For our 20th anniversary, we planned a "Go Big or Just Stay Home" vacation. It may have been a little risky to "go big" on a cruise when we'd never taken one before, but the crew of the Pearl is a "go big" community. We were pampered, indulged, loved on, and made to feel entirely worthy of our VIP suite status (as high school teachers, we're more "steerage" in our daily lives).
Our excursions were bucket-list level experiences that left us simultaneously exhausted and spiritually recharged.
Lest you think we treated this cruise like an episode of Downton Abbey... we also imbibed, giggled, shared flirtatious double entendres, and beat the pants off a room full of casual fans at Game of Thrones trivia. We also learned to use a fancy-schmancy camera we purchased specifically for the trip by choosing an excursion led by a photography teacher. And we became familiar with the ways and means of sauna+plunging.
The Pearl is not the biggest ship, nor is she the newest or most feature-packed. She will, however, always be *our* ship because as soon as we boarded we were as stupid-in-love and fun-loving as we were 20 years ago.
If you're on the fence about cruising Alaska, JUST DO IT. Now that that's decided, may I humbly recommend that you do so on the Pearl?
5 out of 5
As suite guests, we enjoyed a crowd-free and expedited trip through security to a comfortable waiting area with a nice variety of snacks and beverages. The only critique I have about the suite/haven waiting area at the Seattle port is that there is no restroom. I had to trek through a couple of unmarked hallways and then through the main waiting area to use the facilities. (This did give me the opportunity to confirm that I would have hated the non-suite arrival procedure.)
We were escorted into Cagney's for lunch, which was lovely.
Food and Dining
5 out of 5
I have celiac disease and required a gluten-free diet. While there was a frustrating amount of repetition in what was available for gluten-free cruisers, all of my meals were delicious and beautifully presented. I did not experience any gluten-related discomfort while on board.
We ate all of our breakfasts in Moderno (the suite/Haven private breakfast and lunch venue for this sailing of the Pearl) and the servers were awesome. They made sure I had gluten-free toast every morning and also helped me indulge in my oolong tea ritual. This required them to go out of their way to bring me proper boiling water (not water that was merely very hot). I shared tea with nearly every server and host over the course of the week, which was fun! The continental breakfast was luxurious. My husband developed a liking for salmon for breakfast. In addition to the continental breakfast, we enjoyed eggs to order and bacon every day, and french press coffee.
We also ate most of our lunches in Moderno; the servers were similarly delightful.
With our Ultimate Dining Package, we ate twice at Moderno and once at Cagney's. All three meals were glorious. I cannot recommend Moderno highly enough for an evening meal. The salad bar is beyond amazing and if you've never enjoyed a churrascaria before, you're in for a treat.
We ate a few meals in Summer Palace (very nice), once at O'Sheehan's (casual and stress-free) and once at the buffet. I'm sure the food at the buffet is perfectly lovely. Not all people are lovely and crowds tend to intensify less than lovely behaviors.
We did not order room service per se, but we enjoyed one in-suite romantic dinner served by our butler.
Pay attention, gentlemen: my husband arranged this as a surprise. While I was getting a massage, my husband, our steward, and our butler made the cabin super-romantic complete with champagne, rose petals, white tablecloth, and nice music. When I got back from my massage, my husband surprised me at the door with a glass of champagne and sat me down for a super private multi-course supper. It was transcendent. This is what your wife wants, guys. It's important to note that the crew would have helped us with this meal even if it weren't our anniversary. That's what they do and they do it with incredible professionalism and personal touches.
5 out of 5
I used the thermal suite every day. The gender-segregated saunas have fantastic views as they are all the way forward and cantilevered over the water on the side. There are also various rainfall showers, an individual hot tub, an herbal steam room, normal showers with amenities, and a changing area with lockers in the gender-segregated areas. And a PLUNGE TUB with water at 57F! (You must try this. It's like 10 espressos. Very invigorating.) The co-ed section has a large warm-water tub with various moving water elements, a large hot tub, heated tiled loungers, and cushioned loungers that face floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the bow. Nearly every guest understood that these were quiet areas.
We did not use the outdoor pool areas or other facilities. The library was a nice quiet place to read but I never managed to be there when books could be checked out, so I read what I brought with me. The card room was a very happening, crowded place. Lots of bridge, Scrabble, and raucous conversation. I'm pretty sure I overheard teenage boys playing Magic the Gathering which warmed my aging geeky heart.
3 out of 5
It's important to note that we didn't attend any of the evening shows. These remarks are about the general entertainment schedule provided in various venues on the ship throughout each day. We went to a few of the organized events such as trivia contests, the crew talent show, an educational program about Alaska (that actually turned out to be a sales pitch for excursions), a question/answer with the officers, and the White Hot party. (Actually, I slept through White Hot and my husband went without me. What a trooper!)Trivia was fun (I absolutely dominated Game of Thrones trivia because WINTER IS HERE) and we enjoyed everything we attended but compared to the level of sophistication of the dining venues and the thermal suite, the day-to-day entertainment opportunities just felt a little thrown together.
