We put in for vacation time several months before the cruise and were targeting one of 2 cruises (GEM/Escape) that both left NY within a day of each other. I did numerous research and followed the prices. I ... Read More
We put in for vacation time several months before the cruise and were targeting one of 2 cruises (GEM/Escape) that both left NY within a day of each other. I did numerous research and followed the prices. I like to book at least a month out so I have time to research the ports and plan excursions. We like the smaller ships but also wanted to experience a bigger one which we never had done. I hated the thought of over 4000 people on a ship but assumed that the length and time of year of the cruise would keep the crowds down. At one month out the prices had dropped from well-over $1000 to $529 on the Escape for the 14 day cruise (sail away rate). I also got an opportunity to bid for an upgrade. We bid the minimum of $55 per person for a balcony cabin (rate online showed this was almost a $1400 room?) which we got (notified 2 weeks out). We now had the ship and the cabin. We made all the dining room and show reservations that we were allowed to. We also booked our Chacchoben Ruins Excursion for Costa Maya. We printed out our new luggage tags and started to pack.
I had also booked the Cruise Package at Hilton Garden Inn in Ridgefield. Last year we booked at Hampton Inn which was $100 cheaper. This year Hilton Garden Inn’s rates were competitive (less than $3 difference) so we booked it based on great reviews. Parking at the pier was $400. The cruise package (just over $300) included a night’s stay, Breakfast the next day, parking for the length of the cruise and a shuttle to and from port.
Nancy (wife) and John (Me) are the travelers (late 50’s). We would be driving down from Southern NH.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with the family and watch football. We started to pack. Nancy worked on Friday so I took care of last minute items and spent the rest of the day packing.
Last year we had a big storm that flooded our road and basement so we didn’t leave until early afternoon. This year my goal was to leave at 8:30am but we left at 9:40am (that hour did make a big difference). Traffic was terrible once we got to NJ/NY so we didn’t get to the hotel until 4pm. We checked into the hotel and booked a 10:30am shuttle to the cruise pier. We went for a swim and then the hot tub, had some tea in the lobby, ate some dinner in our room, relaxed and went to bed 11pm.
11/25/18 (Sea Day)-
We woke up at 4am (must have been excited), read the online postings going back and forth on my phone and then went back to sleep until 6am. We got up and went to the breakfast which gave you the option of ordering off the menu and/or eating from the buffet. Everything was very good and the breakfast went well until “I never got my omelet”. I ordered an omelet from the menu and never got it even though I had the waitress check on it 3 times. Something was going on in the kitchen. The bacon for the buffet was put out over an hour late. After waiting for 80 minutes for the omelet we ate what was available (we knew we wouldn’t starve in the next 14 days) and headed back to our room. At the elevators we bumped into Liz, Heather and Mel who were from Canada. I recognized from their online postings. We got all our gear together and headed to the lobby at 10am for our 10:30am pickup. Our ride arrived early at 10:15am. We loaded up the van and were at the pier in 20 minutes (we did have to close our eyes during most of the drive). We waited in line and were all checked in by 11:30am. At this point all the numbers were called and we just walked onto the ship. The first thing we did was to walk around and explore the ship. It took us 2 days to get fully acclimated to the ship. At 12:30 we had a sit down lunch in Taste. I had Tomato Soup, popcorn shrimp and a Philly Cheese Steak which I would have for lunch 5 times this cruise. Nancy had a Shrimp Salad, popcorn shrimp and a shrimp pasta dish. Nancy had vowed to eat as much shrimp as she could on this cruise, which she accomplished. Everything was very good. After lunch we went to H2O for the Sail away and met several CC members including Bob (organizer of the Meet and Greet) and his wife Marie. We waited to view the ship going under the Verrazano Bridge, which we missed last year. After going under the bridge we went to the Manhattan Room for a 5:30pm dinner. After dinner we went to the “Welcome Aboard Show”. It wasn’t a bad show except for the excessive talking by the Activities Director. We went to O’Sheehan’s for our first dozen wings. After eating our wings we went to our cabin. It was a beautiful balcony cabin on the 13th floor. It had a balcony with 2 chairs and a table, a full size bed, area with a couch, fridge, coffee maker, safe and a decent size bathroom. As a Silver Latitude member our complimentary bottle of champagne was waiting for us.
