TravelPulse On Board: Norwegian Escape Review
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line. All other photos by Jason Leppert.
Norwegian Cruise Line
At a Glance
By the Numbers
Take a Bow (What to Like)
Pain in the Aft (What to Dislike)
The Norwegian Escape is Norwegian Cruise Line's first Breakaway Plus-class ship, based on the company's successful Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway before her, and first to have a godfather. Mr. Worldwide himself, Pitbull, named and christened the vessel in her homeport of Miami, Florida. Fans of the first two ships will instantly recognize the line's dazzling hull art – designed this time by marine artist Guy Harvey – and the overall layout that has here been expanded and modified in some areas.
Of course, the most stunning upgrade is an enlarged triple-decker Haven ship-within-a-ship complex and exclusive home to the cruise ship's finest suites. Also now featuring three levels is the ship's signature ropes course, and a new Aqua Racer tandem raft waterslide which twists below down to a more elaborate Kids Aqua Park. Gone now is the Nickelodeon partnership, but in SpongeBob SquarePants' place is plenty more water play for children to soak up.
The adults-only Spice H2O deck area has been similarly re-themed with an immersive waterfall grotto feature that is more reminiscent of a land resort than a cruise ship. There are still not quite enough public pools to absorb the ship's high capacity, but this grotto is more inviting than the previous plain iterations found on the first pair of ships. Plus, newly opened up and additionally installed deck areas provide more welcome spaces for sunbathers.
From solo staterooms to luxurious suites, there is no shortage of accommodation choices on the Norwegian Escape. Unlike on other ships, single travelers are pampered with no supplemental costs and their own exclusive lounge (think of it as an awesome bachelor or bachelorette pad at sea), and medium-sized cabins with balconies are perfect for couples and families alike. Bathrooms are expansively appointed, a clever offset bed and sofa arrangement interlocks with adjoining rooms to maximize space and balconies appear to be larger now.
The Haven complex is more palatial than ever before, with suites that come complete with access to an entire section of the ship that's off-limits to other guests including its own pool courtyard, sunbathing deck, spa, lounges, concierge desk, bar and indoor and al fresco restaurant. This time around, the overall decor in staterooms and suites, as shipwide, is darker and a bit dated in some spaces. It would be nice to see a return to the more light and vibrant colors of the ship's predecessors.
Whether they be adrenaline junkies or spa connoisseurs, guests will find a full spectrum of activities onboard. Not only has the ropes course been expanded in height, it now features two planks to walk like a pirate (while safely tethered, of course) and five thrilling zip rails. A pair of freefall waterslides return to thrill riders while the all new tandem raft slide offers a fun opportunity to race fellow guests in a double-wide tube at a more moderate pace. After you've gotten your heart racing, the Mandara Spa can help you unwind in new ways with an expansive thermal suite, salt room and snow room.
The most unique highlight of the ship remains 678 Ocean Place and The Waterfront surrounding it. This central three-deck hub of activity is where guests will discover indoor and outdoor dining and entertainment venues for seaside experiences that happily emphasize the ocean rather than insulate from it. The tropical atmosphere of the stage and the new 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar, in partnership with Jimmy Buffett, particularly embody this spirit. The casino has also been expanded and will thankfully soon enclose a separate smoking area.
Ever since Norwegian Cruise Line introduced "Freestyle Cruising," the concept has been most synonymous with extensive fine dining choice, and the Norwegian Escape serves an abundant mouthful. Easily the most popular new venue onboard (long waits are common) is Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea, dishing up complimentary Cheeseburgers in Paradise that are better than standard cruise grill fare but not quite as good as their namesakes on land (Update: As of Nov. 28, 2015, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville at Sea now charges a la carte prices). To service a larger casino, the former noodle bar is absent, but Food Republic by the Pubbelly Boys and The District Brew House are new, as is the previous ice bar's replacement – The Cellars A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar.
Also new are Bayamo and Pincho Tapas Bar by Iron Chef Jose Garces and Miami's oldest bar, Tobacco Road. But Norwegian favorites have returned for the ride including Le Bistro for French, La Cucina for Italian, Teppanyaki for Asian, Cagney's Steakhouse and Moderno Churrascaria. Menus have been revised across the board, and complimentary options including O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill and The Manhattan Room have improved accordingly. Surf and Turf, in the main dining room for instance, was a mouthwatering delight. Just be sure to plan out your preferences ahead of time and budget for as much or as little specialty dining as you would like.
Combining food and drama is "For the Record: The Brat Pack" at the Supper Club, an initially curious sounding tribute to the music and comedy of 1980s John Hughes films that turned out to be the most wildly entertaining show onboard. Broadway musicals take to the main stage with the likes of "After Midnight" and its jazzy big band tunes and rhythmic dancing set at Harlem's Cotton Club.
The ship's other headliner, "Million Dollar Quartet," is another tough sell, bringing to life the night Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley came together for a once-in-a-lifetime recording session, that ultimately delights far more than expected. The shows are full length and, in the case of "After Midnight," perhaps just a tad too long. but the production quality is top notch all the way. Alternatively, live music and comedy elsewhere onboard have your entertainment needs well covered.
Service onboard the Norwegian Escape is good, but by virtue of Freestyle Cruising, the dining experience is more fluid among several restaurants and recurring nightly servers are less common. Food and show reservations can easily be made at self-service kiosks which also remove some social interaction from the equation, but the process of making your selections electronically is a fun one nonetheless. Oh, and for some services, there's also an app for that.
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