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Norwegian Pearl

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Norwegian Pearl is a fantastically fun ship from its imaginative decor (blown-up photos of wild animals or foreign landmarks in stairwells, jewel-tone carpeting, a Victorian/steampunk-style vibe in the nightclub ) to the variety of onboard activities. There's even more fun to be had if you're on one of the wild and wacky charters the ship sails (Kiss Kruise, Mad Decent Boat Party, Walker Stalker Cruise). All the surprising decor make Norwegian Pearl a good ship to get lost on (which you might do until you discover that the only way to get from one end of the ship to the other is on decks 7 and 12). During your explorations, you might chance upon the colourful paintings that cover the outside promenade on Deck 7 (think cherry blossoms, dragonflies and giant clip art-esque paintings of paintbrushes and lipsticks). Bars, restaurants, the pool deck, live music and even an arcade keep cruisers occupied.

Pearl is a social ship, and half the fun is getting to know your fellow travellers. Norwegian Pearl's atrium is one of the most happening spots on the ship, functioning primarily as a place to commune. Nightlife is vibrant with Bar City (a stretch of four bars along a single corridor), the place to hang out. During the day, kids and teen spaces keep the under-18s busy, while the outdoor sports court and pool deck give families and friends the chance to get together for a game of hoops or a dip in the pool.

Pearl offers more than a dozen dining venues, quite literally accommodating all tastes. It's a ship that brings people together -- whether through bands or pop culture on a charter, or for a short vacation -- and it does it well, with cabins across a number of categories (many keeping families in mind) that aren't on the edge of modern, but feel just roomy and comfortable enough.

Overall, Norwegian Pearl doesn't strike us as the kind of ship where people spend a ton of time in their room. If you're not singing karaoke, dancing at a silent disco (headphones only), snacking at O'Sheehan's or enjoying life at sea (sometimes with the top names in music or television), you're probably asleep.

Daytime: Norwegian's carefree attitude carries over to its dress code, which basically allows for anything. During the day, it's all casual, with swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts poolside and in ports.

Evening: At night, there's generally no formal dress code, though there's a no-shorts rule at some of the more upscale restaurants (Cagney's and Le Bistro, for example). Otherwise, khakis and Polo shirts are the norm for men in the evening, while women wear sundresses or blouses with capris, slacks or skirts. Norwegian doesn't have a true formal night, though passengers are encouraged to dress up for Norwegian's Night Out once per cruise. Few people actually don their fancy duds, but those who do wear suits (for men) or cocktail dresses (for women).

Not permitted: The only prohibitions are tank tops for men, flip-flops, baseball caps, ripped-up jeans and swimwear. These are permitted in the Garden Cafe, though cover-ups or shirts and shorts must be worn over swimsuits and bare feet are not allowed.

Theatre

Pearl's Stardust Theater, on decks 6 and 7 forward, can host any number of events like improv comedy, song-and-dance shows, audience-participation games, magic and game shows (Not So Newlywed, Ladies vs. Gents) or charades put on by the cruise director's staff. It also serves as a place for Q&A panels (with cast or band members on theme cruise) and movie screenings (or marathons). The theatre itself seems small for a large ship like Norwegian Pearl -- but that's a good thing; when split into two shows per night, there's enough room for everyone and cruisers can access any seat from Deck 6 or 7 and have a similarly intimate experience as those sitting in the first row. Seats are teal to match the dragonfly pattern in the carpeting. The entrance to the theatre is flanked with fanciful wall decorations like embroidered peacocks or a hall of mirrors.

Daily Fun

Daily activities include the Deal or No Deal interactive game show, where cruisers can compete for prizes in the theatre (just like on the TV show); family pizza-building in La Cucina; multiple dance classes like a "Thriller" flash mob (held on the pool deck in good weather); family dodgeball; an art enrichment seminar; trivia; bingo; poolside competitions; and even a veteran's social.

Bowling is also popular on Pearl; four family-friendly lanes flank the funky Bliss Ultra Lounge on Deck 7. Bowling costs $5 per person, per game (check your Freestyle Daily for one-hour, two-for-one specials), which includes shoe rental. Remember to bring socks with you, or you'll be denied.

