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mking8288

Gem 9 day East Caribbean 11/7-11/16/2012: Oceanview 4560, Review, Picture, Freestyle

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#1 - Background & pre-cruise / post Hurricane Sandy

 

We booked our obstructed Oceanview GTY cabin out of homeport a few weeks out at a great price, expecting deck 8 with a lifeboat view, figured that odds of a storm or hurricane are low as it's November - we've done well sailing in February and September & October, all in good weather over the last 10 years. Well, we're still in recovery mode against Hurricane Sandy here in NYC staring at a slower Nor-easter on our embarkation day, and gasoline shortage ... This turned out to be a memorable way to celebrate our 20th. wedding anniversary on the Gem.

 

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Overall, we had a great time with the GEM, plenty of surprises, very pleased with values for our money - thinking of doing it again in 2013, already have # of family members & friends who wanted to join us (minus rough seas.)

 

Within 45 days of sailing & payment in full, our cabin was yet to be assigned but we're able to start booking shore excurisons and dining - Trio specials were available for LeBistro, Cagney's & La Cucina for $47 initially but quickly increased to $52 per person - prepaid only and OBC cannot be used, so we decided to wait till sailing time. Facebook offer of a free bottle of wine was available with specialty dining too, subject to restrictions.

 

With less than 30 days to go, we received our GTY assignment, Stateroom 4560 - midship, port hole cabin down on the bottom. Good news - it's unobstructive, low & mid-ship. Not so bad - too far from Blue Lagoon but we will made it work & there's always room service. This is a relatively quiet part of the ship and while we will miss the bigger picture windows (even if it's obstructed) - excellent in case we run into rough seas & waves going south & coming back north. It turned out to be perfect for our sailaway's rock & roll, raging Atlantic ocean - winds at 50 knots and waves at 20 to 30 feet ++ overnight, getting much worst after dining and while we're asleep. DW started taking Bonine a day earlier and I took one the morning before leaving home, and we rode things out nicely.

 

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Most NY area gaoline/petrol stations were either out of gas or had long lines streching for blocks with hours of waiting in line, we decided to skip our regular car service and booked Carmel online 24 hours in advance for a trip to the Manhattan Cruise Terminal - quote confirmed for just $39 before a $3 coupon code discount plus applicable toll & tips, a great deal from northeast Queens. Driver called ahead to confirm and arrived early, discussed our route options and we jointly opted to take the Grand Central Parkway toward LGA airport, then to the RFK (formerly Triborough) Bridge, across 125th Street & then down the West Side Hwy direct to the pier @ 12th Avenue - instead of the traffic-jammed 59th Street Bridge across the toll-free East River crossing. Traffic was very light across the boroughs as many cars are low or out of gas, commuters using mass transit to get around - our trip took less than 45 minutes partially via local streets, amazing early as we pulled easily up to level 2 to get dropoff - as it wasn't even 11 am. There're plenty of porters on hand - dropped our two 25" wheelcases with a tip for them, and passports/documents in hand plus a single 22" carryon with my electronics, we walked quickly into the cold & dark terminal building of generator-powered emergency lights only - directed to the VIP checkin line (next to Latitude line) on the left. We filled out our Health Questionnaire while waiting in line for no more than 5 minutes (reminder - have a pen handy) and received #3 boarding card, and only waiting about 10 minutes inside the lounge (it was cold, not freezing as we knew & had our winter gears) after having our official embarkation pix taken, background music played and refreshment drinks were offered. By now, the check-in lines began to get longer with 300+ passengers in the waiting area & it was only 11:30am. Apparently, everyone planned to arrive early with extra time - watching supplies getting loaded by folk lifts down on the pier level.

 

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For those looking for our Gem Freestyle Daily - I've finally finished scanning dozens of pages (*.jpg format suitable for iPad/laptop browsing) to my Dropbox account, linked it and posted it via another CC thread here - http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1738449 - beginning with notes @ post #10

 

It's best to download them & zoom in for easier viewing, or for printing purposes - there are also Daily extras about onboard promotion, specials, Maps for the 4 port stops, excurisons & discounted tours for Samana.

 

Please feel free to comment or ask questions - perhaps others from our Roll Call will add to it or better yet, post their pictures & review, etc. to answer questions about their "Suite" life above ... rocking & rolling out of NY harbor in blinding rain, wind & wet snow, yeee haaa.

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#2 - Boarding the GEM & Oceanview 4560 (our obstructed OV GTY assignment / free upgrade) - cruise was sailing full, no upgrade fairy call.

 

Our time in the dark & cold terminal was less than 30 minutes between dropped off at the pier and walking up the long gangway to board - we're expecting Latitude but not Priority Check-In and Boarding via #3 Card in our hands: no butler or conceirge escorting either. Kudo to NCL for making it better & better every time we go inside Pier 88 or 90, even when it was storm-damaged, without running electricity & heat, in adverse conditions.

 

We did noticed that NCL no longer offer free champagne, cocktail juice or a welcome beverage upon boarding, beyond security - it's not a big deal as we aren't gung ho with alcohol - not a disappointment for us, maybe to some. Drink prices have gone up again, we overhead someone nearby saying it - WTH, just give them the SeaPass & sign the slip, ha ha. With the newest interactive TV system, one can review & check the daily updates on all charges posted to your stateroom account in your own privacy, no last minute surprises or shocking OMG long lines in the altrium lobby. Still, we saw a few "puzzled" faces on the morning of debarkation as a few cruisers stood frozen outside their stateroom with the final statement charges .... those $79 bingo packages sure add up quick along with everything else (alochol, gift shops, duty-free items, soda, spa, shore excurisons, art work, etc. etc.) on top of the DSC.

