My husband, Kevin, and I have sailed on a Norwegian ship every Christmas for the last six years. We find it to be the most stress-free way to spend the holidays. This was our second holiday cruise on the Pearl. The first cruise was in 2011, when we embarked on Christmas Day, and disembarked on New Year's Day (which was not a pretty sight!).
Our Holiday Cruise 2014 was special in a few ways: 1) We would embark on December 21, which was a Monday; 2) it was an 11-day cruise to the Southern Caribbean, which included three islands we had not visited before, and; 3) we would spend both Christmas and New Year's on the ship.
I organized the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet with the Pearl. As usual, over 100 people said they planned to attend, and about 35 actually attended. (Why does this happen?) The Captain and senior crew were very friendly and welcoming. The Pearl takes Cruise Critic more seriously than any other ship I have sailed on. All the Norwegian ships throw the welcome party and have the senior crew attend, sometimes with the Captain, sometimes without, but the Pearl goes an extra step and has a follow-up meeting on the last sea day. The senior crews' graciousness in the face of complaints from a few passengers was impressive. Hats off to Tony Rosa and the rest of the senior crew!
Personally, I think it is impossible to make some people happy no matter what you do, and we are each responsible for the quality of our vacation. You can nit-pick and find constant fault, or you can have a positive attitude and take any bumps in the road with a smile and move on to the next fun thing on your agenda. Just my opinion, of course, but I had one bad cruise a few years ago, and it had nothing to do with the ship. It was all because of a family death two days before the cruise. While I was angry on the last day at the ship, I realized very shortly after we got home that the problems were blown all out of proportion due to the stress I was feeling about the loss we suffered. In retrospect, we should have skipped the cruise, but at the time, we didn't think that was possible without taking a big financial loss.
For the record, I got sick (an upper respiratory infection) on the fifth day of this cruise and had to go to Medical. I have always wondered about the quality of medical care available, should you need it, on a cruise ship. I can now say, without reservation, that we are in good hands! Dr. Santana was excellent! He was thorough, knowledgable, and practical. When I did not feel better in two days as he predicted, I went to Medical a second time. He switched my antibiotic, and I had a noticeable improvement by that night!
Did Kevin and I let my illness ruin our vacation? No! We had to alter our plans in the two final ports, but we still had a good time. Frankly, being sick on a cruise is better than being sick at home! Room service brought me drinks and food, our room steward brought me tissues and freshened up my bedding, I was lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean and the rocking of the ship, and I didn't have to take care of my four dogs when I was not feeling up to getting out of bed! While I would prefer not to be sick on a vacation we planned a year in advance, it couldn't have been handled better. I was totally pampered! Score!
The crew, starting with Captain Paul, was one of the happiest, friendliest, and most visible crews we have encountered. We were pleasantly surprised to see a few familiar faces, too. We had sailed with both Elvina, the concierge, and Joey, the Asst. Cruise Director, on the Breakaway's maiden voyage in April of 2013. Elvina is a fantastic concierge! We would see her a few times a day, and whenever we saw her, she asked about our day, how I was feeling, and helped us with a few changes we had to make due to my cold. You couldn't see her without smiling! She is the hardest working woman on the ship, and yet she never looked harried or rushed through her conversation with us. Joey just makes you laugh! He was a fabulous counterpoint to Joel, the CD. Together, they make an excellent team. Captain Paul had a great sense of humor, and he was incredibly friendly. He always said hello when he saw us.
Now on to port specifics:
St. Thomas - We had been to St. Thomas a few years ago, but on that trip, we took an excursion to St. John. This year, we went to Coral World on St. Thomas. I will review the excursion separately, but I will say it was great fun! We had met one of the couples at the CC M&G, so it was nice to spend time with another couple while we toured the exhibits. We had a fun day, and on the bus ride back to the ship, we met a mom and daughter who live about 30 miles from us. They were great fun, and we are still in touch with them now that we are home! We are returning to St. Thomas on another cruise in a few weeks, and we will finally get to a beach. St. Thomas is an island with lots to offer!
St. Kitts - This was our second visit to St. Kitts, and I love it! It is such a beautiful island. We went to the Fairview Plantation for a Caribbean culinary demo and rum tasting, and it was great! I will definitely return to St. Kitts!
St. Lucia - This was our first visit to St. Lucia, and I hope we return on future cruises. We decided to give deep sea fishing a try. If we didn't get seasick on this 4 hour excursion, and we didn't, I know we will never get sick on a Norwegian ship! Whoa, it was rough! Unfortunately, we didn't get even one nibble, but it was a beautiful way to spend the day. Next time, I want to see some of the island itself!
Curaçao - This island has a very European feel, rather than a Caribbean flavor. We were supposed to go to a beach and spend the day snorkeling. Thanks to my ear infection, we had to cancel. Instead, we got off the Pearl and wandered around the port. We walked quite a ways through the shopping area, and finally came to the pontoon bridge. We crossed over, and it was exciting to walk on a moving bridge. On the other side of the inlet, we found a sidewalk cafe and had a snack. I had something called "Bittenballen", which were a strange deep fried meatball. Tasty, but don't ask me what kind of meat was in them. I really don't want to know! We walked back to the ship and hit a few gift stores along the way. Because the island is Dutch, there was a Delft store! So beautiful, and they do a good job of having something for every price range.
Aruba - I was not feeling up to a lot of activity, and the doctor squelched our plans for a submarine excursion, so we found out there was a free trolly just outside the security gates at the port. It took us for a short round-trip ride down one of the shopping avenues. We could have gotten off and on at will, but I was just not up to a lot of walking. It was fun, and a great way for us to get a little taste of the island. The area we saw definitely has a South American flavor. Most people were speaking Spanish, the street food (other than the Burger King!) was Latin, and a lot of the music was Latin inspired. Considering it is also a part of the Netherlands, we were surprised. On the way back into the port buildings, there was a Mojito stand selling possibly the best ever Mojitos! We picked up a few souvenirs, and went back on the ship. Not quite the day we had planned, but we still had a good time!
Cabin 11654 is not only an Aft-Facing Mini-Suite, it is also Handicapped Accessible. There is plenty of room to maneuver, and if you need a larger bathroom, this is the place for you! The bed was a little hard for my back and shoulder, but our room steward, Pablo, added padding until it was comfortable for me. I really appreciated his efforts! The room is quiet for the most part. A few mornings towards the end of the cruise, we were woken up around 5 a.m. by the sound of tables and chairs being moved around above us in the Great Outdoors. The seas got a little rough, so we think the crew had to secure them differently. Otherwise, this was a very quiet, spacious cabin, and we enjoyed the great view off the balcony.