On a theme cruise (Pearl hosts many), daily activities are centred on the theme -- this could be anything from meet 'n' greets and panels to concerts and trivia. Sixthman, a cruise theme company, works closely with Norwegian Cruise Line and will provide all the information about your voyage's onboard programming.

First-run, barely released movies are shown daily, either in-cabin on one of the TVs movie channels or on the 20-foot LED screen in the atrium. Norwegian has a partnership with Nintendo, allowing the line to use its Wii U gaming system onboard. When played on then giant atrium screen, it's a marriage made in gaming heaven. (The system is also available in both the children's and teen centres.)

At Night

There's a large and lively Pearl Club Casino on Deck 6, which features a full bar and the typical gambling fare (roulette, blackjack, slot machines, lottery drawings) all set against a shimmering red and gold colour backdrop. Also on Deck 6 is Bar City, a unique concept that combines four bars in one elongated space, which flows into and through the casino. For late-night dancing and karaoke (on select nights only) head to the nightclub Bliss.

Even when the ship isn't operating a full-charter music cruise, musical acts perform throughout the ship: a calypso band on the pool deck, steel drums at the Great Outdoors and a trio who plays the dance hits of the '40s and '50s in the atrium.

Separate passenger and crew talent shows showcase the skills of the cruisers onboard, as well as the multinational service staff (with more than 60 nationalities represented).

On a theme cruise, expect live performances, dance parties, bar crawls and more.

Norwegian Pearl Bars and Lounges

You know nightlife is important when your cruise ship has something called Bar City. This strip of four continuous bars includes Corona, Maltings, Shakers and Magnums. Here, at the Bar City stage, you'll find a pianist offering up a few evening tunes or possibly a band playing oldies. The setup makes barhopping a breeze, but Pearl also offers drinks on the outer decks as well as tipples tucked into restaurants. Chances are, a drink isn't very far away.

Atrium Cafe & Bar (Deck 7): (Formerly Java Cafe) From pints and pina coladas to your morning latte, the cafe and bar in the atrium has you covered. Open 24/7, it's a popular place to spike a coffee, socialize or simply grab a drink on your way through. During our sailing, the atrium was a social hub, so stools at this spot were rarely empty.

Casino Bar (Deck 6): To get a drink mid-slot, head to the wraparound bar at the back of the Pearl Casino, with two small TVs and seating for about 10. Bar-top electronic gaming screens mean you're never far from a gamble.

Corona Cigar Bar (Deck 6): Corona is a small lounge, where smokers can light up their favorite cigar. Brown leather seating invites you to stay awhile.

Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar (Deck 6): Plush brown chairs, crushed velvet couches and framed whiskey bottles set the scene at this '20s-style retreat. Tucked among Art Deco murals of city-slick revellers, this bar encourages you to sit and converse over your favourite whiskey.

Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar (Deck 6): Specializing in Bond's favourite poison, Shakers serves up martinis as well as other drinks. Plenty of flat-screen TVs (here and throughout Bar City), make it a prime place to watch sporting events. (NFL playoffs were in full swing during our January sailing, and cruisers seemed happy with the availability of the games.)

Magnum's Champagne & Wine Bar (Deck 6): Effervescent bottles along the bar's facade tell you Magnum's is the bar for bubbly. Directly facing the Bar City stage and across from Le Bistro, this is a classy place to grab a pre-dinner drink.

Bliss Ultra Lounge (Deck 7): Filled with beds and pillows, loungers and divans, silky fabrics and low lighting, Bliss gives new meaning to the word "nightclub." The dance club becomes an after-party hot spot (18 and over after 11 p.m.) later at night. (Oddly enough, bowling lanes occupy families here during the day.) A small stage allows for karaoke nights.

Sake Bar (Deck 7): In the same enclave that houses Lotus Garden and Sushi Bar, you'll find the Sake Bar. It's just that -- a place, with just a few chairs, to find a sampling of Japanese rice wine, served hot or cold.

