Overall Score: 8
I went on my first cruise on Carnival Dream from New York City to the Bahamas in 2009 during the week of Thanksgiving. It was a great vacation and a cruise is definitely one of my most favorite vacations. If you have never been on a cruise, each cruise ship is like a floating city. They have everything you would want on shore: buffets, restaurants, theaters for shows, bars, gym, casino, etc. While the ship is huge, the rooms are small. For first time cruisers, it is funny to be awed by the large size of the ship and shocked by the small size of their individual rooms. However, you will fit in the room comfortably besides what your first impressions may be. I have also had balcony rooms each time I have cruised. I recommend it because you will always be able to sit outside on your own personal balcony and can hear the sound of the ocean as you sleep and wake up. Nevertheless, if you plan on spending minimal time in your room and do not want to spend the extra money, having an interior room makes sense. I love cruises because you have various dining options and there is always some food 24/7, do not have to drive, and get to completely disconnect from the world as your phone service is on roaming and thus needs to be off or on airplane mode to avoid a massive phone bill. I also love the ocean. For those reasons, cruises are completely relaxing and are a great vacation.
Last week, I went on another 7 day cruise from New York City to the Bahamas. This time, I went on the Norwegian Gem. Overall, I had another great vacation. It was slightly different than Carnival. Nevertheless, I had big expectations and my expectations were met. From my perspective, a cruise ship has a little of everything. As such, it will never be the best at any one aspect. For that reason, I would predominantly cap out a rating for a cruise at 8. Below is a breakdown of my Norwegian Gem experience by the key aspects of a cruise. As Carnival is the only other cruise I have been on, I will also be comparing the two experiences.
The first thing I do when I enter a cruise ship is immediately hit the buffet. I try everything so I can sort out what I like and what I do not like. The Gem’s buffet is the Garden Café. It has what you would expect from a buffet with burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc. It also has a pasta bar and a salad bar. The Garden Café also has an Oriental section. While they have similar food each day, they do mix it up by adding a couple different entrees each day. Of course, they also have a solid dessert section. While Carnival only had a soft serve ice cream, the Gem also has an ice cream bar where you can get different types of ice cream such as pistachio, sherbets, etc. The flavors also change every day. As I enjoy ice cream, I certainly appreciated the additional ice cream bar. On the first day, they also had a barbeque poolside. They had a pork chop that was perfectly marinated. Make sure you leave room or make room for a pork chop on the first day.
The Garden Café is also your best option for breakfast. As expected, it has an omelette bar, museli bar, home fries, hash browns, sausage links, cereal, pastries, etc. I started every day with an egg white omelet with ham, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese. I also tried the Eggs Benedict a couple of times. If you enjoy smoked salmon, I recommend taking a few pieces of salmon and bringing it to the Eggs Benedict bar to include in your eggs. If you enjoy sausage links, I suggest the pork links over the turkey links. The turkey links were not good.
Of course, you also have the main complimentary dining rooms: Magenta and Grand Pacific. The menus change every day but are identical. Magenta is in the middle of the ship while Grand Pacific is at the back of the ship. I recommend Grand Pacific as it is aesthetically more appealing and has a great view through the windows at the back of the ship. Grand Pacific does have a dress code starting the second night of the cruise. However, the dress code is just wearing long pants for men. The appetizers are great. I ordered a Mexican Mushroom and Cheese Crisp (mushroom quesadilla) every night. The spring roll and Caesar salad were also great. Steaks are definitely the strength of the Gem. The New York Strip Steak and filet mignon was definitely the best food I had onboard the ship. The pork chops I had were also very tender. The lamb was also good but the lamb chops I had on Carnival blow it away. On the other hand, the chicken was ok but a little dry. If you like fish, I recommend the salmon. The other fish options were underwhelming. The fish I had on Carnival was a lot better and smoother. Carnival also had a Chilean Sea Bass that was out of this world good. I do not eat lobster but my mom loved it. However, it was only on the menu the first night. If you like lobster, order it when it is on the menu or you may not get another chance. The desserts at both dining rooms were underwhelming. The cakes and pies were not sweet enough and thus lacked taste. As a result, I usually went with the ice cream, sherbets, or sorbets. They also come with a cookie in the sundae cup which was very good.
Another thing I enjoyed was the chocolate buffet the Gem had on the second to last night of the cruise. I would say it is a microcosm of the dessert on the ship as it was hit or miss. The traditional chocolate desserts such as the Double Dutch Chocolate cake and Black Forrest Cake were excellent. The more exotic desserts such as the mint mousse cake were not very good. In terms of dessert, I would recommend sticking to ice cream, sorbets, sherbets, and traditional chocolate desserts.
I did not try any of the specialty restaurants with cover charges. However, if you are inclined to try them, they are $15 to $25 per person. The most popular one was the hibachi restaurant, Teppanyaki. It was the only restaurant that was completely full almost every night for almost every time slot.
Carnival is tailored towards children and teenagers. While Norwegian still has teenagers, there were a lot less children than Carnival and a lot more people in the 18-35 age range. Norwegian has more entertainment for adults. As such, it was clearly better in this aspect than Carnival. The main shows are in the Stardust Theater. The singers and their shows are very good. Jeff Harms is the ship’s comedian. He was very funny and it is definitely worth attending his show. The ship also has members of The Second City, an improvisational comedy enterprise that has past alumni such as Tina Fey, Mike Myers, etc. Their main show was very good. However, with improvisation, it can be hit or miss. As such, some of the improvisation performances outside of the Stardust Theater were forgettable. The best performance of the week was clearly action comedian/ juggler Charles Peachock, who was a finalist in America’s Got Talent. He was completely mesmerizing with his juggling. You will get definitely gain an appreciation of how difficult it is for him to juggle. His signature trick is being able to play songs on a large, customized keyboard by bouncing balls. He also grabs volunteers from the audience. While I was completely mesmerized, it is an act you only need to see once as an individual trick takes years for him to develop so he is limited to a variation of the same tricks in each show.
