Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by cruisincousins: freestyle with kids
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freestyle with kids
We love Freestyle with the kids! We have three kids ages 7, 4, and 2, and yes, we like to take them cruising. We were traveling with two other families with young children. We have cruised Princess, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean, but think Norwegian is the best for kids.
Pre-Cruise: We flew in to Seattle fairly early on the morning of embarkation and took a limo from the airport to the port. The limo was waiting next to the express van we had arranged and was the same price and the kids loved it! There was not a long line to get on the ship when we arrived about 11:30 but the staff ushered us into a shorter line for groups with "special needs" which was great. The kids snacked on the orange juice and cookies provided and we got right on the ship.
Cabin: Cabins were ready by about 2:00. We actually like inside cabins for the quiet and dark they provide. This is especially important in Alaska where it was light from 4am to 11pm. We had three cabins booked for six More adults and six children. I was very worried about this at first, but it worked out fine. The cabins for four people had one fold down bunk and one trundle bed. We ordered a baby bed (similar to our graco playpen) for the two-year-old. We originally intended to have one of the kids sleep in a different room, but it turned out we fit our whole family in one cabin (not sure if this was legal or not). We left the main beds and two twin beds with an aisle down the middle. By having the room steward remove a small, unnecessary table, we could fit the playpen at the foot of one bed, put the trundle mattress on the floor at the foot of the other bed, keep the aisle clear, and put the seven year old in the bunk. It was actually kind of fun. With a fourth person larger than a four-year-old this wouldn't have worked so well because you would have to put the trundle in the middle making one large bed.
Our room stewards were fine but didn't seem as quick to make up the room as on some other lines. This could have been because we were in and out of the room a lot during the day.
Overall we thought the food was fine and comparable in quality to the other cruise lines (possibly a notch below Celebrity).
A key factor for us in choosing Norwegian is that the flexibility of dining hours combined with flexible and extended Kids'Club hours means that on most nights you can feed the kids at the buffet, drop them at the kids' club, and then enjoy a leisurely and relaxing dinner without them! This alone makes the dining very enjoyable for us. (We did take the kids to the main dining rooms twice, and they did okay. They bring them crayons to color with and the kids' menu is okay.)
They have a special kids' dining area at the back of the ship just inside from the Garden Grill. It has shorter tables, padded green stools for seats, and even a kid-sized buffet (only sometimes stocked with food) that kids could serve themselves from. Even when the buffet was very crowded, we could usually find space here. We would chuckle at the occasional older couple who would sit there and then make sour faces at our children because they were being children.
We ate mostly in the main dining rooms, indigo and summer palace -- same food, different decor. We sometimes made reservations because we often had six or eight people, but the wait was usually short even if we didn't. We had no complaints about the food and the staff were generally good about getting us specially requested items. We only had one meal that was painfully slow. We did miss the rapport you develop with your own particular waiter on a more traditional dinner schedule. However, if you find a waiter you like, you can make reservations for their section the next time. We didn't end up trying any of the specialty restaurants, partly because with the kids our schedule could be unpredictable and partly because some in our group are tightwads.
The kids loved it. Some of their enthusiasm could have been because they were with their cousins. But they did have lots of fun activities they told us about. It was open most of the time we were not in port, and while in port they had "port play" where you could leave them for a fee ($5/hour?) We never used this service. We usually took them for a while in the morning and a while after dinner.
They also loved the pool. Although is was fairly chilly (50's) and sometimes windy, the pool was very warm (probably 90 degrees). It would have been nice to have a life jacket for the four-year-olds who don't swim well because most of the pool is either six inches or six feet deep. They spent more time in the hot tubs. The older ones loved the waters. There is also a tiny pool for tots with a mini slide (although they supposedly they don't allow kids in swim diapers). The sport court was also a great place for kids to run and play and wasn't usually crowded.
Norwegian is the only mainstream cruise line that allows two-year-olds in their kids' program. If they're not potty-trained they give you a cell phone and will call you if you need to change them. This means you can't leave them on the ship and go on shore, but we like to take the kids on shore, anyway. This was another key factor in our choosing Norwegian this time.
We are fitness addicts and the fitness center was fine. The treadmills and cycles were good and usually not too crowded. Individual TV's -- bring your headphones. Small weight area and large aerobics/spinning area although I never took any classes.
The spa/hydrotherapy area looked amazing and I probably would have paid the $20/day or $75/week if I thought I would have had more kidless time to enjoy it.
We only went to some of it. Loved Sharkbait. The kids loved it too. The kids also like the Geisha show -- the Kids' club took them to both. We didn't try the production shows because we usually don't like them. Us women went to the "white hot party" which was actually pretty fun. I am not a big dancer or partier, but I have to admit when they played "dancing queen" I got out on the floor and shook it.
If you are going for the ports, this is not the ideal itinerary. The hours in port are short except at Skagway. We didn't have expectations of doing anything spectacular since we had the kids.
At Juneau, we took the $7 bus to Mendenhall glacier in the rain. The kids liked the movie and stuffed animals in the visitors center. Then we walked around the tourist shops a little back in town. On a previous (pre-kid) trip to Alaska we took the helicopter up on to the glacier and if you have never done this, it is worth the splurge.
In Ketchikan we went to the lumberjack show which we and the kids thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, it was a little corny, but very fun. They arrange it like a competition between two groups and really get the crowd involved.
In Skagway we didn't even get off the ship because it was very cold and windy and the kids were a little grouchy.
In Victoria, some of our group took a taxi to the gardens and said it was fabulous, and there was enough light even though we didn't get into port until 6pm.
The best "port" of them all was Glacier bay. On our previous Alaska cruise I don't think we went nearly as far in to the bay or saw as many glaciers. It also seemed like we got much closer to the glaciers this time. The National Park Service guide was informative and entertaining. The glaciers and the sea cliffs and the mountains were so beautiful even the kids noticed.
Overall, the cruise met our expectations and was very enjoyable. Less
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