The Pearl is a pretty ship. I loved the exterior colors. The interior looks like it was designed by many people who did not consult one another... very nice, but no continuity. The Wow Factor was missing in some areas; no ice sculptures or vegetable carvings or fresh flowers. In several places, the furniture was whimsical, which I liked. The Bliss Lounge was odd, like walking into a red velvet bordello, complete with beds and mirrors. We liked Freestyle dining. We made reservations for each night and the following, after planning our day. That was an annoyance, but a minor one. Others were obviously unaware reservations could be made anywhere, including the dining rooms . Yes, you can get in, maybe with a wait, but the reservations scored much better tables. There were four of us,and we had no trouble, although La Cucina was full one night... no problem, we ate there the next. We ate at Blue Lagoon, Summer Palace, Indigo, Mambo's LaCucina, Teppanyaki, and had buffets for some lunches, a couple of breakfasts and one mistimed dinner. Menus were uninspired, really not very interesting. I longed for the Always Available section that other ships have, where one can always get chicken, potatoes, shrimp cocktail, etc. La Cucina had minimal variety, not even lasagna . We ate there twice, same table. Once we chose antipasto from a trolley, the other time,it was brought on a small plate, with no choice. The crab and shrimp quesadillas at Mambo was the best thing I ate on the ship. Service was very slow for dinner, often leaving us sitting there 15-25 minutes between courses. Once, we simply ran out of time and asked if we could take dessert into the show. Without batting an eyelash, covered desserts were brought, and we had no trouble taking them into the Stardust theatre, except a dozen passengers commented "I wish I had thought of that!" Desserts were blah, flavorless, nothing interesting .I liked the dinner crepes and ice cream bar.
Drinks were not pushed in the theatre, as on other ships, but it was common for every single bar server to approach us every time we sat in the Spinnaker Lounge. That was the best place to watch the ship docking in each port. Game and dance classes were held there, too. So was karaoke, which was just torture. The Best Couple on the Ship game was very risque, so much so that we walked out, although it was billed as family friendly. In my family, we don't talk like that. We enjoyed the Meet and Greet, and made some new friend who made the rest of the trip more fun as we met them here and there. I think the Pearl could have given us a treat, as there were so many of us, maybe a game of bowling, a free drink, 10 minutes internet time, etc. NCL pays for customer reviews; here they had about 60 people , online, all capable of building them up or tearing them down…I think a goodwill gesture would have been nice. It was good of the senior staff to attend. One thing I did not like was the aggressive photographers' characters, the dressed up pirate, whale, parrot, etc, at the bottom of each gangway as we stepped off in each port. I successfully stepped around several of them, but the "whale" actually grabbed my arm so hard it left a mark, insisting I pose, ignoring my repeated "let me go! I don't want to!" That photo did not have a smile on it. Photos were very expensive. If NCL charged half the price, they'd sell many times more pictures. I overheard many people say "I love this one, but not at $29!" We attended every show. Sharkbait was hilarious! Jeff Trachtor was hokey, but quite pretty. We loved the Second City cast, and had great fun at their improv workshops on the two last days. It was fun to participate, instead of just being passively entertained. They were fun! Jean Ann Ryan Company was excellent, skilled and on pointe each time, but my husband still managed to sleep through their shows. We were surprised at how short the shows were, never more than 45 minutes long.
