We have sailed on the Pearl previously and loved this beautiful ship. After a fabulous Christmas cruise last year on the Dawn, we booked a suite in January and really looked forward to this cruise. Embarkation in Miami was smooth for us, although the concierge was quick to warn us that the ship was fully booked with families and reservations needed to be made for dinners, shows, etc ASAP. We had planned ahead so no problem for us. Here are the issues that made this a mediocre experience for us.
1. The ship was minimally decorated for Christmas in comparison to the Dawn last year. Nothing special was happening. Holiday music was not played until Christmas Day and it varied between operatic style Christmas carols and the Chipmunks. It was awful. Just no holiday vibe at all.
2. The staff seemed exhausted for the whole cruise. They tried to be cheerful but it was obviously forced. The butler and concierge were remote. The concierge was responsive when contacted, but neither made any effort beyond perfunctory duties. We never saw the concierge in the dining venues checking on her guests as has been our experience on other cruises. The one time I used the butler for room service, it was beyond tardy. When I called to inquire about the delay, I was told he had many orders to deliver. I had already waited one hour for a sandwich! Our room was not very clean at check in. The glass doors and mirrors had splatters that stayed on them for the duration.
3. Food service in Cagney's was slow and unorganized, particularly at breakfast. Quality was not great except in the evening when more staff were present.
4. We had a couple of bad interactions with arrogant casino personnel. The place was not very busy the whole cruise so they might want to review their hospitality 101 before they alienate players. Their new point system sucks, by the way.
5. We like freestyle cruising and have no desire to dress formally, but a little dress code enforcement was desperately needed. We spent the cruise with folks in gym wear and swimsuits. It looked as though they walked from the pool to the dining room. Seriously, we saw gym tanks, shorts and flip flops in the MDR and that was on men. Ripped jeans, grubby tees, shorts, etc. The attire was generally better suited for a quick run to the hardware or Walmart.
6. Children ran wild. Racing up and down staircases, in and out of elevators, through the casino, outside, through the dining areas, pushing and shoving anyone in their way. We had dinner in Cagneys one evening ($30 per head) only to have half the meal disrupted by a table of unsupervised kids under 7 ( seated by themselves--parents all sitting elsewhere) who sang loudly, jumped up and down like hopping bunnies around other tables, ground up pepper and threw it at one another, screamed randomly, ran back and forth in front of the serving area where staff were trying to retrieve orders and generally created chaos. Their adoring parents ignored them. The staff tried to get them to sit but it had little affect. We all wanted to clap when they finally left. And really, why in the world are such young children permitted to be seated alone?
7. The dolphin cove excursions in Georgetown, Cayman were an absolute disaster. We were all herded under a big, hot tent elbow to elbow for 2 hours while ONE person tried to organize excursions. There was no organization. Most excursions had to be scrapped because they did not have any transportation. NCL did not have a rep on site. Someone finally got the assistant excursion mgr and he arrived at the 2 hour mark. He was helpless to recover the day's excursions. There were lots of really angry people and disappointed, crying children. We returned to the ship and roused the excursion mgr. And what a whiner he was. He said he didn't like this port stop, he didn't have enough staff, he couldn't be in 2 places at once. Meanwhile, Carnival and Royal Caribbean had 2 ships each in port. They managed to get all their excursions efficiently organized and on their way. Not to mention their tenders were so superior. We were finally given a refund and a specialty dinner.
8. Port stops were not our favorite. Would not repeat. And it rained at all but the private Island stop in the Bahamas .
9. The musical venues we saw were very mediocre. Interesting parties or musical events did not start until 1030 pm. Hard to be a night owl when you need to be up early for excursions.
10. Cumulatively, this cruise disappointed. Our experience last year was so very superior. Probably will skip a holiday cruise next year.