O'Sheehan's (Deck 8): Although it's technically a bar, this area at the back of the restaurant is more of a place to have a drink order filled than a place to socialize. That being said, if an event is taking place on the stage in the atrium below, the area right in front of the bar has a great vantage point.

Spinnaker Lounge (Deck 13): Decor throughout Spinnaker is bright, tropical and fun. Teal crushed velvet double-loungers are surrounded by white high-impact plastic bucket chairs ... with holes where one expects a seat. And guess what? They're comfortable. The lounge plays host to Norwegian's signature late-night event, the Norwegian Night Out, a club scene where everyone dresses in white and dances along with members of the Norwegian staff. There are some magnificent ice sculptures at this event, too. (The party is held twice with the earlier one being kid-friendly.)

Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 13, inside Moderno): While we love this freestanding Miami/Cuban concept on some of Norwegian's newest ships, it's a bit of an afterthought on Pearl. It's literally just a counter (with Sugarcane etched in the glass behind it), confusingly located inside of Moderno's Churrascaria. Mojitos are a must, but the atmosphere is a bust. Caipirinhas (not mojitos) are the traditional Brazilian cocktail, so we're not sure what the thought process behind putting it in a Brazilian restaurant was.

Sky High Bar (Deck 13): While Sky High is a popular spot to watch the game -- with two flat-screen TVs and swivel high-top seats -- you can settle in and make it an early dinner spot, too. Burgers, hot dogs and fries are cooked to order and condiments and side items like potato salad and coleslaw are self-serve. Sky High's bar hours are from 11:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m.

Norwegian Pearl Outside Recreation

Pools

Deck 12 is the pool deck, where you'll find the Tahitian Pool and four hot tubs (which are open late). The Tahitian Pool is actually two pools; one for adults and the other for children.

The pool deck has a mix of wicker chairs in the covered areas and lounge chairs, which you can find on Deck 13, too. At night, the decorated palm trees that line the pool deck light up, and, with soft red lights on Deck 13, they illuminate the area like a Caribbean Christmas tree. We did not have any trouble finding a place to sit on either deck. Make sure you don't lose your towel, or you can expect a $25 charge on your stateroom bill.

During cruises with concerts and special performances, an area of the pool deck is closed off to host a large stage with plenty of standing room.

Recreation

Pearl was the first of Norwegian's ships to receive a rock-climbing wall, and it's quite impressive. Located at the back of the smokestack on Deck 14 (about 18 stories above the sea), it stands 30 feet tall and 19 feet wide and offers three different climbing routes with varying levels of difficulty.

A full-size volleyball/basketball court resides on Deck 13, but those with a high-arching basketball jump shot may be disappointed by how close the netted exterior is to the actual basketball hoop. The sports court area on this deck also features two golf driving areas, chess (with life-size pieces), checkers, about a half-deck-long jogging track and shuffleboard. (There are additional spots for shuffleboard outside on Deck 7.) About 5.5 times around the jogging track equals a mile. To sign out golf balls for the golf cages, you must visit the Great Outdoors Bar on Deck 12 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and be at least 16 years of age.

Sun Decks

Areas to soak up the sun (and grab blue loungers) can be found around decks 12, 13 and 14. Deck 15 has a sun deck reserved for Haven passengers only.

Norwegian Pearl Services

One of the things that struck us during our cruise is how easy and comfortable the flow is on Norwegian Pearl. There aren't many instances of "you can't get there from here," which is, of course, wonderful. Another thing we really enjoyed is the usability of the atrium on decks 7 and 8. Norwegian chose to make this area two stories tall, rather than create an atrium concept with towering empty space. So, in this case, the atrium, with crystal lights hanging from the ceiling, is comfy and cozy, while still being expansive and airy. Surrounded above by O'Sheehan's restaurant, with rail-side dining, the lower level is filled with chairs, loungers, divans and a cafe/bar, making it seem more like a hotel lobby than a big-ship atrium. It's used as a meeting space, lounging destination, dance hall, movie theatre and action spot for those participating in the activity du jour. Original artwork on display includes a glass-blown Chihuly sculpture.

