Norwegian Pearl Cruise Review
This was the cruise that topped them all... the most amazing experience we've had out of all of cruises. We splurged and stayed in one of the most incredible cruise ship suites we've ever seen. What really attracted us to this particular suite was the fact that it had a huge balcony with a private Jacuzzi that we didn't have to share with anyone. We spent a LOT of time in it!
Before I get in to the full story of our vacation on the Norwegian Pearl,
let's start with a little introduction
so that you know who this is coming from...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996... and have now taken 39 cruises on five of the major cruise lines. This was our fourth with Norwegian Cruise Line. All together, we've spent 267 days at sea on cruise ships... but the best 5 were in the Deluxe Owner's Suite within The Haven on Norwegian Pearl!
When Kellyn and I started cruising back in 1996... we did it on a shoestring. We booked the cheapest inside cabin we could find, on the shortest cruise we could find, from the closest port to our house. We crammed two adults and two kids in to a tiny cabin, and we were thankful to be able to afford such an extravagant vacation... since up until that point, just about all of our vacations had consisted of driving to stay at a relative's house somewhere.
Kellyn and I enjoyed that first cruise, but the kids really didn't enjoy it all that much! So, there were no more cruises for our family for the next twelve years after that. But once the kids flew the coop, Kellyn and I started cruising again. We were still financially supporting two 20-somethings, so our cruises for the first couple of years after that were still on a limited budget... but at least we could usually afford a balcony cabin.
With each passing year, I was making a little more money at my job, and the kids were costing us a little less. So, over time, our vacation budgets slowly increased. In 2010, we stayed in a suite for the first time. In 2011, we were able to afford to fly to Miami for the first time and do a Caribbean cruise. We started to do a lot of back-to-back cruises. In 2013, thanks to the profits from my first viral YouTube video, we were able to splurge on the most expensive suite on the Carnival Sunshine, the Captain's Suite. In 2014, with ad revenue from YouTube getting even stronger, we were actually able to do six cruises in a single year... including our first experience with luxury cruising in The Haven on Norwegian cruise line!
I must be the luckiest guy in the world because not only has my "real job" been quite lucrative, but my YouTube channel has also turned in to a huge deal, providing an incredible extra income that I never expected. (YouTube cuts me in on a portion of the revenue they generate by running advertisements along with my videos.)
The reason that I'm telling you all this is that I know I'm incredibly blessed, and that most people can't afford what I'm about to describe to you. Please understand that it hasn't always been this way for me. I've worked hard since I was 20 years old (and that was 40 years ago) and finally now I am able to enjoy some rewards from that hard work. I know that not everyone has been so blessed, and I understand how reading some of this story might frustrate some readers who aren't able to afford this kind of vacation. I wasn't able to either, for quite a long time, but finally there are rewards from years of hard work and good choices... and a little bit of luck. I hope some day you will be as fortunate.
Our Cabin, Haven Deluxe Owner's Suite #15000
For me to convey what was so special about our cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, I have to start with the amazing cabin we stayed in. It was pricey as heck... about $1600 per night... but in the end, Kellyn and I both agreed that it was totally worth it. And because this was only a five day cruise, it wasn't quite as expensive as it would have been if we had done a longer cruise. Also, because we were in one of the most expensive suites on the ship, it was pretty much all-inclusive... all the booze, Internet service, and specialty dining was included. So, at the end of the cruise, we basically had a $0 balance on our tab. On most cruises, there's a pretty good whammy at the end when you are hit with all the incidental charges. This time... none.
We loved this suite so much that we spent almost all of our time there. Even though the ship stopped in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Key West, Florida... we never left the ship at all. We had every comfort we wanted right there in our suite... and a butler to bring us food! We did have a few meals in the specialty restaurants onboard, and even a couple in the Pearl's very nice buffet restaurant... but most of the five days was simply spent inside our luxurious little cocoon.
Our favorite part of the suite was the private Jacuzzi outside on the large balcony. Having a Jacuzzi of our own, that we didn't have to share with anyone, was the highlight of our cruise!
In case you're wondering why I was wearing a t-shirt in the Jacuzzi... it was so I could spend hours in it without worrying about getting a sunburn on my shoulders. Wearing a t-shirt seems to work better at preventing sunburn than the use of "waterproof" sunblock.
To give you an idea of how large the balcony was, here's a shot I took while standing on the steps of the Jacuzzi and looking back towards the door that leads from the balcony in to the suite:
Compare the size of that balcony to the ones attached to a normal balcony cabin on a cruise ship. It's huge! Notice that in addition to the two loungers with the comfy cushions, there is also a daybed large enough for two to snuggle on. The table is a great place for anything from a snack to a full meal. Covered with a table cloth, it's a pretty great place to eat a meal... and you sure can't beat the view!
Here's a photo from the opposite direction of the last one, to give you another view of the daybed, the loungers, and the Jacuzzi...
At night, you can light up the Jacuzzi and the patio, or leave those lights off. Your choice.
One of the things that surprised me about this cruise in the Deluxe Owner's Suite was how much I enjoyed having a butler. Everyone staying in The Haven has a butler... and I've stayed in The Haven on two other NCL ships... but I never really asked much of the butlers on those two previous cruises. I simply don't think of myself as a guy who needs the help of a butler. I'm quite capable of getting things done for myself. But on this cruise, I came to really appreciate the services of our butler, a very special guy by the name of Caesar Lanic...
At least I think his first name is spelled Caesar! That's how it's spelled on his name badge. But he also gave me his business card, and it's spelled Ceasar on that. Isn't that odd? A letter from the Concierge referred to him as Caesar, though... so that's two sources that spelled it that way and only one source that spelled it the other way. So, unless I hear otherwise from a definitive source, I'm going to refer to him as Caesar for the rest of this review. And I do have a few things to tell you, later, about Caesar... like how he made Kellyn's day, and how he came to my rescue on another day! Anyway, after experiencing the service of a great butler on the Norwegian Pearl, I now consider myself as someone who appreciates the help of a butler! And at the end of the cruise, I tipped him more than I've ever tipped anyone in my entire life. He was that good.
At the beginning of the cruise, still considering myself a don't-need-a-butler kind of guy at that point, I didn't ask Caesar for much... and I told him flat-out that I wasn't going to ask him for much. He seemed genuinely disappointed... and it didn't seem like he was disappointed because he thought he wouldn't get a good tip if I never needed anything... it seemed like he was genuinely disappointed because he likes to do special things for people. I made a mental note of the disappointment on his face when I told him we wouldn't need much from him. And the next day, when I thought of a simple thing he could do for me, I noted that he seemed genuinely pleased. So, after that, I loosened up a bit... and let Caesar know anytime I thought of something we needed. And he seemed to genuinely like taking care of us.
