Entered Service: November 28, 2006
Where I Saw Her: Miami, on a two-night ‘cruise to nowhere.’
Sister Act: Sister ship to Norwegian Star, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii, the 2,400-passenger Norwegian Pearl was to be an identical twin to Jewel, but top brass decided on additional features, such as an industry-first bowling alley; and two NCL firsts — a rock-climbing wall and two Deluxe Owner’s Suites.
Lucky Strike: The most talked about feature on Pearl is the bowling alley. The four-lane, ten-pin bowling alley is situated aft on Deck 7 in the Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub. The cost, which includes shoe rental, is $5 per person, per game. I bowled and saw little impact from the ship’s movement on the ‘roll-true’ lanes, but the fact that we were bowling at sea (on a moving vessel) made a great excuse for gutter balls.
Rock On: Pearl also features a rock-climbing wall. Hmm. Doesn’t another cruise line feature rock-climbing walls? Clearly, NCL doesn’t mind borrowing good ideas from Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. Pearl also features a waterslide on the pool deck, a la Carnival, (Pearl’s is not as big as Carnival’s), and the main lobby features a big screen, a la Princess, Carnival and Disney Cruise Line.
Freestyle: The challenge for NCL, and indeed for all cruise lines, is to distinguish and differentiate, NCL is doing a good job at that with its Freestyle Cruising concept, which seeks to remove all the perceived constraints of cruising, such as assigned dining times and dress codes.
Moreover, NCL is seeking to bury the idea that its fleet is comprised only of midsize and older ships, which is ‘absolutely not the reality,’ the company’s Andy Stuart told The Avid Cruiser. Pearl is the ninth new big ship in NCL’s fleet since 2000, and with three additional ships coming, the company will have the youngest fleet in the industry by 2010. ‘Our ambition was not to become the biggest,’ Stuart says, ‘but the youngest.’
My Stateroom: 11594, on deck 11, Mini-Suite, Category AF. Pearl features 134 value-oriented Mini-Suites, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a balcony, queen-size bed (convertible to twins), sitting area with sleeper sofa, and a spacious bathroom with shower and tub. Ultra-roomy, mini-suites measure 284 square feet.
Bigger Digs: Pearl also features NCL’s unique Garden Villas, Courtyard Villas and two Deluxe Owner’s Suites.
The two Garden Villas are a whopping 4,390 square feet each and feature a spacious living room, dining room and three bedrooms, each with a private bathroom.
Garden Villa guests have their own private sun beds, hot tub and steam room in a private garden, plus butler and concierge service. The company’s Andy Stuart says the Garden Villas offer a ‘ship within a ship’ experience with the ‘ability to duck in and out of the big ship’ features.
The Courtyard Villa ‘suite complex’ also features 10 villas that measure up to 572 square feet. Eight of the villas have separate children’s bedrooms, and all feature living area, dining area, separate bedroom with queen-size bed, luxury bath and separate shower as well as access to the private courtyard, and butler and concierge services.
New for Pearl and high above everything else are two Deluxe Owner’s Suites, measuring up to 928 square feet. With views of the ship and the ocean, these suites offer a master bedroom with king-size bed, luxury bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower, living and dining area, two balconies, access to the courtyard, butler and concierge services.
Family Friendly: Pearl features 280 connecting staterooms across many categories, including suites and mini-suites as well as the Aqua Kids Club on deck 12.
My Favorite Public Room: Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub. During the day, Bliss is a sports bar and bowling alley, with flat screen televisions airing sports events, plus air hockey, foosball and other arcade games. In the evening, Bliss transforms into a hip, high-energy ultra-lounge with non-stop music. Bliss is the most unique lounges at sea I’ve ever seen. Reminiscent of those in South (Miami) Beach, Bliss features eclectic furniture, including beds (yes, beds), sofas and comfortable chairs.
Freestyle Dining: Seeking to break down regimentation, NCL’s Freestyle dining concept permits passengers to dine where they want, when they want and with whom they want — and also dress as they want. Like her sisters, Pearl features 10 restaurants, with some that charge nominal fees. My favorite was Cagney’s Steak House (featuring USDA Certified Premium Gold Angus beef and other menu items; cover, $15 per person), but others preferred Le Bistro (serving French cuisine; cover, $10 per person).
The other restaurants are:
- Summer Palace — One of the two main restaurants. Inspired by St. Petersburg’s grand palaces and the era of Russian Tsars.
- Indigo — The second of the two main restaurants. Inspired by a modern boutique hotel with clean lines and color combinations of vibrant blues, purple and orange hues.
- Lotus Garden — Featuring the exotic cuisine of the Far East and a full sushi and sashimi bar. Per person cover charges: $10 for Lotus Garden; $12.50 for Shabu-Shabu and sushi bar.
- Teppanyaki: chefs entertain while cooking Asian meals. Cover charge of $20 per person.
- Mambo’s Latin/Tapas Restaurant — Featuring Tex-Mex and tapas.
- La Cucina Italian Restaurant — Casual Italian eatery reflecting a village trattoria or traditional farmhouse kitchen.
