We just returned from a 5-day sailing on the NCL Pearl to the Western Caribbean. This was our first cruise with NCL after having sailed 3 times with RCI (Mariner) and once with Disney. We are a family of 4 (late 40's parents and two daughters 12 and 15). We also took my fun-loving 75-year-old Mother-In-Law, who is recovering from ankle surgery and two girlfriends of our daughters with us on this sailing.
HOTEL - We arrived in FLL a day in advance and stayed at the Hyatt Place in Plantation. It was recently renovated (formerly an AmeriSuites) and we found it to be a beautiful hotel with great service. The only problem we had was at check-in when they said we had booked 5 rooms rather than two. After showing them our confirmation paperwork, they agreed to change our reservation to just 2 rooms. We later figured out there was another guest arriving that night with the same exact name as my MIL (we booked the rooms in her name so she could earn the points). Even their middle initials were the same - the only way we caught this was by looking at the home address. What a coincidence! Fortunately, they quickly reinstated the other party's reservation for 5 rooms and everything worked out fine.
EMBARKATION - We had arranged for a limo to pick us up from the hotel at 10am, and we arrived at the port by 10:45am. Check-in was quick and painless, although we had to wait until 11:30am to board. The only snag was we had requested a wheelchair for my MIL because she can't do a lot of walking yet, but when we got to the terminal, there wasn't one available. This made boarding very difficult, but somehow we managed to get her on the ship. Fortunately, she had rented a scooter from an outside company, and it was waiting for her in her cabin. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only time we would have an issue with getting a wheelchair (more on that later).
SHIP - We found the ship to be bright and beautiful. The dEcor is decidedly modern, but we all thought it was lovely and well laid out. One of our favorite areas was on Deck 6 near the 3 bars (Martini Bar, Maltings Pub and the Champagne Bar). There was a nice sitting area there where we enjoyed the beautiful piano music of Peter Thomas every night before dinner. My MIL is an accomplished pianist, and she really enjoyed listening to Peter play traditional jazz, easy listening, etc. He quickly learned that we were fans, and asked us if we had any requests, which he happily played for us. He was an amazing talent and a super nice guy!
ACTIVITIES - There were the usual type of activities on board, although I have to agree with some earlier posters that I didn't think there were as many offerings as we had on the RCI Mariner or Disney Wonder. Our daughters managed to keep themselves entertained, though by climbing the rock wall, bowling, swimming, sunning, flirting with boys, etc. We found the pool deck to be noisy and crowded during sea days, but that's to be expected. The band was good and the drinks were cold, so we managed to enjoy ourselves!
SERVICE - Most of the staff members we came in contact with were fantastic. Our cabin steward took wonderful care of us and our girls (not an easy job), and all of our servers were pleasant and efficient. This was certainly NOT our experience with the front desk personnel, however. Our first interaction with them was over our bar set-up. We had ordered a bottle of gin to be delivered to our cabin as well as our MIL's cabin a couple of weeks prior to boarding. This was arranged with the ship's coordinator, and was confirmed via email (thankfully I printed this out and brought it with me). On the first evening when it hadn't arrived, we went to the front desk to check on it. They basically shooed us off and said it would be delivered before the end of the evening. We went back again the next afternoon because it still had not arrived. Again we were brushed off and told it would be there by that evening. This went on (with no apologies and no distinguishable concern) every day until the last night of our cruise when we finally told them to just cancel it. By then we had already purchased plenty of cocktails and we didn't want to haul a $43 bottle of gin home in our suitcases. I asked for confirmation in writing (copy of an email, etc.) to verify that we did not receive our two bar set ups because our credit cards had already been charged. I was promised we would receive this before we left the ship, but just like our bar set ups, it never arrived. The next unpleasant interaction we had was with a reservation staffer on the last night of our cruise. Being a party of 7, we were diligent in setting up our reservations the day before we wanted to dine because we knew availability would be limited for a party our size. Up until the last night, we had dined in the specialty (pay) restaurants, and had no trouble getting a reservation. On the last night, we wanted to try one of the main dining rooms. We had previously been told that they don't take reservations in the main dining room for less than 10 people. However, on a hunch, I decided to go to Mambo's to see if they could give us an assigned time to dine that night. I was told that NONE of the restaurants (specialty or main) could accommodate our party at any time on the last night of the cruise. When I asked if we had the option of at least getting a pager and waiting for a table at any of the restaurants, I was told that no one could accommodate us, and we should just plan to go the buffet. Needless to say, I was not terribly happy about this. My husband just ignored the woman's rude manner, and suggested that we try our luck anyway. As fate would have it, we walked up to Indigo at 7pm (during prime dining time) and asked what the chances were of getting a table for 7, and the hostess said with a smile "we can seat you immediately". When I told her what the reservation agent had told us, she just rolled her eyes and apologized. The last interaction we had with the front desk staff was when we requested a wheelchair for my MIL during disembarkation on the day prior. We signed up for a 7:45am delivery (we needed to carry our own bags off the ship because we had an early flight out of FLL). They assured us the wheelchair would be there, and that someone would push my MIL off the ship so that we could carry our bags as well as hers. Needless to say, after waiting for 30 minutes (and calling the desk to inquire) we gave up on the wheelchair, and took my MIL off the ship on her rented scooter (which we were supposed to leave in the cabin). My otherwise patient husband just about lost it at that point. If we hadn't had to hurry off to the airport, I am certain he would have filed a complaint at the pier.
