Prior to sailing we stayed at the La Quinta Airport East hotel. The hotel was fairly clean, reasonably priced. I booked ahead of time and got a king room for $79 a night including seven days parking and shuttle to the port. There is a third party vendor that offers a return shuttle from the port back to the hotel for $10 per person (if purchased at the hotel prior to sailing). The hotel also offered a basic free breakfast as well. If you are looking for a clean no frills place to sleep prior to sailing the La Quinta Airport East is a reasonable option.
We had a wonderful time on the Norwegian Pearl. We were very pleased with almost every aspect of our experience. This was our second cruise (first on Norwegian) so we weren't total newbies but we aren't seasoned pros either. We booked cruise to celebrate my 50th birthday and our 15th wedding anniversary.
We participated in the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet and Cabin crawls. It was lots of fun to meet several of our fellow Cruise Critic members and to have a reception with the crew. It was also very nice to get to see all of the different cabin types on the crawl.
We booked cabin 5020 which is a family ocean view class cabin on the starboard side front of the fifth deck. The cabin was configured with a queen bed (could be set up as two twins), a wall mount bed and a stow-a-way bed under the queen bed. Therefore the cabin is rated for up to four people, but I can only imagine how tight things would be with four people in that cabin. However, for two its plenty of room. The bathroom was small but in my opinion well designed for use. The cabin had your standard small flat panel TV, mini fridge (we asked our steward to remove the prestocked items for sale as we checked in), a closet and six drawers and several shelves to set stuff on, a desk area, and a table and small chair. This cabin had very easy access to the forward elvators and was only one deck up from the shore days exit. We didn't hear much noise in our cabin. The window was medium sized.
The Pearl offered several food options. The Summer Palace Dining Room and Indigo both offer the same menu each night. The nightly menu usually included a steak, a fish option (or two) and other options such as lamb or pasta were also on the menu. The food offered in these dining rooms was good and service was excellent. We also liked the Free Style dining which means you can eat anytime you want. Generally there wasn't any wait to eat at the dining rooms. The Summer Palace is nicely decorated in a classic formal design, the only negative about the Summer Palace tended to get a bit noisy at times. Indigo is smaller and decorated more in a jazz club theme. The Buffet was really good and offered a wide selection of food including a really tasty Indian food section. In addition to the main buffet there are also two satellite locations one being on the pool deck and the other being "The Great Outdoors" an outdoor dining area on the very aft of the ship. We loved eating our breakfast every morning in "The Great Outdoors" we could watch the ocean streaming by or we could enjoy our first look at the port while enjoying a fresh made omelet. Blue Lagoon is a small nicely decorated dining option that is open 24 hours a day offering burgers, fish and chips, chicken wings and other pub type fare. Blue Lagoon is a good option for late night dining. There were also some special dining events offered occasionally. These specials included a wonderful Bavarian buffet, a Chocolate buffet, a poolside BBQ and a Beach BBQ at the private island. All of the prior mentioned options are included in your fare. We found the food to be tasty, well prepared and the customer service was amazing.
In addition to the standard dining options there are several premium dining options costing between $15 and $25 per person more per meal. We ate at he Habachi style grill one night. The food was good and it was fun to watch the chief prepare it.
The Entertainment on the ship was also very good as a whole. The dance troop and singers were okay; the first variety show early in the cruise was mediocre but the Broadway review show later in the week was very good. The comedian was very good. The magician was one of the best I have ever seen, his show in the main theater was good but his up close and personal lounge show was amazing. There was a Second City troop on board, they did a couple of improvisation shows during the cruise. By far the best entertainment during the cruise was the "Oh What A Night" tribute group that performed the works of Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons. In addition to the main entertainment several of the lounge acts were very good. We also enjoyed the crew talent show on the last sea day. Overall the entertainment was very good.
As for ports of call on this Western Caribbean cruise:
Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas (Private Island)
This island had taken a direct hit from Hurricane Sandy less than 30 days prior to our visit. Due to this the palm trees were pretty torn up and the beach was somewhat rough. We spoke with one of the lifeguards on the island who told us they had been working pretty much non-stop to get things back in shape. There were plenty of beach loungers on the island and if you were willing to walk just a little bit there were even stretches of beach you could have pretty much to yourself. I spent much of the afternoon snorkeling there was a really nice reef area just off shore where I saw hundreds of fish including a sting ray and what I think was a fairly large barracuda. The BBQ offered on the island was very nice.
Ochos Rios, Jamacia
Personally we really didn't care for this port at all. I do understand that many of the locals were simply trying to earn a living, but we simply found them to be to much in our face. They wouldn't take no for an answer, they kept pressuring. Plus to be honest, everything looked dirty and unsafe.
We really enjoyed our visit to Grand Cayman. We left the port walked two blocks up to the public bus station and paid $2.50 per person to ride a van that took us on a ride around the entire western side of the island. We got off the van at Seven Mile beach and spent the afternoon sunning, swimming and more snorkeling. Then we paid another $2.50 per person to catch another van back to downtown. We then did some shopping at the giftshops near the port. We found Cayman to be very safe, clean and the people were friendly.
Having done some research on Cruise Critic prior to our visit I had learned that with some effort I could negotiate a taxi for the day. When we left the port there were several taxi drivers right outside the building. I asked them the rate to hire them for the entire day. The drivers right outside turned my down not even willing to talk price. They all tried to get me to buy a three or four hour island tour (the price varied). Others were willing to do it but wanted over $200 for up to five hours. I knew I could do better away from the port. We started walking toward downtown. As we walked we passed several taxis, I asked prices again most were only interested in a set island tour.
After we walked five or six blocks a taxi that was driving by stopped and asked if we wanted a ride downtown. I told him no, but I would like to hire him for the day. He thought for a bit and asked how much, I offered $90 till 5:30pm (about six and a half hours). He hesitated but eventually said yes. So off we went.
I said we wanted to stop at a store and buy some drinks. He took us to a huge Mega Mart where I purchased a styrofoam cooler, ice, water, beer, cokes and some snacks. I asked our driver what he wanted to drink he said coke, also asked him what he wanted for a snack, he picked up a bag of something. Purchased it all for $24.
Once we were back in the taxi with the cooler in the back (it was a station wagon) I told him we wanted to see the Mayan Ruins, We wanted to visit the eastern shore of the island, I wanted to snorkel for a little bit (I had my own mask) and we would like to do a little shopping. Our driver took us to every place we had requested plus a couple of additional stops thrown in that he suggested. He stayed right with us and was very helpful.
At the end of the day I paid him the agreed $90 plus a $20 tip. I also gave him the remaining drinks and food. He seemed very happy with everything. I would do this again any time.
What impressed us most about the Pearl was the incredible customer service they provided. There were dozens of examples of little things they did to make our experience special. We were always greeted with a hello from every crew member we met. We loved the dock party at Cozumel, we were met by dozens of the crew members on the dock (including Julie the crew director on stilts). Our cabin steward learned our names and greeted us by name every time we saw him.
Overall I would say that our experience on The Norwegian Pearl far exceeded our expectations.