Jump to content
quercus alba

NCL Pearl Review—Western Caribbean—March 24-31

Recommended Posts

In which the quercus sets sail with his companions, re-discovers just how awesomely NCL treats its guests, also meeting the ship’s medical staff along the way….

 

Here we go—reviewing last week’s family trip on the Pearl. YMMV. Standard disclaimers apply. Your family may (hopefully) be less dysfunctional than mine*…but I think everyone still finds something on a cruise that they enjoy. We were 6--Mrs. quercus & myself, DS21 (and enjoying the privileges of being 21 on a ship with multiple bars!), DD17, DS11, and DS8. All of us are fairly introverted, not huge party people, but generally not fussy, either. Purpose of trip was something special to mark DD's senior spring break--though ultimately she would rather have been with her own friends than with us, I think. Ah well...

 

Overview, with details to follow:

The good—The Pearl. What a beautiful ship! What a great crew! Super buffet food. Awesome chef’s table. Great Stirrup Cay is a nice beach day, even with passing showers. NCL’s Tulum excursion—very much worth the price.

 

The so-so—The MDR: Sorry—I was not impressed. More to follow in the blow by blow.

 

The OMG Awesome—NCL customer service. I don’t know why, but the perks just kept coming our way. We got added to “The List” for Cagney’s breakfast & lunch, and well, wow. I see why people do the whole suite thing! The captain came to our Meet & Greet and invited us to the bridge, also awesome. Chef’s Table---awesome, with a galley tour invitation to follow as well.

 

The misadventures—not NCL’s fault, but I managed to dislocate my shoulder in Jamaica, then reaggravate it at Grand Cayman. Always wanted to meet a cruise doc, but hoped it would be over the dinner table, not an exam table. NCL should embroider their logo on my immobilizer brace. We also, through my carelessness, lost a shoulder bag in Ocho Rios—along with my phone and most sadly, a camera. Put a negative spin on what had been a really great excursion day.

 

The one major frustration—we loved Freestyle on our first cruise, as a couple. With four kids though…it got frustrating. It really takes some planning to get to specialty restaurants, and even the MDR at peak times. They want to eat NOW, and guess what, no reservations available! Or you make a reservation and “uh, I’m really not that hungry now…” Our brood is not known for great cooperation in planning things together. They eat on different schedules, enjoy different styles, are impulsive and indecisive… It was also really hard to coordinate things. With our older two, we’re used to constant texting—so NCL, please get that app rolled out to all ships ASAP! It was very frustrating to have 5 of us ready for dinner or an excursion, and 1 nowhere to be found—and no way to find them! The younger two wanted nothing to do with kids’ activities, so we were always pretty tied up supervising them. I’ll just say that with all of that, I only really felt relaxed for about 15 minutes, courtesy of a double Dark & Stormy on my balcony… My old pastor always said “Family vacation is an oxymoron”, and I really should learn to listen to that.

 

*Read this only if you want to—but I think it bears considering: like Christmases, family vacations come with unrealistic, romantic expectations. In commercials and movies, everyone bonds, smiles, looks beautiful, and never melts down. In real life…well. I’ll just say that I had moments when I considered that booking this cruise was the wrong thing for this family at this time in our lives. It was unrealistic of me to think that my kids’ personalities would change, that the petty squabbles would be left at home, that everyone would be ecstatic all of the time. Well, I did my best to make a memory. Hopefully in 10-20 years, it will be a pleasant one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Of course everyone in Minnesota is trying to get to Florida this week. It’s been a crappy winter! So we ended up on a very full flight quite late on the night before our cruise.

 

Got to FLL around midnight, was able to get a room at Homewood suites near the airport that could accommodate all 6 of us, had a free, late-running shuttle from the airport, and included breakfast. DW & I walked the mile up to the nearest Publix in the morning to purchase some pop to take to the ship, but possibly could’ve skipped that step. Got showered, dressed, and ready for SAS to show up at 11. Homewood’s lobby was pretty busy with cruisers coming & going for both PoM and Port Everglades, but I’ve seen worse. SAS was basically on time, and got us to the port in good time, even though there was a music festival at Bayside making traffic heavier than usual for Sunday AM.

