As first time cruisers and after reading mountains of negative Pearl Cruise Review's I was most reluctant to go and nervous as heck! My goodness all hesitations, expectations and nerves went right out the window. For first time cruisers considering a 'real holiday break' let me share our experience;
Initial first day check in/boarding - you will experience queues with a small wait time but the lines move fairly quickly. I have to say its much better than airport queues! Once you get to the check in counter you must produce your passport, tickets and visa/credit card/debit to register in their system. You will be have a your photo taken and be given a cruise swipecard which you will use for the entire cruise. The card gives you entry into your cabin and ability to make purchases onboard. Your luggage is taken away before the check in process and taken to your cabin. These are usually waiting outside your cabin waiting your arrival.
Once onboard - we had a 12.30pm check in process so by the time we were onboard it was lunchtime. We made our way to our cabin Deck 6 arriving to our bags having been delivered safely. After a brief cabin tour and bags dumped we ventured to Plantation Restaurant for a buffet lunch.
Port Hole Cabin - spacious, comfortable, clean, good water pressure in shower and tonnes of hot water, plenty of wardrobe space and drawers for clothes, coat hangers galore, safe to lock away valuables, small bar like fridge, flat screen TV, huge queen bed, lotsa pillows if you want them and a bigger than port hole window.
Room stewards - we had 2 who looked after our cabin attire twice daily. Andrew & Ganjor introduced themselves soonest we arrived with a meet & greet and explained the daily housekeep routine. Cabin was cleaned every morning, clean towels provided and bed made. Early evening they would return and turn back then, leave chocolates on the bedside, a newsletter with the following days programme and at times quirky little animal characters made out of towels. These made us smile and it was lovely to return to a tidy room. Awesomely friendly, and hardworking. Andrew & Ganjor were the best!
Dining options - Plantation (Buffet) and Waterfront (Al la Carte)'Restaurants are included in your fare. Breakfast. lunch & dinner. Less children dining in Waterfront and a perfect option here if you want to meet different people. Plantation has queues whereas Waterfront you require to make reservations. Al la Carte was our choice as you met new people at every meal and you were served upon. One thing that impressed me was every waiter and waitress we were served by always remembered our drink or food choices. On most occassions no sooner you arrived to your table your options were there. You were always greeted as Sir or Ma'am and all most attentive. Meals were always quick. Menu's changed each day except for a small few and choices were plenty. We ate like kings n queens!
Onboard activities/entertainment - everyday is loads to do. You can do as little or as much as you like. Most activities are free and some do charge a fee. Your daily room newsletter tells you what's on each day and whether there is a cost or not. There are shows, dress up theme nights which is fun and live bands and performers. You can even sing a little karaoke or enter Pacific Pop Stars (NZ Idol equivalent). We didn't do the dress up theme nights but did join in anyway. After 5.30 is more formal dress and during cocktail evenings it is the even more formal i.e shirt/dress pants and dress/heels for the ladies. One small thing we would have liked to have had, is a bar without the loud music in the evening to sit and enjoy a quiet drink or at least hear conversations amongst company.
Pool side - 2 spa pools in an adults only area alongside a bar and a pool each for both kids and adults. The spa pools were often full and I felt the swimming pools were small for a ship this size. But great facilities all the same! Lotsa seating space around pool areas, food options and waiters/waitresses on hand for those cocktail orders.
Shopping onboard - the last couple of days there are specials or discounts on watches, jewellery, perfume, clothing, alcohol and so on. If you can refrain from buying till then, then buying is cheaper. All prices are AU $. Chocolates, ice cream, food from the Grill can be exorbade prices.
Aqua Spa - dont be enticed to have too many beauty treatments here. Their prices are HUGE. Nice to do but you are paying big. They use very pushy tactics to suck you in which put me off entirely.
Shore tours - booking tours onboard will cost you more in most cases. We took the risk of waiting until we arrived onshore and browsed the local tour operators. This saved us quite a bit. Some local operators will even personalize a tour to your liking.
Laundrys - there is one on each level (I think). These take Aussie coins only. Machines are 2 x $1 coins and dryers 3 x $1 coins. Coins can be got at reception. We took our own laundry liquid inside an old shampoo bottle otherwise you pay for it onboard. When going onshore you can venture back n forth to the ship as often as you like. Tender boats are used in some ports which means a queue time. But worth sometimes going back onboard for lunch especially when this part doesn't cost anymore!
Currency used - all our Port stops were in Australian dollars or if you had Franc this was used as well. Onboard again, AU $ and cruise swipecard is used for purchases onboard only. ATM machines are available onboard as well for cash to use when at port stops.
Sea sickness - Paihia Bomb works. This can only be bought from Paihia Pharmacy. I purchased over the phone. We had the last 2-3 days of rough seas but at no time did I feel unsafe or sick. Think I had me sea legs on by then....
Crew members - every one of them were attentive, friendly, outgoing, welcoming and some became friends.
Would we cruise again? ABSOLUTELY yes! We are already planning our 2nd cruise. I think we have the cruise bug a term used by many onboard the Pearl. We loved it and hope you do too it's a lot of fun and of course a 'real holiday break'