My wife and I along with two friends decided to take a weekend cruise to nowhere out of Seattle. The other couple we were with were completely new to cruising and my wife and I have only previously cruised on Disney. We thought it would be a great short get away to see what another line was like. When we boarded the ship I made a joke with wife that she needed to slap her wrist every time she started a sentence with "Well on Disney we did..." However, as the cruise progressed I realized just how superior service was on DCL.
Overall I felt the ship was immaculate, the food was on par with other cruise lines, and the cabin was well appointed. The two major flaws with NCL were:
1.) Lack of information and abundance of misinformation. 2.) Freestyle cruising, while unique, lead to a lower level of overall quality service.
The Website: A total waste of internet space. I find that the NCL website is completely unhelpful. At DCL you can check in for your cruise online, book shore excursions, reserve specialty restaurants, and even reserve kayaks at the private island. NCL only lets you print your edocs and reserve shore excursions.
Embarkation: It was a complete nightmare. We arrived at port at 11:30 and started waiting in line. We eventually reached a sign that told us we were in the wrong line to check luggage and had to start our wait over again. After roughly two hours of waiting we were ready to board.
The Cabin: We booked an oceanview knowing that it would most likely be far too cold to enjoy a balcony. The cabin was clean and well laid out. We had plenty of room and closet space for the two of us. The bathroom has a toilet that is separate from the shower, which makes it easier when multiple people that are getting ready in the morning. Our cabin steward was fantastic...but no towel animals? Really!?
The Ship: The ship was extremely new, clean, and well constructed. Though I did not notice nearly as much maintenance going on as when I was on the Disney ship. at 93,000 tons, it was plenty big for us. Though, with cooler temperatures (more people below deck) and no ports of call, it felt very crowded at times. Bottom line, the Pearl was Beautiful.
Dining: Some people love Freestyle and some don't. It's official - you can put me in the don't category. NCL makes Freestyle seem great. If I'm hungry, why not eat at the restaurant of your choice, perhaps with a minimal wait. How it actually goes - run around in the early morning to decide where you want to eat later and pray that you can make a reservation because the restaurants fill up to the point where you can't even wait for a table.
I will say that some of the food we had was great and some...not so much. Cagney's fantastic and Mambo's was also very good. We felt like out visits to the buffet offered the same food every time and our lunch at the Blue Lagoon....terrible.
Here is the biggest issue with Dining on Freestyle: tipping. On a non-freestyle cruise your server hitches their wagon to you and their tip depends on the level of service they give. Aboard the pearl we had some of the worst dining service on land OR sea. They were incapable of putting the right dish down in front of the right person. At one meal two of people in our party received their food around 10 minutes after the other. Ridiculous.
I also was agitated that we had to hunt out where we had to make reservations for dinner. It changed every day. Why can't I make reservations at any kiosk?
I am glad I got a chance to try another cruise line, but I most likely won't try NCL again unless we do an interisland Hawaiian. We'll stick with Disney when possible.