Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review by jimswims: Pearls of Wisdom and an Unforgettable Experience
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Pearls of Wisdom and an Unforgettable Experience
NCL Pearl, Cruise to Alaska Background: My wife and children (son:15; daughter:12) took the NCL Pearl to Alaska on 8-8-10. I booked this cruise in July 2009. It was our 15th cruise and 8th with NCL. We settled on three priorities, non-stop flights, at least a balcony/suite cabin, and Glacier Bay. After reviewing all of our options for Alaska (RCCL, Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, and Holland America) we chose the NCL Pearl. An Alaska cruise has been high on my wife's list for many years. I love to go on cruises but was resisting this one because I had let reports taint my impression that it would be cold, boring, and only for old people (not that there is anything wrong with this!). However, after reading Cubechick's review from last June and seeing her pictures I was thinking that I was not being very open-minded about this. In addition, we try to be on a cruise for my wife's birthday. I decided that it was time to do what she wanted because she supported me and kept the family More
running smoothly for the past 6 years while I finished another advanced degree. It did not take a doctorate to tell me that it was time for me to be smart in my marriage, well, maybe it did actually! Synopsis: This was an amazing and unforgettable experience for me and my family. I am grateful for this cruise and everything worked out the way it was supposed to. The beauty of Alaska is there if you stop, breathe, and look. I do hope to go back again since there is so much to still do and see. Here is a brief listing of what we did. The complete review will get into the details.
Pre-cruise in Seattle: Stayed at Homewood Suites/Downtown. Very close to the pier. I love the city. We walked everywhere. Experience Music Museum-Sci-Fi Museum, Space Needle, Science Museum, Seattle Underground, exploring the city. Pearl: My new favorite ship. Staff were great! We had dinners at Le Bistro, Cagneys, La Cuchina, Shabu-Shabu, Indigo, and the Garden Cafe. Alaska: Juneau: took the bus to Mendenhall Glacier and explored this area (rain and drizzle 60's); Skagway: White Pass RR train (60's to 70 some blue sky and clouds); Glacier Bay (still no words to describe this amazing place early morning cool but became sunny with clear blue sky and 70); Ketchikan: Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's tour (70's to 80 and clear blue sky); Victoria: stayed on the ship and enjoyed a sunny day of 88. However, we took the NCL Behind the scenes tour while at sea in the morning before our arrival.
We left the hotel at 10:05 on Sunday morning to get to the pier early. When we arrived, the porter suggested that he not take the bags because it would be better for us to bring them over to another spot. The pier offers an early luggage drop off and we took advantage of that option. By 10:25 we were heading through security and up to get checked in. The port agent took our cards and tickets escorted us to the area where we could sit and wait. We enjoyed waiting and talking to some of the other lucky passengers who were also on this trip. By 11:30 am we were heading on-board and I was looking forward to seeing this ship. This was my first time on an NCL Jewel class ship. I have been on the Majesty, Dream, Spirit, and Dawn so I was not sure how the Pearl would measure up. We were told that the rooms were not going to be ready until 1:30 pm. We are used to this and our lunch plans and exploration of this ship would occupy our time until then. We only had a few carry-ons so this would be manageable.
After a wonderful sit down lunch I really felt like I was on a cruise. I have arrived home to my favorite vacation place, a ship. By the way, the dining options for lunch on embarkation day are up to the Garden Cafe for the buffet, Summer Palace for sit down service, or Cagney's if you are in a suite or courtyard accommodations.
We went to purchase soda stickers for the kids (unlimited soda for them for the week, rate for 12 and under; 13 and above get adult charge: total: 82.51) and the man at the bar gave them NCL mugs as a nice gift! I also decided that since I have worked pretty hard to get back in shape I was going to purchase the Spa pass for the first time. For 99.00 I was able to use the spa and the thermal suite for the week. There is a limited number of passes so I went right away to get it. I will write more about this experience later in the review.