 

It was awesome to see Pearl. Check-in and embarkation was fairly smooth, and we were told on boarding that our cabins were ready already (approximately 1:00). DW & I had already decided we wanted the Chef’s Table, so went straight to restaurant reservations and signed in for that.

 

Ready to board!

 

Our cabins were Deck 11 minisuites—adjacent, but not connecting*. Our steward opened the balcony divider as soon as we asked, however, and it stayed open throughout the trip. We were also able to get key cards from Guest Services for everyone to access both rooms. We were at the far front of the starboard side--11002 & 11004—next to officer's bridge entrance, but no extra noise issues worth mentioning (and added perk of bumping into various officers frequently!).

 

Everything was neat & clean. Kids wanted pool time right away, so we headed up. It wasn’t easy to find seating, but I squeezed in at a table in the shade with some friendly strangers and was able to read, start on a bucket of beers, and keep an eye on my kid. The sailaway from Miami is pretty spectacular, gliding by highrises, then out to the sea.

 

We opted for the Summer Palace for dinner, as we’d heard that it was “Surf & Turf” night. Unfortunately, way too many other people seemed to have the same idea. The MDR layout is such that there’s really no good waiting area for it, either. They do use a restaurant pager system that will reach pretty much anywhere in the ship, but it was still crowded, and folks were getting a bit chippy. Some trays of champagne and canapés were brought out to calm the crowds. In the end, the meal wasn’t that special, either—but it was “free”, so I won’t complain. No one went to bed hungry!

 

 

 

[*I’d mentioned in an earlier post that this was a glitch on NCL’s part—don’t know if some of our extra perks—a cookie plate on sailaway, canapés & strawberries a couple of other days—were extra compensation for this or not, but I felt that they did more than enough to acknowledge the issue and make it work for us.]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Love the review :) I will be on the Pearl in July to Alaska. Going on a FAMILY cruise in December on the Gem. I hear you & feel your anxiety about how kid's don't distinguish between being home or being on vacation when they want to cop an attitude or have a whiney fit. Kids will be kids :eek: But it will be a memory they will never forget.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So as we anchored off GSC, we were experiencing some gusty rain showers. I woke up early and tried jogging on the track, but almost lost my hat, and got wet feet. Moved into the fitness center for a 2nd half of my workout, then showered and went to the Great Outdoors for breakfast and bird-watching. The tenders started running despite the blustery conditions, but like most of the passengers, we waited until closer to noon to head over. Once we got to the Cay it was a little hard to find an unclaimed lounger, but another passing shower sent folks scattering, many back to the ship, and by the last hour and a half of the afternoon, we practically had the beach to ourselves! I tried out my snorkeling gear and actually found some fish a short ways out—though getting past the first ridge of sharp rocks is a bit of a trick. The buffet was ok—decent picnic/BBQ food.

Once we got back to the ship, we let the boys swim for awhile. I found a table in the shade under the sundeck that a fellow passenger was willing to share. After a mojito from my new best friend Luis, one of the bartenders, I got cleaned up and we decided to give Indigo a try. (DW & I had had better luck with Taste on Epic than the Manhattan Room). I was in the vicinity and grabbed a pager this time, and by the time I’d collected the rest of our group, it was buzzing. Enjoyed the more relaxed ambience of Indigo, and had a nice chat with the maitre’d, who is one of the most (if not the most) senior employees in the fleet—35 years I think he said. Food was again, just so-so, especially the “latin seasoned” sirloin I’d ordered. My advice, when ordering steak on this ship, stick to the filets—they always seem nice and tender. We skipped dessert in Indigo because DW & DD had already scoped out some stuff at Garden Café that they wanted to try. Good choice—there was a lot more variety up there!