On the very first day, he brought some kind of pastry appetizer thingy to us... and I had to have him take it away, because Kellyn has some serious food allergies and has to eat both gluten free and dairy free. But he wrote in his notebook about Kellyn's special dietary requirement, and after that he was very careful to only bring items for Kellyn that were both gluten free and dairy free. In fact, in that previous picture, he's bringing us a surprise lunch of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches made with gluten-free toast. We hadn't asked him to bring us lunch, he just did. I think he may have picked up on the fact that we ate lunch at noon the first couple of days, but on this particular day it was after 1 PM and we hadn't left the cabin yet. (We were enjoying the Jacuzzi too much to leave the room!) So, he showed up with lunch... and it was delicious.
Later in the cruise, we couldn't bear the thought of leaving our perfect little suite for dinner one night, so I arranged for Caesar to bring a steak for me and a big salad for Kellyn. He placed a white tablecloth over the dining table in our suite, and we enjoyed a perfect dinner without ever leaving our little cocoon. (And without ever having to dress up to go out.) So, yeah, this was the cruise where I learned how to let a butler pamper me!
The Deluxe Owner's Suite has a very nice bathroom... so large that I couldn't get the whole thing in to one photo, even using a wide angle lens. What you see in this next picture is about half of the bathroom.
Notice the TV above the bathtub... a nice touch. Another nice touch is a telephone within reach of the toilet. Not that I would be thinking of calling someone while doing my business... but where it actually came in handy was when one of the staff called me to confirm something, and Kellyn was on the balcony at the time, and I was in the bathroom. It also came in handy during a bit of a crisis... more about that in just a minute!
The next photo shows a little dressing and makeup area, which sits between the bedroom and the bathroom. There is a "pocket door" that can be slid closed to provide some privacy to the dressing room and bathroom.
A funny thing happened to me in the dressing room one day! I entered the dressing room to change out of a swim suit, and slid the door closed behind me for privacy... just in case the butler, the Jacuzzi tech (who we shall refer to simply as "pool guy" for the rest of this review) or the cabin steward dropped by. They do that from time to time... so be sure to use the Do Not Disturb sign and lock the front door if you don't want any of the staff to enter the suite at all.
In sliding the dressing room door closed behind me, I managed to use a little too much force and a totally freaky one-in-a-million thing happened. The door shut with such force that the little lock in the door managed to rotate and lock itself closed. It did it in such a way that it was impossible for me to unlock! I tried and tried, to no avail. I had accidentally locked myself inside my own dressing room! As luck would have it, I had brought a screwdriver set with me... and I had stored it inside the dressing room! So, I used one of my screwdrivers to dis-assemble the door lock... but as BAD LUCK would have it, I still couldn't force the lock open!
Unable to MacGyver my way out of my little predicament, I was forced to reach out for help. You'd think that since I was locked in the dressing room and bathroom, I'd have a hard time summoning help. (Kellyn was out on the balcony in the Jacuzzi, and there was no way she would ever hear me even if I yelled for help.) Luckily, there's a cool little feature of the Deluxe Owner's Suite bathroom: a phone next to the toilet, and Caesar the butler on speed dial. So, I called Caesar and explained my predicament... with a lot of laughing to let him know I wasn't mad, I was embarrassed at having to get help for such a freaky occurrence. He must have been nearby, because he came to my rescue in a flash... but even Caesar couldn't get the dressing room door lock to budge. So, he called maintenance... and they showed up pretty darned quickly, too. Eventually, they got me out, and Caesar and I had a pretty good laugh about it.
But wait... that's not the end of the story! Unbelievably, just a few hours later, I managed to get myself locked outside on the balcony, and unable to get in. Sounds too impossibly unlikely to be true... but it was. I was out on the balcony, and the pool guy came by with some maintenance people to address an issue with the heating and cooling system in the bathroom. So, after pool guy came out on the balcony to fill me in that the maintenance guys would be in our bathroom for a little while, he entered the suite from the balcony and slid the glass door closed behind him. Somehow, much as I had done earlier with the dressing room door, he managed to slide the glass door closed in just such a way that it engaged the lock. So, Kellyn and I were on the balcony and the door was locked... making it impossible for us to get back inside the suite. How's that for an unbelievably incredible coincidence? Luckily, pool guy was still inside the suite when I tried the balcony door and realized it was locked. But for just a brief second or two, I didn't know that he was right there inside the suite... due to the mirrored window in the sliding door. So, for a second or two, I thought I was going to have to call for help for the second time that day! But first I tried just knocking on the door, and pool guy was pretty quick to open it up for me. And no, he hadn't heard the story of the first incident yet, so he didn't do it as a joke. It was just the strangest of coincidences.
Speaking of pool guy... one more little story:
Cruise ship staff are quite often from the Philippines... and they never seem to know the proper way to address a guest. If I were staying in a hotel in the United States, with an American staff, they'd address me as Mr. Zimmerlin, or possibly as "sir". In a casual setting, they might even call me by my first name... James, if they are reading it off some paperwork, or Jim if they have heard me use my own name... such as if I called on the phone and said "this is Jim Zimmerlin in room 104". A Filipino staff member on a cruise ship, however, doesn't seem to get that. I guess it's just not the way they do it in the Philippines. No matter what cruise ship I'm on, a Filipino staff member will almost always refer to me as "Sir James". Now that sounds real awkward and odd to me, as that is simply not the way we address people in the USA... but I've just gotten used to it after 39 cruises. But Kellyn and I had a good laugh when the pool guy, after he had gotten to know me just a bit after a day or two, started referring to me as "Sir Jimmy"! No one had ever addressed me like that before... and I'm pretty sure he was just trying to be whimsical and a bit of a smart-Alec. It made me smile, and Kellyn and I had a good laugh over it. I even suggested that during some future passionate moment, Kellyn might want to shout out "Sir Jimmy!" at the climax of her passion... just for a good laugh! She didn't think that was funny, though. But I did!
Above the bed in our suite was a piece of artwork I found interesting. Our son is fascinated with Thailand, and even went there on vacation one time. He has a tendency to give us elephant-related gifts at special occasions. So, I was amused to look carefully at the artwork over the bed and to notice several elephants.
The next photo shows gives you a good view of how the suite is laid out. Let's start on the left side, where you see the bed and that big piece of artwork above it. To the right of that is the pocket door which separates the bedroom from the dressing room and bathroom. (I slid that door closed VERY gently after "the incident".)
On the right side of the previous photo, you can see the entryway to the suite. That door takes you out to the stairway which leads down to the rest of The Haven, and to the elevators and staircase if you want to leave The Haven. Notice to the left of the entryway that there's a bar, including a lot of glassware. Under the glassware , on the left, is a coffee maker. The insulated cooler to the right of the coffee maker is full of ice. The bar is stocked with Pepsi products of all types... and on the first day of the cruise, Caesar checked with me to find out what my drink preferences were. He made sure that the bar was stocked with plenty of our favorites. This includes liquor!
One of the perks of staying in the Deluxe Owner's Suite is that they will supply up to three bottles of the liquor of your choice. For some guests, I'm sure that ends up being three bottles of wine. In our case, we're not wine drinkers, so I asked for a bottle of Malibu Rum, a bottle of Vodka, and a bottle of Tequila. I figured that gave us lots of choices of mixed drinks we could choose from, depending on our mood during the week. And no, we did NOT finish three bottles of booze during our five day cruise! I wonder what they ended up doing with the leftovers?
