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Groups On Cruises: Norwegian Pearl

Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

I recently had the opportunity to make pier-side inspections of two popular ships that ply the waters of the Inside Passage to Alaska during the summer. Both Holland America Line’s (HAL) Westerdam and Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) Norwegian Pearl offer one-week sailings from Seattle that call at Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia.

The former also visits Hubbard Glacier and Sitka, while the latter’s itinerary also includes Skagway and Glacier Bay.

Both are large. Westerdam, at 81,811 tons, accommodates 1,916 guests in lower berths and is one of the more recent series of HAL ships that is larger and a bit less sedate than the line’s somewhat smaller, more traditional vessels.

Although still a very classy and spotlessly maintained ship, brighter colors and expanded facilities reflect the line’s efforts to attract younger, more active cruisers.

The moderately higher-density and very colorful — although not unpleasantly so — Norwegian Pearl, at 93,530 tons, has space for 2,394 in lower berths and features the line’s Freestyle Cruising and Dining.

NCL has designed its product to appeal to family groups and active travelers accustomed to resort vacations, so offers an almost bewildering variety of activity and dining choices from which to choose. 

For groups with a bit higher budget, seeking a somewhat more elegant or “laid back” experience without sacrificing a wide range of entertainment and activity choices, the Westerdam would seem to be an ideal choice.

On the other hand, “party animals,” groups and families with more limited resources are likely to have just as enjoyable a time aboard the floating, full-service resort that is Norwegian Pearl.

Although both ships offer very large, eye-popping suites, Westerdam’s standard staterooms are quite spacious with soothing decor, Norwegian Pearl’s are nicely furnished but substantially more compact. Unfortunately, unlike Westerdam guests, who can access their staterooms as soon as they board the ship, Norwegian Pearl passengers cannot get into their accommodations until 2 p.m., which is not only inconvenient, but gives the appearance of the ship being grossly overcrowded as that hour approaches. 

Guests on both ships will be subjected to numerous opportunities to part with their discretionary spending dollars. However, such efforts appear to be more numerous and aggressive aboard Norwegian Pearl.

As is common these days, both ships offer a wide variety of overpriced, but popular, shore excursions, as well as treatments in attractive spa facilities, plus outrageous Internet charges for those who must keep connected.

Westerdam offers two extra-charge gourmet dining room options; Norwegian Pearl has eight extra-cost specialty restaurants.

Westerdam’s guest relations desks are inconveniently located on Deck 1, and one must enter through the Greenhouse Spa to access the ship’s only forward-facing exterior observation area not obscured by heavily-tinted glass, a venue favored by photographers like me.

Norwegian Pearl has no such area at all, although it does have a huge, ballpark-like television screen, along with its guest relations desks, in the convenient Crystal Atrium.  It also departs from the convenient cruise pier in downtown Seattle rather than the more remote, industrial area pier utilized by HAL.

Unlike the beautiful exterior teak decks on Westerdam, the composite material found on Norwegian Pearl’s exterior decks is not as well maintained and shows areas of wear. And you are likely to stand in long lines when attempting to board either ship, so plan to arrive early or late in the boarding process if you can.

Cruise Line quick updates
Costa Cruises has announced the continued expansion and upgrading of its fleet. A new 1,854-cabin ship — its largest to date — has been ordered from the Fincantieri Shipyards, with delivery planned for October 2014, and the line is investing some $90 million in a major renovation of the 1,697-guest Costa Romantica.

The renovation, which will be done between late October and the end of January, will include two new half-decks and 111 new cabins and private balconies for 120 cabins and suites. The vessel will be renamed Costa neoRomantica.

Readers of Travel and Leisure have ranked Seabourn Cruises the world’s best small-ship cruise Line for the third consecutive year. Seabourn achieved the highest score awarded to any cruise line, regardless of ship size category.

Also, Seabourn has just released “The Cruise Collection,” a new 148-page catalogue detailing 212 luxury voyages being offered aboard its fleet during 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.

Reflecting the special appeal of Hawaii as a cruise destination, Princess Cruises has introduced a choice of more than 50 sailings to the Aloha State during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.

From Los Angeles, Golden Princess and Sapphire Princess will offer 14-day roundtrip cruises to the volcanic wonders of the Big Island (Hilo), Honolulu on Oahu, the beaches of Maui (Lahaina) and the Garden Isle of Kauai (Nawiliwili).

In 2012, Star Princess and Grand Princess will begin offering 15-day roundtrip voyages from San Francisco, also calling at all four islands. While at sea, guests will experience a special Aloha Spirit program with Hawaii-themed activities, parties, menu items and learning opportunities.

American Cruise Lines has announced the launching of the Queen of the Mississippi, a brand-new sternwheeler being built for the Mississippi River, nine weeks ahead of schedule on July 17.

When completed, the vessel will reportedly boast staterooms larger than any former Mississippi riverboat, private balconies and the ability to cruise at significantly higher speeds to make more itineraries and longer visits to interesting river towns possible.

A number of seven-, 10- and 14-day cruises are being planned to take guests as far as St. Paul, Minn., on the Mississippi and Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, beginning in 2012.

Finally, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has introduced its most extensive roster of itineraries yet for 2012 — 32 itineraries ranging from eight to 32 days along Europe and Russia’s great waterways.

Two of the company’s newest programs, “Gems of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands” and “Grand Treasures of Europe,” will include the famed Floriade, the international horticultural exposition presented only once every 10 years.

Also in 2012, Uniworld will completely remodel three of its ships, the River Countess, the River Duchess, and the River Royale.

Publisher’s Note: Many professional tour companies and cruise sellers offer valuable assistance in arranging group space with cruise lines large and small. Consider using the expertise available to you through one of the professional travel companies that attends our conferences and/or advertises with us for your group’s next cruise!