This was our 3rd cruise on NCL. Our first on NCL was dreadful so we did a second in case the first was just bad luck. The second was equally bad – actually it might have been worse – I forget – so an opportunity to try Escape at a ... Read More
This was our 3rd cruise on NCL. Our first on NCL was dreadful so we did a second in case the first was just bad luck. The second was equally bad – actually it might have been worse – I forget – so an opportunity to try Escape at a good price £899 for balcony cabin, night in Miami and included drinks package seemed like a chance to see if NCL could redeem themselves. Alas, it was not to be.
We got off to a bad start in the departure lounge. We arrived there about 11am. Our two previous cruises on NCL afforded us no advantage so we expected to have to wait. No problem with that. However, it is nothing short of damned annoying when they call you up to join the queue when clearly you are going to be standing queuing for some considerable time. There were plenty of seats to remain seated. We were called up and joined the queue. We waited and waited and waited. At least 40 minutes. Oddly, we were hardly moving and two more sections were called out to join the queue. Why not leave people seated until you know they can go pretty much immediately up to the check-in booths? There was a lady at the entrance demanding to see our ESTAs which we had to find in our hand luggage. I protested but she insisted. All she checked was that the top of the paper said ESTA. No way could she possibly have checked that they were for us. As we snaked around the queue, we arrived near to where she stood. By then the queues were so bad she was just waving passengers through. What was that all about then?
Muster practice – to me – was worrying. We didn’t have lifejackets with us – they are not stored in the cabin – and crew members demonstrated how to put them on. If you’ve done a few cruises you’ve probably had a good stab at putting your lifejacket on but the lifejackets are the new standard (which will become law in a few years so expect them across all cruise lines) and my bet is that the vast majority of cruisers, in a panic, in a confined space, maybe in poor light would find it pretty tricky to put them on. We noticed that the crew member had partly prepared his and slipped it on like he was dressing for dinner. It ain’t gonna happen like that, believe me. I think everyone should have had a lifejacket to try. I did raise this later when we had an opportunity to ‘meet the officers’. He listened to my concerns but frankly NCL have made the decision to do it their way and it ain’t going to change anytime soon.
Our balcony cabin (I know they call it a stateroom – we were on a ship – it’s a cabin) reminded us immediately of Celebrity. That crafty way they have of alternating cabins with a bed by the window then the next one has a bed nearer the door. Slightly curved or inset walls so they can ‘interleave’ the cabins and thus get more cabins along the deck.
The bathroom was large though the shower was on the small side. Nice etched, glass door – so theoretically someone could use the loo whilst the other is showering – both retaining their privacy. Plenty of storage space, cupboards and shelves. As bog standard balcony cabin bathrooms go – pretty good I’d say. No bathrobes but plenty of towels. Two large beach towels doubled up as additional bath towels which could be refreshed out on deck by the pool.
Wardrobe space was a joke – we had approximately 3 feet of hanging rail though the last say 8 inches were unusable due to some indentation into the cupboard space. Deep shelves. Not a drawer in sight. We had a sofa bed in our cabin (a 4 berther – a bunk in the ceiling as well) which was right in front of the wardrobe so it wasn’t easy getting at our hanging clothes. God knows how 4 people could share the cabin. We have had 4 berthers years ago with the kids and they were very good (P&O – Aurora/Oriana/Arcadia) so we know a good one when we see one. NCL’s are not good ones for multi occupancy! As the cruise is casual dress code I guess you don’t need a stack of clothes so maybe some passengers found the wardrobes adequate. There are no launderettes on board for DIY washing. I knew this in advance having studied the deck plans. We received two offers during the cruise for a bag full of washing for $19.95. Note, wash not pressing. So put in a few shirts and expect them back crumpled I suppose. I guess we could have filled a bag with a few days’ worth of undies and socks but to be honest it does grate on me. I do like to do my own stuff. So we washed odds and sods through and hung them out on the line in the shower which in the end was quite adequate.
During the first night the sea was rough and it was very windy. Throughout the night we were kept awake by an ear splitting whistle coming through the balcony door due to the draft. I couldn’t have faced another night like that so we went to reception and complained. The door clearly needed some adjustment. To be fair, a ‘carpenter’ appeared in no time flat and proceeded to seal up our balcony door with copious lengths of duck tape, promising to return when the wind had dropped to do a ‘proper job’. He never did return so the first 8 days of our cruise we couldn’t use the balcony – though the weather was a bit iffy so that wasn’t too much of a loss.