Our cabin was an aft facing Balcony cabin on deck 10. I selected this for the large balcony and the fact that it also was quad occupancy. We have been lucky to cruise in insides, ocean views, and suites in the past on NCL. We have never booked a balcony. The cabin was a standard size but the balcony was much larger and had 2 lounge chairs, 2 standard chairs, and a small table. It was plenty big enough for us outside and we knew that we would manage OK in the cabin with the family togetherness. There were 2 beds pushed together, a pull out couch and a Pullman bed that dropped from the ceiling. It is not possible to get out to the balcony without climbing over and under the beds but it is doable! The pullout and Pullman were put away each morning and set up each night to allow easy access to the balcony during the day. We chose Le Bistro for our first dinner because it is a tradition in our family to start each cruise on NCL at Le Bistro. I also chose this because I am a smart man and I listen to my wife. It was on her list of wishes for this adventure. Janis was our waiter and she was superb. She took the time to explain the menu and the 20.00 pp cover charge. There were a few additional items on the menu with an additional charge and she made sure that we understood. The dinner was excellent and the service attentive. Many of us ordered the escargot, clam chowder, and French Onion soup for appetizers. The family main course orders consisted of the filet, salmon, and one lobster. The chocolate fondue and the Crème Brule were hits as well. My entire family felt well taken cared for and it was a great first supper!
We went to the welcome aboard show to find that David Naster (Comedian), Oh What A Night (singing group), and Shark Bait (Jugglers) were the entertainment along with the Jean Ann Ryan Company doing two shows. We went to most of the headliner shows through the week and they were excellent. We decided to have dinner at the Garden Cafe our second night. This was a first for my wife and I but the kids do prefer this at times. I was surprised to see the selections offered at dinner. There was a lot to choose from and the food was very good. The attentiveness of the staff in the buffet was excellent. It actually made me feel like I was dining and not going for a quick bite to eat. They were helpful and ready to clear your plate away as soon as you were done. We attended the 9:15pm show, Oh What a Night and these guys really put on a good show based on the music of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. I really enjoyed it. From there we went to the Comedy show with David Naster up in Spinnakers. He was funny and I am glad that I went to this as well. The lounge was packed with people and it was a standing room only experience. The other lounges had singing with the Sandy-Lyn Duo in one and music with Richard Rogers in another. There also was bowling, karoke, and later dancing with the Pearl stars at 11:15 in Spinnakers. There was something to do all over the ship. Juneau: Once docked we decided, through my wife's thoughtful planning, that we should go to the Glacier first and if it clears, go up the tram after since the bus will drop us off right next to it. I married a smart woman! I am listening to her! I am noticing a pattern forming and I hope you men are too! So we got off the ship and walked to town to catch the bus. It was a 15 minute walk to town and the bus to the Glacier was 7.00 per person one way/14.00 round trip. We were dressed in rain gear, boots, and had gloves and hats just in case.
The driver of the bus gave a nice history of Juneau. We saw the Governor's mansion and learned about the town and life there. Before we knew it we were at the Visitor's Center. The blue color of the glacier is what struck me first! It was a huge piece of ice and there bits of all sizes in the lake. I was definitely walking as close as I could to that sucker! So, off we went to a trail that was for pictures and viewing. My son noticed that there was a water fall next to the glacier. There were people over there and they were closer to the glacier than we were. Yup, we were getting on the trail and heading over rocks and little rivers. We had boots on and once again my wife's idea to wear these. We did leave the rain pants back on the ship and probably could have used them too but it really was not too bad. Along this trail through the path, mud, water, and rocks we saw some bear tracks. They looked fresh. The driver told us that there very likely could be bears along the path. We did not see the bears but found out later from other passengers that they were there up in a tree. I did not think to look up nor did I remember the driver's famous words until later, "if you look for the crowd of people, you will find the bear"! The walk to the falls was a lot of fun. I spotted a big piece of glacier by the shore. My kids and I decided that this piece of glacier had to come home with us. So, I walked into the lake and picked it up! I carried it a bit. Yes, it was cold! Yes, the fresh Alaska air had seeped into my logic! This piece of glacier was going to melt and it was way too big to fit into our bags and definitely would not fit in the mini fridge in the cabin. So, I put it back. I think my kids thought I was really going to take it home with us! I know my mother-in-law was thinking that maybe she was wrong about me at that moment. Anyway, the walk in the lake, although shallow and brief was fun and gave my kids and I an idea to try to get as close to the falls as possible for a nice family photo. We were able to walk in about ankle deep and get a nice picture. The mist from the water fall and the glacier near us was quite an experience! We stayed there for a bit and took the higher trail back to the lot to catch the bus. Once we arrived back to the pier area we decided that the 27.00 per person tram ride would be a waste since it was still so cloudy. We took the bus back to the ship and got changed to meet my Father-in-Law for dinner. We chose to dine in Indigo since this was the restaurant on-board where jeans were welcome. I tried the lobster and grouper entrEe. It was good but I thought that the lobster was a bit dry and over-cooked. I still ate it however and made a decision not to request another one. I am certain that I would have received another one but truthfully, I was full and the fish was very good so I was satisfied.
