Norwegian Escape is the latest in ship to be launched by Norwegian Cruise Lines whose parent company also owns Regent Seven Seas and Oceania.
The ship is very similar to Breakaway and Getaway and carries on the theme of a complete resort at sea with a range of entertainment, activities and dining options to suit all tastes. We had just a brief sailing on the ship but, having experienced two almost identical ships, this was enough to get a good feeling on what this ship is all about.
Our balcony cabin was one of 1130, but accommodation ranges from the exclusive Haven suites, essentially a ship within a ship, to 82 single studios, also in an exclusive part of the ship. Norwegian remains the only cruise line specifically to address the singles market. The exclusive single studios area also contains a two deck high lounge and bar, enabling guests to mingle socially knowing that everyone else there is also a single traveller. It even has a white board so that people can leave messages, for example, to arrange ad hoc groups to explore ports of call.
Our cabin felt narrow although there was ample storage space. There was even a single-cup coffee maker, although despite adequate supplies of milk and sugar, there was no coffee! Where Norwegian excels is its bathrooms. It was well lit, had a trough-like wash basin that accommodates two taps, and a large glass shower cubicle. The shower itself was among the best I have seen with not only an adjustable overhead unit but three pairs of jets down the side which could be operated separately, enabling guests to shower with no risk of wet hair.
Public areas in the covered decks are limited primarily those around the atrium. Even the open decks do not offer a great deal of room as much of the space is taken up by large water slides and a three-deck-high ropes course. The ship may well become cramped and crowded on sea days.
Norwegian operates a freedom dining arrangement, there are no fixed dining times, no formal nights and shorts are allowed all but two of the dining areas. You can eat free in the buffet, Manhattan Room, offering dancing and live music, O’Sheehan’s Bar, Savor and Taste, these last two being akin to other ships’ main dining rooms. There are nine other places to eat but at extra cost. Moderno & Teppanyaki have cover charges – the other seven are a la carte..
Many of the restaurants open onto a boardwalk so diners have the option to eat inside or outside, an ideal set-up bearing in mind this ship is designed for Caribbean itineraries.
We ate in Food Republic, an a la carte restaurant offering dishes from Asia, Central Europe and the Mediterranean. We were seated on bar stools with backs, at tall tables holding six people. The idea is to order a number of dishes which you then share. Guests order using iPads on the table then swipe their card to pay. The restaurant is probably more suited to family groups, was noisy, lacking in atmosphere and I’m not sure asking guests to get to grips with the restaurant’s technology is what one would expect when paying extra to eat in a speciality restaurant. The food, however was unusual with some great flavours.
The ship’s design seemed to be focused on functionality with little attempt to bring art and design flair into the mix. It veered towards the IKEA end of the scale and was in obvious contrast to the eye-catching Anthem of the Seas which we had experienced a few months earlier.
The 18% service charge is now standard on Norwegian ships and they have also increased their gratuity charge to $13.50 per passenger per day. However, this charge is not compulsory and I suspect that increasing numbers of British guests may choose not to have this added to their on-board account.
Children are well catered for with Entourage, a teens-only lounge, and the Splash Academy for younger kids. There is also a nursery, a first for Norwegian, offering childcare for kids aged six months to three years and including an open play area for parents and babies.
Disabled passengers are also looked after. There are 46 wheelchair accessible staterooms, including two suites, four mini-suites, 16 Balconies, eight Ocean Views and 16 Insides. All feature collapsible shower benches mounted on the shower walls, toilets have collapsible arm guards and there are lowered ADA height wash basins. Amenities in the staterooms include vibrating alarm clock, door beacon (light flashes when someone knocks on the door), television with closed caption decoders and fire alarm (flashing light). Each stateroom has permanently lit emergency lights in its living area and bathroom. Braille text is available in all staterooms and elevators. Hearing-impaired kits are available to guests by request.
Norwegian also places great store by its entertainment. There is, of course, a main theatre as well as old favourites, Headliners Comedy Club and Howl at the Moon. There are numerous themed bars and lounges and a casino which combine to create a comprehensive range of options for evening entertainment.
Escape certainly offers a wide range of accommodation, entertainment and guest facilities, but I can’t help wondering if it is trying too hard to be all things to all people.