Beauty & the Bounty: Freestyle Cruising from NYC


According to “Cruise Market Watch,” the global cruising industry for 2013 was approximately $36.2 billion. Yes, billion. Imagine how many cocktails, buffets and bath towels folded like origami that entails. It certainly piqued my curiosity.

The Norwegian Gem drops anchor in the Caribbean

Until recently I had little interest in cruises; I’ve heard the news, read the itineraries, saw the shuffleboard and formed pejorative presumptions. However, once the mercury plummeted and the Caribbean beckoned, I decided that it’s time to take the plunge and judge from experience. I tossed my attitude overboard and booked our first voyage.

I was wary about the strict itineraries associated with cruising, so I researched several options and discovered that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) offers something different: Freestyle Cruising. Think of it as an all-inclusive package with à la carte options. In other words: you have many choices regarding dining, activities and your daily schedule.

I interviewed several seasoned cruisers who rolled their eyes over this new trend and pined for the days of pre-planned packages, assigned dinner tables, strict itineraries and Baked Alaska (flambé is a fire hazard). The “Love Boat” still exists, however the difference between then and now is you shell out a little more cash depending on what you choose.

You choose the destination — and this review will help you navigate onboard.

Why cruise from the tri-state area?
The New York-minute answer is because it’s super convenient. You arrive at the port, a crewmember takes your luggage, you have lunch and your stuff magically appears in your cabin.
We met some travelers in the Caribbean who told us they would never embark from the northeast — the waters can be choppy. Hello!? Have ya ever ridden in a New York taxi? I say hail a cab or take car service and avoid the airports. It’s easy, quick and virtually stress free.

What is it like onboard?
You will receive a hospitable if not jarring welcome. The lobby is boisterous, sparkling and glitzy with a festive party atmosphere. You’ll encounter multi-generational people and the passengers are as diverse as the crossroads of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

There are shops, a spa, a fully-equipped gym, a bowling alley, 1000+ seat theatre, lounges, night clubs, game room, basketball court, rock climbing wall, multiple swimming pools, a library, casino and more.

If you are traveling with young children, NCL has partnered with Nickelodeon – Sponge Bob Square Pants will make several appearances and they offer daily activities for families. If you have tweens or teens, they too will find plenty of physical activity and age-appropriate entertainment. If this sent a brisk chill up your Hervé Léger swimsuit, no worries, the ship is large enough to explore and get away from the cartoons and play like an adult child.

Trip Tip: Most families travel on shorter 7-day cruises when kids are on break from school. Ships are filled with more adults during 10-day or longer cruises.

How do I relax and rejuvenate?
To get pampered, the Mandara Spa & Salon is the pinnacle of tranquility. The whirlpools are invigorating, the heated tile recliners will help you unwind and the panoramic views from the aft are breathtaking. It’s sprawling, immaculate and offers everything you’ll need to primp, polish and dazzle. Services include massage, teeth whitening, botox, hair styling, mani-pedi and a complete barbershop experience for men.

Spa Tip: It’s approximately $15 per day if you book access to the spa for the entire cruise. All treatments are additional.

Dinner Belle
It’s no secret that cruising involves a lot of meals, snacking, decadence and more consumption. I’ve actually witnessed people running with trays of food from the buffet. Please don’t.
Here’s your meal deal: you’ll book your Norwegian cruise with all-inclusive dining, and there are six restaurants from which to choose. You also have the option to try their specialty restaurants for an additional minimal fee: La Cucina, Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steak House, Teppanyaki and more.

I’m a foodie who writes about cuisine and restaurants, and have had the pleasure of dining in some of the most popular restaurants: Peter Luger Steakhouse, TAO, Del Frisco’s, Spice Market and of course Gray’s Papaya, just to name a few.

My steak dinner at Cagney’s Steakhouse was grilled to perfection, the service was impeccable and the experience very memorable. The mussels and coq au vin at Le Bistro were exceptional. The Gem’s Executive Chef, Tyson Pinto, oversees an impressive menu of world cuisine.

Dining Tip: While all of the restaurants have a selection for every taste and the food is bountiful, I preferred my meals in the specialty restaurants.

Curtain Up!
This ship has a massive theater with several productions every day. You will experience a different show from Broadway-esque musicals with a live orchestra, to comedy by Second City. They also present game shows, comedians and featured performers.
Theater Tip: Don’t miss the closing performance at the end of your voyage.

The Haven is the section of the ship that brings luxury to a new level – the tippy top. Enjoy the creature comforts that come with this level of cruising. Every suite comes with 24-hour butler service and access to a private gym, pool and courtyard area.

Haven History: Oprah was here! She chartered this ship twice and took her employees and their family members on a trip of their lifetime.

Currently sailing from the New York Port are the Breakaway, the Gem and their newest ship, the Getaway. The latest news about Norwegian is that they are building two new ships. That says a lot about the industry’s financial future.

Buoy was I wrong about cruising.

This cruise was arranged by travel agent Philip Katcher.

Read more about Norwegian Cruise Line @

Photos by PK Greenfield

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