Rockin' and rollin' cross the Atlantic Dec. 2-12 on the Pearl Awhile back I had the chance to book a nice balcony on the Dec. 18th Pearl 4 nighter and looked forward to sailing with DH for a few nights pre-Christmas . But when the opportunity to jump on a special for the TA came along, I decided to try my first crossing ever - solo. DH was not foolish enough to become a Mad Mariner and stayed home trying to keep his eye on the horizon instead of Shoreguy's pictures.
By now you've all probably read about our adventures through Hurricane Olda with a top gust of 148 knots (I think that's somewhere around 175-180mph, I don't dare look it up!) As the Captain explained we had 4 solid hours of around 107 knots and I do believe it when our valiant Captain said he didn't get off the bridge for 3 days.
The sun peeked out at us one day with outside decks finally open, but it was to be a short-lived romance with the sun. We encountered yet another hurricane and basically got used to activities having to be cancelled as we found a bit of levity in trivia 3x a day! Life could be worse than sitting in the beautiful Crystal Atrium, decorated in all its holiday splendor, listening to the soulful ballads of Trio Los Amigos from 11 am 1 pm everyday trying to forget about sensitive stomachs.
Yet through it all, with sounds of crashing crockery and flyaway glassware, I never felt unsafe or afraid. I truly believe that Captain Trond Kildal's handling of our situation was super. He kept us informed right from the start, telling us about possible 10-15 meter seas shortly after we left Southampton. From what I could sense with passengers, we had both trust in and a growing respect for our fearless leader who was always the picture of calm over the PA system. Perhaps for that reason, guests went with the flow, even those who spent the better part of 3 days in their cabins trying to gain their sea legs. It was rapidly apparent that a good number of crew was also down for the count for the worst part of it.
Nobody took over the atrium. In fact, despite spirits being a little down with the prospect of yet another day of rain, clouds or high winds, guests seemed to take it on the chin and you heard very little grumbling as you "attempted" to walk out and about.
In fact during the Behind the Scenes session, ably presented by the Captain, Captain Trond told us that only once before in his 31 years had he witnessed these conditions! The Stardust Theater broke out in what seemed to be very genuine applause.
There's already been an excellent description of the physical layout of some of the ship's key areas and public lounges by others. So let me just say I found the colors and furniture somewhere between NY hip and Las Vegas glitz. In many ways the Pearl is like the Jewel but it has enhanced features like the much talked about Bliss Ultra Lounge that acts as both the bowling alley and the hip nightclub, replete with velvet lounge beds and settees.
In fact, there's lots of furry fuzzy surfaces on lots of the furniture from the orange lounge chairs in Bar City to the turquoise and bright pink in the atrium. Odd shaped stuffed chairs and sofas find an audience that got comfortable in the early morning with knitting or a good book and stayed occupied during some afternoon snoozes. Scoring a chair for 5 pm trivia without dislocating someone's shoulder in the prying process became a daily challenge!
Not sure of the exact demographics of our sailing but it was something like 1500 Brits, 500 Americans and 100 Germans. We gave Dave, the trivia King of the CD department, quite a time with It's too British too American until he found just the right groove to satisfy all tastes and nationalities. Our CC group was a pretty good mix, too, reflecting the larger passenger population. But what united us all was our quest to have fun and speaking of the Quest, superbly orchestrated by Wicky Wicky Wah CD Matt Baker, the Cruise Critics came through once again, securing 1st prize in the wildest of times late night in the Spinnaker Lounge.
The Pearl is very much like the Jewel especially in carpet themes and layout. The bowling alley/nightclub Bliss is unique, the shops have been rearranged into smaller areas and spread out on the corridor down to the Stardust theater, the casino layout a bit different and a few other cosmetic changes. So if you've been on the Jewel, you'll easily get to know the Pearl.
Those 2 are different from the Dawn and Star which have the soaring atriums versus the crystal atriums on Jewel and Pearl.
The 2 main DR's are the large opulent Summer Palace and the more intimate stylish Indigo. I preferred Indigo for the smaller feel. There are 2 additional no charge restaurants, the Tex-Mex Mambo's and Italian La Cucina. Reservations are a must at those 2. In addition there's a "fast food" snack restaurant Blue Lagoon indoors and outdoors youll find Topsiders Grill and the Sky High Bar serving light fare like burgers and chicken.
