Cruise the Caribbean on Norwegianl Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line - Cruise Line and Cruise Ship Reviews

Norwegian Cruise Line is actually the oldest major U.S.-based cruise line, having got its start in 1966. In the late ’90s, after years as practically a budget cruise line, it began a series of moves that eventually gave its profile a big boost. Today, the cruise line has a fleet of young megaships and offers an always-casual onboard experience that’s heavy on dining and entertainment, with a dash of hipsterish innovations like glow-in-the-dark bowling alleys, outdoor nightclubs, solo cabins with adjustable mood lighting, and extra-huge water slides that appeal to adults as much as kids.

You’ll find more young couples and young families aboard Norwegian Cruise Line than aboard many other mainstream lines, in part because of their generally low fares, in part because the ships and the cruises seem to have been designed for a younger clientele.

Norwegian Breakaway from New York Freestyle Cruising
Once it started building its modern fleet around the turn of the millennium, Norwegian Cruise Line became known for two main things: it’s casual “Freestyle cruising” idea and its amazing number of dining options — both of which set trends for the cruise industry. “Freestyle cruising” basically means an onboard vibe that’s less structured and more casual: Instead of fixed formal and informal nights, Norwegian Cruise Line went with casual dress all the way. Instead of making you sit with the same dining companions at the same table every night, guests can eat when they want, with whomever they want, and wherever they want among the dozen or more different restaurants available on most of the Norwegian ships — grand main dining rooms, fancy continental specialty restaurants, fun Mexican and Italian restaurants, Indian buffets, South American–style steakhouses, and a variety of Asian options, including sushi, Chinese, and Japanese teppanyaki. To avoid having guests scurrying around the ships at busy mealtimes looking for a seat, computerized screens in various public areas tell you how busy each restaurant is and how long the wait will be if it’s filled up.

Bliss Night Club on Norwegian PearlEntertainment On Norwegian Cruise Line
Entertainment-wise, Norwegian Cruise Line shines. Its newest ships, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway feature full Broadway production shows - Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde - that are easily some of the very best shows at sea today, plus very special experiences with Cirque Dreams and Dinner Fantasy on the Breakaway, and the Illusionarium, a surreal magical experience on the Getaway.

Norwegian Cruise Line's other ships feature production shows that are way above average, with inspired themes, music, and choreography. Many also offer sketch and improv comedy shows from the famed Second City Comedy Troupe, whose alumni include Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey.

Cagney's Steakhouse on Norwegian Pearl Activities On Norwegian Cruise Line
Fleetwide, Norwegian Cruise Line's ships offer all the usual cruise activities, and more. You can take improv comedy workshops, dance lessons, bartending and cooking classes, or various other enrichment lectures; play Wii games on a two-story screen; participate in a talent show; participate in a wine tasting or beer tasting session; play basketball; work out at the gym; go broke or win big in the casino; or get a massage or makeover at the spa. Kids get a full program of activities divided into several age group; large and creative kids’ and teen centers; family activities like pizza parties and scavenger hunts; and special programming created in partnership with Nickelodeon™, including poolside games, the messy Slime Time Live! game show, dancing and singing with Dora the Explorer, and breakfasts with SpongeBob SquarePants.

Suites & Staterooms On Norwegian Cruise Line
Accommodations tend to be about average for the industry, with standard cabins a bit smaller than those aboard some other competing lines. Decor is generally a mix of stylish and fun elements — say, nice wood paneling with bright, island-colored carpets and fabrics. On most of the ships, folks with some money to spend can opt for “The Haven by Norwegian,” a separate first-class section sequestered away toward the top of many of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships, offering spacious accommodations and a private courtyard, private sundeck, a concierge lounge, and (on some ships) exclusive restaurants, bars, and fitness centers, all reserved for Haven guests only.

Ship Review: Norwegian Pearl

Norwegian Pearl - Cagney's Steakhouseby Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Ship: Norwegian Pearl
Entered Service: November 28, 2006
Where I Saw Her: Miami, on a two-night ‘cruise to nowhere.’