 

For our Sea Day we did a bit more of everything. As I mentioned in another thread, chair hogs were out in force, and they got a watery comeuppance by late morning. We had our CC M&G, with, as usual, a nice complement of officers at hand. The Pearl has an excellent Hotel Director in Prem--as I said, our cabins were next to the officers' entrance to the bridge, and we often saw him coming & going, and he was always friendly with us. The captain made a brief appearance, enough to invite us to the bridge that afternoon (and even let me overrule his first time suggestion since it conflicted with the martini tasting!) Latitudes cocktail party was at 1:00, bridge tour at 2:00, martinis at 3:00—where did the day go? We managed to squeeze in a reservation at Moderno after that as well. It was interesting how rapidly "Freestyle" turned into a highly scheduled day for us, and unfortunately a lot of running back and forth to find kids, corral kids, figure out who was doing what & when, hand off kids, etc.

Edited by quercus alba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, this was the Best of Days and the Worst of Days. Certainly memorable.

 

I arranged online for a private tour with Courtney Taylor Tours. Let me just start by saying that he was wonderful--easy to book via his website, and easy to find at the port. He delivered us to Dunn River Falls ahead of the worst of the crowds and got us an escort through the gates. (After that we were on our own--there are MANY guides inside who will take you in a group up the falls for additional fees--they may be insistent, but they are not required. Also--expect very aggressive souvenir vendors inside the park). The climb was fine--wet and refreshing, but ironically at the very top, trying to position myself to photograph the “Congratulations—You completed your climb” sign, I fell and dislocated my shoulder. :eek: Miraculously, it popped back in with some vigorous rubbing, and on we went. Courtney was waiting to take us to river tubing (Calypso tubing, I believe) which was also refreshing and fun—just the right combo of easy rapids and quiet floating. Fun for all—except me, because I popped my shoulder back out when falling back into the innertube! Once again some vigorous massage, and it popped in again. Finally, he took us to the Irie Blue Hole where the guides helped our kids jump off 20-30 foot cliffs into deep water, climb under a waterfall, and swing from a rope into the pool. It was a highlight for all four of my kids, and for my wife. (I abstained for the sake of my shoulder. Twice bitten…) Courtney paid for all our admissions and let us settle at the end, for truly reasonable rates. Lastly, he took us to Scotchies for some truly awesome jerk chicken & pork, washed down with Red Stripe.

 

This would have been an absolutely wonderful day, even in spite of my shoulder, but as we left Scotchies, I carelessly left a bag behind—and some lucky person who made off with it in the 5 minutes before I discovered the loss gained an iPhone and a camera with most of my photos of the last two days. :mad: (I guess one benefit of traveling with my family is that we did have a couple of other cameras shooting, so we have a few photographic memories to go with our remembrances.)

 

So we returned to the ship in a bit of a funk, but we had great plans for the evening yet. My DD took charge of the younger brothers--took them to Blue Lagoon, arcade, and bowling--and Mrs Quercus and I cleaned up for the Chef’s Table. It’s been reviewed extensively in other threads here, so a I won’t belabor it, but I’ll say it was indeed ALL THAT, and washed down with enough wine to help me to forget a LOT of unpleasantness. :) It was good to have some adult conversation with fellow cruisers, and enjoy the very best of what the excellent NCL chefs produce.

Edited by quercus alba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Since we were still underway when I got up, and mooring wasn’t scheduled until 10 or so, I took my wife’s advice and went to visit the Medical Center about my shoulder. The very pleasant, distinguished Norwegian doc checked me out, took an x-ray, and pronounced me OK. Because, well, I was. The shoulder was a bit stiff & sore, but not painful, and pretty mobile. Off for breakfast to watch as we pulled in to George Town harbor.

