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AttilaTheFun

NCL Gem - NYC to (not) Bermuda, 9/11-9/18 Review (with pictures)

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Just got off the Gem yesterday and wanted to share my experience as I've found it very helpful to read about others on this site! Even though we were re-routed from Bermuda to the Bahamas, it still ranks as one of my top vacations and I had a fantastic time!

 

Some background on me - mid-20s male and have been on cruises in the past with my family (Disney & Big Red Boat, if anyone remembers that one), but this was my first "adult" cruise. I went with a good friend from work we'll call AG, who also took all the photos if I can get them to work on here. We both enjoy similar things, so it was a good cruise buddy match.

 

Going to try a quick test to see if images load and then continue on with the review... (photo taken by friend we met on the cruise - thanks Sonny!)

 

DSCN1230.JPG

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i didn't realize that once again the gem went to the bahamas last week. what was the reason? when did they alert you of the change?

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I saw the message go up on the ncl.com website as we were in the taxi ride to the port. Once we entered, they asked us which ship. We said NCL Gem, and they handed us a paper telling us about the change.

 

We were rerouted due to the bad weather that was going to happen in Bermuda due to I think it was storm Maria

 

thx,

Debbie

Edited by StarAFire

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thanks so much starafire....picture is beautiful...brought back wonderful memories...hope weather holds in bermuda in a few weeks!

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I chose this cruise due to the low prices and the fact that it sails from NYC, so no flights required for us, just a subway ride and taxi cross-town to the cruise ship terminal on the west side of Manhattan.

 

Embarkation was one of the worst parts of the trip due to general chaos/confusion and the terminal workers, who were beyond unfriendly. We arrived around 11am and no one was helping direct people to the correct ships (there were 3-4 docked and boarding at the same time) and very little signage around to guide yourself. Once inside the building, we were asked if we were sailing the Gem and received a letter that said we had been re-routed from Bermuda to visit the Cape Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay, and Nassau, Bahamas instead, due to hurricane weather in the area. AG and I were at first a bit disappointed, but reasoned this was still a week away from work and to make the best of it. There was a bit of complaining from the other passengers in line (people REALLY hate Cape Canaveral), but overall, most were in good spirits. The terminal workers (mind you, none employed by NCL), were consistently rude and yelled constantly, without providing any real direction as to what we were supposed to do. It was basically waiting in line to wait in another line, while being shouted at – not a great way to start a vacation! However, once we reached the check-in counter, the NCL employee was very friendly and set up AG and I with separate onboard accounts, each linked to our key cards. NCL makes it extremely easy to charge everything on your keycard, which is convenient and dangerous – you forget you’re spending money!

 

We were handed a boarding number, but by the time we were done checking in (took maybe 20-30 minutes in line), they had stopped calling numbers, so we waited in the boarding line and the number didn’t seem to matter. Once onboard, we avoided the crush at the Garden Café and went to Grand Pacific instead. As others have noted, the food is fine to good, but not going to win culinary awards soon. However, I really enjoyed the chicken sandwich and the fries are addicting.

 

We explored the ship for a bit and I signed up for the casino’s players club to redeem by half-off slot play coupon. They said it would take about 10 minutes to process the credit, so they said I could return later.

 

Sail away was a bit cloudy – pictures below.

 

 

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(Picturesque view of the Jersey skyline from our inside stateroom)

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We explored the ship and got pulled into the spa tour, which took 20-30 minutes (Unsubstantiated rumor: someone mentioned the first 10 spa visitors get free facials). Even if you don’t plan to get a treatment or buy the spa pass, it’s definitely worth checking out and very nice. We were all able to enter the spa raffle, which was held later in the day and you had to be present to win. They gave away 3 treatments, but we didn’t win any. We raced off to the evening trivia, but all activities start promptly on-time with NCL we quickly learned, so we had missed the first half of the questions and weren’t able to play.

 

Returning to the casino before 6, the machines still weren’t unlocked because we weren’t far enough out yet, but they had free table game lessons and free rum punch for a bit. Once the casino did open, I played my $50 worth of slot credits and ended up with $34, or about $9 ahead of what I paid in – not bad!

 

We tried dinner in the buffet, since there were so many activities we wanted to try, and the food is a step up from an Old Country Buffet. However, there are so many options that unless you’re the pickiest eater, you’ll find something you enjoy.

 

We skipped the main show of the night – Welcome Aboard – as we’re not big into singing/dancing routines and comedians. We attended the end of the free liquor tasting in the duty-free shop, but it was a complete madhouse. Right after, they did a raffle where I actually won a set of NCL chocolates and an NCL photo album. TIP: You can stop by the duty-free shop before they open and get a free raffle ticket – no purchase required.

 

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Most of the evening activities were pretty dead – Name That Tune was cancelled due to no one showing up right away and the technician leaving immediately and Karaoke only had 2 singers. We think most people were tired and/or wanted to unpack, so we turned in early as well.

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What a great photo!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Re:

(Picturesque view of the Jersey skyline from our inside stateroom)

 

Which inside stateroom was that? With a view? : )

Edited by macruise
forgot sentence

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Day 2 was our at-sea day going over, followed by the 3 ports, and then 2 sea days coming back vs. the Bermuda itinerary normally being 2 sea days out and 1 coming back.

 

I started with a bit of a “can’t miss anything” mentality on this cruise, but learned to relax and enjoy myself a bit more throughout the week. Not being at that point on Day 2 yet, I got up early to grab breakfast at Garden Café. The breakfast items do not change, but there is a huge selection. My favorite items were the mini-chocolate croissants, vegetable fried rice (strange item for breakfast for me, but delicious) and the scrambled eggs, which are cooked a bit runnier and are much better than most buffets that have rubbery eggs. (TIP: As numerous others have mentioned, but can’t be stressed enough, walk all the way to the back of the ship after getting your food and try the Great Outdoors, which not only has its own buffet section, but its own beverage and omelet station in the morning. It’s much less crowded and a canopy covers most of the tables. La Cucina is also used as a buffet seating overflow room during breakfast and lunch and is normally very empty.)

