My family included hubby, 2 boys 11, 13 and me. We also traveled with sister and her 2 kids, girl 13, and boy 14. Before the kids, we sailed with celebrity x1, after the kids we've sailed on RCL x1 and DCL x6. We LOVE Disney so I was a little weary of booking NCL, but the pricing on the Alaska cruise was about 1/2 the price for a comparable cabin. On Disney, we usually go with inside or oceanview, but after researching Alaska, I really wanted a balcony but the only way to get that for us was to go with a "cheaper" cruise line. Disney cabins are generally larger, especially the insides/oceanviews, but to avoid disappointment, I made sure I got a minisuite on ncl. The room was 285sq ft, which was well appointed and slightly larger than what we are used to.
Because I paid much less than Disney and slightly less than other cruise lines, I set my expectations pretty low. Reading the reviews for the ship also made me nervous. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the cruise. The ship was beautiful and easy to get around. Anytime dining worked out for us and we never felt the need to go to the "pay" restaurants. We ate dinner every night in either of the 2 dining rooms. We would try to go just when it opens or late in the evening. Sometimes they had to seat us in 2 separate tables close together. We had no problem with that as the kids got their own table and we sat at the other. They are old enough to order on their own and behave with manners. The nightly shows in the Stardust theater were worth seeing. They are not huge productions, but pretty good for cruise ship entertainment.
I enjoyed the variety in the buffet. Maybe a little too much since I gained 5lbs. The first morning I found my hubby in the buffet seating area all stressed out. It was very busy in the seating area near the food and tables were really close together. After that, we discovered that if you are willing to take your food to La Cucina(breakfast and lunch), the seating in there is so much nicer and quiet. It was close to the food at Great Outdoors and beverage station. Another discovery is the fresh ground coffee near the kid's buffet. After that, breakfast and lunch was very relaxing.
On a side note, my son has multiple food allergies(dairy, eggs, peanuts, all nuts) and I was not sure how that was going to go. The first couple people I asked in the buffet area looked at me like I had six heads, but they did eventually get me to an officer who took care of us and explained how it all worked. We got into the routine of preordering dinner and my son was excited about being able to pick anything off the menu and they would try to make it. I was skeptical as he picked lasagna for his first dinner on the ship. He has never had lasagna and sure enough, when we went to dinner, we just told the server we had a preorder with our cabin number and they had his allergy lasagna all prepared. After dinner, they gave us the menu for the next evening so we could preorder. My son was so excited to actually be able to pick from a menu like everyone else. I know getting so excited about eating seems a bit trivial, but if you have to deal with so many food restrictions your whole life, it is amazing when you get to eat different things and for a mom to not have to worry about it for a week, that's true relaxation!!! At the buffet, he really enjoyed the clear broth soups, french bread, deli meats, rice noodle with meat/veggie toppings in broth, miso soup, grilled chicken, grilled steak. At Blue Lagoon, they fried up his chicken wings leaving off the sauce. What the pearl did lack was dessert options for allergies. fresh fruit was pretty much the only choice, but no problem, I had packed a weeks worth of treats/desserts for him, as it's usually an issue most places we go. Disney on the other hand, made him an elaborate dessert every night.
My 11yo loved the Splash Academy and wanted to go to most programs. I was surprised because neither of my boys ever spent much time in the Disney kid's club. The space on pearl didn't seem impressive and they didn't have all the high tech gadgets and activities, but he loved the organized activities and the games. He met so many kids and they were saying hello to each other all over the ship. My 13yo and his cousins wanted to love the Entourage(13-17), but couldn't. They showed up the 1st evening for the ice breaker and were a bit disappointed. Some discussions were over their head, but they gave it another go the next couple of days as the program listed air hockey and foosball tournaments, but when they would go, kids would just be hanging out. No tournament ever materialized. Showed up for teen dodgeball, but no organized game occurred, tried casino night, but nothing set up and no signs of anything going on except kids "hanging out." They would have loved to join the splash academy. Socially, they needed the structure and not at all near where the highschoolers were, who are more into hooking up and what not. Luckily for the 3 of them, they had eachother to hang out with and eventually gave up on entourage. Side note, because the splash academy closes for 2 hours each meal time, the line for check-in when it opened back up can be lengthy, so be prepared and be patient.
The ports were great. We did the shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, train up and tour van down in Skagway, bus to Totem Bight at Ketchikan and walked to town in Victoria. I won't say too much since I'm just focusing more on the reviewing our experience on the ship.
Overall, we all enjoyed the cruise tremendously. I do have to say that the culture on the ship is a little edgy. The material that the comedians use can sometimes contain sexual innuendos, even in the earlier shows. It is not squeaky clean like Disney, so I can see how some people can be offended. My kids are a bit older and have heard plenty on the school bus that is much worse, so it doesn't bother me. I heard a girl in my son's age group in Splash Academy complaining about the trash bag fashionshow where some boys decided to put balloons on their chest to model their fashion designs. What she was not happy about, my 11yo thought was hilarious, so perceptions can be very different. Entourage had a college party theme night with water bongs, etc. My bunch didn't go, but I thought it was an odd theme for 13-17yo.
We had such a good time that I just booked the Pearl for the Caribbean. We feel we got excellent value from our cruise and always found something to do. Embark/debark was easy. Everyone on the ship was friendly and helpful. We enjoyed the crew talent show and the last evening where they introduced the crew in Stardust. They showed a short slide show of the behind the scenes folks and it reminded me how hard they work and how lucky were were to be able to go on a cruise. I only wish they had more movie channels and a movie screen by the pool, so I would have less time to eat. Still working to lose the 5lbs I gained and hopefully I don't gain 5 more the next time we go.