 

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Here's the Crystal Altrium / Lobby / Reception - Deck 7 on the GEM, it's neat & different (overall lightening is a little bit dark to some, it reminded us of the Pride of America but in a different way as that has a different layout too vs. the Dawn class of ships) This has the same familiar layout and it is very easy to get around for us, without looking at the posted directory or handy pocket guide. It was dark, windy & raining outside so we didn't go outside at all - even if it was open and besides, it is nice & warm, comfortable inside & we are ready for a nice lunch (11:45 am only)

 

Those with luggages, coolers & bags in tow can drop them off at the Bliss Lounge, Deck 7 AFT while exploring the ship or head up to the Garden Cafe for a buffet. We head to the MDR and it has opened earlier than scheduled. After giving the host our cabin #, we're prompted seated, table for 2 near the windows & port side - but, no nice view to see or enjoy outside (and, weather forecast for our sailway is just "nasty") Captain, officers & team NCL - just get us out of this mess, fast and to warmer weather.

 

Having done our "homework" - we knew what to order from the MDR Menu, the same for the next 9 days - there is a Chef Special posted outside the Restaurant with a photo, oops - that's for the evening, we found out. Excellent dining room staff, prompt service with a smile - NCL no longer leave a basket of warm bread (or butter) on each table, just ask & they will bring some to you - streamlining & making it easier for all while keeping costs down, fine with us. Our waiter seemed to be doing most of the "work" serving us while his assistant was simply running back & forth to the kitchen. It must be really early or that everyone did a bee line up to the buffet to "stuff" themselves full - we have plenty of time to catch up over 9 days. There wasn't a crew member running around selling alcoholic drinks or beers in the MDR and our waiter didn't even asked if we wanted bottled water or anything else from the bar - no high pressure sales pitch, cool. There're fewer children on this sailing so none to watch out for, running around loose - dodging a few motorized scooters.

 

DW and I each ordered something different so that we can sample the food, plus we usually shared our items anyway. It is nice that the soup aren't as salty as before (personally, we are against high sodium content) and somewhat saddened that there are fewer choices on the menu nowadays. But, it is what it is and neither one of us have to worry about what to shop, cook & eat for 10 days - or washing dishes & cleaning the table - cruising is great, isn't it. The best is yet to come, yes - dessert was very good as always, coffee was a litte bit on the weak side for us. We actually finished everything in less than an hour and sat around a while longer, the dining room wasn't even 40% full but outside on deck 7 - it was packed with people already boarded with no place to go, as the staterooms weren't ready & fire doors remained closed. We did a bit of walking around to check out the dining revenue and the casino, and then made our way via the Fwd stairs down to Deck 4 around 1:30 pm.

 

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Oceanview & inside staterooms are port side only on the GEM, it is crew area and off-limits on the starboard side (storage, passage ways, equipments & lockers, luggage carts and x-ray screening machines, etc. & sleeping quarters for the crew)

 

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Here it is - Stateroom 4560 - our home away from home for the next 9 days, unobstructive oceanview, port hole window - with bedding for up to 4 people but just the 2 of us this time, so that's plenty of storage & room to move around. An interesting location and it turned out to be a good one for many reasons throughout this cruise. Well, our luggages hasn't arrive yet - got 3 bottles inside our mini portable cooler but it shouldn't go to the naughty room for having ginger ale, I think. Time to go inside, unpack my gears & just relax, take a quick power lunch nap before mandatory life boat drill at 3 pm. Great, we got 60 minutes - enough time to check my emails & finish up last minute phone calls before we flip the "off" switch.

 

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It turned out that the area was noiser than usual during embarkation/disembarkation day because we are close to one of the area used for loading luggages & supplies, folk lifts were used that afternoon. Once we're docked in the Caribbeans, the area was used to route "escorted" passengers going to NCL shore excurisons to exit via Deck 4 for the pier. Tendering at Samana was done up on Deck 5. The curtains helped kept everything out of plain sight & everything was secured tied down.

 

Being 3 cabins away from this area, the noises in the hallway during these port operations never bothered us one bit, and it is quiet at night - not once did we hear anyone running up & down the hallway, screaming or yelling or making loud noises after one too many. There are crews only area across from us and the ship's Communication Officer's inside stateroom is diagonally across from us - we never saw her/him coming or going. The Fwd elevators are used less frequently and our preferred ones to go up to deck 12 or 13, whereas the Mid ship elevators tend to be busy and one of them was out of service until we reached San Juan (it got fixed with spare parts ??) Most of the time, we ride up and walk down the stairs - sometimes walking up 2 or 3 to decks 6 or 7.

 

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#3 - Gem, Oceanview 4560 with port hole window

 

We've booked nside, oceanview & balconies over the years - this time, we opted to sail last minute with a bargain GTY price, and this is what we got. It turned out to be great as our Captain did a repeat again on Nov. 7th and out-running ahead the Nor-easter barrelling toward NY, we push away from the pier about 30 minutes late (before 4:30 pm) as we, from our window nearby, watched them rushing to load luggages & board late arriving passengers (probably booked via NCL as they waited for them.)

