Journey with Nightlife aboard the Norwegian Gem

Nightlife Magazine takes an amazing international trip, available to New Yorkers and shares the seven day experience on Norwegian Cruise Lines.  For this trip you don’t need to step foot in an airport. Instead head up the west side highway to the ship terminal next to the Intrepid Museum.

Booking the trip was easy online of course and the pricing was less than a typical metropolitan hotel. There are many specials including last minute promotions, so you should visit www.ncl.com for booking and more details.

I selected the Norwegian Gem – sails from NYC of course, then to Florida, Nassau Bahamas and an island owned by Norwegian…more details on these destinations to follow.

Day one of the trip starts in New York City traffic. Traffic made the drive in a little stressful but check in was a breeze.  NCL allows for set check in times throughout departure day which makes things smooth. In advance check-in is all set up online so basically the actual check in
took only a couple minutes. In total amazingly it took us a half hour to go from curbside bag drop, through check-in, to lunch at Cagney. This is a truly gourmet experience with a wonderful view of the Intrepid and the NY City skyline.  NYC looks and feels different from here now that I
know vacation has officially begun.  This blog will continue daily…

 

My favorite of favorites is steak so dinner day one was at Cagney’s. After the feast I caught the show Starlight. It’s a classic with music from the 40s and it’s always wonderful listening to music from that era. Coincidentally the show exit lands everyone back at the casino, but I don’t mind.  Four hours later it’s bedtime because tomorrow we get to Florida!
Day two was a sea day. I had to transition from the colder NYC as I headed south. Everyone quickly found their way around and gets acclimated to the enormous ship.  There was so much to do…with multiple options all day and night. NA/AA meeting were regularly available and discreetly labeled Friends of Bill W.  As the day started the place to be was obviously the pool, as we were all summoned by soothing reggae.

I couldn’t remember if it was the slot machines at the end of the rows or in the middle but one is more likely to pay out than the other. I put a twenty into an end of row machine and in two pulls picked up $60 which I cashed out and moved on.

I stopped at the excursion desk, where my questions were answered and plans were made.  Food options are never ending and I ate and ate and ate.

If instant dinner with 1000 choices is your thing, the buffet is available.  I prefer a quiet more typical restaurant setting and there are all the classic restaurant choices:   Steakhouse, Italian, bistro French, hibachi, sushi, even a churrascaria with never ending meat!  For a real intimate option, room service is available 24 hours. Onboard to help manage all the options, Norwegian offers an easy to use App. The home screen starts here then select dining then for example Asian and it tells you where to go or you can even call the restaurant right from the App.

Day Three starts in Florida – before getting into port, the day really began at the buffet.  I went with French toast, eggs, muesli and of course a cappuccino as we headed into port we had some company. Today before disembarking I got to visit THE HAVEN.  This is a concierge level sun deck and pool for the guests in the suites.  It’s extremely tranquil, with refreshments enjoyed throughout the day and fitful rest with true peace and quiet. Departure in port was very organized. There were multiple exits funneling everyone to a central gathering of well-marked excursion buses and taxis. For my day we visited kayaks for a nature excursion. We didn’t see many manatee or dolphin but it was hot and beautiful with loads of small wildlife.

It was beautiful and there were no bugs! Before heading back from Coco Beach many guests hit the local spots like The Sandbar. My last meal in Florida was gator tacos and fish.  After this day we raced back to the ship and my pillow!

Day Four – getting up before sunrise was the plan being I passed out yesterday as soon as we sailed.  Amazingly at 6 am the deck had a handful of motivated people. Some athletic types running laps and others like me looking for the best view of the glorious sunrise at sea.  It was a bit cloudy but still impressive.

The planned trip was to Norwegian’s private island paradise.  We were transported by tender boats in small groups and the transfer was smooth and efficient.  The island feels like a dream. It’s all about fun. No cars. No stress. Beach bars, water sports and restaurants are everywhere. The design was well thought out because each nook had a feeling of being small and quiet, while accommodating thousands at once.

