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My lovely wife and I have been on 20 cruises with all the major cruise lines and so we have considerable experience and perspective on how the industry has changed over the years. We chose the NCL Escape because of the short 45-minute flight from Toronto to New York. We logged into our NCL account to start pre-booking the many elements of our vacation. We looked at the shore excursions, entertainment venues, and dining options. The website worked well and we booked NASA in Port Canaveral, Atlantis in Nassau, and a New York sightseeing tour on the disembarkation day that included a transfer to LGA. Most dinners could be booked in advance. The exceptions were the dinner shows in the Supper Club; those could only be booked onboard. The complimentary restaurants could be booked easily for our preferred times. We added a three dinner optional dining package for the speciality restaurants. Those evenings were more difficult to book. Within 45 days of sailing, the only times left available were before 6:00 pm or after 8:30 pm. We thought that we were too late to get the more popular times but it would appear that many of the choices were blocked for Haven passengers. The website is not responsive to previous restaurant bookings. We booked three speciality restaurants as part of the Ultimate Dining Package. My lovely wife looked at booking Bayamo and found that there is an additional surcharge of $15 per person. We booked a dinner time and paid the surcharge in advance. When we arrived at Bayamo our reservation was refused. The explanation was that the surcharge was applied to the Ultimate Dining Package; since we had used our three dinners, the surcharge was refunded and if we wished to dine there we would have to pay the full menu price. The entertainment options were more difficult to book ahead of time. Other than the two main shows, The Brat Pack and After Midnight, all the other shows were required to be booked onboard. Trying to plan a vacation ahead of time was made more difficult because only start times are indicated on the website, there is no indication of how long the shows run making impossible to figure out what could be booked next or when to plan dinner times. Worrying about weather affecting air travel we included a two-day NCL hotel add on at the Marriott Marquis in the entertainment district. The cab fare from LGA was $60. Check in was quick and our room #1705 was nicely appointed although the bathroom was dated and in need of an update. We received a printed letter from NCL explaining the transfer process. It was poorly written and even the hotel concierge could not explain the process. Hotel staff showed us where to wait for the bus in front of the hotel at Starbucks. Our calls to the local NCL phone number failed, the number was not in service. The driver did not find us until 45 minutes after our scheduled pick up time. The Escape is a large ship with 4266 passengers and this Christmas cruise was reported to have 1500 children on board. Pier 88 in New York is tired and may be the reason for long lines to pass through security and then through the check-in process. We spoke with many frustrated passengers who felt the process was complex and understaffed. Once on board, we decided to have lunch in the dining room; our cabins would not be ready until 1:30 pm. We booked a large balcony cabin #9728. The cabin had the standard appointments; a safe, bar fridge, TV, hairdryer, soap and shampoo dispensers, and a first for us, a room controlled power switch that disables all lights and outlets if your ship card is not inserted. Our cabin was on the starboard side of the ship and our hopes of photographing New York City from our balcony was thwarted. The fog was dense and we should have booked a cabin on the port side. The port side will work during the return to NYC, but we needed to be up at 3:30 am if we wanted to see the Statue of Liberty on our return. The fog was so dense and the seas so rough, the ship could not achieve a normal cruising speed and so, we were late getting to Port Canaveral. All shore excursions were cancelled with the exception of the transfers to Disney and the other amusement parks. We spoke to other guests that did go to the parks but they were disappointed that they had less than two and a half hours before they had to return to the ship. The main venue for onboard activities is the Atrium on deck 6. The stage is ringed by all the ship services (concierge, Latitudes desk, shore excursion desk, Internet cafe, pursers desk) and the Starbucks cafe and bar. There was maybe enough seating for 150 guests; definitely not enough space to entertain 4200 people while the ship was at sea. We found it to be a terribly loud and congested area unsuited for entertainment; we avoided it at all cost. Once on board, we tried to book some of the entertainment options. NCL has a “Box Office” at the entrance to the main theatre. It is only open selected hours and when we tried to book a show, they were all standby line only. NCL believes that their online system available in the cabins or selected touch screens throughout the ship is sufficient for the majority of passengers. We found the system sluggish and unresponsive leading to more frustration than show bookings. We believe there were two reasons for the lack of show availability. The first was because large swaths of seats are reserved for Haven guests and are not available for general booking. The second is because it is impossible to cancel a reservation online should your plans change. We were first in the standby line for a completely booked comedy show at Headliners. At 10 minutes prior to the show started we were allowed in only to find 15 people already seated. Surely there must be a reason we could not book two seats in a 150 seat venue where only 15 people showed up. There was nothing relaxing about the way NCL handles their entertainment, it always felt like I was in a competition for seats and venues. The show schedules were such that I believe very few people would be able to see all of the shows available. The most notable problem was the final show for the magician Kyle Marlett in the main theatre. The main theatre is reported to hold 800 people. This would be the only unique performance of his for the cruise. The theatre was packed and many passengers were frustrated by people holding large blocks of seats; NCL staff were reluctant to say anything to remedy the situation. I blame NCL for knowingly creating a situation where up to 