Norwegian Cruise Lines’ ESCAPE, NCL’s new Latin Love Gives Cruisers a bit of “Everything”
By Alison Blackman
“….Took my life from negative to positive
I just want y’all know that
And tonight, let’s enjoy life
Pitbull, Nayer, Ne-Yo, tell us right…”
From the song: “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull, Ne-Yo and Afrojack
The lyrics from Latin rapper Pitbull’s first number one pop hit in the USA, Give Me Everything are a perfect introduction to the new NCL Escape, a ship that does offer cruise passengers “a bit of everything,” that makes cruising a pleasure. Also, Latin Rapper Pitbull is now officially the ship’s Godfather, having christened the escape at a fabulous party at its home port of Miami on November 9, 2015.
I was fortunate to be in the audience on that hot and sunny Miami afternoon, to see the gala christening ceremony. With the 17 story Escape serving as a towering backdrop to the stage, guests were treated to the usual speeches from the NCL brass, as well as performances from “After Midnight” and “The Million Dollar Quartet.” both of which are full scale Broadway style productions featured on the new ship. The highlight of the event was when Mr. Worldwide, took the stage, christening the ship to shouts and cheers. Although assembled influencers, VIPs, media, travel partners and invited guests were sizzling in the sun, when Pitbull and his dancers took the stage (*watch video clip) there was no doubt that this ship will have passengers sizzling to a Latin beat. *see some of my videos of the performances from the christening of the ESCAPE and my ship tours on my Alison Blackman Advicesisters YouTube Channel).
After the festivities, I joined ESCAPE on a two-day preview cruise. It is a beautiful ship, from the white hull festooned with colorful art featuring endangered sea creatures, created by marine wildlife artist and ocean conservationist, Guy Harvey, to the elegant furnishings of the public rooms in colors that compliment warm weather cruising, to the well-designed staterooms.
Usually I spend a lot of time writing about the details of the ship, but you’ll get those on the Norwegian Cruise Line web site and plenty of those “cruise review” sites. In this feature review, I’m hoping to give you a better idea of what makes this ship unique and why you’d want to sail on it. My point of view is not just as a member of the media, but also with someone who has sailed privately on NCL cruise ships enough to have accomplished Platinum status with the line.
A Few Basics About the NCL Escape:
First, a few basics about the NCL Escape. Escape is the largest ship ever built for this type of Caribbean cruising and it looks like a large apartment building turned on it’s side. She can carry more than 4,200 guests on her weekly, 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean. Escape has welcome improvements, over her predecessors, NCLs Getaway and Breakaway, including a plethora of USB ports in the rooms, for those who carry a lot of electronics.
This is a large ship, with high quality entertainment and tons of dining options, and a range of staterooms that cater to different interests, needs and budgets (family staterooms, rooms for single travelers, spa level rooms, and the upscale Haven plus the standard categories of staterooms on a variety of decks. Even though Escape is huge, it has a certain level of sophistication in design, decor and organization that is immediately apparent.The huge crystal chandelier in the atrium may fascinate you as it slowly changes color, along with a pair of “see-through” elevators, but otherwise, the decor is simply comfortable, and modern.
A Hot Miami Vibe: The Escape is not just unique because of its size, but because it offers everything that one may want in a family resort vacation, but on a ship. In many ways, from its entertainment, to its food, to its unique partnerships with Miami based restaurants and bars, the NCL Escape is an extension of that vibrant city out into the Caribbean Sea. For example, unlike many of the newer ships serving the market, Escape features, well the ocean. From the unique promenade deck called The Waterfront, which brings most of the ship’s major restaurants and bars outside to an al fresco venue just like in Miami, to the huge pool deck with an open area for sunbathing, a double-deck bar and two new large format LED screens. Evening entertainment on both the waterfront and deck all lend the ship a South Beach feel.
The links to Miami continue throughout. The 28 dining experiences available on the Norwegian Escape, feature a number of partnerships with local establishments. These include Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (which was so crowded we never got in to sample the burgers and booze), to Food Republic a sophisticated food hall developed by Miami-based The Pubbelly Restaurant Group to Bayamo by Jose Garces, a James Beard Award-winning Iron Chef. This restaurant features a Cuban- menu.
The ship’s bars are also tied to Miami, and include The District Brewhouse, which features (amoung dozens of other offerings) craft beers from Miami’s Wynwood Brewing Company, to an outpost Miami’s oldest and most legendary bar, Tobacco Road.
