NIGHT BEFORE: Stayed at the Airport Regency in Miami. They have a 24 hour shuttle, which was important to us as we did not arrive until 11:00 p.m. the night before our cruise. Shuttle also took us to port in the morning. Older, but clean hotel - paid $100.00 for the night. Breakfast was an extra $10.00 and not worth it.
EMBARKATION: Very organized, got on the ship at 11:30, ate lunch at the buffet, cabin was ready by 2:00 p.m.
SHIP: While the Pearl was clean and relatively easy to get around, it was not what I would call beautiful. No large 10 story atrium, no fresh flowers in public areas (except for a sprig in vases on the dining tables), sort of tired looking colors. They jammed in a few smaller restaurants in what should have been open spaces. They were the pay extra type restaurants. One of them, the Italian place, was basically a walk through area and if you dined there, people were walking past you all of the time. Our cabin was roomy and had lots of storage. Beds were not very comfortable and pillows were well used. Also, the dated TV had bad sound and not many stations compared to other ships we have been on. The pool area was divided into adult and children, but only in name. The kids were in both places. Huge water slide added lots of noise to the whole area. Again, not a pretty pool area. No bronze dolphins, etc. and the pools were small.
The most IRRITATING thing that happened to us was when we went to eat at LeBistro, the pay extra French restaurant. It cost $20 pp, which we decided wasn't too bad after looking at the menu, which included filet and lobster. However, if you ordered the lobster, it was ANOTHER $10 pp. We thought this was very tacky. They've got you in the place and you aren't likely to try to get a reservation at one of the other spots, so you just pay it. Ridiculous, and NCL should be ashamed. Food in the main d.r. was just average, as was the service. Only 3 entrees to choose from each night; chicken, beef or fish. All of the fish entrees were terrible.
Shows: Sharkbait and Oh what a night should not be missed. They were excellent. The other shows were typical amateur dance reviews.
The freestyle concept is OK, but we won't be sailing NCL again. Too many negatives. This was our 3rd trip on NCL. We have been on RC, Holland and Costa - all which were much better ships with much better food and service.
Ports: Dominican Republic - We did the Caya Levantado beach escape through the ship and it was very nice. Beautiful beach, nice easy snorkeling. The local vendors were fun and not aggressive. They don't come on the beach, but stay in their little shops all day. We met another couple who did the waterfall tour and they said it was very muddy. But NCL fixed it - they RENTED them some boots.
St. Thomas - Went jewelry shopping because we had been there so many times before. There were so many ships in port, we figured the beaches would be crowded. Some people from the ship did not make it back in time and the ship left. Understandable; they need to maintain a schedule. People need to be responsible and watch the traffic and time.
Tortola - Went on our own and paid $20 pp for a 3 hour tour of island. Very nice. Stopped at Pusser's landing on the north end, a beach, a rum distillary and some overlook spots. Well worth the money. It cost $40 pp from the ship.
Great Stirrup Cay - NCL's own island. Awful. Not enough chairs for everyone. Beach BBQ was not good, burgers were like hockey pucks. Straw market was typical of Bahamas. RC and Holland's islands are way superior. NCL makes you wear a vest if you go snorkeling; it cost $6. Otherwise, you can bring your own stuff or rent theirs.