We bowled ( 2 for one on port days, $5 per game is too much otherwise) and tried the climbing wall. Not real successful, being afraid of heights and 14 stories above a moving ocean, but hey, I have pictures to prove I tried! Trivia has always been fun on other ships, but the prizes were so lame on this one, it was not worth the trouble. Shuffleboard was fun, and the guys played chess. Cabin was tiny, and had only one outlet. Bed was comfortable, bathroom large enough. We had to buy a bar of soap in Tortola, because I just could not stand the pump body wash, which came out too slowly and left a slimy residue. Next time, I'm bringing my own soap. Our cabin was forward. Not only did we heard the anchor being dropped, but various other very loud repeated noises, that sounded like the anchor, only it was in the middle of the night, nowhere near port. One afternoon, while I was off the ship, (shopping!) my husband reported it sounded like people were running up and down , pounding on metal walls with hammers, for about 15 minutes. What were they doing!? Crew was very friendly, no problems at all. Our steward was not obtrusive, but kept things very nice and tidy, and greeted us warmly whenever we met in the hall.. One warning ---USE the little wheel on the door, that says "do not disturb " and "make up cabin. " Our steward burst in on a sleeping man, and we overheard him berate the man for napping with a "make up cabin" indicator. Even on other decks, stewards greeted me every time I was within range, and asked if I needed anything. I stopped by the main desk a few times for various reasons,and was treated courteously each time. We used the launderette hidden on the starboard side of deck 9, 10, and 5, midships. The best time was at night, when it was deserted.
The ports: Samana was awful , a third world country. The people were beggar class, chasing after us, demanding a dollar for a shoeshine, a shell, etc, even pulling at the zippers on our bags, and "NO!" meant nothing to them. There was a feeling of desperation. The port itself was dirty, smelly,, with open sewers, not fun. We stayed onshore an hour or so, shopping the market, walking a mile down the port. Later, a friend who took a shore excursion told us , "you saw the best part of the island, the most prosperous. " We did see grey whales coming and going--- glad we had not sprung for the whale watching shore excursion, because we heard the ones seen from the ship were the only ones seen that day. We saw hundreds of flying fish throughout the week, in the water churned up by the ship. Tortola: We shopped, walked around the city, where locals shopped. British influence made it feel much safer! With no tender, we were able to come back onshore easily after lunch on the ship. Antigua: We wanted to see Nelson's Boatyard. A taxi driver, Dennis Friday, local celebrity, offered to take us there for $16 each , or a tour of the whole island for $20 per person (four of us) . Story teller, would recommend seeking him out. He drove us all around the island, telling us history and stories, stopping for photos, etc. . After lunch on the ship (we paid for it!) he took us to Dickinson Beach. Beautiful! I had mango ice cream at Australian shop right off pier, best ever! It tasted like fresh mangoes. Barbados : we were all but assaulted by aggressive taxi drivers. Said it'd cost $2 to Barbados Museum , or $1.50 by bus, but no taxi was willing to take us to just where we wanted to go, so we headed for the nearest bus stop. Last taxi driver was a soft spoken, well educated man who asked "what is it you want?" He agreed willingly, then suggested, mildly, that we consider hiring him to show us around the island, with a map. He wanted $25 for 4 hours, we agreed on $15 for 3 hours, no pressure at all. He told us about the island, slave history, showed us chattel houses, toured a 1400's church, we saw great poverty and Eric Clapton's home (he has a peninsula!), took us to Shirley Heights, was kind and listened and answered all of our questions. That was money well spent! We ended at the Barbados Museum, a slice of history not to be missed. We took a bus back, only it was a van, and we were obviously the only non-locals on it. People were kind and directed us to where to be. St Lucia: After 2 fine experiences touring an island with a local, we were very much looking forward to our Cosol tour on St Lucia. It was better than expected! Great value for the money—we overtipped the driver because it was so worthwhile. My only complaint is that it took the entire day. We had Baptist, the driver, drop us off at the local's market instead of the ship, so we could do some quick shopping, but it was nearly closing. I snatched up some spices -this are the Spice Islands, after all---and that was my only regret, that I did not buy more spices. Five port days in a row was tiring! I'd have liked one at sea day in between, but geography dictates. We tried the Bags program for disembarkation. For $15 per person (not per bag), our suitcases were transported from the ship to customs, then we hauled them a short distance to the trucks,and they magically appeared at the end of our last flight, 22 hours and a layover later. It was far better than juggling them onto taxi, through the airport, etc! NCL even printed out airline boarding passes for us. On the last day, we had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, walked around the ship once more, than walked off, back to reality. Sigh.