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Eastern Caribbean 9 night cruise: New York roundtrip with Norwegian Gem.
Eastern Caribbean 9 nights cruise New York roundtrip with Norwegian Gem was our second cruise from New York on the same ship. The first experience in February/March of 2009 to Bahamas was such a pleasant experience that a year ago we took a short sail from Miami back to Bahamas and now decided to get big trip to Eastern Caribbean.
The ship was the same, of almost the same infant age, the destination new and even more exiting, and we already know how to extract most of perks on ship. What could go wrong?
There is simple wisdom: never come back where you were happy. The place can change, people there could be different and most important you will be different too but with high overrated expectations. It is quite possible that any previously nice feeling about this place was result of irreproducible concatenation of circumstances.
Not to return to it later, all the basic niceness of cruise that were good before and stayed near perfect now, let’s say that food and suit service were great. Except one night’s dinner in Grand Pacific Main Dining Room when we got stale bread that by our request was replaced by the same plate of the same stale bread everything else was nice, tasty, polite and effective. The size of portions in basic ship restaurants are slightly smaller than what we would appreciate but one always can step by at Garden Cafe with its smorgasbord style and eat up to inability to move. Eating is not our problem. Eating too much is. We usually got a decent breakfast at Garden Cafe, skipped lunch for gym exercise or land excursion and attended dinner at one of the basic restaurants that didn’t ask for additional fee and periodically dropped by into Garden Cafe. What was an obvious improvement from the previous cruise was the availability of unlimited sweet, sort of diluted juice drinks there anytime day or night. The previous cruise only had water or cold tea available after hours. So food department is out of my critique completely.
Suite service was beyond any complains as well. There were several insubstantial misunderstandings mostly by our fault when we didn’t learn how to use changeable signs of preferential of privacy well enough. It was nothing to be upset at all. On the contrary, one nice thing that was very touching that I am talking about were towels in form of cute animals positioned at bed every night. During our first cruise three years ago there were small chocolates by the “night cup” too. Not now. Not a big deal. They abandoned having a glass of champagne at embarkment too, not to important although long term memorable.
Navigation and itinerary planning were sort of dictated by geography and travel circumstances for the almost 10 days trip from New York to Eastern Caribbean – three days sailing there slightly less back thanks to Gulfstream help and four sunny beach days there. There were almost four beach days because the 3 p.m. arrival in San Juan left only hour or two until sunset. It is just a pity to lose a full day at beach. There could have been two solutions to arrive earlier at the first port – first increase ship speed that is doubtfully practical and second change first port to Grand Turk that is 100 miles closer to New York so there are five extra hours at a sunny beach. In this case there should be an choice as to which one of two ports to skip, San Juan or Samana – to my personal opinion Samana is giving not too much to whole impression. Philipsburg, St. Maarten and St. Thomas provide perfect beaches with short, reasonable and cheap transportation from ports. Samana has the Cayo Levantado Island Beach to enjoy that is a paid excursion (thank god we got it with a 70% discount). So my suggestion for changing itineraries would be Grand Turk, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, San Juan. It would keep all distances almost the same but would provide a precious additional day on beach.
The weather in our case was good enough not to complain too much except for the last two days returning to NY. Especially disappointing was the very windy day at longitude of Florida that forced the crew to close access to the upper sundecks. It created some sorrow feeling considering… never mind although. The tropical rains at Cayo Levantado provided more memorable adventures than trouble. The same can be said about high waves at San Juan – in absence of lifeguards it was fun to swim and struggle with five foot waves at sandy beach. For a skilled swimmer such as myself, it is just entertainment. Most other times outside, it was sunny and reasonably warm. Caribbean shows us heaven on Earths in terms of nature.
Ports of destination deserve a few more words. San Juan, Puerto Rico looks like a counterfeit copy of Miami. It has long and sandy beaches but not as long and wide as South Beach, Miami. There is some shopping center at old town but it doesn’t compare well with Art Deco. There is a modern downtown too but it is not huge. It is tropical although and has an old impressive fortress.
