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Norwegian Cruise Line's "Freestyle Cruising"
The Real Cruise Industry "Game Changer"

Norwegian Pearlby Linda Coffman

April 2010: When Norwegian Caribbean Line (Norwegian Cruise Line's original name) launched regularly scheduled cruises from Miami over forty years ago, the idea of a cruise vacation itself was innovative. Since 1966, NCL has continuously been a cruise industry innovator: the first cruise line to enter the era of the megaship with the introduction of the SS Norway; the first to offer specialty restaurants; the first mainstream cruise line with an "open seating" concept and an always-casual evening dining option; the first to offer "villa" accommodations in a ship-within-a-ship design; the first to feature cruise itineraries with a "private island" beach destination. The list goes on, but you get the picture. All that led to "Freestyle Cruising" as we know it today.

Love it or hate it, "Freestyle" was a game-changer in the cruise industry. Other cruise lines—from mainstream (Carnival and Royal Caribbean) to premium (Holland America, Celebrity, Princess) and even luxury (Crystal) have followed suit with their own versions of open seating, specialty restaurants, and casual dinner choices. While you will encounter dress codes, and the tradition of formal nights, on most cruise lines, even Carnival has relaxed that to NCL standards and now calls it "cruise elegant" night.

You might say that NCL dances to their own drummer, with others following the beat. With NCL leading the way, the flexibility to do your own thing without eliminating what some cruise passengers enjoy about cruising has changed the face of cruise travel in the 21st century.

"Freestyling" Aboard Norwegian Pearl

Mel and I recently sailed aboard Norwegian Pearl from Miami for a week-long Caribbean cruise to the Caribbean and found the "Freestyle" life perfectly suited to our life. Starting with preparation and packing,

He said: I know I don't need a suit, but do I need a tie with my sport coat?

She said: No, and you don't need the sport coat unless you really want it.

Norwegian Pearl
Dining in Teppanyaki is "dinner & a show"

So, Mel packed dress slacks and a couple long-sleeve dress shirts, but left both the tie and sport coat at home. He never felt under-dressed. I was comfortable in skirts and slacks with tops and didn't miss wearing a cocktail dress. Our suitcases were certainly lighter.

Dinners on Norwegian Pearl were as varied as the different restaurants we chose each night. Sadly, we ran out of nights to try them all. Reservations were easy to secure and when we didn't feel like planning ahead we simply checked the restaurant status screens to see which ones were crowded and headed for one that had tables available. We even went to the "buffet" one night, although the way it is arranged with serving stations and freshly prepared foods, it's hard to call the Garden Cafe a buffet.

He said: I hadn’t looked forward to dining in Teppanyaki as much as the other specialty restaurants.

She said: The food, service, and the chef’s skill with a fork and spatula changed his mind. Teppanyaki was the most popular restaurant for dinner during our cruise, with very few empty seats.

NCL has been a leader in entertainment afloat for many years, starting back in the days when they booked name entertainers to headline their shows, as well as presented abbreviated versions of such hits as 42nd Street and Will Rogers Follies. Aboard Norwegian Pearl, we were treated to Oh What A Night!—a tribute concert to Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. While their banter was a bit corny, their singing and choreography were outstanding. Another passenger who’s seen Jersey Boys commented that the tribute artists last night were even better than the performers in the musical. Oh What A Night's rendition of Grease brought the audience to their feet.

He said: I enjoyed the concert, but where are the showgirls?

She said: Tomorrow night's production features the Jean Ann Ryan dancers and singers in a glamorous "Showgirl Revue."

Norwegian Pearl
"Freestyle Cruising" where time stands still & you're free to do whatever...

In addition, we laughed with The Second City players and the hysterical comedy of "Sharkbait" (you have to see it to appreciate it).

While the Jean Ann Ryan Company and Second City are staples of the NCL fleet, you can always count on each ship to offer even more entertainment options, from the show lounge to more intimate settings. Karaoke is always popular, as are passenger participation games like the scavenger-style Quest, trivia, and Bingo. Families weren't forgotten aboard Norwegian Pearl and several events were scheduled for parents and children together to test their skill at dodgeball, charades, pizza making, and even Nintendo Wii on the giant screen in the lobby.

The Final Four basketball tournament and Masters golf tournament were also aired on the huge screen during our cruise. We didn't miss a putt while watching the Masters from our seats in the Tex-Mex restaurant one deck above the lobby.

He said: This is the way to watch golf. You can see every blade of grass on the giant screen.

She said: No, you can't get a television screen that huge at home!

Disembarkation from Norwegian Pearl was bittersweet. We loved the Freestyle life on board, yet we're happy to have such delightful memories of an enjoyable and stress-free cruise.

Norwegian Pearl sails Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries from Miami from October through April and Alaska cruises from Seattle from May through September with repositioning cruises through the Panama Canal and along the Pacific coast between the two regions.

NCL will be offering more room to "Freestyle" with the introduction of Norwegian Epic in July 2010. Their largest ship ever will feature expanded dining and entertainment options for passengers of all ages.

Want More Norwegian Pearl? Follow the daily reports on Cruise Diva's Blog

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Join Cruise Diva aboard Norwegian Pearl for the christening & preview cruise


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