Norwegian Gem - Inaugural
An email arrived in January 2007 from Matt Sudders of the Ocean Liner Society (CC'd to Pam Massey as we'd both been forgotten) about a member trip on Norwegian Cruise Line's brand new 93,500grt Norwegian Gem on the 6th-8th October from Dover that year.  The ship is the last of the Jewel class and has the same features they added to Norwegian Pearl which entered service the previous year. Thinking about Oriana two weeks afterwards, plus the hassle for me to get to Dover I replied saying no and told Pam.  She came back asking if I wanted to share a balcony.  Fatal to someone with no willpower and an insatiable curiosity!  Being a Latitudes member already she managed to get a discount when booking which helped.  The only problem was the online form.  Although I filled mine in first, for some reason after Pam did hers mine changed to her details so I was now living in another county and it wouldn't accept the changes.  Thankfully by the time it came to print them off everything was as it should be and they'd added a county box.  Also for some reason the balance was due earlier than the usual eight weeks.  So we had cabin 9012 forward.  While she loves NCL ships, I'm not that keen, especially the interior decor with clashing colours.  I literally get a headache just looking at photos so took aspirin and even Alka Seltzer in case I felt sick as I had looking through their website.  Amy's husband took one look at the pictures and wondered how I could put myself through that.  Research!  It was one way of knowing never to be tempted by NCL ever again.  Pam constantly told me in the weeks leading up to the cruise I'd love it and it wasn't that bad.  We'd see soon enough.  Now long before October had arrived Pam and I went a little mad and booked six more cruises for 2008, with us also being on the QE2 albeit separately.  Although we had only met on the Ocean Liner Society Arcadia visit in October 2005 we had emailed, texted and spoken on the phone (especially when she was on the QE2 40th anniversary launch cruise constantly making me jealous) so how would we get on cooped up 24/7?  Bit of a bugger if we hated each other with another seven to come!  The tickets arrived on the 28th September which were the new e-tickets.  That's six pages of A4 to waste when it all could have been done on proper tickets using a fraction of the paper.  Unfortunately e-tickets is the way cruise
lines are going like airlines which is a shame.  Holding a wad of A4 just isn't the same.

The day arrived.  This cruise was like the maiden voyage except it wasn't.  The ship itself had been handed over on the 1st then travelled to Rotterdam on the 2nd.  On the 3rd was an overnight trade trip, returning to Rotterdam on the 4th when she then sailed to Dover, arriving on the 5th, to be officially inaugurated with a firework display for the press and Latitudes members.  Pam herself had received an invitation (for a price of £25) and would have gone if she wasn't booked on the cruise.  The 6th was the first fare paying passengers and the beginning of numerous inaugurals until the naming in America on the 18th December which would then be followed by yet another inaugural cruise.  NCL must be in the
Guinness Book of Records for the most inaugural events ever!

Well as we had to get to Dover it was a much earlier start for me.  This would be my first visit back to Kent since 1974 after my great-grandparents died and as far as I'm aware I had never been outside Chatham before we moved here in 1972 so it would be a new experience.  Ah, Dover.  Southampton's closest rival for attracting cruise ships so the enemy.  Hiss!  I felt disloyal to my adopted city.  But hey, it was all in the name of research and they couldn't possibly be as great as us. Or could they?  Something else I was about to find out.  After a miserable week it was sunny, warm and dry with some wind which was nice.  Meant to stay dry until we got back too.  As Pam was picking me up from Woking at 9:30am I went to catch a train for the first time in seven years.  There were no open returns which was a pain so it would have to be single each way.  As I waited on platform 1 for the 8:30 to Waterloo and chatting to an elderly couple returning to Scotland after having a very enjoyable cruise on
Navigator of the Seas, I was told the line was closed due to a man jumping off a bridge at Swaythling so I had to get the one on platform 2 which was leaving any minute.  My dad had been given a platform ticket and helped me dash over the bridge to get on it.  It was absolutely packed so I and a few others were between carriages.  I got chatting to a man and a girl who were also going to Woking and none of us had
