It’s the middle of the night but my alarm is telling me its time to get up and get to the airport. Funny but I don’t actually think I got any sleep! We leave for the airport at just gone 5 and then it dawns on me why I just ‘don’t do’ airports and prefer just to turn up in Southampton and start my holiday from the moment I step onboard. We queue to check in, then we queue to go through security, I have to empty my bag of lipstick, perfume and anything glass and place it in a clear plastic bag – why I don’t know as nobody actually seemed to look at it or check it? The bags through the scanner and everyone has to remove coats belts and shoes, then you queue again to reclaim all your belongings which by now are mixed up with everyone elses. No time to look in the shops, oh no Mr C whisks me straight off to Yates for his pint of stella and a fried breakfast (I had my goddie head on and had toast and coffee) One minute our fl;ight was showing a delay with no expected departure time and the next minute ‘all remaining passengers’ were being called immediately to the gate. We legged it down there only to find a massive queue of equally panicked passengers who think they are going to miss the flight. Then we queue again to sit on an airplane that moves nowhere for 30 minutes.
In all the time it took to go nowhere and check and recheck everything we could have driven to Southampton at our leisure and be checked in and onboard enjoying a drink. But we still had the flight and yet more queues etc to endure at the other end yet.
Flight was good about 45 minutes but then about another 30 minutes to taxi around Schipol airport. I have to confess that all the stressful queueing etc had forced me to have a large Vodka and coke on the flight at just gone 7 in the morning!
So we land at Amsterdam airport and then we walk for what seems like an eternity to the reclaim luggage belt. No surprise at all that it takes 4o minutes for any luggage at all to turn up.
We head out into the Plaza and find the train ticket office but I knew there was a train at 16 minutes past and we had no time to queue so we opted for the self serve machine which was in English so was very straight forward. However, once on the train I realised I had made a mistake with my ticket selection and mr Train inspector man wasn’t a happy chap. I had selected 2 single tickets to Rotterdam Central at €6.10. I was given the option or ‘discount ticket’ or ‘full fare’ Naturally I opted for the discount thinking it worked like a flight booking or train fare back home – if there was discount seats still available then you could buy them? Anyway that’s what I thought, but apparently it meant you needed to have a ‘discount card’ to be eligible for the discount rate. Nice ticket man informs me that we both have a fine of €35!!!!! Gggge whiz, even my blonde hair wasn’t helping me out of this one. But then a knight in shining armour came along (must be the blonde hair) I was sat next to a Danish student type young man who had sat minding his own business until now and was trying to get the ticket man to let us off I presume as he was speaking their lingo. Then he said ‘its ok you are with me and he pulled out his student discount card’ Thank you nice student. He left the train at the next station and I couldn’t really thank him enough. The best of it was that a full fare ticket would have only cost us €10! Oh well lesson learnt.
On arrival at Rotterdam Central we jumped in a cab and he took us to the ship for €11.
Guess what now we have to queue to check in and then wait about an hour for embarkation to commence. By now Im tired and getting a bit grumpy!!
But WOW! It was worth the hassles and the wait. I do miss my white glove service or even somebody to guide you in the right direction. Naturally I knew where I was going because I knew my cabin number and its not rocket science to know where it is from the deck plan before you leave home, but there was a lot of people who hadn’t got a clue where to go.
We were allocated a Deluxe balcony stateroom on deck 10. We had a huge king size bed (which was very comfy) Crisp white linen duvet with a pink velour through over the end. The sofa bed was a trendy orange/pink sofa with small highly polished wood coffee table in front. In the corner by the balcony door was a highly polished wood corner unit with a coffee making machine and fresh supplies of coffee sugar etc. Two bedside cabinets. The dressing table was another corner unit with very good powerful hairdryer with styling nozzle. Good lighting and large mirror. US plug point but the voltage was ok because my straightners worked fine. Large 2 door wardrobe with drawers and shelves either side. The bathroom was novel as it had a glass sliding door across the loo inside the bathroom so couldn’t really see the point? Sliding glass door across the shower and sink with mirror and shelving above and below. The balcony was a good size with glass below the railing. We had two trendy mesh type chairs and a small table. Chairs were comfy and don’t really know how to describe other than to say they sell them in B&Q and we have a full set at home!