The bed was huge and comfy. Plenty of soft pillows. Our cabin steward was fine, he kept the place lovely though we are a doddle to look after. I tidy up before a steward sets foot in the door! We always take an old card with us to stick by the electric slot so as soon as we come in we can put the lights on and keep both our cards with us – unfortunately ‘our man’ took the card away but fortunately we managed to retrieve it from him later. Later on, we removed the sticky tape so we could use the balcony and stuck it to the frame ready to reapply if it was windy later and the whistling returned. Our cabin steward threw it away saying it made the frame sticky and he needed to clean up. Hm…….I confess I was a bit cross but as husband said at the time – no problem, the carpenter will just have to come back. We had explained the problem to the steward so it wasn’t like we were just sticking tape about the place to be decorative.
We ate only twice in a special restaurant – Cagneys Steakhouse was outstanding, Food Republic was OK – just not for us. There are a number of pay-for eateries on board which we find a worrying trend these days. Eventually, I guess the price will just be board only and food will be extra! After about the first 3 days I think the restaurants were pretty booked up. So I imagine many people were disappointed they could not get in. We happened to drift along and got a late booking slot. You can buy packages on board and they did look to be a reasonable price. However, once purchased I guess you’d need to make your bookings so as not to be disappointed. This might be tricky – in my case – I wouldn’t have wanted to book ahead not knowing if the weather was going to be icky. I wouldn’t have wanted to ‘eat out’ on a rough evening.
We ate mostly in the main restaurant. We always managed to be seated immediately though we were disappointed that we rarely shared. I guess for some people who like a table for two that is good news, but for us it was a downer. Part of our cruise experience is meeting and chatting with other cruisers. Dress code is casual. Very. As can be expected some passengers take this to an extreme wandering into dinner in t-shirts and knee length shorts looking like they’ve just stood up from a sunbed on deck. It doesn’t bother us but I suspect anyone used to cruising on the more formal cruise lines might find this a bit of a surprise.
Some nights the service was just about OK, some nights it was terrible. The staff didn’t seem to know whether they were coming or going. We asked for extra steamed veg and they delivered a plate of a good selection. So top marks for that. Getting a drink was sometimes really painful so the last few nights we got our drinks at a bar and took them in. We frequently couldn’t get our choice of wine being told it had run out. What they really meant was someone hadn’t recognised the stocks were getting low and hadn’t organised replenishment from the stores. Though the last few days our favourite wine really had run out. Generally, the food was pretty good. Not the best we’ve had but certainly not the worst. Fair amount of choice. On the last night we decided to go for lobster and fillet steak as a treat at $24.99 on the a la carte section of the menu. They’d run out of lobster so I queried whether just the steak was available. It was, but for the same price. Do I have mug written across my forehead? I wasn’t paying the same for just the steak so the waitress offered us two pieces of fillet steak for $24.99. To be honest, this was an amazing deal, we think probably better than steak plus lobster. We were able to have a steak each. How peculiar is that? It was absolutely delicious – I regretted not having ordered it earlier in the cruise – though my hips didn’t.
Most of the time we ate breakfast in the buffet apart from two mornings when we ventured into the restaurant on deck 6 – mainly because it was so rough I couldn’t face being thrown around on the 16th deck. However, on both occasions the service was unbelievably bad. The second time I confess I totally lost it. I do grow really weary of being told by a cruise line how wonderful they are when clearly they are not. I never used to be one to complain but age has got the better of me. When you’ve had to order a pot of tea twice because it’s stone cold and then the cereal you’ve ordered has run out (for that read, they didn’t recognise it was getting low and hadn’t replenished stocks) and you overhear that the table next door never even got their cereal delivered at all – it was forgotten – and the previous day you waited 40 minutes for a juice – then please forgive me - but I feel justified in complaining.
No decaff tea bags on board at all. Thank goodness we had taken our own stocks. We’ve been caught out before on other cruise lines where the decaff tea bags are locked in the safe. Indeed, this was a bit of a joke and we met many other passengers who had bought their own tea bags. Which begs the question – how can you be a 5 star cruise line and passengers feel the need to bring their own tea bags?
