My wife and i felt like a mini-vacation for some R&R was needed so a cruise popped into our head as a good idea-- we wanted something short so as not to miss too much work, that was not so expensive, and that was different (through ... Read More
My wife and i felt like a mini-vacation for some R&R was needed so a cruise popped into our head as a good idea-- we wanted something short so as not to miss too much work, that was not so expensive, and that was different (through we'd been on cruises occasionally in the past). This cruise perfectly fit the bill! This cruise was supposed to include a stop at Great Stirrup Cay (GSC), NCL's private Bahama lsland, for a day of beach and local activities with a cookout, drinks, and relaxation in general. We even got there after two days of sailing, dropped anchor, and prepared to exit the ship to board the tender. But the Captain announced there were swells east of the island that would cause difficulty and safety issues (make getting back to the ship from the tenders difficult). So at literally the last minute he canceled the visit and announced we would go to Freeport 5 hours away, dock, and have much more limited time on the ground there. Too bad, and a few hours in Freeport really wasn't worth it. Still, it was understandably the right thing to do in cancelling GSC. We got to Freeport about 1:30pm but sat in the harbour for more than 90 minutes waiting to dock, leaving a little over four hours on the ground Freeport. So this was a great cruise, but really one to no where--we got off (and got hassled and hustled) and did some straw market shopping and got right back on. Enough of that--nice try NCL...not your fault.
The promotions offered by NCL were superb--and smart business. For example, we got 100 minutes internet, ultimate beverage package, shore excursion credit, and a free meal in a specialty restuarant. The 100 minutes is great to have if you don't need to keep much on contact with home but need to check in--setting the phone up for "wi-fi calling" made it snap and saved a lot of money. The wi-ft signal onboard was also awesome--I was suprised (though directions for getting on were spotty and incomplete). Needing to check in a couple times a day with home, we bought the unlimited wi-fi package and it was handy to have throughout the trip--and worked very well after toying with our phone settings for a while to get it to work. The drinks package; obviously this is what most people want to take advantage of. About $85 a day give or take, but you have to pay about 20% of up front gratuities. So my wife and I normally would maybe drink one or two drinks a day, if that, but we paid abotu $75 each over four days for the gratuities--yup, the package would normally be over $400 apiece...not worth it to us. So, they made money on us clearly by giving us the drinks package and making us pay the gratituity...made more money here had they not offered it "free." At the same time, we did come up with reasons to drink 3-5 drinks per day on average. So if you are in it to party, or to drink a lot of soda and juice along with beer, wine, and booze, the value of this promo goes way up. The package covered drinks up to $15, and one is allowed to get two at a time per plan. However, it does not cover specialty coffees like expressos or fraps or bottled water. Too bad. That would get more people to buy it. It also does not cover room service drinks or anything at all in the stateroom minibars. The "Specialty Dining Package" promo is only for one night, and while I may have missed it, this wasn't clear until I called a cruise rep. That said, we also added the 3-meal package for two and dined in Le Bistro, Moderno, Cagney's and La Cucina--a specialty restaurant each night. Maybe overkill, but from a past NCL cruise, we also like quality over the ever-present high quanities food offered in other on-board restaurants (although make no mistake, the portions are huge and short one one entree, they will bring you as much of anything else as you'd want). The food in the specialty restaurants was all very well presented, and very tasty, with great table service.
As for what to do onboard other than eat and drink to excesses, I'll first offer some context on my wife and I, as this is important to address entertainment from our point of view and why we chose what we did, including the suite that we did. We are both professionals, upper middle income, in our 50s, with me also being retired military; we both have traveled extensively all over the world. We live in in the Tampa, Florida area, own a pool home, and pretty much like to get out and see and do all there is. Living in Tampa is already close to paradise, so we don't need pools, parties, and beaches on vacation. Also at our age, we like to chill with the option of doing so with or without the crowds the top deck cruise ship pools, and don't really need to be in the middle of a big party or pre-planned event to have a good time. But we do like having the opportunity to be in the mix now and then, as well as take in some other onboard activities or shows--and we did. Which gets to why picked the suite we did and why it was so perfect for us (i'll get to that later). As for onboard entertainment on this trip, there were a variety of shows, with "Angels" (acrobatic performers) being the best. I really wasn't extremely impressed with the music featured but it was okay. We know that Blue Man Group left NCL a while back, and had heard that Legends performed on the Pearl. Well, to our disappointment, not on this cruise and nothing was said about it. Nonetheless, there are plenty of classes and interest groups and theme parties and things to do. Oh yeah, we typically go to bed fairly early but are up at 5 am. So after the first night, I realized I'd forgotten to bring any ear plugs about the time the band two floors away started their finale at 1 am, or when whatever was happening the theater two floors below kicked off late in the pm. But the NCL staff was great in setting us up withearplugs for next nights. Of course, we enjoyed so much of the ship's amenties between 6am and 12pm while so many passengers were still in the rack from a good time the night before. So all worked out great. Most important we learnd is to check the "Freestyle Daily" that comes out the night before and offers all the activities and important announcments of the next day. They delivered it to our suite and left it on the bed at "room turndown" and about Day 3 it was clear to study it carefully to be best prepared for meals and shows and other events, many of which can change. it would be great if this were emailed to gain familiarity in the days before the cruise, and certainly the night before we set sail. Our most recent cruise was out of Barcelona and it was no surprise to us the ship's superb crew was comprised heavily of people from Asia and Europe. That is, all of their nametags had the Country where they from also listed; but no matter the origin they worked as a team to provide a very high level of service. So it was interesting to note this crew sailing out of Tampa was simimlar in composition, with a few folks we met being from Central and South America but again mostly Asia and Europe. For the officers, I noted the ship's Captain was from Italy, though there were some Australia and USA folks mixed in there too; the bottom line is this was a very diverse crew committed to what they are doing, and they all did it very professionally each day. The Norwegian Pearl is neither the largest nor among the smallest of ships, and of course, the amenities are named identically in many cases (i.e., restuarants and bars). However, compared to a larger ship like the Epic that holds more than thousand more passengers than the Pearl, most venues aboard are smaller. The breakfast buffet at the Garden Cafe with made-to-order omelets and a very wide variety of other hot and cold foods will suit anyone's tastes. Th Great Outdoors and Sky High Bar were great places for drinks. The Garden Cafe was a good choice for lunch--though I'd suggest they offer at least four pots stickers and two egg rolls as a starter. Yes we could order more if needed, but it did seem a bit little. We didn't care for the pizza in the Garden Cafe and the "Mexican Lunch" buffet was a disappointment, but the food overall in the complimentary eating places was just fine. The Moderno salad bar was excellent, but some of the meats seemed a little "recycled" or hanging around as there were not many guests when we went at 6pm. It is certainly "the place" if you are into eating large quanties of meat. Cagney's Steakhouse for dinner was good in most cases. However, we noted our ribeye steaks had less marbeling than normal, and were not as tender and expected and that we'd normally seen in the past. Le Bistro and La Cucina were both excellent, and the service in all places was outstanding. Mary Ann. The ship was clean (except around 9560 or so there were clearly a couple of staterooms close for sewage problems...bad smell walking through there every time). The entire crew was always pleasant...they were good at what they do and seemed to take great pride in their jobs. So what was best? The suite, and I'll explain that. Read Less