I would like to cover the positives before I get into the negatives. The Norwegian Gem is a beautiful ship. It is well laid out, tastefully decorated and beautifully appointed. Overall, a very nice boat. The staff were always polite and friendly. The weather was great. This, unfortunately is where the positives end. Listed below are detailed descriptions of the negatives.
Overall Cost: Everything onboard is very expensive. To provide a few examples: draft beer=6.50, laundry- t shirt= 4.95, internet access= .40/minute, in room movie rental= 12.00, etc. In addition, every corner you turn on this ship, there is somebody trying to sell you something. Everything from drinks to jewelry and spa treatments. They actually had the girls from the spa working the pool area trying to get people into the spa. I can see having someone outside the spa soliciting business, but to have them hawking business poolside was just tasteless.
On Board Activities: The Second City Comedy Act was decent, but everything else was pretty lame. It's almost impossible to see a show without getting to the theater at least 45minutes before the show. The theater fills quickly. There were a variety of other activities for a price, Bingo=29.00, Beer Tasting=15.00, Margarita tasting=15.00. There were free activities too, mostly seminars on how to buy jewelry during the Ships stops. Are you starting to see the common theme? I felt like I was being nickle and dimed every day on this ship.
Food: There is no nice way to put this, the quality of the food in the main dining rooms is a joke. It is just bad. The selections were limited and the portions were small. Nothing was ever hot and the wait staff seemed cold and indifferent. The buffets were only a little better. Again, the selection was limited and never hot but the quality was better than the dining room. I ended up spending additional money every day after the first night for the specialty restaurants just to get a decent meal. My wife was so upset by her experience in the main dining room that I felt I needed to make it up to her with a good dinner every night. I have no complaints about the specialty restaurants. We ate at Cagney's, Tequila's and the Orchid. All were fantastic. Good service, excellent food and service at all three.
Overall Impression: If money is no object, you can have a nice time on this ship. If you're on a tight budget, consider a different cruise line. I have sailed Carnival twice and have none of the complaints I detailed above with one exception. Carnival is no better than Norwegian with their pricing of drinks and services. You will, however, get far better food and service on a Carnival ship without having to pay an additional 30-40.00 per night for dinner. I will not sail with Norwegian again. I have learned first hand that there is nothing free about Freestyle Cruising.