Let me start by saying we are experienced cruisers with over 20 past cruises. We are also big fans of NCL as we are now Gold Latitudes members. This is our 2nd NCL cruise in less than 6 months, and we have another booked in the Fall. We absolutely love the "freestyle" concept, and we don't mind paying for the Specialty restaurants as we just figure that in as part of our cruise costs.
After our last experience on the Norwegian Star, we were a bit dissatisfied with NCL, specifically the Star. We were hoping for a much different experience on the Pearl.
I will provide details below, but I want to say that this is the most beautiful of NCL ships sailed to date. Well planned out, and very clean with a few exceptions.
Having experienced NCL's embarkation process before, we knew better than to arrive early. If you arrive after 12pm, you get on with much less wait. In 15 mins time, we were on board, headed to our stateroom on Deck 4 (Steerage - as we called it) This way, you also miss the mad rush at the Garden Cafe.
Sign up for the Photo Frenzy package. 89.99 for unlimited photos. We must have received over 50 photos including the portraits. This is a great deal!!!
As stated, we were booked in a Cat F, Ocean view (porthole) on the lowest passenger deck, (4). We had connecting rooms for our family of five. Plenty of room for the five of us. I would rather this concept since we have two televisions, and two bathrooms. The rooms were set up properly but as usual, we had to send for someone to open the interior connecting doors. I noticed the carpets were pretty worn, and were NOT vacuumed. The rooms were also not dusted in what seemed like weeks. I complained, and a crew was immediately sent to clean them from top to bottom. Not a good start, but no big deal. I think that the folks on Deck 4 are probably stuck with the stewards that are either new or not so great, because our steward never did seem to do a great job. Just okay. Hardly ever refilled the ice bucket, took two days to unlock the mini bar, just little things like that. The other thing I didn't like about this category was that you couldn't see the television well when the interior door was opened.
I thought the casual buffet on our previous cruise (NCL STAR) was the worst ever. This was entirely different. I thought that the buffet in the Garden Cafe was wonderful. Very well presented at different stations. Even when it was crowded, there were never lines because everyone went to different stations. I liked how you could get Cafe Lattes or Cappuccinos any time at one of the machines. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner were very well done. The food was good. My only real complaint was that the orange juice at breakfast was very watered down. I did like how you could get both soft serve ice cream, AND regular ice cream in many flavors with many toppings.
We NEVER ate in any of the main (free) restaurants. Our friends did, and said it wasn't good. We like good food, and don't mind paying the extra for the specialty restaurants. We never had a problem getting a table (and the cruise was 100% sold out) We ate at most all of them, with our favorite being Cagney's. This was by far, the best Filet Mignon I've ever had. (and I've had a bunch) The Lotus Garden was also a favorite as was Mambos and LeBistro.
Room Service was okay, but the wait was usually 45 mins. Blue Lagoon was also okay. Love the chicken wings there.
The service in the restaurants overall was poor. (with a few exceptions) Longer than usual wait times, and in general, the restaurants seemed understaffed. It also seemed like there was no real friendliness in the staff in general. I believe that this is a negative by-product in the freestyle cruising. No real ownership in the minds of the wait staff since they never serve the same people twice.
While I am on this subject, let me say that without notice, NCL has raised their "service charges" Prior to Jan 1, 2009, they charged 10.00 per person per day, and half price for kids. Now, they have raised those charges to 12.00 per person per day, and FULL price for kids. This is ridiculous. This is the first time ever, in over 20 cruises, that I adjusted the "service fees" to something more appropriate for the level of service we received. Keep in mind, our cabin steward was mediocre at best, and we NEVER ate in anything but the specialty restaurants were we tipped individually. So had I not adjusted it, NCL would have charged me 420 in tips for a seven day cruise for 2 adults and 3 kids. Way out of line in my opinion.
One of NCL's strong points has always been their entertainment, and the PEARL was no exception. Top notch. Our favorites were both the comedian, David Naster, and the duo jugglers, Sharkbait. What a blast these guys were. I discovered they have been on the Pearl since 2007, and will be on this ship at least through Dec, 2009. Simon the Cruise Director did a fine job.
PORTS OF CALL
Roatan, Honduras. Everyone seemed to make fun of Roatan. We had a wonderful day there. A good friend of mine is a missionary in Honduras, and he hooked me up with one of his projects there. We wanted our kids to experience a day in the Mission Field, so we planned ahead and stocked up on school supplies for a Christian School in the Oak Ridge area, about 45 mins from the port city. We were picked up by a Christian tour guide, Emsley Hyde (contact me for his information), along with the Pastor's wife of the Jean Isbell School and Oak Ridge Chapel. After arriving in Oak Ridge, we had to take a boat to the school. Mrs. Harriet spent the day with us in the Oak Ridge school were we got to meet the local kids, and bless them with our school supplies. What a wonderful time it was to meet Harriet and her youth pastor, Pastor Kurt. It was a humbling experience to see how much we take for granted in our schools after seeing what these kids are able to learn given their limited resources.
Belize City, Belize. We had pre-booked our cave tubing tour with Major Tom. We were promptly met at the pier by Minor Tom (Major Tom's son) where by bus we traveled to the cave site (45 mins). It was a great day, although I was through with the cave after about 15 mins. Still, worth seeing, especially at the price you can get with Major Tom. Our guides, Mike and George were fun to be with for the day.
Cozumel, Mexico. We pre-booked a beach day at Nacchi Cocum. What a wonderful experience. I would highly recommend this place. They only allow 100 people to book, so you never feel crowded. Your lunch (very good) and all beverages (alcohol and non-alcohol) are included.
Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. What is there to say...If you been to one private island, you've been to them all. Throngs of people line the beaches fighting over chairs.
In all our cruises, we've never been on a "bad cruise". Sure, some are better than others, and the more we go on, the more picky we tend to become. This one would rate as one of the better ones. At least in the top 5. Still a fan of NCL, although I wish they would work to improve the service.
Happy Cruising, Greg