11 Norwegian Gem Panama Canal & Central America Cruise Reviews

Panama Canal was on our Bucket list and with 19 days aboard the Gem, we couldn't resist. First a little information about us, I would consider us Newbies to cruising since we only sailed on NCL ( this was our 13th cruise ). NCL ... Read More
Panama Canal was on our Bucket list and with 19 days aboard the Gem, we couldn't resist. First a little information about us, I would consider us Newbies to cruising since we only sailed on NCL ( this was our 13th cruise ). NCL makes sense for us since they offer different ships/types and itineraries out of NYC. This was our 6th time aboard the Gem. Here are my random observations. We flew out to Vegas for a few days before the cruise, then an early Sunday morning flight into LAX. We took the NCL shuttle to the pier, had no issues in locating the reps. Short wait for the bus. Since it was Sunday morning the ride to the pier took about 30 mins. From the time we got off the bus to board the ship, it was less than 45 mins. Our cabin, 8604 ( type OA, ocean view ) was right down the hall from O'Sheehan's was available around 2 PM. We had issues with the shower drain backing up into the drain under the sink but it was finally corrected on the second day. Cabin Steward was excellent ( first cruise back from vacation ), and by the third day knew our routine. The ship was in great shape ( last dry dock 2015 ), all public areas were well kept. Maintenance and painting was observed daily. Only negative comment is for the railing on deck #13 near the basketball court. They used a 2x4 to replace the rail and it was a rough finish that could cause a splinter. We purchased a 6 meal plan and along with our 2 free meals ( Platinum perk ) we spent several nights at Cagney's. It was strange that on most nights it was almost empty. Our only complaint was that they changed the mac n cheese to Kraft, it was terrible. Food and service was top notch. We had two meals in LeBristo, service was exceptional but the food seemed to be off compared to our last cruise aboard the Breakaway. Taste was bland to me. We also had one meal in La Cucina, food was OK but I kept feeling like we are eating in the Buffet. Other nights were spent in Magenta, had no issues in getting a table if you arrived before 6pm. Had to laugh at the folks standing in line at the Grand Pacific, while there was none at Magenta. Can a guy get a hamburger? O'Sheehan's - burnt, every time. Topsiders - raw, most of the time. Before I forget, the crew, from the captain to washy washy girls, fantastic, one of the best if not the best. Bars - Great time, great bartenders ( Sherwin - Boom Boom at Spinnaker and Lennie \ crew at Shakers ). Never had to wait more than a few minutes before getting served. PAX, I was told the average age was 64 but some nights up in Spinnaker I thought it was a Holland America cruise. The entertainment at bar central ( Shakers ) was exceptional, from Leo to Vibe quartet to the Gem band. Only two main shows standout for me, the piano guy and that checkerboard guy. Everything else was average Cruise Director staff, have to say it, bad. Poor attendance / cancelled Bingo sessions. Announced that they had a $2000 dollar pull tab winner but kept selling out of the same box. Morning show was a joke, stopped watching by the third day. The cruise director was OK but the staff is a reflection of her. Ports of call. Mexico - Tender in on our first two stops, tender process was real slow on the first stop, Cabo. The second stop, Puerto Vallarta had a dock issue. Almost a two foot drop from the tender to the dock, those who had a mobility issues had problems. These two stops felt safe in both, just wander around. Manzanillo, stayed close to the ship. Puerto Quetzal - Guatemala and Corinto - Nicaragua as per the State Department warnings stayed real close to the ship. The visitor center ( new cruise terminal ? ) in Guatemala even had a guard tower, manned. Puntarenas, Costa Rica - Walked around the town in the morning and took an NCL excursion in the afternoon. Panama Canal, Transit - Exceptional performance by NCL. Cartagena, Columbia - Great place to visit except for the hawkers. Made it almost impossible to enjoy the city. Very pushing and relentless. Santa Marta, Columbia - container port, they could have skipped this port too. ABC islands - always a great, safe place to visit. Finally, Thank you to the CC members who attended the meet and mingle, slot pull, pub crawl, to the members who arranged shore excursions and the cruise T shirt Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
After cruising in many ships worldwide, we decided to take our first cruise with NCL because the route with NCL Gem was fantastic; The Panama Canal! In general terms the cruise was fine. The ship is great with beautiful public areas, ... Read More
