Norwegian Pearl Dining
Norwegian Pearl offers loads of dining spots, according to Norwegian's Freestyle philosophy. The options run the gamut from a chi-chi and clubby steakhouse and a 24-hour comfort food diner to an elegant French-inspired bistro and the Asian fusion Lotus Garden.
Traditionalists can have dinner every night at the same time, in the same place; just let the maitre d' know in advance. Otherwise, the multitude of restaurants allows for some adventurous options. We're pleased that Norwegian has gone back to the reservation system that allows you to make plans one day in advance; for a while, you had to book all of the alternate restaurants for the whole cruise as soon as you boarded, and what kind of Freestyle is that? Still, we've heard that if you don't call precisely at 8 a.m. for plans for the following night, you might not get the reservations you desire. We only made reservations once and had no problem just showing up at our restaurant of choice the other times, but we didn't choose to dine at peak periods (between 7 and 8 p.m., for example). We usually ate earlier or later.
Some restaurants are included in your cruise fare; others incur additional fees. Overall, we found the complimentary options, at least for dinner, teeter between similar variations of chicken and pork dishes that get repetitive. The alternative restaurants have better quality and variation, but meal surcharges can add up. It is nice to have options, but we would prefer if a few more were free of charge.
Complimentary options include the two main dining rooms, Summer Palace and Indigo. You can only access Summer Palace by walking down a staircase to Deck 6. The restaurant features a stunning array of red and green upholstery, marble columns and large windows at the aft. Indigo, the smaller of the two main dining rooms at Deck 6 midship, features a blue and purple color scheme (to fit the name) with flashy, multicolored paintings of American landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Hollywood sign. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Summer Palace and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Indigo.
The menus in both dining rooms are split into two halves. The left side of the menu is divided into appetizers, entrees and desserts and also includes a "Chef Regional Specialty," a dish that incorporates flavors of the next port of call. These selections change nightly. Our favorites included a chicken and shrimp coconut curry, as well as a Caribbean grilled chicken, which was one of the nightly regional dishes. The right side of the menu, "Favorite Selections," never changes and is broken down into three courses. These include a pork-and-vegetable spring roll appetizer and a lamb shank entree.
Dishes marked with a check are the healthy options, and vegetarian options are available but not specifically marked and can also be arranged upon request. We talked to some cruisers who had Indian dishes, like vegetable curry, specifically made, based on their dietary needs. Some desserts are marked as sugar-free.
Besides an array of ice cream, pies and the like, both dining rooms also offer specialty Lavazza Italian coffee, available at an additional charge. A kids menu, which features Nickelodeon characters, includes chicken fingers and grilled cheese.
Tucked away on Deck 8 is the Blue Lagoon Cafe, which offers up complimentary "comfort" food 24/7. The black and stained-wood decor is offset by carpeting with a coffee bean design. Menu highlights include the Buffalo wings (don't skimp on the sauce) and the prosciutto and mozzarella Panini. Entrees come with the choice of potato salad, coleslaw or French fries.
The other major no-fee venue is the buffet. This ship has taken the typical Lido Deck "buffet" dining venue to new heights. Gone are the kiosks that are found on the other two Jewel-class ships (Jewel and Jade) and smaller Pride of America; they look nice in principle, but they're chaotic in practice. Pearl's designers brought back linear counters, but Norwegian doesn't want the Garden Cafe to be called a buffet or cafeteria; it's a restaurant with rows of "action stations." Servers stand behind the counters, where small amounts of freshly made meals are put out at one time and served. There are stations for salads, sandwiches, fresh pasta, carved meats, soups and vegetarian dishes, Asian and Indian food, hot dogs, hamburgers and desserts. The aft deck Great Outdoors Cafe is an outside version of the buffet; it's typically less crowded, so it's a nice alternative at peak dining times.
Two items of interest: Norwegian has decided to do away with trays. Plates are fairly small, though, so plan on returning to the lines once or twice. Also, for sanitary reasons (and to avoid the sticky, gross mess), there are no self-serve soft ice cream machines on Pearl. Hard ice cream with toppings is available much of the day, either in cones or in bowls.
Breakfast and lunch are served via open-seating at one of the two traditional restaurants, but most take advantage of the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors Cafe when the weather is good. There's also a Continental breakfast served in Bar City (an area with multiple drinking establishments on Deck 6), with rolls, croissants, juice, coffee, tea, bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. The bars aren't open at that hour, and it's a quiet, pleasant place to have a morning meal.
There's a well-stocked Topsiders Grill, open from noon to 3 p.m., out on the pool deck, which serves roasted chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and dessert items buffet-style. It also serves limited breakfast in the mornings.
The Sky High Bar on Deck 13, right above the pool with the waterfall, offers up similar fare, but burgers, hot dogs and fries are cooked to order. Condiments and side items like potato salad and coleslaw are self-serve. This is a popular spot to watch the game, with two flat screen TVs and swivel high-top seats. You can settle in and make it an early dinner spot, too. Sky High's bar hours are from 11:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m.
Passengers booked in suites (penthouse and higher) can have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, with a special menu designed just for them, with items like crab cakes and eggs Benedict for breakfast and blackened snapper sandwiches for lunch, served in the swanky atmosphere of a private club.
Specialty restaurants have a surcharge, between $15 and $30, and, for the more popular ones (Teppanyaki, for example), reservations are requisite.
