We’ve just returned from a ten days cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL’s) Norwegian Gem, sailing out of and returning to Manhattan, with stops along the way in San Juan, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Martin and Tortola. The Norwegian Gem is a 965 foot, 93,000 ton, 2,380 passenger super-vessel with a crew of more than 1,100, ten restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, three swimming pools, six hot tubs, a theatre, a casino, a rock climbing wall, a bowling alley, shuffleboard courts, a jogging track, an internet café, a spa and fitness club, an art gallery, a card room, a library, duty free shopping (I could go on and on but you get the idea) - and both the ship itself and its ports of call ostensibly have been designed to satisfy the needs and wants of the most hedonistic of travelers. And, I might add, at a most affordable cost of less than $100 a day per passenger, to boot.
And it basically works. Our outside cabin was comfortably furnished with a double bed, a desk, a table, two chairs, a stall shower and perfectly adequate bathroom facilities, a television set, and a mini-bar - unfortunately tempting us to spend much too much time relaxing therein. We were provided with much too much to eat as well and, while the kitchen’s efforts never did soar to gastronomic heights, our overall dining experience was completely satisfactory. On board entertainment was not overly exciting or creative, but an improvisation performance by a Second City troupe was a lot of fun and the time we spent walking or lounging around the deck and the pool was thoroughly relaxing.
Our first three days were spent on the open sea in relatively cold and dreary weather as we traveled south from New York to the Caribbean but, by the fourth day, we had arrived at our first destination, San Juan, and the contrast was striking. We spent our time in our first port of call wandering around the cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan, and stopped in one of its many bars for a short drink (a somewhat nostalgic experience since that’s where we spent our honeymoon nearly a half century ago). On the next day, we arrived at our second port of call, St. Thomas, where we rode the St. Thomas Skyride, a tram that carried us to Paradise Peak where we enjoyed extraordinary unobstructed views of the island, before continuing on to the duty free shopping of Charlotte Amalie.
On the next day, Sunday, we arrived with high hopes in Antigua which, unlike San Juan and St. Thomas, was a place we had never visited before, but unfortunately, there really wasn’t much to see. Apparently, the Antiguans are a relatively religious lot and most shops were closed for the day, their proprietors in church. Our next day in St. Martin (another island we had not been to before) was much more successful: we actually enjoyed shopping in this duty free port even more than we had in St. Thomas and we had a delightful lunch in a beachfront restaurant on the island en route. Our final Caribbean port of call, Tortola (another new one for us) was, unfortunately, another mild disappointment: the island is small and sparsely populated and there really wasn’t much to see.
That afternoon we began our return voyage to New York, switching back from shorts and tee shirts to jeans and sweaters, and arriving back in Manhattan just ten days after we had first embarked.
When we first planned this trip, our objectives were relatively simple. First and foremost, we sought some relief from one of the worst New York winters I can recall (in terms of cold, snow and ice) and an opportunity to unwind and relax – to wit, an unpressured excursion to a warmer clime, and this trip certainly fit the bill on that score. Second, we sought a trip that would not require a flight out of the city – a smart decision on our part, as it turned out, since all the New York airports were, in fact, closed on the day we sailed. Additionally, we wanted to go somewhere we had not been before – and Antigua, St. Martin and Tortola met that requirement. Finally, we hoped to accomplish all this relatively inexpensively and, indeed, we did: all told the trip cost us just a little over $2,100.
So all things considered, I must say that the trip was a success. We achieved the respite from the New York winter (albeit short lived) and the relaxation we sought. We avoided the airports. We visited three islands we had not visited before (although, admittedly, two of the three had little to offer). And we accomplished it all most economically.
But while this was a successful trip, was it really a memorable one? Unfortunately, no. Surely it was not in a class with the trip we made to Egypt last year (which included a much more enjoyable cruise down the Nile). Nor was it in a class with the trip we made to China the year before that (which included a terrific cruise down the Yangtze). Nor our cruise to Alaska several years ago. Nor the cruise we took on the Mediterranean Sea even longer ago, a cruise on which we visited Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Mykonos and Greece – and all in a matter of days.
And there’s the bottom line: We enjoyed our cruise on the Norwegian Gem and we’re glad we went. But it wasn’t one of our best vacations and we don’t plan to do it again anytime soon