Saturday, December 9, 2023

Norwegian Escape  -  December 9, 2023  -  Cruise Review

   Norwegian Escape  -  December 9,  2023  -  Cruise Review

Just the Facts:
Ship: Norwegian Escape is a 165,000-ton Breakaway+ class ship launched in 2015 with a guest capacity of 4266+ . 
Ports: Port Canaveral,  Puerto Plata,  St. Thomas,  Tortola,  Great Stirrup Cay

This is my second cruise on the Norwegian Escape, my 9th cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, and my 204th cruise overall. I’m cruising as a solo.

Saturday / December 9th, 2023 / Embarkation / Day 1 
I finished packing early Saturday morning and I was off on my drive to Port Canaveral at about 9:20 am. I drove the northern route: Hwy 52 to I-75 north, then east to the FL Turnpike, then Hwy 528 (the Beachline Expressway) to the port and Atlantic beaches. I arrived at 
Park-N-Cruise cruise parking at about 11:30 am and easily parked. I checked in and joined the already waiting line for the shuttle to the NCL Escape. Luckily I was on the second bus that came. Park-N-Cruise is my overall favorite of all the parking locations and ports in Florida. We were soon at Port Canaveral, busy with five mega-ships in port today. A bit of a line to enter NCL terminal 10 and security, but once inside it went fairly quickly…I was on the ship at about 1:30. I did my Muster Station (D3) check in the Casino on my way to the aft elevators. Experience and luck (muster station location on the same deck) got me through the crowd of dawdling guests. I went up to the Garden Cafe on deck 16 for a Buffet lunch. It was very busy with too many guests loitering awaiting cabins to open. A lot of Food Stations, I had Roast Beef and a selection of vegetables. I remembered that they had a Noodle Station and I had a great bowl of Pho, although I made it a bit too spicy. For dessert: Bread Pudding with caramel sauce. I then found my cabin on deck 12, an interior on a special passageway, to unpack and set up. I have a standard interior, the unique Studio Cabins designed for Solo guests are just too small for me. Plenty of storage with a large bathroom and shower. At about 3:30 they began Muster Drill…since I had already visited my station I was good. NCL was the first to return to the traditional meet-up before sailing away after COVID-19. I had to do it on a previous Escape cruise. That didn’t go over well with guests so thankfully they have gone back to the simple visit and a safety spiel over the PA. The WiFi works very well (so far) and you can switch between devices (ie- iPhone and laptop). I did a walkabout and then sat out on deck 8 to watch the sundown, a great area with fewer people, it was a beautiful sundown too. Guests were certainly taking advantage of the inclusive drink program, every bar I passed today has been packed. But guests do tend to party hard on the first day. I went to the District Brew House undiscovered as yet, I had the drink of the day as it had organic Vodka and Elderflower…it was just OK. I did have a Funky Buddha draft beer that I discovered from the previous cruise. I went to the Garden Cafe (buffet) on deck 16 for dinner. I got a very nice thick sliced Prime Rib then had them grill it for me. NCL always has a hot grill near the Carving Stations, but few know about it. Better than a steakhouse entree. Mixed Vegetables, and a wonderful Passion Fruit cake for dessert. I then retired early after a busy day with a lot of walking. It was a very nice embarkation day on the Norwegian Escape.
Sunday / December 10th, 2023 / Day at Sea / Day 2  
