Just got off the Norwegian Escape after our 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise. What follows is a summary of the highs, lows, must-dos and mild warnings about the experience. Of course, please keep in mind the following context and know your ... Read More
Just got off the Norwegian Escape after our 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise. What follows is a summary of the highs, lows, must-dos and mild warnings about the experience. Of course, please keep in mind the following context and know your lens might be different: Hubby and I are in our mid-40s with no kids and have done lots of cruising. In fact, after 21 of these suckers (from small Ships like Carnival Paradise - to the Oasis class ships on Royal Caribbean) I feel we’ve graduated to the term CruisERS. We’re not big partiers, but we also don’t want to spend lots of time in our cabins. We’re not huge eaters or drinkers, but we’re somewhat picky about both. And, despite how I realize this description has made us sound, we’re pretty likable and try to go with the flow. Before this trip we sprung for the somewhat inaccurately named “Free at Sea” package, which included all beverages up to $15, three specialty restaurants, 250 minutes of internet and $50 discounts on shore excursions. We weren’t sure if it was worth it, but more-than-a-little frugal Hubby hit “buy it now!” anyway. Skip to the end of this review to see the final word on this.
We’d heard that the layout of this ship was great and it absolutely was. There were tons of different areas to hang out in. Even (and most especially important) the buffet was so well spread out that you didn’t have to wait in a line too long for anything. Perhaps because the cruise we took previous to this one was especially poorly laid out, with one looooong line for all things on the buffet, we felt like we were able to hop through various lily pad food stations and get back to our table with relative ease. We’d also heard that the back half of the buffet area was a little less busy, and this proved to be true. No matter where you sit though, know that there are a few stations that only appear once (e.g. a noodle bar, Asian and Greek dishes, etc), so it’s worth it to do a quick lap before finalizing your menu choices if that happens to matter to you.
We had a balcony cabin and also found it to be well laid out with lots of storage. We also really appreciated the new coffeemaker feature, which is apparently included in balcony cabins and above.
As far as areas to relax on deck, Spice H20 is the place to be. Actually, it ISN’T the place to be for most people, which made it the place to be for us. It’s all the way in the back of the ship and is like the poor man’s Haven (the special area reserved for the people-less-cheap-than-us who book a special suite). It’s nice and quiet (not a hairy leg contest to be found and no one under 18 allowed) and, even on sea days, we were able to find space. A few areas even have umbrellas. A nice touch. Oh, it’s also got its own bar. Winner.
If you haven’t done the Western Carib before, know that there’s LOTS of great things to do in it. Belize in particular is really beautiful. This being said, after so many cruises, Hubby and I have had our share of snorkeling, zip-lining, cave-tubing and catamaraning around the Caribbean, and so we tend to stay on the ship because we get to relax among very few people and enjoy the peace and open buffet lines with a certain level of undeserved self-righteousness. We do always get off at Cozumel, however, though this time was tricky. Will get to that in a sec.
After lots of waffling back and forth we did decide to get off the ship at Harvest Caye in Belize because one of us (read: me) was hankering for an extra beach day this time around. We’re not fans of the usual private islands that cruise ships tend to include in their itineraries, but this one is different. Since it is an easy walk off the ship and down the pier, and because this one was just one option of many excursions in Belize, we thought it wouldn’t be too crazy. So glad we made this decision! There is a ton to do at this beach and it’s really lovely. Also, perhaps because it wasn’t very sunny, it was definitely not overcrowded. We found a spot fairly far out, by the last of the umbrellas and parked there for the day. We ate nearby at Horse Eye Jack’s, right by the start of the rich man’s bungalows (nothing against them...have at it!). It was awesome.
Onto Cozumel. We always go to Paradise Beach, a very cool resort that we love. The unfortunate thing was the tender, which even the greatest optimist would have to agree was a bit of a drag. It seemed the tendering was due to the fact that there were nine (count ‘em...NINE) ships there that day. Now, if tendering is happening when you are there, it’s worth a few warnings. First, this process takes a loooooong time. We didn’t get on until Tender number four, which was about 9:30am. At first, we considered ourselves to be quite clever because we thought we missed the crazy crowds...but here’s the thing. The crazy crowds mean the tenders fill faster and get going. We waited a while for our tender to fill up, and then took the slow ride to the pier, where we had to wait for the tender ahead of us to fill up, get going, and get out of the way. After weaving our way through all overcrowded village that is the Cozumel shop area, we then found a huge line to get a taxi...which makes sense because of the bazillions of cruise ship passengers in Cozumel that day. We’ve literally never had to wait for a taxi before, but this line was another 20 minutes. All told, it took about an hour to get from our ship to the beach. Not a huge deal, but if you’re tendering in Cozumel you might want to consider one of these options: a) suck it up and get up early so you can catch an earlier tender b) book an excursion, which will get you going earlier and guarantee private transport c) stay on the ship.
