has stairs so you could walk down into the pool. The forward pool was designated as adults only. It was 5’9’’ at both ends. Two of the hot tubs had signs designating them to be adults only and this was never an issue even though there were kids on the cruise. Off in one corner of the pool deck was a glassed off kiddies pool area with a small slide that was only accessible from a doorway from within the splash academy room.

If you are a sun worshipper, they were plenty of areas to have lounge chairs exposed to the sun. On deck 14 forward, they had huge wicker chairs that could hold 2-3 people for sun bathing/napping. It was a designated quiet spot and would be a relaxing area for those taking advantage of it.


The carpeting on the cabin decks have fish swimming towards the front of the ship.
On deck 11 forward port side was the bridge viewing room which is interesting.
The guest services desk and the tour excursions desk were both located in the atrium lobby on deck 7.
The main show room was the Stardust Theater which holds about 1,100 passengers and has entrances on 2 decks (6 & 7 forward). There were only a few poles to contend with.

Our Cabin –
We prefer inside cabins. With the Norwegian Gem, the inside cabins are all 140 square feet inside.
Our cabin (10569) had more than enough room for the two of us. There was a large closet that came with bars and hangars as well as shelves.
We stored our 2 large pieces of luggage under the beds.
There is a safe and a small fridge in the cabin. The safe was locked by punching in a 4 digit code of your choice.
The bathroom had an adjustable European-style shower with a glass door with dispensers for body wash and shampoo. There was a soap dish.
The hair dryer was located by the mirror and desk inside the cabin. The desk had several drawers for added storage.
They have flat screen TV’s in the cabin that are interactive. You could check on your account, order shore excursions, and other functions.
Outside of the cabin was a convenient Stateroom Service Wheel that you could use to show “Make Up Room”, “Turn Down Room”, and “Do Not Disturb”.

Looking at the deck plans for the ship, we thought the location of our cabin would be quiet and away from any crew stairwells, but we were mistaken. Every night we would hear banging and other loud noises from a stairwell that had to be within a few feet of our cabin. We like cabins on deck 10 of the Jewel class ships as that is only a few decks away from topside and the promenade deck.

Dining –
There were several dining options on the Gem.

As with all NCL ships, complimentary dining is freestyle where you can show up anywhere and (for the most part) expect to be seated in a relatively short amount of time. The popular specialty restaurants (with a fee) were all booked from 6:00 pm to 9:00pm each night before we boarded the ship. We could book reservations months ahead of our cruise which kind of takes away the “freestyle” spirit, but it let us plan our days as we prefer to dine early.

For dinner, the Gem has many locations to choose from with some having added fees and those that are complimentary:

Deck 6:
Grand Pacific Main Dining Room – located aft – complimentary
Magenta Main Dining Room – mid-ship – complimentary
Le Bistro (French) – mid-ship – a la carte

Deck 7:
Teppanyaki (Japanese Hibachi) – mid-ship - $30
Orchid Garden (Asia) – mid-ship – complimentary
Sushi Bar (Japanese) – mid-ship – a la carte

Deck 8:
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill (comfort bar foods) – mid-ship – complimentary

Deck 12:
Garden Café (buffet) – aft – complimentary
La Cucina (Italian) – aft – a la carte
The Great Outdoors – aft - complimentary
The Grill – midship – complimentary (when open)

Deck 13:
Cagney’s Steakhouse (Steak and Seafood) – mid-ship – a la carte
Moderno Churrascaria – Brazilian) – mid-ship – $25
Bali Hai Bar and Grill – midship – complimentary (when open)

For lunch, the Garden Café lido buffet area had several options for lunch that included Indian, Asian, and Mexican choices plus 4 stations offering fish, beef, vegetables, salads, fruits, desserts, and Carvery. By the pool, there was a grill for hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries. They also had a coffee bar where you could buy Starbucks style of coffees.

For dinner, the Garden Cafe buffet was also open offering fish, beef, vegetables, salads, fruits, desserts, and carvery.

For breakfast, you could go the Garden Cafe Buffet or the Grand Pacific Main Dining Room. They had several omelet stations in the buffet and by the pool.

They offered 24 hour room service with a limited menu. The Java Café Coffee Shop on deck 7 midship in the Atrium offered coffees and pastries for a fee.

During breakfast in the Garden Cafe buffet area, they had fountains with OJ, Apple Juice, and unsweetened ice tea along with water. For the rest of the day, these fountains offered lemonade, iced tea, and water.

