Norwegian Pearl to Alaska, June 15-22, 2014 Our family of four had a wonderful time in Alaska and we all loved the Pearl.
EMBARKATION: We got to Pier 66 at 11:20 and in an hour we were on the ship. You have to stand in several lines, but they went fast.
CABIN: Room 8526. Cove balcony, Deck 8, forward port side. We liked the room. It was directly above the theater, but we never had any noise problems. Our steward was super-nice. He kept the room spotless and made cute towel animals almost every night. The first night, he asked us if we wanted the pull-down bed, but it blocked the balcony door, so our kids shared the queen sofa bed after that, and everyone was comfy and slept great. We had smokers in the balconies around us, but we only smelled it in port when the boat was still. Once, somebody spit and it landed on our railing. Gross! One day, all the toilets along our side of the ship stopped working for a couple of hours, but the crew fixed it very quickly. We More
felt a little bit of rocking motion the first night at sea, but after that my family agreed that we could only feel the boat rocking when we were in the shower.
WEATHER—Very cold! Mostly in the high 40s to mid-50s. Rainy in Ketchikan but clear everywhere else. We wore fleece, rain jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves to walk outside. We never went in the pool or hot tubs, but some people did. Everyone said to bring layers, but it would not have been ridiculous to bring a parka on this particular cruise. We brought rain ponchos, and they were great for Ketchikan.
KIDS: My kids didn’t want to do the kids’ club, and they managed to find things to do every day. They read books, went on the balcony and looked through binoculars, we walked on the promenade deck, and we went to some shows. We loved the Spinnaker Lounge, just sitting, reading, and watching the ocean. Also, World Cup was on, so everyone on the ship was watching the games. We are easily amused, so just being on board was entertaining. They also really loved going to the buffet, especially the pretzel rolls.
FOOD: The buffet was crowded but awesome. They spray your hands with alcohol every time you walk in. They actually say, “Happy Happy Washy Washy Smiley Smiley.” Sometimes they play guitar, too. It’s fun. It’s cute. My kids still sing the song. We ate almost every meal there, except once we ate teppanyaki and once we had wings at the Blue Lagoon. The buffet is crazy, I admit, so you have to work out a system. First we would scout out a table and one person would wait while the rest of us got our food. A few times we sat at La Cucina or the pool deck. The buffet has wonderful Indian food and even masala tea (chai) at breakfast. Everything was delicious. Gird your loins for the battle to get a table, and you will be fine. We never ate at the MDRs because we did not want to wait.
VEGETARIAN: They have a color coding system for their food. All the food items have a name card, and if it has a red stripe, it contains meat (beef, pork, chicken, or fish); if it has a brown stripe, it contains dairy or egg; and if it is green, it is pure vegetarian. This is what the food and beverage manager said in the Q & A session.
PORTS: Alaska is beautiful. We booked all our excursions on the NCL website ahead of time. In Juneau, it was crazy getting off the boat, but presumably the van would have waited until everyone was there. The other disembarkations were very smooth. We did the “Alaska’s Whales, Glaciers and Rainforest Trails” and saw lots of humpbacks and went on a little trail. It was really fun. However, it did not go to the visitor center or Nugget Falls, just FYI. In Skagway, we did the train up and down. Beautiful. In Ketchikan, we did our own hike to the Rainbird Trail, walking from the cruise ship. This is a beautiful little hike and also takes you by the pretty Ketchikan Public Library. Then we stopped at Ketchicandies to buy chocolates and then the Alaskan Lumberjack Show. Super loud, ridiculous fun. The kids loved it. By the way, that short-hair-with-full-beard lumberjack look is very popular in Seattle; don’t know about the rest of America. We got off the ship in Victoria to find our crew members singing and dancing on the pier. Very cute. We walked to town through the neighborhood and past the Parliament building. We stopped at Roger’s Chocolates and took pictures by the Empress, then walked back along the shoreline path. It was a really nice way to end the cruise.
NATURE: We saw orcas, bald eagles, humpback whales, mountain goats, sea otters, and a harbor seal right next to the ship in Victoria. Glacier Bay was a relaxing, gorgeous day.
ENTERTAINMENT: There are lots of things to do on the ship. We went to some of the shows in the Stardust Theatre and I went to all the Q & A sessions with the staff. For example, the Q & A about “how to run a floating hotel,” and the one with the captain, the engineer, and the hotel director. These are the free ones, not the behind-the-scenes tour. We really enjoyed the ranger commentary at Glacier Bay, and the crew talent show at the end of the cruise. My kids really enjoyed the “Oh What a Night” and juggler show. The “Oh What a Night” show is very wholesome, but someone forgot to tell the juggler that there are children in the audience. Yikes. On one of the last nights of the cruise, there was a show in the Stardust, and as we walked out of the theater, the hallway was lined with crewmembers waving and smiling at us. It was really touching.
STAFF: All the staff on the boat were so kind and helpful. They all said hello with a smile on their face—even the behind-the-scenes people. The workers we saw were mostly from the Philippines, or Indonesia, or India—mostly men. There are Nepalese, and Colombians, and Germans! At the Q & A session, the head of the housekeeping staff said that the company works with employment agencies overseas to recruit workers, and they screen them to make sure they can handle the workload, and being away from home and family for extended periods of time. She said people who cannot handle it usually quit within a few months.