This next photo gives you a view of the suite as seen from the entryway. I figure that if I show you the suite from enough different angles, it will help you get the full picture in your mind. It's a pretty great suite!
Here's one last photo of the inside of the suite. This gives you a good view of the sitting area. Note the cute little towel animal on the right side of the photo! The beautiful fresh flowers were a nice touch, too.
The view out the big picture windows is pretty spectacular. You can watch all the activity that's going on at the pool deck, or see what's happening with the weather, and also get a very good view of how close we are to land and other ships. The windows are mirrored, so you can see out, but no one can see in... at least during the day. When it's dark outside, they can probably see in from outside... if you have a fair amount of lights on in the suite. But one button can fix that problem. I'll show you what I mean in a video, later in this review.
We spent hours just enjoying the comforts of our suite and watching the antics of the people who were partying a few floors below us on the pool deck. Here's a little video I captured one evening during a party out by the pool. Notice the guy over on the right side, and the amazing back flip he does about 4 seconds in to the video! (To start the video playing, just click the triangle in the center of the video screen.)
To fully understand the situation, let me explain that for quite a while now Norwegian Cruise Line has been running a promotion where people who book a cruise are offered their choice of one of the following four perks: an unlimited beverage package, including booze... an opportunity to eat at the specialty restaurants for free... free wireless Internet access... or a credit towards the cost of shore excursions. From what I could tell from watching the crowd out on the pool deck, an awful lot of people chose the free booze! It was most noticeable on the first sea day. People were REALLY having a good time out at the pool, if you know what I mean. It was pretty funny to watch.
Another thing that happened out at the pool deck one day was the "Ms Norwegian Pearl 2017" contest, and from our balcony I had a pretty nice vantage point...
The zoom lens on my camera makes that look a lot closer to our balcony than it really was!
Besides watching the people on the pool deck, we also had a spectacular view of the ocean.
Here's a time-lapse video of the view we had from our balcony the day the ship was docked in Key West:
We also had a pretty great view from our balcony the day the ship was docked in Ocho Rios, Jamaica...
The Deluxe Owner's Suites (there are two of them, right next door to each other... one on the port side of the ship, one on the starboard side) are located within The Haven... a special V.I.P. area of the ship that only about 60 passengers have access to. (There are typically around 2400 passengers on the Norwegian Pearl.) Most of The Haven is located on deck 14. To get there requires a special key card that only Haven passengers have. That key card will open the door that blocks the stairwell between decks 13 and 14. Or, insert your room keycard in the secret un-marked slot in the elevator, and if you're a Haven passenger, it will allow you to push the button for deck 14. If a non-Haven passenger tries pushing the 14 button, even if they try inserting their keycard first, it simply won't work.
The centerpiece of The Haven is The Haven Courtyard... a relaxing place with a warm swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, and lots of comfortable loungers and daybeds.
The Haven Courtyard is surrounded by 1 and 2-bedroom Haven suites. Because those suites are adjacent to The Haven Courtyard, it's almost as if the courtyard is their very own outdoor room. Here's the hallway the sits between The Haven Courtyard and most of The Haven Suites. You can see how quick and easy it would be to walk out of your suite and in to The Haven Courtyard... just like it was your own little retreat.
You can order breakfast or lunch from an attendant that is stationed in the courtyard area, and he'll get it for you and serve it to you at one of several tables within the courtyard. I don't think he's out there to serve you at dinner time, but I'm not 100% sure about that. There are also beverages available in the courtyard, and some nice snacks, too. On several occasions, I walked down to the courtyard and grabbed cookies or M&Ms to bring up to our suite.
Notice the sign that says "plain chocolate". That's a jar full of plain M&M's... and the sign is just letting folks know that these were not peanut M&M's, which had been in the jar most of the other days.
Just outside the courtyard is a little room where The Haven attendant and the stateroom stewards store things, prepare things, and collect used dishes. I laughed when I saw the door propped open one day, and I read the sign on the inside of the door.
The Haven Courtyard is never crowded since only around 60 people have access to it... and at any one time, 60 people are always going in a dozen different directions. Even on a sea day, there's always plenty of space to relax within The Haven Courtyard.
The courtyard is protected by a big glass dome overhead... which can be opened up during perfect weather, closed during bad weather, or cracked open a little bit to keep it cool. It's a very comfortable place.
You might think that since the Deluxe Owner's Suite has its own large balcony and a private Jacuzzi, we would have no need for The Haven Courtyard. But the thing you don't realize is that there are times when the big balcony on the Deluxe Owner's Suite is basically unusable. For example, on a particularly windy day, or a rainy one. Something else that might not occur to you is that since the Deluxe Owner's Suite is located right next to the main pool area, it sometimes gets extremely noisy out there. On sea days, they often have a band playing out at the pool during the afternoon. Mornings were great on our balcony, but once the band started playing in the afternoon, we had to head to the serenity of The Haven Courtyard. And during two nights of our cruise, they had deck parties at night by the pool... and the band literally played past midnight... so you might want to bring some ear plugs if you're going to stay in any of the owner's suites (deluxe, or not) and you think you might want to go to bed while the big pool party is still going on outside.
In the next photo, if you look carefully at the back right, you can barely see the big Jacuzzi that's one of my favorite features of The Haven Courtyard. To the left of that, there's a barely-visible yellow floor sign warning of a wet floor there, and behind that yellow sign is a hallway which leads to male and female restrooms, male and female showers, and male and female saunas.
This next photo gives you a better look at the big Jacuzzi, plus a view of the that staircase leading up to The Haven Sundeck and (just to the left of the big hook) the hallway that leads to the restrooms, showers, towels, and saunas.
Regarding that stairway and the Haven Sundeck, one floor up... I somehow managed to not take a single still photo of The Haven Sundeck, but you can see it in the following video, which is a little introduction to what The Haven is all about. Be sure to turn your volume up before you start playing this video, as there is some narration which goes with the video.
This photo of the big Jacuzzi in The Haven Courtyard does a better job of showing you how big it really is. Kellyn and I shared it one day with a very well behaved pair of teenage girls... and there would have been plenty of room for another couple, at least.
That big couch would be a great conversation spot for a family or a group who were all staying within The Haven. One word of caution, though, if you ever are part of a group of people having a conversation in The Haven: just keep in mind that it's supposed to be a quiet, relaxing place. So, be careful to keep your conversations soft (and censored) so that you don't bother other people in the courtyard. On a similar note, if you're staying in The Haven with your children, this is not the pool for them to play Marco Polo in. For anything but a quiet and relaxing time in the pool, children should be taken to one of the other pools on the ship. Yes, we get that you paid the big bucks to stay within The Haven, but that doesn't entitle you to infringe on other people who also did. None of this was ever a problem during any of the three cruises we've done within The Haven on NCL ships, but I have read a few horror stories on Cruise Critic.
