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Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 4: Day Drinking And Casino Winning



There are two types of cruisers in the world: Those who will take as many sea days as an itinerary wants to throw at them, and those who start getting itchy if they’ve been “trapped” on the ship for a day or two. I’m definitely the former: The more sea days, the better.

That said, if there’s one downside to all these sea days, it’s that they can make for a fairly dull trip report. So before we get to details of the day (Spoiler alert: It involved a lot of drinking and gambling), let’s talk a little bit about the Norwegian Gem.

The last of the Jewel-class ships (which also includes the Norwegian Jewel, Jade and Pearl), the Gem first sailed in 2007. One of my favorite little “factoids” about this ship is that when it came time to pick a Godmother for the ship, Norwegian asked passengers who’d sailed with them before to submit videos… which is how Cindy Cardella of Fairfield, New Jersey wound up being picked! Remember the amazing Garden Villa we took a tour of yesterday? Well, Cardella and five of her friends got to enjoy a week long cruise livin’ it up in that lux pad!

The ship underwent a pretty major refurbishment in November of 2015, and this was the first time I’ve been on board since she underwent the transformation. Now, I’ll fully confess that there’s one aspect of the modernization that I absolutely hate (but nearly everyone else on the planet loves), and that’s where the Bliss Nightclub is concerned. When I originally sailed on the Gem, Bliss was — and there’s really no other word for it — gaudy. There were giant beds and odd, metallic statues and the whole thing felt like some kind of weird bordello from a badly dubbed 70s horror movie.

In other words, it was unique and awesome.

Don’t get me wrong: The new and “improved” Bliss is beautiful. It has lots of comfy couches (although I’m not sold on the weird chainmail supporting posts which dot the room) and a roomy dance floor… but dang, I really miss the gloriously tacky club that once existed in this space.

Bliss is now a gorgeous space… but I miss the tacky glory it once featured.

(It’s worth noting that I’m not a fan of the version of Bliss they have on the Breakaway, either. That one lacks any personality whatsoever, being basically a big, box shaped room with uncomfortable tables and chairs. The Gem‘s take on Bliss is far more stylish and comfortable.)

And Now, Back To Our Regularly-Scheduled Day

After sleeping in, I wandered around the ship to enjoy this absolutely beautiful day. The music was thumping by the pool, sun worshippers were soaking up the rays and I was headed to my very favorite spot on the ship, the Great Outdoors bar.

The view from my barstool at the Great Outdoors Bar.

It was a picture-perfect day, the drinks were flowing far too easily, I met several interesting people who, like me, could think of no better way to spend a sea day than conversing with a stranger.

Translation: Life was good.

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I eventually ducked into the buffet to pick up some nibbly bits before heading to La Cuchina for our daily game of Left, Right Center. After that, my friends Dianne, Aldo and I went down to Magnum’s to play the card game Phase 10. Magnum’s, located in what’s called Bar City, is one of those spots on the ship that people gravitate during the day if they want a place to read or play cards or simply take a nap on one of the comfy couches.

After about an hour or so of play, the three of us went our separate ways. My intention was to take a nap before meeting them for dinner at Cagney’s… but my intentions went right down the tube when I, still slightly buzzed from my afternoon at the bar, wandered into the casino. My rationale for skipping the nap? “I need to go to bed early, because tomorrow is our first port day, and we have big plans!”

I couldn’t get on my beloved Lock & Link Diamond game, but I found a sort of standard real reels (as opposed to computer generated reels) slot and played for a couple hours. And by “a couple hours” I mean right through my scheduled dinner with Dianne and Aldo. Whoopsie. When finally I’d given all my money to the casino, as is tradition, I headed back up to the buffet for a bite to eat.

