I have taken cruises before and I have cruised on several different cruise lines. This was my first repositioning cruise and I hope to answer some of the questions I had about this type of cruise. We chose this trip because of the ... Read More
I have taken cruises before and I have cruised on several different cruise lines. This was my first repositioning cruise and I hope to answer some of the questions I had about this type of cruise. We chose this trip because of the departure port and the itinerary.
New Orleans Embarkation: We live a few hours from New Orleans and took the train down the day before. Our assigned check-in time was 10:30 AM. The cruise terminal was busy but the NCL staff were efficient during checking in. We had a few minutes wait before embarkation began and the seating area filled. We were assigned groups for boarding and this made the flow onto the ship very easy. The staterooms were not ready yet so we went to the main dining room, Summer Palace, for a relaxing three course lunch. This is a helpful tip for those who don’t like the crowded buffet lines on the first day. Usually the main dining room is open on the first day for a limited time but most people go to the buffet. During our meal the announcement was made that the staterooms were ready. We checked out the room and explored some of the ship. Our luggage arrived before sail away.
Packing and attire: Packing for a 25 day trip can be a challenge. The Pearl does not have self-serve washing machines/dryers but does offer a laundry service. Given the length of the cruise they did offer a discounted rate at certain times and Latitude members also got a discount. A friend used the service and was satisfied with the results. The attire on the ship was mostly casual with a few people dressing up a little more for dinner. There were a few who wore a cocktail dress, evening attire, or suit but they were definitely the minority. There was only one official “night on the town”- Norwegian’s version of a formal night but people would occasionally dress for a special occasion, specialty dining or just because they could. This was one question I had about the 21 day cruise. I had expected at least one dress-up night a week but we only had one for the entire cruise.
Dining and Food: Food was plentiful, fresh and well prepared. The buffets offered the most variety with many different stations and types of food to choose. Our group used the buffet when we needed quick meals or the occasional afternoon snack of ice cream or beverages. The Summer Palace-the largest dining room at the back of the ship was our go-to place. We enjoyed the relaxed pace and time to sit down and enjoy our meals without the bustle of the buffet. The breakfast menu did not change. There were several options of fruits, cereals, egg dishes, and traditional American breakfasts. They also offered smoked salmon, omelets made to order, pancakes and waffles. The lunch menus were rotated and we saw several of the menus multiple times but there was no pattern. There were days when we saw the same menu back to back. This was another question I had about repositioning cruises. There was no routine to the menu rotation-probably based on food availability. We looked at this as an opportunity to try more than one thing from a menu or to have something we really liked a second time. I will admit that toward the end of the cruise it was refreshing if there was something new/different offered. The dinner menus were also rotated with no specific pattern. We tended to eat around or before 7 PM and never had to wait to be seated. The wait staff were outstanding and we were visited by the assistant maître Ds almost every meal. They were a very cohesive staff and were eager to please. They were concerned if we didn’t eat the entire meal and were sincere in wanting feedback. We vote Gautam as the outstanding waiter. He went above and beyond for his “Mississippi Spice Girls” and we felt like family. He would check on us even if we were not in his assigned area. Julius was also very good and had a big smile and greeting whenever we met. Both Milos and Dollarich (not sure of spelling), the Assistant Maitre D’s checked with us frequently to ensure we were pleased with the food and the service. There were so many others who were also very efficient and friendly. The food was good and well prepared. The portions were ample but not huge. There were always beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian options. O’Sheehans is a nice alternative for a quicker meal at breakfast and lunch or different bar type foods for a snack. It does fill up on port days when the main dining is not open. We encountered a 40 minute wait once and opted for the buffet.
Specialty Dining: We alternated the specialty restaurants with the main dining which broke up what could have become repetitive in the main dining area. We tried all of the specialty dining restaurants at least once and all were outstanding with one exception; Lotus Garden. Others seemed to like it and perhaps we just got a bad meal but all three of us were disappointed. The food was a giant salt bomb. There were too many other good options to try again. Moderno is best experienced when you are really hungry. I always make a huge salad and end up not getting to try all of the meat choices. The salad bar is smaller than it used to be but the options are wonderful. The filet was very tender and flavorful, one friend really enjoyed the lamb, and the chicken was also tasty. We all adore the grilled pineapple. I wish I could have that every day. Teppanyaki is just fun with chefs who have crazy knife skills making corny jokes and outstanding food. The weakest part of this meal is the desserts but who needs those after soup, salad, rice, vegetables, and meats. La Cucina is a charming space that transports one to Italy. Soft music and dim lighting encourage one to linger. Everything we had here was scrumptious. I liked my meal so much that when we went back a second time I had the same meal again: Ensaleta Caprese, Carbonara, and pork scaloppini. Cagney’s Steakhouse is always popular for a reason. We had remarkable meals here as well. The steaks were prepared as ordered and the accompaniments were delicious. Le Bistro is a favorite. The rich French prepared food is equaled by the attentiveness and service of the staff. One friend was not up for the rich meal and excused herself after the soup. The staff were very concerned and wanted to serve the remainder of her meal to her in the room. I really think the maître D might have delivered it himself if she had accepted the offer. We also observed the staff members turning a champagne bucket upside down to elevate the foot of a woman with an injury. They definitely strive to please. Delectable food from escargot to chocolate tort and everything in between.
