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 theater 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 theater is flanked with fanciful wall decorations like embroidered peacocks or a hall of mirrors.
Daily activities include the Deal or No Deal interactive game show, where cruisers can compete for prizes in the theater (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 centered 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 centers.)
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 color 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.
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 revelers, this bar encourages you to sit and converse over your favorite whiskey.
Shakers Martini & Cocktail Bar (Deck 6): Specializing in Bond's favorite 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 theater 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 jewelry 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, specialty watches, costume jewelry, logo items, clothing and high-end jewelry (yes, Colombian Emeralds). You can get everything from sunglasses to M&Ms here.
Before the theater'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 center 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.
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.
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.
Norwegian Cruise Line values family fun, and to balance out Pearl's bars, clubs and adult spaces, kids and teens have their own clubs and play areas as well. A video arcade (all ages) is even located next to the kid and teen spaces, to encourage open play (just be wary of letting young ones swipe at will -- the games and video games run an additional cost). Splash Academy, the line's kids club, is located on Deck 12.
All parents are required to register their kids on the first day of the cruise, when there is a meet and greet with the counselors and a tour of the Academy. All kids (not teens, 13 or older) must be signed in and out at drop-off and pickup, unless they are 10 or older and parents have granted permission for them to sign themselves out. All kids get colored wristbands, depending on age and whether they can sign themselves out.
Norwegian splits its Splash Academy program into the following groups, with age-appropriate activities:
Turtles (3 to 5 years): Turtles activities emphasize sports and arts and crafts. Among the offerings are: Circus School, where the kids get to learn circus acts like feather balancing; developmental activities, such as simple counting using blocks or games; sensory and messy play; storytelling; and treasure hunts.
Seals (6 to 9 years): Seals might dress up as super heroes and villains in a battle of good versus evil, build a fort, head to the Wild West, test their animal knowledge in the Jungle Room and take part in a host of sports activities almost every day, both in the Splash Academy and on the sports courts. Activities likely include a treasure hunt, circus show at the end of the cruise and, on certain port days, organized trips to sights in ports of call.
Dolphins (10 to 12 years): Dolphinstake part in age-appropriate activities, such as trivia, themed events and sports. A typical sea day might offer "Commotion in the Ocean" (playing and learning about the ocean at the same time), a sports session and themed night like "Hurray for Hollywood" or "Mission Impossible Spy Night." Evening events could be a dance party or Glow Party.
You may leave your child onboard on port days, unless he or she has special needs or is in diapers; in those cases, one family member must stay onboard. Norwegian also marks which of its shore excursions are especially kid-friendly.
Splash Academy is open from 9 a.m. (sea days) to 1:30 a.m., with two-hour breaks at lunch (noon to 2 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). It opens earlier on port days, depending on when the ship gets in, and includes a Breakfast Club for parents who have early tours.
Programming is free for children aged three to 17 years old until 10:30 p.m. After that, it turns into a Late Night Fun Zone, and a fee of $6 per child, per hour ($4 per hour for each additional sibling) applies. A $6 per-child fee applies for supervision during mealtimes, which are escorted and take place in O'Sheehan's or the Garden Cafe. There is no in-cabin babysitting.
Entourage Teen Club is also located on Deck 12, but is a world apart as far as programming is concerned. With a more freeform approach (hey, they're not kids after all), teens can participate in organized sporting events, dance socials, Guitar Hero or late-night movies, pool parties, quizzes and karaoke.
It operates completely differently from Splash Academy, with teens allowed to come and go as they please; parents sign a waiver, and staff do not have the authority to make kids stay. The lounge's open hours are around 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on port days.
Entourage features a video jukebox and dance floor, gaming stations with Wii U, air hockey and foosball. Teens love it, and it's a great place for them to meet other teens. (It's also unlikely you'll see much of yours for the duration of the cruise.)