This was the 6th cruise for my husband and I (35 and 30) and were with my parents (63 and 62). We had not done a cruise off of the west coast before and were particularly excited to be going to Alaska. We arrived the night before and stayed with a friend.
Embarkation was probably the low point of the cruise. In every other cruise I have ever been on there are porters everywhere to collect your bags and then you go check in. This was not the case in Seattle. We arrived at about 12:30. We had to wait in a line for about 30 minutes for each person to individually check their bags. After that line we then went into a line to pass through security. After that the actual check in went very quickly. The only saving grace to the long lines was that it was very cool outside, so we were at least not hot and uncomfortable. My parents arrived at about 11:30AM and got on the ship without any wait - so getting to the boat early is the way to go. When first getting on board the ship there is someone there to spray your hands with sanitizer - I fully understand and appreciate the need to keep everyone healthy aboard the ship but this was awkward, as everyone had hands full with bags or key cards. Perhaps NCL could have a small table for people to leave their things on when hands get sprayed?
I was very happy with the ship. It had a different layout than I had seen on other ships and enjoyed the change. On all the other ships I have been on there is a grand atrium (3-4 stories high). Instead of having the grand atrium, the pearl had 2 smaller atrium like areas. The ship was clean and had lots of public areas to spend time in. One spot that we particularly enjoyed was the Spinnaker Lounge. The Spinnaker Lounge has these amazing loungers that were very comfortable and we loved to lay there and take in the views from outside. The first few days of the cruise this spot hadn't been discovered by most of the other guests so we felt like we had our own little hang out.
I went to the gym most days during the cruise. It was a large gym for a cruise and had lots of equipment - I never had to wait to get on a machine. There is also a walking track on deck 7 (2 2/3 around = 1 mile).
A hidden gem on the ship to check out is the overlook to the bridge! This is on Deck 11 all the way forward. In this room are some models of the ship - but more interestingly there are windows that look into the bridge (along with a sign not to tap on the glass or feed the officers). This was something neat that I haven't seen on other ships.
We had an inside stateroom on the 8th deck. We booked this category since we knew my parents had a balcony and we would be able to use it with them. Our room was very nice and comfortable. There were (what appeared to be) new cabinets and closets. The bathroom was good and had a shower with a sliding glass door. My parents balcony cabin also had a glass door that separated the toilet from the rest of the bathroom. My parents room stewards were very friendly and helpful but my stewards were not friendly at all and just did an ok job.
There were so many choices of what to eat on the Pearl! That being said the food was just average. We mainly ate in the buffet on deck 12 and The Summer Palace main dining room. We ate at Lotus Garden on the 1st day at sea as they had a special all you can eat sushi for $10 a person. The sushi was good but service was a little slow as it was very busy. If you're interested in this deal just be aware that this are veggie rolls available for free every day in the main buffet.
The buffet had a ridiculous amount of food! There were omelet stations and pasta stations - if this is something you like, go to the back of the buffet or even at the back of the boat because there are additional stations there with much shorter lines. Seating in the buffet does get full. We never even tried to get a table - instead we went to the Italian restaurant that is next to the buffet. We were always able to get a window seat and didn't have to deal with lots of people walking by us looking for seats. One of the last days of the cruise the ship offered an Alaskan Salmon lunch for a fee. We didn't go to this since we did a salmon bake in Juneau - but the night after the ship had Alaskan salmon on the normal dinner menu.
The service was very good. The crew and staff were friendly, helpful and always had a smile on their faces.
We attended both of the performances (Encore and That's Entertainment) by the NCL entertainment group. Both shows were pretty average. We had actually seen the Encore performance on a Caribbean cruise last summer). The lead female African-American singer was AMAZING, but for as great as she was the other lead female singer was AWEFUL. Watching her was like watching a bad Saturday Night Live character. We also went to Oh What a Night. This was more of a concert than a show but was good all the same. We skipped 2nd City and Shark Bait but did go to the last show which had a short performance by Shark Bait and another short concert by Oh What a Night. Shark Bait was actually very entertaining and I would recommend seeing their show.
We also enjoyed hearing the classical trio and other performers around the ship but because of having so much do to didn't spend that much time sitting and listening to them.
This is a highlight of the cruise. There are park rangers that board the ship at about 6AM. They begin to make announcements on the PA system starting at 8AM. Don't feel like you have to be up at the crack of dawn to see everything. You cruise into Glacier Bay and leave the same way, so if you don't see something going in, you can see it on the way out. We found that the best place for viewing is the walking track on Deck 7. It was fairly empty and if there is a sight to see on the opposite side you can quickly dart through the ship to see the other side, also, you get great pictures since there are no windows like there are by the pool. We went up to the deck by the pool but found it beyond crowded. Another good place is the Spinnaker Lounge, there were a lot of people in there but you could still get good views, the only downside of the Spinnaker is that you wont get great pictures because of the windows.
Glacier Bay was very cold and this is when we used all of our winter gear. We brought hand warmers which were great to have! Also, at each glacier the captain will position the ship so that one side of the ship can see and then turn the ship for the other side.
This was fairly easy and pretty standard to other cruises I have been on. We were able to pick what color/ time we wanted to disembark. We chose a later time, since we were in no hurry to leave. We had to wait for about 10 minutes to get off the ship - we could have sat around a little longer to avoid the crowd. Getting off the ship was easy and then we collected our bags. Cabs were easy to come by. We stayed one additional night at the Marriott at Lake Union. It was a comfortable hotel and they were very accommodating. They held our bags until our rooms were ready so we could sight see in Seattle and held our bags after we checked out since our flight was in the evening.
Overall this was an amazing trip. Even if the service or food was average the sights will more than make up for it!