Occupation: Financial Consultant
Vice President Investments
Number of Cruises: 16+
Sailing Date: Feb 2nd, 2007 to Feb 11th, 2007
This cruise was aboard the newest NCL ship, the NCL Pearl. Freshly built and out to sea after four months, we found the Pearl to be a work of art. It is a beautiful ship, with very contemporary furnishings and the staterooms very modern. The Pearl’s port was Miami, FL, and this was a 9 day cruise, entitled the Southern Caribbean, with ports of call Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Tortola BVI.
Check-in: We arrived at Miami International Airport from DFW Airport in Dallas Texas. Once arriving in MIA we picked up our luggage and proceeded to the Port of Miami cruise ship terminal via Taxi, which is a flat rate of $24.00. With 2 passengers this totaled just $12.00 per passenger. In Miami, all taxis to the port terminal from MIA can only charge a flat fee. This was a great bargain, and we arrived at the port terminal in 20 minutes. It was a quick scenic trip. We arrived at 3:15 PM and the ship was scheduled to leave the pier at 4:00PM. So the check-in was quick and we were aboard the ship in 15 minutes. NCL has express lines for its past cruisers called, Latitudes members. They have a special lounge set up for Penthouse Suites, Owners Suites and Court Villa passengers. We had a Penthouse Suite Category AC, Stateroom 9500. We rated the check-in a 10, on a scale of 1 to 10. We sailed this cruise as Platinum NCL Latitudes members, NCL ‘s highest member status.
Staterooms: Our stateroom was cabin 9500 a Penthouse Suite, AC category that was beautiful. It was a large cabin with dining area, dressing area, segregated bedroom area, and large 500 sq ft + balcony on the front of the ship overlooking the bow. The bathroom was large with tub and fantastic shower. The bridge was just 2 floors above our balcony. The balcony was furnished with two cushioned lounge chairs, one chair and one foot stool. We could have easily entertained up to 10-15 people on the balcony. There was a bar area, stocked with a large selection of wine glasses and coffee cups. The Penthouse had its own state of the art $1300 coffee/tea maker. A stocked bar/fridge, 32” flat panel TV, DVD movie player and CD player was in the stateroom. The Pearl has 45 suites total. Since we had a Penthouse suite, it came with Concierge Service and Butler Service. Upon arrival, the room was filled with the scent of fresh cut flowers, and selection of fresh fruits and a bottle of sparkling wine. Since we where not sparkling wine drinkers, our Butler Amit from India exchanged the sparkling wine for the ships house Chardonnay Wine. The bed was extremely comfortable with thick down filled feathered pillows, which I wish I could have taken home. The extra thick duvet cover was very comfortable. The room had two separate thermostats for in room climate control. We were very happy with the accommodations. We viewed the other staterooms, both inside, ocean view and balcony and all had the same beds, pillows and comforters. These rooms were smaller in size. We also meet new friends who were on the 14th deck, Court Yard Villa area, and their two bedroom suite was spectacular. We rated our cabin 9500 as a 10.
Dining: The Pearl has 10 restaurants, of which 4 or 5 were considered specialty dining and had additional cover charges to dine in those areas. NCL is known for the FREESTYLE dining experience where there is no fixed seating/dining times. Our first night we dined at Mambos, the Tex Mex restaurant and enjoyed the fajitas. The prize selection on the menu is the Polo, which is served to two people on a skewer with several meats. The dining area at Mambos is on the edge of the ships atrium which has a large 25’ x 20’ TV screen which is spectacular. It was great watching the Super Bowl on the large screen. Our second night (Saturday) and optional formal night, was in the main dining room Summers Palace which is beautiful and a very large area on the aft of the ship. Saturday night is lobster night and Beef Wellington. The main dining areas serve 5 course meals. The dinnerware was top of the line, the service excellent and very friendly. The food plating was excellent and food quality was excellent. Our third night (Sunday) was at the Japanese restaurant Teppanyaki, which is similar to Benihana’s in the USA. It was a two hour dining experience. A cover charge of $20.00 per person is charged, reservations required and seating times at 5:30....7:30....9:30 PM. It was well worth the cover charge for the show and the grilled Filet Minon, Shrimp, Lobster, Scallops or Chicken.
For those passengers that are considered VIP, Penthouse, Court Yard Villas, Owners Suites or Platinum Latitudes members were allowed a special treat for breakfast and lunch at the ships specialty restaurant Cagney’s. It is one of the finest on board second to Le Bistro. In order to dine in Cagney’s for breakfast of lunch, you must provide your stateroom number to get in.
