Quick and painless as long as you have all your documents ready. There was a little bit of confusion of port associates directing non-Latitude, Latitudes and VIP customers to the correct lines. Check-in took no longer than 4 mins and we were on the ship 15 mins after check-in. Total time spent waiting from car to boarding: 20mins. Greeted by staff members with big smiles and warm welcomes but no complementary champagne upon arrival.
We ate at the Garden Cafe buffet for breakfast everyday and found the food to be typical. Nothing bad but nothing special. Lunch and dinners in Garden Cafe were very good but there was not much variety in the foods offered each day.
We ate most dinners in Magenta, the Gem's more modern looking dining room and we were all very impressed in the variety and flavors of the meals offered. Each night had a different variety of desserts to select from as well. Never once did anyone in our party have an issue with the meals being under/overcooked. Everything was cooked and presented perfectly. Service in Magenta was overall very good with friendly attitude although the speed of service was not consistent on a night by night basis.
We ate in 3 speciality restaurants during our trip. The first being Tequila Tex-Mex ($10pp), the second being Orchid Garden ($15pp) and the last being Teppanyaki ($25pp). All 3 were spectacular as we all felt the extra money paid was well worth it! All meals were prepared quickly but tasted great and you get a fun filled "show" at Teppanyaki!
We participated in bowling, which definitely is a different experience at sea. Even though the bowling does cost an extra $5 per game per person, the price is reasonable considering the shoe rental is included whereas most bowling alleys charge $4 for shoes and $5 per game. Loved spending time playing shuffleboard, tennis and basketball, although the rental tennis racquets should be available closer to the court, rather than having to walk to the other side of the ship to get them. I love to play ping pong but it is very difficult to do when at sea do to wind constantly affecting the ball. The jogging track is a great way to exercise while getting fresh air but watch out for those who are oblivious and stand in the middle of the track.
All the entertainment we went to see was excellent, especially the Man from Mars show and the hypnotist Nadeen. Didn't go the variety shows featuring the dancers, juggler or the comedian.
Cruise Director "Big Ken" was extremely outgoing and friendly as were all bartenders, wait staff and crew members. Every crew member we passed would acknowledge us with a friendly hello. My only staff problem was our room steward who did not take the time to learn our names to make us feel more comfortable. Every NCL cruise I've taken, our room steward(s) knew our names by the end of the first day.
My wife and I signed up for the couples use of the relaxation facilities (sauna, heat chairs, whirlpool, etc) which we always enjoy but it would be nice for spa associates to enforce noisy disrespectful guests who do not observe the posted signs for silence while using facilities.
Any chairs/loungers that are open should not be allowed to be "reserved". My wife had an incident where she went lay on an empty circular lounger "couch" on the sundeck when a woman next to her in another chair confronted her saying that lounger was reserved. When my wife said to her there was nothing on the chair and that she cannot reserve the chair, the woman threw her towel on it saying that it is for her friend and that my wife cannot use it. NCL really needs to figure out a way to enforce this. The chairs are a first come, first serve basis. No more of this reserving chairs business.
We carried our luggage off the ship which was very organized. Once the ship was cleared by customs, we were off the ship in 5 mins.