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Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl

It’s been almost a year since we went on our cruise to Alaska via NCL Norwegian Pearl. I wrote about my overall impressions when I got back home.  The write-up below is not meant to be a comprehensive review of the ship. Instead, I wanted to focus on areas that may be of interest to families with small children.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

“Peep and pooch,” plus spotting Ninjas

I was surprised by how long it took to get on the ship. I believe we spent at least 2 hours in line, if not more. When we were approaching the check-in (at last!), my son said he had to go to the bathroom. Badly. My husband whisked him away and we had to wait a good bit till they got back. I got a text that had this succinct message: “Peep and pooch,” my son’s names for certain bodily functions, back from the time he was very little. I’ll let you guess what my husband was referring to.

At one point we saw an Asian family with two young kids. My son looked at them and loudly exclaimed: “I know you. You guys are Ninjas!” My husband just shook his head and said: “Oh no son, no you didn’t.” Oh yes, he did! The family thought it was hilarious, thank goodness. We are the most politically incorrect bunch…
Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Our behemoth, aka Norwegian Pearl

Norwegian Pearl is a medium-size ship (by modern standards), and I prefer it that way. Cruise ships are getting out of control these days. Yuuge!

Our balcony cabin

Last year I wrote a post with a breakdown of what we paid for our cabin. After deducting cash back from booking via Discover affiliated travel agency, we’ve spent a total of $3,000 for two adults and one child. My daughter stayed in my in-laws’ cabin, and it cost me only $210 to add her to their reservation.

We booked it when NCL was running “kids cruise free” promo, so I only paid taxes and port charges for my children’s tickets. We also got a free excursion credit, but I will cover it in a separate post. Short version: not a game changer for family of four, and shouldn’t sway you to book with NCL.

Believe it or not, paying $3,000 total for three people in a balcony cabin on 7-night Alaska cruise is quite cheap. In order to snag this deal we had to go at the end of May, which meant pulling the kids out of school for two days. I realize it’s not an option for everyone, but our school board isn’t very strict on this type of thing.

I watched the prices on balcony cabins for our sailing date, and they got more and more expensive as time went on. It’s an issue of supply vs. demand, which is why I recommend you book your Alaska cruise way ahead. There are last-minute deals, of course, but if you have to fly from the east coast, it may not be that easy to take advantage of them.

So, this was our room for 7 nights: 205 square feet total, including balcony.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Looks cozy, no?

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

It was doable with just one kid. I think we would have lost our minds if my daughter stayed with us as well. They could have shared the sofa bed, but it would have been very tight, not to mention, create a ton of arguments. The bed does have an extension for taller guests, but since my son is little, we didn’t need it. If you have teenagers, forget about it! You will probably need two rooms or a set-up with bunk beds.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

The closet had enough space to fit all of our junk.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Tiny bathroom with a shower and a toilet.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Sailing out of Seattle

 

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Enjoying Alaska sights in a privacy of our own balcony

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

The highlight of our cruise: a visit to Glacier Bay National park. This is where having a balcony cabin really pays off!

For us, paying a premium was worth the extra cost. I’m not sure we’ll ever make it to Alaska again, so I wanted to treat my husband to this unforgettable experience. As you can see from the photos, it wasn’t a luxury cabin by any means, but it was adequate. Spending $3,000 was the upper limit of what I was willing and able to pay.

That being said, if you can only afford the cheapest inside cabin, go for it. You can always go to the deck and enjoy the same exact sights. Don’t put off Alaska cruise due to “balcony or bust” mentality. My brother-in-law and his wife stayed in a tiny inside cabin (at a cost of $1,500 all-in for both) and had a great time. I’m sure you will too.

My In-Laws’ Penthouse Suite

One of the perks of cruising with my in-laws (aside from them taking care of my daughter) was the fact that they booked a penthouse suite. And we all got to hang out there occasionally. The suite consists of a living room, two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

This is what luxury on a cruise ship looks like (cue my sister-in-law’s sad face)

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

An espresso machine and complimentary fruit each day

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

The balcony had nice loungers with cushions on them

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

The master bedroom

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

How cool is that?

Of course, you will pay dearly for a penthouse suite. My sister-in-law never told me what it cost her, but from my research, it appears the number is close to $10,000 for four people. So yes, I had no problem giving them $210 to accommodate my daughter for the duration of the cruise. Best deal I ever got!

Dining

I didn’t take any photos of the main buffet, but it resembles something you’ll find on most cruise ships. The food was pretty good, but not out of this world. It’s comparable to Carnival in that respect. What I really like about NCL is its “Freestyle” concept when it comes to restaurant dining.

There is no assigned time slot, so you can show up whenever you wish and sit with whomever you wish. That’s a big deal when you have small kids. They also don’t have formal nights, though my mother-in-law insisted we have one anyway (for the photos). NCL definitely caters to families with their policies, and the idea is to make things as relaxed as possible.