The Garden Cafe is a buffet based dining area on Deck 12 with several food stations where Pasta, Omelets, Pizza, Asian food is prepped while you wait. While the buffet area is filled for breakfast and lunch, the seating is sparse, and be prepared to share a table to make new friends. If you decide to get up for a second round of food, be prepared to lose your table and the dinnerware is quickly picked up. The food quality was very good for a mass buffet, the selection was very good. Dinner is served from 5:50 PM to 10:00 PM. There is a separate dining area for kids in the Garden Buffet that is set up with small tables and chairs to fit the kids on board.
The Outdoor Cafe is on the Aft of the ship, and very nice for outside evening dining.
Our fourth night was Monday, and we went to La Cucina the Italian restaurant. That night we dined with the cruise critic group of 60 people. The service was excellent for our group Klaus Lugameier arranged for complimentary wines, and after dinner drinks for our group at no additional costs. The dining in La Cucina is loud, and at times was hard to hear the dinner guest next to us. There was a great selection of Italian foods, breads and deserts. Once again, excellent service, excellent food selection, excellent food plating, and friendly staff.
Tuesday was dinner at the premier restaurant Le Bistro. The cover is $20.00 person and is the finest dining on the ship. Our meal as Platinum members was complimentary with a fine selection of complimentary wines. The highlight was the desert of chocolate fondue, a rich chocolate with fresh fruit for dipping served in 1/2 cut pineapple. This was great dining experience. I highly suggest paying the cover charge for Le Bistro. The atmosphere was great, and they have the best of the best waiters. It is very romantic.
Wednesday we dined at the very Metropolitan style, dining room known as Indigo. It was a real American flair, 5 course dining room. Food was excellent and staff excellent. This is a free dining area.
Thursday was back to Le Bistro for a second round as part of a “romance package” paid for by my partner Mary who booked the package prior to sailing. This package included dining at Le Bistro, Wine, photos and a great time. Once the again the service was impeccable, the food quality excellent, plating and service excellent. Our waiter Vikrom was so good, I left him a $10.00 tip.
Friday, was back at Indigo with new found friends and table for 6. The service, food, was excellent.
Saturday our last night was a going away celebration at Cagneys with a dinner party of six, complimentary to our party compliments of the Hotel Director Klaus Lugameier. As with Le Bistro, Cagneys has the best of the best waiters and food selection. After 3 hours of dining, 5 bottles of wine, and great food and atmosphere, it was our last dining experience and great way to say goodbye to all the new found friends.
We did not have time to eat at the Lotus Garden which sports a $10.00 cover charge. The Blue Lagoon for lunch is very nice with a limited selection. I loved the Wonton soup, and oriental noodles. Blue lagoon is 24 hours, but serves as part of Mambos at night.
Reservations for dining can only be made 24 hours in advance. You can no longer get on the ship and book reservations for the entire cruise in advance. Be aware of this NEW policy.
Ports of Call: This cruise called the Southern Caribbean, visited Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua and Tortola, BVI. We sailed from 4:30 PM Friday to Monday and arrived in Dominica at 8:00AM. While numerous excursions are offered, and a wide selection to choose from, myself, Mary and two new friends choose to hire a private van for an island adventure. There are many taxis/vans available, and the cost of just $20.00 person was a great value. Our driver Jeff was terrific and took us to spots on Dominica that the ship excursions would never go. We spent 4 hours in the van at various beaches, fishing villages and stopped for a Kabuli beer and saw the inside of remote villages. I highly suggest this for the adventurous traveler in a group of 4 or 6.
Second port of call was Barbados, arriving at 8:00 AM. There are several excursions available from NCL. We choose to walk off the ship, shop, see Bridgetown, then, hired a private van for $20.00 each to see the island and get the true local experience of the islanders. The beaches are beautiful and plenty of spots to dine and have a few beers or cocktails.
The third port of call was St. Lucia another exotic Caribbean island. Once again, we walked off the ship and shopped than hired our own van, for another island experience. This time it was Mary and me for a cost of $50.00
The fourth port of call was Antigua, and the port was a run downed city, poverty stricken where there was very nice shops at and near the pier, then the outskirts of the city only got worse. We did not have any NCL excursions, nor did we hire a van. We spent time visiting shops, an internet cafe, which was a great bargain at .20 cents per minute or 15 minutes of internet for $3.00. Then back to the ship to catch the sun, eat and relax. Many passengers who took the NCL sponsored excursions stated that they really enjoyed all of them.
The final port is Tortola BVI, and is beautiful, upscale, and beautiful sail boats, shops, and eateries. We shopped and the ship leaves at 1:00 PM so all passengers must be on ship by 12:30 PM.
We sailed off to Miami.