Ship: The Norwegian Pearl is a beautiful ship both inside and out. The décor is cheerful without being gaudy in most instances and the public spaces are easily accessible and flow nicely throughout the ship. The carpet is a useful navigation tool. The fishes swim forward except for the little red renegade fish who are swimming toward the back. Food is general located toward the back and entertainment toward the front.
Public Spaces: Public spaces were rarely crowded although finding a seat for popular activities could be a challenge. I will mention at this point that the seating in several areas uses a barrel type chair that is bulky and not very comfortable. The crystal atrium in the center of the ship is a hub for most everything. It’s a beautiful space featuring a Chihuly glass display and high ceiling. A large screen displays mostly nature screens when not in use and a curving staircase leads up to O’Sheehans. A bar provides additional seating and refreshment. We rarely had waits at the elevators except when the theatre show was letting out or everyone was trying to go into port. Often moving to another set of elevators eliminated this problem. The Stardust Theatre is a gorgeous space with ample seating. We never had a problem finding seats but the prime ones usually filled about 30 minutes before a show. The sightlines on the outer seating were a bit of a challenge with the angle and poles. The Bliss Lounge seemed to have an identity crisis and I have to admit we did not spend much time here. The room is dark, the walls are lined with slot machines and then there are bowling alley lanes. The center has a small stage and the sides are decorated with ornate chairs, oversized couches, and canopy beds. It had a boudoir feel with red velvet and gold being prominent. There are also sectioned off parlor rooms. It does not match the rest of the ship. The Spinnaker Lounge at the top front of the ship on deck 13 is a bright spacious area that is multi-purpose. Early in the morning it is a great spot to find quiet and gaze out over the ocean. We saw dolphins and whales from here. People come here to read, gather, and play cards in addition to many activities that are held in this area. It has a night club feel at night with music and dancing. A small chapel is located next to the Spinnaker. Various bars are located throughout the ship but don’t expect to get the same drinks. The drink menus are different. We had the unlimited beverage package and enjoyed trying new things. I was frustrated that I could get an Irish Coffee at O’Sheehans as part of the package but if I ordered one at Spinnaker or the Stardust I was told it would be an additional charge for the coffee (the constant up-selling gets old). Our favorite bar area was the Sugarcane Bar located outside of Moderno’s overlooking the pool. This is a great location but limited seating and hours. The bar opened at 5:00 PM with Billy tending bar. He was an outstanding person on our trip because he always had a warm smile and friendly greeting. He was always busy. The card room was a nice place, although always cold, but too small. More often than not we could not get a table at 10:30 in the morning, thus the overflow into the Spinnaker. There were quiet little nooks to find in the photo gallery when not open, the hallway outside of the Lotus Garden on deck 7 or deck 6. These were also great spots in the evening for people watching and visiting with new friends as they passed by. The promenade deck has a few lounge chairs and is a wonderful place for walking, viewing the location, or getting some fresh air. I was disappointed that parts of it were shut down during the Panama Canal Transit. This seemed to be necessary for ship operations but could have been a great place for viewing.
Staff and crew: The staff and crew on this ship were efficient, hardworking, and friendly. They seemed to be happy as they worked with many humming, singing and laughing. Having been on ships where this is not the case it was pleasant to see. They also tried to make personal connections and do things to make passengers feel unique and special. Rarely did I pass a crew member who did not offer a greeting. A bottle of wine with a personal note sent from the cruise director was a memorable delight as was having crew members remember and call us by name.
