Norwegian Pearl Entertainment
Pearl's entertainment options span all genres, all age groups and just about every interest under the sun.
Norwegian has a partnership with Nintendo to use its Wii U gaming system onboard its ships, and with the 20-foot LED screen in the atrium area, it's a marriage made in gaming 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 lifelike animation and narrated by a ringmaster.
And talk about on-screen action. First-run, barely released movies were also shown daily, either in-cabin on one of the TVs movie channels or on the large screen in the atrium. We were not only impressed -- we got to see three flicks that we had missed in the theater 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 flank the funky Bliss Ultra Lounge on Deck 7, which is filled with beds and pillows, loungers and divans, silky fabrics and low lighting. It becomes an after-party hotspot (18+ after 11 p.m.) 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 (check your Freestyle Daily for one-hour two-for-one specials), which includes shoe rental. Remember to take socks with you, or you'll be denied.
There are, of course, the usual shipboard entertainment options, with production shows in the Stardust Theater on Decks 5 and 6, improv comedy by Chicago's Second City troupe, pianists and singers scattered throughout the ship, audience-participation games like "Who In The World Am I" trivia and charades put on by the cruise director's staff, and some adults-only late-night comedy, magic and game shows (Not So Newlywed, Ladies vs. Gents, etc.). The theater itself seems small for a large ship like Norwegian Pearl -- and that's a good thing. Cruisers can access any seat from Deck 6 or 7 and have a similar intimate experience to those sitting in the first row.
There's a large and lively Pearl Club Casino on Deck 6, too, which features a full bar and your typical gambling fare (roulette, blackjack, slot machines, lottery drawings) all set against a shimmering red and gold color backdrop.
Also on Deck 6 is Bar City, a unique concept that combines four bars in one elongated space, which then flows into and through the casino. A piano, plush brown chairs and framed whiskey bottles set the scene at Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar. Next to that is Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar, which has metropolitan paintings (including one of a 1940s New York City) and cool blue neon signage. A few steps away is Magnums Champagne & Wine Bar, which, like Shakers, has white swivel seats. Finally, tucked into the corner before Le Bistro's entrance is the Corona Cigar Bar, a small room with brown seats, where you can take in the aroma of your favorite cigar. (Open the door carefully, or the smell will hit you right away.) Multiple flat-screen TVs are scattered throughout Bar City; it's the place to be when a major sporting event is showing.
In addition to the Sky High Bar, Deck 13 also features the Spinnaker Lounge. Decor throughout is bright, tropical and fun. The furnishings in Spinnaker 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're comfortable.
The lounge plays host to Norwegian's signature late-night event, the White Hot Party, a club scene where everyone dresses in white and dances along with members of the Norwegian staff, who are easily recognizable with their white wings. There are some magnificent ice sculptures at this event, too. (There are two times for the party; the earlier one is kid-friendly.)
Also on Deck 13, next to Cagney's, is the Star Bar, a 1920s prohibition-style setup with black seats that are splattered with white and gold paint to mimic the night sky.
You can also get a drink at smaller bars in the Great Outdoors Cafe, Moderno Churrascaria and even Lotus Garden's Sake Bar. The Java Cafe also sells alcoholic drinks.
Extras that make this cruise special include Presumed Murdered, the murder mystery lunch onboard, which is held in Le Bistro for $20. Roughly 80 cruisers are allowed to participate in this "Who did it?" mystery. Cast members from Second City act out a skit with the help of cruisers, creating a funny, impromptu performance. Sign up is usually held the day before, but if you're not early enough, you'll end up on a lengthy waiting list. Additionally, the Wine Lovers musical in Spinnaker lets cruisers swig and sip six different wines during a 40-minute, interactive theater comedy.
We've always thought that Norwegian 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 1940s through the 1950s in the atrium, delighting the pre-boomer crowd who took the opportunity to dance up a storm.
There's a passenger talent show, but our absolute favorite, the crew show, showcases the talents of the multinational service staff onboard (with more than 60 nationalities represented), some of whom are very talented.
