This was our third cruise on the Pearl in less than 8 months. We really love this ship, her crew and the upbeat decorations. We originally booked this cruise so our 82-year-old dad could join us on his second cruise. Unfortunately, circumstances didn't allow him to cruise with us. We were in a quandary deciding whether to go or not go and at the last minute, decided he was in good hands at the hospital and with his blessing, off we went.
Embarkation Day: We had a 6AM flight and decided the stay overnight in El Paso, TX, about an hour's drive from home. We purchased the transfers through NCL and signage at YVR was good. We also were to take part in the USDirect program, but we missed those signs and were sent through Customs with the hoards of other Vancouver travelers. The line went fast and we were on our bus (wondering if we'd ever see our bag again). Arriving at Canada Place about 2:30, we had a rapid check-in and went immediately to our OV stateroom. We picked up our life vests for muster drill (held in the Summer Palace dining room). Our luggage was received quickly so the USDirect transfer program worked perfectly for our luggage.
Our Stateroom: Our oceanview room was kept clean and orderly. We had more enough space for our belongings (more so than in a balcony room). Of course, we overpacked - bringing way too many clothes. We had our beds put together and had a tiny night table on either side of the bed. The table barely held the telephone - I'd say it was about 12" across. That's how much room you have between the bed and the wall. Getting in and out of bed was cumbersome, as you had to dodge the folded bunk that used about half of the wall space - leaving about 6-8" of body room. The room had a stocked mini-fridge, flat panel TV, coffee maker, safe, 6 drawers, built-in desk, shelves and ample hanging room in the closet. We requested an eggcrate mattress topper and it was brought quickly. I suggest you remove about half of the hangers in the closet, as they are bulky. We always bring a folding hamper and it fit in the closet nicely. The closet had a lower fold-down shelf but I still couldn't figure out its purpose. A nice touch was the light in the closet that we kept on at night for a great nightlight. Our multi-pocket shoe bag hung on the inside of our closet door and was perfect to hold the odds and ends that accumulated throughout the cruise. The bathroom space was adequate. This time when I asked for a bar of soap, our cabin attendant immediately brought two bars of oatmeal soap "made exclusively for NCL".
Upon arrival, we were treated to a bottle of wine and a fruit basket, compliments of Latitudes. We also had letters from the hotel director and concierge (Karin Goedecke, more on her later). Our cabin stewards did their work and were very pleasant. We found all staff willing to go the extra mile to make things right.
Gatherings: Our Meet and Greet (held in LeBistro the first sea day (Tuesday) was arranged by a member of our group but it was disappointing no one from NCL attended. NCL did provide beverages and pastries. PokrTom organized one of the best M&G's with gift exchanges among participants and door prizes.
VIP Guests: As Platinum members, we were invited to dine in Cagney's for breakfast and lunch. The VIP cocktail party was held Tuesday evening and we enjoyed talking at length with the cruise director, Simon Murray. Each evening we would receive "tasty treats" ranging from hors d'oeuvres to cookies. Twice in the four days, we received two plates of treats.
The concierge, Karin Goedecke was apparently kept busy with the Penthouse passengers, for she ignored us (except for the letter the day of embarkment). As VIP passengers she said she made dinner reservations for us, but we didn't have reservations in one of the dining rooms when we went at our scheduled time. We decided to double-check on our reservation at LeBistro, and sure enough, we didn't have a reservation. No problem, we just made our own. Needless to say, this new concierge did not receive a tip from us at all; infact, we left negative feedback for her.
Dining: As mentioned previously, we enjoyed breakfast and lunch in Cagney's. While they have the same specialty breakfast menu daily, the lunch menu varied. We had lunch once in the Garden Cafe and once in Blue Lagoon. Our evening meals were in Lotus Garden, Mambos, Indigo, and LeBistro. I enjoyed all the meals, only wishing they were served a little warmer. My new favorite entrEe was the teriyaki steak at Lotus Garden with the Braised Short Ribs/Tenderloin at LeBistro coming in second. A few times we went to the Garden Cafe just to have a bowl of the chilled fruit soups. Sad to say, LeBistro's chocolate fondue was no longer available. The chocolate buffet was held from 10:00PM-11:00PM on Thursday night. Do try the Chocolate Decadence; it was divine with the consistency of soft fudge.
Entertainment: Shows on this short cruise included SeaLegs at Sea, Garden of the Geisha, a magician and Second City, which were repeats for us. Apparently NCL had negative feedback on the original SeaLegs costumes as the girls' bottoms were covered.
Simon Murray was the CD on this cruise and did a great job and his new assistant was very entertaining. We enjoyed watching "the Perfect Couple" game show.
No art auction on this cruise, Murder Mystery dinner or talent shows.
As usual, the casino was smoky (but since it's one of the few indoor places smokers are allowed, that's understandable.) Several machines were available for those wanting to play for lower denominations. I noticed penny, 2 cent and 5 cent slots. For far less noise and no smoke, go to the Bliss lounge for some machine poker.
A very few hardy souls used the pools and hot tubs. Most days it was too windy and cool to enjoy the water, even if it was heated. You still have to get in and out! Very few outdoor activities were scheduled, but the weather in San Francisco was "smashing" - it couldn't have been better. Lounge chairs were at a premium.
Lounges, tables and chairs were also on the Promenade deck.
Miscellaneous: We did tried to use the stairs whenever possible. When it wasn't too windy, we also made it a point to use the outdoor walking circuits.
Ports of Call: Our one and only port of call was San Francisco. Pier 30-32 is not attractive with nothing but a tent set up at the pier. No one was selling tours, so we opted to walk and jump on a cable car to Chinatown. It was quite an experience! After observing the chickens and ducks hanging in the windows, we decided we would eat on board the ship!
Onboard Shopping: Everything from a candy bar, cold medicine, inexpensive (or expensive) jewelry or a t-shirt is available on the Pearl. One thing I wish they would sell is long sleeve t-shirts. Something between a t-shirt and a sweatshirt. Very few bargains on this cruise - with the exception of some Alaska t-shirts.
Disembarkation: We had VIP departure off the ship and it was very easy. We had breakfast in Cagney's, gathered our luggage (we also chose Express) and went to the Blue Lagoon to meet the concierge. She escorted groups of 6 or so to an elevator (used exclusively by VIP guests) and we were off the ship in minutes. Customs was a breeze and then it was off to our shuttle to LAX. We had prepaid for the shuttle service; I believe it was $16pp - or $18 at the pier. Since we were on SWA, we were at a tiny gate area with limited bathroom facilities, few dining choices, etc. Our flight was approximately ½ hour late for departure but we still were back in El Paso by 4:00 our time.
To Summarize: The Pearl is a beautiful ship and the food and crew are wonderful. There have been a few changes to some of the menus (elimination of the Chocolate fondue, no longer have access to juices after breakfast in the Garden Cafe, etc.). Meals could be served warmer, entertainment was good, and guests were cordial with many first-time cruisers. It was a fun trip but the four days went by way too fast! I purchased another future cruise package for $250. That put $250 into my NCL account to be used as the total deposit on a future cruise PLUS I received an immediate $100 on-board credit to my account. Thus the $250 only cost $150. A great value if you enjoy NCL. We have an upcoming NCL cruise on the Sun in October 2008 but I'm sure we'll cruise NCL again in the meantime. Perhaps a European cruise is in our future.
I would rate this 4 day cruise as an 8 out of 10.