Entertainment and cruise staff activities: I wondered how the evening entertainment would be scheduled for a repositioning cruise and if shows would be repeated-they were not. The production crew did their two main shows- the Variety Show during the first part of the cruise and the Legends in Concert Production toward the end of the cruise. Every evening had entertainment but it was usually solo performers. We had singers, pianist, comedians, aerialists, a hypnotist and a magician who rotated on and off the ship. They sometimes performed twice but with a different performance. A group known as Uptown deserves a special mention for their outstanding performances and Ivan Rutherford, a vocalist did two outstanding shows. The aerialist Dual Essence were also amazing to watch.
The various activities offered by the cruise staff were typical and fun with a wide variety from sporting activities, walking, fitness, trivia, and dance lessons to origami and demonstrations. We developed an immediate repour with Vincent the cruise director and enjoyed our short interactions and encounters with him and his crazy suits.
Amenities: Tradewinds: I am not a shopper but there were stores available onboard for souvenirs, liqueur, and jewelry. Internet Café: I won 60 minutes of internet service but it was so slow it took 15 minutes to send an e-mail and I am still not sure it went through. The photo gallery was easily accessed and people were helpful. The photos were printed quickly. I opted to purchase a photo package and was overall happy with this decision. It’s much more affordable purchasing before the cruise and we just poised when the photographers were around rather than constantly having to say no to photographs. At the end of the cruise I sorted through the pictures and chose the ones I wanted. I was irritated that we posed for a photo in the Teppanyaki restaurant and they tried to sale the photo in a special cover with chopsticks. They would not include the photo in my package-again trying to up-sell. Spa: I did utilize the services of the spa and was pleased with the services. Christine is one of the therapist and I would definitely recommend her for massage therapy. At the end of each treatment there was the sales pitch to purchase the products, again with the up-sale.
Ports, excursions, and lots of changes: I was disappointed after booking this cruise to receive notification from NCL that one of our ports was being changed from Roaten Honduras to Costa Maya Mexico. While I like both ports I was surprised at the change. Even more unexpected was an e-mail on March 16th for our April 8th sail date that cancelled one of our ports, Guatemala, completely. It also rearranged the remainder of our port days. The reason cited was for bunkering and evacuation Chute maintenance. I had been looking forward to seeing Guatemala so this was a definite disappointment. One would think that these routine activities would have been planned by NCL as part of setting the itinerary. These changes are what prompted me to be on the phone with NCL on multiple occasions with extended waiting periods to talk with the excursion staff. Since we had already booked excursions through the cruise line they had to be cancelled and refunded. For those ports where the date changed, the cruise line also cancelled the excursions and required rebooking rather than moving the reservation. The long waits for telephone assistance were aggravating and show a lack of concern for passengers once they are booked.
Cozumel: We were originally scheduled to go to the mainland for an excursion. After hearing about explosives on the ferries we cancelled this excursion around the first part of March. NCL did not put out a statement or contact us about this. Other cruise lines seemed to be more pro-active. NCL did cancel all excursions going by ferry. I am guessing we would have learned about this the night before our port had we not been aware and made plans earlier. We opted for an excursion close to the cruise ship. Our excursion was scheduled later than arrival time so we had no wait to exit the ship. We walked off directly onto the pier and met our group at the end of the pier. We did the Salsa Salsa excursion which is a fun, silly way to enjoy a day. We were transported to a resort, greeted with margaritas and learned how to make 5 different types of salsa and two types of margaritas. We then learned a few steps of salsa dancing and were transported back to the pier.
Costa Maya: We did a catamaran snorkel trip with a pirate crew. They did an excellent job with the right mix of entertainment, safety, and instruction. The sea was a bit rough and some were concerned about sea sickness. We had a few minutes of a bumpy ride but the snorkeling site was protected behind the reef. The rough surf did effect visibility. We were divided into three groups, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each person was given a new snorkel to keep. Each group had a guide who lead the snorkel and pointed out interesting flora and fauna. We saw many different types of fish, sting rays, shells and coral. There was a platform and stairs-ideal for anyone who might have difficulties with ladders. It was the easiest entry to a boat I have ever experienced. Cold beverages awaited us back on the boat. There is a lot to do at this port since it was built specifically for the cruise ships. One could easily spend the day browsing shops and participating in the activities offered here without going on an excursion. A short taxi will also take you into a picturesque little town right on the beach.
Harvest Cay Belize: I was fortunate to be on the inaugural ship to this private island and looked forward to seeing how the landscape is maturing. It’s a beautiful location for those who want to lay around the pool or find a chair beach side. There are plenty of places to hang out. Getting off the ship here was a little chaotic. We had booked a wildlife boat tour and were in the first group to get off the ship. Many people were trying to get off early (wanting the best locations if I had to guess) so we moved with a crowd all the way to the excursion area. It would have been nice if the staff had taken those with early excursions off the ship before opening the flood gate of people.
