No one is going to go hungry on Norwegian Gem, which offers everything from elaborate breakfast buffets to barbecues by the pool to any number of specialty spots for dinner, ranging from Asian to a classic steakhouse experience. Norwegian's signature Freestyle Dining policy means passengers can eat when they want and are not locked into an early or late seating for dinner in the main dining rooms. (It can't be understated how much that means to Gem's repeat passengers, who when asked what brings them back time and again, often give this as the first reason.)
The ship's dining rooms offer open seating, flexible hours and excellent service, while a reservation for the specialty restaurants is usually necessary (though walk-ins are seated when possible).
The crew is happy to accommodate special dietary needs -- gluten-free, low sodium, etc. -- with advance notice.
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.
Magenta (Deck 6) and Grand Pacific (Deck 7) Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D) The Grand Pacific and Magenta are Gem's two main restaurants. The menus are the same in each restaurant, with specials that change daily.
The Grand Pacific has an elegant 1920s Gatsby vibe with a slightly more upscale atmosphere, while Magenta is smaller in size and laid out in a way that creates a more intimate -- and decidedly cozier -- atmosphere. Grand Pacific is open for breakfast and dinner daily, plus lunch (on sea days), while Magenta is only open for dinner.
The banquet-style dinner menu generally sticks to classic American, with an occasional foray into the adventurous, such as Vietnamese pho or Thai coconut vegetable curry, which were often our favorite dishes. Other solid choices you could always count on included New York strip steak, rotisserie chicken and a couple of pasta dishes.
Breakfast is a leisurely affair, a nice counterpoint to the bustle of the buffet. Everything from eggs Benedict to omelets is on offer.
During lunchtime at the Grand Pacific, seating is easy to come by 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.
If you're in a hurry to get to a show or a game of trivia, plan accordingly as service, while friendly and efficient is not necessarily speedy.
Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors (Deck 12) Meals: B, L, D Norwegian's standard cruise ship buffet (a dual indoor and outdoor affair), the Garden Cafe and the Great Outdoors are good for a quick bite nearly all day long. At breakfast, made-to-order omelet stations make for a nice customizable breakfast experience. If you like or if you prefer, you can dive into different food stations packed with fruit, pastries, yogurt, cereals, cheeses and any other breakfast item you could want.
Lunch and dinner feature a dizzying array of options, from salad and soups to hot and cold entrees. At dinner, if you're looking for some ethnic/specialty fare but don't want to fork over extra dough for one of the specialty restaurants, you won't be disappointed. In addition to classic American fare, there's usually a themed station each night, such as Mexican, Greek, Russian, Italian and so on, so passengers can sample a variety of cuisines.
In general, the buffet offered good options, and we could always find something to like. At peak times, the buffet gets quite crowded so some patience is required, and it can take time to find a table. We always had better luck heading outside to the Great Outdoors for seating, but if you prefer air-conditioned indoor seating, be prepared to wander around before you find a table.
Servers roam around offering drink service, but it's often faster to grab a drink from the bar yourself.
Topsiders Bar & Grill (Deck 12) Meals: B, L late-night snacks Serving a continental breakfast in the morning, Topsiders is ideal for those early birds who want to claim their chair by the pool first thing. At lunch, hotdogs and hamburgers, along with sides such as coleslaw and potato salad, make for a perfect casual meal. On various days, cooks will also set up grills and offer barbecued items during lunch.
Some evenings, snacks are set out for passengers looking for a late-night nosh.
O'Sheehan's (Deck 8) Meals: B, L, D O'Sheehan's, Norwegian's nearly fleetwide Irish pub, is a something-for-everyone joint. Classic casual fare is served up in a comely setting, 24/7, one deck up from the Atrium, with seating looking down, which makes for fun people-watching. There's also a bar here, where sports fans can catch a game. Best of all, there's food 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.
Many passengers quickly find out that O'Sheehan's is also a great spot for a sit-down breakfast, with none of the stress of fighting the crowd at the buffet, and more speed than the leisurely pace of the Grand Pacific.
Orchid Garden (Deck 7) Meals: D The Orchid Garden Asian restaurant offers an Asian fusion menu, comprising soups, sides and entrees. Diners also have the option of ordering a la carte appetizers from the adjacent Bar for a fee.
Room Service Meals: B Enjoy morning coffee and continental fare, such as juice, fresh fruit, muffins and cold cereal, free of charge.
Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte pricing Menu: D This French specialty restaurant is among the most popular offerings on the ship and one of its most romantic venues. Of all the restaurants onboard, Le Bistro seems to be the one passengers love to get the most dressed up for, with sequins and suits a common sight. Service is especially attentive and the food presentation memorable.
Teppanyaki (Deck 7); $39 per person Meals: D For those who like dinner and a show simultaneously, Teppanyaki -- located inside the Orchid Garden -- is a hard-to-get treat with only 32 spots at four tables that delivers both. 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 in front of them. The prix-fixe menu consists of combinations of various proteins, served with miso soup, seafood salad, vegetables and garlic fried rice.
Four chefs banging utensils in the small space can get loud, but most of the din is over within 10 to 15 minutes.
Teppanyaki is the most quickly filled dining venue onboard, so book your night out as soon as you board -- or better yet, do it online before you even get to the ship.
La Cucina (Deck 12); a la carte pricing Meals: D 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) in this spot that channels a traditional Italian trattoria. Diners can also enjoy classics like osso bucco, veal Marsala and gnocchi.
Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 13); $39 per person Meals: D You'll want to go with a hearty appetite to this Brazilian-style steakhouse, which offers an expansive line-up of skewered meats, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and chicken, which keep coming until you cry uncle. There's also the obligatory salad bar featuring international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies, alongside the traditional salad ingredients.
Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 13); a la carte pricing Meals: D Named for the classic gangster movie star, Cagney's serves up the normal steakhouse faves, such as filet mignon, T-bone steak, rib-eye and New York strip, with all the usual steakhouse sides. Diners will also find salmon and pork chop options. Cagney's is very popular and fills up quickly. Make your reservation in advance if you want a prime-time dinner slot.
Room service Meals: 24 hours Gem offers 24-hour room service (except on the morning of debarkation), though only continental breakfast is free. Lunch and dinner options, including perennial favorites such as chicken Caesar salad, sandwiches and pizza, plus kid-pleasers such as hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, carry a $7.95 convenience fee per order. The Haven and suite passengers may order room service free of charge.