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Back on The Sea Again: Gem 08/29/2021 Review


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Hello all! I just returned from The Gem last weekend and wanted to post a review since there are so few right now. I only did one review before, and if you get bored and want to read it, it's here: 



My name is Ashley, and my husband is Alex. This was our 6th NCL cruise and second time on The Gem. We last cruised her in 2013, and honestly the service was not the best, but she was a great ship overall and a nice size. We try to cruise every two years, and after 2020 was canceled, I looked for a new sailing. Alex's job changed a bit at work, so although we were originally on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary out of NYC for November, we had to go sooner, and The Gem one. We almost canceled many times, but I'm happy that we did not. Sailing during Covid can be scary, and we moved into the healthcare field only a couple months before the virus began, so staying safe was incredibly important to us. However, my field is mental health, and I have learned that importance too. So we went ahead and bit the bullet. It was time to get back to sea!!



Day 1: Miami Embarkation 😀

Day 2: Sea Day

Day 3: Roatan Honduras (10am-5:30pm)

Day 4: Harvest Caye, Belize (8am-4:30pm)

Day 5: Costa Maya, Mexico (8am-4:30pm)

Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico (8am-4:30pm)

Day 7: Sea Day

Day 8: Miami Debarkation ☹️


I spend a lot of time planning ports, budgeting, and making sure that we are completely organized before we go. This organizer is especially helpful:




Two days before we left we had Covid tests at a Well Now Clinic (wanted to be extra safe before flying), then the next day I grabbed money at the bank and separated it into the compartments. Then I put money in envelopes in the back separated by bill sizes for souvenirs, tips, etc. Everything worked out well as usual, and now we just had to fly...


~ Ashley


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Alex and I enjoy LONG cruises. Our last two were 14 days, so this was way too short for us, but we were determined to make every moment last. We flew out of Syracuse, NY where my parents live so that we could keep my car at their house. My dad was happy to be our airport shuttle. We took advantage of the NCL BOGO Airfare deal, but we had to go with their flights and itinerary. We were worried about Ida but luckily missed her. I always book insurance with my TA through Allienz, and it serves us well just in case. However, that was not needed. We left Syracuse before dawn and were so happy to take off to Philadelphia right on time.



Alex double-masked, and I wore an N95 under my cloth mask. We flew AA, and in flight entertainment had to be paid for, so I just read my book, way too excited to sleep. Soon the sun was up:



We do not fly often, so I am a nervous traveler. We landed in Philadelphia with just enough time for me to use the bathroom and for Alex to grab some Starbucks before we headed to Miami. I was getting a little hangry and happy that they did have a snack on that flight:


Almost there!! We landed almost an hour early, and NCL staff were at Baggage Claim ready to take us to port. Unfortunately, we had to wait for everyone else's planes to land. We landed at 11:15, left around noon, and ended up in the terminal at 12:45. Everyone else seemed to be coming in around this time too. I did put down a 12:30-1:00 check-in time, but everything was backed up. The line to move onto Covid testing was VERY long. We eventually got swabbed and were given cards:



This was around 2:15, so an hour and a half after arrival. We watched the video screen and waited for our codes to be called. They are done by initials and birthday:



We saw a couple sitting outside the waiting area in a smaller section next to us. That is where you go if you test positive. They retest you if you're positive. Then if you're positive again, you cannot board. I don't know what happened with the couple, but I felt awful. I also wished that they had a private area for this. Next up was the NCL check-in. Luckily, this was MUCH quicker...or at least it should have been. Alex is not the best with answering questions on a tablet, so after he hit submit on the health questionnaire, we were immediately taken aside to speak with a ship doctor. The doctor asked which one he answered wrong, but Alex had no idea. The doctor then asked about his vaccine, when he had it, if he had been exposed, etc. We were getting nervous. Then an IT person came over to look at which question he answered wrong. He tried to keep a straight face as he asked my husband if he was pregnant! 😆 Yes, my silly husband said that he was, and this is what sent us to the doctor for follow-up. I then carefully answered my questions, and we moved on. By now it was almost 3:00, so almost 2.5 hours from start to finish. I was okay with this knowing that we were safe. Hungry of course, but safe. Then we reached the embarkation photo, and this was no more. I couldn't believe it! There were lots of people behind us too. I ALWAYS buy an embarkation photo. So instead of the NCL one, we had one done ourselves by the backdrop. Definitely not the same, but at least we got something:



