Close to Perfection! First Time on The Pearl by a veteran cruiser: NCL Pearl Review (Feb 19 -- 26)
Background to review:
With our children grown and no longer cruising with us, we began booking suites for the extra amenities offered. On this cruise, we booked a suite on deck 10 forward, Room 10502.
Along with our Hawaii cruise, two years ago on Pride of America, which was exceptional; this cruise absolutely ranks as one of the very best cruises we have had. It restored my faith in cruising after a not so good cruise in December with another cruise line. Not that everything on the NCL Pearl was the best in the cruise industry, but the combination of the ship, the crew, the entertainment, the excursions, the food, the friends we met, and of course the SPA, made for a perfect week.
Overall Evaluation: (more detail comments appear below)
- The Pearl is a great ship for cruising. Easy to navigate, colorful, and well maintained. Not too big to get lost but large enough to offer a variety of activities. The new non-smoking rules are also a benefit for nonsmokers.
- Our suite was very comfortable with a great view and a large balcony.
- Food quality was superb everywhere, not just in the specialty dining areas like on other ships.
- General dining room (Summer Palace, Indigo) offered a good variety, with excellent quality, great service and never a waiting line.
- Entertainment was excellent. Oh What a Night (tribute to Frankie Valle) and Charles Peachock(juggler seen on America's Got Talent) are NOT to be missed.
- Thermal Spa was among the VERY BEST I have encountered.
- The staff everywhere was as friendly and helpful as can be. Their attitude of "can't say no" and willingness to go the extra mile to please the customer permeates from Captain Rune Myre throughout the entire Pearl Staff. This attitude is clearly demonstrated by the visibility of the officers throughout the ship and especially the Hotel Director, Tony Winkler. Tony will stop and talk to everyone and is very sincere in listening to any complaints. I witnessed this first hand one night in the Summer Palace when a family seemed to be standing in the dining room for just a few idle seconds. Tony sent a waiter directly to them to enquire why they were not being seated. It turned out they were just waiting a few seconds for their table to be cleaned and set. They appreciated the attention and effort a senior officer made.
I booked a Penthouse Suite on deck 10 at the very front of the ship. I enjoyed the view and the balcony was very large. The balcony, however, is just below the bridge in direct view of the Captain and Crew. We had no problem with this but others might not enjoy the lack of privacy. One negative about the cabin was the lack of storage space in the drawers for clothes. Also, there was a lot of furniture that we would never use. I stored a bench from the bottom of the bed in the large closet.
A perk for suites owners is access to Cagney's restaurant for breakfast and lunch. Service is exceptional and the food is superb.
Another perk for suite owners is the butler and concierge service. I can't put into words how helpful Anoop Bhanu, the concierge, was for us. There truly wasn't anything that I asked for that he did not provide us. He also arranged for a tour of the bridge for us while cruising. This was a real special treat.
Priority tender tickets are a GREAT perk especially if you have an early excursion not booked through NCL. We had booked a Reef / Stingray / Rum Point Beach excursion through Native Way
Watersports (more detail follows).
Some people criticize anytime dining but I prefer it. It allows me to control when and where I eat based upon the day's activities. Other people may prefer traditional dining because they are able to meet other cruisers and develop a relationship with them. My wife and I were cruising alone but we met several people at the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet function so we were never at a loss for dinner companions.
Besides breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, we ate one night at the buffet in Garden Cafe, three nights in Summer Palace, one night at La Cucina, and two nights at Le Bistro. I have absolutely NO complaints about the food at any venue. I could have eaten at the buffet every night and been happy; it was that good.
Do NOT miss the "Chocoholic Buffet" held in the Garden Cafe. The entire cafe has various types of deserts and sculptures made of various kinds of chocolate. This occurred at 9:30 on Friday evening on our cruise.
I can summarize the dining experience by saying "The food was EXCELLENT everywhere."
SOUTH PACIFIC SPA: OUTSTANDING!!!
This is one area of the ship I frequent often. The exercise room has the typical equipment but has ONLY TWO recumbent bicycles. I like this equipment and I wish they had more of them. The exercise room is not very large....much smaller than the EPIC (which is fabulous).
I really enjoy the Thermal Spas on the ships I cruise and the Pearl has one of the best I have visited. Access to the Thermal Spa costs $119 per person but it is SO WORTH it. You get access all week from 8:00 am till 10:00 pm. The Thermal Spa has:
- Relaxation areas for men only, women only and a unisex relaxation area. All areas overlook the front of the ship and have a great view through the large glass windows on deck 13.