I mentioned that it takes a special keycard to get inside The Haven. Once you've made it to deck 14, which is The Haven, the entrance to the two Deluxe Owner's Suites is a bit subtle. Near the elevators, there's a small sign for the Golden Pearl Suite and the Black Pearl Suite.
Just past that sign is a stairway...
Those stairs lead to the two Deluxe Owner's Suites, which take up all of deck 15. While climbing those stairs up to our amazing suite, I would always have Led Zeppelin lyrics running through my head... "and she's buying a stairway to heaven". The word "buying" seems ironic to me, as you do pay through the nose for the privilege to be in this suite... and that stairway certainly does take you to a place that looks an awful lot like my idea of heaven!
At the top of the stairs, you reach the doors to the two Deluxe Owner's Suites... 15500 on the port side of the ship, and 15000 on the starboard side.
If you research the Deluxe Owner's Suites on the Norwegian Cruise Line web site, you actually get a incorrect impression of the layout of these two suites. Here's the official NCL deck plan for the area of the two Owner's Suites...
If you were to believe that diagram exactly as it is, you'd be left with the incorrect impression that 15500 is quite a bit larger than 15000... because they include the stairway up to the 15th floor, and the landing at the top, as part of the green area of 15500. I have taken the liberty of creating a more accurate diagram...
As you can see, 15000 is actually a little bit larger than 15500, because of the way the entryway is layed out. It's an insignificant difference, though. Our neighbors in 15500 were very friendly, and we compared the two suites one day. The size and layout are basically the same, but there's a different interior decoration scheme between the two. I was glad we had booked 15000 as I preferred the way it had been decorated.
Be aware that the Norwegian Pearl is going in to dry dock for a few weeks in February of 2017, and I know they are planning on doing some improvements to the staterooms. Whether they will do anything to the Deluxe Owner's Suites... I don't know. I'll be looking forward to Googling "Norwegian Pearl Deluxe Owner's Suite" in mid-to-late 2017 to see if I can find any pictures or videos taken after the February dry dock... just to see if they did anything significant to the Deluxe Owner's Suites.
By the way, you may have noticed that I don't just call them Owner's Suites... I've specifically called them "Deluxe Owner's Suites". That's because there are "owner's suites" on deck 14 and there are "deluxe owner's suites" on deck 15... and they are two very different things. The owner's suites on deck 14 do not have a Jacuzzi out on the balcony, so that puts them in a completely different league from the Deluxe Owner's Suites on deck 15.
In this next photo, look at the top two floors of the building beyond the pool. Notice the mirrored windows on the top two floors. Behind those mirrored windows are the four most expensive suites on the ship.
On the top floor, deck 15, are the two Deluxe Owner's Suites. If you draw an imaginary line down the middle of the ship, suite 15000 (ours) is on the left side of the line, and suite 15500 (our neighbor in the other Deluxe Owner's Suite) is on the right side of the line. That's pretty cool that our suite spans basically half the width of the ship! Below us, on deck 14, also behind mirrored glass, are the two most expensive suites on the ship... the 3-bedroom Garden Villas. More about those, later.
Here's a closer look at what the other passengers see when they look up at our Deluxe Owner's Suite. Our balcony is there on the left side of the upper floor of that structure, and the mirrored windows of our living room and bedroom are there on the right side. From this angle, it's easy to see how our balcony offers such a great view. From our balcony, if we look forward, we see the pool deck... if we look off to the side, we see nothing but ocean and sky. And as you can see from this picture, it's especially beautiful at sunset.
Without a doubt, the single best thing about our cruise in the Deluxe Owner's Suite was having our own Jacuzzi that we didn't have to share with anyone. My wife is a bit of a germaphobe, so she absolutely LOVED that we weren't sitting in a Jacuzzi full of anyone else's germs. The water in the Jacuzzi is emptied and cleaned every night by "pool guy"... and he comes by every morning to fill it up again with fresh water. As far as I know, they don't add any chlorine or special chemicals to the water like they would have to do in a typical public pool, since the Jacuzzi is emptied every night and replaced with new fresh water every morning. My wife loved all of that, and I've never seen her spend so much time in a Jacuzzi. It was like heaven on earth, and you can see it in the very genuine smile on her face in the next photo.
Notice that the ship was docked in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, in that particular photo. We never stepped foot off the ship during our entire cruise. We had everything we needed... there was no reason to go ashore. We've been to the Caribbean many times... so this cruise was not about the destination, for us. It was about spending time inside our own little cocoon of pleasure. In many ways, it was like having a second honeymoon after 35 years of marriage.
When the ship was at sea and moving along at 15 knots or so, it tended to be too windy to enjoy our Jacuzzi. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, at sea there was often a lot of noise from the band playing loudly at the pool deck just below and in front of our balcony. So, the prime time to enjoy the balcony was during port days when there was no wind, and nothing going on at the pool deck because most of the other passengers were ashore.
On this particular day, with the ship docked in Ocho Rios, it was so warm and peaceful in the Jacuzzi out on our balcony. We spent HOURS in it.
At one point, Kellyn leaned over to me and told me how great this all was... but added that there was just one thing needed to reach total perfection: chips and salsa. So, I wrapped myself in a towel and went inside to the telephone. With one button on the speed dialer, I was able to connect with our butler, Caesar, and ask him if he had access to some chips and salsa. Of course, he did... and a few minutes later he showed up and made Kellyn one very happy lady.
A little while later, as we were enjoying a good time in the Jacuzzi, eating our chips and salsa and drinking Malibu & Diet Pepsi, Kellyn told me that this was the best day of her entire life. Those words really meant a lot to me, as I knew that I had made it all happen. That's a moment I'm sure I'll never forget.
Notice in the previous picture that we had turned off the pump to the Jacuzzi, disabling the bubbles. There's a trick I'd like to pass along to any future residents of the Deluxe Owner's Suite. Just to the right of the stairs leading up to the Jacuzzi are three buttons. One turns the pump on, one turns the pump off, and one opens up a special valve that drains the Jacuzzi completely. When the pump is on, the bubbles are bubbling and the heater in the Jacuzzi maintains the water at a constant temperature... whatever temperature "pool guy" has set a secret hidden thermostat to. So, let's say he's set the thermostat to 100 degrees. As long as you leave the pump running, the water in the Jacuzzi stays at a constant temperature of 100 degrees.
There may be times when you don't want it that hot, though! For example, on a warm afternoon in the Caribbean, 100 degree Jacuzzi water may not feel relaxing at all. During the heat of the day, you might want it much cooler, but during the mornings or evenings you might love it that warm. They don't want you fiddling around with the secret controls at the back panel of the Jacuzzi... and you don't really need to. Anytime you want the water to start cooling down... just turn off the pump. With the pump not running, no additional heat is added to the water. Over time, it eventually cools down. If it cools down too much, just turn the pump on again until the water reaches the temperature you like. If you run the pump continually and the water just never gets as hot as you would like it to... mention it to pool guy and he can turn the secret thermostat up for you.