By the way, pink bands mean that you are negative for Covid and can get on the ship. From here, I practically skipped down the gangway! We were finally on getting board!! Well, I skipped. Alex did a leisurely stroll:



~ Ashley

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As soon as we boarded we were rushed to our Muster Station at Bar City on Deck 6. Then I changed our dinner at La Cucina to 9:30pm. It was going to be close to 4:00 before we could even get lunch. Then we headed to Guest Services to change the credit card on file. I was unfortunately hit with fraud on my card two days prior, so we had to switch to Alex's card instead. While there I picked up the first Freestyle Daily in paper form:






I asked if we could get paper copies in our room each night, because I prefer these to the app. They passed the message onto my steward and from then on I always received them. They are available at Guest Services each day too, and I saw a lot of people with them. I think a lot of people prefer paper. I'll also mention that I never use the app for a menu. I was always offered a read menu and never asked off I wanted to use the QR Codes, although there was one on every table in every restaurant. One of our traditions is to go the first bar we see and grab drinks, then visit the Main Dining Room for lunch. This did not happen since we boarded to late. Instead, we grabbed Fish and Chips from Sheehan's:


I started off my drinking string with some kind of whiskey drink and an extra shot of Jameson on the side. When on a cruise...you know. I am a whiskey girl and drank a lot of it this week:



We had to have dessert even though it was around 4:30, and our waiter was nice enough to grab a photo for us:


You can see my reusable water bottle in the photo there. Cruisers always talk about what to pack. I always hear about show organizers magnetic hooks. I don't pack any of that, but I always pack an insulated water bottle. My latest here also has a crossbody bag to hold it. I brought by bottle everywhere and always tried to drink about a gallon each day. I lost count of the alcohol that I drank too, but I never had a hangover. As a cruise friend explained, the drink package is a marathon, not a sprint! Speaking of, the martini bar was next. Alex paid $3 for a chocolate one, and I had my favorite - limoncello with vodka and a sugar rim:



Next we headed up to the pool deck. Alex is an avid birder and wanted to see if he could catch any during sail away. I am NOT a birder but go along for the walks. I quickly grabbed my first Mango Meltdown and put a straw it it from my purse. I packed two Ziplocs in my purse - one with clean straws and an empty for when they get dirty. It doesn't take up much space, and I always have a nice straw:



I apologize for that blurry photo. The pool bar was so busy, and I rushed it. Alex looked for birds but wasn't seeing much. Then we watched the crew lead some line dances. They had so much energy, and we knew that it would be a great week:



We grabbed drinks and a towel for tomorrow and headed to our room to settle in next. Room tour coming in the next post...


~ Ashley

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I have no shame in booking an Inside. My feeling is that I can see the ocean anytime I want by just walking outside, the room is dark and easy to sleep in, and I save a lot of money that I can use in ports. I've read a lot about sideways insides and wanted to try one out. Cruise Deck Plans is my go-to for learning about the best cabins, and Deck 9 looked good. We also prefer midship, so I booked 9589. It is the only sideways right in the middle:



We LOVED this cabin! Right next to crew doors with very little noise and also next to the midship stairs and elevators. Deck 9 is also in the middle, so it encouraged us to take the stairs going down to deck 6 and back. We spent most of our time down there or way up on 12 and 13 - where we could also take the stairs but often took the elevator too. The ship was at half capacity, and except for right after a show, there was never a wait for an elevator. Now is probably the time that I should mention my forever stowaway. His name is George, and he has been traveling with me since before I could talk. He made himself at home on the bed while we unpacked:



Although insides are small, there is always plenty of storage, and the sideways room made it seem much bigger:




The closet had plenty of storage and nice big shelves, I packed a nice fold up hamper with laundry bags that fit inside. This was great and fit well in the closet:



That top sideways shelf held our rain jackets. I always pack them, as well as a small umbrella that goes to every port with me. I believe that if you pack raingear, you will not deal with rain. If you forget it, it's bad karma and you get caught in a storm. We did not have ANY rain, so I think my plan worked. The bathroom/shower was a typical one, plenty of space for storage:




Back in the room, there was more storage drawers below the mini fridge:




~ Ashley



Edited by AKR2011
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We had trouble with our safe, and a crew member immediately came up to help. Unfortunately it was an ongoing problem. By the end of the cruise we could not get it locked at all and just gave up. Our other issue was the temperature. Maybe we're just used to cruising out of NY or Boston in the late fall, but even on the coolest setting, the room did not get as cold as we would like. Miami heat perhaps? Oh well. Overall it was a great room, and I left our steward a tip with a note requesting towel animals to keep George company. We also had our Platinum strawberries in the room to enjoy:



Unpacked and ready for the night, we headed to Spinnaker for the first round of Trivia. Here we met our first friend, Tony, a solo who was staying on from the previous week. We made a tram with him and had a great time all week. Others joined us at times too, and we did win a good amount of time, but more than anything, it was fun sharing our cruise with new friends and learning new things. I miss the days of signature cards where you turn in the cards at the end of the cruise for your chosen prizes. However, they tried to rotate so different prizes were given each day. I walked away with a koozie, a nice pen. a lanyard pull, and a deck of cards. Many times I would pass on getting a prize or gift my prize to someone else. We stayed to play the Majority Rules gameshow and then headed to our first show. In the past I always remember smaller ships doing a variety show the first night, but The Gem had a comedian, Rodney Laney. He was pretty funny, but this was his only show during normal time. He had one more show on the last night at 11pm, but we missed it. Bar service in the theater was great! I tipped the first night and the woman teared up and thanked me. I tried to find the same bartender every night so I could continue tipping her. I didn't catch her name, but she was so appreciative! I always tipped in the theater and when bartenders walked to get me drinks. The crew were all so fabulous and appreciative. After the show we grabbed more drinks and eventually made our way to our 9:30 dinner at La Cucina. It was late, and in hindsight I should have just moved it to another night, but I enjoyed the lamb shank, and Alex said that the pizza was good:




We had been up since 4am and were quite tired. I was ecstatic to see this when we arrived back at our cabin:



A towel animal, a daily, AND we got an extra hour of sleep!! I will move onto Day 2 tomorrow...


~ Ashley

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3 hours ago, AKR2011 said:

sideways insides

Didnt know there was such a thing.  Are they labeled this on the deck plans? 


Also, did you buy your water bottle & the holder together or seperate?

Thank you for the review, very nice.  

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I'm loving this review, too. Ashley, you seem like a great person, I can tell just from the way you write. We're on the Gem for 9/19 (different itinerary than yours) but your review is making me very excited in anticipation. 😄 Thank you!!

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21 hours ago, FlGoodShips said:

Fabulous review. I am loving it. 

Thank you so much for doing this. Much appreciated.

Thanks so much!!


19 hours ago, rbalfour said:

Love the review. I'm heading to the Gem 9/26 so looking forward to your review

Thank you. If I could go back and join you, I absolutely would!!


18 hours ago, greatestvalue said:

Didnt know there was such a thing.  Are they labeled this on the deck plans? 


Also, did you buy your water bottle & the holder together or seperate?

Thank you for the review, very nice.  

You have to look at the deck plans to find a sideways inside. There are a few on every ship and usually spread out a bit. There is exactly one in the middle of Deck 9, so I was elated to get it. There is one on Deck 10 in that same area, and that's where I am booked back-to-back on The Pearl in 2023!


