NCL ESCAPE Review

escapeThe 4,248 passenger Escape, the newest ship of Norwegian Cruise Lines, entered service last week and I was on the 3 night ship inaugural sailing.  Here’s my impression of this new mega-ship.

It’s a party ship with a lot to offer;  no wonder  Pitbull is the godfather of this rockin’ ship!

Escape will sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean and Florida and the Bahamas.  This particular 3 nighter had one port day in Nassau, Bahamas, so there was plenty of time

to check out the ship itself.

Embarkation was a real bear–we waited in line for 1 hour and 45 minutes.  Yes, you read that right.  Not a pleasant way to start your cruise, and I hope NCL does something about this because it seems to be the norm.  Once onboard, it was smooth sailing.

I had a spa mini-suite on Deck 15, and it had the biggest bathroom I’ve seen in a long while, outside of suites.  It had one large oblong sink that functioned as two sinks, and 2 of us could actually stand in there together.  Check it out:

bathroomshowerThe shower is also a “spa” shower with a very fancy rainshower head, an adjusting  handheld showerhead as well as 6 side jets.  Toiletries were Bulgari.  However–who knows what’s in those dispensers for shampoo and body/hand soap.  Makes you feel like you’re at your local gym.  Not luxurious!

The cabin itself is a little snug moving around the bed corners, but there is really nice storage detail all about the room and in the bathroom, very cleverly designed.  Beds are high enough to fit your suitcases underneath.  Lots of closet space, both  hanging and shelves.

The TV is at an odd position in relation to the bed, if that is important to you.  Better to watch TV on the sofa instead of the bed.  Free TV options are pretty poor–they didn’t even have CNN!

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The great thing about the spa rooms is that you have unlimited access to the spa thermal area, which includes a nice hydrotherapy pool, heated loungers, various showers, steam rooms, sauna, a salt room and a snow room.  Maybe my expectations were too high, because it does not snow in the snow room.  It’s your basic cold/ice room, with frost on the walls.  Someone in NCL Marketing had fun  naming that but their cleverness gets the best of them because they oversell it.  It’s also quite small.  The ice room at Grand Velas Riviera Maya beats this by a mile!

Here’s a shot of the hydrotherapy pool area:

hydroarea2The ship itself is huge and has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment.  We saw After Midnight–a Duke Ellington Cotton-Club-style musical review that was terrific, as well as Million Dollar Quartet (True tale of the one night Sun Records session with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis), which was also terrific.  Probably best live entertainment I’ve seen on a ship.  Both of these shows were on Broadway.  They also have a supper club ($30 surcharge) that includes dinner and a show “The Brat Pack” which is an in the round 80’s Breakfast-Club show.  This was ALOT of fun and worth the extra money, even if the dinner food was ho-hum (isn’t dinner theater food always kinda gross?).  It’s a three course dinner, no choices.  Appetizer trio was plated–tomato caprese, crab salad and a salmon thing.  Dinner was large battered prawns and braised short ribs, and dessert was a chocolate s’more mousse (which sounds better than it tasted).

Entrance to Supper Club:

supperclubWe didn’t even get to the Headliners Comedy Club (always long line to get in) or Howl with the Moon, the dueling piano bar that is so popular.  I’m not a gambler, but there’s a pretty good size casino onboard as well.

Here are some shots from around the ship:

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Atrium views

There is a main pool area (incredibly crowded) and a really fun looking kids Aqua Park:

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There is also a large Kids Club as well as a Teen Club called Entourage, as well as a large separate Game room.

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The ROPES/ZIPLINING Course–very popular with kids AND adults!

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The food was surprisingly good–one night we ate in the  Manhattan Room (featuring live jazz) and we had fabulous  pistachio crème brulee for dessert.   Another night we went to Savor, and paid upcharges to have prime rib and a whole Maine lobster.  We were warned that they are made-to-order and would take an extra 20 minutes or so.  They did take extra time, but that lobster was served hot and steamed perfectly with drawn butter.  Not the usual dry and rubbery lobster you may get on a mega ship.  Worth the extra $19.95.  The prime rib was also excellent.  The Taste and Savor dining rooms are pretty classy looking with a nice clean modern design.

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The casual Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville is comp.  Am I going to wait over an hour for a cheeseburger in paradise?  Ummm–NO.

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There are plenty of bars–even a craft beer bar and a wine cellar bar– and lounges, and plenty of specialty restaurants.  NCL is doing a little experiment on this ship–rather than charging a flat upcharge to dine in a specialty restaurant like the Latin American Bayamo, Italian La Cucina, French Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Sushi Bar, Pinchos Tapas Bar and more, they are charging a la carte pricing.  Your read that right.  I am very curious if NCL will keep with this pricing business model.

The Wine Bar

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Bayamo

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Le Bistro

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La Cucina

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Cagney’s Steakhouse

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Pinchos Tapas Bar and the Sushi Bar (separate areas!)

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There is some shiopping onboard, although the Carolina Herrera Store and the Lacoste store were always empty when I walked by.

The best $15 day pass you will ever buy is to the Vibe Beach Club–limited to 100 guests per day, it’s up on Deck 19 and requires card key access.  Once there, you have a not-too-hot Jacuzzi hot tub that seats 8, comfy padded lounge chairs and day beds, your own bar, restrooms and lounge sitting area.  Also shaded areas too.    While there is no pool, there is the hot tub, an outdoor shower and a cool (literally) misting area with two lounge chairs in it.  If you want to get away from the madness of the main pool, this is your ticket!

If you want the adult party area, go up to Spice H2O–an 18+ area that has hot tubs, a huge movie screen, a bar and plenty of lounges and seating.  Nice place to have a drink at sunset, turns into an outdoor dance club at night until the wee hours.

View from Spice H2O on Deck 18 leaving the Bahamas

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Lastly–a few notes about The Haven, NCL’s ship-within-a ship exclusive card key access area.  This is for those guests who want all the amenities of a large mega ship, but do not want to deal with lines, crowds or the hoi polloi.   Haven guests are up on Decks 16,17 and 18.  The staterooms are all suites and villas, and The Haven has its own concierge, pool courtyard, lounge, bar, restaurant and even sun deck.  Haven guests can eat or drink anywhere on the ship, but when they want to get away from the other 4,000 passengers, this is their enclave. It’s beautiful and not crowded, but comes with a price tag to match.  My thoughts–if you want this level of exclusivity, service and space why not just cruise with Crystal, Silversea, Seabourne, Regent?

Here are some pics of The Haven:

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My bottom line:

The NCL Escape is a fun party ship that offers a lot.  It’s great for families, groups  and fun-loving couples and singles.  The entertainment on board is first rate.  I liked it more than I expected I would, but as with cruising in general, you have to go in with the right expectations.  The times when everyone is doing something at the same time–embarkation, muster drill, leaving for shore excursions, going to the pool–you really feel that it’s a big ship and there are ALOT of people on board.  You will dip into your pocket to go to specialty restaurants, but that’s with all mass market ships these days.  But you can have fun here, and that’s what it’s all about.  Bon Voyage!