- The unisex room has a large Jacuzzi area, hot tub, and heated tile lounge chairs that will put you to sleep.....these alone are worth the extra money. They also provide juice, water and assorted types of hot tea.
- Large male and female locker rooms with ample lockers, shower, hair dryers, steam room, sauna, hot tubs, and a flat screen TV.
The only entertainment in the Stardust Theater that I did not enjoy was the comedian. He was average at best and his adult only show in Spinnaker's lounge was more cursing than comedy. Future cruises may not have him so you will not be missing much. The other shows were OUTSTANDING.
Two shows are definitely labeled as "DO NOT MISS": Oh What A Night and Chuck Peachock, the juggler. You will not be disappointed by either. Both received standing ovations from the entire crowd in the theater whenever they performed. Two shows, "That's Entertainment" and "Encore", featured the Pearl dancers and singers were also excellent. DO NOT MISS the final Farewell Variety Showtime on Day 7. It provides a great emotional high and a fitting tribute to a great cruise.
Great Stirrup Cay: We had to by pass this port because the seas were too rough for both tendering and the beaches were closed for safety reasons. I have been here before and it is great for beach lovers and snorkeling. Much has been added since my last visit.
Jamaica (Ocho Rios): We had booked an excursion with NCL, Kayaking and Dunn's River. The kayaking was fun but strenuous and we did not walk up the Dunn's River Falls but took the stairs to the top. The falls were crowded (multiple ships in port plus hotel quests) but everyone seemed to enjoy the trek up the waterfall. The BAD part is the EXIT. You have to go through all the local vendor tent shops and you are harassed into buying something until you find an escape. I was told to go out the entrance to avoid this area but the security guard would not allow my escape. I would recommend you try to exit the entrance gate to the buses. Other areas around the shops near the port were no better. I heard multiple passengers complaining about the harassment, the effort to rip-off the shoppers, and the concern with safety. It's too bad because the island is beautiful.
George Town, Cayman Islands: This was the HIGHLIGHT of our excursions. We booked a tour with Native Way Watersports (www.nativewaywatersports.com); Snorkeling on the Reef, Swimming with the Stingrays, and beach time at Rum Point with lunch. Chris and CJ were our guides on the tour and they were fabulous. The boat was not crowded, limited to about 24 people unlike other tour boats I saw at the Stingray swim which were overcrowded. Another great feature of Native Way is you ONLY pay at the end of the tour. No upfront deposit to worry about if you miss the tour for whatever reason. On the risk side, if you do NOT make it back on time for the last tender, the ship will leave without you. I really was not too concerned about this with Chris at the helm. He kept to a very tight schedule and we were back in port with 2 hours to spare.
Cozumel: We docked at the new International Pier with four other ships. In addition, two other NCL ships were docked at the other pier near the forum shops. We went ashore and did some shopping and returned to the ship for lunch. The area is being developed but there were enough shops for us to spend a few dollars.
We were warned that the lines in custom could be long due to a new finger scanning process. We chose to walk off with our luggage at 8:00 and the disembarkation was very quick and easy. We grabbed a taxi to the Miami airport ($25) and was at the Delta check-in counter by 9:00
CRUISE CRITIC MEET AND GREET:
NCL really did a fine job of hosting our Meet and Greet in the Stardust lounge. Charlin Zaldivar, the group service coordinator, made copies of a flyer I prepared to remind everyone of the meeting and had them distributed to each room of the participants we had signed up. NCL also furnished complimentary tea, coffee, juice, and pastries to our group. Besides Charlin, other officers and the cruise director, Julie Valeriote attended the meeting. I had worked with another cruise line on my last cruise to host the M&G and it was like pulling "teeth" to get any help and coordination. What a difference this time....thank you NCL for your support of the Cruise Critic Members and helping with the Meet and Greet. Special thanks go out to "cruiseat50" for keeping track of the attendees and to her husband, "commodorecluck" for printing up individual name tags with the image of the Pearl.
After a disastrous cruise in December on the Crown Princess, my faith in cruising has been restored by our experience on the Pearl. We are looking forward to cruising on the Pearl in Alaska and possibly trying a river cruise in Europe in the future.