Thank heavens for the free drinks package. We are not big drinkers but during 10 days at sea we ‘bought’ $505 (£336) worth of drinks. Even on a package you still have to sign for your drinks and out of interest we kept all the receipts and added them up. Wow! The drinks were expensive. One day when our favourite had ‘run out’ they produced a glass of white wine each for us. Kerching…. $36. I nearly fell of my bar stool. That’s £24! That’s more than we pay for a bottle of wine. Well, actually, that’s what we pay for 4 bottles of our favourite wine when it’s on special in the supermarket. Honestly, if you are a serious drinker do not even consider NCL unless the deal includes a free drinks package. Don’t even consider buying a package. It’s just daft, silly money. Only go for included package – for God’s sakes don’t pay for it.
We found it really difficult to find somewhere nice to sit and just enjoy a drink. Bars to us seemed either too small and thus always full, or came with some sort of entertainment which we were not interested in listening to.
Daytime entertainment was absolutely dire. The first week of weather was bad – pretty rough and windy – so no chance of going outside unless you wanted to wrap up like an eskimo whose igloo roof had been blown off. The best place to mooch about the ship was low and midships – this was the atrium area. It was here that the centre of the daytime entertainment universe existed. There were nowhere near enough seats for everyone who wanted to partake. Every day was the same old activity. A quiz. A demo – towel folding, cake icing etc. A puzzle. You could set your watch by what was happening if you happened to pass by. And astonishingly, occasionally, a film. Who in their wisdom would make the decision to put a film on in an area with hardly any seating? And with overhangs such that even if you got a seat you couldn’t necessarily see the screen. You couldn’t make it up. One day the film was in the theatre – smart move whoever organised that.
The entertainment staff in my opinion were poor – I guess I’m getting too picky after too many cruises. One in particular who shall remain nameless nearly drove me potty. He couldn’t read some pretty simple stuff off the screen when announcing answers to the quizzes. I guess some passengers might have thought that rather quaint – my thoughts were – God, is this the best they can employ?
The quizzes were totally geared towards the US market. OK, it’s a $ ship but there were a considerable number of Brits on board (also Germans and French). I sat there and thought to myself – if I was an entertainment person on board I’d be generating quizzes suitable for all. Everything was delivered at 150 decibels – why do they have to shout? The PA system was totally unintelligible. Muffled. Thank goodness we didn’t have an emergency. At least, I don’t think we did. If we did, I didn’t hear it. Well, OK, I did hear the code red and the heli-vac but that was probably because at the time we happened to be walking down the corridor from our cabin.
Evening entertainment was OK…ish. Our main complaint would be – what’s with this booking to see a show lark? The ship has a ‘Box Office’. Hm….we smelt a rat. If it has a box office then they must be expecting you to book for something. Fortunately, we twigged this on day one and booked our seats. But other passengers we spoke to had totally missed that you had to book for some of the entertainment and thus never got to see it. Frankly, this just isn’t good enough. What are NCL telling us? That they’ve built a theatre too small and can’t accommodate everyone to see a show or can’t they afford to pay the entertainment team to put on more than one show?
In the theatre we saw a few shows and one film. We saw a show that was from Las Vegas. Well, OK, if that’s what it was then so be it but frankly it wasn’t our cup of tea. We saw ‘Tenors of Rock’ who were outstanding. There were other shows that were part of a meal package but we didn’t see them so cannot comment. We watched a comedian in the Headliners show bar – he was dire even allowing for the fact it was clearly American humour. He spent a considerable length of time putting down Carnival which frankly we thought unprofessional and actually wasn’t that funny.
Wifi was hit and miss. We heard reports that it was really slow but when we came to use it we found it acceptable (for a ship – we’ve known worse). Maybe the Americans are used to seriously speedy broadband speed at home so the ship’s wifi seemed slow to them. But we were OK with it. We had hoped to pre-book our homeward flight seats but on the last day of the cruise there was no wifi whatsoever. News was they were trying to hook up to another satellite. Up to that time chatter was up to the satellite and via Germany. Thus the slow speed I guess. PAYG - $0.95 per minute. Other (expensive) packages available but not much good if no satellite! I guess be prepared to do without. Wifi in Mc Donalds in Miami was top notch – best Mc D’s wifi ever we reckoned.
We found there to be a bit of a language difficulty with the crew. They were doing their best under pressure – clearly there are not enough crew on board.
