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Norwegian Gem Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
2,530 Reviews

18 day Panama Canal from NY->LA

Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by TsTucker

1 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jan 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Mid-Ship Balcony

Our booking agent Janet at NCL was also fantastic and always answered our questions promptly. Overall, the ship staff, amenities, and dining were great. Being new to having limited mobility I found that the ship and the staff - aside from the shore excursion team - were fantastic at managing mobility issues. Lots of disabled restrooms, staff was always eager to assist.

The room was clean, and had enough room for a family of four, and our balcony was fantastic. Our steward Biency was always available, always called us by our names, consistently asked us if we needed anything and was generally accommodating. We always had what we needed in our room and it was made-up/turned-down at good times. He was a true highlight.

The restaurants and bars were always well stocked and had a good selection. I would like to see the service at O'Sheehan's improve and some additional things added to the menu (a BLT or club sandwich, onion rings, guac & salsa for the nachos etc). Also the quality of the food at O'Sheehans varied dramatically every time we went in.

The shore excursions and the shore excursion team were below what I would expect for the price point. I feel like that NCL should have staff that is knowledgable about the excursions because someone on the team has taken it and has done a write-up for the other members of staff & made notes that cruisers would find helpful. They were clueless with answering questions and just kept repeating what I could already read on the app. We also waiting in the theatre one day when the SE staff walked way without calling our tour. When a man asked about it they waved their hand as they walked away and said, "oh yeah, that one is ready, you can go." Also, the activity levels were useless and not at all indicative of the actual difficulty. I ended up injured on a shore excursion due to their ignorance and their attitude was "oh well."

NCL needs to ramp up the ports of call for this cruise and have better timing at ports. Having to drive an hour or more at most ports just to see places of interest is a hassle. A Panama City stop would have also been a good choice for this itinerary.

There were 20 kids on this cruise and I felt the Splash Academy struggled to manage this small amount even with all their staff. I don't know how they do with a boat full of kids! We kept repeating instructions to keep a certain chid away from our child but we constantly got feedback that they kept letting them interact and therefore had continued negative occurrences despite our instructions. To be quite honest, our child was harassed by this other child and the staff only reacted when my child retaliated. The staff didn't really feel like they knew much about children or how to redirect their behaviour. I would like them to get more training on conflict resolution because their solution seemed to be to throw their hands in the air.

Having said all that, the ship was a great size, the Panama canal portion of the itinerary was worth it for the narration and information alone, the dining and bar staff was consistently fantastic, and some of the excursions were well worth the time and money.

This was our first time on NCL (we've done two other companies in the past) and I feel that it was good enough to give it another go, should my complaint about the excursions get resolved. There were a lot of long time cruisers complaining on this cruise but we didn't feel that our experience was negative overall, just some training for Shore Excursions and the Splash Academy. Everything else was great.

TsTucker's Full Rating Summary
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Public Rooms
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
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Cabin Review

Mid-Ship Balcony
Cabin BA 9078

Balcony room with a pulldown and a pullout couch. Great for a small family.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Cave Tour

The caves were interesting but they fail to mention that there are 49 steps in and 49 steps out - and many more steps inside. This excursion was listed as a 3 but I found it manageable even walking with a cane. I wish the groups had been smaller as you couldn't hear the guide as we were in small corridors.

View All 81 Cave Tour Reviews
Aloe Balm Facility

Part of the island tour, it was an informative experience with good products.

View All 31 Aloe Balm Facility Reviews
Island Tour

Great overview of the island with the aloe factory. I wish there had been more time for the beach at the end. This tour left late and therefore crammed a lot into the amount go time we had left. We saw the rock formations, the aloe factory, the lighthouse, and ended at a beach.

View All 248 Island Tour Reviews
City Tour

Fantastic tour with our guide, Aura. We got to cast nets in the traditional way, saw the emerald factory and museum, had traditional food & listened to traditional music at a beach front restaurant, got a city bus tour & a walking tour of the old town where we got to sample chocolate, Columbian Candies, and a final walk through a market for souvenirs. Well worth the price & experience.

View All 367 City Tour Reviews

Poor choice of excursions with many bad reviews made us take the shuttle into town ($10 for kids, $15 for adults) and hit the aquarium and wander around the town on our own. The aquarium was inexpensive and fun for kids!

View All undefined undefined Reviews

Stayed on the boat. Our Tour was canceled and nothing else was interesting.

Puerto Quetzal (Antigua)

Guatemala was fantastic. We took the Fabric Market and Jade Factory tour with lunch at the hotel & tour of colonial Antigua and it was FANTASTIC! Unfortunately, it was 1.5 hours from the dock but this experience was well worth it. Beware: the fabric market is CASH ONLY so bring lots of money if you want to purchase woven goods made by the Mayan women. I was disappointed to learn that as it was the first time we had encountered a cruise-sponsored experience that was cash-only. Also, the Mayan women sell their wares all over the streets at a lower price point - they are everywhere! So save some money for when you are walking in the town square.


We walked to a local beach. Dirty port, very little to do. Nice people though.

Dolphin Swim

The experience was good although I was warned off going because of concerns that I wouldn't have been able to manage the ladder - which I totally could have. That was yet another disappointing recommendation from the Shore Excursion desk. I instead chose to be an observer and it was a good experience while my husband and kids got the complete experience, which they enjoyed. A couple of things tarred this for us: one, other people not on cruises got a more private and intimate experience where ours felt rushed. Two, unfortunately, you are not allowed to take your own pictures here and instead they want you to buy their $$150-200USD photo package, which is frankly a ridiculous amount. The cruise ship shouldn't do business with companies that milk their clients. Having said that, there are other dolphin experiences on this itinerary and I would compare prices after being ripped off here. Again - like almost all our NCL excursions - we were rushed and while lunch was included we had to stuff food in our mouths quickly as we were herded back into busses.

View All 22 Dolphin Swim Reviews

My husband and kids took this tour while I bowed out. Unfortunately, Cabo San Lucas has no dock and you have to take a tender out to the mainland. They tell you that the staff will only assist disabled people to a maximum of 100 lbs, which pretty much means no one. So if you have limited mobility, be forewarned. My husband and kids really enjoyed the parasailing and even saw whales breaching during their time in the air. A great experience for kids.

View All 3 Parasailing Reviews

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