They offered room service with a limited complimentary menu. They had a larger menu that offered items including pizza that had an $8 delivery charge.

BIG TIP -The Italian restaurant (La Cucina) next to the buffet has its doors open during breakfast and lunch to handle the overflow of diners from the Garden Café and Great Outdoors. We always found at least 10 empty tables there each time we went there. It was quieter eating in there as well.

Sometimes we went to the buffet as it was faster than sitting down in the dining rooms which usually took about an hour and a half for the full meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert).

Internet Service –
They offered packages for wi-fi which we did not look into.

Bar Service –
There were plenty of spots on the ship to get alcoholic drinks.

On deck 6, there was the Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar, Shaker’s Martini & Cocktail Bar, and Magnum’s Champagne a& Wine Bar all located mid-ship in the Bar City area next to the casino.

On deck 7, there was the Bliss Ultra Lounge Night Club located aft. In the Asian restaurant area, they have a Sake Bar.

On deck 8, you could go to O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill located midship.

On deck 12, you had the Great Outdoors located aft and the Topsiders Bar next to the Tahitian mid-ship.

On deck 13, you had Sugarcane Mojito Bar mid-ship, the Bali Hai Bar & Grill overlooking the pool area mid-ship, and the Spinnaker Lounge (during show times).

We are beer drinkers and we took advantage of the beer bucket specials where you would get 6 beers for the price of 5 that was offered throughout the cruise. We like to have cold beer and chose not to take advantage of the drink package as you could only get one beer at a time and they would never be as cold as what we prefer.

They had a limited selection of bottles and cans of beer offered in the bars around the ship. The only craft beer offered was a Lagunitas IPA. They do not offer Foster oil cans anymore. In Maltings, they no longer have draft beer. Their menu of beers was the same as the other bars on the ship (in the past they had a wider variety to offer).

They did have daily drink specials as well.

Past Guest Program –
We are rated as Platinum Members of Norwegian’s Past Guest Program.

When we first arrived in our cabin, we received the following as platinum:
A bottle of champagne
A plate of chocolate covered strawberries
A box of Godiva chocolates

In addition, we received:
A ship’s pin
Invitations to 2 past guest parties
Free Laundry for one day
A Ship’s tour
Priority tender tickets which let us use any tender we wanted to get onto
Priority disembarkation luggage tags

Activities –
There were plenty of other things to do on aboard for all interests. They had the usual plethora of bingo games and art auctions as well as poolside games. We like trivia games and took advantage of many trivia games they offered during the cruise.

The casino is open during times at sea. We do not gamble, so we cannot comment on the slots and gaming tables. Smoking was allowed in the casino.

Music –
We enjoy listening to live music and they had a variety of musical options on board to entertain people at various locations and times.

“Great Ideas” were a quartet of musicians along with two vocalists that played pop and rock music
“Caribbean Wave” were a Caribbean steel drum quartet that played reggae and pop music.
“Leo” was a singer/guitarist playing pop songs
“Dana” was a singer/pianist who performed to music soundtracks
The “Gem Show Band” was a quintet of musicians that performed during the production shows (along to a soundtrack) as well as in the Spinnaker playing jazz tunes.

Crew –
The cruise director, Drew Raitch and his team were good. We thought that Beancka, Jo Jo, and Ash were great with all of the activities they led.

Our room steward, Ryan was assigned 13 cabins to service by himself during our cruise. He did a terrific job meeting our requests and making sure that the cabin was cleaned and prepped twice every day. We always had fresh ice in the bucket waiting for us as well.

Overall –
We enjoyed our cruise on the Norwegian Gem. We had terrific weather and calm seas. It was nice to visit some new islands on a Norwegian Cruise instead of the usual St. Thomas and the Bahamas.

Production shows with multiple singer and dancers along with a live band and scenery changes.
Casual dress code – you could even go to any restaurant with shorts on if you wanted to (except for Le Bistro). We certainly did not have to pack extra clothes.
Service in by our room steward

Having to book specialty restaurant reservations prior to our cruise to get an early time (defeats the sense of freestyle) that we prefer. We decided that we would not choose a specialty dining package in the future. We are not foodies and find the offerings in the buffet and main dining rooms to be good enough for us.
Allowing smokers to monopolize the Bali Hai bar area and not give non-smokers any free space there.
Sail away at 9:00 pm out of San Juan. We like the idea of starting our cruise with a sail away during daylight to see the sights of the harbor area as we leave the port.

Here is a link to photos we took on our cruise, one is pictures of our visits to the islands and the other is just the ship:

Image Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

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