We very quickly unpack and go to check out a few areas of the ship.
First stop is Garden Café for a little bit of lunch. This was very similar to the Jewel but the layout of food islands had been improved and it was easier to make a selection. There was a salad and deli bar where you could select a filled roll or have your own made to order. There was burger and fries etc. Carvery. Indian. Chines. Pasta. Full range of sweets and an ice cream counter. I had a wrap and a sandwich with some salad from the deli while Mr C had just about everything from everywhere (he said it was for research purposes!) Garden Café is quite a big area in total but it is all sub divided up with different seating in each section. At the back before you enter the outside deck and buffet area there was kids Café with low counters, scaled down tables and chairs and a full selection of kids food for them to help them selves too which I though was very sweet and well thought out. The outside Garden Café was lovely overlooking the stern and a full range of food was available for selction out there as well as the bar area.
We did a full tour of the cabins again and I think this ship offers a great variety. Standard inside and outside cabins are pretty standard sizes, but a lot brighter décor than P&O but all tasteful. We checked out the obscured view cabins and these were very restriced view. The cabins seemed very dark and because of their long sideways layout there didn’t feel as if there was that much room either.
I love the huge Garden Villa and owners suite – these are just fab trendy pads at sea with everything you could possibly want. Your own garden, deck space, Jacuzzi, bar, hall way and grande entrance etc as well as large plasm screens and a bathroom for everyone on the 3 bedrooms. Courtyard Villas are like the penthouses but you have a shared garden space and deck area with bar. The communal courtyard contains a pool and Jacuzzi as well as lots of beds to lounge on and chill out.
We did manage to stop by at a few bars enroute of our little tour and sample a few different beverages here and there.
3.30 was compulsory muster drill, and as I knew they did a roll call we had no choice but to attend. Now I will admit to having 40 winks whilst the drill was on but Im sure they actually only told you where to muster and how to put on a life jacket. Maybe Im mistaken?
We sailed at 4 so it was coat and gloves on and up to the top deck to watch us sail out of Rotterdam. We went in style with confetti cannons blasting blue and white (NCL colours) into the sky above us. A cocktail of the day and I had to head for my bed where I managed to stay awake for all of 10 minutes to watch the moving scenery of Rotterdam lights before falling into the deepest sleep ever.
Thank god for cabin stewards who come to make up the cabins early evening is all I say! If it hadn’t have been for him knocking the door 3 times and entering the cabin I think we would still have been asleep now!
A quick shower throw some make up at my face and I was dressed and ready to sit at the Cocktail bar and sample the delights of the Martini menu. I had a Cosmo so strong it nearly knocked me over and Mr C sampled a very delicious chocolate Martini!
We chose to eat in one of the two main dining rooms this evening – Indigo. This is the more modern and contempory of the two restaurants. We were shown to a very nice table for two and were quickly offered wine service and the menu to make our selection. I really didn’t mean to order so much but the selection was just so nice that it was unavoidable. I had spring rolls and chutney dip, asparagus with shistake mushroom, beef Wellington which just melted in your mouth and as the maitre de was flambé ing crepe suzette in the corner it seamed rude not to sample some of those too!
We left dinner intime to get to the theatre to see the show which was Tuebz. A brand new fast hip hop show that put le Cirque Arcadia to shame. There was dancers on elastic ropes jumping above the audience, BMX stunt riders riding ramps and flipping over, inline skaters, tap dancer ‘tap dogs style’ and acrobatic type things with a man balancing a woman on one hand etc that all looked totally impossible. All very bizarre but totally brilliant The theatre is huge, very well tiered and everyone gets a very good view.
