Norwegian Pearl Entertainment
Pearl’s entertainment options span all genres, all age groups, and just about every interest under the sun.
NCL has entered into a partnership with Nintendo to use its Wii interactive gaming system onboard its ships, and with the 20-ft. LED screen in the atrium area, it's a marriage made in gamers' heaven. (The system is also available in both the children's and teen centers.) We loved watching the wired-up kids dancing around in front of the screen, throwing punches (at nothing!), which resulted in grunts, smacking sounds and splats during the boxing match, broadcast in 20-ft. lifelike animation and narrated by a ringmaster. We're old enough so that it was like something out of a Sci-Fi movie to us.
And talk about movies! First run, barely released movies were shown daily, either in-cabin on one of the TV's movie channels, or, again, on the large-screen in the atrium. We were not only impressed, we got to see three flicks that we had missed in the theatre and that were not yet out on DVD.
Other ships might have ice-skating and surf parks, but Pearl has bowling; four family-friendly lanes flanking the funky Bliss Ultra Lounge -- which is filled with beds and pillows, loungers and divans, silky fabrics and low lighting, and which becomes a disco at night. (One young kid we met wanted to spend the night there. "Absolutely not," intoned his mom, again and again.) Bowling costs $5 per person per game, which includes shoe rental, but remember to take socks with you or you'll be denied.
There are, of course, the usual ship-board entertainment options, with production shows in the Stardust Lounge, improv comedy by Chicago's Second City troupe, pianists and singers scattered throughout the ship, audience-participation games put on by the cruise director's staff and some adult-only late-night comedy, magic and game shows. There’s a large and lively casino, typical pool games, daily bingo, trivia contests and art auctions.
But then there are the extras that make this cruise special: the murder mystery dinner (only 60 guests are allowed to participate; sign up is on boarding day, but if you're not early enough, you'll end up on a lengthy waiting list), the Ship 'n Males Revue (a take off on Chippendales), wherein crew and members of the cruise director's staff shimmy, shake, and strip down to their briefs to the delight of the ladies waiting for their chance to stuff said briefs with dollar bills, and the individual performers and performances throughout the ship, all at no additional charge.
We’ve always thought that NCL has an uncanny knack for choosing stellar performers; those appearing on Pearl were certainly no exception. Standouts, to us, were the calypso band that played on the pool deck every day, the talented master of the steel drums who provided soul-soothing sounds at the Great Outdoors every evening, and the trio who played dance music of the 1940's through the 1950's in the atrium, delighting the pre-boomer crowd who took the opportunity to dance, dance and dance.
There’s a guest talent show, and our absolute favorite, the crew show, showcasing the talents of the multi-national service staff onboard. When the people who spend their days and nights serving us step into the role of entertainer (and some of them are very talented), or offer a glimpse into their personal lives and culture, they become more than our room steward or favorite bartender. With over 60 nationalities represented on Pearl, they show us what the world can be and should be -- harmonious.
Norwegian Pearl Public Rooms
One of the things that struck us during our cruise is how easy and comfortable the flow is on this ship. There aren't many instances of "you can't get there from here," which is, of course, wonderful. But another thing we really enjoyed is the usability of the Crystal Atrium. NCL chose to make this area two stories tall rather than create an atrium concept with towering empty space. So in this case the Crystal Atrium is comfy and cozy, but it's also still expansive and airy. Surrounded above by two restaurants with rail-side dining, the lower level is filled with chairs, loungers, divans and a cafe/bar, making it seem more like a hotel lobby than a big-ship atrium. And it's actually used, as a meeting space, lounging destination, dance hall, movie theatre, and action spot for those participating in the Nintendo Wii activity du jour. Original art includes the Chihuly sculpture and the small Van Gogh behind the Reception Desk.
NCL moved its typical aft-end shopping venue to the front of the ship, near the Stardust Lounge, and turned the aft space into the Bliss Ultra Lounge and bowling alley, with delightfully whimsical decor (canopied beds as loungers, prompting some to call it the Bliss Bordello). The deck (seven) that holds Bliss, the reception/atrium space, the artwork for the auctions, the Internet center, photo gallery and the Asian restaurants is completely non-smoking, so those who want to avoid the smell of cigarettes can safely traverse from one end to the other without encountering a single whiff.
Just below that deck, on Deck 6, is found Bar City, a unique concept that combines a whiskey and spirits bar, martini bar, wine and champagne bar, and beer pub in one elongated space which then flows into and through the casino (smoking is allowed on most of that deck, and there is an enclosed cigar-smoking room adjacent to Le Bistro).
Decor throughout is bright, tropical, fun. The furnishings in Spinnaker's Lounge look like they were designed by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen
after he watched a couple of episodes of the Jetsons. Teal crushed velvet double-loungers are surrounded by white high-impact plastic bucket chairs ... with holes where one expects a seat. And guess what? They are comfortable!
Forward of the pool are a couple of meeting rooms, the spa and exercise facility, a small chapel, a card room and an attractive library that is open, alas, too few hours to be truly effective for book and game checkout.
The Stardust Theatre comprises three decks with comfy seating and good site-lines from almost everywhere. Located adjacent to its entrance on Deck 7 is the newly redesigned Trade Routes Boutique complex, a series of shops broken into smaller venues featuring duty-free goods and costume jewelry in one, logo items in another, clothing and high-end jewelry in a third, and so on.
Norwegian Pearl Spa & Fitness
Pearl is the first of NCL's ships to install a rock climbing wall … and it's quite impressive. Located at the back of the stack (about 18 stories above the sea), it stands 30 feet tall and 19 feet wide and offers five different climbing routes with levels of difficulty depending on skill level. But that's not all this ship offers in terms of fitness and recreation, not by a long shot.
You might not get an aerobic workout by bowling, but you can do that too (and the oxygenation you'll experience from laughing is worth at least a couple of spinning classes …). There's also a volleyball/basketball court, mini-golf, two golf driving nets, Ping- Pong, two pools, a jogging track, a full-circuit promenade for walkers, a completely equipped fitness center with the newest of everything, and the full-service South Pacific Spa, which has a thermal suite along with the usual hands-on treatments.
In fact, the thermal suite is one of the best "day of pampering" values onboard, at $15 for a full day's use (less if you buy the package for the whole cruise). It allows the guest to take advantage of the co-ed room with the thalassotherapy pool and heated ceramic loungers, or go gender-specific with an oceanview sauna, eucalyptus steam, individual whirlpool tubs, icy-cold plunge pool and padded chaises. Unfortunately, the purchase of an expensive spa treatment does not confer entrance to this relaxing area before or after the service unless you pay the additional fee. We heard a great deal of grumbling about that. (There are small steam rooms, however, in the rest rooms adjacent to the fitness center, and there is no charge to use those.)
The spa offers the usual array of services and massages, and now includes teeth whitening sessions and acupuncture. Specials onshore days seemed quite reasonable (three mini-treatments for $89, for example), but we always, always go for the Frangipani, a yummy scalp-neck-shoulder massage at the best price -- around $29.
The Body Waves fitness center was open 24 hours during our cruise, but the hours may be cut back. Some of the more expensive suites are located below this area, and apparently, the noise from some of the machinery wreaked havoc on the suite guests' ability to sleep. It's a new gym, so all manner of state-of-the-art equipment is available, free for guests to use. There are classes for Pilates, yoga and spinning that carry a surcharge of $10.
One of the two pools has been designated as "adult only," and it seemed to be monitored. The family pool is just adjacent so you'd think it would be harder to enforce, but in fact it was just the opposite, and worked quite well.