When the sun came out so did the passengers. Acres of sunbeds and hardly an inch between them. We are not ‘into’ sunbathing so it didn’t bother us but I guess for the serious sun worshippers it could have been a pain. Husband ‘did’ the ropes and said it was good fun. We both ‘did’ the tubes and had great fun. The number of times we went round was restricted by the number of times we could climb the steps to get to the top of the slide. For us the limit was eight! Oh, be fair, there were a fair few number of flights. We noticed on the last day when the weather really warmed up that the tubes were really busy and the inflatable rings that you rode on had run out. We were glad we had had our turn the day before.
So, after 10 days at sea we berthed in Miami. More fun was about to begin. We were due off at 9am. We didn’t have to vacate our cabin until 9am – a BIG PLUS point. Other cruise lines take note please. Our colour was called and we joined the queue to disembark. Except we went nowhere fast. We must have stood there for some 10 minutes or so (bear in mind we are pretty able – others around us are not so lucky) when an announcement went out to say that shore side had requested that no more passengers be allowed off as it was too busy. This gave us a feeling of impending doom – we disembarked in Miami off RCI in 2002 which was absolutely the worst disembarkation in our lives – surely things had improved in 13 years. In your dreams. We had no idea how long the delay was going to be for so remained in the queue. We waited and waited and waited. Occasional announcements were made that we were not allowed ashore. Eventually, after a good half hour, the queue started to move. Very slowly. Bear in mind, by this time the general area was heaving with people. Nowhere for people to sit. In their wisdom an announcement was made for the next colour to disembark. What planet are they on? Are the crew all blind? Can they not see that the queue is snaking round the ship and adding another colour will achieve nothing other than pandemonium? Just as we get to the point of disembarkation they call yet another colour. This seems to be a feature of NCL – they do like you to stand ‘in line’. I guess it must make them feel good. It sure does nothing for the passenger. As an aside we noticed day after day endless queues at reception. What are all the problems that passengers are queueing up to have fixed? Or are they queueing to report something good? We don’t understand it. You don’t see endless queues on P&O ships. Say no more.
Could it get any worse? Yes.
Our baggage was ‘Gray’. Silly us. If we’d known that ‘Gray’ was going to be stowed away from the other colours we’d have pretended we had an 8am flight and got an earlier colour stowed in the main hall.
It was an unbelievable fight to retrieve our baggage. Again, we are able but we felt sorry for those less able than ourselves. The NCL staff shore side were useless. I asked where ‘Gray’ was and the lad said he didn’t know. I suggested he find out which just resulted in a scowl. Honestly, NCL are not alone in this, cruise lines really need to learn that just throwing you off the ship and leaving you to it is not being customer friendly. How difficult is it for crew to familiarise themselves with shore side proceedings so they can help you out. It surely would only take 10 or 15 minutes.
There were 10 booths at border control – one was closed and one was for US citizens. So we had 8 booths available for us all. Each pair of passengers took about 3 to 4 minutes. We stood ‘in line’ for an hour to get through. All in all it took us pretty much 2 hours to get off the ship and be on our way.
It hadn’t finished. We needed a taxi. There were none. We queried this with the ‘taxi lady’ and she said that she had been told that all passengers had disembarked the ship and thus no more taxis were required. So they’d been sent back to the taxi park. Honestly, who are these people who organise all this stuff? Just because all the passengers are off the ship doesn’t mean no more taxis are required. There are probably another 1000 passengers still looking for their luggage and waiting to go through border control.
We booked the cruise late and cheap. Though I think actually some people managed even a better deal than us. You can argue we got what we paid for. We paid cheap and got cheap. I’ll bet a good few passengers didn’t get it cheap and I’d be interested to see what they report. Surely Escape is billed as a 5 star ship. Thank God we didn’t pay top prices. For what we paid we had a good break, good food, poor daytime entertainment, not too bad evening entertainment (spoilt by this having to book nonsense), a lovely bathroom, not the best balcony cabin ever, nice new furnishings, a friendly enough crew working under difficult circumstances, sky high drinks prices saved by free drinks package, shortage of wine and the usual welcome to the USA.
As a bonus, when we flew home (Virgin to Heathrow) the flight was half empty. We were all allowed to take what seats we wanted and thus I had a row of 3 seats to myself to kip on. Bliss!
In case anyone asks, no we didn’t remove our gratuities though some days I came close to it and we spoke to passengers who had. The crew have to put in terrible hours, really long contract periods and put up with some seriously weird passengers. I sincerely hope that the gratuities do get into the hands of the crew. They all deserve it. Read Less