From Puerto Rico, we boarded the Norwegian Gem and shipped out on a tour of the Southeastern Caribbean. This was my first time on a cruise ship, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d watched a lot of ‘The Love Boat’ when I was a wee lad, but that was about all I knew. Rebecca had taken a cruise in 2015, so she had a bit more experience. Let me tell you, it was a very interesting and somewhat surreal journey. I mean that in a good way. We had a ton of fun. And I’ve been missing it since we got back. But it was weird.
The thing that struck me as soon as I stepped into the Gem was the slightly odd synthesis of Art Deco and 70s style. Lush colors and designs made me think of an Agatha Christie film made in the 1970s. Again, I know that might come off as being harsh or negative, but I really mean it in the best way. I loved it. And that vibe carried on. The dining hall, the hallways, the elevators. The interior of the ship felt like it was from a different time…but also a step out of time. The exterior looked much more like what I expected, more what you see whenever you see images of cruise ships.
The next thing I noticed was that we were among the few young people (I’m being generous with myself by lumping myself in with the ‘young’). Many of the guests were retirees. Truth be told, Rebecca and I are often among the youngest people at various places during our vacations. Partly because of when we travel, but also because of what we like to do. There were also a good deal of families. The guests were diverse, which was very cool. People from England, Puerto Rico, Asia, and elsewhere. Along with the guests, I couldn’t help but notice the crew. There were SO many crew-members. There are roughly one crew per two guests on the Gem, and you can see it. Everywhere you go, there are crew doing something, cleaning something, helping someone, fixing something. And that helped to create the other major ‘vibe’ of the cruise. That 70s/Art Deco thing was mixed with the feel of a high-end hotel, where the staff is there to make things as pleasant as possible for you. But then they managed to tap into that wonderful ‘The Love Boat’ cheese, too. Our captain, Roger, came out and played bass and sang to us. Drew, the cruise director, was a character and a half. Total showman. And he could play the piano quite well, as we found out during the live ‘name that tune.’
We only had one day at sea, which was by design. We picked a trip specifically to give ourselves as many places to visit as we could with as little ‘wasted’ time at see as possible. In hindsight, I would have been perfectly happy with another day or two at sea (though not in lieu of island days). The activities, shows, food, and people watching were more than enough to fill the time. From playing games like trivia and Jeopardy, to hibachi dinner, to strolling the deck, we never ran out of things to do.
Right from the start, I kept saying that the cruise was an amazing environment for storytelling. You can totally understand how ‘The Love Boat’ happened. I kept thinking of all the ways you could make a contemporary answer to that show (not just talking about dropping the insulting laugh-track). It’s a surreal microcosm of different people from different places and different socioeconomic levels.
I’d heard talk that the food wasn’t so great on a cruise, but we had some pretty darned delicious meals. The booze was pricey, because we didn’t opt for a package deal (I’m not really much of a drinker). But other than a couple special, high-end dinner spots and a few extra special menu items, the included food was, by and large, quite good. Also, no doubt in reaction past occasions where sickness has broken out on cruise ships, everyone was extremely focused on cleanliness and tidiness. Every time we walked into a place that served food, there was a crew-person with a spray bottle of disinfectant calling out ‘washy-washy.’
Setting out of Puerto Rico allowed us to spend little time at sea, and a lot more time focused on visiting islands. It’s a quick flight from the DC area (less than 4 hours), and not too expensive. Overall, it was a great way to get a sampling of the Caribbean, while traveling in a strange but pleasant, floating hotel.
I’ll have more information about the actual islands we visited in another forthcoming post. The cruise itself was a blast. And the Norwegian Gem was pretty much the perfect ship for me. Exactly the right aesthetic and spirit.
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