Norwegian Pearl October 24th - 31st Day One - Driving to Ocala Florida
Believe it or not we have decided to start our road trip to Miami right after work. So I picked my DH up and off we went - headed to Ocala, FL. I have never been to ... Read More
Norwegian Pearl October 24th - 31st Day One - Driving to Ocala Florida
Believe it or not we have decided to start our road trip to Miami right after work. So I picked my DH up and off we went - headed to Ocala, FL. I have never been to Ocala and since by the time we arrived it was dark (around 9pm) we really did not see much. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Downtown Ocala. First impression - we loved the hotel! Not like your typical Holiday Inn; it was very trendy and the front desk staff was very welcoming.
Side Note: If you know me, you know I'm a Priceline fanatic and while I surely don't expect to receive the best room in the hotel, I also do not expect to end up in the basement with no windows. Sometimes we book rooms just to get away, rooms that if we had to pay rack rate we'd be unable to afford and so we wouldn't stay. I think Priceline actually provides more business to hotels that otherwise might not have as much on a particular day. Unfortunately I've been to some hotels where I hear, "oh you booked through Priceline" and end up with what I perceive is a lesser room.
Now at the Holiday Inn the room they gave us was on the 2nd floor and it had two double beds. I was somewhat annoyed that after telling the front desk person that it was our anniversary (it truthfully was) that she would give us a room with two beds. The hotel was not full by any means, but whatever. The room was totally cute and I liked it. I opened up the curtains and saw nothing but the hotels air-conditioning unit. Still this wasn't a big deal, we were passing though and the bed was big enough for two and comfy. So we both finally get under the covers to go to sleep and BEEP BEEP!! The fire alarm battery has decided to die and beep warning tones at us to let us know it was time to replace. So we called down to the front desk (it's a little after 12am) and they say they will need to move us to another room because no one is here that can replace the battery. To make up for our troubles (their words) they put us in a 1 bedroom suite that has a king size bed. We drag all of our stuff down the hall into the new room, barely have time to look at it because we are so tired and just fall asleep.
The following morning we have more time to examine the room and notice questionable stains on the walls and when my DH came back to the bed and put his knee in the middle of the mattress to get on it, THE BED BROKE!! It's wonderful to be married to someone with such a great sense of humor because we laughed and laughed. Instead of having to humiliate ourselves by telling the front desk, we took the entire bed apart, down to the frame, fixed it (kinda) and put it back together. I truly believe the bed was already broken because some of the screws were missing - Whatever.
So I go into the bathroom to take my shower and smell this really strong scent of lye. On the floor of the shower is some weird blue/gray liquid that neither of us can figure out where it came from. It smelled horrible!!! Gross! Since we still have our key from the 1st room, I walk back down the hall in my night clothes to the old room and shower there.
Time to check out, submitted an issue report to the hotel and hit the highway.
Oh yeah - forgot, we ate dinner that night at Cracker Barrel...it was ok...
Day Two - Miami or Barton G's
The drive to Miami was nice, they are building sound proofing (?) walls on the highway and I love the fact that they have imprints of birds and flowers in the concrete. It adds some visual interest to what otherwise could be a boring drive. We did also see huge swarms of birds (crows?) around what I believe are trash dumps along the hwy. You don't actually see the landfills, but there are sooooooo many birds flying around that I can only imagine what it must look like. It was kinda freaky and gross...
We are from Atlanta but I would drive on 285 Friday at 5:30pm and never complain before I would want to move to Miami and deal with that traffic. Maybe it's because like true tourist we did not know where we were going and the street signs could sometimes be confusing. I'm sure if we were seasoned Miamians we would have no problems jumping in and out of traffic like the locals.
As avid watchers of The Food Network, my DH insisted that we go to Primanti Brothers for one of their big a$$ sandwiches.
I got the tuna (added a fried egg) and DH got the Italian sausage. All sandwiches come with fries (yes, fries on the actual sandwich), cole slaw, provolone cheese and tomatoes. The sandwiches were really great but neither of us can completely finish them.
We arrive at the Hyatt Regency- Coral Gables. I FREAKING LOVE THIS HOTEL!! Valet is the only way to go primarily because I couldn't figure out where the regular parking was - we were on vacation, so hey! Our room was on the top floor and it was perfect. Again, we Pricelined it and even then it was not cheap, but it was worth every penny.
