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Cruise Ship Information

Norwegian Gem is a Jewel class cruise ship of Norwegian Cruise Line. She is the last cruise ship of the Jewel class and was built by the German shipyard, Meyer Werft.

Atmosphere on board

Norwegian takes a one-ship-fits-all approach to cruising with Gem, where rock climbing meets shuffleboard and hot-stone massages meet Guitar Hero and chess played with comically large game pieces.

Gem launched in 2007, and on it, Norwegian Cruise Line continues to refine its Freestyle Cruising concept, which focuses on flexibility and a casual atmosphere. On Gem, more than 2,300 passengers enjoy the freedom to dine where, when and with whom they wish (except for when reservations require otherwise). The dress code is relaxed, with an optional formal night for those looking to get all dolled up. In spring 2008, the ship underwent the company's Freestyle 2.0 upgrade program, receiving several enhancements to its menus, new beds throughout and service tweaks at all levels.

If casual is the goal, entertainment is the modus operandi. As passengers board Gem, they're greeted in the main atrium with blaring beats spun by a D.J. whose ruby red turntable is almost as flashy as the glowing space itself. Thirteen bars, an enormous 1,115-seat theater -- featuring Second City and Broadway-esque productions -- and a dozen restaurants keep the ship hopping throughout the trip.

The ship also accommodates those in need of quiet time; from the spacious and serene spa, with armchairs overlooking a vast ocean expanse, to a variety of lounges and a library, there are nooks aplenty for relaxation.

The ability to shift between active and restful, party and calm, at a moment's notice is Norwegian's calling card. With so many options, Gem ensures that you can find time to do what you want onboard -- whatever that may be.

Family with Kids/Teens

In addition to solid family-friendly accommodations, the children's facilities on Norwegian Gem are excellent and truly make this ship ideal for families. The main center of action is the T-Rex kids' lounge, with play rooms and a movie theater. Adjacent (but not enclosed within) is the T-Rex kids' pool, complete with downsized lounge chairs, a waterslide and a whirlpool. For teens, there's a video arcade and a disco-style teen club.

NCL's "Splash Academy" is currently divided into four age groups: Guppies (6 months to 3 years, with parent), Turtles (3 - 5), Seals (6 - 9) and Dolphins (10 - 12). The teen program, called Entourage, accommodates passengers 13 to 17. The overall program focuses on sports, arts and crafts, theater and technology, with age-appropriate activities for each group. Planned activities may include circus workshops, parades and scavenger hunts. (Both Splash Academy and Entourage feature a different theme every day, like pirates, space cowboys, jungle fever or circus.)

Games for kids are also organized on Great Stirrup Cay, the line's private island.

For the 3 - 12s, organized activities are typically offered from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on both port and sea days. On port days, a supervised meal fee ($6 per child) may apply. Entourage's hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and departure time or 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on port days.

Group baby-sitting is available onboard; evenings it's offered from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; on port days. Cost is $6 per child per hour; the second kid is $4 per hour. Passengers should sign up for sitting services by 8 p.m. the night prior to when they are needed. There is no in-cabin sitting. Norwegian also has developed a fleetwide discipline policy. The four-step set of rules includes warning, time-out, suspension and dismissal stages.

High chairs and cribs are available upon request (either onboard or in advance). Other kid-oriented amenities include kids' packages for soda. The unlimited beverage program is roughly $4 per day, per child, up to age 12 and $6 per day for teens 13 and older.

Past Passenger Programs

Indoor activities on Norwegian Gem are primarily concentrated on Decks 6 and 7. The Grand Atrium (Deck 6), with its glass-domed ceiling, is the hub. There you'll find passenger services counters (shore excursions, reception) and a duty-free cosmetics shop. On the landing of a curved stairway is a performance platform, where live bands play, and the Java Cafe, where you can pick up specialty coffee drinks and pastries.

Deck 6 is also where you'll find the ship's main duty-free shop, which flanks both sides of a long hallway that opens up to some of the specialty restaurants. The shop offers jewelry, stylish casualwear (Tommy Bahama is a mainstay), upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.