There's the Garden Cafe with the new action stations and the Great Outdoors with its own area.
Teppanyaki (Japanese Grill), Lotus Garden (Asian Fusion), Shabu-Shabu, Le Bistro (French) and Cagney's (steakhouse) are all surcharge specialty restaurants. Reservations requested.
No shortage of eating venues on the Pearl. More on the food follows.
I liked all of the public areas with the new comfy armchairs and sofas (and beds!) Must admit I enjoyed my time in the beautiful (bigger) thallasotherapy pool up in the spa, especially after it finally opened a few days into the cruise. The sauna with windows all around in the women's area was absolute heaven.
Its evident everywhere you go that NCL has been pretty busy all year working on all the new menus that unfold in every eating venue. In fact, several of the corporate chef team were onboard to make sure things get rolled out right. Executive Chef Hassan, known from the Dawn, Jewel and most recently the Spirit, is now in charge on the beautiful Pearl. Like many of the crew on the Pearl, they were hand picked and most of them have plenty of experience rolling out the new ships.
Just don't go around saying the word buffet on the Pearl! The Garden Cafe is now action stations all the way, modeled after one of Las Vegas finest. I had lunch there one day and really enjoyed the piping hot dishes cooked a minute (pronounced the French way.) Asian stir fry beautifully presented in white china wok dishes. Right next door I couldn't resist the Indian vegetarian with crisp papadum wafers and all the condiments. Gone are the days of stainless steam trays in a bed of water with the big slotted spoons hanging limply on the side.
There's a carvery area with 2 roasts cut to taste. A glass oven of rotisserie chickens turning slowly around the spit. Hotdogs & burgers freshly cooked and transferred to a sizzling hot grill ready to be piled on the bun. Cases of baked goods attractively presented, reminding you of a bakery shop feast for the eyes. Pizza stations. Pasta cooked to order with a variety of sauces. A bank of savory sandwiches prepared to order. A really nice looking salad bar. Ice cream bar (nosoft machine) with a variety of hard flavors and toppings (no extra charge).
Just like on the Jewel, the really great cappuccino/espresso machines available any time for the taking. Gone, too, are the long tables and shuffling around with a cafeteria tray. May be offsetting to some the first time they fill their dish without the tray. Seating is attractive with lots of banquettes and little sections with really comfortable chairs facing gorgeous views. I wasn't up there enough to gauge crowd control but most days they couldn't open all the tables in the Great Outdoors aft of the Cafe. When they finally opened it up out there, folks took refuge to get much needed fresh air. Klaus and Food & Bev. Dir. Sean of the A-team (for Austrian!!) threw their famous Austrian-Bavarian brunch out there one day with the OOM PAH band pedaling away as German guests danced on the deck. Alan Lee, the impressive bandleader who played keyboard & piano, had his boys in full swing. A very nice touch.
A special Latitudes Platinum dinner in Le Bistro was hosted one evening by Shaun, Martin & Rachelle, the Port & Latitudes team. Chocolate fondue is not on the menu, but we learned that it can be specially ordered. No open flames at sea, though. The apple tarte was not bad, don't get me wrong. But I definitely plan to give the fondue a go next time. Tried the lobster & scallop martini, French onion soup and delightfully crispy duck. Next time I'm going for the warm goat cheese tart that the lady next to me had. Many people said the Bistro was the highlight of their dining onboard and I certainly was not disappointed with the new menu.
We had 2 fun dinners with the whole CC group 36 of us in Teppanyaki, again a new menu. Grilled shrimp now served with the filet and yakisoba (noodles with meat) has been introduced. Our chef was a little stiff and not as experienced as others we've had. The Mad Mariners took over every seat in the place and had a good time. Some had been ill and others had stomachs of steel. All agreed we were indeed on an adventure.
Our farewell dinner for 50 was at La Cucina with Willie as maitre d making sure everything went great for us. Antipasto plates were filled with prosciutto & melon, dried beef, olives, sundried tomatoes and cheese. Chef's recommendation was Land & Sea, but I had the snapper francaise and was very pleased. In fact it was one of the top meals I had on the ship. Dessert was a surprise from our hosts. Can't thank them enough for the kindness and hospitality they showed our CC group at every turn.
