Background Info: My girlfriend and I were on the January 17-26 Eastern Caribbean 10 Day sailing of the Norwegian Pearl out of Tampa. We are in our early fifties and are seasoned cruisers with well over 20 cruises between us. This was my ... Read More
Background Info: My girlfriend and I were on the January 17-26 Eastern Caribbean 10 Day sailing of the Norwegian Pearl out of Tampa. We are in our early fifties and are seasoned cruisers with well over 20 cruises between us. This was my 2nd cruise and GF’s 1st cruise on the Pearl. Other NCL ships include Escape, Sun and Dawn. We have also sailed on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This was our 1st cruise with Platinum status and we took advantage of all the perks.
The itinerary was Thursday to Saturday with four sea days and five ports of call: Key West, Tortola, Antigua, St. Marten and San Juan in order.
Pre-Cruise: We flew into Tampa Wednesday afternoon arriving around 3:30 p.m. We live in Michigan so flying in a day early is a must. We caught a taxi to the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk. Cost was $35 including tip. The Barrymore offers a free shuttle, but we opted for the taxi. The ride was about 25 minutes due to rush hour traffic.
The Barrymore is located on West Fortune Street about 2 miles from the cruise port in the heart of downtown Tampa right next to the Riverwalk. You have access to several bars/restaurants as well as a CVS to pick up any last-minute needs (sunscreen, snacks, etc.…).
The Barrymore is an older hotel that has been refurbished and is in good condition. The room was clean and the bed comfortable. Someone said it is an old Holiday Inn. There is a lobby restaurant in called the Waterworks Bar and Grill. We didn’t eat there but the cocktails were delicious. There is free coffee in the lobby for a morning wake up, but it is weak. There is a Starbucks nearby for your hardcore coffee drinkers. The price of the hotel was $143 including taxes. I booked directly with the hotel about 3 months in advance using a cruise special. I would absolutely stay there again.
Lastly, a member of our roll call set a up a pre-cruise meet and greet at Taps Bar and Grill not far from the hotel. About 30 folks showed up and got the party started a day early.
Embarkation: We caught the free hotel shuttle to the port about 10:00 am. There were many cruisers heading to the port, so the hotel brought out the large bus to accommodate everyone. It was a quick a 10-15 minute ride. We arrived at the port, gave our bags to the porter, flipped him a $10 bill and walked into the terminal. Check-in was a little slow but not too bad. Once you got through security the process was a breeze. Boarding started about 11:30 am. After the Haven folks boarded, we were next along with Platinum Plus and Ambassador levels. The waiting area was packed and there were way more butts than seats. A minor annoyance but nothing to get worked up about. We were eating lunch in the Summer Palace by Noon. The crew directs you to the Garden Café but we much prefer the dining room as the buffet is chaotic.
In general, the Port of Tampa seems to be more chaotic than Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and is my least favorite to sail from on a cruise.
Cabin: We stayed in cabin 10041 which is an inside forward cabin. We chose an inside for two reasons:
1)We don’t spend much time in our cabin
2)Inside cabins are so dark that we sleep very soundly.
The 10th deck met our main requirement of being sandwiched between two other decks that are exclusively cabins to minimize any noise disruption. The bed was comfortable and the bathroom functional. We brought an over the door shoe rack, so the bathroom counter was free of clutter. We also brought magnetic clips that stuck to the walls. Perfect for hanging the NCL Dailies, belts, hats, etc.… The air conditioning worked great. Closet/drawer space was plentiful. It was cramped but more than manageable for two people. My girlfriend also utilized packing cubes for the 1st time and now swears by them.
One tip for those that experience issues with cabin dryness due to the air conditioning (i.e., sinus issues, snoring) is to bring a travel humidifier. Bough it on Amazon for $25 and it worked great. We had no issues at all.
Our Platinum status allowed us two free meals. We had our choice of Cagney’s or LeBistro and Moderno or La Cucina. We chose Cagney’s and Moderno. The remaining dinners were at main dining restaurants (Summer Palace and Indigo), Lotus Garden (Asian Fusion) and O’Sheehan’s.