We arrived in Skagway at 7:00 am. This was Wednesday, August 11th, and my wife's birthday. I was going to do whatever she wanted! We had discussed several options and concluded that the White Pass Rail Road train was the way to see lots of scenic Alaska. It was a partly cloudy day and the temperature was about 60 degrees. Again we wore our boots, fleece, and rain gear. We had breakfast with my in-laws and we all headed off the ship to board the train. This train picks you up right at the pier. The 3 and a half hour trek up the White Pass route offered us beautiful scenery as we progressed up to the summit and into Canada before we turned around and went back down. This train climbs from sea level to almost 3,000 feet at the summit in just 20 miles and features steep grades of almost 3.9 %. We were given a guide book loaded with history about the significance of this route in the gold rush era in Alaska. There were amazing views of waterfalls and of the rivers and mountains as we headed up and down as guides narrated the entire tour with facts and stories. Do not worry about getting a good seat on the train. If you sat on the left going up a required seat swap at the top with your neighbor across the aisle put you on the other side going down. We got off the train and explored downtown. There are plenty of shops and stores to see. We peeked in the famous Saloon downtown and it was very crowded. We walked around the town area and I found a spot to sit and take in the snow and ice capped mountains that surround this port. The sun was out and the blue sky was making its presence know through some cumulus clouds. This was a beautiful spot indeed! There were 4 ships in port and a train loading passengers for another run up the White Pass but it seemed, or I seemed, peaceful here. The hustle and noise was nothing like Boston or other large city yet there was a lot going on. Now I will move on to Thursday and Glacier Bay. My wife and I decided to let the kids sleep in a bit and we got up for an early breakfast. I was out on deck first at 6:30 am. It was cool and breezy but the sights sure made up for it. The forecast called for mostly cloudy and 54 degrees. You will see in a moment that you cannot believe everything that you read. I had my map of Glacier Bay that was placed in our cabin the night before. The Park Rangers were picked near at the Glacier Bay Lodge and Park headquarters early in the morning. The announcements seemed to start shortly after 8:00 am. We had the TV on the channel that shows the bow of the ship and the announcements can be heard on this if you put up the volume. The Spinnaker lounge was also available for viewing as was the Centrum/Atrium area. The big screen TV also had the pictures from the bow of the ship. The Ranger announced that at 1:00 pm they would be in Spinnakers for a presentation and that there would also be a Kids Program with a Ranger too. She was encouraging all to get outside though as it was turning out to be a beauty of a day. The Ranger announced that the clear blue skies made it possible to see the peak of Mount Abdullah (5964 feet) on our Starboard side. It was a magnificent site and we could also catch glimpses of the Queen Inlet and Rendu Inlet with their glaciers in the distance. The announcements continued as we were approaching Reid Glacier on the Port side as we made our way to Russell Island. We went out to our balcony and the sun was shining and the clear blue skies. The Reid Glacier was right there in its glory. What a sight it was! We entered the Tarr Inlet that led us to Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier. We moved up to the pool deck area to enjoy this sight. The kids had their hot chocolate delivered thanks to a program offered by the Java Cafe. The sun was shining and it was warm, no need for even a jacket. I still am not finding the words to describe this beautiful site! The Blue, White, and dark colors of the glacier surrounded by the mountains and the crystal clear blue sky were breathtaking. We took tons of pictures and NCL did too! As the ship turned, we headed back to our balcony. We were able to get up close and personal again to this beautiful area of the world as the ship turned to let the people on the starboard side get a piece of the action! We stayed on the balcony and took in the mountains and the area as we left these natural wonders and headed to the Johns Hopkins Inlet. We went back up topside to view Lamplugh Glacier on the port side and we stopped just after Jaw Point. The Ranger explained that the seals were active in this area and the pups like to float on the pieces of glacier that are all over this bay leading up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier. The distance from the ship (at Jaw Point) to the glacier was 5 miles. It looked much closer actually. We took a few pictures and went again to our aft balcony to take in the sight as the ship turned. We again took tons of pictures of this magnificent site. It was simply amazing! We sat out in the sunshine at marveled at this area. The mountains were so incredible and I sat in my chair on the balcony and