After cruising in many ships worldwide, we decided to take our first cruise with NCL because the route with NCL Gem was fantastic; The Panama Canal! In general terms the cruise was fine. The ship is great with beautiful public areas, excellent facilities and good cabins, and above all, a very good crew and staff, In terms of recreation and activities they were very good. The shows were fantastic with excellent dancers and singers. The orquestra and musical groups on the ship were also very good. Regarding the food served as "complimentary" in the main dinning rooms and swimming pool area, was not good enough to be aligned with the top quality of the ship. Food quality, variety, presentation, and flavor was really poor. Sometimes during lunch time it was really difficult to decide what to eat because the food available was really "cheap" . The current chef is from India. We took this cruise with another couple of friends and they had exactly the same opinion. After so many cruises it is very easy for us to assess the quality of ships and services aboard, Everything was great, except the food ! Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
It was my wife's 70th birthday and we wanted to do something grand and special so this fit the bill. A trip through the Panama Canal had always been on my "bucket list" and this was a chance to visit many different ... Read More
It was my wife's 70th birthday and we wanted to do something grand and special so this fit the bill. A trip through the Panama Canal had always been on my "bucket list" and this was a chance to visit many different countries. Interacting with the "locals" was wonderful. Enjoyed our hop-on hop-off bus tour in Cartegena, and the submarine excursion in Aruba was exciting ... beautiful coral and colourful fish. The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaco) were a treat, very friend people, colourful buildings, easy to walk around. The ship itself was thoroughly enjoyable ... never a lack of things to do. Every show in the Theatre was excellent, and we especially enjoyed the Cirque du Soleil duo. We are not "formal" people, so free-style cruising suits us well. The casino was good because the "odds" on the slots were set high enough that you could enjoy some decent play time. The only drawback is that smoking is allowed. The only improvement I would suggest to the itinerary would be to include a stop in either Nassau or San Juan to break up the final three and a half days at sea. All in all, a wonderful trip and we plan on continuing to "cruise like a Norwegian". Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
It was our sewenth cruise with Norwegian. We were three times on Star, two times on Spirit, one time on Geteway , and this time on Gem. We decided for this cruise, because, after Geteway, we concluded, that we prefer smaller ships, and 19 ... Read More
It was our sewenth cruise with Norwegian. We were three times on Star, two times on Spirit, one time on Geteway , and this time on Gem. We decided for this cruise, because, after Geteway, we concluded, that we prefer smaller ships, and 19 days for the price we get, was a good deal. All the ports were very interesting. We were two cupels, and made private excursion, because we prefer to be independent. Embarkation was not so quick, like we used to have by Norwegian. Also we used to meet concierge in port. This time she wait on us in ship, colect all of us , toeld us where we can eat, where and when we can meet her.We used , to get more information first day from concierge. Food was very good , no complaint. A lot activites and , lot music everywhere on the ship. Fantastic atmosphere. Service very, very good. We spend a lot of time on 13 deck ,smoking area, and water Nikola was so nice, all the time with big smiling, made for us fantastic coctailes. Alltogether, this was fantastic cruise, and 19 days went so quick. Gem is beautiful ship, with fantastic stuf , from captain , who informed us daily about all interesting things for guests ,until our steward. Only our bathroom in caben disappointed us a little bit, and concierge was inapropierte. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
This was a "bucket list' trip which exceeded our expectations. We enjoyed all the ports we visited and the weather was wonderful. The shows were very entertaining and funny. We took a tour every day and all went very smoothly. ... Read More
