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Gem, New England-Canada, Oct. 20-27, 2018

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I'm just back from this cruise and I'll post some comments and a few pictures (didn't take many).


I live four or five hours by car from New York City. On the afternoon before embarking, I drove to Ridgefield Park, NJ, and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn where there is a stay-park-cruise rate that includes transportation to and from the cruise terminal. They use a car service for the transportation and I was the only passenger in both directions. For departure, the hotel ordered the car for an hour before I wanted to be at the cruise terminal; the driver was early, I was ready, and the traffic was light so I was there much earlier than intended, even before the security check opened. The photo below is inside the terminal with the ship in the background. A check-in staff member was circulating among us with Canada Border Services Agency forms that the check-in agents would collect.



Check-in went smoothly if not especially quickly. Once aboard I went to the Grand Pacific dining room for lunch. As usual, the crew was directing everyone to the Garden Café. I had checked a large bag and the one I was carrying was small, so I didn't bother checking it in (I think) the Bliss lounge where that service available.


Cabins were ready by the time I finished lunch. Here is my (obstructed view) outside.



It was sunny and I went up to the pool deck where there would be a departure party of sorts. Once the ship was moving I went up to the sun deck to take pictures. Here's the only one that matters:



There were long waits for tables at dinner in both the Grand Pacific and Magenta dining rooms. I suspected that the Garden Café would also be crowded; it seemed that everyone wanted to eat at the same time and hardly anyone was going to a specialty restaurant. I went to O'Sheehan's where there was no waiting.


I usually post pictures of the towel animals on Facebook, so here's the first:


One of my FB friends commented, "Your pet follows you from cruise to cruise."


That night we encountered bad weather, high winds, and rough seas. The crew closed the promenade deck because of the wind and at breakfast on Sunday--our only sea day--almost every conversation I overheard seemed to be about Dramamine. I am not prone to motion sickness but I found it hard to get around because of the rocking deck. Early in the afternoon the ship seemed to jerk and there was a loud noise. A crew member told me that the bow had pitched sharply down (I was midship at the time so it would have been less apparent to me) and that waves came over the sun deck (deck 13).


There were also waits for tables at breakfast on Sunday--because it was a sea day perhaps most people got up later--and they started asking parties of 1, 2, or 3 to share tables. The Grand Pacific dining room had too many tables for six and too few tables for two, relative to demand.


The Swing! musical was supposed to be that night but had to be postponed because the dance numbers weren't safe on a rocking deck. They substituted a stand-up comic, Vanessa Hollingshead. Her comedy is somewhat specific to NYC and a lot of the audience seemed to be from the Midwest. So am I, and I live out in the sticks, but I also read the New York Times so I understood a bit more of it.


I was traveling alone and one of the reasons I choose NCL is the services provided for solo passengers. There were far fewer of us than on my previous cruise on the Epic, which is twice the size of the Gem and has studio cabins, but we had an outstanding solo host, Margaryta. She realized immediately that we weren't interested in trivia or other games and didn't push them, and in addition to organizing groups for dinners and shows she got us group 1 tender tickets for Bar Harbor and Newport and escorted those of us who were U.S. citizens (others were Canadian and British) to the front of the line for the immigration check at Bar Harbor.


By the time we docked at Halifax the sea was calmer, but it was cold and rainy. I have been to Nova Scotia before and didn't book a tour; everything I wanted to do was feasible on foot. I spent the morning at the maritime museum and the Museum of Immigration. The maritime museum has a display about parrots and pirates, with a live parrot:




The cruise terminal is at pier 22 and the Museum of Immigration is at pier 21, which was a main entry point for immigrants to Canada for many years.


In the lobby of the museum there is this work by Daniel Libeskind, marking Canada's refusal of entry (after the U.S. and Cuba had refused) to refugees aboard the St. Louis:


I had lunch in Halifax at La Frasca, recommended by a friend who had eaten dinner there when visiting Halifax, which is near the public garden. It's under the same ownership as The Bicycle Thief, which is closer to the harbor, but perhaps less oriented toward the tourist market. I was happy with the lunch, except that I thought that the local Bulwark cider was insipid. (There is an artisan cidery near me and I have learned a bit about the refinements of cider-making.)







Edited by kochleffel
Removed unused photos.

