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Sailing on the NCL Gem November 2, 2008 to November 9, 2008

Barcelona to Barcelona

 

Iím posting this several days after our return.It was a wonderful itinerary, a great ship, but NCL really needs to get their act together in terms of customer service.We also found a number of great companies to use to avoid NCLís over priced shore excursions.

 

November 2, 2008We arrived in Barcelona about 9:30AM.NCL pre-departure told us we couldnít check in and/or get rid of our baggage until noon, so we contacted Barcelona Taxi to pick us up at the airport and take us on a 4 hour tour.The charge was Ä45 per hour and it was money well spent.We met our driver just outside customs.He spoke great English and gave us a perfect overview tour throughout the entire city, even though it was raining.Barcelona is beautiful and the architecture is different then you will see anywhere else.The driver dropped us off at the ship a little after 1:00PM and we easily boarded.We found out that we could have dropped off our luggage much earlier, although it didnít cause a problem it was just the first of NCLís many miscommunications.

 

Pre-departure we received a coupon book from NCL via our travel agent.Most were for discounts on pictures and the gift shop.But two seemed to provide us some value. The first coupon provided dinner for two with the first paying the coverage charge at any one of their specialty restaurantsóat least that is what we understood.This is NCLís signature feature, Freestyle dining with two main dining rooms and 6 specialty restaurants.The specialty restaurants have a cover charge ranging from $10 to $25.We found out that the coupon was only good at 3 of the specialty restaurantsóthe least popular restaurants.We used it anyway, since we were going to try most of them out during the cruise.

 

The second couponís conditions, however, really set me off.In the large and medium font it said that if you dined at 5 specialty restaurants, you would get the 6th dining experience for free.However, much to my discontent, in small print that I couldnít even read with my glasses, it stated that it was only good for one person per stateroom.So if you have 2-4 people each paying a cover charge and going to dinner together at the same restaurant every night, only one gets a cover charge-free meal.††† Of course, we didnít find this out until the meal was over.The waiter took the issue up about 5 levels to the Food and Beverage Manager, but they all refused to use common sense.Thus for refusing to honor the $20 coupon, I had the $10 per day service charge deducted from our total ship invoice, or $140.I have also told my favorite cruise specialist Beth Christie and now you.I realize that this may hurt the crew who share in the service charge, but I felt the need to make a point.†††

 

While Iím on the subject of food, overall I was disappointed.Itís cruise food, no matter how much they try to oversell the quality.Also, you donít get what you pay for when you pay a cover charge at the specialty restaurants, what you get is freedom to eat when and where you want.Steaks at all dining rooms are equivalent to Ponderosa.The Teppanyyaki Room was the most popular, but it was mostly for the show.The seafood was over cooked and drowning in garlic.If you love sake, you are in good shape, they really push it.At least 4 waiters asked if we wanted sake, none wanted to take our wine order however.The French restaurant and the steakhouse had great appetizers, but weak entrees, the Italian had good entrees, but the appetizers were mediocre and service was bad.Almost no one (including us) ate at the Tex Mex restaurant.It was always featuring a 2 for 1 coverage charge.We had one forgettable meal at the main dining room, not completely forgettable, the steak was bad, a Ĺ inch of choice sirloin. †††

 

November 3, 2008 A sea day.I came in about 15th in the Texas Holdíem tournament out of 29 and lost my investment.†††

 

November 4, 2008A day in Malta.This is my second visit to Malta and our shore plans were the same.We ignored NCLís shore excursions that averaged about $50 per person and hailed a taxi just off the pier.The fare is Ä60 for up to 4 people to get a 4 hour tour, including Mdina.We found another couple and we were off.The taxi ended the tour at the medieval part of Valletta and we walked on our own through the streets and then down the hill to the ship.†† This was a short day on shore, with all aboard at 2:30 pm.†† Luckily there was a second poker tournament.Only 16 players, but I won!Not bad for my 3rd time playing.