 

Garden Café buffet

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My plan after was to play tennis at 8am while AG slept in. NCL allows you to rent 2 tennis rackets and a can of 3 balls for free (so long as you return everything). Unfortunately, there were no other guests playing, so I practiced my serve for a bit and gave up. AG joined me for a rousing game of shuffleboard, which was slated to be an Organized Staff Activity (OSA), but the staff never showed up. (TIP: OSA events are marked on the Freestyle Daily and mean you get a signature on a card for each OSA event you attend, and sometimes 2 signatures if you win the activity. You can redeem those points at the end of the cruise for NCL knick-knacks, such as drink coozies, key chains, mugs, etc. Keep in mind you need quite a few signatures to get much – we had 37 between AG and me at the end and only got 1 mug and 2 keychains.)

 

We remembered that trivia always starts ON TIME and attended the morning trivia session. It was fun, but very short – 20 questions only took 20 minutes to ask/grade at the end. I suppose short activities allow you to do other things aboard, but thought it would be nice if some OSA activities lasted longer than 20 minutes.

 

We attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet in Le Bistro (big thank you to Linda for organizing!), where the Captain and officers introduced themselves. The Captain explained that the weather was bad in Bermuda – high waves and winds – and basically it shuts down the island in such conditions, which leaves people stuck on the ship, as even the Bermuda ferries stop running and beaches shut down. I can definitely understand the re-route and appreciate the mostly sunny days we got on our cruise!

 

We had scattered rain in the afternoon, but there are ample covered seats on the pool deck. We were also very lucky and probably had a not-so-full sailing, so no chair hogs were spotted!

 

We attended Name That Tune and found it was 70’s theme for that night’s party. Being that we’re in our mid-20s and almost everyone else there was mid-40s and above, we didn’t think we stood a chance. A point was given for naming the correct song and another for artist off very short sound snippets. Surprisingly, we got 20 points and the winning team got 24, so we felt pretty proud of ourselves J

 

We also attended the OSA Scavenger Hunt, which was fun and all the teams got very competitive. It combined finding some items, while gathering information about the ship or taking pictures at certain locations. I attended OSA Shout It Out Movie Trivia while AG took a nap or read and thought the setup wasn’t great – basically they just played “Scene It” on the TVs in Bliss (Ultra Lounge & Night Club, official name – as if a “normal lounge” wasn’t enough!) and you shouted out the answer if you knew it. Too large of a setting for a game like that I think. I also went to the first round of OSA Progressive Trivia, which was basically tallying your scores from 5 sessions to pick a winning team at the end. If you miss one of the rounds, you’re basically out as there are really smart teams that attended every session.

 

We were invited to the Latitudes event at 6:45, so AG and I took the opportunity to dress up a bit. Definitely more of a formal event with men in suits or at least dress pants and the women wearing fancier dresses. The event was held in the private courtyard that is normally only accessible to suite guests, so a crew member escorted us lowly non-suite passengers upstairs. They had a retractable glass roof that was very cool and waiters served assorted cocktails/wine and hors d’oeuvres. The event only lasts 45 minutes, so be sure to show up on time as the drinks/hors d’oeuvres stop pretty quickly.

 

We went to Magenta main dining room (MDR) for dinner, but wanted to attend the Pub Crawl at 8:30pm, so were in a bit of a hurry. (TIP: Let your server know to bring your entrees as soon as you receive appetizers if you need to finish dinner quickly). The bread basket was phenomenal, including a cheese-type roll and French bread. The raspberry chocolate truffle cake (“always menu” item) was good and the other food was fine.

 

The Pub Crawl was probably the best choice of our cruise because we met so many great people. It was $25 for 6 drinks at 5 bars onboard and though it says “limited to 100 guests” we only had about 30 with us (normally drinks are $6.07 for house cocktails like rum & coke or vodka & soda or $6.33 for 16 oz. beers like Bud Light). The drinks aren’t huge – served in plastic Dixie cups – but plenty after you’ve had 6. Plus, the staff screamed at us (in a fun, though still a bit scary) way to finish our drinks quickly to move to the next bar. What is it with NCL and their punctuality?! (TIP: If you don’t like cocktails, bring your own bucket/helmet of beer and follow along as a couple guys did – you can at least still meet people, even if you’re not drinking the same drinks) At almost each stop on the crawl, we played some sort of game and then got our drinks. Our itinerary covered:

- Bliss (starting point): Rum Swizzle, no game

- Maltings: some other rum-based sweet drink, t-shirt signing game (AG was on the ladies team and won)

- Poolside bar: “Sex on the Ship” cocktail, balloon relay race

- Spinnaker: Margaritas, group dancing (including a Jane Lynch look-alike who got a bit wild with our group)

- Bali Hai: “Woowoo” shot and “Glass Cleaner” shot, drink beer through a straw game

 

The Pub Crawl was a great way to meet new people early on in the cruise and have fun. We went to the Newlywed Game afterwards, where we had our first encounter with Sinan, the fantastic Cruise Director, who was hosting the event. He is not only hilarious, he did a fantastic job of being at many events and ensuring people had a good time. Can’t say enough good things about him! The Newlywed Game is very popular, so be sure to go 10-15 minutes early if you want a good seat. In fact, the only kind of chair hogs we saw on this cruise were in Spinnaker before shows – one woman took her shoes off and laid across the booth like it was her personal couch at home – GROSS! Please be considerate that other people want to sit too and don’t be a booth hog!! If you do choose to participate in the Newlywed Game, be aware that it’s taped and shown on a channel in the staterooms! It was a hilarious game show and very well-done.

 

Right after the Newlywed Game in Spinnaker, there was a 70s dance party where 5 crew members dressed up as the Village People and performed a number.