We ended up having a very romantic evening. That evening my DH took me out to dinner at Barton G's to celebrate our anniversary since we were too tired to go out the night before. Barton G's is an experience to be had. The food arrives in some of the most creative dishes I've ever seen at a restaurant. My lobster pop-tarts were delish, and they arrived in a retro toaster!
We had chicken served in a chicken and mac and cheese served in a mouse trap.
Our cheesecake, chocolate cake brownie thing arrived with sparklers in it! I really enjoyed this experience, the food was pretty good, however I must say DO NOT ORDER THE CHICKEN! It was not seasoned well and was awful! Again our good sense of humor came in and we decided just to let it go. Everything else was delicious, the $32.00 mac and cheese and everything else is totally worth it. When the bill comes it's properly referred to as "the damage". We're still paying for it...
Day Three - 1st day on the Norwegian Pearl
Embarkation - We arrived around 11:30 ish and drove around trying to figure out where the parking deck for terminal F was. We saw the deck for G, but not for F. Turns out they are all in the same deck - so just an FYI.
We dropped our luggage off for the porters and I was a little worried because there were people who still had not picked up their luggage from the previous sailing and I was concerned it would get mixed up with those passengers getting on. They did not immediately put our baggage on a cart, but by the time we parked in the garage and walked back to the terminal, all of our baggage was gone (thankfully it was indeed being loaded onto the Pearl).
Embarkation was pretty much smooth; the lines seemed to move well etc. However I did have a bad experience being a guest with disabilities, but I will not go into that here. All I will say is that the staff in the port could do a better job of asking and not assuming when it comes to identifying passengers with disabilities.
Once we boarded the ship we received our glass of champ...orange juice. DH and I do not drink so I was happy they had an alternative. We immediately went to check out the spa and get our weekly spa pass. It was $198 for the both of us, best money we spent on the entire cruise! After getting our pass we went to the Garden Cafe buffet for lunch. This was one of the few times we actually sat to eat in the buffet because seating was sometimes hard to come by. The food was great! No, it wasn't top of line, but it's a buffet and the options were plentiful and they tasted pretty good. Definitely a positive for NCL.
Room: At the last minute we were able to move from an accessible inside to an accessible balcony cabin. This was our first balcony and it was wonderful! The room was spacious, however for those in wheelchairs there is a pole in the center of the walkway when you first come in that could pose a problem with trying to turn around. The bathroom had plenty of grab bars, a roll under sink and a pull down bench in the shower.
The balcony - wheelchairs would only be able to roll straight out and not turn left or right to move down the balcony. The balcony is long, but not very wide, you could not turn around outside.
I know I might be mentioning things that seem odd, but these were important to me so I'm sharing. The beds are on metal (steel) frames and were very sturdy. There are tons of plugs beside the bed, at the vanity and behind the TV above the drawers. Our room had two plush chairs that were too low for my taste so I never used them. Also the pull down bed was above them and my DH hit his head on it when getting up from the chair.
Service: This is where NCL could use some serious work. My DH and I had Pepsi cards and getting service was hard enough, but after you ordered the servers would actually not bring your drink back! In places where we could just walk up to the actual bar, we would and service was good. However in places like the Starlight Theater, servers would "forget" to bring our drinks or as the days passed, totally ignore us all together. I realized they do not get additional gratuity for sodas when using the card, but the damn card isn't free and when you pay 60 bucks for $10 worth of soda I'd say the gratuity was built in! This is something that NCL needs to work on, if you're going to sell the card, then give the servers some kind of credit against the cost of the card for every soda that they fill up. We also had an issue in the Summer Palace dining room where the assistant server rolled his eyes at me because I mentioned that we would like tea instead of water.
An exception to this was at the Java Cafe!! JOAQUIN was Fantastic!! He was the star of our entire cruise. He was always pleasant, talked with us and did not look down his nose when I wanted a Pespi with my sticker J We filled out a Star performer card on Joaquin because he really was great!
Ports: St. Thomas
I realize today that my idea of a vacation and that of my husband is somewhat different. I want to lie around doing nothing but eating and sitting out on the balcony, he wants to sightsee and take pictures and buy stuff.
