I sailed on the Norwegian Pearl from Friday, April 11th through April 18th on her Western Caribbean route.
I took this cruise with my DH and another couple, all of us in our mid-30s with kids that we left at home with grandparents. This is my 8th cruise. My first was on a Disney ship back when I was 10 years old. I didn’t cruise again until 2005 when I sailed on a Princess cruise. In February 2006, I took my first Norwegian cruise aboard the Sun (Eastern Caribbean) with 6 other friends, one of whom eventually became my DH. For our honeymoon in October 2007, we sailed on the Pride of Hawaii (7 day Hawaii cruise). Then we celebrated our first anniversary aboard the Norwegian Pearl (Western Caribbean) in 2008. In November 2011, my DH and I took a short 5 day jaunt on the Dawn. Then in 2012, we ventured over to Carnival aboard the Dream, sailing the Eastern Caribbean with my parents, my brother and his family, my sister, and my DH and 18 month old DS. The couple we traveled with for this cruise aboard the Pearl had never cruised before.
We flew in the night before and spent the night at my cousin’s apartment in Fort Lauderdale. His fiancé drove us to the port, after taking us to Target to pick up some sodas to bring on board. We arrived at the Port of Miami around 12:30pm. There was a line to get through security but it moved very quickly. The check-in line was equally fast. As we got our keycards, we were informed that our stop in Roatan had been canceled due to the crew member that had been murdered there a week before and instead we were stopping at the port of Costa Maya. We were on the ship by 1:15 and were told that the rooms were not ready, which was a first for us. We headed to the MDR to get lunch, taking all our luggage with us. We later found out that we could have dropped our luggage off in the room, they were just doing last minute touches but the rooms were technically open. Overall, embarkation was very smooth.
We had booked an inside cabin on deck 10 but thanks to some price drops, we ended up in a Family Balcony instead. We were in cabin 10028 and our friends were in a mid-ship balcony, 10076. The only difference I noticed between the two was that we had a connecting door to cabin 10026 and that our TV and vanity were flipped (our vanity was by the balcony door, their TV was in the same spot in their cabin). The room was wonderful, plenty of storage and room to hang out (though I wouldn’t mind more or bigger drawers). The four of us did spend a few hours sitting in a cabin, enjoying the tequila we had pre-ordered for the room and didn’t feel crowded. The bathroom is snug but way better than the bathrooms on both Princess and Carnival so I’m not complaining. Our steward, Pablo, was great. We didn’t meet him until the 4th day but that didn’t matter as he did a fabulous job keeping our room clean and left us some amazing towel animals. Our cabin was located right next to the elevator bays. You could see our door as soon as you got off the elevator. We had been very concerned about this but we never heard anything from the elevators themselves. We heard people in the hallways a lot but I don’t think that had anything to do with being near the elevators and we never heard anything while sleeping.
We normally would never book a cruise during Spring Break but the wife of the couple we traveled with is a teacher and we sailed during her Spring Break. I knew it was pretty late for a typical Spring Break but it was the week before Easter so I thought there was a chance of Spring Breakers. It ended up being the exact opposite. I would guess 75% of the passengers were senior citizens. I think this was due to the fact that our 7-day cruise was actually the first leg of a 30+ day cruise from Miami to Alaska and the only people who can take such a long vacation would be retired folk. This didn’t ruin the vacation at all, just made it overall a quieter cruise. Through there were still will plenty of families that kept the pool area hoping and loud. I don’t think we saw any college aged passengers.