 

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We checked out Bliss after that, where they play mostly Top 40 songs. We had a late night and I wanted to take up the Blue Lagoon on their 24-hour-a-day promise and ordered mozzarella sticks, spinach & artichoke dip, and a tuna melt, expecting to split it between the 2 of us and ordered to-go. AG had already fallen asleep by the time I brought the food back, so don’t tell anyone that I ate all 3 things…

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(NOTE: By the end of Day 3, the port credits were showing up of $48 per passenger on our accounts – this is because Bermuda port charges are more expensive than the ones on our modified itinerary)

 

Due to the itinerary change, I was a bit blind-sided by what we should see/do at the new locations. I had done extensive research for Bermuda, but had no idea whether you could do things on your own or had to book through NCL for these destinations, so we ended up buying a shuttle pass to Cocoa Beach for $18 from NCL excursions, which we boarded 12 12:45pm (pre-set times). We later found out taxis will take you for about $5 each way, so lesson learned. The shuttle took about 20-30 minutes to get there and they parked very close to the beach. We decided to rent an umbrella and 2 chairs for $27, since it was pretty hot out – bare feet on the sand felt like you were on a griddle! Due to a high number of jellyfish in the water, the best way to cool down were the outdoor showers near the bathrooms or stay in the shade under the umbrella. After baking for a while, we took the 5pm shuttle back (they run every half hour from 3-6:30pm).

 

We made dinner plans with a couple we had met on the pub crawl and went to Magenta at 6:15, where the wait for a table of 4 was 20 minutes. (TIP: While you’re waiting and have the buzzer, it entitles you to 20% off house cocktails at the bar). Dinner was good, but there were a couple stand-outs:

- I had the red snapper over gumbo, which was actually cooked very well, but included what must be the world’s smallest shrimp. They were literally smaller than a dime. NCL might employ that machine from “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” for this feat…

- AG’s mushroom ravioli came with a cheese sauce that was the bright orange color of Velveeta, not very appetizing

- The Kahlua tiramisu was FANTASTIC – definitely try this one!

 

While we were in port in Florida, we actually had cell service, so I took the chance to make some phone calls and then we went to the 9:30pm performance of Second City. They did some improv and also rehearsed skits. The funniest section by far was the “scenes from the Gem” part – you’ll never look at the hand sanitizer dispenser the same way!

 

We checked out Bliss, but it was pretty empty, so we went to get a late-night snack at Blue Lagoon, where AG got to try the same food I scarfed down the night prior. The mozzarella cheese sticks, spinach & artichoke dip, and brownie sundae are great.

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Great review - thanks so much for posting!

 

( I really needed a good read while things are a bit slow @ work today! This is PERFECT!) :D

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Just got off the Gem yesterday and wanted to share my experience as I've found it very helpful to read about others on this site! Even though we were re-routed from Bermuda to the Bahamas, it still ranks as one of my top vacations and I had a fantastic time!

 

Some background on me - mid-20s male and have been on cruises in the past with my family (Disney & Big Red Boat, if anyone remembers that one), but this was my first "adult" cruise. I went with a good friend from work we'll call AG, who also took all the photos if I can get them to work on here. We both enjoy similar things, so it was a good cruise buddy match.

 

Going to try a quick test to see if images load and then continue on with the review... (photo taken by friend we met on the cruise - thanks Sonny!)

 

DSCN1230.JPG

 

Nice shot! Sorry about Bermuda...hope you get there someday. Our trip is in 5+ weeks, and this is our last east coast based cruise as were Re-locating next yr. so we hope we do get to do BDa....:)

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Thanks! I'm having fun remembering all the great things. The last-half of the review will be more picture-heavy as well with shots of Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, and the ship/activities.

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Great review - thanks so much for posting!

 

( I really needed a good read while things are a bit slow @ work today! This is PERFECT!) :D

 

pcreek - I'm taking lots of notes of the do's and don'ts for our Pearl cruise in late November that we will both be on!!! I love reading other's reviews and I am loving the pictures you have included, AttilaTheFun.

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Nice to see Great Stirrup Cay since we missed it on our Jewel cruise due to damage from Hurricane Irene. Glad you had a good time!

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Can you give some more info on the latitudes gathering . We have sailed NCL several times but never attended one.

 

Also , the Garden cafe pic you posted. Looks like the buffet is on both sides of the aisle not just down one long aisle ? It looks much nicer than the DAWN.

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Your review so far is the best and most pratical I have ever read. we are going on the Gem Oct 9. I have gleemed more infor from you than anywhere else. Thank you and keep it up.

 

Mark

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Also , the Garden cafe pic you posted. Looks like the buffet is on both sides of the aisle not just down one long aisle ? It looks much nicer than the DAWN.

 

I was on the Gem in March 2010 and the buffet has sort of an island in the middle between the hot stations and the seating that has cold foods (bread, cheese, salads, desserts etc) and the ice cream at one end, bar at the other. So you can walk around it in a loop. And then on the outside there are seats along the windows and on the other side are the hot food areas and stations.

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Can you give some more info on the latitudes gathering . We have sailed NCL several times but never attended one.

 

Also , the Garden cafe pic you posted. Looks like the buffet is on both sides of the aisle not just down one long aisle ? It looks much nicer than the DAWN.

 

The Latitudes reception start at 5:45 and we were asked to meet on the deck right below the entrance to the Haven (suites-only courtyard). The officers were lined up to shake hands (surprised, as I thought shaking hands was a sure-fire way to spread germs) and many other staff heads were there mingling with guests, which was very nice. Waiters had assorted trays of drinks (white/red wine, champagne, rum punch-type cocktails) and other waiters had assorted small food - a toasted piece of bread with something on top - shrimp/caviar/salmon/brie & apple, etc. I'd say by 6:15 the food/drinks stopped circulating, although I suppose you theoretically could grab a waiter and ask for a drink.

 

The Garden Cafe is very spacious and well laid out. There are stations for soup, salad, breads, and other hot food, while certain stations cook-to-order such as omelets in the morning and pasta for lunch/dinner. As far as I could tell, breakfast was always the same, but lunch/dinner had different dishes. The picture posted shows the savory food section, with the desserts being on the opposite side of one wall. Keep in mind there is ANOTHER buffet set up in the Great Outdoors at the very back of the ship and at breakfast/lunchtime out by the pool. You definitely won't go hungry!

