Escape! Feb 10-17 Trip Report & Review

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#1
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Planning, researching, and reading reviews for the last year+ was half of the fun for me. My husband was happy to let me do my planning thing and just be ‘along for the ride’ when the time came. The two of us actually got away for a whole week together, without kids, for the first time in almost forever - so our trip basically consisted of eat, do something lazy, eat again… repeat. This trip report will likely be long and detailed - if that is not your thing, bail now!!! Two things I am definitely not: a light packer and concise bullet-point-style writer. There will be no refunds given for any future reading time wasted. You’ve been warned.

We are in our early 40’s (as established by POA1 - early 40’s is anything under 45!) and this was our first cruise.

Yes, ever.

We live close to Lake Michigan and our family vacations have usually been spent on it’s shores… looks like the ocean, no salt, no hostile sea creatures you need to avoid, and powdery sand beaches for miles and miles. However, sun & swim season here is pretty much limited to July and August unless you are part polar bear.

*Side Note* DH had a series major surgeries in his early-20’s and has been in physical therapy of some sort for the last two decades. When we booked this cruise over a year ago, he was dealing with daily pain (as usual) but didn’t have major mobility issues. That changed late last year and he has been walking with a cane since then. Stairs, and any extended length of walking ranges from painful to just not possible. Thanks to a fellow CC member, I learned about scooter and wheelchair rentals from Special Needs at Sea and we reserved an electric scooter in advance of our cruise. More about that later. I also called Norwegian’s ‘Access Desk’, told them we rented a scooter, and had DH noted as needing wheelchair assistance.

This cruise was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Since our anniversary lands right in the middle of family-holiday-insanity - not to mention Caribbean hurricane season - we thought a February cruise might be a wiser choice.

Except for potential blizzards and flying out of MI… whoops… somewhat forgot to figure that in.

Thursday | February 8th
We were planning on getting up early Friday morning to drive to Detroit for our 8:30am flight. By Wednesday the forecasts for Friday early am were Winter Storm Warnings and blizzard conditions… so we booked a last minute room at the Comfort Inn Metro Airport in Romulus in hopes of avoiding nasty driving conditions. We had mostly clear roads on the way there and checked into our room. Good, clean, affordable hotel within a mile of the airport. No complaints. The in-hotel restaurant looked ok to grab a drink at, but wasn’t somewhere we wanted to risk eating dinner. A quick check on TripAdvisor led us to Merriman Street Grill which looked like a small, family-run place with great food. It was busy at 9pm on a Thursday night which I took as a good sign. They have an extensive menu with tons of variety and we opted for the steak fajitas (me) and beef burrito (dh). Both were good-would order again. Definitely look them up if you are in the area!

*ANOTHER Side Note* I love to cook, grill a fabulous steak, pretend I’m Italian and make pasta, grow fresh ingredients, etc… SO - food on this cruise was important to us me. At the same time, I realized that I needed to manage my expectations considering they had the task of feeding 4,000+ people a day. Food photos will follow (when I remembered to take them) with my OPINIONS. Food - and service - is nothing if not subjective!
#3
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Friday | February 9th

I waited a long time to see this on my ShipMate app!




The meteorologists actually got the forecast right and we woke up to heavy snow falling. After a predictable hotel continental breakfast (meh, but we wouldn’t starve before reaching Miami), we left for the airport. Pulling into the long term parking garage I realized that I had definitely dropped the research ball here as it was quite a bit more $ per day than I thought I read on the website. In my defense - researching parking at the airport is not nearly as fun as researching cruise ships and ports. Deciding to just go with it, we found a nice close parking place and put off thinking about the $23/day fee until we returned.

The airport was great at noticing mobility issues and ushered us to the shorter lines a few times which was much appreciated. It was going to be a long day and the less steps for DH, the better. Once settled at our gate and waiting to board, a look out the windows at the white-out conditions made me nervous.