any idea if the train even went there.  First stop was Fareham.  The man shouted down the platform to ask and was told it did.  Once we were moving to go back to Easteigh, an announcement came over the tannoy mentioning Eastleigh, Winchester, Basingstoke and Waterloo!  There was just no one to ask.  I had to send a text to Pam telling her I would be late so she kicked her heels at St Albans where it rained. Her friend John, who I'd met a couple of times at the marina, had offered to collect me and drive me to Dover if I was too late as he was going there anyway to take photos of us sailing which was nice of him.  Once we reached Eastleigh again he asked someone on the platform and was told yes.  Several people got on at Winchester, having driven up from Southampton to avoid the closure and told us the information board said this was Woking.  Finally a guard appeared and informed us he had no idea and would find out.  Well we all decided to get off at Basingstoke to change.  Once we had we followed the man to a guard who pointed to our train as going to Woking!  It transpired as soon as we'd reached there, all the Waterloo people had to get off and the train now went directly to Woking where it would end.  The train was practically empty and one carriage held just the three of us.  The guard came through and told us they'd been given the change notice at Basingstoke.  So we finally reached our destination at 10:10am - 50 minutes late!  Now I had to wait for Pam who was on the other side of the station.  It was so nice to be able to sit down for the journey to her cousin Mike and Ros's house in Folkestone where she would leave the car.  Just before we left I discovered they'd lived where I do!  Very small world considering this is a small area.  So Mike took us to the port only about halfway there Pam realised she'd left her mobile back in the car so we turned around and went back for it.  As we got closer to the port there was our ship gleaming in the sunlight.  Mike dropped us off at Terminal 2.
Check-in was a doddle and we were given the colour purple.  I have to admit I preferred this terminal to our own City and Mayflower ones.  It was bright and airy.  Not as nice as the QEII though.  Rather annoyingly this was a time you had to carry on your own luggage which is really inconvenient and neither of us can fathom the number of people who had tiny suitcases.
Our colour was called just before 2pm.  Pam was in such a hurry to board she left her handbag on the chair.  Thankfully she was told.  The queue was long and you have your boarding photos taken just before security if you chose to.  I did as I do like them but it was really difficult with a handbag, hang luggage and suitcase.  Plus it also held the queue up.  Once we boarded on Deck 6 we had to use hand gel which again was a juggling task.  They were selling drinks by the lift which some people bought.  One of the lifts wasn't working and permanently on Deck 1 and Pam noted it wasn't a very good start on a brand new ship.  We made our way to our home for the next couple of days and discovered, despite asking for twins when booking, they'd put the beds together.  We found our steward Francisco Bantay (our other one was Shiela Escalona) who told us he would correct it after 5pm as they weren't working at that time.
The balcony floor was wonderful underfoot.  The balcony was a hull hole-type which turned out to be marvellous.  A little larger view than Aurora it was surprisingly more sheltered from the wind.  There were six on our deck and we were right next to an ordinary balcony.  The chairs were also very comfortable.  The cabin TV had quite a variety of English, Spanish and German programming as well as having four language options.  When we arrived the announcements channel screen info was in German.  I didn't discover until the next day the language options.  It also listed the passengers' full names.  There was also a marvellous channel not just showing your location on the satellite and giving speed, but also many other things as it went round.  A bridge cam too was on one of the channels which strangely enough was pointing at a completely different direction to the one online.  The sockets were standard American voltage and there were also tea and coffee making facilities.  The beds were just so comfortable with a duvet. The cabin itself was a little on the small side like Aurora with the sofabed rock hard and very little wardrobe space.  The bathroom was cramped.  The toilet was in a little cubicle one end with the shower the other.  There was a long tap on the sink which moved.  Once we'd examined our accommodation we decided to have a wander and get something to eat.
When we'd finished our wander we went to get something to eat before the 3.35pm lifeboat drill only to discover they were shutting everything up.  So we grabbed a roll and apple before they disappeared and returned to the cabin to wait.  Over the tannoy came the news lifeboat drill was now going to be at 3:55pm so the passengers could watch the end of the England versus Australia rugby game!  We both hoped they wouldn't sail at 4pm while we were doing muster.  We took our life jackets up to the Sun Deck (14) so John could see us from the other side then proceeded down to the Stardust Theater on Deck 7 for the drill.
