Norwegian Cruise Line Escape - Preview Cruise October 2015
On October 22nd, 2015, Norwegian Escape, the second largest cruise ship ever built in a German shipyard, was handed over to its owner, Norwegian Cruise Line. Together with and thanks to Toni, our travel agent and friend, I had the privilege of exploring this brand new ship on a short test cruise for press and travel agents only.
While we were approaching the port of Hamburg Steinwerder, it was obvious that with a length of 326 m (1070 ft) and a width of 41 m (135 ft), the Escape had used the capacity of the Meyer Shipyard in Papenburg to the last inch. This ship is huge. The prominent hull painting, a NCL signature feature, looks impressive on the white bow, and the colorfully illustrated sea creatures hint at Escape’s future deployment in the Caribbean with Miami as her home port.
Visible at first sight are the imposing and at the same time very dominant attractions on the upper deck. A multy-story ropes course above a minigolf area and the various winding waterslides of the Aqua Park take up almost one third of the entire upper deck even dwarfing the smokestack with the company logo, once every cruise line’s landmark. Unmistakable the meaning of NCL’s motto “Freestyle Cruising” is to include unlimited fun.
On the Escape, the guests are spoilt for choice – not only in terms of attractions, but also with regards to the number of restaurants. There are around 20 restaurants and just as many bars and lounges inviting the guests to spend their time on board to their own tastes in a relaxed atmosphere. In addition to the included restaurants there is a wide range of specialty restaurants. In those, with only a few exceptions, NCL has moved to charging a la carte prices rather than the cover charge typically applied to date.
We experienced good service at the “Manhattan Room”, the main dining room, and enjoyed delicious, good quality food. Also “Cagney’s Steakhouse”, one of the specialty restaurants, kept its promises and left nothing to be desired.
The „Garden Café“, the ship’s buffet restaurant, has an appealing design, and the food is presented in a modern and sober way. However, we found it to be quickly overcrowded, especially at breakfast. It took us quite a while until we found an empty table.
The new venues on the Escape should get a special mention. The first Margaritaville restaurant at sea promises to ensure a lively atmosphere on Caribbean cruises, and the restaurant “Food Republic”, new to NCL and a branch of South Beach’s “Pubbelly”, offers a culinary group experience. Newly arranged dishes and specialties from all around the world are ordered from an Ipad and are freshly delivered from the kitchen. The dishes are tapas size and are meant to be shared.
Most of the bars and restaurants are located at the centerpiece of the ship, the modern “678 Ocean Place”, designed in muted colors. This promenade stretches over three floors and allows the passengers to move from bar to bar and from restaurant to restaurant. Most of the restaurants have an outdoor seating area forming the circumferential “Waterfront” on deck 8.
After a day busy with entertainment, food in one of the many restaurants as well as entertainment in the theater and the bars, the passengers can retire to one of the 2,175 staterooms, which on the Escape also come in a wide range of varieties. From the 4-bed inside cabin via the Studio area, with its functionally styled single cabins with ambient lighting designed for a younger crowd, to the lavish Haven Owners Suite, the guests can decide what best suits their desires and their budgets.
With its Haven staterooms, NCL is consistent with its ship-within-a-ship concept. And indeed, when passing through the doors to this seprate area, it feels like escaping the hussle and bussle on the rest of the ship – you enter a completely different world. The Haven guests have their own reception and lounge, a bar, the “Haven” restaurant, get to enjoy the “Haven Courtyard”, an exclusive, very attractively designed pool area including a wellness spa, as well as a separate, spacious sun deck.
Overall, we found the ship to be modern and pleasantly designed. But the occupancy rate on this test tour already gave us a taste of what is likely to come when the ship is booked out. As an example, NCL advertises the “678 Ocean Place” with the slogan “Three thrilling decks of non-stop action”. To me it all seemed slightly overloaded, we were missing a spacious area (apart from the “Thermal Suite” spa area), where you could hide with a book to simply relax and enjoy.
The forward area of the upper deck is mostly reserved for Haven guests, the aft part is monopolized by Margaritaville, the ropes course and the Aqua Park. The remaining area available for sunbeds, including the space in front of the big screen at the “Spice H2O” at the rear, seemes too small for the regular occupancy of 4,200 passengers.
Passengers looking for a certain exclusivity, and maybe some peace and quiet will most likely have to book the “Haven” which gives them their own refuge without having to miss the offers and opportunities of a mega ship.
For guests who are looking for a seemingly unlimited choice of action, bars, restaurants and the high life that comes with it on a nice and modern cruise ship, the Escape is a serious temptation.
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