Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by TR4: Norwegian Pearl - Alaska
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Norwegian Pearl - Alaska
This review is for the August 5,07 cruise to Alaska on NCL's Pearl. I would like you to keep in mind that this review is subjective to my experience on this cruise. The comments and reviews are based on my own opinions and experiences. Our background, my husband and I are both in our early 40's and this was both of ours first cruise. Which makes this review a little more difficult because we have nothing to compare it with. We booked this cruise in January of 2007 and while looking on the computer for information about Alaska I came upon the Cruise Critic site. From that moment on I was hooked. The amount of information I gained from these boards was overwhelming. Through-out the next several months it seemed I was visiting the boards daily. I soon joined our cruise roll-call and began to meet several really exceptional people. After a few months visiting with everyone, I was asked to be the leader of the group. This meant setting up a meeting time and place with the ship and getting More
together some information about the ports we were visiting. I was very nervous about my newly assigned position-someone who had never cruised before in-charge of a meeting! Well, looking back it was a great privilege to meet and work with some very delightful and caring people. While on roll-call we had a chance to talk about things we wanted to see and do while cruising. This was a great outlet for information. The anticipation for this cruise was more than I imagined. It was really nice to visit with others sharing your same excitement level and understanding. My newly assigned job required me to talk with the ship's crew and set up a meeting place on board the Pearl. During this process I talked with a few of NCL's staff that I felt went above the call of duty to assist in my needs: Karen Chong-viau from the group reservations, Maybelin Gutierrez from group event planner for the Pearl and Kathryn McAdam from the Casino Marketing department. All of these people made great first impressions for NCL. As far as the cruise planning, I can tell you right off the start that I tried to plan everything right down to the hour. I retrieved past freestyle daily sheets and tried to plan for our entire week. It didn't work out that way. We ended up just doing everything at that moment and it really seemed to work out great. The only regret is I did miss some shows and classes I had really wanted to see and do. There were so many things to choose from I found it hard to decide what to do. We only live about 6 hours away from Seattle so we drove to the pier. Good choice since we had 7 suitcases-yes I over packed but 3 of the bags were items for our meet and greet party). We arrived early Sunday morning and it was starting to get busy with everyone getting off the ship from the week before cruise. We decided to park in the Bell St parking garage. (One thing I should mention is if you use the lower entrance at the side of the garage you go right into the cruise parking area). We were a little worried that our expedition fitting the height requirements but we had no problems. The garage attendants were very quick and helpful getting our luggage and parking the car. We found that the embarkment process was quick and painless, even though we were there several hours before our boarding time. NCL gets an A+ here. We waited only a short time before we were able to board the ship. Our room was not available yet so we explored the ship, made dinner reservations and went to the garden cafe for lunch. About 1:30pm our room was ready so we went to drop off our carry ons and check out our cabin. We found our cabin, 5504 (port hole window on the port side) to be adequate in size. The bathroom was a little small but we made do. For the two of us the cabin had lots of room for our things. We had plenty of space in the closet and room under our beds for the suitcases. The refrigerator was a little small but overall everything was fine. Upon arriving to our room we meet our room steward, Rondaldo Rodrigazo. He and Teresitade Los Santos were very nice and did a great job with our room. We didn't require any extra service but had we I am sure they would have accommodated us. After checking out the room we made our way to deck 13 to watch the sail away party. The weather was great and we were treated to a fly by from the Blue Angel flight performing for SeaFair. The party was great but it was our first experience with how expensive the drinks were on-board. Once we left the Seattle harbor we went back to our room to talk with the group service coordinator, Gary Aldredge( by phone upon his request). We sit up all the last minute items for the CC meeting and double checked all the numbers of guest. Our luggage was delivered to our room very early in the afternoon which was nice to get everything unpacked. On the advice from other cruise critic members I packed a bathroom organizer and hung it over the shower door. It worked great keeping everything up and out of our way. We had our life boat drill at 3:30pm and our station was the stardust theater. It was very uncomfortable setting in the chairs with the life vests on. Luckily it didn't' take too long and we quickly were released to return to our room. Dinner tonight was at the Garden Cafe (will do restaurant review later) and after we enjoyed the evening at the casino (even though we missed the welcome aboard show).