From here we headed for Spinakers which is the room up top at the front – it’s a kind of cross between Carmens and Crows Nest with a Caravan style band playing lively music. We managed to get one of the bendy double bed/chaise lounge type things and we kicked off our shoes and settled down with a cocktail or two. The room was very lively and the dance floor was packed for the hour or so that we sat there for. It was the perfect combination of chilling out, being comfy and being somewhere lively and buzzing! But I was itching to check out ‘Bliss’ which I have nicknamed the little den of eniquety.
Now if you thought Spinakers sounds like fun wait until you hear about this place. This is the first of its kind at sea. It’s a nightclub with a difference to say the least. At either side of the room is a two lane 10 pin bowling alley. The very latest all singing all dancing lanes with everything as you would expect to find it at any other bowling alley. To the side of there is two arcade style fairground rides which you just lie in and press the button and it takes you on one of six of the scariest big dipper rides ever. You do have to hold on because gee whiz its scarey and you get thrown about all over the place in these moving chairs – it didn’t do my back any favours. The bar top is studded with huge jewels under a Perspex bar top and gold lavish oriental style decorations adorn the area. At the far end is a dance floor and karaoke stage and all around the room is very lavish armchairs, sofas and footstools but every alternate there is a grand velvet double bed of some sort or another laiden with masses of silk cushions. I grabbed the four poster bed with a flat screen TV above my head and just chilled out watching everyone drink themselves silly and dance the night away. You have to check out the photos of this place to fully appreciate what im saying about this room. As you exit the room there are two small annexe’s each containing a huge bed type thing with tv screens in the ceiling, lots of cushions and alternate elaborate soft chairs. It has to be one of the coolest places at sea I have ever seen.
Its so busy in the nightclub as these places always are on these type of inaurgurals that I have to get out and retreat to the peace and quiet of my cabin.
Mr C has his beer head on and decides now would be a good time to check out how the coffee perculator works! Flamin heck a drunk bloke and a coffee perculator is not a good combination as he pulls everything off it and reassembles it before inserting coffee and water, only to be last heard mumbling something about there was no milk lol.
I woke quite early and looked across to the balcony a bit unsure where we were. Then I realised that we were on the sea side of QE2 Dock. I got up and looked outside to see Artemis sitting in cold grey dark miserable Southampton. Ive never liked the QE dock but at least we weren’t looking at the horrible concrete grey terminal building.
We opted for breakfast in Garden Café. Certainly plenty of choice, with fruit salad made to order using fresh fruit, plenty of breads and pastries, all the cereals, full English with every combination of potato product you can imagine, plus omlettes cooked to order which is what Mr C ordered plus of course a full English. It has to be said that the tea was disgusting but the coffee was ok,, and there was apple, orange, cranberry, lemon and iced tea available.
We spent the morning re looking at all the different facilities.
Deck 15 – private deck space and sunbathing area for the owners suites, penthouse and Villas.
Deck 14 – Sundeck open to all. Private courtyard with garden and pool for use of villas. Then a rock climbing wall for the more energetic.
Deck 13 – Spinakers where we had been last night. Ouside is sky high bar over looking the pool, which also serves hot fast food. Midships is Cagneys steak house, which is a very nice restaurant with a cover charge. Red and balck décor with a lot of leather and cow hide, well laid out table very luxury. Next door was a very nice bar which I would have liked to have had time to visit when it was open. The Star was a very nice cocktail bar , again red and black décor overlooking the pool area through huge one way windows. Outside on the aft deck was the basket ball and tennis courts.
Deck 12 – Fwd was the South Pacific Spa area which looked lovely. Hot stone beds and a lovely spa pool, but for some reason they were charging for use of this but also advising it wouldn’t be very relaxing as there were tour groups constantly walking through! I would have used it and paid if we weren’t being invaded and would have minded a free go to use whilst the tours were on but they missed out there as nobody was going to pay under those terms. I would imagine it would be an excellent place to be and just chill out though.