We had a very pleasant boat tour which included spotting manatees and a few other wildlife. We rode into the mangroves and learned about the ecology of the area. After our tour we had a cold beverage at one of the restaurants, toured the butterfly house and looked at the birds. We had booked parasailing for the afternoon but received a notice the evening before that it had been cancelled due to mechanical issues. It was a pleasant walk back to the ship because the crowds had dispersed.
Columbia: This was my first trip to Columbia. The entrance coming into the harbor was well worth getting up early to see. We passed an old fort, small fishing boats and then the very modern city with skyscrapers appearing behind mountains before coming into clear view. We chose the walking tour of Cartagena as our tour. We loaded onto buses at the pier and drove first for a view and photo opportunities of the fort. It was a beautiful structure to see. The people selling items at the tourist areas were persistent, insistent, and relentless. Women in native attire would try to get you to pose for pictures by grabbing your arm and insist on payment. After only a few minutes I was ready to return to the bus. Next was the obligatory market stop where more people swarmed to sell us things. We also listened to a brief presentation on Columbian emeralds. Finally we got to the walking part of our tour. We walked a few blocks through the colonial part of Cartegena. There were a lot of people and more people selling. The architecture was beautiful. We were then taken to the gold museum which was very crowded and only given 10 minutes to view. It was a very quick walk through and more frustrating than enjoyable. I liked Columbia but not the aggression of the people selling trinkets. This tour was not a favorite. The group was too large to really hear the guide and it felt rushed.
Panama Canal Transit: I have been to Panama and transited part of the canal before but I was still excited for this day. I woke up early to see the sea wall in Colon. I spent most of the day on our balcony watching our ship and others go through the locks, looked for familiar landmarks, observed the ship traffic, admired the scenery, and watched for wildlife on the shorelines. Port side definitely has more activity if you are transiting from Atlantic to Pacific. The transit took 8 and half hours before Panama City came into view and we sailed out into the Pacific. We took a right turn toward Costa Rica. It was odd to transverse the entire country of Panama without having a port call here.
Costa Rica: Another excursion change received the night before our port. Our planned excursion by train, bus and boat had been cancelled. They had refunded our tour then booked us onto the boat tour. The reason again was mechanical issues. We were also rebooked to a tour time later than the original one we chose. Given that this was for wildlife viewing I would much rather have had the earlier time. The tour was good with a bus ride through the countryside where our guide told us about the country, its people and its landscape. Our driver stopped to show us items of interest like cashews growing on trees and iguanas sunning. The facilities before the bus trip were new and functional. We loaded onto a boat and headed out onto the river. Our guide and the boat captain immediately started spotting wildlife. We saw many birds including wood storks, several types of herons, egrets, cormorants, pelicans, king fishers, rosette spoonbills and song birds. We also saw several crocodiles both in and out of the water including the 15 foot long Osama Bin Laudon and Lady GaGa. Black and green iguanas were spotted near the water’s edge and Jesus Christ Lizards sunned on low branches. We took a side trip into the mangroves and all the way to the mouth of the river where it meets the Pacific Ocean. This trip definitely offers many opportunities to see wildlife.
Nicaragua: This was not a smooth debarkation from ship. There were delays from the scheduled time because of getting the gangway down due to the tide. We met in the theatre and sat for almost an hour before the staff told us to head downstairs for our tour. At this point everyone on the ship was also trying to get off the ship and we bottlenecked in the hallways. I felt sorry for the people trying to get to their cabins through the crowds. Once off the ship the buses were waiting nearby. We did the old and new Lyon City Tours. This was a long tour taking close to 7 hours. The trip to Old Lyon gave us an opportunity to see the countryside and several volcanos including an active one that vented gases into the air. The ruins of the city were interesting but the excavation has barely been started. It sounds like there is much more to unearth. We had a delicious, authentic meal served buffet style in an open air restaurant before loading back on the bus and heading to the new city of Lyon. We drove through a few of the streets of this colonial style city and stopped at the square outside of the cathedral. We toured the cathedral and had the opportunity to climb to the roof for beautiful views and a unique perspective. The ship was waiting for our tour to return and we sailed shortly thereafter.