Monday: Monday was sea day and was a nice chance to check out the ship. We had our Cruise Critic party before lunch and it seemed to go very well. We had someone from every group posting on roll call show up. It was a great turnout. Some of the ships officers visited briefly and left their cards in case anyone needed anything. The party was really great to put screen names with faces. We had snacks (provided by the ship) and door prizes (provided by a couple of members of our roll call). I would like to thank 'Papa Jacks family' and 'ACruise4us family' for all their help. After our CC party we grabbed a bite to eat and entertained ourselves with the ships activities. We were invited to attend the Captains Cocktail party this evening, which was a pleasant surprise. It was a privilege to meet the captain and the senior officers. We enjoyed visiting for about an hour and then departed for dinner. Tonight was' dress up or not' night and we decided to put away the blue jeans and break out the 'dress up 'clothes. We had made reservations at Summer Palace for this evening. Summer Palace is one of the main dining rooms; it was very elegant and had beautiful decorations. We were quickly seated but waited a while for service. Our waitress seemed overwhelmed with everyone's tables and rarely visited our table. Dinner took a while to be served but when it arrived I thought it was very good. All the staff at Summer Palace was very friendly and pleasant, we just seemed to get lost in the shuffle. After dinner we went to the Stardust Theater to watch the 'Second City show'. This was a comedy show and was very humorous. We were impressed by the show, but surprised at how short the show seemed. We later went back to our cabin to find delicious treats waiting for us. Another great day! Tuesday: Tuesday was our Juneau stop. Before arriving in Juneau we were treated with a large amount of whale activity. It was an amazing experience to stand at the rail and watch them play and hunt. When we arrived in Juneau it was cold and wet (surprise, surprise). Most of the helicopter and sightseeing flights were cancelled due to the weather. We had chosen to do the excursion JNU412 offered by NCL. This was the Mendenhall glacier and wildlife quest tour. Our excursion bus picked us up at the ship right on time. We had an excellent tour bus driver who drove us to the Mendenhall glaciers. Thanks to the advice of our bus driver we walked the trail off the left of the parking lot where we had the privilege to see a mama bear and two cubs catching fish from the creek. This was a high-light of our trip. It was difficult to get pictures of the bears, because of the amount of people that were there. If visiting here on your own, I would wait and hour or so after the cruise ship dock and then go to the glacier. It seemed very busy when we first arrived but by the time we left it seemed to have thinned out a bit. The weather at the glacier was -well raining, but we really enjoyed our visit here. The blue ice and large waterfall was impressive. We loaded our bus again for the second part of our tour-whale watching. Our bus driver took us to our Whale watching boat and we quickly located a seat and waited for our adventure to begin. unfortunately we waited for several more buses of passengers to board the vessel. In my opinion, it seemed that the tour was way over-booked. Several people could not find seats and were forced to stand the entire trip. We saw some whale activity but not nearly what we had seen from the ship. Even when the whales were spotted it was very difficult to get any pictures because of the number of people trying to find a spot at the rail. We finally started taking pictures over the tops of people's heads. The only advantage I saw doing a whale Watching tour verses seeing them from the ship was at least on the tour they stopped so you could try and get photos. The tour operator and staff were very friendly but I probably would not do this excursion again. I don't want to give anybody the idea that this is a bad excursion, Mother Nature does not work on command and if we hadn't seen some much whale activity from our ship, we probably would have enjoyed the experience more. I also think if the vessel would not have been so crowded it would have been more enjoyable. We finished our excursion with a little time to spend in town. We visited the Red Dog saloon and did a little shopping. We didn't feel like we had enough time at this port. (Cell phone note-this was the only port that we could not get coverage with our Verizon cell phone). We boarded our ship (special cabin note- when picking a cabin keep in mind that deck 4, port side was used several times as access to the gang plank. It was very difficult for people staying in these cabins to enter or leave their room with everyone standing in the hall). We had dinner at Indigo, which was the other main dining room. It was not as grand as Summer Palace, but I preferred it better. The food was delicious and we enjoyed the evening of fine food, exceptional Service and visiting with new friends. Wednesday: Our port of call was Skagway. We arrived in port early in the morning and the weather was actually sunny. Skagway was a cute town but didn't seem realistic.
