Starting out, this is our first time cruising. I am a mom (44) with my husband (47) traveling with our 2 youngest children 9 & 7. Since this is our 1st time I don't think I will be as critical as others in that I have nothing to compare it with, but we certainly have our expectations. We work hard for our money and were really looking forward to this cruise. Right off the bat, I can share with you that we thought this cruise was exceptionally fun overall! As with everyday life, some things do just go wrong and we did have a few moments, but my overall opinion of NCL and the Pearl.... well it was just fantastic. We picked this cruise as some friends of ours were going on it and highly recommended it. Was a "great deal" at the time as well. Embarkation was pretty painless. We were just gaga with excitement so the little wait really wasn't a big deal. I've read some comments from all lines about how long on and off the ships can be, but I am totally unfazed by that. I mean, we are trying to load 2,000+ people on to this massive ship, are we not? You gotta expect a little delay. No Worries Mon! ;-) Just make sure you've got time to spare!! :)
Anywhy.... I will start with the ship then be brief about the ports: The Pearl did not disappoint. Loved, loved, loved the free style concept as we are on vacation ~ in the Caribbean no less ~ and the last thing I want to do (or my husband) is get totally dolled up after a long day of basking in the sun, being in salt water etc.. etc.. Granted, we could get dressed up IF we wanted (and we did once) and they did keep to a moderately nice attire required in the MDR's so as not to have dinner be totally outta line. :) Love that we can go up to the buffets when we want (so long as it's open) and help ourselves. Love, love, love the Washy Washy people! Yay to no germs!!! Décor was fun. I thought it was going to be a bit hokey, but it was fun. The service people were OUTSTANDING. I cannot stress this enough. For the most part. :) They practically all had genuine smiles on their faces and a "hello" was never far behind. They really made this vacation rock. A notable mention should be to our waiter (I believe his name was Ernesto) in the Moderno. This was the only paid restaurant we took the children to and this waiter catered to my kids in such a delightful, fun way... it was just awesome to me that they had more attention than us - which is great by me because my kids are special to me and it was just very neat that he went way beyond to make them have a great experience. I never got the feeling that he was expecting anything for it (or anywhere for that matter on the ship)... he was just a kind good soul and that makes all the difference in the world. The shows were pretty good. Some better than others, but still entertaining. Some folks we know were not as impressed. Guess we are a little easier to please there. The game shows were fun. Nice music at times in various areas of the ship. Fun times in the Atrium playing WII on the big screen or catching a football game. Coffee was good! I am a borderline coffee snob and this coffee met my craving for a decent cup of java. Plentiful variety of food in and around the ship. I’ve read the buffet wasn’t the best, but I beg to differ. You’ve got to be a food snob if you could not find several items to satisfy your palate there. I even got crepes made to order there on 2 evenings that were out of this world and this is just the buffet! The Summer Palace was very nice. The other MDR was decent, but I personally liked the SP much more. Same food though, which was delish! Just had “special” (ie. Pay a bit extra) dinner at the Le Bistro and the Moderno and both were a really lovely treat, but I would have been more than happy to eat at the buffet or MDR’s. The best was breakfast outside on the aft open area of the ship – think it was just the Outdoor Café… but it was just perfect. I/we did not do the spa or even check out the fitness, but I am sure it was all very nice. Fun chess board and we all learned shuffle board thanks to some New Yorkers that showed us how! :) That was another part about the cruise we loved - the people. (for the most part:) It was so neat to meet all types of people from everywhere and just have small nice conversations with them. Our family even ended up doing a "family" dodge ball game on the last day with us being the only "family" and surrounded by a bunch of 25 +/- year old boys with several nationalities in there and had an absolute ball with them!! (pun intended:) Was just so nice to see happy people (for the most part:) having a great time like us.
*Splash Academy* (for the kids) Honestly, we only used them 2x. Our kids like hangin' with Mom and Dad and the ship had plenty to offer that makes us all happy, we were good. BUT, the times they were there, they loved it! The last night they had a pj party and had tons of fun and we enjoyed an evening to ourselves knowing they were in good, capable, fun hands.
