Hotel and Pre-cruise travel.
We flew to Ft. Lauderdale the day before our sailing and stayed at the Los Palmas Hotel in Miami. We rented a car at the Ft. Lauderdale airport because we had 8 people total, including two children and one coming on a separate flight a little while after ours and we felt like having a car would really benefit us. This was one of the best decisions we made. We used our car to make two trips from the airport to our hotel, then later that evening we went to the grocery store to pick up the beverages and other last minute things we needed. We were very happy with our hotel choice and my kids, age 4 and 6 were sooo thrilled with swimming in the outdoor pool in the middle of winter. (We're from Michigan). We were concerned about the news of the noro and worried that our embarkation might be delayed or slow, so our car came in handy again. We sent out a scout on Sunday morning to see when they might start boarding. Everyone we spoke to either knew nothing about the noro outbreak, or was acting like it was totally no big deal. So, the scout came back to pick up the first of the group, then the second of the group, then two went to return the car and the avis people allowed them to ride the bus back to the port. This entire process from when the scouts came and picked up the first group took maybe an hour. Yes, it was a lot of running around, but we were more concerned about being hotel-less and stranded at the port if they were going to begin boarding late.
Embarkation. Once our entire group was together we began boarding. All eight of us got through in a total of probably 20-30 minutes. Someone asked me if I was with the children and I said yes, they separated us and took us to a special line where were the very next people to be waited on. I think it was sort of like a special-needs line for people who maybe needed to processed a little quicker and that was great. The woman who helped us was very friendly and nice. We were concerned because the four of us (my husband, myself and our two girls) didn't have passports, but we had our birth certificates. We had no trouble at all. It was a little more inconvenient for me personally to have to hold on to all those pieces of paper, but as far as getting on the boat no problem. We got through the picture taking (and it ended up being the one picture of all of us together, so we ended up buying it later in the week - so do it - it can't hurt) and we were on the boat at about 1:00pm.
Staterooms. Three days before sailing our travel agent called us with an upsell opportunity. We had told her that we would definitely be interested if one became available, so she was very diligent and quick about calling us and getting it arranged. Originally, my parents were booked in a mini-suite, and my brother and I each had an inside stateroom. My brother was travelling with one partner, and I with my family as I stated before. The upsell that was offered was for my parents to move into a penthouse "romance suite" - Rm. 10664 and for my brother and I to move each in to a balcony room - Rm. 9606 and 9602 for a total of $350.00. We thought this was a fantastic deal.
When we got on the boat, we went straight to our rooms, they were cleaned and ready to go. The rooms were as expected tight, but nice. I liked the decorations and the bathrooms were wonderful. The showers are particularly nice and we liked the closing door option for the toilet area. Our room was cleaned up and turned down in a very timely manner every day and we really appreciated this because the bull down fourth bed, which we only used three days cannot be pulled down without a key from the room steward. So he cleaned up our room and put the beds away while we were at breakfast every morning and had things turned down when we returned from dinner.
My parents room was incredible. They had a huge balcony which had two loungers and a regular chair and a table. The room was decorated very tastefully and plush with lots of pillows and curtains and nice artwork. They had a bathtub in their room with a shower head, which we used twice to bathe the kids in. The best part of their room was the amenities. They had a butler, named Orlando, who was incredible. My parents are not picky, but they had a couple of questions/requests and he took care of them very well. Also, he was not a stickler about who exactly was staying in the room and who he could wait on. For example, one of the benefits of the penthouse suite is breakfast or lunch at Cagneys. We didn't know if this was exclusively available to my mom and dad, because they were the only occupants of the room, or if it was available to a small group of us. When asked, my parents were told, you just go down there and tell them your room number and how many. Also, Orlando brought several things, like room service, that was specifically for my girls and that was never a problem. Another amenity was the dvd player and dvd library. The library was extensive and although we never ordered any movies because the girls brought their own, it was a really neat thing. Also, in the penthouse suite you can order room service from anything that they serve on the boat, not just the limited room service menu. This was wonderful and we did this a couple of times and enjoyed eating on the balcony. Finally, their room was not crowded at all, even when all eight of us were in there. We played cards at one point, which was fun and the girls stayed over one night. Very lovely to have this room - we all felt a little spoiled.
