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

Great staff; good itinerary; mediocre food and public spaces

Norwegian Gem Cruise Review by NancyLynn13

2 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jan 2019
  • Destination: the Panama Canal & Central America
  • Cabin Type: Inside

My friend and I chose this cruise for a winter getaway to some new places and to revisit others. We both speak Spanish and are comfortable on our own in Spanish-speaking countries.

Embarkation was organized out of LA; no major hiccups; the typical long lines. Our luggage made its way to our cabin in a reasonable amount of time.

We boarded and ate lunch in the main cafeteria shortly afterwards. While there was someone at the entryways with a bottle of hand sanitizer, plus dispensers at each entry, I was surprised that guests were allowed to serve themselves even on the first day. I haven't cruised in a few years - maybe things have changed. I'm more familiar with being served the first few days in an attempt to cut down on germs.

We had an inside cabin - and a WONDERFUL steward. Biency is very friendly, immediately learned our names, and was quick to provide whatever he needed. His daily towel animals are treasures. I had the joy of sleeping next the bunk for the third person - had to be careful not to hit my head on the vertical mattress. Since one spends little time in the stateroom, I imagine a family of three could do fine in the cabin. Toiletries and linens were maintained quite well. The shower had a clothesline; I brought plastic hangers and some clothes pins for our 'shower/sink laundry'. Note that Norwegian ships lack public laundries; guests may have their laundry done for $20 per bag. We preferred to do our own.

The acoustics in most public areas of the ship are horrendous. Dining was a noisy, and often slow, affair. The seating in the cafeteria was poor and made for a lot of unutilized space. Tables for four with a bench and two chairs usually had two people on the chairs; the benches were low even for tall guests. Circular booths were hard to use; guests used chairs around the exterior and did not use the booths themselves.

More so than on any other cruise I have experienced, I found we had to search for too long to find an empty table or else sit in the uncomfortable part of a table with other guests.

Food in the cafeteria was basically reminiscent of leftovers. Meat too well cooked; eggs benedict pre-prepared and thus not fresh. They did offer omelets and fried eggs to suit every morning. Plenty of melon, bread, cereal and some yogurt. Bananas and oranges became rather scarce as the days went by. Desserts were not tempting - I did enjoy ice cream on several occasions.

Dining rooms were fair, at best. Same problem with acoustics and a few times we were served the wrong food - and after waiting a LONG time. The steaks were unremarkable - seemed cheap and tough. The Orchid Garden is nice; shrimp were overcooked, though. Their menu does not change. Best meals were a couple of outside grilled lunches we had on the last few days of the cruise. Freshly grilled chicken and seafood.

The ship has few nooks and crannies - just a few lounges with loud music - and poor singers. Only a few shops - I'm not a shopper; my friend was disappointed. There were only one or two days of shopping on the pool deck; if you bought trinkets in volume you got a reasonably good deal.

The ship does have a nice little library - watch the hours as one can only borrow a book at very limited times during the day. The library was always open - a nice quiet respite with a good outside view. The library also has an exchange - so you can give them the book you read on the plane in exchange for one another guest left.

Nightly entertainment at 7pm and 9pm - a mix of some good musicians with some not so good juggling and such. Still, an enjoyable experience.

During the Panama Canal transit, they opened the bow area for better viewing - as long as you had a front row position - or are tall. They put up a canopy to allow people a chance to get in the shade and kept a flow of food and beverages going throughout the transit. While going through the canal is interesting, I'd personally recommend a land visit to the Miraflores and Gatun locks/visitor centers for a better overall view and understanding. The Miraflores visitor center is a wonderful museum - worthy of a day's adventure. The ship does not stop in Panama; there are no Panama shore excursions. Not a problem for me; some people noted a desire to stop in Panama. I thought the itinerary was clear - pick another cruise if you want a Panamanian stop. Or better, spend a week there. It's marvelous.

Pay attention to the shore excursion reviews; too many of them are more about shopping than seeing the sights. The "Discover Puerto Vallarta" tour turned into a shopping tour. We learned nothing about Puerto Vallarta, the economy, etc. Guide left a good half dozen people at one store. When I couldn't find my friend in our group, three blocks later, I told her we had left her at the last shop. Turns out several people did not see her wave her bandanna to let us know we were departing.

As with most ship tours, there are stops at stores where the guide presumably gets a cut. It would be way better to have a half hour of free time in a shopping area than 5 or ten minutes in a store. (Or, how about no shopping??? Free time at the end with a later bus pick up for those who want to shop. I personally seek out grocery stores and markets where the locals shop. Not tourist traps.)

The online shore excursions for Antigua were not available - due to a timing glitch in the system, I was told, weeks before we cruised. They never fixed it so we could see what the ship offered, so we had to wait until the cruise started.

I visited Santa Marta on my own; great experience at the Gold Museum. Free, clean, not crowded, descriptions in English and Spanish. What a marvelous collection of history and artifacts! Lovely old cathedral - and a real grocery store. Good coffee at 1/4 the price of the tourist shops.

I had an nice time on this cruise - best parts were Santa Marta on my own and cruising into New York harbor. Americans were by far NOT the only ones waiting to see the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Impressive skyline.