This was a "bucket list' trip which exceeded our expectations. We enjoyed all the ports we visited and the weather was wonderful. The shows were very entertaining and funny. We took a tour every day and all went very smoothly. Swimming with the Dolphins was wonderful and a great experience. Our first snorkeling trip could have been better, there were way too many people in the water in a small area. There were other boats in close promiximity and we were all confined to a small area. The second snorkeling experience was in Bonaire and was much better in a smaller boat and less than half the number of people. We are still not fans of the open seating but the service was very good and we enjoyed the meals. The Buffet was great with lots of variety but seating was an issue at times. There are many places to eat other than the dining room. We ate in 2 of the speciality restaurants having one tough steak and one melt in your mouth steak. There was a huge delicious cake on the buffet that you helped yourself to. The icing was delicious and changed flavors every day. Embarkation was great, no wait and the precruise hotel was very nice. Transportation to and from the pier was fine. Disembarkation was on the slow side but there was a delay at customs. Our luggage was easily located and intact. Upon arrival my huband's luggage was not delivered or located until the next day. Someone had broken the handle and the tags fell off, NCL did have it repaired within one day. We have been doing a lot of River Cruises to avoid the crowds on the Ocean Liners but this cruise turned out to be very enjoyable. I would not hesitate going on this ship again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
the embarkment went smooth, and the cabins were ready very early. the workers did a great job, and kept the ship clean. one of my excursions got mixed up, but I received a complimentary bottle of wine and a fresh fruit bowl ... Read More
the embarkment went smooth, and the cabins were ready very early. the workers did a great job, and kept the ship clean. one of my excursions got mixed up, but I received a complimentary bottle of wine and a fresh fruit bowl delivered to my cabin. my crew workers did a great job for me, very well done. NCL offered WIFI, but i had trouble log-on and log-off. almost like NCL coud hold a class for this, not just a 8x10 piece of paper with directions. even the crew sent me to the front desk. (on day 7) I asked 3 crew members for info on this, and they were not sure either. NCL highlighted the Blazing boots show, and i only saw it available on night at 7 and 9pm. but oh yes it was spectacular. i never did see any other shows advertised, except on the ship, and each one i attended was top notch. Thanks Brenda Kaye for the awesome Hypnosis show and lectures.( all included free) the sit down dining was not for me. the pepper shakers were empty, even the replacements were empty. one night i never did get my Steak, i had to wait over a hour at the excursion desk to make a change, as only two persons were working the desk. it took two days to make the correct TV adjustments to get it working, or i maybe could have use the TV service to make my own excursion adjustments. turns out the remote and the tv would not sync. there was rarely room to sit and eat at the buffet dining, i usually ate in my room or on the back deck. i did give the other sit down dining a chance or two, and it took 2 hours to get served and out of there, . O'Sheehans did a awesome job of serving me 80% of my meals and drinks. i can only hope most of my gratuities went in that direction. My bed sheets got changed every 4th night, but i am not sure what the NCL policy is there. the Bliss showroom was a great place for me to hangout in the evenings, as i do like Karaoke, both singing and listening. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
I chose this trip because of the timing primarily but also because of the itinerary. The longest cruise we had been on before was 7 days so at day 7 it was so nice to know we still had 11 more days. I really enjoyed the activities by ... Read More
I chose this trip because of the timing primarily but also because of the itinerary. The longest cruise we had been on before was 7 days so at day 7 it was so nice to know we still had 11 more days. I really enjoyed the activities by the pool on the "sea days" so you could enjoy the pool and sunshine! With 10 "ports of call" there was ample opportunity to enjoy shore excursions mixed in with relaxing by the pools. We had only been to Cabo San Lucas before so the other 9 ports were all new to us and real treat to discover. We especially enjoyed Guatamala. Who'da thought? And of course the Panama Canal was extra special. We added an extra day in New York City to begin and L. A. at the end and really enjoyed this addition to our trip. It really added extra relaxation and excitement to our trip. Overall, I believe our experience with Norwegian was great and I'm really happy that we upgraded to a mini suite for that little extra cabin space. I had booked a balcony and then submitted bids to upgrade and managed to get upgraded. We will forever remember this cruise for the people we met and all of the fabulous experiences on ship and on shore. In addition, we would like to thank the wonderful crew members!! Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
