6 Norwegian Gem Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

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; ... Read More
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. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
Great Itinerary. Embarkation in LA was very easy. Stayed in Mini Suite 11020. Room was quite clean and had plenty of storage. Our room steward was excellent. I was very disappointed with the entertainment in the main venue. This was a ... Read More
Great Itinerary. Embarkation in LA was very easy. Stayed in Mini Suite 11020. Room was quite clean and had plenty of storage. Our room steward was excellent. I was very disappointed with the entertainment in the main venue. This was a 19-day cruise and the ensemble only performed 3 times on the main stage. The 3 performances were excellent! I have been on shorter cruises and the ensembles performed much more. The remaining acts were quite average. There was a singer who professed to be a "Soul Singer" and he was really bad. The highlight of shipboard entertainment was in the various lounges where there was an excellent band, an above average piano -man, and a most excellent Singer/guitarist named Leo Joelstad. The restaurant service was much slower than I have come to expect on NCL. This was true in all restaurants. Bar service was mostly good. The food...By far the poorest quality of food that I have encountered at sea. This is my 7th NCL cruise and I have never felt this way about the food. Shore excursions were typical, had a really good tour to Antigua, Guatemala. My wife raved about a tour to a "horse ranch" in Nicaragua. Wonderful "Beach Time" in Cabo. Others onboard raved about excursions in Cartagena, Colombia. Oh yeah, wonderful snorkel tour in Bonaire!! Disembarkation in NYC was by far the worst of any ship I have been on. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
This was our first cruise with NCL and chose this cruise due to the 11 ports included in this daylight Panama Canal transit. The ports were all great and enjoyable. The spacing of sea days and ports was excellent. 3 days of ports, 1 ... Read More
This was our first cruise with NCL and chose this cruise due to the 11 ports included in this daylight Panama Canal transit. The ports were all great and enjoyable. The spacing of sea days and ports was excellent. 3 days of ports, 1 sea day, 3 days of ports, 1 sea day, etc. Embarkation was smooth, with the normal delays. Disembarkation was a disaster, stood in line for more than 90 minutes after our purple 2 code was called. Then received extremely rude and poor transfer service from the NCL contracted bus line. Bus driver intentionally dropped off half the passengers at the wrong terminal. Ship: In good shape, and common areas were clean and constantly cleaned Cabin: 8590. this is a sideways cabin, partially obstructed view and the location was convenient and quiet. Dining: Food in the main dining rooms and buffet was consistently stale and Luke warm. We only got a decent meal if it was an omelet prepared in front of us or something that was intended to be cold like a salad. The fountain drinks were watered down. Entertainment: Best I've seen after 15 cruises. If you cruise with NCL and SWING is the show do NOT miss it. Broadway quality. Great show band, with 3 piece brass section Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on the Panama Canal cruise from January 27 through February 15, 2019. The cruise was sold out. The formal dining facilities are very nice. The buffet ... well, not so much. Caution - if you choose the ... Read More
We sailed on the Norwegian Gem on the Panama Canal cruise from January 27 through February 15, 2019. The cruise was sold out. The formal dining facilities are very nice. The buffet ... well, not so much. Caution - if you choose the complimentary beverage package (provided it is available), you have to pay the 18% gratuity on the overly inflated "retail value" of the package. I believe the gratuity alone was over $300 per person, or $600 per cabin. I suspect we drank less than $600 of drinks while we were on the ship. Our stateroom location was a nightmare. See further description below. Though the room steward was outstanding. Pool bar bartenders were rude and pool wait staff were nearly non-existent. We had to get our drinks ourselves ... after having paid a $300+ gratuity up-front. There is clearly not enough public space for all passengers on board. Ship excursions were fairly boring and the tendering process was horrendous. What was supposed to be the cruise of a lifetime turned into a huge disappointment. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
My wife and I have just returned from the Panama Canal cruise out of New York in January 19. We travelled with adult friends and no children. The embarkation in New York was easy to get to, well organised and very smooth - not the same ... Read More
My wife and I have just returned from the Panama Canal cruise out of New York in January 19. We travelled with adult friends and no children. The embarkation in New York was easy to get to, well organised and very smooth - not the same could be said for the disembarkation in LA - what a disaster. Whilst the cruise itinerary, restaurant and bar staff were great, the food lacked variety and was very limited - one of our friends is diabetic and it was very limiting for him (NCL you have done better than this). Being on the ship for 18 days - some variation in the buffet section for lunch and supper would have been welcome, the breakfast was not much better. The fruit provided on board was generally disgusting. We basically had the same food for 18 days. The ship docked in very remote industrial ports resulting in additional costs for travel into town - almost forcing the NCL excursions on us. In one case we were to dock in Puntarenas but were taken to Puerto Caldera and advised that it would cost $15.00 per person for a bus into Puntarenas. The live bands and musical entertainment was the poorest I have experienced on a cruise ship to date. The internet service provided was expensive and slow. The positives - the cabin was clean and well serviced. The staff ( with exception of the administration) was excellent. The narrator providing us with facts and information on the Panama Canal was excellent. Overall - the ship is showing its age - not what I expect from our preferred cruise line! you can do better than this NCL - I know this because I have experienced it in the past. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
This ship definitely due for a refurbish as evidenced by railing on top deck having been replaced by unpainted patch work 2x4 planking. First ship ever to offer splinters while leaning on railing. Theater seating uncomfortable and ... Read More
This ship definitely due for a refurbish as evidenced by railing on top deck having been replaced by unpainted patch work 2x4 planking. First ship ever to offer splinters while leaning on railing. Theater seating uncomfortable and entertainment well below prior sailings with NCL. Food was mediocre and the Big Screen TV area had seating for about 80 people on a ship transporting over 2000...go figure. Television viewing in-room was on a very small screen with one movie station, one tv station other than 3 news and 2 sports. walking deck 7 frequently had closed areas for maintenance though none was witnessed. Upper decks were often closed for high winds. given the fact the ship traveled at 23 knots I have come to expect high winds to be a given on Cruise Ships. Why else surround the deck with glass panels? Cagney Steak restaurant served my steak RARE and draining blood.... although ordered MEDIUM. Even after sending back to kitchen for additional cooking it came back medium RARE...less blood but at least warm in center...the baked potato was well cooked and delicious. I should not complain though as it was a complimentary dinner for my Platinum traveler status and it came with a very good Australian wine. The Vintage Railway shore excursion in Costa Rico was well below advertisement. After discussing with the onboard representative they offered a 30% discount...which never showed on room billing. 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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