A well stocked library and lifestyle room. And on the opposite side a very well stocked gym.
Outside were two pools one with the big whirly slide the other a nice quite pool with Jacuzzis either side.
Topsiders bar and grill served hot and cold buffet meals and was buzzing with waiters serving cocktails of the day – mmmm cocktails!
A nice outside dining area screened by trees with nice rattan chairs and tables. All of the sunloungers around the pool were rattan with deep comfy cushions.
The kids had a good portion of the deck turned over to them with the usual zones rooms for them, plus and arcade room, pc room and a cinema!
The Garden Café and Great outdoors was the casual dining area as described earlier.
Deck 11 was mainly cabins with balconies of varying grades but right at the front was the bridge viewing are where you could go and watch the activity on the bridge from behing a glass screen.
Deck 10 & 9 – All cabins.
Deck 8 – cabins of various shapes and forms including very small insides and the restricted view cabins over the safety equipment. At the top of the atrium was the Blue Lagoon. A modern waiter service eating place that served snack type food and coffee all day. An excellent place to go for breakfast. A superb place to sit and people watch in the atrium below. On the opposite side was Mambos Tapas Latin Restaurant which opened in the evening for Mexican style food.
Deck 7 – at the front os the balcony level of the theatre. Blue silk gold embroidered walls of peacocks adrorn the entrance. The seating looks down onto the beautiful peacock curtains on stage.
Trade Routes Botiques sell all the usual stuff that you would expect to find on any ship at sea. Columbian Emeralds had a large store but I dint see anyone buying on this trip.
You then walk through to the Lotus Garden Asian Restaurant, the Sushi Bar, Sake Bar and Tapanyaki Restaurant. All carry a cover charge and all are very popular.
Next was one of my favourite areas on the ship, the Crystal Atrium and Java Café. The atrium is only two decks high but non the less impressive. Crystal stalegtites hang down from the ceiling, and crystal icicles hang from the balcony. The area is very bright blue and pink but stunning. Two sweeping staircases come down from the deck above by the Blue Lagoon. A huge TV screen plays the news and various info throughout the day. The main reception desk, shore excursions and alternate dining booking desk is at the opposite end to the bar area which is a great place to sit and people watch.
The art gallery and internet café run down one side of the ship, while the photo gallery is on the other side.
Beyond there right at the aft is Bliss nightclub which I have already told you about, but I think I will be talking about it for ages.
Deck 6 – the middle level of the theatre and various meeting rooms are at the front of the ship. The casino on here is larger than on Jewel but the same bright fairground colours. Plenty of game machines and gambling tables for all.
From here you walk throught to the Champagne Bar, Shakers Martini cocktail bar, and Maltings beer and whiskey bar. The Carona Cigar club is tucked away in one corner with humidifiers and good air conditioning for the smokers. Le Bistro was a very chis little select reataurant which is always very popular and the menu looked to die for.
Indigo Main restaurant which doesn’t have a cover charge is midship and is where we ate the first night.
The Summer Palace is a huge main Dining room over looking the stern. Again no cover charge. Very Faberge orientated, very grande and opulent.
Deck 5 – had the lower level of the theatre and stage. The rest of the deck was standard outside and inside cabins.
Deck 4 – all cabins and the medical centre.
