There is no mistaking Norwegian Pearl; the wild and wacky artwork on her hull isn’t only hard to miss, but reflects the lively, fun feel you will find on-board. The atmosphere is all very exuberant American, but not as in your face as some lines – and there are places to escape to if the deck dancing and sexy leg contests get too much!
Accommodating nearly 2,400 passengers, she is a decent size – not so big that you spend hours walking from one end to the other, yet large enough to command an impressive line-up of dining spots, a smattering of good bars and a decent-size theatre. Having launched in 2006 as one of NCL's Jewel-class ships, Pearl has since been revamped (most recently in early 2017), but still feels a little dated in parts compared with NCL’s newest launches, and lacks the whizz-bang features of her larger sisters. But it isn’t a big deal, as Pearl polishes up well thanks to the homely feel-good factor that gives an added sheen to this very likeable ship.
Where to eat
You won’t be stuck for choice. Not only are there enough dining spots on Pearl to ensure you can eat somewhere different every evening on a 12-night voyage, but standards are high across the board.
I loved Teppanyaki, where boisterous chefs add singing and showmanship to their culinary skills by juggling knives and eggs as they cook up an oriental feast. Meat-lovers get a taste of Brazil at Moderno Churrascaria where 'gaucho' waiters carve succulent cuts from skewers at the tableside, while delicious pasta and pizza are served in the Italian trattoria La Cucina. And there are more speciality restaurants – though they all carry an extra charge or have a la carte priced menus. It is all well and good, but what also impressed me was the standard and range of complementary dining spots.
The Lotus Garden
The choice in the buffet Garden Cafe easily rivals larger facilities on other ships, with mouth-watering stir-fries and curries, while the two main restaurants - Indigo and Summer Palace - offer a contrasting feel that is a cut above. Lotus Garden is a welcome Asian experience that feels more like a speciality restaurant, even though it isn’t, while O’Sheehan’s, with its fish and chips and shepherd’s pie supper-type menus, serves up good old no-nonsense British pub grub.
Where to sleep
Cabins are a reasonable size, as are the balconies, and family cabins - with a sofa-bed and bunk that drops down from the ceiling - can accommodate two adults and two children, though it’s all rather snug and there is barely enough wardrobe space for four lots of outfits! However, the tightest squeeze was in the en-suite (especially the tiny partitioned-off loo!), which I felt was the most dated part of the ship, though the power shower was decent. But there was everything else you would expect; from in-room safe to flat-screen TV and huge double bed.
Those with cash to splash can opt for The Haven: the private deck area with its collection of VIP suites, swimming pool, sundeck and other benefits – a welcome retreat from the masses, especially on busy sea days.
What to do
From scaling the climbing wall up the side of the funnel and shooting hoops in the basketball court, to pumping iron in the gym or perfecting your swing in the golf driving nets, there is plenty for active sorts. The two adjacent swimming pools with accompanying hot tubs are a good size and the hub of the deck action, but as they are the only ones on the ship, there is no quiet pool to retreat to.
Pamper fans will like the Mandara Spa, where if you are feeling rich you can indulge in a 24 Karat Gold Facial for a cool $325 (£250)! Youngsters aren’t forgotten either, with a daily programme of activities in the kids and teen clubs. The pace ramps up in the evenings with acts in the Stardust Theatre that included breath-taking acrobatic acts, likeable music and dance productions and a line-up of comedians – some more amusing than others!
Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub
Of the string of bars, the pick of them was Shakers Martini and Cocktail bar, while night owls gravitated to the Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub with its crushed velvet surroundings and sultry feel.
What I loved
- Not having to worry about paying for drinks (under $15) or gratuities as since April 2017, NCL now includes them in the price.
- Breakfasts al fresco at The Great Outdoors dining area right at the ships aft overlooking the wake. It was great for open-air lunching, too, and afternoon coffees!
- The friendly and amusing crew, particularly the guitar-playing duo at the Garden Cafe who livened up hand sanitising with their adapted classics: “Spray me, spray you”, “I wanna wash your hands” and “We will, we will, wash you”. Brilliant!
- On returning to the ship from time ashore, the cold flannels and chilled drinks dispensed on the dockside, complete with seating area. A nice touch.
The most cost-effective way to sample Pearl’s speciality restaurants is to buy a dining package, starting at $69 for three meals. Not only does it work out cheaper, but if you combine this with four complimentary options, you would never have to eat at the same place twice on a one-week voyage.
Make sure you book speciality dining in advance or on the day you embark.