This was the first time we had sailed on NCL; our previous two cruises had been on RCCL. NCL's focus is different and that showed in a number of ways. The bottom line - we both had a great time but both agreed that we will probably stay with RCCL for our next cruise.
The Gem was a pretty ship and our interior cabin was fine. Plenty of room to store our belongings, and the bathroom was roomier than I anticipated. We had asked that the bed be arranged as a queen, which was accommodated. However unlike our previous cruises it was not locked into that configuration so every morning we awoke with a crevice between us. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of.
Our cabin attendant was nice, memorizing our names right off and quickly understanding our needs and meeting them. We never met a staff member who was not kind and helpful.
We went to most of the shows and enjoyed them. Since neither of us are fans of 70s music we skipped the one show that focused on that era. The Man from Mars was particularly exceptional, it was worth the cruise just to see them!
I enjoyed a number of the more informative events that were programmed; talks and dinner with the senior officers, Q&A with some of the show casts, etc. My wife loved the dance classes (she took me to all of them) and we never found ourselves without something to do.
We did not partake of any of the specialty dining options so I can't comment on them. The buffet, was, well, a buffet. Food was plentiful and generally good, what I expected. Yes, seating right by the buffet was sometimes crowded, but only on embarkation day was it a problem. And the staff opened up the Italian restaurant for additional table space. We ate most dinners and a couple of lunches in the main dining rooms. The food was the same in both, but the service was much better in the Magenta room. After experiencing "Freestyle dining" both my wife and I have decided we prefer a more formal dining experience. To us NCL's dining rooms felt more like eating in a chain restaurant. In comparison when we cruised on RCCL we had the same table, same servers, same companions every dinner. We got to know people, the servers got to know us, and it felt more "special." Again, its all a matter of preference and finding the cruise line that suits your preference.
We had to skip NCL's private island due to weather conditions; I know some folks on the cruise were really upset but I would rather the Captain focus on our safety. Sinan, the Cruise Director, and his staff did an excellent job reprogramming the extra sea day to provide entertainment.
This is our first cruise in two years so, while I recognize that the industry changes, we were both really turned off by the amount of upselling that went on. It seemed that every public address announcement included a pitch to spend money, whether it was on a raffle, or bingo, or a specialty restaurant. To me it cheapened the experience of the vacation. I believe I understand the underlying market forces that drive the behavior, but I don't have to enjoy it.
Embarkation and debarkation was easy at NYC. We live in central NJ and love cruising out of Bayonne or NYC. It is so much easier and cheaper than flying to get to a cruise!
Bottom line - we had a great, relaxing, fun vacation on the Gem. Your mileage may very, and by all means don't sweat the small stuff! Your cruising!