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NORWEGIAN GEM

Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 1

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My last few trips have been on board the Norwegian Breakaway, and I have a completely different embarkation process for that ship than the Norwegian Gem, which I’m sailing on this week. On the Breakaway, it’s important for me to be on the ship ASAP in order to get a pass for the Vibe Beach Club, which they only sell a limited number of. But the Gem doesn’t have that for-fee, adult’s-only area, so I wasn’t in a big hurry to get on board… which was a good thing, given that as of midnight the night before, I hadn’t finished packing! When finally I arrived at the pier in midtown Manhattan, it was around 11:30 a.m., and the place was a madhouse.

Welcome To The Good Life!

Fortunately, as a Casino At Seas cruiser, I was ushered to a dedicated line and was being check in about 15 minutes later. And that, my friends, is where the fun started. After checking my ID and tapping on her keyboard, the very friendly lady behind the counter said, “Mr. Simms, would you come with me please?”

Ruh-roh. “Am I in trouble?” I asked.

With a reassuring smile, she said, “I’m afraid I’m taking you to where all the naughty people go,” before escorting me to… the VIP lounge! It turns out that because I’m hosting the Meet & Greet on this sailing, I was being given the VIP treatment. One of the very nice ladies in the VIP Lounge explained that while many of the ships no longer offer this perk for meet-and-greet planners, the Gem generally does. This meant that I got to hang in the priority lounge (where they have snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and where friends of mine who were on this same sailing were already sitting, as they were staying in the Haven). I also was one of the first people on board. In the lounge, they had my keycard as well as my Casino At Seas info, so I was all set to go!

Ready, Set… Eat!

Before they’d even announced that embarkation was beginning, the VIP folks — including little ol’ me — were being escorted on board. The second we were on the ship, we headed straight to Norwegian’s signature steakhouse, Cagney’s. This is another perk that comes with being a Haven guest (or, in my case, a very lucky person): Rather than fight the crowds at the buffet or even enjoying a sit-down meal in the main dining room upon boarding, we had lunch at the steakhouse. Joining my friends Dianne and Aldo, we had a delicious lunch (I went with the French Dip and, of course, the infamous Cagney fries), as well as my first cocktail of the trip.

 

We were off to an excellent start. (And as it turned out, my VIP status would allow me to have breakfast each morning in Moderno and lunch in Cagney’s, if I so desired. This turned out to be a pretty awesome perk which I took advantage of on a regular basis over the coming days!) 

After lunch, I wandered down to my room, which was on the 8th deck, forward and was what they call a “cove” balcony. For those who don’t know, cove balconies are basically partially enclosed. Some dislike them because they cut off the view on the sides, but I loved it as it offers additional privacy and a lot of protection from the wind. Having my priorities straight, I decided to test the bed. A two-hour nap proved that it was pretty darn comfortable.

A cove balcony gives your view a frame while cutting down on the wind.

After the muster drill, which was pretty standard, I went back for another nap. Turns out, planning a cruise is tiring work! Around 5:30 p.m., I headed to Dianne and Aldo’s aft-facing balcony for sailaway, chatting with friends they’d cruised with before as we had a few drinks and a lot of laughs. While my past trips out of New York City tended to depart around 4 p.m., this sailing on the Gem didn’t depart until 6 p.m. And if sailing out of New York City in the afternoon is a great experience, doing so after dark is indescribable. Sure, it being February, it was cold as heck on the balcony, but that didn’t stop me from going out there to grab a few pictures and enjoy the moment. 

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Wandering the ship a bit, I wound up grabbing a drink at O’Sheehan’s and listening to the live music drifting up from the atrium. Over the course of this first evening, I heard snippets of Ariel the piano player/singer and a jazz band, and I looked forward to hearing more from both. Deciding I needed to unpack, I went back to my room and encountered my room steward, Alvin. 

The Guy You Want Taking Care Of You!