We aren’t ones to hang out near the pool so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. The times we walked by the pool, it was always pretty crowded, with it being rather insane on sea days. We spent most our time in the sun up on the sun deck near the bow of the ship (which was never crowded) or on our balcony. We went to the pool twice. Once on our first port day, we visited the Jacuzzis by the adult pool and found them to be not heated at all. Later, we went to the tubs by kid’s pool and they were really hot. DH noticed that the ones by the adult pool were labeled Jacuzzis and the ones by the kid’s pool were labeled as hot tubs so maybe that’s the difference? Our favorite place to hang out was Spinnaker Lounge. During the day, it was great for reading and lounging. And at night, it had the best shows and music. We walked through the night club, Bliss Lounge, once during the day but never visited it at night. The lobby area was nice but during port days, they would show movies on the huge screen in there and I found that to be very annoying as it was very loud. Once while eating lunch in the Blue Lagoon, I couldn’t hear my DH thanks to Thor defeating the bad guys on that huge screen at max volume. The promenade on deck 7 was a great place to take a stroll. We never used the internet café. Bar City was a fun place to get a drink or listen to great piano music, though it was always very crowded when there was a pianist. And we are so happy to hang out in the Great Outdoors, especially at night for a late night snack and drink.
The crew was always fantastic. Everyone had a smile and was eager to help. From the dining room waiters to the bar staff to the room stewards and everyone in between, we didn’t encounter one crew member who didn’t make us happy. The lady at the dining reservations desk didn’t smile ever but she wasn’t mean either. And the service was just amazing. The husband of the couple we traveled with was horribly stuffed up and miserable by the 3rd day and he has an allergy to dust mites so he asked the front desk if they could replace the comforter. Within the hour, the housekeeping crew was there, pretty much sterilizing the entire room, replacing what they could and giving the rest a thorough cleaning. Very awesome of them to try to help (even though it didn’t, turned out he just had a bad cold as his wife got it a few days later).
We typically avoid the buffet and this cruise was no different. On the entire 7 day experience, we ate in the buffet three times. Once was for Lobster night, which thanks to the high demand for repeat entrees, has been moved to the buffet only. I wasn’t happy about that at first but it ended up tasting great. We ate in Blue Lagoon twice and I found the food there to be ok, just a step above buffet food. We ate in a specialty restaurant twice. For a romantic dinner, we enjoyed Le Bistro which was amazing. The service was impeccable and the food tasted soooo good. (The ‘Les Quarte Cornets’ appetizer was so unique and so good.) The four of us also had dinner at Moderno one evening. Everything tasted great there as well and I left feeling like I should be rolled out. So much meat! Besides that, we ate every other meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) in the MDR. We once at Indigo but otherwise were in Summer Palace as we liked the atmosphere better there. I had thought that the everyday menu was the same in both dining rooms but it was not. The daily specials were the same though. We didn’t have a bad meal, cleaning every plate. My only complaint was that the fish cake I had on the last night was just too big. I wish it had been 2 or 3 smaller cakes; it was the only meal I didn’t finish on the entire cruise. My absolute favorite dish was served during lunch. The corn and potato chowder to start and then the fish and chips. Best battered fish I’ve ever had, highly recommend it. If the Summer Palace had been open for lunch on port days too, I would have eaten this every single day.
We enjoyed a lot of the various beverages available and found the bartenders to be rather generous with their pours. The prices were about standard for us (though we do live near Chicago). We also purchased the wine package and got 4 bottles of wine for a reasonable price. We feel like we drank plenty and still weren’t close to the cost of the Ultimate Beverage Package (which wasn’t available anyway since it was Spring Break time).
The only show we saw in Stardust was Second City. It was supposed to start at 9:30pm and we showed up at 9:28 and it was already going. That was kinda weird but the show was really funny. We saw the Second City troupe again when they did their improve shows in Spinnaker, and those were even funnier. We also saw the comedian do his adults only show in Spinnaker and it was crass and funny. All the musicians we heard were very talented, though I really wished they would turn the speakers down for Future Perfect in Spinnaker. The lead singer’s voice is so powerful and coming through the speakers at full volume was almost deafening. The Not-So-Newlywed Game was hilarious as usual, especially since the truly newlywed couple had literally been married for less than 2 hours. The Perfect Couple Game was hard to watch, with silly bachelorette party games. Still had funny moments though.