3400 passengers would be disappointed and unable to see this show. New for us was being asked to pay to see a show. The Choir of Man in the Supper Club was $19.95 per person. This was the first time we have been asked to pay for entertainment. This leads me to a broader observation of cruise pricing. I believe that the price of basic admission for a cruise is kept as low as possible to attract passengers and then the upsell starts. These fee-for-service options appeal to travellers that would not normally partake of certain services and so they save money. Others, like my wife and I, would like a more all-inclusive experience, paying for all the options up front leaving us to just enjoy our cruise. The NCL experience is a hybrid version wherein you can have this but not that, you paid for this but you cannot have that. I spent more time trying to figure out what I could drink and what I couldn’t. My meals were selected on the basis of what I could have and what I couldn’t have. Entertainment was selected on the basis of what I could book and what I couldn’t book. The following items are examples of how I believe NCL wants to extract more of my vacation dollars once I am onboard. I like to gamble when at sea. I am not a high roller and I brought US cash to avoid the 3% surcharge. I kept most of it in my pocket, there was not a $5 table to be found anywhere. The craps table was $10; after three point-seven-outs, I was down $100 and never went back to the casino again. Losing money so quickly is not a fun experience. We discovered that the Ultimate Beverage Package does not include taxes when in a US port. This is when you notice how expensive the menu price of the drinks are when a tax percentage is added to your onboard account. Six one-litre bottles of water delivered to your room were $14.95. While described as a premium product, the taste was reminiscent of the desalinated water available from the bathroom tap. While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with drinking desalinated water, I hope I didn’t pay for something that I could have had for free. Room service now costs $7.95 per delivery. If you wish to stay in your room and watch a movie, there are a few very old movies for free but you are charged to watch recent or current titles. The tender service to Great Stirrup Cay was another service that needed to be booked through the entertainment system. My wife and I didn’t book a time and chose to wait until the open calls began. By 2:00 pm, there were still excessive lines waiting to make it into the main show theatre. Once inside the theatre, there were still 800 passengers seated, waiting to be called for the tender to the island. We aborted the mission and decided to stay onboard the ship expecting the return tender system to be just as crowded and slow. We were invited to the Latitudes Welcome Back party. In the past, these parties were an opportunity to receive a free drink and some interesting appetizers. With the advent of the Ultimate Beverage Package, I see little reason to go to these events. There is nothing special about sitting in a show lounge and being served cheese squares and saltine crackers. I believe that people are pointing crazy and pay little attention to what is provided with the differing levels of brand dedication. After 5 cruises with NCL, all we get is a $9 bottle of sparkling wine, and an afternoon party invitation. We believe NCL should reexamine their loyalty program and try to find inducements that would appeal to travellers to continue to cruise NCL; their current program does not achieve the stated goal. Overall, the food quality was excellent. I still cannot get toast warm enough to melt butter with my breakfast, but that has been the same complaint on every ship I have ever been on. Food allergy awareness and the process is not consistent among the dining rooms. All servers asked if we had any allergies; my wife is allergic to tree nuts. The Supper Club puts a warning flag on the table colour coded to the type of allergy. Le Bistro asks but then serves a cheese plate containing walnuts. Taste (the restaurant) is so strict many of the menu items were excluded on the basis of being prepared somewhere other than on the ship and the contents could not be guaranteed to not contain nuts. I was surprised that so much food comes aboard prepared in third party onshore kitchens. When we arrived in the Bahamas, we again were disappointed by the disorganization of the shore excursion staff. There were insufficient numbers of staff to process and distribute wristbands to all the passengers who bought a transfer to Atlantis and Paradise Island. Because the Escape does this itinerary week after week, I have to hope that this was an anomaly; otherwise, it is something that NCL should look closely at to improve the process. While at sea returning to New York we were informed that our shore excursion, a three-hour bus tour of New York that culminated with a drop off at the airport, was cancelled. It was cancelled because only five people signed up and that was not enough to fill the bus. While I understand their perspective, it does not begin to recognise the choices we made based on purchasing this excursion. We chose a 17:00 return flight to Toronto because of the excursion. We would now have to find an airport transfer and spend the day in the LGA terminal waiting for our flight. In the two days we spent in New York pre-cruise, we avoided the Hop On/Hop Off bus tours knowing that we had a tour booked post cruise. Now we missed our opportunity to see the city as we had hoped. During our pre-cruise planning, NCL incentivised us to book excursions by offering $50 per person shore excursion credit. Having two excursions cancelled we learned that these were meaningless if the excursion was cancelled. We suggest that if you can negotiate your credits, try to make your credits onboard credits applied to your shipboard account so they will not be lost if the excursion is cancelled. I have waited a few weeks before I wrote this review. I know that issues seem less important with time and perspective. My wife and I had a lovely vacation and we enjoyed our time cruising over the holidays. I would have enjoyed my vacation that much more if it were not for the observations described in this review. Overall, I believe that other cruise companies do a better job of accommodating passengers on large (over 4000) ships than NCL. I might choose NCL again but based on this experience, I will also consider other ways to spend my vacation dollars.

