By Brittany Chrusciel
Cruise Critic Associate Editor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Norwegian Escape Dining

Norwegian worked with staff at sister line Oceania Cruises (a cruise line that has some of the best cuisine around) to create the menus onboard Escape, and it shows, especially in the included dining restaurants, where menus generally are innovative and food quality is high. Service is attentive and quick, and waiters are willing to make informed recommendations. The variety of restaurants and menus means passengers who don't want to spend extra on meals onboard have plenty of choices. Escape doesn't have a main dining room in the traditional sense, where everyone eats at set times in a large venue. Instead, it has a larger restaurant, called the Manhattan Room, and two smaller venues, Taste and Savor, which offer the same menus. Meals are "freestyle," meaning passengers can show up when it's convenient for them, rather than at set times. One night, you might enjoy a private dinner at a table for two, while the next you might join other passengers at a table for six, depending on your request. You can make reservations for the free dining venues online before your cruise, on your in-cabin TV, or by using the touchscreen monitors located throughout the ship.

Taste and Savor Restaurants (Deck 6): The included-in-fares restaurants sit across from one another, midship, with Mixx Bar in between. The menus are the same, but the decor is slightly different: Taste is done in golds, creams and crimson, while Savor takes on royal blue as its base tone. Both main dining restaurants are paneled in dark wood, but they feel light and airy with contemporary and quirky art on the walls and chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. They are the antithesis of main dining rooms, with the space divided such that you really have no idea how big it is. You'll find lots of semiprivate areas and a wide variety of seating options, accommodating parties from two to six and beyond, many right beside the windows.

Both venues serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is a pretty simple affair -- fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal and Continental fare, with cooked-to-order eggs, breakfast meats and one or two other hot dishes served 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

The main lunch and dinner menus change daily and accommodate a host of dietary requests; there is typically a vegetarian dish listed on the menu, but you might want to request ahead for gluten-free items. It's an eclectic and exciting variety, with appetizers like Cajun shrimp salad, Vietnamese pho soup or hummus to start. If you don't want a full three-course meal at lunch, choose from a wide selection of sandwiches, such as a Philly cheesesteak or grilled Cajun grouper sandwich. Mains include fish and chips, shrimp arrabiata, roasted leg of lamb and fried chicken.

You can see the influence of Norwegian's upscale brands Oceania and Regent in the cuisine, with lots of rich meat dishes at dinner. The rib of beef is exceptional -- possibly the best dish of this sort we have had onboard a ship. It was perfectly cooked, succulent and juicy. Plus, the waiters brought mustard and horseradish, which gets a huge thumbs-up. On the other hand, the breaded veal was not a success; it should be crisp but was verging on mushy.

Desserts are delicious and extensive: creme caramel, warm chocolate lava cake, raspberry truffle cake, and a daily selection of ice cream and cheese. Chef's Signature Dishes are paired with selected wine recommendations at lunch and dinner. (Wines start at $7.95 a glass and $32 a bottle.) Taste and Savor are open noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch, and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. The quality of cuisine gets close to a fine dining experience, and service is outstanding.

The Private Room at Taste (Deck 5): The Private Room at Taste is located below Taste Restaurant, and you can enter either from Deck 5 or from a staircase in Taste on Deck 6. It's open mainly to large families or business groups who prefer their own area, but it's also used as overflow for Taste; you can request the Private Room when making dinner reservations. The decor is dark and restrained, with art flourishes on the walls and large curtains to separate spaces. The ceilings are low, and it can get noisy. It has a capacity of 100.

The hours and menu are exactly the same as upstairs, so expect items such as a vegetarian appetizer, fish or baked escargots, for example. We had the tomato, rice and beans, which was rich, spicy and tasty.

The Manhattan Room (Deck 7): Norwegian Escape's Manhattan Room is the largest complimentary dining venue onboard. It's a two-level restaurant simply decorated with blues, creams and light wood. Tables are available for parties of nearly any size. A spacious dance floor takes up a large swath of space near floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the room. Neon lights hang above the dance floor, where dancers can move along to live music (not that we saw anyone dancing). The menu in the Manhattan Room is the same as in Taste and Savor, though this restaurant is only open for dinner, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Deck 7): O'Sheehan's is Norwegian Cruise Line's Irish-inspired pub. Onboard Escape, it occupies some major real estate midship on Deck 7, overlooking the atrium below. The space is divided into two areas, a larger bar section and a smaller dining section, but the food and drink menus are the same, regardless of where you sit. In the dining section, tables and booths are available, and it's significantly quieter than the bar area. Bites at O'Sheehan's are pretty average when it comes to quality. Menu options for lunch and dinner include wings, burgers, sandwiches, salads, hot dogs and fajitas, along with some Irish classics like fish and chips (the best meal on the menu) and shepherd's pie. Breakfast actually is the highlight and one of the better-kept secrets onboard: Skip the crowds at the Garden Cafe, and head to O'Sheehan's instead for casual morning options like oatmeal, French toast and omelets, made to order. O'Sheehan's serves food 24 hours a day.