The main dining room was decorated to look like a royal palace in Russia:

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

All nine of us had a few dinners together, which was fun. The key word here is “few.”

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Oh my! That painting just doesn’t look right, does it? Those crazy Russians…

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

We came to the formal dining room with kids during lunch a few times, and the food was pretty good. As you can see, they do serve hamburgers, which made my son very happy. Speaking of, one time there was an Asian family dining near us. All of a sudden, the father gets out these seaweed snacks and gives them to his young kids. And they eat them as if they were fries or something. No wonder Asian people are so much healthier than us!

Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl www.milesforfamily.com

Since my in-laws booked a fancy penthouse suite, they got all kinds of perks thrown in. One of them was free access to specialty restaurants (like the one above). Normally, you have to pay $20 surcharge per person to dine there. No way, Jose! I go on a cruise because food is included. I can dine in a local sushi place and pay $20 per person.

Overall, if you are hesitant to take small kids on a cruise because you are afraid you won’t find any food they will like, don’t be.

Entertainment and Kids Club

I’m not going to focus on entertainment except to say that it’s very generic: singing, dancing, stand-up comedy etc. Basically, nothing special or unique in sight. Don’t get me wrong, the performers are much better at singing and dancing than I ever could be. But it’s nothing to write home about, that’s for sure. It’s OK, though, because that’s not why I went on Alaska cruise. I was mainly here for the views and Kids Club.

Let’s face it, for parents of small children, having a complimentary access to Kids Club is a huge selling point of any cruise. Well, NCL team did a good job entertaining my children with various crafts and activities. No complaints there.

Like most cruise lines, NCL splits the kids into several groups according to their ages and you can see all the details and FAQ on this page. There is a play area for small children (those under 3), but parents have to be present. Be aware, NCL caretakers don’t change diapers. You get a beeper for “peep and pooch” alert. I promise, it’s the last time I’m going to use these terms!

Here are the details to give you an idea on the hours of operation:

Norwegian Fleet Embarkation Day
8:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Port Days
Port Arrival Time – 10:30 p.m.

Sea Days
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m./2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m./7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Late Night Fun Zone
10:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. nightly

The center closes at 12:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Children must be picked up at these times. Pick-up late fees may apply.

If you want to dine in peace, you can feed the kids before dropping them off and then go to late sit-down breakfast with your spouse. Pick them up, feed them lunch, drop them off, then eat at 2 PM. Well, you get the idea.

Either way, you’ll have plenty of time to relax. Those who don’t have young kids simply take for granted the ability to eat and actually enjoy the experience without someone kicking, fighting or driving you bananas.

Come to think of it, couples without kids take a lot of things for granted (wink wink).

 

Is a cruise to Alaska on Norwegian Pearl a good fit for your family?

If you are looking for a Disney-type cruise, this probably ain’t it. NCL is more of a generic fare aimed at budget-constrained and cost-conscious consumers. Check and check! If I had to compare it to an airline, it would be a cross between Spirit and Southwest. It is geared to families, which is a huge plus. However, they nickel and dime you to death when it comes to extras. Just say No and you’ll be fine.

That being said, NCL delivered exactly what it has promised. So, I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another Norwegian cruise again. I can’t really complain considering the fact that we paid $3,000 for a balcony cabin when Disney wanted $8,000. Obviously, it’s similar to comparing apples and oranges, but I just can’t justify paying that kind of a premium.

But it really depends on your preferences. Nancy is going on a Disney cruise to Alaska in a few months and I can’t wait to read her trip report. Knowing her, it will probably be ready the day after they get back home! But her whole family are Disney fanatics, so to them, the juice will probably be worth the squeeze.

I’m certain my kids would go crazy for a Disney cruise, but the “magic” would be wasted on me and my husband. That said, I’m still thinking about doing a short Bahamas cruise on Disney, but those are a heck of a lot cheaper then Alaska itineraries.

In my opinion, NCL offered us a solid product at a solid price. The food was good, and Kids Club was included. What more can you ask for? NCL cruise isn’t a fancy or unique experience, but it’s relatively affordable for most middle-class families. I believe you will have a good time if you choose one of their ships. You can see a detailed review of Norwegian Pearl on this Cruise Critic page. 

Verdict: recommended as long as the price is right.

If you find a better deal on another cruise line, by all means, consider sailing with them instead. For example, I’ve recently priced out Alaska cruise fares on Norwegian Pearl in June of 2018, and didn’t see any good deals:

Even with discounts on third and fourth passengers, it’s too much money. By comparison, here is a quote for four people in a balcony cabin on Holland America ship, also leaving from Seattle:

I really like the food and atmosphere on Holland America cruise line. It’s a more refined experience compared to NCL and yes, they also have Kids Club. Plus, the balcony cabins are a bit bigger (213-389 square feet, depending on the deck). I don’t know if they still do it, but Holland America used to serve lobster, and not just in a dining room. I remember going to the buffet and stuffing my face with five giant lobsters. Because…why not?

