In this review, my family and I cruised on the Norwegian Pearl for 7 days on a Western Caribbean route. The cruise visited Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel, Mexico leaving from Miami. This was my first time in about three years going on NCL so there were big time changes. From my previous experience, I enjoyed the excellent service and fine cuisine. This time, there were major concerns and obvious cost cutting. Furthermore, since I went on a holiday week, the ship was packed wall to wall with people. Very crowded!
At check-in, there was a huge line to get into the terminal. After going through security, getting through check-in was quick and efficient since I am silver with NCL.
The Pearl is fairly new and in good condition. Since it’s part of the Jewel class ships (I’ve been on the Jewel before), I am familiar with the layout and find it efficient and pleasant. The shops area could have been designed better (I felt like going in mazes every time) as with the Garden Café (it felt a bit small for the amount of passengers on). I like the design of the Garden Café on the Dawn much better. I didn’t like how passengers were funneled to one side as the Splash Academy and Entourage zones were cornered off on one side of the ship. Also, the gym was a bit on the small side for the amount of passengers. Plus, due to some complaints, some of the machines and weight lifts were off limits until 8am due to the fact that there were passenger cabins below the gym.
Once on board the ship, I noticed that you don’t get an onboard welcome drink (i.e. OJ, champagne, etc.). This was very obvious cost cutting.
I was book in an ocean view room on deck 4. However, my travel agent gave me a porthole window, which I didn’t like. My mother tried to switch rooms but due to the fact that the ship was at capacity, there were no room changes. The room had the basic touches but nothing really stood out. There was a small flat screen TV, desk, chair, and the two beds.
However, when I got to my room, I noticed a few stains on the sheets as well as on the pillow sheets. I mentioned this to the room attendant but she did not change it the whole week. In my parent’s room, there was a bigger, more noticeable yellow stain on their sheets and was unchanged for the week. Very poor of the housekeeping department not to change or notice this.
The food on NCL is usually good. My family visited Moderno Churrascaria, Indigo, Sushi/hot pot, Le Bistro, Garden Café, Blue Lagoon, Cagney’s Steakhouse, and Summer Palace. All were pretty good, especially the Churrascaria. The buffet did a good job with theme nights but there were many options that repeated itself so it looked like there were a lot of options but in reality there were only a few. I also noticed that the prices of the specialty restaurants went up. This was notable with Sushi because before, there was a cover charge and you could eat as much sushi as possible. Now it is a la carte. Presentation was good but at the main dining restaurants, the chefs were a bit sloppy and cleaned the side of the plate with what seemed like a dirty cloth.
Entertainment on NCL was good. There were three main shows (one was a regular singing show, a Broadway show, and a Christmas themed show). There was also the Second City but I’ve been on NCL many times that they recycle their jokes but it was still funny. There was also a ventriloquist but I skipped him. I always missed the first ten minutes of the show as we were always coming from dinner service.
Activities on board
On sea days, NCL kept me busy. I went to trivia games and presentations. However, every presentation was really a sales pitch, which I didn’t appreciate. Also, the cooking demonstrations were very limited and poor compared to Holland America. I also noticed NCL does not do the “NCL-U” anymore since it probably didn’t generate enough revenue.
The first port of call was Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. It is NCL’s private island. I noticed that NCL invested in the island. It was nice but very crowded. I recommend going to the farthest part of the beach to get a quiet spot. However, I did not appreciate the tendering process. It was very chaotic and unorganized. Also, since I was on the floor with the tender, there were many crowds in the hallway.
The second port was Ocho Rios. It was my first time in Jamaica and it will most likely be my last. I booked a shore excursion with the ship, which was a bamboo raft tour. It was good but it seemed like everyone wanted to sell me something, including the person controlling our raft. Also, at the end, the guide took us to a shopping place, which was not advertised in the description. This left a bitter taste in my mouth.
The third port was Grand Cayman. I did not book a tour since I’ve been to Grand Cayman many times. For that day, I just walked around the port and went shopping. There was another tender for this port, which was again, chaotic.
The last port was Cozumel. I did a shore excursion, which was the Atlantis Submarine. It’s a great excursion and worth it. However, it rained all day in Cozumel. If you plan on buying alcohol in Cozumel, I recommend going to a supermarket a short walk from the port called “Mega.” It has much cheaper prices than the duty free on the dock as well as a bigger selection.
The staff on the ship was generally nice and helpful. However, it seems as if NCL have not trained their staff to say "hello's" and "good mornings" when guests pass by. The cruise director, Archie, had good presentation, personality, and was funny. Unlike other cruise lines like Celebrity, he was involved in most activities. He was not cold and pretentious like Celebrity and did not rely on his CD staff to do everything.
Furthermore, his CD staff was energetic, friendly and approachable.
One of the women doing the dining reservations was a bit rude. My mother approached her one-day and she picked up the phone as she came up to her. This phone conversation was about a good five minutes and the woman did not apologize for holding us up. Also, she did not have a smile on and had an attitude as if we were doing a favor for her.
Also, on the first day, I noticed a couple arguing with the director of food & beverage or restaurants. They wanted to make a reservation online but couldn’t do it and wanted to book it on the ship. The director said that the restaurant is half full for reservations and half full for walk-ins and they couldn’t make a reservation. When they asked about walk-ins, the director seemed not to know. The couple was very upset and just walked away from the situation.
Most of the cruisers on this ship were families considering that this was a holiday week. Many kids but they were manageable. However, since this was a fairly cheap cruise (based off what I paid), there were many low class families with no manners. It was basically almost like the Carnival crowd. Many foreigner families (Chinese, Indian, etc.) which all had no manners or volume control. They were very pushy and rude to the staff. I think NCL made the cruise too cheap.
Overall, I had an okay cruise with the NCL Pearl. There was very obvious cost cutting (no welcome drink, dirty sheets, subpar quality of food, etc.). They need to work on their cleanness. My cabin steward should have noticed the stains and should have prevented me from seeing it. The staff seemed a bit tired, especially in the free restaurants Indigo and Summer Palace. My experience was not enhanced for the fact that there was a constant sales pitch. It just felt like I was not getting any value. The cruise was very crowded and loud. I know they cannot control or prevent people from coming but if they are attracting a Carnival crowd, I will consider going to another cruise line.