 

Remembered another random tip: the kid's buffet is located between Great Outdoors and Garden Cafe seating and has orange & apples juice all day long, whereas the normal beverage stations have juice only for breakfast and switch to only iced tea for lunch/dinner. AG definitely helped herself to some apple juice in the afternoon and wasn't the only adult we spotted doing the same :)

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Your review so far is the best and most pratical I have ever read. we are going on the Gem Oct 9. I have gleemed more infor from you than anywhere else. Thank you and keep it up.

 

Mark

 

Thank you! I learned a lot by reading everyone else's reviews on here and the Gem Tips thread, so wanted to pay it forward.

 

Will post the other day summaries tonight.

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I was very excited for NCL’s private island and a relaxing day at the beach, but had to first deal with the most annoying part of the trip – tender boats. I went up to the pool deck first thing when we woke up to get a tender ticket for us both and got #11. The first tender announcements to board started around 9:30am (we were scheduled to arrive at 11am, so they were running early) and got through tender #1-5 and the boat left by 10:10am. We had plenty of time to have breakfast in the Great Outdoors and wait for our number, which was called with the second group around 10:40am (they started with #6-9 first). However, it takes a while to fill the tender boat and we were sitting on the top deck, which is not covered. We also happened to be on the side that was in direct sun, so it was getting quite hot while we waited for them to call enough numbers before it was full. We finally left the ship at 11:15am to reach Great Stirrup Cay. Getting off the boat also took 15-20 minutes for some unknown reason.

 

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I was really expecting the island to be similar quality to Disney’s Castaway Cay. However, it looks like NCL just purchased the island and didn’t have time to fix it up – even though they purchased in 1977 and were the first cruise line to have a private island at all. The entire place just feels unfinished – almost like you accidentally stumbled into a construction site that happens to have a beach. They are obviously making some big improvements as bulldozers and other construction equipment was running all day, but it’s sad it’s taken this long to do anything. There are no paths whatsoever and large cement rocks everywhere – including the water, which can be a painful surprise. We were very lucky to find 2 open chairs though and spent a few hours alternating between laying in the sun and enjoying the water. The water was beautiful (no jellyfish, unlike Cocoa Beach) and I could have stayed in all day. One recommendation I’d give to NCL is to use a lighter-color fabric on the lounge chairs – deep blue gets very hot in the sun. (TIP: Feel free to ask at the pool deck for additional beach towels if needed. The first couple days they insisted you could only swap the 2 that came in your stateroom, but they stopped caring eventually and we ended up with 4 towels for the beach/pool)

 

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Many people took advantage of the available rentals, which included individual foam rafts you could float on, giant inflatable round rafts that fit ~4 adults, and snorkel equipment. I thought about snorkeling, as it was an activity I was looking forward to in Bermuda, but the few snorklers that day said the water was too cloudy, so I saved the $30 rental money.

 

The BBQ lunch buffet on the island was good – plenty of typical BBQ items and sides to choose from, plus a nice salad bar too. The only beverage available was water though, unless you purchased alcohol – no iced tea on the island. There were covered picnic tables on either side of the buffet hut. After getting our fill of sun, we looked around at the rest of Great Stirrup Cay, but there wasn’t much to see. There is a “straw market” that consists of 5-8 tiny stands that look like houses that sell all the same stuff in Nassau – souvenirs, woven straw bags, etc. Because it was so hot out, we returned to the tender boats dock. They have a covered waiting area where cold washcloths were available and felt fantastic. However, when we asked where to deposit our washcloths after, they said we must bring them back aboard – they had no place to collect on the island. That seems like a common sense problem – just bring a bin over to collect them in. Who wants to take a washcloth back to the ship? This same issue happened during check-in in NYC actually – we were handed cold washcloths in line and provided no way of disposing/returning, so eventually other passengers created a discard pile on the floor. I know this is a very, very minor gripe, but it was mind-boggling as to why NCL has such an anti-washcloth return policy.

 

After we got on the tender boat, it waited around for about 15 minutes for other passengers, but we were on the lower deck, which is covered, so it was fine. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing onboard and made Progressive Trivia in the afternoon.

 

For dinner, we tried Cagney’s, the specialty steakhouse restaurant onboard, which charges an additional $25 per person. It's the most expensive restaurant onboard, other than Teppanyaki, which is also $25 per person, so we had high expectations. For a nice pre-dinner drink, I highly recommend Star Bar, which is on Deck 13 across from Cagney's. It's very small, but has great wrap-around windows and occasionally has a live piano player. It's very quiet and an easy place to hear one another.

 

 

 

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Keep in mind that at the specialty restaurants, you can order multiple appetizers and desserts (but not entrees), so don't feel bad about trying multiple things or sharing. I’m always interested in what others thought of the specialty restaurants, so here’s what we tried for appetizers at Cagney's:

- Shrimp cocktail: 3 shrimp that are cooked in salted, herb-y water; delicious and perfectly cooked (ended up getting a second order when our servers said the entrees weren’t ready yet)

- Crabcakes: fantastic – almost all crab, very little filler

- Lobster Bisque: Very rich, deep flavor

- Portobello mushroom with crab: The crab was topped with cheese and put under the broiler – also a great dish, but I ended up eating the crab off the mushroom to save room

 

AG got the Salmon Oscar, which comes with a large king crab leg, split in half. She said the salmon wasn’t that great. I got the New York strip steak and it was a bit dry. I ordered it with the au poivre sauce, but couldn’t find anything resembling a sauce. Not a huge steak person though, so I’m not the best judge. For side dishes, we split the truffle fries (addicting), garlic mashed potatoes (very good), creamed spinach (no flavor), au gratin potatoes (dry, no flavor), and onion rings (very ordinary). For dessert, I got the sampler, which comes with small servings of a “cheesecake lollipop” – small cheesecake round dipped in candy coating, apple pie/tart, and brownie. AG got the raspberry crème brulee and we agreed hers was delicious. Overall I don’t think I’d return to Cagney’s, because while the appetizers and desserts were very good, we didn’t like the entrees and side dishes as much as we thought we would. If you’re a big red meat fan, this is probably a good place to try.