Deck 7 includes the passenger services desk, as well as a separate shore excursion desk. Next to that is a smaller cruise consultant office, where onboard credit offers can be had by signing up for a future cruise. Dining reservations can typically be made at the front desk in the atrium. (During theme cruise sailings, Sixthman uses this desk to answer any theme-related questions or concerns.)

Across from the reception desk is the Ports O' Call duty-free shop, which has various fragrances and jewellery for sale. Past this is the Photo Gallery, which displays photos taken by the ship's staff. (There is usually a line in this area on the last night, as cruisers scramble to pick out and purchase their best-looking photos.) Across the way, the red-carpeted Art Gallery highlights works from the likes of Romero Britto and Peter Max.

Inside the Art Gallery, cornered between some nice framed sculptures along the back wall, is the 24-hour Internet Cafe, which has six computers and an all-in-one printer. Internet can be purchased per minute or by bandwidth. If you must print, do it early, as the printer is not available after 10 p.m. Despite the shipwide WiFi, connections are much faster in the cafe than in your cabin. (We found the WiFi to be painfully slow.)

Forward on Deck 7 is the Tradewinds Boutique complex (separate from the Ports O'Call shop), a series of shops broken into smaller venues featuring duty-free liquor, speciality watches, costume jewellery, logo items, clothing and high-end jewellery (yes, Colombian Emeralds). You can get everything from sunglasses to M&Ms here.

Before the theatre's entrance, tucked away on the left, are three meeting rooms (Barcelona, Prague and Vienna). 

The attractive library on Deck 12 is open too few hours to be truly effective for book and game checkout. Next door is a separate card room. Past that is the Perspectives photo studio, a by-appointment setup where you get a free 8x10 print just for participating in a 30-minute consultation where you discuss picture options and packages with a private photographer. The studio has multiple backdrops and accessories for staging your shoot.

Head up one deck to find the ship's wedding chapel. The chapel itself is an elegant little spot that holds about 20 people. While Pearl does not have an ordained priest or rabbi regularly onboard for religious services, cruisers are able to plan a wedding ceremony, to be presided over by the ship's captain.

Finally, if you want a real inside look at the ship, make your way over to Deck 11 forward. There you'll find a bridge viewing room set up like a mini-museum. The centre of the room has a neat glass-enclosed model of Pearl, while pictures of the ship in German shipyard Meyer Werft and other maritime memorabilia (first port of call certificates, etc.) line the walls. A comical sign behind the large window showing the bridge even says not to tap the glass or feed the officers.

Smoking is allowed outside on public decks, in signed outdoor areas away from where food is served, and in the Cigar Bar on Deck 6.

There is no self-service laundry onboard. Laundry service is available for a nominal cost per bag.

Spa

The full-service Mandara Spa on Deck 12 has a nail salon, hair studio, sauna and a thermal suite along with the usual hands-on treatments. It's plainly decorated in lots of white and dark wood, with framed necklaces matted in yellows and oranges inside treatment rooms. In addition to the Elemis products offered in Norwegian's spas, Pearl's also uses and sells JOU-branded spa products.

The thermal suite is one of the best "day of pampering" values onboard, with a per diem fee, depending on the length of your cruise (less per day if you buy the package for the whole cruise). It allows passengers to take advantage of the coed room with the thalassotherapy pool and heated ceramic loungers, or they can go gender-specific with an ocean-view sauna, eucalyptus steam room, individual whirlpool tubs, icy-cold plunge pool and padded chaises. Cruisers with a same-day spa appointment can enjoy this area for an extra $20 added to the price of their treatment.

The spa offers the usual array of services and massages (a 50-minute Swedish massage starts at about $107) but also includes teeth whitening sessions, Ionithermie cellulite reduction treatments and acupuncture. Or, spring for indulgences like a 24-karat facial. Specials on shore days seemed quite reasonable (three mini-treatments for $89, for example), or try the Frangipani, a yummy scalp-neck-shoulder massage at the best price -- around $29.

A blowout at the salon will cost you $35. A Fire and Ice manicure runs $50; $70 for the pedicure. A men's half-hour shave starts around $41.

