Norwegian Escape 11/11/15
My sailing on the Escape was one of the first sailings of this ship. Escape is similar to the Breakaway and Getaway, but slightly larger.
My itinerary was just a three night round trip Miami with a stop in Nassau, Bahamas, but I didn't get off the ship in that port. The purpose of my trip was to see and experience as much of the ship as possible, so I stayed onboard in port.
The Ship - There are some really great features to this ship and some areas that could have had a much better design. There seems to be lines everywhere. There are only two elevator bays for 4000 people, and it’s not enough. The forward elevators take the brunt of the work, have lots of delays and seem to go up and back down before ever reaching you. Not sure why, but try to get a deck between 8 and 16 so you can take the stairs whenever possible between the water/sun/buffet and 678 Place where most of the food and entertainment are.
There is a second elevator lobby in the back, but it is hidden a bit and less convenient to find.
Starting at the top - They have a very large Haven area with lots of suites, a sunning area of their own and their own restaurant as well as a pool and lounging area. It is well hidden within the ship design and you wouldn't know it was there if not for being told about it. Please be aware that Haven suites, and all the large suites on the ship even outside the Haven, have KING beds that don’t separate. I asked about this, as I often have family groups and friends groups that want to share in the big suites. NCL said they had an agreement with some fancy bedding place that only provides KING beds or linens. Great if you’re a couple, bummer if you’re traveling with your buddy and you don’t want to sleep with him or her.
The pool area is expansive, and there are multiple bars, a great water park and slides, a three story ropes course, some gangplanks with zip lines attached if you are willing to step off the side of the ship. If you're looking for quiet and relaxing in the shade, this is not the place. If you want a bit of sun but some quiet to go with that, keep heading forward and up. There are some nice expansive areas in the sun far up on Deck 20.
Spice H2O is an interesting area at the back of Deck 16. This is supposed to be an adults only area until 7pm with a bar, sunning, a large TV screen, a couple hot tubs and the “Grotto”. The Grotto is very cool. It’s like walking in a rocky waterfall area and it is unique to the Escape. The water is about a foot deep, there are sprays coming down from various places in the top and its covered and cute like a secret fern Grotto (no ferns, but you get the visual). Unfortunately, they don’t seem to enforce the ‘no kids’ policy, as I saw a kid in there when I checked it out. After 7pm for sure kids are allowed, as they show movies on the big screen. I think this is a bummer and it should be a no kids area all the time. They ALSO show movies on the screen in the atrium, so I don’t know why the adults can’t have their own area ALL the time.
The Vibe Beach Club is also near the top. This is a pay extra sunning and bar area. There isn’t anything overly unique about it though, other than there are less people in there. Those that I spoke with that had gone in said it wasn’t worth the extra fee. The only thing unique about it is they have some misting showers that are fun when you’re hot from the sun.
My favorite part of this ship, as I knew it would be is 678 Place. 678 Place is the moniker for the interconnected areas on Decks 6, 7 and 8. Towards the front, the main atrium has a large TV screen, and is open to above, Deck 7. Deck 6 contains the main ship services on one side and the atrium on the other. Forward of the atrium is the Supper Club (show and dining in one pay extra facility). At the atrium is a coffee place (pay extra) and desserts (pay extra) with a bar. If you continue along Deck 6 towards the second atrium, you'll find the French restaurant and the comedy club, with the beautiful lighted staircase on the side. Towards the aft of Deck 6 you will find two of the main dining rooms (complimentary), Savoy on one side and Taste on the other. Taste has a lower level that is entirely a private dining room for large groups. It was a bit loud in there, as I tried it, but the food was good.
Deck 7 contains a few restaurants and bars, but also the Casino and the main showroom. The showroom is at the front, just one level. The Supper Club would be directly below that, and when in a main showroom show, you can hear some thumping from the show below you. A bit frustrating. Rather than being a solitary room, the Casino stretches out long on Deck 7, on both sides of the second atrium that has a beautiful light sculpture in it. The part on both sides of the atrium is smoking, but not RIGHT against the rail to the Deck 6 below. The part towards the back of the ship is NON smoking.
The aft of Deck 7 has the main Manhattan Dining Room. Great views from there. All three complimentary dining rooms have the same menu each night. Deck 7 has some outdoor walking areas on two strips on the sides. However, the lifeboats are there fully blocking you view. So, it’s not like other ships where you can parade and see anything. If you want some fresh air that is pretty protected, it’s a good spot.
Deck 8 is truly where the action is on this ship. By far my favorite part of the ship. They have designed Deck 8 to be The Waterfront. Meaning, they have bars and restaurants all up and down Deck 8 on both sides, most of which have an inside AND an outside seating area. When you’re on the outside seating, it’s like you’re in a sidewalk café, as you get the fresh air and views and also people are walking by you as they would do on a sidewalk in a city. The Deck 8 Waterfront is very wide, giving walkers and diners both plenty of space. And you can’t walk the full perimeter, but you can walk from the forward elevator lobby down the side, all around the back and up the other side. So, unless you’re on the jogging track up high, this is the best place to stroll. The only downside is they have a lot of wind breaks you have to weave around. Of course, if you’re in one of the restaurants, you appreciate the wind breaks I’m sure.