 

I was scrambling at the last minute to find an excursion for us to get to an easy snorkeling location and maybe the stingray sandbar. Just before we left I found Moby Dick’s online and was able to make a reservation. Once we got to port after tendering we found him—at the other terminal, where Carnival was moored—but he had us on his list, and we were early, thanks to the time difference. (BTW—listen carefully to the ship’s instructions and keep a watch or two in your party on SHIP time, ignoring port time whenever you can! For our week Jamaica and Grand Cayman were 1 hour behind the ship, and Cozumel 2 hours.) So we wandered to a few of the shops—mostly touristy stuff. And rum. When we returned though, we were informed that he was cancelling—that groups that had already gone out had found conditions way to choppy and windy to be enjoyable, and he didn’t think that was fair to customers. So maybe next time… We took the bus to “Surfsiders” (near Tiki Beach) which was advertised as a “Free Beach”—though of course it was crowded, and if you wanted a lounger or beverage or anything you would pay. In any case, the kids headed straight into the waves and were having a great time. The beach & sand and water are great, though again, crowded. I had my own snorkel gear so was able to get out into an area that really did have some nice viewing of fish.

 

But... Guess what.

 

Do you know that you use your shoulders a lot when you swim? Imagine that. Out pops the shoulder for the third time. I’m 50 yards from shore, flapping in one handed, and actually not really wanting to stop, because, dang it, I’m snorkeling in the Caymans right now. I haven’t got time for this!

 

I got to shore, and this time it wasn’t going to pop back in. In fact, it now hurt like <bleep> everytime I leaned forward. DS21 agreed to escort me back to the ship, an excruciatingly long bus ride this time, and painfully slow tender trip. A crew member at the gangway was quick to recognize that I was not alright, and pointed me directly back to the medical center, where my Norwegian MD friend was dismayed to see me actually injured this time. He called the other doc, a pleasant South African gentleman, who sat me down and gently performed what I have since learned is the “Cunningham Technique” for reducing a shoulder dislocation. It was amazingly painless! He then had the nurse slap a Velcro brace on me, and sternly instructed me to keep it on. (I’m still wearing it this week, getting lots of opportunity to tell my story at work. Had an MRI today, and we’ll see what the orthopedic surgeons say next week. Turns out it’s rather unusual, and not a “good sign” to have a shoulder dislocate three times within 24 hours! ) I obeyed, and removed myself to my balcony—first stopping off at the poolside bar for a double-rum Dark & Stormy. And that is where my family found me, extremely relaxed, as they returned from the beach.

 

We went to La Cucina that night, at DD’s request. Good food, generous portions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Enjoying the review (we're doing this trip in December). How did your kids like the onboard entertainment?

 

I can sympathize with you on your shoulder as well as one of the 5 times I popped mine was on a canoe/camping trip on the St. Croix river... You know it's about as hard to paddle one handed as it is to swim one handed and a 10 hour delay in reducing the separation is no fun at all!

 

I'm surprised you were feeling up to swimming the next day after dislocating it twice, you're a beast.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was at the meet and greet and remembered you asking if the medical staff ever come to them. I guess you got to meet them anyway. LOL. I do remember seeing you later in the week with the sling on and I hope everything works out for you. My mom and I noticed every night that the dining room seemed empty. We ate in Indigo on Sunday at about 6:00 and at Summer Palace Tuesday through Saturday at about 6:00-8:00 with many empty tables.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was announced repeatedly that we would be docking around noon in Cozumel. I’d booked the ship's excursion to Tulum, since I’d read that there was quite a bit of travel involved--a 45 minute ferry ride and 1 hour bus transfer from Playa del Carmen. As such, I STRONGLY recommend booking via the ship. We were fairly late getting back, and it was really good to know the ship wouldn't be leaving without us!

 

So my excursion tickets said that we were to meet in the Stardust Theater at 1145, but I wasn’t sure that still applied with the ship coming in a bit late. I must have verbalized this to DS21, because he disappeared and I started panicking as they began moving us to the gangway at about 1215 without him. I sent DW & DD out to search for him, since they weren't going with us, having plans to shop in Cozumel later, but with no phone, I had no way to find out if they would find him. Well, I figured if he missed it, he missed it, and I’d take the $99 out of his sorry hide later—but just as the younger boys & I were about the last handful to board the ferry to the mainland, he came hustling up the pier. (I wasn’t the only one with this problem—saw a woman tearing her husband a new one for not waiting for her at the gangway, too!) I decided to let my relief control the day. But again--it was an extra stressful moment I could've done without.

