I was cruising with one hundred and sixty-eight friends on a Pacific Coastal cruise from Vancouver, BC to Los Angeles, CA. We had two ports of call which I have visited many times in the past. I selected this particular cruise to experience a ship I have never worked upon. I invited a few friends and ended up with a full on magic convention onboard!
First the bad reviews:
Shoreside group services were the most unhelpful staff I have ever encountered in my thirteen years of producing the Pacific Coast Association of Magicians annual convention. Each step of the planning was like "pulling teeth". Having lived the majority of my life onboard ships, I knew what was possible and reasonable to ask for in regards to space and times. The staff member I dealt with in Miami had obviously never been onboard a ship in her life! At one point in the negotiations she offered me the use of the Spinnaker Lounge in the evening for my group. Anyone, who has ever sailed, knows this is the prime "party room" after dark and there was no way any Cruise Director would agree to give up the "party room" so a few guest can have a private function!
The other major complaint I would have is with the NCL official website that advertises a Cinema and even includes a photograph. The photograph seemed familiar and I was soon to realized it was the Norwegian Star's Cinema and that the Pearl does not even have one! This would not affect most travelers but I planned one third of my activities to take place in the "imaginary cinema"!
Now the good reviews:
Our Cruise Director Julie Valeriote is beyond outstanding! I have watched this young lady progress through the ranks of NCL. In fact at one time she was a Youth Counselor who tended to my daughter, Hannah. Her schedule of events was full of interesting a varied activities, her communication skills are awesome and she is totally approachable and interested in how she can make your vacation experience excellent.
Our Hotel Director and Assistant Hotel Director were also amazing. They went out of their way to try to make up for mistakes made by shoreside. This could also be said for the Food and Beverage Manager and the Bar Manager.
Finally Jessica, the Group Service Co-Ordinator onboard the Pearl was the best. That's it, the best. She met me Pier side to welcome my family and told me she would do whatever it took to make the PCAM convention an excellent experience for my guests. She did more than I ever expected and is fine example of what NCL's product should reflect.
Astoria: We tendered into the sleepy little town and took in all the sights one would expect. If it's your first time you should definitely visit the Goonie House, climb the tower and visit the newly renovated theatre downtown. Tendering is not the most pleasant way to exit a ship but it was done efficiently and painlessly.
San Francisco: We docked nice and close to Pier 39 and had a blast along the waterfront. A quick lunch at Fisherman Wharf and a short magic show at J'La Chic Theatre and we were off to view the sea lions and take a ride on a cable car. The weather was unusually warm and it made for an awesome day.
I dined in the Summer Palace twice and although the portions were a tad smaller than normal, it was excellent. In fact I order a second helping one evening. This is what I love about Freestyle! One evening I asked for two portions of the lobster which was a main dish and I also asked for the "always available" steak and made my own Surf and Turf.
I only dined twice in the specialty restaurants. The first was the Sushi bar where for the nominal fee I ate about 40 pieces of sushi over the course of about two hours! I love sushi. The portion were once again a tad small, but I made up for that by just ordering more. The second specialty restaurant was the teppanyaki room where my family and friends had an excellent meal and fine entertainment. The maitre'de for both of these restaurants was a young lady named Grace from the Philippines. She was outstanding!
All in all I thought the food was great and the service was excellent.
I'm an entertainer and so I am very critical. I would say that the shows were good, but not as good as I have seen on other ships in the Norwegian fleet. The shows of the Star and Jewel are far better. That said I will say that the entertainers/performers are still far better than anything I have seen on other cruise lines. NCL still has the best product when it comes to talent. This appears to be slowly changing but for now ... they do know entertainment.
Highlight of the cruise:
The Bliss Lounge. I have been on many a vessel and never have I seen such an amazing night spot as the Bliss. Huge lounge chairs, video screens everywhere, giant beds and bowling lanes! Yes, it was a party every night and my guests had a blast as did I ...
Would I cruise with NCL again? Without a doubt. In fact I am making plans for my next cruise now. That's a big thing for me considering I usually get paid to cruise!
Shawn "Hannahsdad" Farquhar