The Internet Cafe has 17 terminals; Norwegian Gem also offers wireless access. Passengers can bring their own laptops or rent them. Rates at the cafe itself are industry standard -- 75 cents per minute -- as are wireless fees. Packages are available (100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100) and include a laptop rental (exclusive of a $3/day insurance fee).

On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cozily appointed and offers an excellent selection of books. Though checkout hours are limited, you can almost always grab a book off the shelf to enjoy in one of the library's comfy club chairs.

Fitness And Spa

Norwegian Gem offers a wide range of fitness and recreation services. First: the two-tiered El Dorado Spa and Beauty Center offers up-to-date fitness equipment and a fabulous glass-paneled room for classes in stretching and aerobics (free) and yoga and Pilates ($12 fee).

The spa itself is beautiful and serene. Operated by Hawaii-based Mandara (which is owned by Steiner), the treatments are a bit more exotic than the average, with Hawaiian and Polynesian influences. Passengers purchasing treatments are permitted to use a lovely adults-only relaxation room, with tile loungers, multiple hot tubs and Wi-Fi. Men's and women's locker rooms each feature a sauna and a steam room.

The piece de resistance, however, is the spa's indoor lap pool. (It's an adequate size for swimmers who want exercise.) The only problem is that passengers occasionally missed the concept of lap swimming and treated it as an alternative to the main pool. There's also a whirlpool and a hydrotherapy-pool. Another neat feature found in the spa is the for-fee juice bar, with all sorts of healthful drinks. The spa's amenities are only available to passengers who purchase either a spa treatment (same day only) or spa passes for $30 a day or $119 a week, per person.

In the main pool area, there's a saltwater lap pool, plus four whirlpools and a bandstand for entertainment. (Another hard-to-find whirlpool is tucked away on Deck 13.) Chaise lounges are set up in amphitheater mode, as well as directly around the pool. Slightly set back from the pool area and out of direct sunlight are cafe tables and chairs so you can grab a snack or cocktail and enjoy the poolside scene without risking a sunburn. On our nearly full sailing, we never had an issue snagging a couple lounge chairs, even during sunny hours.

There's a narrow jogging track on Deck 13, where sports enthusiasts can take advantage of golf driving nets, shuffleboard, a man-sized chess board, volleyball/basketball courts, paddle tennis and horseshoes. Walkers are better off on the wider, more relaxing wraparound promenade on Deck 7.

Food & Dining

In addition to its two main dining rooms, Norwegian Gem has 10 distinct restaurants from which to choose. I suppose you could try them all on a seven-night cruise, but it would be pretty hard (and a bit costly for budget travelers and families). Themes range from Benihana-style Teppanyaki to steaks and classic French bistro fare. Overall, food was fresh, flavorful, and, in some cases, even inventive. Service was excellent throughout, though you can expect a bit of a wait to receive your entree during the busiest dinner hours (between 6:30 and 8:30). Meals are cooked to order in small batches, so the food you receive will likely be hot and fresh.

It's also important to mention that evening dining hours are from 5:30 to 11 p.m., but passengers must be seated by 10:30 p.m. Reservations for specialty restaurants can only be made 24 hours in advance, so if you're dying to try one of the ship's more popular spots -- such as Le Bistro (French), Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian-style steakhouse and the ship's newest dining venue) or Cagney's (a classic American steakhouse) -- you should book it as early as possible once reservations open up. Tip: The specialty restaurants are much less busy the first couple days of the cruise when most passengers are still orienting themselves. The reservations desk in the main lobby is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most days, there is also a reservations table set up in the Garden Cafe buffet during lunch hours. Otherwise, you can call the restaurant directly after 5:30 p.m.

Here's a rundown of the dining options onboard Norwegian Gem. Unless otherwise noted, breakfast and lunch are only offered in the ship's main dining rooms, buffet, at Blue Lagoon or via room service.