St. Maarten is a nice island. We took a taxi to Orient Beach and back two times, seemingly crossing the international border between Dutch and French territory. Some funny conversation in the taxi about potential conflicts between two parts of island reveals some information – Dutch side is much more powerful since it has ship and airports. According to the taxi driver the lake near the sea port is unusable because the previous era’s industrial pollution. All industrial production there is seemingly completely abandoned for now. The island’s entire population looks like drivers, ferrying tourists from port to beach and back. Some people sell souvenirs made somewhere else while others, more talented, are performing the same melody on drums and unrecognizable for instance music instruments. Famous or infamous nude part of Orient Beach is nice beach with crowd of ugly people from nude Orient Club. Don’t go there if your idea of nude beach is mild innocent sexual excitement. Just don’t go there, consider better not so nude South Beach in Miami or research web for some European destination. Orient beach is for pure naturism among followers of political extremist movement under slogan – be fat and ugly and let other enjoy laziness too. My only open criticism for it could be – not healthy but it is not my business.
Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands is another heaven on our planet especially, particularly and enthusiastically its Magens Bay Beach. Magens beach is in my opinion the very best beach I ever saw from nature’s point of view. And I saw some of them, not all of course, but for my experience in Europe and North America it is. Most impressive were pelicans nose-diving for their breakfast. Iguanas indifferent to tourists can be easy confused with sculptures. Minxes periodically inspect trash cans, fish are paying almost no attention to scuba divers and pose in mass. Beautiful.
Samana, Dominican Republic by itself is sort of class below. Absent a paid excursion to Cayo Levantado Island Beach it would be a disappointment from a beach day prospective. But Cayo Levantado Island is a very nice paradise. It is rather small but has enough space for one ship landing party. The snorkeling experience is not so rich as it is at Magens Bay. There are no pelicans or other exotic animals. Instead there is a volleyball place and lots of small shopping outlets. We bought a painting picture there and framed it home. The framing process costs comparably to the picture itself because we did it by our own hands and it would have been ten times more expensive if we used professional service, sort of crazy paradox of the global economy.
Entertainment on the ship is one of the most important incentives to choose cruise as a vacation. At least it was such after our first cruise on the Norwegian Gem in 2009. It will be not now. If your idea of entertainment is mostly active behavior as dancing yourself, looking at nice people dancing around and professionally on stage, doing lots of sports and other competitions for fan your will understand my sorrow. There were two major reasons for it. Objective one was the demographic of other tourists. The average age of the two thousand passengers was strongly shifted towards golden age. Let’s say that the Nickelodeon generation children by numbers were comparable with size Nickelodeon part of ship crew. Young couples below thirty among passengers I could estimate as several, could be counted by fingers. Maybe there were other mature but active adult couples as we but they were in hiding. So all our hope for social entertainment was on crew but they were keeping exaggeratedly apartheid from passengers. The most pronounced and humiliating evidence for it was one night when we come to Bliss Lounge that served as a nightclub and found nobody at all, just empty space with dull music. After occasionally overhearing some other music near by we discover that there is big party is going on at Grand Pacific Restaurant – only for crew members. Later on one vulgar, young, fat and drunk in very short cocktail dress crew member visit dance floor of nightclub producing the only sexual sign for whole cruise… But it was so indecent that we left her to find adventures with somebody else.