While Miami is mirrored in the food, drinks and music aboard the Escape, interestingly, the headline entertainment is truly the best of New York. Gone are the days of the June Taylor dancers, tap dancing while wearing tons of feathers and singing medleys of top 40 elevator hits. The Escape’s show lounge is a Broadway style theater with the best sight lines we’ve ever experienced on any ship. The Escape features full versions of two Tony Award-winning musicals, and a large, cabaret-style Supper Club that rivals, all Broadway-style productions in both size and quality. The Million Dollar Quartet show was one of the best shows we’ve ever seen on land or sea, and the singers and dancers featured in After Midnight channel the performers of the Cotton Club as well as any cast on Broadway.
The dinner theater featuring Ditto For the Record, Dear John Hughes also had delightful and very talented performers showcasing a melange of themes and songs from John Hughes movies (you will hardly notice the food as the actors sing and dance around you). Those who like the dueling pianos of Howl at the Moon will be happy it’s on Escape, along with the bowling alley, disco and other standard features. Sadly, the Fat Cats blues club (a staple of the Getaway and Breakaway) is nowhere in sight, although the comedy venue, Headliners, is there.
While the Escape brings the sophistication of Miami to the Caribbean, it does not forget that a big part of its audience is families and multi-generational groups. It is here that the Escape truly excels, and it is able to do so because it is able to offer a different, and truly unique experience for everyone in the family. Gone are the days, when passengers paraded around a cruise ship like lemmings from the bingo game, to the ice carving demonstration to the poolside “horse race.” NCL’s Freestyle cruising creates a different cruise, in many ways a different ship, for each passenger.
NCL, and particularly the Escape caters to families extremely well, with branded entertainment from Nickelodeon, along with the line’s first dedicated nursery for young cruisers two and under. The Escape’s brightly-colored, towering, Aqua Park with two water slides (one has a drop out bottom, the other has little “tubes” that groups careen down in little rubber rafts, is the largest at sea The new tandem Aqua Racer slide, comes complete with a clear acrylic section to further enhance the thrill of this adventure ride. For the adventurous there are five Sky Rails, zip tracks that allow guests to soar through the air (one of which apparently swings the user out over the ocean — I didn’t try this). Adding to the family fun, Norwegian Escape features an expanded Kids’ Aqua Park with an enclosed slide, rope climb fun zone and spray cannons for kids to splash and play in their own designated space. Along with an expanded Splash Academy youth center that includes dedicated play spaces and edu-tainment programs for specific age groups.
For older family members, there is the Mandara Spa, with the line’s first snow room and the largest Thermal Suite at sea, with 17 heated loungers, hydro-therapy pool, whirlpools, steam room, dry sauna, sanarium and salt room. In addition to the luxurious spa. There are also two private lounge spaces for adults only: Vibe Beach Club and Spice H2O, although if you aren’t into high energy music, bring noise cancelling earphones and an music player to the pool. There is also a large, user-friendly shopping arcade (the first Carolina Hererra boutique is on board), and a high tech photo gallery.
For those who want to bunk with a larger group or who crave a bit more exclusivity, there’s always the Haven, the upscale, ship within a ship featuring it’s own lounge, priority services, pool and spa area, and many more benefits. *Watch “How the Other Half Lives, The Haven on the NCL Escape, The Haven Courtyard Balcony Penthouse and the Haven Deluxe Owners Suite. One of the reasons the “ship within a ship” formula works, is that ships like the Escape are large enough to offer so any options. In two days at sea, we still didn’t see all of it, let alone sample everything as much as we tried to do so.
Let’s enjoy life:
As Frank Del Rio, the CEO and President and Director at NCL Corporation Ltd. told us at a press conference aboard the Escape, while NCL offers cruisers lots for their money, it is really the entry level property for younger first times, those seeking affordable cruise options and multi-generational groups. NCL excels at delighting these passengers, and as we saw the Escape is able to provide a unique experience for everyone.
For those passengers for whom money isn’t an object, or who don’t have children or family groups with them, the Escape will offer an outstanding experience, particularly with their top of the ship penthouses in The Haven. But for those looking for a more unique experience, there are two other properties under the NCL banner: Oceana and Regent cruise lines. These offer cruises with longer destinations and a different kind of cruise focus for a different kind of traveler. However, for a 7-day getaway, I can’t think of any ship to date I’d rather sail on again than the Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Escape.
Learn more about Norwegian Escape’s luxurious accommodations, as well as its distinctive dining, entertainment, shopping and leisure options, by visiting http://www.Escape.ncl.com/. To book a cruise on Norwegian Escape, contact a travel professional, call Norwegian at 888-NCL-CRUISE(625-2784), or visit www.ncl.com.