I'm a regular reader/poster in the Carnival and RCCL sections but I've never made it over to the NCL section before. My husband and I are two weeks away from our 2008 cruise and are already scoping out our 2009 cruise. Since I'm not a huge fan of flying, we were checking out options from NYC or NJ (we drive to these ports from Michigan) and noticed the Norwegian Gem going to the Caribbean in Feb. 2009. We wanted to get people's opinions about this ship and about NCL in general. I know virtually nothing about NCL past the info I've found by scouring the internet tonight.
I'm a big fan of the traditional-style dining, so I'm not sure - do you think I'll like the "freestyle" Norwegian dining? (I did anytime dining on Princess in 2005 and it was OK...but I like how with traditional dining you build a rapport with your tablemates and waiters.) Also, what is the typical age range aboard an NCL ship (we're in our late 20s)? Are there a lot of activities available? Any information/opinions would be much appreciated. Thanks!
Booked on Carnival Freedom, Feb. 2012 (Cozumel, Costa Rica, Panama)
NCL Gem, Sept. 2011
NCL Jewel, Feb. 2011
NCL Dawn, Sept. 2010
NCL Spirit, Feb. 2010
NCL Gem, March 2009
RCCL Explorer of the Seas, Feb. 2008
Carnival Miracle, May 2007
Carnival Conquest, April 2006
Caribbean Princess, Feb. 2005
Freestyle cruising is much different that regular ship dining...but more and more cruiselines are giving it a try...RCL and now Celebrity....I've done both and like Freestyle more and more...eat when you are hungry, sit where you want..if you meet some people on the ship, you just make a date to eat with them...if you find a waitstaff person you like, make a reservation to eat in their section. We do it all the time...All of the new NCL ships are top of the line...I leave in 4 days on the Pearl...I did the Jewel last year and it was a wonderful ship...the Gem is the newest in that class of ship...the staff has always been very professional and fun....I like RCL and cruised on the Voyager last year too....But this will be my 14th cruise on NCL and have always had a great time...but then again, there is no such thing as a bad cruise or ship...some are just better than others....You will find the age goes across the board...but I would have to say more in the 50ish and older make up the majority of the passengers...but We are a fun group...Happy Sailing....
I am also a big fan of traditional dining. In fact, I didn't finalize plans for our upcoming HAL cruise until we got our confirmation for a set dining time.
Even so, I haven't found Freestyle Dining all that bad. The key is to work with it. For example, take advantage of the different restaurant options. For no waits in the main dining rooms, arrive early (before 6:00) or late (after 8:30) -- roughly the equivalents of early or late seating on ships with traditional seating. As Bob said, you can also request to sit in the section of a particular waiter. We've done this a few times. Something else that works for us is going to the dining room for breakfast. That's when the dining room staff really gets to know you, and they will recognize you at dinner.
The main drawback I've found is that if you enjoy going to the production shows after dinner, you need to keep an eye on the time. But, that's really not a big deal once you get used to it.
I had also thought that I wouldn't like the Freestyle "dress code" -- yet after experiencing it, it really isn't much different than what I've seen on other lines (Celebrity excepted).
I haven't been on Norwegian Gem, yet had a great tour of one of her sister ships a couple of years ago, and thought her beautiful. The layout is great, there are many options for dining, bars, or just hanging out. You can even go bowling on N. Gem!
Pax ages will, as with other cruises, be dependent upon the time of year and itinerary.
Enjoy your planning, as well as your short countdown to Explorer of the Seas!