Garden Cafe (Deck 16): The Garden Cafe is Escape's massive buffet complex. It's designed with stations, which repeat throughout so passengers don't have to do endless laps to make sure they didn't miss anything. This also effectively manages passenger flow, as lines are seldom long. The space is bright, with plenty of natural light, and it employs a neutral color palette that's heavy on grays and beiges.

In the morning, a wide range of breakfast options is available, though they don't vary much from day to day. American-style options include scrambled eggs, homestyle potatoes, biscuits and gravy, French toast, waffles, sausage, lox and bacon. Skip the runny, made-from-powder scrambled eggs, and head instead to one of the omelet stations, where you can get eggs made to order. Other options with a more international bent include herring, bangers, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, and beans. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., though early risers can enjoy a Continental breakfast starting at 6 a.m.

Lunch, served from noon to 3 p.m., includes warm and cold salads, sandwiches, carving stations, pizza, a pasta bar and various protein selections. Options change each day, though the most popular (the salad and pasta bar, for example) are available every day. Don't miss the small cheese and deli meats section; these offerings also change daily, so get your hands on brie and liver sausage one day, edam and prosciutto the next.

Dinner, served from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., also includes carving stations, salad bars and a variety of hot mains and sides, like roasted chicken and rice. Dessert options abound as well, with cookies, puddings and tarts, for example.

The Haven Restaurant (Deck 18): The dedicated restaurant for The Haven's suite passengers is larger than ever, just like the entire keycard-access complex. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Haven Restaurant offers a step above the shipwide cuisine, with included menu items like lobster bisque, dive scallops, a charcuterie and cheese platter, and berries and mango in Grand Marnier. Decor is ocean-inspired in muted blues and dark grays, with plenty of natural light. A sizable seating area is just outside the entrance to the restaurant and makes for a great place to relax with a pre-dinner drink from the bar just steps away.

Fee Dining

Passengers have an abundance of choice when it comes to spending money on food onboard Norwegian Escape. There's Asian, French, Italian, Latin American and Brazilian. Most options are a la carte, so you'll pay per item rather than a cover charge for the full meal. While prices generally are cheaper than you might pay at a shoreside restaurant, they can add up quickly when you add in drinks and desserts. If you plan to dine at multiple for-fee restaurants, consider the Specialty Dining Package, which starts at $59 for a three-meal package if you order it online, with your travel agent or directly with the cruise line before you cruise. The SDP covers most of the alternative restaurants, though some, such as Bayamo, require an additional fee ($15, in this case).

Room Service; $7.95, except Continental breakfast: Long gone are the days of door hangers. If you want room service breakfast or room service any time of day, hit the button on your cabin phone reading "room service." It's a flat $7.95 service charge per order (so make sure everyone in your party orders at the same time). The exceptions to the fee are if you're a suite passenger or if you're ordering a Continental breakfast -- consisting of fruit, yogurt and cereal -- between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. Available menu items for a fee include omelets and French toast for breakfast; chicken noodle soup, cobb salad, cheese plate, BLT or cheeseburger for lunch; and 11-inch pizzas. For a step up to an entree, try grilled salmon, spaghetti Bolognese or Argentine skirt steak. Desserts include New York cheesecake, strawberry pound cake and chocolate cake.

Margaritaville at Sea (Deck 17); a la carte: Jimmy Buffett and Norwegian Cruise Line would seem to be perfect partners. The first Margaritaville at Sea is a cheery outdoor restaurant with a sun cover, but aside from the bright signage and branding, the space lacked the island lifestyle vibe commonly associated with Buffett. For one, the music was ill-fitting -- nothing with a Caribbean feel at all, let alone a single Buffett song.

Breakfast is available and includes items such as a Key West omelet with shrimp, chives and a key lime hollandaise, a choice of breakfast meat and island potatoes; Brioche French toast with banana compote; paradise yogurt parfait; and a breakfast burrito that's sure to be a hit. The signature menu items served at lunch -- Who's to Blame margarita and Cheeseburger in Paradise -- are fairly standard. Try the conch fritters (four to an order, with a zesty cocktail sauce), which make for a satisfying app. The sizable, shareable nachos also are popular. The menu also includes taco salad, hot pretzel sticks, club and fish sandwiches, key lime pie and an exotic fruit plate. The Chill Bar is also located there, so try a spin on the classic margarita (watermelon, jalapeno, you name it) or grab a cold beer.

