We head North, to Alaska from Seattle’s Pier 66

North, to Alaska aboard the vibrant Norwegian Pearl! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

North, to Alaska aboard the vibrant Norwegian Pearl! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

It’s dark now aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl as we sail along the west coast of Vancouver Island, bound for Alaska and our first port of call, Juneau. Today was that rarest of days: a hot, sunny Sunday in Seattle, Washington; a perfect day in general, and a fantastic day for a cruise.

Required reading when in Seattle? It certainly doesn't hurt! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Required reading when in Seattle? It certainly doesn’t hurt! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Originally, I’d planned to just make the three-hour drive from Vancouver to Seattle on embarkation day. But when the Skagit River Bridge collapsed on I-5 a week ago, I made the decision to come down to Seattle a day early. I booked the Hyatt Olive 8 on a pure whim; I wasn’t drawn to the fact that it is a LEED-certified hotel, or the fact that it was only a few years old. I was drawn to the rates which – at under $300 per night – were far better than many comparable properties.

The Hyatt Olive 8 served as my pre-cruise base while in Seattle. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Hyatt Olive 8 served as my pre-cruise base while in Seattle. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The Hyatt Olive 8 was the kind of wonderful happenstance discovery that I thrive on. They won me over when I saw my oversized corner room and European-style amenities, and cemented their place in my travel heart when I partook in the Tobacco Mule hand-crafted cocktail (oola whiskey, tobacco tincture, and ginger beer) in the on-site Urbane Lounge & Restaurant. In fact, it was so good, I ordered a second – and promptly spilled it on my laptop.

To make a long, awful story short, I awoke to discover the drink killed my laptop. So, it was off to Office Depot at 10am to purchase a new computer and return to the hotel to frantically salvage whatever documents I could.

One of Norwegian Cruise Line's signature sail-away drinks; the perfect antidote to my technologically-bust morning. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of Norwegian Cruise Line’s signature sail-away drinks; the perfect antidote to my technologically-bust morning. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But now, to the ship of the hour: Norwegian Cruise Line’s stunning Norwegian Pearl. The name “Pearl” is quite appropriate because even as she prepares to celebrate her seventh birthday, she still sparkles like new. And for me, she’d turn out to be just the antidote I needed after an expensive morning I’d rather forget.

Seattle's Pier 66, as seen from the balcony of my stateroom aboard the Norwegian Pearl. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Seattle’s Pier 66, as seen from the balcony of my stateroom aboard the Norwegian Pearl. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

In my opinion, Norwegian has secured Seattle’s best berth: the centrally-located Pier 66.Just minutes from the Seattle Aquarium and the city’s famous Pike Place Market, Norwegian has had a long-standing history with the Port of Seattle; after all, they were the first line to develop the idea of homeporting a ship out of Seattle when they placed their Norwegian Dynasty (now Fred.Olsen’s Braemar) on the run in 1999.

Last month, I sailed aboard the brand-spanking-new Norwegian Breakaway, which I have no qualms in saying I absolutely loved. But I was worried that Norwegian Pearl wouldn’t perhaps live up to her newer fleetmate. Instead, my first impressions of Norwegian Pearl were that the ship looks better now than when I first sailed aboard her in 2009.

All Bright and Shiny: Norwegian Pearl sparkles throughout, thanks to refreshed signage and new carpeting. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

All Bright and Shiny: Norwegian Pearl sparkles throughout, thanks to refreshed signage and new carpeting. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Everywhere I went, from the public rooms to elevator lobbies to my balcony stateroom absolutely sparkle. Carpeting looks brand-new, and the ship’s numerous wood-style accents are immaculately polished. Even as I sit typing this, in the Spinnaker Lounge forward on Deck 13, I can see my reflection in the railing next to where I sit. What I don’t see: dirt, grime or fingerprints.

This ship is spotless!

One of the bright, vibrant cabin corridors, facing aft. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One of the bright, vibrant cabin corridors, facing aft. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

This ship is also fun. From the moment I stepped onboard, I encountered crew members enthusiastically greeting guests, and responding positively if you engaged them in conversation. Public rooms seemed to buzz with cruisers of all ages. There are plenty of families onboard, along with cruisers young and old. Given the phenomenal weather, it’s perhaps not surprising that everyone made their way to the open pool area on Decks 12 and 13.

Following the customary Lifeboat Drill, the pool deck was a hub of activity that included a special sailaway buffet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Following the customary Lifeboat Drill, the pool deck was a hub of activity that included a special sailaway buffet. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Following the lifeboat drill – held promptly at 3:15pm – the Pool Deck was the place to be for the sail-away barbecue. Norwegian Pearl displayed the same fantastic poolside entertainment that I had experienced aboard the Norwegian Epic a year ago, and absolutely everyone got in on the action, be it dancing, grooving, or just sampling the comfort food of the on-deck barbecue.

Out on deck on a beautiful Sunday sailaway from Seattle! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Out on deck on a beautiful Sunday sailaway from Seattle! Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned my stateroom yet. It’s not because it isn’t good – far from it. Instead, it has to do with the fact that I’ve barely been in it since stepping onboard this afternoon! There has been so much to see and do around the ship that I haven’t even taken my customary photographs yet.

Bathrooms aboard Norwegian Pearl and her Jewel-class sisters are still some of the most innovative I've seen. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Bathrooms aboard Norwegian Pearl and her Jewel-class sisters are still some of the most innovative I’ve seen. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

One feature I did photograph in my balcony stateroom, however, is one that I feel is the strongest feature of Norwegian’s Jewel-class ships: split bathrooms. Balcony and oceanview staterooms have an innovative tri-section bathroom arrangement that features a separate shower compartment, sink and vanity area, and toilet. Each of these can be separated from the others by way of a frosted, sliding glass door. It’s great for families, and just plain cool for everyone else.

