A good job too! Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) latest ship, Norwegian Escape, is definitely designed for sunshine, as I’ve been finding out!
All new ships have their own unique bits of magic, and Norwegian Escape‘s are on decks 8 & 18… I’ll reveal what they are in a moment.
Norwegian Escape – christened yesterday by rapper superstar, Pitbull, at a ceremony in her home port of Miami – is the latest and, at 164,600 gross tons/4,200 guests, the largest, addition to NCL’s 14-strong fleet.
She was built at the amazing Meyer Werft covered shipyard in Germany (in just 17 months!) and, after sea trials, handed over to NCL on 22 October. She was presented to the press & media, including me, at a series of inaugral events/cruises in Hamburg and Southampton before setting off for Miami and her date with Pitbull.
Now, she starts work, carrying guests out on 7-day cruises from Miami into the Eastern Caribbean visiting ports such as St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola in the British Virgin Islands; and Nassau in the Bahamas.
So what is she like?
Well, she’s certainly big. She’s the first of NCL’s new ‘Breakaway Plus’ class ships and there will be people who, even by the end of a week on board, still get lost trying to find their cabin… even after they’ve realised the helpful fish on the endless corridor carpet, always swim forward!
Most significantly, she’s an NCL ship, designed for NCL’s “Freestyle” cruising, so the first thing that strikes first-timers to NCL is the range and quantity of bars, restaurants and eateries on board – 28 of them to choose from. That’s the idea behind “Freestyle” – no set time meals in large formal/informal restaurants. Instead you can decide where & when you want to eat, just as you do on land.
What’s different with Norwegian Escape over previous NCL ships is the number of new partnerships with well-known (to North Americans) brand leaders in the fields of dining and beverage.
For example, James Beard Award-winning Iron Chef, Jose Garces, has launched two speciality restaurants:
- Bayamo highlights Latin dishes with a heavy Cuban-influence.
- Pincho Tapas Bar offers traditional Spanish tapas à la carte in a lively, casual setting. Plates are prepared on an authentic la plancha grill right at the bar in front of guests.
Then, the Food Republic is a modern, food emporium from The Pubbelly Restaurant Group featuring global cuisine for sampling and sharing. It’s great fun. You can select from an extraordinary range of à la carte Asian, European & Mediterranean dishes presented on iPad tablets, and watch them being created by the chefs behind the bar.
The District Brew House is an urban craft beer hall run in partnership with Miami’s Wynwood Brewing Company. It has a keg room, 24 draft beers on tap, more than 50 different bottled beers, and a menu of gastropub-style plates for snacking.
And, The Cellars is NCL’s first wine bar in partnership with the Michael Mondavi Family featuring an array of immersive wine experiences (including of course, wines from the Mondavi estate in Napa Valley), focusing on tasting, education, and the enjoyment of wine, all accompanied by small plates and tapas, available à la carte.
Other popular outlets include the Sugarcane Mojito Bar (over 10 different mojitos and rum-based cocktails); Tobacco Road is Miami’s oldest and most legendary bar, reproduced on board; Savor & Taste are two upscale traditional dining venues; O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill is a 24-hour a day neighborhood sports bar and restaurant with classic American favorites and comfort food; Cagney’s Steakhouse is a traditional American steakhouse serving certified Angus Beef; Moderno Churrascaria is a Brazilian-style steakhouse; La Cucina is an Italian restaurant; Le Bistro is an intimate Parisian cafe; and Teppanyaki a Japanese hibachi restaurant with dishes are sliced, chopped & grilled at the table.
There are plenty of other bars & eateries in key locations such as the pool & upper deck bars or in the casino, but there’s no need to worry that your budget won’t sustain a week of fine dining & drinking, three restaurants are complimentary – Margaritaville® at Sea, casual laid back eating up on the pool deck; The self-serve Garden Cafe; and the two-story high Manhattan Room with its live music, dance floor and floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows looking out aft.
