Background: This was our ninth sail with NCL, third on Pearl, and fourth this year. We previously sailed Pearl to Alaska in fall of 2007 and took her reposition from Seattle to Miami last fall. She is a beautiful ship and our trips aboard her never disappoint.
Pre Cruise: We flew non-stop from Portland, OR, to Long Beach, CA, on Alaska Airlines. We had wonderful service and a smooth flight. We then took a cab ($45) from the airport to the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro and were upgraded to a suite. We were meeting 3 other people and made phone calls to arrange a meeting place; we five were on the reposition trip last fall through the Panama Canal. We were anxious to make this 5-day trip up the coast and reconnect with our shipboard friends. The hotel has a nice lounge and dining room with live music; the food is adequate and the rooms are clean and spacious.
Embarkation: Due to the Jones Act we lost our suite, so sailed in a balcony cabin which was fine for 5 days. Our check-in took no more than 5 minutes and the wait to board the ship was about 15 minutes. We checked our bags next to the spa and went to Indigo for lunch. The service and food were fine, but we were all anxious to get to our cabins. After lunch the announcement was made (about 2:00) that we could go to our cabins, which we did, after collecting our bags. Our carry-ons were unpacked, we met our Cabin Steward Sheraton Parkinson and then received our cruise bags. We were totally unpacked before muster.
Muster was quick and easy as only those boarding at San Pedro had to participate. We quickly made our way back to our cabin where we hosted a sail away party for our friends. We then went to dinner and met up with two more people I was connected with through NCL/Facebook. Our dinner in LeBistro was excellent, just like it always is.
The Ship: Pearl is our favorite ship so far (we have sailed Sky, Star, Jewel and Pearl) with Star being a close second. She is a beautiful ship, constantly being maintained, and the hygienic standards are above and beyond. The state rooms are clean and fresh as are all of the public areas. Behind the scenes the crew (like Energizer bunnies) work their magic to make sure we have a wonderful and safe journey. I especially love to walk the Promenade in the morning and enjoy the smell of the fresh laundry wafting up on deck as I hit starboard, followed by the salt air as I round the bow and then head aft for the sound of the wake. Our cabin, for five days, was of adequate size and has great storage. We were aft on the starboard side which is usually the dock side, so we were able to watch Captain maneuver this big ship in and out of ports with the greatest of ease. He makes it look so easy...
Cabin Stewards: We had great stewards, having our room clean and ready for us upon return from our breakfast each day and turn down done by the time we returned from dinner. We made a few small requests and they were fulfilled within minutes. In my opinion Sheraton Parkinson will make a fabulous butler one of these days. He is cheerful, helpful, but not suffocating in his quest to make things perfect for you. And thank you to Lanie for bringing us a beautiful fruit bowl; that was thoughtful and greatly appreciated (it was wonderful to see you again!).
Prior to the Meet and Greet on Monday morning, we were reunited with both Capt. Lars Bengtsson and Hotel Director Denis Pgruda. I don't know who was more pleased to see whom! They are wonderful officers and terrific hosts. We later ran into our Concierge, Karan Arora, from our trans-Atlantic trip on Jewel last year. Before we knew it we were extended VIP status and had an invitation to join the Captain's cocktail party that evening (along with our 3 other friends). We had a marvelous time chatting with so many crew members we've come to appreciate and respect.
Restaurants: Le Bistro is always the first night choice and it didn't disappoint. The escargot are fabulous as is the cold seafood platter, lamb chops, French onion soup, etc. The service is impeccable and the dishes are presented beautifully. We were happy to see our favorite hostess, Reyhana Eads, and it was mutual—she nearly hugged us to death! We also ate one other night here, just the two of us, compliments of Denis Pgruda and we enjoyed a lovely dinner and bottle of wine (our toast was, of course, to his health). One comment on the quality of the lamb chops—this is the first time they were fatty and not that tasty. I think it was just a fluke as this has never happened before. Mambos: We celebrated Cinco de Mayo with our 5 friends and had the fabulous lobster tacos (the first Margarita is on the house). We always enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of this restaurant and the service is always good. Blue Lagoon: Ah, the comfort food place to go when nothing else sounds good. The fish and chips, tomato basil soup, chips and dip, etc., are all you need to make you feel all cozy inside. The atmosphere is wonderful with the beautiful windows on both sides and the service is great. Cagney's: Breakfast and lunch are always a treat here...so much to chose from and yet not overwhelming. It's a quiet place to get away to and have a relaxed, no rush, meal. The service was not up to its usual standards (French toast delivered with no butter or syrup and it took forever to get it) and I was very disappointed that the chef would not accommodate my allergy to bell peppers in the potatoes except for one morning. What's up with that??? Dinner is Cagney's is always a treat, but more so when Captain invites you to a private dinner, as he did the five of us plus one other lovely couple. The oysters Rockefeller are indeed a favorite of mine as is the petite filet mignon. You also can't go wrong with those huge shrimp cocktail! We had an unforgettable evening, catching up on what's been happening with all of us since we were last together. How honored we were that so many remembered us after all the passengers that have been aboard Pearl since we last disembarked in October!