Sometimes, you wind up barely interacting with your room steward, while on other trips, you feel like you’ve found a new best friend. I immediately bonded with Alvin, who explained that his wife was also working on board (as a server in one of the restaurants). Alvin is everything Norwegian could possibly want from an employee. Not only is he friendly and helpful, but he explained that no matter what ship he’s working on, he makes a point of getting to know its layout very well from Day 1. Why? “The housekeeping staff,” he explained, “are the people guests interact with the most. They see us every day. And not just their own cabin attendant, but they encounter us in the hallways and are constantly asking where things are. I think it’s part of my job to be able to tell them, no matter what they are looking for.”

I had an 8 p.m. reservation at Cagney’s for dinner, but decided to blow it off. Instead, I wandered down to Magnums, one of the bars, where there was a great band playing. Because I swore to myself that I’d try the drink of the day every day, no matter what it is, I ordered it blindly. Turned out it was something called the Daydreamer’s Daiquiri and, while not something I’d normally drink, it was pretty tasty.

The drink of the day was great. The napkin — which reads ”It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty. There is room in the glass for more wine.” — is awesome.

 

Diamonds Are A Guy’s Best Friend

Since the casino was right next to Magnums, I wandered in and wound up playing for a while… especially once I saw that they had the Lock & Link Diamonds game I’d wanted to play on Breakaway, but could never get near because it was so popular. (If you’ve passed through a casino and seen the game where red, diamond-lines heart link together, that’s the one!) 

When I gamble, I have a little rule: If I put in, say, $20 and get it up to $50, I cash out and put fresh money in. The ticket goes into the safe in my room and at the end of the week, I cash them out so I go home with at least something. I’m one of those people who says, “If I come on board with $500, and leave with $100… I won!” After playing for a while, I cashed out my winnings and stuck a $65 ticket into the safe. If nothing else, I’d be going home with that!

Deciding it was probably a good idea to grab something to eat, I headed to Orchid Garden, the complimentary restaurant that serves a limited but really delicious selection of Asian foods. I had the fried pot stickers, salt-and-pepper calamari, Kung Pao chicken and a fried rice with pork, chicken and shrimp. It sounds like more food than it is… or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. It was all good (although the chicken was maybe a little tough), and the service was top-notch.

Kung Pao chicken and fried rice at Orchid Garden.

After doing a little more gambling (which did not see any tickets added to my collection, sadly), I decided to call it an early night. I’d be hosting the meet-and-greet the next day, and I wanted to be peppy. (Anyone who knows me will tell you “peppy” is definitely not my default setting, but I was gonna try!)

DRINK OF THE DAY: Daydreamer’s Daquiri
HIGH POINT: Bumped-up to the VIP Lounge
LOW POINT: Baby, it’s cold outside!

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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 8: St Thomas

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I did two things on this cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem which I never really imagined I’d ever do. The first was two days ago, when I ziplined through the rainforests of St. Lucia. The second was early this morning, when I wound up having to visit the medical center.

This was not, as you might have guessed, how I intended to spend the morning.

The view of St. Thomas from on board the Norwegian Gem, shortly after we docked.

The original plan was that once we arrived in St. Thomas, I’d disembark early and head to the pier for my shore excursion, during which I’d take a catamaran to some exotic place and do a little snorkeling. Our time in St. Thomas was going to be very limited — the ship arrived around 7 a.m., and we were departing at 1 p.m., which meant even this snorkeling excursion would be cutting it close. (I’d booked it through the ship, so I wasn’t worried about them leaving without me if for whatever reason we wound up running late.)

But everything changed when I woke up upon our arrival, looked in the mirror and realized there was something really wrong with my eye. Assuming I had pinkeye — and absolutely terrified I’d wind up quarantined to my room as a result — I made my way down to the medical center. (In a cruelly ironic twist, the medical center was located on deck 4… mere steps away from where people were disembarking to enjoy their day in St. Thomas.) The good news? I didn’t have pinkeye. The bad news? I did have an eye infection that required treatment. (It’s worth noting that I was up around 7 a.m. waiting for the medical center to open at 8:30 a.m., and as you can see in the below picture, the chair hogs had already staked their claim. I would return to this same spot about 2 hours later and those same chairs would still be staked out, nobody in them, nobody anywhere near them.)

