Background.My wife and I's 4th cruise, 3rd on NCL (Sky and Star),1 on Carnival Valor, we are 50 and 46 age wise and our traveling companions age ranged from 30's to 50's.
Prior to embarkation 3 of the couples stayed at Holiday Inn, Port of Miami just across from Bayside Market and w/ great view of cruise ship docks.Room was clean and nice though somewhat spendy at $199+ taxes per nt. Only stayed the 1 night and had access to many shops and restaurants at Bayside Market which was lots of fun.
Embarkation: DO NOT believe what you read review wise as we arrived at pier at 1100 am and dropped off luggage.My wife and I are Latitudes members and so can bypass the long line, but there wasn't one.So all couples whizzed right thru and we were sitting for a max of perhaps 5-10 minutes and then right on to the ship.We had to wait until 1230 for the cabins to be done, so went on deck had a drink and sunbathed until then.
Cabin: upgraded by our travel agent long before arriving to deck 10, cabin 10609 aft.Seemed smaller than previous cabins on Sky and Star though my wife disagreed. Ample room for 3 lg suitcases and we were seldom there anyway as is usual for us.Bathroom had ample room and did notice how the toilet was angled and not receptive for my 6' frame and so had to sit sideways (only complaint).Decor was nice and cabin stewards were exceptional.
Ship: The Pearl is a beautiful ship, well appointed, and exceptionally clean (noticed by our companions often).Decor was tasteful and similar to other NCL boats we have been on.Pools were warm and hot tubs the right temp.Liked the adults only pool as this kept kid noise down in that area. It got quite crowded around pool deck as is always the case on any ship we have been on.With rare exception ALL the staff were smiling,congenial, and seemed happy and eager to please.This cruise seemed to have a wide variety of age groups and people from mainly Canada,India, and the U.S..
Public rooms: We ate in Indigo (main) 2 nights and were very pleased w/ both the decor and service.The menu had a good variety and we received our food hot and prepared as ordered every time.We had taken the time to always make reservations every night as we were trying to eat together as a group of 8 each night.Though we heard no negative comments regarding Free-style concept which my wife and I both love and now so do the other couples w/ us.We ate at Cagney's 1 night ($20 pp)and had exceptional service and food.We ate at La Cucina (Italian) twice (no additional fee) and had exceptional food and service again.Ate at Teppanyaki once ($20 pp) and again had a great meal (very visual) and great service.Ate at Mambo's (mexican) 1 night (no add fee), again great food/service.Ate in the Summer Palace twice for dinner and once for breakfast, I know it sounds redundant, but again great food/service.Blue Lagoon, great snack foods and the Garden Cafe always had very good buffet style foods. No complaints WHAT SO EVER. Stardust Theater: beautiful and all the shows were well done and had a great variety from magicians,jugglers,dancers,and comedians. Spinnaker Lounge: exceptional view's and great shows. Bliss Lounge: a little weird for our taste w/ the decor and we did not use bowling alley. All other public rooms we visited were nicely appointed and tastefully done. The one couple w/ us who were new to cruising also ate 1 night in Le Bistro and stated it was again exceptional in all aspects.They also sampled the spa and martini bar and again had nothing but great things to say. Casino: we spent little time and money there but heard of several big slot winner's.
Excursions: only did 2. Went to Cayo Levantado and had a great time on the beach in Samana. Were disappointed in Tortola when we took Virgin Gorda Highlights tour. Didn't leave until 1230 and took almost an hour to get there then had very limited time to spend at beach before having to leave.Could have left as soon as ship docked and had more time to spend there and just don't understand why the strange timing. Spent all other days on a beach after having local cab driver's take us to recommended beaches and had nothing but exceptional weather and beautiful beaches.
Summary: were blessed w/ warm to hot sunny days and had 1 short 5 min sprinkle on Virgin Gorda otherwise the best weather of any cruise so far. NCL is taking the lead as far as I am concerned by having hand cleansing stations basically everywhere and mandatory for entry to restaurants and return to ship.We heard of no viral outbreaks and none of the 8 of us had any illness.We have made cruisers out of our 1 new couple as they are already looking to book a similar cruise to take their children on.And the other 2 couples were very pleased w/ the Free-style concept.With the exception of our 1st cruise which will always be our best, this was the best so far.
Only real disappointment w/ the Pearl was the rather plain atrium as we are used to more elegant atrium's, having seen them on the other 2 NCL ships as well as the Carnival Valor.
Am looking forward to our next cruise and again hope to go w/ friends as this makes it all the more special.All I can say about the occasional negative comments on this ship is that there must be competitors out there writing them or there are some people who are just never going to be pleased w/ anything that anyone does because we saw exceptional service at all times.Nuf said.