did my best to take it all in. It was even warmer now and I could sit, breathe, and be in the moment without a jacket. I found myself quite emotional at times. I was speechless and in awe. The Ranger actually made an announcement about taking in the beauty of this place and finding a place for it in your mind and core. She probably used other words but this is what it meant to me. In Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction there is a meditation called the Mountain. It calls you to picture a mountain in your mind and through the breath and other core practices try to take the mountain in to you for strength and stability. I am taking liberties by simplifying this because this is a review about a cruise and not a meditation class. However, as I sat out on the balcony I told my wife to take some pictures of this site. The mountains that were before me were what I had been picturing for the past 2 years as I did this practice. I always have said that my mountain must have ocean around it and it must be tall with snow on the top. Up to this moment I had never seen that possible in reality. The glacier beside it just came with the package today. It was an awesome moment to really see what I had been imagining. We caught additional views of the Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers, this time starboard side but we were aft and could see just fine. As we left this area we continued to see nature in its purest form. The Ranger announced the whale sightings, sea otters, and other animals as we made our passage out of this beautiful water park. The Ranger left the ship at about 3:00 pm (maybe a bit later). I could still see the land and mountains as I took my afternoon jog out in the sunshine. It was kind of fun to jog in a water park! I had energy and the run was pretty easy for me today. Many were out by the pool enjoying this day. It was a warm and the captain announced that this may have been the most perfect day in Glacier Bay all season. Several more otters were spotted occurred as the seemed to float on their backs and wave to the people on the ship.
We woke up early in Ketchikan to get some breakfast before we headed out for the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour. This is the boat that was actually in the second season of the television show, The Deadliest Catch, a reality TV show about crab fishing in the Bering Sea. I have seen the show but it is my father-in-law's favorite show and we decided that he must take this excursion. The Forecast from The Freestyle Daily said mostly cloudy and 48F/19C. We dressed in layers and boots since we were going to be on the ocean. Clearly the person who typed this was referencing the water temperature. It was already approaching 70 and it was 8:00 am! We peeled off the layers and wished we had remembered sun screen. A short walk directly off the ship and down the ramp brought us to the boat, the Aleutian Ballad. The ship was altered to accommodate tours and travel out to the waters around Ketchikan and the island nearby which is an Indian Reservation. We were lucky to have Derrek, the man who took over the ship the Cornelia Marie currently featured on the TV show, after Captain Phil died. This was his last tour before heading off for some vacation. Dave was the Captain for the day while Derek and Dan, another crab fisherman spoke of what it was like to be a crab fisherman. The stories were real accounts of the good times and the tough times doing this work. Throughout the three hours, we learned the in's and out's of the industry and were able to see the fish and crabs that were what give them their money. The crab pots were baited and pulled up throughout the week. They also shared that they are pulled up for the tour but they are emptied and re-set twice a week. The men pulled up a squid (or octopus) for some more show and tell. These apparently are frequent visitors to the pots and are often pulled up. We were able to see sea lions lying and sunning themselves. In addition, we got up close and personal to several eagles that seemed to enjoy the Indian Reservation. There were a few eagle nests spotted along the coast. This entire experience was great. I highly recommend this tour. The weather approached the 80's and the sun shined brightly. It was another beautiful day in Alaska. After this tour we needed to go to the stores so my son could pick out a totem pole. Little did I know that if he wanted a real one we would need to re-mortgage the house! Wow, those are pricey pieces of carved wood! After seeing the prices, he settled on a small one that he was happy with and I was also pleased with his choice. It was feeling more like a Bermuda cruise on this day. There were many people by the pool and the band was playing. The familiar feeling of the other NCL cruises quickly came to mind for me. I joined my wife poolside and we relaxed on lounge chairs taking in the sun, air, and sights. We both got a bit of a color from this time outside and returned to get ready for dinner at Shabu-Shabu. We woke up to a sea day before our arrival in Victoria at 6:00 pm. The forecast called for 