Never got back to Tex-Mex Mambo's to try the entrees, but they've put the old Bistro firestar on the menu as one of their specialties. Il Popo is to be ordered for two, so we'll give it a try some time. It's flamed with tequila but the flaming actually takes place in the galley. I ordered an ahi tuna (seared nice and red) appetizer, the nachos grandes with queso (needed much more cheese sauce) and a really tangy (marked spicy but still some will say it was too hot) tortilla chicken soup. Ole Ole (actually my Ukranian waiter's nickname) recommended the flan and I found myself pretty quickly adjusting to the new menu.
Shared an interesting meal on lobster night with a man from India who lives in London. His wife was in the cabin suffering mal de mer. In honor of their 30th anniversary he had surprised her the morning of departure with their first cruise aboard the new NCL baby. The wife had 1 ½ hrs to get ready for a 10 day sailing and he was so worried she was down in the cabin plotting her revenge. That's the fun of freestyle I walked in the restaurant expecting to eat alone and ended meeting someone new. BTW later in the cruise I ran into this gentleman again, this time with sari-clad wife in hand, and she was smiling so I guess it all turned out okay.
It's clear from spending 10 days on the ship that the word no does not exist on the Pearl. Sean Wurmhoeringer is once again filling the big shoes of Food & Bev. Dir., assisted by the amiable Jens from Denmark. These guys literally roam the ship, hunting down the least little fly in the ointment. Magnetic Sladan, the Restaurant Mgr., looked after us like a mother hen counting her chicks. In fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that you will find all the wonderful maitre ds and their assistants constantly checking on guest after guest. Bar Mgr Jose even gets in on the action. Joey Cagney is back running the steakhouse, which for some reason seemed to offer the biggest challenges to the mealtime experience.
Part of judging a ship staff is seeing how they deal with problems. They were always seeking out this or that guest who might have had a problem getting their steak requests correct or experienced less than stellar service. Always jotting things down, always buzzing around to get things remedied. My bloody lamb chops were whisked away for further cooking and all was duly noted for immediate action. At the end of the day, I think that's what really counts and I'll be very interested to compare my experience next Feb. with our Groundhog group to being on a ship only a few days old.
One of the nice Platinum perks (also for suites/villas) is being invited to have breakfast & lunch at Cagney's. It's quite an extensive menu. Funny, even with nice steaks and fancy seafood available, I guess I really started something going for the comfort food one day with the mac & cheese. Shoreguy's picture shows you how good the dish really is and many of us even had it as a special order later in the cruise. I would even recommend it being added to the regular DR menu, but we know how NCL fared the last time they tried that. Maybe for lunch?
I will never remember all who served with a smile and made my meals special. But special thanks go to Ole & Jasmine at Mambo's, Agnelo & Peter in Indigo, Lee & Kadek in Summer Palace, Pearlita at Blue Lagoon, Nancy in Shabu Shabu, Jennifer, Davor, Marelko, Emilja, Sanja, Margarita, Elina, Puthut & the rest of the gang in Cagney's - all under the watchful eye of Radmilla & Michael, Joey, Alina, Mario, Julian, Laura, Villamor, Willie and Fortuso. This team will get the wrinkles out if anyone can.
Bar City was packed every night with the great talent of cabaret singer/pianist Pamala Stanley, now holding court at the grand piano next to the enclosed cigar bar. Thank you NCL for correcting that design flaw from the Jewel. Regrettably Pamala will be off by the time we go back for Dec. 18th and I just can't imagine late evenings without her. I think one of those chairs has my name tattooed to it. Who else has a repertoire of nearly 600 songs just waiting to be called out from the audience? Pamala is the best NCL entertainer we've encountered!
Boanna Baby was the terrific bartender in Bar City and the whole place seemed to love her.
