We love to cruise and actually booked this trip to coincide with a family wedding in New York. After having been on 4 previous cruises with three different companies (Airtours (no longer trading), Thompson & P&O) we can honestly say this was the worst!
Embarkation - process was total chaos taking roughly two hours to board.
Passengers -- We didn't expect there to be many children at this time of year, but we were so wrong! Some were well behaved but many were allowed to run around with no supervision from parents. Their behaviour with food was terrible. In the theatre they were climbing over seats, swinging on bars in the balcony, sitting on the front row when asked not to. We found some of the adults to be very rude and ignorant. Passengers were also totally ignoring safety signs and barriers.
Food - The food was OK but not the best we have had on cruises. We only managed to use The Grand Pacific and Magenta dining rooms once each. The Magenta was closed most of the week for a private religious group. On the two occasions we used these dining rooms we found the menu to be exactly the same.
The Garden Cafe Buffet had decent food but the lack of trays meant several visits to the buffet area. The buffet area was always packed with often no seating available. We ate most of our breakfast and lunches in the Great Outdoors seating area. We did manage to sit indoors for our evening meals but at the opposite end from the buffet.
Ports - 3 out of the 4 ports of call were nice as expected, but we were very disappointed with the final destination -- Samana, Dominican Republic. There was a 15-20 minute tender ride and then once on shore we were hounded with taxi drivers, children and stall holders. We walked for about a mile along the shore front and then ended up going straight back to the ship.
Disembarkation -- We got into port late due to a medical emergency, not NCL's fault but this lead to those passengers who chose to take their own luggage off blocking passages and most other areas on Deck 7 which was very hazardous. Due to the chaos we decided to go up to the Cafe Garden on Deck 12 as we were in the last group to disembark (which turned out to be a good choice!). The Cafe was full but we eventually found seats in La Cucina restaurant where it was nice and quiet. We sat there for lunch and then until our colour tag was called. Getting through customs on board was straight forward but when we reached the area to collect our luggage we decided that one would go for the luggage the other would wait to one side with the hand luggage to lessen the number of people in the luggage area. Two other couples were doing exactly the same. We were all told, in no uncertain circumstances that we had to move, when we explain that our partners would not be able to find us we were just told to move and keep moving even though we were not blocking any passage ways!
Entertainment - The entertainment was good. The 2 on-board bands were superb, the Gem Orchestra was very good and overall the theatre entertainment was excellent.
Staff -- The waiting staff, stateroom staff, and cleaning staff were exceptional, they went out of their way to be helpful and always had a smile on their face. Some Reception Staff were less than helpful.
After experiencing freestyle cruising we are not fans. We were looking forward to eating at a chosen time rather than given time in the restaurants but this didn't happen. We do enjoy developing a rapport with the waiting staff and there is no really good way of doing it on the Gem.
We would NOT consider cruising on NCL again and would not recommend them to friends and family who cruise.