Once that was over, straight up to the cabin to dump the jackets and back to Sun Deck, buying a drink en route.  As we waited my cocktail umbrella complete with pineapple flew onto the deck below in the wind.  It was lucky no one was directly below.  We cast off around 4.18pm and blasted three times a couple of minutes later.  The horn as loud and vibrated on the deck.  We were accompanied by a helicopter taking promotional film and photos for about 45 minutes.
When we were in the English Channel we stopped for quite a while as the helicopter buzzed around us.  The crew were annoyingly stacking up the sunloungers.  Why????  Do they think people don't sit after 4pm?  We went to look over the bow where it was really gusty and had our photo taken there.  Then the ship turned and appeared to be heading back into the dock.  Engine trouble?  I couldn't be so lucky! We got in the lane and continued our journey to Amsterdam after the helicopter returned to land.
Back to the cabin to get the tangles out of our hair.  Pam said she couldn't even run the comb through hers it was that bad.  We saw the pilot boat so watched that a while.
We had a 6.30pm date in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 with Matt, Mark and Martin from the Ocean Liner Society.  Next door to the lounge is the wedding chapel.
The Spinnaker Lounge is NCL's version of The Crow's Nest.  Very spacious room with games and a popcorn machine.  The decor and chairs however have to be seen and sat on to be believed!  The clashing colours aren't as bad in real life as they are in the promo photos which had given me headaches.  Pam fell in love with the flower-type chair and wanted it but alas her case wasn't big enough to steal it.  She bagged the one in the port corner both nights.
We met Matt, Mark and Martin and had a drink before Martin left us just after 7pm.  After a while we decided to go to dinner.  Matt wanted to go to the Grand Pacific Main Dining Room on Deck 6.  The queue was horrendous.  Being Freestyle with many places to dine meaning you just turn up in your scruff or poshed up, everyone appeared to want to eat at the same time.  I had time to pop up to the cabin and back (where I found they'd separated the beds) and we still weren't in by the time I returned.  They were on the verge of handing out pagers but we got lucky as a table for four became available so we went in.  This is a fabulous restaurant but the Freestyle experience has put me off that and its ilk on other ships.  You had to order all the courses at the same time.  While the food was great, albeit not much of it with no side order of vegetables, service was somewhat lacking.  I had to ask for more bread rolls twice.  We needed more water.  At one stage the waitress, clearly embarrassed, came over to ask what I'd ordered for dessert.  I couldn't remember.  It was so long ago!  She asked what the others had ordered too.  Well when the desserts came the table was almost bare.  Pam was expected to eat her cheese and biscuits with a fork and spoon!
It was an enjoyable experience nonetheless but they do need more staff.  Food 10/10.  Service 5/10.  Memories of the service 10/10.  We went our separate ways afterwards and I returned to the cabin to wait for Pam so we could go on deck to get some night shots.
Pam returned announcing she'd already been out.  There is no mobile at sea on Norwegian Gem (unless it didn't work with our networks or they hadn't turned it on) making it impossible to let the other know where we were.  So I braved the wind for a while to get my own.  For some reason we still had the pilot flag up.  I did try and get a photo from the Sun Deck but it was just so windy it came out crap so I haven't used it.
And so bed after midnight and I slept very well on that bed.  If it hadn't been for the umpteen Vodafone Passport texts coming through I'd have slept right through.  The cabin also wasn't freezing which I was glad about. Got up at 6am.  Pam thinks the power went off during the night as she woke up and there wasn't even the corridor light coming through the door.  We were due to dock at 8am but were going through some sort of fog at 6.10am which thinned to mist a short while later.  We went to the Garden Cafe on Deck 12 for a buffet breakfast at 7.15am and watched us dock.  There was hardly anyone else around.  The choice of food was excellent but no trays meaning you had to keep getting up to get anything.  After breakfast we went to explore the ship which we did until having lunch at 12.45pm!  No wonder I ached all over with all that walking.

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© Patricia Dempsey 6th-8th October 2007
Not to be reproduced without permission