This was a challenging cruise for us because my wife developed a raging cold in the middle of it. In retrospect, it was a very good test of the ship's staff, and how they deal with passengers who are under the weather - but not contagious.
For us, the staff of the Norwegian Pearl passed with flying colors. Elvina, our concierge, (who was always available) helped re-arrange our bookings when needed. The Shore Excursions desk helped change (and then cancel) excursions when it became obvious that my wife couldn't make it. Pablo, our room steward, asked me how my wife was doing every day, and he managed to work around us since we spent much more time in our cabin than usual. Room service brought pitchers of iced tea since she needed lots of fluids. Dr Santana and the medical staff took good care of her and prescribed antibiotics as required. (I have paid a lot of money to take my wife to the ER over the years, but I would much rather go to Deck 4 and have a Norwegian Cruise Lines team help her feel better. It's cheaper, too.)
The Pearl team turned what could have been a really terrible vacation into one that was still quite enjoyable, even though we were incapacitated for parts of it.
Some Random Thoughts
This was an interesting cruise because it covered both Christmas and New Year's Eve. Unlike one earlier cruise over New Year's, when we arrived back in Miami on New Year's. this time, New Year's Day was our last sea day, so we didn't have to celebrate at midnight and then get off the ship first thing in the morning.
Christmas was not as emphasized as on some earlier cruises (the music on the TV information channels wasn't all carols or Christmas music, for example) but the ship was still decorated for the holiday, and there were still carols sung in the atrium on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Boarding was as painless as could be hoped. We arrived early to the port, so we were in the second boarding group. The main dining room was open for lunch by the time we boarded, so we ate lunch and waited for the rooms to be ready. By the time we had finished, the rooms on our deck were ready, so we went to our room. Bags were delivered promptly, and I think we were unpacked before the lifeboat drill.
An interesting note about the lifeboat drill on a longer cruise - the audience is older, and they all know the elevators will be turned off during the drill. There were a lot of early arrivals at the drill, including us. Some of us arrived before the staff.
We docked at every port, so getting on and off the ship was easy. Since we were on ship-sponsored excursions, we gathered in the theater before being sent to the gangways. I'm pretty sure the only reason you have to go to the theater is to throttle the elevator traffic to deck four, and to pace the number of people getting off the ship.
Disembarkation was relatively smooth, as well. Customs and Immigration went quickly, probably because we had priority disembarkation, so the line wasn't too bad. Get a porter in Miami. They can find shorter lines and they can get cabs for you quickly. We flew out of Fort Lauderdale, so we ended up spending a lot of time at the airport since we couldn't get an earlier flight home. Next time, we'll book an excursion to the airport to absorb some of the extra time. FLL is not the most exciting place to spend an afternoon.
On-board, we were in an aft-facing handicap balcony mini-suite. The last time we were aft, we went forward for the sail-away party, but this time, we just stayed on our balcony, and watched Miami disappear into the sunset. (An aft-facing room is a great place to see the port as you're leaving.)
Our first two days were sea days. While the Jewel-class ships are not as packed with entertainment options as the larger ships, they feel much cozier to me. Since we had been on the Pearl before (and on the Jewel), it was a bit of a homecoming - I felt like I knew where everything was already. As long as I can find the Java Cafe in the morning, I'm fine.
I had an Express Shave in the spa, which is the one pampering ritual I have on-board, mainly to prepare for Christmas photos. My wife had a manicure. Her nails still look good, and I'm getting a scruffy beard, so hers may have been a better investment.
St Thomas and St Kitts were islands we had visited before, so we found new excursions. We visited Coral World in St Thomas and took a cooking class (more of a demonstration) in St Kitts. In St Lucia, we went deep sea fishing (not catching.) In Curacao and Aruba, my wife wasn't feeling up to excursions, so we just wandered around town and went back to the ship. The sea days back to Miami were very relaxing.
We had the Unlimited Dining Package (UDP), and booked all of our specialty restaurants in advance. The only hiccup was on Christmas Day, when we had reservations in La Cucina, but when we arrived, our reservations had been moved out an hour because they were serving the special Christmas dinner in the specialty restaurant as well to handle overflow from the main dining room. They had called to tell us, but the phone in our cabin was broken - the ringer did not work. (This also explained why I didn't hear our wake-up call. It was fixed promptly.) So, we had the Christmas dinner, rather than waiting for an hour to have Italian food. It was a good dinner - Beef Wellington, which I had not had before.
Le Bistro, Cagney's and Moderno all lived up to our usual expectations. When we revisited La Cucina, the Italian food was great - try the Osso Buco. I think the Osso Buco is probably the best dish on the ship. Teppenyaki was fun as always, although I'm convinced they've squeezed more tables into the restaurant. It is the one place you are going to have to interact with other passengers at dinner, so if you're going Freestyle to avoid other people, go elsewhere. We've always had fun.
