Lake Worth, FL
CruiseClout score: 20.0
Norwegian Escape: Primed for action with an easygoing flair
The newest and largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, boasting 20 decks and holding more than 4,200 guests, Norwegian Escape is a premium ship with an upscale-ship flair, but make no mistake — at the core of the ship is an informal, easygoing “have fun at your own pace” attitude.
Although similar to her two Breakaway Class siblings, Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway, the Escape’s first-at-sea venues and more sophisticated design have elevated her to a new class, Breakaway Plus. She’s the first of four planned ships in this class.
Who will like sailing on Norwegian Escape
Guests who enjoy a bounty of bars, lounges and dining venues, or who like a wide array of sports and leisure activities and entertainment choices, will especially like Norwegian Escape. The ship offers a private area for teens, an Aqua Park for kids and a nursery for babies and toddlers, translating into a fun, relaxing time for couples, singles, honeymooners and multi-generational families. (Did I leave anyone out?)
Norwegian Escape, even with its stylish public areas, is a casual ship — its Caribbean itinerary reinforces this concept — encouraging passengers to dress casually, dine when they want and to be as laid back or as active as they want. During my brief cruise shortly after her debut in November 2015, I encountered American passengers almost exclusively, but this ship is the one for guests of all ages and nationalities who value informality and freedom of choice.
Where Norwegian Escape sails
Home port: Miami
Destinations: Norwegian Escape sails in and around the Caribbean and her cruises include the ports of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands and Nassau in the Bahamas.
Top dining options
Savor and Taste
Think of them as nouns as well as verbs: Savor and Taste. They are the ship’s complimentary main dining rooms and are located across from each other on deck 6. Menus are traditional: seafood, steak, poultry, salads, etc. Both are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Manhattan Room
The Manhattan Room, a third complimentary dining room, presents itself as a New York City supper club complete with dance floor, live music and panoramic windows that run from the floor up to the ceiling, two stories high. This is where I enjoyed one of the most succulent, cooked-to-pink-perfection prime ribs I’ve ever eaten, prefaced by the most palate-pleasing Manhattan clam chowder I have tasted. (I am compelled to say it: Yummy!)
The Escape is rich with specialty restaurants, which cost extra:
- Le Bistro offers upscale dining with a French flair. Have dinner at an inside table or on the patio. Advance reservations are recommended. Dress up a bit! No shorts allowed.
- Teppanyaki’s, a Japanese hibachi, offers steaks, chicken and seafood in a smallish venue that offers a cooking station where two chefs hold forth while preparing fresh ingredients on a large grill. It's as much an entertainment venue as a restaurant! Make reservations early, as it gets completely booked most nights.
- Bayamo, the first restaurant at sea from Iron Chef Jose Garces, specializes in Latin dishes with a Cuban influence. Typical plates include enchilado de langusta (lobster served with a spicy tomato sauce over rice) and bife de chorizo (Wagyu sirlion with potatoes and beet sauce). Al fresco seating on The Waterfront is a nice choice while dining at Bayamo.
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill
Whether it’s for a meal or a late-night nosh, O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill (deck 7, midship) is a round-the-clock sports bar serving comfort food like burgers, soups, Shepherd’s pie, sandwiches, etc.
Food Republic offers small a la carte plates of Asian and Mediterranean foods that guests order via iPad menus (which is cool).
Moderno Churrascaria is Norwegian’s signature Brazilian-style steakhouse.
La Cucina offers classic Tuscan dishes in a rustic setting.
Cagney’s Steakhouse serves Certified Angus Beef and traditional American comfort fare.
Margaritaville at Sea, with its Jimmy Buffett-inspired mellow atmosphere, offers signature items like the Cheeseburger in Paradise and Who’s to Blame Margaritas. Margaritaville at Sea is complimentary, which may partially explain its popularity. However, be aware there can be a long wait for seating.
One shortcoming to note: The Garden Café, though enjoyable, came up a bit short at breakfast time. The casual, buffet-style experience (deck 16) included a powdery “egg” mixture as opposed to the real thing.
Kudos to Norwegian Cruise Line for providing hand-washing stations located in several spots in the Café.
Guests seeking live band music or laugh-out-loud entertainment will have no trouble finding it at The Manhattan Room (mentioned above) or Headliners Comedy Club.
Two Tony Award-winning musicals play at the Escape Theater and they are a toe-tapping fun fest, as well. “AfterMidnight” brings to life the Duke Ellington era of Harlem’s Cotton Club, and “Million Dollar Quartet” pays tribute to the real-life 1956 lone jam session between Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The theater itself is simple and austere, almost industrial-looking, but that’s OK. Here, the play’s the thing.
At the cabaret-style Supper Club, guests on our cruise gave a standing ovation to the hard-working cast of “For the Record: The Brat Pack,” a celebration of John Hughes’ coming of age 1980 teen films (“The Breakfast Club,” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” etc.). Parents should be advised that the show can be a bit risqué and contained inappropriate language for young children.
The fixed three-course dinner served at the Supper Club was not memorable. Even more disappointing, though, was the uncomfortably long wait for service and the fact that the waiter never brought the appetizer. As usual, it takes time for new ships to get into a reliable rhythm.