Sister Act: Sister ship to Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Star, the 2,400-passenger Norwegian Pearl was to be an identical twin to Jewel, but top brass decided on additional features, such as an industry-first bowling alley; and two Norwegian Cruise Line firsts — a rock-climbing wall and two Deluxe Owner’s Suites.

Lucky Strike: The most talked about feature on Pearl is the bowling alley. The four-lane, ten-pin bowling alley is situated aft on Deck 7 in the Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub. The cost, which includes shoe rental, is $5 per person, per game. I bowled and saw little impact from the ship’s movement on the ‘roll-true’ lanes, but the fact that we were bowling at sea (on a moving vessel) made a great excuse for gutter balls.

Rock On: Pearl also features a rock-climbing wall. Hmm. Doesn’t another cruise line feature rock-climbing walls? Clearly, Norwegian Cruise Line doesn’t mind borrowing good ideas from Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. Pearl also features a waterslide on the pool deck, a la Carnival, (Pearl’s is not as big as Carnival’s), and the main lobby features a big screen, a la Princess, Carnival and Disney Cruise Line.

Freestyle: The challenge for Norwegian Cruise Line, and indeed for all cruise lines, is to distinguish and differentiate. Norwegian Cruise Line is doing a good job at that with its Freestyle Cruising concept, which seeks to remove all the perceived constraints of cruising, such as assigned dining times and dress codes.

Norwegian Pearl - Balcony cabinMoreover, Norwegian Cruise Line is seeking to bury the idea that its fleet is comprised only of midsize and older ships, which is ‘absolutely not the reality,’ the company’s Andy Stuart told The Avid Cruiser. Pearl is the ninth new big ship in Norwegian’s fleet since 2000, and with three additional ships coming, the company will have the youngest fleet in the industry by 2010. ‘Our ambition was not to become the biggest,’ Stuart says, ‘but the youngest.’

My Stateroom: 11594, on deck 11, Mini-Suite, Category AF. Pearl features 134 value-oriented Mini-Suites, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to a balcony, queen-size bed (convertible to twins), sitting area with sleeper sofa, and a spacious bathroom with shower and tub. Ultra-roomy, mini-suites measure 284 square feet.

Bigger Digs: Pearl also features Norwegian Cruise Line's unique Garden Villas, Courtyard Villas and two Deluxe Owner’s Suites.

The two Garden Villas are a whopping 4,390 square feet each and feature a spacious living room, dining room and three bedrooms, each with a private bathroom.

Garden Villa guests have their own private sun beds, hot tub and steam room in a private garden, plus butler and concierge service. The company’s Andy Stuart says the Garden Villas offer a ‘ship within a ship’ experience with the ‘ability to duck in and out of the big ship’ features.

The Courtyard Villa ‘suite complex’ also features 10 villas that measure up to 572 square feet. Eight of the villas have separate children’s bedrooms, and all feature living area, dining area, separate bedroom with queen-size bed, luxury bath and separate shower as well as access to the private courtyard, and butler and concierge services.

Norwegian Pearl BowlingNew for Pearl and high above everything else are two Deluxe Owner’s Suites, measuring up to 928 square feet. With views of the ship and the ocean, these suites offer a master bedroom with king-size bed, luxury bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower, living and dining area, two balconies, access to the courtyard, butler and concierge services.

Family Friendly: Pearl features 280 connecting staterooms across many categories, including suites and mini-suites as well as the Aqua Kids Club on deck 12.

My Favorite Public Room: Bliss Ultra Lounge & Nightclub. During the day, Bliss is a sports bar and bowling alley, with flat screen televisions airing sports events, plus air hockey, foosball and other arcade games. In the evening, Bliss transforms into a hip, high-energy ultra-lounge with non-stop music. Bliss is the most unique lounges at sea I’ve ever seen. Reminiscent of those in South (Miami) Beach, Bliss features eclectic furniture, including beds (yes, beds), sofas and comfortable chairs.

