Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by MarkNY: NCL was fine, Alaska was awesome
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NCL was fine, Alaska was awesome
I traveled with a group of 4 (3 of us in our early 50's, one in her 80's) on the Norwegian Pearl from July 6 - 13, and NCL did a fine job resulting in a great vacation. I find it interesting that there's such a range of opinions here, even from people on the same cruise dates, so I thought I'd give you some background to understand my perspective. If you're looking for a 5-star hotel/restaurant experience, you'll probably be disappointed on this ship. However, our group is independent-minded and doesn't need to feel that staff are bending over backward to please us. We appreciated the concept of being able to dine where and when we wanted, and it worked just fine for us. Here's an overview:
We stayed at the Best Western Executive Inn the night before the cruise in Seattle. It had nice rooms, and was just a block away from the Space Needle and monorail. The only negative was the soundproofing of the rooms, but it wasn't bad. The staff at the front desk booked a town car for More us for 11 AM the following morning at $6/person. A cab might have been cheaper, but the town car was ready and waiting for us when we checked out, and things went very smoothly.
From looking at other posts here, we decided to show up at the pier early - we were unloaded from the town car by 11:15. That was a great suggestion, as we breezed through entry with very few people in line. The waiting room to board the ship had a decent amount of people, but just as we settled into seats to wait, they started calling group numbers to board the ship. The whole process was very efficient, and within 20 minutes of showing up we were sipping the complimentary champagne and orange juice once on board. The Garden Cafe wasn't crowded when we got on, so we grabbed some food and explored the ship. Our cabins were ready at 2:15, and our luggage was delivered around 4:15.
Our cabins had balconies, and that especially came in handy when cruising Glacier Bay later in the week. There was adequate closet and shelf space, plus 3 drawers, a mini-refrigerator (stocked with items for purchase, but you could squeeze things in there or temporarily remove their items with no complaints). Luggage fit conveniently under the bed, and the room did have a hair dryer (one less thing to pack). As others have mentioned, the little dial outside the door is helpful to let the cabin stewards know when you don't want to be disturbed, or are ready for the cabin to be made up or turned down for the night. We called the front desk shortly after getting in the cabin to let them know that the safe was closed so we couldn't get in and reset it; they said they would send someone, but to bear with them as it was hectic while everyone was getting settled, which was understandable. But someone came within 10 minutes, so that was quite reasonable.
As for restaurants, the Garden Cafe (main buffet restaurant) usually had a good selection of food, and if you don't see something you care for, just browse the various stations. Our group was a little apprehensive from some of the things we read here, but for the most part the food really was fine, and plentiful. The Garden Cafe could get really crowded, so here are some tips: check the Great Outdoors Cafe in the back for additional seating (it's outdoors, so weather may be an issue) plus its own buffet line, or if it's breakfast or lunch, you can also sit in La Cucina, which is on the other side of the ship from the Garden Cafe and also connected to the Great Outdoors Cafe. I thought I remembered seeing that La Cucina was a free restaurant in previous reviews, but it's now a $10 fee per person. We ate at Mambo's (the only free restaurant to accept reservations), plus the Summer Palace and Indigo (also free), and the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors buffets. Service was a little slow at the Summer Palace on lobster night, but there was a large crowd and the servers were working hard to keep things moving as quickly as possible, so that wasn't a problem for us. The restaurant is a nice large room with windows on 3 sides, so that allowed us to enjoy the scenery of Alaska.
Ports/Excursions: JUNEAU - We chose the Mendenhall Glacier & Gardens tour. It was barely over 50 degrees and drizzling that day, so we were glad we brought warm clothes and rain gear. The plantings at the gardens were for the most part unremarkable, other than those that were in the upside down trees (prominent in photos of the gardens). But the steep roads cut into the mountainside allowed great views of the forest, and there was a nice view from the top of the mountain, so it was worthwhile in that respect. Mendenhall Glacier was good to see, despite the dreary weather.
SKAGWAY - At the advice of some people here, we chose the White Pass Railway with Suspension Bridge and Klondike Highway. The train ride up had great scenery (yes, the left side of the train is where you want to be on the way up), and the bus back down offered different views. The suspension bridge stop wouldn't have made for a very exciting destination on its own, but in conjunction with the bus trip it was okay. It was interesting seeing the stark landscape on the Canadian side of the mountains, as the winters there are a lot tougher on that side and the vegetation shows it.
GLACIER BAY - No port here, just a day in the bay taking in the incredible sights. It was a glorious, sunny day, and the park rangers on board commented that we were able to see mountain ranges that were not normally visible. For the trip up the bay, we split our time in the Spinnaker Lounge, which has large windows with views of both sides of the ship plus the front, and the decks just outside the lounge. For the trip back out of the bay, we got food at the Garden Cafe and brought our plates back to eat on our balconies and watch the glaciers and ice chunks go by. Whales apparently don't like all the ice in the upper part of the bay, but they were plentiful at the lower part of the bay, and fun to watch (mostly spouts, some fins/backs and a couple tail flips).
KETCHIKAN: Two of us did the Rainforest Canopy Adventure & Zipline, and if you're reasonably fit, it's a very fun thing to do. I was a little surprised in that I was expecting almost all ziplines, but there were a number of rope bridges and logs to cross while up in the trees. Tip: choose the early time (listed as 7:00 am, but we had to meet at 6:20 am), and you'll have enough time to explore town before the early afternoon departure of the ship. The other 2 people in our group did the Duck Tour, which they liked and found interesting. We liked exploring Ketchikan on our own, and if you walk up past Creek Street to the fish ladder (some people saw some salmon, though we didn't), take the path to the right immediately after crossing the bridge over the ladder - it's a nice boardwalk that goes through woods and connects back to the Creek Street shops.
VICTORIA - We did the Butchart Gardens and City Tour. The gardens were quite nice, but the weather was in the lower 80's which brought out a huge crowd, so the paths were pretty congested. The tour of the city was nice on both ends of the drive out to the gardens, and included more traditional things, like a photo stop near the Empress Hotel and Parliament buildings, as well as the offbeat, such as the drive by the University of Victoria where they pointed out all the black rabbits lounging on the grounds.
We definitely had a good time, and the views of Alaska were stunning. We're definitely glad we did excursions while at the ports so that we could see more of Alaska. The food was fine and plentiful, and the chocoholic buffet one night was a treat. Again, if you require lots of personal attention, maybe freestyle cruising on NCL isn't the best match, but we had no problems finding decent food when we wanted it. In my opinion, service was fine; there were over 2300 of us to be served, and the staff worked hard to accommodate us. Two of us chose the self-disembarkation, where you leave when you want and take your own bags. We left at what we thought would be a peak time (9 am). We were off the ship in 15 minutes, quickly got a cab, and were at the airport at 9:45. Less
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