Once you have cruised the Gem, you will know the meaning of "happy, happy". Those guys just made our day - no way anyone could be grumpy after meeting them!
Embarking was so easy! Due to a cancelled flight, we had a change of plans and ended up going straight from the airport to the ship and were there by 9:30 am. We were able to leave our luggage then, walked around the port for a while, and then checked in and were on the ship by 11:30 - it was simple, quick and painless. We headed straight to the buffet, hung out around the pool (pack a suit in your carry on since you won't get your luggage for a while), explored the ship and got to our room by 2:00. Our luggage showed up by 4:00.
We saved a lot of money by booking an inside stateroom - it was all we needed - a place to sleep. However, for our next cruise we will probably go with a balcony with some more space. A word of caution - you don't want a room on deck 4 on the Gem - most ports disembark from deck 4 and there are people walking by at all times which can get quite loud at times.
We didn't feel a need to try out any of the specialty restaurants. We were quite happy with the buffet, Magenta, Pacific and Blue Lagoon. There was always something good being grilled by the pool and great food could be found any where at all times. Our favorite restaurant was Magenta. My best meal was the lobster and grouper on Monday night - soooo good.
We did the spa on a day-to-day basis for $20 per day. It was definitely worth it - so relaxing.
A good tip is to use room service for breakfast as your wake-up call on port mornings. They will call the room before they bring your breakfast so you will always be up on time and can have a pot of coffee delivered.
Shows were good. We saw the Second City comedians twice - first at the regular show and then at the lounge the next night - very entertaining. Loved the Colorz show, missed the instrumental guy and magician. The casino was never crowded and we actually won a little. There was plenty to read from the library. We ran on the treadmills a few times - very nice, never crowded. Our daughter hung out with the teens every night and loved it - lots of activities planned even though there weren't too many teens on our cruise. We could always get a lounge chair by the pool, even got the cool "comfy" ones a few times. Our cruise was full yet it never seemed crowded. Disembarking at the ports was so simple. NCL really knows what they are doing.
We did not do any tours with NCL. We planned one with roll call members - Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Almalfi Coast and it was WONDERFUL!!! What a beautiful trip and a great experience with Carmine our driver. The others ports we did on our own and really enjoyed just traveling on foot or hopping on a bus/train. We loved the market in Civatevechia and were glad we didn't try to squeeze in Rome in such a short time. We plan to return and devote a few days to Rome. We also went to Pisa on our own using the train - it was easy! For Malta and Cannes we just wandered around, shopped, explored the town and beach - no excursions. If I had to do it again, I would want to visit Mdina in Malta.
All in all, it was a wonderful cruise. Everything was perfect. We were never bored - there was always something to find to do if you wanted. All the staff members on the ship were helpful and friendly and did a great job. We were not disappointed in anything.