THE SHIP: My wife and I and 2 friends of ours cruised on the Pearl from Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC....stopping in San Francisco and Victoria, BC along the way. We got on the ship about 1.5 hours before it sailed, so we were literally the only people in line. So obviously, that all went fast. When we got on, we immediately noticed this ship was SO much nicer than any of the Carnival ships we had been on in the past. I have cruised Celebrity and Carnival, but my wife had only been on Carnival. She was extremely happy about the obvious difference.
The ship itself was EXTREMELY clean and we did not meet a rude employee the entire cruise. The layout of the decks were great. We did not need a ship map and never got lost. All of the elevators had informative deck plan placards, and there were occasional placards posted on the walls throughout the ship. The pool area had 4 hot tubs and 2 pools. 1 pool was for kids and 1 was for adults. They were both labeled and enforced. Each pool had 2 hot tubs connected to them. The pools were small, but no smaller than other ships. Who really swims in cruise ship pools anyway?
Our cabin (9132) was a balcony room which had plenty of space, a couch and a good sized balcony. The only complaint about the room was the limited drawer space. A nice surprise was a pay mini bar in the room and the selections were the same prices as up on deck. Our Room Steward (Cristian) was attentive and friendly.
The spa had everything you need; hot tubs, sauna, steam bath, heated loungers, relaxation area and locker rooms. The spa employees were very nice. My wife gets cold easily, so she spent a lot of time in the warm spa.
The food in all of the restaurants was amazing, except the sushi which was dry and obviously not freshly made. We ate in 3 specialty restaurants; La Cucina (Italian), Moderno Churrascaria (Brazilian Steakhouse) and Lotus Garden (Teppanyaki). All were add charge restaurants, but Lotus Garden had additional charges for certain items. I did not realize this until our bill of $80 was presented at the end. My wife saw the additional charges on the menu, but I did not....so my bad there. La Cucina was the best of the three. We ate in the regular dining rooms as well, which had as good or better food than the specialty restaurants. When we cruise NCL again, we will probably just eat in the regular dining rooms.
The entertainment on Pearl was focused at an older crowd. Most of the cruisers appeared to be in their 60's, 70's and 80's. We are in our mid 40's, so the music was not to our liking. However, there was a very entertaining juggler in the main auditorium (Stardust). One night we went to the Spinnaker Lounge to watch a comedian who was horrible beyond belief. Even though the crowd was older, we enjoyed their company throughout the cruise. Everyone was having such a great time that the age gap was not always noticeable. The casino was awesome! Baccarat, Blackjack, Craps and plenty of slot machines. My wife actually hit the jackpot on a quarter slot and took home $600. I enjoyed hours of $5 Craps and $5 Blackjack on just $40.
Prior to cruising, we booked Alcatraz tours directly through the Alcatraz people. We paid $35 per person instead of the higher rate through NCL Shore Excursions. This turned out great because the Alcatraz tours left from the dock right beside where Pearl docked. I would recommend this for future cruisers. As for Victoria, the four of us couldn't agree on a shore excursion so we took a cab into town ($5.50) and walked around the Legislative Building, Empress Hotel and the adjacent shopping district. The Canadian people were so nice. From the shop employees, to the food servers and bartenders. It was such a breath of fresh air to talk to nice people. Not Los Angeles people (aka: Angelenos) who are so bitter and nasty. Unfortunately, the nastiness becomes normal when you live there and nice people stand out when traveling. We stopped for a couple drinks in a little place called "The Local" and highly recommend the bar to anyone looking to relax and enjoy a few drinks with friendly bartenders. The experience was so nice that we gave a 100% tip.
We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise! The Freestyle Cruising concept fit us well, the ship was immaculate and the employees were top notch. The tipping system was a bit of a confusion for us because you have no set waiter and such, except your Room Steward. We were unsure of what cut Cristian got of the $12 per day, so we left a little in the room for him. I almost wish NCL would go to a percentage tip for each meal as you eat, and a set amount for the Room Steward. This would be more clear for cruisers who want to make sure their Room Steward is taken care of. I have seen bad reviews of NCL, but we did not experience any problems and look forward to our next cruise with them. We have a Caribbean cruise planned on RCCL, but had so much fun on Pearl that we are thinking of switching it to NCL.