Freestyle at a Cost

Norwegian Escape Cruise Review by Richard Adams

7 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: December 2018
  • Destination: Bahamas
  • Cabin Type: Large Balcony Stateroom
My lovely wife and I have been on 20 cruises with all the major cruise lines and so we have considerable experience and perspective on how the industry has changed over the years. We chose the NCL Escape because of the short 45-minute flight from Toronto to New York.

We logged into our NCL account to start pre-booking the many elements of our vacation. We looked at the shore excursions, entertainment venues, and dining options. The website worked well and we booked NASA in Port Canaveral, Atlantis in Nassau, and a New York sightseeing tour on the disembarkation day that included a transfer to LGA.

Most dinners could be booked in advance. The exceptions were the dinner shows in the Supper Club; those could only be booked onboard. The complimentary restaurants could be booked easily for our preferred times. We added a three dinner optional dining package for the speciality restaurants. Those evenings were more difficult to book. Within 45 days of sailing, the only times left available were before 6:00 pm or after 8:30 pm. We thought that we were too late to get the more popular times but it would appear that many of the choices were blocked for Haven passengers.

The website is not responsive to previous restaurant bookings. We booked three speciality restaurants as part of the Ultimate Dining Package. My lovely wife looked at booking Bayamo and found that there is an additional surcharge of $15 per person. We booked a dinner time and paid the surcharge in advance. When we arrived at Bayamo our reservation was refused. The explanation was that the surcharge was applied to the Ultimate Dining Package; since we had used our three dinners, the surcharge was refunded and if we wished to dine there we would have to pay the full menu price.

The entertainment options were more difficult to book ahead of time. Other than the two main shows, The Brat Pack and After Midnight, all the other shows were required to be booked onboard. Trying to plan a vacation ahead of time was made more difficult because only start times are indicated on the website, there is no indication of how long the shows run making impossible to figure out what could be booked next or when to plan dinner times.

Worrying about weather affecting air travel we included a two-day NCL hotel add on at the Marriott Marquis in the entertainment district. The cab fare from LGA was $60. Check in was quick and our room #1705 was nicely appointed although the bathroom was dated and in need of an update. We received a printed letter from NCL explaining the transfer process. It was poorly written and even the hotel concierge could not explain the process. Hotel staff showed us where to wait for the bus in front of the hotel at Starbucks. Our calls to the local NCL phone number failed, the number was not in service. The driver did not find us until 45 minutes after our scheduled pick up time.