As on most ships, a great escape is a deck chair on the promenade. Only problem was the smoking areas on both the port and starboard sides. It would be great to limit smoking to only one side - if at all. I also smelled smoke at times inside. It permeates; hard to escape.

I wouldn't jump to cruise on this ship, or even NCL, again. If the itinerary were perfect, I'd go. But I'd say that Princess and Holland America both offer better overall experiences.

NancyLynn13's Full Rating Summary
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
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Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
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Cabin Review

Cabin ID 9075

Excellent steward. Good location - we had pretty smooth sailing, for the most part, so convenient to the pool deck/cafeteria on deck 12 and the main dining rooms, theater, and bars on decks 6 and 7.

The service in the cabin was great - the cabin as to be expected for an inside cabin. No complaints.

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

Glass bottom was pretty small. Nice views of the arch. An ok, inexpensive way to see some fish, birds, and coral.

View All 26 Glass Bottom Boat Tour Reviews

A shopping tour, not a discovery tour. Guide left several people in one store - three blocks later I realized my friend wasn't in the meandering group going to the next store and alerted the guide. We learned nothing. We did complain to the Shore Excursion desk and received some chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of wine. Doesn't make up for our lost time; nice gesture.

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Walked around on our own. Visited the cathedral and some shopping areas. Basically got some exercise walking around

Puerto Quetzal (Antigua)

Tour offerings were unavailable online; had to wait to embark. We chose 'Antigua on your own' since we speak Spanish. Would have preferred to get a cab - a little concerned about the return trip as it's an hour plus from the ship. We hired a Guatemalan guide for $10. Looking back, I would rather have just done it all on our own, spending time where we wanted to. You can, of course, buy coffee and chocolate at many overpriced tourist traps. I waited for Colombia. Antigua is a lovely old city. Be VERY careful walking - cobblestone, skinny sidewalks with beautiful, but dangerous, window sills sticking out, etc. Lots of opportunity for accidental injury. Lots of peddling in the squares - be persistent with your 'no, gracias'. Or just, 'gracias'. Don't display a lot of money or jewelry. All the same cautions everywhere.


We took the Mud Pots tours. Nicaragua is very much a developing country - watch the streets and sidewalks so you don't fall. There's a lot of poverty - and a lot of beauty in the people and the country. The mud pots were interesting. In time I imagine it will be more developed. We enjoyed the not-so-impromptu and still quite enjoyable dancing and music by the local children. Younger ones may grab your hand and ask for money. Catch 22. You want to help - and you don't want to encourage keeping children out of school to beg.

Tarcoles River

River trip was the best part; train was rather hokey. We saw a good number of birds and of course a lot of crocodiles. Our river crew 'played' with the crocodiles - teasing them with bait and also grabbing one's tail and articulating it. Don't do this at home. These guys know what they are doing - I hope. A good show. Very enjoyable tour. Leader did a good job of sharing about the country and economy when we were on the bus.

View All 45 Tarcoles River Reviews

I doubt I have the exact name. We want to see the old fort and Old Town. Guide did a good job discussing the history and current events in Colombia. There was an issue at the fort since he didn't have our tickets yet. It was resolved so we were able to enter and not have to circle back. Quite a walk up the hill - do this first thing in the morning when it's the coolest. Fort and cathedral both quite amazing. Great history. Cartagena is a mix of extreme wealth and extreme poverty - both were evident on our tour. We walked through the old town, exploring the windows, doors and wrought iron grills. Overall, a good tour.

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A lovely area. We took a cab to the Butterfly farm and spent a few hours learning about butterflies, from caterpillar to butterfly, and observed the various stages of development. Many of the butterflies are not native - good selection and caring guides. We then walked to a bird tower - basically a tower in the middle of a water fowl preserve. No fishing, boating, swimming, etc. Allowed. An old dog seemed to guard it, along with a host of iguana and birds. We climbed the old tower for a great view of ducks, heron and other birds - watching them hunt in the lilly pads. This isn't well marked - it's across from a resort with a windmill. The butterfly people told us where to walk. A fun adventure. We returned to the butterfly farm; they called a taxi. Ate in town and then did some walking around and shopping. A lovely day.


Aruba is a pretty area - with a ton of shops. Nice to just walk around at will, absorbing the sun and culture.

First time in Bonaire, a lovely island. Turns out it is pretty salty, so not much agriculture. We saw the salt flats and received a good lesson on the salt process - quite a process. We visited the Slave Huts - a good reminder of the cruelty of mankind. Very small structures for several men - who had to walk 3 miles each way to the salt flats daily. The van stopped at various scenic areas to let us out, or at least get a good view. Saw many flamingos - including a close up of a young one. Bonaire seems to be doing a good job of protecting the land, air and sea. Big in diving; we stopped at an area to look down on divers and snorklers. We went through a few towns and stopped at an old outdoor slave church in our guide's town. Still used today - icons in the cavelike coral. All in all an interesting glimpse of Bonaire.

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Los Angeles

I flew to LA and stayed in a motel; then Ubered it to the port the following day. I was comfortable walking around in the daylight - so I got my 4 miles in.

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