Well, we’d heard from others that they didn’t like the large ships as much as the smaller or traditionally sized ones, but being travel bloggers we had to go and see for ourselves. We headed out on the Norwegian Escape on a modified Western Caribbean itinerary to explore the ship and enjoy a 7-day cruise.
Cruising is an excellent way to discover multiple destinations in one trip and it helps us to decide if we would like to return or not at a future date for a longer visit.
When we arrived at the Miami Cruise Port there were six cruise ships docked, and it was amazing how much the Escape stood out as the largest! At 1,069 feet in length with a maximum beam size of 136 feet the ship has a capacity for 4,266 guests and employs 1,733 crewmembers. Built in 2015 the ship is still the largest in the NCL fleet in terms of guest capacity. It towered over the other ships with its 20 decks filled with entertainment, from waterslides to obstacle courses and zip lines to multiple pools, spas, and many dining venues to choose from.
- Lots to explore, lots of choices
- Great shows, including two Broadway-style productions
- Dine at a different place almost every night, even for free
- Fairly new and in good condition with modern amenities
- Reasonable wi-fi coverage (albeit expensive)
- Even a few TV channels at sea like news and movies aside from the usual ship promotion channels
- Good-size gym with weights, nautilus style machines and lots of cardio equipment
- Everything is crowded, especially pools and spas, sea days make the pool area look like a can of sardines
- Shows have to be booked and most were filled before the cruise even started
- Harder to get into some ports due to size (even causing some ports to dredge up coral reefs to accommodate!)
- Jogging path dismal; only a small square around a small section of the ship (not the full tour) and lounge chairs are lined along the path
- Impossible to walk around the ship, many areas are blocked off to accommodate the various venues
- Nickel-and-dime the guests for everything from $5 bowling, $4 ice creams, etc.
- Constant pressure selling for excursions, CruiseNext deposits etc.
To us it seemed that there were twice as many people to about the same amount of common space leading to extreme crowding (especially on sea days) of the pools, sundecks and spas. The ship has created some ‘special venues’ for its Haven guests and other pay-as-you-go things like ice cream parlors and à-la-carte restaurants.
We were surprised to see that even the 20-foot bowling alley had a ‘$5 a game’ charge, no wonder it was empty most of the time. We stuck mostly to the free venues to get a good sense of what was included. The food was good and we enjoyed every meal and venue.
While we did try the waterslides, these take up a huge part of the ship and are really more of a novelty item. We’re told that the new Bliss will also have a go-kart track on it. While it sounds good in the brochure, in reality the space is limited and you’ll never get something comparable to what you could get on land. It’s really just a check box on the marketing brochure being able to say you have it. I’m sure it won’t be very exciting, nor were the slides.
We’ve been used to having some special theme nights on cruises like fruit carving, or a chocolate night with special creations, a midnight buffet, or even a parade of baked Alaska or lobster dinner on one of the nights of the cruise. None of this was present on the Escape, perhaps too hard to organize with no good place to accommodate all guests.
Even the buffet area was exactly the same every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For sure this is huge and with some self control you can limit yourself to a few different selections to make for variety from day to day, but aside from one night of seafood which was unique, the rest of the evenings did not have any themes.
Cruising and conservation
The Escape has beautiful Guy Harvey paintings of sea creatures on the hull and we saw signs that a portion of proceeds goes to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
The various T-Shirts on board advertising ‘NCL and Conservation’ had to make us laugh however, as it’s hard to put both a 4,200 passenger cruise ship and conservation in the same sentence. Add to that some blatant examples (which we have written to NCL about) such as single use plastic cups, plastic straws and bottles and a mountain of promotional paperwork in our rooms every night, we can see that the cruise line is still has a long way to go.
Another sad example for us was the morning pastry basket. Each table would get a basket of 6-8 pastries and we watched in dismay as the servers poured these into the wastebasket from each table as often they were left untouched. We asked the head waiter why they didn’t come around with a small tray asking people to choose one or two. His answer: “Yes we used to do that but it’s a new company policy”. Meanwhile we were docked outside Jamaica where many live in poverty and are hungry. We do hope that NCL can do a little more to eliminate waste, and a little more towards conservation.
Overall I think my own reaction is that I prefer the smaller ships. It’s nice to have an early and a late show to choose from every night, instead of scrambling to reserve tickets and find the various venues or choose between competing acts. A few less people to crowd the pools and spas and a little more room to stretch out in the lounge chairs. We also really missed being able to walk around the ship as an after dinner stroll.
So while we did finally give in to the pressure to buy another cruise deposit voucher (I guess all that pressure does work!) I think that this time we will look to get onto a smaller ship once again. Our main focus will still be the itinerary, but given a choice the smaller ship would be our preference. NCL is going through refurbishing of their fleet and with some luck we might even have a freshly updated ship when we get out on our next cruise. More to come and we’ll certainly provide updates as our plans evolve.
Let us know your own favorite cruise destination.