No children in our party.
Service and Staff
5 out of 5
Our butler, Renato, kept us super spoiled with gluten-free afternoon treats and coffee set-ups. It took me about a day and a half to get over my hang-ups about bothering him with requests. He reassured me that it's what he's there to do!
Noemi, our concierge, got me out of a tough spot when I realized I had scheduled a spa treatment that overlapped with prime glacier viewing. I always appreciate good customer service, but I especially appreciate it when the issue is obviously my fault.
Our cabin steward, Roy, was simultaneously an instant friend, the ultimate host, and a true linen-folding artist. All of his creations made me "squee" but he saved the best for last. Check out the swan wedding with eskimo priest presiding. He got a little misty eyed the night of our special dinner talking to us about soulmates and how he could tell how connected we are to each other.
We ended up writing comment cards for around ten Cruise Heroes because we were so overwhelmed with the level of personal attention. One of the things that struck me most is that all of the crew we interacted with were upfront as "real people" and we got to know them. They are sacrificing months away from their families to give us a week away from our daily stress and they still had the emotional stamina to make a real community out of our temporary population. They do it to send good money back home but they also do it to make our lives a little better. They're incredible and I'm in awe of them.
5 out of 5
This was my first cruise, so I cannot compare to other ships. It was beautiful. Furniture, carpets, fabrics, etc. seemed new and fresh. A few structural elements seemed dated or distressed but it didn't detract from our experience at all. I loved how the different venues incorporated windows/views into the overall design.
I know there are much larger ships but I'm not sure I'd like one. The Pearl was pretty stable (even in our aft cabin in a pretty exciting wind event), reasonably walkable, and made excellent use of every square inch to maximize passenger comfort. I think I'd be about as interested in a "central park" on a cruise ship as I am in an amusement park in a mall (that is to say not very interested).
Oh, and as for cleanliness! I am now a proper fan of the Washy-Washy crew.
Debarking for excursions was a bit of a cattle call and looked frustrating for non-suite passengers. Everyone bottle-necked at the midship elevators/stairs and seemed to lose awareness about how solid matter interacts. Suite passengers were escorted around (look for an invitation letter as the super secret suite debarkation venue changes with each port). This was the one suite perk that made me feel a little ostentatious (think velvet rope at a posh nightclub with a line around the block and you happen to know the bouncer). But totally worth it.
Cabin / Stateroom
5 out of 5
This is a non-haven aft penthouse suite (category SF). It is not wheelchair accessible although its next-door neighbor is. I think these were previously known as "romance suites".
I'll let the photos tell the story. I tried to shoot photos that elaborate on the floor plan on NCL's website. (I forgot to photograph the little alcove in the entry, but I've seen it in YouTube videos, so you can find it if you're curious.) The balcony is a little small compared to analogous suites, but it was plenty for us.
We loved this suite and didn't care a jot that it wasn't in the Haven. It had full VIP status (other than Haven access) and we got incredible views and photographs of the glaciers the whole time we were in Glacier Bay. The only tiny little thing that I would have liked from the Haven cabins is a separate "car wash" type shower. But I had thermal suite access and lived it up in that lap of luxury instead.
We didn't notice any noise from surrounding rooms/venues. The bed was huge and comfortable. (My husband and I disagree about the pillows. I thought they were great. He wished he'd brought his from home.)
Eat at Moderno (on the first night if you can). Order a "Mr. Worldwide". Bonus points if you order one in at least 3 bars.
Because we purchased an expensive camera for this cruise, we were very excited for our Juneau excursion. We booked Gastineau's Photo Safari: it includes a whale watching trip and a nature hike to the Mendenhall. Here's the twist, though: our guide was an expert in both whales and photography. Gastineau puts a cap of 14 people per group on this excursion so you get tons of personal help with whatever camera you bring (and Kristin was even very helpful with folks who only had a cell phone camera). Kristin's lessons are entirely responsible for the excellent photos we were able to take from the White Pass Rail and from the cruise ship in Glacier Bay. We were THRILLED with this tour.
"Rosy Peaks" was our guide for the Red Onion's Ghosts and Good Time Girls walking tour of Skagway. Part blue humor (don't bring kids on this one), part infotainment, part extremely authentic historical analysis of the role these working women played in the Yukon gold rush. Highly recommend.
Do the White Pass Rail. There are no words. And a photo is worth a thousand of them, but I have over 3,000 photos to sift through and edit. I picked out a couple good ones for you.
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