La Cucina, the Italian venue on Deck 12, is $15 per person. Large, family-style wooden tables hug one side, while traditional tables for two to four people line the other. We could have dined solely on the antipasto plate offered there, with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, a couple of thin slices of Parmesan Reggiano, marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts, thin slices of Parma ham and carpaccio, and rolls and breadsticks with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. The meat dish (veal) was impressive, too, but even better was the perfectly al dente side of linguini carbonara that we chose. The restaurant bakes its own pies in a large pizza oven, but you won't find American standards like pepperoni there. Choose from pizza selections such as Pepperoncino, with mozzarella, beef strips and garlic; and Bolognese, with mozzarella, roma tomatoes and Bolognese sauce. If you have room, finish it off with the rhubarb panna cotta, which features peach and grape chutney in a vanilla reduction.
Equally enticing were the spicy rice noodles we had at Lotus Garden, the Asian restaurant on Deck 7 (surcharge: $15); the noodles were in a coconut milk broth, and the dish reminded us of a Thai Tom Kha soup ... spicy-sweet and coconutty. We also had sea bass, and a newly made friend, who joined us there for supper, had the Peking duck, which looked wonderful. The dessert pancakes were the perfect ending.
Lotus Garden also offers a form of Japanese hot pot dining known as Shabu Shabu (surcharge: $15) where the wait staff bring you a noodle dish in a cooking pot and then add ingredients like steamed edamame tableside. If that's not enough, there's also an a la carte sushi bar, with items like sashimi ($3), California rolls ($3.50) and Godzilla rolls ($4.25), made up of shrimp, mango, caramelized cashews, coconut and avocado. All are made fresh under an anime-style green-lettered sign. The entire area has various Asian-inspired artworks, signs in Japanese characters and soft green lighting that complement the black tabletops and red and orange carpeting.
Adjacent to Lotus Garden is Teppanyaki ($25), a Japanese Hibachi restaurant where the food is the show. Skillful and playful chefs create onion volcanoes and flip and catch shrimp, all while serving you a three-course meal. Highlights include the hibachi chicken with udon noodles and an exotic green tea cake for dessert. Fair warning though: there are only four tables (with about eight to ten seats at each) in this small restaurant, so you need a reservation.
Moderno Churrascaria ($20) on Deck 8, across from Blue Lagoon, is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers an expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon and Portuguese sausage. A mural of people dancing and dining lines the walls, and the dim lighting creates an elegant feel. The meal begins with a quality salad bar that features international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies like grilled bell peppers alongside the traditional salad ingredients. The pre-made salad options -- like the yellow beet and chicken and mango offerings and shrimp, scallop and red snapper ceviche -- are also exquisite. For your main, there's no need to choose just one; waiters come around with meat on skewers, and you can try small portions of everything. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried sweet bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat. Beware: It's very easy to fill up on starters before the meat is brought around. Pace yourself.
Cagney's Steakhouse on Deck 13 is Norwegian's signature steak and chop house. (The surcharge is $30, but you'll pay $10 for each additional entree.) An open kitchen, horse paintings and red rose lights give off a romantic feel as you dine on some heavy-duty steak. The surcharge includes three courses. Start with the lump crab salad or the split pea soup before making your way to cuts of meat that range from an 18 oz. bone-in ribeye to an 8 oz. gorgonzola-crusted filet mignon. Make your side dish the truffle fries, and if you still have room, try the raspberry creme brulee for dessert.
Finally, rounding out "alternative dining" is Le Bistro ($20), the French restaurant on Deck 6. The interior takes on a fancy Art Nouveau setting, and the menu features dishes like escargot for an appetizer and duck confit and grilled swordfish as mains. The Chocolate Napoleon is the dessert highlight there.
On Deck 7, where you first came aboard, the Java Cafe has a nice selection of free, assorted sweets and baked goods (pastries, cookies, etc.) and regular coffee. Specialty coffees, like espressos and lattes, are available for less than $5.
Complimentary late-night food options start around 11 p.m. and are available in four areas -- Bar City (right outside of Le Bistro), Pearl Club Casino, Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon. Both Bar City and the casino usually offer one main finger food (egg rolls, steak skewers, etc.) followed by assorted fruit, cookies and sandwiches. Garden Cafe takes it up a notch with hot entrees like chicken Marsala, soups, salads and bacon and eggs for the partygoers. Blue Lagoon turns into a self-serve buffet at night, with spinach dip, chicken wings, burgers and hot dogs.
For those in regular cabins (from insides to mini-suites), room service choices are dreadfully slim, especially for breakfast. You can get rolls, toast or muffins, yogurt, a choice of three dry cereals, milk, coffee, tea or hot chocolate and something called "orange juice cocktail." We ordered rolls one morning, and we got 'em ... no butter, no jam. Ugh. Happily, the rest of the menu, while horribly limited, does have a couple of standouts; the Caesar salad, BLT sandwich, and the grilled cheese sandwich and chicken tenders from the kids menu are all yummy. Carrot sticks and applesauce complement each kids item, so don't feel guilty ordering.
Suite-holders get a much more extensive room-service menu, with hot items like eggs and bacon for breakfast, and steak sandwiches or burgers for lunch. They can also order meals from the restaurants during serving times. Still, room service is painfully slow. On any given day, an order took at least 45 minutes. While room service is typically fee-free, orders placed between midnight and 5 a.m. will cost you $3.95. You can also order a pizza to be delivered to your cabin for $5.