Let’s talk about the buffet for a second: When I cruise, I tend to eat most of my meals in the specialty restaurants, especially on Norwegian. The package I’d purchased gave me four nights in specialty restaurants, plus — because I’m Platinum with the line — I got two additional nights, which meant that at least six out of the 10 nights I’d be eating in specialty restaurants. Even when not doing so, I tend to avoid the buffet as much as possible for one simple reason: I’m not the type of person for whom “all you can eat” is a good idea. In the restaurants, even if I order two appetizers, there’s still some modicum of portion control. In the buffet? Not so much. Suddenly, mashed potatoes and French fries and fried fish and fried chicken and a slice of ham seems like a perfectly reasonable meal. And while there are plenty of healthy options at the buffet (including, on this particular ship, a really great selection of vegetarian options), I am self-actualized enough to know that my head isn’t going to be turned by the lettuce when there’s fried food crying out, “Eat me!”

Is there anything better than sunsets at sea? (That’s a rhetorical question.)


In any case, after doing a half-way decent job of eating relatively healthy, I headed back to my room. I’d skipped dessert at the buffet… only to have even that mild attempt at dieting derailed by the nightly treat left in my room, which happened to be a delicious array of chocolates courtesy of the hotel director.

I mean, it would be rude not to have eaten them…

And with that, I called it a night, realizing just before falling asleep that tomorrow would be the first time in five days that I’d set foot on dry land!


DRINK OF THE DAY: Painkiller. I have to imagine that after two of these, you’re definitely feeling no pain. I took a one-and-done approach with this one!

HIGH POINT OF THE DAY: The casino finally gave me some play! I spent a good three or four hours gambling on a pretty small amount of money.

LOW POINT OF THE DAY: You know where this is going, right? I eventually — stupidly — gave all my winnings back. But hey, I don’t mind losing (much) as long as I get some good play in!


Carnival Cruise Line

Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 10: Before You Disembark



Hard as it is to believe, our time together exploring Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ships is coming to an end. But before that can happen, we need to take one last spin around the Carnival Horizon… just to make sure you aren’t missing anything!

How Do You Spend That Final Day?

Nobody likes to think about disembarkation, yet that seems to be what the mind winds up focusing on during those final 24 hours of any cruise. You’re not even off the ship yet, but the mind begins wandering to the work that will be waiting on your desk or the unmowed lawn waiting to be tended. Our best advise: Given that you are on a Carnival ship, do as they advise and Choose Fun for as long as you possibly can.

Sure, you’ll have to pack your suitcase eventually… but the last day of your vacation is when you should slow down enough to soak it all in. Give yourself a little extra time to sit in a quiet spot, staring out at the sea and taking mental photographs. Have a long, leisurely brunch (during which you allow yourself to have a second, and maybe even a third, Bloody Mary. Head to Cherry on Top and get one more of those amazing ice cream sandwiches, which you know you’re going to have cravings for once you get back home.

Choose your cookie. Choose your ice cream. Choose your toppings. Eat. Could anything be simpler?

One thing we’d definitely recommend you do in advance: If you have a specialty restaurant you want to enjoy that final dinner-at-sea in, make a reservation. For many people, dining at the Steakhouse, for example, is a perfect capper to their cruise. Tomorrow, they’ll be back to making their own dinner and clearing their own tables, so why not have one final high-end meal?

Go ahead, live a little… it’s the last night of your cruise!

Another thing you definitely want to make sure to do on that final evening is head to the casino to cash in any winnings you might have! One of our favorite ways to make sure we go home with a little money? Cashing out whenever we have a decent win on a slot machine, putting a fresh $20 bill in the game… and sticking those tickets into the safe in our stateroom and not touching them until the week is over. When it’s time to head upstairs on the final night and pack our bags, we grab those tickets and cash them out.

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One way we fight the melancholy that can often set in on the final day is by booking another trip, which on the Carnival Horizon can be done by visiting the future cruise desk on deck 10. Then, having put it off as long as we possibly could, we finally head back to the room and pack. After spending a fair amount of time deciding what to bring and what to leave behind during the days building up to the cruise, the packing-to-disembark process is a lot quicker and easier. You know the drill: Throw everything into the suitcase, don’t even bother folding it, taking as little time as possible.

The saddest thing ever? Seeing all the suitcases lining the hallways, waiting to be collected on that final night.

If you need any information at all about the disembarkaton process, make sure to check the Fun Times or ask at Guest Services. But don’t leave this until the last morning… trust us, the staff will have their hands full trying to get everyone off the ship so that a whole new group of passengers can board and begin their vacations! In fact, if you have anything at all you need to deal with Guest Services about, try not to wait until that last evening, because the place can become a bit of a zoo!