My goal in life is to see as much of the world before I leave this good earth so I choose this cruise because it went to South America a place i've never been and stopped at 11 different ports which would have cost me a fortune had I ... Read More
My goal in life is to see as much of the world before I leave this good earth so I choose this cruise because it went to South America a place i've never been and stopped at 11 different ports which would have cost me a fortune had I taken these trips individually, one cruise 11 different countries; We also went thru the Panama Canal which was just place i heard and read about and wonder what that looks like, I was lucky to have experience it, it was awesome. While we were at sea going from one country to the next the ship did not disappoint they kept us quite entertained with lots of food, games, seminars, swimming, the spa, the Casino and first class live stage performances, thank you Norwegian Gem I really enjoyed myself. My state room was lovely with a king size bed and the service was impeccable, after 18 days of having being catered to I am still trying to get back to normal now that I am home. I traveled by my self because most of my friends were not able to get away for such a long period of time but I never felt alone the staff and the other guests were all very friendly and I felt very comfortable, can't wait for my next cruise. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
Our booking agent Janet at NCL was also fantastic and always answered our questions promptly. Overall, the ship staff, amenities, and dining were great. Being new to having limited mobility I found that the ship and the staff - aside from ... Read More
Our booking agent Janet at NCL was also fantastic and always answered our questions promptly. Overall, the ship staff, amenities, and dining were great. Being new to having limited mobility I found that the ship and the staff - aside from the shore excursion team - were fantastic at managing mobility issues. Lots of disabled restrooms, staff was always eager to assist. The room was clean, and had enough room for a family of four, and our balcony was fantastic. Our steward Biency was always available, always called us by our names, consistently asked us if we needed anything and was generally accommodating. We always had what we needed in our room and it was made-up/turned-down at good times. He was a true highlight. The restaurants and bars were always well stocked and had a good selection. I would like to see the service at O'Sheehan's improve and some additional things added to the menu (a BLT or club sandwich, onion rings, guac & salsa for the nachos etc). Also the quality of the food at O'Sheehans varied dramatically every time we went in. The shore excursions and the shore excursion team were below what I would expect for the price point. I feel like that NCL should have staff that is knowledgable about the excursions because someone on the team has taken it and has done a write-up for the other members of staff & made notes that cruisers would find helpful. They were clueless with answering questions and just kept repeating what I could already read on the app. We also waiting in the theatre one day when the SE staff walked way without calling our tour. When a man asked about it they waved their hand as they walked away and said, "oh yeah, that one is ready, you can go." Also, the activity levels were useless and not at all indicative of the actual difficulty. I ended up injured on a shore excursion due to their ignorance and their attitude was "oh well." NCL needs to ramp up the ports of call for this cruise and have better timing at ports. Having to drive an hour or more at most ports just to see places of interest is a hassle. A Panama City stop would have also been a good choice for this itinerary. There were 20 kids on this cruise and I felt the Splash Academy struggled to manage this small amount even with all their staff. I don't know how they do with a boat full of kids! We kept repeating instructions to keep a certain chid away from our child but we constantly got feedback that they kept letting them interact and therefore had continued negative occurrences despite our instructions. To be quite honest, our child was harassed by this other child and the staff only reacted when my child retaliated. The staff didn't really feel like they knew much about children or how to redirect their behaviour. I would like them to get more training on conflict resolution because their solution seemed to be to throw their hands in the air. Having said all that, the ship was a great size, the Panama canal portion of the itinerary was worth it for the narration and information alone, the dining and bar staff was consistently fantastic, and some of the excursions were well worth the time and money. This was our first time on NCL (we've done two other companies in the past) and I feel that it was good enough to give it another go, should my complaint about the excursions get resolved. There were a lot of long time cruisers complaining on this cruise but we didn't feel that our experience was negative overall, just some training for Shore Excursions and the Splash Academy. Everything else was great. