This was a 10-day cruise from New York to the Caribbean with calls in St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Tortola, and San Juan.
My acquaintance with Norwegian Gem dates back to when she entered service and came to New York in 2007. In the ensuing ten years, I have sailed on her six times as well as visited her in port on a number of occasions for various functions.
Gem has changed in many respects over the last decade. Whereas she entered service as the largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Lines' fleet, she is now a medium sized ship. Her original flashy décor is now a distant memory. She has matured nicely, growing more upmarket and sophisticated over time.
Two things have remained constant.
Gem has always had superior nautical qualities. Perhaps even more importantly, she has also always had a good personality. A ship's personality is derived primarily from the people who sail on her but officers, crew and guests change continuously. Nonetheless, ships tend to maintain their personality regardless of whether it is good or bad. Gem has always had a happy and welcoming personality.
Still, before embarking on this cruise. The voyage I took on Gem in 2016 was an excellent cruise (see review). I knew that some of the senior offices on that cruise were no longer on Gem. Thus, there was the potential for a letdown. However, these concerns failed to materialize. All that I liked about Gem in 2016 was still present, If anything the cruise experience had improved.
In late 2015, the Gem underwent a refit in which her public areas were re-done. The flashy decoration and bright colors were banished and a more subtle color scheme was implemented reflecting both changing tastes and Norwegian's increased sophistication since Gem entered service in 2007. With this upgrade Gem renewed her membership as a first tier cruise ship.
The refit, however, did not cover the bulk of the cabins on Gem. As a result, the bright mixture of orange, green and purple that plagued Gem's original décor continued to haunt the ship. However, Norwegian is in the process of revitalizing the cabins while the ship is in service. A team has been developed which can transform a cabin in the space of a few hours replacing the carpeting, various furnishings and even the artwork in the rooms. Not only do the transformed cabins look new but the furnishings and color scheme are much more in keeping with contemporary tastes.
Passengers are advised beforehand that their cabin is scheduled to be transformed and may opt out. My cabin had already been done before the cruise began. However, a friend's cabin was transformed during the course of one morning with little disruption of her schedule. Both cabins had a pleasing new look.
In late 2015, Norwegian made a decision to enhance the menus in the main dining rooms across its fleet. Although the food in Gem's two main dining rooms has generally been good over the years, the new menus bring increased variety and quality. You do not have to go to a specialty restaurant in order to have a good meal on Norwegian Gem.
The specialty restaurants are worth a visit, however. They all provide memorable dining experiences. The service is friendly and efficient. The food is cooked to order. Norwegian is particularly good at filet minion, which is available in various forms in Cagney's Moderno, La Cucina and Le Bistro.
Guests Platinum level and above in Norwegian's loyalty program now receive two coupons for use in the specialty restaurants. One can be used in Cagney's or Le Bistro and includes a bottle of wine. The other can be used in Moderno or La Cucina. Considering the quality of the specialty restaurants on the Gem, this is definitely a worthwhile enhancement to the loyalty program.
Gem continues to have a solid entertainment program. The Stardust Theater is home to the ship's production cast, which put on three shows during the course of this voyage. They were Swing, a show derived from a Broadway show; Blazing Boots, a country and western themed show; and Get Down, featuring music from the 1970s. All were professionally performed. Blazing Boots, despite some adult overtones, received the most boisterous reaction from the audience with many guests giving the cast standing ovations.
The theater is also used for shows by Gem's resident Stand up comedian Tim Kaminiski and by the ship's resident comedy troupe from Second City. There were also shows by visiting performers including a magician and an aerialist duo.
Gem's observation lounge, the Spinnaker, is also used as an entertainment venue. It was used for shows by the ship's comedians, theme parties, the senior officer Q&A session and for receptions.
Movies were shown in the Stardust Theater, the Spinnaker Lounge and in the Atrium. There was also a channel on the stateroom televisions that continuously broadcast recent movies without charge.
The only real downside to the entertainment offerings was the lack of an enrichment program. All of the lectures were connected to selling things, e.g., shore excursions, future cruises, spa treatments and art works. Entertainment for the mind is not something that just appeals to people who travel on the luxury and premium cruise lines.
Gem is a ship enthusiast's ship. Even after ten years of service, she remains one of the fastest and most maneuverable cruise ships in service. Gem did had the opportunity to show off her speed on the last leg of the voyage. The trip down to the Caribbean from New York lasted three sea days. The return trip from the Caribbean was scheduled to be two and a half days. Consequently, the ship had to travel much faster on the way home. Despite running into heavy seas the last day - - the only storm encountered during the cruise - - Gem made it to New York docking at her scheduled time.
I was very impressed by how well Gem is being maintained When you see rust on a ship, it is a visible sign that the line is not making maintenance a high priority. As one captain told me, rust is like tooth decay, if you let it linger, the damage multiples. Thus, lines that care about preserving their investment act quickly to combat rust. As such, the amount of visible rust is an indication not only of how well the line is maintaining that part of the ship that you see but also other parts of the ship.
Since Gem is, and has always been, based in the northeast with its often harsh winters, one might expect her to be rusty. However, it took a lot of looking to find any rust. On the other hand, it was common to see the deck crew out painting and scraping any rust spots down to the metal.
A change is coming
Gem began her service career in New York and with only a few brief spells elsewhere has always been a New York ship. During that time, she has endeared herself to New Yorkers and to people living in the northeast. As a result, a very high percentage of Gem's passengers are repeat passengers. Some return to Gem because they prefer Gem's size to that of Norwegian's other New York ship, the mega-ship Norwegian Breakaway. Others return because they like Gem's personality.
In late 2018, however, Gem will bid good-by to New York. In the Spring of that year, Norwegian Escape will come to New York to take over the itineraries previously done by Breakaway. After drydocking and spending the summer in Europe, Breakaway will return to New York and take over Gem's role. Shorty thereafter, Gem will change her base of operations to New Orleans.
Above: An inside cabin with the original decor.
Below: An inside cabin after the 2017 refresh.
Cruise ship review - - Norwegian Cruise Line - - Norwegian Gem - - Caribbean 2017