Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by MSahara: Adventurous Alaska on NCL
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Adventurous Alaska on NCL
Hi, I hope this detailed long review will be beneficial to you.
We just returned from a week long cruise on the Norwegian Pearl leaving out of Seattle on August 30th-Sept6th. I've cruised before on other cruise lines, my friend had never cruised before. We're both professionals in our mid 30's. I researched a lot in choosing which cruise line, read all the reviews here and decided on the Pearl because it leaves from Seattle which is a close train ride away for me, and we wouldn't have to hassle with customs in Vancouver BC, also wanted to see Glacier bay and the inside passage, and I liked the idea of "free style" cruising vs the formal dress up sit down dining I disliked on other cruise lines. The Norwegian Pearl was absolutely the perfect ship for us. The age ranges were wide, from older to little kids and families. Everyone we met from CC and people on board all seemed to have had a wonderful trip.
We both arrived in Seattle on Saturday the 29th. I recommend More arriving a day early if possible to explore Seattle if you've never been. I took the cascade line amtrak train, my friend flew into Seatac. (yes cabs from seatac run around $45 dollars to the pier area, it was around $10 from the train station) We stayed at the Edgewater hotel right next to the cruise pier as they were offering discounted online rates. Nice spacious room, beautiful ocean front hotel. we've stayed there before and were happy with it. We spent the afternoon walking along the waterfront and at Pike Place market nearby. Seattle has great things to do including the space needle, the science center, music experience, waterfront activities and wonderful dining.
The morning of embarkation we checked out walked our suitcases next door to the pier around noon, dropped them off and quickly were through the boarding process. The entire time was around 15-20 minutes from going through security to getting our on board cards, taking photos and getting on the ship for our free champagne! Very impressive embarkation!
The Norwegian Pearl is a beautiful colorful ship. We didn't find it tacky, but bright and cheerful and well laid out. We saw the java cafe, the huge Wii screen and enjoyed all the comfortable common spaces. There's nooks and crannies for you to sit and enjoy the view out the windows or walk up to the pool and enjoy a lounge chair, or listen to music in a variety of locations. When you board they try to steer you towards the garden cafe buffet for lunch, but we knew ahead of time you could also eat in the summer palace main dining room from 12-2pm. It was excellent, quiet, not more then 50 people in there and we avoided the chaos of the buffet on the first day!
After lunch we wandered the ship, listened to the live music by the pool, the weather was warm and fantastic. The waiters pushed drinks pretty hard however, I felt like i needed a sign that said "no thank you already!". Some of the same waiters asked me over and over every five to ten minutes even! Around 2pm our cabin was ready. The inside cabin on deck 9 midship was small but well laid out. The bed heavenly as far as comfort goes. We opted for inside because of price and we knew we'd only be sleeping in our state room and wanting to be out and about the rest of the time. We saw our friend's balcony staterooms and they seemed nice as well however. Muster went well around 3:30pm we all gathered with our life jackets at our appropriate stations. Later on our luggage arrived and we unpacked and there was ample space for all our things, and the bathroom was fairly decent as well. They provide body soap and shampoo in the shower too. The florescent lighting in the bathroom leaves a lot to be desired however! Also we had a faulty light overhead in our room that often flickered on and off. But the room didn't smell like smoke, or any of the other complaints I've seen on other reviews. It was very clean.
We found the ship easy to navigate, signs directing you, or friendly staff, or follow the fish to the front of the boat. Everyone was very kind in helping you locate places if need be. I do have to say the elevators were often jam packed and we couldn't get on so we spent alot of time taking the stairs! Which is fine most of the time, except for port days when we're going from deck 4 to deck 9.