Fitness

Adjacent to the spa is the Pulse Fitness Center, which features multiple treadmills, ellipticals and cycling machines, all equipped with TVs. Free weights as heavy as 80 pounds can be found here as well. Two personal trainers hold for-fee body sculpting boot camps and free classes as well, including Zumba. Complimentary health and wellness seminars include information about burning fat, increasing metabolism and diet. Pilates, yoga and indoor cycling classes also carry a surcharge of roughly $12. Past the weights is a separate aerobics room with mirrors on each side, optimal for stretching or even letting off some steam. (There's a punching bag, too.) Male and female changing rooms each feature a small steam room, shower and bathroom, as well as a blow-drying area and about a dozen lockers. And unless it motivates you, don't weigh yourself on the scale just outside of the changing rooms.

Free Dining

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served via open seating at one of the two traditional restaurants -- Indigo or Summer Palace -- but many passengers take advantage of the Garden Cafe and Great Outdoors Cafe when the weather is good. Pearl's two main dining rooms offer up the same menu but with different decor, so you feel like you are dining in two distinctly different venues. Dining times vary; a main dining venue might be closed for service due to the needs of the current voyage (on theme cruises, for instance, one restaurant might be used for autograph sessions on a certain day, while the other remains open for lunch).  

There's also a Continental breakfast occasionally served in Bar City (an area with multiple drinking establishments on Deck 6), with rolls, croissants, juice, coffee, tea, bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. The bars aren't open at that hour, so it's a quiet, pleasant place to have a morning meal.

Complimentary late-night food options start around 10 p.m. and are available in four areas: Bar City (right outside of Le Bistro), Pearl Club Casino, Great Outdoors Cafe and O'Sheehan's. Both Bar City and the casino usually offer one main finger food (egg rolls, steak skewers) followed by assorted fruit, cookies and sandwiches. Great Outdoors takes it up a notch with hot entrees, soups, salads and bacon and eggs for partygoers until about 3 a.m. O'Sheehan's is open 24/7, offering pub food like chicken potpie or Buffalo wings to soak up the suds or satisfy that midnight munchie.

Summer Palace (Deck 6, aft): Summer Palace is only accessible by walking down a short staircase at the back of the ship to Deck 6. The restaurant features a stunning array of red and green upholstery, marble columns and large windows at the aft. Paintings that line the walls depict what seems like young royalty "summering" at a fancy estate. The menus in both main dining rooms are the same, and most selections change nightly. Categories include starters, featured dishes, a la carte, main courses and desserts. Choose from bouillabaisse soup, or shrimp mojito ceviche; then move on to flounder Milanese, sirloin strip steak or vegetarian lasagna. There are three a la carte options offered nightly consisting of premium dishes that incur an additional charge; the surf and turf with lobster and filet mignon, for instance, is $24.99. Local flavours are worked into the menu with items like a Bahamian fish and crab cake on our sailing to Freeport.

Dishes marked with a check are healthy options, and vegetarian options are available, along with other dietary accommodations, arranged upon request. A sugar-free dessert is available at every meal.

Besides an array of ice cream, pies and the like, both dining rooms also offer speciality Lavazza Italian coffee, available at an additional charge.

A kids menu includes chicken fingers and grilled cheese.

The Main dining room breakfast menu offers up made-to-order hot and cold options like omelettes, cereal, pastries, fresh fruit, French toast, bagels and lox and eggs Benedict.

Typical hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner are 7 to 9 a.m., noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., respectively.

Indigo (Deck 6, midship): Indigo, the smaller of the two main dining rooms, fittingly features a blue and purple colour scheme with flashy, multicoloured paintings of American landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Hollywood sign. Indigo is usually open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but dinner is served a bit later here than in Summer Palace (5:30 to 10 p.m.).

Garden Cafe (Deck 12): Rather than a buffet, the Garden Cafe is a restaurant with rows of "action stations." Servers stand behind the counters, where small amounts of freshly made meals are put out one at one time and served. There are stations for salads, sandwiches, fresh pasta, carved meats, soups and vegetarian dishes, Asian and Indian food, hot dogs, hamburgers and attractive desserts displayed in glass cases. While there is tons of seating, stations do crowd frequently and you might have to walk back a bit before finding an open table for your party.