We tried stand up paddle board which was harder than it looks, but beginners can paddle from a seated position if standing did not work out. On the way back we noticed an enormous, but beautiful and friendly Manatee was following us.  It was surreal. We ended our day with jet skiing.  This was an hour long guided ride and tour. The water was calm and a perfect blue.

After getting back in the last tender, a glorious ice cold shower was needed. We decided to try the Asian hibachi restaurant which was fabulous and authentic. The show tonight was a country western themed musical.  After another great da, bed was calling.

Day Five – Nassau Bahamas – As we pulled in, I noticed that somehow the water was more perfect.  It was somehow extra exciting pulling in next to two other cruise ships. We had an early excursion planned so we were amongst the first off, or so we thought. Somehow as we exited the area between the cruise ships was full and we had no line to get off at all. It turned out that the Captain had saved us a couple hours docking at 630 am. It was funny because it turned out we were getting off very last.  The port is extremely well organized. There is a nice straw market in a secured area for travelers who don’t want to venture too far. There were dozens of options available in Nassau. Most are either at Balmer Island or Atlantis. We decided on a split day of dolphin swim and beach excursion on Balmer.  Included in our price was a ferry ride over to the island. We were escorted in a well-organized group to a beautiful ferry for the half hour trip. The island is just perfect. There are beach bars, shops, perfect sand and even a Starbucks.  Many went just for the beach or for the optional add one of swimming with dolphins or sting rays.

Our dolphin swim took about an hour. It was awesome. Swim shoes are a must because it’s rocky but our Dolphin Dennis was the best. We were in a small group and it was unforgettable. They take photos available for an extra purchase fee.  Obviously, everyone had to take home a picture of themselves getting a dolphin kiss.

The island is shared with Sandals, all-inclusive resort and there is a clear dividing line. This place was incredible and highly recommended.  After a half day we took a ride back to Nassau and shopping for the rest of the afternoon.   The day was ended on the ship with a surprise. I booked the romance package which included flowers, chocolate strawberries and an amazing dinner at the ship’s French restaurant Le Bistro.

Days Six and Seven – The last two days of this adventure were at sea. It was very nice to be able to have a large block of time to enjoy the vast array of ship activities

The ship has a world class Sommelier who hosted daily wine tastings.  Food options are available 24 hours a day of all varieties.  The breakfast buffet had every possible choice in the world. Besides mountains of prepared food, we enjoyed the omelet, waffle and carving stations.  For lunch the ship had poolside barbecues for the sun worshippers and many restaurant options. Both days we lunched in Cagney’s because the food was so amazing. The Niçoise salad with tuna was the best I ever had and the scallops in a cream sauce were equally incredible

Special thanks to Captain Konstantinos Fafalios for taking time to welcome me on the bridge.  In our visit, the Captain stressed the company strategy of freestyle cruising in every way. From meals to activities there is something for everyone. At all times guest comfort and safety are paramount. So much goes on behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the guests to ensure a safe and wonderful experience. Before any excursion for example the crew checks everything out to make sure all necessary safety equipment and personnel are in place.  NCL has mastered freestyle cruising and nothing could be better. It’s your vacation and enjoying it how you like is the whole point. – David Grossman

Photo credits:

Mary Ann Fernandez, Group Service Coordinator and Cruise Director Mark Bachiochi , www.ncl.com


Sandals Emerald Bay

by Shawn Cooper

A mere 40 minutes by plane from South Florida, the 365 tiny islets and cays that comprise The Exumas are the Jewels of the Bahamian archipelago. Sandals is a short drive from Great Exuma International Airport. I visited this resort in February, 2017 and was greeted with a warm “welcome home” which set the tone for my week-long stay. I was taken to a luxurious room and was provided cold towels to sooth the skin after a long journey; recycled airline air sucks moisture like a “Sham Wow on spilt milk”. Champagne and specialty cocktails called “3 Decades of Love” (commemorating the 3 decades of service) were also served as I waited for my butler to show me to my room.

