Norwegian Gem's 13 dining venues offer open seating, flexible hours and excellent service -- you won't find assigned dining times and set tablemates here. Passengers can check the availability at ship restaurants on plasma TV's located throughout the ship. If restaurants are booked up for certain times, the screen lists alternative reservation suggestions. You can also make reservations in advance once onboard. It's best to book early at the steakhouse and other smaller restaurants, especially for large parties. Cancellations within 24 hours of a reservation result in forfeiture of the surcharge.
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Complimentary hot tea, coffee, iced tea and ice water are served with meals; soft drinks, bottled water and alcoholic beverages are available at an additional charge.
Grand Pacific and Magenta, the two main restaurants, share dinner menus with specials that change daily, while Grand Pacific strikes out on its own for lunch. The menu generally sticks to classic American, with an occasional foray into the adventurous. (Think Vietnamese summer rolls or the daily "regional specialty".) During lunchtime at the Grand Pacific, seating is easy to come by, and even the two-person tables overlooking the ocean are easily accessible. But, if you want to snag one of the romantic spots for dinner, your best bet is to dine early, because those tables are the first to go. Large, classic, nautical paintings and maps tile the ceiling and walls in this elegant room.
Lined with contemporary paintings and outfitted with upholstered vermilion chairs, Magenta is decidedly courtlier than its sister dining room. Only open for dinner, the dining room sits roughly half (306) of what the Grand Pacific packs in (558). Although this is the second-largest dining venue on the ship, it's absent the wide-open layout that can make the Grand Pacific seem like a bit of a free-for-all and has a decidedly more intimate atmosphere.
Blue Lagoon is a something-for-everyone joint. Diner fixin's like burgers, fish 'n' chips and stir-fry are served up in a comely setting, 24/7. There's grub available whether you've got a hankering around brunchtime or an adrenaline-fueled post-roulette victory craving for that perfect something greasy to prove you're unstoppable, even in the early morning hours.
Garden Cafe and the Great Outdoors -- dual indoor and outdoor buffets -- are good for a quick bite nearly all day long. Looking for some ethnic/specialty fare but don't want to fork over extra dough for one of the specialty restaurants? These all-you-can-eat venues offer a smorgasbord of unique -- albeit considerably less refined -- dishes; think Moroccan cous cous, glazed pork, pasta and barbecue. Self-serve coffee and ice cream help wash down just about any over-indulgence a buffet might solicit.
For pint-sized Garden Cafe customers, there's also the Kid's Cafe section with classic favorites, including French fries, hot dogs and mac 'n' cheese -- no spinach in sight. A flat-screen TV shows cartoons like "Tom and Jerry" to keep wee diners entertained.
Enjoy chili con carne, stir-fried veggies or grilled sausage with a front row view of the waterslide at Bali Hai Bar and Grill. The kid-friendly hot air balloon-themed buffet overlooks the Tahitian pool and its dozens of lounging sunbathers.
Cagney's Steakhouse ($29.95 cover charge), located way up on Deck 13 and named for the classic gangster movie star, is gaudy in a 1930's Dick Tracy way; it sports wide yellow-leather seats, a glossy wood paneling and a wall-to-wall abstract cityscape. The menu includes filet mignon, strip loin, New York cut, rib eye, prime rib and T-bone steaks, as well as double cut lamb chops, salmon and chicken. The steakhouse's signature cocktail, the "Speakeasy Martini," combines Southern Comfort, apricot brandy, Grand Marnier and sparkling wine.
The Orchid Garden Asian restaurant, a complimentary Asian fusion complex, offers starters like vegetable dumplings and pork spare ribs, followed by Chinese chicken salad or hot and sour soup, and entrees like Cantonese scallops with snow peas, moo shoo pork and stir-fried lobster. Save room for the flight of Oriental creme brulees and five-spice chocolate cake.
For the ol' chef-as-entertainer schtick, Teppanyaki (cover charge $25) -- located inside the Orchid Garden -- is a hard-to-get treat with only 32 spots at four tables. Gathered around a large rectangular iron griddle, eager eaters watch as onions, eggs, shrimp and steak are lit ablaze, tossed through the air and, ultimately, turned into flavorful meals by chefs standing right in front of them. Entrees include combinations of chicken, beef and seafood (including lobster) served with miso soup, ginza salad, vegetables and garlic fried rice. Entrees are followed by ice cream or fresh fruit. California and New York rolls, barbecued eel and flying fish roe are among the selections at the Sushi Bar ($15 for all you can eat), also located within the Orchid Garden complex.
NCL's signature French restaurant, Le Bistro ($19.95 cover charge), is still among the most popular offerings. The service is especially attentive and the food presentation memorable. Chef's specialties include Les Quatres Cornets, four pastry cones with savory fillings like duck confit and smoked chicken salad; Filet de Porc Au Romarin, rosemary roasted pork tenderloin with glazed apples and cream; and the classic French braised chicken dish, Coq au Vin. Don't miss the decadent chocolate fondue with fruit, served in a half-pineapple, and try to catch the jazz brunch served there on sea days ($15).
At the rustic La Cucina ($14.95), you can create your own pizza or pasta with sauces ranging from traditional (tomato, Alfredo and Bolognese) to haute (shrimp with lemon and basil or smoked salmon with white wine cream and chives).
Moderno Churrascaria ($19.95) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers a expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and chicken. There's also the obligatory salad bar featuring international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies, alongside the traditional salad ingredients. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat.
The hip Java Cafe in the flashy Crystal Atrium brews fabulous coffee drinks -- cappuccino, espresso and frozen coffee -- for a fee, served with delectable pastries.
Surrounded by so many dining venues, it's easy to forget that 24-hour room service is also available (except on the morning of debarkation). Enjoy morning coffee and Continental fare like juice, fresh fruit, muffins and cold cereal free of charge. Lunch and dinner options, including perennial favorites like chicken Caesar salad, sandwiches and pizza, plus kid-pleasers like hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, carry a $7.95 convenience fee per order. Haven and suite passengers may order room service free of charge.