I do not go on a cruise that often since I get sea sick with small undulations. This time I had to go since it was my wife's high school reunion cruise. I did better this time with seasickness.
I tagged along with my thirteen year old son staying in ocean view stateroom while my wife spent half of the time with her high school classmates and half with us staying with her room mate.
It was windy, rainy, and cold in pretty much through the whole cruise, but you cannot blame NCL for rainy and cold weather in Alaska. My son enjoyed the shows, especially Sharkbait. He even got autographed DVD. I enjoyed shows, except for "Oh What a Night". As you can see I gave decent reviews for most. We chose NCL because that was what the local travel agent was hawking (and I now know why: it is all bottom line to parties involved).
To the two main reasons why I am writing this review: dining and to a lesser degree, public area.
Dining: as my title says, "free style dining" to me meant two things: if you can stand exact same food with low quality taste for seven days or if you love cafeteria food, then it is for you. Unlike common belief that you pig out during cruise, if you are willing to spend extra for decent meals, freestyle is for you. We HAD to search for better food and variety by visiting places like Cagney's, Mambo's, La Cucina. (I wanted to try Sushi, but my son does not eat sushi, then you are out of luck!) Not only same dull food every lunch and dinner but there were just two main dining areas besides cafeteria, Summer Palace and Indigo. Indigo does not even open during lunch. I checked other cruise line and at least they open these specialty restaurants during lunch AND dinner and some do not charge for lunch or for kids or half price depending on age. If you expect good quality food or decent food without paying extra, do not go with NCL. My son loves steak and he ate steak at Indigo one night and he said it tasted like rubber. He liked the steak from La Cucina most, even more than Filet Mignon from Cagney's. (I read Lobster dinner one or two dinner in the reviews but did not see any announcement in the "Freestyle Daily" fliers.)
On the last day of the cruise, NCL did not hold planned 4 pm barbecue on the day of embarking at Victoria at 6 pm (granted it was windy but no apology of any kind! Jingle all the way to the NCL bank account). We embarked with empty stomach and we had to eat sandwiches at the Butchart Garden. When we came back to the ship around 11:00 pm, no dinner place was open and we had to order room service and go to bed eating chicken fingers. By the way, my son loves pizza and he one night got pizza from room service and he said it is worst pizza he ever had.
Next, public area: unlike Carnival, the Pearl's claim to fame is the atrium only two stories high. Therefore, the whole ship felt cramped, not like Carnival ship we were on, very awkward to walk around and go round about.
Never again NCL or the local travel agency for me. I am not falling for sales gimmick twice!