We had a wonderful cruise with my parents, 6 yr old daughter and 9 year old niece. I was very prepared for the pros and cons of the GEM prior to sailing so the cons didn't seem as bad because we knew ahead of time
Embarkation was painless and we were on the ship by just after 1pm and headed to the Grand Pacific for lunch( even though we were encouraged at the doors of the restaurant to go to the buffet). I said no thank you and continued in. Our room was ready by the time we finished lunch. It was the smallest inside cabin I have ever been in and this combined with the fact we had an extra 2 people in our cabin made it quite cozy.We spent little time there, in fact we tried to send one child next door to the grandparents when trying to get ready for the evening. We sailed with carnival, disney and royal Caribbean in the past. Our cabin stewart was very efficient, was easy to communicate with and friendly. We sailed away on a beautiful sunny day from NY and were one of the crazy ones in the pool the first day.Water was warm (saltwater) but it was pretty cool getting out. I wondered if they might have put a lot of chemicals in the pool at the end of the last cruise because my daughter had to get out of the water saying her legs were burning, they were in fact quite red, we showered the water off , gave her a benadryl and she was fine.
As stated before the pool area is very busy and chairs are at a premium, I was in the pool with the kids so not too bothered.I think the fact that you are not responsible for keeping track of your own pool towels makes people leave them on chairs to save for later. Regardless there still would not be nearly enough chairs for the amount of people. Our first stop at port canaveral we did an excursion to Sea World. Very busy day to try to squeeze this in in 6 hours but we enjoyed the shows.Our best excursion by far was Atlantis in Nassau which we had a room booked and had a great day (will definitely go back).My parents booked the glass bottom boat and thought it was a waste of money, didn't see much and had to walk 20 min. to get on the boat. We also enjoyed the private island. We decided to take our time getting off so we didn't have to fight the crowds getting off. This worked well, after about 11 you no longer need tender tickets. We still had plenty of time, it's not like they would leave you on the island. We ate at Tequila the first night, were surprised that yes they finally added a surcharge to even this restaurant, should have known it was coming. We did have a good meal and the kids liked the atmosphere. Our only other paid restaurant was Le Bistro. We went here the night the children could go with the kids club at 6:15 so 1/2 the cover charge. Worth every penny, great service and great food.
Other nights we ate at the Magenta or the buffet. No complaints. The kids loved the mini kids buffet so we ate there most mornings and lunches. Also there was never any problem finding a seat there and we could go around the corner to the Great outdoors to get our food. The kids went to kids club for short periods but without a pager I could never really relax and felt like I had to keep checking on them to see if they were happy. This defeated the purpose so we didn't use kids club as much as planned.The councilors seemed great though. They enjoyed going to the shows anyway and we liked having them with us. The only one my 6 year old didn't like was the comedy show because she didn't "get" the jokes.They loved the magician and went to the workshop on Friday afternoon with him as well. A highlight with the kids club was the amazing race,we all had a lot of fun. They even had prizes for the kids which they loved.My niece enjoyed the bowling with my her grandfather and the rock climbing wall with her uncle. All in all it was a different kind of vacation for us, not a lot of relaxing but lots of fun.We were never bored, in fact we had a hard time fitting everything in. (that's how I like it with children ). We would sail again with NCL maybe on the Spirit which apparently is family friendly with a great pool area. The freestyle did not enhance our trip. We always tended to eat the same time any way and on port days when we were late getting back went to the buffet. I did miss the relationship with the waiter but our service was always good. Hope this is helpful to future travelers and have fun!