I'm just about done talking about the fabulous Deluxe Owner's Suite and all the fun we had in it... especially that big balcony and our own private Jacuzzi... but before I move on to tell you about some other parts of the Norwegian Pearl, I want to offer you a summary of what was so great about the Deluxe Owner's Suite... in the form of the following video. Be sure to turn your volume up before you start playing this video, as there is some narration which goes with the video.
I mentioned in the video that we were in one of the four most expensive suites on the ship. I can tell you for sure that this does not go un-noticed by some of the staff. All Haven passengers are treated like V.I.P.'s, but it was interesting to see how they really went out of their way to give us special treatment since we were in the Deluxe Owner's Suite. For example, one day I called the Concierge to see if she could change some dinner reservations we had made. I guess I called at a bad time, because she didn't answer the phone, and it went to voice mail. I didn't feel like leaving a voice mail, so I didn't. About five minutes later, the Concierge was at our front door. And when I told her about my need to change the dinner reservation, there wasn't a moment's hesitation... she said it would be done. There was no checking with the restaurant to see if there was a table available. It simply would be done... no ifs or buts. It was a very refreshing level of service, and we really appreciated it.
The Thermal Suite Inside the Mandara Spa
The Mandara Spa is located on deck 12, at the front of the ship. Deck 12 is the pool deck, so that makes it pretty easy for anyone to find the spa. Within the spa is a delightful cruise ship feature known as the Thermal Suite. It's not free to use... you have to either buy a day pass, or a pass for the entire cruise. I'm not sure, but I think if you buy any kind of service in the spa (such as a massage) you might also get access to the thermal suite before or after your treatment, too.
I've been talking a lot so far about The Haven... so I just want to make it clear that the Mandara Spa has nothing to do with The Haven. Being a guest within The Haven does not get you free access to the Thermal Suite, or the spa.
The centerpiece of the Thermal Suite is this very warm hydrotherapy pool...
You can lie down and relax on those horizontal metal racks on the right side of the picture, or stand up under those high-pressure jets in the center for a poor-man's shoulder massage, or stand over on the left side near that circular thingy. I have no idea what the purpose of the circular thingy is. I just leaned against it while enjoying the warm water of the hydrotherapy pool.
There's a very nice Jacuzzi located next to the hydrotherapy pool. It's pretty much identical to the Jacuzzi in The Haven Courtyard. If you're a guest in The Haven, there's not a whole lot of reason to buy Spa access.
As I mentioned, the spa is located at the very front of the ship, just above the navigational bridge. There are big picture windows that look forward and have a spectacular view during the day. A row of loungers, with thick, comfortable cushions, are next to the big picture windows. It's a great place to relax, with a beautiful view... and protected from any wind or weather. In addition to the individual loungers, there are also a couple of day beds that are big enough for two people to share. You can also barely see in this photo that there are some green tile loungers. Those tiles are heated... so when you lie on them, the heat radiates up in to your back. It's very relaxing, especially after you've just gotten out of the Jacuzzi or the hydrotherapy pool.
Those last three pictures were taken in the co-ed section of the thermal suite, but there are also men's and women's sections on either side of the co-ed section. In each gender-specific area, there is a warm Jacuzzi bath, a cold plunge pool, showers, lockers, and loungers where you can relax without people of the opposite gender being around.
The layout of the Thermal Suite is on the Norwegian Pearl is quite a bit different than the layout I've seen on newer NCL ships such as the Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Getaway. The Pearl has a much nicer, larger sauna. Two saunas, actually. One on the men's side, and one on the women's side. They have incredible views forward and off to the sides.
Since these saunas are gender specific, not co-ed, you might be wondering if people in the sauna wear a swim suit or not. I don't know for sure... I tried to visit very early in the morning in order to get these pictures when no one would be there to be bothered by a guy with a camera. But I suspect from the fact that the saunas are not co-ed, that you are probably free to use the sauna in the nude if you'd like to. That's just my guess, though. I didn't ask about that.
Norwegian Pearl Public Areas
Here are a few photos I snapped while walking around the ship, in areas that all passengers have access to...
This is the main atrium area, in the center of the ship. You can see O'Sheehan's restaurant up on the 8th floor and a classical music performance going on down below on the 7th floor. Out of view of the photo is the guest services desk, and the shore excursion desk, on deck 7.
Here's something I've never seen on any other cruise ship. It's a viewing area where you can look in to the navigational bridge. That's so cool, and so educational. You'll find this on deck 11, forward, port side only. If you sail on the Pearl with kids, you've GOT to bring them here.
Here's something I've never seen on any other cruise line besides NCL. It's a bowling alley. There are actually two of these... one on the port side and one on the starboard side... for a total of four lanes. This is located in the Bliss night club, deck 7, aft. As much as Royal Caribbean is in to adding unusual features like rock climbing walls and ice skating rinks to their ships, you'd think that they would be the ones with a bowling alley. But no, it's Norwegian.
Another thing that caught my eye in the Bliss night club is this little room with a "party bed". Imagine a group of teenagers on a cruise with their parents. The parents go to bed at 10 PM... and this is where you'll find the teenagers until 2 or 3 in the morning. That's my theory, at least. I'm not really a night club kind of guy. My visit here was strictly for some quick photos, early in the evening.
This is the Stardust Theater on decks 5/6/7. The balcony seating is kind of cool, but the best sight lines are in that huge center section which covers all three decks. However, during one performance I saw in here, the sound was SO BAD that members of the audience were shouting "can't hear!" to the sound techs. Other performances were fine though. Most of the shows were hosted by the Cruise Director, J.C. Sanchez... who I have to say is one of the worst Cruise Directors I've ever seen. The guy just totally grates me the wrong way. He's was our Cruise Director on Norwegian Getaway, too. I have no idea what NCL management sees in this guy. I have seen so many great Cruise Directors over the years... this guy is not in their league.
This is the Promenade Deck on deck 7. It's an outdoor area that wraps all the way around the ship 360 degrees. It's great for a stroll, or for those of you without access to The Haven, it's a great place to find a quiet spot for relaxing, reading a book, or just watching the view. Usually one side of the ship will be sunny and the other will be shaded... so pick whichever suits you.
These little displays are next to all the elevators and really help you figure out how to get to where you want to go!
It's really easy on a cruise ship to get confused about which way leads to the front of the ship and which way leads to the back. NCL has a simple little system for helping you keep from getting turned around and confused when you're in the hallway leading to your cabin. The carpet has schools of fish stitched in to it, and if you walk in the direction that the fish are heading, you'll be walking towards the front of the ship.
It's too bad that they only use this system in the hallways outside of the cabins. They should really use this system on all the carpets throughout the ship. Speaking of carpeting, ever since my first Norwegian cruise back in 2008, I've noticed that NCL seems to have this attraction to loud carpeting. Not loud in terms of volume, but loud in terms of being graphically flashy... trending towards gaudy. Not subtle and dignified... but like they want the carpet to scream "have fun, people"! It's the opposite strategy of a great cruise ship I was on recently... the Viking Star. Those Viking guys know how to do interior decoration with a refined sense of class. With the Norwegian Pearl set to get refurbished in dry dock in February of 2017, I wonder if they will tone down some of the carpeting and go for something more subtle. It will be interesting to see.
