About us: There were seven of us in all - parents, 30-something cousins, and a three year girl. My cousin and her husband had done this exact trip in 2008, while I've never been on a large ship before. (I've previously gone on a ... Read More
About us: There were seven of us in all - parents, 30-something cousins, and a three year girl. My cousin and her husband had done this exact trip in 2008, while I've never been on a large ship before. (I've previously gone on a Russian river cruise with AMA Waterways, and a Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coast). I've discovered that I'm apparently not an ocean cruise type of person, but most of the faces I saw were smiling so I think most people enjoyed the cruise.
Planning: We chose the Pearl because a) my aunt and uncle had put down an NCL cruise deposit during a previous cruise b) my cousin loved Glacier Bay and c) we have a cousin living in Seattle.
Ship - The ship itself seemed like it was in good condition. Though it was fully booked, none of the public areas felt too crowded (except on embarkation day), and we usually had no trouble finding a spot for the seven of us for meals. While we were at sea, the ship moved smoothly. There was one night where I could definitely feel the rolling of the waves while I was lying down, but for the most part, it seemed very calm. There were a few times when we had to wait for the elevator, especially close to port arrival/departure times, but for the most part, it wasn't too bad. The decks and lounges had plenty of comfortable seating.
Cabin - We had an oceanview cabin. I was impressed with our cabin. I think the storage was cleverly designed so there was plenty of space. The water pressure was very nice in the showers. The window was large, and on the sunny days, we could enjoy the view. We could hear my cousin's family through the wall (especially her three year old daughter) but I think that's because she's especially loud. Our neighbors on the other side were very quiet.
Embarkation - We were able to embark pretty quickly. There was a minimal line for security - maybe two or three people in front of us, and we waited about 15 minutes before our group was called to board the ship. There was a line to walk on, but it moved continuously. As the cabins had not been finished before we arrived, we hung out in the very crowded cafe area for the next hour.
Dining - I think this is where the cruise fell the most flat for me. The portions were large, but the quality was lacking in many areas. I was not impressed with the speed of the service, nor the food quality of The Summer Palace where we dined the first night. The French onion soup wasn't savory - just salty and watery. The medium rare prime rib I ordered was overcooked, possibly from having sat under a serving cover for so long. The specialty restaurants were disappointing. The Teppanyaki was pretty good, although very heavy on the garlic (and I like garlic!) However, the rib-eye at Cagney's was a poor cut (very tough to cut with their knives), and my lasagna at La Cucina was quite soggy. I did like the desserts at the restaurants, and the portions at the restaurants were exceedingly generous. On a bright note, the buffet was much better than I had expected, and we ate there most days. There were plenty of choices, and most of it was tasty. I especially enjoyed the Indian options.
On board activities - These are why I feel I'm not a cruiser - I'm an introvert who feels drained by excited voices cheering each other on in trivia or the conga line. I'm not a gambler, so I didn't participate in Bingo or go to the casino. The Q&A sessions with the ship's crew were okay, and while the "This is Alaska" presentation was cheesy and totally an attempt to convince people to sign up for the excursions, it contained pretty pictures and was somewhat informative. I attended one "dollar origami" session, but there was just a single presenter and no overhead screen - he had to walk over to each group to help them with the next fold. None of the evening shows were particularly appealing to me, so I didn't go. I did try to go see the aerialist, but the theater was crowded and it was hard to find seats. All this being said, my lack of enjoyment does not reflect the quality of the entertainment/activities - it's simply that they didn't suit me personally.
Connectivity: We had 250 minutes of wifi through the promotion. It was pretty quick for the most part, although there was a long period of time when it didn't work (I think this was on the Victoria day). I have Project Fi, which uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular towers; I had a data in Ketchikan and Victoria, a shaky connection in Juneau, and no signal in Skagway.
Kids - My cousin's three year old daughter participated in the Splashacademy most days. She put up a fuss each time ("No want school!") but was happy to go in as soon as she saw the other kids. I'm not entirely sure what they did with the little ones most of the time, but she certainly brought back a lot of art projects to show off. On the last day, the kids presented a gymnast/circus show. I was actually pretty impressed with how the older kids performed.
I booked most of my shore excursions independently, and viewed the ports/excursions as the primary reason for the cruise.
Juneau - we were at AJ dock, which is about a mile from town - take the shuttle if you're there!
Downtown Juneau was smaller than I had thought it would be.
My mom and I did a 5 pm whale watching tour with Harv and Marv and really enjoyed it.
The rest of my family took the Mt. Roberts Tram, and said that it was actually pretty nice, despite the clouds. My cousin thought it was too expensive, but her husband thought it worth the money.
Skagway - I liked the souvenir shops in Skagway, and the downtown area was very walkable.
We took the 8 am White Pass summit excursion. I found this to be the most disappointing of our excursions. It was cloudy, and we didn't see very much.
I also walked to Jewell Gardens for the glassblowing experience. (Next time, I'd bring cash and take the SMART shuttle). I enjoyed the glassblowing portion, but was underwhelmed by the gardens themselves.
My mother and aunt took a walking tour offered by the National Park Service. They said it was very crowded, and were not that impressed. My cousin walked around Skagway and said she rather liked the Klondike Gold Rush Visitor Center.
Glacier Bay -It was very cloudy as we entered the glacier, and almost nobody went outside. As we entered deeper into the park, the skies started to clear up and it was very sunny by the time we reached Margerie Glacier. The glaciers were very beautiful, although it's sad to think of how much they've receded in just the past few years.
Ketchikan - The weather was beautiful this day, and I thought Ketchikan was very pretty. I liked reading about its history as I ambled around.
I did a bearviewing flight with Seawind Aviation and saw lots of bears.
The rest of my family did the George Inlet Lodge crab feast, booked through the cruise line and leaving the ship at around 6:30 am. They said the crab was tasty, but ended up eating at 9:30 am.
Victoria: We arrived here around 6 in the evening. We had all filled out the landing cards ahead of time, and did not need to bring our passports to get off the boat. The dock was apparently quite far from the town.
I did an evening orca-watching tour, booked through the cruiseline. I enjoyed it, and we were able to see several orcas.
My aunt and uncle did the evening Butchart gardens excursion, also booked through the cruise. They said it was getting dark for much of the time they were in the gardens, so that was disappointing, but the fireworks display was quite nice.
Disembarkation: We had signed up for the Port Valet service. Our luggage tags were delivered with the turndown service the night before disembarkation, but my cousin (next door) and my aunt did not receive theirs. For some reason, they had to go to the front desk to get theirs. Disembarkation was very quick. We simply held open our passports and walked by the customs officer. We were probably off the ship within ten minutes of deciding to leave (around 8 am).
Would I do this again? Probably not, but not because I think the product is bad, just that it isn't right for me. I liked Norwegian's freestyle approach, where you don't have to dress up and you can dine when you'd like. However, I'd like to be able to spend more time in the ports, and would like the opportunity to try out more local restaurants rather than feeling obliged to eat on the ship since that's what I paid for. I don't find looking at the ocean relaxing, and while I could read a book in the lounge or cabin, I could do so just as well at home. (I'm also not a fan of beaches for that reason - swimming yes, beaches no). All that being said, while I didn't take advantage of the amenities that the Pearl offered, I did enjoy myself, watching the scenery, reading my book, eating at the buffet, and getting to visit some stunningly beautiful places. Read Less