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
I chose this cruise for the itinerary and have sailed Norwegian before and have always had a good time onboard. Service- this was hit and miss. Some of the hostesses aren't very friendly. The girl in Sheehan's never smiled ... Read More
I chose this cruise for the itinerary and have sailed Norwegian before and have always had a good time onboard. Service- this was hit and miss. Some of the hostesses aren't very friendly. The girl in Sheehan's never smiled or made me feel welcome. I'm a former hostess- so this bothers me. My cabin steward kept my room clean, but even though I'd put the "Make Up Room" sign up by 7AM (I'm an early riser)- the room was never made up until 10AM. Also, I go to bed early- and my room was never made up in the evening before 9PM. Given that it was an 18-night cruise- The cabin steward should have recognized my routine but didn't care. I had to ask for things and he wasn't friendly until the last night of the cruise- when he probably hoped for an extra tip. I didn't give him one because he hadn't gone the extra mile- like most cabin stewards do. I generally tip extra, but not this time. Ship- the ship was in very good condition- there were some places that needed repainting on the exterior and my friend's cabin (5096) had what looked like mold on the ceiling. It turned out to be paint but it was unsightly. Internet- You can pay $.99 a minute or you have to buy a package. The only way to get the 24 hour unlimited use is to buy a package for the entire voyage. Expensive. Entertainment- I was never bored. There were plenty of activities to participate in. Show that I went to were very good. I loved Brad Stevens the pianist. Food- I dined for most meals in the Grand Pacific Dining Room. We usually showed up between 5;30- 6:30 and there wasn't much of a wait. The meals were hit and miss. Meat dishes- steaks and ribs (and even the Hungarian Goulash) were inedible. Too tough. Perhaps the head chef is a vegetarian but he needs to have someone taste test the food. I'm sure there were many complaints and plates of food sent back to the kitchen. I ended up referring to this as the "bird and fish" cruise because those dishes and the vegetarian dishes were good. The bananas foster were bananas cut lengthwise and plopped into butterscotch and rum. Gross. My "key lime parfait" was really key lime mousse. Tasted good but did not resemble a "parfait". The corn fritters were flat pancakes with a kernel of corn in each one. The salads were lacking in anything other than mixed greens and they ran out of spinach midway through the cruise. Le Bistro was good- but the cost of the food was excessive- given that meals are included in the passage. The up charge shouldn't be $17.99 for a good steak. The buffet was ok. The outside burger stand was good and on sea days they did really nice bar-b-ques by the pool. The best dish was a seafood medley. Yum! Drinks- I thought the price of wine was reasonable. I noticed my chardonnay was cheaper at Magnums than other venues. Don't know why. Unless you are a full-fledged alcoholic- don't bother with a drink package. Average drink price is $10. Excursions and Ports Curacao- We pre-purchased $60 resort passes (through Resorts for a Day) for the Hilton Hotel. It was fabulous. They welcomed us- provided towels and we were free to use the beach and pool areas. Our passes included $25 food and beverage vouchers, which was enough for us to drink four drinks and split a delicious Quesadilla. Highly recommend this place. Taxis to and from the Hilton were $20 each way. Aruba- We winged it and were so glad we did. There are school buses (decorated with graffiti) offering $25 pp island tours. We went to a rock formation, a church, a lighthouse (where there are food and beverage trucks. Get a fruit smoothie for $5- delicious!). Then we were dropped off at Eagle Beach for two hours and then returned to the ship. It was awesome. The beach chairs rent for $10. Santa Marta- very poor industrial port. Our excursion to a waterfall was underwhelming and there