We (Swiss family with three teenagers) sailed the NCL Gem for 7 nights out of Barcelona October 19-26 (Barcelona, sea day, Malta, Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno, Villefranche, Barcelona). I started enquiring about some last minute booking two weeks before the sail date but since my wife would not be able to embark until the ship got to Naples and some derogation had to be asked at NCL HQ in Miami, we booked the staterooms actually only four days prior to leaving. We were assigned two outside staterooms with portholes on Deck 4 (4570 and 4602) at 499 Euro pp (about 670 USD, with the fifth passenger paying only 99 Euro). At the same moment I managed to find reasonably priced flights from Geneva to Barcelona avoiding thus the 8 hour trip by car.
Prior to this cruise we had sailed on 12 other ships, many Costa and MSC ships in Europe and a few in the Caribbean (HAL, Celebrity, Royal Majesty -- now NCL Majesty).
Freestyle Experience It was our first experience with Freestyle cruising and this was not a disappointment. Especially not having to rush for dinner was nice about it, but we missed the formal nights though. Service was very good, the production shows were excellent as well as the other performances. Announcements were not too many. The cruise director was just OK and often thought of himself that he was funny.
The food was very good to excellent (choice, quality, timing, options). We only once ate at a surcharge restaurant (our first time in Teppanyaki). Some other passengers overall commented the food was just OK. We found the breakfast buffet to be outstanding. Embarkation and disembarkation was the best (read: fastest) we ever had.
The Ship The layout of the ship is quite different from what we were used to previously. Nothing is symmetric about it and it was kind of hard to move around. Beautifully decorated, very clean, pool area somewhat inefficient though, excellent buffet lay out, Grand Pacific dining room was very stylish, excellent theater lay out. Especially Deck 6 and 7 felt crowded. Also, the aft eatery was crowded and felt very remote from the rest of the ship.
The Staterooms Very clean and good lay out, somewhat noisy, very nice and spacious bathroom; there is a seat or sofa missing (could replace the silly table in the stateroom, as there is already a vanity desk), nothing on TV, ample storage space and comfortable beds.
Itinerary We did not take any shore excursions as we know already the ports we got to and find it easy to navigate around those places.
Passenger mix was about 75% from North America, 10% Spanish speaking, 10% German and the rest were Dutch and Maltese (in Malta on day 2 passengers can also embark).
In Summary Would we sail her again? Why not, if the price is right, any cruise ship is fine, but I would not book on this ship if I have a similar offer from another cruise line. Our terrific 14 night HAL Noordam experience last Xmas/NY out of New York was still fresh in our minds.