And remember that there is no room service available on that final morning, so if you want to grab one last free meal, you’ll have to actually leave the room… or at least convince one of your traveling companions to do so! Again, consulting the Fun Times will tell you where you can go for that final meal, whether it’s a sit-down breakfast or just grabbing some coffee to get yourself going!

Sadly, it is here that we, too, must part ways. Here’s hoping that you’ve enjoyed our special, in-depth look at the Carnival Horizon. Keep checking back for more information on not only this ship but the upcoming Carnival Panorama, which we’re already excited to explore!

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Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 7: Adult Stuff



Since we figured out ways to keep the kids entertained in our last entry, it seems as if we’ve earned a little adults-only relaxation, right? So let’s wander around the Carnival Horizon and take in some of the various venues that offer grown-ups an opportunity to rest, relax, and have some fun of their own.

A Little Piece of Heaven

In our minds, there’s really only one place to start when it comes to adults-only areas, and that’s the Serenity Deck. Step away from the madness and chaos of the pool area and head up to this ship-topping oasis where no one under the age of 21 is allowed, and that rule is pretty well enforced.

There are an awful lot of comfy spaces to be found on the kid-free Serenity deck.

As a result, the Serenity area is exactly what you both want and expect it to be, complete with a bar, tons of comfy seating (including hammocks and daybeds perfect for cuddling) and, on sea days, a salad bar. There’s also, of course, a full bar of the non-salad variety which offers a variety of specialty cocktails, wines, and other adult libations.

What’s an adult’s-only zone without a menu offering specialty cocktails, like this one from the Serenity deck.

Another spot that pretty much screams “relaxation” is, of course, the Cloud 9 Spa. Be sure to swing by on the first day and take the tour, because it usually involves a raffle for some type of spa package. Yes, as on every cruise ship, you’ll probably wind up getting a hard-sell at some point, but we’ve found that if you’re up front with a polite but firm “Not interested,” they respectfully dial it back. Planning to spend a fair amount of time at the spa? Consider booking one of the Cloud 9 Spa staterooms, which give you access to the thermal suites, priority booking of treatments and a host of other perks.

What better way to bond with your significant other than by getting a couple’s massage? Photo courtesy of Andy Newman, Carnival Cruise Line

You can also purchase a week-long pass to the thermal spa, which includes dry heat chambers, a variety of steam chambers (including one called an “aromatic grotto”), a large whirlpool and two “experience showers” which help sooth you by combining the soothing waters with special aromas. And remember to check Carnival’s website under My Cruise Manager before you sail to see if by booking treatments in advance, you can save a little money!

After Dark, the Real Fun Starts!

There are all kinds of fun activities scheduled throughout the day that are perfect for families… but it’s after dark, when the kiddies are tucked away and (hopefully) asleep, that the Carnival Horizon really comes alive. We spoke about some of our favorite bars and hot spots earlier, so you already know to grab pre- or post-dinner cocktails at the Alchemy Bar, and that you can dance the night away at the Havana club.

Let the bartenders at the Alchemy Bar whip you up a cocktail that will have you ready to tackle the evening!

But if you wanna just kick back and relax for a while before things rev into high gear, why not head to the Punchliner Comedy Club, which on most nights offers an 18-and-over show later in the evening. Don’t bring the kids, and leave your prudish Aunt Gertrude in the stateroom because things can get a little raunchy during these shows!

Speaking of activities Aunt Gertrude probably isn’t going to want to take part in (unless you think maybe it’ll help her loosen up), there’s the infamous Quest Game Show. Think of it as a very, very adult scavenger hunt… and more fun than should probably be legal. Heck, maybe that’s why it only takes place at sea… because international maritime laws are looser! Keep your eyes on the Fun Times, because this is one game you definitely do not want to miss!

