My husband and I recently returned from a 5 day Western Caribbean cruise on the NCL Pearl. I was a first-time cruiser and my DH had previously sailed on a RCL cruise with his family. We are both 26 and have no children.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale on Spirit airlines because the flight was less expensive than any we could find into Miami from Detroit. Our travel agent had told us we could purchase a NCL transfer to the ship for $20pp at the airport, however, we could not find an NCL representative anywhere at the airport. We ended up using a shared taxi-van with 3 other families for a cost of $15 pp that took us all directly to the Pearl at the Port of Miami.
Embarkation: We flew in early the morning that our ship left so we arrived at the Port of Miami around 11:30am. As soon as we arrived, the tagged and took our luggage and they pointed us to the entrance. They were already boarding passengers even though our documents said that boarding didn't start until 1pm. More
We breezed through security and check-in with no lines and were shown right onto the ship. The only disadvantage in arriving early was that the rooms were not ready yet. As we boarded, we were encouraged to have lunch at the buffet. The ship itself inside is beautiful. The colors are very bright and happy in blues and oranges. We explored the Atrium briefly and then decided to have a nice leisurely lunch in the Summer Palace main dining room while we waited for our room. (I should explain here that we are not buffet people - we prefer to be served.) An announcement was made exactly at 1:30pm that the rooms were ready.
Stateroom: Our room was an aft balcony, #9674. It was much bigger than I expected for a cruise ship room. We immediately loved the balcony off the back of the ship although the balcony was not big enough for lounge chairs, just 2 regular chairs and a small table. It was so fun to watch the ship sailing from there. Our luggage was amazingly delivered by 3pm. I was definitely glad that I had read to bring extra hangers because we used them all, although there was more drawer and shelf space than I thought there would be. The bathroom was a decent size with a small lavatory, sink area and a separate shower. The water pressure in the shower was great. The down comforter was very comfortable and the pillows were great too. I was disappointed that we couldn't check our account balance on the TV or book excursions/dinner reservations on the TV (like our friends told us they did on the Pride of Hawaii). I was amazed that we saw several other large cruise ships behind us and around us off our balcony. Our only complaint about the balcony was that some others around us smoked and the smoke drifted into our balcony at times. Our cabin steward, Ramal, and his assistant whose name I don't remember were wonderful. We saw them in the hallways probably 2-3 times every day but they never interfered with our schedule. We had cute towel animals at night and they were very friendly and pleasant.
Dining: I was very pleased with the Freestyle dining concept. My husband and I easily made reservations at the restaurants where we wanted to eat. We generally took times a bit earlier than we would have liked, but they allowed us to eat and see the 7:30pm shows. We were always, except once at breakfast, seated by a window which I found completely amazing (and which we never ever requested). I loved sitting by the window and being able to watch the ocean during meals.
For breakfasts, we ate in the Summer Palace three mornings and at the Great Outdoor buffet two mornings. We enjoyed eating in the Summer Palace for breakfast but two mornings we didn't want to spend so much time on breakfast so we went to the Great Outdoor buffet (on deck 12 aft behind the inside buffet). The Great Outdoors buffet was nice and much less busy than the main buffet area.
For lunch, we ordered room service one day from the limited menu. The other ship days we went to the main dining room Summer Palace. They always had several different options for lunch in the main dining room.
The first night we had a reservation at Mambo's (the no-surcharge Tex-Mex restaurant). The food was good and the dessert we ordered was the best we had on the Pearl (La Crema del Chocolate Sopla - coffee ice cream between two cream puffs covered in chocolate sauce and toasted almonds). The 2nd night we ate in the main Summer Palace dining room and it was "Dress Up or Not" night. The wait staff was the most formal at this restaurant. The 3rd night we ate at La Cucina (the no-surcharge Italian restaurant). This was my favorite restaurant with all of its Italian options. The 4th night we ate in the main Indigo dining room. The menus in both Summer Palace and Indigo were the same each night. I found Indigo to be much more intimate and personal than the larger Summer Palace dining room. The last night we decided to splurge and eat at Cagney's Steakhouse ($20pp surcharge). There is an additional $10pp surcharge on top of the $20pp if you want order lobster or the surf & turf. When we went on the last night, they were out of lobster so that made our decision easy. The food at Cagney's was the best that we had on the ship - I ordered the NY Strip and my DH had prime rib.
All the wait staff service was exceptional. We found all the wait staff members to be very professional and pleasant.
Entertainment: We attended both the Jean Ann Ryan musical evening shows in the theater. I was very impressed with the quality of the performers and the mix of music. Both shows were very enjoyable. My DH and I both enjoy improv comedy so we also loved the Second City show.
Shore Excursions: Our ports were Cozumel, Mexico and Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We did not book an excursion in Cozumel because we just wanted to shop on our own. The ship docked right downtown by the shops so we just walked right off the pier and up and down the streets shopping. We had lunch at Carlos n' Charlies right in front of the pier.
In Grand Cayman, we booked the Kayak & Snorkel excursion. However, we sailed around the time of Hurricane Noel and Georgetown was experiencing storm swells and rip currents. So our shore excursion was canceled due to the weather. We also ended up not being able to tender into Georgetown because the officials closed the pier due to the weather, so we tendered into nearby Spot's Bay. The tendering process went very fast. I was just disappointed that our excursion had been cancelled - but because the tour was cancelled it due to unsafe conditions we were given a full refund. We tried to book another tour after we learned that ours had been cancelled, but we were told that the were not selling any excursions so late. This, I think, was to their detriment because I would have booked something else through NCL, but we ended up just purchasing a tour from a local tour guide once we got off the ship.
Disembarkation: We chose the Express Walk-Off disembarkation because we didn't want to be tied to a schedule and we prefer to keep track of our own luggage. We had a late flight out of Ft. Lauderdale so we didn't want to be immediately herded off the ship. Even though it is called "Express Walk-off", you can depart anytime you want to before 10am. Even though you are supposed to be able to stay on the ship until 10am, we felt pressured by our cabin stewards to leave sooner because they wanted to start cleaning the room. We left around 9am. There was a line to go through US customs, but it was probably less than a 30 minute wait. We did purchase an NCL transfer back to the Ft. Lauderdale airport because there were 5 cruise ships docking that morning and we didn't want to have to fight for a taxi.
Summary: Overall it was a wonderful first cruising experience for me. We enjoyed the Freestyle cruising and exploring the wonderful ship. We are already trying to decide what our next cruise will be! Less