Moderno – With all apologies to Arby’s, Moderno has the meats. Moderno is a traditional Brazilian steakhouse. Diners use two-sided color cards to communicate with their gauchos (waiters): Green indicates "keep it coming," and red tells them “enough”.
First you start with a trip to the salad bar loaded with various types of lettuce, cold salads deli meats and cheeses. There also are a couple of soups: Seafood Chowder and Black Bean. I had the seafood chowder and it was terrific. Try not to fill up on salad and soup because you want to leave room for the meat.
Next the gauchos start bringing the meats to your table. They carve the meat which is on a long skewer and you use tongs to put the meat on your plate. Here are the meats I remember being offered: filet mignon, garlic beef, chicken breast, marinated chicken leg, picanha (sirloin with Brazilian spices), chorizo and lamb. I’m sure I forgot a few. The meats come in no order. If you want more of a meat just ask and they will bring it back to your table. We asked for additional filet mignon. You also get four sides that are brought to your table on a tray: buttered rice, sautéed mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes and deep fried yuca. A basket of Pao De Queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) is also brought to your table. The deserts, as is generally the case, were disappointing.
Cagney’s – As usual, Cagney’s did not disappoint. The food was amazing. I had the lobster bisque (I could have eaten a bucket of the stuff) and shrimp cocktail for starters. GF had the lump crab cakes and iceberg wedge.
We each went with the filet mignon (5 oz.) for our main course. We both request medium but mine was medium rare. The sides are all good so you can’t go wrong. We tried the mac & cheese, onion rings, and au gratin potatoes. We also shared a couple of desserts, caramel butterscotch cheese cake (very good) and seven-layer cake (not worth the calories).
Service was quite slow at the beginning as we sat for nearly 10 minutes before we were approached but was fine for the rest of the meal. We did get the old “you get one starter, one main course, one dessert with the platinum voucher” speech. We ordered all the sides and starters we wanted and when the bill came it was $0.00
Bottom line…Cagney’s is still #1.
Lotus Garden – This is a complimentary Asian Fusion restaurant. We ate dinner there twice and had great experiences both times. They do not take reservations, it is first come, first served. The first time we waited about 15 minutes for a table while on our 2nd visit we were seated immediately.
We both enjoyed the Harvest Spring Rolls and Pot Stickers for appetizers. Hint: They only bring you one spring roll with your order so be sure to order two. The main courses are your typical Asian fare in my opinion. I had the Combination Fried rice both times and GF had the Orange Peel Beef. All were very good. We skipped dessert.
Main Dining - Of the two main dining rooms, we preferred Summer Palace. Indigo felt crowed and loud. The Summer Palace is also open for breakfast/lunch and was our preferred venue for the quality of food and relaxing atmosphere.
The food was generally good in the main dining room. GF had fish just about every time and enjoyed them all. I had mostly chicken dishes…some were better than others. We really enjoyed the appetizers. Some of our favorites included: squash soup, French onion soup, spring rolls and shrimp louis.
The desserts? Don’t bother...save your calories for booze.
Garden Café – In general, we try to eat as few meals as possible in the Garden Cafe. Not that we don’t eat there, it’s just we prefer a more relaxing dining experience whenever possible. Finding a seat can be very challenging during peak breakfast and lunch times.
We only ate breakfast there a few times and it had the usual items: scrambled eggs, eggs benedict, oatmeal, meats and cheeses, cold cereal, fruit, hash brown potato cakes (my personal favorite) and more. There also are stations where you can get omelets and fried eggs cooked to order. The line can get long so be patient.
We had lunch at the Garden Cafe a couple of times and found the variety and quality somewhat disappointing. The food ranged from bad to good. Lunch included premade sandwiches, lasagna, hot dogs/burger bar, French fries, mac and cheese, salad bar, fish sticks, Asian station. Particularly bad is the pizza. It’s just not worth the calories. Salad bar and fish selections are high points.