(weather: beautiful, high 40’s/ miles walked: 7 miles)
11/26/18 (Sea Day)-
We got up at 9am and had breakfast in the Garden Café at 11am. After breakfast we went to the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet held in the District Brew House which was organized by Leafnation. We got to know Bob (Leafnation), his wife Marie and several other nice people during the cruise. This was a lot of fun. Free flowing beer and appetizers, live music, ships officers and the Cruise Director….well done Bob! At 1pm we went to Savor for lunch but for some reason the line was very long so we went to the Garden Café. After lunch we went to our cabin to relax. At 5pm we went to Savor for dinner. Nancy had a Roast Beef dinner and I had steak. At 6:30pm there was a Medivac. Two crew members were burnt in the engine room. We watched the helicopter from our balcony as it tried to land on the ship. At 7pm we went to the show “After Midnight” and then walked around the ship.
(weather: rainy,windy/ miles walked: 4.6)
11/27/18 (Cape Canaveral)-
We woke up to bright sunshine 130 miles from Florida at 8am. Because of the Evac last night the arrival time in Port Canaveral was changed from 1pm to 4:30pm which resulted in all excursions except for 3 transfers to be cancelled. We decided to do the transfer to “Disney Springs” ($35). This was a drive of just over an hour each way with about 3.5 hours at “Disney Springs”. We had breakfast at the Garden Café at 10am. After breakfast we went to a seminar on “Thomas Kinkade” at 11am and then the cartoon trivia in the Atrium. We got an unimpressive 11 out 20 right for the cartoon trivia. The sun was shining but still too cold to sit out on our balcony. We met at the Escape Theater at 4pm to join our group for boarding the bus to ”Disney Springs”. I was very comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt until the sun went down and then I froze. The bus left the pier at 4:50pm and arrived at “Disney Springs” at 6:10pm. We were all supposed to meet back at the bus at 9:15pm. We had plenty of time to walk around and look at the shops and decorations. We also went through the “Disney Christmas Tree Trail”. The problem is that we had no time to eat, drink or listen to the entertainment. Everyone was back on the buses by 9pm, I think it had to do with the chilly night, so we headed back to the ship a little earlier. It took only 60 minutes to get back to the ship. We ate dinner at O’Sheehans (Nancy got the Reuben, I got the fish fry and we both got wings). After dinner we walked around deck #13 (pool deck) and went to bed at midnight. An announcement was made earlier in the day that the seas were too rough to tender into “Great Stirrup Cay” tomorrow so we would be skipping the island and gain another sea day. The seas weren’t rough for the whole trip so I find this a little hard to believe? (weather: sunny,chilly/ miles walked: 8.1)
11/28/18 (Sea Day)-
We got up at 10am, had breakfast and walked around the top deck. We noticed that there was no line at the Rope Course so I decided to give it a try. This was a lot of fun. The plank that went over the side was closed but hopefully I would have time to do the course again (unfortunately I never had time to do it again) before the cruise ended. To my surprise the course was more intimidating than I thought it would be. After the Rope Course we played some miniature golf and then went into the pool for a while. For some reason the water in the pool was very warm and there were no crowds. After spending some time in the pool we decided to ride the waterslide (3 times) with no wait. This is a great slide. We tried riding the body slide but it was very slow. After doing the slides we hung out in the H2O area (adults only) for a while. We were getting hungry so we went back to the cabin to change and then went to the Garden Café for lunch. On our way back from lunch we bumped into Liz, Heather and Mel who offered us their bottles of champagne. We met them at 4pm and talked a while. The champagne came in quite handy for making mimosas during the cruise. We had dinner and then went to the 80’s Dance Party for an hour and then went to bed.
