There were 8 of us traveling, all adults with various cruise backgrounds. Our daughter and son-in-law and we have cruised over 25 times, our foster daughter and her partner, celebrating 20 years together, have cruised 3 times previously. As for their friends, one had cruised a couple of times and for the other this was first time and certainly will her last. We were in an outside cabin, while they enjoyed balconies. Our daughter had a mini-suite, which made us feel almost like second-class cruisers, but that was OK. In the past, we have had mini-suites, balconies, outside cabins and inside. We book based on our budget at the time and rarely regret our choice.
Now, getting on with the wonders of cruising we experienced, starting with embarkation. We had spent 2 nights in Orlando prior to the cruise with our younger daughter and drove from there to the port in Miami. It took about 4 hours. We arrived at the port about 11:15 and hubby and I were in our cabin about noon. Housekeeping has improved becauses the cabins were ready; we didn't have to walk around the ship for hours carrying our tote bags. The only downside at all was the check-in point for wine we transported. We have always done this, always paying $15 a bottle, regardless of the bottle's size and it has always taken just a couple of minutes. This time, the woman checking the wine was either new, slow or both. She wrote everything down, including the brands of wine, bottle size, etc. and yes, charged $30 for the 1.5 liter bottle. That didn't bother us, but the speed with which she moved certainly did. We are used to them just saying OK, 4 bottles, X dollars, cabin number and away we go.
Cabins: We went directly to our cabin to drop off our carry-ons and then to get something to eat. As we approached our cabin, Veneir, our cabin steward, greeted us with a big "hi" and smile. He asked our names, even though we go by nicknames, which are not the same as our legal names. He never forgot them throughout the entire cruise. Our cabin was always spotless. Though they are on the small side, and getting in and out of bed is a little challenging, there is plenty of storage space. The bathrooms are laid out nicely and there is a flat screen TV, even if it is very small.But then who cruises to watch TV anyway? The bed was comfortable and the temperature in the cabin easy to control. I do think the next time we cruise on a ship with cabins this small, we will have the beds separated. That would be easier than trying to crawl out of them when they are queen-sized.
Service: Again, there was so little bad and very much good, it is hard to find a negative thing to say. We did have a waitress in Summer Palace one night who must have left her smile back in her home country, because we didn't see it and we didn't get the idea she loved her job. I can't say the service was bad, but it was very unfriendly. The rest of the time, every crew member had a smile with a hello and seemed to be there just to make us happy. This is particularly true about our cabin steward. I think he hid in a cupboard and watched us leave our cabin, since morning or night, whether we left at 7:30 a.m. or 9 a.m.,
5 p.m. or 6 p.m., we could return in 20 minutes and find the cabin spotless. At night not only was it always clean, fresh glasses including those for wine, but we found our towel animals wearing our sun glasses and once a towel mouse hiding under our pillow. We learned the last day of the cruise he is now taking his 3 month break to return to the Phillipines, where he has a 17-year-old son he hadn't seen in 9 months.
Food: For the most part, food ranged from very good to outstanding. I will hit the weak spots first. The weak are almost non-existent. The breakfast in the MDRs were just so/so, not always getting exactly what we ordered and the buffet, though the selection was outstanding, everything seemed cold. This isn't much different than any other type of buffet when it comes to the temp of the food. The rest of the time it was fine. Oh, the hash browns reminded us of overcooked bread patties or something. The only other real complaint with the food was in Summer Palace, the same night as the smileless dinner. I ordered the special: a burrito. Well, it came topped with barbeque sause and the smell of commercial barbeque sauce almost makes me sick. In all fairness, this was my fault for ordering it, so I don't blame NCL or the chefs.
The rest of the MDR food was above what we expected. Yes, the servings were on the small side, but most of us have tongues and we know how to ask for seconds. As for selection: please don't believe there isn't any. How much more could anyone want? On the right hand side of the menu the are several salads, soup and appetizer selections as well as pork tenderloin, chicken breast, salmon and steak, which are always available. You can also request vegetables of your choice and baked potato if you want. On the left hand side are the daily choices, which change. We had shrimp and tenderloin one night, I had perch one night and there was a night with prime rib. The first night is lobster night, but we ate in a specialty dining room. We usually ate about 7 p.m. and never had to wait more than a few minutes, except one night we did wait about 15 minutes. Of course, we also had lunch one day in Blue Lagoon. In my opinion, it has slightly gone down hill, but the wings were still good and we would eat there again. The last seaday was a Germanfest by the pool and in the Great Outdoors. I am not a huge lover of German food, so could have done without, but the rest said the food was very good.
We ate in the Lotus Garden, La Cocina, Le Bistro and Modernos. Each was worth the extra charge. The salmon, as well as the pastas, was outstanding; the Asian food was as good as any we have had. Generally, the problem was too much food; as always Le Bistro was the heigth of the eating experience; but wait, maybe it was Modernos. So much wonderful food, so much fun, but only so much room in the tummy. Next time we will eat there early in the cruise, not the last night.
Bar Service: There is no reason to spend your life's savings on booze. Unless you think cruising means fru fru drinks by the dozens you can drink plenty and not break the bank. Everyday there are several drink specials, every night form 4 to 6pm the Star Bar has 2 for 1 drinks and for wine drinkers. there is a wonderful wine package. Had we known about it, we would never have bothered with bringing our own wine on board. There are 3 levels: basic, moderate and luxury package: they start at $132 for 6 bottles. That is $22 a bottle. You have several choices and can order from the bar or the dining room.
Activities: there was always plenty to do, but you have to look around. When I hear people say there isn't much activity I have to wonder: there are movies, some days pool games, trivia a couple times a day, games to check out, a library, informal bridge, other card games, some demonstrations of food prep, towel folding, arts and crafts, etc. All have no extra expense. If you want to spend a few bucks, you can do the wine tasting or martini clinic plus other liquor demos. There are nightly shows, a piano player, and often activities in the Crystal Atrium. There was even a putting clinic for the golfers and, of course, the pool and the spa. I don't think the nightly shows were as good as in years past.
Ports of call: GSC was our first port. The tenders are much improved over past years and the ride over was relaxing, as was the overall experience. We really didn't do much, other than grab a lounge and read for awhile. I went in the crystal clear water; the fish were staring at me as I stared at them. This is without snorkeling, I can imagine if I had chosen to actually snorkel what it would have been like. There was only one bar, which was packed. It took about 20 minutes to get 2 drinks. The next day was a sea day and then it was Ocho Rios. We just got off the ship, had planned on taking a taxi to town, but changed our minds. Some in our group did the ship's Dun's River falls trip. They too didn't have anything positive to say about Ocho Rios but loved the falls. I would never get off the ship again in 8 Rivers unless I was taking a ship tour. Everytime we are there, it seems to get worse. We chose to stay on the ship in Grand Cayman, but some of the group did do some beach activies. Of course, who could not love the clear waters and the beautiful beach there? In Cozumel, we chose to do the Sea Lions exhibition at Chankanaab Park. The park has so much to offer, it is always a great place to spend time. Our daughter, who was in a leg cast, couldn't do much of anything, so we tried to keep our touring down and spend time with her and her husband.
Debarkation really moved smoothly except getting luggage was a little confusing. We were told it would be in one place, but it was somewhere else. Oh well, these things happen. Because we had really late flights, we choose to stay on the ship until after 10 a.m., eating at the buffet just before they closed and then just relaxing.
Last year was a year of some turmoil, cancer treatments, canceled cruises, a very busy family holiday season, so we were looking for a cruise that would be relaxing and we found it. This was our second Pearl cruise and I would do it again in a second.