The Good: The ship is clean, bright and new. The staff is wonderful, friendly and helpful. The NCL is so concerned about health issues they provide hand sanitizers as you enter the dining rooms and when you reboard the ship after a shore excursion. This was a relief especially when dining at the buffet.
Cabins are nicely appointed, not spacious but provided ample storage for a 2 week cruise.
The nightly entertainment was surprisingly decent and there was only one repeat in our back to back cruise. The live bands that played in various venues on the ship were very good.
The place to be when leaving a port is the Spinnaker Lounge, leaving Venice the first day at sunset, in a chair that is essentially a bed is a wonderful experience.
The Bad: Automatic tipping of $12 per person per day and 15% on bar drinks. This can really add up and it is easy to forget the automatic tip and tip on top of it when getting bar service.
The food in the basic dining room was essentially cafeteria food (with a lot of variety), not bad but not great. The deserts are tasteless and smack of frozen Sara Lee stuff from the supermarket. There are 2 no extra charge dining spots and we found the portions to be extremely small and food very over salted. There are a number of “specialty” restaurants that charge anywhere from $15-$25 per person in addition to what you paid for the cruise. The food is wonderful but every time I ate in one of the restaurants I felt ripped off. Essentially, if you want good quality food expect to pay extra, for our 2 week back to back cruise it would have been an additional $560.00.
The shore excursions were either really great or awful and they are not cheap. Our guide in Athens, Helen, in Iraklion (forgotten his name) and George in Izmir,Turkey, were terrific and gave us a real flavor of the country. Our guides in Mykonos and Santorini were just so-so and Athena in Nafplion was really awful (in her defense she did have a problem with a cough but perhaps someone else would have better led the tour).
There is a horrible lack of lounge chairs in the pool area. Signs are posted indicating your belongings will be removed if you are not there for 30 minutes or longer. I NEVER saw anyone removing a person’s belongings from a lounge chair that remained unoccupied for HOURS. I don’t know what time these people get up in the morning but chairs were draped with towels, hats and books as early as 8:30am. There are lounge chairs on other decks but typically they were in places where it was too windy to be comfortable reading in September.
The NCL Gem is the only cruise I have ever taken and given the number of places we wanted to visit in 15 days it was the only realistic way to go. However, I did not get to spend enough time ashore rubbing elbows with the natives to get a real sense of the country and people which is the main reason we travel. I don’t think another cruise will be in our future travels