 

Our cabin has 2 twin beds, pushed together as a queen with a trestle bed underneath, and a pullman bed against the wall - great for bargain sailings for a family with small children or 4 adults who just wanted a bed to sleep. For 3 adults sharing space, it's still tight - took a few pictures to help those thinking about it and to plan/consider options - and, in terms of storage, there's plenty of it. There are 6+ dresser drawers and 1 desk drawer, several open shelves at different heights, and 5 more shelves next to the closet where the mini-safe is placed (iPads fitted easily inside and my 14" Dell traveling laptop would go in too)

 

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Our stateroom attendant already setup ours bed as a queen, with extra (egg crate foam) padings and cover under the comforter & bedsheets - making it extra soft for sleeping, as the mattress isn't exactly thick or firm.

 

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The ice bucket is filled with ice cube but the water kettle/coffee maker is gone / missing but available by request from the attendant - he was very busy so when we left for dinner, left him a note to empty out the mini-refrigerator (by Dometric) so that we can store our own things. Done and it was gone for good - plus the smiling towel animal was on the bed when we came back from the MDR around 7 pm - he was quick, good & attentive (and, we took care of him w. a bit of extra "appreciation" mid-way thru our cruise.) The flatpanel HDTV by Philips using component cables but you cannot mess with it easily, and it is solidly mounted with all the cables neatly tucked away on the backside - I don't think it will accept or allow for an external HDMI hookup, oh well - we will manage to watch it on the iPad or my Dell's screen. But, it's sure a lot better than the old tube TV in the NCL Sea, Crown or Dawn days ...

 

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Each of those 5 open shelves will fit a MLC (meeting US airline's maximum legal carrryon capacity of 22" x 14" x 9") with expanded sides - and we simply used several eBags packing cubes to keep things neat & organized (also for the drawers.)

 

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There are 2x 110 volts 3-prong outlet for one's use, one on each side of the room - plus another 110 volts outlet high up inside the bathroom, above the mirror marked for razor use only (low amps) The Belkin power cubes that we've been using for 6 or 7 years are highly effective and recommended, it will rotate to fit plus it has 2 mini-USB connector to power up your mobile devices. Unlike the Star or Jewel, there is no usable 220 volts outlets for extra connections - no hidden outlets by the bedside/end tables or above by the pullman bed - a 25 feet extension cord might be necessary for those with specific requirements for hooking up certain devices.

 

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Pictured above is the Valera 220-240v hair dryer, 900-1100W - Type 852.03 #24-06 made in Italy.

 

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#4 - GEM sailway - down the Hudson out to sea and a stormy night ahead outgunning the Nor-easter heading toward NY

 

The Captain, officers & crew members onboard the Gem are friendly, cheerful & smiling, just like other NCL ships in the fleet - as we prepare to head out to sea. We reported to our Muster Station on Deck 7 K inside the Altrium when the general alarm sounded at 3 pm, minus the life jackets that are no longer necessary to bring along or wear, for the life boat exercises - and were dismissed shortly. Capt. made a short announcement welcoming everyone with a weather briefing and what to expect, and that between high wind, rough waves & seas and all, to expect a tough 12 to 18 years until we are further south on the following day (#2) once we pull further away from the storm's reach - that, for those prone to motion or sea sickness, to take "defensive" measures ahead. We returned to our cabin, thankful & feeling lucky that our cabin location is among the best, low & midship - DW got tossed around & was in bed for 2 days when we're on the much smaller NCL Crown doing Bermuda a few years ago. This time around, she felt prepared after day 2 on Bonine - I took one just in case, usually, I crawl my way around sideway but the latest weather/storm/radar charts that I was looking at didn't look too assuring - so, what the heck, for insurance.

 

As we leave our berth at Pier 88, darkness began to fall and all we could see outside the windows are blowing rain and/or wet snow going sidway with the wind, and nothing else as we continue to head down the Hudson toward the SOL & VZ Bridge, normally - this is where we would be at Deck 12 with the BBQ Sailaway, no - not this time. Gem was doing about 14 knots in the harbor and the sea didn't feel too bad at all - could hear/felt the stablizers working below deck, I swear.

 

While we're still docked at the pier, internet access via the smartphone wasn't great, signal was fading in & out - most likely b/c power outage might be affecting some of the cellular towers nearby. The ship's own MTN (paid) WiFi signal (along with their secured wireless hidden SSID signals) remained switched on, it's ususally turned off while in port - finally, it's time to put the devices into airplane mode, disabled WiFi access, and turn to "full" ahead our cruise mode. Reminder - don't forget to put smartphones, iPads, iPhones, etc. into airplane mode and/or turn off data/WiFi unless you are prepared for a huge roaming bill next month after getting home. By now, our luggages had been delivered and our 3 bottles of ginger ale survived - we quickly unpacked & resumed reading the Freestyle Daily, etc.

 

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We passed by the Medical Center, Deck 4 midship going to & from places, it has a set of double doors so it's easy to tell when it is open for walk-in, very quiet & never busy, but they did have occassional "walk-in" patients. The "washy-washy" crews are out, especially at the dining venue but it seemed that Noro-virus wasn't a big or hot subject, so it's somewhat relaxed & mostly voluntary, asking folks to extend on hand out for the short spray or burst.