Acapulco: The arrival into the harbor of Acapulco is very impressive. It is a beautiful port and they were certainly trying to make it appear welcome and safe. There was definitely a visible security presence with armed military on the pier as well as police. The US state department had issued a level 4 “Do not Travel” alert for this city so we chose to stay onboard the ship. I question NCL’s decision to port where there are so many safety concerns and I was surprised that many of my fellow passengers were not even aware that safety is a concern in this area. NCL did not acknowledge or address the safety issues while other cruise lines have stopped going to this port. Fellow passengers said they enjoyed the cliff divers and many noted a high level of police presence in the tourist areas. We would have liked to visit the port but did not think it worth the risk.
Cabo San Lucas: This is another beautiful port to arrive with cliffs and the stone arch visible from the harbor. The contrast of the beautiful blue water to the brown desert and cliffs along the shore is striking. We had to anchor and tender into the port. There was a constant rocking of the tender which made the transition difficult for those who are unsteady. The crew was very cautious and helpful with those needing assistance. There are a lot of shops and restaurants at the pier and a very nice area for gathering groups for tours. We did the outback and camel ride which was a fantastic experience. We loaded onto a bus for a short trip out into the desert. We arrived at a ranch and were broken into small groups of no more than 14. Our guide, Ted, was knowledgeable and passionate about our having a good time. He started with an overview then nature walk along a canyon rim. We then climbed down into the canyon and got on our all-terrain truck for a ride the beach. Here we met, kissed and were photographed with Louis the Camel. Next we donned safety helmets, climbed to a platform and mounted camels where we did a loop along the beach. The area is gorgeous with the contrast of desert and ocean. The camel ride was fun. The animals were well tended and not over worked. We ended our tour with a fabulous lunch of authentic Mexican food including handmade tortillas and a tequila tasting.
Los Angeles: This port was a different experience for a lot of reasons. We arrived at midnight. Given that this is the largest US shipping port it would have been wonderful to see the arrival in the daytime. There are shipping containers and cranes for as far as the eye can see. At 2:00 AM I was awakened (on the 10th floor mind you) by the men yelling who were bunkering down below. Bunkering is the transfer of gas/oil onto the ship. Why could this not be done during the day as not to disturb passengers? This was our first entry back into a US port and therefore we all, including crew, had to go through customs. Many people simply got off the ship, waited and then got back on board. The NCL port is actually in San Pedro which is a long way from the city of Los Angeles. We opted not to do an excursion here because the few offered were either transfers or bus tours. We had hoped to do the trolley of San Pedro but were told it wasn’t running by one of the employees working in the terminal. We discovered when we returned that it was indeed working. The terminal staff should be better informed. We took a taxi to Long Beach ($35.00) and walked around there. We saw the waterfront and the Queen Mary. Early in the day there was not much happening. By the time we decided to visit the Aquarium there were numerous school buses present so we did a little shopping and returned to the ship. Not a very exciting port stop.
Sea Days: We had a number of sea days for a cruise of this duration. They were a welcome rest after multiple port days and they gave us the opportunity to really get acquainted with fellow passengers and the ship. Being onboard the ship forced use to slow down and relax. Our group is not sun worshippers so laying out on the deck was not part of our routine. We participated in some of the ship’s activities, visited with fellow passengers, played cards, read, napped, sat and watched the water, utilized the spa services, shopped, lingered at meals, enjoyed the entertainment and strolled the promenade.
Seattle Debarkation: We arrived in Seattle at 7:00 AM. The approach into the city was beautiful. We started seeing land the evening before and it is another approach I wish we could have made during the day. We had obtained luggage tags for an 8:30 AM departure and had our suitcases outside before midnight the night before. We had time for one more breakfast and a few goodbyes in the Summer Palace. We were able to wait in our rooms until our luggage time/color was called. We joined others in the line off the ship. We zigged and zagged a little but the line kept moving. We were surprised that we did not have to go through another customs check. We were out on the curb by the taxis before 9:00 AM.
Pros The Norwegian Pearl is a beautiful ship, the size is nice without being crowded or overwhelming.
The crew on the ship was outstanding.
The overall ports provided a nice variety.
Assortment of activities offered on excursions in most ports.
The transit of the Panama Canal is an amazing sight.
Cons NCLs decision to change one port (Roaten) and cancel another (Guatemala) long after booking had occurred.
NCL not addressing the safety issues in Cozumel until the cruise was under way (by cancelling excursions that used ferries). NCL did not address the safety issues in Acapulco despite a US State Department warning not to travel to this city.
Many changes to booked excursions either by cancelling and or changing the times booked. At least 6 of 8 tours were cancelled or changed.
The constant up-sell by the cruise line is tiresome. Read Less