We liked all the ports of call, some nicer than others, but all very nice. Items for sale from local vendors were the same at each port and many local vendors are willing to bargain.
Entertainment on Board: The NCL Pearl has a beautiful tiered Stardust Lounge. Three main shows by the Jean Ann Ryan Company are offered, Sea Legs, Tubez, and Garden of the Geisha. Sea Legs is a very sultry, sensual show with Las Vegas style showgirls scantly dressed. The showgirls are all beautiful, tall and long legged. Some older passengers thought the ***y, sensual outfits were not appropriate for a cruise. Of course, I loved it. Tubez is a high energy show, with lots of Rap Music that was very hard to understand what the lead singer was saying as with any Rap music. Tubez is a very contemporary show the acrobats on BMX bikes. The lead singer came from the 4th episode of American Idol and finished in fourth place, Ryan Parker. Garden of the Geisha was the best show, with incredible acrobatics from two outstanding actors. The oriental costumes were spectacular. Main shows are always at 7:45 and 9:45 PM. Ample seating was always available. During other nights, a comedian entertained twice and a juggler another. Jeff Thracter a former soap opera star was also very good. Many passengers liked him the best other than the main shows by JAR dancers. Then there was the ship crew talent show, and the introduction of the ships crew and executive staff. The Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 is used for shows like the traditional Newlywed Game, Family Feud, Quest etc. If you don’t want to attend these shows they are played back over the stateroom televisions. There was plenty of entertainment. The on board Bingo games was a rip-off as the payouts were very small, compared to the amount of money taken in. I would not suggest Bingo, as the payouts are small and the cost very high. The casino is ample for a cruise ship with table games, blackjack, three card poker, texas-hold’em, craps, roulette, lots of slots. Overall the casino was like being in a true Las Vegas casino.
Miscellaneous: The staff was very friendly and the Waiters and Jr. Waiters went out of there way to please. The staff overall was excellent, and senior personnel was always present overlooking the staff and all areas of the ship. Sanitation dispensers where present everywhere to prevent Norovirus. The ship was very clean, the lifts or elevators never really filled. The off shore ports of call where are all at a dock or pier, no tenders. The ports always found other cruise ships in ports and it was nice to see the other large ships.
Lounges: There were plenty of lounges to sit and relax, drink, piano music, the atrium was used for the Super Bowl party, The Champagne Bar and the Martini Bar was very nice. Malting’s for beer and wine, and the Corona Club for the cigar smokers was in an enclosed area. Drinks averaged $5.50 for the standard house drink, average Martini was $7.50 and specialty smoothie alcoholic drinks were $9.00 each. Soda is $1.75, and a 15% tip was included when making any drink purchases including bottled water. Coffee and Iced Tea was available in the Garden Cafe at no cost. Coffee from the Java Bar or bar staff waiters is at additional cost. Bliss Ultra lounge did not attract many late night passengers on this cruise. After 11:00 PM it was basically empty. It is the most exotic, contemporary on board, with large beds, (yes beds) for seating or whatever, massive lounge chairs. I would suspect that Bliss will be very active during college spring breaks.
Sports: Bowling in Bliss lounge was always busy, outdoor golf is available along with rock wall climbing, full size tennis court, basketball court and jogging track. The fitness center on Deck 12 was very nice with plenty of new state of the art treadmills. The Day Spa is beautiful, and the women seemed to love it. The outdoor pool areas are adequate and seating of lounge chairs and tables was great. There is one adult only pools.
Shopping: The ship has several on board shops from fine jewelry, to duty free alcohol and clothing. Be sure to understand when buying liquor on board it is stored to the last day, and if flying home, the liquor MUST be packed in your luggage. New TSA rules will NOT let you carry the liquor past the security gates in the travel boxes supplied by the ship. The ship does not inform the buyers of this. Be careful and be prepared if flying and carrying liquor back home.
Summary: The NCL Pearl is absolutely beautiful. NCL did a great job, and FREESTYLE cruising is wonderful. There are NO set times to dine, most restaurants are open from 5:30 to 11:00 PM. This cruise was 9 days and even after the 9 days we did not want to leave the ship. It was a great cruise, at a great price. I believe that NCL continues to deliver the best cruise experience based on price, food, ports of call and entertainment. I would estimate the average age at 50 +, and the ship never seemed full.
As an avid cruiser of 16+ cruises, this one was the best ever. I would highly suggest the NCL Pearl, for an outstanding cruise experience, and price. We just didn’t want to leave. We were treated like royalty. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 the highest, we break the scale at a solid 11+.
We will be back on the Pearl May 20th, 2007 for the Alaska cruise. Review to follow.
Richard & Mary
Las Cruces, New Mexico USA