NCL cruise to Alaska comprehensive review: Norwegian Pearl July 6-13

I recommend a cruise to Alaska for people who want to get an introduction to Alaska. It’s probably best for people who are willing to experience whatever they get because what you’re able to do on a cruise has a lot to do with luck. It’s probably easier to have fun if you don’t spend your entire vacation budget on the cruise tickets. I also recommend this vacation to people who are willing to wait fi they want to do something the same time everyone else wants (the buffet area, the gym, and the theater can get very crowded).

Now my style is to tell you all the things I think might stop you from having a great vacation. They may seem like small, nitpicky things to you. If these things wouldn’t bother you than this might be the vacation for you. If as you read this you’re thinking ‘ that would drive me nuts’ maybe you need to consider a different vacation.

Luck with the weather is a big factor. For example I spoke to one couple after returning from my cruise who had shore excursions at 2 of their 4 ports of call cancelled because of weather ( on a totally different cruise a couple years ago). When I had dinner with the captain of the Norwegian Pearl, he told me that once he had to cancel the Glacier Bay portion of the cruise (probably the best part for many). Now these may be highly unusual cases, but if something like that happening is going to make you miserable, consider another type of vacation.

This means that if you take a cruise you need to be willing to have fun on the ship and not get too upset if things change. To have fun on the ship it helps if you’re willing to spend money. My wife and I spent $1300 on shore excursions and random stuff on the ship. We don’t drink but there is a mandatory gratuity of $10/person/day, $15 cover charge (each) for some restaurants, $25 cover for the Teppenyaki restaurant, photos that cost anywhere from $15 to $30, $10 for a game of bowling, etc.

That doesn’t include duty free shops and art auctions which could help you spend a lot more money.

So when you budget your vacation, cruise tickets are not your only expense. My wife and I probably spent the same amount on other stuff (art, jewelry, restaurant covers, binoculars, bowling, photos, shore excursions, etc.) as we did on the cruise tickets. If you add in flying from New York to Seattle and the hotel in Seattle that adds another $1500.

I stress the budget stuff because I definitely saw people not having fun because they wouldn’t spend money. The place where you buy photos seemed especially angry. You don’t get free photos on an NCL cruise and if that’s going to make you angry, don’t go. My wife and I ended up buying some photos because they were good, better than the ones we took ourselves or better than ones other passengers took with our camera. We would have liked to buy more photos, like one of us with the captain, but that photo only came in the 8×10 size and cost $25. We asked them to make us a smaller one but they said no. We didn’t want some huge picture with the captain because it wasn’t going on our wall – it was just going in a photo album. Plus $25 is a lot for a picture.

When you buy a picture, you can spend another $20 to get the digital image (jpeg file on cd). So things like the ship’s photography costs money. If you want that stuff but don’t want to pay for it you’re going to get angry on the cruise. I saw it happen to several people. It happened to me a few times because internet access is expensive and slow.

Now the ship itself is great. I thought the food was excellent although the Filet Mignon at Teppenyaki was not very good (I hear they have better quality meat at Cagney’s steakhouse – they should bring that better meat over to Teppenyaki). That was really the only meal that wasn’t very good or great. There was one breakfast where we tried to eat at the same time eeveryone else did (9:00 AM) and it took us a very long time to find a seat – so long my eggs had become disgustingly cold and I threw them out and went to get more (and I hate wasting food). I think I talk about most of that stuff and more here.

There was one lady who claimed to have found a maggot in her salad, but I don’t trust crazy people and have my doubts. She was too nutso for me to get her side of the story, but she said this was the worst cruise she has been on and had ‘myriad complaints’. I dunno. Everyone I actually talked to really enjoyed the food.

If I had to find something to complain about, it would be that the breakfast was pretty much the same every morning. Now it was huge. Eggs, omlettes made to order, yogurt, muffins, pastry, pancakees, cereal, sausage, bacon, potatoes (several types), French toast (not so good actually), etc. After 7 days of that I was getting tired of western breakfasts and wanted an Asian style breakfast – a little more international variety would have helped.

Anyway, the food was great. Entertainment was good. We saw these guys:

There were only 4 when we say them – they were good entertainers and very nice when we spoke to the in person. We also saw:

Other shows were not as good. Something about Sea Legs Cabaret, some acrobatics stuff that was decent but not world class, and a staff talent show that was pretty painful. They’re free so we left when we didn’t like the show. It was sometimes tough getting a seat in the theater but we always managed to get one.

Some people said they chose NCL because it was more family oriented. The nightlife that we checked out was pretty lame so I guess that’s true. One night there was a ‘sexy shadow dance’ show in Bliss Ultra Lounge. We stayed about 5 minutes and there were about 3 couples and 3 staff members in the entire place. Totally dead. My wife went to a male strip show but she said it was boring. I can’t confirm or deny that…

What about Freestyle Cruising?

