Norwegian Escape Cruise Review by Ken Woo
- Sail Date: September 2017
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Oceanview Stateroom with Large Picture Window
7 Days in September 2017 – Plus 4
Aaron Chin is the son of Kenneth and Janet Chin (hereafter referred to as K-J). He is a successful pharmacist, and wanting to do something nice for his parents, invited them on a cruise that he and his wife Kaly were planning.
Janet’s older sister is Jewel Woo; my name is Ken, I'm Jewel's husband. They are close, talking by phone and texting frequently as Janet lives in Seattle while Jewel lives in Oklahoma City. So Janet thought it would be nice if the three couples could go on the cruise together. Before this topic came up, going on a cruise wasn't even a blip on our radar screen. It may have been maybe the one thousandth thing on our list of things to do.
This cruise discussion took place from early to mid July, 2017. The cruise was to be on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Escape from Sep 2-9, 2017 departing from Miami and sailing to four ports in the western Caribbean. Sisters must think alike because both Jewel and Janet have a phobic aversion to bad weather- hurricanes, the case in point here. So what to do? This was the prime cruise season. This was also the prime hurricane season. Those two things are incompatible and do not mix. Both Jewel and Janet had initial reservations about the whole idea, but these two sisters who are normally level headed and clear thinking just threw caution to the winds (literally) and said "What the hey, let's do it."
Shortly after the decision was made to cruise, weather reports showed that tropical storm Harvey was building up in the Gulf of Mexico. Continued tracking of Harvey disclosed it had developed into a category 5 hurricane and was heading straight toward Houston and areas along the Texas gulf coast. People who knew we were planning on a cruise asked, “Are you still going?” Well, the rationalized answer was that Harvey was heading toward Houston but we were sailing out of Miami and were not due to sail for another two weeks or so. We would be fine. Does the expression “fat dumb and happy” come to mind here?
In the midst of all of this, Kaly was in the early stages of a pregnancy for their first child. During an office visit to the doctor she told him she was going on a Caribbean cruise. Upon hearing this he strongly suggested that they not do it, explaining that there were still some concerns about the Zika virus in that area. So Aaron and Kaly pulled out of the Caribbean cruise. A side note -- Aaron had already scheduled and was locked into those vacation days, Sep 2-9, so he revised their plans and decided to fly to Oahu and cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. Janet explained this situation to us and said she and Kenneth were still going with the original plan and were we on board with it.
K-J had scheduled a direct flight leaving Seattle with an arrival in Miami around 7a.m. on Sep 2. Jewel and I had a flight leaving Oklahoma city with a short layover in Dallas before continuing on to Miami with an arrival around 11a.m. The plan was for them to wait at the airport until we arrived and then we would all take an Uber to the dock.
That was the plan. Here's what happened. On the evening of Sep 1 while Jewel and I were at home doing some last minute packing, we received a text from Janet saying their flight had been canceled.
The best they do for another flight was one that got them to Ft. Lauderdale at 2:30p.m. However, the ship was set to sail from Miami at 4:00p.m. How many of you have experienced this scenario -- the plane lands, spends a few minutes, but feels like forever, taxiing to the gate, and then half of the passengers in the plane jump up, crowding the aisles getting their luggage from the overhead compartment. By the time you get out of the terminal and find transportation to get you where you want to go, you are late for your appointment. Well, that's what happened to K-J.
Jewel and I had no trouble with our flight and connections. Here's something ironic. The second flight that K-J took had a layover in Dallas. Both of us were at DFW at the same time! It would have been perfect if they could have gotten on our flight, but it was fully booked. And there were already 37 people on a standby list.
During all of this hub-bub, we were in constant contact with our family. Knowing that K-J were not going to make it to the ship on time, they said to go ahead with the cruise, make the best of it and enjoy yourselves. Here we were, now down to one couple, and we had no intention of going on a cruise in the first place. That lemonade better taste good.
Speaking of being by ourselves, i.e, not knowing anyone else prior to getting on board, reminds me of an earlier similar incident. It occurred in 2002 when Jewel and I took an Amtrak cross-country train trip. One day we decided to eat in the train dinning car. To get maximum occupancy of the dinning car, they will sit other people at the same table with you. This is how we met an elderly couple from New Jersey. We hit it right off, exchanging emails and telephone numbers. We even went to visit them in New Jersey one time while we were in New York, and continued to maintain regular contact with them until they each passed away four and two years ago.
To bring that incident up to date, on the second evening of the cruise, Jewel and I went to a dinner theater where a mens quartet was performing. We were seated with another couple from Wichita Falls, TX, Jack and Carolyn. Again we hit it off and exchanged business cards. During our conversations we mentioned K-Js situation to them. Carolyn committed that it was God's way of arranging for us to meet, which would have never happened had K-J been on board. It seemed that practicality every day we ran into them someplace on the ship. We would stop and chat for a minute or two and then each of us went about doing our own thing. Alright Jack and Carolyn . . . no pressure. It was a pleasure meeting you.
So for the first two days we just tried to scope out the lay of the land while being surrounded by 1.06 million square miles of water. There were 18 decks, 12 restaurants, 3 venues for shows and concerts, a well-equipped gym and everything else you can think of for entertainment. There was one area on the ship, deck 6, called the Atrium, which was the hub of most of the activities going on. A few examples of these include: cooking and baking demonstrations, towel folding demonstrations (don’t those animals look cute on the bed) dancing instructions and competitions, trivia games and games based on TV shows, a huge screen showing full-length movies. Also in the Atrium is where you can book shore excursion tours, and a guest service area where you can inquire about anything related to the cruise. Yes, I'm preaching to the choir. I know many of have been on cruises, even some with frequent cruiser miles, and know exactly what I'm saying. I hope this can stir up fond memories of good times you've had in the past.