The wife from the other couple and I attended the Wine Tasting Musical show. That was cheesy and hilarious and well worth the cost. They did jam us into the seats with an insane amount of wine glasses on the table but it was loads of fun. The husbands did the beer tasting and were very very annoyed that they tasted Bud Light and Fosters. They had been expecting “good” beer and were very disappointed that Bass was the darkest thing served on the ship. Later, the wife and I did the martini tasting and that was great too. Might have been better if they sang to us again. Hehe!
PORTS OF CALL
Costa Maya – I had been to Roatan once before and wasn’t overly excited to be going back. (We picked this cruise for the ship, not the ports.) So I wasn’t at all disappointed with the change to Costa Maya. Our friends had an excursion booked that they were really excited about in Roatan (snorkeling with dolphins) so they were bummed by the change. They were able to book a dolphin meet at Costa Maya. It wasn’t quite the same but they were still very pleased. DH and I were able to get close enough to watch which was nice. I had been to this port once before on the Princess cruise 10 years ago and it had changed quite a lot. Gone were the huts full of handmade goods and now it was pretty much your standard cruise port shopping mall. The public, free pool in the middle was a nice touch; wish we had worn our swimsuits so we could take a dip. I got myself a nice hand carved ring for a really good price. Overall, we spent just over an hour in the port and then enjoyed a quiet ship for the rest of the day.
Belize City – The four of us booked the Snorkel and Beach Break excursion. Worth every penny. Our catamaran picked us up right from the ship, which was so convenient. It was a windy day so the water was really choppy, making the snorkeling challenging but not impossible. It was a workout to keep yourself above the coral reef but we saw some amazing things. And the beach break was on Bannister Island. Our tour had the whole atoll to ourselves and it was heaven. It was very windy still which made reading my magazine a challenge. There was a bar that we didn’t buy anything from. They had burgers for sale for $8 which was a little steep for me. I also think there were kayaks you could take out for free, but we didn’t use them either. We just found some beach chairs and relaxed. Absolutely beautiful. Then the tour took us right back to the ship. We never went into the Belize City itself.
Cozumel – This was my 4th time stopping at Cozumel so DH and I were floored when we were told we’d be tendering. I didn’t know anyone tendered here! Thankfully it was an incredibly short tender ride, maybe 5 minutes. Our friends did the swim with the rays excursion and said it was amazing. DH and I just wandered around and did some shopping and ate some authentic Mexican food. My only complaints were the heat and the constant barrage of people trying to pretty much drag you into their stores. But that’s how it is and you get used to it. Although it’s totally a tourist trap, it was a nice place to wander around for a few hours.
Key West – We ended up docking at the military base in Key West so we had to take a trolley ride right from the ship to downtown. You were not allowed to walk so it was like a land tender. And like all cruise ports, it was pretty much all about the shopping. DH and I walked around for a couple of hours, just soaking in the sun and looking at silly trinkets. We got ice cream at Kermit’s which was fabulous. We had wanted to eat at a restaurant too but the prices were just too much when we knew we had ‘free’ food on the ship. DH and I decided that we wanted to go back for a long weekend someday and take advantage of some of the water activities we saw. And we could easily bring the kids too. As a cruise port, it’s nothing special.
We had relatively late flights and wanted to take our own bags off so we took our time in the morning. We actually didn’t even pack until that morning. And we ate one last breakfast in Summer Palace with a lovely view of the dock workers doing their thing. Finally around 9:30am, we headed off the ship. The only line we had to wait in was to scan our cards. For some reason, they stopped us for several minutes. But once we were through, we walked right through the warehouse and up to a customs agent in like 5 minutes. We were on the sidewalk by 10am and my cousin was there to pick us up. Probably the smoothest disembarkation ever.
Once again, I was not disappointed by my Norwegian cruise experience. We relaxed, we drank, we ate, and we drank some more. And then ate some more. And slept. And relaxed. It was perfect, exactly what some working parents needed. I will definitely sail Norwegian again. My last cruise was on Carnival and this trip reminded me why I love Norwegian. The freestyle experience is the way for us and we love it. This was our second time on the Pearl and we love it. We would sail it again in a heartbeat, no matter what itinerary it was.