 

The ferry ride was bumpy, but comfortable—air conditioned below, with airline style seats (and refreshments at airport-style prices). We got to Playa del Carmen quickly, and boarded buses for the 1 hour trip to Tulum. The provided guides for each bus do a good job of orienting us while enroute (along with a little bit of salesmanship, but whatever…) There was a very clean bathroom/shopping stop enroute, as well as recommendations for a "safe" restaurant just outside the Tulum park entrance. (We got fish tacos and local brews there before boarding the bus home--excellent!). Once onsite, there is a 15 minute walk to the ruins, and our guide gave a good, informative 45 minute partial walking tour before leaving us on our own to explore for about 90 minutes. You can also walk down to a beautiful stretch of beach below the ruins to dip your feet (or entire body) in the inviting sea. Tulum is really a fantastically beautiful setting--picture perfect for seeing a Mayan site along the blue sea. It was my first visit to Mayan ruins, and actually reminded me quite a bit of my visit to Pompeii two years ago.

 

I forgot to mention my other highlight of the day—getting a long chat with the ship’s MD, the first one I’d gotten to meet professionally the day before. He was visiting Tulum on his day off, and we had a great talk during our bus ride about Vikings, Celts, Norwegians, Minnesotans, medicine on both sides of the Atlantic, our families, and many other things. Really enjoyed that. It just added to the very personal connection I was feeling to the ship & crew on this cruise.

 

When we got back, it was well after 7 pm ship time, and I was glad that I didn’t have to worry about them leaving without us. DD & DW were watching for us from their balcony as we came up the pier. There were 2 other NCL ships at Cozumel that day—Star and Dawn, I think, and they had already departed. DD wanted to try dinner in the Summer Palace again, and though I initially objected, not wanting to put on long pants(!), I gave in. It was much quieter than Sunday, more relaxing. I was really tired & hot from wearing the shoulder immobilizer all day, but I found a cooling cocktail to take the edge off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically tried to keep this a no-expectations day. I had a breakfast at Cagney’s since Hotel Director Prem was so kind as to put us on “the List” for some reason. (I’m not used to being on “The List” of any sort!) It really is a special experience. Thanks, Prem! :) DD & DW went on a Galley tour that had been offered to our Chef’s Table group. We did manage to get a date for Teppanyaki at noon—they were totally booked up all week. It was still really good as a lunch though—and the kids had a blast when the cooking got going. We wandered around most of the afternoon. DS8 had to have his chance at the giant Wii screen, so he got to go home happy. We decided we’d graze for food the rest of the day, and kind of ended up converging on the Garden Café for the one & only evening meal we ate there.

 

(I have to say, DS8 is the ultimate picky eater—he ordered mac & cheese just about every place we went. Two bowls sometimes. Occasionally he’d scarf a plate of fries from the poolside grill, or ask for a slice of pizza. The waiters were never taken aback—I think they’ve seen his kind before. He also threw a fit the first time I tried to get him to join us a Cagney’s breakfast—turns out that he just really liked being able to go back to the Great Outdoors and get his own Fruit Loops. The morning we went ashore in Jamaica we couldn’t find him, and that was where he was!)

 

We had not gone to a single show all week, believe it or not. I had enjoyed the poolside bands, especially the Roots Link Caribbean-style Blues. I watched a bit of the White Hot party from afar, and it looked to be a really good use of the poolside area as a party space. But anyway, I did want to catch Second City’s “Unscripted” improv show. There are two of them—an earlier (730) one that is family-friendly, and an 1130 one that is adult only. We (DS11, DD17, and I) went to the earlier one and found it really funny and creative, so I snuck my sweet, innocent DD into the late show. She’s a speech/drama type, and like most teens, less innocent than she looks (but also mature enough to handle things appropriately). It was disappointing—it seemed that instead of real humor and creativity, they were just trying to work as much genital slang into a sketch as possible. :rolleyes: So anyway—Second City, if you’re listening—make your “clean” show longer, and do it more often! It's actually better.

