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Transatlantic Cruise Review and what you need to know!

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A transatlantic voyage, where the waves converse with the untamed wind, has always captivated my spirit in its vast, blue grasp. I embarked on a transatlantic cruise, a journey not merely between coordinates, but a canvas of experiences. To my fellow wanderlust spirits tempted by the allure of the high seas, let's dive into the heart of transatlantic voyaging, and may these words be your compass, as I give you a review from my time on the Norwegian Gem.

Norwegian Gem cruise ship
Norwegian Gem Cruise Ship

There are many different cruise lines that do Transatlantic voyages. Some will make it as short of cruise as possible with just embarkation in one port and debarkation in another with several sea days in between. Others like the one I did will make the cruise longer by adding many stops along the way. I love this option. Seeing as many ports as possible is one of my favorite things on a cruise, although having several sea days are amazing too. Cruise lines use this transatlantic cruise as a repositioning cruise. For example, cruising the Mediterranean in the winter is not as common, so they move the ship over to the United States to do some Caribbean cruises. This was the case with the Norwegian Gem.

The cruise started outside of Rome Italy. in Civitavecchia and after 15 days and crossing the Atlantic Ocean I was in New York City (Actually we arrived on day 13, I will explain more in a few). The European Ports were Florence Italy, Marseille France, Barcelona Spain, Cadiz Spain, Lisbon Portugal, and Ponta Delgada in the Azores. There were supposed to be a few sea days after the Azores then a port stop in Bermuda, but due to weather conditions we skipped the port to avoid high winds and waves. This brought us into NYC earlier than expected. I was quite happy about this, having more time to spend in New York City was amazing and we basically treated the cruise ship as a hotel docked at Pier 89.

View from the top of volcano in the Azores
View from the top of volcano in the Azores

This was not my first time on a Transatlantic cruise and not my first review. A few years ago, I did a transatlantic cruise leaving Miami Florida and it disembarked in South Hampton England with stops in Le Havre France, Brest France, Portsmouth England and The Azores. This cruise was also on Norwegian Cruise Line and the ship was the Jade. It was wonderful. Today's review is on a similar ship, the NCL Gem. Both these ships are in the same class of ship’s along with the Jewel and Pearl. I have done a cruise on the Jewel in Alaska, so all that is left for me to try is the Pearl in this class of ship.

Pool Deck
Pool Deck

Seeing that I am very familiar with the Gem Class Ships, may make me like it more. They are all so similar, with the same features and layout. When traveling on other ships it takes time to get used to the layout, and still at the end of the cruise you may get turned around every once in a while, especially if it's a larger ship. The Gem is not considered a large ship, but not the smallest in the NCL fleet. For me since my experience on this class of ship is common for me, it feels like I am coming home, to a place I know so well.

The last things I will tell you about this cruise, sometimes a common thing when it comes to transatlantic cruises or repositioning cruises. You can get a great deal. This ocean liner guest capacity is 2400 people, but NCL reduced the prices of the cruise because not many people were booking the cruise. Cruise lines tend to do that from time to time, there is only 1 cruise line out there that will not drop prices to fill the ship. Even with the cheap prices the ship only ended up with 1600 people on board. Honestly it makes the cruise lovely. Longer cruises that are less crowded cruises mean more time to socialize with the crew. I was able to have conversations with crew members that I would not have had if the ship had been full and busy. And this is how I found out the crew enjoy looking for cruise ducks too! If you are not familiar with this fad, click here and check out the blog I wrote on cruise ducks.

Cruise Critic

The Joy of Transatlantic Cruise Travel: A review as a Solo Traveler

There's an incomparable serenity in gazing upon ocean horizons that extend past the scope of one's eyes. It's an open invitation to profound experiences and destinations that stitch a tapestry of cultures and landscapes into your memory's quilt. This unique mode of travel presents a treasure-trove of onboard amenities - a floating city where entertainment and joy billow like the sails of ancient explorers. The vibrant social tapestry weaves stories from souls across the globe; as a solo traveler, the fabric of connections became a narrative that enriched my life.