Food/Drink. Another benefit from the penthouse suite was the concierge that would make your reservations for you at the restaurants. This worked pretty well and from what we've heard/read we had an easier time than most getting what we wanted to eat. We had a large group, and although we weren't sure that this would be true, we all wanted to eat together every night. Also, we preferred the earlier eating times to accommodate the kid's schedule and the shows/activities we wanted to do at night. So, we were not the easiest group to seat at the restaurants.
The first night we used our two-for-one coupons and went to Cagneys. We had a wonderful meal. The service was good, if a little slow, but we understood it to be a leisurely dining experience. My normally good-eater kids decided to get picky on the boat, so the children's menu got pretty old pretty quick, although they were free to order whatever off the regular menu as well, but they didn't care too. I had the filet mignon and it was incredible. A couple others got the salmon and said it was great, but kind of wished they'd gotten a steak.
The second night we ate in the Summer Palace (or as my kid's called it Cinderella's ballroom). It was good. I don't remember anything specific about it, except that the creme brulee was good. We had no problems at all getting seated right away with our large group in the summer palace either time we went.
The third night we went to Mambos. The group had mixed reviews about this one. My mom, who loves Mexican food, thought it was great. My husband and I got the Il popo and thought it was quite good, but the appetizers, etc. no big deal. My brother and his partner neither cared for their meals too much. Also, two people in our party said they had a bit of an upset stomach during the night after Mambos. Maybe coincidental.
The fourth night we went to Teppanyaki. This was an adventure. We had a reservation for eight and the room only seats 32 at a time, but four people in our party weren't back from their excursion at the time of our reservation. We didn't know what to do because we didn't want to pay the surcharge, but we didn't want to go without them. Also, we felt bad for holding the table, even though the excursion crew should've been back at least an hour before. They kindly let us out of the reservation, but literally a minute after we talked to them, the excursion crew showed up and ran down there and asked for fifteen minutes. Miraculously we all gathered up and got there. The service that they do is very much based on a two hour time schedule and if you are late you throw the entire thing off for them, so we were very apologetic and they were understandably a little grumpy. But, in the end, everyone there was extremely accommodating and we were grateful to have gone to all the trouble to ear there. Everyone agreed it was the best meal on the ship, even the girls, who have never had asian food before loved it and were glad for a break from the children's menu. Also, since my kids shared one meal, they only charged us for one of them, which was nice, because they did in fact take up two seats. WOnderful wonderful meal and fun!
The fifth night we wanted to go to La Cucina, couldn't get in - not even for two. Then we wanted to go to Indigo, couldn't get in. So, we ended up back at Summer Palace. Some of us weren't thrilled with the items on the menu that evening, so we asked what else we might be able to get. We were informed by Jonathon - our very nice waiter who went out of his way for us this night - that we could always get a chicken breast, a salmon, or a steak. He also was able to get us a couple of plates of fettucini alfredo, which was so delicious. We all shared and devoured it.
The buffet - We ate at the Great Outdoors for breakfast almost every morning. It was nice. Nothing incredible. One day they had waffles inside, so we brought those out. The omelets were consistently good.
We ate lunch at one of the buffets almost every day as well. One day I did order room service on my parent's balcony of pepperoni pizza, chicken caesar salad, and chocolate covered strawberries. It was soooo good. The buffet food was always good. Particularly, I can remember, the pasta station was good, pizza and calzones, crusty bread and fruit fruit fruit. We ate so much fresh fruit on this trip that I thought we might turn into fruit. My one complaint about the buffet is of course, no trays. As a mom with two little ones who are not consistent in their plate holding abilities, I had to make SEVERAL trips to get food/drinks for everyone and inevitably someone was waiting while someone else was eating.
