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Cruising Like A Norwegian, en-route to Juneau
Today, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl sailed along the western coast of Vancouver Island under sunny skies and calm seas as she made her way to our first port of call on this weeklong Alaskan run, Juneau.
The first thing I did this morning was make my way down to the Java Café on Deck 7, adjacent to the Crystal Atrium, for a Chai Latte and an internet connection. In order to file last night’s post, I discovered I needed to update my photo software – with a 200 megabyte fix. Amazingly, the file downloaded in just 15 minutes, making Norwegian Pearl’s internet the fastest I’ve ever utilised aboard a mainstream ship.
Now, I don’t advocate downloading large files on a ship at any time, but if you’re in a pinch – as I was – you’ll likely find the internet onboard to be faster than average.
When I arrived at the Java Café around 7:30am, my Chai Latte and I had the entire atrium to ourselves. By 8:30am, though, the ship had awoken as sleepy passengers made their way into and around the Crystal Atrium.
Considering her size – some 965 feet in length, spread across 14 decks – there are plenty of intimate spaces here onboard the Norwegian Pearl, and the Java Café tends to be overlooked during the morning hours. At night, when this becomes a venue for live music, the opposite holds true: it can be standing-room only.
With a lazy day sailing the Pacific Ocean ahead of us, I did what most guests opted to do: relatively little. Another visit was paid to the Thermal Suite inside the South Pacific Spa forward on Deck 12. Fortunately, even on a sea day the Thermal Suite was still spacious enough that finding a lounger, thermal bed or spot in the hydrotherapy pool was never an issue.
I also took the time to enjoy breakfast and lunch outside at the Great Outdoors, located behind the Garden Café all the way aft on Deck 12. Not only is there every kind of casual fare you could want out there – plus the numerous varieties of food just inside in the Garden Café – but the seating (and views) can’t be beat on a nice, sunny day. The area even has an awning to protect guests from the heat of the sun or the rain.
I ordered an “adult beverage”, dug into my lunch, and generally enjoyed myself.
One comment I overheard, though, got me thinking. A couple seated near me were complaining about the cost of, well, almost everything onboard. They are, to this point, the only unhappy people I’ve seen onboard, and they were discussing how they were going to fight each and every charge on their bill on the last day.
Now, this got me thinking. Yes, there are a lot of extra things you can pay for onboard, but this isn’t unique to Norwegian Cruise Line and should – if you have done your homework – come as no surprise. Indeed, it is characteristic of mainstream cruising. But even then, no one is twisting your arm to, say, purchase a soda package or partake in the $15 Wine Tasting this afternoon. Instead, you can choose what you want to do, and if you want to pay for it.
Frankly, as far as bar prices go, Norwegian could actually be charging more. I had a “Rum Runner” this afternoon that barely set me back $7; a restaurant on land – at least, in Vancouver – would charge me $12.
The same goes for the eight pay restaurants aboard Norwegian Pearl. At $15, the line is practically giving away dinner in the Asian-fusion restaurant Lotus Garden, located amidships on Deck 7. And in reading the dinner reservations screens (one of which is conveniently mounted in the Spa’s Thermal Suite), I see no one has qualms about forking over $25 per person to experience the Japanese cuisine and showmanship at Teppanyaki; the restaurant is sold out from 7pm until nearly 10pm tonight!
For every activity that carries a surcharge, there are plenty that are provided gratis. Really, if you’re not into drinking or gambling, you’ll find it quite easy to keep spending under control if you are on a budget.
But speaking of extra charges, tonight, I dined in La Cucina, which has been a favorite of mine since I sampled it aboard the Norwegian Epic last year. Decorated like a quaint Italian dining venue, La Cucina is located on the port side of Deck 12, adjacent to the entrance for the Garden Café. It cost $10 per person to reserve dinner here online, which I see is now listed as $15 in the daily program.
I had the Minestrone soup with Italian sausage to start; the Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto as an entrée; and vanilla ice cream with Lavazza Espresso for dessert. With fewer guests to serve than the larger main dining rooms, service was attentive and gracious. Emily, the restaurant manager at La Cucina was fantastically helpful, as was waiter Keith. In fact, the Norwegian Pearl should be in the running for friendliest crew in the fleet.
But the real draw of dining here is the intimate ambiance that is cultivated within this tucked-away specialty restaurant. Actually, it’s a good idea to make reservations for any restaurant you want to visit aboard the Norwegian Pearl, as it will limit the amount of time you spend waiting and maximize your time enjoying the ship itself.
Tonight aboard the Norwegian Pearl, the entertainment staff are rolling out what has been dubbed “Norwegian’s Night Out” by the Freestyle Daily program. Essentially, it’s an evening of events, fine dining and “formal” portraits, Norwegian-style, as we come within sight of land en-route to Juneau.
The night of entertainment begins at 5pm with events that range from live music to name that tune to Deal or No Deal and the always-popular “Newlywed-Not-So-Newlywed” game show. In fact, there are so many events scheduled concurrently that there’s no way I – or any other guest – could take in everything.
The party continues on past 12:30am, when the Night Out After Party kicks off in Bliss. It sounds enticing, but the wonderfully comfortable bed in my category BB Balcony Stateroom will likely win out! Incidentally, on the subject – Norwegian’s beds are the most comfortable I’ve slept on outside of ultra-luxury line Silversea.
When I was at the Norwegian Breakaway launch last month, CEO Kevin Sheehan stated his intention to take Norwegian Cruise Line into the “premium” cruising category. It was an assertion that a few journalists in the room scoffed at, but I think he has a real shot at it.
Throughout Norwegian Pearl, numerous little touches have brought her in line with her newer fleetmates. Bar and restaurant menus have been standardised, and entertainment has been kicked up a notch. While Norwegian Pearl may not have the Blue Man Group or the Rockettes, it does have The Second City comedy troupe and the kids haven known as the Splash Academy.
Tonight, as the sun finally goes down just after 10pm and the Norwegian Pearl begins to make her way toward land, I’m struck by how many families are onboard. There are far more than I would have expected for an early June sailing when most kids would still be in school. But no one seems to mind; everyone is focused on having fun and enjoying themselves. A handful of guests even had t-shirts made up that said “This is my First NCL Cruise” on them, along with the date.
I like that, because I still remember when my very first cruise, 15 years ago next month, was also an “NCL” cruise.
Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow, as the Norwegian Pearl spends the afternoon docked in Juneau, Alaska! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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