Well, the family has just returned from a 7 day Carribean Cruise on the Escape and I thought I
would share some thoughts before I have a Senior Moment and forget them.
There were five of us; grandfather, grandmother, daughter and two grandchildren, ages 9 and
13. The 13 year old is in a wheelchair, and I want to mention firstly that the passengers and
crew both went out of their way to assist him wherever he went. Folks gave him lots of space in
elevators, etc. Crew members carried his tray in the buffet, passengers gave up seats for him in
the restaurants and so on. He loved the Teen Club and made friends from all over the world.
Several of the older boys even piggybacked him up the many steps to the top of the giant water
slides numerous times. He was accepted without question. It was a wonderful experience for
him. The 9 year old loved the Splash Academy. The staff there provided very well planned
activities and he went back many times. His favorite was Mission Impossible night!
Okay, now I must comment on children. I am a nice guy; I am a grandfather; I like children; I
even like other people's children. I don't like other people's children when they are not
disciplined properly. Why are they turned loose in the buffet to run at full speed and knock
plates out of passengers hands? (I saw it three times) There were more children on this cruise
than any other I have been on. That's fine; I brought 2 of them myself. But we kept an eye on
them and assured that they behaved and were polite. Let's face it; there are lots of people on this
ship. Sometimes they all seem to be in the same place at once. Some of these folks are quite
elderly. Why can't parents teach respect and courtesy? End of Rant #1.
Embarkation and Disembarkation: Both were acomplished very quickly and efficiently. Lots of check-in staff at the Terminal, and we walked right on to the ship at around 11:45am. The Muster Drioll was a zoo, but it has been that way on every cruise I have been on. The ship departs Miami at 7:00pm. I had purchased NCL’s airport transportation and the buses were there and ready to load as we left the ship. We were at the airport in Miami by 9:45am.
The Buffet; on Sea Days it is a madhouse. Go either early or later and walk toward the rear of
the food lines; less crazy but still loud and crowded. The food was quite good when you finally
got to it. The serving areas were kept clean and neat. There were the usual line-jumpers, but
that's everywhere I guess. Tables were cleared quickly and the staff was very friendly.
I was surprised that men without shirts were allowed in the buffet. It directly adjoins the
swimming pool, so I guess that is why, but there is a very nice outdoor eating area that the
shirtless ones could (should) use. I'm not a snob, but I found it distasteful. You will enjoy your
meals much, much more in one of the dining rooms. You paid for service, didn't you? During the
crazy times, especially breakfast, it really does not take much longer anyway. What's your hurry,
anyhow? The food is better and the atmosphere is relaxing. Reservations are not needed. I should add that it was very enjoyable on port days! Breakfast was do-able but go early. The custom made omelets are worth the trip!
Another disappointment with the buffet was their advertised “seafood buffet”. I guess I expected more, but it was simply one small section of the serving line. The shrimp and crab legs were good, but the mob scene and the pushing and shoving kept me from going back for seconds. NCL actually had to position several kitchen supervisors at the section to keep order. It could have been done lots better. In contrast, the “prime rib” evenings were reasonable. Several carving stations and large portions. If you don’t like rare or medium rare prime rib, they will grill it for you to your liking. Don’t hesitate to ask.
O'Sheehans Pub: Really, really good food but it's location across from the Atrium makes it
almost impossible to carry on a conversation due to the extreme volume from the various
games, raffles, movies and announcements.
Manhattan Room: I have only good things to say about this and the other “complimentary” dining rooms. The food was wonderful, the staff friendly and interested, and the atmosphere relaxing. I have heard others complain about the music, but it was not intrusive at all and never interfered with our conversation. Actually got to dance with my wife, and my daughter got our 9 and 13 year old to dance as well! The service was not slow, but very efficient and professional. Do you want your food well prepared or just fast? Some folks are just in too big of a hurry.
The Waterfront: This was, I think, a good idea that failed. This area consists of outdoor eating venues on Deck 8. They are only for several of the specialty restaurants, not the complementary dining rooms. In the 7 days of our cruise, I probably did not see 30 people eating in this area. It’s just too windy and hot. There are a few small lounge areas with chairs for sitting and reading, etc., but most is taken up by non-used tables. NCL would be better off converting this area to a casual lounge area. (They do put out coffee stations here early in the morning, and you can use the tables then for enjoying the somewhat cooler air.) Nice try, but no cigar.
Port Days: Ah, port days. Most of the passengers are off the ship, leaving things nice and quiet. Some things are closed (shops, casino) but the water parks, restaurants, most bars and so on are open and way less crowded. We did not leave the ship except to take a picture of the bow and the painting. Lunch in the Buffet is especially nice on port days.
Cabins: Very nice. The steward kept our cabin immaculate and anticipated needs. We never once had to ask for anything. Be careful: do not leave your “Do Not Disturb” light on when you leave the cabin. They really will not disturb anything when that light is on! If you want your room serviced, leave the “Make Up Room” light on.
i Concierge App: This was very handy for us. We purchased plans for 2 iPhones ($9.99 each, good for the entire cruise) This allowed us to send texts to each other and make voice calls to each other. Well worth the price. There were occasional drop-outs but they never lasted long. (The app does not work in the elevators)
Swimming Pools: If I heard one “universal” complaint about the ship, it was that the pools are too small. I think NCL concentrated on the water slides and rope course to the neglect of the pools. Way too small for the number of passengers. (We were on Holland America’s Volendam several years ago for an Alaska cruise; passengers 1200, and their pool was bigger!) And, NCL does not enforce it’s own deck chair reservation policy. They plainly state in each edition of the daily bulletin that any chair that contains a towel or other items and is not occupied for one hour will be cleared by the staff and made available for other passengers. I never saw it happen. There were towels on chairs at 6 in the morning. The water slides were thrilling, but the wait times can be long. (Hint: Port Days!)
Spice H2O: Adults only during the day, but again, not actually enforced. Really cool area for movies in the evening. We watched “Top Gun”, one of our favorite movies. The various late night dance parties here were fun, but bring earplugs.
Shows: Really top quality. We saw “The Brat Pack” and “After Midnight”...Both excellent!
“Howl at the Moon” (Used to be called “Dueling Pianos”)...Lots of fun. I appreciated that the piano players frequently announced that the show would be family friendly until 11:00 and then would change to adult. These guys can play any request. The room is small, however, so get there early.
Behind the Scenes Tour: This tour takes you to the galley, the food storage lockers, the recycling area and the laundry. Very interesting stuff. Lasts for 2 hours. I think it was overpriced ($79), but fun. Be prepared for lots of steps and slippery floors.
So, my conclusions:
Biggest Disappointment: The Buffet (atmosphere, not the food), very loud noise level in too many areas, unruly children, constant interruptions by the ship’s photographers
Biggest Likes: Main Dining Rooms, Friendly Crew, Comfortable Cabins
Would I recommend the Escape? Yes, with reservations: I would not describe it as a “party” ship, but don’t go if you are looking for peace and quiet. Too many people trying to do too many things at the same time. (I think “hectic” is a good word to describe it.) This was our first time on one of the “mega-ships” and will probably be our last. Choose a smaller ship or another cruise line. All in all, I would give it a B+...