We did not have dinner at the Garden Café.
O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill – I know O’Sheehan’s has its share of detractors but I’m just going to come out and say it “I LOVE O’SHEEHAN’S”. We ate there 6 times including a couple of late-night stops at 1:00 am for wings and nachos. The food was mostly good. Don’t get me wrong, they have some losers, but we enjoyed most of it. Here are some of our winners and losers:
Nachos with bacon, cheddar cheese and jalapenos
Caesar Salad with Salmon
Chipotle Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Grilled Reuben on Rye (corned beef was chewy)
Chicago Style Hot Dog (bun was so dry it literally fell apart when I bit into it– tried it twice)
Desserts – all of them
O’Sheehan’s also serves breakfast and is a great option. It is not crowded, and the service is quick. The menu is reduced but you can easily find something you like. So much better than standing in lines and battling the crowds in the Garden Cafe’.
Room Service – We used it several times to have coffee, fruit, yogurt and pastries delivered to our stateroom. There is no charge unless you are having a hot meal delivered (i.e., eggs, sandwiches). You hang a tag on the cabin door before you go to bed with your selections checked. You also, select a time range (i.e. 8:00 am – 8:30 am, 8:30 am – 9:00 am, etc.…) Be forewarned, they will arrive at the front end of your chosen range (maybe be even 10 minutes early). A couple of times we were still in bed when they knocked on the door and announced, “Room Service”. That will wake you up better than coffee. And speaking of coffee, the room service coffee was inconsistent. Some mornings strong, some mornings very weak. Don’t forget to tip the delivery person a few bucks!
Cruise Director: Some guy named Ferdie was the CD for our sailing. I didn’t see much of him other than at the main shows in the Stardust Theatre. I can’t recall seeing him out and about at all. I’d give him a “meh minus”. Most of the shows in the Bliss Lounge were hosted by the Cruise Director staff and they did a good job for the most part.
Comedian: The main comedian was Jay Reed. I liked his main show very much. He was funny but not offensive. I really wanted to see his adult show in the Spinnaker Lounge, but it was held the last night of the cruise at 10 pm.
Pure Variety – Like the name implies there was a little of everything…country, funk, disco, etc. It featured a wide range of artists including multiple songs by Abba and Billy Joel. A very good show that is sure to make your toes tap.
Legends in Concert – This show featured tribute artists of Elton John, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson as well as the production cast. Each artist performed a 20-minute set of the artist’s hits. Each one was good, but the Michael Jackson performer was outstanding. Don’t miss this show!
Lady Luck – A trio of talented female vocalists who performed two shows during the cruise. The first show was Vegas standards by Frank Sinatra and the rest of the rat pack. This show was kind of Vegas cheesy but not terrible. Their 2nd show was far superior. It consisted of crowd-pleasing songs from artists such as Shania Twain and Abba.
Matt Marcy – A unique act that mixes comedy and magic. He doesn’t do big illusions but is more of a traditional magician. There is lots of audience participation. Probably the best magic act I’ve seen on a cruise. Get there early and enjoy the preshow…it’s a hoot!
We also enjoyed Sing Along with Peter in Magnums almost every night. His play list wasn’t deep but what he played was well done. I swear he played Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” twice every night.
Duo Quintessence – This was an acrobat/gymnast show in the Stardust Theatre. We did not see their main show but did see them at the Welcome Aboard show. They are talented for sure……but once was enough for us.
Ultimate Dance Clash – This is a takeoff on "Dancing with the Stars" type show featuring ship dancers and passengers held in the Spinnaker Lounge. This is always one of our favorite shows on any NCL cruise ship. It was a lot of fun. Surprisingly, it was not well attended. This show has been packed on other NCL cruise ships in which we have sailed.
Innovation – A house band that put on several themed shows in the Bliss Lounge. The music was good, but I have never saw a such an unhappy group of performers. They rarely smiled while performing. There was just a weird vibe on stage. Chances are if you show up in the Bliss around 9 PM, Innovation will be playing.
