This was a seven day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean and the Bahamas from Miami. It was one of Escape's first cruises after arriving in the United States.
The largest ship in Norwegian Cruise Line's fleet and one of the world's largest cruise ships, Norwegian Escape offers a broad array of activities and facilities with which to construct your cruise experience. What I found particularly striking was the extent to which Norwegian has gone to enhance the experience offered on its earlier big ships.
Norwegian Escape is a larger version of Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. The interior layout and the décor of the three ships is quite similar. As a result, if you are familiar with Breakaway and Getaway, you will probably have the feeling of having been here before when you are on Escape.
But while the three ships are similar, they are not the same. There have been quite a few changes with Escape that may not be immediately apparent. For example, the shore excursions desk and the internet cafe have been moved to other locations within the main atrium, there are fewer slot machines in the main corridor on Deck Seven and thus more room to walk, the mojito bar has been moved to where the Ocean Blue bar was located, there is no pan-Asian restaurant, the casino has been expanded, the ice bar has been replaced by a wine bar, the library and card rooms have been rearranged to accommodate a photo portrait studio, new shops have been added, new hot tubs now appear on the sun deck on Deck 19 and the rock climbing wall behind the funnel has gone.
In total, all of these changes are a bold move as the line-up of venues on the earlier ships was quite popular. But then Norwegian has never been a line that was satisfied to rest on its previous success.
The dining venues on Escape have been the focus of considerable attention. Not only are there new venues but the venues inherited from the predecessor ships have been enhanced. New menus with more appealing choices and improved quality ingredients add to the dining experience. Even the dishes and glassware have been changed to give each venue its own character. As a result, the dining experience on Escape brings dining on Norwegian to a new level. It is my understanding that these improvements are slated to be rolled back through the rest of the fleet starting with the larger ships. (See separate dining review).
The entertainment on Escape is also different than on Breakaway and Getaway. In the main theater, there are two new-to-Norwegian shows - - After Midnight and Million Dollar Quartet. After Midnight was inspired by Harlem's Cotton Club of the 1930s and features the music and dancing of that era. It is high energy, high quality and a show that can be seen more than once.
The Million Dollar Quartet is the Broadway show based upon a 1950s recording session that brought Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash together for the only time. While the plot is somewhat thin, Escape's version of the show is high quality and the music is one classic song after another.
The Spiegel Tent (Cirque Dreams) on Breakaway and the Illusionarium (magic) on Getaway feature a meal combined with a show. Along the same lines, the Supper Club on Escape offers a meal and a show. In fact, guests have a choice of two shows - - either a show based on the 1980s Brat Pack or a cabaret performance by Brenda Braxton. Ms. Braxton, who is also featured in After Midnight, is an accomplished Broadway entertainer, having appeared in such shows as Cats, Dream Girls and Smokey Joe's Cafe. Her cabaret performance on this cruise was professional and enthralling, harkening back in quality to the legendary New York supper clubs of the first half of the 20th century. The five course meal was also excellent. While the meals served in the corresponding venues on the predecessor ships were not bad, this was entirely different in kind not just degree.
In place of Fat Cats on Breakaway and the Grammy Experience on Getaway, Escape has the It Must Be Five O'clock Somewhere Bar. While the previous venues have specific themes (blues and Latin music respectively) and have had high quality performers such as Slam Allen, this venue seems to be searching for a focus. On this cruise, the room was used primarily for karaoke with occasional live music by a house band.
Traditionally, a troupe from Second City has provided the comedy shows on the Norwegian ships. There has been a move away from this arrangement on some ships in recent years and on Escape the comedy shows in Headliners are provided by individual stand-up comics rather than by a group. A staff member comes out and does a warm up monologue before the featured comedian appears. The format is thus similar to the comedy clubs on the Carnival Cruise Line ships and on the Royal Caribbean Oasis class ships. As such, the success of the show depends upon the ability of the individual comic. On this cruise, the shows by Scott Henry were well-received. However, I miss the interaction among the performers and with the audience that characterized the Second City shows.
A very successful change on Escape was the replacement of the Bliss Lounge with the Skyline Bar. Norwegian has physically opened up this space, eliminating walls so that the room flows into the casino. As a result, it is a much livelier and popular venue.
For those inclined toward action, Escape has a zip line, a ropes course, waterslides and pools. In contrast to Breakaway and Getaway, Escape has two (rather than one) planks that extend out from Deck 18 over the sea. In addition to providing thrills for those on the rope course, these also provide amusement for less intrepid guests watching the spectacle from the Waterfront promenade on Deck Eight.
There was always something going on on Escape. Cruise Director Julie Valeriorate appeared to be everywhere hosting activities, games, shows and parties. The activities line-up did not feature much in the way of enrichment or mental stimulation, however.
Service throughout the ship was very good. Hotel Director Sean Wurmhoeringer's philosophy of hospitality aims to treat each guest as if he or she were a guest in his home. This attitude had clearly been embraced by the hotel team on this cruise.
Escape is approximately 10,000 gross tons larger than Breakaway and Getaway and carries just over 200 more passengers at double occupancy. This gives Escape a slightly better passenger space ratio than her predecessors. The flow of passengers in the public decks (Six, Seven and Eight) seemed better than on the predecessor ships. Escape did not feel crowded although you can expect to become closely acquainted with your fellow travelers in the elevators at peak times.
Even though school was in session during this cruise, there were quite a few young families with children aboard. Although there were passengers of all ages, the majority appeared to be between 30 and 50.
Escape has similar nautical qualities to her predecessors. Her cruising speed is similar to Breakaway and Getaway although far slower than Norwegian's Jewel class ships. She is stable and handles the sea well.
During this cruise, we encountered several rain storms. For the most part, these were at night but there was the occasional tropical downpour in the ports.
The itinerary consisted of embarkation in Miami, two days at sea, a day in St. Thomas, part of a day in Tortola, a sea day and part of a day in Nassau. It is a long distance to cover in a week and traveling at 20 knots or less, there is not much time for port calls. Thus, the ship is the real destination and Escape has the facilities and activities to handle this role very well.
In short, Escape is the best thing that Norwegian has done thus far. She is not the same as Norwegian's last two ships but neither is she altogether different. Rather, she is a successful step in the evolution of the line.
New venues on Escape include the District Brew House, specializing in craft beers, (above) and the Cellar, a wine bar (below).
Above: The Sunset Bar on Norwegian Getaway has been replaced by a sea-going version of Miami's Tobacco Road.
Below: The Skyline Bar takes the place of the Bliss Lounge.
Above: Captain Gunnar Hammerin speaks at a party for guests who have cruised before on Norwegian.
Below: The officers and crew form lines on the pier to welcome guests back aboard after a day in port.
Cruise ship review - - Norwegian Cruise Line - - Norwegian Escape