(weather:cool,sunny/ miles walked: 5.7)
11/29/18 (Sea Day)-
We were up 10am and went to breakfast at 11am. We walked around the ship to the different venues until 2pm and then went to our scheduled reservation for the “Escape Room” which was held in the Supper Room. This was fun and difficult. Our group came in 2nd place getting 4 out of the 6 answers. We had lunch at O’Sheehan’s and then laid around the pool until the 6pm Latitudes Cocktail Party. This was fun. There was unlimited appetizers and unlimited drinks for about an hour. After the Party we went to one of the main shows called “For the Record” in the Escape Theater. When the show was over we listened to “Howl at the Moon” (dueling pianos) and some other music around the ship and then went to bed.
(weather: warm,sunny/ miles walked 5.2 miles)
We were up at 9am, had breakfast and were off the ship at 10am. We planned on walking around the port area in Jamaica for a short time and then spending the rest of the day on the ship. As it turned out we met up with Bob and Marie at Margaritaville which is a short walk from the ship. This is a great place to go if you want to get off the ship for a while. There is a beach and a pool with a swim up bar and waterslide. You can use both for free. You can buy drinks or food but there is no pressure to do so. Nancy and Marie swam for a while in the ocean. We dried off and were back on the ship at 2pm. We had lunch at the Garden Café and walked around the ship. It was time to shower and change our clothes for Dinner at Savor. We ate dinner at Savor at 5pm. Nancy had the coconut shrimp and I had the Chicken Parm (one of my favorite meals on NCL ships). After dinner we took a nap and then waited in the Standby line at 8:30pm at Headlines, for the Comedy Show. We got into the show without any problems (plenty of seats) and enjoyed the show. The warmup comedian was terrible but the Headliner was very good. After the show we listened to JR in the Atrium for a while and then we were in bed by 11pm. (weather: warm,sunny/ miles walked 7.7 miles)
12/1/18 (Grand Cayman)-
This was a tricky day because of the tendering. I told Nancy that our timing had to go perfect for us to complete our objectives and everything did go perfect. We needed to get up early to catch an early tender, to catch the right city buses and to get back to the tender area by 3pm. We woke at 7am and went to breakfast. After eating breakfast we finished packing two backpacks full of gear/supplies. We tried following “tender” directions from 3 different crew members which were conflicting and confusing. We decided to go to the tender location at 9am and just take our chances. We had no problems and just walked onto the boat without any lines. We followed advice from an online friend and took the city bus (no lines/no wait) near the library. This is a short walk from the pier. We were in the Turtle Farm before 11am (bus was $2.50 a person). We bought the $18 ticket which basically covered the turtle area. You could also buy a $49 ticket that included a swimming pool, turtle swim and a few other small things. We were happy with holding the turtles and didn’t need to swim with them. If you like turtles this was a lot of fun. We watched, held and went into the tanks with the turtles. After we were done we walked across the street to the Dolphin Center to watch the dolphins perform. We had heard there was an area used for snorkeling nearby but we couldn’t find it so we grabbed the first bus (no wait). We drove through Hell and around part of the island before getting to 7-mile beach. We swam for a while and walked the beach. When we were done we walked past Calico Jacks to a beautiful hotel. We got some cold water and walked around the hotel and then used their dressing rooms to change back into our clothes. We exited the hotel and flagged down another city bus ($2.50) with no wait at 2pm. We got back to the pier by 2:30pm, did some shopping and were at the Tender by 3pm. Once again there were no waits/no lines and we were back on the ship by 4pm. We went to our cabin to shower and then up to the Garden Café for a light snack before our dinner at 5pm. We got our usual window seat in “Taste” in time to watch the ship departure from Grand Cayman. After eating we went to the pool deck to relax and then to bed.
(weather: hot,sunny/ miles walked 7.5 miles)
12/2/18 (Sea Day)-
We got up at 8am and ate breakfast. Nancy is collecting the free charms so we went to the Atrium to collect the two she didn’t have. We changed into our suits and went up to the pool.
First we rode the slide 5 times with no wait and then went to the pool. We spent about an hour in the pool, the maximum amount of other people in the pool was under 20. We never ran into crowds in either the adult pool or family pool. We changed our clothes and then went to a health seminar. After leaving the seminar we went up to the Garden Café for lunch and then played some mini-golf. After golfing we relaxed for a while and then went to dinner at the Manhattan Room. We both had Veal Picata which was very good like everything else we ate on the ship. After dinner we walked around the ship and took pictures. We went to the Atrium and listened to the “Golden Octives” a very talented group. Once they went on break we went to the many large TV screens and watched the Patriots game. We knew that the next three days would be very busy so we went back to the cabin and went to bed at 10pm.