The town seemed clean and the people were friendly. It still had a lot of T-shirt shops and jewelry stores (which seemed to be the only shopping in Juneau) but didn't seem to have that many home town business shops. Our excursion in Skagway was also booked through NCL and was the White Pass rail, Klondike highway and gold camp adventure. We boarded a bus at the Pier and it took us to a different pier to pick-up more guest from other cruise lines. Once the bus was loaded we went a short distance to the train. Everyone got off the bus and onto the train. I spent most of my time on the train ride standing between the rail cars, this made for better photos. If I was sitting inside the left side of the train (going up) seemed to have a better view. We arrived at the summit a few hours later and after the Canadian authorities checked everyone's passports we exited the train. We did not stay here long but boarded our bus for a ride back down. I did not care for our tour bus driver; she kept saying how expensive it was to live there and how hard it was to save for school. I felt as though she was asking for money the whole time. The other bus driver told us information about the area and cute little jokes. She tried the jokes but they didn't go over real well and when she tried to tell us about sights that we would be coming too, she would tell you the waterfall is on the left, but after passing it you would realize it was on the right. Too late for pictures. My husband said I was too hard on her and we did give her a tip anyway, but not as much as the other driver. The last stop on tour was Lairsville, which was redone to look like an old time gold mining camp. I didn't care for the camp but wondered around the area for a little while. We watched a quick show and was kind of taught how to pan for gold. We were really looking forward to panning until we realized that we were just given a pan with sand and a few flakes of gold. The flakes were really hard to see and I saw a lot of kids getting up-set that they couldn't find what they were looking for. Once you found your 3 or 4 small flakes of gold you were done. If would not have been so bad if you could have kept panning for a while but it only took about 10 minutes and we were back on the bus. We still had plenty of time in Skagway to shop and wander the town. We boarded the ship about 7 pm and had time for dinner before leaving this port. (When leaving Skagway we saw several waterfalls off the port side of the ship). Once it became dark we headed indoors to enjoy more of the Pearls entertainment and then off to bed.
Thursday-Glacier Bay From the advice I received from the Cruise Critic boards; I woke up very early and went directly to Spinnaker lounge on Deck 13. I was able to get a front window seat and table. This worked out great. We had a wonderful view in comfort. The pictures we took through the glass turned out just fine. My husband and I took turns going and getting things to eat (you can go to the garden cafe, fill your plate and bring it back to the Spinnaker lounge). I did step out on the deck for a couple of photos but it was cold, windy and wet. I was very happy with our view point. During our viewing of the glaciers, three naturalists from the forestry service had come on board to give us information about what we were seeing. When we first arrived at the glacier, Marjorie glacier was calving. It was only a small one and I was sure anticipating more to come. We visited the Marjorie and Grand Pacific glacier for about an hour and I was a little disappointed we didn't see any more calving action-boy that Mother Nature not working on cue. Although the glaciers were impressive I was extremely disappointed we didn't have the opportunity to get closer to the glacier. I would have really enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to see just what magnitude of size you were really dealing with. I did see another ship in the bay that got much close to the glacier then we did and I have to say I was a little bummed. We also had the pleasure of visiting Johns Hopkins glacier which was very beautiful. We were unable to get very close at all to this glacier due to the baby seals that were protected in the bay. All and all it was an enjoyable day. Later when we returned home we had found out that people on an Arctic cruise were injured by a wave caused by the glacier calving. It was a small ship but the wave made the ship roll excessively, causing the passengers and crew to fall. Hearing this made me realize that the ships viewing distance has to be for the safety of their passengers. Yes, I was still bummed but a little bit better understanding. We were fortunate when leaving glacier bay to view numerous whale spottings. There were a lot of whales far away from the ship, but a few whales came very close and made for excellent pictures. Tonight was the second 'dress up or not' night and we had reservations at Cagney's. We had an amazing waiter who was at our table whenever we seemed to need anything. He helped select a bottle of wine and we sat back and enjoyed an extremely delicious meal. Everything was perfect, but here again is where the subjective views can come to play, as we were leaving cagneys from a perfect dinner, someone else