My wife and I who are both 68 and semi-retired and another similar couple sailed on the Norwegian Pearl on the April 6, 2015, cruise out of Miami. This was a 10-day cruise to Tortola, Antigua, Martinique, St. Kitts and St. Thomas with four days at sea. We chose this cruise mainly because it went to islands that we had not visited before. None of us are foodies and we go on a cruise escaping Michigan for the convenience of seeing new places from a floating hotel in nice weather. This was also my wife and my third cruise on NCL and our tenth cruise overall having cruised on Oceania, Costa, Azamara, Renaissance and Royal Caribbean.
The week before our cruise, the Pearl had the misfortune to be hit with a gastroenteritis outbreak so our cruise was very cautious about having any sanitary issues. You were never allowed to touch anything related to food or drink and there was never salt, pepper or other condiments on the table. Everything from plates, silverware, water and buffet items were handed to you by a crew member. Although it was somewhat inconvenient and took a bit of extra time, we appreciated the concern for our safety. Lots of washie-washie.
We're were in an aft mini-suite on deck 11. This was a perfect location to enjoy the large outdoor venue called the Great Outdoors just above us on deck 12. Why more cruise ships do not have aft-facing fantail eating areas is beyond me. That was also a main reason we chose this cruise - outdoor seating for breakfast, lunch and cocktails are a must for us! Fortunately, most of the other passengers decided to confine their dining habits to the overly crowded and (at least to us) very unappealing main buffet on the same deck. We never failed to find a lovely table outdoors overlooking the sea or the port in which we had arrived and there was a small, but very nice, breakfast menu buffet - including made to order omelets - in that venue. It also served a limited menu of meal items at lunchtime and in the early/late evening.
For dinners, we ate all but one meal in the Summer Palace main dining room. All of us thought the food and service in that dining room was great. We also ate there for lunch on two of the sea days. The other complimentary dining venues were not to our liking in style or location. We never had any issue finding a table for four in the Summer Palace no matter when we arrived. We did eat once in the French specialty restaurant, Le Bistro, and all felt it was no better than the main dining room - a nice diversion but not at all worth the $20 upcharge.
However, we all noticed that NCL had slipped a bit in service and in amenities. So much of the ship was devoted to overpriced and unneeded shopping venues and gone were lots of the features that we had experienced in prior cruises. There was no - I repeat - no port information other than the normal map leading you to Diamonds International, Colombian Emeralds and other "recommended" shops. I know that NCL wants to sell shore excursions and get their cut from their sponsored cruise port shops, but why not a page on the highlights/history of the destination for the passengers not wanting to use the NCL excursions or who just want to walk around and see the port? Or, maybe furnish passengers with a page containing daily news/sports updates? We've always had that type of info before on other cruises.
It also seemed that the service in some of the bar and dining areas was less enthusiastic, that there were fewer cabin stewards (but those we saw worked their butts off) and that there were less activities for passengers. Gone were the poolside cookouts on sea days.
It's hard to describe why with particularity, but all four of us felt that the crew was overworked and there was just not a fun feeling/happy atmosphere on board the ship. And because of that combined with the loss of almost all amenities and the poor entertainment, the four of us all felt that we would probably not cruise on NCL again. It seems to have lost something. This was a wholly different feeling than the feeling that the four of us had when we finished our 7-day cruise on the Dawn out of Tampa two years ago. We really enjoyed that one and felt it was almost as good as our prior Azamara and Oceania experiences. Not this one though.
We did our own thing in each port and did not take any NCL excursion. With four of us, it's easier doing research on what to do beforehand and doing it ourselves - as well as being a lot less expensive. In Tortola we took a chartered boat to the Baths, in Antigua we rented a Jeep and toured the island ending up at a beach resort, in Martinique we shopped in town and had lunch, on St. Kitts we went to a really nice beach club for the day, and in St. Thomas we hired a taxi for a quick island tour and had lunch in a small alleyway restaurant in Charlotte Amalie.
The entertainment on board the ship was, well....awful. A mediocre piano player/singer, a too-loud and off-key band, and that's about it. Not that we really care about the entertainment, but if we did, we really would have been disappointed. One comic we saw was OK but the Flashback Four singing quartet doing 60s songs were about the worse show we have ever seen. We did watch one movie on a sea day but went to nothing else. And, the theater seats in the Stardust Theater were extremely uncomfortable and after 20 minutes you saw the entire audience all shuffling position trying to find some relief.
The casino was good-sized and the casino staff seemed happier than the rest of the crew. I don't gamble a lot but did overhear lots of players complaining about the cutback in comps from what previously had been available to them. My only complaint is that they allow smoking. Yuk.
So, in sum:
THE REALLY GOOD
Our mini-suite stateroom had a really large balcony with comfortable chairs and a chaise lounge. And lots of storage and a huge bathroom with a tub/shower combo. The bed was ok. The room was a bit dark but very comfortable with tons of storage. I would rate it 9/10. Its location aft on deck 11 was 10/10.
The Great Outdoors venue for breakfast/lunch/snacks/drinks was wonderful. 9/10
The food and service in the Summer Palace was good. Only two bad desserts that we should have known not to order. The food was not gourmet but we never had any issue finding something to order that looked really good on paper - and in practice matched its description. 8/10
Embarkation/debarkation - we had an overly long wait to board because of the gastroenteritis on the prior cruise and were two plus hours late in leaving port. Other than that things were OK. We chose to take our own luggage off the ship and were gone by 8:00 am. 9/10
Parking in Miami was a bit of a pain because I didn't want to pay $20 a day to the Port of Miami. Instead, I used Premier Parking USA (8300 Parking) and despite a host of bad reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor, it worked out just fine for us. I dropped off our group at the pier and drove to the lot about 5 miles from the port and parked the car. Their brand new air-conditioned shuttle got me back to the port in less than 30 minutes. Coming back after the cruise, the shuttle was waiting for us right at 8:00 am and we were on the road without a hassle having saved $100. The car was waiting and ready to go when we got back. 10/10
The ports we visited were interesting. We did have to tender in Tortola because they were working on the pier and it took forever even though we were in the first group off the boat. We were all surprised that both Tortola and Antigua were very poor islands with crumbling infrastructure and considerable poverty except for the resorts. Martinique was charming in a crumbly sort of way and both St. Kitts and St. Thomas were places we would be happy to revisit. 6/10
Overall service from wait staff, bar staff, housekeeping and crew was just OK. 5/10
The pool areas were - as always - really overcrowded and all 'good' lounges saved by passengers by 7:00 am. 4/10
The rest of ship and its common areas were just OK. The bar/lounge areas were all a bit dreary and uninviting. 3/10
Communication was the worst I've ever encountered on a cruise. The only announcements were about bingo and a daily location update by the captain. No news, no port info, just advertisements for NCL sponsored shopping. 2/10
Any type of on-board amenity was non-existent. No toiletries, no bottled water, no cold towels when boarding the ship, no nothing. 2/10
MY OVERALL RATING OF THE CRUISE WOULD BE 7/10. (Note that without the Great Outdoors, our mini-suite with its large balcony and the quality of the food in the Summer Palace, my rating would have been 3.5/10.)