This is our second cruise on M/S NCL Pearl out of Seattle, our fourth cruise on NCL (2 other cruises on M/S NCL Jewel out of Miami), and our second reposition.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the Pier about 10:15 a.m. (a wee bit early) ... Read More
This is our second cruise on M/S NCL Pearl out of Seattle, our fourth cruise on NCL (2 other cruises on M/S NCL Jewel out of Miami), and our second reposition.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at the Pier about 10:15 a.m. (a wee bit early) and waited in line just 5 minutes before entering the building and being sorted out to the "VIP" row. We got lucky...the up sell fairy called 5 days before sailing and offered a Courtyard Villa for surprising little more than already paid. However, we would still have been in the same line as we'd booked a Romance Suite previously. We were escorted through security and then upstairs to the VIP Lounge where we were processed for photos, credit and key cards. We met our Concierge for the journey, Carlos Zarate, who is just delightful (be prepared for cheek kisses, ladies!). After chatting with Carlos for a bit we met Denis Prguda, the Hotel Director, who is not only very personable, but carries some big guns (think weight lifting). Then we met some of our new friends from our Cruise Critic chat and that certainly took up the time nicely (about a 20 minute wait). We were then asked to accompany a young man who was also escorting another family to the Courtyard Villas. As we are familiar with the area we assured the young man that we could find our own way so that he would be free to help the family. We arrived at the Jasmine Suite and found that it was not yet ready (no surprise there); we stowed our carry-on in the closet, programmed our safes and stowed our watches (let the cruise begin). Once we notified our Cabin Stewards that we were aboard and what we'd done, we walked through the 'door to nowhere' to Cagney's for lunch with some of our new friends. After A DELICIOUS lunch we all agreed we wanted to explore our own cabins more, so reconfirmed a meeting time for sail away. As we had the lovely sun deck above the Villas, we offered to have sail away for 18 at our cabin. Just prior to sail away we received a beautiful cheese board from NCL Customer Relations; good timing! At the appointed time we went up on deck only to realize that we were going to leave one hour late; this ended up to be fine as it gave the skies time to clear for some beautiful pictures. CRUISE CRITIC MEET AND GREET: Although 80 plus people had registered for the Meet and Greet only forty some showed up. I later learned that some were ill, some forgot, etc. Well, they missed a fabulous time in Le Bistro with Captain Lars Bengtsson, Hotel Director Denis Prguda (who remembered he'd met me in the VIP area the day before), Cruise Director Simon and our group coordinator, Janine. Captain Lars offered bowling to all who would like to play and that was set up by the Hotel Director and carried out by the group coordinator, Simon and the crew at the alleys. After comments we went to announcements and a birthday countdown (we had many Sept/Oct birthdays). We still had time left, so everyone got to take the mic and intro themselves so everyone would put names with faces. Lastly we had our gift exchange which was enjoyed by all those that participated. NCL, as usual, provided us delicious refreshments. Our bowling games had to be split up into three different days as we were so large and then two of the four lanes wouldn't operate. It was fun, except on our day it was rock-n-roll on the seas and it DOES affect how you do. Also...you can't slide at the end of the approach...I nearly landed face first on the alley! But we all had fun and not a lot of people can say they went bowling through the Panama Canal! CABIN: The Jasmine Suite is an A3 and the suite number is 14512, port side. It is the same as an AB, except you are on Deck 14, the Villas. It takes a couple of days to get used to the shower with the floor to ceiling window and everything in the bath is so open, but the extra space is just wonderful. I actually had drawers and cupboards that remained empty! DH used the extra bedroom as a dressing room and on a couple of occasions we used the room for a private nap when not feeling well. NOTE: This A3 and its twin on the starboard side are the only ones that do not look out over the canopy below on deck 13. The A4s that are just aft of these two suites also do not look over the canopy. I would have been very disappointed to be on my deck and see that canopy, as I enjoy my mornings on deck, watching the sea for critters (we saw turtles, dolphins, whales and sea lions as well as assorted fish and birds). The beds are so comfy on NCL no matter where you are and the only thing we needed to change was a couple of smaller pillows (standards) for me. The European and King Size are too large for my stature. We also had the Stewards change out the super huge towels for the standard size. What is uncomfortable is the living room furniture, particularly the sofa. I know the cruise lines want you out and about, but with the extreme heat we were in I spent more time in the room than I had originally planned. It was also not great for entertaining other travelers (our group of 12 liked to take turns hosting 'sail away' from each port). Not a great 'selling' point for the Villas. In addition, there is a constant vibration in the suite; the flowers constantly shook their little leaves throughout the trip. The sun deck (deck 15 above us) was nice for DH, but I only used it for sail away and Canal day...too hot. The courtyard was particularly hot and stuffy, sometimes with the misters on as early as 10:00 a.m. The workout area (stationary bike and treadmill) was so hot it was not useable for me (I'm fair, burn quickly and get heat stroke easily). Even with the retractable roof open it was still too hot. However, it was a delightful area for breakfast and