My boyfriend and I took our first cruise together in December of 2010 in order to escape the wintry mix here in NYC. Our cruise was a 7-night from Miami visiting the following ports: Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, Costa Maya (Mexico), and Key West.
Embarkation: We were over an hour early for embarkation but were pleasantly greeted by NCL employees and invited in the port to wait despite the fact that it was around 10:00 AM and we would not board until at least 11:30. Coffee, juice, and other refreshments were served in the main waiting room and people were lined up in order of their arrival. When the boat was ready at about 11:30, we were smoothly aboard the boat and our luggage was quickly checked until our room was ready.
Public Areas: Following our lunch in the Garden Cafe, we waited about 30 minutes for our balcony stateroom to be prepared well before the expected waiting peiod. All of the public areas, lounges, pools, and bars were very clean and beatifully decorated. My favorite was the adorable bubbling champagne bar while my boyfriend enjoyed the 2-deck tall TV watching the New York Giants!
Stateroom: Our room was very bright and nicely decorated. We were greeted by the room attendants and given a rundown of the nights activites as well as the flyer for the following day every evening. The stewards were always very curteous and friendly, and always made a point of greeting everyone who walked past, even if they were busy.
Activities: There was NEVER a shortage of activies aboard the Pearl for all ages. We were by far the youngest couple on the cruise and were constantly busy aboard the boat even on sea days. It was also nice that Andy, the cruise director, constantly reminded eveyone of exciting activities via the accouncement system.
Dining: My boyfriend and I spent 5 nights in the Indigo main dining room, 1 night in the sushi restaraunt, and one night in the garden buffet. All of the dining facilities were very clean and neatly organized with a number of different stations in the buffet where the food was personally prepared. We never waited more that 5-10 minutes to eat because of the freestyle cruising, and were happy to see that in various points all over the boat there were real-time updates on how long the wait was in each restaraunt. The quality of the food was wonderful, and never had any issues finding a seat, even during the morning buffet rush. The outdoor poolside mini-buffet was a great idea, and we really enjoyed the cold salads and small snacks.
We opted to eat in the sushi restaraunt one night due to the fact that the main dining room served italian, steak, and seafood entrees, so we did not see fit to pay extra to eat in a specialty restaraunt where a similar entree would be included in the main dining room. The waitstaff remembered our faces evenwhen they were working at other posts, and made a point to remind us that it was lobster night, chocolate buffet night, etc. and would be seeing us later at Indigo. We really appreciated the personal interaction.
The only downfall about dining was the fact that there were no complimentary juices like other cruise lines. The only complimentary drink other than coffee ot tea was the iced tea, which even with a half-pound of sugar added to it, still tasted pretty horrible. The soda card was too expensive, so we snuck on a 2-liter from each port.
24 Hour service: We attended the 24-hour restaraunt, the blue lagoon, and were happy to find that it was not a serve-yourself type of buffet or food in a glass case, it was a RESTARAUNT with waitstaff members who were very friendly despite the fact that it was 4:00 AM. One night we ordered room service, and recieved our meal about 15 minutes later by a very friendly gentleman.
Dress Code: Norwegian made a point of informing everyone to dress comfortably at all times. There was no dress code in the Indigo main dining room, but cruisers were asked to dress a bit more formal to dine in the Summer Palace. I really enjoyed this relaxed policy as opposed to other cruises. As much as I enjoy the glitz and glamour of formal night, I wear a suit every day as a manager at a bank, so on a vacation in 80+ degree weather in the caribbean, I'd like to be comfy! Formal night was optional, and although I packed the expensive freshly-pressed gown, I opted for khaki shorts and jeweled flip-flops. :-)
Entertainment: One word - SHARKBAIT! This show was incredible, involved the crowd and was very exciting. For the first time on any cruise, people were allowed to meet and take pictures with the performers. We also really enjoyed the tribute to Frankie Valley, even though his music was well before our time, the production was great. We didn't enjoy the comedian too much, and chose to skip out on the show before it was over.
Ports of Call: We were on and off the boat within 2-3 minutes. VERY organized, I was really impressed. The captain was even able to dock over an hour early to Costa Maya despite the fact that someone had been airlifted off of the boat just the night before. All of the ports were beautiful, and we chose to do excursions that were offered by the locals in order to save a few hundred bucks. Costa Maya looks pretty unappealing from where the boat ports, but a 10-minute cab ride down the coast brings you to some beautiful private beaches.
On the cruise we noticed a number of people complaining about silly things: the lack of real flowers on dinner tables, crispy bacon not being "crispy enough", the bathroom soap being "too soapy", the bit of rust on the balcony from the salt water, etc. and to that I say - it's a vacation, relax. The point of freestyle cruising is to cruise your way, dressed your way, on your time, just as a vacation should be. You get out what you put in, and if you're looking for the negative in everything, you'll surely find it. Freestyle cruising isn't for everyone, especially those who have attended a number of traditional cruises will find it much different than what they are used to. We didn't experience any issues with anything on the Pearl, we had an amazing time al around and are looking forward to a vacation on the Norwegian Jewel from our hometown of NYC this winter. Happy cruising!