The Escape is a large ship with 4266 passengers and this Christmas cruise was reported to have 1500 children on board. Pier 88 in New York is tired and may be the reason for long lines to pass through security and then through the check-in process. We spoke with many frustrated passengers who felt the process was complex and understaffed. Once on board, we decided to have lunch in the dining room; our cabins would not be ready until 1:30 pm.

We booked a large balcony cabin #9728. The cabin had the standard appointments; a safe, bar fridge, TV, hairdryer, soap and shampoo dispensers, and a first for us, a room controlled power switch that disables all lights and outlets if your ship card is not inserted.

Our cabin was on the starboard side of the ship and our hopes of photographing New York City from our balcony was thwarted. The fog was dense and we should have booked a cabin on the port side. The port side will work during the return to NYC, but we needed to be up at 3:30 am if we wanted to see the Statue of Liberty on our return.

The fog was so dense and the seas so rough, the ship could not achieve a normal cruising speed and so, we were late getting to Port Canaveral. All shore excursions were cancelled with the exception of the transfers to Disney and the other amusement parks. We spoke to other guests that did go to the parks but they were disappointed that they had less than two and a half hours before they had to return to the ship.

The main venue for onboard activities is the Atrium on deck 6. The stage is ringed by all the ship services (concierge, Latitudes desk, shore excursion desk, Internet cafe, pursers desk) and the Starbucks cafe and bar. There was maybe enough seating for 150 guests; definitely not enough space to entertain 4200 people while the ship was at sea. We found it to be a terribly loud and congested area unsuited for entertainment; we avoided it at all cost.

Once on board, we tried to book some of the entertainment options. NCL has a “Box Office” at the entrance to the main theatre. It is only open selected hours and when we tried to book a show, they were all standby line only. NCL believes that their online system available in the cabins or selected touch screens throughout the ship is sufficient for the majority of passengers. We found the system sluggish and unresponsive leading to more frustration than show bookings.

We believe there were two reasons for the lack of show availability. The first was because large swaths of seats are reserved for Haven guests and are not available for general booking. The second is because it is impossible to cancel a reservation online should your plans change. We were first in the standby line for a completely booked comedy show at Headliners. At 10 minutes prior to the show started we were allowed in only to find 15 people already seated. Surely there must be a reason we could not book two seats in a 150 seat venue where only 15 people showed up.

There was nothing relaxing about the way NCL handles their entertainment, it always felt like I was in a competition for seats and venues. The show schedules were such that I believe very few people would be able to see all of the shows available. The most notable problem was the final show for the magician Kyle Marlett in the main theatre. The main theatre is reported to hold 800 people. This would be the only unique performance of his for the cruise. The theatre was packed and many passengers were frustrated by people holding large blocks of seats; NCL staff were reluctant to say anything to remedy the situation. I blame NCL for knowingly creating a situation where up to 3400 passengers would be disappointed and unable to see this show.

New for us was being asked to pay to see a show. The Choir of Man in the Supper Club was $19.95 per person. This was the first time we have been asked to pay for entertainment. This leads me to a broader observation of cruise pricing. I believe that the price of basic admission for a cruise is kept as low as possible to attract passengers and then the upsell starts. These fee-for-service options appeal to travellers that would not normally partake of certain services and so they save money.

Others, like my wife and I, would like a more all-inclusive experience, paying for all the options up front leaving us to just enjoy our cruise. The NCL experience is a hybrid version wherein you can have this but not that, you paid for this but you cannot have that. I spent more time trying to figure out what I could drink and what I couldn’t. My meals were selected on the basis of what I could have and what I couldn’t have. Entertainment was selected on the basis of what I could book and what I couldn’t book.

The following items are examples of how I believe NCL wants to extract more of my vacation dollars once I am onboard.

I like to gamble when at sea. I am not a high roller and I brought US cash to avoid the 3% surcharge. I kept most of it in my pocket, there was not a $5 table to be found anywhere. The craps table was $10; after three point-seven-outs, I was down $100 and never went back to the casino again. Losing money so quickly is not a fun experience.

