Before I begin, I want to mention that I am a Latitudes Gold Member with one more cruise to complete before reaching the Platinum tier with NCL. I have sailed on most of the NCL fleet so I obviously like NCL, but the NCL Pearl was my least favorite.
Upon arrival at the port they had no record of our VIP status (Latitudes) with NCL so we joined the line to get on the ship. Embarkation was tedious and the people conducting it were extremely rude. This was without question the worst embarkation I have ever had with NCL. Once we finally got on the ship they offered us a glass of champagne or orange juice. My travelling companion who is also Gold on NCL wanted a mimosa so he asked for one of each so he could mix them and was told "no, you only get one"; not a pleasant start to a cruise we had been looking forward to for almost a year. When we got on the ship I went to reception to try and straighten out the Latitudes VIP issue and was told that I had no status due to the deck I was on. Later, after speaking to the cruise consultant we did receive some acknowledgement, but when we called reception later in the cruise to contact the concierge we were again told we had no status. Additionally, they never sent the chocolate covered strawberries or other treats to the cabin that are normally send to Gold and Platinum members during the cruise. The reception we received was not the same as what we received on other NCL ships. Basically you are only given VIP treatment on Pearl if you booked a suite or villa.
The pool decks on the Pearl are extremely slippery and there were several falls during the cruise. One in particular was extremely serious and required a helicopter to take the person who fell back to Miami. This required the ship to return very close to the Miami area but we were still able to make up the time. We had bad weather for much of the cruise and the seas were pretty rocky.
The first port was Samana. I would definitely recommend an excursion of some type there. We opted for Cayo Levantado which is a private island that we had to tender to. That beach there is very beautiful and there were people there offering to fry you fish or grill you a lobster for lunch. There was also a bar-b-que available with burgers, etc. There were a lot of vendors selling Larimar and souvenirs. If it is Larimar you are after you will get a better price and selection at the Port than at Cayo Levantado.
The next port was St. Thomas. We did the Godfrey Tour which is a great value for $25.00 pp. The tour consists of a ride from the pier to downtown where you can shop for up to three hours. Then the tour continues with several overlooks with narration and then to the beach for several hours of swimming. We went to Megans Bay. Afterward you return to the ship about 4:30pm.
The next port after St. Thomas was Tortola. Unfortunately our excursion to the Baths was cancelled due to rough swells. This was a mystery to us because the seas appeared to be very calm. We didn't do much but walk around but there is not a whole lot to look at in this port.
Great Stirrup Cay was also cancelled due to rough weather; the second cruise in a row that this happened. The Captain said that they could not get a "berth" in Nassau but our waiter that night at dinner advised that they didn't want to pay for a spot in Nassau or Key West. Instead we received about $15.00 credit pp for taxes paid for the port and some free rum punch on the pool deck.
There is not a whole lot to do on the Pearl unless you like seminars on the jewelry they are selling in the shops. Worthwhile activities are nonexistent. What activities they do have are booked at the same times as other ones; for example the Latitudes party and the opening Art Auction are at the same time. Invitations to special events arrived after the event, etc. There was no in-cabin movie schedule and only two movies that kept repeating the entire cruise. The seating in the Stardust Theatre is very uncomfortable and you feel like you are sitting on top of the person next to you. I did not find the shows to be too good which was surprising because it was a Jean Ann Ryan troupe, usually the best. One show which featured acrobatics (Garden of the Geisha) was very good, but isn't it time to retire Fountains?
Dining: This is the one area that this ship has it all together. The food was great. Everything we had in the main dining rooms was excellent. We did not eat in all the specialty restaurants but the ones we tried were comparable to other NCL ships. The one exception is the Blue Lagoon which is supposed to be open 24 hours; "just drop by anytime." The food in this restaurant is not very good. One morning at 5:00am I wasn't feeling good and wanted to eat something thinking it would settle my stomach and at that hour Blue Lagoon was the only option. When we arrived at the Blue Lagoon we were told they were closed. I mentioned it was supposed to be open 24 hours and was told they were cleaning the galley and the chef was on break and to go back to my cabin and order room service. Don't waste your time at Blue Lagoon unless you have several hours to kill because the service is at a snail's pace and the food isn't much better. I thought the buffet food was better than average. Ice cream is available most of the time both soft and scooped. Be prepared to wait for a table at Indigo at peak times which is smaller than the other main restaurant Summer Palace. The tables over the propellers in the Summer Palace have a lot of motion and noise so while you have a view of the water there are other issues with these tables. There was always a wide variety of different foods available.
We had an inside cabin on deck 5 that had a crew corridor behind it and there was noise and voices all night long. I would not recommend a cabin on this deck. Our cabin was miniscule where your knees would actually hit the wall when sitting on the toilet. There is a large shower however with a door that slides shut; nice touch.
Another nice thing is that the Chocoholic Buffet is back and that is something we look forward to on NCL. We haven't seen it on the last couple of NCL cruises we took. It was done in the buffet line which wasn't quite as nice as the dining room setting and there were no photo opportunities like in the past. Also gone were the elaborate ice carvings and chocolate characters and houses, but they did have chocolate sushi which was a bit bizarre.
We were able to get a day pass on a sea day to try the spa which was very relaxing. Day passes were available for $20.00 and weekly for $99.00. There is only a free steam room in the area off the fitness center; no sauna like on other NCL ships, and the area is small and smells bad.
Getting off the ship was the complete opposite of getting on; an absolute breeze.
We did not enjoy the Pearl in comparison to smaller NCL ships we have sailed on. In general, we found the staff (other than the dining room staff which was great) to be detached and unfriendly. We were prepared to put a deposit down on a future cruise on Epic but were so turned off by the chaos on Pearl that we didn't. In the future we will sail on the smaller NCL ships where we found the level of service to be better.