 

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As the Gem was late waiting for passengers & luggage to connect, we decided to go to Grand Pacific MDR for early dinner around 5:15 pm and the wait was less than 3 minutes. The hostess at the podium was very friendly - easily finding us a nice table for 2 by the window (not much to see as it's almost dark as we went pass the VZ Bridge under stormy conditions)

 

Portion sizes at the MDR seemed to be a tiny bit smaller, which is fine for us, as we aren't big eaters and it give us "room" to sample and order variety instead of wasting food - 3 starters among us, 1 soup & 1 salad each plus the entrees - and surprise, it's (Florida) (warm-water) lobster tail & fish night - so, we each ordered one. Food temperature was warm, not hot - and being frozen tails, it is what it is - saving room for dessert & a trip to the Blue Lagoon late night, if we need to. Couple nearby ordered just lobster tail and waiter gave them 2 on the plate, no issues whatsoever. As we transition to coffee & dessert, sea is beginning to get rougher, the wind & waves doing its trick - everyone began to exercise care while walking around & especially when carrying food (for the crew) - DW managed to finish her chocolate cake and I ate my sherbert, drank our "weak" coffee & we said goodnight to our dining room team.

 

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The altrium was busy as usual and plenty of folks hanging out, meeting up with new friends, etc. - DW somehow "homed" in to the sound emitting from the casino's gadgets (a/k/a slot machines) so we walk down 1 flight, passing the Magneta mid-ship while holding on to the stair railings. Nice-sized projection TV screen, daily movies usually at 1:30 pm, get there early for best & limited seating, free coffee & cookies/cakes at the Java Cafe to the right (or, snacks upstairs at Blue Lagoon)

 

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If someone is missing from our cabin, it can be easily tracked and found at the financial center (Deck 6) - no GPS necessary, ha ha. They never get lost going to or from that place, for sure.

 

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After doing our share of "global economic" investment with our newly minted CAS cards and over an hour of playing, we actually came out ahead, winning a few hundreds net at the penny slots after scoring 2 "big" wins - we decided to call it early & cash in our haul - yeah !! (we subsequently, re-deposited them back with NCL ... LOL) We had started making our way back thru the altrium and up the stairs to Blue Lagoon when DW said that seas are getting rougher & wanted to go back to our cabin. Well, we were not exactly hungry but it was still early but already missed the 2nd. Welcome Abroad in the Stardusk Theater - so, time to hunker down & tighten the hatches - could be a rough night to sleep.

 

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Edited by mking8288

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Loving your review! We are taking the 9 day on the Gem in January (Im pissed they changed it from 10 days but 9 days is better than nothing :D)

Looking forward to more! Have you been on the Gem before? Just wondering if they added any new slot machines :)

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#5 - Gem: High speed "run" zipping out of N.Y. southbound along the coast

 

Day #2 - Thursday, it's a Sea Day & no land for 48+ hours, distance to travel between ports is something like 1,500+ nautical miles with 1,200 remaining toward San Juan, PR. Even as we walked around the ship, we could felt her speeding along the way, riding the waves with grace, motion was moderate to us - we're told by the Captain earlier to expect a rough ride south until the next (mid)day so we make sure the railings are within easy reach.

 

Opening the cabin door, we found our Latitude welcome gift waiting for us - a box of Godiva chocolates, nice - jointing the towel animal on the bed made by our stateroom attendant. (Those chocolate-covered strawberries were delivered to us on Day 3) DW actually said that despite the motion, the motion didn't bother her at all - she is tired but after washing & shower, out came the iPad to kept her busy for a while. She fell asleep with the gentle midship rocking motion. Looking at the ship's data displayed, winds at 50 knots with gust, waves actually didn't too high as the Gem was doing 22.2 to 22.7 knots - actually riding above the sea and there're no cross-wind that we could felt, the stablizers doing their part to smooth things out. We're near Atlantic City, NJ's coastline then and fairly close to shore - very much like her previous run against Sandy before it was out of tracking range for marinetraffic dot com. Being on deck 4, we expected our porthole to become submarine windows under water at times ... it didn't, but we could see out & far enough thru the windows that the sea was mad angry, waves after waves coming alongside - curious to know what it's like up on deck 14 and/or at those suites AFT on the upper decks that night (the Bonine doing its thing too, I figured)

 

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DW was never once awaken or jolted out of her sleep all night and I went to sleep around 2 am, but looked out the windows in the pre-dawn hours after a bathroom trip - sea still raging and the Gem flying along at 22.6 knots. GPS data displayed putting us along the Maryland/VA coastline by morning, and the rocky sea has become much calmer by the time we walk up to the relatively quiet MDR for a nice breakfast. We had a table for 2 starboard side, and looking at the distant horizon - the Gem has pull it off. Captain Gustavsen has done it again, safely and out of harm's way despite a few "tense " cutting moments thru the waves overnight. Thank you !!

 

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The picture views out the dining windows tell the story ....

 

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DW headed downstairs to her favorite spot on deck 6 to find her lucky machine for the rest of the morning - what rough seas ?? - I headed over to the Blizz Lounge for our CC Meet & Greet around 10:45 am.

 

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We had a pretty good turnout for our M&G (thanks, Dawn - for organizing it) - attended by several senior officers including the Captain - offering his brief remarks about how much they valued inputs & feedback from folks like CC's - Contact Card with phone ext. and names of key department were given to all of us in attendance, urging us to speak up if we come across issues & concerns while sailing, instead of just complaining later on after we going home - make sense, huh. They setup coffee & tea for us along with assorted freshly baked & moist cookies.

 

However, they did not stay long enough to see if anyone has questions or to mingle or socialize, something that was done on our previous sailings, i.e. on the Jewel's M&G (and we had a smaller group then) - although, it's a busy day at sea and I'm sure that the Captain is busy with the ship barely out of the storm's reach that morning. Perhaps, someone from the officer's rank could have stay around a little longer to chat with some of us.