Clearly, these folks got up at the crack of dawn, staked their claim on the pool deck… then went back to bed for several hours.

Now, I’m not a fan of going to the doctor under the best of circumstances, and having to do so on a cruise is definitely not the “best” of anything. But I will say the medical center staff was fantastic and made the entire process pretty easy. My eye needed a medication which, fortunately, they had available on board. The doctor thought it best that I skip snorkeling, however, so that was out. (Armed with a note from the medical center, a quick visit to the shore excursion desk and the charge for the cancelled daytrip was almost immediately processed.) Suddenly having a lot more time on my hands than I’d thought I would, I joined my friend Dianne for breakfast in Moderno.

Afterwards, I disembarked and wandered from Havensight, where the ship docked, to Charlotte Amalie. I’d been to St. Thomas years ago when friends and I rented a villa for a week, and had fond memories of Charlotte Amalie’s shops and restaurants. Wandering the alleyways, I found all kinds of wonderful stores and cute restaurants. I sort of wanted to sit in one of the cute cafes and have a few drinks, but it was still early in the day and the ones I really liked weren’t even open, let alone serving alcohol.

St. Thomas is a wonderful place to simply wander around, with its shop-lined alleys and hidden bars.

One thing I’d hoped to do in St. Thomas was take the tram to Paradise Point, a spot I loved visiting a decade earlier. Unfortunately, the sky ride was out of commission, as it had been since the hurricanes hit the island in the fall of 2017. (I’m happy to report that only a week or so after our ship’s visit, the Sky Ride re-opened for visitors!)

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The sky ride to Paradise Point was sadly closed during my visit, but reopened a few days later.

I’m not a photographer by nature — as you may have noticed, based on the quality of my pictures from this trip. But wandering the streets of Charlotte Amalie made me want to be a better one. Everywhere you look, there is something interesting. (At least everywhere that isn’t housing a jewelry store… seriously, how many of them are there here? Do people really buy enough to keep all these places in business?) Bright colors, cool shops, hidden alleyways. It’s just a fantastic spot for aimless wandering… which is what I did for several hours.

I wish I’d had longer in St. Thomas, but it was actually the shortest of all our port stops, with the ship arriving at 7 a.m. and departing at 1 p.m. 

 

Eventually, I wandered back to the ship and headed to the Great Outdoors bar, aka my home away from home on the Norwegian Gem. The bartenders here can get incredibly busy, but they always make time to smile and chat with their regulars. By two or three days into this trip, Simon (pictured below) had become for me what Norwegian refers to as a Vacation Hero.

He’s as quick with a smile as he is with a drink… and on this particular afternoon, as several of us who’d become big fans of his gathered for cocktails while the ship sailed away, Simon helped me to get pretty buzzed. How buzzed? Well… I wound up going to the casino around 4 p.m. … where I sat at one of my beloved Lock & Link Diamond machines (I suspect that if I could, I’d marry one of these amazing slot machines!) until nearly 2 a.m.  I skipped lunch and dinner, not wanting to give up the machine. I played that machine so long I got sober… and then got tipsy again… and then sober again. I had an amazing server in the casino who would, every few drinks, bring me a bottle of water and insist I hydrate.

It was definitely the best night of the trip, casino wise… and yes, I wound up walking away with money!

Drink Of The Day: Daydreamer Daiquiri. Weirdly, on day 8 they went back to the beginning… as if there aren’t more than 7 drinks to cycle through! (Based on the number of cocktails I tasted on any given day, I can attest to the fact that this definitely isn’t true!)

High Point of the Day: The casino was very, very good to me. Not handpay good, but good enough that I walked away very happy.