Freestyle Dining: Seeking to break down regimentation, Norwegian Cruise Line's Freestyle dining concept permits passengers to dine where they want, when they want and with whom they want — and also dress as they want. Like her sisters, Pearl features 10 restaurants, with some that charge nominal fees. My favorite was Cagney’s Steak House (featuring USDA Certified Premium Gold Angus beef and other menu items; cover, $15 per person), but others preferred Le Bistro (serving French cuisine; cover, $10 per person).

Summer Palace restaurant on Norwegian PearlThe other restaurants are:
• Summer Palace — One of the two main restaurants. Inspired by St. Petersburg’s grand palaces and the era of Russian Tsars.
• Indigo — The second of the two main restaurants. Inspired by a modern boutique hotel with clean lines and color combinations of vibrant blues, purple and orange hues.
• Lotus Garden — Featuring the exotic cuisine of the Far East and a full sushi and sashimi bar. Per person cover charges: $10 for Lotus Garden; $12.50 for Shabu-Shabu and sushi bar.
• Teppanyaki: chefs entertain while cooking Asian meals. Cover charge of $20 per person.
• Mambo’s Latin/Tapas Restaurant — Featuring Tex-Mex and tapas.
• La Cucina Italian Restaurant — Casual Italian eatery reflecting a village trattoria or traditional farmhouse kitchen.
• The Garden Cafe — Indoor buffet featuring prepared-to-cook omelets, waffles, fruit, soups, ethnic specialties and pasta. Features a special ‘kids only’ area with smaller tables and chairs.
• Tip: Look for the self-serve coffee machine aft toward The Great Outdoors, an outdoor eatery with alfresco dining, for free specialty coffees.
• Blue Lagoon — A 24-hour food-court-style eatery with menu items that range from hamburgers to fast-wok dishes.

Freestyle Dining Information System: I did see a few frustrated diners who gave up trying to get into some restaurants because of long wait times. Of course, I was on a two-night cruise, and demand on our full-capacity cruise was high for popular restaurant, such as Le Bistro.

To help alleviate waits (or to make them tolerable), Pearl uses Norwegian Cruise Line’s Freestyle Dining information system. The system allows guests to view restaurants and make reservations for the entire cruise or for a specific night and restaurant. Plasma screens placed in high-traffic areas around the ship and outside each restaurant display the status of each restaurant with indicator bars that reflect when each restaurant is ‘full,’ ‘moderately busy’ or ‘empty.’

If a restaurant is full at a specific time, the screens also indicate an estimated wait time and what table sizes are available. If you would like to wait for an opening, you are quoted a wait time and issued a pager that works shipwide. Take a seat in one of the 13 bars and lounges, have a pre-dinner cocktail, and listen to one of the ship’s many entertainers until your table is ready. With a little planning, the experience need not be frustrating. It’s like planning to go out to dinner at a landside restaurant.

Norwegian Pearl - Bar CentralBars: Bar Central was first introduced on Norwegian Jewel and features a martini bar, a champagne and wine bar, a beer and whiskey bar and a cigar bar all connected but with distinct personalities:
• Shakers Martini and Cocktail Bar — art deco inspired, with a large screen behind the bar depicting James Bond inspired graphic silhouettes of funky images from 60′s and 70′s.
• Magnum’s Champagne and Wine Bar — French art deco inspired with elements reflecting the grand ocean liner The Normandy. The bar features art that reflects Paris in the 1920′s. The back bar has a bubbling, backlit water feature to look like champagne.
• Maltings Beer and Whiskey Bar — contemporary bar-lounge with low seating and tables along with mood lighting that complements the backlit artwork, themed around famous whiskeys of the world.
• Corona Cigar Club — an art deco cigar club with hand-rolled, premium cigars, cognacs and spirits.