MONEY: I was determined to not spend tons of money during the cruise. We did not buy any food or drink packages. We bought a couple of snacks and postcards in the gift shop. In Victoria we had a drink in the Spinnaker Lounge. We ate teppanyaki once. The photographer took our picture and then bundled it up in a frame with a set of chopsticks and then put a receipt in it for $19.95, but I didn’t buy that one. We did buy some other photographs from the ship, but mostly we avoided the photo ops, and no one was pushy about selling stuff. I have seen people complaining about bingo sales, but I just ignored all of it, the casino, the art sales, etc.
TIPPING: I know it’s included but I tipped a few people. I tipped the steward $10 the first day for schlepping our bags to the room. I tipped the teppanyaki chef $10 and the teppanyaki waitress $5. I tipped $10 each to the van driver, guide, and boat captain in Juneau. When we ate at Blue Lagoon, I gave $5 to the waiter. One night, we ordered drinks in the Spinnaker Lounge, and I tipped $1 per drink. Also, I gave our steward $100 on the last day. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his work, especially being so far away from his home.
GIFTS: Ketchicandies on Mission St. in Ketchikan has wonderful chocolate for gifts to take home. I got some truffles and chocolate-covered Oreos, and the boxes are cute. The shop clerks working there were very sweet. We also bought some dish towels at the Alaskan Lumberjack gift store, and a rubber band-powered sea plane for a souvenir. In Victoria, we shopped at Roger’s, which is a lovely, historical chocolate shop with a nice staff. Next door was a cheaper shop, which had Canadian maple sugar candies--great gift idea! I am not into shopping, except for stuff to bring home for friends and relatives, so chocolate worked great. Wish I had more time at Ketchicandies but we had to rush to the lumberjack show.
LAUNDRY: The laundry special was on Wednesday and we got the clothes back on Thursday. Everything that fits in a bag for $27.99. We washed underwear and shirts and socks, and the kids' jeans and pants.
CASINO & SMOKING: I had anxiety about the casino, but I never went there, and I never smelled any smoke from there. The other place where people were smoking was on the promenade deck, but the wind was blowing, so it did not bother us…too much.
FITNESS CENTER: Contrary to reports, it was not crowded at all. Every time I peeked in, I could see empty machines. Sadly, I did not bring any workout clothes. The promenade deck became my fitness center.
SPA: Looked nice but I never went. It smelled good when we walked by.
PROMENADE DECK: My kids and I loved going out here, walking three laps and watching the water flow by. There were usually people playing shuffleboard out there. Sometimes they closed for “high winds,” so I would go to Deck 11 and walk around the interior walkway.
LIBRARY: This was open every day, and there were always people there, reading or using their devices. They have Adult books and Children’s books, but no Young Adult section. My kids checked out some books on animals—the checkout time is twice a day. They also had crossword puzzles, trivia pages, and Sudoku, and I saw people sitting around the boat, working on the crossword. There are no newspapers on the boat, so if you need to do a crossword every day, you can get it here. They have a small selection of non-English books (I remember seeing Japanese, Korean, German….) and also a book swap—brilliant!
DISEMBARKATION: We were staying in Seattle, so we easily walked off with our luggage at 7:30 in the morning. There were dozens of taxicabs lined up and eager taxi drivers asking us if we wanted a taxi. If we were going to the airport, it looked like a very easy and fast option.
OVERALL: This was our first cruise, and it was really fun. I realize from reading reviews and experiencing it ourselves that everyone is different. I picked NCL because we are really casual and NCL looked like it would fit us, and it did. All the things I worried about, like the smokers and the pushy sales, were no problem. The buffet was a mad-house, but we embraced the chaos and learned to love it. I am very grateful to all those who posted reviews, so I hope this will help someone, too! Less
Room 8526. Cove balcony, Deck 8, forward port side. Very nice room. I was a little miffed to discover that it was a cove balcony shortly before our cruise, but it was fine and we had lots of light and a great view out the balcony. It was quite windy and cold in the open sea, so I don't know if having the enclosed balcony made a difference. We had an open ocean view on the way to Alaska, and view of the coastline on the way back. The cabin was directly above the theater, but we never had any noise problems. Our steward was super-nice. He kept the room spotless and made cute towel animals almost every night. The first night, he asked us if we wanted the pull-down bed, but it blocked the balcony door, so our kids shared the queen sofa bed after that, and everyone was comfy and slept great. We had smokers in the balconies around us, but we only smelled it in port when the boat was still. Once, somebody spit and it landed on our railing. Gross! One day, all the toilets along our side of the ship stopped working for a couple of hours, but the crew fixed it very quickly. We felt a little bit of rocking motion the first night at sea, but after that my family agreed that we could only feel the boat rocking when we were in the shower. The cabin was convenient to the stairs and elevators, but far away enough to not get a lot of foot traffic and noisy stampedes. If you walk out the door and a few hallways down, you will be at the Blue Lagoon. If you walk downstairs, you will be at the Stardust Theater and the exit to the Promenade Deck. It is a bit of a walk to the Garden Cafe (buffet). The best thing about the cabin is that my kids loved to go out and use the binoculars and look for wildlife. Once they saw two orcas frolicking in the water. One day they saw many sea otters plopping up and down in the kelp. We will never forget these beautiful sights from our balcony cabin.