Perhaps if told "luxury" frequently enough, we'll believe it?
First, the positive: The cabin was most spacious, a comfortable bed, desk, balcony. The bathroom & shower equally nice, roomy and clean.
The food was a B- overall.
Should the folks from Pearl Seas read this, I don't want them to think that our unfortunate delay in Holland MI (34 hours instead of the scheduled 4) influenced our opinion of the trip. Secondly, with sold-out Great Lakes schedules, any changes that add cost are likely not going to happen. However, if I were in charge and wanted Pearl Seas to live up to the expectations passengers have from their ACL experiences, here's what I'd change:
-We were missing pre-cruise paperwork (passport and emergency contact info) that wasn't sent (should have come with the mis-dated cruise booklet, I guess). They called for it, emailed the form - and then the next day another staff member called requesting the same info again. Organization and order in the paperwork & planning (see other reviews regarding the dock change in Chicago & lack of notification) wasn't a strong point.
-Many of the areas on the ship map designated as "lounges", aren't. Key public spaces are the nice outdoor areas on 4th - 5th - & 6th decks; the forward lounges on 2nd and 4th are nice, large & include coffee/snack areas; the 'library lounge' on the 4th deck is a treasure.
-The Holland delay was explained as "10-12 foot waves" in Lake Michigan. Is Pearl Mist not an ocean going ship (Panama - Cuba - et al)? And checking buoy reports (and the forecasts) the biggest waves on the lake that night were 6.5 feet with (what would have been) a following wind. The long-delayed departure had similar waves and wind, but cross (out of the west). I appreciate the thought of safety and comfort, but . . . . .
-Cruise director in information regarding the port visit in Holland stated "no WalMart, Target, chain big-box etc in town" (to intimate that this was a quaint village that didn't allow such stores). There was a Target 2 miles from the ship's dock, and a WalMart 2.5 miles away et. al., both with "Holland" addresses.
-Snacks must have come from Costco or Sam's Club. 3 kinds of granola bars & Fig Newtons; 3 kinds of potato chips & pretzels, all individual servings and unchanging for the week. "Luxury" cruise?
-Pastries at the coffee / snack area each morning (and on the continental breakfast 'buffet') must have come from Costco or Sam's Club. The smallish Danish I'd guess were frozen and enough thawed for the next day? Not 'fresh' at all. It would have been SO easy to arrange local provisioning for perishables - Chicago, Holland, Parry Sound, etc all have excellent local bakeries. "Luxury" cruise?
-Every other inland small-ship cruise we've taken has done daily local provisioning. If it happened on the Pearl Mist, we didn't see it, nor was there evidence in the foodstuffs. I know little about food service, and the meals were OK - but I'd guess a lot of frozen stuff. Could be wrong here.
-My pet peeve as a person who is addicted to good coffee is that they used liquid "CoffeeMate" at meals & at the coffee stations!! Even McDonalds uses real creamers. "CoffeeMate" on a "luxury" cruise? My word.
-My wife's pet peeve as a tea afficionado was the advertised afternoon "tea" was simply the addition of a plate of cake squares to the snack/coffee area. The usual limited teabag selection and lukewarm water from the beverage pumpers remained unchanged.
-Advertised "warm cookies" weren't. Again, I'm no expert, but the quality was Sam's Club / Costco . . . . . perhaps purchased dough 'baked' on board, but I'd guess not. I never found a warm one.
-Evening local entertainment early in the trip had perhaps about 100 people in the 2nd deck lounge, staff came in with maybe 24 baskets of popcorn . . . . . and TWELVE (12) root beer floats. Most folks were polite and passed to allow others the opportunity to have one, but the 12 were gone without covering a third of the room - and no more arrived. Astounding.
-Waitstaff was adequate & polite, but about half of my meal orders were wrong. We tend to linger over meals, and were often rushed away, especially at breakfast. They were seemingly in a hurry to get things re-set for the next meal.
-A bottle of red and one of white wine was open & on each table at dinner, available at lunch (beer also). Cocktails in the 2nd and 4th floor lounges for an hour before dinner each day (complimentary also), but one evening at 8:30 pm I wanted a scotch, and none available anywhere, at any price. The bar was maybe an additional 30 minutes (unsure here) beyond that cocktail hour. If you want a drink at 10 pm, you'd better have your own supply.
-Shipboard internet, even for just simple email, was painfully, horribly slow. That's been reported in other reviews, and is cumbersome to use. As mentioned, if you use your free daily hour from 9 am - 10 am on Tuesday, you can't get "free" again until 10:01 am Wednesday, etc. Don't expect to download Kindle or movies or music. Use your phone service while in port in your home country & only attempt the ship's internet at 3 am when nobody else is online.
-Most astounding: on other small-ship cruises, the captain and staff were an integral part of the social aspects of the ship. I *never* saw the captain of the Pearl Mist. Never. My wife saw him once, across the room, at the delayed "Captain's Cocktail Reception".
-And finally: previous small-boat cruises have had the "cruise director" as the leader of the fun and also involved socially & personally with the passengers. In his defense, this guy seemed incredibly overworked and dealing with so many details, without help, 18 hours a day.
But this just isn't a job for a Disney-trained authoritarian. This needs personable, not lecturing. This needs warmth, not condescending. ("When you leave the ship for your tour, don't bother to give me your name - give me your cabin number!!" - and he had the computer skills to do an ExCel sort to 'fix' this issue.) He worked hard, no doubt - but older folks who have paid top dollar for a small-ship experience deserve better treatment.
We booked this cruise 18 months before embarkation because we live in the Great Lakes and wanted to see it from the water. And while we achieved that objective, when measuring value for $$, for us at least, this was lacking.
Very large & comfortable - we could have been happy in a 2xx (G) or 3xx (H) on this ship.