 

We were absolutely stuffed, so we turned in for the night pretty soon after dinner.

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I had been to Nassau before on the family Disney cruises before and didn’t remember anything really standing out and the place hasn’t really changed. It’s a place for duty-free shopping and for the Atlantis complex to charge what-should-be-illegal prices for things. Because the excursions to Atlantis were outrageous (guided tour - $60, water park access - $120, etc.), we decided that we would walk around the straw market/downtown area of Nassau for a bit and then take a water taxi to Paradise Island, where Atlantis resort is located. Neither of us was interested in any of the duty free shopping on land, so we visited the Tortuga rum cake store and tried a sample and bought some mini rum cakes ($8, available in 6 flavors – original, banana, coconut, pina colada, chocolate, and key lime) to take back. We walked around the straw market for a bit and quickly realized that nearly all the booths had the same items – including a puzzling carved-wood cat that had a bow and said “Bahamas” on it. Is Bahamas known for cats or something?

 

The water taxi to Paradise Island is located right outside the building you have to walk through when you get off the ship (some sort of indoor straw market, I believe) and costs $3 each way. Although the signs posted say the boats run every 30 minutes, this is not the truth at all. In reality, they try to fill the boat going over, so if there aren’t enough people, they’ll just wait around. It took several complaining passengers to get the captain to actually leave. There was a “tour guide” onboard that had a sort of narration and pointed out celebrity’s homes along the way, including Nicolas Cage’s. AG got some good pictures of Atlantis along the way.

 

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The dock on Paradise Island is under the giant highway bridges and it takes about 10 minutes to walk to Atlantis from the dock. We quickly found out that unless you buy an excursion or are a resort guest, you can’t see much – just the expensive designer stores and the casino basically. It feels like a Vegas hotel, except their casino is tiny in comparison. In the casino area, there are 4 Chihuly glass sculptures that are worth seeing. Right after the casino area, you can also get your picture taken in the big clamshell Atlantis seat.

 

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I also found a Starbucks in the lower level of the Harborside building (connected to designer shops area) for a much-needed iced coffee. We returned to the water taxi dock after that and we waited for about 20 minutes for the water taxi to take us back – no waiting for additional passengers this time. They have benchs and the whole dock is basically covered by the highway bridge, so it’s not a bad place to hang out.

 

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By the time we got back to the ship, the Carnival Fascination had docked alongside the Gem. We thought it was funny how gaudy our ship looked compared to theirs.

 

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We were back onboard by 1:30 and had lunch in the buffet. I have to say that the buffet was always well-done at dinner and nearly all the dishes changed. Surprisingly, the fish dishes were often some of the best. You could also make your own sandwiches, but the soups served were always a bit strange (lentil, chicken BROTH) – why not include some favorites like chicken noodle or even tomato soup? The pool area also has a buffet set up during breakfast and lunch time, but we only got snacks there sometimes in the afternoon.

 

We took advantage of the less-full ship in the afternoon by enjoying the pool. The adult-only pool was childless and other than a man who decided he wanted to swim laps in a tiny pool, it was a nice way to stay cool. At-sea days were too packed with people, so this was the only chance we got to use the pools.

 

At dinner that night in Grand Pacific (TIP: You can make reservations for the main dining rooms until 5:30 nightly. You can also request a specific server if you liked him/her, so this is a good way to build rapport with a favorite staff member) and I tried 2 stand-out items – chicken teriyaki skewers, which I’d never imagine to be anything special, but were super-tender and flavorful, as well as Chocolate Decadence for dessert – do NOT miss this dessert! It was like a warm brownie/mousse/cake with berry compote and was the best dessert we tried. We also tried the cheesecake that night and AG ate both together to create a chocolate cheesecake. Our server even offered to bring us another Chocolate Decadence to-go after she saw how much we liked it, but AG made me decline – she reminded me the average cruiser can gain 1 pound per day.

 

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The evening’s entertainment was the Man from Mars and I had heard great things about it, so we made the 7:30 show. It was similar to a Cirque du Soleil show with acrobatics, gymnastic-type acts, and comedy – definitely highly recommend it! The shows in Stardust Theater typically end within an hour, so it allows you to catch the other evening activites/shows. We made the 8:45 Battle of the Sexes show in Spinnaker that turned out to be pretty silly. They had the men and women sit on opposite sides of the room and basically held 4 relay race activities for men versus women. We were pretty disappointed in it as we were expecting some kind of trivia show and this felt more like a kid’s birthday party. Some pictures of Spinnaker (taken between events, so no one there):

 

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After that, we wasted some time in the casino on the coin-pusher machine. I feel like you lose your money slower than on a slot machine, but you’ll still definitely lose all your money. It was a fun time/money-waster.

 

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Feeling $10 lighter, we returned to Spinnaker for the Liars’ Club Comedy Show which starred Sinan, a Second City member, and the ship’s comedian Jeff Harms. The setup was basically Balderdash – a dirty-sounding word (fartful, crapulent) is presented and each contestant provides a definition, with only 1 telling the truth. Sinan was much funnier than the other 2 who actually work in comedy! Jeff Harms had a lot of groaners and the Second City member didn’t add much. They covered 4 words and it was very funny. Again, be sure to get to Spinnaker early if you want a good seat!

 

We ended up at Bliss again after that and stayed out until the wee hours. Trying to get food at 3am from Blue Lagoon, I was told that the kitchen had closed, so they didn’t really want to serve me and/or that it would take 30 minutes to prepare. When I asked why they were promoted as 24-hour service, they said I could order from Room Service instead, which of course, has a surcharge between midnight and 5am. I gave up (not that I needed more food) and went to bed. I found that experience pretty biazarre.