The final show of the cruise is a variety show on the last night. It has a hilarious finale with an original performance with the cruise director, Sinan, and 5 other crew members. In general, the cruise director is a pretty funny guy. Moreover, the assistant cruise director Dan made a surprise signing performance. He will spend most of the cruise in character and being goofy. However, he has a shockingly, amazing voice. He would definitely be one of those signing competition contestants that would cause the judges to drop their mouths in shock.
The late night entertainment at the Spinnaker Lounge is also excellent and well organized. The adults only entertainment involving guests were hilarious and entertaining. For example, there was a Newlywed and Not So Newlywed game with revealing questions. Another great segment was “Dancing with the Gem Stars” competition which pairs a guest with a member of the ship’s entertainers. Moreover, the ship comedian and 2 members of Second City are judges. The dancing and improvised judge comments were definitely very entertaining.
As cruises involve a lot of eating, exercising may be something that interests you as well. First, the Gem has a solid gym. It has elliptical machines, stationary bicycles, treadmills, nautilus weight machines, and free weights. Personally, I enjoyed the jogging track on Deck 13. It is soft and ideal for running. I utilized the track and the gym to do all cardio. Luckily, I was able to hold par and not gain any weight during the cruise by doing 2-3 hours of cardio every day. If you enjoy basketball, there is also a basketball court on deck 13. However, it has a low net so it is not conducive to players with a high arcing shot. Moreover, there is a rock climbing wall next to the basketball court.
The Gem also has Deal or No Deal. It is $20 for a card. If you get randomly chosen, you can play the game for up to $1,000. If you are in the audience, you can still play. If you 8 suitcases on your card to match 8 suitcases on the official game board, you can win $5,000 with other prizes for 2+ matches. However, the official game board has amounts ranging from $0.01 to $1,000 and no duplicates. Your individual board has amounts ranging from $0.01 to $40 and multiple duplicates. As such, more than 2 or 3 matches are highly unlikely. Next, there are multiple bingo games during the cruise. Of course, there is also a casino on deck 6 if you want to gamble.
There is an itinerary of activities to do every day and each day has plenty of events and activities. There are plenty of other things I did not attend such as Zumba classes, Nickelodeon events for kids, etc.
The housekeepers were amazing and went above and beyond. I had Rommel and Joseph in rooms 10500s and they were always personable and called me by name. They definitely get a 10. On Carnival, we had a set time and set table each night for dinner. You could also choose to skip dinner and just go to the buffet but that time and table was always available for you. This setup naturally leads to better service as your waiter develops an individual relationship with you over the course of the week. You are also guaranteed not to wait in a line. However, Norwegian offers freestyle cruising and the option to eat whenever you want at all times is part of that style. It did not lead to bad service but you do get better service with a same waiter every night.
On the second night, we tried Magenta. We stood on line but the hostess inadvertently started a second line and a few groups cut in front of us. While we were frustrated because we thought they should have been able to organize lines better since they deal with it on a nightly basis with freestyle dining, we only had to wait 15 minutes and it was a one off situation. In fact, we did not have to wait in line for any other dinner as other guests started trying the specialty restaurants as the week progressed.
Overall, I felt we received very good service with the housekeepers going above and beyond.
Shore excursions are a key part of every cruise. We spent the first two days and last two days at sea. We stopped at the following locations in the days in between:
Port Canaveral/ Orlando – Day 3
At Orlando, you can go on a shore excursion to a major theme park: Disney, Universal, etc. However, I would never go on a shore excursion to one. You do not know what time the ship will exactly get into port. As such, you are not guaranteed a full day at a theme park. You will also have to return to the ship well before the fireworks at the parks end the night. Consequently, I would recommend visiting the theme parks in a separate vacation so you ensure you get the full experience.
One place you can go to for a cheap shuttle ride is Cocoa Beach. It is a pretty good beach. The waves are pretty strong so you will not be doing much swimming as it is more like a wave pool. It is a nice spot but not a must see if you do not want to leave the ship as the private island the next day is a lot more beautiful.
Great Stirrup Cay (private island) – Day 4
The private island was my most favorite shore excursion by far. The island and water is beautiful and fish swim by you in the water. The one negative is that there are a lot of rocks so you have to be careful about stubbing your toe or stepping on a pointy rock. You can rent floatation devices, flippers, and snorkels. You can also rent jet skis if you want to venture out of the main area. The private island also includes a complimentary barbecue with standard barbecue items such as burgers, hot dogs, corn, etc. If you are at all hungry around noon, I would recommend getting food and beating the lines as they get very long afterwards.
Nassau – Day 5
Nassau is the main island and capitol of the Bahamas. It is very beautiful but there is not much to see. The downtown area is next to the port. There are a lot of shops downtown and restaurants. Most people take a cab ride or water taxi to visit the resort Atlantis. However, you can only see a small part of the property if you are not a guest and do not pay a $40 tour fee. Atlantis does have a decent sized casino if you want to gamble. However, it is not a must see as you should just stay on the resort for a week if it interests you. Nevertheless, the cab ride or water taxi to Atlantis is very cheap. The taxi drivers and water taxi crews will both hustle to try to get your fare.
It was great vacation and I really enjoyed the Norwegian experience. However, seeing the Bahamas twice is more than enough. When I go on another cruise, I will prefer to go to a completely different location such as Hawaii or Alaska.
About Pat Wong
Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies.
loved your review! this helps me prepare for mine, thanks!