was leaving complaining. Whether it was choice of food, the servers or each person expectations-everything is only as good or bad as that persons view or opinion. After diner we watched the adult 'second city show', which was good but again very short, before heading off to sleep. Friday-Ketchikan We had arrived in Ketchikan early in the morning. We woke up and had something to eat before heading out to see the town. Ketchikan was probably my favorite port town. I have read the reviews about it being dirty and boring, but to me it seemed more of a realistic Alaska town. We had a Duck Excursion booked here at 9am. We didn't plan that well, we departed the ship around 7:45am, so we didn't have enough time to go do anything before the tour but we had too much time to just stand around and wait. We went to the 'duck office' and they allowed us to join the earlier tour at 8am. We didn't really care for this excursion. The land tour of the town was pretty good, but the water part was lacking. We never saw any wild life (except a crow and dog) on this tour and we never left the dock area when touring in the water. The driver and guide were nice but the driver seemed upset when the kids were blowing on the duck horns (which he sold to them for $3 each when the tour started).For future note on the duck tour it was a good way to see the town and know where you want to go back and visit. I would also recommend that you set in the middle or towards the front of this vehicle. We sat towards the back and it was fine on land but when we went into the water, the back 3 or 4 rows vibrated horrible and made it very uncomfortable. After departing our duck tour we walked to Creek Street for some photo opportunities and to watch the salmon. The salmon had just begun to spawn but we felt there were a lot in the creek. A local resident informed us that when the salmon are in full run the whole creek will be full. The salmon were a great treat to see but a few of the salmon had already died and the smell was-well-let's just say not pleasant. I cannot imagine the smell when they were all there. We walked up the hill to Totem Park and visited this area for a while before coming back down by way of 'Married Mans Path'. We passed the fish ladder and entered Creek Street from the back. It was here were we say a seal chasing a school of salmon in the creek. We purchased several souvenirs on Creek St. including several t-shirts, coats and a few other items. One of the items we bought here was the favorite with our family when we returned home. We had picked up a gold panning kit and everyone really enjoyed it. My only regret here was I didn't pick up more bags of sand/gold mixer. This was by far the favorite item and it only cost about $16. We returned to our ship with not much time to spare (not enough time in ports). We ate and then attended the crew talent show. It was very good and I was amazed at how much talent these people have. The show ended with a very cute and funny piece. We enjoyed dinner and the ships entertainment the rest of the evening and it was very relaxing. Late in the evening we had our chocolate buffet in the garden cafe. It had some amazing chocolate creations, as well as, beautiful ice sculptures. It was very busy right off the start and very difficult to take pictures. I loaded a plate of goodies and took them back to our room and then returned later to take more pictures. The treats were delicious, but being so late in the evening we didn't finish tasting the treats. I felt that a lot went to waste. I would have preferred the slices to be small so you could try everything but not truly have to eat an entire slice of desert. Everything looked and tasted wonderful and I think I gained 5 lbs that night. Saturday-Victoria, B.C. We enjoyed the Pearl activities during the morning and prepared ourselves for our cruise critic bowling party. It was a nice treat from the Norwegian Cruise line and the hotel director Michael Klieverik. We received a free game of bowling and a drink, nice touch. Bowling was a lot of fun but you can't take it too seriously. For anyone who is a league bowler or that even bowls a lot, I need to warn you to be very careful. The approaches are short and there is no such thing as the word 'slide'. It would be very easy to blow out a knee. This game is meant only for fun and you won't want to see your score. We had a quick dinner at La Cucina, the Italian Restaurant. This was a hard place for us to get reservations even for only two. The food and service was good but nothing above the normal. I was surprised that the reservation sign stated they were full but we saw several empty tables the entire time we were there eating. We docked in Victoria late, not really sure why. This was upsetting to a few who had early excursion planned. This can be a good reminder to be careful how early or late you book your excursion times. We departed the ship and went through customs (a quick pass port look) and then we were greeted by very friendly people handing out city maps and pins. On the pier there are many forms of transportation options available to get you around town. We decided that it was too late to go to the gardens so we opted to take the bus ($6pp round trip) and visit the downtown area.
