PAGE THREE - NORWEGIAN PEARL, SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE
Much can be said about the newest, biggest, most colorful, and most innovative ship in NCL's Freestyle fleet, but the fact is, Norwegian Pearl is Simply Irresistible.
Really, it is.
Admittedly, I make no apologies for my lack of journalistic distance in these pages when it comes to Norwegian Cruise Line and Freestyle Cruising™. I'm a fan, plain and simple.
Pearl is the 13th ship in the line's fleet, and the seventh ship (including the two under the umbrella of NCL America, sailing Hawai'i routes) built specifically for Freestyle.
My daughter and I boarded the ship to celebrate both NCL's 40th birthday
|©Jana Jones 2006|
Bliss Ultra Lounge
and my daughter's 31st, to participate in Rosie's For All Kids charity event, and to enjoy the inaugural celebrations. We were "wowed" from the first moment we set foot on this magnificent vessel with its bright colors, expansive public spaces, 10 restaurants, 13 bars and lounges and the first bowling alley at sea.
Norwegian Pearl incorporates all of the attributes of NCL's other Freestyle ships, but has an additional edge. Bliss Ultra Lounge, a sports bar during the day, becomes a hot, hip urban-style nightclub when the sun goes down. Resembling a Marrakech den more than anything heretofore seen on a cruise ship, you know, once you enter this lounge with its pillow-strewn beds for seating and rich dark colors, that this ain't your daddy's NCL.
|©Jana Jones 2006|
And then there's the bowling alley, with four regulation-sized lanes, the very first at sea. Thanks to the marvels of modern engineering, the ball actually "rolls true" in almost all seas. For just $5 you get your game and the shoes (bring socks though; you won't be able to bowl if you don't).
My daughter and I particularly liked the jewel-tones and retro feel of the two-story lobby, with plum and teal chairs and cushions, ottomans and loungers, all in a plush velvet. The colors are replicated in the swirls of the carpet. An original Dale Chihuly sculpture anchors the bottom of the stairway while the ceiling drips with glass icicles.
The Tahitian pool complex is wide open, with the entertainment stage between two swimming pools, a curlicue slide on one side and a bar with double loungers on the other. A waterfall flows over the forward end, just below the Sky High Bar. Upgraded chaises and chairs are a welcome addition to the pool area.
Freestyle also means dining choices, and we loved the new innovations in that arena too. The Garden Café "buffet" no longer exists. It's still cafeteria style, to be sure, but the restaurant is now filled with manned "action stations," with servers offering fresh food delivered in small amounts to ensure freshness. There's a fresh pasta station, a carving station, sandwiches, multiple salad spots, wok cooking, a place for purely vegetarian meals, hand-dipped ice cream and an array of desserts that look as though they were prepared in a five-star establishment. The seating area has been upgraded too; it's now a comfortable, cushy spot where you feel like sitting down, relaxing, enjoying your meal.
We had my daughter's birthday supper in Le Bisto, which used to be our favorite. The restaurant, for which there is a $12.50 surcharge, is beautiful but the change in menu was a disappointment to us. We missed, most particularly, the chocolate fondue (we hear it's returning) and had to settle for a perfectly prepared crème brulée instead. Boo hoo.
Cagney's Steak House, located at the top of the ship, has a menu that rivals any similar land-based dining establishment. For a surcharge of $20, you can dine on steaks and chops (lamb and veal) surrounded by delicious a la carte sides (my favorites are the asparagus and creamed spinach; my daughter loves the mashed potatoes).
There are eight other restaurants from which to choose, most having no surcharge and extensive menus. If you get the munchies when the bars close, choose The Blue Lagoon, open 24 hours, with comfort food like meat loaf and buffalo wings. There's no charge to dine there, but for a small fee you can get a magnificent hand-dipped milk shake.
NCL's Freestyle ships offer a wide range of accommodation, including the "ship-within-a-ship" concept. At the top of the vessel is a series of villas, from Owners Suites to Courtyard and Garden Villas ranging up to 4,400 square feet. Private gardens, pools, saunas and sunning areas, plus butlers and a concierge ensure privacy and comfort.
Elsewhere, the 2,394-guest ship has a variety of cabins that include insides, outsides, balcony rooms, mini-suites and penthouses, many of which adjoin for even more flexibilty. And our favorite attribute on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship: All cabins come complete with a coffee maker (upper-level suites have a custom espresso and capuccino maker!) or water boiler. That alone helps us get ready for another glorious Freestyle day.
Starting in January, 2007, Norwegian Pearl will be alternating five and nine night Caribbean cruises from Miami. In another industry innovation, the nine night cruise leaves on Friday evening and returns on Sunday midday, making it the only cruise that one can take to the southern Caribbean without losing more than a week of work. In early spring the ship will transit the Panama Canal en route to Alaska for the summer season.
Norwegian Pearl is a beautiful vessel with several new and exciting innovations. Our stay on board -although too short - gave my daughter a birthday party she'll remember for the rest of her life, and we're already making plans to celebrate her 32nd on board this ship.
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