In some areas of Deck 8 where there is no restaurant there are some comfy chairs and couches to lounge in, so that’s another reason why I think Deck 8 is so wonderful. Best place for a glass of wine, best place for dinner, best place to relax outdoors to read a book. Totally love it. Just wish they had MORE comfy seating in the area outside of the shopping towards the mid aft. There is kind of a barren area of the deck there.
There were some reports with the first ship in this class, the Breakaway, that smoking was allowed in some of the bars on the Waterfront, which polluted the walking and enjoyment of the rest of the guests downwind from there. I want to report that on Escape that is NOT the case. There is no smoking on any of the Deck 8 Waterfront areas.
It is IMPERITIVE that you pre-reserve the pay extra dining rooms on this cruise before you sail, and if you want the Waterfront seating vs the inside, that you must specify that on your reservation. If you can’t pre-reserve, then lineup for dining reservations on the first day of your cruise at the French restaurant or the comedy club on Deck 6 where they are taking reservations. Because my cruise was only 3 nights long, I was only able to squeeze in one night dining in The Waterfront, but I was extremely happy with my experience at Moderno the Brazilian Steakhouse.
Dining - Giving NCL credit, on the Freestyle Daily / daily activities paper, they do separate out which dining opportunities are complimentary and what are pay extra. In my opinion though, you’ve got to work hard to avoid everything pay extra that is close to where the traffic is heaviest to get to the free stuff. So, there are three wonderful free main dining rooms. Two on Deck 6, Savoy and Taste, and one on Deck 7, Manhattan. The Buffet on Deck 16 is also complimentary. Then, they have O’Sheehan’s Pub that is open all the time.
It is VERY strange that the only 24 hour food option, or late breakfast option, is a sit down service pub. If you’re hungry for a bit of something small and easy at 2am, I find it inconvenient to get in a line to be seated to get greasy pub food. I would much rather have a quick service buffet where I can grab a cookie or a small sandwich like I can do on other cruise lines. That’s just my opinion though. And before you tell me Room Service is free, note that on NCL it is NOT free for most of the food. There is a $7.95 service fee.
Beyond the free, there is a cornucopia of food options on this ship. Most of them are a la carte, meaning there is a menu with prices on the items rather than a set fee for eating in that restaurant. As I mentioned above, I tried the Moderno Brazilian Steakhouse, and because of the all-you-can-eat nature of that type of restaurant, I actually DID experience a set fee. The fee was $24.95 + tip. Note that ALL bar drinks and pay extra services auto add an 18% service fee.
I did try to test out a wide variety of venues, but mostly the free ones. I had a great lunch in the Savoy main restaurant when I boarded, dinner in the Manhattan my first night. On the second day I had breakfast in the buffet (good, but crowded), lunch at O’Sheehan’s pub, and dinner in Taste in the private dining room for the travel agent group. I also tried a tapas item in the Pincho Tapas Bar for an appetizer, which was excellent and cost about $5 for crab topped crustini pair. My final day I had breakfast again in the buffet (not a lot of choices for me sleeping late since I was still on West Coast time in my body clock) and dinner at the Brazilian Steakhouse.
I don’t drink, so I can’t talk on the bars much. I loved how the District Brewhouse looked though. If you like some special brews, it was great venue with some good entertainment and comfortable lounging inside. The Cellars wine bar on Deck 8 was always hopping and it was hard to walk by it on the Waterfront because the crowds were thick. It is co-branded with Michael Mondavi, so I’d expect their wines to be featured.
Entertainment – There is a wide variety of live entertainment, bands and karaoke and bars and such. However, let me just discuss the main singing and dancing show options I experienced. First, note that the Supper Club is a food AND entertainment venue, which requires reservations and an extra fee. I did not do this, as there was simply not time during my voyage. I did hear positive things about the three different shows in that venue though. And I had a reservation for the comedy club on the last night, but I was having too much fun losing money in the casino to go to it. I did hear great reviews of it though.
On our first night, there was a production show called After Midnight. This is a singing and dancing show highlighting music from Harlem in the old days, like the Cotton Club. Although the singing and dancing performers were excellent, especially the tap dancers, there were no set changes and it kind of drug on a bit. Just not enough story line or interest, but taking nothing away from the great performances if you like old time music.
The second show was called Million Dollar Quartet, and this is a MUST SEE show. It is actually a show you can see put on in non NCL venues, like in Las Vegas. It is the true life story of Sun Records in 1956 and how in one night Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got together for a jam session. It is told like a story though, with each of the four highlighted and how they came to Sun Records, as well as the four of them singing together in some songs. Note that getting a dining time at 8pm messes up with your show times, so try to eat very early or very late. I actually saw the first 45 minutes of this show, had to leave for my 8pm dinner, and then 2.5 hours later went back and saw the last 45 minutes of the second showing.
