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Jan. 4-11, 2009
by Mary & Vincent Finelli
In December 1966 the Norwegian M/S Sunward sailed into the newly
constructed Miami Port. All 8,600 tons of her carried 558 passengers
and her itinerary was biweekly round trips to the Bahamas. The
Sunward was the first ship of the new Norwegian Caribbean Lines
(NCL). Now, after 40 years the burgeoning cruise industry is graced
with the N. Pearl, 93,000 tons and carrying 2,732 passengers this
cruise, with an average age of 58 years: there were a lot of young
people, both single and with families consisting of both youngsters
and grandparents—a wonderful mix! NCL has a high ratio of crew
members to passengers. On the N. Pearl there are 1,154 crew headed
by the nicest gentleman sailor: Captain Lars Bengtsson.
The Pearl was launched in 2006 and has Emmy Award winning TV
personality Rosie O'Donnell as her Godmother. On board there are 12
Restaurants, 11 Bars & Lounges, a 4 lane Bowling Alley, A Rock
Climbing Wall, plus Basketball, Volley Ball, and Tennis courts.
There are Courtyard Villas and two 4,390 sq. ft. Garden Villas. NCL
has introduced “Freestyle Cruising” to the industry, which frees
passengers from strict schedules to dining anytime, anywhere on the
ship. Cruisers can be as formal or as informal as they like; make
reservations in one of the specialty restaurants or just go to the
buffet. Choices include the following: Cagney's Steakhouse, Le
Bistro (French cuisine), Lotus Garden (Asian fare) & Sushi Bar,
Teppanyaki (Japanese), La Cucina (Italian), etc. Dress up, dress
down, it's whatever “your” lifestyle dictates!
The Hotel Director Dallas Easterly (yes, he was born in Dallas,
Texas) is very knowledgeable and acquainted with all 13 decks in
detail. He told us that the Pearl runs not only on fuel, but also on
rice—these are the two most used commodities on board. By way of
explanation, the crew is mostly Philippine and rice is their staple
food. We should all eat more rice, because we noticed the polite
manners and happy faces of all the crew around us.
Sunday, driving from our house in Boca Raton to Miami is painless
because traffic is light. We arrived at the Port at 12:30pm, and
after a wait for someone to push Vincent's wheelchair we were on by
1:00pm. We had lunch at the Indigo Restaurant and avoided the crowd
at the Buffet, and were in our mini suite by 1:30pm. Rooms are not
ready for passengers until 1:00pm, so unless you want to carry hand
luggage around, try not to get to port too early. We had no need to
check on our dinner seating arrangements, since they would change
daily. Boat Drill was at 3:30pm, a bit too early for those flying in
who hadn't had time to eat. Our muster station was in the Summer
Palace Main Restaurant Deck 6 Aft. We saw this as a potential
problem, since there is only one elevator to Deck 7 Promenade, where
the life boats are located. After the drill there was a bottle neck,
and a long wait for handicapped passengers. In case of a real
emergency, it would be better to put the muster station for the
handicapped directly on Deck 7 and thus avoid having to transfer
them up one deck. We were told that four crew members were assigned
to each wheelchair passenger and that we needn't worry.
As we boarded, we met our old friend Concierge Carlos Zarate, with
whom we sailed around the Horn in S. America in 2002. What a warm
welcome we got on our arrival! Carlos made our cruise terrific.
The latest NCL ships are decorated on the outside very colorfully.
What was once referred to as the White Fleet is now unique among
cruising ships, with their gaily painted hulls. The Norwegian Pearl
has a string of colored pearls painted on both her sides going from
stem to stern with a colorful banner. There are 13 Decks which all
display the clean lines of Norse influence. The many open spaces are
a welcome sight. The first three Decks are all for crew.
Deck 4 has the medical center and staterooms.
Deck 5 has staterooms and forward the Stardust Theater with a
stylized peacock on the magnificent curtain. Very nice, each seat
has a clear view of the stage.