. To give you an idea of some of the entertainment provided on the transatlantic:
Ballroom lessons such as foxtrot, waltz, samba, cha cha & rumba Arts & Crafts everyday such as flower leis, beaded bandanas, flower combs Trivia at least twice and sometimes 3x day Pool games such as Mr. Hairy Chest once they were able to open the outside decks Putt-putt, ring toss and shuffleboard contests Bowling available and much enjoyed by 36 Mad Mariners on those new slippery lanes (2 shorter than regulation, not 20 shorter as posted on these boards) Dance parties with Modal Magic such as New Year's, 50's, 60's and South Beach rave Singles Mix & Match Friends of Dorothy Spa Seminars How to lose 10lbs. in 10 days Yeah, right! Flex Caribbean Band Peter James Easy Piano Jazz Pamala Stanley cabaret act in Bar City Trio los Amigos 3 Voices & 3 Guitars easy listening in the Atrium Norwegian Pearl Quartet and the Showband Let's never forget Bingo Lectures such as Relationship between Britain & America and Ocean Liners Enrichment lectures on Hollywood's Great Musicals Bridge Lectures Game Shows such as Majority Rules, Weakest Link, Friendly Feud The Quest Liars Club Late night Comedy Karaoke up in Spinnaker Scavenger Hunt
And more. Matt Baker the CD did a really good job keeping everyone's spirits up and trying to maintain a high energy level even under difficult conditions with the weather we were having. I'd rate the level of passenger participation quite high especially at trivia and the late night dance celebrations. You wouldn't believe the number of people jumping in for line dancing, the Macarena and even the Hokey Pokey! Matt's staff seemed to all do a good job keeping the action going, even if ½ of them were sick during the worst of it.
There were 3 Jean Ann Ryan production shows. I missed the first one Sea Legs: A Showgirl Revue but heard it was very good. There's lots of really tall leggy dancers walking around the ship! I did catch Garden of the Geisha which featured some stunning tricks by the featured acrobatic couple and a few other performers. Just know that the whole show you'll hear Oriental music piped through in the background.
Tubez is NCL's newest variety of production show with roller blading & a stunt bike rider from Las Vegas, loud music and the JAR cast. Maybe NCL will be appealing to the younger cruiser with this edgy show but it wasn't my cup of tea. Again the acrobatic couple does some wonderful tricks breaking up the urban hip hop front & back of the show. Frankly when the company lead singer breaks into his rap I couldn't understand what he was saying, so a better delivery would help here. Maybe it's the beat and not the words that are important!
Loved the NCL crew Wave after the show with standing ovations all around for the hard-working friendly crew aboard the Norwegian Pearl. It's about then that I always feel sad that the cruise will soon be over.
The audience was quite hysterical for British comedian Lenny Windsor's show. I was afraid that it would be all British humor since he wrote for the Benny Hill show, but I found myself laughing my head off. Somehow it didn't matter that the couple who walked in late were from Manchester. They could have been from Timbuktu and Lenny would have made it funny.
Bob Trunell did a pretty good magic show and an even better close-up magic performance later in the cruise. Another night a Russian singer Igor Portoni gave us his renditions of Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, French and English well-known songs. Jeri Sager belted out her Broadway show tunes another night. Russian pianist Elena Ivanina, a classic virtuoso, entertained on the grand piano.
If you watched America's Got Talent you might remember Rudi Macaggi winning the special talent portion. I asked him what he was going to do with the car he won while working on the cruise ships. Missed his final show (along with the Passenger Talent Show) but caught some of his act on embarkation evening.
Show times were usually at 7:45 & 9:45 but some variation from time to time with one show only the first night at 9:15. If you tell your wait staff you want to go to the show, they'll pace your dinner so that you'll be out in time.
Of course the best entertainment was that we made ourselves with our bowling tourney, CC dinners and a fantastic party up in the Garden Villa. Thanks to our fellow cc'ers snoopyto for giving us the grand tour and to flyingpirate & timezarrow for opening their home to us. You made the trip extra special for all of us.
In the random thoughts category:
Perhaps because it was a transatlantic with a largely European crowd, there was quite a bit of dressing up on the ship compared to past cruises. The Freestyle Daily initially did not announce an optional formal night, leaving it to the CD to tell us. It was a little confusing especially if you missed the announcement. I heard it's going back in the Daily.
It seems that final word hasn't come down from Miami yet on some of these issues lots of speculation about jeans or no jeans, but nothing definitive quite yet. Unlike other cruises, the Freestyle Daily did not have its usual litany about no jeans, shorts, tees, etc.
Bowling is available for $5 pp per game and is a heck of a lot of fun. We were honored to have the estimable Ruth Hagger (concierge) throw out the first ball for the Mad Mariners bowling tourney. Although individual bowling is listed in the Daily, it would be fun to have a group activity onboard where you'd just show up and be put on a team. We were lucky to do that for the CC'ers with the help of the friendly Group Services Coordinator Colleen. Even Front Office Mgr. Jenny Lim showed up to see how the bowling was going!
