6 Norwegian Gem Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

We chose this cruise because of the itinerary - full traverse of the Panama Canal and lots of stops in countries other cruise lines don't stop in. We have travelled with other companies, Celebrity, RCI, Cunard, P&O and now NCL. ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the itinerary - full traverse of the Panama Canal and lots of stops in countries other cruise lines don't stop in. We have travelled with other companies, Celebrity, RCI, Cunard, P&O and now NCL. The reason for the low score for NCL is that there were lots of little things which were not as good as other cruise companies and they added up to make a big difference. Firstly the good: The organisation of the Freedom dining is fantastic. We only had to wait (briefly) for a table on a couple of occasions - the rest of the time it worked like clockwork. This is down mainly to the ladies who work at the front desk. They do an exceptional job. The staff in the dining rooms were all fantastic. Hardworking and always cheerful. No mean feat! The chinese restaurant is included rather than the usual cover charge and we thought the food was superb. The presentation of the food in the main dining rooms was the best we have seen There were proper showers in all of the rooms (not just shower curtains) The bad: The menus in the Chinese and O'Sheehans never changes nor does it in Grand Pacific at lunch time. Not too bad if you are on a 7 day cruise but this was 19 days of the same choice. The drinks are very expensive The ship was late in to nearly every port. Sometimes just by 15-20 mins but it messed up our plans (and on two of the occassions this was when the ship was only travelling a short distance between ports) Disembarkation was a shambles with poor communication. They put on too few tenders when needed so that it took us until after 1pm to get off the ship when we had to be back on board by 4pm. We paid for an upgrade to an ocean view room and yet all we could see was a lifeboat. There was no warnings about it being a partial view. There was insufficient shade on the ship so there was always a battle to be up early enough to grab some. They have a great lounge at the front of the boat where you can sit in the shade and cool and look at the view but insisted on running bingo and other talks in there all through the day despite having other areas that would accomodate these things. They even had to draw the blinds in the room to make it dark enough to see the projector. The talks about the ports and countries we were visiting were awful. The entertainment in the bars was not to our taste and hardly varied. No gala type dinners so no lobster or other special food. Food was the worst we have had on a ship (not bad like other reviews have said - just not as good as other ships) The food in the buffet was not great and was very repetitive. All of the entertainment was geared towards Americans (even though they were in the minority on the ship). I understand that they are usually the majority so I guess it would be too much trouble to change things cruise by cruise. Guest Relations were terrible. They handled a minor complaint so badly that it ended up being a big issue. They have zero authority and a terrible attitude. One thing that isn't the ships problem but is worth mentioning is that we like to share our table with others in the evening. Clearly most people who choose NCL don't like to so it was rare that we managed to get a table with other people on it. Read Less
Sail Date February 2019
We chose this cruise because of the canal transit and that did not disappoint. Get a balcony state room as you get a real experience from the balcony of the locks and transit. We ate at all the specialty restaurants as we had the package. ... Read More
We chose this cruise because of the canal transit and that did not disappoint. Get a balcony state room as you get a real experience from the balcony of the locks and transit. We ate at all the specialty restaurants as we had the package. They were all very good with excellent service. The entertainment was top notch, with great Broadway style shows and funny comics. It was a real shame that the pool deck was a disappointment. First of all, they were scraping and painting above one pool and small flecks of paint were floating in the water?!! No effort was made to screen off the maintenance, which was above the grill and the pool! I did not swim in that pool after seeing the paint flakes floating in it. But, both pool were unheated?! According to the life guard, the pools were replaced with sea water every night?! This was to keep them clean?! They were consequently freezing even in very hot weather. Unacceptable. Also people would reserve loungers by placing items on them and then walk away. The pool deck staff did nothing about this and on at sea days it was hard to find a spot to sit in the sun and then take a quick shower as the pools were really too cold. In frustration one day I complained to one of the guys on deck and he went around and collected a few towels but basically did nothing to help me. We often went up top away from the pool to sit away from the very loud group with a terrible female lead singer who sang everything flat. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
The big attraction of this cruise was the itinerary: LA to New York taking in the Panama Canal and the ABC islands and lots of other places along the way, plus 19 days in the sun in mid-winter. I've cruised about a dozen times ... Read More