Hard ice cream with toppings is available much of the day, either in cones or in bowls.

Breakfast has everything you would expect from a buffet: sausages, bacon, eggs, cooked vegetables like mushrooms and onions, pancakes, fruit, small boxes of cereal, even Indian curries.

Great Outdoors Cafe (Deck 12, aft): This aft deck dining venue offers an alfresco version of the buffet with similar but more limited food options. The outdoor buffet is typically less crowded, so it's a nice alternative at peak dining times (when weather permits).

Topsiders Bar & Grill (Deck 12): A well-stocked pool grill, open from noon to 3 p.m., serves roasted chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads and dessert items buffet-style. It also serves limited breakfast (fruit, pastries) in the mornings. On some cruises, crew put together a cookout in front of the pool grill, with items like jerk chicken and corn on the cob.

Lotus Garden (Deck 7): This complimentary Asian venue offers dinner nightly and lunches on sea days. Choose from appetizers like pork pot stickers, spring rolls, a wakame seaweed salad with sesame dressing or egg drop soup. Main courses include Kung Pao chicken, orange peel beef, lemon pepper shrimp and fried rice in various ways. A lobster Cantonese or ginger steamed Chilean sea bass are available for an additional charge at dinner. Dessert options include a five-spice chocolate cake, coconut tapioca or crispy chestnut and red bean triangles, which reminded us a lot of baklava (and came with green tea ice cream). The meal was well prepared – and it didn't hurt that it didn't cost us anything extra; had we been on a longer sailing, we'd likely have gone back again.

O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Deck 8): O'Sheehan's175 is Norwegian's fleetwide pub; it's located one deck above the atrium on Pearl, encircling the space so there's a view below from nearly anywhere. The area never closes, and has everything from table service with a rotating menu (breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night) and a small buffet to a bar in the back, overlooking the atrium. (While O'Sheehan's has more of a pub vibe on Norwegian's newer ships, its retrofit on Pearl put the bar area out of the way and, subsequently, it's not very popular.) O'Sheehan's was our secret weapon for breakfast -- never crowded and providing made-to-order omelettes, French toast, baskets of pastries and, most importantly, lots of coffee. Whether you want a slice of chocolate cake or a plate of fries, this is the spot to indulge your caloric whim.

Fee Dining

Have a night out at one of Norwegian's speciality dining restaurants, which span French, Italian, Brazilian, Chinese, Japanese and American cuisines. While most menus charge per item (like land-based restaurants), two venues -- Teppanyaki and Moderno -- carry flat cover charges. If you plan on making it a "night out" every night, speciality dining packages bundle the cost of multiple meals at speciality restaurants into one flat fee, reducing the overall cost. Speciality restaurants on Pearl are typically open for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte pricing: French restaurant Le Bistro has an upscale Art Nouveau setting, and serves dishes like escargot as an appetizer (most apps cost about $5.99) and duck confit and grilled swordfish as mains (entrees range from $12.99 to $34.99). The chocolate Napoleon is the dessert highlight here -- most desserts are priced at $5.99.

Sushi Bar (Deck 7); a la carte pricing: Adjacent to Lotus Garden is a sushi bar, open for lunch on sea days and nightly for dinner. While sushi rolls and sashimi are also available to order on the Lotus Garden menu, the bar allows for a more authentic feel, as you watch the sushi chefs create your order. Rolls with names like Ten Shades of Grey Roll or Two-Timing Tuna Roll range from $5 to $7.50. Nigiri (raw fish over rice) is $3.95 and an order of sashimi (raw fish) is $5.95.

Teppanyaki (Deck 7); $29.99: Teppanyaki is Norwegian's popular Japanese Hibachi restaurant where the preparation of your food is a show. Skilful and playful chefs balance eggs on the back of spatulas and flip and catch shrimp, all while serving you a three-course meal. Highlights include the hibachi chicken with udon noodles and an exotic green tea cake for dessert. Fair warning though: There are only four tables (with about eight to 10 seats at each) in this small restaurant, so you need a reservation.

Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 13); $24.95: Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian-style steakhouse, offers an expansive lineup of skewered meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon and Portuguese sausage. A mural of people dancing and dining lines the walls and the dim lighting creates an elegant feel. The meal begins with a quality salad bar that features international cheeses, dried meats, olives and marinated veggies like grilled bell peppers alongside the traditional salad ingredients. The pre-made salad options -- like the yellow beet with chicken and mango; or the shrimp, scallop and red snapper ceviche -- are also exquisite. For your main course, there's no need to choose just one; waiters come around with meat on skewers, and you can try small portions of everything. Sides, including mashed potatoes, fried sweet bananas, and rice and beans, are served with the meat. Beware: It's very easy to fill up on starters before the meat is brought around. Pace yourself.

La Cucina (Deck 12); a la carte pricing: Large, family-style wooden tables hug one side of this trattoria, while traditional tables for two to four people line the other. We could have dined solely on the antipasto plate offered here, with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, a couple of thin slices of Parmesan Reggiano, marinated mushrooms and artichoke hearts, thin slices of Parma ham and carpaccio, and rolls and breadsticks with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. The meat dish (veal) was impressive, too, but even better was the perfectly al dente side of linguini carbonara that we chose. The restaurant bakes its own pies in a large pizza oven, but you won't find American standards like pepperoni. Choose from pizza selections such as pepperoncino, with mozzarella, beef strips and garlic; and Bolognese, with mozzarella, roma tomatoes and Bolognese sauce. If you have room, finish it off with the rhubarb panna cotta, which features peach and grape chutney in a vanilla reduction. A meal for two (appetizer to share, two entrees and two desserts, with a glass of wine and a cocktail, including the auto-gratuity) came to about $73.

Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 13); a la carte pricing: Cagney's, Norwegian's signature steak and chophouse, features an open kitchen, horse paintings and red rose lights that give off a romantic feel as you dine on some heavy-duty steak. Start with the lump crab salad or the split pea soup before making your way to cuts of meat that range from an 18 oz. bone-in ribeye to an 8 oz. gorgonzola-crusted filet mignon. Make your side dish the truffle fries, and if you still have room, try the raspberry creme brulee for dessert. Starters range from $4 to $8, soups and salads are $3 to $5, specialities start at $16 for a double-cut pork chop and surf and turf (lobster tail and 5-ounce filet mignon) is $25. Sides like sauteed broccoli, truffle mashed potatoes (or fries) and onion rings all run $2 each. Seafood includes a tuna steak ($17) and whole cold-water Maine lobster ($25).

Room Service; $9.95, except Continental breakfast: Room service on Norwegian has a flat $9.95 service charge per order (so make sure everyone in your party orders at the same time). Exceptions to the fee are for suite passengers or those ordering a Continental breakfast -- consisting of fruit, yoghurt and cereal -- between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. (Indicate if you are interested in such a breakfast by hanging a card with your order on your cabin door the night before.) Available menu items for a fee include omelettes and French toast for breakfast; chicken noodle soup, Cobb salad, cheese plate, 11-inch pizzas, BLT or cheeseburger for lunch. For dinner, try grilled salmon, spaghetti Bolognese or Argentine skirt steak. Desserts include New York cheesecake, strawberry pound cake and chocolate cake.

Standard cabins are comfortable, cosy and well laid out, with adequate closet and drawer space for most families. 

All rooms have well-stocked minifridges (sodas, sparkling water and liquor -- for a fee), flat-screen televisions, telephones, bathrooms with showers and twin beds that can be made up as one queen. But, at an average size of 158 square feet for ocean views and 140 square feet for inside staterooms, they are a bit small, especially given Norwegian's focus on family travel. Beds are topped with thick, comfy Eurostyle mattresses. 

All but some inside cabins have "split bathroom" configurations: within one space you'll find a glass-enclosed shower on one side, a closeable toilet chamber on the other, and a sink in the middle. These cabins (as well as mini-suites) have wall-mounted pumps for hand soap (no filmy bar soap), as well as pumps for shampoo and body, wash in the shower. All cabins have a hairdryer.

