Let me first say that I am a firm believer that there is rarely ever a BAD cruise - I'm away from work, not having to cook or clean and getting to see places that I've never seen before. I have sailed 3 times with Princess and this was our 3rd time with Norwegian. My husband and I normally travel with friends that we met on our first cruise and this cruise was no exception. I have to say that all 4 of us were disappointed.
I knew going into this cruise that it was a repositioning cruise and a trade-off for the lower price would possibly be some concessions on excursions to pick from at ports that don't get alot of cruise travel except for repositioning time. I have to say that I will think long and hard before booking another repositioning cruise. You need to keep in mind that some things that are advertised as a ship feature or part of their normal cruise package may not be available on this special voyage. For example - I was really looking forward to being able to attend the murder mystery lunch. I'm sorry - not being done on this cruise. The weather didn't help this cruise - unseasonably cool several days which also happened to be the sea days.....Not very many activities planned for all the people that thought they were going to be able to spend their sea days outside. I found myself laying on my bed in the room and watching TV or napping the whole day.
This was our first time in Los Angeles and not knowing the area, booked our pre-night stay with Norwegian at one of their hotels they are partnered with. A few months before the cruise - we received notice that the hotel had been changed. The hotel stay was OK - the rooms were fine - but I had originally booked a hotel close to the beach and lots of restaurants and activities close. This hotel was an airport hotel - only the high price restaurant in the hotel to choose from with a few Taco Bells, McDonalds, etc a few blocks away. The rest of the area was more of a commerical, warehouse area so nowhere to walk or entertain yourself. With the hotel reservation also came a transfer to the ship. We received a letter from Norwegian in our room telling us the procedure. Leave our bags in the room at 11:00AM, they would be picked up and brought to the lobby where we could verify they were there and then would be put on the bus for our transfer. At 11AM we went to the lobby to wait, and to wait, and to wait until finally a lady with a Norwegian scarf finally showed up with a clipboard and was wandering the lobby. We went to her, she crossed off our names and told us to go to the bus. Still no signs of our bags. Finally we got a bellman to go to our room to check on the bags because of course we had checked out and turned in our room keys.......there they sat......no one picking them up and I'm sure would still be sitting there if we hadn't checked. We lugged them downstairs and to the bus ourselves. There were several other guests wandering the lobby also wondering what to do, who after seeing us get our luggage ended up doing the same thing. The Norwegian representative just laughed and said everything would definitely be an improvement from here which I didn't find very professional or funny under the circumstances knowing that if we hadn't checked - we would have sailed away with no luggage.
Normally I find Norwegian's check in process quick and painless. This time we waited and we waited because the computers went down several times......Previous to sailing we had received 2 or 3 phone calls asking us to not be there before 1PM to help with congestion. I'm thinking that CAUSED more congestion having everyone arrive at once. After standing in line again after checking in to get on the ship - they were letting people get on the ship with group numbers.......half the people waiting had not been given group numbers so confusion and unhappiness was everywhere.
The Pearl is a beautiful ship - I think it is the prettiest ship I have sailed on. The colors are beautiful, the artwork in the halls are attractive and just the feel of the whole ship is nice. The other Norwegian ships that I have sailed on are the Spirit and the Epic so this ship was nothing like them and a little hard to get used to.
One of the reasons that we had made the switch from Princess to Norwegian was the entertainment. We had found that the entertainment on Norwegian was just a notch above Princess except for the Epic which of course was head and shoulders above anything we had seen on Princess. The entertainment on this ship was overall average to a little above. The Norwegian singers and dancers were a little painful to watch and listen to sometimes but they were trying hard. Sharkbait was great - I would have watched their show again and again. Les Langhorst(spelling) was a very enjoyable show. I slept through Second City and the comedian was not very good but in his defense - was not getting alot of help from the crowd. We ended each evening listening to Arvin and Emily. I remembered them from the Spiriti and just as enjoyable on this ship with a good following each evening. When cruising on the Spirit and Epic - the cruise director was seen everywhere, even on the immense Epic everywhere I turned I found him - chatting with cruisers and making himself available. On this cruise, I saw Pedro after each of the performances in the theatre - that's it.