Traditionally speaking, the ship's two "main" restaurants, both on Deck 6, differ mostly in terms of atmosphere. The 472-seat Venetian is the more cruiselike of the two, though smaller than most main dining rooms on mainstream cruise ships. It's decorated tastefully in rich emerald greens and golds, with huge murals depicting scenes of Venice. Though not hasty, service is generally prompt. Because the Venetian is situated on the stern, it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch across the entire back wall and offer incredible views. However, its location is also one of the most motion-sensitive of the entire ship, so if you're having a rocky sea day, you may want to dine in one of the midship eateries like the Garden Cafe or Blue Lagoon. There are plenty of tables for two, though they may be in short supply during peak periods. The 344-seat Aqua features more contemporary decor with lots of vibrantly colored glass and colorful ceramic murals. Aqua is also more dimly lit, which can make for a romantic dinner, despite being in close quarters with a few hundred other passengers. Both of these dining rooms are open for dinner daily, and they're open for breakfast and lunch on alternating days. In addition to nightly specials (they vary slightly by venue), each offers a standard menu of chicken, steak, fish and vegetarian options that does not change from day to day.

One of the benefits of the freestyle dining setup is that -- because the main venues are not feeding 1,000 people who all sit down at the same time -- there's no "convention center banquet" feeling. And because fewer people eat in the main dining rooms, the spaces feel more intimate than other big-ship dining rooms.

Entertainment

While Norwegian Gem offers the usual fare during sea days -- bingo, art auctions, arts and crafts, wellness seminars, etc. -- the real highlights of the ship's entertainment offerings are the nightly shows.

Each evening's "main event" is held in the ship's gorgeous Stardust Theater, usually to a packed house. Our weeklong cruise featured everything from a variety show to Broadway-style song-and-dance acts. Our favorite? The Bollywood show. From great voices singing beautiful songs to stunning dancers and incredible acrobatics, it's a true treat. Also be sure to check out a performance of the famous Second City Comedy Troupe (former stomping ground of many Saturday Night Live alums) -- we recommend the late-night, adults-only improv show.

The Stardust Theater, which spans Decks 5 through 7, is designed in a European opera house style; it's beautiful and quite comfortable, though views from some of the side balcony seats are obstructed. The Gem Club Casino -- located along the corridor that leads to the Stardust Theater, rather than distractingly plopped in the center of a well-trafficked area -- offers the usual slot machines and games, including blackjack, craps and poker. Theater-goers with an aversion to cigarette smoke should beware: you'll have to hold your breath as you make your way through the odorous casino to your show of choice.

The ship also features a variety of bands, playing everything from classical to Latin to torch songs, and most of Norwegian Gem's nine bars, all with varying personalities, offer some kind of entertainment. Favorites included the Spinnaker Lounge for martinis and dancing and the Pearly Kings Pub for karaoke and offbeat British beers. And, once per weeklong cruise, the ship hosts Norwegian Cruise Line's signature "White Hot Party," for which passengers get decked out in all-white (sheets and towels are acceptable) and dance the night away under black lights, led by the ship's angel-wing-clad staff, who happily demonstrate all manner of line dances.

Several times per sailing, passengers can catch after-hours movies on the big screen in the ship's atrium.

As for shore excursions, you can expect the usual -- snorkeling, catamaran-sailing, glass-bottom boat rides, beach days, etc. Rates are on par with or slightly lower than those of other mainstream cruise lines.

Fellow Passengers

The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" appeals to a mostly unpretentious clientele, and the overall vibe is super-casual and fun-filled. With dozens of family-friendly cabins, including many added during the May 2011 refurb, the ship is usually full of multigenerational groups, especially in the summer months and during school vacations.

Tipping

 

Our recommendation

Norwegian Gem offers the ultimate Freestyle Cruising experience; take a Bermuda cruise departing from Boston in the summer, Canada & New England in the fall and from New Orleans to the best spots in the Caribbean during winter. Norwegian Gem was built with freedom in mind, offering a choice of 14 delicious dining options, 12 fun bars and lounges, the fitness center and spa, casino, pools and more. Plus, she offers a range of spacious accommodations to suit every size family and budget.