The “Freestyle” bars and eateries is where that first piece of ‘magic’ comes into play, on Deck 8 – The Waterfront.
On Deck 8, many of those indoor outlets, eg. Bayamo, La Cucina, Moderno Churrascaria, the Cellars wine bar or the ice cream emporium, Dolce Gelato, have an outdoor terrace on The Waterfront. You can stroll past them and take your pick. It’s a simple idea that, in the words of NCL’s President & COO, Andy Stewart, “reconnects our guests with the sea”.
The other NCL trademark facility is The Haven.
In addition to the 2,000+ ‘normal’ guest staterooms (of which 1130 are outside balcony cabins), NCL has two special ‘products’…
- The Studios, a very popular collection of interior cabins at singles price with no supplement with its own lounge/bar area, designed for solo travellers.
- The Haven comprises 95 luxury suites in a two deck block with butler service, its own private restaurant, a cocktail bar, concierge desk, a private sundeck, private spa treatment rooms, and a courtyard pool area with two whirlpools and a retractable roof. The Haven on other NCL ships, such as Norwegian Epic, is described as a “ship within a ship”; a sort of hidden enclave. On board Escape, The Haven seems to be a little less ‘enclavey’. You could spend your whole cruise inside the haven and never step outside. On Escape, part of The Haven occupies the starboard side upper decks, while port side is open to the great un-washed.
As on most large cruise ships there’s a ton of facilities and entertainments and Norwegian Escape has her share. I’m not interested in or attracted by casinos, so I’ll just say, there is one.
Families are well-catered for…
- Guppies Nursery offers childcare services for children ages six months to three years, with areas for play time and napping, and an open play area for parents and babies to play together, featuring sensory-based games, interactive media and themed activities hosted by an early years coordinator.
- Splash Academy is for ages 4-12 where they’ll learn to juggle at Circus School, play sports, and enjoy creative play in an age-appropriate atmosphere.
- Entourage is a place for teenagers (13-17, designed like a chic adult lounge… without the adults!
There is a Mandara Spa spanning two decks, hydro-therapy pool, whirlpools, steam room, dry sauna, sanarium and salt room. And Escape has something a bit special here. Once guests have heated up, they can step into the invigorating Snow Room, which ranges from a frosty 21 degrees to 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and sends out a flurry of powdery snow throughout the day.
There’s also a busy live entertainment programme…
- Wine Lovers the Musical where guests get to sample six different wines over lunch while watching the comedy.
- The Headliners Comedy Club. Nightly performances by top comedians.
- The Brat Pack ‘live’ at The Supper Club. A 360° post-modern cabaret featuring classic soundtracks from movies.
- And in the main theatre, Million Dollar Quartet. A musical recreating the night in 1956 when rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins got together for a recording session at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Amazing musicians, let down a little by the sound quality, but bound to be a huge success stateside!
So, where’s the other bit of ‘magic’?
Well, I think it’s upstairs and outside on the top decks. Along with all the sports facilities, hot tubs and pool areas (including the Kid’s Aqua Park with really cool splashy things for kids!), Norwegian Escape has a couple of neat new experiences…
The Ropes Course is a three-storey jungle of 99 aerial walkways, swings, tightropes, and other obstacles to be negotiated. Thankfully, participants are wearing safety harnesses, so the walk along the six inch wide beam out 8ft over the towering side of the ship, or the zipline that flies out over the water… is not quite as dangerous as it certainly feels!
It’ll still make your heart stop, just as the suddenly transparent tube bottom on the Aqua Park flumes do when you are flying outside the ship over the sea, hundreds of feet below! And if you are really going for speed… in a competitive way, try Free Fall! The side-by-side Racer tubes enable competitors to race to the finish, from a standing start… in chambers where the floor drops away from underneath!
That’s why Norwegian Escape is destined for the Caribbean. This is a ship whose best bits, like The Waterfront, Ropes Course & Aqua Park, are outside and need lots of warm sunshine.
NB. I was a guest of NCL, but as usual, my views prevail.