Dining - We love freestyle dining - we like to be able to eat whenever we like with whomever we care to eat with. This was the first Norwegian cruise that we had been on that actually it was asked by the dining room staff whether you minded being seated with others. I remember on the Spirit and Epic - we had mentioned one evening that we wouldn't mind sitting with others and they looked at us like we had said something crazy. This is the first time ever on a Norwegian ship we had to wait to be seated with the pagers. We like to dress for dinner so always went to dinner in the Summer Palace since that was said to be the dining room for people who wished to dress a little more formally. The way the Summer Palace is arranged - their front doors are located at the bottom of a flight of steps with the dining room people standing at the top with their stand and pagers to be handed out. Also right here was the public restrooms, elevators and the stairway so no matter where you stood you were in the way. The dining room food was fine - we can always find something that we like and this was no exception. One night we ate in La Cucina and enjoyed the food there immensely. Breakfast we always ate in the buffet - typical cruise buffet food with the crowds of people milling everywhere and tables hard to find. For some reason I felt that there were alot of inconsiderate, rude cruisers on this trip. Maybe it was just me and not enjoying the cruise at the level I normally do but I saw alot of butting in line, not stepping aside when you met them in the hall and walking 3 across, etc. We ate lunch in the Blue Lagoon once on one of the sea days. I felt sorry for the dining room staff - they were running as fast as they could but still not giving very good service. The food was mediocre so we never went back.
Our state room was a balcony room that adjoined our friends room. Rather small as balcony rooms go but ok - it helped we kept out adjoining room door open alot of the time to make it feel bigger. Our steward was good - always friendly when we met in the halls and the room was kept clean as needed. That is one comparison that I have between Princess and Norwegian. It seemed on Princess that your room steward was always found in the hallway waiting for any requests you might have and if you left your room for a few minutes - they would run in there and tidy while you were gone. I have noticed on all Norwegian ships that you get your morning cleanup and your evening turn-down but you normally don't find your steward roaming the halls in case you need anything special and there is not extra cleaning done other than the norm.
The biggest reason for the cruises we pick are the ports. I've never understood the people that travel all the way to Europe to stay on the ship the whole time and enjoy it because they have the ship to themselves. These were all ports that we had not been to so was excited to get off the shp and explore.
Los Angeles - Embarkation........We hired a private tour guide that picked us up at the airport with our baggage and gave us a 6 hour tour of LA with all the normal tourist spots. None of us had been to LA before, we covered lots of ground and then was delivered to the hotel that I mentioned earlier.
San Francisco - We hired a private guide for that day. Again - we covered alot of the San Francisco highlights with a trolley car ride - Lombard street - Golden Gate bridge and Bay Bridge ( we ran across the bridge to visit Berkley and see the area where our friends had gone to school 35 years ago), downtown area, lunch at Tommy's and a visit to Coit Tower and Fisherman's Wharf. It was a good day with good weather and we enjoyed it.
Astoria - We took a Norwegian excursion to Seaside and Cannon Beach. We enjoyed the excursion and felt it was worth the money even though it was basically just a bus ride to the various areas with the guide telling us a few things as we drove.
Victoria - We did the CVS Hop on/Hop Off bus. We hit the highlights of Victoria, walked around the Empress Hotel area, ate lunch and shopped. Another good weather day and enjoyable.
Nanaimo - This is a port that probably shouldn't be scheduled by Norwegian. It is one of those places where the people try really hard but there just isn't much to see there in my opinion. We took the Norwegian excursion that went to the Cranberry farm and then the downtown gallery just basically because we couldn't find anything to do privately that we thought we would enjoy. I learned alot at the Cranberry farm - dropping us off downtown to go to the gallery was rather a waste of time because they didn't give us enough time to really do anything. We were back at the ship after the excursion by 1PM - could have ridden the bus back into town to wander around but we had seen nothing that intrigued us enough to want to do that.
Disembarking in Vancouver was very easy - we just did the walk off on your own - grabbed a cab which took us to our hotel that we had again booked through Norwegian and then took a city tour of Vancouver the rest of the day. Was very impressed with Vancouver and would go there again.
I did have one spa treatment on the ship the afternoon of the Nanaimo port. It was the advertised 20/20/20 special which I enjoyed alot and have to say that I didn't feel like the spa staff tried to hard sell me on product as much as I have had in the past. Going into this cruise - we all thought we would book the thermal suite for the week. Right after we embarked - we went to the spa to check it out and see if we wanted to do it. I asked if we could look at it to make our decision. Don't do that! You will be stuck taking a tour of the whole spa and fitness area with a stop and small lecture in each room that took over an hour. After looking at the thermal suite we were afraid that it would be hard to find loungers for all 4 of us in the coed area so we decided against booking. The next day was a sea day and we were so bored - we went back there to look again to decide if we had changed our mind. 3 ladies were leaving as we were standing at the desk who had bought the package and told us that it was the usual "chair hog" saga that is normally found around the pool but now moved to the thermal suite. I think if you were with a group of people all the same sex where you could use the male or female side of the suite it might be worth it. Those areas didn't seem to be busy. The coed section with the heated tile loungers, pool and hot tub seemed to be full most of the time with the usual towel and book thrown over the chair to "save".
As I mentioned before - there is normally never a BAD cruise but this cruise definitely ranks in 6th place with the other 5 cruises that I have done. Maybe it's time for me to try another cruise line and see if I will appreciate Norwegian more after an absence. They still have alot of good things going for them - this cruise just didn't hit the mark for overall enjoyment.