- The Garden Cafe — Indoor buffet featuring prepared-to-cook omelets, waffles, fruit, soups, ethnic specialties and pasta. Features a special ‘kids only’ area with smaller tables and chairs.
- Tip: Look for the self-serve coffee machine aft toward The Great Outdoors, an outdoor eatery with alfresco dining, for free specialty coffees.
- Blue Lagoon — A 24-hour food-court-style eatery with menu items that range from hamburgers to fast-wok dishes.
Freestyle Dining Information System: I did see a few frustrated diners who gave up trying to get into some restaurants because of long wait times. Of course, I was on a two-night cruise, and demand on our full-capacity cruise was high for popular restaurant, such as Le Bistro.
To help alleviate waits (or to make them tolerable), Pearl uses NCL’s Freestyle Dining information system. The system allows guests to view restaurants and make reservations for the entire cruise or for a specific night and restaurant. Plasma screens placed in high-traffic areas around the ship and outside each restaurant display the status of each restaurant with indicator bars that reflect when each restaurant is ‘full,’ ‘moderately busy’ or ’empty.’
If a restaurant is full at a specific time, the screens also indicate an estimated wait time and what table sizes are available. If you would like to wait for an opening, you are quoted a wait time and issued a pager that works shipwide. Take a seat in one of the 13 bars and lounges, have a pre-dinner cocktail, and listen to one of the ship’s many entertainers until your table is ready. With a little planning, the experience need not be frustrating. It’s like planning to go out to dinner at a landside restaurant.
- Shakers Martini and Cocktail Bar — art deco inspired, with a large screen behind the bar depicting James Bond inspired graphic silhouettes of funky images from 60’s and 70’s.
- Magnum’s Champagne and Wine Bar — French art deco inspired with elements reflecting the grand ocean liner The Normandy. The bar features art that reflects Paris in the 1920’s. The back bar has a bubbling, backlit water feature to look like champagne.
- Maltings Beer and Whiskey Bar — contemporary bar-lounge with low seating and tables along with mood lighting that complements the backlit artwork, themed around famous whiskeys of the world.
- Corona Cigar Club — an art deco cigar club with hand-rolled, premium cigars, cognacs and spirits.
Itineraries: Pearl currently sails five and nine-day Western and Southern Caribbean itineraries. The only ship to offer nine-day Southern Caribbean itineraries from Miami, Pearl calls in Roseau, Dominica; Bridgetown, Barbados; Castries, St. Lucia; St. John’s, Antigua and Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Ports of call on the five-day Western Caribbean itinerary include stops in Cozumel, Mexico and Belize City.
In the spring, Pearl repositions to Seattle, where she sails seven-day Alaska Inside Passage itineraries with calls in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, Glacier Bay and Victoria, British Columbia.
In the fall of 2007 through the spring of 2008, Pearl resumes her alternating five and nine-day Western and Southern Caribbean sailings, but with a change in itineraries: On the five-day, Georgetown, Grand Cayman replaces Belize City; and on the nine-day, Samana, Dominican Republic replaces Roseau, Dominica.
The Bottom Line: With a hull that features brightly colored pearls, NCL’s newest ship is both fun and festive. Pearl’s faux palm trees on the pool deck and cheerful interior colors (turquoise cabana style stateroom doors and carpet with design patterns featuring tropical fish), makes her feel like a tropical ship. Those bright features may be a bit jolting in Alaska, but at least Pearl provides an option for cruisers who want Freestyle on their visits to The Great Land.
As the ninth big new ship in the NCL fleet since 2000, Pearl continues the trend of Freestyle Cruising ‘Nonconformist, free-spirited; we hope those are the words that will be associated with our brand,’ Stuart says. ‘We’re looking to appeal to a mindset … people who see themselves standing out of line ‘¦ swimming against the tide.’
Longer Hawaii Cruises
In September, Pride of Aloha begins new 10- and 11-day cruises from Honolulu sailing both inter-island Hawaii itineraries mixed with cruises that call at Fanning Island in Kiribati just north of the Equator.
The 10-day Hawaii-only cruise features an overnight in Honolulu, giving guests time to take in the sights in Oahu; an overnight in Kauai; three days in Maui including a overnight in Kahului with a call into Lahaina; and calls into Hilo and Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Highlights also include a night time sail by the Kilauea Volcano and a day at sea cruising by the Na Pali coast line and cruising the north coast of Molokai.
The 11-day Hawaii-only cruises feature the same port of calls as the 10-day but include two days at sea with a sail by the Na Pali coast line, a night time sail by the Kilauea Volcano and sailing the north coast of Molokai and the north coast of Oahu.
The 11-day Hawaii/Fanning Island itineraries include an overnight in Kauai featuring a sail by the Na Pali coast line at sunset; calls into Hilo and Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii; a call into Kahului, Maui and a call into Fanning Island.
See It Live on Avid Cruiser TV
To view a video of Ralph Grizzle’s visit on Norwegian Pearl, click here.