Now the way NCL tries to differentiate itself is through ‘freestyle cruising’. My hands are tired from typing so I’ll write more on that later but for purposes of this review let me recommend freestyle cruising. Unless you want to be forced to eat at a certain time at a certain table with a few strangers, why not go freestyle cruising? I mean you could eat at the same time every night – you just don’t have to. What I’m not clear on is how much more freedom you have on NCL than on say Royal Caribbean. Maybe someone can help make that comparison for us.

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  1. Linda Bator says:

    Well, I can tell you that! On other cruise lines (more traditional), everything is “scheduled” to a degree. That means that there is 1 show for the early diners, and 1 for the late. So it doesn’t leave you time to see a show and, say, dine afterwards at a restaurant of your choice. And with the newer innovations coming to NCL, there are going to be even more evening entertainment options available. More traditional lines don’t have the setup necessary to accommodate folks “Freestyle” like NCL, so they cannot be so free and easy.

  2. Sharon says:

    Interesting review…can’t say I was impressed with the entertainment either! Do they have a movie theater on the ship – sometimes a good movie is better than mediocre live entertainment – unless they are name stars of course. The food selection does seem a little boring too. Besides Asian, they could feature some Mexican style huevos rancheros, tacos, etc. Of course, I live in Texas! Photography onboard is always expensive, and may or may not be worth the price. Shopping on a ship is going to be expensive, much like hotel gift shops, so sometimes you’re better off buying from duty-free shops ashore. In any event, as you say, be prepared to spend a lot on all the extras they tack on – cover charges seem excessive, but tipping/gratuities seem reasonable, if you consider 15 to 20% on shore. I think economizing and watching every penny on any vacation defeats the whole purpose of getting away and having a good time.

  3. sherry speece says:

    I think how much fun on a cruise has to do with the cruise line you pick. I have been on 4 different cruise lines and they are different in many ways and alike also. You get what you pay for . I have never been on a NCL but friends have and no one has good things to say about it.

    Perhaps the best cruise I have taken was the Disney cruise. It was a beautiful ship with dining in wonderful roatating dining rooms and it was grand with my grand children . Very family orientated and certianly not for everyone . They do have adult only spots but for children it is truely wonderful

    We adore to travel by ship but is not for everyone.We been on as long as 21 days so as you can see we love it. A good cruise line for first timers is Carnival. Good price for a fun time .Some of their ships are a bit old( tacky) but the food is good and the entertainment some of the best I have seen. We like Princess as we like where they go . A bit more expensive but since we have criused so much the shops on board hold little interest( they all carry about the same stuff ).

    We hardly ever eat in the specailty resturants as the food in the regular sit down dining is good.We prefer to ask for open seating and so we meet different people every night.

    The buffets are fine for lunch and we usually have breakfast in the room as we are not early morning people.The food is free but there is a small charge for room service.

    My grandchildren travel with us some times and it is a great way to travel with several generation as there is always something to do for every age.

    I have never bought art on the ships as I don’t like prints and have no knowledge of true autenthicity but I like going to the auctions and drinking free wine and getting a free print at the end for sitting there.

    The spas services are great but expensive but if you make friends with the staff you can sometimes get discounted service in a slow time.Plus the deals while the ships in port can be nice.

    We some times do excursions but sometimes we go on our own as we travel so much we know how to get about almost any where.Never had a cancelation in the 10 years I have been doing this.

    Drinking on the ship can add up quick but for a small charge you can have a bottle in the room.When we have the grandkids with us we buy the all you can drink soft drink special which works out better for all.Also the daily drink special can be a bargin.We have also packed our own bottled water and soft drinks or bought them in port . Just use your head and you can save a bit of change.

    Never been to Alaska but is on my list of to do .

    We are going on a trans -atlantic cruise in Nov. on the Grand Princess.It will 21 days and go to 3 contienents. Should be fun.

    You can have fun on a cruise even if you don’t spend any extra money. Where can you go for some times less than a $ 100 a day. Just watch for bargins on the net. Of course it helps if you live in a port city such as we do , Galveston , Texas .

    Expectation can get any one in trouble so talk to some one who has been on a cruise , read reviews and do a bit of research . I reccomend this mode of travel to anyone.

  4. James Trotta says:

    I have friends who did a Carnival cruise – from what they told me the crowd was younger and the parties wilder than NCL. Part of that could be the destination – maybe an Alaskan cruise attracts fewer party animals than the Caribbean cruise…

    But maybe it’s generally true that Norwegian is more for families and Carnival is more for partying.

    As for Sherry’s comment about none of her friends having good things to say about NCL, I guess I really don’t understand. How can you go on a cruise and not have a good time? Unless you let things like the expensive photos ruin your entire vacation, you almost have to enjoy a cruise, don’t you?