Blue Lagoon - AWFUL! First of all, they do not have a decent chicken finger on this boat anywhere. We ordered chicken fingers a couple of times and were always disappointed in them. Usually my kids are big fans of chicken finger and they wouldn't touch them. I did not get a hamburger at the blue lagoon and I heard it was good, but the things we got were no good at all. I expected it to be more like a short-order diner with like quick breakfast food and it just didn't meet our expectations at all. Other than that, the food on the boat gets an A.
Entertainment. Second city was amazing. We saw them all three times and went to their workshop. The two women were particularly smart and funny. They really were enjoyable. We went to the first Jean Ann Ryan show and found it to be really hokey. I know it's supposed to be somewhat hokey, but it was above and beyond. The female singer was wonderful. The male singer was standard. The russian ballet and rope artists were INCREDIBLE (they made the entire show worthwhile)and the backup singers/dancers were laughable. We found out later on the ship that this was a new troupe and this was their first run. We understood a little more then. But overall, it was a moderately enjoyable show. Some of the group when to the Geisha show and gave it similar reviews to the first. The magic show was whatever.
Cruisin' with kids. My kids loved the kid's club. I thought I would have a problem with them being in separate groups, but I really didn't. The activities were well thought out and really fun for the kids. Both of my kids were eager to go to kids club during the day hours. My older daughter didn't ever want to go in the evening hours, but I think that was more her personality style than anything about the kids club or the crew. In my 3-year-olds group the teachers were soooo nice to the kids. Always I saw kids sitting on their laps and hugging them. They were Luna (my kid's fave), Dingo Dave, Bee, and oops, I can't remember the other one - sorry! They had pirate day, princess activities, they watched movies sometimes in the evenings, which others have complained about, but hey I loved it! They took the kids on activities around the boat and to the jungle gym thing. They were very safety conscious and kid-friendly.
In the 5-year-olds group, the teachers were very helpful and understanding. They did their best to ensure that she had a wonderful time. They were accommodating when she didn't feel like participating and provided a quiet spot for her to hang out or even nap. They were Milkshake, M and M, and Aloha. I loved it that they had nicknames that were easy to remember and they also had hand signals that were wonderful, because my kid really associated that and learned them quickly.
Swimming was fun and the waterslide EXCELLENT! There was a little inconsistency about who could go down the water slide by themselves and who couldn't, but my kids thought that it was the greatest. The pools were soooo deep that even most of the adults couldn't touch in even the shallowest parts. That was annoying. I understand why, it's a liability issue for them to have people in shallow pools who don't know how to swim, but it prohibited us from using the pool as often as we would've liked. I think they could've had a pool just for kids like 6 and under or something to play in.
As I mentioned before, my kids decided to get picky about the food early on, but the kids menu did get old after awhile. It's same menu regardless of which restaurant you choose. Typical applebees type kid's stuff. Any time I asked, my kids were able to get something else. I specifically asked for broccoli and peas on two separate nights and they got that.
Customer Service. We thought ALL the staff went way out of their way to be friendly, polite, helpful, courteous, etc. Even to my children which is sometimes hard to do. Room stewards, child care people, waiters, dining room attendants, entertainment/games staff - all had excellent attitude and demeanor. We never encountered a grumpy or unhelpful person once. We had a rude awakening as we left the Pearl and back in to real life.
Disembarkation. Fast/smooth no problems. We chose the traditional colored luggage tags method and we made a bus reservation to take us back to Ft. Lauderdale. We had a later flight so we got off the ship a little later. Everything was fine in this area.
Other. My husband LOVED the sports deck and used it every day. He was very happy to find a lot of people to play basketball with. Several of us frequented the casino and had a lot of fun there. Bingo was fun, all the pool/deck games were fun, if silly. We felt like we had a really long nice getaway and we will definitely travel with Norwegian again!
Thanks for reading. PEACE.