Low Point of the Day: I’d really, really been looking forward to going snorkeling, so having to miss it was a bummer. As was the $600 bill for my visit from the medical center. Yes, I have travel insurance which will cover it, but ugh… the paperwork!

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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 7: St Kitts

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Another island, another paradise.

The Norwegian Gem, approaching the beautiful island of St. Kitts.

Today, the Norwegian Gem arrived in St. Kitts. To be honest, I considered staying on board as we were tendering and I’m just not a big fan of the whole process. But instead, I got up early, had breakfast at Modernos. It’s nice having a sit-down breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere, and the menu of offerings is decent enough that I struggled before finally deciding on Crabcakes benedict. While waiting for our meal, I perused the breakfast buffet area, where they have a nice selection of breads, fruits, yogurts, cereal and more.

In researching St. Kitts, I’d discovered a resort called Palm Court Garden which seemed like it might be an awesome place to spend the day. Upon E-mailing, I was given simple-to-follow instructions and told the cost to rent a lounger/umbrella by the pool was $12 for the day. At that price, what did I have to lose? If it turned out to be a bummer, I could just leave and find something else to do. But bummer it most definitely was not!

The beautiful little resort was an easy 10-minute walk from the pier, and even the tendering process was pretty simple. I had priority status, so I got to skip to the front of the line when I was ready to go, and the ship-to-shore trip took maybe 10 minutes, tops. (The only thing I didn’t particularly care for was that unlike the Breakaway, which has open-air, two-level tender boats, the Gem uses its enclosed lifeboats, which can be a little claustrophobic.)

 

The pool and hot tub at the Palm Court Gardens in St. Kitts make for a pretty awesome place to spend an afternoon.

I’ll have a full review of Palm Court Garden coming up, but suffice it to say that this is an amazing little resort to spend a day at. The gardens are lovely (if not particularly large), but the real selling point here is the pool area, complete with a hot tub, comfy loungers with umbrellas, tables and chairs and more. There’s a small bar and a restaurant serving up a pretty nice selection of food. Did I mention that the pool is of the infinity variety, and the whole thing is on a hill overlooking the ocean? It really is a gorgeous spot, and I can’t think of a better $12 investment I’ve ever made.

Palm Court Gardens features several quiet, peaceful spots.

If there’s one caveat, it is this: Palm Court Garden grants free access to cruise ship employees with valid ID. I arrived around 10 a.m. and for the first few hours, there were about 20 or so guests lounging by the pool. By mid-afternoon, cruise ship employees began to arrive and the vibe definitely changed. Not necessarily in a bad way, but the place quickly got more crowded, a bit less laid-back, a bit less relaxed… and not for nothin’, but a whole lot prettier. Several members of the entertainment staff arrived and… yeah, that’ll make you feel every year of your age and pound of your weight!

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Around 2:30 or so, I wandered back into town and explored a little bit before catching a tender back to the ship. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I swung by O’Sheehan’s to grab some nachos and a Caesar salad with blackened chicken… just enough to hold me over until dinner. When I got back to my room, I was thrilled to find my laundry had been delivered, all freshly folded and presented in a nice little basket. Lemme tell you… getting clean clothes halfway through the trip is definitely one of my favorite perks of being a Platinum cruiser with Norwegian!

The basket the laundry was delivered in was nice enough that I kinda wanted to steal it… but didn’t.

After a nap, I met up with Aldo and Dianne for another dinner at La Cuchina. This time around, I had the carpaccio appetizer and an order of calamari, followed by perfectly prepared lamb chops. I must have had a few drinks at some point along the way, because I even allowed Dianne to convince me to let the ship’s photographer snap a pic! (Confession: I actually love this pic… we all look fantastic!)

Hey, we clean up pretty good, don’t we?

 

Afterwards, I hit the casino again for a little while. Before setting sail on this cruise, I’d told members of a Facebook group I’m in that I was bound and determined to get my first-ever handpay on this trip. It hadn’t happened yet, and it didn’t tonight, but I did get quite a bit of play on some fun machines. Sometimes, that’s all I ask… give me a few hours worth of bang for my buck, and I’m a happy camper. I also spent some time sitting at the casino bar chatting with random folks, which as you know by now is another of my favorite pasttimes.