 

November 5, 2008We docked in Naples.From searching on the internet I found Pompeii Taxi and hired them to take us from the ship to Pompeii and then on to Sorrento.The charge was Ä140.This probably was high, but we really wanted to focus on Pompeii and not be rushed by being on a tour with 4 or 40 others.The biggest mistake we made was not paying the Ä100 for a guide.There is so much history and houses open and close for touring so guidebooks are frequently outdated.Plus a guide might have had an extra umbrella that could have prevented us from getting soaked that day.

 

After visiting the Villa of the Mysteries, the driver took us on to Sorrento.Overall the driver was OK, but a little too quiet as he didnít impart any information about the surroundings unless questioned.We spent about an hour and a half walking the streets and enjoyed a pizza.From there we walked down the hill and took a hydrofoil to Capri.We wondered about a bit, taking the funicular up the hillside and walked to the gardens.Although the gardens and view were beautiful, 1-2 hours was more than enough if you intended on avoiding the high end shopping.There is supposed to be a wonderful blue grotto, but we were told the seas were too rough, so it was closed.We then took the slower ferry back to Naples and the ship.All in all we spent about $300 for our day compared to the $560 NCL would have charged the two of us for the exact same itinerary.Plus we did it at our pace rather than going with 30 others.They may have had a guide in Pompeii, but we believe we were able to see more.††

 

November 6, 2008Rome!Or more precisely Civitavecchia.Once again we just winged it and left the ship and took the short walk to the train station purchasing an Ä8 day pass that included roundtrip transportation to Rome, plus the Rome metro.We did hire a guide to see the Collisium, which would have also include a tour of the Forum area.We skipped the forum half and then walked and walked the city.From the Collisum to Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peters Basilica and everything in between.†††

 

November 7, 2008Using CruiseCritic.com we meet up with 5 others and had a fantastic day seeing Pisa, Florence and visiting the Principe Corsini winery in Tuscany.Our driver was Paolo Bonetti and I would highly recommend him for a day of sightseeing.The cost for 7 (or 8) passengers was $520, so for the 2 of us it cost $150, plus $15 each for the wine tasting.The vineyard was fascinating as it also included a tour on how they extract olive oil.†††

 

November 8, 2008We tendered into Villefranche.I probably should have done a little more research.After getting a quote from the local taxi stand for Ä210 for a 3 hour tour to Monte Carlo and Eze, we decided to wonder down to the train station.The train one way to Monte Carlo for the both of us was only Ä5.We were a little confused after exiting the train station, but a local helped us understand the bus system and for Ä1 were off to the casino, and had a 29 minute transfer to get back on board to continue on to the palace.We experienced a few glitches in not understanding the map topography, but all in all a good stop.We tried to go back on the train to Eze, but after disembarking the train, found it would take too long to visit the medieval city.This was another short day requiring us to back on board at 2:30 again.A short day however called for a third poker tournament.This time there were 11 competitors.After 2 hours it came down to 3 players (top 3 win cash prizes).NCL really wanted to hurry us up and proposed we all split the pot.So I guess you could say I tied for 1st!I actually was slightly ahead in chips.My poker winnings covered all the extras on board; wine, cover charges and a little laundry.

 

November 9, 2008Disembarkation.Soooooooo easy.We picked what time we wanted to get off the ship, and we just walked off and immediately found our luggage.When we made the booking, NCL told us that we should not book any flight before noon.We could have booked a 9:00am flight and made it easily.Why canít NCL tell their phone people how things really work?

 

Once again, things did work out, because we took an 11:55am flight out of Barcelona for home via Amsterdam, we could get off in Amsterdam for 23 hours and not have it cost any more.††† We found a great hotel bargain at the Sheraton in the airport using Skoosh.com.It was hundreds cheaper than Orbitz or hotels.com.†† Again, we used local transportation and rode the train to the city central.We took a walking tour through the old section of Amsterdam and then had a great dinner at Cafť Bern.This was the best meal of the trip and it cost us less than the cover charges at any of the restaurants on ship.††