We sailed on the Gem out of Barcelona to the western Mediterranean on 5 October 2008. It was my third cruise and my husbands second. We are 40 years old (but it's the new 30). We had a balcony room. We are very well traveled so did not do any ship excursions. I would not cruise with NCL again, here's why.
I was largely unimpressed with the onboard staff. They were neither warm, friendly, helpful or spoke english very well. They were mostly indifferent. Aside from our room steward, Bernard, the service was terrible. The reception desk was rude and snotty. I dreaded everytime I had to ask anything of them. I asked about a schedule for the hydrofoil from Naples to Sorrento, no help. I had asked if there was a hop-on-hop type of tour in Florence and they knew nothing (there is, but I really wouldn't recommend it for the money and the short time in port, the city center is pretty easy to navigate). But come on, they have been going there four times a month for six months now. How can you not have basic knowledge? We went to the internet center and found the answer in about 20 seconds (but paid $3.95 to log on plus 75 cents a minute to find out). Their main focus is sell you an excursion. Do your research before you go as they are no help whatsoever.
We were drinking the $26 pitchers of Sangria that is served in a glass poolside without a pouring spout. With all the fruit and ice it was almost impossible to pour into a glass without spilling all over. We asked a server to pour it and you would have thought I asked him to drink poison.
I must have been wearing my invisible suit all week as it was quite difficult to get the attention to any of the bartenders on duty. Speaking on on-duty. The on-duty stuff gets far better service than the guests. While at the fitness center one afternoon I had to fight to use the equipment in the weight room as three staff members were doing their weight training. My husband could not get in the weight room at all. We entered the sushi bar on night, there was no one seated at the bar but were told to wait so the hostess could attend to uninformed crew. This is one of the cover charge restaurants. I was never offered green tea. My husband had to ask twice to have his water glass refilled and it still went empty until dessert came. We had a flag down the waitress twice. There was only my husband and I and one other couple there our entire visit.
The fine dining restaurant was my favorite. The food was decent but nothing to write home about. None of the desserts at any of the restaurants were exciting or even very tasty. It made it easy as they were not really worth the calories. It was a bummer though as I am a big desert eater. it's a bit odd to be in formal wear and the waiters are wearing T-shirts. I used the ladies toilet and observed a waitress come out of the stall without washing her hands. Another cruisers husband observed the same thing.
We ate at Cagney's for steak one night. I made a request for a half order on one of the starters. They could not do this. It was the giant prawns, just take two of them off how hard can it be? They are hanging off the side of the serving dish. I ordered the surf and turf. It was another $10 on top of the $25 to eat there. It was dry and had no flavor at all. I am still angry at myself that I did not ask to have it removed from my bill. I am not a fussy diner but I felt ripped off.
You'll enjoy the ports and with research and bravery you can tour DIY and not pay for the excursions. We did hire a driver for Rome. This was well worth the expense and we saw far more than those that toured with NCL.
The ship is beautiful, the ports were great but the service was just too disappointing to give NCL another try. The food was just okay, and the buffet was a miserable experience trying to find seating. More restaurants on-board charged a cover charge than not and they just weren't worth the extra fees. You are charged an auto gratuity on everything you purchase plus the $10 a day. I am a great tipper. I just found nothing worth tipping aside from our room steward.