JANUARY CARIBBEAN 2016
NCL's ESCAPE is the largest ship I've ever sailed on - and it's BIG. I like this ship. NCL is redefining itself. Following decades of struggles with it's brand, the "Freestyle" initiatives, and product delivery (sinks in cabins, etc.) the company has, as witnessed by it's stock value, enhanced amenities, and overall guest satisfaction, become the real major player it has striven to be. Now, NCL shares it's values and principles with luxury leaders including Oceana and Regent thank's to CEO, Frank Del Rio's remarkable and somewhat less than traditional leadership. The three lines are operated under Frank's auspices and a great team.
Be prepared. Your first trip inside an elevator on this ship will reveal no less than 20 decks. Seriously. I live in Miami and this is a tall ship with a low funnel (for clearing bridges in certain ports of course.)
While she is BIG (165,000 tons), it has a great flow with defined public areas to break up the immensity of the guts of the ship. There are some cozy areas to be found among the rather larger venues. I especially appreciate the fact that even the cost-free dining in both free restaurants deliver good value and food. Of course, one has to indulge. I recommend Le Bistro and Cagney's, two of the company's best optional choices in my opinion.
NCL's WATERFRONT, a reincarnation of what was a promenade, is a win-win. Dining al fresco at 20 knots on a glorious Caribbean evening is by far one of the best experiences I've ever had on a ship at sea, and one of the best features of the Breakaway class of ships. Bravo! There are also neat seating areas about and it's easy to get from the inside out.
I love Mandara's Spa set up. Forward facing with a view of the bow and vista ahead is a reflection area. Two different Jacuzzi's are set into a larger heated therapy pool are right behind with easy access via a stairwell with jetting water. Multiple steam rooms, a salt chamber, a snow room (0 Celsius), and showers, flank the whole space with some extravagant lighting setting the mood beyond the ordinary. A great retreat for a week, don't hesitate going for this extra-cost adventure into what a spa should be, Norwegian style, of course.
Here's where I believe NCL missed the mark - in two areas. Up on Deck 19, the ship offers a private deck club - "The VIBE Beach Club." Unless you're one of the first few, on board to book it, and I mean few, forget it. Only about 150 people get the opportunity to use this private entry, 18 and over, oasis. With over 4,000 guests on board, I can't figure it out. Next, the one and only pool, key words, "one and only." Again, 4,00 people - one pool, and it isn't big enough. It's a nightmare on sea days. Forget about getting a deck chair within 500 feet of that "one and only" pool. (Except as a solo traveler, there's always a single deck chair to be found- ha!) Deck chair hogs are up at 3am. Seriously.
Admittedly better, aft on Deck 17 is "Spice H2O" - an adult only retreat with a waterscape in rocks which is cooling, but widely unused and awkward. At night, this place rocks and has one of the best outdoor. late-night, gigs afloat with superb lighting effects and a great sound system. Great views of the wash and wake with excellent lounging and seating.
I had a mini-suite which equates to a balcony stateroom with an extended bathroom (larger sink and shower) with loads of storage space. I like the staterooms on NCL's Breakaway class. They're slick, comfortable and inviting.
OH, what I love about NCL? As a solo sailor, I've been the beneficiary of many sailings without paying a supplement. In May, I sailed on the Jade's Transatlantic for 13 days from Miami to Southampton for a whopping $695 - single outside! Stay alert.
At $1.6 billion dollars, you can see where the money was spent. The Escape has a lot of everything (except the pool size) and will deliver a great experience for everyone from seniors to solos - families to couples. Unfortunately, I have yet to experience The HAVEN...anyone home at the upgrade department? I'll be back on NCL next year to the Fjords of Norway.