Daytime activities are quite extensive, too. One look at our daily planner shows events like the Deal or No Deal interactive game show, where cruisers can compete for prizes -- just like on the TV show; family pizza building in La Cucina; multiple dance classes like a "Thriller" flash mob; family dodgeball; an art enrichment seminar; and even a veteran's social. You can also pay extra for classes at NCL-U, a series of alcohol tastings where bartenders playfully mix up spirits.
Once in port, Pearl has an impressive array of shore excursions available. Activities at each stop cater to just about everyone, ranging from those seeking active pursuits to those looking for something more laid-back. Book tours at the shore excursions desk, near the Atrium on Deck 7, which is open from noon to 9 p.m. daily.
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. Another thing we really enjoyed is the usability of the Crystal Atrium on Decks 7 and 8. Norwegian 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, with crystal lights hanging from the ceiling, is comfy and cozy, but it's also expansive and airy. Surrounded above by two restaurants (Blue Lagoon and Moderno) 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 theater and action spot for those participating in the Nintendo Wii U activity du jour. Original art includes a Chihuly sculpture and the small Van Gogh behind the Reception Desk.
Deck 7 includes the reception area, as well as a separate shore excursion desk. Next to that is a smaller cruise consultant office, where onboard credit offers can be had by signing up for a future cruise. Starboard side, across from the reception desk, is the Ports O' Call duty-free shop, which has various fragrances and jewelry for sale. Past this is the Photo Gallery, which displays photos taken by the ship's staff from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. nightly. There is usually a line in this area on the last night, as cruisers scramble to pick out and purchase their best-looking photos. Portside, the red-carpeted Art Gallery highlights works from the likes of Romero Britto and Peter Max.
In the Art Gallery, cornered between some nice framed sculptures along the back wall, is the 24-hour Internet Cafe, which has six computers and an all-in-one printer. Rates range from $0.75 a minute to $24 for an hour. On cruises longer than six days, minute packages include 100 minutes for $55 ($0.55/minute) and 250 minutes for $100 ($0.40/minute). Print jobs are 50 cents each, and a one-time $3.95 account activation fee is charged for any Internet time purchased. If you must print, do it early, as the printer is not available after 10 p.m. And despite the shipwide Wi-Fi, connections are much faster in the cafe than in your cabin.
Deck 7 is completely nonsmoking, so those who want to avoid the smell of cigarettes can safely traverse from one end to the other without encountering a single whiff. For those who do smoke, smoking (cigarettes, pipes and cigars) is allowed outside on public decks, in signed outdoor areas away from where food is served, and in the Cigar Bar on Deck 6. Norwegian's policy also states that only cigarettes are permitted for outside balconies and in the casino.
Forward on Deck 7 is the Trade Routes Boutique complex (separate from the Ports O'Call shop), a series of shops broken into smaller venues featuring duty-free liquor, specialty watches, costume jewelry, logo items, clothing and high-end jewelry. You can get everything from sunglasses to M&Ms there.
Before the theater's entrance, tucked away on the left, are three meeting rooms named Barcelona, Prague and Vienna. While Barcelona and Prague can be combined into one larger room, Vienna is separate, and smaller, for shorter meetings.
Deck 12 has an attractive library that is open too few hours to be truly effective for book and game checkout, as well as a separate card room. Past that is the Perspectives photo studio, a by-appointment setup where you get a free 8x10 print just for participating in a 30-minute consultation where you discuss picture options and packages with a private photographer. The studio has multiple backdrops and accessories for staging your shoot.
Head up one deck to find the ship's wedding chapel. The chapel itself is an elegant little spot that holds about 20 people. Orange drapes and blue, sea-toned carpeting give the room an at-sea feeling, especially with a water-designed stained-glass centerpiece. While Pearl does not have an ordained priest or rabbi regularly onboard for religious services, cruisers do have the option of setting something up, including a wedding, if an ordained individual is available. Unfortunately, the captain cannot legally perform ceremonies.
