By Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor; updated by Anthony Cave, Cruise Critic contributor
The Murder Mystery Lunch on 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. You could box, virtually, on the Crystal Atrium's gigantic two-story LED screen using Nintendo's Wii U, or bowl in style with two neon-lit bowling lanes on either side of the Marrakech-inspired Bliss Ultra Lounge. The ship also features a lavish "Bar City," a long, dazzling space that can appeal to both the martini drinker and the cigar aficionado.
Pearl launched in 2006 as the third in Norwegian Cruise Line's Jewel Class, which also includes Norwegian Jade, Gem and Jewel. These affordable, large ships are known for their ample public space, great passenger flow and a plethora of dining and lounge options.
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 hangs behind the reception desk.) Its two pools and upper sun decks offer upscale seating (faux wicker chairs and padded chaises, some double loungers with pillows). In addition, the ship boasts 12 "Freestyle" restaurants (meaning no set dining times or tablemates), 11 bars and lounges, a bowling alley, a five-level rock climbing wall (with easy, medium and hard degrees of difficulty) and a contemporary kids club.
Is Norwegian Pearl perfect? No. Extra charges can quickly rack up, from $5 bowling to $12 yoga; even the multiple specialty restaurants outnumber complimentary dining options almost two to one. Only the dining rooms Indigo and Summer Palace, Blue Lagoon and the pool deck buffet are fee-free. We also do not like the tacky plastic flowers that show up in places where there should be real ones or none at all. Despite our quips about the fees, the Pearl is all encompassing, yet not overwhelming.
Pair that with an attentive, helpful staff, and the Pearl experience is like a finished Tetris puzzle -- everything fits without any major pieces sticking out.
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, entertainment and relaxation options has appeal for seniors, boomers, millennials, families, singles, honeymooners, grandparents and grandkids, and everyone in between. We saw them all on our Caribbean cruise.
Norwegian Pearl Dress Code
Freestyle cruising allows you to dress casually all the time. Depending on your voyage, there is one optional formal night in which you can dress up if you wish, without anyone raising an eyebrow. The only general caveat is that, after 5 p.m., no shorts, tank-tops, flip-flops (or any open-toed shoes for men only) or jeans are allowed in the Summer Palace dining room. However, waitstaff are usually lenient; we saw quite a few guys in sandals after a long day at port. As Norwegian's advertising advises, "Wear ... something."
Norwegian Pearl Gratuity
Norwegian 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. However, some passengers tip their room stewards extra; suite-holders 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, some cruisers 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.
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