As far as food goes, because that's important to some people, it was good. We ate often at the garden cafe buffet, or the outside grill and there was plenty to choose from with selections of pasta, salad bar, pizza, Asian stir fry, hamburgers, hot dogs, chocolate fountain, desserts, fruit. There is also a kid's dining area with small tables. Ice tea (don't drink it, it's terrible, water, milk, coffee ect is included, juice and sodas and alcohol are NOT) It wasn't spectacular food, but definitely above average for cafeteria style food. I did get tired of being sprayed by the attendants with disinfectant so often before entering. I understand the need, but sometimes i would go out the door to go around in the buffet due to over crowding and they would try to spray me for a second or third time in a matter of minutes. enough already! Some people in the buffet get a little pushy as well, and the table seating is tight to get through and sometimes impossible. We found going early or off times was the best for us to beat the crowds. We both wished they had trays to carry your food as well. We also ate at the blue lagoon, 24 hour comfort food place which was alright. Your basic grilled things and seemed a little slower in service. We ate at La Cucina the Italian place once. the anti pasta appetizers were wonderful, dinner was decent, and dessert was fabulous. It's probably worth the 10 dollar cover charge. although my friend had so-so salmon ravioli that he said for the chef's special wasn't so special! We also ate once at Le Bistro the french restaurant for a birthday party. The onion soup was great and they had a vegetarian selection that I enjoyed. My friend enjoyed asparagus and prawns and a variety of other tasty dishes. also recommend the chocolate fondu and fruit for two! We didn't go to Cagney's, though i heard the steak was good there, nor the Japanese place. ( I've lived in Japan and it wasn't worth it to me to pay $25 cover). Overall, the food is tasty, there's something for everyone, it's usually always available, and i liked being able to eat whenever I was hungry not whenever I'm told. We never really waited for a table in any restaurant, and only once made reservations. (for the party) The TV screens with availability for each restaurant are very helpful.
The entertainment was fun. The opening night show was fine, the sea legs girls are a little tacky if you ask me. The acrobatic gymnastics were pretty good however. The comedian Ted K was very very funny and we went back to hear his performance on another night. (warning he does pull volunteers out of the audience!) Shark Bait was also hysterical and a fun time. We also enjoyed the dancing with celebrity's show, Quest, and liar's club up in Spinnaker lounge. Julie the ET director did a good job of making sure there was something always going on somewhere. Latin dancing in bliss was fun as well. We were never bored that's for sure. You could bowl, or do sports or go to the spa or the library or card room. There is something on this ship for every age group and interest. If you're bored, it might be because you're boring!
Someone else brought up the cell phone issue, so let me share about that. While on board the Pearl you will be forced to use the Pearl's cell phone towers. No matter what your basic phone plan or company is. It's very expensive...i believe 2.79-2.99 a minute and texts are like 50 cents. I would advise putting your phone in airplane mode as I also know people who were charged outrageous fees just for their phone ringing and for incoming voice mails. Once in ports the ship turns off it's towers and you can use your own phone's plan again.
Some reviewers also mentioned feeling nickle and dimed to death on the ship. We didn't. I read all the reviews, carefully noting fees such as service fees, cell phone fees, drink gratuities (automatic 18%), excursion costs, soda costs, dining cover fees ect. There were no surprises for us. We almost never drank on the ship (was cheaper for a beer or drink in port) bought soda in port and brought it aboard, and refilled our water bottle with tap water (excellent actually). We mostly ate in the free restaurants as well. Bingo seemed a rip off, as did the casino. (use your common sense) Shows were of course free as well as most sports activities except bowling which was $5 a game. We never swam so avoided the towel deposit and the spa seemed too spendy and we really wanted more time in ports. Overall we did it very cheaply and came away with very little on our card at the end of the trip. I think it's really all about what you enjoy doing and I didn't feel it was any higher then other ships I've been on.
I highly recommend joining a roll call group here on CC. i got amazing suggestions and met some brilliant new friends. We were able to meet in Maltings bar for a meet and greet and many of us went on excursions and activities together. I feel like we made some new best friends, and we got lots of advice and help from our group prior to leaving.
As far as packing for this trip, a variety of clothes is important. The weather can change drastically. Rain coats are essential just incase. Be flexible and prepared, and wear whatever you're most comfortable in. We got lucky and had excellent weather for the most part, minus one night of high waves. I had been sea sick on another cruise line, but never was on the Pearl. I think being midship helped because when i went aft or forward on that rough sea night i felt a tad bit queasy! (wrist bands helped!)
The staff was excellent. I met people from all over the world who all provided excellent service. I found the 12 dollar service charge more then worth it, and tipped extra when we felt it was deserved. But we never felt like they were rude, or slow or inefficient. Our cabin steward even knocked and introduced himself and was always helpful. We didn't meet anyone who was rude, and often we learned a lot about their countries and home lives which was interesting. Be polite and friendly, and you'll be treated in kind.
Alaska is a truly magical destination. It reminded me of the Norwegian fjords. (my family is Norsk). The captain was Norwegian too and had funny little updates over the intercom. Glacier bay was dramatic, pristine and absolutely breathtaking. Get to spinnaker early for a seat by the window! I also enjoyed all the ports and excursions a lot. I'm not the type of person who enjoyed the carib much (i burn easily) but i was very impressed with all of Alaska's beautiful wildlife and very down to earth people. Be sure to get off the beaten path and out of the tourist part of the towns to see more of real Alaska. And be advised those jewelry talks all send you to the cruise line's jewelry stores! (i didn't see any need for that, but some people do). Also Be advised that in ports there can be 2,000 people all disembarking at once and you have to swipe your card to get off, so it can be very slow going. After the first time, we were glad we had different excursion times then immediately after docking and missed the crowds waiting in line to get off the ship.