I know I mentioned earlier that we’re a bit picky on food, but to be honest it’s really just me and it’s because I try to stay somewhat healthy. Again, everything being relative, our last cruise was pretty bad in this regard (anything healthier we’d seen in the past was replaced by deep-fried this and cream-filled that). I was happy to see lots of salads, steamed veggies, hard boiled eggs and plain yogurts among the options at this buffet.
For dinners, we’re actually almost always pleased to go to the main dining room. We’d heard that the main dining rooms on this ship weren’t especially great, and at first poo-poo’d the notion, chalking it up to picky fellow passengers. And then...we found the main dining rooms weren’t especially great. The food was fair, the options okay and the service was a bit off...not especially quick nor friendly. Since we had the package, we ate at three specialty restaurants: La Cucina (Loved it!), Bayamo (Tasty!) and Teppanyaki (Fun!). We wound up eating at the buffet for dinner once we realized that they have some nice options up there.
Fitness and Spa
I went to the fitness center each morning to pre-burn my demons. Though there are a lot of treadmills and a decent amount of other cardio equipment, as well as some weight machines, I did find this area to be significantly smaller than on other ships. I feel like Norwegian tends to pride itself on decent fitness centers, but this one was a bit sparse. There was nowhere to stretch out (I snuck into the unused Spin Cycle area and stretched out beneath the peddles). My machine of choice was the upright bike, which was located in the back area I call “The Greenhouse”, since it’s got no vent anywhere near it and it’s where the sun always seems to laser-shine in the mornings...the good news is the pride you’ll feel with the multi-tasking that comes with getting a sunburn while simultaneously producing more sweat than ever before. (Note: If the laser sun makes an appearance, go find one of the fitness center guys (I always went to the one I dubbed “Prince Harry” – you’ll know why) and get them to push the magic button that lowers the visor screen over the windows. You’ll never feel such gratitude.)
Onto the spa. I sprung for a 50-minute Swedish massage, admittedly one of the cheapest services on the menu. A small woman greeted me, gingerly took my hand and brought me to the massage room where she told me she was going to help me relax. I was pretty chilled and enthused until she closed the door and pounced on me like a tiger on raw meat. I’d asked for a relaxing touch, but those steel-like elbows and thumbs didn’t seem to hear. (Yes, I could’ve asked her to ease up but for some reason I am unable to do this without feeling like I’ve lost a battle of existential wills). The thing about the spa, which you know if you’ve ever gotten one on a cruise, is that the services are pricey, plus everyone is required to up-sell you on all kinds of stuff after it’s over. I don’t know about you, but getting a list of recommended $65 ointments and creams (“Do those wrinkles under your eyes bother you???”) is the quickest way to ruin whatever good feelings I get from the experience. I’ve therefore decided that from now one I’m going to skip the cruise massages and stick to the ones offered on the beaches (Paradise Beach has one for about $50 and it’s awesome).
We made reservations for several shows, including Choir of Man, After Midnight, The Big Escape and a few comedy shows. We also caught Howl at the Moon.
Before commenting at any of these, I must first recommend Justin, the awesome and hysterical piano player who plays at The District every night. The place was always packed and it’s an extremely fun time. This being said, if you are easily offended and/or don’t like sexual innuendos, don’t go. Just trust me. Otherwise, if he’s still around (he said he’s got a few weeks left on the ship) don’t miss him.
As far as the rest, Choir of Man was excellent. With its one drawback being a lack of diversity (the show could’ve been called “9 White Dudes”) we really enjoyed the singing, performing and humor. After Midnight was also amazingly performed, though this one was too long, which caused a lot of people to leave early. It’s too bad, because the sets and costumes were amazing and the talent of the performers was top-notch. The comedy was fine – some better than others - and Howl at the Moon was really great. As far as Escape the Big Top? All I can say is that I would love to get those 45 minutes of cruise-time back and spend it doing...anything else. I’d only recommend this if you’ve in a large group and can be one team and if you’ve drunken heavily beforehand.
Was “Free at Sea” Worth it?
Since we didn’t take any excursions and aren’t big drinkers (2-3 each/day), and since you pay tips for many more drinks than we consumed, we decided in retrospect that the package wasn’t worth it. If we were to do it again, we’d get a bigger specialty restaurant package and pay for the rest a la cart.
All in all...
I must say that this cruise was really great...one of the best we’ve taken. The layout of the ship was conducive to ease and flow, the options were endless and the crew worked their tails off. (On this note, and I’m sure you would never do this dear reader, but perhaps you can encourage your fellow passengers to be nice to the crew. I saw more people barking orders and rolling their eyes at crew than I wanted to believe.). To make the most of this cruise, just come knowing there are lots of crowds, which will require lots of patience, and prepare to go with the flow a bit. Do this, and chances are you’ll love it as much as we did. Read Less