Norwegian Gem’s private villas offer bars, whirlpools, steam rooms


Visit Spain, Italy and France and stay in a villa with a private rooftop courtyard and plunge pool … on a cruise ship.

The new 2,394-passenger Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) Gem ship has 4,390-square-foot staterooms called Garden Villas that takes the idea of cabins to a whole new level of cruise industry one-upmanship.

Each villa has three bedrooms and bathrooms, living and dining room, whirlpool, wet bar and steam room. The shared courtyard and pool is surrounded by luxurious patio furniture and lush, potted plants.

The villas satisfy the increasing popularity for multi-generation family travel, reunions, or simply a dozen friends who want to cruise together and share their own private space.

But if a Garden Villa is too much cabin for you, there are 1,195 other cabins on board ranging from 143 to 928 square feet with and without balconies. Many are also interconnecting.

The villa and private courtyard idea isn’t the only new wave of cruise thinking on the Gem. NCL’s new Freestyle 2.0 program (which will expand to their other ships) allows you to dine in any of the 10 restaurants whenever you want.

Book dinner reservations or just show up. TV screens throughout the ship tell you where tables are available, using a fuel-gauge type image ranging from empty to full.

The main dining rooms seat 304 to 558 guests.

Choose from a table for two to 10 depending on how sociable you’re feeling.

Or dine at one of the specialty restaurants (for an extra $15 to $20 per person) for upscale cuisine from French to Japanese.

Specialty restaurants seat 34 to 160 guests.

If you don’t have a reservation and a table isn’t available immediately, you’ll be given a pager so that you can have a cocktail at one of the 10 bars and lounges while you wait.

For activities, Type A cruise passengers will find about 175 things to do (listed in the daily newsletter) and Type Bs will find 900 deck chairs by the pools.

When you’re thirsty, order five beers and you’ll get one free, brought to you in a bucket of ice that looks like a football helmet. Waiters also hand out cold, wet face towels and carry around spray bottles to spritz you when it’s hot.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try rock climbing on the nine-metre wall, or play basketball, volleyball and hit golf balls in special netted areas.

There’s also a four-lane, 10-pin bowling alley in the Bliss Lounge. All gutter balls are blamed on the ocean’s waves.

Swimmers and soakers will love the two pools – one is for adults only and has a waterfall.

The kids’ pool has an enclosed spiral slide. There are four hot tubs; two are adults only.

Children have daily programs of games and activities designed specially for their age. The Tree Top Kids’ Club has a rain forest theme and climbing gym.

The Leopard Lounge and video arcade are the hip, hot spots for teens and stocked with the latest electronics.

For those passengers who want to still fit in their jeans by the end of their cruise, the gym is fully equipped.

The nearby spa features 18 treatment rooms, some designed for couples, as well as its own hot tub, mini-pool and lounge.

Evening activities include entertainment such as the hilarious Second City comedy troupe, as well as NCL’s own Broadway-style dancers, singers and musicians who perform in the 1,042-seat show lounge. Other bars and lounges showcase the talent of performers ranging from musicians to magicians.

The Freestyle dress code is resort casual even in the dining rooms, although long pants are required after 5:30 p.m.

But feel free to dress up in sequins and a tux if you want.

On the Gem you can do almost anything, anytime, when it comes to eating, drinking and being merry.

Look at any clock on board and the sign below sums up the Freestyle thinking on time. The signs read: “As if it really matters.”