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Trying to get food at 3am from Blue Lagoon, I was told that the kitchen had closed, so they didn’t really want to serve me and/or that it would take 30 minutes to prepare. When I asked why they were promoted as 24-hour service, they said I could order from Room Service instead, which of course, has a surcharge between midnight and 5am. I gave up (not that I needed more food) and went to bed. I found that experience pretty biazarre.

 

So....tell the passengers that the kitchen is closed for Blue Lagoon, then tell them to order Room Service for a FEE! What a great way to boost the bottom line!

 

....but, then the kitchen MUST be open because they will need it for the room service food.....

 

Its a CONSPIRACY!! :cool:

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Love the review!! I've been on the Dawn to Bermuda and now goin on the Jewel to Florida and Bahamas (seen that too) but you have described many things so well and given me more insight I didn't know...Thank you!! :D

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AG slept in again this morning, but we had received “free bingo” cards the night before in our cabin and I was curious as to what it would involve.

 

After a quick Garden Café breakfast, I got to “free bingo” at 11am in Spinakker and it was pretty full. The premise of “free bingo” is that you can play your free card during the 3rd round, but if you wanted to play the first 2 rounds or the jackpot Cover-all round (worth $10,000 but they only pull ~60 numbers, so you have lottery odds at that point), you have to buy bingo cards. Now NCL packages not only bingo cards, but instant-win tickets (worth up to $2,000 supposedly, but who knows how may of those tickets are printed!) and raffles tickets for a free cruise. The packages STARTED at $40 and went up to $90. I was definitely not up for paying that much, but they had 2 register stands set up to buy bingo packages and it literally took them a half hour to process everyone. Unfortunately for me, 11:30am was also the scheduled Bridge Tour for half the Cruise Critic group, so I gave up on “free bingo” and had to leave. I later found out that the prizes for each round are not that big (maxing out at less than $300, but probably a simple % of how much revenue they took in on bingo that day) and if there were multiple winners on the same winning ball, they had to split it. Doing simple probability, you have very little chance of breaking even on the cheapest package.

 

The Bridge Tour was interesting and Captain Gustafson was a great host. He answered a lot of questions and let people wear his Captain hat, but I wasn’t feeling up to the potential of head lice. I really hope he has a backup hat and one for tourists.

 

After a buffet lunch with AG, the sleep deprivation snuck up on me and I took a nap in the room until progressive trivia round again. AG ate (much) smaller meals than I did, so was up for a snack at Blue Lagoon afterwards. Of course, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to try more things there, so we each got tomato soup (pretty good!) and I shared my fish & chips while she had a Panini, hold the prosciutto (AG is vegetarian and pointed out that the Blue Lagoon menu doesn’t have any options other than tomato soup and items where the meat is removed – couldn’t they add something simple like nachos?). We saw Wii tennis going on in the atrium and played a round of that as well. It’s wild to see your mii larger-than-life up there.

 

We made plans to have dinner with a great couple we had met on the pub crawl at 6:15pm, so I showed up a bit early to ensure we didn’t have to wait too long. I had tried calling at 6pm for reservations, but they won’t take them for the main dining rooms once they open at 5:30. The hostess stand seemed very overwhelmed, so for a while no one was being seated and created a long line of diners. I think the problem with Grand Pacific is that there were too many large group tables for 6+ people, when a lot of the diners were couples. They asked if any couples minded sharing a table, but that didn’t seem to garner any interest. I’d recommend making MDR reservations same-day before 5:30 if you don’t want to wait at all. None of the dishes really stood out for dinner and we all skipped dessert to go to the Chocaholic buffet instead. One night during the cruise, the Garden Café buffet is transformed into a dessert buffet with fantastic chocolate sculptures.

 

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We sampled a bit of everything and found the small cakes to be good, but the candy sushi was awful – basically colored rice with some sweet stuff on top, yuck! They also dipped bread rolls and hard breadsticks into chocolate, which I’ve never heard of before and was not appetizing. They had a white and milk chocolate fountain where a staff member would dip fruit skewers as well. Definitely go to see the sculptures!

 

After that, it was off to the Second City Scriptless (Family Edition) which was another full house in Spinnaker. I’d say the content was PG, bordering PG-13 sometimes, and hit-or-miss, as improv games usually are. We tried Bliss for Karaoke Idol next and this activity really depends on who volunteers to sing. We had 3 male judges (passengers who volunteered) that took their jobs way too seriously and basically didn’t say anything nice to people – they put Simon Cowell to shame!

 

Finally at 10:30 it was time for the White Hot Party in Spinnaker. 1) No, you do NOT have to wear only white 2) it’s a big dance party for everyone. They had some light-up cup drink specials and a mojito bar and Sinan got the crowd pumped up. They did a great job of decorating Spinnaker with the white theme and playing trippy background videos.

 

 

 

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My favorite decoration was a battery-powered candle inside of the motion sickness bags as lanterns– that’s decorating on a dime!

 

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We went to Bliss around midnight for the “Adults Only” White Hot after-party and had fun.

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Our last sea day was the only one with bad weather, but the wind/rain shut down all the outside decks, dashing AG’s hopes to play shuffleboard one more time.

 

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However, the Gem still had plenty to do inside. We tried our hand at napkin-folding, but found the setup in Tequila to be too hard to hear/see the staff member leading it and left after the first napkin. At noon was Pictionary, which was set to be in Magnums, but was overtaken by paintings for the Art Auction. The cruise staff leading the activity – Jillian – showed up 10 minutes early, saw the issue, and found a new space to hold the activity. I think the Art Auction really needs to take up less room – it also forced the trivia up to the Chinese restaurant one day, where it was very hard to hear the questions. I understand the Art Auction is a money-driver, but it’s obnoxious how much space it takes for how long it does (they generally set up 2-4 hours in advance) and doesn’t seem to garner much interest in the first place. Boo to art!