Finally, if you want a real inside look at the ship, make your way over to Deck 11 forward. There you'll find a bridge viewing room set up like a mini-museum. The center of the room has a neat glass-enclosed model of Pearl, while pictures of the ship in German shipyard Meyer Werft and other maritime memorabilia (first port of call certificates, etc.) line the walls. A comical sign behind the large window showing the bridge even says not to tap the glass or feed the officers.
Norwegian Pearl Spa & Fitness
Deck 12 is the pool deck, with two pools and four hot tubs, which are open late. The main Tahitian Pool is actually two pools; one side has a waterslide, and the other has a descending waterfall that's perfect for cannonballs.
The pool with the waterfall has been designated as "adult only," and it seemed to be monitored. The family pool (with the waterslide) is just adjacent, so you'd think the no-kids policy would be harder to enforce, but in fact it worked quite well.
The pool deck has a mix of wicker chairs in the covered areas and lounge chairs, which are on Deck 13, too. At night, the decorated palm trees that line the pool deck become lit, and, with soft red lights on Deck 13, they illuminate the area like a Caribbean Christmas tree. We did not have any trouble finding a place to sit on either deck, but make sure you don't lose your towel, or you can expect a $25 charge on your stateroom bill.
For the clothing-optional sun-seekers, a quiet adults-only sun deck is located on Deck 15, accessible only by staircase and surrounded by walls to keep out peeping toms. This area is therefore hard to recognize unless you walk up the stairs. Additional regular sun deck space can also be found on Deck 14.
The full-service Mandara Spa on Deck 12 has a nail salon, hair studio, sauna and a thermal suite along with the usual hands-on treatments. In addition to the Elemis products offered in Norwegian's spas, Pearl's also uses and sells JOU-branded spa products.
The thermal suite is one of the best "day of pampering" values onboard, at $30 for a full day's use (less per day if you buy the package for the whole cruise). It allows passengers to take advantage of the coed room with the thalassotherapy pool and heated ceramic loungers, or they can go gender-specific with an oceanview sauna, eucalyptus steam room, individual whirlpool tubs, icy-cold plunge pool and padded chaises. Cruisers with a same-day spa appointment can enjoy this area for an extra $20 added to the price of their treatment.
The spa offers the usual array of services and massages and also includes teeth whitening sessions and acupuncture. Specials on shore days seemed quite reasonable (three mini-treatments for $89, for example), or try the Frangipani, a yummy scalp-neck-shoulder massage at the best price -- around $29.
Adjacent to the spa is the Pulse Fitness Center, which features multiple treadmills, weights as heavy as 80 pounds and some cycling machines, all equipped with TVs. In there, two personal trainers hold body sculpting boot camps (for a fee) and free seminars. Classes for Pilates, yoga and indoor cycling also carry a surcharge of $12. Past the weights is a separate aerobics room with mirrors on each side, optimal for stretching or even letting off some steam. (There's a punching bag, too.) Male and female changing rooms each feature a small steam room, shower and bathroom, as well as a blow drying area and about a dozen lockers. And unless it motivates you, don't weigh yourself on the scale just outside of the changing rooms.
Pearl was the first of Norwegian's ships to install a rock climbing wall, and it's quite impressive. Located at the back of the smokestack on Deck 14 (about 18 stories above the sea), it stands 30 feet tall and 19 feet wide and offers three different climbing routes with varying levels of difficulty.
A full-size volleyball/basketball court resides on Deck 13, but those with a high-arching basketball jump shot may be disappointed by how close the netted exterior is to the actual basketball hoop. The sports court area on this deck also features two golf driving areas, chess (with life-size pieces), checkers, about a half-deck-long jogging track and shuffleboard. (There are also additional spots for shuffleboard outside on Deck 7.)
And while you might not get an aerobic workout by bowling, you can do that too in Deck 7's Bliss Ultra Lounge. (The oxygenation you'll experience from laughing is worth at least a couple of spinning classes)