A Gem of a Family Cruise

Choices abound on the new Norwegian Gem

By: Anne Burke

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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 accommodations.

“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 exploring.

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.

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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 distance.

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.

Travel-Partner Initiative
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.