WHEN WORD SPREAD THAT THE NEW "IT GIRL" WAS IN THE NETHERLANDS, well, we had to go and check her out. The lady in question is Norwegian Cruise Line's (www.ncl.com) newest freestyle cruising ship, Norwegian Gem, which is the fourth and final ship in NCL's Jewel class. NCL is marketing the 2,394-passenger ship as the "It Girl," even giving the ship its very own web site (www.gemitgirl.com).
We had the good fortune of sailing on her earlier this month. You will have the opportunity, too, this December when the ship makes its U.S. debut. So before you step onboard, here's a primer.
The Wow Factor
What strikes you first about an NCL ship is not what's on the inside, but what's outside on the hull; in the Gem's case, multicolored stones adorn the ship's side. That conspicuous color scheme makes its way inside the ship as well; the atrium on Deck 7 features purple upholstered chairs and sofas, which are offset by funky green ottomans. The centerpiece of the room (well, besides the Dale Chihuly glass chandelier on the wall above the staircase landing) is a massive, floor-to-ceiling LED video screen, which is used for, among other things, playing on the Nintendo Wii console. (We saw one employee taking his swings playing video golf.) NCL and Nintendo announced a partnership in March to equip NCL ships with Wii units.
This is where the freewheeling, freestyle, ideology comes into play and, we have to say, we like it; no set times to eat, no assigned table, you can choose the restaurant you want to eat at—we felt like we'd just turned 18 all over again.
Although there are 10 restaurants to choose from (too many to experience over a couple of days) we thoroughly enjoyed the Asian-inspired Orchid Garden. We sampled everything from dim sum to different breads from India. Of course, our favorite was the skillfully prepared sushi. The green tea ice cream for dessert sealed our approval.
There is also Cagney's Steakhouse; a French restaurant called Le Bistro; Tequila, which features Latin cuisine, including tapas selections; and La Cucina, a true Old World-looking Italian trattoria. Food from every nationality is served on Norwegian Gem; the only trouble is finding enough time to try them all. Be aware that the specialty restaurants do carry sur-charges, which range between $10 and $20 per person.
One thing Norwegian Gem doesn't run out of is things to do. There are multiple bar options dedicated to dishing out tequila, sake, champagne and every other imaginable wine and spirit. But Gem's most innovative attraction is also the hippest spot on the ship. NCL debuted a bowling alley on the Pearl and thought the idea was so good it should be extended to Norwegian Gem. The four-lane bowling alley doubles as the most decadent nightclub onboard, Bliss Ultra Lounge and Night Club, on Deck 7 aft. Along with bowling, which carries a $5 fee per bowler (shoes included), Bliss features a dance floor, plasma-screen TVs, plush seating (there are actual beds) and a full bar.
Another great area, of course, is the pool on Deck 12, whose yellow curlicue waterslide will knock the socks off any kid or adult. However, it's what's off to the side of the pool that really caught our eye: outdoor gaming. It's no wonder that NCL, an innovative cruise line, would come up with what we thought was a fantastic idea. Many people like to gamble, but smoky, loud and sometimes intimidating casinos keep them away. So, NCL set aside a small alcove on the pool deck and outfitted it with three gaming tables. Now you can at least enjoy losing your money in a more serene environment.
Rating the Digs
Here is where we thought NCL really spent some time. The staterooms are far from bland and there are many different types of accommodations. Our oceanview stateroom with balcony popped with dark rich color and we were impressed with the space. One of the small touches that will pay dividends is a draw curtain beside the bed that, when unfurled, offers privacy and separates the room in two—again, innovative. Also, all staterooms are equipped with wireless Internet.
Although our room was comfortable and well appointed, we have to recommend, if your client can afford the price tag, a Garden Villa or Courtyard Villa. Both suite categories are on Deck 14. The crème de la crème are the two Garden Villas, which measure a whopping 4,390 square feet each. The rooms each have a panoramic ocean view, private roof terrace and private garden with a whirlpool. Each villa also has three separate bedrooms, so they are ideal for families. A luxury bathroom and butler service tops it all off.
A slight step down are the deluxe owners' suites. Named Blue and Black Diamond, these suites each measure 928 square feet and have private bedrooms with king-size beds, flat-screen TVs, Bose entertainment centers and private terraces with whirlpools.
For the plebians (we jest) there are 10 Courtyard Villas that surround a private-access courtyard with hot tub, gym equipment, steam room and sun deck. Each Courtyard Villa is about 572 square feet and comes with flat-screen TVs, DVD players and luxury bathrooms.
Norwegian Gem is a beautifully crafted ship filled with all the trappings one would expect on a cruise ship of this magnitude. If your clients are fans of NCL's Jewel class, make sure they take a spin on Gem, as it will be the last ship constructed in the class. Up next for NCL is the F3 class, which will initially encompass two ships at 150,000 tons a piece with capacity for 4,200 passengers—1,800 more than Gem. The first F3 build is slated for completion in 2009, with a sister ship coming a year later.