It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, kicked off by a cruise on the Norwegian Escape that sailed on 11/19, the first full 7 day sailing since the ship arrived in the US. While I plan to go in to more detail in future posts, I wanted to get one out on our overall impressions of Norwegian’s newest ship. First, a little history.
I’ve mentioned before that we haven’t cruised NCL in quite a while due to issues we had on our first sailing with them, on the NCL Jewel in March of 2006. The MDR food on that sailing was horrible, but that paled in comparison to an injury our daughter suffered to one of her hands due to negligence on the part of one of NCL’s tour operators. NCL’s response to the incident was pretty bad as well, and that played a big part in our decision to stay away from them as long as we have.
Fast forward to this year, and our company’s national conference aboard their newest ship, giving us the chance to see how much has changed with the line. It was just my wife and I, and we both went in with open minds. So what did we think? In a word: Redemption. We had a blast, and saw that many things have changed for the better. As mentioned, I plan to go into more detail on certain areas in later posts, but here’s the overall pros and cons list:
- It’s a beautiful ship, not gaudy like others.
- Our room, a standard balcony, was excellent. Having the bed next to the balcony door was great, there was plenty of storage space for the two of us, and there were more outlets (including USB ports in each of the bed-side lights) than most ships we’ve sailed. The bathroom layout was great too, with a ton of shelf space.
- The food was much better than last time. We only ate at the included restaurants on 4 occasions on this sailing, with all being good. The only place we had food we really didn’t like was in the Supper Club during the “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show.
- The specialty restaurants we ate at were outstanding. I’ll go in to more detail later, but the list of ones we ate at: Cagney’s, Teppanyaki, Food Republic, Moderno, and La Cucina. Some of the best specialty restaurants we’ve eaten at on any ship.
- The “For The Record: The Brat Pack” show was one of the best shows we’ve seen on a ship. Again, the food in here was pretty bad in our opinion (as was the service), but the show more than made up for it.
- We never felt like there were 4,000+ people on the ship, even when debarking in each port. Getting off in port went a lot smoother than other sailings on smaller ships.
- The staff was outstanding. It can’t be easy dealing with over 700 travel agents, and they all did a great job all week.
- The photo setup is cool. Whenever you get your picture taken, they scan your card, and your pictures are put into a specific folder for you in the photo area, so no searching through dozens of other pictures to hunt yours down.
- The only slide we had the chance to ride (due to the others being closed during times we were free), but the AquaRacer is a blast, especially with the tandem tubes. There’s a shot taken from the clear section of it while Jen and I were riding tandem in my pictures below. Here’s the full video of that same run:
- The smell of smoke around the casino is flat out bad. We noticed it as soon as we got on while walking around the Atrium, as the smell is already embedded in everything in the casino, and the ship only had two sailings prior to ours. The problem here is that it’s in a central area, being open to the Atrium like other ships in it’s class, so you have to put up with it any time you walk through there. They need better ventilation here.
- The movement of the ship, even in calm seas, is more than we remember on any past cruise. It was rocking back and forth pretty much the whole cruise, and at one point even started getting to me, and I’ve never gotten motion sick in my life. Someone mentioned that NCL was using smaller keel technology, not sure if that’s true, but whatever the issue is, it’s very noticeable based on a number of people I heard complaining about it both on the ship and after the cruise. It also caused a constant creaking sound in our room as the ship rocked.
- Lack of bar staff. There was almost always a wait at the bars when we went up to get our soda cups refilled. In most cases, there was only one person behind the bar, which during the day on sea days was problematic when there were 10+ people waiting for drinks of some kind.
- Margaritaville’s setup is bad. Good food, and the same key lime pie from the main restaurants, but the wait was ridicu-bad. On sea days, it wasn’t uncommon to find a 2+ hour wait around meal times (we got in after a 40min wait on a port day), all while half the tables sat empty. We heard after the cruise that the kitchen in there was too small to keep up with the demand when full. Again, no idea if that’s true, but regardless, they had to deal with it. They’ve since changed it from a free option to charging for items a-la-carte. It actually started with the 11/28 sailing, which IMO is wrong. Announce and give people warning it’s coming, but to blindly do it right as people are about to get on just feels wrong.
- I’ll say it again, the food and service in the Supper Club for the Brat Pack show were both bad, start to finish. Both can be fixed, so hopefully Norwegian listens to the feedback from us and other guests.
- I’m not a fan of their “Freestyle” setup. I get the point, it allows guests to only pay for the food and shows they want, but it means having to plan part of your schedule ahead of time. We felt like we needed to make reservations for specialty restaurants and shows before we cruised, which doesn’t really feel “freestyle” to us. We also don’t like the lack of assigned MDR seating from one aspect: getting to know your servers. It’s always fun getting to know them, and in many cases they learn your habits and will have things ready for you that they know you’ll want.
- The outside setup on the ship is odd. There isn’t much space on the upper decks to hang out on sea days due to a good chunk of the space being taken up by clubs. The open area around the main pool is tiny compared to other ships we’ve been on, and my own pet peeve, the only place to watch the wake coming off the back of the ship (outside of aft cabins) is deck 8, which has no chairs to sit and enjoy it on. Spice H2O takes up the other good spot, with a huge video display taking up the center of the back of the deck.
- The main theater’s design is just, well, bland. It’s really the only area of the ship where my earlier “it’s beautiful” comment doesn’t apply. Additionally, whoever designed the cup holders needs to be reassigned. They aren’t big enough to hold NCL’s own soda package cups, unless you put one of their plastic water cups in there first and then put your soda cup in that (picture below).
- The announcements from, well, anyone, were pretty difficult to hear and understand, when we actually got any. Example: when waiting to get off in ports, we never got any updates as to when they expected to be able to allow us off, or even where to go, so people were just sort of wandering around until we finally got the announcement that the gangway was open. On other lines, our CDs have been good with ensuring guests are kept up to date with any delays, where to go after debark starts, etc.
- Show scheduling was an issue all week. Our early show the night we boarded (The Brat Pack) was cancelled due to cast illness, with them re-booking us for the later show, which was also cancelled. We ended up seeing it the next night, but ours wasn’t the only show with this issue. Million Dollar Quartet also had cast illness (heard later it was Jerry Lee Lewis) that resulted in them cancelling the last 3 nights of shows. They did fly in Tenors of Rock for the final night, which we caught, but whatever was going on with the other cast members must have been bad (hope they’re okay), we’ve never seen show cancellations like this.
Yea, there were a few negatives above, but all in all it was a great week that gave us a much better experience this time around, and we’d definitely sail them again as a result. I’m not going to comment on the cruise director, her staff, or any of the on-board activities they run, as we never had time to enjoy any of it. On sea days, we were in sessions for our conference and missed out on all of that.
I’ll be posting reviews of the specialty restaurants and our excursions separately, but in the meantime, enjoy some shots of the ship! Oh, and that last picture calls out one more highlight from the cruise: Guy Harvey was on board for this sailing!