65F/18C. The weather was actually 80-88 and very sunny! We had breakfast and met in the Lotus Garden for our 10:10 am Behind the Scenes tour of the NCL Pearl. The NCL Pearl Fact Sheet gave some interesting information to read while we waited. The Executive Chef's weekly shopping list included 2,000 lbs of cereal, 1,500 lbs of pasta, 22,000 fresh fruits, 3,000 dozen (36,000) fresh eggs, 6500 lbs of fish, 1000 lbs of lobster, 2,600 lbs of seafood, 12,000 lbs of beef, 12,000 lbs of poultry, and 900 lbs of coffee to list a few things. We first toured the kitchen areas that included the main cooking/prep areas for the dining rooms and then the butchery, bakery, storage areas for all types of foods and the freezers. We then met the Environmental Engineer who spent a great deal of time explaining the ways in which the ship keeps to the highest standards of sanitation in terms of waste, biological and other, and recycling. This was a real eye opener. I am sorry that I have forgotten her name. I was impressed by all the ways NCL has worked to recycle and minimize waste. Given this is a cruise ship and there is limited space, I was impressed by the shredding, recycling, and care given to make sure the environment, on and off the ship, was protected and cared for. The massive shredding machines took care of the paper waste and there is a burning process that does occur for some of it. The ship was getting ready for their waste removal in Victoria and it looked like things were in pretty decent shape. I expect do much more given that we were only a few hours from the port. The food waste and biological waste were also discussed in detail. We also traveled I-95, the main corridor for the crew. There were many signs emphasizing the STYLE approach to team work and success in their jobs and copies of recent STYLE cards were displayed for all to see. We moved on to the laundry facilities where the massive washers, dryers, and dry cleaning machines were located. This area was in full action for washing linens, towels, sheets, cruisers clothes, and uniforms. There were giant folding machines that needed to be hand fed at the precise moment in order to have things properly work. This area was loud and hot. It is also in operation 24 hours per day. These two areas made me stop and think about what I can do to make their jobs easier and help the environment. Something small like using towels more than once and using less water would make a huge impact. We then toured the back stage area of the theater and this was informative in finding out how the production shows operate and also how the costumes are made, fitted, and changed with the changes in cast. From the theater we were lucky to have a nice day because that meant we could go on the bridge. The bridge is loaded with the latest equipment to navigate the ship. The seas were smooth and the view was fantastic. The First Officer showed us the many types of equipment and explained each. After, we were able to walk around a bit before we needed to leave. It was a great tour and I was glad that I took it. The staff that we encountered really liked what they are doing and it showed in their presentations.
It was time for us to go back to the room to get everything packed. We were taking advantage of the BAGS program and signed up earlier in the week so our luggage tags and boarding passes were delivered as promised. We had completed most of the work so my daughter and wife went up to the hot tubs for one last swim. The suitcases were definitely over 50 lbs and I did the best I could to balance them. We completed a bunch of STYLE cards and dropped them off at the Reception Desk and got ready for our last slumber on the NCL Pearl.
The next morning we again went for a sit down breakfast and said our goodbyes to the staff that were so wonderful throughout the week. I have become a fan of the NCL Pearl and really like the Jewel Class ships. In particular I like the layout of deck 6 and 7, Spinnakers, The pool area, the action stations of the Garden Cafe, The Great Outdoors, and the location of the Blue Lagoon, La Cucina, and Le Bistro. These are just a few of the things that I liked about the physical structure of the ship after sailing on the Majesty, Dream, Spirit and Dawn. The staff seemed to work as a team and there was never an instant when I felt that the staff wanted to push me overboard or hang me from my balcony. The management team should be commended for a job well done with supporting their employees to excel in their jobs.
We disembarked the ship reluctantly. It was 97 degrees and sunny in Seattle. We had the whole day to hang out in the city since our flight was not until 10:20 pm, the red eye to the East coast. It was an unforgettable week filled with amazing sights, revelations, and new horizons. This was our best cruise to date. NCL shined and Alaska's beauty is unmatched. The weather was icing on the cake.
In Alaska and on this ship I also discovered the greatest Pearl of wisdom that I am sure will help me and be with me for many years to come: MY WIFE IS ALWAYS RIGHT! Less
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