The big attraction of this cruise was the itinerary: LA to New York taking in the Panama Canal and the ABC islands and lots of other places along the way, plus 19 days in the sun in mid-winter. I've cruised about a dozen times with several different cruise lines and on varying sizes of ships and although this was not a bad experience I'd put Norwegian at the bottom of my list and would only cruise with them again if the itinerary was really special, like this one. I've given an overall "Average" rating because, while some aspects of the trip were very good, others were not so great. The check-in experience for me was good as I did not have to stand in long lines at any stage and there was only a short wait for my cabin to be ready. The cabin itself was a bit tired and there was no chair, though clearly space for one: a dining chair was delivered later when I asked about it and I was told the tub chair that should be there was damaged. Don't know why it hadn't been replaced without me having to ask for it. The bed linen was badly pilled and really needs to be replaced. Mark, the cabin steward, was excellent but as I was at the end of his line of cabins, it was often late in the morning/evening before he got to mine and this was sometimes inconvenient. The shower was a good size but the wc was awkwardly positioned at an angle and a large person would have had a problem with it. The Garden Cafe was just a scrum and I avoided it most of the time, unless I was after a quick snack outside of peak meal times: chaotic lay-out with people going in all directions and then hard to find a seat. I didn't try the specialty restaurants but ate in both the Magenta and Grand Pacific dining rooms, which have the same menu. I found the chairs in the Magenta uncomfortable so preferred the Grand Pacific. Several reviewers have commented on the wating time to get in there but I never had a problem of more than a few minutes, which also applied the night I went to the Magenta. The staff in the Grand Pacific were excellent and I never felt that the wait for food was excessive. And even when it was busy there was no pressure to vacate the table. The food was good if not spectacular. It was my go-to for breakfast and dinner. Lunch is served there on days at sea but I didn't try it as the buffet on deck was also very good. My main complaints about the ship are the lack of quiet spaces, the on-cost of drinks and services and the hard-sell on extras from the spa, shore excursions and future cruise departments. The Spinnaker lounge is a lovely space but it was hard to find a time when it wasn't being used for a noisy bingo session or a game/quiz of some sort. The same applies to the atrium. I don't mind the odd game of bingo but the cost on the Gem was extortionate compared to other ships I've been on. Drinks were also more expensive than other ships. I went to a couple of the talks in the spa and gym and they were basically just sales pitches for spurious weight control plans or orthotics, both at outrageous prices compared to what can be had on-shore. The Cruise Director and staff were very much at the cheap package holiday end of the market. The future cruising offer was not a good deal and merely a way of getting money out of you now. The shore excursions I did were OK but the talk on them on the first day was poor, being all about where to shop and ignoring those ports where there was no fancy shopping. If you were not going on one of the ship's excursions, they really weren't interested in you and there was no information about the port, what to see or how to get about. The port lectures were not helpful, being mainly historical with the lecturer's holiday photos and bad jokes thrown in. Other ships I've been on have provided some combination of a port talk on what to see/how to get around/maps/shuttle buses to the centre if the port area is beyond easy walking distance. As other reviewers have mentioned, the tender service to shore was slow in Cabo and a complete shambles in Puerto Vallarta where there were 3 other ships docked and we were at anchor with only one tender allowed in at a time. Was this a cost issue? Then when we finally got ashore over an hour after the scheduled tour time there was no one there to direct us to the the start point for our walking tour. I didn't go to the entertainment every night as I don't much like hypnotists and ventriloquists but I recognise there was a good variety on offer for a 19 day cruise. The song and dance shows were very good but I was surprised to learn that they only do 3 per cruise, however long the cruise is, which meant more of the pianist - good but not worth 2 shows - and repeats of some of the other performers. Also, I didn't think it was good to have the dancers en masse on the sun deck in the afternoon, generally being noisy and disruptive for other passengers; nor did I appreciate hearing one of them in the spa, while I was having a manicure and he was getting his hair cut, going on about how much he hated the shows. I chose the unassisted disembarkation and that worked well. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
Our first experience on a "frestyle" cruise. Not a fan because it often meant long waits in the main dining rooms. Average age on this sailing was 65 and so most activities were focused on that age group, which we are not ... Read More
Our first experience on a "frestyle" cruise. Not a fan because it often meant long waits in the main dining rooms. Average age on this sailing was 65 and so most activities were focused on that age group, which we are not part of. Would have liked more variety. Seems like all there was is bingo and trivia. I also found it unprofessional for crew members to be eating at public dining spaces,. We mainly chose this cruise for the panama canal experience and the variety of ports. We were not disappointed. We only wish some ports had more time, even if it meant eliminating some. Food was ok. Main buffet lacked variety. The main dining was loud, lacked variety and service slow (although did improve a bit towards the end). Our favorite was the poolside bbq they offered on most at sea days. They also had a good variety of food areas, Orchid Garden was a favorite. Specialty dining was nothing really that special except for Moderno which was EXCELLENT!! Spa experience for us was a pedicure. The service was very good but they were very pushy trying to get us to buy products and other services. Totally turned me off to going back. Bar staff was inconsistent. We ordered mojitos at 3 different bars and they made them 3 different ways. We did, love the staff at the atrium bar. Entertainment was good, however seating in the Stardust was uncomfortable. Variety and value of the excursions we booked was excellent. Overall our experience was good. We realize the challenges there must be for a cruise line to keep people happy, fed and entertained for 19 days. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
