Every pearl has an imperfection where the sphere is attached to the oyster. This feature does not detract from the beauty but does represent something not quite perfect. I had very high expectations for our cruise on NCL's Pearl because it was a long time coming. Since 2003 I have suffered from a myriad of health problems including lymphoma. My husband and I had to downsize to a singlewide home in Vermont and have never taken a vacation. In my former life, I was an independent cruise consultant and enjoyed over 10 cruises on various cruise lines. After relocating and remarrying we never had the ability to take a vacation and even though my two daughters took plenty of vacations with their father, the four of us did not. So, with the sale of our home in August, the first thing I did was book our cruise so we would be able to enjoy a fabulous family getaway. My oldest daughter teaches English in South Korea and my youngest is a Junior at Uconn. The hardest part was coordinating every one's schedule. I had researched far and wide because let's face it, I had not taken a cruise in over 16 years and from what I gathered here on Cruise Critic, cruises have changed quite a bit. I decided that the "freestyle dining" concept was going to be an excellent choice as I never did like the strict structure of dining options from my prior cruises. I had also read on CC that the aft balcony experience was not to be missed so I booked a B1 aft balcony and secured the inside cabin across the hall for my daughters. We had booked this 4 months in advance and there were no extra perks offered through NCL. My PCC did a great job selling me the cruise but was lacking in service after the sale until 1-2 weeks before when I noticed that our 2 cabins were now $900 less and still available. Since I had spent quite a bit for the 2 cabins, shore excursions etc, I really felt like it would be nice to have some sort of OBC. She finally came through with $100 per cabin as well as a bottle of wine and a shrimp platter. In retrospect I would wait until closer to my sail date to book my cabins as watching the rates plummet was quite stressful. I would also book a cruise through a cruise outlet as they have many perks available and one does not have to beg for them.
Embarkation Day: We flew from Hartford, Ct to Fort Lauderdale via Southwest which was disappointing as the plane was dirty and bare bones. I also do not like not having a seat assignment. You basically have to purchase their program ($10 each way) to get priority check in so you have a better boarding position.
We arrived at FLL and went to the baggage claim area to fetch our luggage and find the NCL representative. We found our luggage but there was not a NCL rep to be found. Eventually I asked the Royal Caribbean Rep where I might find his NCL counterpart and he pointed me to a small desk between baggage carousels 4 and 5. I wish that info had been available to me in my EDocs. Once aboard the bus we motored to the pier in Miami which took about 45 minutes. We arrived at about 12:30 and boy was it mobbed. The line snaked around the side of the building out in the hot sun. Coming from Vermont it felt good but I was glad I had my bottled water as I was seeing some people melting in line. After about 30 minutes in line we went through security and found ourselves being checked in by a very friendly and helpful pier agent whose name I have forgotten (I have a baaad memory for names). We were whisked through check in and up to have our first (of many) photos taken. We did not purchase that particular photo as we were all disheveled from being up at 4:00am and looked absolutely spent. Once aboard I finally felt like we were on vacation but I did miss the welcoming champagne or juice from cruises years ago. I will add that we do not carry a credit card and it was no problem to board and add cash at the guest services desk. Our cabins were available so we dropped off our stuff and per CC recommendations we headed to the Summer Palace main dining room. We were seated at the aft window where we looked at another NCL ship that was behind us. The dining room had about 5 tables occupied and I really appreciated the CC advice to eat hear instead of the crowded buffet, Thanks!!!. The food was really good and the service also. Our journey through food and ocean had begun!
After lunch (around 2:00pm) I went to guest services to add some cash and sign up my daughter (20) with a permission form to drink wine or beer. I will say that having 3 employees on embarkation day is not sufficient. (Especially when one left and then there were 2). it was easy to add the cash but the woman would not let us complete the permission form because we had different last names, really? I gave up and went the next day and it was no problem. Needless to say I was getting cranky so we went back to our cabin to find that our fridge had not been cleaned out which was not a big deal. However my youngest daughter is a diabetic on a pump and not only was their fridge not cleared out so she could store her meds, it was locked! I kept asking different room stewards if they were hers, and no one was. I did ask one if they could find her room steward and let him know that her fridge had to be unlocked as soon as possible as her ice packs were melted and her meds had to be refrigerated. It was puzzling that even though our cabins were across from one another we had different room stewards. Both of my daughters went to bed after a very quick muster drill at 3pm. DH and I decided to explore the ship and watch the sail away party on the pool deck.
I found the ship to be very clean and not too crowded considering the ship was sold out. The crew was stellar except for a few moments. Our aft balcony was amazing except our slider would not always latch properly and slammed open and shut during our rough sea night(which was a blast!) I see that this has taken much too long to write. Suffice it to say we did enjoy our final vacation together and I thank NCL for making this possible. As I head into surgery this Friday I can say that we all had a wonderful time and I only wish I could cruise again. This was port intensive and was great for everyone to explore new places. If I could ever cruise again I would sail to Bermuda and be able to explore it in its entirety. Thanks to CC members for all of your advice as I used it a lot during our cruise! Our "pearl" cruise was a wonderful adventure and though not perfect it was as beautiful as the treasure found in the ocean!