I decided to experience butler service where the staff wait on you hand and foot. Our team of butlers, Scott, Garth and Henry, were all trained by the “Guild of Professional English Butlers,” owned and run by Robert Watson, who continually trains all of the butlers from all of the 14 Sandals’ locations. Your butlers will wait on you hand and foot, unpacking your baggage, serving you food throughout the day or night, and insure everything is precisely as you want it. (I didn’t ask, but they would have cut my steak for me at dinner without question.) I was given a personal cell phone to use throughout my trip enabling me to contact my butlers with any request from any location. A Sandals Suite, complete with the luxury of a butler, is the ultimate indulgence that I highly recommend..

After settling into my room and meeting my butler, I went for a tour of the property. My first stop was one of the three impressive pools spanning over a half-acre. The zero-entry pool had dramatic fire pits in and around it and a swim-up bar with tables and seating surrounded by fountains and hot tubs the size swimming pools. I spent most of my days under a cabana lounging by the pool taking in the sights and soothing sounds of the ocean just feet away. The soft white sand beach gave me an escape from the pool and offered countless water sports, including sailing, kayaking, scuba diving and snorkeling, to mention a few.

The next stop on the tour was the championship Greg Norman-designed golf course, voted one of the Caribbean’s Best by Travel & Leisure®. I had the honor of meeting Kevin Mumford, an inspiring golf pro who manages the course. We sat in the “Shark Shack”, the golfers lounge named after Gregg Norman who has the nick name, “The Great White Shark.”.

The room is a golfer’s paradise with cold drinks, golf memorabilia and new Taylor Made golf clubs for rent. Kevin proved to be one of the most influential golf instructors I have ever met.

Kevin talked to me about his background and training with his golf legend mentors; Ben Kern, Murray “Moe” Norman and Harvey Kenick. He gave me the best and most effective golf instruction while sharing some of the key lessons he had learned during his own training.

My experience thus far was dwarfed when I got to the 18 hole, 7100 yard, par 72 championship golf course with 6 signature oceanside holes. This course is unlike anything I have ever seen and among the most challenging.

After a long day of golf, I was able to relax in the magnificent Red Lane® Dermalogica concept spa encompassing 16,000 square feet, with 16 treatment rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a tranquility garden with five pools. Karen, the General Manager of the Spa, gave me a tour describing the amenities found exclusively at Sandals. Caribbean elements are used as a theme throughout the spa and are reflected in each treatment. I spent time in the steam room as I loosened my muscles and hydrated on fruit-infused water.

After a shower, I was taken to my picture-perfect treatment room which defined simplistic elegance. My masseuse eased all the tension in my muscles with her delicate, yet deep touch, use of aroma therapy, hot stones and sand exfoliation. This legendary European Spa and distinctive Caribbean treatments made my experience one I will not soon forget.

With seven restaurants and 24 hour room service, it was an honor and a pleasure to award Sandals Emerald Bay the Nightlife Magazine® Fine Dining Award for Culinary Excellence. Food Connoisseurs come hungry. At any given time you can find food to fulfill any craving.

My experience at the Barefoot by the Sea restaurant was among the most fun, thanks to the amazing staff. The best food was the French cuisine found at La Parisienne. The Bahama Bay Restaurant has an extensive breakfast and lunch buffet, as well as a dinner buffet that changes daily based on the daily theme.

This restaurant gives you a huge variety of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While you’re there, stop by the bar and say “hi” to Sonia, an inspiring woman who says, “I will stay at Sandals as long as Sandals keeps bringing me great guests. She loves the clients, the sociability, and the smiles she gets when she serves her famous breakfast smoothies.

Returning guests are recognized on every visit to Sandals and get special services. When you book your stay at any of the 14 Sandals Resorts, a profile is made. This profile contains all of your special requests, dietary needs and preferential butlers, to name a few. When you come back, the resort is prepared for your arrival with all of your favorites and preferences waiting for you. In addition, there are activities throughout the stay designed specifically for returning guests including the Gala Dinner where guests are recognized as part of “The Family.” The Dinner includes cocktails on the ocean-view golf course, a parade to the Ball Room with a marching band, followed by a white glove dinner fit for a King.

My experience at Sandals Emerald Bay was memorable and full of excitement. I am looking forward to traveling to other Sandals resorts, experiencing the world-class service and famous “Luxury Inclusive” standards that I have come to love.

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