The last time we visited Victoria was for our honeymoon 23 years ago and boy do things change with time. It didn't seem to be as charming as I remembered it to be. It is still a very beautiful city but the weather was cold and wet and we really didn't have any time to enjoy this port. We did visit miniature world and the wax museum. Both were easy on the pocket book and very interesting. On our way back to the bus we had an opportunity to watch some street performers, who were surprisingly good. I must admit my favorite was 'plaster man'. When we arrived back, the Pearl had a wonderful outdoor barbeque going on deck 12 (pool deck). They had live entertainment (which was very good) and delicious food. The only draw-back here was Mother Nature again-it was raining and felt very cold. After the BBQ we went to our room to do the one thing we didn't want to do-pack. We packed everything we didn't need and sat the suitcases in the hall for pick-up. Sunday-Seattle We decided to skip breakfast and head out of town before it got busy with the lucky people who were getting on the ship not off. I had hoped that a tour of the garden villas would be possible, but it was not offered. This was a request we made before boarding the ship. Several members of our cruise critic group had asked but I guess those guess who were lucky enough to experience the Villas didn't want to leave the ship yet either. Can't blame them for that. Leaving the ship was very fast. We walked right off the ship when our color was called, picked up our luggage, went right through customs and right into a shuttle van to take us to the parking garage. Quick and simple. We had a great time. I do have a few comments and reviews I didn't know where to place-so I am just listing them in no order.
Pearl Restaurants: we were only able to enjoy a few of the dining options on-board. Cagney's-by far our favorite. Great food and service. LaCucina- Seemed very hard to get reservations for, but the food was good. Would have liked to see a little more listed on the menu Summer Palace-was very elegant and the only restaurant on-board that would not let you wear jeans after 5pm. Food was good but service was a little slow. Indigo-this was the second of the two main dining rooms. Not as fancy as summer palace but I did prefer it better. We ate here twice, the first time was wonderful both the food and service. The second time, the food was still good but the service was only so so. Blue Lagoon-we also ate here twice, but not because our food and service was so great. The first time we ate here I ordered chicken fingers and they were way over cooked. I might have sent them back but could never find a server to get their attention. I felt I should give them another try and I was glad I did, the next visit I order chicken fingers and they were very good and the service was great. Room Service- we only used this service once. We ordered breakfast and it was a nice way to receive a wakeup call. Room service called about 10 minutes before they brought you your food. The food was good and it saved us a trip to the garden café. We did try to order again later in the week (night time snack) but we could not seem to get a hold of anyone. All we got was either a busy signal or it just kept ringing. As far as room service, I would love to see wider options especially for breakfast. And last but not least the Garden Café.: We ate here several times. The food was good and I felt that there were several items to choose from. My biggest problem with the Garden café is finding a table. I heard several people on board say they had no problems with the tables. I figured it must be the time you eat because we always had problems finding an empty table for two. A few changes that NCL may look at here are the café is the drink station. They need more ice and drink machines and they need to switch their location around. You exited the buffet line, got in the drink line, grabbed your cup and then took a few steps forward to the ice machine and then you had to back up a few steps for the drinks. I know it isn't that big of a deal but when it can be easily changed and you have people behind you-not pushing but trying to hurry to get their drinks as well , I think it would work better. Also, the Ice cream station-yes it has wonderful tasting ice cream but it should be moved to a different location on the ship. It is located at the same spot as the drink machines, access to the seating area and the end of the buffet line. It's not that people wouldn't like ice cream with their meal but it was located in a very high traffic area. I saw kids run into the garden café to get ice cream cones and almost cause people to dump their trays of food. Overall, the food was excellent and the food staff was great. Two thumbs up to Mirsad Bucuk (F & B director) and your staff. My only comment here would be please put more steak and sea food options on the menus.
