ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
On the Norwegian Pearl, they have bingo, slot machines, and black jack tournaments. There are art classes, you can learn bridge, or take dance lessons. Audience participation games are numerous, including a Deal Or No Deal show where you could win $5,000 or a cruise for two. There were cooking classes and lectures about upcoming ports of call, and for those who love their libations, there were wine tastings, martini tastings, beer tastings, scotch tastings, and tequila tastings.
The first couple of days, most people explore the ship and all it has to offer. I hit the gym at least once a day. They had scores of physical programs you could participate in from Pilates and body sculpting to classes in nutritional education and weight loss. One of my favorite onboard activities was the bowling alley. Not having played since a teenager, it was a bit daunting to lace up the shoes and pick up the ball while others were watching and the ship swayed side to side, but I did pretty well. It was like riding a bike, it all came back to me.
We also explored the many different bars and lounges to pick the one or two that we would probably frequent the most. For me, I like the less crowded, more secluded spots. Plus, you often get to know your bartender and they you, for the trip.
They also have multiple cabaret performers as well as bands that rotate from one lounge to another throughout the day and into the evening. For anyone needing to recover the next day, there’s the Mandara Spa where you can receive just about any type of pampering you can imagine.
Every night a different movie is viewed on the main atrium’s ginormous screen and simultaneously on your cabin’s television. There’s also a very quiet library to escape the crowds. Around the 5th day at sea I had a hankering to write, and with an article due while I was traveling, the library was the perfect spot to create while occasionally looking out to sea and spotting a humpback whale or two.
If you like to gamble, the Casino opens once you are one mile out at sea. Previously I’ve won up to $700 with slots, but not on this trip.
For theatre lovers, every evening there was a complementary show in the theatre. The specialty acts were superb on this crossing. There was a magician, and a husband and wife adagio act who defied gravity, but my favorite was Izabella Zebrowska, a Polish violinist. Her first show was totally classical and breathtaking. At one point, Bud turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if she also included some pop and showtunes?” To his delight, her second show later in the week was geared around the West End’s hit musicals and famous movie scores.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU?
I’ve never been disappointed with the food on an NCL cruise. I do have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of buffets. I end up piling on too much of too many different types of food and my stomach isn’t crazy about that. Besides, I love to be served when I dine out. Because there are so many sit-down restaurants onboard, you have plenty of options to choose from, but the food the buffets displayed were always well presented and looked delicious.
On warm days it was wonderful to have breakfast in The Great Outdoors which is a bar and restaurant area at the back of the ship.
The two main dining rooms are Indigo and The Summer Palace. Indigo is the smaller of the two and offers a more intimate dining experience. The Summer Palace is very large and its décor is inspired by the great summer palaces of Russia. Both restaurants are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they share the same menu for each particular day. A typical evening meal may consist of a starter of bouillabaisse soup, followed by garlic-roasted leg of lamb and for dessert, a warm peach tartlet. The menus change every day and if you’re really hungry, you can order as much of anything as you like.
Of the six specialty restaurants, we ate at Cagney’s Steakhouse and the French café, Le Bistro. For an entré at Cagney’s I ordered the grilled ribeye with their green peppercorn sauce. The steak was superior, as good as some that I’ve had at renowned steak houses in NYC. In Le Bistro, I ordered the pan-seared jumbo bay scallops with a sherry vinegar glaze and cauliflower mousseline, which was perfectly cooked, and Bud ordered a glorious Napoleon of Portobello mushrooms and vegetable puff pastry with goat cheese, red pepper, sweet potato, and a beurre blanc. It was almost too pretty to eat.
Often, we would see the earlier of two shows in the theatre which was at 7 P.M. Traditionally they last one hour, so from there we’d go to our favorite bar, have some martinis and then head on down to the Summer Palace for a late dinner. Very civilized.
I’ll admit, spending a week to cross the Atlantic had me a bit concerned. Would I get bored or restless? Ships can make the journey faster, but that eats up much more fuel, and the fares would increase. Plus traveling across the pond, your body very gradually adjusts to time changes, therefore no jet lag. Honestly, the 7 days at sea went by like a breeze, no pun intended. We were traveling late April and into May so the weather was extremely mild. Often people were in the outdoor pools and hot tubs or playing human chess, basketball, shuffleboard, or scampering up the rock-climbing wall. There was even a driving range where you could work on your swing, or if you preferred to just relax, you could grab a deck chair, order a smart cocktail, and people watch.
After the week crossing the Atlantic we would be making ports of call in Ireland, France, England, Belgium and finally, the Netherlands. Each excursion gave us about one day to explore. The ship offered a multitude of excursions, but do your homework, sometimes a third-party company offers a better price and a more interesting itinerary. The major bonus with booking a ship’s excursion is you’ll never miss the boat. If you’re not back in time from a private excursion the boat will leave without you.