There are two swimming pools on deck 12, near the center of the ship. This is the one we had a really good view of from our suite, as it was the closest to us. There are two Jacuzzis alongside this swimming pool, although you can only see one in this picture.
This is the other swimming pool on deck 12. This one was the furthest from our suite. You can see two more Jacuzzis here, for a total of four in this area. Note the bandstand to the left. The band faces directly towards our suite, so it can get loud in our suite and on our balcony when they played. That was the biggest negative of our suite... especially when the band played well past midnight on some nights! As this photo was taken at sunset, you can see the crowd had started to thin... and there were some empty loungers. From about 9 or 10 AM onward, on a sea day, this place is packed. The chair hogging starts early, and NCL doesn't do anything to stop it. But these are problems we don't have in The Haven!
In this next photo, taken from our balcony, you can see both pools together, as well as the bandstand. Note the additional loungers up on the 13th floor, since trying to get one on deck 12 is frustrating, most of the time. Oh, by the way, isn't that cool that there's a 13th floor?!? Superstition is so stupid... on ships that go right from deck 12 to deck 14 it really makes me wonder why the management gives in to a superstition from centuries ago. Aren't we all a little smarter than that now? So, bravo to NCL for having a deck 13.
Now let's play a game. I want you to very carefully compare the previous picture with the next picture, and see if you can see what's different... besides the fact that the ship was at sea in the first photo, and was docked in Key West in the second photo. Same ship, photographed from the same spot a couple of days apart. Big difference. See it? I'll explain what was going on, in just a moment.
OK... here's the explanation of those two very different photos of deck 12, as seen from our balcony, a few days apart.
It turns out that for the cruise after ours, the ship had been chartered for "Jam Cruise 15"... a group cruise involving numerous rock music performances. They needed a VERY big stage for concerts on the pool deck. On the very last day of our cruise, with the ship docked in Key West and most of the passengers ashore, the crew embarked on a huge project to transform deck 12 for the concert that would begin the next day, after we all went home and a new group of passengers got onboard. The first step in building the big stage for the concert was to cover up the pool that was closest to our suite. It was a HUGE deal, as the covered-up pool needed to be strong enough to support a huge stage that would be built on top of it beginning the morning we all disembarked.
So, beginning very early in the morning on the day the ship was in Key West, they emptied all the water out of the pool, and started installing a big system of metal supports inside the pool, enough to carry a big load on top. After the metal supporting structure was built inside the pool, a plywood top was added, and that was covered with green carpeting. This process took hours, and was completed by the time most of the passengers came back from their day in Key West. We stayed onboard, in order to enjoy our balcony and Jacuzzi under perfect weather conditions, and watched the whole transformation from beginning to end. It was fascinating. My big regret is that I did not realize at first what was happening. If I had known what they were doing, I would have started a time-lapse video to show the whole process... which played out over about an 8 hour period of time. What you see is the final result for that day. I have to assume those people in the loungers on the green carpet section knew that there had been a pool there the day before. I wonder what they thought was going on!
The next day was disembarkation day for us, so while we were all packing our suitcases and walking off the ship, the crew used a huge crane to load the pieces of a huge stage that would be built there on deck 12 that morning. I suspect by the time the ship sailed away later that afternoon, it was pretty much done... and there was probably a heck of a noisy concert that night. Pity the poor folks in the four most expensive suites on that cruise! They will be right next to the stage.
I found this picture on social media of what deck 12 ended up looking like during Jam Cruise 15. I'm glad I missed it by a week! The Pearl's house band was loud enough!
One more thing about Key West, before we move on to other things...
The way the itinerary for this cruise was set up, we would be in Jamaica on day 3 of the cruise, Key West on day 5, and then back to the port of Miami for disembarkation on the next day. What's interesting about that is that Key West is in the USA. So, after visiting Jamaica, we would be entering the USA in Key West, the day before actually disembarking the boat in Miami. Normally, one would go through customs at the time of disembarkation in Miami. But because we had arrived in the USA the day before, in Key West, customs officials came on the ship that morning, and we all did the customs process (including the form, and showing a passport) there in Key West... a full day before arriving at the Port Of Miami. That's the first time that's ever happened to us on a cruise. Thinking back to the two previous times we visited Key West on a cruise, it was always on Day 2 of the cruise, not on the day before disembarkation. So, that was an interesting new process for us.
Now, let's move on to the subject of food for a minute or two...
This is an area at the back of the ship, known as "the great outdoors". At least that's what NCL calls it. I think most passengers just call it the outdoor seating area of the buffet, at the back of the ship. On warm days, it was a very nice spot to eat a meal. Because it's at the back of the ship, it's wind protected. And most of the seating is shaded, which is great on a nice day in the Caribbean.
Even though we were staying in the Deluxe Owner's Suite within The Haven, we actually ended up having a couple of meals at the buffet. Our fellow Haven passengers might be shocked by that, as there are so many other dining options available to Haven passengers... including a special restaurant for breakfast and lunch that non-Haven passengers don't have access to... dining in The Haven Courtyard... or having the butler bring meals directly to your suite. But we really like buffet-style dining, so we didn't care what anyone would think... we ate in the buffet a couple of times.
For Kellyn, who has to eat gluten-free and dairy-free, buffet style dining works well because she can see exactly what the food is before putting it on her plate. Sometimes you can't tell from a menu what you're going to get, and asking the waiter can be hit or miss. The menu says chicken. OK. Is the chicken breaded? Is there a sauce on it? What's in the sauce? What's served on the plate with it? It get's very complicated to order from a menu when you're dealing with a special diet. In the buffet, she can look right at something and see what it is. Grilled salmon with nothing on it. Perfect! Throw on some veggies and a salad, and she's in heaven. The buffet works great for Kellyn.
It works great for me, too. Here's the problem I have with restaurants... especially cruise ship restaurants that cater to suite passengers. Some fancy-schmancy gourmet dinner... served over three hours in small portions, 15 minutes apart, by some waiter with a thick accent I can't understand. Food that is art. But not much food! Or, my pet peeve... a big-ass steak and a tiny portion of mashed potatoes to go along with it. And I have to dress up for it!
No, I hate that kind of meal. The buffet works a lot better for me. If I try something I like, I can go back and get a lot more of it. And I don't waste anything, because I only take what I want, not what comes standard along with the item I ordered from a waiter. On top of that, the food in the Norwegian Pearl buffet was REALLY GOOD! I had a chicken burrito there one day that knocked my socks off. And at breakfast, they make omelets to order. I could definitely see myself doing some other cruise on the Norwegian Pearl some time, not in The Haven, and eating all my meals in the buffet.
But the Norwegian Pearl does also have some nice specialty restaurants. We had an awesome steak dinner in Cagney's on the first night of the cruise. You'll find menus to all the specialty restaurants towards the bottom of this review, under the headline of "DOWNLOADS".