Freestyle Daily
Freestyle Daily

Norwegian Cruise Line is leading the way in taking care of the solo traveler, which is an up-and-coming demographic for travelers. Over the past few years more and more people travel solo, including me. It is hard sometimes to find people who can get off work to take vacations, and this cruise in particular since it was a 15-day cruise, which is a longer cruise than the most common type. That is a lot of days to be off work. NCL sees the potential of the solo traveler, offering solo cabins, but also rolling out to their fleet this year, eliminating double occupancy rules for a portion of their cabins. So, if a solo traveler wants a balcony room, they will be able to get it without paying the double occupancy fee. This is huge as NCL is the only cruise line offering this at the moment. My balcony cabin was close to $,1,000 after taxes and fees. An interior room was around $700.Depending on the cabin type the prices will be different.

Not only discounts, but Norwegian Cruise line offers solo traveler meet and greets, usually around 5:30PM everyday in one of their lounges. It is a great way to meet and connect with other solos on the ship. On this cruise I took there were over 300 solos on board. Which was a lot. That first night was packed in Spinnaker lounge for the meet and greet. Every day they offer a variety of things to do at the meet and greet and there is a special solo cruise director that attends everyone and organizes different activities for the group. For example, they were setting up a special dining room night just for the solo cruisers one night. Norwegian is really trying to cater to the solo travelers and it's a wonderful thing, as you are bound to make new friends.


A Testament to Safety First, and an Early Arrival

Picture this: you're in route to Bermuda, but the winds have different tales to tell. Should we be forlorn or embrace the captain's prudent choice for safety? The latter, my friends. The ship sways not just with the rhythm of the waves but with the wisdom of experience. The safety of all onboard rides on the captain's seasoned shoulders, and to that end, I found solace in our detour.

VIew of the Statue of LIberty from my balcony as we were coming into NYC early due to weather
VIew of the Statue of LIberty from my balcony as we were coming into NYC early due to weather

The detour actually involved us avoiding rough seas and winds all up the Eastern coast of the United States. Bad weather was all around us. Arriving on day 13 in New York City was perfect because that night New York City was about to receive 60 MPH wind gusts and crazy seas off the coast, and of course tons of rain. Docking early was perfect because we did not feel the ship move at all that night, and we were able to get off the ship on day 13 in the afternoon and explore NYC before the worst of the storm arrived on shore. Midday on day 14 the storms were over, so enjoying New York City was wonderful in the sun, even though it was chilly outside since it was December. But exploring Christmas sights in the Big Apple were amazing.

People who lived in the area were given the option of leaving the cruise ship on day 13, and many did. Since I live near Charlotte, North Carolina there was no way I was leaving early. I treated the cruise ship as a hotel and explored the city. 

There were a few hiccups with people leaving the cruise ship on day 13, I heard some stories that were disappointing. My experience was wonderful. The NCL crew was very helpful in explaining all that was going on. Everything from why we were skipping the port of Bermuda and the ability to leave the cruise early. If they did not know the answer they would find out. There were times at the very beginning they said they would update us when they knew more in the morning, but they always ended up having the answers. I am sure it is extremely hard on the crew when situations involving weather arise, and in my opinion, I think they did excellent.

The Uncharted Bliss of Sea Days

After meandering through the historical charm of the Mediterranean's shores, a 'sea day' dawns—a breath, a pause, a quietus amid the roam. It's not merely about unwinding on the deck chair but allowing the cruise to unveil its own spectrum of revelries—there's music, art, laughter, and even the sweet victory of a well-hid rubber duck cruise game of playful hide-and-seek with the shipmates and even the crew!

Rock Climbing wall, near the back on upper decks of cruise ship
Rock Climbing wall, near the back on upper decks of cruise ship

Sea days are great, and several straight days in a row are even better. You get to explore and do more things onboard the ship. Hot tubs were working and even though it was December it was fine for using a hot tub in the Mediterranean. Other activities included a crock climbing wall, basketball courts, ping pong, shuffleboard, plus many more outdoor things you can do. Walking the lap track that's on an upper-level deck or out on the Promenade deck where the views of the ocean will keep you out on the deck.

As for indoor activities there is Bingo, trivia, and the Deal or No Deal game similar to the TV show. Some items are free to do, and some will cost some money. Deal or No Deal and Bingo will cost you some money. I enjoyed the Origami class in the mornings in the Atrium and the Trivia. There was also a trivia in the jewelry shops where I won a necklace. 

