At the end of october, Mike and I finally took a nice long vacation. The last previous vacation we had was in February to Aspen. We usually take vacations about every 3-4 months but since I just started a new job in June, we had to wait a bit before I had the time away from projects to go someplace nice.
Due to the amount of stress we were both under, we decided on a cruise again. Caribbean cruises are great for us to do absolutely nothing and just de-stress. We don't read our mail, no phones, tiny tvs so we're disconnected from the world. We spend a lot of time relaxing, reading, and wandering around the ship and ports.
Most of our cruises have been on Princess but this year I found the Norwegian cruises were cheaper and so we booked Norwegian instead of Princess. We flew to Miami and did a 7 day cruise to the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, Tortola, and Stirrup Cays (private island).
The cruise was a very typical caribbean cruise. Since we've done all the snorkeling, catamaran trips, sea animal tours in the past, we kept our excursions pretty low-key. We did some tours, and spent a lot of time just walking around ourselves. On the boat, we did a lot of reading, took naps everyday (pretty remarkable for Mike, he never naps), snacked, soaked in the hot tub, and basically avoided the people on the ship. It was a VERY nice vacation for us.
Near the end of the trip, I wrote up a comparison between our cruise on Norweigian and Princess. Below is the writeup in case anyone is interested in the differences we found. Interestingly reading the comparison, it sounds like the Pearl and the Grand end up averaging out but for whatever reason, we found we preferred Princess to Norwegian.
Our photos from our trip are located here.
Norwegian vs Princess
For us the point of a caribbean cruise is to decompress. We've done a few caribbean cruises that all the islands and activities blend together after a while but it's a great way to get away from it all and just relax without people, email, phones.
Most of our trips have been with Princess. We've also cruised with Carnival, I've cruised with Celebrity, and this is our first time on Norwegian. We had heard a lot of good things with Norwegian and it had the lowest rate for the time period we were looking at. Since this is the first with Norwegian, I thought it would be nice to see what the differences are. This will be a comparison between the Pearl and Grand.
The Norwegian Pearl seems to be a bit smaller than the Grand Princess. There's only one pool area (2 pools, one is for adults only) and four hot tubs. Having all the hot tubs in one place is nice since if one is crowded, you don't need to go searching all over the ship to find another that isn't crowded. The hot tubs on the Pearl also haven't been broken while we've been here. On our Grand cruises, hot tubs were regularly broken which made it even harder to find space in the working tubs. Pearl pools are salt water, the Grand are fresh but both pools close in the evening although Grand hot tubs stay open much later than Pearl.
We usually choose the interior cabin for our temporary home. First, it stays dark so we can sleep whenever we want and not worry about the sun. Second, we don't spend that much time in the cabin so it seems silly to pay for a large room. Lastly, it is the cheapest option. So far the Grand cabin seems a little bit bigger than Pearl rooms. It's probably not by a lot but when these room are this small, sometimes a little extra space does make a big difference. However on that same philosophy, the Pearl showers are significantly larger than Grand showers and it's nice not bumping my elbow or knees into the walls. For all interior beds, they usually push two twin size beds together to make one queen size. On Grand, they have a joiner between the beds so the middle isn't so obvious. The Pearl does not do this so there is a noticeable split between the two beds which is a little annoying when you want to try to cuddle in the middle of the bed. The room service is excellent on both ships.
For all cruises, the emergency muster drill is mandatory. This is done on the first day of the cruise where you have to don your lifejacket and find out where you have to meet in case the boat is sinking. Princess has this drill down much better than Norwegian. For muster, Princess makes the announcement in your cabin, warns you when it will take place and has staff direct you to the right areas. Norwegian announces the drill in the hallways so if you're in your room, you miss the instructions. There's no set time to head to your muster station, you just pick up your jacket and wander to where you think you have to go. It's not one big area, it's small areas all over the ship and if you're not paying attention, you end up in the wrong area. It's disorganized at best and would not be helpful in case of a real emergency.
Both Princess and Norwegian have freestyle or anytime dining. Princess will let you either choose "traditional" set dinner times (where you sit at the same table, same waiter, same group of people) or eat in the anytime dining room where you walk in and get a table. Norwegian only has free-style where you walk into any dining room and choose to either share a table or eat with your own party. Mike and I tend to be private people with no real set schedule so we really enjoy the freestyle/anytime dining options. The Pearl is definitely more casual than Princess with no formal nights. You can go to dinner dressed in jeans all the way up to formal wear depending on your mood. Most on the Pearl have been very casual, jeans, shorts, slacks. The Grand dinners have been a little more formal. While both ships have restaurants with a cover charge, the Pearl has a lot more restaurant options (ranging from $10 to $25/person). There's mexican, chinese, teppanyaki, italian, spanish and even a small restaurant (no cover charge) that does bar-type foods (potato skins, mozzarella sticks, buffalo wings). We like the extra restaurants because after a little while, the rich sauces, and non-spicy food gets a little old. The chinese on the Pearl was very good and had some nice spice to it. Overall, Mike likes the Princess food a little better, I think it's about the same for Norwegian and Princess.
I think the port you leave from really tends to dictate the age range and demographics you'll find on a cruise ship. Leaving from Miami on the Pearl, there's a huge range of age on the ship. Lots of families, overall a much younger average age than Princess cruises we've been on. There's also been a fair number of internationals on board this cruise. My guess is since Miami is an international airport, there would be more from various countries than our cruises from Ft. Lauderdale, Baltimore, or San Juan.
We usually expect production numbers (singing, dancing) to have a certain level of cheese on cruises, the production we saw on the Pearl was exceptionally awful. The singing was pretty awful, the dancing was boring, the production was uninspiring. This was the first time Mike and I walked out in the middle of a show.
The music aboard the Pearl seems to be a little more modern and hip than the Grand music with dance/techno music often playing in the main Atrium on the Pearl. On the Grand, we usually found a nice quiet spot to hang out, read, play with our electronics. On the Pearl, we've been spending a lot of time at the main atrium watching people play wii on the giant screen, or watching the flock of people descend on the sales while we just hang out, read and play with our electronics.
Mike noticed poor attention to detail in much of the literature handed out each day: typos, grammar errors, spelling mistakes, etc. Not a big deal, but surprising.