My husband, 6 year old daughter, Mother and I cruise once or twice every year. We primarily cruise Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise lines and prefer the Caribbean and Hawaii itineraries. We enjoy the level of service we receive on RCL and love the children's programs on DCL. NCL has a mixed reputation for their different ships which we can attest to. I will say that our experience on the Pearl was wonderful and thought their level of service came very close to RCL. This past March we sailed Hawaii on NCL's Pride of America. The itinerary was absolutely amazing as we love Hawaii and a cruise is a fantastic way to see the islands. The Pride of America, however, lived down to its reputation of poor service, bad food and an inexperienced crew. We decided to give NCL another try and booked the Pearl for the beautiful Southern Caribbean itinerary. We were very pleasantly surprised with this beautiful ship!
We live in Florida so drove to the Port of Miami and parked in the parking garage - don't forget to be prepared to pre-pay for your stay. We arrived at the port at 12:30PM and embarked without any glitches. We were able to go right to our cabin and get settled. We went to the spa and had a look around as well as the fitness room. Both are nice size facilities. We were able to go to the kid's club starting at 3:00PM and signed up our 6 year old daughter. This ship does not require the children to wear ID bracelets with their cabin number and muster stations listed on them. The kids' club also does not issue pagers or cell phones for parent contact. I guess we are more familiar with Disney and Royal Caribbean who offer you the comfort of knowing if your child is unhappy they will contact you. Our daughter did well and really enjoyed the program but with no way for her to contact us through the program staff, I was compelled to check in on her often to be sure she was doing OK.
Every crew member we encountered was very nice. Everyone said "Hello" and had a smile on their face. It made for a very pleasant cruise. The two sailings prior to ours were affected by the Norovirus so extra precautions needed to be taken to hopefully prevent another outbreak. Crew members needed to ask everyone to sanitize their hands, the buffet was served by crew members, we needed to be sanitized again prior to re-boarding the ship in each port - guests were cranky because of these extra precautions but the crew members we encountered smiled right through it. We, fortunately, did not have any customer service problems this cruise but saw others who did. The crew handled them beautifully. We watched an elderly woman who was having trouble finding a deck chair and had a crew member following her around dragging a chair behind him until she found just the right spot to place it. He smiled the entire time.
Our cabin was a bit smaller than we are used to, but had a nice size closet and shelves in addition to drawers so putting all of our clothes away was not a problem. The bedding was amazing! It was extremely comfortable. The pillows were nice and soft - not hard or hospital-like. The down-like comforter was wonderful. The bathroom was interesting. It had a regular size sink and faucet with a good amount of vanity space and shelves for storage. The shower was large with a real sliding door and a shower head that actually accommodated my 6'5" tall husband! The toilet, conversely, was in a tight little corner. We needed to sit practically sideways to get our legs in. Oh well, it can't all be spacious - it is a cruise. Our cabin steward was wonderful! He sneaked in and out - we never even saw him. Our cabin was always clean and tidy. He (or she) came at least twice a day - sometimes three. Our trash cans were emptied, we had fresh ice, our beds were turned down, we never needed to ask for towels. Wonderful service!
The islands on this itinerary are beautiful. It is the Southern Caribbean so I think some people who are more familiar with modern shopping mall-type ports were a bit disappointed. They are not as built-up as some of the more common ports - like Grand Cayman, St. Thomas, etc. These islands are poor and don't have the resources to make beautiful shopping areas or have the newest in taxi vehicles. These islands are beautiful for their natural offerings and lack of development. I was fortunate enough to have lived in St. Lucia years ago for a little while and was quite happy to see it is as beautiful and natural now as it was years ago. If you are a person who requires clean, modern, elegant shopping and well-versed tour operators stick to the Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries or Bermuda. This itinerary is for someone who wants to visit undeveloped beauty.
Regarding excursions, we only booked one through NCL. We did the turtle snorkel in Barbados. The tour operators were very nice and we did, indeed, snorkel with turtles. The only disappointment is that there were four other tour boats in the area at the time and the water was quite crowded. My daughter was kicked many times by adults who were a bit too over zealous when someone would shout out "turtle!" In addition, it seemed like we had just gotten into the water and made our way to the turtle spot when we were called back to the boat...We also visited a sunken boat. This was really interesting to see all the fish and growth that had accumulated over time. In addition, we were the only boat at this site so had the freedom to move around.
We were interested in booking the pirate ship excursion in St. Lucia, but it took up a large chunk of time and I wanted to visit some favorite spots on the island so time would not allow us to participate. When we docked in Antigua, however, we were pleasantly surprised to see a pirate ship in the same port. Her name is the Black Swan. We spoke with the captain who informed us that Royal Caribbean had guests booked for a ride and that NCL had spoken with him about booking their services but never confirmed. So....we went on the Black Swan pirate ship for a three hour excursion. We sailed out and into a cove where we were taken to a private beach for drinks and swim time. Once back onboard, we could walk the plank or take the swing rope into beautiful clear blue water. Dance music played on the way back and everyone had a wonderful time!
NCL's dining program is called "Freestyle." We didn't like it on Pride of America and still don't like it. Because you don't have your own table for dining you wait in line every night for the main dining room (as you can only make a reservation for the main dining rooms if your party is 6 or more). The specialty restaurants are nice, but you have to call reservations each morning at 7:30AM for the following evening. Good luck! The reservation phone line is always busy first thing in the morning and the most sought after restaurants sell out by 7:35AM. In addition to everyone calling each morning, you are competing against the butlers for guests staying in the suites and villas who are able to book dinner reservations for the entire cruise on their first day. Also, we had a lot of groups who were able to book 20-30 seats in one shot. These restaurants only hold around 80-90 people at a time. We were extremely frustrated by this system and ended up eating in the buffet most nights. We were able to try the Teppanyaki restaurant, Mambo's (Mexican), Cagney's (steak) and La Cucina (Italian) which were all good. Because these restaurants charge a fee ($10 - $20 per person) you are paying what you would pay to eat out at home. There are some items on these menus that are an additional $20 on top of the initial $20 upcharge! For my husband and I to eat at Cagney's we paid $115 for dinner and a bottle of wine. We really don't like this system. The buffet has a wonderful selection of food. Everything was very fresh and tasted great! Summer Palace is one of the main dining rooms and the food is also good. It is a very beautiful dining room.
We disembarked first thing in the morning with our bags. We do like this option and have done it before. We don't need to pack our bags and leave them in the hallway the night before or wait for color-coded tags to be called or wade through the warehouse of luggage and drag it to customs after disembarking. We left our cabin at 7:15AM and were off the ship and though customs by 7:45AM. We got into our car and were out of the port by 8:00AM!
We had a wonderful vacation. NCL definitely redeemed themselves to us since our Hawaiian cruise. I think we will try NCL again. We loved the Pearl and the friendly crew. She is a very beautiful, clean friendly ship!!! We would highly recommend this ship and this 9-night itinerary!!