Roxy – She performed acoustic sets of various hit songs mostly in the Atrium. What a snore-fest! Every song sounded the same. Having trouble sleeping? No problem...just go to one of her shows for ten minutes.
Overall, I felt the entertainment was below the standard I’ve become accustomed to on other NCL ships. I was never bored, not by a longshot. Just a little underwhelmed. I think the NCL mega ships have better entertainment.
The fitness center is not large but does have a good variety of equipment. In terms of cardio equipment, there are treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes and rowing machines. There are both free weights and machines. It is extremely warm in the fitness center with little air movement. A nice touch is the cold towels. There is no charge to use the fitness center. However, if you want to use the sauna/steam room/showers you must purchase the spa pass.
Warning: Extreme caution should be used when using the treadmills on sea days. The rocking of the ship can easily throw you off-balance and result in injuries. I witnessed just such an occurrence on the last sea day. A middle-aged man was clipping along, the ship lurched, and he face planted right on the treadmill. In the blink of an eye he was thrown off the machine. He was not wearing the safety clip, so the belt continued to spin with his arm still on the belt. I ran over and hit the emergency stop button, but the damage was done. He had about a six-inch abrasion on this wrist/forearm that was darn near down to the bone. Not the way you want to end your cruise. So be careful and wear the safety clip on the treadmill.
Ports of Call
Key West, Florida – We have been to Key West several times, so we just walked up and down Duval Street to get in some steps. We did stop at Kermit’s on Greene Street for a slice of key lime pie on a stick. It is dipped in chocolate and worth every calorie. Treat yourself…you’ll be glad you did.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands – CALLING ALL BEACH LOVERS! If you want to visit one of the greatest beaches in the world then take the NCL excursion “Escape to Jost Van Dyke”. It is a 45-minute catamaran ride aboard the Rebel Yell from the port in Tortola to the White Bay, Jost Van Dyke. They drop you off right by the Soggy Dollar Bar which has free beach chairs and serves the most delicious beach drink...the Painkiller. The sand is soft and fluffy. Pictures do not do this place justice. You must see it for yourself. We've been to many beaches in our travels, but this is #1 so far. The only downside is you are at the beach for just slightly over 2 hours. Rum punch is served on the ride back to port to put the exclamation point on a fantastic excursion.
We were last in Jost Van Dyke in November 2016 and like others were saddened by the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma to this lovely island. We were absolutely amazed at the recovery. Don’t get me wrong, they have a long way to go but you couldn’t help but be impressed by their recovery to date.
This excursion sells out very quickly. Book it as soon as it becomes available or you will miss out.
Antigua - We spent the day at Valley Church Beach enjoying sand, sun and drinks. The Bar/Restaurant was called The Nest. A $20 bill gets you two chairs and an umbrella. A bucket of 6 beers was also $20. We did not eat there.
One thing to note, there is a 1-2 foot drop off about 10 yards into the water. We saw more than a few people stumble on their way in and out of the water. There were 6 ships in port, so it was crowded but you still had room to move about.
The interesting part of the trip was we took the bus to and from the beach. I’ve done it before, and it was easy. It is about a 10-15-minute walk to the bus station and completely safe. Cost is $1.50 pp each way. A taxi ride would have cost $25 each way. When you compare $50 vs. $6 it is an easy decision. I'd be happy to share the details on how to take the bus. Just send me an e-mail. Address is at the end of this review.
St. Maarten – After much research we decided to visit the Karakter Beach Bar and Restaurant on Simpson Bay Beach (pronounced care-actor). We were not disappointed. Not only was the beach nice but the food, drinks and service were outstanding. Beach chairs and umbrella are no charge so long as you are buying food and/or drinks. We had 8 beers and an order of nachos and our bill was $31 excluding tip. The euro is the official currency of St. Maarten, but they accept US dollars at par value (1 euro = 1 dollar) so it is a great deal if you have US$.