View from above the Atrium Bar area
View from above the Atrium Bar area

Shopping is fun on a cruise ship, sometimes you find deals, and there is always a bargain bin kind of area. Good News, when shopping it is considered duty free, so you do not have to pay taxes. You will just have to declare it when you disembark if you buy more than a certain dollar amount. You will notice great prices on alcohol, perfume and even cigarettes if you are a smoker. The jewelry shops offer amazing beauties. I usually take a stroll and dream over those pretty pieces but still prices seem to be better than a jewelry store in the United States. The shops are closed when you are at port.

Another place that is closed when in port is the casino. If you want to try and win some big bucks, head on to the casino on a sea day, or after the ship leaves the port cities. There is nothing like the blinking lights and noises of the slot machines calling your name. Just be careful to not blow your budget. Always check the daily schedule, called Freestyle Dailies. You can look at the paper version they deliver to your room or look at the daily schedule on your app on your phone.

Cultural Immersions in Port Cities

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

On the cobblestoned streets of Barcelona, beneath the shade of history, my soul danced with a local cafe's ambiance. A heart-to-heart with a local bloomed over cups of coffee. We traded tales and dreams of travel. The connection between strangers outshines the usual bustle of tourism—it's the essence of true cultural immersion.

My port visits usually did not offer the conversation I had in Barcelona, but that did not diminish those ports of call. Every port had its own vibe and I enjoyed them all. Visiting Christmas Markets in Barcelona, Aix en Provence and Florence, Then a beach day in Cadiz. Next was volcano climbing in Ponta Delgada. Every port offers so much to see and so with so many different cultural experiences. Port days can be tiresome when you have several in a row like I had on this cruise, but still, I would not have it any other way.

You can choose if you would like to buy a shore excursion from the cruise ship or buy a separate one from the cruise line. I have done both. Buying separately will save you some money but be aware if you are running late to arrive back onboard the ship, they will not wait for you. If you buy an excursion from the cruise ship, they will wait on you if the excursion is running behind. 

View overlooking Florence from Michaelangelo Park
View overlooking Florence from Michaelangelo Park

Cruise ship excursions are not always perfect. I had an issue on my cruise, and it was the excursion for Florence Italy. I bought the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, which was a cruise ship excursion where we rode the typical buses in the city. When we arrived in Florence the lady at the desk for the Hop-On-Hop-off bus said they were only running 1 bus today, traffic was bad, and it would take an hour before the bus got back around for us to hop on. Needless to say, I jumped in a taxi and went to Saint Croce Basilica, the leather working shop, Christmas Market and Michelangelo Park by taxi. While at the park I finally saw the bus and was able to hop on, but the people who waited the hour on the bus didn't have time to actually hop off and explore as the bus would not be back in time for us to get back to the cruise ship. This was not the fault of the cruise ship. I am sure they could not control what the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus company was doing that day.  I am so grateful I went on and spent extra money and used taxis so my day in Florence was not spoiled.

Travel up

A Gastronomic Ode: Let's talk about food.

What is a cruise without invoking the muse of gastronomy? A French toast to start the day, crispy edges dipped in the warm light of dawn. The evenings, oh, they're slices of heaven... or rather, raspberry cheesecake. Yet, it's at Le Bistro, where I savored escargot and lamb chops, my eyes feasting on the endless blue as the window framed the perfect side dish - the ocean.

The Great Outdoors Buffet seating area
The Great Outdoors Buffet seating area

The buffet (Garden Cafe) is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every time I went to the buffet, I did find something I liked, and tried a variety of items I would not normally get. After 15 days on the ship breakfast started to get old for me. Maybe it was having eggs for a few days in a row. So just grabbing some cereal, oatmeal and of course my favorite as mentioned before French Toast. I am a big fan of bacon, but do not like crispy bacon, and NCL cooked the bacon perfectly. I know many people who would not be happy with non-crispy bacon. There are some things on the buffet I just didn’t like. I was not a huge fan of their burgers but loved their French fries. For a thin crust pizza, I was pleased. But I was not a fan of any type of steak I got on the buffet. They have a section that is Asian at every lunch or dinner, and those items were good. Their salads, from the salad bar, Caesar salad, or even their potato salad, I enjoyed. They also have specialty foods that are different every meal, sometimes there is a theme to it like Greek or Mexican night. I did enjoy the items featured then. Desserts and Pastries were always good, I loved the chocolate croissant. Even the gelato or ice cream was great. 

