Norwegian Cruise Line specializes in “Freestyle Cruising” which means no assigned dining times or dining rooms and a more relaxed dress code. The Gem has 11 dining venues. 6 of these are complimentary: Magenta, Grand Pacific, O’Sheehans, Orchid Garden, The Garden Cafe, and The Great Outdoors. The Gem also has several specialty, for-fee restaurants: Cagney’s Steakhouse, Le Bistro, Moderno Churrascaria, La Cucina, and Teppanyaki. I would definitely recommend getting reservations for the specialty restaurants ahead of time unless you don’t mind dining late. You can make reservations for the specialty restaurants online before the cruise, but you have to pay at time of booking. If you don’t want to pay for your food months before your cruise, I recommend booking right when you get on the ship to get the most ideal times. And personally, I would book times on the later side since you’ll probably have a bigger lunch than you’re used to. Unless you have a big group, there is no need to book the complimentary restaurants ahead of time.
Magenta and Grand Pacific are the main dining rooms with rotating menus. Grand Pacific is the more formal dining room but even though they shared menus, we found the service to be better in Magenta. In Magenta they refilled our bread and brought coffee with dessert without having to ask for it. Speaking of dessert, you have to try the Warm Chocolate Volcano!
O’Sheehans is the Irish Pub that is open 24 hours a day. It has a limited menu, but is good if you want to avoid the crowds (especially on embarkation day) or eat at an off time. O’Sheehans definitely had the most restaurant-like feel to it and there was never a wait. The fish and chips were great!
Orchid Garden is the Asian Fusion restaurant that recently got rid of its cover charge and because of that, was the busiest of all the restaurants. This was the only restaurant we ever had to wait for and personally, it wasn’t worth it. The dishes were unusual but they were OK. Service, on the other hand was not so great. I would most likely skip the Asian restaurant on next Norwegian cruise.
The Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors are the buffets on the ship. The Garden Cafe is the main buffet and The Great Outdoors is the al fresco dining option. On sea days, The Garden Cafe was always packed! You could always find a table, but it was crowded walking through. The Garden Cafe typically had shorter hours and a more limited menu. We ate most of our meals in the main dining room because we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the buffets.
Cagney’s Steakhouse is Norwegian’s Signature Steakhouse and it was PHENOMENAL! It has the highest cover charge of the signature restaurants and it was worth ever penny. Everything I had was perfectly cooked and seasoned. The servers were attentive but didn’t hover. My only complaint is we dined at Cagney’s on my birthday and they brought out an anniversary cake and sang an awkward anniversary song to us (we also celebrated our anniversary on this trip but I brought the card that said we were celebrating my birthday on this day). Our server caught the mistake and asked to sing Happy Birthday to me by herself but I declined. I’d had enough singing for one meal.
Moderno Currascaria is an all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steakhouse where gauchos bring the various dishes around on skewers. This was a meat feast (vegetarians may want to skip this one) serving everything from lamb chops to garlic marinated beef and chorizo sausage. There is also a salad bar with soups and all kinds of different salads. I made the mistake of going up for two trips to the salad bar and I couldn’t even try everything they brought around. I was so disappointed! I think on my next cruise, I will skip lunch on Moderno day.
Le Bistro is Norwegian’s French Restaurant and of all the specialty restaurants, it was my least favorite. I had the filet which came with a pepper sauce that I didn’t care for. We had the chocolate fondue for dessert and I was disappointed that it was cold, and honesty they didn’t give us much fruit. I have heard a lot of good things about Le Bistro, but I just didn’t care for it. It was not worth the cover charge to me.
Teppanyaki is a hibachi-style restaurant and it is the most difficult reservation to get. I have heard a lot of good things about Teppanyaki but I didn’t try it. The same goes for La Cucina, the Italian restaurant, which is also very popular.
Overall, the dining on the Norwegian Gem was great! If you’re looking for a cruise that has a dining focus, you can’t go wrong with Norwegian. I loved that the dining was restaurant-style and we didn’t have to sit with strangers. And unlike the other cruise lines that have “your time dining”, you rarely have to wait for a table.