Deck 6 forward has the Summer Palace Main Restaurant aft. This high
ceiling, open, airy, room calls to mind the Malachite Room of the
Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Malachite Green columns are
only surpassed by the rows of crystal chandeliers and the walls
filled with charming portraits of the last Tsarist family the
Romanovs. Pictures of small children all in their white sailor
dresses and suits are especially poignant considering their brutal
end at the hands of the Communists. Another unique touch is the faux
Faberge eggs on the balustrades.
On this deck is the Indigo Restaurant with its Asian influences.
Midship there is a string of bars: Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar,
Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar with bubbling windows, Corona Cigar
Club, and Shaker's Martini & Cocktail Bar. Next, towards aft is Le
Bistro French ($15) specialty restaurant. Finally, there is the
Pearl Casino and the next level of the Stardust Theater.
Deck 7 aft has the Bliss Ultra Lounge, Nightclub with its four lane
Bowling Alley and an odd melange of sofas, canopied beds and
seating. It does qualify as an “Ultra” lounge. Midship is the
Crystal Atrium with its crystal stalagmites or icicles on the
ceiling, and the blue and ice glass blown sculpture by Dale Chihuly—an interesting, intricate series of graceful tubes. Here are the
Java Cafe, the Reception and Shore Excursion Desks, and a huge
multimedia screen. Toward forward are the Lotus Garden Restaurant
($15), Teppanyaki Room (Japanese cuisine) ($25), the Sushi Bar ($15)
which make up the Asian complex of specialty restaurants.
Toward the prow are the Trade Routes Boutiques with again the usual
fare. It seems that most cruise lines have the same brands of goods
available. Deck 7 forward is the balcony of the Stardust Theater.
Here in the rear are wheelchair reserved seats.
Deck 8 forward and aft are staterooms. Midship are the Blue Lagoon
(snack type foods such as soups, wings, fish and chips, etc., and
desserts such as the chocolate brownie sundae) and also located here
is Mambo's Latin Tapas Restaurant ($10).
Decks 9, 10, and 11 are all staterooms.
Deck 12 aft has the Great Outdoors Buffet, then the Garden Cafe`
with buffet style dining, which opens for breakfast at 6:30 am (7:00
am on sea days), and La Cucina Italian Restaurant ($10), nice
appetizer cart, soups (Pasta e Fagioli and Minestrone). Entrees were
varied but NCL needs a real Italian Chef! With our Italian taste
buds, we were a bit taken aback by the mountain of grated cheese on
the lobster Ravioli—Italians usually don't put cheese on
seafood, since it overpowers the delicacy of the dish. It is better
to ask the diner before drowning the entree in cheese.
Midship are the Kid's Cafe, Video Arcade, Kid's Club, Topsider Bar
& Grille, Tahitian Pool Hot Tubs, The Library (open only 2 hours
daily) and forward is the S. Pacific Spa & Fitness Center. Deck 13
aft has the basketball/volleyball/tennis court, jogging/walking
track and Cagney's Steak House ($20): this is excellent and well
worth it. Forward is the Sky High Bar, the Chapel and the Spinnaker
Decks 14 & 15 have the Rock Climbing Wall, and the The Courtyard
All in all, the ship is lovely, spacious and well set up. Her
decorations are modest but tasteful.
FOOD & SERVICE
Since we covered the various food venues in detail in our
Review (2006) and NCL has made them homogeneous across its fleet, we
want to discuss “Freestyle” cruising in general. Those of us who
have cruised for many years see the various innovations as welcome.
Where just a few years ago, passengers were summoned to the formal
dining room by bells or carillons and if you were 15 to 20 minutes
late you found that the dining room doors were closed. Now, you may
opt for the same table every evening at the same time. But, if you
find this boring, instead you may choose one of twelve or so venues
anytime from 5:30pm to as late as 10:30pm.
You are offered formal settings, Japanese style dining, Casual
Buffet, room service with simple soups, salads or sandwiches—whatever makes you happy. NCL has new controlled portion sizes,
which is welcomed by us. No more wasting food and there is more
always available for those who want it.
