OK, just returned from a one week cruise on the Norwegian Gem November 20-27, 2010 (Port Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay, and Nassau, Bahamas, round trip from New York). We had a group of 25 family members, including children ages 6-11, some teens, and adults.
This was our seventh cruise, but first on Norwegian (previously Carnival and Royal Caribbean).
The first day did not start out well-I jotted down over a dozen "cons" in the first four hours based on comparisons to the other cruises we have taken. I am not usually a complainer, but I just expected a few things to be "automatic". By the end of the cruise, some aspects redeemed themselves, but overall I would rate this experience AVERAGE. We will most likely not cruise on Norwegian again, but we enjoyed the Thanksgiving week with our family together.
Here are the good points:
1) Our cabin stewards were top notch
2) I would rate the food above-average for quality and variety
3) The prime rib was one of the best I have ever had
4) The Tex-Mex restaurant was well worth the $10 cover charge. I wish we hadn't waited for the last night-I could have enjoyed every item on the menu
5) You don't have to wear your lifejacket to the safety drill
6) Check in process was reasonably smooth. We arrived at 1210pm and were on the ship by 1pm
7) The ship is in very good condition-I guess this should be expected for a 3 year old ship
8) They serve a full breakfast on the final day in the buffet, not just continental
9) You are allowed to contest the absurd service charge (see below)
And now for the "areas of improvement":
1) There was a general feeling that the whole process was unorganized.
2) There was a general feeling of being "nickeled and dimed to death". Extra charges for everything: bowling and 8 specialty restaurants. For comparison, on Royal Caribbean we did the FloRider, rock climbing, and ice skating for no extra charge. Typically I only see 2 or 3 specialty restaurants.
3) FREESTYLE is difficult for large parties-you MUST make a reservation for dinner at least one day in advance. We missed the set dinner time where everyone would meet each day and build a relationship with the service staff.
4) Speaking of service, my biggest complaint is the Service Charge. On other cruise lines, the charge is $10 per day for the first two persons in the cabin ($140 for seven days). On Norwegian, I suppose they want your wallet to be FREESTYLE. The service charge is $12 per day per PERSON OVER AGE THREE! For my family of four, that was $332. To Norwegian's credit I filled out a form giving my reasons and request for reduction-they issued a credit on my final invoice. I prefer to reward individual service performance, but the FREESTYLE approach requires all these fees to be spread amongst all crew-little incentive to give the best service in my opinion.
5) Twice, my reservation for 20 people was messed up at the same specialty restaurant. First, they "forgot" about another reservation for 22 and offered a different venue and/or time. On the second, they booked the wrong restaurant. Fortunately on the second time, the manager was able to honor our original reservation, but not until after some tense moments (since I had already told twenty people when and where to meet for dinner!)
6) Design Problems
a. The cabin layout is poor-you cannot easily access the balcony with the bunk beds down
b. The cabin was tighter than on other cruise lines-there is no long counter and only 3 small drawers
c. The tables and chairs in the seating area of the buffet are way too tightly packed
d. On the most populated decks (Promenade and Pool/Buffet), you can only traverse the ship on the starboard side
7) Juice machine is only available at breakfast. After that it is Iced Tea, water, or coffee.
8) The TV is tiny-about 13" and ours was set so that you could not view the whole screen (scores were not visible during football games).
9) There is NO network TV (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX) and no Kid's channels. The one "ESPN" channel showed cricket, equestrian, tennis, and European basketball. They did get the feed for some NFL games during the trip, but all on this channel-no choices like FOX and CBS on Sundays.
10) There were three red drops on our cabin carpet and a red stain in the bathroom that looked like blood.
11) The first day sign-in for the Kid's Club was a ZOO. The process is so inefficient and they appear very understaffed.
12) My kids were both in the 6-9 age group and rated it "BORING".
13) Only one show time on the first night.
14) The tender process at Great Stirrup Cay was a Catch 22. Either fight the NYC mob to get on the 7th tender. Or wait a half hour and get tender number 13. You then go ashore after two hours, leaving about 3.5 hours of beach time.
15) The BBQ lunch at Great Stirrup Cay was closed at 230pm, before some tenders arrived.
16) I don't expect any improvement-No evaluation feedback form was provided in our cabin on the last night. Maybe they will send us one in the mail after we have forgotten the bad points.