I am a big fan of Corkcicle bottles and accessories. The bottle and bag come separate and can look expensive, but they go on sale a lot. Once you go to the site or search, you get ads for weeks. I'm not a fan of companies that do this, but it also saved me money on both the bottle and the bag.


11 hours ago, CruisinMama2003 said:

Great review so far 👍 Thank you!



Thanks so much!!


10 hours ago, albingirl said:

We were on this sailing and enjoyed it very much.  Thanks for your great review.  It was a lovely vacation.

Aw, than you! Wasn't that an amazing week??

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10 hours ago, TSUmom said:

Enjoying your review.  I too am a whiskey girl but enjoy trying other drinks as well.  Look forward to reading more about your adventures.

Oh I enjoyed so many other drinks too! I didn't capture them all on film, but man were they yummy!


9 hours ago, mma__leanne said:

I'll be on this ship in a couple weeks. Thank you got your review. I'll definitely be following this one! Some great details so far ☺️

Enjoy your vacation!! The crew is nothing less than amazing.


9 hours ago, DCGuy64 said:

I'm loving this review, too. Ashley, you seem like a great person, I can tell just from the way you write. We're on the Gem for 9/19 (different itinerary than yours) but your review is making me very excited in anticipation. 😄 Thank you!!

You are so sweet, thank you!! I like to live life to the fullest and just love being on the ocean. Have an amazing cruise!!


8 hours ago, Burgs5151 said:

I'm loving the review!  It's getting me excited for my upcoming cruise in November.  Looking forward to hearing more.  Thank you for taking the time to write it up.

Thanks so much. I love cruising out of November and will definitely be missing it this time. Have a drink for me!


8 hours ago, Denise T said:

Thank you so much Ashley for the review. I will be on the Pearl 10/22. I just love these reviews. 

The Pearl is my ship in 2023. This class is such a great size.

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Some people like to sleep or nap on their vacations, and I totally respect that. I just worked 10 hours today, and that's a normal/short day! That being said, I am a work hard/play hard kind of girl, and I don't like to waste time. I also drink a lot at sea, so I wake up with the immediate urge to pee. Alex likes to sleep in, so I always pack my bag the night before and store my clothes for the day under the sink in the bathroom (there's a little shelf there). That way I can get dressed and leave while Alex is still resting. On this particular morning, I was ready to go extra early. Silly me didn't bother to look at my phone, and we gained an extra hour too. I grabbed my bag and water bottle and headed to O'Sheehan's for ice water. I noticed it was still dark outside and was excited to catch a sunrise. I had no idea it was 4:45am! People were sitting down eating food, and there were 4 crew members excited to serve me. I took my water and headed down a deck to the promenade. I always like to start my day by walking a few miles. I went back to O'Sheehan's for a fill-up, then headed on the sundeck to enjoy the stars and read my book for a bit. After finishing my first book of the cruise (Love Your Life - Sophie Kinsella), I moved to The Great Outdoors to watch the sun come up:



I then refilled my water at the buffet, grabbed a couple Daydreamer's Daiquiris from the Atrium Bar (an old favorite that used to be a drink of the day), and took one more daiquiri for the road as I woke up Alex and asked for Main Dining Room Breakfast. The burrito was yummy:



The biscuits and gravy were not great in my opinion. We used to live in the south, and I have high expectations, but Alex wanted more sausage and enjoyed that:



Alex's main was French Toast, and he enjoyed it, although neither if us ever ordered anything else with syrup the rest of the cruise. Besides living in the south, we also lived where maple syrup is made, and we are spoiled:



After breakfast we headed to The Atrium to have some drinks and play Trivia with Tony. I stayed for the Money Trivia before heading out to the pool deck for some sun. Alex went somewhere to listen to his book. Here is today's daily:






The afternoon is coming up...