Now, the not so good about the Pearl was that when we made it up to the pool that first night, they had roped off the section of the only water slide they had stating "temporarily closed". "Temporarily" really meant "We are taking this down. Pardon 1/3 of the deck to be roped off your entire trip". Really, really major disappointment to all of us, especially the kids who were sooo excited about doing that. No mention about this at all. I did not bother with complaining because after speaking with others, it would not have mattered anyway. Apparently they are changing the Pearl into a charter/theme only. Well, personally that means zero to me and they did disappoint a ton of people and they should have been forthright with that as they knew that was happening. At the very least, they should have offered free rides down the Hippo slide on the private island to compensate for that. Also, they may need to reconsider how they go about handing out beer bottles to people and improving the lighting at night around the pool. First night, my daughter was swimming, got out and walked to a lounge chair and stepped on a beer bottle cap which cut the bottom of her foot. I blame the person that failed to put garbage where it belongs more so then NCL, but lighting makes a difference as does taking the caps off before giving it to the consumer... assuming this happens as we are not drinkers and have no clue as to how this goes. One tetanus shot and a few tears later, good to go. We dealt with it. They did send some chocolate covered strawberries to our room for that and that was a nice gesture, but I do hope they take my comments into consideration and improve on that. I can’t imagine this hasn’t happened before. The other thing that was not the best and one we were looking forward to was the White Hot Party. With the pool area being cut into 2/3 it was a bit difficult to cram all us in there like cattle. The music was questionable, but I guess if we would have stayed longer than the 3 long songs that are those you have to line dance to, I think we may have come across some “free style” dancing, but alas, we had to get the heck outta there. Bummer. We were so looking forward to that. This whole paragraph can be summed up by this: The pool area should not have been sectioned off for the take down of the slide that my family and others were really looking so forward to, or at least have the courtesy to forewarn all your patrons before we board and trust that we can handle it. That and maybe throw in a few more garbage cans in the area for the beer drinkers to put their caps in. Or take their caps off before serving it to them.
Great Stirrup Cay: Awesome!! Lovely beach. Great beginner snorkeling! Did not get to walk around too much, but it looked like a wonderful little area and we all had such a nice time relaxing and catching some rays as well as playing in the water. Just a great experience. Nice buffet too.
Ocho Rios: Let me start here by just saying I was cautious and was a little bit nervous as to what to expect here as I had read so much about Jamaica in general.. I was a bit apprehensive, for really no reason at all! It was FANTASTIC! We went through a separate co. rather than NCL for our excursion to the Dunn River Falls, tubing on the White River, a wonderful tour through the Fern Gully and in and around … even stopping for a local treat called a Juicy Patty that hit the spot! Really the kudos for this experience goes to our guide (Mark Morris) who had an outstanding command of the English language and gave us so much wonderful and interesting information about the island and the culture… it was just phenomenal. Sure, there were the locals trying to sell you their products or what have you, but all in all, they are a delightful people and I/we can’t wait to visit again!! I think it may be a hit or miss here though as another party we knew did not have such a pleasurable time, but still ended up doing some cool things all that set aside.
Grand Cayman Island: Well, it was nice… to be polite. We did another excursion not through the ship and after my experience with Jamaica I had my expectations which were quickly shot down. Locals here… not too friendly at all. I felt almost as if we were an imposition to the people we choose to do our excursion with. Getting off to the boat to take us to the stingrays (which I will say that part was awesome!) did not go smoothly and left us with just the smallest bit of time to check out 7 mile beach… which was another bummer! Walk 3 feet in the water on sharp bits of coral & rock to be up to almost your neck in water with a bit of an undertow happening was not the best by far. Disappointed. Again, just the whole island – meh. Take me back to Jamaica mon!
Cozumel: A huge thumbs up here too! What a lovely island filled with great people and beautiful scenery, very clean and the locals were not pushy at all. We went to Chankanaab park (highly recommend) and did swimming with the dolphins (awesome…), pet a manitee and did some terrific snorkeling and ate some local fare which was so delicious! Very very nice and I can’t wait to visit again sometime.
To sum it up, it was a GREAT vacation and we will definitely do NCL again, although I think we will try another ship just to see what else they have to offer and have a fun waterslide too.