Let me start off by saying that I didn't want to compare these two ships as every cruise line is different in their own ways, but the Norwegian Escape left my wife and I with a bad taste in our mouths after having a wonderful time on ... Read More
Let me start off by saying that I didn't want to compare these two ships as every cruise line is different in their own ways, but the Norwegian Escape left my wife and I with a bad taste in our mouths after having a wonderful time on Royal Caribbeans Anthem the year prior. The two boats are easily comparable as both were launched in 2015 and hold roughly the same amount of passengers, but the differences between the two are vast. I'll start from the beginning.
My wife and I were on Royal Caribbeans Anthem in February of 2018 and we absolutely loved the ship. The experience itself seemed to check every box for what a cruise should be. When deciding on what cruise line to choose from, we were told you couldn't go wrong with Royal Caribbean or Norwegian. Last February we choose the Anthem, and for our second cruise February 2019, which would be for our honeymoon we choose the Escape.
Starting with the embarkation at pier 88 in NYC, we arrived around 930am which was our scheduled time. Little did we know, we wouldn't be boarding the ship until at least 3 hours later as Norwegian staff crammed as many people into the pier as possible. People were laying on the floor and sitting where they could making the place an absolute mess. Not the greatest first impression to say the least. When we boarded the Anthem the year prior, we were stepping foot onto the ship in about 30 minutes from their pier in Bayonne NJ. In this aspect Royal Caribbean has mastered the embarkation process.
Buffet (Garden Cafe)
Eventually we boarded the ship and decided to grab something to eat at the buffet which is called the Garden Cafe. We found it strange and alarming that Norwegian staff wasn't telling guests to wash their hands before before entering the buffet as this is a quick way germs and viruses are spread. Mind you about two cruises prior, the escape had a norovirus outbreak which caused many staff and guests to become sick. What is this cruise line thinking? On the anthem the staff ropes off the area to walk straight into the buffet, forcing guests to wash their hands in a line of sinks. So now we enter the buffet and its an another absolute mess. Walking around you were constantly being bumped and elbowed by guests while trying to keep your plate in your hands. I understand that plenty of guests had just boarded the ship and all wanted to eat just like we did, but this was a daily occurrence at the buffet no matter what time you went. The layout just wasn't made to hold a medium to large amount of people at the same time. The food quality was also sub par, with the best choices being hamburgers and hot dogs on most days. On Royals Anthem we visited the buffet quite often as there was plenty of food to choose from, and the layout never made you feel crowded or overwhelmed.
Spa Balcony Stateroom
After leaving the buffet it was announced that our room was ready so we started to head to our cabin. While walking down the hallway we noticed some other rooms had been decorated for special occasions with balloons and signs for birthdays and such. Naturally we were excited to see what Norwegian had set up in our room for our honeymoon. To our amazement when we opened our door there was no sign that my wife and I were celebrating our special occasion at all. What we found was a piece of paper that stated we would receive a cake at dinner to celebrate our special occasion. We didn't ask for anything to be set up in our room, but it's the little things that cruise lines do to go out of their way that can be truly special and show how above and beyond they would go for their guests. In this moment Norwegian had dropped the ball again. On the bright side our stateroom attendant was very polite and courteous.
Now for the layout of the ship, as many other reviewers have mentioned it's very cookie cutter and not aesthetically pleasing. The sight lines are awful, blocked by zig-zagging decks and walls. There's not much about the ship that wowed us. It's like Norwegian tried to cram as many restaurants into the ship as possible which unfortunately comes at the cost of passenger comfortability. Everywhere you went there was a crowd of people. The only way I can explain it is, no matter where you looked it seemed as if a show just let out and people didn't know where to go. The design of the ship forces crowds of people to be bottle necked into small areas and walkways. While on the Anthem the ship was at full capacity, but you would rarely feel that way as the layout and design of the ship helps control the flow of guests to not make it feel crowded. On the escape you absolutely knew that the ship was at its fullest capacity as you struggled to fight the crowds in every area. Numerous guests we had talked to stated that this was their first cruise and would probably be their last due to this and we had to assure them that there are other ships and cruise lines out there that don't feel the way the escape feels. Other guests even apologized to us that we were celebrating our honeymoon on the ship as they felt just as overwhelmed and uncomfortable as we did. Also be aware there is 1 laughably tiny outdoor pool on this ship that can fit roughly 30 of the 4000 people aboard. We found found it quite strange considering this is a cold weather ship sailing from New York in February. There are 0 indoor pools, just a large heated indoor spa jacuzzi which is located in the Thermal Spa. Compare this to the Anthems 2 large indoor pools and 1 large outdoor pool.
After purchasing the highest drink package you would assume that every drink you order will be free. Well not on Norwegian where bottled Norwegian water will be an upcharge of $3 or more. Also you better get used to the sub-par potted coffee at the buffet because if you want any espresso drink on the ship you'll be paying extra for it. Norwegian cruise lines really couldn't include water and espresso in the drink package? On the Anthem bottled water is of course free with the drink package, along with espresso drinks and the like. In fact the Anthem actually has a Starbucks on its main floor that is 100% free with its drink package. Also if you'd like to play pool, darts, bowling, better swipe that room key because its all an upcharge to your account. Norwegian trying to nickel and dime you were common words heard around the ship from other guests. Speaking of room keys, Norwegian requires you to carry it around at all times in order to swipe for drinks/food or to enter/exit the ship and stateroom. Royal Caribbean gives you a rubber bracelet that replaces you room key so no need to keep anything in your pockets as this bracelet will do all the above.