STATEROOM - We had a deck 10 midship Balcony cabin on the port side of the ship. It was nicely laid out with plenty of storage space. The most impressive feature was the bathroom, which included a roomy shower and separate toilet area. We were also impressed with the Hans Grohe shower head and temperature controls - a very nice touch! One unexpected disappointment was our position between two cabins full of smokers. My husband is allergic to cigarette smoke, and every time we attempted to enjoy some time on our balcony, someone on either side of us would light up a cigarette and we would have to go inside. On our 4 previous cruises, this has never been an issue for us, so I guess our number was up this time. I really wish the cruise lines would consider assigning smoking and non-smoking sides of the ship for the balcony cabins as well as the outside public areas to avoid this problem. As I already mentioned, our stateroom attendant was outstanding and we tipped him well both at the beginning of the cruise and at the end. One note - be sure to keep track of what message is posted on the sign next to your cabin door. It is designed as a wheel with 4 options - do not disturb, make up cabin, welcome and turn down cabin. We didn't pay much attention to this until the 3rd day when we went to Grand Cayman. We had apparently left our sign/wheel turned to do not disturb, so our cabin attendant didn't clean our room that day. It wasn't a big deal, but just be aware that the attendants will abide by what you have posted on the sign.
SHORE EXCURSIONS - Our 5-day sailing took us to Cozumel and Georgetown, Grand Cayman, and we booked our own excursions in both ports (thanks to tips from Cruise Critic members). In Cozumel, we visited Paradise Beach and had a fantastic time! We purchased the $10 swim bands, and we all enjoyed the water trampoline, iceberg, kayaks, etc. Our girls also went for a banana boat ride ($15 pp additional) and they had a terrific time. During our 4-hour stay, we enjoyed a few beers and margaritas, and the food they served was outstanding! One of our daughters' friends said her chicken tacos were the best she had ever eaten. This was definitely a fun day and I highly recommend Paradise Beach to anyone visiting Cozumel. In Georgetown, we joined Nativeway Tours for a stingray, snorkel and Rum Point excursion. Yet another fantastic day! There were only 16 people on our 38-foot boat (unlike the ship's excursion which looked to be more like 75 people). We first went to swim with the rays and thoroughly enjoyed it. Our guides helped us to feed and hold them and we practically had the place to ourselves. Next they took us to a quiet reef and we snorkeled for about an hour. We saw tons of fish and got some great pictures as well. Lastly they took us to Rum Point Beach for a delicious lunch and some relaxing time on the beach. This was one of the best excursions we've ever taken - I can't recommend it highly enough!
DINING - As I previously mentioned, we ate in the specialty restaurants 4 nights out of 5 and had enjoyable dinners every time. We dined at Teppanyaki (entertaining and delicious), Le Bistro (my least favorite, although still good) and Cagney's twice (our favorite)! Our last dinner was at Indigo, and while not as good as the specialty restaurants, it was still tasty. We ate most of our breakfasts in the Great Outdoors, at the rear of the ship. The scenery was beautiful, although the food wasn't always hot. We at lunch at the Summer Palace and the Blue Lagoon during our two days at sea. Both meals were fine - not great, but not bad either.
ENTERTAINMENT - Other than our nightly piano sessions with Peter Thomas, I would have to say our favorite show was probably the ventriloquist. We didn't think Second City wasn't nearly as funny as expected, but the magician was better than we expected. Overall, I would have to say the entertainment was not as good as we've experienced on other ships.
DISEMBARKATION - Other than our frustration in not getting the wheelchair we requested, our disembarkation went very quickly and smoothly. It took 15 minutes from the time we walked off the ship until we walked out of the terminal. Of course we carried our own bags, so that made things move quickly.
SUMMARY - This is one of the most beautiful ships we have sailed on with some of the friendliest staff on the seas. They definitely need some improvements with their front desk staff however, and the entertainment could be better. Overall we had a nice time and would recommend sailing on the NCL Pearl.