(weather: hot,sunny/ miles walked 5.7 miles)
12/3/18 (Harvest Caye)-
We woke at 7am and had breakfast at 8am. We exited the ship and walked on the long pier to Harvest Caye. We were on the island by 10am. This is a beautiful, clean, relaxing place. Before swimming we looked in all the shops, looked at any available wildlife and went through the butterfly enclosure. Our intent was to swim in the ocean and then do some snorkeling. We spent quite a bit of time swimming at the beach but couldn’t find any place to snorkel. After talking to several people who were trying to snorkel we were told that decent snorkeling was non-existent on the island. We finished swimming at the beach and then went to the large swimming pool to swim. We had our share of swimming and were getting hungry so we got out of the pool. Nancy took one last dip in the ocean and then we headed back toward the ship. We explored the shops one more time and bumped into “Sunshine” twice, the only dog on the Escape. We got back on the ship and showered and changed. After putting on dry clothes we went to eat. We played Trivia in the Atrium and then took a nap. After waking from our nap we went to the Garden Café for dinner, watched some football on the giant screens and went to bed at 11pm.
(weather: hot,sunny/ miles walked 7.5 miles)
12/4/18 (Costa Maya)-
Today we had our NCL excursion to the Chacchoben Ruins. We got up (had ship gives us wakeup call) at 7:30am. Since the Chacchoben Ruins was an hour away we decided to skip breakfast. We were on the pier to meet our tour guide by 9am. The ride through Costa Maya took an hour. It was very interesting seeing how the people lived and hearing about the country from our Tour guide. We arrived at the ruins which is located in a Jungle with very good walking paths. We were originally told to use a lot of bug spray and wear pants/long sleeves so we packed 2 backpacks full of supplies/gear. Don’t know if it was the time of year but there were no bugs and shorts/T-shirt were very comfortable. Our guide stopped at each “ruin” and talked about them. This was a very interesting excursion. We spent a couple of hours at the ruins, climbed on the bus and were back at port by 1:30pm. The path throughout the ruins was about 2 miles long. There were several nice shops at the port so we walked around until 3pm. There was a “high wire” type show, with 4 men dressed as birds and several other smaller attractions like dolphins, flamingos etc. in the port area. Since we had missed lunch on the ship we went to the Garden Café for a snack. We decided to hang out in our room until our 6pm dinner reservation in “Taste” (Nancy had salmon, I had Teriyaki Steak and we split a shrimp/ribs plate). We watched the sail-away and were in bed by 10pm.
(weather: hot,sunny/ miles walked 6.6 miles)
We woke at 8am and ate breakfast. We walked off the ship at 9am. The port of Cozumel is a huge downtown area with many shops, bars, restaurants, ect. It is like a very nice open air mall. We had originally planned on doing the ships snorkeling excursion but when we tried to book they only had one spot left. Instead of trying to book with a local company we decided to just tour around the port area. We walked several miles along the waterfront. We looked in many stores, bought some souvenirs, took lots of pictures and stopped for a few beers along the walk (Beer ranged from .85 to $3 and you could drink as you walked). We went back to the ship for lunch and found out they weren’t serving sit down lunches today so we went back to the Garden Café. Since the ship wasn’t crowded we decided to take a swim in the Family pool and then went to H2O. We used the hot tub and then relaxed in the artificial waterfall grotto before laying in the sun for a while. We were getting hungry so we showered and went to dinner at “Taste” (Nancy had Eggplant Parm and I had steak). We went back to the room and Nancy fell asleep for the night. I went to the Escape Theater to watch a comedian. I walked around the ship and then went to bed at 10pm. (weather: warm,sunny/ miles walked 8.6 miles)
12/6/18 (Sea Day)-
We were up at 8am and had breakfast at 9am. We looked at all the art on the ship that was being auctioned off all week and then walked around the ship. We went to Trivia in the Atrium and then had lunch in “Savor” at Noon. After lunch Nancy went to a Health Seminar and I went to an “Officers Q&A” and the “How to be a Billionaire” game show. At 3pm we went to the “Crew All-Star Talent show”. This was very good but very short. When we were on the GEM they had 10-12 performers on the much smaller ship but there were only 5 acts on the Escape. We went to the Chinese Dinner buffet for dinner at the Garden Café which was delicious. At 8pm, after dinner, we went to the Atrium to watch the “Deal or No Deal” game show which is always a lot of fun. We headed back to the cabin to rest until it was time to go to the “Glow Party” (this has replaced the White Hot Party). Nancy fell asleep but I wanted some pictures/video so I planned on going to it for a short time myself. The Party was much better than I thought it would be, very energetic and kept my interest for over an hour. I left the Party at midnight and went to bed.