 

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Nevertheless, it's lunch time so after a few minutes - I made my exit to look for DW to find food ... LOL The buffet was very busy as 2,500+ people gotta to find a place to eat, somewhere on the ship for the next 48 hours - we took the AFT elevator near the Great Outdoor down to deck 6, lunch in the MDR again (same menu as yesterday) We each ordered a salad & soup, tuna sandwich for her and fish & chip for me, topped off with coffee & dessert. Perfect time to checkout sales, deals & duty-free items in the altrium, pausing to checkout those embarkation photos in the hallway.

 

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Edited by mking8288

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#6 - Gem - Day 2, Sea Day

 

It's now mid-afternoon on Day 2, the sea has really calm down quite a bit with the Gem running full ahead at 21+ knots, and it is beginning to warm up a bit - still in our long sleeve as we headed up to the Garden Cafe for an afternoon snack while checking it out for the first time - since boarding the ship yesterday. Skies are still dark & cloudy, but it is dry and simply cloudy and no wet weather to worry about. Taking the Fwd elevator, we walked pass the Ying & Yang Spa, the Library and the Card Room - quite a few brave souls in the hot tubes already (water temperature should be set around 100 degree F as I recall from other NCL ship) - water is still cold in the adult & kiddie pools for anyone to be in them (outdoor BBQ on Day 3, perhaps ??) The lousy weather since we left NYC probably had something to do with it - can't fault mother nature for ruining our day on the beautiful Gem heading to the tropics.

 

On our way to the Garden Cafe, we are greeted by the smiling "washy washy" crew member - time for a quick spray on one's hand. Unlike the NCL Jewel in 2011, there isn't a clearly designated children's section upon entry to the buffet area - unless we missed it, and some tables are designated for the "accessible" (chairs still need to be moved to make extra room)

 

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There're plenty of tables & chairs to sit around for us, at 4 pm - the buffet section is basically closed and no much variety to munch on - a tiny little disappointed compared to our previous NCL cruises. On the plus side, there are more small tables for 2 by the windows, it's good for some of us in choosing. These are deliberate & planned design changes in how the dining revenue are laid out, thanks NCL. Well, we knew the Blue Lagoon is open 24 hours daily but just didn't feel like going down (ok, lazy) a few flights of stairs just for hot wings & cheesecake. DW and I will come back on Day 3 for breakfast and/or lunch for a taste of the buffet food.

 

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For our evening dinner, we decided to walk up to Magneta MDR midship from deck 4 - hostess at the podium was smiling & friendly, and quickly dispatched us once we gave her our stateroom # (tracking who's eating where & how many times daily ?? except for the buffet) - again, NCL never disappoint us, with a quiet table for 2 by the window. Service was friendly, prompt & efficient too with a "can do" attitude: it seemed possibly to enjoy a 5-course sit-down meal in the MDR in less than 60 minutes, amazing (used to allow 90 minutes without feeling rush about it.) We ordered an extra entree to share between the two of us, not a problem at all & taken care of. Actually, one of the supervisor in white uniform rushed over after realizing that the staff were busy & we sat there a little too long, so she basically took our order & handed it to the waiter & assistant to follow-thru - and came back later to check on us & took away our empty dishes. Bravo for going out of their way, NCL style !!

 

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Aside from serving filtered tap water, unsweetened ice tea, flavored water with Kiwi or Mango are now available in the buffet all day long - great, as it will keep us further away from drinking soda. Perhaps for this older crowd sailing the 9 day itinerary, we noticed very few people with the soda mug or folks with the beer buckets all over the ship. We took our own water bottles upstairs & filled it indirectly, and kept it cool in the room's mini-refrigerator.

 

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Arrrrhh, we realized now that it's no longer (electronic) candlelight dinner at the table & didn't NCL used to have a small vase with a flower too, at every table in the MDR's - times surely changed, subtle things that often go unnoticed by less frequent cruisers. Unlike our recent Royal Caribbean sailing, there isn't someone dedicated to selling beers or hard liquor - and the ship's photographer didn't show up for a while. In the old days, piano music was played in the background and there was actually someone playing various tunes in the MDR's - gone for now.

 

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Playing tonight in the Stardust Theater is "The Second City" which we skipped, but those that went said it was good - so, comedy fans shouldn't missed it.

 

It's been a busy freestyle day at sea for us, we're back in our stateroom early after strolling around the ship a bit after dinner. A new towel animal with 2 mints along with tomorrow's Daily were waiting for us with the evening's turn-down service. Our stateroom attendant is still busy - he doesn't seem to rest or take a break, we usually see him up or down the corridor, if not cleaning one of the cabins, smiling with his helllo upon seeing us. Time to turn on the laptop for some notes, helpful for writing up our CC review once we get home and to transfer digital images from the camera to the hard drive for backup purposes - vacation photos & memories are priceless.

 

By now, the Gem is down in the Carolinas/Florida waters heading further away from land, headings toward San Juan - still doing 21+ knots over relatively calm sea, yah - it's going to be a good night for sleeping, no worries whatsoever & Bonine no longer needed.

 

Soon, both of us drifted off to a good night sleep with a very gentle rocking motion of the ship - still somewhat windy but seas are calm.

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Unlike the NCL Jewel in 2011, there isn't a clearly designated children's section upon entry to the buffet area - unless we missed it, and some tables are designated for the "accessible" (chairs still need to be moved to make extra room)

 

 

The kids section on the GEM is towards the back of the sitting area just before the doors out to the Great Outdoors.

 

, In the old days, piano music was played in the background and there was actually someone playing various tunes in the MDR's - gone for now.