The odds for flying out any time soon did not look promising. I have to say, I am incredibly impressed at the not-so-small army of people it takes to run that airport in inclement weather. Snow plow teams consisting of 3-4 plows each were running non-stop circuits trying to keep a runway or two open. More teams of de-icing vehicles sprayed down every inch of one plane after another. Stuff you know they do and don’t really think about until you NEED them to do it so you can get to Miami before a ship LEAVES WITHOUT YOU! We ended up taking off around 9am - only half an hour past the original departure time. Others later in the day were not as fortunate, so I am extremely thankful we booked an early flight a day in advance of our cruise.

Flying over Florida… the first beaches were spotted! SO HAPPY







Our hotel reservation Friday night was for the Courtyard Marriott Miami Airport. They offered a complimentary hotel shuttle that supposedly ran every 15 minutes… 35 minutes later it finally came. The hotel was located in a gated compound of three Marriott hotels that all shared an outdoor area and pool.



Our room wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of hours, so we grabbed lunch at Champions Sports Bar which was adjacent to the lobby. I had the fish tacos - Baja style in soft flour tortillas with shredded cabbage slaw, salsa, and lime ranch. Lots of flavor and very good. Would definitely order again. I don’t remember what DH had. I was still in a we-actually-made-it-to-Miami! mood and didn’t start taking notes until we were on the ship.

Dinner: There is a Cane Fire Grill which is a more upscale restaurant located in one of the other Marriott hotels - just across the pool/outdoor area. However, for convenience, we ate at the Champions Sports Bar again for dinner. This time I had the Miami Press sandwich - slow roasted pork, swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and mojo sauce. After my fish tacos at lunch I was expecting flavor and this was just really really bland and dry. Would not order again.

Our room was nice, clean, and overlooked the existing highway AND the construction on the nearby overpass - where there was a jackhammer running all. night. long. Thankfully we could barely hear it on the 10th floor with the fan running. From overhearing guests the next morning, others were not so happy. Hey - there were palm trees in the distance out our window - how could I not be happy?!
#4
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Saturday | February 10th | CRUISE DAY!!!
We woke up to a beautiful Miami day!



We went down for the hotel breakfast buffet (which was an upgrade included in our room rate). Back to the Champion Sports Bar where the buffet was set up. You could order made-to-order omelets to compliment the buffet offerings, but there was no need. The buffet had a wide range of eggs, bacon, sausage, ham croquettes (yum), fresh fruit, pastries… very well done and a great way to start the day. If you stay at this hotel, the breakfast is worth adding to the room rate or just paying the $15/pp.

Time to get to port! We called an Uber XL (Remember, I am not known for my light packing abilities - ha!) and it took forever for the driver to figure out how to get into the compound. We should have taken the clue and cancelled him and gone with someone else. But we didn’t. The “arrive in 2 minutes” turned into 20+ before he pulled up. He was a man of very few words. I’m not even sure he understood us. Or could read traffic signs. And the biggest problem - he didn’t know the cruise port area. We had to read signs and give him directions. NOT FUN to do when you’ve never been there yourself.

I spy the Escape all the way on the left!



Finally, we made it. Big sigh of relief! It was about 9:30-9:45am and it was obvious that we were early.

Really early.

The area was mass chaos and flooded with departing passengers. My ‘early is better’ rule may not apply here. We finally found a porter that was taking luggage and got into the line for security. Once they started putting people through security it went quite quickly.

We went up the escalator, filled out the medical forms, and looked around for the Special Needs at Sea kiosk where we were supposed to pick up the scooter. Nothing in sight - if it was we are blind as bats and missed it (possible). Here is the thing - the form we had was not clear. It says pick up at kiosk and then the paragraph under that says it will be delivered to your stateroom.