lunch, napping and if you just wanted to take a quick dip in the lap pool (saw someone trying to use the lap pool and it has a very strong jet). I would recommend the Villas for people that prefer their privacy. With the keycard locks on the elevator you are assured of privacy, but it is a huge hassle if you are always running back and forth to let friends into the area to visit...or get all of your friends into the Villas and just take over the area! One other thing that would be nice would be a small cocktail party or something on the first day so that everyone on deck 14 could meet. SERVICE: We have, I promise you, the best Personal Cruise Consultant at NCL. To get a group arranged on board I again called on the fabulous Maybeline G. in Miami (she also accommodated my wine order)! Carlos Zarate, our Concierge, was just wonderful; so helpful with reservations for dinner, helping me assemble my group for various outings, etc. He also escorted us to The Bridge, once for a look/see and the second time at the request of the Captain for the final locks of the canal and to the Captain's dinner. We were also invited to a lovely cocktail party/open house offered by three couples that had taken the Garden Villa, starboard side. We toured the Villa, took some pictures with the Captain and the Hotel Director and enjoyed a glass of wine. At the beginning and again at the end of the cruise we attended two cocktail parties with the Captain, Carlos greeting us upon arrival. Butler: Lanie Limjoco, was our butler and she was always looking for something to do for us. We had two groups in and she did a wonderful job of preparing our cabin and putting out the appropriate glassware, foods, etc. I think she would have liked us to have dinner in the cabin, but with the large group of us, the dining rooms ruled. Courtyard Butler: Charlie was a blast, but with the temperature of the courtyard we only had breakfast and lunch once there. I did ask for iced tea one afternoon (he had just dumped it out) and he said he'd make more and bring it; he forgot. That's okay...nobody's perfect! So mostly we just said hello to Charlie as we passed him in the passageways. Cabin Stewards: Victor Valle and Joel Tolentino—I don't know what was going on there, but either they were at our door too early or too late. We just never quite got it together with them even though we let them know kind of what our days would be like. We had towel animals less than half the trip...a big disappointment (I'll have to learn to make them). DINING: Cagney's Steak House: I've never been that keen on Cagney's, but this trip was different. The food for breakfast, lunch and dinner was excellent. The steaks and lobster were delicious as were the oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktails, and the lamb chops were to die for! I did get a little tired of the breakfast menu never changing, but by simply eating cereal and fruit a few times I alleviated this. Beyond the food was the service...OUTSTANDING! The lunches are perfect and I must say that the breakfast/lunch staff had us spoiled. Six of us ate regularly together and our table was always ready and waiting...staff remembered who drank decaf, who was allergic to peppers, etc. And the tartlets they presented to us with such flourish will never be forgotten (thank you to ALL the staff that made this happen!). Dinner was a different staff, but service was excellent and the food was delicious. I like to talk with my hands and, just like at home, I broke a wine glass; it was removed and replaced so quickly that hardly anyone knew it had happened. However, I must say this, the food and service was never better than the night we dined with Captain Lars (such a treat!). I honestly don't think anything was better or different, it was just being with the most charming captain that NCL has (I'm prejudiced). Lotus Garden and Sushi: The sushi was outstanding as were most of the items at Lotus Garden. Several times there were 8 or more of us and dinner was just as good as when it was just 4 of us. The service was every bit as good as Cagney's. The dim sum items were not as good as at Chin Chin on Jewel, but each chef does things his own way and I just had certain things I didn't order. The crab is particularly nasty...loses its flavor the more it is heated. Summer Palace: I tried to get over my dislike of the dEcor in order to accommodate a group of 12 for a discussion. Well, the dEcor is just the start of it; our concierge made the reservation but none was found and they did not want a group of 12 at 4x4 tables put together. So we had our meeting with me jumping up and running back and forth, relaying info, to two tables of six. The food was positively awful and the service was lacking. We tried one more time to do a group of 16 with 4x4s and were turned down due to the size. I was then told that if we had TWELVE they could do it! We were also turned down to use the mini dining room for our final night dinner, so... La Cucina: If any restaurant was super accommodating , had good service and was always happy to see us, it was La Cucina. We could be as many as the middle tables could hold, be loud and laugh ourselves silly and no one cared! The food was always good (except for the lobster ravioli which was very dry and the last night the server never could get one gal's order for calzone correct) and plenty of it. Indigo: Our group ate here twice and I must say they were just as accommodating as any of the others (except Summer Palace) and the food was generally good. I find the food a little bland for my taste and was dismayed to order beef stroganoff only to find they had put green and red peppers in it (yes, I'm the allergic one). They were extremely kind and removed the plate and replaced it quickly with another dish of my choice. Mambo's: Our group of 6 ate one night at this charming little place. The food and service was good and the lobster tacos were tasty. Nothing fancy, just a very nice ambiance, good food and wait staff.