Do I even need to mention all the food and eating that go on during this divorce from reality? There, I mentioned it. Enough said.
As we boarded the ship in Miami, K-J were just landing in Ft Lauderdale. They had a decision to make. Should they try to catch up to the ship at the next port or give up and go home. I gave the chance that they would continue on the cruise more than a 50 percent probability. Follow this routing if you can: starting off they took a flight from Miami to Guatemala, then another flight to El Salvador, then another flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, then another flight to Roatan Island, Honduras, then a taxi to where the cruise ship was docked. When they completed this circuitous route, there was a dent in their already thinning wallet. When we saw them for the first time aboard the ship on Monday afternoon Sep 4, Janet said to Jewel, “You're the only reason we came.”
As a point of reference, this was the sailing schedule:
Sat 02- Sep 4:00pm SHIP DEPARTS MIAMI, FLORIDA, US
Sun 03-Sep AT SEA
Mon 04-Sep 10:00am Mon 04-Sep 6:00 pm ROATAN, BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS
Tue 05- Sep 8:00am Tue 05-Sep 5:00 pm HARVEST CAYE, BELIZE
Wed 06-Sep 8:00am Wed 06-Sep 5:00 pm COSTA MAYA, MEXICO
Thu 07- Sep 8:00am Thu 07-Sep 5:00 pm COZUMEL, MEXICO
Fri 08- Sep AT SEA
Sat 09- Sep 8:00am SHIP ARRIVES AT MIAMI, FLORIDA
K-J arrived in Roatan too late to really do anything there, such as shopping the shops, taking pictures, etc. Well, there were three more ports to be explored. Next stop - Belize. Just my opinion but I thought the tourist area in Belize was laid out very nicely - location of shops, landscape of area, and the beach was the best of all the ports we visited.
Alright, on to Costa Maya. But first, breaking news. Hurricane Harvey had just about run his course along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast, but just like a wrestling tag team he was now bringing his evil sister, Irma, into the ring. If Harvey hadn't caused enough damage already, hurricane Irma was to administer the knockout punch, or pin in this case, wrecking havoc slamming Florida's eastern and western coasts and then continuing northward.
Departing Belize, instead of following the original routing, the captain turned the ship and set a coarse back to Miami. The purpose of this was to resupply the Escape with food and then return back to sea since it wasn’t known when Irma would actually hit Miami, and the extent of damage she would cause and when the Escape could finally return safely back to Miami. This same action was seen during Harvey’s reign when a ship that had sailed out of Galveston went to New Orleans to get food before returning to sea. At that time the port at Galveston was under water. In the Escape’s case, there was a side benefit in returning to Miami. It allowed passengers who were residents of Florida to disembark to get to their homes to take whatever actions they could to protect their homes and to get their families away from harm before Irma’s arrival. Also, for passengers who had driven to Miami from other states, this gave them the opportunity to cut short their cruise and return home safely in drivable cars. They saw what happened to many of the cars in Houston and Galveston.
Ques: What color are the wind and water during a hurricane?
Ans: The winds blue and the waters rose.
Now that we were back at sea what was the next step? Were we going to just sail aimlessly here and there, reminiscent of Samuel T. Coleridge’s poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Patience, my dear boy. The captain soon announced that we were heading to Cozumel. This seemingly indicated we may be covering the remainder of the cruise in reverse order. Cozumel is considered the crown jewel of the Mexican-Caribbean area, however, we seldom get pass the tourist area (shops) located just a short walk from where the ship is docked. We’re just rednecks who have no culture.
Because Cozumel was not the regularly schedule stop at this time, the Escape had to coordinate and get approval from town officials to dock there. Other cruise ships were doing the same thing. You don’t just park in someone’s driveway without getting permission. This permission is not indefinite. Ships could stay there for a day or so and then have to return to sea. For a period of five days, we were in and out (hamburger anyone?) of Cozumel three different times. The cruise director said it seemed like Ground Hog Day. Each time, the same coordination and approval needed to be obtained. The second time we were in Cozumel, we learned something that I will pass on for future reference. There is a place in the tourist area called Tiki Hut 2 where you can get free wifi. It is available aboard ship, but you have to pay for it.
So on Mon evening, Sep 11, the captain announce that we were heading to Miami, hoping that by the time we got there, the port would be open. Ultimately, we never got to Costa Maya. Alas, que lastima. We hardly knew you. With the additional days on board, what else could we do to sustain ourselves but to eat. Sorry, couldn’t resist. The buffet dining seemed to be the most popular. The main course being served was Gorging 101. We did try three of the specialty restaurants which you have to pay for. They were all delicious.
Arriving in Miami, Wed morning, Sep 13, the harbor port was open as well as the airport. People began scrambling around to make new flight reservations. We didn’t have to. We made our original return flight to Oklahoma for Wed afternoon, Sep 13 due to plans for a side trip after disembarking the Escape on Sat Sep 9. We have friends in Oklahoma who have a time share in Ft. Lauderdale. We planned to meet and spend a few days with them at their condo. That never happened. While driving there, they learned that the condo was closed and people were evacuating the area. So they turned around and drove back to Oklahoma. Although we didn’t meet them, the timing for us worked out perfectly. Hey Jack and Carolyn, God is excellent in arranging things (Jer 29:11). He is good . . . all the time.
All in all, Jewel and I had a wonderful and memorable few days, maybe with a blip here and there, but you take it all in stride. Due to delays, inconveniences, and what have you, NCL is offering all passengers a 25% discount on our next cruise with them. Anyone care to join us?
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