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I had been in New Brunswick before, but I was visiting friends who lived closer to Monckton and my only experience of St. John was getting the car ferry to Nova Scotia. I held off on plans for St. John until we were leaving Halifax. After checking the weather forecast, I booked an NCL excursion. It wasn't until the afternoon and I stayed aboard ship in the morning, eating lunch in the Garden Café at noon and going ashore at 12:45.


When our tour guide announced that it was a three-hour tour, I wanted to sing the theme song from Gilligan's Island. There was a light drizzle most of the time and my pictures of the reversing falls and other sights aren't good. When we stopped at the falls, it was just a bit short of slack or flat tide, the only time the St. John River is navigable, with the water still flowing slightly upstream. We saw it again later while the tide was going out and the rapids were already noteworthy.


The only photo I'll post was taken in the city market:


I don't generally like flavored potato chips and I didn't try the haggis-flavored ones.


Swing! was rescheduled to the night we left St. John and I went to the late show with one other solo passenger. It's an exhibition of the music and stage dancing from the sing era, roughly 1930s and 1940s, performed by a band of about seven musicians, four singers, and about eight dancers. The performances were, on the whole, very good, and although I don't love that sort of music, I liked the show.


For Bar Harbor I had booked a tour with Oli's Trolley at 10:00 a.m. Priority for the immigration check was by decks, from the top down; on deck 8, I would have had a low priority and perhaps missed the tour, but with Margaryta's help I was on shore an hour early. I hurried to a coffee bar, partly because I wanted coffee, and partly to get out of the rain, wind, and cold.


The tour was primarily to Acadia National Park. At check-in I'd been told that it wouldn't be possible to go up Cadillac Mountain, but then our driver-guide said he would try. However, the park had closed the road. Here is my only good picture from Acadia National Park:


Even though we didn't go up Cadillac Mountain, it was very windy and cold in the park. I was wearing a lined rain jacket with a down-alternative vest under it, plus a hat, so it was more the wind than the temperature that was uncomfortable.


Our driver-guide told us various stories about the rich people who built the big summer cottages and the celebrities who own many of them now. Martha Stewart has the reputation in Bar Harbor of being overbearing and hard to deal with; she bought a house that had once belonged to Edsel Ford. The story is that, like many other owners of big houses there, she wanted a yacht, so she went to the Hinckley yacht company to have one built. Once she had chosen the size, style, and design, they told here that it would take a year to build, because there were 16 orders ahead of hers. She didn't like that and they argued for a bit. Then she cried out, "Do you know who I am?" The reply was, "Yes, ma'am, you're number 17."


I had lunch in Bar Harbor at the Irish-style pub in the West Street Hotel. The sandwich was good and the hand-cut French fries were the best I have ever eaten.

Edited by kochleffel

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I went to school in Boston and later lived on the South Shore, so I had done many of the things that the obvious excursions included. I didn't book anything but the shuttle from the terminal to near Quincy Market, and that is not at all necessary since it's possible to take the Silver Line bus to South Station and transfer to the T (subway) at lower cost. It's also possible to walk; the weather was nice and I talked with one passenger who did; but it take about an hour each way.


I was desperate for sun by that time and mostly walked around downtown Boston. I bought a replacement for a broken shoelace (because of which I was in slip-ons and not entirely comfortable walking). I had lunch at the Milk Street Café, a kosher restaurant (the only one downtown, I think). I keep kosher at home but am not strict about it when away, but it felt right to support the cause.


The Milk Street Café is unusual among kosher restaurants in serving both meat and dairy dishes. Because the rules require total separation of meat and milk, in all forms, most kosher restaurants are certified for only one or the other. They're able to serve both here because everything is packed for carry-out (although there are plenty of tables and it appeared that most customers eat in) and the meat and dairy dishes are cooked separately and served at separate stations. I had fish tacos, very good cod in them.


My only purchase on land during the entire cruise was a refrigerator magnet in Boston, a take-off of the British "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster. It reads "Keep Calm and Start a Revolution," and the crown at the top is crossed out.


I had been to Newport before but had never been inside Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building in the United States  (Shearith Israel congregation in New York City was founded earlier but its building is more recent), because visitors can enter only with a tour and tours are given only from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and I was never there at the right time of day. Courtesy of Margaryta I had a tender ticket for group 1, but I wasn't quite ready when groups 1-4 were called and I suspect that few other people were, either, because group 5 was called only a minute or so later. I was ashore soon after 10:00 a.m. and at Touro, which is just a few blocks inland from the harbor (and visible from the harbor) in time for the 10:30 tour.