 

Well, when we woke up the next morning, there we were in Miami. One last Cagney’s breakfast, finished packing, and waited until the last minute to disembark. It was fairly smooth—through customs to curbside in maybe 45 minutes. Called SAS once through customs, was told they’d have a driver there in 15 minutes. It was rather chaotic curbside, btw, as the port appears to be set up to have both arrivals and departures using the same curb space. We managed to get safely loaded into a van departing for FLL, and were at the airport shortly after 1100, and in no hurry.

 

As we’d been told, Delta does not allow checking luggage more than 2 hours in advance, and our flight wasn’t until 6. What we hadn’t been told though, and found helpful, was that there is a private contractor onsite who stores luggage for $6/bag. (This is just to the right hand side of the Delta desks.) DS21 was tired of us by then, so he decided to stay and use airport wifi to catch up on things. (Turns out he was able to talk himself onto the earlier 100 flight, so he got home by the time we were taking off later that afternoon!) The remaining 5 of us stored our biggest bags ($24), rented a car (cheaply, for 5—just $40--we would’ve had to spend at least twice as much to get a minivan if we’d been all 6), and headed for the beach. We cruised the A1A a bit, found a fun-appearing beachside restaurant, and got our feet wet in the ocean one last time before returning to the airport and winging home. At least with DS already there, we had someone to pick us up from MSP. He requested a tip when he pulled us into the garage—but I just replied, “Dude, I paid your bar tab for the week!”

 

And here we are. Finished a week of work now. Trying to get my shoulder fixed. Got a new phone. Sorting the photos I do have. Still not fully unpacked. I did buy a future cruise credit though. I still want to go to Alaska. And there’s NO doubt in my mind that when I do go it’s going to be on Pearl!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

**Got my first visit to the "naughty room" over two bottles of flavored sparkling water I bought in FLL and tossed in my suitcase. They didn't flag DW's suitcase with the 6 pack of tonic, or the case of soda we tagged and tossed on the stack with the rest of the luggage.

 

**It got WINDY the last couple of days of the trip. Thought DS8 would blow away. Rock climbing was closed every time I walked by.

 

**Cool to see the skyline of Havana, Cuba on the horizon. Hope I get to stop there on a cruise someday.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great review. Great pictures too! Loved the comment about DS21 having enough of you and your comment about paying his bar bill. Lol, I have 20-something's also.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the information. I leave on the Pearl on May 5th and your review was helpful.

 

Btw I have a thirty something who too complained about his bar bill on the cruise I took him on even though I paid the tab. Some things don't improve the older they get

 

Marsha

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am thoroughly enjoying your review! Maybe too interested in the shoulder problem' date=' as I am an RN :D![/quote']

 

Well perhaps you'll be interested in knowing that I avulsed my glenoid, and now have a date with an arthroscope in 2 weeks. :(

 

Ah well...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for your review and sorry about your shoulder. Although we are not on The Pearl until next May, trying to learn all I can about her and NCL as this will be our first cruise with that line.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am looking at the pearl for Thanksgiving and saw your review. Nice review. I hope your glenoid is better now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I am looking at the pearl for Thanksgiving and saw your review. Nice review. I hope your glenoid is better now.

 

Glad you find it helpful. I'm 2 weeks post-op, another 4 weeks in the velcro torture device so the grafts will heal in well. After that some PT, I suppose.

No fun trying to work one-handed, and I'm absolutely useless around the house...but oh well...

Edited by quercus alba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Enjoyed your review! We just got off the Pearl Sunday. Looking for connections, and you supplied...thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Explore the Night. Sweepstakes - Enter now for a chance to win win a free cruise for two with Azamara Club Cruises!
      • Forum Assistance
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Member Cruise Reviews
      • Community Contests
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×