We booked this Easter cruise on the new Pearl and were very excited. We cruised 5 times before all with Carnival. We really wanted to try another line for comparison.
We flew down Easter morning and arrived in the embarkation area around 3pm. It was a ZOO!! loud music, huge lines spilling out of the zig-zag line coral and a LOT of people. This was a poor first impression. The lines moved somewhat fast - I think we waited about 25 minutes. Once through the line we were luckily on the ship within 10 minutes and no more lines. We were very impressed with the ship, it was not gaudy, over the top or loud like Carnival can be. It was just extremely nice! We decided to check our rooms. We always book the cheapest rooms which are inside rooms. Our room was smaller than expected but nice. Our kids room was next door and they agreed it was smaller than Carnivals cheapest rooms. We were right under the casino and I was really worried about noise coming through and thankfully it did not. It was really quiet. Our room steward was very responsive, polite, pleasant and good.
All breakfasts were at the garden cafe or outdoor cafe. Outdoor cafe had same food and MUCH shorter lines. Very, very good omelets and fruit - but little variety of fruit.
First dinner was at the Summer Palace. This dining room was spectacular!! The paintings, decorations and ambiance are unreal!! Service was slow, and others who came after us were done and gone well before us but the food was REALLY good. On par if not a tad better than Carnival....just slow.
First day at sea. Lounge chairs seemed plentiful and easy to find. We sat near the rock climbing wall and it was really nice. I did notice another difference with Carnival. No one approached us for drink orders - which was kind of good, but sometimes I would have liked to ordered a drink. Drinks were very expensive in my opinion - at $8 the drinks were in tall but very skinny cups. Refills were $7 but a pain since you had to keep your empty cup with you. I don't think you could get a drink without the souvenir cup. Dinner was at La???? the Italian place and it was really good! We had 6:00PM reservations made the day before and the place was dead. Service was fast and pleasant. Great bread and dipping oil. A really good meal overall.
Cozumel - we walked around the downtown area for a bit and made it down to the area near the big flag and ferry shuttles. Bought some trinkets. Went to Playa Uvas and was kind of disappointed - see my review on the boards for Cozumel. Got back on the ship and ate again at Summer Palace. Much better and faster service. Again, incredible food!
Belize - Went to Caye Caulker to snorkel with Star Tours. Fantastic time and great excursion. See my review in the Belize section. Bought some handbags in the shopping zone. This stop/excursion was the highlight for us! Dinner at Indigo this night. Had the best service here and the food was fantastic!
Day at Sea - Chilled and sunned all day. Ate at Mambos and loved the chips and salsa. Food was pretty good, service was really good.
All lunches were at garden cafe or outdoor cafe. Very good selections and quality.
Entertainment. We loved the Second City acts. Very funny! The Magician/Comedian was also very good - very funny. Karaoke was kind of a bust, no one really wanted to sing. Newly Wed game was really funny except for an overly annoying British guy.
Carnival vs. NCL - my family discussed this at length during our 10 hour trek home and we all said that the FreeStyle dining pushed NCL way ahead of Carnival. There was a hard-to-place fun factor missing while on NCL that Carnival had. Also, this is a double edge sword, but my entire family really liked bonding with the common wait staff on Carnival. They added a HUGE element of enjoyment during our Carnival cruises. On the other hand, we could have requested the same wait staff on NCL, but we would not be able to switch restaurants like we did on NCL which was great. I think it made our entire trip seem better and more "connected". We really felt like "passengers" along for the ride on NCL, but family with Carnival.