was too much walking (and wading through streams) for some of the passengers. I'm only 53 so the mostly shaded walk didn't bother me (it's over a mile each way) but my 71 year old travel companion it was too much for- especially with wading through the streams 8 times. I should have read the fine print about shoes getting wet. The waterfall may be more impressive when there isn't a drought but it was puny. The banios (toilets) were very gross and you have to pay $1 to use them. Norwegian should drop this port IMO and do two nights in Cartegena. Cartegena- Loved this city. Very pretty architecture. The vendors are ridiculous though. My suggestion is ignore them. Someone in my group made the mistake of buying something and then was swarmed by other vendors. To get away from the them- nip into on of the Juan Valdez coffee shops (Columbia's Starbucks). The coffee is good and inexpensive. They only take pesos or credit cards. Shops took US dollars though. Panama Canal- Wow! Was a wonderful experience. I got up early and managed to score a seat at the bow in Spinnacker at 6:45. Transit started around 8AM but it was neat waiting in line for the Canal. Sailing through the lake while eating lunch at one of the aft window tables in the Grand Pacific Dining Room was one of my favorite trip experiences. Costa Rica- We went to an animal rescue with NCL where we saw many birds, moneys, and animals. We were treated to fresh fruit- which was very delicious . Highly recommend Nicaragua- We went to the Botanical Gardens and Leon with NCL. Our guide Gabriel was very good but the trip to and from was long and we were underwhelmed with the Botanical Gardens. There were no flowers at all. The only thing worth seeing was the green parrot. Guatemala- I stayed onboard. I'd had enough of long bus rides through poverty stricken areas for a lifetime at this point. Manzanilla- We went on the NCL excursion to Barcelo Karmina Resort. This was close to the ship and a very nice all-inclusive which we enjoyed. The town however is industrial and polluted. I think NCL should take it off the itinerary. Puerto Vallarta- I stayed on the ship but if you like to shop there is a big mall and a Walmart. Cabo- Great way to end our trip. Tendering was fast and easy. The town is beautiful. We went to Casa Dorada resort with NCL. Our tour group had access to a hotel suite which we could access from the pool area. We had a complimentary buffet lunch and a free beverage (any). I had a Bahama Mama which was good. Margaritas were good too. Make sure to be out on deck at sailaway to watch the whales. We saw many, many whales. This was a great way to end our trip. I'd go back to Cabo. Overall- I had a great time on the cruise and would sail NCL again. Read Less
Sail Date January 2019
This was our first cruise, so most folks asked us : Why an 18 day cruise? Our answer was we're from Alaska and we want to be gone from the cold and dark, and of course to see the Panama Canal. New York to LA. was also in the mix. ... Read More
This was our first cruise, so most folks asked us : Why an 18 day cruise? Our answer was we're from Alaska and we want to be gone from the cold and dark, and of course to see the Panama Canal. New York to LA. was also in the mix. Freestyle cruising fit our plan as we didn't want to dress up every night, although we did a couple of nights. As newbie cruisers, I would say it's all about the ship and the crew and the people on board. We are in our early sixties so our expectations were folks our age and older. For the most part, that proved to be true. People who have had many cruise experiences see the cruise in many different ways comparing one to another. Food, entertainment, ports of call, etc. First off for me, I've never been surrounded by so much food. It was good. Speciality dining was fun! There is no reason to complain. Just pick something else! The crew and all the staff want you to be happy. They take their job seriously. Entertainment was all day and into the night! Something for everyone. Beautiful people who truly try to make your vacation memorable. Really enjoyed the "hot white" party. Service was excellent. They washed and folded my clothes for a fair price. The spa was superb! I would recommend it to anyone. It's expensive, but for a vacation to get ones mind off the work waiting for you at home-- a bargain. I gave my wife the 18 day spa pass and that was a bargain too! The Gem is truly a wonderful ship. I read its fact sheet. Its' crew international. Really makes it fun. Norwegian in my mind strives to be a class act. Sign me up- I'd do it again. I didn't think about work once. Therefore it was a true vacation. 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

Find a Norwegian Gem Cruise

Easily compare prices from multiple sites with one click