Overall, to me, three most important factors when choosing this Alaska cruise were:

1) Price of a balcony cabin.

2) Itinerary (visiting  Glacier Bay was non-negotiable).

3) The size and the layout of the cabin. Anything less than 175 square feet was a deal breaker. I also wanted a pull-out sofa rather than a bunk bed because my son is quite young.

Any cruise line would do, NCL just happened to offer the best deal at the time. One-way cruises out of Vancouver or Seward are usually cheaper, though you have to factor in more expensive, not to mention, longer flights.

Few ways to cut the costs on your Alaska cruise

As I’ve mentioned many times, it’s hard to “travel hack” cruises. You can certainly reduce the cost, but you are unlikely to cover it completely. Be prepared to cough up a good chunk of your savings if you want to take your family to Alaska. It’s worth it, though. There are a few offers that could be a good fit: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, Capital One Venture Rewards and Wells Fargo Propel cards. Those bonuses can give you flat rebate against travel purchases. I just wrote a post on the first card and ways you can maximize the bonus.

You can also sign up for cards like Citi Thank You Premier and Chase Sapphire Preferred. The bonus from both is redeemable towards cruises, and you get 1.25 cents per point. You will have to book through their respective travel partners, but the price is usually comparable to what you would find via regular travel websites. Read more on all of these offers in my page listing Best credit card deals for family.

To start the booking process, I recommend you first go to Cruise.com. Once you pick the winner, check out CruiseCompete.  You put in your details and travel agents send you their lowest bid. It’s unlikely to be much cheaper than what you would find on normal booking sites, but every little bit helps. Of course, if you have a favorite travel agent, contact them for help with booking your cruise.

In our case, we’ve settled on booking through Discover Shopping portal because it turned up the best deal. The downside is that I had to use Discover card to pay. I recommend you also keep an eye on Amex offers in your profile. Very often they have $100 discount off $500 cruise payment charged to your American Express card.

In general, I recommend you book your airfare before making a deposit on any cruise. However, in the case of Alaska, it might be worth it to jump on a super deal before having your tickets. That’s what I did. I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t find a balcony cabin for less than $3,000, so I pulled the trigger. Things worked out and we were able to redeem miles without any issues, but YMMV.

Bottom line

This was a fantastic trip in every respect. The only wrinkle was the fact that my husband ended up getting pneumonia. Thankfully, it was towards the end of the cruise, so he got to enjoy most of it. While having a balcony certainly enhanced the experience, I wouldn’t say it’s a must. We were in a position where we could afford it (barely), but I encourage you to go, even if it means “roughing” it in an inside cabin.

A cruise is a wonderful idea for a family reunion. Everyone has their own cabin which cuts down on arguments. There were nine of us, and we did remarkably well. And we all survived to tell the tale of our adventure!

P.S. My reader Audrey has shared with me this deal on a suite via Travelzoo. For $1,800 per person, it’s actually  an amazing price if you are looking to splurge.

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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10 thoughts on “Cruising Alaska with Small Kids on NCL Norwegian Pearl

  1. This sounds pretty fun. One of my biggest concerns with cruises is that I would feel like I was always trying to stay on someone else’s schedule. Scheduled meals sounds horrible, but the open approach is my style. And Alaska may have more going for it than I thought. But as someone lives in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, I can’t wrap my head around having to wear a coat on a vacation. It’s mid April and it’s still cold most days here.

    We’ve never done a kids club on vacation. Well be doing that next week at the Hyatt Ziva. I’m curious to see how we and our son like it. We’ve also never done all inclusive, a hallmark of cruising, so well see how that goes next week as well.

    The biggest obstacle to the CBD family cruising is the inability to travel hack it. We have an upper limit or about $1200 out of pocket, TOTAL that we are willing to spend on a trip. Even that amount makes me uneasy. I’m just having better luck with land based trips, what with our stash of hotel and airline points, and having access to a time share.

    • @Cheapblackdad I hope your family will enjoy Hyatt Ziva. Curious to see what you’ll think of an all-inclusive type vacation. You are correct, cruises are similar in that respect.

      I understand your reluctance to go on one, but let me assure you, it can be as rigid or as relaxed as you want it to be. Several cruise lines (Carnival included) now give you an option to do unassigned seating. That’s definitely an improvement because I hate to be stuck with a certain time slot.

      As far as formal night goes, you can always skip it and just eat at the buffet. I don’t like packing dress clothes for cruises.

