For our very first cruise, I wanted to choose one that left from somewhere nearby and didnt have a lot of ports to stop in so I had to choose between NCL and Royal Caribbean . I chose the Gem simply for the freestyle dining to try to make our experience as easy and carefree as possible. I was very pleased with the ship: the staff was very nice, it was very clean. A few times I wished I had more instruction as a first time cruiser but, we figured it out. Bermuda was a perfect destination and overall, I would say that my husband and I had a spectacular vacation.
I had read from other cruisers their disappointment in NCL. Declining service friendliness, no towel animals, paper straws.... Paper straws just made sense. I bought other straws to take that were biodegradable and plant based, but I never even opened the box. I don't care about towel animals. I think these people work long hours and that seems a bit of a waste of time, energy and resources. With no basis of comparison, I was happy with the staff. They were all very kind.
My only complaint really was the food. There is no indication that I saw that the buffets and the two main dining rooms would be the exact same menu each night. Yes, I know, there is specialty dining, but I sort of figured there would be enough between those two options and O'Sheehans and the Orchid Garden that we would have plenty of great choices. The choices that we did have were mediocre at best. We did not try Orchid Garden, but if you ordered a burger and fries at O'Sheehans, or the pastry basket and eggs for breakfast, you seriously are getting the same burger and fries and pastries that are on both buffets. If you ordered a dish that came with fries in the main dining room, the fries will be the same fries as well, etc.