Here's Kellyn's reaction at Moderno, the Brazilian steakhouse, when they brought out a tasty little selection...
If you like Asian food, you'll be quite happy on the Norwegian Pearl. There are all sorts of Asian food options available, including a sushi bar, a sake bar, the Lotus Garden restaurant, and Teppanyaki... a restaurant not unlike the Benihana chain of restaurants, where they cook everything right in front of you on an iron griddle... and make a performance out of it.
There was a very unusual barbecue lunch served out at the pool deck one day. They grilled several whole hogs. If you look carefully at the next photo, you'll see that I really mean they grilled the WHOLE hog!
Here's another view...
And if that wasn't cool enough or weird enough for you, one of the servers at the hog BBQ was dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz, Chinese-style...
I think if this girl started a YouTube channel, she could get some followers...
but she'd have to always dress like this when she talked to the camera.
Norwegian Pearl in Alaska
While our cruise to Jamaica and Key West was the first time we had cruised on the Norwegian Pearl, it was not our first encounter with her. In June of 2014 we were on an Alaska cruise on the Coral Princess when we encountered the Norwegian Pearl in Glacier Bay. From the balcony of my cabin on the Coral Princess, I snapped a spectacular photo of the Norwegian Pearl.
Of all the photos I've taken over the years, that remains one of my favorites... and it means even more to me now that I've actually sailed on the Norwegian Pearl. Before our recent cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, I thought of that photo of the Pearl in Glacier Bay. I printed out a large print of it on 13x19 inch photo paper, carefully protected it, and packed it in my suitcase so I would have it with me in the Deluxe Owner's Suite. My plan was that I would give it away to whichever Pearl crew member impressed me most. After a couple of days under the good care of our butler, Caesar, it was a no-brainer to give it to him. So, I won't forget him, and now maybe he won't forget me! He even asked me to sign the back of it for him. I hope he frames it and hangs it in his home... or carries it with him from cruise ship to cruise ship.
By the way, there's a video version of that photo that I'm quite proud of, too. It might just be the best YouTube video I've ever made...
A Few Sunrise and Sunset Pictures
Sunset on a sea day
Sunrise in Key West, Florida
Sunrise on a sea day
The best sunrise of all occurred on the final morning, when the ship had returned to the port of Miami.
What's Better Than The Deluxe Owner's Suite?
The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa!
I've mentioned a couple of times already that the Deluxe Owner's Suite is "one of the four most expensive suites on the ship". Perhaps that made you wonder what the most expensive suites are. As impressive as the two Deluxe Owner's Suites are, they're not the most impressive (or most expensive) suites on the ship. Allow me to introduce you to The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa. There are two of them onboard.
Before I show you some pictures of this incredible 3-bedroom suite, I have to explain that I only had time to visit The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa for a few minutes just before disembarkation. The people who had been staying in it had vacated a few minutes before we were scheduled to head off the ship, so I had only a very few minutes to snap a few photos. And because the occupants had literally just left a few minutes before I started to shoot pictures, the stateroom steward was only able to do a minimal cleanup (such as making the beds) before I started taking photos. So, you'll see in the photos that it looks a little less than perfectly staged for these photos. And I had no time to get perfect lighting or any of that. So, these photos aren't great, but hopefully you'll be able to see past that and see how cool The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa is!
To understand the beauty of The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa, you have to understand that the target customer is a large family. Let's say it's me and my wife in the master bedroom, my sister and her husband in the second bedroom, and my other sister in the third bedroom. Plus, maybe a niece or nephew or grandkid on a couch or a portable bed.
The focal point of The Haven 3-Bedroom Garden Villa is an outdoor courtyard with a big ocean view. The living room, dining room, and all three bedrooms wrap around this outdoor courtyard... so it literally is the centerpiece! It features a large outdoor Jacuzzi... much larger than the one on the balcony of the Deluxe Owner's Suite.
We were docked in Miami at the time I shot this photo. So, where you see shipping containers and cranes in the background... imagine a beautiful ocean view when the ship is at sea! Notice that the the Jacuzzi sits under a palapa-style structure to shade it from the sun. This is what the Jacuzzi on our Deluxe Owner's Suite balcony really needed! Then I wouldn't have had to wear a t-shirt in to the Jacuzzi to protect from sunburn. The central courtyard of the 3-bedroom garden villa also has a table for outdoor dining. I really see this 3-bedroom villa as almost a self-contained facility that I would rarely leave. Lunch and breakfast... I'd have the butler bring it and serve it at the table in the outdoor courtyard. Dinner... inside, in the formal dining room. No need to leave!
The indoor dining and bar area
Next to the dining area is a huge living room with a grand piano, and spectacular views out the big picture windows...
Here is the master bedroom...
The master bedroom has a big walk-in closet and dressing area...
Here's the second bedroom...
Here's the third bedroom...
This floor plan may help you visualize it better...
I'm setting a personal goal. Somehow, someday, I will cruise in the Haven 3-bedroom Garden Villa. Maybe with my siblings, maybe with some friends... I don't know. But that looks like the ultimate in cruising to me. Who's with me on this? Better yet, who can only fill two bedrooms and needs Jim & Kellyn to come along and fill the third?
A Bad Start To The Cruise
Our cruise in the Deluxe Owner's Suite on the Norwegian Pearl was wonderful, and was without a doubt the best cruise we've ever done... and we've done 39 cruises! But it got off to a very shaky start!
The Port Of Miami was very busy the day we boarded the Norwegian Pearl. Every berth that could hold a cruise ship was full. Two of the ships that were there that day had just returned from cruises to Cuba, and the Customs & Border Patrol people wanted to do a thorough check of those two ships. So, those two had to dock at berths that had good customs facilities. The customs people weren't concerned about Norwegian Pearl, so our ship got bumped down to the very last berth... which has very minimal facilities. VERY minimal. Having been on 38 previous cruises, we've seen some really nice cruise terminals. Both of our previous experiences as Haven passengers sailing out of Miami were fantastic... they had this cool private lounge where Haven passengers could check in, with V.I.P. treatment... and a special waiting room for Haven passengers, with nice snacks and beverages. It was a luxurious check-in and boarding process. But on this day, with the Norwegian Pearl at the very last berth with very minimal infrastructure, it was a very different experience. The terminal where we checked in and waited for boarding was literally a big metal tent...
Now, thank goodness we were Haven passengers... because we were all allowed to come in to the big metal tent. The "regular" passengers were only allowed to come in until the tent filled up. Once at full capacity, they stopped letting other passengers in... and they all had to wait outside in a gigantic line. I bet that was a mess. I didn't get to see it, as I was one of the lucky ones inside the air conditioned tent.
They did manage to serve some nice snacks and beverages to the Haven passengers, who were all seated in one particular corner of the tent. But because it was one big tent, and everyone could see everyone else, some of the non-Haven people didn't realize the snacks were intended only for the Haven passengers. It got a little awkward at a few points. It was a far cry from my two previous Haven boarding experiences, in isolated rooms away from all the crowds. It's one thing to treat a group of passengers differently in two different parts of the terminal... quite a different thing to give special treatment to one group right in front of the other group that doesn't get it. That was our most awkward Haven moment. Once we got on the ship, everything was great. But that was a bad start!