 

Pictionary turned out to be literally just playing the board game Pictionary, but we still had fun. Initially, we discovered our board game was missing the board, so Jillian literally ran up 4 decks to look for another board and found one! She really earned brownie points (and a S.T.Y.L.E. card) for overcoming adversity – first an art auction taking her space, then finding another Pictionary board! Due to the mishaps, Jillian was extra generous with the OSA card signatures. After that excitement, we decided to try one more sit-down lunch and I enjoyed the club sandwich (fries substituting chips) and AG her black bean burger. The chicken noodle soup I tried was too salty and the calamari was a weird consistency.

 

AG wanted to catch the towel-folding demonstration as she had been faithfully documenting each towel animal we got in our cabin. They held it in the atrium and showed it on the giant screen behind them so everyone could see the 8 animals they made. Conveniently, they were also selling $9 DVDs of how to make towel animals :rolleyes:

 

 

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Our team didn’t win the progressive trivia as the winners had a near-perfect score and received some NCL knick-knacks like a mug, keychain, inflatable beach ball, t-shirt, etc. We used the down time after to pack our things and prepare to return to the real world. I also rescheduled our Le Bistro reservation from 6:30pm to 9:30pm, since we had just had the Blue Lagoon snack and I wouldn’t be hungry at 6:30. Surprisingly, there was a lot of entertainment going on the last night, so 9:30pm was the only seating that really worked for us without having to miss any shows/activities. We considered trying to cancel the reservation as when we re-read the menu, it didn’t sound very appealing, but in the end we were very glad we didn’t.

 

We made the 7:30pm farewell show, which started with a song/dance routine (VERY glad we hadn’t attended similar shows that cruise – it was definitely not our cup of tea), Sinan explaining disembarkation + his stand-up routine (Top 10 Dumbest Questions), Man from Mars (doing similar routine as the full show, but then a comedy bit with audience volunteers that was hilarious), and finally Fountains, which was just as hilarious as everyone else has commented.

 

 

 

Stardust Theater, empty

 

 

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We ran up to Spinnaker right after because the Farewell show ran a bit longer than an hour and found they had started the Perfect Couples game show already. They had 4 couples compete in 3 relay races and it was a waste of time. Joel, the Assistant Cruise Director, isn’t very funny when he hosts, and the whole thing was unnaturally rushed. It was scheduled for 45 minutes, but only lasted 25. Because that show let out early, we went to Le Bistro to see if they would seat us a bit after 9pm and had no problem.

 

Le Bistro was fantastic and totally worth the extra $20 per person. All the appetizers we tried – 4 cones (1 chicken, 1 duck, 1 veggie, 1 bleu cheese), scallops, escargot (FANTASTIC – TRY IT!), and the mushroom soup – were all stellar. I got the duck 2 ways for my entrée and it was the best duck I’ve ever eaten – especially the duck confit portion. AG got the vegetable napoleon and really enjoyed it as well. For dessert, I wasn’t a huge fan of the apple tatin or cream puffs, but loved the gianduja mousse cake. Be warned that Le Bistro is 1) very romantic and 2) filled with paintings of topless women which could make platonic/family dinners feel a bit awkward to start. There was also a giant group that was too loud and unfortunately thought they were the only ones in the place. Among their group was a man who wore workout shorts and a football jersey in a place that supposedly has a dress code. I’m not one for forcing people to be formal at all, but all that Le Bistro requires is PANTS and a COLLARED shirt – how hard is that to follow? Those annoyances aside, Le Bistro was great and I highly recommend it.

 

We went back up to Spinnaker for the end of Next Stage’s Beatles tribute and snagged a front-row booth that we shared with the pub crawl couple in preparation for the Quest game show. Just know that it’s definitely adults-only and requires some very adventurous team members to participate. I don’t want to spoil the rest, but I hadn’t laughed that hard on the cruise.

 

The adults-only version of Second City was right after and consisted of improv games again. It wasn’t very dirty, other than maybe one curse word, but thought it was funnier than the family version. It reminded me of Whose Line is it Anyway, if you remember that show.

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For disembarkation, we chose the Easy Walk-off option as you get to leave the ship first and don’t have to worry about finding your luggage later. We woke up at 7am and had breakfast, then were able to leave when they announced Easy Walk-off starting at 8am. Couldn’t have been easier!

 

Some random lists/tips I couldn’t fit into the review are…

 

Things Other People Had Issues with (that I didn’t):

- Announcements: I don’t understand the people who complain about too many announcements. First of all, you can’t hear them if you are in the stateroom and second, many people need those reminders of what’s going on. Some people say “Well, everything is printed in the Daily,” but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother to read. Plus, they have to push some of the money-making events onboard. If you get on the ship and don’t spend a dime on drinks, specialty restaurants, duty-free, bingo, etc, they lose money on you! So remember NCL is running a business!

- Food: As mentioned before, I thought most of the food was fine. There were some dishes that really stood out (chocolate decadence, chicken sandwich at MDR lunch) and some that weren’t-so-great, but I definitely didn’t go hungry and I think everyone will be able to find something they like. This is not gourmet food, but you’re not paying for gourmet food unless you’re eating in specialty restaurants. Set realistic expectations and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

- Chair hogs: We always found chairs on deck 13 above the pool for reading/sunbathing, even during sea days, but our ship was also not at full capacity. We had prime spots while in port at Nassau, so plan on trying the pool during a port day if you can, when it’s less crowded.

- Paying extra: I don’t understand the reviews where people are shocked – SHOCKED – to find out that some things cost extra aboard NCL. That’s why doing research on sites like Cruise Critic matter. The comparisons made to more expensive cruise lines is just silly – you’re paying for better food or other items in the price of the cruise instead of a la carte. I prefer choosing which items I want to pay extra for and pay less up-front in the cruise price.

