I pride myself on being objective and I will be in my review. Normally we have a 4 room suite on Carnival with a 50' wrap around balcony. For this trip we cashed in some credit card points that have been accumulating for years and all we could get for them was an inside cabin. I have no complaints about the cabin itself. It had plenty of shortage and was quite attractive. The ship itself is very pleasant if not outstanding.
Our itinerary - Venice, Split, Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Iraklion(Crete), at sea, Venice - was super. It was the first cruise for the Gem there this season and the weather was very nice. Don't be afraid to travel in this shoulder season. Norwegian's method of tendering was less hectic than I've seen before. Although we did not go to any of the specialty restaurants, we had 2 meals in the Pacific dining room that were excellent, (and the chocolate croissants were at breakfast were delicious), the rest being just OK. The highlight of our cruise was listening to Catherine & Claudio, with whom we've become fast friends. They are a husband and wife team from Italy. She plays piano and sings and he play drums. I've been a professional musician for 46 years myself and we really hit it off. That pretty much the good stuff and now, the rest.
Check in at the pier was the worst ever. We stayed in Venice the night before and NCL is the only cruise line that did not have buses with their logo on it. About 30 of us watched the generic bus come and go several times before we asked and found out that was the bus to take. At the pier, it was the same. The check in station was meant for everyone on the pier but the signage only said Costa, so we ended up walking to the ship only to discover we had to go all of the way back. Inside there was once again only signs for Costa when it was for NCL, too, and with little roping off and few people doing crowd control, at least 3 shouting matches resulted when people took advantage and boldly cut the line.
On board we quickly discovered that NCL's "free-style" means that they're free to charge you for everything. For instance, if you partake of the Teppanyaki hibachi specialty restaurant, you pay an additional $25pp - another $10 if you want lobster. I can go to a hibachi restaurant at home and get filet mignon and lobster for $35 without having to have paid the base daily cost for a meal. If you want a ship's tour, it's $15pp! If you have to wait to get into the dining room, they give you a beeper which entitles you to 2 for 1 drinks at the bar, except that if you order 2 rum & cokes, you get the second rum free but have to pay for the coke! Duh? The reservation system also appears to be wildly inaccurate. I saw it indicate that the hibachi restaurant was booked solid when there were only 2 people in it. Service was mediocre at best. There is no way to contact your room steward from your stateroom. When we went to pack up and I pulled the suitcase from under the bed, dead gnats were left all over the comforter and once at breakfast, the waiter put the bottom of the coffee pot right into my pancakes. Not knowing where it had been, I couldn't eat the rest on my breakfast. We decided that the specialty restaurants were not worth the extra money. First of all and despite what I had read, only the 2 main dining rooms, the Blue Lagoon 24 hour restaurant and the pool deck grills/buffets are free. Everything else has a charge. On other ships we have always tried all of the specialty restaurants. These were usually supper clubs with dining and dancing and European silver service. On the Gem, they're just a different cuisine and nothing we can't get at home. My advice is to do what we did - take the money you would have spent in them and spend it ashore having authentic local food. We would find an out-of-the-way taverna, make friends with the owner and have him bring us whatever he wanted plus a bottle of Ouzo. That was the highlight of every port.
On board there was very little to do and they would cancel events whenever they didn't have enough people to bother. The 'big' shows were just dreadful and I'm in the business. Most of the entertainment around the ship was a snooze - until we found Catherine & Claudio, as I mentioned before.
And don't believe that you check-out and disembark 'hotel' style. You do get to choose when you leave the ship but you must vacate your stateroom by 9am and wait in a common area like always. In short, this was our first and last cruise with NCL. In fact, we found no one who'd repeat and we constantly asked if opinions were not offered first. Furthermore, since we also spoke to members of 3 different groups of over 100 members each who were cruising together, and got the same response - I'd guess that my representative sample numbers around 500 people.