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I wish I would have kept a writing blog during the cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, but I was too busy, and I don't have a lap top yet. I did complete the editing of the Norwegian Pearl Experience for Cruising Authority so if you haven't listened to the show, I want to encourage you to do so, because we have some nice interviews with key people on the ship like the Captain and the Cruise Director. This cruise on the Noregian Pearl was interesting for me, because I had not been on an NCL ship in a long time and this was my first experience with Freestyle Cruising. I must admit that I have not been a fan of NCL lately because I felt the corporation has struggled with it's identity for many years, and I had heard the quality of the onboard cruise experience for passengers was inconsistent. I also felt there were other cruise lines out there that offered a similar product with a far greater sense of direction, consistency and focus, so I would always direct cruise business to other lines within the mass-market and premium category. In the past I was a huge fan of NCL, they were among the first cruise lines out there that offered a great cruise product, and then of course they brought on the SS Norway and did a great job of managing that classic ocean liner for many years. Then NCL was sold to an Asian company, and I saw many odd changes to the line to the point where it looked as if NCL was searching for it's identity or trying to create a new identity, and I felt over the years NCL lost steam and momentum within the competative cruise market.

After experiencing first-hand a cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, I am now convinced NCL is doing something right. They have developed an innovative concept that other cruise lines are starting to copy called Freestyle Dining and Freestyle Cruising. Up until a few years ago, the traditional dining experience on a cruise ship was centered around your scheduled dining time, either first or second seating. There were dress codes, every seven-day cruise had at least two nights where everyone would dress up to attend the Captain's Gala dinner or farewell dinner. Each passenger was also assigned a table that they would eat at every night for dinner, at the same table and with the same waiter. With NCL's Freestyle Dinning, passengers basically decide WHEN they want to eat and WHERE they want to eat with multiple dinning options and restaurants. There's also no dress code, if you want to go the entire cruise without a tie and jacket, that's perfectly fine on an NCL ship.

I wondered how this Freestyle Dinning would work...I thought there might be lines to get into a particular restaurant, or there might be some confusion related to where to eat etc. but I did not see any issues like this. In fact I kind of liked the idea of going to eat when I was ready and hungry rather than having the dining time forced upon me and wandering into the dinning room like sheep for feeding time. Onboard the Norwegian Pearl, dinning was similar to how we would choose to dine at a restaurant at home...we simply decide when to eat and where. Freestyle 2.0 was a big hit in my book and obviously other cruise lines feel it's the way of the future as well, because they are offering similar flexible dining experiences. NCL's corporate offices may be struggling with identity issues, but onboard the ships the crew have a clear offer the best possible service and experience to passengers. The NCL logo where the fish are all swimming in the same direction except for one fish...that one fish representing NCL, is a great concept and a way for NCL to differentiate themselves from all the other cruise lines out there. Great job NCL!

I'd like to write more about our cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, so check back later for more blog postings about this cruise.

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