(weather: cooling down,sunny/ miles walked 6.4 miles)
12/7/18 (Sea Day)-
We woke up at 8am and had our traditional breakfast buffet at 9am. After breakfast we went to watch the “Progressive Trivia, round #7”. We stayed and played the “Around the World Trivia” and got our best score of the trip, 17 out of 20. We did some afternoon trivia and then watched the “Deal or No Deal” show. As we were walking through the Casino we noticed a large crowd gathered around a Black Jack table. There was a tournament going on which we watched for a while. I think the winner won over $4000. We watched the “Weakest Link” from our table in O’Sheehan’s while we ate a dozen wings. We walked around the ship taking pictures until it was time for dinner at the Garden Café. After dinner we went to the cabin until it was time for our 9pm Comedy Show. Comedian Frank Townsend had the crowd roaring, he was great. We went up to the Garden Café for a drink and then to H2O for the 80’s/90’s Party. We talked to the Cruise Director Alvin for a while for the 3rd time. He is a very interactive and friendly individual and always seemed to have time if you wanted to talk. After the party we went to bed at 11pm.
(weather: much cooler,sunny/ miles walked 6.8 miles)
12/8/18 (Sea Day)-
We woke up at 8am and had our last full breakfast at 9am. We went down to the Atrium to watch the “Progressive Trivia Finals”. Following the Trivia we watched a demonstration on “How to make towel animals”. We walked around the ship and then went to “Taste” for lunch. We had the same lunch (had this 5 times) that we had on the first day. We picked up our “Lime” luggage tags and headed back to our cabin to begin our long packing process. After doing most of our packing we went to the “Farewell Show” and then walked around the ship for the last time. Our plan was to meet Heather, Liz and Mel in the Atrium at 9:45am on Debarkation Day to share a shuttle back to the Hilton Garden Inn in NJ where all our cars were parked. We put our two bags out at 10:30pm and went to bed at 11pm.
(weather: cold,sunny/ miles walked 4.9 miles)
12/9/18 (Debarkation Day)-
We were up at 7am. We went to Garden Café for a light breakfast. When we were done we went back to our cabin to do our final packing and were down in the Atrium by 9:30am. The 5 of us left the ship and were in a long line to get into the cruise terminal building. Once we got through customs we called our shuttle and met them across the street. There was seven of us taking the shuttle back to the hotel. We all said our goodbyes, Heather, Liz and Mel headed toward Canada and we headed to NH. We hit very little traffic and got home in less than 4.5 hours. (weather: cold,sunny/ miles walked 4.3 miles)
This was another great cruise. Contrary to common postings about the Escape there were “very few lines” or “crowded pools” on this cruise. I would assume that the time of year, length of cruise and the number of children on board were the main reasons for this. It seemed like the majority of people I talked to had gotten upgrades which supports the theory that the ship had a lot of available cabins. We got into several conversations with Alvin the Cruise Director and he told us that there were about 4000 on board (seemed like less to us)? The elevators seemed to only be crowded after an activity concluded, which is logical. We decided that we loved the larger ship and smaller ships equally. We found just as many advantages/disadvantages between the two and wouldn’t hesitate taking either one for future cruises.
