This was our second trip on the Gem. We sailed in January 2009 on the same Eastern Caribbean cruise. The reason we picked the Gem is we were so impressed the first time. We had gone with Holland American in 2008 and thought our 2009 cruise on the Gem was pretty close in quality so we booked it again this year. Big mistake. I am beginning to believe the first year the ship is finding it way. The crew has to adjust to a new ship etc.. Year two the company is looking for the good reviews so it keeps it all at it's best. Year three it seems, at least on the Gem, it time to get efficient and turn a profit. This is my 13th cruise since I started cruising in the late 80's. I am in my 60's and my partner is in her 40's.
Embarkation was the best yet. The lines through security moved quickly. Check in was also a breeze. We arrived by limo at the pier at around noon and were on board by 12:45. We had to wait for our room, a mini suite on deck 11, for about 30-40 minutes. Not a problem, we picked at lunch and grabbed a cup of coffee on the stern. The cabin was fine although getting just a bit tired. We made a point of eating in the Magenta dining room for dinner most nights and found the service good on a regular basis although it normally had a 30 minute wait anywhere around a normal diner time. We tried the Pacific dinning room for lunch one afternoon and found it lacking just like last year. My lunch there was so bad I just sent it back. You would think they could manage a chicken sandwich.
The two "additional fee" restaurant's we tried were the Tequila and the Cuchina. The Tequila was excellent as it was last year and the Cuchina was passable although I don't see why you need to pay a premium for Tex/Mex or Italian food. They do tend to be cheaper type restaurants ashore. It was my impression the availability of food was pulled back. I remember eating out at the grill at the stern late at night. That stopped and the Grill poolside didn't seem to be open as often. Other Gem repeater passengers I spoke with had the same impression. As for the "Garden Buffet", which is where most folks wind up having breakfast and lunch, it has become a place where you try to find something to eat. On my previous cruise it was trying to chose the best because it all looked so good. Although I grew tired of the "washie washie" every time I went near the buffet I can understand the need. On the down side I don't think they ever cleaned the tables on the outside eating area behind the buffet. I saw one family with a small child who seemed to have a habit of wetting herself every morning. The mothers response was to take her off the wet chair and put her on the table. I never saw the crew do anything to deal with this. My response was not to eat there anymore. Getting off the ship was disorganized. Not the best for older folks. They could do it better!
In conclusion I think it's time to try Royal Caribbean. There must be some ship out of New York that can get it right.