Some background on us. We've cruised 25+ times on 7 cruise lines. We're middle aged, having cruised on average once or twice a year for many years. Since we had kids 9 years ago, we've cruised only on the NCL Norwegian Sun. We've loved the freestyle cruising. Wonderful for kids. We always have a great time.
This time the Sun was unavailable so we decided to try out the Pearl. The most important part of the ship to us is the outside open spaces. Top sides, pool side, wrap around promenade is an absolute must.
I had expected the Pearl to be an even larger version of the Sun, but I was disappointed in its layout.
Overall, it feels cramped and crowded. There too little open space anywhere in three dimensions.
I'm short and have never had to worry about head clearance, nor can I usually touch the ceiling no matter how hard I try. Yet on this ship even the floors are squished with low ceilings. Twice I could easily touch the ceiling. On the Promenade deck I could easily touch the lifeboats. They're right over head.
In the big multi story lounge, I was on the top level and walked up a little ramp for handicap use. I was surprised that I could spread my fingers above my head while standing flatfooted and touch the ceiling.
Let me repeat. I am short. The ceilings are sometimes quite low.
But the ship feels small in every direction. This ship is substantially bigger than the Sun, yet it felt smaller to me. Much of the added space is devoted to specialty restaurants. The idea is ok, but cover charges of $10-20 seems excessive on the cruise where food was supposed to be included. With a family of 4 spending an additional $40-80/meal isn't worth it, so we didn't use them, hence lots of space we didn't take advantage of.
Back when the Titanic was around and ships were the only way to cross the Atlantic, ships had three classes. At some point, cruise lines decided that having multiple classes was bad and it was better to open the entire ship up to everyone. The world rejoiced and no one had looked back.
Alas, the days of classes while cruising is making a come back. On the Pearl, there are two floors just aft and above the public pool which are special decks reserved for suites. Again it feel that a big portion of the ship, especially the desirable top side, it off limits.
I personally don't relate to special sectioned off areas for suites passengers. Seems that they get stuck with a smaller confined albeit more private space.
Other areas of the ship felt cramped as well. Whereas many other ships have two corridors or paths going through the deck with main lounges, the Pearl has only one meandering path for all passengers through the main deck.
Even the pool deck is broken up with pillars, water slide, stacks of chairs so that its hard to get good sight lines. Its hard to find a spacious feeling place. The decks above are similarly broken up into various sections.
The inside atriums are much smaller than on the Sun, with two areas only two stories tall.
If you can get over the cramped feeling, or don't notice it, the ship can be lots of fun.
We enjoyed the water slide (too slow), rock climbing wall, air hockey table, pool(s), shuffleboard, deck chess set. Bowling was an interesting idea but seemed too expensive. Ping pong felt too crammed into a tiny space so we didn't try it.
I found the food to be very good, especially in the buffet. It helps (a lot) if you like Indian food (which I do). Food was plentiful, almost always available and usually fresh and good. Sometimes some items would get to looking old, but overall quite good.
The crew in general was excellent. Going out of their way all the time to have happy passengers. We had several crew members volunteer to get us special items when they ran out, which sometimes entailed running up and down several decks and another time ended up as room service. They didn't need to do that. It was just very nice of them.
Overall we had a good time.
However I can't give a review without describing the most disturbing experience. When we embarked I thought I was getting over a cold, but apparently the process was taxing on me and I ended up quite ill that first day. I had a fever and all I wanted to do was sleep. My wife and kids ran off to check out the ship. When they came back my wife at some point shouted and jumped to my rescue as a bed bug was crawling on the pillow next to me heading towards me.
In all our years cruising and traveling we have NEVER seen a bed bug. Some people confuse them with dust mites which eat your dead skin that falls off. That is not a bed bug. Bed bugs are more like ticks that bite you and suck your blood. Except they're very stealthy. There's rarely just one, usually tons of them. They reproduce very quickly and are very hard to eradicate.
This was definitely a bed bug. My wife proceeded to tear up the bed sheets and found more bed bugs albeit dead ones. We were very tired, I was ill and we were fairly freaked out.
To their credit, various hotel staff quickly came over, confirmed the bed bug, found us another room and helped us move. Luckily they didn't seem to get into our luggage because we saw no sign of them in the new room nor for the rest of the cruise.
I'd like to think this is an isolated case but I'm not so sure. The cramped feeling of the Pearl extends to the cabins as well. Four of us crammed into the smallest cabin I've been in since the Norway. The only thing spacious on the ship is the shower. It has its own little room.
The cabin was so crammed that the table extended over the bed because there was no room for it. We literally had no room to put extra pillows the steward brought us.
Particularly in the first cabin we had, 9024, it was simply too crowded. There were many layers of sheets, blankets and I think a memory foam layer on the bed. Too many places for bed begs to hide and lodge themselves.
A convoluted pull out sofa was used as the extra bed. The sheets for it were thrown inside, almost on the floor, next to a cushion with tons of lint on it.
Overall didn't seem like an easy place to clean. You cant move the sofa around to vacuum under it. Having sheets inside it makes it hard to eradicate the bed bugs.
I tend to think this likely isn't an isolated instance. Once the Pearl gets bed bugs, it seems easy to spread and hard to stop them.
However, our second cabin had no signs of them. It was at the other end of the ship, port side aft.
While the crew was helpful, they didn't seem as shocked as we did. I would have thought they'd try to upgrade us to a nicer cabin. Some mild form of compensation, gift card, sorry card, anything. We're considering going on another cruise soon and have trouble thinking of going on another NCL because of the bed bugs. Luckily we don't seem to have brought them home.
Regarding ports, I usually don't like talking about them much because they seem separate from the ship we arrived on, but I will mention that we loved Paradise beach on Cozumel. The kids loved the huge pool. They had wifi (although very slow). It was generally gorgeous and well kept.