The only issue with the UDP is that if you have free specialty dinners available - from your Latitudes status, for example - there is no way to cash in on them. You can't have additional free dinners if you have the UDP. We didn't really push the issue because we don't drink wine (which was included with our Latitudes free dinner) but it was an interesting revelation.
We did cancel our reservations one night and just ordered room service, when my wife didn't feel like going out. The BLT is pretty good. Order two - they're not that big.
I think this is the first cruise where we never ate in the main dining room, other than the first day lunch. The UDP will make you skip the dining rooms for the specialty restaurants.
O'Sheehans is still being renovated to bring it up to the visual standards on the other ships, but the menu is the standard menu. It is a good place to grab a snack almost any time. They also serve breakfast in the mornings, including a breakfast buffet - which we didn't try. So, if you don't want to go to the buffet for breakfast, you can go here. Service there can be slow at times - they get slammed at fairly predictable intervals (in the morning, after each set of excursions return, when the shows let out) - but it is faster than room service. You can also ask for food to go, which is basically self-serve room service.
I miss the Spinnaker Lounge when I'm on a ship that doesn't have one. It's a very nice space that's used for presentations, shows and during a sea day, it's a great place to watch the ocean go by.
The Mojito Tasting was a lot of fun. I had attended Scotch tastings and beer tastings on other cruises which tried to give some history, but I think the bar staff has learned people don't pay much attention to the educational portions. This was really just a tasting with some history to start - five different (small) Mojitos. Apple Mojitos are pretty tasty. The margarita tasting was immediately after the Mojito tasting, but I wisely skipped it. (The ship has a Mojito bar by Moderno, but we never made it there.)
Capt. Paul and HD Tony were very visible (and friendly) and we seemed to run into Joel, the Cruise Director and Joey, his assistant, constantly.
Go to the Q&A sessions. There is usually one for the Hotel side of the house and one for the technical side. You will hear some of the same questions over and over, but you will learn something.
In all, this was a very good cruise - and one of the longest we have taken at 11 days. I liked the mix of sea days and port days, although I know that's a function of geography more than planning.
Because my wife was under the weather, we didn't get to do everything we had planned, but the staff made sure we enjoyed the time we had on-board. A bad day cruising is still better than a good day at work!
Cruise Critic Note
We had a Cruise Critic meet & greet which was attended by senior staff and over thirty fellow cruisers. Tony, our Hotel Director, mentioned at that meeting that he wanted to have a follow-up meeting with all the Cruise Critic members on the last sea day before disembarked to make sure there weren't any issues that needed to be addressed. I had not heard of a follow-up meeting before, although someone mentioned they had attended one on another ship. I appreciated his efforts, and he did address (or tried to address) all of the compliments and complaints he received at the follow-up. I think some of the issues could have been raised earlier, but he did take each one seriously, and I appreciated that he asked us to come back and report on any problems we had.
This is a very nice handicap cabin. The aft-facing view when leaving port can be quite beautiful, depending on the direction you're heading. and can give you a chance to see the entire island, assuming a late enough sunset. You will always see where you've been, not where you're going! It has a powered balcony door - so make sure you don't need to get outside or back inside in a hurry. The door also has a lock switch, so if the door isn't working, check the lock.The emergency call button is in the middle of the bed. We had the beds made up into one bed, so if they were separated, it might be be between them, which would make more sense. I set the alarm off while moving my pillows around one evening. Beware! If you do set the alarm off, you will get a call, and you have to press the all-clear button by the door to clear the alarm.
Curacao is an interesting mix of European and Caribbean. There is a very heavy Dutch influence still felt in the island. We walked across the pontoon bridge into town to find a snack, and managed to find a restaurant in time to watch the bridge swing open to let a boat through. There is a restored fort by the port that is now a shopping mall. The town over the bridge was much more authentic and interesting.
Aruba was not as exciting to me as Curacao. There is a free trolley that will take you from just outside the port to the main shopping area downtown. The ride downtown is not that inspiring, since it is off the main roads, but the ride to port through the main shopping district is interesting.
Coral World is a fun excursion that would be great for families. There really is not time to visit the beach, as promised. However, there is much to see at Coral World, and the feeding schedules are timed so you can visit each of the exhibits in turn. It was worth the price of admission just to see Santa in dreadlocks with a scuba tank, feeding fish in an artificial reef exhibit.View All 86 Coral World Tour Reviews
The culinary tour was a good introduction to the cuisine of St Kitts, a brief rum tasting and a good lunch (the food that was demonstrated.) It is not a cooking class - it is a demonstration, but the chef was knowledgeable and passionate about the food. The demonstration can slow at times because of the cooking time, but we didn't have many questions early on, and I think it could have been even more interactive than it was.View All 19 Culinary Tour Reviews
"There's a reason they call it 'fishing' and not 'catching'". We didn't catch anything, but it was a fun day trying. There is a six-person limit per boat, so everyone will get time in the chair - and you never know when the big one is going to strike! When the guide asks "Does anyone want a beer? or some rum punch?", I'm pretty sure that means fishing is over for the day.View All 6 Sportfishing Reviews