My First Cruise Escape
To cruise or not to cruise … that was the question that I continually asked myself over the past seven years while working here at Travelzoo. As a 30-something self-proclaimed “hotel snob,” the idea of cruising never tempted me. So, when the opportunity to cruise on Norwegian’s newest ship — the Escape — for two nights fell was offered by the company, how could I resist? This would be my test run into the world of cruising, and boy was I wrong about everything that I’d always assumed to be true.
First, let’s talk about this ship. Scratch that, let’s talk about this innovative megaresort at sea. Sixteen passenger decks, 2175 cabins, 28 restaurants, bars and lounges, six entertainment choices, and the Haven complex, which is best described as a luxurious ship within a ship start to paint the picture of what was in store. Massive and complex don’t even begin to describe it. My first glimpse of the ship while taxiing into the Port of Miami should be described as jaw dropping, and I’m not just talking about the impressive hull artwork by marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey.
The Escape is as long as three football fields bow to stern but, once inside, you forget immediately how big it is. The interior spaces are warm and inviting, with a bit of something for everyone, including dining and entertainment options that rival that of a Friday or Saturday night in NYC. This ship had my heart before I could even unpack in my stateroom. Speaking of my stateroom: don’t expect a Las Vegas suite when booking an inside cabin. Inside, oceanview and balcony cabins are well appointed but modest in size. If you’re looking for space, book a mini-suite or upgrade to the Haven. If you’re traveling alone, the Escape features an entire section called The Studio, which is designed specifically for solo travelers.
“Sweaty is sexy” became my mantra for the two days, thanks to an amazing performance by the ship’s Godfather, Mr. 305 himself, Pitbull. The next two Caribbean nights were relaxing, informative, gluttonous and down-right awesome. Here’s a quick snapshot of the highlights onboard the Norwegian Escape, from a first-time cruisers perspective:
I was wowed by the variety of dining options on the Escape. My assumption was that I was going to eat every night with the captain and 4,000 other people, all at one set time. To say that I was incorrect would be an understatement. The Escape features a concept called “Freestyle” dining, which is terrific for new cruisers like me, who are unsure what their days and nights will look like on a cruise. No fixed dining times or pre-assigned seats. Options from multi-course meals with top wine pairings to quick bites are available throughout the day. But, the Escape takes this one step further with experiences like “waterfront” dining so that you can enjoy seaside views from several restaurants, and their relationship with Iron Chef Jose Garces, who serves up Latin-inspired seafood at Bayamo. Food Republic, the brainchild of the popular Miami-based Pubbelly restaurant group, took me on a global tour. If my palate were my passport (which wasn’t required for this inaugural voyage), it would have multiple stamps from countries like Peru, China and Japan, to name a few.
Night Time is the Right Time
The task of doing and seeing everything on a megaship like this can seem daunting, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t try. The number of one-of-a-kind bars and lounges positioned perfectly on the Escape made for late nights, and late mornings. Broadway shows like “Million Dollar Quartet” and “After Midnight” run nightly, along with comedy options and “The Brat Pack” dinner show at Supper Club. The District Brew House, equipped with 24 craft beers as well as live music and Mixx Bar, a haven for specialty cocktail lovers, became my last stops before bed each night. Couple those with the first and only Margaritaville-at-Sea (thanks Jimmy!) and the 24-hour O’Sheehans Bar & Grill, and this guy was in love.
Daytime Adventure Awaits
I would say that the most appealing aspects of the Escape are the onboard activities. Quiet pool decks and limited distractions were nowhere to be found, so don’t expect this from this ship. Options like the Aqua Park with four slides, and the Ropes Course at the back of the ship might just be the reason to book a cruise on the Escape. Adventure-seekers rejoice with the two “planks” that extend eight feet off the side of the ship, and the three zip line courses that complete the three-story challenge course that is not designed for the faint of heart.
So, there you have it. As a former cruise newbie, I can tell you that this ship had me at hello, and with Pitbull as its Godfather, you have an idea as to what to expect. I’ll be back Norwegian Escape, I’ll be back.