We selected this particular itinerary because of the proximity to Portland, with the ship leaving from Seattle, and the "Pearl" was the newest ship sailing up to Alaska. This was my first experience with Freestyle Cruising and I was a little apprehensive at first.
The weather cooperated FULLY. One had to think twice whether we were heading north or south, on our first day everyone was playing in the pool and hot tub, listening to tropical music. The staff seems friendlier across the board than Carnival, which is my normal cruise line, but fewer individual connections if that makes sense. Be prepared to have the hand sanitizer squirt wherever you go on this ship. When you think about it, you actually appreciate it. It is also a really good feeling being on a brand spanking new ship. This was also my first experience in a non-balcony room. Oddly enough a balcony is far more affordable going to the Caribbean or Mexico, but to do this trip, we could only afford the portal window. The view was actually just fine, and the cabins seemed spacious enough, and practical, even though we had 3 people staying in the room. The stewards would add the extra bed during turn down service, and remove it during the day which was really nice.
The food, the food, the food. I know this is what everyone wants to know. I love Carnival and had nothing but good experiences with them. Dining on Carnival seemed like something you just do, but on the Pearl, it was something you greatly looked forward to. Just because of the ease, we ate at the buffet more often than not. Not to gorge ourselves, but they had EXACTLY what you were looking for. The different stations always had something new for you to try every day, the quality of food was higher across the board, and yes you did end up eating a bite or two too much not because it was there, but because you wanted to try as much as possible. If you are going on this ship, have a turkey burger for me! I must have had one with each meal. My brother loved the cooked to order pasta, and my dad loved the hummus and the Indian food. The desserts were always different, always something new to try, and my favorite was the crepe station and the chocolate fondue tower. Now we did not have any of the specialty restaurants, so I can't help you there, but reservations never seemed to be a problem. We did eat at Indigo and Summer Palace and we all agreed the food was good. Here is the difference with Freestyle cruising...On a regular ship with the scheduled dinners, the servers you get to know, and to be honest they are trying to work the tip that they will get at the end. Here, its kind of ho hum, they are making the same wage either way so the service is not the same. Again, there are some nice exceptions but nothing compared to the dinner service on Carnival. We had late night dining at Blue Lagoon, again very good, but generally we would be tired, order way too much room service, and call it a night. Sorry to sound repetetive but the room service was excellent! It was a real treat, and not just something to tide you over.
The bars and lounges were fun, and the Bliss Ultra Lounge was REALLY THAT NICE. I mean, if you were on a date, or just looking for a super cool place to have a cocktail, this was the spot. Shadow Dancers, Karaoke, Toga Parties, and the four really cool bowling lanes. Generally we never had a problem getting in on the bowling. As you probably read, you do get cocktail servers, asking you constantly, if you want drinks, shots, buckets of beer, or whatever. After a couple times they will generally leave you alone. The entertainment was good to pretty good. Shark Bait are really funny, check them out if you get the opportunity. The Second City was pretty good as well, and the various live bands ranged from really good, to so so. It also looked like there were plenty of opportunities to try the Giant Nintendo Wii, and the movie nights were pretty cool too. Basically, there is an activity or something fun to do on every corner of this ship.
We spent alot of time in the casino. We played plenty of poker, but the set up is not very poker player friendly. I could give Norwegian a suggestion or two on this, but not sure it would matter. DO, BY ALL MEANS, get the funbook if you are going to gamble at all. It adds value to what is probably not the best gambling value on the planet. You are supposed to get one book per person but me and my brother, fanaigled about two, per person, per day. Those were profitable. After getting tired of the horrible commission they took at the poker table, we made our own game in the card room, which was really fun. I used the gym a few times, and it was ok. Carnival does have a better gym. Overall the facilities were good, and we never had a moment of boredom.
No, there were not that many under 35's and if they were they had their wife or husband in tow. We did meet some of the few young people on this ship and we ended up all having a great time together. This was my dads first cruise in 20 years and he enjoyed himself thoroughly and also made a lot of great friends. So whats the verdict? The Pearl is an awesome ship, that felt like home. I noticed that I was not tired or less tired with the freestyle dining. Having a set time to eat, especially after a long day in port, is something you don't always look forward to but do. Eating whenever we want to eat, or just skipping it altogether, you can do more, get a little extra nap, and not really change out of your bathing suit. Yes, I was in my bathing suit plenty on this cruise. Like I said, the weather was awesome! Both cruising styles have their virtues, but this is something we would definitely do again.
PS, there was not a Glacier Bay choice for ports I could rank below, but it was definitely a highlight of the trip. The Marjorie Glacier is what you see on all the brochures and postcards, and it was absolutely out of this world. Dress warmly!! I also wanted to add that embarkation and debarkation was the smoothest experience I have ever had on a cruise.