I have sailed on more than twenty cruises; from the largest ships to river cruises (which are essentially barges).
The Norwegian Gem is perhaps the most beautiful ship I've seen. My travel agent warned me the colors were a bit gaudy, but compared to Carnival, the ship is quite subdued. It is very large and very beautiful. The various dining rooms run from the very elegant to playful; depending upon the theme.
Restaurants/Freestyle: The Good-- Without an additional surcharge you have the choice of dining in several theme restaurants; when you want. The main "American Style" dining room is about the most elegant room I have seen on a ship and rivals most top notch elegant restaurants on land. More importantly, the food was excellent and the service very good. The Mexican restaurant is whimsical in decor but the food left something to be desired. The Italian restaurant (La Cucina) is perhaps the most popular free restaurant on board. The food was very good, the service was good and the decor most appropriate, from the large pizza oven to the carpeting which looked exactly like terra cotta flooring and had us fooled. We dined at the surcharge steakhouse (Carnegie) and have no complaints. The steaks were quite good and the service fine. My 22 year old son (along with several friends he met on board--both male and female) ate at the surcharge hibatchi restaurant and raved about it.
The Bad--Several mornings they ran out of coffee cups. Tables were much slower to be cleaned up than in other ships at the perennial buffet breakfasts and lunches and it was often difficult to find a seat. Although freestyle is an interesting concept, there is, of course, no continuity in service nor continuity in dinner partners (other than those who came on the trip with you). Therefore, if you are hoping to meet new friends at dinner, forget it. What was WORSE of all was the fact that reservations could be made for the free restaurants. What's bad about that? I'll tell you. Reservations could be made for the same day or the next day starting at 7 in the morning. At nine one morning I tried to make a reservation for the Italian restaurant. It was not available for that night. I asked about the following night and was told the only available times were 5PM (Too early on a cruise unless you have children under 5) and 10:30 PM (Too late for anyone who does not live in New York City). We finally obtained reservations for later in the week after speaking to the head of the dining program who took our reservation even though it was more than 48 hours in advance. When my son and his friends wanted to eat at the surcharge hibachi restaurant, he asked me make the reservation. (There was no way a 22 year old college student was going to wake up in order to be on line for reservations at 7 AM). I arrived at 6:45 and was second in line. By 7 when the attendant arrived to take reservations, there were already twenty people in line. Let's face it folks, there is something very wrong with a program which requires people on vacation to arise early enough to get into a line at 6:45 AM in order to eat in restaurant on board.
Cleanliness: As is the case with all ships now, the ship has hand disinfecting dispensers all over the ship--good. However, many of them were empty several times when I want to use them--bad, very bad. As I stated earlier, tables should be cleaned up quicker. And, the cigar room, which I happen to enjoy, was not attended and always had full ash trays and empty drink glasses and beer bottles--very unpleasant.
Casino: The most unpleasant experience I have had in an onboard casino. The casino is large and has many games. When I started cruising many years ago, the casino was another point for fun for the passengers. Dealers were friendly and helpful. On the Gem, I felt I was in Atlantic City; it was all business. With the exception of one very pleasant dealer, Gabe, others seemed unhappy and had little or no interaction with players. Maybe it is a sign of the times but the ship now only had $10 tables (as well as $25, 50 and 100 minimum tables). So much for fun for the average gambler. My perspective however was shared by others. I spoke with a gent in the cigar room who was staying in one of the Villas (which he raved about) and told me he dropped $50 thousand in the casino (Yes, that was fifty grand). He too complained that the casino was cold and unfriendly.
Tenders: I have been on many ships where a tender is needed to get to some ports. Not a problem. A little wait; but to be expected. This was not a good experience and it is an easy problem to solve. It was announced that anyone wishing to go ashore between 9 and 11 AM had to get a tender pass which would be called when their time arrived. It was further announced that after 11 AM you could just go to the gangplank and board a tender. We decided to leave at 11. About 10:15 we changed our mind. I went to get tender passes which contained a number on them and was told we would be called about 12:30. WHAT? What about just going aboard at 11 AM? We complained and was told that others had complained as well. We were then given new passes and told we could go immediately. When we arrived at the gangplank we discovered that tender passes were not even being checked. What was worse, the tender left with about 50 empty seats. All this while hundreds were waiting to get aboard. My son had to wait two hours to get aboard because he believed what the ship told him.
Cabins. No complaints. We had a balcony. The room was large and the bathroom design is new and pleasant. The shower had more room than the average ship and a nice feature was a real sliding shower door and another sliding door giving some privacy to the toilet.
Poolside: Running out of beach towels, inexcusable. Lounges, well padded and very comfortable. And something I have difficulty in describing. Around the ship they had large loungers (large enough for two) with pillows, padding which almost qualified as a small mattress and was the most comfortable place for a nap on deck.
Embarkation: Terrible-over two hours in line (standing) between security and check in.
Shore Excursions: The only one we took through the cruiseline was a trip to Universal. Got of the ship and were left to find our own way to the correct bus (among all the excursions) Very Very confused. By the way, the price you pay at Universal for the express pass is the best 50 bucks or so you will ever spend. You feel like a movie star yourself walking right up to get in to each "ride" while you watch the 'peons' (which I usually am) watch you with envy and confusion as to who you are that you get such treatment.
--Capuccino and espresso machines abound. No charge (Yes, some ships actually charge for capuccino while in the dining room). Not here.
--Entertainment very good. Dancers and singers above average. The sets were beautiful and choice of material not quite as "God, America, and apple pie" as most ships (not that I have any problem against any one of them individually, but as a theme of entertainment it leaves something to be desired by my way of thinking. You had your expected magician. Surprisingly, a Second City tour group from Chicago and an excellent comedian.
I think I have covered everything. I give it a mixed rating. The ship is the star. Some of my observations are not really that significant; others are major problems. Hope this helps. Good sailing!