The Norwegian Gem Garden Villas
feature panoramic views.
Every contemporary cruise line worth its salt claims to accommodate
family cruising better than the next guy. Now, Norwegian Cruise
Line has upped the ante.
Andy Stuart, NCL’s vice president for marketing and sales, is
convinced that the line’s newly christened Norwegian Gem blows the
competition out of the water when it comes to family-friendly
“There’s more choice on this ship than any other ship in the
industry related to how families can align themselves. No doubt, no
doubt,” Stuart said during the Gem’s two-day inaugural sailing out
of New York.
Hype or reality? With the previous afternoon’s christening
ceremony a raucous, confetti-strewn memory, I set out to do some
It made sense to start at the top and work my way down, so I
jumped on the midship elevator to Deck 13 and climbed the stairs to
one of two deluxe Owner’s Suites on Deck 15. At more than 900
square feet, this space was exquisite. Gossamer curtains enclosed a
king-sized bed covered in a tropical-inspired spread.
Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on a tranquil ocean. Outside
was a private courtyard with a small pool, hot tub and sundeck.
Luxurious, yes. But family friendly? I walked down the stairs to
Deck 14 and one of two Garden Villas. At 4,400 square feet, the
villas are the most spacious digs on the ship and were generating a
lot of buzz among travel agents on our christening sail. I
understood why as soon as I walked in.
The living area was cool and elegant, a glorious swirl of
magentas and blues. A curved, white sofa faced a wall-sized,
oceanview window and beside it was a piano that called to mind John
Lennon’s famous white Steinway. The dining table had a sleek,
reflective surface. Down a hallway was a master bedroom with a
million-dollar ocean view and two smaller bedrooms, each with its
own bathroom. A private courtyard with pool, hot tub and sundeck
separated the living/dining area from the bedrooms.
The ship features a playful Kid’s Pool.
Sleeping six adults with room for two rollaways and three cribs,
the Garden Villas are a creative alternative to the time-worn
connecting balcony stateroom (which the Gem offers as well). But
priced well into five figures, are these villas a practical option
for most family cruisers? Yes, Stuart explained, if the cost is
shared among various generations or branches of the family. (It
helps to have wealthy grandparents who’ll call dibs on the master
bedroom and pay accordingly.)
On to the Courtyard Villas, also on Deck 14. The NCL reps had
talked up this space as one of the Gem’s most family-friendly
accommodations. I had to agree. In the center is a serene-looking
courtyard with a lap pool, hot tub, Balinese-style sofa and
canopied day beds, protected from the elements by a retractable
roof. This dreamy space is set aside for exclusive use of guests in
the 10 suites, five on either side of the courtyard.
One of the more family-friendly rooms has a small, separate
kids’ bedroom with bath and flat-screen TV. This suite seemed a
good choice for the ’rents and offspring (never mind an oddly
placed master bathroom adjacent to an oceanview window). Step out
the door and you’re smack in the middle of your own, very nearly
private playground. Meals can be ordered from any restaurant and
taken al fresco; a gray-vested butler stands at the ready.
Three decks below I checked out a penthouse with a separate
bedroom and pretty sitting and dining areas. Each of the nine
penthouses on Deck 11 connects to nicely sized mini suites, making
them a great option for parents who want to give teen-agers a
degree of privacy.
Descending to Deck 9, I found an interesting configuration of
three connecting rooms that would work well for even a
Brangelina-sized brood. The biggest and most lavish of these
connecting rooms was a one-bedroom owner’s suite. Elegantly
appointed in colors more subdued than the bright palettes in other
rooms, the suite connected on one side to a penthouse with a queen
bed and spacious living/dining area. On the other side was a more
modest, oceanview balcony stateroom.
Apart from accommodations, the Gem offers lots more family fun.
The Leopard Lounge, a late-night party zone for teens, is a
credible imitation of a (booze-free) Las Vegas nightclub, while the
Kid’s Center is a colorful rumpus room for children ages 2 and up.
The water slide on the pool deck looks like loads of fun, as does
the 30-foot rock-climbing wall. The bowling alley (only the second
at sea, behind sister ship Norwegian Pearl) is possibly the coolest
thing to hit cruising since the midnight buffet. In the atrium, a
two-story, Nintendo Wii-equipped LED screen transforms what is
typically a low-key space on a ship into a fun gathering spot for
cruisers of all ages.
So, is the Gem the queen of the seas when it comes to family
friendliness? That’s hard to say with certainty. But, the ship has
made some impressive steps in that direction. And families big and
small will find no shortage of congenial accommodations.
Warning to parents: At the Kid’s Cafe on the Norwegian
Gem, the youngsters rule the waves.
Of all the family-friendly options on the newly launched Gem,
one of the savviest is this kids-only dining area inside the
buffet-style Garden Cafe on Deck 12. Youngsters can wiggle, giggle,
whine and indulge in other forms of inappropriate restaurant
behavior while mom and dad enjoy a quiet meal within spying
Everything about this restaurant-within-a-restaurant says kid
friendly. The buffet features kid-a-licious cuisine like chicken
nuggets, burgers and hot dogs; the tables and chairs are child
sized; and the decor is bright and cheery.
The Gem has taken another step to simplify chow time for young
cruisers. At each of the ship’s 11 other restaurants, kids can
order off a children’s menu that comes on a paper placemat printed
with picture puzzles and word games. Menu items for tikes are
identical in each restaurant and similar to those offered in the
Garden Cafe kids-only buffet.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Through April, the Norwegian Gem sails from her New York
homeport for 7-, 10- and 11-day itineraries to the Bahamas, Florida
and the Caribbean. She repositions to Barcelona in the spring for
weeklong cruises in the Western Mediterranean.
NCL has been listening to travel agents. The cruise line’s new
“Partnership 2.0” is designed to improve customer service. Elements
will include faster processing of group commissions, a
seven-day-a-week resolution desk manned by agents empowered to
resolve issues and the reduction of promotional codes.