Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Norwegian Pearl ~ November 2011

Norwegian Pearl  ~  11/27 – 12/4/2011
Western Caribbean

Embarkation – When we arrived at the Port of Miami about 12:10 pm we saw several different check-in lines – Latitudes, Casino at Sea, Regular Check-in, etc.  As we were ready to head to the Latitudes line the check-in clerk said, “It doesn’t matter, they’re all the same,” which we found to be strange since it was still so early in the check-in process.  The lines were very long and slow-moving.  Once we made it to the “staging” area, the guys working there were not very organized and we waited an additional 20 minutes to get on the ship.  Overall the process was close to 70 minutes.

General Ship Appearance – Norwegian Pearl is in great shape!  The public areas still look fresh and clean.  We noticed a little wear and tear on the chairs in the Summer Palace dining room, but they are too big for the room/tables, so it’s no surprise that they get beat up.  The showroom on the Pearl offers great visibility from nearly any seat – no big pillars to block the view, excellent stadium seating.   One side note - we had some big ocean waves during this sailing, but the ship remained very stable.  

Pool Area – They had some of the most comfortable deck chairs and there were plenty of them.  You could check out extra towels by the pool which was convenient.  During the day they kept the music light and happy and not too loud.  David played the steel drums most days by the pool which was nice.  It seemed that you could always find a deck chair somewhere, even on sea days.

Overall Crew/Service – Extremely friendly crew!!  Always saying “Hello” with a smile.  The officers were very visible on this ship – more so than most cruises/ships.  The Executive Chef was present at most functions and mingled with guests in the dining rooms.  The Cruise Director, Julie, was in the buffet every morning greeting people and answering their questions. 

Cabin – We had ocean view cabin #5058 located midship between the front and middle elevator cores, which was very convenient.  This particular cabin is configured to be a quad occupancy cabin.  There was one upper bunk and one trundle bed under the regular bed that could be pulled out.  With the two lower beds configured as one queen, it was difficult to get in and out of bed.  On one side, there was only a six inch gap between the edge of the bed and the edge of the desk.  On the other side, the upper bunk stuck out of the wall about eight inches leaving only about six inches of clearance between the bed and the upper bunk.  Luckily, I only banged my shoulder once before learning the proper technique for getting out of bed.  There was plenty of storage with six large drawers, plenty of shelves, medium sized closet and a safe large enough to hold a laptop.  Bathrooms had separate doors for the shower and the toilet areas.  Showers had strong water pressure and were roomy.  Towels were thick and plush, but not very soft.  Beds were reasonably comfortable with duvets and oversize decorative pillows in addition to the regular pillows.  The balcony cabins are definitely more spacious with a separate loveseat sitting area, but had fewer drawers and less shelf storage.

Included Dining – We enjoyed several meals in Indigo and a few in Summer Palace, the main dining rooms.  The food quality was above average which was a pleasant surprise for us.  The buffet was our choice for breakfast and lunch most days.  The breakfast items did not change, but the made-to-order omelets were available in many stations throughout the buffet so there was never much of a wait.  The remaining choices were the standards.  Lunch items included made to order pastas and burger stations offering veggie and turkey burgers upon request.  Fruit and salad options were plentiful but the items didn’t have much variety from day to day.  That being said, there were plenty of choices available so as not to duplicate if you chose not to.  Buffet food quality was very good.  Servers were quick to clean tables and they provided assistance at the beverage stations.  For a very special feature, on the last day they offered an Austrian/Bavarian lunch buffet on the back buffet (the Executive Chef is from Bavaria) where they served spaetzle, schnitzel, and few kinds of wursts in addition to several regional specialty dishes.  It was a real treat!

Specialty Dining – We only went to Mambo’s ($10pp) and La Cucina ($10pp) for specialty dining.  Mambo’s food quality was excellent and the surcharge included a complimentary (but small) margarita.  We really enjoyed the Il Popo which was a plate of grilled meats and veggies.  La Cucina was a bit of a disappointment.  We had fond memories from the same restaurant aboard Norwegian Epic, but this experience did not live up to those.  We received the wrong salads and the tomato/mozzarella/basil salad was served without the balsamic drizzle.  We saw other salads going out correctly to specifications, but not ours.  The entrees were very tasty, but the entire meal was lacking in some way and after dinner coffee was ordered but never served.  Overall, the specialty dining options had plenty of availability every night.   In addition to the regular options, they offered an Indian Food Buffet in Mambo’s on the last sea day ($15pp).  It smelled delicious but they also featured Indian dishes on the regular buffet every day.  We didn’t see the value, and we enjoyed the Bavarian/Austrian food instead (with no cover charge).

Entertainment – Lots of choices for entertainment.  The first production show, “That’s Entertainment,” was nothing to write home about, but the specialty acts of “Oh What a Night”  (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons tribute group) and Sharkbait (comedy, juggling) were very entertaining.  The Second City troupe seemed a little “off” during their first night and they used many of the same sketches that we’ve seen on previous Norwegian cruises but with much less laughter from the crowd.  Throughout the ship the entertainers were “fine” – nothing “wow” about Tino the one man show or the others.  Roots Link (reggae band) and David (steel drums) were both good when they were playing. 

Activities – Plenty of things to choose from if you wanted to participate!  Lots of trivia, dance lessons, Botox seminars and shopping and port info.  They no longer give out silly prizes for the games on this ship.  Instead you get a card where you have to earn points for participation. You then redeem the points for various Norwegian logo items at the end of the cruise.

In Summary - This was our forth Norwegian cruise on four different ships in the last two years and, overall, we believe that Norwegian is showing improvement in all areas – especially in food and beverage quality and selections.  The crew seemed genuinely happy to be serving guests and the Officers were very involved in the daily events.  While the cabin was a bit small to our liking, we survived just fine and could recommend it for two or maybe three guests, but four could be pretty cramped unless there were small children.  But where else can you see an alligator carrying a mouse in its jaws?   We can confidently recommend the Norwegian Pearl and her crew due to this very solid overall performance.

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