Cabin- As I mentioned earlier, we booked a guaranteed inside cabin for 14 days for $529. We had a chance to bid on an upgrade balcony cabin (which was listed for just under $1400 PP) so I bid the minimum of $55. We won the bid and got a balcony cabin on floor #13, cabin number 13146 overlooking the shuffleboard court. The cabin was large with a Full size bed, couch, fridge and coffee maker. We enjoyed the novelty of the balcony but didn’t use it as much as I thought we would.
Cabin Steward- Our cabin steward was “middle of the road”. He was the only steward that ever filled our ice bucket every day without asking but on the other hand we had to remind him to restock several items over the 2 weeks. He kept the cabin clean but seemed to overlook it on a few days.
Ship- this was our first cruise on a bigger ship. We were expecting not to like the size, number of people and lines. Since we learned how to navigate the ship after only two days, there weren’t many lines and the crowds were minimal we enjoyed the Escape very much. We took part in the many activities/recreation on the ship.
Food- We only eat in the Complimentary restaurants and thought the food was fantastic. The service was slow as usual but we didn’t have a bad meal for the whole trip. We thought the meals were the best we’ve had on all our cruises at both the sit down and Buffet restaurants. We actually ate less at the sit down restaurants (5pm seating) so that we could have a snack at the Buffet before it closed after dinner.
Entertainment- We thought the two main shows “For the Record” and “After Midnight” were done very well. The singing and dancing were excellent but neither show was our taste. I had booked both shows twice but we were satisfied with one performance each. The bands and entertainment around the ship was more to our liking. We thought several of the Comedians were great and liked a lot of the smaller shows.
Activities- Like all ships we have been on, the Escape had plenty of activities that we took part in. I wish we had time for more of them. The Escape Room on the ship was well done and we enjoyed watching ballgames and videos on the giant screens. The Rope Course, mini-golf and water slides were a lot of fun.
Atrium- This was probably the one and only thing we hated on the ship. First I must say that the whole Atrium is beautiful. The lighting was always changing and the whole ship (including the Atrium) was nicely decorated for Christmas. I’m not sure who designed the Atrium but it is the most ridiculous layout I’ve ever seen. Everything was run in the atrium and we were there every day for something. Even with the ships lower occupancy the atrium was over crowded. They used the giant 2-story screen for everything from music to games and only the people who were close to the stage could see everything. They put out some folding chairs but that view was blocked by the overhang of the 2nd deck. There was no walking path to move around and people were just tripping over each other. A simple solution would have been to move some of the bigger activities like “Deal or no Deal”, “Towel Demo”, ect to the Escape theater like they do on the smaller ships.
Ports- One of the main reasons we took this cruise was because of the variety of Ports. We enjoyed them but not as we planned. “Port Canaveral” was supposed to be a beach day but because of the Evac which caused a 4:30pm arrival most of the tours/tourist areas were closed. We decided to take the Disney Springs transfer which turned out to be a nice evening. “Great Stirrup Cay” was supposed to be our next port but because of “rough waters” (didn’t see rough water all cruise) this turned into a Sea Day. Third port was “Jamaica”. We planned on staying on the ship but decided to do a little exploring around Port. The port area looks like it has improved a lot. After walking around we stopped at Margarita Ville for a couple of hours where you can use their beach and pool for free. Fourth port was “Grand Cayman”. We had a great day but were hoping to do some snorkeling near the Turtle Farm. We couldn’t find a spot that allowed us to do that so we went to 7-mile beach. The fifth port was “Harvest Caye”. Once again we expected to spend a portion of the day snorkeling which never happened. Our sixth port “Costa Maya” was the only port that went completely as planned with the ruins. Our final port was “Cuzumel”. We waited too long to book the ship’s snorkeling excursion (it was sold out) so we spent the day walking around the waterfront.
Cruise/Hotel Package- In my opinion this is a great deal. Parking at port would have cost us $400. The package cost a little over $300 and included 1 night at the hotel (Hilton Garden Inn), breakfast, parking for the length of the cruise and a shuttle both to and from the pier. The hotel was very nice and clean. It had a workout room, pool and hot tub. There was water, coffee and tea in the lobby. The breakfast was very good and had a nice variety of food. Other than my “omelet experience” it was excellent. A little shakeup in the kitchen would help. My car was safe all cruise and the shuttle to the pier and back worked flawlessly. Read Less