So tour of the ship complete (you see I do work sometimes!) its time to hit the bar. Only 180 guests were in transit for the two days. 90% of passengers had disembarked early this morning and then the ship had been turned over to invited guests made up mainly of Lattidudes members (loyalty members) So we sat at the Java Café Bar drinking cocktails of the day watching all the people coming and going. Some guests amaze me. A group of 4 embarked directly opposite the bar, came straight to the bar and ordered 4 drinks, naturally the bartender asked for the cruise card but they were disgusted that the drinks weren’t complimentary as they were ‘guests’ I really wanted to suggest to these people that they were privaliged and should go and look at the ship, but no they obviously just wanted to eat and drink and be merry. Eventually they left and must have tried else where. We decide to wander down to the Martini bar and there was a right commotion going on. These same people plus another group and two ladies were literally demanding drinks quoting it wasn’t like this on Royal Caribbean visits (well lucky them to be invited to both ships!) The bar girl very politely told them that complimentary drinks were being served for them next door at the presentation and then they would have wine with lunch. Oh dear lord the senior officers had to be called. One lady complained bitterly and loudly that she couldn’t walk that far and she was being discriminated against. Well my answer would have been that she walked onto the ship and presumably walked that far around the ship so another 10 yards wouldn’t kill her. The whole group refused to go to the presentation which I consider very rude, then the one gent gathered his clan and announced he was going to queue for his free lunch!! I just cant believe the manners of some people!! Oh and they all said they would never cruise NCL again but I guess passengers and crew alike would be glad of that!
We went back to the busy Java bar and did some more people watching and I spotted a few faces I knew from the industry.
We had a light lunch in Blue Lagoon. Well, that was the theory but Mr C opted for loaded potato skins, spicy chicken wings, chilli con carne and fish and chips!! I had tomato soup and a home made burger and fries.
2.00pm and free bar kicks in so it would have been rude not to return and sample some more. We were like little bar butterflies hopping from one bar to another and funnily enough we seemed to keep bumping into the same people.
We popped our head in Bliss nightclub and it was buzzing in there, and I bumped into two of my old collegues who I was very pleased to see. We sat chatting and drinking and lounging around on the double beds for ages whilst they bought us champagne, wine and beer until we realised it was almost dinner time.
A very fast turnaround and I was back at the champagne bar for pre dinner drinks. We had a reservation in the Lotus Garden and as my two friends hadn’t got around to booking anywhere we invited them to come and dine with us. We had a lovely meal and a great giggle. The food was superb and couldn’t be faulted and there was plenty of it.
After dinner we managed to get a bed in Spinakers and the 4 of us managed quite nicely on there. They were playing some silly game in there which was a bit like a scavenger hunt which involved a lot of running around and shouting, all good fun but im glad I was just watching from a bed.
We decided to go back to the show and see Tubez again (yes it really was that good!) but as Mr C sat down he came over all funny (lol the bud had caught up with him!) and he just announced he needed his bed now and he was gone!
After the show I went to Bliss with Craig and Leanne but gee whiz it was busy in here. I mean rammed to the point that I didn’t think we would actually get in there. Well it would be wouldn’t it? A ship full of travel agents and a free bar – what a combination! Somehow we squeezed through the crowds and somehow wormed our way onto a bed with our drinks. It wasn’t long before the other people left so we had the bed to ourselves. I was ok up until about 3.00am and while the others were up dancing I realised I was so comfy I was falling asleep on the bed. So I trecked upto deck 12 and made a nice hot chocolate in Garden Café before returning to poor Mr C who was fast asleep n bed. I dread to think what time that night club finished but it was packed when I left.
I woke up the next morning nursing a banging headache and I had to pack. Somehow I managed it and we went off to breakfast in the Blue Lagoon. Mr C managed a full English but even the toast was too loud for me!
Disembarkation is freestyle on NCL and there was no pushing and shoving and people all disembarked at leisure. Our train wasn’t until 11.15 so a 10.30 disembarkation was fine for us.
We had the most fantastic time on Pearl. I love the ship. She is very similar to Jewel but has had a few tweeks here and there which are a bonus. I really cant recommend NCL enough. The staff are superb. Everything is done with a smile and nothing too much trouble. I would love to do a week in the sun in either the Caribbean or the med. The dress code doesn’t really bother me as the people who were dining in the main restaurants and alternate options such as Cagneys and the Bistro do tend to dress to impress. I don’t really know why people bang on about Royal Caribbean so much as I think NCL is far superior in what it has to offer. Maybe Royal Caribbean is just a bit more in our faces and they do sail out of Southampton but I do think NCL are worth a try.