Posted on Wednesday, December 12, 2007 by Peter Knego
Boston GEM Party
She’s billed as “Hot,” “Hip”, “The Ultimate Trip” and the “It Girl”, and, unlike Clara Bow (the silent screen siren who was the first official “It Girl”) she actually has a bow. Of course, I speak of the NORWEGIAN GEM, Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest 93,500 gt vessel, the fifth and final entrant in a class of “Freestyle” ships built by the Papenburg, Germany- based Meyer Werft. Refreshingly, the GEM makes no pretenses about being an ocean liner or even a traditional cruise ship. Within her sturdy, well-fitted hull and superstructure are no less than ten restaurants, eleven bars and lounges, three pools, a “ship within a ship” complex of deluxe suites with their own courtyard and pool area, a huge spa with fitness center, a sports court with tiered seating, child and teen centers, a bowling alley, and on and on. Depending on the venue, this multi-faceted girl can be a bit flashy and over the top or spicily elegant, but never bland. She is meant to be fun, fantastic and envelope-pushing and lives up to all of that and more. Unlike many new ships, she lends herself well to “close ups” as she is a product of a master shipbuilding yard that does not cut corners or deliver shoddy work.
The GEM entered service this past October and spent some time in the Med before crossing to Boston to kick off her inaugural festivities and a christening in New York.
Friday, December 14, 2007:
It’s 3:50 PM and I am sitting at a cherry veneered desk looking out to a dramatic sunset beyond the verandah of NORWEGIAN GEM’s cabin 11090. The sun is lingering on the horizon behind a small cluster of clouds that make its orange surface look a bit like a fizzling Jupiter. Outside, it is 35 degrees and windy (25 to 30 knots) with a moderate swell. White seagulls are doing nosedives into what must be a fertile fishing ground since we have passed several small trawlers during the course of the day. A fellow journalist on board, Corey Sandler, Editor in Chief of Econoguide Travel Books and a new bestselling book “Henry Hudson: Dreams and Obsession”, has reminded me that we are floating in the vicinity of the ANDREA DORIA, which sank in these seas east of Nantucket.
My companion, Michael Masino, and I will soon be off to the gym for a much needed dose of healthiness before we join a small group of people for dinner in the GEM’s Teppanyaki Grill and polish off the evening in the Stardust Theater to watch the Second City show. That will pretty much wrap up our “It Girl” fling, which began yesterday at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal and will end tomorrow morning in the same place.
Yesterday, on the short ride from Boston’s Logan Airport to the cruise terminal, the driver was obsessing about the weather, seeking every possible update he could find on the radio. Since I assume anyone who lives in Boston is pretty accustomed to “weather”, I asked him what the deal was. “You don’t understand. A huge ice storm is coming this afternoon and it will probably shut us down. I think the whole city is going to get off work at 2:00 so they have time to get home before it hits later in the afternoon. It’s gonna be a mess!”
Although it was only 25 or so degrees Fahrenheit outside, it was hazily sunny and calm when he delivered us to the terminal. We were early, so I did not want to bother NCL’s Public Relations rep right away. I checked with the security desk to make sure it was OK for Michael to stay in the terminal while I went to get some photos of the GEM from across the slip. I soon realized not digging out my gloves and a cap was a big mistake as I scrambled along the icy sidewalks. My ears, nose, and fingers were completely numb by the time I returned from my sojourn some 35 minutes later to find Michael, standing outside the terminal with our luggage, exhaling frost and looking, quite literally, put out! A brilliant port police officer, Mr. Ortiz, decided that Michael must have been a threat to the Homeland as he sat in the empty but warm terminal, reading Shirley MacLaine’s “Dancing In The Light”. I called the NCL rep (who was stuck on the ship waiting for the gangway to be relocated) and with her on the line, approached the guard, who told us we had to continue waiting outside in the freezing cold even though we had shown him our ID and cruise documents and had the company’s representative on the phone.
Once our contact came to our rescue and we were past the gates of Boston’s very own Abu Ghraib, we had a wonderful day!
I had all morning to leisurely document the entire ship, from the Purser’s Office (our first stop) where a VanGogh painting was being installed to the vast, empty upper decks where chairs were gathered and tied down in clusters anticipating the storm that was heading in from the southwest. Having sailed in the GEM’s two most recent sisters, the PRIDE OF HAWAI’I and NORWEGIAN PEARL, I was very familiar with this class of ship. Decoratively, she is similar in style but her palette seems to feature a tad more purple and (as one of her restaurants is appropriately named) magenta.
The GEM’s blueprint was modified very slightly from the PEARL’s with an “al fresco” casino added to the starboard pool area and the relocation of the Internet Center to the atrium from the Art Gallery.