The Bottom Line: With a hull that features brightly colored pearls, Norwegian’s newest ship is both fun and festive. Pearl’s faux palm trees on the pool deck and cheerful interior colors (turquoise cabana style stateroom doors and carpet with design patterns featuring tropical fish), makes her feel like a tropical ship. Those bright features may be a bit jolting in Alaska, but at least Pearl provides an option for cruisers who want Freestyle on their visits to The Great Land.

As the ninth big new ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet since 2000, Pearl continues the trend of Freestyle Cruising ‘Nonconformist, free-spirited; we hope those are the words that will be associated with our brand,’ Stuart says. ‘We’re looking to appeal to a mindset … people who see themselves standing out of line ‘¦ swimming against the tide.’

Hawaii Freestyle Cruising is "uku pile"

There's a Hawaiian phrase: "uku pile", which translates to "lots of choices". On a Freestyle Hawaii cruise you have more choices in staterooms, entertainment, onboard activities and onshore options than ever before.

Whether you dream of mountain-biking down a volcano, snorkeling in an undersea universe or strolling through a garden of orchids, you'll find a world of adventures to enhance your Hawaii experience.

With the Pride of America, you have the freedom to cruise exclusively within the Hawaiian islands. Hawaii is heavenly year-round and Norwegian Cruise Line cruises Hawaii throughout the year.

Cruising America’s Paradise

by Ralph Grizzle. An award-winning travel writer, and recognized cruise ship expert.

Pride of America’s itinerary eliminate the long days at sea required of non-U.S.-flagged cruise ships.

Awesome Overview
Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America offers a tasty sampler platter of a Hawaiian vacation, sailing direct from one island to the next. Pride of America’s itinerary eliminate the long days at sea required of non-U.S.-flagged cruise ships.

This makes the Pride of America vacation a fun and convenient exploration of the Hawaiian islands, eliminating the hassle and stress of packing and making connections for the next leg. The ship spends nearly four full days at port on a seven-day itinerary, giving families plenty of time to get off the ship and find something fun to do on the islands.

Comprehensive facilities for kids on board and a destination that is fun and interesting make these seven-night itineraries great for families, even those with young ‘uns. The Norwegian Cruise Line youth program is broken into four age groups, starting with 2-year-olds. And Pride of America can handle big families, too, in its 12 family suites that can sleep up to eight people.

Pride of America - Pink Champagne BarToo Much Fun
The Mud Buggy Safari / Waterfall Excursion in Kauai is available to children 5 and older, and it’s well worth the money and the muddy mess. Enjoy a guided tour of the mountains, sugarcane fields and stop for a swim in the waterfalls to rinse off before a very nice lunch.

Best Adventure, or THE attraction
Sightseeing on the islands is not complete without a volcano tour, such as The Land of Frozen Fire tour on Hilo. This hiking excursion shows the beauty and the destructive force of lava flows. On Kauai, Blue Hawaiian’s helicopter tours provide spectacular airborne views of the dramatic landscape.

Keep’em Happy/ No Shuffleboard, Dad!
In addition to the youth programs and their age-appropriate activities, these Hawaiian itineraries provide opportunities for amusements and activities that will keep the entire family smiling. Whether you take advantage of hundreds of shore options offered by the cruise line or go off on your own, Hawaii is an American destination that’s easy and rewarding to explore.

Le Bistro on Pride of AmericaWhen To Go
Pride of America offers Hawaiian cruises year-round. The best Hawaiian weather is often found in April, May, September and October, which also happen to be months when tourism is usually not at its peak.

Best Dining
You’ll have lots of days and evenings on the islands, and with a little research you’ll find some splendid Hawaiian restaurants. On board, the ship’s East Meets West is a small Asian fusion restaurant that’s perfect for a quiet night out. There are also separate steak restaurants, Lazy J Texas Steakhouse, and a gourmet French room, Jefferson’s Bistro, that both require reservations and per-person cover charge.

Anchors Aweigh!
It would be hard to imagine a better way to see Hawaii than to cruise on your floating hotel from island to island. With its Freestyle concept that breaks down regimentation, particularly for dining times, Pride of America offers a relaxed and laid-back way to see America’s paradise.