Out of the Ordinary

The free-styling Norwegian Pearl shines in Alaska

By: Terra Judge

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Norwegian Pearl’s Summer Palace restaurant
was inspired by imperial Russia.
When invoking the image of a pearl, one usually conjures up the image of an ordinary grain of sand transformed into something gleaming and beautiful. In the case of NCL’s Norwegian Pearl, I had trouble finding anything ordinary and much to be admired.

My seven-day Alaska itinerary on the Jewel-class ship sailed roundtrip from Seattle and included calls in Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria. The vessel, decked out in cool Caribbean teals and pinks, was lively enough to fit its tropical itineraries, but subtle enough not to feel over-the-top for the Alaska route.

New shore excursions exemplify the line’s freestyle motto. In addition to the typical wide range of Alaska onshore offerings, the cruise line also features NCL Freestyle Private Tours to give cruisers the option to customize their time ashore. Available in Juneau and Ketchikan, these personalized tours are priced per tour, not per person, so guests can include only those with whom they wish to travel.

In Juneau, clients can jump into a chauffeur-driven Hummer H2 for a four-hour tour with available activity options like kayaking or a salmon bake. Ketchikan’s private tours include transport options like a SUV limousine, Alaskan skiff, floatplane or Hummer H2. All tours are recommended for families and there are few restrictions as to activities the group can pick. Prices range from $575 to $1,595 per tour.

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Lotus Garden is one of many
alternative dining venues.
If your clients would rather relax onboard, the Pearl won’t disappoint. The ship houses the industry’s first bowling alley at sea. The four-lane 10-pin alley, part of the entertainment and nightclub complex known as the Bliss Ultra Lounge, is one of the most popular spots on the ship. Even non-bowlers enjoyed the venue, which also featured flat-screen televisions playing music videos and arcade games all with a view of the Alaskan scenery floating by. An added bonus of bowling on the high seas: Gutter balls can be blamed on the rocking of the ship. Bowling charges, including shoes, are $5 per person, per game.

Those who would rather participate in virtual bowling can head to the Pearl’s atrium and sample the Nintendo Wii video game system on a floor-to-ceiling video screen. Adults and kids alike can join in a tournament to compete in tennis, golf, baseball, boxing and bowling. The ship’s Kid’s Crew facility also features a Wii system, so children can partake in the fun at any time.

Even the ship’s outdoor features didn’t go unused. For those bold enough to brave the brisk Alaskan weather, the rock-climbing wall provided an exceptional vantage point for the passing scenery. And in the outdoor pool, children happily slipped down the water slide, while parents and staff looked on, bundled up in parkas.

Dining options aboard the Pearl are equally impressive. The ship’s popular Garden Cafe offers a large international buffet with ethnic specialties and the best bacon I’ve ever tasted. The cafe opens onto the Great Outdoors, an outdoor eatery with similar offerings where I ate most of my meals while watching the whales spout in the distance.

Another spot to enjoy lunch with incredible views is Summer Palace with floor-to-ceiling windows and a decor inspired by Russian palaces. I was surprised to find no cover charge for the multi-course service. Make sure to tell clients to get there early for the cruise through Glacier Bay, as the windowed restaurant is one of the best viewing locations on the vessel.

Restaurants that do require a small cover charge are well worth it. Cagney’s Steakhouse served up sizzling steaks and delicious truffle-oil French fries. The warm goat cheese tart at Le Bistro alone made the $15 charge seem like an understatement, and Teppanyaki in the Lotus Garden was fun and filling.

As part of NCL’s Freestyle Cruising, the Pearl offers a restaurant reservation system to allow guests to check the availability of each restaurant on large flat-screen TVs located around the ship. Pagers are issued to guests who want to dine at a busy restaurant, allowing them to stroll at leisure throughout the ship until a table becomes available.

For those looking for luxury, the Garden Villas, Deluxe Owner’s Suites and Courtyard Villas on the upper decks offer amenities usually reserved for luxury vessels, such as a private courtyard complete with hot tub, steam rooms, small gym and private sundeck.

The two Garden Villas each span 4,400 square feet with three bedrooms, living room, dining room and private garden. Garden Villa guests also receive complimentary limousine from the pier to the airport and butler and concierge service.

Two Deluxe Owner’s Suites, the Black Pearl and the Golden Pearl, feature a private courtyard as well as butler service. The 10 Courtyard Villas, also found on Norwegian Jewel and Pride of Hawaii, feature a living and dining area, private balcony, separate bedroom and share a courtyard. All proof positive that this Pearl isn’t lacking in luster.