Another thing you need to know, and I grouped it all into one. Some of this was from the main buffet, but there is also a buffet near the pools called Top Siders Grill, and at the back of the ship called the Great Outdoors. I combined it all into one. Typically, these other buffets are open later if you got a late start for breakfast or if you are late for lunch. The Great Outdoors is one of my favorite places to sit and relax on the cruise.

Lamb chops and potato at Le Bistro
Lamb chops and potato at Le Bistro

One thing people do not talk about as much is that soft drinks are not included. You will have to buy a soda package or buy an individual glass like you would at one of the bars on the ship. At the buffets they have unlimited milk, coffee, tea, lemonade, water, and some juices and if I remember correctly 2 types of flavored water (which I liked). But Norwegian has started their version of bottled water on the ship, it's called Flow. I was not a fan, maybe it is the packaging, I am not sure, so I brought my refillable water bottle on the cruise and filled it up with water from my bathroom. Yes, you can do that, all water on the ship is filtered, and my bathroom water was so much better than the Flow water bottles they sell.  By the way, in case you didn't know, alcohol packages are also available for purchase on a Norwegian Cruise Ship, they have a premium package and a basic package.

If you go to the dining room for breakfast it is not near as crowded as the buffet, and the food there seems to be a step up from the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I was never disappointed any time I went to the main dining rooms. There are 2 fine dining rooms on the Gem which are complementary are the Grand Pacific and the Magenta.

One thing I love about the Norwegian Cruise Line ship is the O'Sheehan's Pub, open all the time, even for late night nachos or Spaghetti Carbonara. When I was not in the mood for a buffet but did not want to be as fancy as the main dining room, O’Sheehan’s is a good option if you want something different or need a 2 AM snack.

One thing that surprised me the most was the complimentary Chinese restaurant. Of course, if you did sushi at the sushi bar you would have to pay, but Orchid Garden was free, and had the best potstickers I have ever had. If you like Chinese food, you should check it out. Their food is great.

Steak and Lobster from Cagney's
Steak and Lobster from Cagney's

Specialty Restaurants are where it is at!!! Of course there is a fee, or you have to purchase a dining package unless you want to pay “a la carte'' if you plan on doing a specialty restaurant get the dining package, it will be less expensive and so worth it. I mentioned earlier I loved Le Bistro because of the Escargot and lamb, but Cagney’s steakhouse is also a favorite of mine.  I have eaten at all of them between the several cruises I have taken, and they are all great. But Le Bistro and Cagney’s are my favorite. One thing I tend to do for a fee is add lobster to my meal at Cagney's; it is not included in the package. But lobster is something I very rarely get so it is a treat and I love it at Cagney’s.

Raspberry Cheesecake
Raspberry Cheesecake

What is different between NCL, and other cruise lines is freestyle dining, you don't have to pick early or late for dinner. Of course, you will want to make reservations, but you can base it on what you are doing that day. And it is a must to make reservations at the specialty restaurants. Also, another great thing is it is not required to be fancy, even in the dining room, just look presentable. Of course, you will see people dressed in their formal wear, but it is not mandatory and there are no formal nights on NCL cruises.

One thing that might be disappointing for some. If you think you can get lobster in the main dining room, you cannot. Some cruise ships have lobster for 1 night in the main dining room, or they have in the past, but NCL does not.

An overall rating on the food on the NCL Gem is 9 out of 10. I cannot complain about the food, because there is so much to choose from, and you can always find something you like even if you don't have a specialty dining package. Sure, the buffet is the least yummy for a few items, but you will find some things you will like on the buffet too.

Hilton Honors

The Echoes of Laughter: Shows and Activities for Everyone.