Blue Lagoon: We two stopped in late one night for a quick bite; soup and chicken wings (yum!). A quick place to grab a bite, with dependable service and good comfort food. Buffet: We only ate in the buffet a few times, but it was always good. The food was fresh, tasty and tables were clean and ready for us. I love their chicken! PUBLIC AREAS: I walked the Promenade almost every morning and someone was always painting, sweeping or cleaning something. The NCL ships are the cleanest, brightest ships of all the fleets, I'm sure. The only problem was one night when we heard (in the middle of the night) someone using something like a jack hammer to do some repair work. We finally fell back asleep, but did mention it to our butler in the morning (she obviously found someone to talk to as the noise never came back). We were dismayed on Canal day to find it raining and the sale of tee-shirts was being held on the pool deck. The lines were long and opened an hour early (DH waited in line over an hour); then we found the shirts for sale for days in the gift shop (it had been said you only had one day to buy). Casino: Thanks to our good luck here we were able to keep all of our cash for our tips and use our winnings for our port days! If you're not winning, walk away and play another day. We use this philosophy on every trip and always come out ahead (we play slots only). Internet Cafe: We bought the minimum minutes, checked our email once and then used it to book a rental car in Miami. We ended up with minutes left over and were happy overall with the experience. Had our laptop not been undergoing repairs it would have come with for this long trip. PORTS: We especially loved Huatulco, Mexico and Curacao. Huatulco is to be visited again—didn't know the rest of the city was just over a small hill and easily reached by taxi. We will visit Curacao again (already booked the cruise) and will now venture outside of downtown. It was clean and friendly and seemed like a really lovely place. Cabo San Lucas and Cartegena were oppressively hot, but Cartegena had to be the one port we didn't care much for. Trying to get a cab to accommodate 9 of us to go downtown was almost impossible. All drivers wanted us to take tours with them, but after about 25 minutes of arguing we finally found 2 drivers that agreed to take us for $20 per car. The tourist police are noticeable, but not menacing. The street vendors are just awful, as many as 10 at a time in your face, and with the heat it was just more than I could bear. After 2 hours I was ready to go back to the ship; I don't know that I'd visit again. Aruba seemed nice, but 11 inches of rain in 6 hours is a bit much and makes getting around very difficult (unless you're a pelican!). We have been to Puerto Vallarta many times, so we used the morning to do laundry and then shopped and ate right at the dock (a place we've frequented before). Acapulco was great and Rosie (the pink ladies) was a marvelous tour guide, taking 7 of us in her a/c van for $25 each, for the day. She drove us up into the hills (where the cross is), then to see the cliff divers (front row seats) and then to an open air cafe on the beach for lunch. She was knowledgeable and knew who to tip and when to do it to move us along. NOTE: In addition to the oppressive heat, there was also one night that we had quite the storm (pitching and yawing for most of the night) and sea sick bags were provided at various points throughout the ship. Almost every night, once we reached Mexico, we had lightning, sometimes with thunder and generally all night long. Rough seas did not accompany this, but it did mean staying inside and not walking on the decks so as not to be struck by lightning. The stars were amazing and we enjoyed the company of a Peregrine Falcon from Seattle to Cabo, nesting somewhere between our deck and the sundeck above. HIGHLIGHT: The purpose of the trip, especially for the ship, was to go through the Panama Canal. Nothing prepares you for this experience...you just soak it all in. We began the day with mimosas and rolls in our cabin with 17 others, up to our sundeck, then down to another couple's cabin located right under the bridge, then to another couple's cabin located completely aft (romance suite, deck 10). All of these various views were great, but none greater than at 3:00 we(DH and I) were escorted to The Bridge and for the next two hours stood just mid center, starboard side, to watch the ship go through those last three locks. The tension on The Bridge is just thick and as each lock is passed through a small sigh escapes the lips of the crew and the pilot. When it's all over the tension dissipates like air coming out of a balloon slowly. Perhaps it helped that our group gave the crew our version of Panama Canal hats to wear (made of newspaper) for their celebration. Much later in the day they obliged and we got photos (we shared a copy of with Captain Lars)! What great sports this crew are! DISEMBARKATION: We awoke to docking in Miami and took one last shower feeling like we were mooning all of Miami! We then took our champagne split to Cagney's where our 4 friends were waiting with their splits. Mimosas all around followed by breakfast and French press coffee. One last look around the cabin and off we went to meet everyone on the Promenade. After waiting about 10 minutes for Customs to 'move along' with the process, we were on our way to claim our bags (they are now on bag belts, just like the airports) and go through Customs. All told the process took about 15-20 minutes and was painless. Compared to past trips through Miami, it just keeps getting better and better as they finish this beautiful terminal. FINAL NOTE: We were blessed to have had 10 people from the larger Cruise Critic group decide to write to us early on via private email; these people (and a couple more we met along the way) all bonded with us in a way that I don't think any of us have ever experienced before. This group are travelers, not tourists, and therefore we didn't mind the change in itinerary, we never wanted to dine alone, sharing experiences and information came first and foremost to us, and one person's good fortune made us all smile; when one fell the others came to pick him up. And my new friends were there to dry my tears on Canal day; as we passed through the first set of locks we drank a toast to my mother...she always wanted to sail through the Canal but would never spend the money for fear of not having enough at the end of life. She died 2 years ago from Alzheimer's—the trip had become a moot point—but the money was there for us to make her journey. And we did...all nineteen days...the trip of a lifetime. And we thank our 'cruise family' and our NCL 'family' who made this journey with us. Read Less