By Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor
The Murder Mystery Dinner on the bright, brassy Norwegian Pearl is just one of the many sea day activities available to its passengers, activities which not only include the usual rituals of poolside lounging, bingo and art auctions, but also some truly innovative and unique options. On that day I could have gone bowling, boxed against a 20-foot opponent (thanks to NCL's partnership with Nintendo, featuring its Wii system on most ships) on the Crystal Atrium's gigantic LED screen, attended both a Martini Tasting clinic and a Margarita Taster, watched an all-male exotic dance show featuring the ship's crew, and settled into a four-poster canopy bed next to the dance floor in the Marrakech-inspired Bliss Ultra Lounge.
Pearl launched in 2006 as the third in the series of Jewel-class vessels (Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Jade preceded Pearl; Norwegian Gem debuted in fall 2007). This ship, with its spaces, its flow, its dining and lounge options, is one of the most enjoyable large vessels around. The inclusion of a four bowling lanes and the Bliss Ultra Lounge in the space where most NCL ships have their department-store-sized shopping venue is one change, and making the two-story atrium actually functional is another.
Norwegian Pearl is loaded with jewel-toned designs (mauve and teal, turquoise and magenta, purple and blue, all with the occasional splash of fuchsia and orange) and original art (a Dale Chihuly sculpture anchors the atrium, a small Van Gogh reproduction -- the original is being moved from the Dawn later this year -- hangs behind the reception desk), and filled with upscale seating around its two pools and on the upper sun decks (faux wicker chairs and padded chaises, some double loungers with pillows). In addition, it boasts 12 Freestyle restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, the bowling alley, a five-level rock-climbing wall and a contemporary kid's club.
Is Norwegian Pearl perfect? No, but our quibbles are so minor they hardly matter. We hate the tacky plastic flowers that show up in places where there should be real ones or none at all. Somehow, the architects forgot to put a drink station on the pool deck, so to get tea, coffee, water or juice, one has to wander half way through the Garden Cafe in search of a no-surcharge beverage -- irritating, but barely. The myriad of activities, the bright colors, the usability and flow of the ship, the dining and entertainment options, the fabulous itineraries (five-night Western Caribbean, nine-night Southern Caribbean, Alaska in the summer) and especially the happy, friendly, helpful staff make this ship stand out as one of our all-time favorites.
Norwegian Pearl Fellow Passengers
There is something for everyone to enjoy on Norwegian Pearl, and as a result, ages are all over the board. It's designed for families, so of course there are plenty of kids; it has a super teen center so that age group is well-represented too. But the range of cabin types, dining and entertainment options have appeal for seniors, boomers, Gen X's and Y's, families, singles, honeymooners, grandparents and grandkids, and everything in between. We saw them all on our nine-night Southern Caribbean cruise over spring break; we understand that the five-night cruises just before and just after ours had many more college students and youngsters aboard.
Also, the euro and the British pound are very favorable against the dollar at this time, so there were many Europeans and Brits on our nine-night cruise. Many of them take the opportunity to do a back-to-back, incorporating both the five-night and the nine-night for a full two weeks of cruising heaven.
Norwegian Pearl Dress Code
Freestyle cruising allows you to dress casually, all the time. There is one optional formal night in which one can dress up if one wishes, but in fact, you can do that on any night of the cruise. You can dress up or dress down, the only caveat being that after 5 p.m., no shorts, tank-tops or jeans are allowed in the dining venues other than the casual Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon. As NCL's advertising advises, "Wear ... something."
Norwegian Pearl Gratuity
NCL adds $12 per person, per day to onboard accounts, which serves as a "service charge" and not a tip. Passengers are encouraged to "tip" for exceptional service, but we're also assured that the service charge does go to the crew. Most guests tip their room stewards extra; suite guests also tip their butlers and the concierge -- who are not in the "service charge" pool -- and because of Freestyle dining, where you don't have the same waitstaff every night, many guests bring cash to tip their servers if they've done an excellent job. On Pearl, a 15 percent gratuity is also added to bar bills. An 18 percent gratuity is added to spa bills.
We left Los Angeles on a cold and dreary day (highly unusual for us). We were in a Balcony Room 9618.. The room was very clean and our cabin steward was always there to make sure everything was just as we liked it. DH and I are very relaxed cruisers ...continue
This was our first cruise on a NCL ship and we were a little skeptical after some of our friends had taken a NCL Hawaiian cruise last year and did not seem to be very impressed with their experience. They reported that the food was not as good or ...continue
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Before this cruise, the last time I sailed NCL was before freestyle cruising and I was treated like a Persian prince aboard the "Norway". Now NCL is completely different. I cant say its bad, but I cant say its good either.
The service was all over ...continue