Fair seas overnight and I slept very well. At about 9:00 am I went for breakfast in the Savor MDR. I ordered: a Fruit Bowl, Eggs Benedict with sides of Bacon & Potatoes, Danish, and Hot Milk. It was very good as was the company at a shared table. I then started this review as I was too tired last evening. When the cabin steward came to clean I went up to my deck 8 hideout…more guests but nice with sea breezes and views. I made Platinum Status on this cruise, with a few extra benefits, I have two premium dinners now and a new reception at 1:30 pm in the Manhattan MDR. This is a Next Cruise event and selling is the goal although they did have some cocktails and cheeses. If you have the drink package this may not be a worthwhile event. I did fill out a form for two futures. $500 = $250 OBC on the current cruise. It used to be a 1 to 1 so not as good a deal as it was in the past. The rest of the afternoon I watched NFL football. NCL is one of only two cruise lines (that I know) that have NFL football in the cabins. I made reservations for the Manhattan Room for dinner @ 6:15 pm and had a very nice shared table in the center of the room. The tables are very nice with proper linens and great service. I ordered: the Cobb salad, Shrimp Pasta Alla Vodka (entree as starter), the Parmesan-crusted Pork Chop entree, and Boston Creme Pie for dessert. It was all very good with the pork chop outstanding. Very pleased with the dinner. I believe NCL may have the best food overall among the Big Four cruise lines.  After dinner, I watched the SNF feature game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles for the Division lead. A good game. I updated this blog and had some online business to do as well, a relaxing evening. It was a very nice although rocky sea day on the Norwegian Escape.
Monday / December 11th / Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic / Day 3
Rolling seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our clocks to Atlantic time overnight as well. I was up early and went to Savor for breakfast at about 8:00 am. Very few guests (time change?) this morning. I had a heart breakfast: Hot Milk, Tomato Juice, a Fruit Bowl, three eggs fried sunny side up, Bacon, Ham, Sausage, Potatoes, and Toast. Very nice and had a view as we approached the port. There are three cruise ships docked at Puerto Plata today. I have an excursion today, Ocean World Day Pass & Adventure, and met my group at about 10:15 on the pier. Only a 15+ minute drive and you know when you arrive when you drive under a (man-made) waterfall at the entry. Once off the bus, they have a nice Folklore Dance group as a welcome. It’s a very nice and clean park experience. Features include the Beach, Rain Forest, restaurant and shops, and Activities. There is a snorkel area, swimming areas with waterfalls, Tropical birds, and Show areas. I saw the Dolphin show (photo), Sea Lion Show, Bird Show, and Shark Feeding. The first two were very good, the other two were meh. A Buffet Brunch was provided with Dominican food or Burgers and hot Dogs. I did the two types of Chicken, Beans, Salad, and French Fries. The weather was breezy so nice with good views of the sea, WiFi was provided in some areas. We met for the return @ 3:30 and were back on the ship at about 4:15 after walking through the TaĆ­no Bay Cruise Port shops & bars at the pier area. Shower, rest & recover before going up to the Garden Buffet for a snack as I have an early show this evening. I had a built it yourself Hamburger with Fries. It was good. I went down to the Theater at about 6:30 but it was already full, although as a solo found an empty seat in row 3 center. Sweet. If you can’t get in on the first night it will be hard to get in for subsequent shows as the ladies on the ship will have it packed. The Choir of Man is probably the BEST show at sea at this time. I was familiar with the opening so was able to score a draft beer from the bar set on stage. Featuring a traditional Irish/Scottish Pub theme with interesting pub’s a great show with great singing and storyline. This was a new cast from my visit in January, I love this musical concept, even two acapella numbers. Many ladies sitting down low where I was sitting had to be regulars and one would think we were at Chippendales. They loved it. Short walkabout afterward, but a very long and busy day for this old guy, so I retired early. It was a great port day and ship day on the Norwegian Escape.