We discovered that the Ultimate Beverage Package does not include taxes when in a US port. This is when you notice how expensive the menu price of the drinks are when a tax percentage is added to your onboard account.

Six one-litre bottles of water delivered to your room were $14.95. While described as a premium product, the taste was reminiscent of the desalinated water available from the bathroom tap. While I don’t believe there is anything wrong with drinking desalinated water, I hope I didn’t pay for something that I could have had for free.

Room service now costs $7.95 per delivery. If you wish to stay in your room and watch a movie, there are a few very old movies for free but you are charged to watch recent or current titles.

The tender service to Great Stirrup Cay was another service that needed to be booked through the entertainment system. My wife and I didn’t book a time and chose to wait until the open calls began. By 2:00 pm, there were still excessive lines waiting to make it into the main show theatre. Once inside the theatre, there were still 800 passengers seated, waiting to be called for the tender to the island. We aborted the mission and decided to stay onboard the ship expecting the return tender system to be just as crowded and slow.

We were invited to the Latitudes Welcome Back party. In the past, these parties were an opportunity to receive a free drink and some interesting appetizers. With the advent of the Ultimate Beverage Package, I see little reason to go to these events. There is nothing special about sitting in a show lounge and being served cheese squares and saltine crackers.

I believe that people are pointing crazy and pay little attention to what is provided with the differing levels of brand dedication. After 5 cruises with NCL, all we get is a $9 bottle of sparkling wine, and an afternoon party invitation. We believe NCL should reexamine their loyalty program and try to find inducements that would appeal to travellers to continue to cruise NCL; their current program does not achieve the stated goal.

Overall, the food quality was excellent. I still cannot get toast warm enough to melt butter with my breakfast, but that has been the same complaint on every ship I have ever been on. Food allergy awareness and the process is not consistent among the dining rooms. All servers asked if we had any allergies; my wife is allergic to tree nuts. The Supper Club puts a warning flag on the table colour coded to the type of allergy. Le Bistro asks but then serves a cheese plate containing walnuts. Taste (the restaurant) is so strict many of the menu items were excluded on the basis of being prepared somewhere other than on the ship and the contents could not be guaranteed to not contain nuts. I was surprised that so much food comes aboard prepared in third party onshore kitchens.

When we arrived in the Bahamas, we again were disappointed by the disorganization of the shore excursion staff. There were insufficient numbers of staff to process and distribute wristbands to all the passengers who bought a transfer to Atlantis and Paradise Island. Because the Escape does this itinerary week after week, I have to hope that this was an anomaly; otherwise, it is something that NCL should look closely at to improve the process.

While at sea returning to New York we were informed that our shore excursion, a three-hour bus tour of New York that culminated with a drop off at the airport, was cancelled. It was cancelled because only five people signed up and that was not enough to fill the bus. While I understand their perspective, it does not begin to recognise the choices we made based on purchasing this excursion. We chose a 17:00 return flight to Toronto because of the excursion. We would now have to find an airport transfer and spend the day in the LGA terminal waiting for our flight. In the two days we spent in New York pre-cruise, we avoided the Hop On/Hop Off bus tours knowing that we had a tour booked post cruise. Now we missed our opportunity to see the city as we had hoped.

During our pre-cruise planning, NCL incentivised us to book excursions by offering $50 per person shore excursion credit. Having two excursions cancelled we learned that these were meaningless if the excursion was cancelled. We suggest that if you can negotiate your credits, try to make your credits onboard credits applied to your shipboard account so they will not be lost if the excursion is cancelled.

I have waited a few weeks before I wrote this review. I know that issues seem less important with time and perspective. My wife and I had a lovely vacation and we enjoyed our time cruising over the holidays. I would have enjoyed my vacation that much more if it were not for the observations described in this review. Overall, I believe that other cruise companies do a better job of accommodating passengers on large (over 4000) ships than NCL. I might choose NCL again but based on this experience, I will also consider other ways to spend my vacation dollars.
Richard Adams’s Full Rating Summary
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Cabin
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Service
Onboard Experience
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Large Balcony Stateroom
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