~ Ashley

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I stayed in the sun for awhile. I didn't get picks, but the sundeck was very open with plenty of loungers, and the pool deck didn't look bad either. Eventually I decided to grab a plate from the buffet. Pizza was not good, so I never tried it again. Pretzel rolls are my jam, and the pork schnitzel was good as well:



After lunch I went to Deal or No Deal to meet up with Alex. We don't do Bingo at all, but we do like playing this game on every cruise. Alex did well on The Dawn, and I bought three cards this time believing that less people meant that I had a good chance...and I did! Alex and I had a Skydiving Wedding on 11/11/11, so 11 is definitely our number. His case had $1,000 in it on The Dawn. Just our luck, the woman who went first didn't pick 11, but the $1,000 was that very case! I was called up next and had no idea what to do. I couldn't pick 11. Alex suggested 3, so I went with it. I started by opening cases from the bottom and thought I would work my way up:



Then I felt like I was boring the audience with this method and went more randomly. However, I should have stayed to my method. I also should have thought about all those 1's in 11/11/11. Yup, the $1,000 was in case 1 😭



After this round I was offered $141. I should have taken it, because it all went downhill after, and I walked away with $20. Oh well, it was all fun. I went up the bar for a consolation drink, and the bartender offered me an AMF. It means "Adios My Friend" and has lots of blue curacao in it. I would continue to get them at Spinnaker throughout the rest of the cruise but renamed them "Alcohol is my Friend." 80s trivia was after Deal or No Deal, and we rocked that. I am a proud Xennial (born on the cusp between the generations), and I LOVE the 80s. We left after to head to Great Outdoors for some more drinks and games. We always pack small games an enjoyed playing some Cribbage and Shut the Box:




We then played another round of trivia before we started our evening at Moderno:



~ Ashley

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I'm sure that it's because I drink so much, but I never felt super hungry on this cruise. Alex loves Moderno and ate a lot, but I just nibbled here and there. After dinner we walked outside to enjoy the ocean:



Then the sun started to go down:




The pool deck was looking so pretty lit up, and also quite empty on this half-capacity ship:




We went back to Spinnaker to listen to Sabor Latino before the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed Game. A few people were dancing and having a great time:



Although this is not my type of music, Sabor Latino was full of energy and very good. We really enjoyed watching them as we played some Settlers of Catan on my tablet. They were probably our favorite lounge entertainment of the cruise:



We watched the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed Game and had a good laugh. We always play on paper in the audience. We would win if we wanted to tell the ship the holiday that describes our love life or where we have made whoopie...but that is not for us. It's a lot of fun to watch, though! The main show was next, and it was Jesse Hamilton Jr. It's only my opinion, but I don't think he is a headliner, although he was very good. I always like the cast productions and would have enjoyed one more of those, or a Hypnotist, or a Legends tribute...I have enjoyed so many shows on NCL. Jesse was GREAT, but he was a lot to watch in the theater for a full show. The six-piece band was fabulous, and he made sure to highlight them, which I really appreciated. After the show we moved to Bar City for some drinks and enjoyed Nathaniel Reed on the piano for a bit. He was talented, and we caught him a few times. Not someone I would go out of my way to watch on land (just not my kind of music), but he was fun to watch:



Overall the music on the ship seemed very mellow and a bit dated. I missed bands where everyone would sing along and rock out, but I'm sure that music will be back. I was so happy to be back at sea that it was all good. And I had plenty of Old Fashioned's, Rob Roy's, and Manhattan's on this particular evening. Then it was time to head back up and prepare for our first port:



We got an extra hour of sleep again!! We also had an exciting day planned in Roatan. I have some fun photos of that coming, so stay tuned for that tomorrow.


~ Ashley


Edited by AKR2011
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You are just like me.  I get up early all week for work (3 am) so even on vacation I am up looking for coffee because I don't want to wake my DH.  I also have everything ready to go with a bag packed and my clothes out!  After my coffee I like a mimosa, you know the healthy OJ.  

Loving your review - just over 4 weeks and I will be on the Gem!!

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