I went to Alaska to see the natural beauty and i wasn't disappointed. We did the wildlife quest and Mendenhall glacier in Juneau 5 and a half hour excursion. My favorite thing that we did. 13 humpback whales sighted! In Skagway we did the yukon train ride and it was really interesting. (sit on the left side going up). We had Alaska ale at the Red Onion Saloon after wards. In Ketchikan we joined an independent taxi cab tour arranged by a cc friend and went off the beaten path to Potlatch park, saw a woman carving a totem pole, totem bight state park and saw the salmon jumping. Then returned to creek street. (go to the Burger Queen there, excellent fries, halibut sammies and shakes!) In victoria we'd been many times so we had dinner at pagliacci's. Do Butchart gardens tour however if you haven't before. I guess there's another space to review the excursions in detail so i'll do that next.
Disembarkation went as smoothly as embarkation. We did the walk off with our own bags between 8-9a.m. We complete the custom's form, handed it in and were done! About ten minutes tops. NCL is very efficient! Once back in Seattle we opted to check our bags at the Seattle Port concierge office which is right where the buses are in front. For 3 dollars a bag they'll hold your bags until 3:30pm which is perfect if you have a later flight or train. We walked down to the aquarium and spent the morning there. (highly recommend the aquarium, especially if you have kids!).
I would cruise with NCL again in a heartbeat. For the price we paid, and the service we received, and the great memories we made, it was truly a trip of a lifetime. and I say that having traveled a great deal of the world. If you're wavering about going, just do it! You won't regret it. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
I couldn't recommend them more highly. Informative, a local's perspective, they narrate and take you out of the tourist part of town in vans. You can customize the things you want to see by doing your own research first, or they can recommend what they think is best. I was so impressed by them. Please consider them! We went to Potlatch park and saw totem poles, and a lodge, and including one totem pole in the process of being carved by a female native artist who gave a short talk. We went to Totem Bight, and the state park where we saw salmon jumping. We also saw baby eagles and went to a store off the beaten path as well with interesting treasures (as well as free hot chocolate and cookies!). We learned so much history and interesting tidbits. And it was economical too when split between that many people. Actually worked out cheaper for the three personalized hours then the NCL tours and you get to see so much more!
After our morning tour we had just enough time to shop around creek street. Great bookstore, went into some little shops and then to the Burger Queen for halibut sandwiches and fries as recommended to us by locals. It was great! I'm glad we didn't spend all our time in town however as it's quite touristy. There is a local post office right there to mail postcards if need be. And a chocolate candy company that will give you free samples. yum!
The train is 3 and half hours or so up and back. You can choose to do it both ways, take a van one way or various other ideas. We rode up and back. It was a little boring on the way back down to see the same scenery. I actually fell asleep. You do switch sides with the people across the way so everyone can enjoy the view.
Skayway itself is a small little town. We recommend the shirt co right in downtown for great little trinkets, tees, presents with very reasonable prices. If you go all the way down the street you can get a great photo of the whole town with the Pearl docked at the end in the back round. We ate at the Red Onion Saloon...had an Alaskan ale and nachos. They have a tour of the old brothel upstairs but we didn't do that. It's five dollars if you're interested and the girls wear old fashioned costumes.
The inner harbor of Victoria is very beautiful. We opted to walk from the ship along the waterfront. The lines for the cabs, and shuttle buses were insanely long. But we know Victoria very well having visited and stayed for several weeks at a time previously. It's about a 15-20 min walk at a moderate pace. There is now a night time market with all kinds of things and music it seems. It's nice to walk around if the weather permits, see the Parliment building all lit up with lights, and all the ships and float planes. The Empress hotel is always impressive as well. We went to one of our favorite restaurants Pagliacci's. It's Italian food and very very excellent. Their cheesecake is also great. It's sort of a secret local favorite. There are NO reservations however, and the wait outside can be long because the place is rather small. They will serve you free wine in cups while you wait usually though. And it's well worth the wait! If the line is too long, try II Terrazo the other Italian place. They have a beautiful courtyard patio with fireplaces.
Victoria is a very quaint town with an English feel. Lots to do from shops, to pubs, to harbor ferry rides, to the gardens, or high tea, or Thunderbird park or the castle. There's horse drawn carriage rides or pedicabs to take you around as well.