We wanted a cruise that included the Panama Canal. The trip though the canal was amazing and more exciting than I anticipated. Overall the shore excursions were excellent and that includes the itinerary, the bus, and the guides. We ... Read More
We wanted a cruise that included the Panama Canal. The trip though the canal was amazing and more exciting than I anticipated. Overall the shore excursions were excellent and that includes the itinerary, the bus, and the guides. We hesitated to tour Nicaragua since we had to fill out a health form for that country. The entertainment was better than I expected as well. However, each entertainer sold their CD, book, etc. and I would have thought the pay by NCL sufficient. We did a couple of cruises on Royal Caribbean and did not experience this. We did not opt for the internet on principle. It should have been free. I had a phone plan but it would not work on the ship. I had to go onto the pier in order to use my iPhone. We were pleased with our cabin and out attendant, Julius. He provided great travel tips and service. However, the rest rooms in the public areas needed more attention. The one on the 12th floor in the area of the buffet smelled of urine and had trash on the floor. The corners had built up filth. I cannot say the same for some of the Guest Services personnel. They had to "check with their superior" too frequently. They apologized profusely if something went wrong and said it was because they had never been in that port before. Not an excuse. NCL should have provided orientation. I got conflicting information between them and the Shore Excursion personnel. The specialty restaurants were outstanding. However, the two main dining rooms and the buffet left a lot to be desired. We, fortunately, are not drinkers but do enjoy an occasional one. The drinks were very expensive and included a tip and another charge of some kind. Needless to say, as with the internet, we opted out. There were a lot of activities but many of the programs tried to sell special offers after a presentation. It seemed as if every time we wanted to do something extra, there was a hand holding out for more money. I even learned that we could have had the $14.50 charge pp per day removed!!!! Didn't do this because I think the crew who don't deal directly with passengers should be rewarded as well. But, why put this on if it is more or less optional. Frankly, we have been spoiled by Viking river and ocean cruises. The initial price may be higher; but, as you know, very little is extra. Free water, WiFi, included excursion at every port, free wine, beer, soda with meals, umbrellas, robes, listening devices so that all can hear the guide, etc. The personnel treat guests with kid gloves and we are never left to wander around having to ask where we should be for an excursion. I have not yet totaled up our trip but it will be equal to or more than Viking. Also, the location of the Guest Services and Shore excursions were right off of the Atrium where there were activities and music and a noisy bar. I felt I had to shout to be heard and had to ask for things to be repeated. On Viking, the staff had desks and passengers were able to sit down and have a decent discussion. On our last trip, we left an iPad at a hotel in Madrid. They bent over backwards to get it returned to us. Embarkation was speedy and rooms ready in a timely manner. However, disembarkation was not. The line to get off the ship was stalled and an announcement was made that they would not be calling any color categories for a while. Our tour of LA was supposed to start at 9 o'clock. We did not leave the terminal until 10 and our excellent guide had to cut corners to be able to see what she thought was most important. I noticed that she did not receive many tips which was a disservice to her because this was not her fault. Overall, we enjoyed the cruise because we made up our minds not to let the above get to us. But, no, I would not choose NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
We chose this cruise for the exciting Panama crossing and ports to visit, we were not disappointed. We have cruise 12 times or more, three times with NCL. We enjoy the buffet on cruises as there is usually a wide selection of ... Read More
We chose this cruise for the exciting Panama crossing and ports to visit, we were not disappointed. We have cruise 12 times or more, three times with NCL. We enjoy the buffet on cruises as there is usually a wide selection of healthy options to cater for most tastes. Something was very wrong on this cruise, Foid was very often warm or cold , most dishes in heavy sauces, plain fish mon existent . Salads were unpleasant. Presentation overall was simply not up to cruise standard. Speciality restaurants were a mixed experience, Le Bistro and Moderns were best. O’Sheehans’ fish and chips was horrible, not at all the same as a few years ago . Cagneys was v disappointing, salmon was uncooked inside. Mushrooms were inedible and unpleasant. Main dining rooms were ok , but very time consuming and lacking in fruit and veg, so only went a few times. Garden buffet staff are amazing, all waiting staff and room attendants were wonderful . Reception staff are doing their best, but are not v knowledgeable. We asked for a table on our balcony so we could order breakfast, they said our mini suite is too small and that we should eat breakfast in bed/- finally we were provided with a table, Excursions were well priced . The Chiva fun bus in Colombia was fantastic. Code farm in Guaramala excellent. The cruise director did not seem to be very proactive compared to our past cruise experience . Entertainment slots tended to be 45 minutes only in public areas . Captain Fafalios was wonderful and we felt safe in his hands . Our main disappointment was the strange food in the buffet , and the level of sparkle from the cruise director. Disembarkation took far too long - around 90 mins of standing in line , we feel this could have been better managed. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
Norwegian Gem Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 5.0 4.1
Dining 4.0 3.7
Entertainment 5.0 3.9
Public Rooms 5.0 4.1
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.9
Family 4.0 3.9
Shore Excursion 3.0 3.6
Enrichment 4.0 3.4
Service 4.0 4.1
Value For Money 5.0 3.8
Rates 4.0 3.8

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