This was our third NCL cruise...first on the wonderful old Norway, then the (leaves a lot to be desired) Norwegian Sky. We are frequent cruisers (I think this was our 17th, on 6 different cruise lines) so I think I have a pretty good ... Read More
This was our third NCL cruise...first on the wonderful old Norway, then the (leaves a lot to be desired) Norwegian Sky. We are frequent cruisers (I think this was our 17th, on 6 different cruise lines) so I think I have a pretty good perspective of cruising in general.
The best thing about this ship, by far, were the on board comedians! I usually avoid corny ship shows, but these guys were awesome! SharkBait and David Naster had several shows during the cruise, and by the last night of the ship, their combined show had the Stardust theater filled to capacity 20 minutes BEFORE the show started. It's the first time I've ever been on a ship where passengers literally sat in the aisles to watch a show!! That's how good they were. On the flip side of that, it's too bad some people didn't get a chance to see them because they couldn't get in. (They should have had two shows instead of just one.)
My kids (15, 14 and 11) had a blast. I barely saw my teenagers (spring break) and my 11 year old (who hangs with us and/or kid camp) was picked to be on stage with both Second City and David Naster in two different shows. That made his cruise! (That and the rock wall.)
As for the rest of the cruise.....overall, for a first time cruiser, this would be a great cruise. Indeed, we had fun. We always cruise with another family and have a great time no matter what. BUT...the whole "freestyle" concept leaves a lot to be desired. Freestyle means you pay extra for lots of stuff, including meals. If you want to eat in the "included" casual restaurant, Indigo, you better make a reservation and get there when it opens or you are going to be holding a restaurant pager out in the hall until it beeps! (Yes, that's right! I've never seen one of those on a ship!) And for a family of five to eat at the "specialty" restaurants more than a couple of times a week, it gets expensive. $75 to $125 per dinner! AND in the French restaurant, I wanted lobster. So, it was an ADDITIONAL $10 on top of my cover charge! (Plus the line on the receipt for the "extra" tip.) As far as I'm concerned, Norwegian is trying to take "all inclusive" out of cruising. Now we don't mind spending money on vacations. Quite the opposite! Our family cruised 3 times last year. But I would much rather save my vacation money for an extra cruise, than extra meals ON a cruise, which is something we've already paid for.
The service in the free dining rooms was about what you'd expect from Freestyle dining...the servers know they are not getting a tip from you directly, so they just don't care. There's no reason for them to impress you. (Kind of like the service you'd get from open seating for lunch on another cruise line, only not quite as good.) I rarely saw any servers smile. We had to ASK for drinks at beginning of each meal (they weren't offered) and we had to ASK for coffee at dessert! And when we did, you could tell they were a little annoyed by it. Since there isn't a designated time for a "seating," the servers are trying to rush you so they can "turn tables" like in any other restaurant. There are people outside in the hallway waiting for your table! So of course they aren't going to offer you coffee.
So you'd think the extra $$ you pay for the specialty restaurants would give you better service, right? Wrong. While the waitress in Mambos was very nice and apologized, but the service was the slowest we had on the ship. In La Bistro, the waitress told us when we arrived that she was not our waitress, but she'd wait on us until the waiter got there. And she made it very clear she was NOT happy about it!! (The waiter who did show up later was nice.)
You are also going to pay extra for a Yoga class ($12...why?) AND the kids camp during the day on port days! (That's right....$5/hour if you child wants to go to the kids camp during the day! I've never seen that on any other line/ship.) By the end of the cruise, we were calling it "nickel and dime" cruise lines. Everytime you turn around they are trying to make you pay extra for and/or sell you something.
As far at the ship itself, it was VERY clean! My teenage son has allergies and frequently has problems on cruises, but not on this ship. The ship itself is very colorful and lounge areas very pretty. The bowling was fun and different on a ship. I was surprised that there wasn't too long a line for it. (BTW - Did I mention it's an extra $5 per person per game?)
The layout is a tad bit claustrophobic. If you are used to soaring atriums and promenades (like on RCCL and Carnival) you won't find them on the Pearl. The atrium/lobby is only two floors, and no glass elevators. The buffet is very small, only one floor, and good luck finding a seat! The shopping area is tiny, and again, only one level.
On the plus side, the food in the buffet is very good, and the selection (especially for breakfast) is wonderful. But this is the first cruise we didn't have a single breakfast in a dining room, which we like to do, because the dining room is only open a VERY short time (1 1/2 hour?)for breakfast so it's had to hit their "window." I guess that explains the huge crowds in the buffet.
Embarkation and debarkation were the most chaotic I've ever seen. Wow, are they unorganized!
So basically, you are free to "whatever, whenever" like their slogan says, as long as you have a reservation, wait in line, and/or pay extra. What is "freestyle" about that?!? I like knowing that we are "first seating", we have our set table with our friends, there will be NO waiting for our table, and our regular servers will be HAPPY to see us with our drinks will be waiting for us. Sorry, NCL....We're going back to RCCL and Carnival. Read Less