The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Escape surprised us: for the most part, the food was tasty, the entertainment engaging, and the ship, family-friendly. We boarded the Escape this past August for an eight-day Caribbean voyage, roundtrip from Miami. Much had changed, for the better, since our NCL sailing years ago. Back then, only the specialty restaurants (which cost extra) served good food and the entertainment hovered between moderately interesting to mediocre. But this time around things were different.
NCL Escape sails from Miami, offering primarily seven-night Eastern Caribbean voyages to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas, as well as some seven-night Western Caribbean voyages to Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras; Harvest Caye, Belize; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Cozumel, Mexico in summer 2017. Fares from $599 per person, double occupancy.
Food is a big deal on any cruise. Contrary to our expectations, the Escape’s three dining rooms serving meals at no extra charge – Savor, Taste, and The Manhattan Room (the last being an Art Deco supper club with an orchestra and dancing) – plated restaurant-quality fare and offered more than a dozen menu options. Particularly popular specialty restaurants included Food Republic, the Asian fusion eatery; Pincho Tapas Bar, Garces’ Spanish small plates venue; and Cagney’s Steakhouse.
Our favorite: Bayamo, Iron Chef Jose Garces’s Latin-inspired specialty restaurant. Although our three-course meal for two without wine came to $80 plus an 18% gratuity, we paid only the tip because we selected specialty dining as one of our Free at Sea booking options. These promotions, which vary with the ship and the sailing, make a big difference for foodies. Look for them.
The Escape raises the bar for cruise-based entertainment. Two shows available at no extra charge – “After Midnight,” an adaptation of the Broadway musical about Harlem’s Cotton Club, and “Howl at the Moon,” dueling pianists playing audience requests with style – were exceptional. On our sailing for an additional charge, we also enjoyed Tony-nominated Brenda Braxton who belted out Broadway tunes and ballads at the Supper Club. She is currently not performing on the ship, but NCL promised equally impressive talent. But “For the Record: The Brat Pack,” a confused musical of ’80s teen angst might be worth skipping.
The Escape offers plenty of things for adults and kids to do together and apart. Team up to play miniature golf, tackle the ropes course, zip down waterslides, splash at the waterpark, and stroll the Waterfront, a quarter-mile outdoor deck with bars, comfortable seating for admiring the sea views and outdoor dining areas.
There’s also a nursey onboard, Guppies, which is actually the Escape’s first. It’s geared for tots 6 months to less than 3 years. Parents can play with their young sailors in the Guppies’ playroom or drop off their child to be cared for by nannies – extra fees apply. NCL offers day-long activities for Turtles, ages 3 through 5; Seals, ages 6 to 9; and Dolphins, ages 10 to 12. At Entourage, a teen center, ages 13 to 17 meet and mingle with the assistance of a counselor.