There were 2 Latitudes parties in the early afternoon. I was surprised to see so many Latitudes members onboard. Most people I talked to said they booked the trip because they like a lot of sea days but just about everyone agreed it would have been nice to have a stop just to stretch our legs. I notice the Gem next year does have a Madeira (Portugal) stop on its way from Barcelona to Boston. Am I up for the challenge?
Someone asked about the special Shabu Shabu dinner available in Lotus Garden (cover charge, reservations required). It's like a Mongolian hotpot, where you cook thinly sliced beef, straw mushrooms, tofu, cabbage, carrots and onions in a boiling broth right in the middle of your table. There's 2 dipping sauces before popping it in your mouth with some steamed rice. We started with an order of fresh sushi and it was very very good. At the end of the meal, they whisk away your pot and make a noodle soup out of it. When you reserve, you have to tell them that you want the Shabu Shabu as there's special tables.
Klaus Lugmaier's the guy that NCL has tapped to bring out every new ship and once again he's doing a great job. He's assembled a fabulous team to bring out the Pearl, many from the Jewel roll out. It's no wonder Klaus has been asked to open NCL's ships for years. This trip we had a chance to meet Prem, Klaus Asst. HD. He's got a lot of duties, too, and was really busy especially with cabin related issues. My balcony door was fine but many folks experienced clanging and banging all night long during the worst of the weather. Who knows if they've ever even tested the doors for the kind of winds we had? Engineers and carpenters were busy fixing things until a more permanent solution could be found. Duct tape saved the day once again. Throughout everything, Prem always kept his cool and seemed like a no-nonsense kind of guy.
There's lots of non-smoking areas on the ship. In fact, you can traverse deck 7 smoke-free. Even the Bliss Lounge is non-smoking. Deck 6 enroute to the Stardust is a different matter. You literally have to weave your way through the casino to get to the theater. If you like to sit close during the show, either enter via deck 7 and walk down or put up with the smoke down on 6.
Shopping arcade is more user-friendly with smaller shops (instead of a large galleria) along a winding path to the theater on deck 7. One day there was a big to-do about a $10 sale, until we realized it was basically the same $10 sale everyday. But I got a nice pair of sunglasses out of it, with a little black satin case. Very nice quality. Somehow I lost my comb during the Quest (something about emptying a lady's handbag) so visited the gift shop again. Met lots of people doing their Christmas shopping the exchange rate couldn't have been better for our British friends.
Haven't touched upon my cabin stewards yet. I would honestly rate them as adequate (compared to past cruises) although once they realized I like towel animals they came through in a big way (at one point there was a rabbit, a walrus and a snail smoking a cigarette holding court on the sofa). Especially the first few days, there were little things like not picking up banana peels and dirty glasses and not dusting shelves still covered from the new construction. The friendliness factor got better though as the trip went on. Loved the new bedding with white fluffy duvets. You won't see bedspreads (I guess they have them in the suites from the pictures I've seen) rather a small bedcover cloth is placed over the bottom third of the bed just to contrast with the white of the duvet. A different look and maybe easier to keep clean.
The ship is beautifully decked out for the holidays. Gorgeous trees, wreaths and attractive table settings adorn the various lounges and restaurants. One day Matt Baker announced group Christmas carols in the atrium. Although I missed it, I heard it was very well attended and a nice touch.
Don't miss the bridge viewing area after hearing about the 2 joystick that guides the mighty Pearl! During the Captain's Behind the Scenes talk we learned a lot about all the navigational instruments as well. There's plenty of time for Q & A also. So at the end, a British gentleman in the back asked Captain Trond if he'd be issuing certificates to all of us saying that we were all survivors. Not losing his cool for a moment, the Captain replied no, he would not be doing that, for that would imply we had been through some horrific experience. He went on to say we'd easily forget the voyages where we'd had smooth seas and blue skies, but would always remember this cruise for the rest of our lives.
So I end where I started complimenting the wonderful job Captain Trond did bringing us to Miami safe & sound on a memorable journey with a lot of laughter and fun. Can't wait to do it all again. The Mad Mariners made it so special.
Thanks for reading along. I hope you all have a chance to experience the beautiful Norwegian Pearl. Read Less