It's a no-brain lunch or snack option by the pool, and for that reason, be ready for a long wait. We arrived at about 10 minutes past noon (when it opens), and there was already an hour-plus delay. Buzzers are assigned so you can wander away while you wait, but you're warned not to stray too far, or the device won't work. Precisely because of large crowds, the menu is now priced per item as opposed to free, which was what the cruise line initially proposed. Typical daily hours run an hour or so in the morning for breakfast service and noon to 5 p.m. The restaurant closes in poor weather.

Teppanyaki (Deck 6); $25: If you haven't experienced a night at Teppanyaki, then you should. Book early, as it's sold out most nights. Consider it more as a show, with the chef as the entertainment, and you -- the diners -- as the willing participants. Everyone sits at a square cooking station, which houses two chefs, a large grill/hot plate and 12 people on either side. The chef chops onions, throws eggs into his hat -- and occasionally "at" you -- and prepares the meal in front of your eyes with a huge mound of rice, dashes of soy sauce, salt, pepper and eggs. This is just the basis of the meal. You then choose the protein you would like (chicken, beef or seafood, including lobster) and how you would like it, and he cooks that up, too. All of this is served with miso soup, ginza salad, vegetables and garlic fried rice. Theatrics notwithstanding, the food and quality of cooking are outstanding. Green tea cake and fruit sashimi are dessert options. It's superb cuisine -- and lots of fun.

Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte: On a casual and laidback ship, Le Bistro is the spot to go for slightly upscale dining; the dress code requests no shorts. The venue is French through and through. Dine on the terrace and people-watch from a patio-style area outside the restaurant, or settle in to one of the mood-lit tables inside. Choose from a selection of wine, or try one of Le Bistro's featured cocktails -- a French Manhattan (scotch, Chambord and bitters for $12.95) or Emperor's nectar (liqueur, apple juice, cinnamon syrup and ginger beer for $9.95). Hors-d'oeuvres, soups and salads range from $2.99 for a cream of mushroom soup to $5.99 for escargot and $7.99 for a seafood medley in puff pastry. Entrees include coq au vin at $12.99, bouillabaisse for $14.99, and Dover sole for $19.99, or you can splurge with the 32-oz. beef ribeye for two at $34.99. Most desserts are $3.99 -- profiteroles, creme brulee, tarte tatin -- but a chocolate fondue for two with fruit for dipping is a sweet value at $5.99. Service was slow as snails during our dinner. All passengers are encouraged to book specialty dining early, but it's highly recommended that you grab a spot here in advance. Open for dinner only, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Supper Club (Deck 6); "Wine Lovers the Musical," $19.95/person: The space for The Supper Club embodies the slick ambiance of dinner theater with velvety blacks and reds, intimate seating, table lamps, brass columns and glittering lighting fixtures. The set menu includes an appetizer trio of mozzarella and tomatoes, jumbo lump crab with avocados on a parmesan crisp, and a salmon pastrami profiterole; an entree duo of braised short rib and a jumbo prawn; and a dessert course of pavlova with berries and cream, and a chocolate s'mores bar. (Dietary restrictions can be accommodated; it's best to let staff know ahead of time.) Featured cocktails are the Matador (bourbon, blood orange bitters, elderflower syrup, fresh lemon juice and ginger ale) for $10.95 and the Paloma (mescal, fresh lime juice and San Pellegrino sparkling grapefruit) for $9.95.

"Wine Lovers the Musical," a comedic afternoon lunch theater and wine-tasting experience, is held there on select afternoons. Check your Freestyle Daily for times and dates. You must be 21 or older to attend.

Cafe at The Atrium (Deck 6); a la carte: The cafe serves a variety of coffees, teas and pastries. Order iced coffees or lattes, cappuccinos or espressos, and enjoy them with cupcakes or macarons. Prices start at around $2 per item.

Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 8); a la carte: Norwegian's signature steakhouse, Cagney's goes a la carte onboard Escape. The space retains a dark steakhouse feel but is lightened by some yellow touches in the carpet and pillows on the booths, along with what appears to be Mondrian-inspired metalwork paneling throughout the restaurant, with colored glass squares. There's indoor and outdoor seating, and we even found a table inside but just out of the main restaurant, with a view down below to the Manhattan Room main dining venue. Starters range from $4 to $8 and include a beet and goat cheese Napoleon, pork belly and oysters Rockefeller. Soups and salads are $3 to $5, and that includes baked potato soup, lobster bisque, an iceberg wedge, Caesar or beefsteak tomato salad. Specialties start at $16 for a double-cut pork chop, and also offer lamb, prime rib, and surf and turf (lobster tail and 5-ounce filet mignon) for $25. Classic cuts are listed with your choice of steak sauce; a 5-ounce filet mignon is $16, a New York strip is $18, and a 32-ounce Porterhouse is $25. Sides like sauteed broccoli, truffle mashed potatoes (or fries) and onion rings all run $2 each. Seafood includes a tuna steak ($17), pan-fried fisherman's platter ($20) and a 1.5-pound steamed, whole cold-water Maine lobster ($25). The restaurant's signature cocktail is a negroni (gin, Campari, sweet vermouth and an orange slice) for $10. Open 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. each night.

Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 8); $24.95/person: Moderno Churrascaria, the ship's Brazilian steakhouse, retains its cover charge, which includes a massive hot and cold salad bar, sides (mashed potatoes, fried bananas, beans) and the popular pao de queijo (cheesy bread), in addition to roving meats dished out by passadors. (Ten options include lamb, bacon-wrapped chicken and garlic beef.) And don't forget dessert! The indoor space feels open, with warm woods and light orange tones; the salad bar is in the middle of the venue with plenty of seating spread out around. We love the alfresco option on the Waterfront there.

The Bake Shop (Deck 8); a la carte: Get your sweet fix at The Bake Shop, where you can find cupcakes, pastries, pralines and macarons. Prices start at $1.50 per item.

Dolce Gelato (Deck 8); a la carte: Grab a scoop or two of gelato at Dolce Gelato, located on the Waterfront. You can order cups or cones starting at $2.50.

Bayamo (Deck 8); a la carte: Sugarcane Mojito Bar serves as an entry point for the restaurant, offering passengers pre-dinner mojitos with live Latin music. Iron Chef Jose Garces brings his Latin-inspired dishes to Escape, with signature plates such as enchilado de langusta (lobster served with a spicy tomato sauce over rice) and bife de chorizo (Wagyu sirlon with potatoes and beet sauce). Starters include a couple of ceviche options, as well as a sweet and savory crema de quinoa. The quality of dishes is a bit uneven, even among passengers seated at the same table ordering the same thing. (For example, scallops might come perfectly cooked for one person, but overcooked for another person at the same table.) Dessert options, though limited, are highlighted by the milhojas de cafe y chocolate, a stacked coffee and chocolate dessert with layers of decadent cream. Service is excellent, though time between courses is extensive; be prepared for a long dinner. Bayamo also includes alfresco seating on The Waterfront. Dinner is served from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Pincho Tapas Bar (Deck 8); a la carte: Traditional Spanish tapas are available a la carte at Pincho Tapas Bar, Jose Garces' casual tapas bar, adjacent to Bayamo. Dishes like calamari and imported ham are prepared on an authentic la plancha grill, tableside, as diners watch. Prices range from $3 to $11 per item. Pincho is open for dinner, from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

La Cucina (Deck 8); a la carte: Norwegian Escape's Italian restaurant, La Cucina, is the place to go for a long, relaxing meal. The restaurant is decorated with red velvet, stark whites and rich fabrics. Appetizers (which start at $3.99) include some Italian standards like buffalo mozzarella caprese salad and beef carpaccio. Pasta and risotto courses, such as linguine and clams or lasagna, start at $6.99. Entrees, starting at $12.99, include osso buco and filet mignon. La Cucina is open for dinner only, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Food Republic (Deck 8); a la carte: A new concept for the line, Food Republic, located on Deck 8, offers cruisers the chance to splurge on international gourmet dishes. Norwegian partnered with The Pubbelly Restaurant Group to develop the dining model, guided by Pubbelly's founding partner and award-winning chef Jose Mendin. Patrons order and pay via iPads. The emphasis is clearly Asian cuisine, with items such as Korean spicy chicken wings, Wagyu beef short ribs and sushi. Make sure to try the sweet and savory, surprisingly hearty dates and chorizo dish featuring smoked bacon, spicy tomato and a goat cheese crema. Portions are tapas size and start at $4. Patrons order and pay via iPads, and the food comes out quickly; you can even belly up to the food bar to watch the chefs prepare your order. The space is well designed, with lots of light, and it's one of the best options onboard for dinner. It's open from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Ordering food at the bar in District Brew House? You'll notice select Food Republic snacks are served there, as well.

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