 

Stateroom

We had an O1 category outside view stateroom, 5082 Aft. I thought it was a fantastic location as it was the first door in the hallway from the stairs/elevators. I never heard any noise from the stairwell, but there were some faint engine noises at night. They are consistent though, so it turns into white noise quickly. I really liked having the picture window as it helps me wake up in the morning with some sunlight. I will say though, that fitting more than 2 people in the room would have been very cramped. Our room technically fits up to 4, but the 3rd bed is a roll-out from underneath one of the other beds, so the entire width of the cabin would be one bed, and the 4th bed hangs down from the ceiling at maybe two feet above the floor bed. The bathroom is also a bit cramped for taller people - especially the toilet placement, but probably the best use of space they could manage. I was astounded at how much storage there was in the room - so many drawers/shelves in additional to a large closet.

 

 

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Minor Gripes

 

- I bought duty-free cigarettes on board for my partner and saw they had 6-packs of cartons, but didn’t understand how one could bring back more than 1 carton per person, which is the duty-free allowance. When I asked a duty-free employee, he said to put it in my luggage, since Customs never checks it. Later, I found out you SHOULD declare all the cartons and all but the 1 exempted carton are subject to a $10 NY tax. I couldn’t believe a duty-free employee was blatantly encouraging guests to smuggle goods back in undeclared. He didn’t even offer the legitimate option and lost out on sales as I didn’t want to risk confiscation/fines.

- The TVs need more channels. They had E!, CNBC, Fox News, BBC, and “Favorite Shows” (random shows shown without commercials, but periods between shows where nothing is on). I know the point of going on a cruise is not to sit in the cabin watching TV, but sometimes it would be nice to have more options when relaxing in the cabin.

 

Don’t Forget!

- Items I found helpful to pack: Crystal Lite packets you can make in a standard water bottle (the water onboard doesn’t taste bad), Starbucks Via to make stronger coffee or iced version in the fridge, a highlighter for the Daily, a bar of soap (they have shower gel dispensers, but I’d rather have bar soap), a backpack or beach bag, a power strip to extend the number of outlets, wire hangers (much easier to use than the ones in the cabin) and sunscreen. Don’t bother packing hand sanitizer as there are dispensers everywhere onboard.

- Fill out S.T.Y.L.E. cards for any crew members that do a great job. You can ask the front desk for them and turn them back in by the end of the cruise. It not only recognizes fantastic service, it can supposedly impact their raises/promotions.

 

Overall

This was my first NCL cruise and I was very impressed. The staff were all fantastic and I think the Gem is in great shape. Although we didn’t make it to Bermuda, we still had a lot of fun, and I appreciated that NCL skews a bit younger than some of the more expensive cruise lines. Since we sailed right after school started, we had many less kids onboard, which I also liked. I think 7 days was the perfect amount – any more and I would have started getting tired of things I believe. That being said, I’ve already started planning my next NCL cruises (would love to try Epic in Western Mediterranean or Star is sailing NYC to Bermuda in 2012).

 

If you have any questions, feel free to post on here and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

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One more item I forgot - the Best of All lunch was offered on board for maybe Day 5 or 6, which I thought was strange because 1) shouldn't they offer it early in the cruise to attract people to the specialty restaurants? 2) it wasn't promoted whatsoever - I saw the menu at the restaurant reservations stand to the left of the front desk and inquired. They had 2-3 dishes per course to choose from which were supposedly the best dishes from each of the specialty restaurants. I believe the price was $15, but we didn't partake.

 

They also offered an Indian food lunch in Orchid Garden later in the cruise, but the cost was also around $15 and the Indian food on the buffet wasn't good, so we definitely did not sign up for this one.

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Great review, love the pictures.

 

- I bought duty-free cigarettes on board for my partner and saw they had 6-packs of cartons, but didn’t understand how one could bring back more than 1 carton per person, which is the duty-free allowance. When I asked a duty-free employee, he said to put it in my luggage, since Customs never checks it. Later, I found out you SHOULD declare all the cartons and all but the 1 exempted carton are subject to a $10 NY tax. I couldn’t believe a duty-free employee was blatantly encouraging guests to smuggle goods back in undeclared. He didn’t even offer the legitimate option and lost out on sales as I didn’t want to risk confiscation/fines.

 

I had a real problem with this as well last year on the Dawn. The shop employees were telling people how to illegally smuggle alcohol and cigarettes off of the ship in violation of the law, yet people take exception to "smuggling" alcohol on in violations NCL rules.:confused:

 

BTW, I did not smuggle alcohol on board and did pay all required duty.

Edited by darrengs

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Great review and your pics reminded us of our time on the Gem. Sounds like you took full advantage for everything.

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Great review, love the pictures.

 

 

 

I had a real problem with this as well last year on the Dawn. The shop employees were telling people how to illegally smuggle alcohol and cigarettes off of the ship in violation of the law, yet people take exception to "smuggling" alcohol on in violations NCL rules.:confused:

 

BTW, I did not smuggle alcohol on board and did pay all required duty.

Those are good points. How come they don't wink and push those with wine or liquor in their suitcases through at embarkation? (well I think they do sometimes...) Yet wink and tell you to smuggle some stuff off.

Oh well. I'm sure customs asks how many people bought cigarettes etc, just to see the compliance rates with the duty paid. Or anything. What about expensive jewelry bought in ports, and immediately put on one's finger or wrist? Can you imagine how it would slow down disembarkation if they had to check everyone? What, would we all have to prove we already owned the jewelry? Not to mention half the stuff is way over priced anyhow...more duty taxes to avoid.

Its somewhat similar to the driving while texting laws. Practically impossible to enforce. Unless someone is honest and says, 'sorry, yes I was texting,' when the officer walks up to their window after they get pulled over. :rolleyes:

We don't smoke but I had those same questions about the cigarettes because I thought of bringing some home for a relative.

BTW, we don't smuggle either. Yet. Only because we're scaredy cats.

My daughter was coming home from Germany years ago and when they were coming through customs, the little dog at the airport almost dug a hole in a suitcase next to her because he smelled a piece of beef jerky deep in the luggage. It was an agricultural sniffing dog. The guy had to take it out.

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