Just returned from a 7 night voyage on the Gem from NYC. This was our first time with NCL and we went with them because of Freestyle. We HATE dressing for dinner, we hate set meal times, we loved being able to drive from home to the port... no flights to worry about.
The Gem is a very nice ship in EXCELLENT condition. The crew was friendly. This is my fifth cruise and I have no issues sailing with NCL again. However, there are some areas that need some work.
1. BALCONY STATEROOM- Lovely! However, NCL has recently made it so you can only smoke in certain areas of the ship (great!) but one of those areas is the balcony if you have a balcony stateroom (not good!). We are non-smokers and chose NCL partly because it seemed we could avoid most smoke. In fact, the scent makes one of us ill.
Gladly, our stateroom had no sign of being smoked in. However, throughout our cruise those in a neighboring stateroom turned their balcony into a "smoking parlor" and/or are chain smokers. 70% of the time we could not sit on our balcony or even leave the slider open because smoke poured in from the other balcony. BAD! In addition, even when the door was closed we could sometimes smell smoke in the ventilation system into our room which lead us to believe these passengers were smoking in their cabin also. Annoying!
I know NCL can't put cameras in every room and watch who is breaking the rules but how the cabin steward was not aware of them smoking in their room and took action (how about that $200 fee?) escapes us. I suspect the only solution is to have balcony stateroom smoking DECKS with the highest with balconies being the smoking one. That way smoke going from balcony to balcony is not an issue and smoking flowing up (as it does) won't hit a not smokers who has the misfortune of being above a smoker.
2. LOST - While the crew welcomed us warmly aboard, we were then left in the lobby of the ship lost. No direction at all. Could we go to our stateroom? Where do we go to wait until it's ready? The crowded atrium lobby was full of guests like us spinning in circles having no idea what comes after "Welcome Aboard!". It seemed assumed you had sailed with them before and knew the drill. Luckily, we boarded within moments of being told the staterooms were ready. Had we been earlier, there were few crew nearby guiding.
3. TONE DEAF- First, let me say I LOVE music. However, not every public space has to have live music in it. There are some specialty restaurants on the Gem that are next to open spaces or piano bars and you could not converse without yelling over the music. Quiet lobbies are good things. We have clubs for live music.. that is why they were built. In addition, I am so sorry.... the gentlemen in the piano bar (Magnum's), the young man they had singing in the lobby (so you could also not hear yourself think in new Brazilian steakhouse above) and some of the "Gem Singers" were off key and flat. We made this a joke halfway through the cruise. A the young man in the lobby tried a few high notes that made several guests cringe as we giggled. Please, NCL... leave some open spaces music free and make sure they can hold a note or the acoustics are right. Really... we were stunned at how flat or off key some of these performers were (Ok, maybe being so close to Broadway spoils us, but.)
4. SODA PASS - Note to staff. I am not a drinker. I know you want to sell lots of alcohol, but my soda pass cost me over $50 so please don't roll your eyes when I hold up my room card so you can see the sticker and say "Diet Pepsi, Please". I get you are not getting the 15% auto gratuity for a regular drink.... but I paid for the soda pass and your markup on soda is 1000%. Please, don't make me feel like I am asking a favor.
5. ATRIUM LOBBIES ARE NOT CONFERENCE CENTERS - I have never seen a cruise line fill it's lobby with chairs and couches and use it to show movies, let guests play Wii and hold Q&A with staff. It's a LOBBY where traffic should flow... not a big living room where you have to dodge 100 cushioned chairs to get across. The Gem is not an old ship. Couldn't build another conference room? Use the Stardust theater for the movies? Actually, during the staff Q&A one person did say "Can you consider having these sessions in a closed room? We can't hear a thing you are saying in this big space." AMEN!
6. SPECIALTY DINING - In closing, I know it was our choice, but we paid extra for specialty dining four of seven nights. Why? We ate at the Grand Pacific and Magenta for dinner. Yikes! Magenta serveD us a steak that was 1/4" thick and like leather and you can only take so much of the buffet. Yes, we could have eaten for free, but it really did feel as if NCL was making sure you really didn't eat the included food as often as possible. The specialty restaurants were OUTSTANDING as was their service. I love Freestyle dining, but if the "trick" is to dump down the "free" good quality knowing you're going to make a killing in surcharges for the specialty restaurants and get a spike in revenue so guests can eat good food during their cruise, then either reduce the fares or cap the surcharges as $10-15. I get it, make the guests upgrade their dining to make some $$$, but $20 per person extra in some places because Magenta is serving sub-par food to drive people to pay the surcharge. Not fair.
We left liking NCL. Just need some tweaks above and the place would get an A+