Shop ‘Til You Drop

As you know, your Sign & Sail card basically acts like a credit card while you’re on the ship… and as fate would have it, there happen to be some pretty nice shops on board! (It’s as if someone at Carnival thought, “You know, we’ve got them here… and they’ve had a few drinks… “) Maybe after having some luck in the casino (which we’ll talk about soon!), you want to buy something a little special, making Front Street Jewelers a great place to stop. And maybe in order to get lucky in a completely different way, you want to pick up something from Victoria’s Secret! Of course, the Carnival Store sells… you guessed it, lots of Carnival branded items (including those awesome miniature ships which would look so good somewhere in your house, right?)

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Carnival Horizon has added new shops to the promenade, including the Wearable Tech store.

Of all the shops on board — and there’s some great, high-end stuff available — perhaps our favorite is the Wearable Tech store, specializing in a variety of fitness-tracking watches (and a staff who knows how to help you get started), perfect for those who need a little help making sure that they take enough steps each day to work off at least some of what they’re eating at the endless restaurants!

Smile For The Camera!

While people love posing with their families for the photographers found around the ship, why not book a special Dreams Studio photo shoot? Whether for you and your significant other or a group of friends traveling together, this is a fun way to commemorate the trip. And what the heck, after getting some pics snapped of just the adults, let the kids in for some shots. It is their vacation too, after all. At the end of the day, could there be a more perfect souvenir of your vacation than gorgeous photographs that will capture it forever?

Finally, how’s this for an amazing way to cap off your vacation: A vow-renewal ceremony with the captain himself presiding. Check the Fun Times newsletter for more on whether this is available on your sailing, and how to set it up, or contact Carnival in advance to make preparations for a day neither of you will ever forget!

Next up? If baby needs a new pair of shoes, we’re heading for the right place… the casino!


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How Cruise Lines Boost The Price Of Your Vacation



When it comes to budgeting for a vacation, we all try to get the most bang for our buck. But over the past few years, the cruise lines have gotten incredibly good at figuring out ways to get a little extra money out of passengers… and most people willingly fall into the trap!

Why We’re Willing To Pay Extra

When is a hidden fee not so hidden? When it’s promoted openly and accepted without question! Increasingly, cruise lines have found that people are more than happy to shell out a little extra money — above and beyond the initial cost of their cruise — months before even setting foot on a ship! And there’s more than a little bit of psychology at play when it comes to how and why the cruise lines market these extras!

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley shared how pre-cruise spending helps boost the bottom line. “What we found,” he explained, “is that, if you spend $100 before you sail, that’s spent and gone. You don’t even put it in your budget for when you’re on vacation. So every pre-cruise revenue dollar that we generate will often generate 50% more on-board revenue for that customer.”

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If you pay for your night at Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille in advance, you’re more likely to spend more on other things.

As Norwegian Cruise Line’s President and CEO Frank Del Rio explained during a conference call last year, “When folks have money to spend on board, they spend it in restaurants and in shops and, primarily, shore excursions. We’ve seen this wide-spread move away from buying things to enjoying experiences.” And this, he said, had led to a pretty significant uptick in on-board spending in 2017.

Shore excursions — such as the Sentry Hill Zipline on St. Marteen — are a big source of revenue for cruise lines.

How To Avoid Breaking The Bank

If you’re looking to stay within a budget, it’s important to make sure that you’re keeping track of all the expenses associated with your cruise. While it’s all well and good to get a great price on your stateroom, make sure you know exactly what’s included… and just as important, what isn’t! What additional expenses will you incur along the way? Will you be staying on the ship during all or some of the port visits, or is doing shore excursions a major part of the experience for you? Is it worth purchasing a drink package, or would you be better off simply paying as you go? Will there be pre- and post-cruise expenses such as airline tickets and hotel stays involved? Are the daily gratuities included, or do you need to factor them in separately? While trip insurance isn’t required, it’s highly recommended and could ultimately wind up saving you a whole lot of money!

READ MORE: 17 Extra Costs To Factor Into Your Cruise Budget 

While cruise vacations are a fantastic bargain, they are also a bit of an investment and should be treated as such. Just as you wouldn’t simply blindly purchase a stock in which to invest (we hope!), it’s worth taking a little bit of time to make sure you know how much you’re spending and what you can expect in return!

Do you find that you spend more on the ship if you’ve already paid for your other expenses? What are some of your best money-saving tips? 


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