 

The Grand Pacific Dining Room in the aft had a piano player most nights on our 9 day cruise.

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#7 - Gem - Day 3, full Sea Day (Friday)

 

We slept late this morning & decided against Breakfast Room Service - too late for the MDR so we went to the Garden Cafe around 10 am to fix our own - apparently, many folks spend time up here and socialize with friends, old & newly met alike. It's a good thing that there are plenty of seating available, especially further back toward Aft (back of ship) and by the Great Outdoor. It's nice & warm, comfortable this morning - temp around 70 degree F, plenty of people in the pool & chilling on the lounger.

 

There is plenty & variety of usual breakfast items - I finally found the nearly empty platter for the smoked salmon, which needed to be refilled - it's pinkish red in color, not as red as I've seen them on previous NCL ships, but equally tasty & good, one of my all time favorite - for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack - mid afternoon or mid-night. Looked like they ran out of eggs benedict and there is a line for the cooked-to-order eggs, which is always better than what's served sitting above the steamed table trays - for variety of reasons, the cooked/scramble eggs just didn't taste good enough for me at the breakfast buffet. (Memo to fellow CC readers: these are relatively subjective comments & feedback, YMMV - a matter of preference or personal bias)

 

The orange juice as dispensed in the buffet seemed a bit watered down too much, but it is still better than what's served on another major cruiseline that we sailed on this May ... Apple juice tasted & looked okay to me, on the other hand - we are still happy campers onboard. We are sailing further south, down in the Bahamas toward Old San Juan - doing 21+ knots with still several hundred miles to go behind solid land for docking. Not to worry, still plenty to do and a busy day ahead.

 

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Before we knew it, it was time for lunch - it's Blue Langoon time next - quickly seated & sat next to the window again, a table for 4 but just 2 of us, no sharing necessary (hello, Royal Caribbean ... get it, it's more than My Time Dining that needed to be changed) The meatloaf was pretty good, sauce a bit too salty for my taste, but good comfort food - and DW's sandwich was equally satisfying, we both had our Wonton soup again (but, where is the "noodle" ?) - the broth is nice & hot/clear & not salty with plenty of diced green onions (scallions) - we also shared the Chef's salad and those Hot Wings are good (with mild sauce on the side)

And, ice cream over pound cake, yummy with coffee - perfect for an afternoon nap, but only after our Latitude welcome reception, scheduled for 1:30 pm in the Spinmaker Lounge, Deck 13 Fwd.

 

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Time to ride up on the Fwd elevator - we're 10 minutes early, and found that there is already a line of 50+ people waiting outside, from the entrance to the Lounge, starboard side all the way down to the port side, as doors have yet to open. More Latitude members began arriving and the line got even longer, but, some of them concluded they will just "blend" in with the rest already there, patiently waiting in the front - a bit of shouting back & forth about cutting the lines among grown-ups. Couldn't wait to get inside & grab those free drinks & drank as much and as fast as possible - I think, just my opnion. Some of us in the middle of that long line and those further back just shock heads & roll eyes, what else can you do - not going to call 911 or security or start a fight among mature & experienced cruisers, right.

 

The doors opened finally at 1:30 pm or shortly thereafter, and there was a rush to get inside, and to grab the raffle ticket for the lucky drawings - and to find good seats ?? Anyway, it's basically free cocktails for all, some finger food being dished out by NCL wait staff circulating - never made it to our section (no big deal ... we've seen better hor-dourves served at various reception, it's the "welcoming" aspects that really matter) Nevertheless, our ship's Captain & several officers were on hand to greet & say hello by the entrance as we came in - and after a brief introduction, he made a few short remarks & thank folks for being loyal to NCl, yada yada - then the senior staff all left together to return to their regular posts, leaving the Latitude Rep. alone to handle the lucky drawings of mostly minor & inexpensive prizes donated by various department.

 

Yours truely actually won something this time, a Del Sol "frisbee" that change color (to "red") when exposed to sun light, what a nice surprise - and it retailed for $15 in their stores - keeping it as a souvenir (as pictured in one of the photos taken inside our stateroom, next to the mirror on a top shelf) No free cruises for two these days for the Latitude reception, for that - try playing Bingo to score extra raffle tickets.

 

Looking back, the Latitude reception we just attended was kind of boring (to us) and it used to be better organized & exciting - good news is that there's one more, the "wine & cheese" Latitude Reception next week while at Sea for Silver & up members.

 

With time to spare, we went downstairs to the Crystal Altrium & found 2 chairs to sit & watch the rest of the movie being shown on giant projection TV screen. There is free coffee & cookie/cake at the Java Cafe nearby - nice. Walking passed the Asian fusion restaurants at dinner time, not busy at all - mostly emptied and nobody at the Sushi bar/counter (we had th Sabu Sabu last time on the Jewel & wasn't excited with its limited choices of vegetables & trimmings, not even tofu or mushrooms, better ones are on land in NYC) but there's always a crowd at Tepp's (again, mostly for its "Benihana" style showmanship.) With both Grand Pacific and Magneta serving the same identical menu of daily choices and (shrinken/shortened list) of chef's selection for the day, we stayed midship & dine by the window again, enjoying the twilight as daylight fade away - calm sea flowing by us, looking almost as if the ship wasn't moving - she was, doing 21 knots & smooth as silk.

