My partner and I went on our first ever cruise in June of this year. We have always been more adventurous travelers, and didn't think the canned entertainment of a cruise ship was likely to be our thing. We were prepared to try it for the purpose of visiting Alaska for the first time. We chose NCL because of their free-style dining. No dressing up for dinner or sitting with the same people every night. I have been reading the reviews of the Pearl over the months, and am ready to give my two cents worth.
First the good. I found it very relaxing and liked being cut off from the world. No cell phone service or internet (too expensive). The onboard entertainment was very good, especially Second City. There were some great Jazz groups too. Our cabin was pleasant and the ship was beautiful. We had no problems with the service, we thought it was excellent, especially since the service charges meant the staff would get tipped even if it wasn't. The scenery we saw in Alaska was some of the best I have ever seen anywhere, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life. We could not have seen all of that, including Glacier Bay, for what we spent, so in that respect the cruise was avery good deal. We are going back next year, but not on a cruise. This time we will fly to Anchorage and rent a car. My overall memory of the cruise is good, and I would recommend NCL with some caveats.
Our first experience when we arrived in Seattle was negative. We went to the cruise line's shuttle to the port and were charged $30 apiece. We asked how much a cab would cost and were told about the same. We found out later that we could certainly have paid less for a cab. It was partly our fault for not doing our homework, but we were annoyed that the cruise staff succeeded in taking money off us before we even got on the ship. Embarkation went very smoothly, but it was bedlam trying to find a place to eat lunch when we got on board. There could have been a better effort to help passengers out with that. We did not like the daily service charge for every passenger over the age of three. It seemed like extortion to us, and I felt sorry for people with children.
A lot of the comments have said that NCL uses the freestyle dining as a way to charge more. I can believe that. The food in Indigo and the Summer Palace was really bad, practically inedible. There was no salmon offered -on a cruise to Alaska! We thought that was pretty low. We ate in the cafeteria after trying these restaurants a couple of times. They had a really good breakfast buffet with lots of choices, and the lunch buffet had good quality cheeses and cold cuts and a great salad bar. I didn't get tired of breakfast or lunch there even after a week, but dinner got very monotonous.I am sure that all cruise lines probably push gambling and drinks on people as a way to make money. I have no prior experience with that, so can't comment other than to say it was annoying. We ordered drinks once and there was a hefty service charge added. I used to think that cruise lines made their money out of side trips, but I am now inclined ti believe that gambling, alcohol and the specialty restaurants are probably even more lucrative.