I'm supposed to keep this review to 2,000 words or less. Hard to do since I sent NCL a nine page letter listing all the problems with no response from them. Doesn't surprise me. I'll try to cut it way down for this.
Basically, the Gem experience was awful. This cruise was by far the worst cruise we have ever been on. When we boarded the Gem in New York we headed to the Garden Café. The cafeteria was packed. We finally found our way to The Great Outdoors dining area. Let me tell you that The Great Outdoors isn't so great when you are forced to sit there in winter in New York. We were freezing! But there was no place else to sit. Our food got cold fast, but the worst part of it all was that my husband's hot dog roll was moldy. Freestyle Cruising? What a joke this is. "Eat where you want:" We felt we already paid enough for the cruise so we didn't want to go somewhere where we had to pay the "small cover charge." So that pretty much limited us to only 4 places -- not 13. Small cover charge by the way is $20! For $18.89 I can get a much better meal at the Outback Steakhouse.
"Eat when you want:" Attempted dinner at Magnolia. Thought we would eat at 7 pm. We were handed a pager and told it would be a 30 minute wait. So we leaned up against a wall and waited directly across from the woman who was handing out pagers. My son-in-law was wearing shorts. He was wearing the shorts when we put our name on the list and were handed the pager and he continued to wear those same shorts for the entire 45 minutes we waited. Finally my daughter walked up to the woman and said, "How much longer is this going to take? We've been waiting longer than the 30 minutes you told us." To which she replied, "Oh, your table has been ready for 15 minutes." Showed her the page and said, "this pager didn't work. We were not called." So we walked in and were then informed, "He can't come in here in shorts, we require pants." Information that would have been useful when we put our name on the list. We went to our cabins and pulled out the "Freestyle Daily." The back page under "For whenever you are hungry" it reads: "Dress Code: Feel free to "dress up or not" wherever you are dining. Please refrain from wearing jeans in the Grand Pacific after 5:00 pm." Nothing about Magnolia not allowing shorts. Wait staff can't get anything right. Ordered cole slaw, got fries. Ordered cranberry juice, got prune juice. Ordered eggs over easy, got scrambled. Ordered baked potato with sour cream, got whipped cream. Hamburgers were either raw or burnt. You need a magnifying glass to locate your vegetable serving. Their "8 oz" steak is about ¼ of the size of Outback's 7 oz Victoria's filet. With the exception of the Gazpacho or tomato soup, all the other soups are horrible. Meats fatty. Chicken tasteless and dry. Why would anyone want "green tea" ice cream? The pastries were stale, hard and awful. The coffee dispensers were usually not working. "Free" restaurants were usually packed. We had to wait.
The Garden Café was always full during regular meal times. By the time we found seating for 5, our food was cold. While the "free" restaurants were packed full with long waiting times, the "small cover" charge restaurants were empty. Lots of empty tables at Orchid Garden. There always seemed to be plenty of room at Le Bistro as well and while waiting to sit at the Blue Lagoon, Tapas was completely empty.
Private Island experience. It was not pretty, it was not clean, it was basically a dumpy place. Started to follow the signs that read "to lighthouse," but quickly saw another sign that said, "Leaving NCL Property." So how much of it is actually NCL Property? It looked pretty sketchy. Garbage piled up along the trail. The line for food on the NCL island was even worse than the line for food at the Garden Café. We stood in line for over 40 minutes. The end result -- I got a raw hamburger. The cooks couldn't keep up with the amount of people trying to eat at noon so they just passed the burgers over the fire and threw it onto the plate.
Activities were limited and boring. The cruise director and staff were dull. Bingo was boring and expensive. The shows were not that good. The comedian was particularly awful. The Theater was hot. I know it was December, but when you cram a theater full of people, it gets hot. Air conditioning would have been helpful.
Getting off the ship in Port Canaveral was a nightmare. It was not organized. Everyone tried to get off at once and this resulted in jam packed hallways and staircases. Had there been an emergency, no one could have gotten help. Don't know how disembarkation was at Nassau and Freeport because we waited two hours to get off the ship for fear that we would once again be packed like sardines trying to get off.
TV or lack thereof. All we got was Fox News and CNN. Plus it was so out of sync that the lips didn't match up with the words. In fact, one time there was a woman talking on the screen, but it was a man's voice coming out of her mouth. That was actually funnier than the comedian on the Gem.
The last night of the cruise was the alcohol "pick up" between 6 and 11 pm. There were a couple of raffles going on in the duty free stores at the same time. We once again found ourselves in a very long line, with lots of people pushing and shoving. People crammed in the store trying to listen to numbers being called for the raffle, other's trying to make their way to their bottles. It was a mess. There has to be a better way to pick up alcohol. I think pick up should be in the always empty Orchid Garden restaurant.
Disembarkation in New York. Yay! Back home! Tried the "express disembarkation." By "express" they mean wait in line for over an hour. I swear all we did on this cruise was wait in one endless line after another. It only seemed fitting that we would wait in another endless line yet again. We skipped breakfast so we wouldn't have to eat more stale, raw or moldy food, and so we just waited in our cabins until the ship cleared and we were told we could disembark. Once they announced that those people who had signed up for express disembarkation could leave, we headed to the exit. The doors were closed and the line didn't move for over an hour. A crew member walked by and told people. "It's not NCL, it's customs." Okay, if the ship hadn't been cleared why were we told we could head to the gangway?
So that's a shortened version of my experience on the Norwegian Gem. It certainly will be memorable, but not in a good way. I'm sure my family will remember this for a long time, and we are now laughing and joking about how awful it actually was. For me it was a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to cruising on Norwegian again. I remember my first Norwegian cruise as being lots of fun, with excellent food and lots of great activities, but after that week I will never cruise on NCL again.