Also note that NCL takes reservations for the main showroom AND dining, so if you didn’t take time to make show reservations, you won’t be able to get into the showroom. They beep your card for everything.
NOTE that before you board, you should download the iConcierge NCL app for your phone and/or tablet, and when you’re onboard you can view the daily activity schedule and make show, dining and spa reservations in it. You can also do these things on touch screens around the ship and on your stateroom TV. It’s best to pre-plan, but if you don’t, at least get the app downloaded before the ship sails. Something I learned on this trip is that you can put your phone in airplane mode to turn off the cell roaming, but then engage the WiFi on the ship to access this app for free. You won’t be able to contact the outside world without paying for a WiFi plan, but you CAN use this app.
The Cabins – I had a regular balcony cabin 10760 on this voyage. Unfortunately, my agent pal that was supposed to sail with me had an emergency and couldn’t make it, so I had the room to myself. There are some great features of the cabin, and some that are a bummer.
The great features are that the bathroom is very spacious, with a shower that has a solid clear glass door that is larger than a circle, so you have room to bend over and get soap if you drop it. The sitting area is also large, with a queen sized couch that I’m sure has pull out beds. The not as good part was the bedroom area and closet. When the bed was together as one, things were fine. When the beds were separated into two singles, there was simply NOT enough room between the bed and the closet next to the bed closest to the bathroom. If you don’t mind, ask your steward to put the larger nightstand next to the closet, the two singles in the center, and the other nightstand by the couch. You’ll still have six inches between your two single beds, but you’ll actually be able to make use of your closet easily.
Getting with the times, kinda, there are three electrical plugs at the desk AND USB charging outlets on both reading lights on the sides of the bedroom area. Those extra USBs are awesome. I give it a kinda because the safe was still the same smaller size as always in the closet shelf area. These cruise ship safes are big enough for me to cram my iPad into with a few other items, but for sure not a laptop. Why can’t they get a clue on this? There was a ton of room on the shelf the safe was installed into so a large safe would have fit in the same space.
One of my favorite room features is the modern communicate with your steward light up signage outside the staterooms. SO, with all new ships these days, we seem to have the slot by the door we must put our credit card shaped room key in as we enter the room to run the lights and TV. If we’ve got something in that slot, there is a place outside the room that lights up a little white light next to “At Home”. There are also buttons on the wall above that for “Make up Room” and “Do Not Disturb”. Outside the room, when we have hit the Make Up Room, there is a green light displayed next to those words. And if we set the Do Not Disturb, there is a red light next to THOSE words. So, the room stewards can just look for red or green lights quickly if they need to give you service, rather than looking for hanging door tags.
As is typical on NCL, no bathroom amenity cute little bottles were given. At the sink area, there is a dispenser for liquid hand soap. In the shower, there is a body wash dispenser and a conditioning shampoo dispenser. If you want hand lotion, hair conditioner or bar soap, you must bring your own with you. There is a good strong hair dryer installed in a holster underneath the sitting area vanity. And, as normal, no electrical outlets in the bathroom.
Here’s a perk you don’t normally see. There was a small coffee maker provided on the counter of the desk with regular and decaf coffee and tea. Loved this. Also, I asked for a bathrobe to use during my voyage and my steward provided it no problem.
I looked at movies on my stateroom TV and I saw there was a fee of $9.99 per each one. Holy cow. I’m used to other lines with free movies on your stateroom TV.
And my balcony had two chairs, no footrests, and one tiny table that you could sit a drink on. It wouldn’t be conducive to dining on the balcony though. It was a decent amount of space on the actual balcony though.
Single Traveling – One of the things that NCL supposedly really embraces is single travelers. They offer a large selection of Single inside Studio rooms that are very small on the newest ships, that have their own Studio Lounge singles hang out area for those guests. The Lounge has a selection of food items, and lots of area to sit in and some TVs. Since this is a concept unique to NCL’s ships that are the Epic and newer, this is the one cabin type I wanted to tour as an agent that I’d never seen. I did actually run thru there on embarkation day, so I can talk about it intelligently to anyone that wants to do those.
The design of the ship puts the Studios in their own separate internal hallways on Decks 10 and 12, with the Lounge on 11 accessed by stairs going up or down. In order to get into the exclusive hallway that holds the Studios, you have to enter thru a door with a key card. So, you can’t get into the Lounge or the hallway with the cabins unless you have one of those Studio rooms.
I think this is a great idea in theory, but was bummed that they had a singles get together in a bar the first night, but then in the Studio Lounge the second and third night. Meaning, if you are a single person in a larger cabin, like me in my balcony, I could not go and socialize with the singles in the Studio Lounge. I do realize the Lounge is there for the guests in the Studios, which are tiny little things and the Lounge gives them space to relax, but NCL I think should plan any official get-togethers out in the other parts of the ship. Who knows if they’ll change this procedure, but if you plan to sail with NCL as a single, I wanted to put out that FYI.
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