At noon, as the first of the visitors and inaugural guests were coming aboard, we were just wrapping up the documentation of the public spaces. We strolled over to the attractive modern “boutique hotel style” Magenta for lunch, where waitress Yulia (Ukraine) and assistant waitress Yana (Russia) could not have been more attentive. From our table by a port side window, we watched as the edge of the storm drew near, dusting the quay across the slip with snow. As our lunch began with NCL’s delicious, freshly-baked bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar, the snow came down in gentle, diagonal puffs. By the end of the meal (which included salmon tartare, fresh greens with goat cheese, grilled veggies in phyllo crust and finished off with a chocolate caramel mound and a frozen raspberry mousse), a vortex of white powder was swirling outside the window, obscuring everything beyond the ship. The seasonal atmosphere was enhanced by a glass of Chateau St. Jean Merlot and some excellent music selections, including tunes by Louis Armstrong, Diana Krall and Ella Fitzgerald.
At 4:30, boat drill was held, so we mustered in the Tequila/Latin Tapas Restaurant on the Deck 8 balcony overlooking the starboard side of the atrium.
Afterwards, I spent time in the cabin working on this blog before it was time to join members of the media in the living room of the 4,390 square foot Garden Villa suite 14500. At 6:30 PM (the sailing was delayed slightly to accommodate late flights), we could see the panorama of fuzzy harbor lights change ever so slightly as the GEM backed away from the Black Falcon terminal. Although the snow was still coming down in a torrent, the seas off Cape Cod were expected to be calm to moderate.
In the villa’s dramatically lit courtyard, it looked like a Dr. Seuss Christmas with snow piled on top of deck chairs and every available vertical surface.
At 7:00, we adjourned to the aft portion of Cagney’s Steak House for a leisurely dinner (for me, a caesar salad, the tender corn-fed half rotisserie chicken and apple pie a la mode) before catching a portion of “World Beat” (a rhythmic extravaganza covering a range of cultural music including New York “street”, African tribal and Greek folkloric) in the Stardust Theater, where almost every seat has an unobstruc
ted view and the acoustics are excellent.
While we were walking back to our cabin, a tortured and half frozen smoker came in from the Promenade on Deck 7, blasting us with a dose of icy cold air. There would be no walk around this Promenade tonight, although we did manage to summon the energy to grab our cameras for a few studies of the pool area blanketed in mounds of snow. Thanks to the prior night’s red-eye, I was more than ready for some sleep once we returned to the cabin.
This morning, I awoke a bit earlier than planned, so I tried adding photos to the blog, with maybe one out of twenty attempts succeeding due to the weak satellite signal. We headed to the Grand Pacific Dining Room for breakfast and were delighted to get a table for two near the port windows. Normally, I avoid the main dining areas for breakfast (I’m usually not up early enough and often the service is hit or miss). Today was an exception on both counts — our waiter was spot on, bringing each of our courses quickly along with extra cups of cappuccino. I enjoyed studying the room’s decorative details, which are incredibly well executed (although I do think the carpet is a touch busy) in a style that evokes such liners as HIKAWA MARU and MALOLO. Again, the Meyer Werft joinery and quality is really impeccable on these ships!
There was time before the press conference to wander up to the pool area for some views of the snowy decks. Although the blizzard had stopped, it was still freezing outside as we caught the deck hands blasting the impacted snow with steam and shoveling mounds of it into the pools.
At the conference, NCL executive Andy Stewart discussed the new fleet deployments, indicating Europe is the fastest growing market and will be served by three ships (the GEM, JADE and JEWEL) in 2008. Bermuda and the Caribbean are also enjoying growth with more capacity while the NCLA situation in Hawai’i has begun to right itself with the PRIDE OF HAWAII joining the NCL fleet as NORWEGIAN JADE early next year. He was very tight lipped about the new 150,000 gt “F3” (acronym for “Third Generation Freestyle”) ships that are still in the design process, although he did indicate they will be a major evolution from the STAR class and will further define the Freestyle concept. The GEM’s hotel Manager Klaus Lugmaier and Captain Mikael Hilden were on hand to field questions, as well.
After lunch in the Garden Cafe, Mike went down to Bliss Ultra to join in the media bowling tournament. As my “proxy” bowler, he came through with flying colors, taking second place (redeeming my second from last place on the PEARL earlier this year). I took the time to update the log and get a few more images added.
A Shogun-style dinner (Miso soup, seaweed salad with ginger dressing, grilled vegetables, chicken yakisoba, garlic fried rice and a scoop each of coconut and green tea ice cream) in the Teppanyaki added another highly caloric notch to our Freestlye experience, followed by the Second City improv act in the Stardust.
Packing and a short sleep were wedged in before the next morning and time for a final breakfast in the Grand Pacific, this time with a view of the frozen Black Falcon terminal getting plowed and “salted” in the aftermath of the snow storm.
After a two night revenue cruise from Boston, the GEM will deadhead to New York on Monday for a two night inaugural cruise (departing Tuesday, December 18) and “official” naming ceremony. The ship’s godmother will be selected “live” from five finalists (GEM Fatales?) chosen in a contest that saw over 500 entrants who submitted video auditions.
Full NORWEGIAN GEM “Tour” Coming to MaritimeMatters Soon!