Construction of the synagogue started in 1759 under the direction of a self-taught architect named Peter Harrison who had previously been a merchant and sea captain. It was laid out in the Sefardi (Spanish-Portuguese) style, and as an Orthodox congregation seats men and women separately. The women's seating is in a balcony and the wing at the left houses a stairway to the balcony.


The building survived the British occupation of Newport because the leader, probably a Loyalist, offered it to the British army as a hospital, but it is most known in American history because of a famous reply from President George Washington to a letter that the the president of the congregation presented to him when he visited Newport. The Jews of Newport were concerned that the new United States might not preserve the liberty of conscience under which they had prospered in Rhode Island, and Washington assured them that "happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."


I don't have a photo of the inside of the synagogue--photography isn't allowed inside it, and while photos may be taken from the doorway, another tour had begun and was blocking the view--but here is one from Touro's own website:



Newport has many historical connections, and here is a statue of Oliver Hazard Perry, the victor in the Battle of Lake Erie, who moved to Newport in 1818. I don't think that this battle is widely known, but I'm from northern Ohio and learned about it in elementary school.


I had lunch in Newport at the Gas Lamp Grille: fish and chips with a very large portion of very fresh fish, and chips that were good but not as good as those that I'd had in Bar Harbor.


On the tender back from Newport, I was surprised and amused by the shopping bags many passengers were carrying. Almost all were from chain stores that can be found all over the U.S.

Edited by kochleffel

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Our solos group had been meeting each evening for dinner in one of the MDRs, usually at 5:30. Those who had plans for specialty restaurants usually came along and ordered only a drink or appetizer before going to the specialty restaurant. (If you do this, make sure that the hostesses, if they swipe your cruise card, don't cancel the specialty reservation.) Some of us wanted to go to shows at 7:00 and found that the service was consistently faster in Magenta than in Grand Pacific. On Friday, the last night of the cruise, we were later than that, because the last tender wasn't until 5:00. We went to the Orchid Garden (Asian fusion) those of us who were Latitudes members brought our complimentary bottles of sparkling wine. The dining staff was very good about putting them on ice (some of us had chilled them in the refrigerators in our rooms), providing champagne glasses, opening the bottles, and pouring. This pseudo-champagne (from France, but bulk process) isn't very good, but it isn't horrible.


I had eaten so much for lunch that I ordered only spring rolls and vegetarian fried rice, but our server brought us all not only what we had ordered, but also what he thought we should have ordered. The extras were passed around for sampling, but most contained pork or shellfish, which I don't eat.


I left them at the table to go to the "self-led Sabbath service" at 7:30. Initially I was the only person there. One man came at about 7:50 (in some Jewish congregations everyone is fashionably late) and then we had sort of a tug-of-war about who would lead and what we would do. I mostly let him have his way, only helping him to find the places in a prayer book that was unfamiliar to him. The ship had provided lights (battery candles like they use in the dining rooms), challah, and what may have been grape juice; there was enough challah for about a hundred people, which is way more than the capacity of the tiny chapel on the Gem.


We finished in time for me to rejoin the solo group for bingo and the raffle in the Spinnaker Lounge, which the chapel is right outside of, at 8:15. There was still some sparkling wine and the bar staff again provided an ice bucket and glasses. None of us won anything, but with the sparkling wine still flowing, none of us cared.

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About dining: except for the one lunch on the St. John day, I didn't eat in the Garden Café, although I went there for coffee some afternoons. I was satisfied with the menus and food in the MDRs when I ate there; the only dish I've had in an NCL MDR that I wasn't satisfied was the breaded flounder aboard the Epic. Breakfasts, plus lunch on embarkation day and on the one sea day, were served in the Grand Pacific, not in Magenta as I would have predicted. The service was competent, if not especially fast (of course that depends on the kitchen, too), until the last morning as we were heading into New York, when it fell almost completely apart. I had been served coffee three times before any of those at our shared table received the tea that they'd ordered, and then only because I mentioned it; some of the orders were wrong; and some were served in different sequence from what had been requested, although that reflects the general NCL breakfast practice of serving cold items before hot. Nevertheless, I think that if you want your oatmeal before your bagel, as a 90-year-old woman at our table did, you should be able to have it. In addition, some of the food portions were smaller than usual, as if they were running out, which I suppose was possible.


The 90-year-old woman, by the way, was very entertaining. It was her 53rd cruise. I'm 66 and I calculate that I might be able to catch up to that, but only if I take more cruises per year than I have ever considered.


