We took a 5-day cruise on the Pearl in February 2014. This was a music charter cruise (Train’s Sail Across the Sun Cruise). This was our first cruise, so I can’t tell you how a music charter compares to a non-charter cruise. Our party included five people in two cabins. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law (teenager) stayed in an interior cabin (8633). My wife and I, as well as our one-year-old son (who was technically booked in the in-law’s cabin) stayed in Suite 9504. We sailed on a Friday afternoon from Miami and returned to the same port on Tuesday morning. We stopped on Grand Cayman on Sunday. The rest of the time we were at sea.
The week leading up to the cruise was the week of the horrible ice storm across the Southeast and East Coast – the storm that shut down the Atlanta airport. We has to scramble to get to the port, even though we were scheduled to fly into Fort Lauderdale two days before the boat sailed. Our family stayed at a hotel by the Miami airport, and took a shuttle to the port.
Again, never having taken a cruise before, I can’t provide a comparison as to how the boarding for our cruise compared to other sailings. Our shuttle dropped us off right in front of the entrance to the terminal. Our checked bags had the NCL colored tags on them, and we left them at the curb and went in to the building. Security was relatively easy, though they had some trouble dealing with the liquids we were trying to carry on (my son’s bottles of milk). Our entire party was able to use the VIP check-in counter even though only two of us were actually booked in to the Suite.
I’ve read some about guests in the suites having access to a special waiting area after they check in. We didn’t experience that at all. As soon as we checked in, we walked behind the counters, took the elevator up, and walked across then gangway on to the ship. However, as we were walking from the elevator to the gangway, we walked by a big glassed-in waiting area filled with people. I wonder if they were the non-VIP guests? For us, from being dropped off at the curb outside the terminal to standing on the ship took approximately 30 minutes.
We are spoiled. I don’t think I can take another cruise and not stay in an owner’s suite. The suite was huge. We wanted to have space so our one-year-old could crawl and walk around. The suite ended up being big enough for all five of us to hang out. The bed was a legit king bed, and very comfortable. The bathroom was huge, Nice shower and separate tub (which we didn’t use). The walk-in closet was a lifesaver, being able to put away all of our clothes. I understand 9004 and 9504 have a slightly different layout than 10004 and 10504, with deck nine suites not have a cove for the dining table. I didn’t find this to be a problem. The sitting area was great to watch TV (didn’t realize until partway through they show recently released movies on there) or just watch the ocean and feel the breeze from the side balcony.
The balconies were amazing. The front balcony was useless when the ship was moving, but in port, it was great to be able to lay out and get some sun. The side balcony was big and perfect for getting some fresh air as the ship was sailing.
Because this was a music charter, we did not have access to the Haven (I think the bands stay up there). We did have the services of the concierge and butler. We did not make use of the concierge but once or twice. We did use the butler, Jomar, a lot. He would bring us snacks every afternoon (canapés, sandwiches, etc.). He delivered room service for us, which was a godsend with a family on board. With a one-year-old, we only went to a non-buffet restraint once (the Brazilian steakhouse). However, we had dinner delivered several times from the sit down restaurants. They will even deliver for people not in your suite who are dining with you. We also had breakfast delivered every day from Cagney’s Steakhouse.
A week or two before sailing, we requested certain bottles of our complimentary liquor be stocked in the cabin. Those were not present when we boarded (though a chilled bottle of Champagne was). We gave out butler our choices again when we boarded and he brought them later that day. The in-suite fridge had sodas, mixers and bottled water already stocked. There were also extra bottles and cans in the cabinet below the fridge, and our butler would bring us whatever we wanted.
The Spa was great. I got the spa pass for less than $100. I went there every day to soak in the hot tubs, sit in the sauna, and relax. The sauna on the pearl is great – right at the front of the boat – above 9504 and below the bridge.
Because this was a music charter, one of the pools was covered for the main stage. I believe we were supposed to get priority disembarkation on our return to Miami. We didn’t get that, but our wait wasn’t too bad.
One of the highlights of our cruise was our steward (I’ve forgotten his name). He was a real delight, very friendly, and went above and beyond. We’re already booked in to 9504 (with the adjoining 9506 balcony) for next year’s Sail Across the Sun Cruise. I hope we get the same steward again.