    As for the entertainment, Tribute (Temptations cover band) and RootBerry (jugglers) were very good and you’re just as likely to see them on another cruise line. I was talking to the Tribute guys and they don’t stay on one ship very long – they go from ship to ship, line to line (cruising 300 days a year).

  5. Linda Bator says:

    Actually, as a travel agent, I can definately say you need to fit the ship/cruise line to the client, but over half our job is dispelling false rumors. Carnival is no more a “party” ship than others, its just that only they and Royal do shorter cruises, thus attracting younger passengers trying t do everything possible in as short a time possible. Newer ships, longer cruises, certain destinations (like Alaska and Europe) tend to attract a more diverse group of people. And keep in mind, the cruise lines keep changing, and most people only can point to someone who cruised an older ship 10 years ago, etc. I can tell you from personal experience – thngs have changed! If you REALLY want to know what’s current in the market, talk to a TRAVEL AGENT, not a website. We keep up on all the changes, take the time to visit the ships, even take specialty courses on the cruise lines to maintain our knowledge. We can even tell you about all the new ships NOT EVEN out yet!

  6. sherry speece says:

    I agree. My travel agent is a great source.She is a dear friend who I have never met face to face but she has booked my trips for over 10 yrs.

    My experience has been the longer the curise the more different ages of people.Also I think the price is a factor plus how many young working folks can get 3 week to a month off work?

    My comment about NCL was only based on who I know. I agree any cruise is a good experience. It is my favorite way to travel. Only unpack once, someone makes your bed daily, free food and as much as you want, plently to do or not to do, people watching every where, what could be wrong with that.

  7. MARY ANN says:

    MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE GONE ON A LOT OF CRUISES AND SOME OF THEM TWICE…ROYAL CARRIBEAN, CELEBRITY, CARNIVAL. PRINCESS, NCL. IN AUGUST WE ARE GOING AGAIN WITH ONE OF OUR DAUGHTERS AND HER FAMILY…WE WILL BE GOING ON NCL PEARL TO ALASKA. I HAVE GONE TO ALASKA TWICE BEFORE BUT TO SEE IT THROUGH THE EYES OF OUR G/KIDS IS A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE.. WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO IT..THE LAST TRIP WE TOOK WAS ON THE NCL JEWEL THROUGH THE BALTIC AND THE FREESTLYE WAS NOT BAD..ONCE WE FOUND WHERE WE WANTED TO DINE, IT WAS FINE AFTER THAT…WE TRIED CAGNEY STEAK HOUSE WHICH WAS GREAT

    BUT ON THE PRICEY SIDE..FOR OURSELVES AND THE FRIENDS WE TRAVEL WITH, WE PREFER THE SET SITTINGS, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE KIDS THE FREESTYLE IS BEST..YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT CHANGING THEM A HUNDRED TIMES A DAY…THIS PAST WINTER MY HUSBAND AND MYSELF TOOK ALL OUR CHILDREN AND G/KIDS ALL 24 OF US ON A 7 DAY CRUISE. WE TOOK THE CARNIVAL TRUMPH, WHICH WAS GREAT FOR KIDS..DID I LIKE THE FOOD ON THAT SHIP…SO SO…BUT LIKE SOMEONE SAID IF YOU NITPICK ON EVERY LITTLE THING THEN YOU WILL NOT HAVE FUN…WE HAVE HAD A GREAT TIME ON ALL OUR CRUISES…JUST ENJOY WHERE EVER YOU GO AND JUST LOOK AT THE GOOD THINGS…LIFE IS TO SHORT TO NITPICK ON SMALL THINGS..AND THANK GOD WE ARE ABLE TO DO THESE THINGS…GOD BLESS AND ENJOY YOUR NEXT TRIP WHATEVER SHIP YOU ARE ON..BE SAFE

  8. Len Myrrh says:

    Alaska Cruise, NCL “Pearl”, 2-9 August 2009. One-word review: Disappointing. Food/Meals: mediocre in most dining rooms, including the extra-cost Teppanyaki Lotus Garden which was, figuratively, adding insult to injury, in paying the $15-$25 premium. The Japanese teppanyaki meal was actually good-to-very good, but a return dinner featuring Thai & Chinese dishes was sadly lacking in taste and quality (akin to your Food Court Chinese joints in malls). As others have reviewed, breakfast is a challenge finding a table resulting in cold food; other dining rooms close much too early so the 8:30am to 11:00am breakfast crowd is left with one, overcrowded, choice. Entertainment: also disappointing as the show/cast members were probably neophytes (but every entertainer has to have a “first” time performance). Staff: several wait staff confided they were disgruntled with their employer and felt they received unequal treatment; therefore, they could only manifest their unhappiness in only one meaningful way…..not giving their best service effort to guests in hopes that the guests would not choose NCL for future cruises! This review is sad, but TRUE. This was our 3rd cruise and LAST on NCL which failed to come even close to our enjoyment and satisfaction with two previous cruises on competitor ships.

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