      You also don’t have to do cruise excursions and can organize your own tours if you wish. In fact, in many cases, it’s cost advantageous for families. I’ll have a post on this topic within the next few weeks.
      On cost, I totally hear you. Alaska ain’t cheap, that’s for sure. But there are ways to cruise on a budget, and staying in an inside cabin is worth considering. I can understand your reluctance to go to Alaska since you live in Wisconsin. Because we are based in Florida, it’s a nice change of scenery for us. And those mountains, they are yuuuge! It’s a spectacular land, something you have to see in person to appreciate.

      Either way, I recommend you give cruising a try. Maybe go on a short/cheap Caribbean cruise from Miami? The 4-day Carnival cruise that includes Key West and Cozumel is a good option for cruise “virgins.” If you decide it’s not for you, at least you haven’t spent a fortune. And believe me, once you enjoy the wonders of Kids Club, it’s hard to go back to old ways of doing things! Obviously, we don’t dump off the kids for an entire day (not that I’m judging those who do), but it’s so nice to just relax for few hours without all the bickering.
      You can also combine a Bahamas cruise from Port Canaveral with a Disney trip.

    • @Natasha Thanks! I’m sorry it took me so long to publish it. This sucker took at least 6 hours to write, yikes… Trip reports are so time-consuming (choosing the right photos etc). It’s not a comprehensive overview, but hopefully, it will give folks an idea on what to expect.
      P.S. Did I ever mention that my mom’s name is Natasha?

  2. Great write up Leana – thanks!!! Love your photos, and it looks like you guys had a very enjoyable vacation.

    I always recommend Alaska to everyone, and a cruise is the way to go. We went back in 2014, and it’s one of the very few places that I definitely want to return to. We went on Disney and paid $4,200 for all 4 of us – inside stateroom 184 sqft with bunk beds (I only do inside as that’s what I can only afford) and it was worth every penny. I asked at check-in if they had any upgrades available and they didn’t…but people on disboards had posted what they were paying for balcony upgrades at check-in (which was $500 – $800 extra; a balcony for 4 was originally $8,000) so I thought I would ask.

    I can’t wait to compare notes with Nancy about her cruise.

    • @Stephanie Thanks! I’m also looking forward to reading Nancy’s future trip report. I’m sure they will have a blast. I would love to try Disney cruise line one of these days, but the prices are difficult to swallow. Almost everyone who goes on a Disney cruise ends up loving it, though.
      We actually used to only cruise in inside cabins because that’s all we could afford. Then I saw a great deal on a balcony and booked it. Well… now my husband won’t consider anything else. I should have just stuck with an inside cabin, lesson learned! 🙂 The funny thing is, he saw my in-laws’ penthouse suite and asked me why we couldn’t book it as well. Say what? Dropping ten grand? Definitely NOT in our budget. And here I thought it would be a treat to have a balcony, lol
      But I really wanted to stress in my post that balcony is not a must. Yes, it’s very nice to have, but we also paid $1,300 extra for it. We could have booked another cruise in the Caribbean with the money saved. And yet, we would enjoy the same Alaska scenery, just from the deck of the ship.

  3. Great trip report and since we are talking Alaska I’ll mention that it is also a beautiful place to visit without doing a cruise. There is a lot of driving, but in the summertime with so much daylight it makes it much easier. We went to the Kenai Peninsula and drove from there – we should have done a few more days instead of one week because we didn’t have a chance to get to Denali. It’s not cheap although I admittedly did it before travel hacking. Our family doesn’t really love cruising, so when we go back with the kids we will either drive or maybe look into an RV (seems to be popular there).

    • @Kelly I totally agree! I actually had some posts on visitng Alaska without doing a cruise. This was my second cruise to Alaska. The first time I accidentally ended up going with my sister-in-law because her friend canceled on her. So I booked airfare literally 8 days ahead and paid $50 to switch a reservation. Quite a deal!
      Anyway, we ended up touring Denali national park, and it was incredible. Not everyone can extend the trip to include a land portion, but it’s certainly worth it. And renting an RV would be neat.

  4. Alaska on a cruise is a great way to get a taste of Alaska, and we have some of our favorite travel memories from our cruise.
    On Royal Caribbean it was $1,900 for our interior room. We had the same deck (9) as my parents balcony room, so nice cabin placement too. By the end of the 8 days, I felt pretty claustrophobic on our cabin….to the point that the last night (after 24 hours of weathering the worst storm I could ever have imagined) we stayed on the couch in my parents room.
    That fresh air seems to help any sea sickness for sure!

    Regardless.
    I highly recommend Alaska cruising to anyone.

    • @Emily I love Royal Caribbean, so I can see why you guys enjoyed it. Yeah, inside cabin can feel quite cramped and claustrophobic. My husband actually refuses to go in one. It has to be oceanview or balcony. Well, or penthouse suite, ha!

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