Okay. I'm just an ordinary traveler and cruiser. I haven't sailed on every line, nor have I taken a hundred cruises, but, maybe like you, I searched out this site in an effort to learn a little bit more about my upcoming cruise to Alaska aboard the NCL Pearl. After reading some over-the-top negative reviews, I thought, "Geez, I hope it won't be THAT bad", and flew off to Seattle. Here is my review and commentary, as truthfully written as you'll get it from anyone.
ARRIVAL / SEATTLE: Flew in late Saturday June 1st, and immediately jumped on the Grayline Airporter (Per a recommendation on the Seattle CC board). Driver was great, and after a couple of stops, he delivered me and my wife and two sons directly to the Downtown Sheraton. We got a great deal online from a discount hotel booking site, and were not disappointed. Had a room near the top floor, and the view of the city was fantastic. The next morning we took a cab back and forth to the Space Needle, then grabbed a cab to the pier.
EMBARKATION: Very smooth, and well organized. We arrived at about 11:30 am, and had a short wait in the staging area where they served coffee, juice, and cookies. One weird thing occurred after they called our boarding group number -- an NCL rep told us to follow her -- we went through a back curtain where we found ourselves in the "VIP" area or something, with separate tables set up for processing. They asked if we were in room 12XXX....knowing that we were in an inside cabin, I knew right away we were in the wrong place. The lady then apologized, and told us we could board through some other doors, and walked us right in front of the people having their Embarkation photos being taken. Other than that, everything was very smooth, and people were very friendly to us. The champagne was a nice touch, and they even provided orange juice in champagne flutes to our kids.
ROOM: We had a lower level inside cabin, and as expected, it felt a little cozy for four people, but the room was a model of efficiency -- it had a bunk bed type-system for the kids, and a large bed for my wife and I. The bathroom was very good sized, and there was plenty of storage. Some architect worked overtime figuring out how to include a flat-panel TV, a refrigerator, coffee maker, and two desks in there as well. The inside room was a great choice for us, as all we ever really did there was sleep, shower, and get dressed....we were always doing something up on the decks, and as one other CC poster so eloquently stated before: "The bottom of the ship goes to the exact same places as the top of the ship".
ENTERTAINMENT: We went to a number of shows including Sharkbait (our favorite). As I stated earlier, I'm a pretty average guy, and my "show experience" is relatively limited. I know other posters have described it as "disappointing" compared to more elaborate shows on other lines, in Vegas, or on Broadway. Here's my take on that: I rate my "entertainment" on how "entertaining" it is. "Seinfeld" was not exactly Shakespeare, but I liked it a lot more. The entertainment on the Pearl had people consistently laughing, clapping, and singing along whenever we went, and my whole family enjoyed it. Our cruise director Paul Scally was funny, witty, and always entertaining, and my two sons have decided that they will not cruise on another ship that does not have Paul as the cruise director.
FOOD: Oh boy. I have seen ratings on the food from people on this message board as low as a "1.0". 1.0??? I don't know which kingdom these people rule over, but I want to eat there. I travel often. I also live and work in Naples, FL -- a very affluent and tourism driven town, with a multitude of four and five star dining venues, including, but not limited to Ruths Chris, a number of renowned local venues, and two Ritz Carlton Hotels. We also have the normal chains from Outback Steakhouse to Olive Garden to McDonald's. I have eaten at most of them (either for personal dining or business), so I can say without fear of contradiction that I have dined in at least as many fine restaurants, and normal dining establishments as most of these posters. The food on NCL is great. We never had a bad meal in any restaurant, and we ate in the dining rooms and the Garden Cafe often. The food at Blue Lagoon was also very good, though the service was often pretty slow -- Not a big deal, as I was on vacation, and didn't really have to be anywhere anyway. Probably like you, I had read a lot of complaints about the food, and was very nervous going in......After being very pleasantly surprised, I've come to the conclusion that if you generally love food, you'll love the food on the Pearl. The people that write the scathing reviews are essentially the same individuals you see complaining to the teller at the bank, griping to the cashier at the grocery store, and whining about life in general. Ignore them, and have a great time -- Having a great time on the Pearl is about the easiest thing you'll ever have to do.
PORTS: Not much can be said that has not already been said. Alaska is spectacular, and is something everyone should see once in their lifetime. Consider a self-guided trip to The Royal Museum of British Columbia here....one of the top-rated museums in North America, and well worth the very reasonable admission charge.
MISC: If you get bored on the Pearl, you might already be dead. There's bowling (tons of fun, and the best $5 you'll spend), table tennis, shuffleboard, rock climbing wall, sports court, exercise room, a great pool (with a slide), shows every night, casino, trivia, seminars, the greatest Alaskan scenery all around you, and a number of other things that I'm certain I forgot. Oh yeah, and cruise director Paul Scally rules -- go to any show he's at, and he'll entertain you. One other note: The "excessive bingo announcements" myth is grossly exaggerated: We never heard the bing announcement more than twice a day (I'm not sure if it happened when we were off the ship/in port), except for the final "Jackpot" bingo day on the last day of the cruise -- then it was four times (I counted because I was really kind of curious) -- Again, if you're basically a normal person (i.e "non-whiner) you likely won't even notice it.
DISEMBARKATION: Choose the express disembarkation if you can handle your own bags. Very quick and easy, and allows you to get off the ship basically when you're ready after having a leisurely breakfast.
SUMMARY: The Pearl was simply outstanding, and Alaska was spectacular. Definitely consider this ship and itinerary, and you will absolutely not be disappointed.