Norwegian Pearl Dining
It would be easy to provide a laundry list of the restaurants on Pearl, a Freestyle ship with loads of dining spots, but it wouldn't paint a complete picture. The options run the gamut from a chi-chi and clubby steakhouse to a 24-hour comfort food diner, from an elegant French-inspired bistro to a fabulous Teppanyaki bar. Of course there are standard dining rooms as well, a big one with windows on three sides at the aft called Summer Palace, and a smaller, more intimate one (Indigo) midship. But on Pearl, as on most of NCL's ships, it's all about the choices.
Specialty restaurants have a surcharge, between $10 and $25, and for the more popular ones (Teppanyaki, for example), reservations are requisite.
La Cucina, one of our favorites, is $10 per person. I 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 I chose.
Equally enticing were the spicy rice noodles I had at Lotus Garden (surcharge: $15); the noodles were in a coconut milk broth and the dish reminded me of a Thai Tom Kha soup ... spicy-sweet and coconut-y. My traveling pal had sea bass and a newly made friend, who joined us there for supper, had the Peking duck, both of which looked wonderful. The dessert pancakes were the perfect ending.
Moderno Churrascaria ($20) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers a expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and chicken. There's also the obligatory salad bar featuring international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies, alongside the traditional salad ingredients. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat.
Cagney's (surcharge is $25, or more if you opt for items like a bigger steak or surf 'n' surf) is NCL signature steak and chop house. One big point of interest here: When you order the Surf 'n Turf ($15 extra), you don't get one of the rock lobster tails that are typically served on lobster night in the main dining rooms. You get half of a decent-sized crustacean, complete with claws and metal claw-crackers.
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 Pride of Hawaii), and the smaller Pride of America, which look nice in principle, but are chaotic in practice. Pearl's designers brought back linear counters, but NCL doesn't want the Garden Cafe to be called a buffet or cafeteria; it's a restaurant with "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 food, hot dogs, hamburgers and desserts.
Two items of interest: For some reason NCL 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 scooped ice cream, with toppings, is available much of the day, either in cones or in bowls.
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 NCL has gone back to the reservation system that allows you to make plans one day in advance; for awhile, 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 may 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. And speaking of earlier, the surcharge restaurants (with the exception of Teppanyaki and the refined "tasting menu" at Le Bistro) offer a two-for-one special from 5:30 to 7 p.m. If you're concerned about springing for the $25 meal at Cagney's, this is your chance to try it for $12.50...
Breakfast and lunch are served via open-seating at one of the two traditional restaurants, but most take advantage of the Garden Cafe and aft deck Great Outdoors Cafe when the weather is good. There's also a Continental breakfast served in Bar City, with rolls, croissants, juice, coffee, tea, bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. The bars aren't open yet, and it's a quiet, pleasant place to have a morning munchie. Suite guests (penthouse and above) can have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, with a special menu designed just for them, with items like crab cake and eggs Benedict for breakfast and blackened snapper sandwiches for lunch, served in the toney atmosphere of a private club.
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 ramen noodles with green onions is fabulous, loaded with white-meat chicken, and perfect if you've got the sniffles or want something hot and homey. Ditto the grilled cheese sandwich from the kids' menu -- yum. Suite guests get a much more extensive room-service menu, with hot items like eggs and bacon for breakfast, and steak sandwiches or burgers for lunch, and can order meals from the restaurants during serving times.
There's a well-stocked grill out on the pool deck which serves roasted chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and dessert items during most of the day, and a limited breakfast in the mornings.