The only gripe I had with the casino is that its spread out across a bunch of rooms which makes it lose that tight table gambling vibe. Rarely would you hear people cheering at the roulette or craps tables. Instead of the casino being its own entity, slot machines are spread across hallways making it look like Norwegian wanted this to be a cash grab for anyone who walked by.
While on the ship we attended 3 shows at the theater. The Choir of Man, After Midnight, and a card magicians act. The Choir of Man and After Midnight were both okay at best, nothing to really get excited about as the shows drag along till you'e wondering when it'll end. Both shows lacked a storyline and were more cabaret style song performances. The theater itself was not visually pleasing and looked like a run of the mill movie theater. Being a musician for 20 plus years, I will say that the live band for After Midnight was excellent. The card magician was very entertaining as he keep you interested and laughing throughout his performance. Apart from the theater, every single night there were live performances in almost every bar on the ship. Now normally I wouldn't complain about this, but most of these musicians lacked talent to the point they were laughable to watch. It's like Norwegian didn't care about talent and just wanted every room to be filled with live noise. Aside from that, other reviews mentioned a common problem which is that the volume of these performers was headache inducing making you not able to tolerate being in the same area or room for too long of a time.
To my wife and I, the only saving grace for this ship was the thermal spa. The thermal spa, which you need to purchase a spa package or day pass for, is absolutely essential to get away from this crowded ship. We spent most of our time in this area as this was the only place where we could relax and not feel like choosing the Escape was a terrible decision. The rooms in the Thermal Spa include a salt room, sauna, solarium, steam room, and snow room. All of these roooms are relaxing in their own way. The Thermal Spa has comfortable lounge chairs/heated stone seats with an amazing view out the front of the ship. Again, this was the only place in the ship to actually get away from the rest of the ship.
Sit down dining/Up charge restaurants
While the buffet food on the Anthem was much better than the Escape, The Escapes sit down food was better than the Anthems. The complimentary sit down dining in the Manhattan room on the Escape offered delicious meals and the staff at all these restaurants were excellent. The food at the up charge restaurants on the Escape was also fantastic. We ate at Cagneys, Moderno, and Teppanyaki. I can't attest to the up charge restaurants on the Anthem as we didn't visit any.
As other reviews from different departures have mentioned, it's become a common event that the Escape frequently skips over stopping at their private island, The Great Stirrup Cay. This comes as a great disappointment as this should be one of the most relaxing stops on the trip. Without this stop, guests lose a beach day and are stuck on a crowded boat gazing out at the water they wish they could be swimming in. We were notified that we would not be stopping at this island around 930am, yet we could not get to another port until 7pm, losing an entire beach day. Remember leaving out of New York, this stop is imperative to enjoying a beach vacation in February. Losing this stop effectively hurts the enjoyment of this vacation as it's only 1 of 2 tropical ports you stop at. Reading other reviews it seems there's some kind of connection between the Escape almost NEVER stopping a this location. On the other hand, Royal Caribbean is actually currently building a dock at their private island (Coco Cay) to prevent the tendering process and therefore any disappointment of not being able to stop there.
Referring back to how Norwegian staff allowed guests into the buffet without washing their hands, I ended up catching some sort of cold/sinus infection on the the 3rd day of the cruise. Whether or not this is related to such, by the end of the cruise you heard plenty of coughing and hacking from other guests. While walking around the ship glasses and plates on the floor and in the corners was a common sight. As a previous reviewer mentioned, on royals ships the staff would all chip together to get a task done. Plenty of times I watched as Norwegian staff would carelessly walk by a mess that needed to be cleaned up.
Service of staff
Whats even more frustrating than a crowded ship is staff that can't even answer the simplest of questions. Multiple times we asked a crew member a question only to be diverted to another crew member who also didn't have an answer. Sometimes the staff members actually didn't seem to have enough language in order to be able to help and communicate with us. The day before disembarkation, my wife and I approached a staff member standing next to the luggage tags and asked a simple question about which tag to use. The staff member simply looked at us in confusion and proceeded to point at the guest services line which was 20 people long. Every time we called guest services from out stateroom, we were on hold for 10 minutes with not one single person answering the phone. On the Anthem, Royal Caribbeans staff would rarely not be able to answer a question, and if they couldn't they would go out of their way to find you an answer. There were plenty of times on the Anthem that you would see multiple staff members standing around with a sign in their hand saying, "How can I help you?"
Overall our experience with Norwegian cruise lines was abysmal. My wife and I absolutely did not feel as we were on vacation, let alone our honeymoon. This is not the way we wanted to spend such a special occasion surrounded by crowds, mess, noise, and confusion. To top it all an incapable, inexperienced crew that doesn't seem to care about making your trip special and unforgettable. It is unknown if we will sail Norwegian cruise lines in the future, but I can guarantee you we will not step foot on the disaster you call a ship, the Escape. If this was our first cruise, we certainly would never sail on a cruise ship again. Fortunately for us, we have experienced Royal Caribbeans Anthem, and know the wonderful experience quality cruising can bring. Read Less