Activities on board
Basketball or bocce ball, anyone? In addition to the de rigueur pools and whirlpools, Norwegian Escape features a sports complex on decks 18 and 19. If you ‘re the daring type, challenge yourself to the Ropes Course with two planks and five zip rails. There are more thrills at the Aqua Park, which includes the Aqua Racer (tandem racing slides).
Guests can also shape up in the state-of-the-art Fitness Center. If you'd rather chill out than work out, the Mandara Spa, spanning two decks, offers stress-busting treatments, 17 heated loungers, a hydro-therapy pool and a sauna and steam room.
The finishing touch is the Snow Room, reduced to a temperature of 21 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit while it produces a continuous flurry of powdery snow. The room is designed to rejuvenate guests and get their blood circulating. (I wonder how appealing this will be for guests trading bitter wintry weather in the Midwest and Northeast for the warmth of a Caribbean cruise!) I didn't indulge.
For those who prefer passive activities, there is a small library on board (a relaxing spot for reading or playing board games), overhead poolside screens for viewing movies and concerts and the Casino (deck 7), which I found perplexing.
First, the Casino is located so that it opens out to other decks and other areas, which means that cigarette smoke filters outward. (Yes, there's smoking in the Casino.) Additionally, hundreds of slot machines are broken up into several areas so that there was no avoiding them. I wasn’t surprised by the plethora of one-cent machines, but I was surprised that there were so few quarter machines.
The ship’s upscale boutiques, including Carolina Herrera, Chanel and Lacoste, are going to beckon guests who list shopping as a favorite activity.
Teenagers will find their own Norwegian Escape, so to speak, at Entourage, a designated teens-only lounge and nightclub (deck 17) with gaming stations and a video jukebox.
At Circus School, kids learn to juggle and tumble, and there are age-appropriate camp-like activities at Splash Academy for the pint-size guest as well as a colorful nursery and Quiet Room for toddlers and babies as young as six months.
As a grandparent who enjoys vacationing with my grandchildren, I searched for activities on Norwegian Escape that enable shared multi-generational fun time. Options range from the sports deck’s challenges, games arcade, two-lane bowling alley and miniature golf course to musical productions in the Escape Theater and “sweet” moments at both the Bake Shop and Dolce Gelato.
Where I went & what I loved
As a travel writer, I was invited on Norwegian Escape’s round-trip, two-night inaugural cruise from Miami out to sea — just far enough for the ship’s Casino to open. Limited by the brevity of the cruise and by the ship's expansive length (she's 1,069 feet long!), I couldn’t investigate all of the public areas, but I came away with good insight into Escape’s service and amenities, and I walked much of the ship, dividing my focus between adult-oriented and kid-friendly options. After all, Norwegian Escape is being touted as a family-friendly ship — and she is. The more I saw, the more I liked.
I was mesmerized by the modest light show in the Atrium, where a stunning three-deck-high chandelier undergoes a slow changing of colors. This stainless steel structure composed of crystals and LED lighting shifts from clear to aqua, pink, lavender and other colors on a varying schedule. The atrium staircase also changes colors.
Among an array of onboard bars and lounges, my favorite was Tobacco Road (deck 8, midship). Located within 678 Ocean Place (three decks loaded with shopping, dining and entertainment options), this atmospheric bar incorporates elements of the original Tobacco Road -- Miami’s oldest bar – including signage and photos explaining its century-old history. This is a lovely, quiet and cozy spot for drinks and conversation.
I give an enthusiastic “thumbs up” to The Waterfront on deck 8. This is the place for strolling the quarter-mile wraparound oceanfront promenade or for outdoor seating at The Cellars wine bar, the 5’ O’Clock Somewhere Bar, the Sugarcane Mojito Bar and restaurants like La Cucina and Moderno Churrascaria.
There’s something else I appreciated about Norwegian Escape that's frequently missing on some contemporary cruise ships: The cheerfulness of the wait staff and room stewards was notable. A single “Have a good day” can make your morning, and I encountered this type of pleasantry and friendly demeanor among many employees throughout the ship.
Norwegian Escape features 2,175 total guest staterooms. Those so inclined can opt for one of the 95 suites in The Haven (decks 17 and 18), Norwegian's exclusive ship within a ship. Haven guests have their own two-story courtyard area with pool and retractable roof, a private restaurant and accommodations ranging from two-bedroom family villas and courtyard penthouses to spa suites. Welcome to luxury.
Accommodations outside of The Haven include penthouses, mini-suites and balcony, oceanview and inside staterooms and 46 wheelchair-accessible staterooms. The Studio accommodations are compact and are designed and priced for solo travelers. Bonus: Studio rooms come with access to an exclusive two-story Studio Lounge with a bar.
In addition to my balcony stateroom’s spacious bathroom, the room itself was tastefully furnished and decorated in soothing earth tones and browns, the same pleasing color scheme as in many of the public areas. My room had a couch, ample storage and a bed with cool, lush covers that made me feel wrapped in luxury. My only dislikes were the thin, limp pillows and a two-chair, space-challenged balcony barely ample for two people.
Nevertheless, I like the pampering, indulgent bliss of a cruise ship that allows me to get away from it all — to escape — which means that Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship delivers what it promises.
Roberta Sandler sailed on Norwegian Escape on a press/blogger trip as a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line. See Cruiseable's Ethics & disclosure policy.
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Top highlights on this ship
- Bayamo – Iron Chef Jose Garces’ first restaurant at sea
- A three-story ropes course – fun for all ages
- The only Margaritaville at sea.