As background, my husband and I have been on 3 previous cruises (Royal Caribbean & Princess). We selected this ship based on its port-intensive Western Mediterranean itinerary and unbeatable value. We opted to save money on the cruise and get a ocean view room and spend more money on the excursions.
My thoughts on Norwegian Cruise Line and the Gem: The Freestyle Cruising is fantastic! We were optimistic about the freedoms it would present, but boy, were we in love with the concept once we participated in it! The ship offers numerous dining possibilities and it is so nice to go to dinner whenever you are ready...eat solely as a couple for privacy and to reflect on the day's activities..and to wear more relaxed clothing if we wanted to. After a long day in the ports, we found we wanted to eat right upon our return to the ship so it worked out nicely to drop our backpacks off in our cabin and head to dinner! The staff appeared to have less interest in the guests. I'm not sure if that was due to servers having different guests every night or what. Those employed at the pursers desk were not overly helpful or polite; I found it frustrating when attempting to exchange currency. Normally, we've had terrific experience with the staff on our cruises and they have really added to the experience!
The common spaces are nice; the decor is very trendy. It's not nearly as "glamorous" as other ships but meets the needs and is pleasant. We enjoyed several of the specialty restaurants; the food was very tasty and well presented. I will warn future guests the ship had continual problems with both ATM's on board, so please be prepared and arrive with sufficient cash or traveler's cheques in case you do not make it to an ATM on land.
The cabin was great! The bed was by far the most comfortable bed we've had on a cruise. Decor was nice- very relaxing and clean.
We did our own excursions through Rome in Limo (we HIGHLY recommend using them!) so we didn't participate on any through NCL. The prices were steep, but we heard fantastic things from those who did them.
Though NCL wasn't the nicest cruise we've been on, it was a terrific value and would do it again. In all honesty, we cruise to "sample" different places and the ship is just our means of transportation. That doesn't mean we don't appreciate great food and nice accommodations- we do!, but we don't really participate in many on-board activities so I don't have any recommendations as far as activities go.