The menus offer several appetizers, some always available, like
shrimp cocktail. There are salads of just fruit or the mixed green
type or Caesar's salad always available. Soups are hot or cold and
quite good; try the cold fruited ones like berry smoothies. Entrees
range from Vegetarian, to fish, fowl, beef, lamb and veal. There are
Asian, European, Latin and American offerings. This week on board
one third of the passengers were non US citizens. Latitudes had
several parties for NCL repeaters where the drinks were abundant and
the hors d'oeuvres included caviar.
The food on board is good, ample and everywhere. Lots of fresh
fruits, tropical and berries. The desserts were made from scratch
and many featured fresh fruits. There were usually one or two hot
from the oven like almond souffle or an apple bread pudding. Food
can be an adventure on board the Pearl. Hotel Director Dallas has
seen to every passengers needs—service is fast, excellent and
Mini Suite #11654 is in the rear of the ship with an excellent view
of the ship's wake and the sound of rushing water, when the balcony
door is open. There were two chaise lounges and two chairs and two
tables on the roomy balcony which has an automatic electric door
When entering on the right is the large bath with a 4'X4' shower
with fold up seat and safety rails all around. There is a tilt
mirror and a sink with two shelves for toiletries. Next, there is a
king size, high bed flanked by two night tables and reading lamps.
Then, there is a desk with three drawers and a mini fridge.
When entering on the left is a double armoire and two sets of
shelves and a private safe. There is another set of shelves with a
TV, and a table with a coffee/tea set up. Next, there is a sofa,
quite firm. The rug has the watermelon pink, lime green and blue
colors of other NCL ships; and the Maple wood furnishings are
lovely. There are two small pictures and one large, all similarly
showing palm trees and beach settings.
Cruise Director Linda Minnikin is a ball of fire. The Jean Ann Ryan
singers and dancers did production shows including The Show Girl
Revue with the music of Sinatra, Beyonce and Timberlake. The singing
seemed in need of a sound check. The dancers were terrific. There
was also the comedy of Chicago's “Second City” improvisation comedy
troupe. Bud Anderson had the audience rolling in the aisles with his
“physical” comedy. It cannot be described, you must see it!
There are many events to occupy passengers, from musical groups like
Trio Los Hernandez, whom we saw in the Crystal Atrium playing
requests. They were exceptional at Elvis tunes and Latin sounds.
Tzachev was also excellent at piano. There was also Bingo, Casino
Games, Raffles, Trivia, Darts, Ping Pong, Shuffleboard, and Golf.
NCL pulls out all the stops to give passengers a good time.
PORTS OF CALL
Day 1 Miami, FL Sail Away.
Day 2 At sea
Day 3 Roatan, Honduras Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 4 Belize City, Belize Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 5 Cozumel, Mexico Arrive 8:00am Depart 5:00pm
Day 6 At sea
Day 7 Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas Arrive 9:00am Depart 6:00pm
Day 8 Miami, FL Arrive 6:00am Debarkation
This was for us one of the best organized debarkation. Concierge
Carlos Zarate gave us VIP tags for our luggage and wheelchair
assistance off the ship through customs and out of the port. He made
this one of the fastest and smoothest exits. Thanks Carlos for all
The Freestyle Dining is a major difference between the NCL and other
cruise lines. We do enjoy both Freestyle Dining, which allows more
flexibility on when, where or with whom you'll dine, and the
traditional style, which assigns a specified table and time in the
main dining room. The first one gives more freedom in the choice of
venues and dining time; the second has the advantage of knowing and
being known by the wait staff, usually resulting in better and more
We did enjoy this cruise and we are going to cruise on NCL ships
again (we have already purchased a future cruise, yet to be
determined); however, we would like to see some improvement of
certain entrees in Specialty Restaurants, mainly the use of
appropriate ingredients and recipes to meet the expectation of a
gourmet's palate; i.e., Ossobuco served in La Cucina did not taste
“Italian.” Happy Cruising!
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