I didn’t stay out too late because I knew tomorrow was our final port, St. Thomas. We were only slated to be in port from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and I had plans to take a catamaran out for some snorkeling. Obviously this would mean getting up and off the ship early (or so I thought), so I called it an early night, figuring that after St. Thomas, I’d have two full sea days (and nights) during which to stay up late. That was the plan, anyway… but things definitely did not go exactly as I thought they would!

 

Drink Of The Day: Mai Tai. Somehow, I’vd never actually had one of these before. Not really my thing, but it was tasty enough.

High Point Of The Day: The resort was amazing, but the best part of the day was dinner. Ever have one of those meals where you’re hanging out with friends, maybe a little bit buzzed, and you just sort of silently take a moment to acknowledge how great life can be? Yeah, that’s pretty hard to beat.

Low Point Of The Day:  A fellow tourist offered to take my picture with the mermaid statue next to the pool at the resort. In fact, he took 10 of them to make sure at least one would come out. Awesome, right? Except… as shown below, his finger obscured my head in every single shot! Well, guess I’ll just have to go back some day and try again!

If this were a promotional photo, it could read, “I lost my head for Palm Court Garden!”

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Norwegian Trip Report, Day 5: Beachlimerz, Antigua

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While I’ve been sleeping in every day during this trip on the Norwegian Gem, I broke that pattern this morning, waking up around 7 a.m. And man, am I glad I did. Stepping out onto my balcony, I saw that we were steaming toward our first port stop. There, rising out of the mist like Skull Island in a King Kong movie was Antigua.

Our early morning arrival was more breathtaking than my crappy picture-taking abilities can capture.

Most of my cruises have been the typical itinerary when you sail out of New York City: Florida, Nassau and (assuming I’m on a Norwegian ship), Great Stirrup Cay, the line’s private island. This was my first 10-day sailing out of New York (or anywhere else for that matter), and after four days at sea Antigua was going to be our first stop. In the past, my favorite port to sail into (with my limited experience) was Nassau. Well, move over, cause there’s a new favorite in town.

I don’t know if it’s just because this was something new, or of it was the way the island of Antigua slowly revealed herself, like a vaudevillian striptease act. A glimpse of a shoreline, a pop of color coming from buildings on a hillside, a catamaran sailing out to sea. I sat on my balcony, mesmerized as we got closer and closer.

As we sailed into Antigua, the day got progressively more gorgeous.

A group of about 9 of us were planning to go to a place called Beachlimerz which we’d sort of randomly stumbled across while researching what to do in Antigua. None of us had been there, but we’d read some good reviews. By 8 a.m. I was heading up to Moderno, where those with priority disembarkation would be met by a member of the concierge staff and escorted off the ship.

If there’s one thing I don’t like about many Caribbean ports — and Antigua is no exception — it is the almost literal assault by locals who want to take you for a ride or sell you something. While the would-be taxi drivers in Antigua were mostly very nice, there were at least 100 of them you had to make your way through to get to the main shopping area. And what makes this even more annoying is when you politely but firmly say “No thanks, I’m good” and keep walking, three more — who just saw and heard you say no — will approach and ask if you want or need a taxi. One guy, working the dock just to the left of the pier, was “playfully” trying to win over female customers, most of whom were offended by his borderline crude approach to marketing.

But back to our story.

We did not book Beachlimerz through the ship, but instead had directly E-mailed with them, corresponding with an incredibly friendly woman named Gail (whom we would later find out is the manager). She arranged to have a service she knows and trusts pick us up at a specified location on Heritage Quay. Wanting to explore a little bit, I got off the dock about an hour before our appointed meeting time and wandered around the port area a bit, soaking in the colorful buildings and unmistakably Caribbean vibe.

