Cruise Travel

Cruising Comparison: The Norwegian Gem vs. The Norwegian Star

Both the NCL Gem and the NCL Star got me safely from NYC to Bermuda–and that’s exactly where I wanted to be!

 

On my last cruise, I had a great opportunity to make an ‘all other things being equal’ comparison; having sailed the exact same itinerary–New York City to Bermuda–on NCL’s Jewel-class ship, the Gem, I set sail on an NCL Dawn-class ship, the Star.  The differences were immediately apparent.

The Gem is a newer ship, built in 2007; the Star was built in 2001, but was refurbished in 2010.  The Gem has not (yet) undergone refurbishment.  This is very important to keep in mind as I go through my comparisons below.

Entertainment Areas

Spinnaker Lounge on board the Star. Note odd seating arrangement.

 

I spent the majority of my evenings–and even some of my at-sea days–enjoying Spinnaker Lounge on board the NCL Gem.  Spinnaker Lounge is a nightclub area all the way forward on deck 13–the highest passenger deck–on board the Gem.  The seats are set up in an almost half-circle fashion around a small stage, with higher bar stools in the back, and lounge chairs lining the perimeter.  In fact, the entire space is almost half-circular, with windows facing almost (possibly more than) 180 degrees around.  During the day, it was a fantastic spot to enjoy a book; at night, the stellar entertainment on board the ship–namely the Second City performances–resulted in far more fun and far less sleep than I’d anticipated.

The Star had a Spinnaker Lounge as well, but the similarity ends in the name.  Yes, it was a night club.  But it was a very closed in, windowless room that was longer than it was wide, with rows of chairs facing each other rather than the stage area.  This resulted in very, very few ‘good’ seats and awkward parings of strangers.  As much as I enjoyed Spinnaker on the Gem, I disliked Spinnaker on the Star.

But it wasn’t always this way; you see, the old Spinnaker did exist on the Star; in the refurbishment, it was moved to its new mid-ship location to make room for more suites.  So if ‘the suite life’ is your thing, you may well find that the thing I disliked about the Star is the thing that you love–more suite availability.

Dining Areas

Every morning on board the Gem, I dined on hollandaise-smothered potatoes at my oceanfront table in The Great Outdoors, a seating area all the way aft, on deck 12, behind the main buffet.  It was lovely.  It was peaceful.  It was surprisingly not crowded.

On board the Star, there is no Great Outdoors.  Unlike the Spinnaker Lounge, the Star never had a Great Outdoors–it wasn’t designed that way from the beginning.  Thus, you can see that NCL improved upon the Dawn-class ships when they created the Jewel-class ships.  And, in my humble opinion, the addition of The Great Outdoors was one of their best innovations.  I enjoyed it on the Gem and I missed it on the Star.

The main dining room and (most of the) specialty restaurants were extremely similar between the two ships; in fact, they had the exact same carpet in La Cucina on both ships.  However, the one difference was the location of Moderno on board the Star.  It was open to the atrium below, which lent a rather festive atmosphere that I felt went well with the Brazilian steakhouse theme.

Cabins

Ok–maybe ‘all things being equal’ is a little unfair, as I had an inside cabin on the Gem and a balcony cabin on the Star.  However, I can tell you that both cabins were perfectly nice, well-maintained, clean, and comfortable.  I found the rich wood finishes in my inside cabin on the Gem to be a surprisingly luxurious touch; but then again, what’s more luxurious than the private balcony I enjoyed on the Star?

Pool Deck

Lounge area on the Gem. Yeah!

 

Let’s say that nothing above helped you choose between the Gem and the Star.  Let’s say you don’t care about outside dining, you don’t want to score a suite, and you don’t like nightclubs or evening entertainment.  That’s fine–don’t be swayed by anything I wrote up until now.  But know this–the pool deck (and promenade and sun deck) on the Gem is fantastic; the same areas on the Star are–how can I put this nicely?  Horrendous.

Lounge area on the Star. Yeah.

 

I don’t like to write bad reviews or go on and on about negative experiences.  But know this:  someone got drunk and designed the pool deck on the Star.  Between the maze of stairs, the lack of lounge chairs (I never had a hard time finding one on the Gem), the huge glass windbreaks that completely obstruct your view of anything (everywhere) and the tiny little pool (with a GIANT sliding board), the Star fully fails in the outdoor leisure time category.

Now, the Gem, on the other hand, was everything a cruise ship should be.  Featuring a quiet area all the way forward–that was always empty and furnished with big, squishy loungers–a wood-rimmed (and spotlessly clean) pool that one could sit along side of for a quick dip of the toes, and even more outdoor dining areas, the Gem shines once again.

Conclusion

I loved the NCL Gem.  It truly is a ‘gem’ of a ship.  I did not love the NCL Star.  Additionally, I will be truly sad if (when) the Gem undergoes refurbishment; I fear that the two things I loved about the Gem–Spinnaker Lounge and, possibly, the Great Outdoors–will disappear in order to make room for more (premium) cabins.

However, I am super-excited about the impending debut of the NCL Breakaway.  I’ve seen some virtual plans for this new ship, and it looks to combine the best parts of the Jewel-class ships–the open, airy feel–with what appear to be the best parts of the newest NCL ship sailing today, the Epic–an extensive array of entertainment, leisure, and dining opportunities.  On the Breakaway, this best-of-all-worlds will combine in a new layout scheme featuring a soaring inside atrium area dubbed ‘678 Ocean Place’ and, even better, ‘The Waterfront’ ,a never-before-seen outdoor entertainment and dining complex that is open to the sea, boardwalk-style.

In addition, the Breakaway will have another fantastic–and innovative–feature found on board the Epic; there will be another bank of solo studio cabins just perfect for the solo traveler.  I can’t wait to check them out myself (as in ‘all by myself’!)

Disclaimer:  I sailed on the Star at a special media rate, courtesy of the lovely people at NCL, in exchange for coverage here on The Suitcase Scholar.  However, as always, all reviews and opinions are my own.  Clearly! 

 

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