So, we got into the “special assistance” check-in line. Surely they will know!? Nope. I showed the check-in person our paperwork from Special Needs at Sea and he had to go ask his supervisor about it. She quickly scanned the paperwork and came back telling us it will be in our stateroom because that is what it says on the form (at least the part she was looking at). Okay. Fine. We were directed up another escalator to the embarkation waiting area. They did not note that we were first time cruisers, or note “wheelchair assistance”, or say anything about it even though it was clearly on our NCL cruise docs. AND WE WERE IN THE SPECIAL ASSISTANCE LINE. But, this being our first ever cruise & not knowing any better, we did as directed thinking that help would be available where we were going.

Once in the waiting area, boarding group 2 card in hand, I realized DH was going to need to board the ship via all the ramps with everyone else. Ugh. I found someone in NCL attire and asked if she could point us to where there was wheelchair assistance or assisted embarkation. She went to check with someone else, returned after 5-10 minutes and said we’d have to go all the way back to the check-in area downstairs if we wanted a wheelchair, because that is where they handled that. Um, no. At this point I’m feeling like no one at NCL is trained for any of this AT ALL. Very frustrating. Long story short - when they started boarding - they called for what sounded like (it was really loud in there and impossible to hear clearly) special assistance passengers along with boarding group 1. So we went. It’s not like we were running for Vibe passes. DH managed. He always has a can-do attitude. We just stuck to the side of the ramps, went slowly, and let others pass us.

Whew! We were on the ship!!! The cruise staff had a great energy and made you feel welcome when you boarded. We made it inside, and sat down in the Atrium for a rest & a drink.



Next we stopped at Guest Services for a quick hole punch in our cards, and made our way to Taste/Savor for lunch. (thank you Cruise Critic) They DO try to divert everyone to the buffet - even a sign sitting on the hostess stations at Taste/Savor had an advertisement for embarkation lunch at the Garden Cafe. We took a much-needed seat on the couches and waited for the dining room to open. Next to us were two nice ladies reading the daily that they had picked up at Guest Services right away (smart - will do that next time) and we learned they had been on over 80 cruises together! They said we picked a good cruise line for our first cruise and told us about the fish on the carpets (which I knew from CC, but it was sweet of them to try to help us not get hopelessly lost).

Lunch at Savor | Our server was Idania. She was great and we were happy to see her a couple of other times throughout the week. We chose Savor over Taste because it had the water view - which we enjoyed at our table by the window.






Today’s menu. I think this is the only Main Dining Room menu I photographed all week.

#5
Long Island NY
146 Posts
Joined Aug 2004
Great review so far, MaryBethV! Your writing is entertaining and I can't wait to read the rest.

-Janine
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#6
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Apps ordered were hummus & pita (DH) and potato skins with crab salad (me). Potato skins were fine. Crab salad was quite mayo-heavy with not much crab flavor. Hummus was good, but nothing special. Not bad, but wouldn’t order either app again. For entrees - DH had the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and creamed corn. He said it was delicious - juicy chicken and really good corn. I had a taste of his corn and it was in fact freshly shaved sweet corn. Yum! I had the Shrimp Arrabiata - penne pasta with spicy tomato sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano (I am a bit of a cheese snob - happy to see the use of quality ingredients). It was delicious, served piping hot, and it actually had a good amount of flavor and spice. Not bland at all. Would order both entrees again. Dessert was Key Lime Parfait and some fresh fruit to share. Neither one of us have much of a sweet tooth, but DH loves Key Lime Pie. This was not key lime pie (obviously). I had a small taste and DH had the rest. OK, but wouldn’t order again. Overall - quite impressed with the service and food for our first meal on-ship!









After lunch we took a little walk around the top deck areas. It was such a gorgeous day and beautiful Miami views in every direction!




#7
7,573 Posts
Joined Feb 2008
Originally posted by MaryBethV
Friday | February 9th

I waited a long time to see this on my ShipMate app!




The meteorologists actually got the forecast right and we woke up to heavy snow falling. After a predictable hotel continental breakfast (meh, but we wouldn’t starve before reaching Miami), we left for the airport. Pulling into the long term parking garage I realized that I had definitely dropped the research ball here as it was quite a bit more $ per day than I thought I read on the website. In my defense - researching parking at the airport is not nearly as fun as researching cruise ships and ports. Deciding to just go with it, we found a nice close parking place and put off thinking about the $23/day fee until we returned.

