My family and I cruised on the Pearl for New Year's this year. My husband and I had cruised the last two Christmases on NCL's Spirit and the Dawn. We were excited to give New Year's a try, and we invited my husband's son and his wife to join us.
We arrived in Miami on the 23rd, and spent a day and a half seeing Miami. Our hotel was the Hilton Downtown, which was convenient to the port. We had a view of the bay, so we were able to watch the ships. We saw the Epic, which was cool, since we will sail on her for Christmas 2012.
We embarked on Christmas morning. The process was smooth and very quick. Within an hour, we were on the Pearl. (Thanks, Tiffany with NCL, for making everything move so quickly!)
Once on board, we went to make reservations for dinner that night at Le Bistro, and for New Year's Eve at Cagney's. We forgot how quickly Teppanyaki books up, so we had to scramble later in the week to get reservations. Luckily, they had a cancellation, so we got in on Friday night after Cozumel. Word to the wise: Book this restaurant as soon as you hit the ship, because you might not be as lucky! Also, La Cucina tends to book solid, so if you want to eat here, don't wait to make these reservations either!
We managed to eat dinner at the following specialty restaurants: Le Bistro, Teppanyaki, Cagney's and La Cucina during our cruise. All were good to great. The night we were at La Cucina, the Captain sat at the table next to us. :D We also ate at the Summer Palace and Indigo, the main dining rooms. Our daughter-in-law is pregnant, and Judith, our server in Indigo, was very accommodating with her craving for chocolate ice cream as an appetizer! Judith was confused until I explained that she was pregnant! Then the ice cream made sense, and Ginger, our daughter-in-law, even got a second helping with indulgent smiles. We also asked for a basket of just the baguette, which was not what they were serving in Indigo, and they sent a waiter to go get us some. The staff at Indigo gets gold stars in our book for being so accommodating!
The first night, we lingered over dinner and missed the entertainment. The next night, we went and saw the show, Encore! It was a Broadway tribute show, and they had numbers from Movin' Out, Wicked, Mama Mia, The Producers, The Heights, and one I can't remember. The singers were really good. Warning: You will find yourself humming "Mama Mia" for the rest of the week!
The next night, we saw Oh What A Night! Tribute to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, and we saw comedian Rex Havens. Oh What A Night is not to be missed. It was excellent - and made me sorry I missed Jersey Boys when it was in Dallas. I had heard Rex Havens on Sirius XM's comedy channels, so it was great to see him live. He's very, very funny - and he has the sweetest wife, Sarah.
One night, we made it to see the Not-so-Newlywed Game. This was funny, as usual. Seeing a husband turn red by his own answers is pretty amusing! Watching all three couple's reaction when Matt Sole, the cruise director, told them it had been recorded and would be on the NCL TV channel for the next 24 hours was priceless!
We saw the Second City adult's only show, and it was funny, but not as good as on other cruises. We think this was a combination of the troupe and the audience participation.
We were treated like VIPs by the ship's senior crew. They are incredibly kind and friendly. The other passengers on this cruise? Not so much. We were surprised at how little interaction there was with our fellow cruisers. We had cruised on the Dawn last Christmas, and we are still in touch with a few of our fellow Cruise Critic members. This year, we did not have the same involvement, which we found really enhanced a good cruise to a great cruise last year.
On the Pearl, we found everything to be as expected from NCL. The ship is well kept, clean, and the staff is very attentive - except in the bars, which was unexpected. The restaurant staff was great, the food was wonderful, and the executive chef was a hoot! Our room steward was attentive and accommodating, although we only got towel animals in our room all week.
The concierge, Anoop Bhanu, was very helpful, and we enjoyed some special treatment while aboard. He was especially helpful with dinner reservations and excursion questions. Thank you, Anoop! Wish you were here at home to help with life's little irritations!
The ports were good - and in some cases, great. We booked all of our excursions with NCL. Only one was a disappointment - the Bamboo Beach Break in Jamaica.
What surprised us the most on this cruise was the vibe from our fellow passengers. They were not as friendly or cheerful as on previous cruises. Our two prior experiences were Christmas cruises, and this was really a New Year's cruise. The Christmas spirit was definitely more contagious and out-going. People were not in as celebratory a mood on the New Year's cruise - except for that last hour or so before the countdown.
NCL threw a party on the main pool deck - music, dancing, champagne at midnight, and an ice sculpture of 2011 which Kaj Turunen, the Hotel Director, smashed with a giant fire axe at midnight. The Captain did the 10 second countdown over the loudspeakers, but the crowd was so loud, we missed most of what he was saying. When he hit 0, he blew the ship's horn for what felt like forever! It was very cool! (That horn gives me chills. Just me? Bet not!)
Overall, we had a great family vacation, I learned to snorkel, and everyone agreed that NCL is the way to sail! As a matter of fact, my husband and I called our NCL Cruise Consultant, Jorge Cruz, as soon as we could on Tuesday (after the holiday), and we booked two more cruises. LOVE, LOVE LOVE NCL!