Spa: My one indulgence on a cruise is the oxygen facial and I always have that done the first morning I'm on board. All the stress of getting to the port, hurry, hurry, hurry, just melts away. There was also a special on the products, which I use at home, so I scored from that end. The only thing that marred it was that I had booked a polish change and called to cancel it. There was no one answering the phones as we came into port and I was due to meet someone, so I had to leave the cancellation until that afternoon. That meant I was within the 24-hour cancellation time period and the gal on the phone informed me that if I didn't rebook they would charge me 50% ($9.00). I explained to her that Captain had invited us to The Bridge for coffee and I certainly wasn't about to miss that. She reiterated the 50% charge and I hung up. Thankfully there was no charge on my bill, especially as I had spent so much on products.
Internet Cafe: I bring my mini laptop with me to keep notes and write my review on the way home. Without a suite there is no Wi-Fi, so it was imperative to use this service. I don't think the prices are that bad and I only buy the minimum as I'm using the service to book rental cars and hotels, etc., that I may not have already done. Plus, I like to delete junk mail on my home account so that I'm not overwhelmed when I get home.
Shopping: As this is our fourth cruise this year, we were used to the merchandise that was available. Our shopping consisted of a bottle of cologne for DH. However, we saw that all the newbies were actively purchasing things to the point of a sale at Feline's!
Entertainment: As I get seasick in the theatre (the only place I do), we do not attend the shows, but watch them the next day on TV. The Almost Newlywed Game is always a kick and dear Simon Murray, cruise director, makes this fun. We did stop by Spinnaker one night for the comedians and the volume was so loud that we did not stay. Our friends danced in Bliss and had a wonderful time. We did not bowl this time, but it is a really fun activity. I wanted to play Wii, as I have one at home, but the timing never worked out...next time!
Ports: San Francisco is always a wonderful place to visit and this was no exception. Due to the azipod problem on our last sail on Pearl, this port was dropped, so it was wonderful to sail under the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. We did the usual shops and I finally was able to find a pendant in Tanzanite that matches my ring from Old San Juan, purchased 2 years ago. The highlight of the port was meeting a cousin I had never met and sharing lunch with her at our fav place, Cioppino's. It was a lovely sunny day (once the fog lifted) and we had a wonderful martini sail away in another friend's cabin. Astoria: As we are from Portland, this was a delightful stop, just down the road from home. The weather cooperated after a brief shower while docking. The bar was smooth both in and out of harbor and the pilot was lifted from the bow by helicopter which was quite the show. We did not book an excursion for obvious reasons, but rather shopped the craft booths that some of the locals had set up. Then we spent an hour in the local marine supply store as I'm hooked on all things nautical. All in all it was a great day followed by sail away in yet another friend's cabin.
Disembarkation: Due to the Jones Act the second leg of our journey had to be cancelled and we were leaving Pearl in Vancouver. A sad situation to say the least. After stopping by The Bridge to bid our dear Captain Lars farewell we had a relaxed breakfast at Cagney's, collected our bags and proceeded to the Promenade. The lines looked awful and it was announced that only FOUR customs agents were available (we were one of three ships docking that morning). However, a fifth agent was brought in and we were through customs and dockside in just under 30 minutes. We took a cab to the airport ($30) and were there in plenty of time to hook up with our non-stop Horizon flight home. NOTE: There is a lot of construction going on right now due to the approaching Olympic Games coming to Vancouver next year. Be prepared for some delays.
In conclusion: Many thanks to wonderful Captain Lars, Denis Pgruda, Karan Arora, and all of the other wonderful crew that we reunited with. You made our 5 days seem much more and we're sorry we had to leave you so soon. But...we'll be back. We're booking Pearl this coming week, so don't be surprised when we step aboard in the near future.