The airport was great at noticing mobility issues and ushered us to the shorter lines a few times which was much appreciated. It was going to be a long day and the less steps for DH, the better. Once settled at our gate and waiting to board, a look out the windows at the white-out conditions made me nervous.



The odds for flying out any time soon did not look promising. I have to say, I am incredibly impressed at the not-so-small army of people it takes to run that airport in inclement weather. Snow plow teams consisting of 3-4 plows each were running non-stop circuits trying to keep a runway or two open. More teams of de-icing vehicles sprayed down every inch of one plane after another. Stuff you know they do and don’t really think about until you NEED them to do it so you can get to Miami before a ship LEAVES WITHOUT YOU! We ended up taking off around 9am - only half an hour past the original departure time. Others later in the day were not as fortunate, so I am extremely thankful we booked an early flight a day in advance of our cruise.

Flying over Florida… the first beaches were spotted! SO HAPPY







Our hotel reservation Friday night was for the Courtyard Marriott Miami Airport. They offered a complimentary hotel shuttle that supposedly ran every 15 minutes… 35 minutes later it finally came. The hotel was located in a gated compound of three Marriott hotels that all shared an outdoor area and pool.



Our room wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of hours, so we grabbed lunch at Champions Sports Bar which was adjacent to the lobby. I had the fish tacos - Baja style in soft flour tortillas with shredded cabbage slaw, salsa, and lime ranch. Lots of flavor and very good. Would definitely order again. I don’t remember what DH had. I was still in a we-actually-made-it-to-Miami! mood and didn’t start taking notes until we were on the ship.

Dinner: There is a Cane Fire Grill which is a more upscale restaurant located in one of the other Marriott hotels - just across the pool/outdoor area. However, for convenience, we ate at the Champions Sports Bar again for dinner. This time I had the Miami Press sandwich - slow roasted pork, swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and mojo sauce. After my fish tacos at lunch I was expecting flavor and this was just really really bland and dry. Would not order again.

Our room was nice, clean, and overlooked the existing highway AND the construction on the nearby overpass - where there was a jackhammer running all. night. long. Thankfully we could barely hear it on the 10th floor with the fan running. From overhearing guests the next morning, others were not so happy. Hey - there were palm trees in the distance out our window - how could I not be happy?!
We too stayed at Compund De Marriott back in August. Funny you mention the overpass. We stayed at the Residence Inn so didn't hear noise but we did use the pool (a biit rundown IMO) and they were pile driving the whole time.

We also tried Champions for dinner and had good food and service. One in our group got the tacos as well.
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#10
4,281 Posts
Joined Dec 2014
Great review so far.

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#11
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Rooms weren’t quite ready yet - so next up was a quick tour of the thermal spa area. We had a spa balcony room with thermal spa access for the week so it was great to have a look around and check things out. The couple on the tour with us did not have access and I believe the spa staff person said that it was $259/pp for the week and passes would probably sell out that day.

The view right over the captain’s level was great! Couldn't wait to be in this spot while at sea.


I miss these stone loungers already…


The hot tub and therapy pool.


Loved that they provided water, fruit (usually small oranges), and tea!


Sat for a minute to rest and enjoy the view.


#14
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
After our spa tour, our rooms were ready! We were in room 15144 on the port side just a couple of rooms forward of the forward elevators. My first thought was small compared to a hotel room on land, yes - but actually more spacious than I was expecting. Not sure I’d want to share one with a couple of our kids (messy teenagers) though!








A bottle of sparkling something-or-other. Not sure if it is standard in a spa balcony room or if it was for our anniversary - but thank you NCL.



Our bed was next to the balcony and we both found the bed was a good quality - firm enough not to hurt your back and soft enough to be comfortable.



