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