I had the specialty dining plan and ate in La Cucina, Le Bistro, and Cagney's. In La Cucina I had veal marsala, which had a good flavor although I thought that the veal was not of particularly good quality. I was least satisfied with Le Bistro, where I had roast lamb that, although served at the requested degree of doneness, had a non-lamb character, perhaps as if beef stock had been used to make the sauce. It was presented in large cubes instead of in slices, which looks impressive but adds nothing else, and the quality of the lamb was definitely less than I've had in France. I started with the four-mushroom soup, which was as good as others have said, and finished with a hazelnut napoleon that was like a napoleon only in having layers. It was OK but to my mind the pastry layers in a napoleon should be crisp, not cake-like.


The best dinner was in Cagney's. NCL seems to like the napoleon concept and offers one, made of slices of cooked beet layered with goat cheese, as an appetizer in Cagney's. It's pretty good and the concept was interesting. I was with another solo passenger for this dinner and he had a platinum voucher that included a bottle of wine; we choose the Lindeman's shiraz and both ordered filet mignon, which was excellent. I had truffle mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus with mine, and he had grilled mushrooms and zucchini. (We had both had salad in the MDR with the rest of our solo group earlier.)


Because of the wine voucher in Cagney's, and perhaps also because I wasn't charged for wine twice even though I didn't have the UBP (possibly comped by Margaryta but I don't know), I saw on the last day that I still had $38.02 of non-refundable OBC--I had started, because of a combination of booking offers, with $170, but I usually have only one glass of wine and even with the St. John excursion hadn't used all of it. I stopped in the duty-free shop and spent $38 on a bottle of cognac, which I didn't really have room for in my luggage but at least I was driving, not flying. At least I didn't still have the bottle of sparkling wine!


This left $0.02 that went unspent. In addition, sometime during the cruise NCL put a $20 refundable credit on my account, and I have no idea why.

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Entertainment: to be honest, the entertainment on Holland America would probably be more to my taste, but I have a negative impression of Holland America passengers even though I am almost in the typical Holland American demographic range. (FWIW, the average age of passengers on the Gem was significantly older than on my first cruise on the Epic, making me one of the younger passengers rather than one of the older ones.) I've mentioned Vanessa Hollingshead and Swing!, which were the only shows in the theater that I attended. I stood in the back for the first few minutes of Blazing Boots but didn't stay.


There were musicians performing in the atrium and at Magnum's in the afternoon and early in the evening, primarily Justin Golan (piano and voice, but he should stick to the piano) and Angel Magaso (or Mag Aso, I'm not sure, guitar and voice) and I listened to them several times. They were OK except when one of them, I don't remember which, attributed "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" to Rihanna. I also went to a Simon and Garfunkel tribute in Magnum's, but left before it ended. The smoke in Magnum's, which is near the casino and right outside the cigar lounge, bothered me, but the chatter surrounding the few who were actually listening bothered me more. I have some hearing loss and when there is background noise sometimes can't make out much at all. There wasn't the same amount of talking during performances in the atrium, or perhaps the acoustics there damp it down. I didn't hear much by the Webb Band, and I didn't go to the magic show. I wanted to go to an Edith Piaf tribute in the Spinnaker Lounge, but it was at 10:00 p.m. and I knew that I wouldn't stay long if I went.


Plans: I have one Cruise Next deposit remaining, but my next cruise booking is on another cruise line.


Last towel animal of this cruise, and my favorite:



Edited by kochleffel

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15 minutes ago, NancyL2 said:

Very nice review.  Wish I had met you...I was on the same cruise.  🙂

It's possible that we did meet - I was at the M&G (but didn't take part in the slot pull).

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Nice review, thank you.  We were on the Dawn last week and in the same areas as you were.  We were at Bar Harbor on Thursday and the road to Cadillac Mountain was closed that day as well.  

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50 minutes ago, kochleffel said:

It's possible that we did meet - I was at the M&G (but didn't take part in the slot pull).

It is possible...I didn't stay that long at the M/G and didn't take part in the slot pull either.

We also did the 10am Oli's Trolley tour.  We really enjoyed the town. Had lunch (lobster roll) at the Sea food restaurant on the corner by where the tour ended.  Stopped to get some Blueberry preserves on the way back for the tender.  Living in Phoenix we definitely felt the cold and the wind!  lol But wouldn't have missed stopping in Bar Harbour....really nice town.

Edited by NancyL2

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