The Norwegian Gem Cruise — Time on the Boat is What You Make of it.

Before our last year of college, my roommate Cassandra and I decided that we would finally spend a spring break together. We invited several of our mutual friends and starting looking for holidays, and realized that the most cost effective and least planning-intensive type of vacation for us to go on would be a cruise. I was pretty skeptical about this idea— in my mind, cruises were tacky, uncomfortable, sweaty, cramped, and (worst of all) inauthentic. I wanted to have the opportunity to freely explore and learn about a new place, not be trapped with septuagenarians on a moving environmental disaster. I voiced some of my concerns, and we began to look for cruises with plenty of time off-boat, who prioritized their environmental impact, and one that we wouldn’t have to fly to Florida to get on. 

We landed upon Norwegian Cruise Lines, and their vessel the Norwegian Gem. This trip, a total of ten days, traveled to five different islands with two full days at sea bookending each end of the experience. Leaving cold and snowy Rochester, New York, myself and seven other college students embarked on our adventure, and explored several small corners of the world before returning to our studies. I’ll do brief write ups about each of the islands that we visited in different articles– summarizing our beach days on St. Lucia and St. Thomas, and our exploration-oriented days in Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and Antigua in two separate reviews. Right now, I just want to talk briefly about what it was like being on a cruise ship, an experience I can honestly admit I never thought that I would have. I thought that it would be full of forced entertainment and that I would constantly be being pulled on stage to participate in nonconsensual karaoke competitions. But it wasn’t quite that weird.

There is plenty of nothing to do on a cruise ship when you spend four and a half days lounging around on one. After coming from the hustle and bustle of my final semester of college, having the opportunity to catch up on reading (both for school and for myself) and practice embroidering was wonderful. There were plenty of semi-quiet places to read, and the live cover band that played daily at the pool– despite the disturbing lack of airtime that vacation classic Margaritville.

There were themed nights on the boat, but we ended up creating our own themes. We wore what we wanted to dinner save our final “fancy” night when some of us donned our ill-fitting prom clothes (and by some of us I mean me). Drinks were everywhere, with a bar at nearly every corner of the boat, and teetering just within and without of the range of affordability. For the first few days, the temptation was not avoided, and once I noticed how much I was spending and started to watch my spending a little more closely.

Watching the sun go down every day was a blessing.
Waking up early to catch the sunrise before exploring.

The biggest downside also ended up being one of the best parts of the cruise– the lack of other college students. Since so many of the other passengers on the boat were much older, few people were on the schedule we tended to operate on– 10am breakfast, 8pm dinner, and lounging at the pool until 6:30 or later. This really came in handy when we got back on the boat from the ports to lounge at the pool, since we rarely had to fight for space on the beach chairs. We tried not to notice how suspicious some of the other passengers on the boat seemed to be of us on the first couple of days, since we traveled in a giggling pack of eight to nearly every room we went to on the boat. But once they noticed that we spent most of our time playing cribbage, most people were happy to leave us alone instead of joking with us about how much trouble we were causing.

The highlight of the actual cruise ship was simple— on the very top decks, at the very front (forward) and back (aft) of the ship, there were giant wicker chairs. Some of them had large padded cushions to go with them, and some of them were just bare wicker. This was the spot where we spent most of our time while we traveled back and forth between New York City and the Islands we were hopping between (the cruise included four full days at sea, two at either side of the week of exploring). We would wake up in the morning, enjoy a breakfast at one of the buffets, and then retire to one of our wicker chairs to read, try to stay ahead of our homework, or (in my case) practice some embroidery. At night, we’d head to the front of the boat, shielded behind a giant wind screen to keep the chilly ocean air off of us. Later in the week, these late night front-of-the-boat journeys were full of summer camp-esque (and sometimes mildly drunken) heart to hearts, and mild complaining about things that hadn’t gone perfectly smoothly on the rest of the trip.

The wicker chairs were our real home away from home during our adventure.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t necessarily choose to go on a cruise again. I was just far more in love with the experience on the islands. But if you’re looking for a relaxed vacation with relatively few logistics to be concerned about, then this type of trip might be right for you. And I was able to have a very solid time lounging around with my friends and reading Nick Hornby books.

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