Stardust Theater
Stardust Theater

I have never been a lover of watching shows on cruise ships, or anywhere. It's just not my thing, but I went to a few so I could rate them. Blazing Boots is the show they really promote on this ship, and if you like that style of music and show you will enjoy it, the light display and fog make it unforgettable, and I actually left singing songs that were stuck in my head that I typically would not be singing. Of course, they had other shows like a Whitney Houston show, or the High Love show with Danielle Grace Williams. Every night there is some show to take in. Comedians have always been my favorite, and the Norwegian Cruise Line did not disappoint. I was very happy with the cruise line comedians. Fred Bevill was great. They also had a show with a hypnotist, mind benders, and magician too. Each show in the Stardust theater was different every night.

Along with shows there were always other activities. Musicians, bands and DJ's performed throughout the ship. In a bar or the lounges there is always something going on. Special activities like 70's Disco Groove, *80's Night, and Glow Party are great for dancing and having a good time. During the day, shows like the Perfect Couple Game Show or Battle of the Sexes are always a good laugh.

Yummy Mudslide
Yummy Mudslide

There are many bars to choose from on the cruise ship. My favorite tended to be the Atrium Bar. It was a common sight for me. Every day there would be a new drink of the day, and it was at a reduced price, so if you did not get the alcohol package it was a deal compared to other alcoholic drinks on the ship. You can find out the drink of the day in the freestyle daily or at the bar itself. 

Here is a list of the other bars on the ship.

  • Sugarcane

  • Maltings Beer and Whiskey Bar

  • Cigar Bar

  • Casino Bar

  • Bali Hali Bar

  • Bliss Ultra Lounge

  • Magnums Champagne Bar

  • The Great Outdoors

  • O'Sheehan's Pub Bar

  • Spinnakers Lounge

  • Topsiders Bar

  • Shakers Martini Bar


Reflections of Memories and Meeting Some Amazing People. 

Arcade on cruise ship
Arcade on cruise ship

Cherished memories, that's what I have from this unforgettable journey! They're not etched into the frames of glossy photographs but painted in the vibrant hues of experiences. From the churning engines that beat like a heart beneath the decks to the faces that became part of my traveling tale, this was more than a mere transatlantic crossing—it was a voyage through the human spirit.

The memories of how I was confused about the time zones and time changes. Making me an hour early for the ship's port excursion. In the end it made for a great laugh, since I could have slept in. When you are crossing the Atlantic, time zone changes can happen every day. The cruise line lets you know on the freestyle daily, but as you can see, I still goofed up.

Playing games in the arcade like a kid. Proving that age is just a number as long as you are young at heart that is all that matters. You could even win a cruise duck in here with a game, in case you did not find any hiding on the ship.

Deal or No Deal
Deal or No Deal

Listening to conversations at the dinner table with 5 other people that you form a sea bond with because they are fellow solo travelers, and meeting people from all around the world is a wonderful memory I will hold onto for the rest of my life. There was a dinner I had with a group where views on life and places lived were totally different. One man was from Switzerland. I am sure he was shocked by the conversations that were being had about politics in the United States. I did get a few laughs from this dinner and was shocked that 2 men who I had never met from this cruise enjoyed debating so much.

You get out of a cruise what you put into it. If you are out there meeting people and enjoying what the cruise has to offer you will meet so many people, that is a highlight for me. Near the end of my cruise, I met a mother and son from Montana, and they were a delight. I wish I had met them earlier in the cruise, but I was still happy to sit and discuss life while playing Bingo and Deal or no Deal.

Conclusion: Charting your Future Cruise. 

View from the deck
View from the deck

On my cruise ship review, I give Norwegian Cruise line a great rating 9 out of 10 overall. I had a great time, and it had good value. Great staff with great ports, decent food. Overall, very few issues, and I only heard of issues, I never experienced a single issue on the cruise. I stand, or rather, sail—looking towards the cruise industry's horizon, acknowledging the dance between preservation and adventure. It's a time to harness the winds of change, refining not just the compass but also the sustainability of our maritime indulgences. For you, potential traveler, may these words inspire you to seek your own sea-forged tale. Take the leap, carve your path across the boundless blue, and let the cruise be but a vessel for the greater journey within. Navigate to your heart's content and should our paths cross upon the great ocean's canvas, let's share a toast to the joy of the journey! 🚢✨


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Feb 11

What an experience. I sailed Southampton to Sydney once and we hit a cyclone and limped into harbour in Tahiti - not all smooth sailing sometimes!

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