 

 

We met our ride at 9:30 and were at Beachlimerz by 10 a.m…. where Gail and the bartender, Marvelous (who lives up to that moniker) greeted us with rum punches. Looking at the waves crashing on the beautiful beach a few feet away, I swear, I half expected Gail to do her best Mr. Roarke and say, “Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

The gorgeous beach in front of Beachlimerz is pretty much the definition of paradise.

What followed was just about the best experience one could hope to have. We had beach chairs and umbrellas on a private beach that was only steps away from a bar which felt almost like a treehouse, and they later served up a delicious lunch.The oasis offers both Pay-As-You-Go options and a package which includes a couple drinks, lunch and beach chair rentals for around $60 (which is the option we went with, collectively, and found to be a great deal!).

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As we lounged on the private beach, Marvin The Marvelous brought us delicious drinks!

 

The Beachlimerz bar and restaurant feels almost like a treehouse, overlooking the beautiful beach.

 

At one point, I walked from the beach we were on — which formed sort of a cove — down to another area about a half-mile away. While our group had the Beachlimerz area all to ourselves, the other end of the beach was crowded with not only guests but locals pedaling their wares (not a one of which we saw at Beachlimerz all day long).

When lunchtime rolled around, the staff served up some delicious grub at tables located near the bar.

 

I’ll have a full review coming, but if you’re heading to Antigua, I can’t recommend Beachlimerz highly enough. After an amazing day (despite incredibly strong surf which left some folks wary of actually going into the water), we headed back to the ship around 3 p.m., which was about 90 minutes before everyone was to be on board. Heading to my stateroom, I freshened up a bit… and went out on my pier-facing balcony just in time to watch two runners making their way back to the ship.

For the uninitiated, “runners” are people who, for whatever reason, aren’t back on the ship at the announced time. Generally, about a half hour before the scheduled sailaway time, you’ll hear announcements being made asking passengers to get in touch with guest services. You know how they scan your card when you leave the ship and then again when you return? Well, that’s so they know exactly who’s on board and who’s not. (This is also the reason many people only book shore excursions through the ship. If something goes wrong and you are late getting back, the ship will wait for those who booked through the ship, as they know exactly where you are. Those who either book independently or just lose track of time while wandering around the shops — or having a few cocktails — are pretty much unaccounted for). As the two stragglers whose names had been paged finally began making their way to the ship, people on some of the upper decks could be heard shouting, encouraging them to run…. not that either seemed all that interested in doing so. (Personally, I’d be mortified to know that the entire ship was basically waiting for my butt to get back!)

I did a little bit of pre-dinner gambling before meeting my friends at La Cuchina, Norwegian’s Italian eatery. In the past, I’ve had not-so-great experiences at this particular venue, but I have to say… over the course of 10 days, we ate here three different nights… and it was excellent each time. This evening I went with a perfectly prepared shrimp fra diavalo and — go ahead, judge — a side order of fries. (Major kudos to our waiter for not batting an eye when I asked for fries with my pasta… even I was giving myself stankeye for that one!)

Afterwards, I resisted the siren call of the casino and instead headed to my room to read for a while before calling it an early night. I had a bit of trouble shutting off my brain, however, because I knew tomorrow we’d be arriving in St. Lucia and I’d be doing something I was both excited and terrified of: zip-lining. Would I actually go through with it?

As they say in the soap opera business, tune in tomorrow…

Drink Of The Day: Bahama Mama. These feature three different kids of rum, fresh pineapple, orange juice and grenadine… and they go down far too easily!

High Point Of The Day: Beachlimerz. Having sort of convinced several other passengers to give this place a try, I was worried. But it turned out to be an amazing day and a real highlight of the trip for all of us.

Low Point Of The Day: I really regret not having gone to see the Big Band Tribute put on by the Norwegian Gem Showband in the Spinnaker Lounge. As a fan of Big Band Music, I know I would have enjoyed the heck out of that.

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 1. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/norwegian-gem-trip-report-day-1/