It is located right next to the runway of the airport. The planes do not take off and land over your head but rather to your side. The views are magnificent without the chance of death. They were more than happy to call us a taxi for the return trip to the port.
San Juan, Puerto Rico – We did the San Juan City and Bacardi Factory Tour through NCL. The highlight of the city portion of the tour was a stop at Fort San Cristobal. This is part of the U.S National Park system and was open despite the partial government shutdown. We spent about an hour touring the fort and that was about all the time you needed.
We re-boarded the tour bus and headed over to the Bacardi factory. They provide you with a welcome drink as well as a ticket that can be redeemed for another drink at the end of the tour. The factory tour was interesting and lasted about 1.5 hours. You learned about the history of the company and the process of making rum. It was a pleasant way to spend the day.
Cruise Critic Meet & Greet
I would estimate there was about 40-50 people at the Meet and Greet. It was held in the Bliss Lounge on the 1st sea day (Saturday). NCL served coffee, water, juices and as well as pastries. It was attended by the all the department heads including the Captain. They were all very nice and professional, but in all honesty, I’ve become bored with the meet and greets as it has become repetitive. We bolted for the door as soon as the officers were done speaking. The pool deck and UBP were calling.
• The bowling alleys in the Bliss are a waste of space. They didn’t seem to generate that much participation. That space could be better utilized for seating at it can be tough to get a seat in the Bliss.
• The Great Outdoors is nice place to enjoy a sailaway drink with your Cruise Critic Group
• This cruise had the oldest passenger base in which I’ve ever sailed. I’ve been on a few 10 day cruises before and it has always skewed older, but this was another level. It’s great seeing everyone out enjoying life no matter their age. I hope to do the same.
• The new NCL app is much improved. Very easy to set up and use. Nicely done.
• Chair hogs were not a problem.
• Stardust Theatre Seat Hogs were a problem. We came in 15 minutes before a show and a gentlemen told us he was saving eight prime seats. We just sat down and when he protested, I just said there is no seat saving. Witnessed multiple instances of this behavior.
• The pool decks were crowded but you could always find a chair. We just went up to the sundeck in the forward of the ship. It was a little windy a couple of days but not terrible. You did have to walk down one deck for drinks as there was not wait service up there.
• The deserts in general are meh at best, regardless of dining venue. They are great on the eyes and disappointing in the mouth.
• You should get late night snacks from O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill at least once.... you’re on vacation.
• Mandatory lifeboat drill was quick and painless
• Book your specialty dinner reservations early (pre-cruise if possible). The prime dining times book early.... unless you like dining at 9:15 pm.
• This was one of the 1st cruises after the changes in the drink package. I’m happy to report everyone survived!
• Since San Juan was our last port and therefore also our entry into the United States of America. All guests had to go through immigration inspection in the Terminal. Nobody could board the ship until EVERYBODY was accounted for. It started at 7:30 am and was complete by 10:00 am. It was very organized and efficient.
• NCL should just stop serving pizza if it is going to be that bad.
• The Officers were very visible and friendly. I saw them engaging passengers several times though out the cruise.
• Significantly less photography intrusions on this cruise. Being interrupted at dinner is a pet peeve of mine.
• Premium coffee is served in the Atrium for those needing a caffeine fix.
• Casino……. who knows? We only walked through it on our way to someplace else.
• Attend the Q&A session with the Captain and officers if you can. It was quite interesting. It was our last sea day.
• Disembarkation was a little slow due to a medical emergency that occurred during the self-assist process. Overall it resulted in a 25-minute delay. Our flight was not until 2:30 pm so no worries.
The level of service was excellent for the most part. Nobody was rude. However, I sensed less enthusiasm for the work. Perhaps it is due to staffing levels. Perhaps it was an anomaly. Not a complaint, just an honest observation.
No cruise is perfect......but overall it was another great cruise on NCL. We made many new friends. NCL continues to be our cruise line of choice.
I’d be happy to answer any questions or elaborate on any of the above comments here or feel free to send me an e-mail at LD_Silver_Cruiser@Yahoo.com. Read Less