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Norwegian Pearl,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Norwegian Pearl Deck Plans
Freestyle Daily newsletters - All 5 days
First Day information
Key West shore excursion information
Ocho Rios shore excursion information
Shore Excursion order form
La Cucina Menu
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with Norwegian, or any cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, or contact her using the information below.
Our Future Cruises
2016 was a great cruising year for us, and 2017 is off to a good start! We went on four cruises in 2016, and have already done two in 2017. Perhaps you're wondering what's coming up.
Because I've made a surprising amount of money from the advertising revenue on my Green Thunder Waterslide video that went viral on YouTube, I'm always keeping my eyes out for other interesting new cruise ship waterslides that might offer good subject matter for another YouTube video. It turns out that Royal Caribbean has three waterslides towards the front of their new ship, Harmony Of The Seas, and then at the back of the ship is the tallest slide anyone has ever put on a cruise ship... plunging more than 100 feet! That incredibly long and tall slide is called the "Ultimate Abyss"... and it's actually not a waterslide. No water involved... you sit on a mat as you slide down the tube all the way from the top of the ship down to the Boardwalk neighborhood 10 floors below. A very interesting opportunity came up to sail on Harmony Of The Seas during the second quarter of 2017... and I jumped on it. Kellyn was actually the one who brought this opportunity to my attention, because it's a group cruise with a bunch of people who are interested in quilting. So, while Kellyn attends quilting classes during the sea days, I can run around and shoot waterslide videos for YouTube. I think that will keep us both happy! And because it's a group cruise, we got a lower-than-normal rate on a cabin.
Carnival has a new ship: the Carnival Vista. There's an interesting new experiment they're trying with this ship... creating a special oasis at the back of the ship called the Havana area, with its own pool and Jacuzzis... but limiting access to only the people paying extra to stay in one of the nearby Havana cabins. I think of it as Carnival's version of The Haven. Count us in! In order to get the special type of cabin we wanted (with its own hanging/swinging chair on the balcony!) we have to wait all the way until the third quarter of 2017 to cruise on her, though.
I'd like to do a Panama canal cruise in 2018... almost certainly with Norwegian Cruise Line. The new expansion to the Panama canal opened recently, and both the Norwegian Pearl and the brand new Norwegian Bliss will be doing Panama Canal cruises in 2018. I've also learned that an older Norwegian ship, the Norwegian Sun, has a suite with a private Jacuzzi on the balcony... and that would be my idea of a great way to see the Panama Canal. So, I'll have to pick one. On the one hand, we had a fantastic cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, so we know that we'd love to spend 14 days on her. On the other hand, it's hard to resist a brand new ship... especially one that's so large that it will have to go through the newer, larger locks... so the Norwegian Bliss is a strong possibility, too. But then there's that private Jacuzzi on Norwegian Joy. At least I've narrowed it down to a NCL ship. There are so many cruises I'd like to do, but so little vacation time!
No matter which NCL ship we choose for the Panama Canal, I'll keep my eyes out for opportunities to cruise on some of the other NCL ships... either in the Caribbean, or on the Mexican Riviera. I was so impressed with the Norwegian Pearl that I'm going to try to sail on most of the rest of the NCL fleet in the coming years.
As you can see, I have my eyes on some interesting cruises and I'm excited about all the fun we'll be able to have over the next few years.
A Great Series Of Books About Cruise Ships
After you've been on at least one cruise, there's a book that you really should read! It will give you a whole new perspective. It's a book that was written by a guy that worked on several Carnival ships... and he shares some funny stories about life on a cruise ship. To give you an idea of what kind of book this is... the story starts as he is staying in a hotel room in Miami, the night before his very first day working on a cruise ship. Even though it's the day before his first day onboard, he's basically "on the job", so Carnival is paying for the room. To save the company money, they don't give him a private room... he shares it with someone else. So, he checks in to the room, and the first thing he does is to take a nice long shower. And when he's finally done with his shower, he discovers that his roommate has shown up... and is in the middle of having sex with a woman right there in their shared hotel room! Does that give you an idea of the kind of book this is? Well, that's just the beginning... and things get even more interesting once he starts working on the ships!
If you've ever wondered what life is like for those people that work on cruise ships... what kind of hours they work... how much they're paid... and what they do when they're not working... this is the book for you. The overall plot of the story is that the author, Brian Bruns, meets a girl named Bianca in Las Vegas and quickly falls head over heels in love with her. It turns out that she's on vacation from her job as a waitress on the Carnival Conquest. Soon enough, the vacation is over and Bianca heads back to the ship... and Brian must make a decision about whether this was just a quick fling, or something more. He decides it was something more, and takes a job with Carnival in order to be with Bianca. Ship life is tough, and creates one roadblock after another between Brian and the girl he loves.
It's a huge love story that literally follows them all around the world. If you just want to hear Brian's best inside stories about life on a cruise ship, you don't even need to read all four books... just get the first one. But if you find yourself loving all the dirty details of life on a cruise ship, and want more... or if you get hooked on the love story and you want to find out whether ship life breaks up Brian and Bianca or whether there's a classic happy ending at the end... buy all four.
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Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Waterproof camera for snorkeling
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
A Sewing Kit for making emergency repairs to damaged clothing
Cell phone & charger
Waterproof wrist watch
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a flood from a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. On this cruise, I mostly used my big Canon DSLR camera for still photos and a very unusual stabilized video camera for most of the videos. More about the stabilized video camera in a minute. Let's start with my main camera.
Most of the still photos and a few of the video clips were shot using my big DSLR camera: the Canon EOS 80D.
If you're in the market for a high quality digital SLR camera, the truth is that the Canon EOS 80D is probably too much camera for most amateur photographers... so the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T6i. If you get one, make sure you get the T6i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, inside a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
Any video that involved walking around and shooting with the camera in motion was shot with a DJI Osmo motion-stabilized video camera. It has a gimbal built in to it, which smoothes out all the shakiness you typically see in videos shot with a hand held camera. In the professional video world, they use a Steadicam to create smooth handheld video shots. The DJI Osmo is a way to get somewhat similar results without spending a lot of money.
DJI Osmo, stabilized handheld video camera
DJI is famous for making the most popular quadcopter drones on the market today... such as the DJI Phantom and the DJI Inspire. DJI developed their gimbal as a way to smooth out the video when a drone is bouncing all around in the sky. Someone at DJI got the bright idea that if they skipped the drone but kept the gimbal and the camera, and mounted it on to a hand grip, they would have a great device for taking smooth looking videos while walking around. That's how the DJI Osmo was born. It sounded like a cool idea to me, so I bought one of the first ones on the market and I use it for video shots where smooth camera motion is important. For example, in this video where I walk through the pool area of the Norwegian Escape and then through The Haven to compare the two vastly different atmospheres, I used the Osmo to provide smooth camera motion while walking with the camera in my hand.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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