Where Pearl really stands out is in its suites. Passengers who are booked into The Haven enter the upper stratosphere of cruise VIP status -- private restaurant privileges, preferred reservations for the alternate restaurants, priority tender access, priority boarding and disembarking, butlers, concierge service, individual espresso and cappuccino makers, even feather pillows and other perks and privileges that truly set them apart from the average passenger on the same ship.

Interior: At 138 to 143 square feet, interior cabins are located on all passenger decks: 4, 5, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The family inside cabins sleep up to four, with the inclusion of Pullman beds. A small desk with a stool, as well as a table and chair, are in the room. A closet, three drawers and shelving should accommodate two adults' luggage on one of the ship's many short itineraries but might be a bit challenging with more than a few days' worth of stuff.

Ocean View: Cabins with a window are located on decks 4, 5 and 8, and run 155 to 161 square feet; choose from porthole or picture windows. A family option, with Pullman beds, sleeps up to four passengers.

Balcony: Balcony cabins are 200 to 205 square feet, including the balcony. These cabins also have small sofa beds, which can serve as third or fourth berths. Balcony cabins are located on decks 8, 9 and 10. Two blue mesh chairs with a tiny table are located on the balcony.

Mini-Suite: At 272 to 285 square feet, the 134 mini-suites offer a small amount of additional interior space and a larger balcony. They also have full bathtubs. All mini-suites are located on Deck 11 and accommodate up to four people. These rooms feature sofas, which can be converted into beds, and the same outdoor furniture as standard balcony cabins.

Suite: There are two suite categories outside of The Haven complex, with no access to Haven spaces. A penthouse with large balcony runs anywhere from 342 to 578 square feet, and accommodates three to four people. Choose from decks 8, 9 or 10. (Note: The Owner's Suites and Penthouse Suites on Deck 10 have balconies that are completely visible from the bridge above. Any indiscretion that takes place out there is subject to being viewed by a range of officers -- or any visitors to the bridge.)

A two-bedroom family suite with balcony on Deck 11 provides about 545 square feet of space and accommodates up to six passengers. Both suites include luxury bath amenities, butler and concierge service, private balconies, plenty of living space and more.

The Haven: Suites within Deck 14's The Haven -- a keycard-access-only suite enclave -- share a private courtyard at the top of the ship, complete with a covered plunge pool and private hot tubs. Residents of The Haven's suites, which include Garden Villas, Owner's Suites, Family Villas and Penthouses, all share private elevator access to their exclusive top-of-ship quarters. All Haven suites also include butler and concierge services, luxurious bath amenities and living and dining areas.

Passengers booked in suites (penthouse and higher, including those outside of The Haven) can have breakfast and lunch in Cagney's, with a special menu designed just for them, with items like crab cakes and eggs Benedict for breakfast and blackened snapper sandwiches for lunch, served in the swanky atmosphere of a private club.

Penthouse: Penthouses run 440 square feet, sleep three and include a bedroom with a queen-size bed. A curtain divides the bed from a small entertainment area with love seat, small glass table and another table with three chairs. There's also a desk, espresso machine and vanity. The bathroom features a tub, with Elemis bath products, but has the cramped, split-bathroom-style sliding doors.

Family Villa: The Family Villas, which sleep as many as six people, come in at 572 square feet and each include two bathrooms, one with an oval tub, a master bedroom and a separate children's room.

Owner's Suite: Owner's Suites, which measure up to 824 square feet, face forward and, since they are at the corners of the ship's bow, have private sun decks at the front and along the side.

Deluxe Owner's Suite: Deluxe Owner's Suites each include a large balcony and measure 1,197 square feet. These rooms sleep up to four people and are the only cabins located on Deck 15.

Garden Villa: The Garden Villas are the rooms to splurge on, measuring 4,252 square feet and sleeping eight people. They have individual saunas, hot tubs, private sunbathing areas, three bedrooms, three baths with tubs, a powder room, living room, dining room and a grand piano.

Accessible: Twenty-seven cabins, including suites, are fully wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant.

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