Today we are in St. Thomas and after sleeping in a bit we decided to get off the ship and go on the sky ride to paradise point. I did not remember the shore excursions list stating that there would be about forty steps up and then back down to take this ride. It's for the best because if I had, I would not have gone. It was hot and a bit confusing about how to get to the sky ride once we got off of the boat. Luckily the towns people are nice and helpful at pointing out the way. I was sweating by the time we got to the ride and when greeted by the steps I was worried if I'd be about to do this. I have a fear of steps (fell years ago, badly) and an arthritic knee, so steep steps are not my friend. Needless to say the steps were broken up, 20 before we got on the ride, 20 after we got off at the top, then the same thing over again on the way back down. (Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it seemed like a lot of steps!)
Great Stir-up Cay: Too many people in one place. I do not like crowds so this was not my idea of fun. DH had fun hanging with some of the people we met from CC snorkeling. I actually brought my own chair from home, which was good because all of the beach chairs were taken. You think chair hogging is bad on the boat? Expect to experience the same thing at GSC. The water was beautiful and clear and nice to look at. The side we were on was a bit rocky; I believe if you go to the left when you get off the tender the ocean floor is smoother. They had food and drinks; however I did not attend the buffet so I can't say much about it. Seemed like a pretty nice beach day, however expect a long line when it's time to go home. We left about 2-hours before we had to be back and the line was pretty long to get back onto the tender.
Side note: I am sitting out on the balcony as I type this.. I think I could live like this. I'm happy.
As a diehard Carnival cruiser it saddens me to say that I think I like NCL better. The food is better, the accommodations are nicer and there seems to be more to do. On the flipside the staff is less friendly (before they knew I was a cruise critic poster) and the entertainment (wayyyyyyy off broad way shows) was lack luster at best.
Entertainment: Last night we went to see a show called "insert name" and I was excited because it was going to have some of Justin Timberlake and Beyonce's songs in it. Totally the music of my generation-so I was happy to hear that. The show was horrible! I could lie and say I could have done a better show, but there is a reason I am a passenger and not the main attraction in the starlight theater. The female lead singer sounded lovely, her voice was strong and I enjoyed listening to her. Her male counterpart sounded generic and bored me to tears. During his rendition of "sexy back" by Justin, I think he spoke more of the words than actually sang them. I've never heard anyone perform a Frank Sinatra song so blandly. I wish I could think of better words to describe his singling, it was just flat - as in soulless. The stage is set up with a very large staircase covering most of the floor area, I felt it was too large and I couldn't help but notice the metal staircase the whole night. One of the ladies tripped while coming down the stairs; thank-fully no one was hurt.
We mostly ate in the buffet and Blue Lagoon. The food choices in the buffet were pretty good, but on a 7-day cruise can get to be repetitive. The BL was great for some late night munchies and mostly everything was pretty good - the fish a bit greasy, but still good. Our favorite was the pound cake with the strawberry topping. Very simple, but perfectly moist - a great treat! We went to two of the fee restaurant, Mambos and The Lotus Garden. All I can say for Mambos is save your money. I ordered the chicken tortilla soup and lobster tacos, the soup was just tomato soup and the tacos had more cheese in them than anything. It was the worst meal I had on the entire cruise. It was so bad that when the matri'd came over to ask how things were, I busted out laughing uncontrollably! I was so embarrassed! It was so horrible I could not even begin to intelligently express how bad it was so I just started laughing. I felt so bad for the matri'd and my DH because I made a fool out of myself, it was awful! I do appreciate that NCL actually took the time to ask what I thought of the food; too bad I could not articulate anything meaningful at the time. The Lotus Garden was ok, DH seemed to enjoy it.
Breakfast was my favorite meal on the Pearl and we always ate at the Garden Buffet. One note - they only offer extremely sweet orange juice and apple juice during breakfast, so if you can't drink these, bring some sugar-free juice packets from home and just mix them with the water. They do not offer un-sweet tea during breakfast. Oh, and the drink glasses are the size of a child's sippy cup, expect to get up for additional beverages if you usually like a full glass of drink with your meal. Lastly: I have to give NCL credit because several times throughout this trip I have been asked how things were going and even if there were any areas I felt NCL could improve on. I believe this is what's going to keep NCL going in the future, and certainly is part of the reason that I will be back, hopefully soon.
....I started this post on January 3rd, today is September 5th.... I'm going to go ahead and post it, unfinished, otherwise no one will ever see it....... Read Less