Other comments: • I have to say that the cruise critic site was very helpful in planning this trip. I gained a lot of information about Alaska and cruising in general and had a wonderful opportunity to meet some very nice people. • I would like to thank Michael Klieverik-hotel director and Alexander Fores-concierge for making our stay so special. All the little surprises were very thoughtful and appreciated. • Sanitation stations were everywhere and most were manned. This was nice and seemed to work, we didn't hear of any out breaks of anything. • Soda card-in my opinion it was not worth the money. I am a heavy soda drinker but even buying the cans I never came close to the $60 charge. Had it been a little cheaper I probably would have purchased one. • Stardust theater-it is very pretty but the seats are way too close together. It was hard if not impossible to go by someone to get in or out of a row. Very cramped. • Fish carpet-loved the fish carpet, knowing the fish swam to the front of the ship was a big help. I still got turned around a couple of times but it could have been worse. • Elevator tip-hard to catch during busy times (port days, choc. Buffet and BBQ) easier to take the stairs or catch the elevator going down and then ride it back up. • Classes- I wish they would have had more evening arts and craft type classes. • Shore excursions- the downfall of our trip. Although we can't say we had a horrible time, for the money we spent I would either book different excursion or just tour on our own. • Shopping at Port-I have to admit I was looking for that cheap t-shirt but I was also looking for that 'made in Alaska' items. Every port seemed to be full of jewelry stores or made in china t-shirt shops. Would have loved to see more family homemade item stores. • Shopping on the Pearl- would like to have seen a little more variety of items in the stores or even more stores. • Room steward= ours did a great job. Even when we forgot to turn the knob on our door for service, they still seemed to slip in and do their thing. Room was always cleaned; beds made and turned down with mints and towel animal friends (on a couple of nights). Thanks, Ronaldo Rodrigazo and Teresita de los Santos for doing a great job. • Recognizing crew and staff-At the end of the week they wanted you to fill out your comment cards. The problem with this for me is that I couldn't remember anyone's name. We had a crew staff that carried my buffet plate to our room and would not accept a tip; a waiter at Cagney's who went above the call of duty, as well as, many others. My problem was I could not remember their name by the end of the week (sometimes day). I would love to see NCL have name cards for everyone (if they already do I was unaware so they would need to make it better known). When you received excellent service you could ask for a card and then you could just write a quick note on the back of it (waiter-Cagney's) and then you could recognize the people who made your cruise even more enjoyable. • Slot tournament and bingo- the slot tournament wasn't too expensive but bingo was very costly. I really think that it would have been nice to give away some little item- either for the entry or as door prizes. Come on NCL how much can a hat or pen cost. • Casino players card- you need 25 points to even turn the points in for credit or a gift. We spent several hundred dollars in the casino and I only had 7 points and my husband had 21 (they wouldn't even let you add them together as a couple). It really would have been nice to get some small gift for lower points. • Ship board charge account- we asked for our bill on Thursday night just to check it out on the advice from other cc members. Everything at that time was fine but when we received the final bill there were several drink charges on it from restaurants we didn't even have the opportunity to try. Not sure if the waiters walking the ship just used these restaurant computers to run their accounts or what. We decided not to worry about the charges (it was under $50 and the line at the front desk seemed long). Keep track of that bill. Overall, we had a wonderful vacation. We loved freestyle dining and the relax dress code. We meet several very nice people and viewed some beautiful scenery. We were treated to a large amount of whale activity, which was another high light of our trip. I realize this review is long and jumps around a bit but since this was our first cruise I was trying to share with everyone (fellow cc members and NCL) our experiences, both good and bad. We loved our trip, the NCL Pearl and Alaska. I would recommend all three to anyone. The only real problem I had on this trip was trying to decide to stand at the rail and watch the scenery and wildlife or go inside and enjoy the ship. The biggest comment or suggestion I can give is 'attitude is everything'. That goes for your attitude, as well as, the staff. Relax, enjoy and have a great attitude and you will have a wonderful vacation. We sure did. TR4 Ps-sorry for the length and grammar errors, the review was longer than I thought and I did not have time to proof read. Less
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