When my husband and I came across an unbeatable price for an Alaska Inside Passage cruise aboard the Norwegian Pearl, we almost passed it by. Our first experience with Norwegian had been aboard the Norwegian Star to somewhere along the coast of Mexico. What stood out in our memories were constant announcements for purchases of bingo/raffle tickets and signing up for the pay "specialty" restaurants, as well as recollections of so-so food and a frozen yogurt machine that was always out of service. But, due to the great price and destination, we were game for this new challenge. Heck! If we had to, we'd bring ear plugs to drown out any announcements, because we did want to check out Alaska's Inside Passage which can only been seen via ship.
Much to our great relief and happy amazement, the Norwegian Pearl was a totally different experience from its sister ship. The boarding went quickly, the welcome onto the ship was immediate. The welcoming buffet offerred a staggering array of choices, and our cabins were ready in a short time. While we awaited the opening of our cabin, we took advantage of the buffet. As a weight watcher, I had plenty of fruit and vegetables to select from. There were sandwich wraps, subs, curries, Asian fare, and the usual buffet selections. So, both my husband I were happy. We continued to be pleased with the buffet throughout the cruise. There were only two criticisms here. First, the scrambled eggs on the first morning were terrible (they were better subseqent mornings) and the coffee was a middling average (as has been the case on every cruise). The buffet on the Pearl was delicious and of such a variety that we're at a loss to why anyone would say it was lacking. Perhaps buffets as an institution affect a diner's sense of taste since it's too hard to focus on one food when you've taken so many, or, you find yourself sitting there wondering how the food you haven't yet sampled might be. At any rate, the buffet on the Pearl was spectacular.
We took most of our dinners in the main restaurants. The service there was spotty and the food wasn't as good as the buffet, but it was fine. We didn't starve. In fact, the only skinny people on board were the dancers in the show and the hardworking cabin stewards. For those who claimed they starved, free room service was available around the clock and there were several other areas to get free food throughout the day--so who was starving and "making do" with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
The decor on the Pearl is so wacky! It's a cross between Alice in Wonderland and mid-century modern. The Spinnaker Lounge was filled with egg chairs and there were these crazy sofas and undulating lounges, and even a few upholstered beds all around. We thought the passengers would be way too conservative to cuddle up on the beds and loungers, but they took to the wacky but comfortable furniture with gusto. The Spinnaker Lounge became everyone's favorite place to read, sea-watch and read. All thoughout the public areas, the wacky furniture theme continued. We'd never been on a ship with so many comfortable seating areas which in and of themselves were an attraction.
We were quite pleased with our balcony room. Like most cabins, they aren't known for their spaciousness, but it was lovely. The bathroom was about the same as on any other cruise ship we've been on, but we still wonder how the very, very, very obese passengers, and the very, very many of them, got their huge bodies into the potty alcove and how any toilet could withstand their weight onslaught. None of the Pearl's balconies had an obstructed view. We enjoyed beautiful scenery right outside our room when we could withstand the cold, cold winds.
The entertainment had its ups and downs. The comedy acts were great (but not Second City), the ensemble was good (although their second show was totally ruined by a horrible audio mix), and the oldies cover group for Franke Vallee were also good. My husband and I read a lot and tried to walk a few miles around the deck every day, so we missed most of the planned activities. Fortunately, we were able to take part in one of the dance classes. That was so much fun! I wish that I hadn't missed the others.
We were somewhat disappointed in Juneau. More could be done there, but by the city. Don't they want cruise dollars? The gondola up the hill was good but way too expensive. Ketchikan was our favorite port. Even though we didn't see whales or a lot of wildlife, we loved the scenery and this cruise.