 

Wait staff are great, friendly & smiling, prompt & efficient - not pushing for wine/beer/drink/premium water/soda, etc. as we looked at the very simple menu. Oh, we missed the good old "Cooking Light" selections highlighted nightly and the White House/Presidental specials from the Dawn/Sea days of sailing NCL - I'm sure many of you recall those memories of times gone by - 2 hot soup and 1 cold soup, several starters plus salad choices, vegetarian options - not to mention - more than 2 dessert options that changed daily. Portion sizes have definitely shrinked ever so subtle and there's less emphasis on decorative appearence. To put all these in perspective, cruising is an experience that we will choose anytime over flying domestic airlines with luggage fees, cold snack boxes in economy class with plastic swipe (no cash accepted) ... and, besides, nobody does hungry sailing NCL or other ships. We managed to order enough to fill our stomach nicely, 3 entrees to share among the 2 of us, topped off with coffee & dessert - at the bargain prices we paid, we can't wait to go back soon enough on another NCL ship, except that we are running out of "new" destinations with our own time constrains from NYC port. We will not put up with the TSA/airport security "theatrics" nonsense flying elsewhere to cruise, except for unique destinations like Alaska & Hawaii, Europe & Asia.

 

My smartphone (in airplane mode/doubled as flashlight, spot camera/camcorder) alarm clock gone off, reminder to head for the Stardust Theater early to get decent seats - the new "World Beats" put on the NCL Productions as JARC are gone (and, we've seen repeats of all of their shows, I think) at 7 pm.

 

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We sat midway inside the Stardust and quick, easy exit via Deck 6 - and, by the showtime, 20 minutes later - the entire place was almost full. "World Beat" is new and according to the post-production remarks (by CD Sinan) - being performed for the 1st. time on the Gem - it even featured a colorful & fancy (Asian) "Dragon" paraded by 3 members toward the end, preceded by Asian musicals. The dozen or so (11 ??) performers/dancers are all relatively young, high energy and had multiple changes of fancy costumes to match the background & set - the backdrop wasn't as elaborate as the old JARC, but it is very refreshing - 2 more shows by this team for the rest of our cruise. Afterward, we went upstairs to the Garden Cafe for some fresh fruits & snacks to take back to our stateroom - time to think about tomorrow, solid land as we will dock in Old San Juan in about 18 hours so (less than 300 nautical miles to go this evening, all ahead full - 21 knots or so ... calm sea & no big waves to deal with.)

 

Decision, decision on what to do - or to simply go ashore & explore what's nearby on our own ... really, really tough choices to be made. Between yesterday & today, we managed to "re-invest" our initial winnings back with NCL Casino at Sea & scored more "SeaBucks" - time sure passing us by quickly and we got a "tough" schedule to fit it all together. Oh, the "baby elephant" towel animal was smiling at us upon our return. Topping things off, we received a nice platter of dozen or so chocolate-covered strawberries, with a note, compliments of the Executive Chef - in our stateroom ... talk about being spoiled.

 

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DW decided to shower & wash her hair, etc. so I decided to see about re-arranging our stateroom, recalling some discussions & questions here on CC about fitting 4 people in a "standard" cabin, wall-to-wall beddings, the mix with the upper pullman bed and the trestle bed - came up with interesting results & took some photos to shred some lights on the subject (more on it on upcoming review as I post the rest of our cruises.) Short answer is that yes, it can be done - more than just option #1. As for the "small" but efficient bathroom, plenty of storage for just 2 of us with 3 open shelves and our own travel hanging toiletry organizer. DW's items on the top shelves actually stayed in place during the first night with stormy sea & occassional rough waves, nothing fell out or off the glass shelves, really - that's how smooth it was on deck 4 for us.

 

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#8 - Gem - Oceanview Stateroom 4560 (porthole) - beddings for 4

 

For families of 4 new to NCL & thinking about what will work or not -

an OV cabin is sometimes better, space-wise with sleeping arrangements over a balcony, which is "better" for 3 with the single foldout sofa bed - the balcony view discussions excluded for consideration.

 

With cabin space at a premium, depending on the room configuration - this is what we did, pushing the queen bed against one side of the wall, creating more space to walk around, sit close by the smaller porthole window. Notice the 3rd pullman bed folded up into the wall, it will be setup for use for the evening - ladder is stored in the wall closet & a switched reading light above the bed in the ceiling. With a small night stand, the telephone is placed on the window sills along with other items & it stayed put, did not slide off during the night of rough sea.

 

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This is with the pullman bed in the "down" sleeping position, the ladder can be hooked on the end of the bed for up/down.

 

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This is the hidden/slide-out trestle bed for sleeping the 4th person in the cabin, foam padding is thin compared to the regular mattress, much like those hotel rollaways - extra egg crate cushions can be requested for a more comfortable sleep. It will fit side-by-side with the queen bed together, creating wall to wall beddings (about 33" wide)

 

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A different view

 

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With all the beds in use, space to walk & move around will be limited. Two (2) 25" suitcases will fit on the floor inside the wall closet, stacked on top of each other - 26" is tight and 27" might not fit unless it's vertical.

 

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As I noted earlier, 22" carryons will fit the open shelves next to the closet - enough for up to 6 of them, usable with packing tubes (loved them for air travel.) Infrequently used suitcases, up to 3 can be slided below the queen bed without the trestle, until the night before disembarkaton - unless you are prepared to move furnitures around on a daily & regular basis (one could be easily reached at the end of the bed, however)

 

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Edited by mking8288

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Thanks for the great detailed review and pics. Was the reason for the nice plate of

chocolate covered strawberries due to attending the CC Meet and Greet? I recall

reading a previous review where this was the case. I know the Godiva chocolates

replaced the fruit basket. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your cruise!