The separated shower stall in the bathroom of my balcony stateroom. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The separated shower stall in the bathroom of my balcony stateroom. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

After the morning I had, I knew precisely what I wanted to do first: I made a beeline for the Mandara Spa forward on Deck 12 and bought myself a weeklong pass to the Thermal Suite. For $119 per person, this pass gives you access to the ship’s stunning, forward-facing hydrotherapy pool, thermal loungers, steam rooms, saunas, and relaxation areas. It may very well offer some of the best views on the ship, and for less than $20 per day, the ability to take a soothing soak in the hydrotherapy pool before warming up with a cup of tea and a good book is a worthy investment.

 

Relax in the Mandara Spa's Hydrotherapy Pool. Just one piece of a larger complex, a Thermal Suite pass runs for $119 for a 7-day voyage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Relax in the Mandara Spa’s Hydrotherapy Pool. Just one piece of a larger complex, a Thermal Suite pass runs for $119 for a 7-day voyage. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Another thing that has made a mark on me after only about ten hours onboard: the food, even in the main restaraunts, has markedly improved. I dined in the Summer Place main restaurant tonight, aft on Deck 6. Not only was the menu more varied than in the past, quality was noticeably better than, say, my Norwegian Sun voyage in 2005, when the consistency of food was a real issue.

Looking out over the Thermal Suite complex from one of the cold plunge pools. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Looking out over the Thermal Suite complex from one of the cold plunge pools. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

No more, though – I had no complaints about my cheese and mushroom quesadilla, my penne pasta, or my lemon sorbet. Is it fine dining? No. But it is markedly better than the “old” NCL, and – to be honest – as good as recent meals in main dining rooms aboard both Holland America and Princess.

Service in the Summer Place main dining room – courtesy of our friendly waitress Aileen – was phenomenal; even on a night when, it seemed, every single table ordered the “Surf & Turf.” Even when it looked like there was a 30 minute wait to dine at the Summer Place, that went by faster than expected, with less than a 10-minute wait that was offset by a complimentary glass of champagne for the inconvenience.

Guests can also relax in the forward-facing loungers in the Thermal Suite onboard the Norwegian Pearl. Highly recommended. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Guests can also relax in the forward-facing loungers in the Thermal Suite onboard the Norwegian Pearl. Highly recommended. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

But this evening, it is the fun, casual onboard vibe that is making the biggest impression on me. I was in an absolutely foul mood this morning, yet the Norwegian Pearl broke me down in just a few hours.

A quick look at a few of the things happening onboard this evening:

  • 6:00 – 6:45pm: Music with Stems | Bar City
  • 6:15pm: Movie Tunes Trivia | Bliss Lounge
  • 7:00pm: Showtime! Experience Stardust | Stardust
  • 7:00 – 9:00pm: Karaoke Blast | Bliss Lounge
  • 7:00pm – Close: Bowling Alley is open! | Bliss Lounge
  • 7:45 – 9:45pm: Acoustic Coffee House with Jana Seale | Crystal Atrium
  • 8:00pm: Battle of the Sexes Gameshow | Spinnaker
  • 8:00 – 10:30pm: Splash Academy Opens | Splash Academy
  • 8:45pm: Welcome Aboard Raffle | Gift Shop
  • 9:00pm: Live Band Energy Plus Grooves | Spinnaker
  • 9:15 – 11:15pm: Latin Music with Iguana Trio | Bliss
  • 10:15pm: Sing It If You Know It! Gameshow | Spinnaker
  • 10:15pm: Songs from the Movies with Marcus | Bar City
  • 10:45pm: 70’s Disco Groove Party | Spinnaker
  • 11:00pm: Paradise Lotto Draw | Pearl Casino
  • 11:15pm – Close: Ladies Night with DJ Alegre | Bliss Lounge
What'll It Be? Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

What’ll It Be? Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The vibrant Bar Central on Deck 6 is the place to be for live music. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

The vibrant Bar Central on Deck 6 is the place to be for live music. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Maybe it’s the whimsical fish on the corridor carpeting, “swimming” toward the bow. Maybe it’s the abundance of activities onboard, like the fun Karaoke Blast in Bliss Lounge at 7pm; or the Battle of the Sexes gameshow in Spinnaker; or the abundance of live music throughout the ship’s bars and lounges. But it seems to me that you’d be hard-pressed to find an activity you didn’t like, or a style of food you couldn’t get here onboard the Norwegian Pearl.

Guests stroll along the wide, wraparound Promenade Deck on Deck 7. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Guests stroll along the wide, wraparound Promenade Deck on Deck 7. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Leaving Seattle, with the Oosterdam and Golden Princess in tow. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Leaving Seattle, with the Oosterdam and Golden Princess in tow. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

As we head into the Pacific Ocean tonight, I think I’d be happy with seven days just spent aboard the Norwegian Pearl. But Juneau – and Alaska – still await us.

Relaxing in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 forward as darkness falls. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Relaxing in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 13 forward as darkness falls. Photo © 2013 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow as the Norwegian Pearl spends a relaxing day sailing the Pacific Ocean en-route to Juneau, Alaska! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport. Maybe we’ll even get a handle on how this new computer works by then, too!

 

3 Responses to Norwegian Pearl Live Voyage Report – Day 1

  1. Nicholas Sabalos says:

    My sincere regrets, Aaron, over the drowning death of your laptop. My Windows Phone succumbed to a heart attack a couple of weeks ago….and I’m still picking up the pieces of my digital life!

  2. Scott Lara says:

    You’ve GOT to tell me what kind of camera you use!

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