The balcony was great! Not something I’d want to cruise without. We enjoyed coffee and/or breakfast on the balcony a few times and it was a perfect place to see the ship coming into and leaving ports. There was ample storage for two people (and probably even more as there were shelves we never even used). Packing cubes were very helpful to put on the closet shelves. We also appreciated tips from other CC members regarding magnetic hooks for the metal walls to hang little things on (such as hats, sunglasses, lanyards, etc.) and over the door hooks (which we ended up putting on the shelf under our tv). These little things really helped keep the room in a semi-organized state.






The bathroom: Next time we cruise I will bring something to hold small items in the bathroom. There are no drawers, just shelves. A bunch of little bottles and bags are kind-of a pain to deal with all week. We have a cruise booked on the Getaway this spring with our four kids who will be in the room next to us (ages 13-23) and I think I will also bring a hanging shoe organizer for over their bathroom door. We didn’t need one, but they are going to need all the organizational help they can get!! I'm going to start praying for their room steward now lol (and saving up for his or her much-deserved daily tips!). Also - in the shower - a bar for shaving legs would be really nice. Practically standing on one’s head with razor blades in hand on a moving ship - what could possibly go wrong?
#16
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
The spa balcony room came with a few upgraded amenities. There were two robes (I made use of mine all week, DH didn’t use his) and two pairs of slippers (which we didn’t see hiding in the corner of the closet under the robes until we were re-packing on the last day). In the bathroom there are small bottles of shampoo (OK), conditioner (adequate, but glad I brought a little of my own from home), and lotion (didn’t use) as well as a round bar of soap (didn’t use).



In addition to these were the standard amenities in the bathroom. The hand soap in a wall dispenser was nice (and why we never used the bar of soap). There were also two dispensers in the shower - one with a combined shampoo/conditioner (would NOT work for my hair - I’d look like a Chia Pet all week with the humidity!) and body wash (does not lather/suds). For our next cruise in a non-spa cabin I will be bringing my own shampoo, conditioner, and maybe even body wash. DH doesn’t really care and will use whatever is there.

Anybody want to guess what wasn’t in our room?

That’s right - the scooter. UGH. A trip down to the Guest Services desk to inquire about it & they thankfully had it in a room right behind guest services and brought it out for us. SO, it ended up not being at either a kiosk or in our room. I’m pretty sure a scooter is a fairly common thing, but it seemed like a rare occurance to all the staff we encountered. Or maybe they think all cruisers know what they are doing and have dealt with this before… which obviously was not us. Ha!

Here it is in our room. We found that if we took the front basket off and pulled it straight in right up next to the counter/desk, then we could get the bathroom door to open fully. We could also easily get around it and out the main door into the hallway when we weren’t using it.



Our room steward… some of our luggage arrived within an hour or so and our room steward, Bristol, briefly introduced himself. He was very nice and was obviously incredibly busy. The first day I left a little note asking if we could possibly have some ice, an extra pillow, and an extra bath towel. That night we had ice (and 2x per day every day after), two extra pillows and two extra bath towels (which we also had all week). Our room was always neat and clean. Cute towel animals made us smile when we came back each evening as well. Bristol was always friendly when we saw him in the hallway and courteously moved his cart for us to get the scooter by on a couple of occasions. He ended up being one of our “cruise hero’s” (I couldn’t pick just one person, so I filled out a few of the cards) and we greatly appreciated how hard he worked to make our stay enjoyable.
#17
Michigan
253 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Sail Away | We had amazing views from our port side balcony while leaving Miami! The Carnival Vista and another cruise ship headed out before we did.










#20
Ottawa, Canada
306 Posts
Joined Oct 2014
Hi, we are going on the March 10 Escape and I had a quick question: where can I buy those amazing metal magnetic hooks you bought, as any organizing help would be beneficial for 3 people in our family in one cabin! Awesome review so far, and hope to hear your reviews of the shows and ports of call. Cheers!

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Diane