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We slept late & ate breakfast in Blue Lagoon this morning, it was busy but never overcrowded - plenty of tables & chairs, as long as help is needed - more staff will be called from other places to come help in serving us. Breakfast is available from 5:00 am (for those ultra-early risers) to 11:00 am (hangovers from whatever) daily - menu choices are limited but adequate - the Express, Eggs cooked-to-order, Full Breakfast ++ (with bacon & sausages, etc.) and choices of 1 or more sides, plus juices & cereals, etc. - can't go hungry and its always nice & hot, better than the MDR at times - and they have the fresh bakery items just like the buffet upstairs. And, one can walk over to the back section to get coffee, tea or make a hot chocolate, etc. They will wrap & prepare your order(s) to go upon request - in fact, we've seen that butler from deck 13 coming down to get coffee & other things to bring up with the tray, surprised, huh.

 

For most of the day (except at dinner time) - across the way on the starboard side is Moderno, plenty of tables & chairs to sit by the window to read, relax, play card games, or overlooking the altrium lobby below with all the actions. Walked by the "Card Room" on deck 12 last night & there wasn't a single, empty chair to sit - next door at the Library, it was a little better - sea days are worst. On port days, there is usually nobody in these places except for an organized event or private functions.

 

Weather forecast for PR is warm, mostly cloudy , 88F/31C on the humid side. Short sleeves & shorts ready for land exploration after we docked, but still plenty of things to do all over the ship, from morning to night. Bingo $$ at 11 am, Movie at noon in the altrium, Dora's Dance Party for kids at 2 pm and the Spa is busy too as specials are being offfered on port days.

 

We marched into the MDR just before noon, line was very short & we're quickly seated, and ordered a light lunch, skipping the soup & split a salad. It's easy to spot all the land creatures, ready to go - backpacks, totes, water bottles, etc. and it wasn't long before we could see land at a distance as the excitement begin to build.

 

Meanwhile, we've fully recharged our iPads & smartphones since Verizonwireless's CDMA signals will be available soon and we can get cyber "re-connected" again soon, even if it's for just a few hours - without paying extra & costing an arm and a leg in roaming charges.

 

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Cellular services are available at sea, at relative expensive rates, but it is offered & subject to limitations. The only "Free Internet Sites" available is NCL's own website - good for researching future cruises and how to book or use those cruise rewards/credits purchased, etc.

 

*** If there are major events disrupting a scheduled sailing or ship's arrival or departure, it will eventually get posted on NCL's own website - thus, worthwhile to check it from time-to-time while sailing for free, as updates might be faster & newer than ship's own PA announcement, which isn's always heard everywhere as I'm told.

 

While at sea, the satellite connections would - without warning - be drop or lost, including zero broadcast TV connectivity and/or broadband signals, often for more than a few minutes (equally bad for VZW and AT&T/T-Mobile users as we have both.) SMS tends to be more efficient & possibly more reliable, but NOT guaranteed - in an emergency of urgent nature, the only alternative is to make a voice call - don't count on emails or texting alone to the message thru.

 

As we get closer to land and to our pier's berth, cell phones all over the ship came to "live" as many people wanted to call in, say hello and check up on how things are going back home. Mine is still in global/roaming mode on a foreign GSM sim card, but Google Map came up with a map of our docking area. Time to get ready to explore Old San Juan on our own for a little while - just a matter of minutes before the ship is cleared and the gangway is ready ...

 

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Not in a hurry to compete with those on NCL ShoreEx, we just hangout on Deck 7 for a little while, watching all the actions below as deck 4, starboard side is where the gangway to shore is located.

 

Ah Huh, perfecto - this is super, super easy for us and we know exactly where to go and the shortcut to get out quickly. There is no need to wait for the elevator or walk down the stairs to get lined up, ha ha. And, it looks like NCL is restocking the ship again, I think we saw cases of banana sitting on the pier.

 

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Even before we docked, plenty of mini-buses & vehicles already lined up and waiting to go on various tours. The bus terminal is just across the street on the waterfront and taxis for hire just outside the pier area (beyond the gates.)

 

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For those who are running low on soda, bottled water, snacks, chips, OTC meds, personal essentials or whatever, the well-stocked CVS is just across the street in the distance, toward the left as you - prices are great, and it sell souvenir items too (better than those gift shops on the back streets, LOL)

 

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On the other side, 2 ships are docked - one being Carnival and another being, I think, one of Royal's - they arrived early & most likely doing island hoppings. Wow, that easily 6,000 to 8,000 cruise ship passengers not counting crew members roaming Old San Juan, depending on when they leave the port ...

 

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The crowd & the line getting off the Gem has disappeared mostly, time for us to joint the masses - my GPS-based map is working, yes ! Time to venture out on our own - Hola

Edited by mking8288

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Our ship finally reached land again, 3 days and some 1,600 nautical miles later - tropical weather - looking great from the pier along the waterfront

 

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Across the street and about 2 blocks uphill, among the shops & restaurants, you will find a Starbuck with free WiFi - our iPad connected, others also obtained an i.p. but couldn't surf ... Plan B, just tethered the iPad via our own VZW 3G signal - place is air conditioned, YMMV (didn't see any other signs advertising free/WiFi access around the dock/pier area) There is a Burger King too 2 or 3 blocks away, but you didn't just travel all the way to go there - right (Blue Lagoon has a decent, juicey beef burger 24/7 free - it's well, paid for already)

 

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more Old San Juan photos - continued

Edited by mking8288

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