Second reason for the entertainment disaster was cruise director department. Almost the entire experience coming from cruise director and his staff was disappointing at best and humiliating and offensive in many parts. To get impression about cruise director Sinan you could look at my video published at youtube with direct links at this article or imagine a hyperactive impersonation of Mister Bean with idea that his misfortunate adventures could encourage public to have fan. At very first show he occupied scene for more than a half hour with tactless jokes like playing around his name – Sinan – see-none. I don’t get who see and who is none. Than he used the word party-pooper multiple times, who is to my opinion he is – please take a look at security video tape of your acting, Sinan. Most strange and dangerous for Cruise line action then from his part was command the participants to touch each other. What was his real intention I have no idea but try to imagine possibility of sort of epidemic event and cost of class action lawsuit if would be strong evidences that touching encouraged by Sinan were course for contention… I have nothing against touching other people if it is my choice to do. So after almost half an hour of expectation that torture by stand up comic mis-performance by Sinan would come to end and some artists would dance for our pleasure we fell into furious desperation and come to hotel desk to complain. It’s had happen that cruise director is the boss of clerk so after several minutes of explaining our unhappiness I wrote a formal complaint to his supervisor. Maybe my complaint helped marginally in the future so Sinan does not steal so much time of our vacation any more and we carefully plan to avoid his presence if possible. Not always. Most annoying was his habit to start any loud announcement singing something like “if you happy and you know it clap you hands” that makes me really unhappy and wanted to clap something else.
His assistant Lizabeth (Dizzy Lizy as she called herself) was maybe attractive woman about two hundred pounds ago. Nice professional. She even tried to lead a line up of dance events and taught us to move to the ship’s flag dance – “would you be my girl”. Okky-doky with her. Another key position in the entertainment department was the DJ. In his case, disappointment was really mixed with bewilderment about the puzzle why he was put behind the DJ table. Starting from his choice of music was limited by few lately most popular songs these permit crowd dancing even when few people were on the floor. It could be bearable by itself, maybe. What was real unprofessional is abandoning best features of Bliss nightclub apparatus. During his ruling at DJ cockpit images on numerous TV screens around were in contradiction with music. My memory of three years ago told me that they could fit producing enhancing impression. It was nice to dance, listen and watching performance of the artist then. Not with present DJ who smiled at so rarely that I never saw him in good mood. Close to end of cruise he practically abandoned nightclub leaving it to some engineer from crew. It was so good – image and music finally synchronized but irreparable damage to party at Bliss was already done – nobody was dancing any more.
Norwegian line has several “Broadway style” singing and dancing shows. If you saw two of them you saw them all. Dancers are on a half year contract, should perform about every next day at about forty minute show and as I can guess by according to contract must participate in some other happenings with passengers. Quality of dancers directly depended on where they were originally from – highest by professionalism mark were those from Petersburg or Moscow, Russia. USA dancers were not too good mostly because they don’t consider slim waist size as criterion to be a qualified dancer. The startling difference in behavior of dancers from two different cruises for the same Norwegian Gem in three years difference was attitude of dancers – their participation in parties with passengers were so formal that could be count as arrogant. Same of them participate with “Dancing with the stars” event. I haven’t even one time saw even one time any dancer at the floor of Bliss nightclub. In the contrary three years ago some of them performed there every night – shadow dance, 007 scene, white night. It was so nice that in anticipation of the same encounters we are dreaming to go again. I am not sure that after this time I would be so eager to sail with Norwegian Cruise Line in a future.
Some other shows and performances didn’t deserve special words as sort of waste of time like comical hypnosis and stand up comedy. We did not attend all of them so no special opinion to be offered. Karaoke is not my strong suit. So there is what there is.
I have slightest idea whose fault so bad behavior of cruise director department was. It could be personality of Cruise Director Sinan. It could be loophole in contract with dancers that is permitting them to come in the room with passenger claiming that they are “attending” event by just staying and drinking and acting as a column. It could be change in business model of Norwegian Cruise Line refocusing on old crowd that doesn’t need to be distracted from quietly eating, drinking and sleeping. It could be changing culture of cruise crew into self indulging attitude as soon no career path is visible. I don’t know. What I know is if direction of transformation cruise experience will progress in the same direction it will be bad sing of decline of Western Civilization.
Whole footage version:
1. Departing New York.
2. Going there across Atlantic Ocean.
3. San Juan, Puerto Rico.
4. Philipsburg, St. Maarten and Orient Bay Beach.
5. St. Thomas, USVI and Magens Bay Beach.
6. Samana, Dominican Republic and Cayo Levantado Island Beach.
7. Back to Boston via New York.
Submitted at Dec. 10, 2012; 19:58