Tuesday / December 12th / St. Thomas, USVI / Day 4  
Rocking seas overnight and I slept well. We have a late arrival so a good day for sleeping late and having a relaxing morning. I updated this blog and did some internet work while relaxing in bed all morning. I needed that. We docked at about noon as scheduled, we were the only ship, but still docked at the end of the pier. I went up to the Garden Buffet for lunch. Very nice Vegetables and Soup today. I have a prepaid ticket from NCL for the Gondola up to 
Paradise Point so that’s my plan for the day. I was at the top of Paradise Point at about 2:30 pm and I had a nice table with a nice view (photo). Not that busy with only one ship in port. I enjoyed one of their special Painkillers and a pina Colada since I heard the song sung last night at the Choir of Man show. The view is always nice and the breeze keeps it cool. I returned to the ship at about 4:30ish. I used one of my premium restaurant vouchers tonight to go to Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian Steakhouse. I recall how great their salad Bar was the last time I ate there years ago and yes it is still fabulous. So many exotic choices including my favorite Hearts of Palm. The meats are sliced at the table for you. Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Chicken, Sausage, Pork, and Pineapple. You’re served about five sides as well as bread. For dessert, I had Rice Pudding. I thought about seeing Howl at the Moon in Headliners on deck 8, but the room was really packed. From what I could see it looked like a lot of fun with dueling piano bar + drums set up. This show alternates each night with the Comedians in this venue. I retired to the cabin and relaxed. It was a good day in St. Thomas and on the Norwegian Escape. 
Wednesday  /  December 13th  /  Tortola, BVI  /  Day 5 
Rolling seas overnight and we were docked well before I got out of bed this morning. I have an early excursion, The Baths at Virgin Gorda so I was up at the Garden Cafe for breakfast by 7:15 am. and met the tour on the pier at 8:30 am. Our big group of 100+ boarded the ferry for the 35 minutes over to Virgin Gorda. We passed by the Little Sisters chain of islands on the way. Once docked we board five open-air jitneys for the ride to The Baths National Park. Huge rocks/boulders all over this portion of the island even going down to the sea. Very nice facility: Top of the Baths restaurant and bar, they make a nice Bushwaker too. Very uneven trails down and up to the beach areas and if you do the Caves Trail from Devils Bay beach to the Baths beach you pass through/over/under and around some very narrow rock formations. (The photo is off the easiest portion).  Be careful as is is not an easy journey, but this old guy made it. Both beaches are wonderful I wish we would have had more time. We met at 12:15 for the trip back to the ship as we had an early debark of 1:30 pm. Soon after arrival, they announced that due to poor weather in the Bahamas, our stop on Friday had been canceled and we had another three hours here. Would have loved to know that earlier, but I was very tired. So tired that after cleaning up I took a four-hour nap. Sweet. Waking at 6:00 pm I checked the Markets (great day) until 7:00 and debated whether to go eat. I did. I went to the buffet and had a very nice Salad with Crispy Lettuce, Beets, Egg, Onions, Veggies, and croutons. The Beef Brisket and Chicken entrees were nice. I had Watermelon and a great dessert called Raspberry Charlotte. Yes glad I ate. I then retired to the cabin to update this blog, review the day's activities, and rest. It was a great excursion day on the Norwegian Escape.
Thursday / December 14th  / Day at Sea / Day 6  
Rocky seas overnight that began after dinner last night. I enjoy sleeping when we have some movement. At about 8:00 am I went to Savor for breakfast, I was given a nice window table. When I checked in at the counter the nice lady read some notes about my booking, smiled, and everyone began calling me by name. I’m a nobody on NCL, but if NCL Marketing discovers my live review they make the ship aware. One million hits on this modest blog will do that. I had my Hot milk and a Tomato juice straightaway. My Fruit Bowl, which has freshly sliced fruit, is not a mix of uniform fruit squares…it’s very nice with fresh melon, blackberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberry, blueberries, and orange slice. I had my perfect Eggs Benedict, with sides of bacon and potatoes, and an additional plate with bacon. Sweet. Service was excellent too and I have to mention again the crisp tablecloths. There is no doubt that NCL has the best food & dining experience of the four mainstream cruise lines. Now that I’m in Florida I will be sailing more on NCL. I sat on deck 8 in the quiet zone and enjoyed the wonderful sea air and sea breezes, we were sailing slowly and I assumed the Captain was keeping us in the sun as best he could. Overcast but very pleasant weather. Plenty of time to update this blog and review the news of the world online. At about 1:45 I went up to the buffet. They had Pork Loin on the carving station so I got bread and mayo from the sandwich station and made my custom sandwich. It was good and I didn’t want too much as I’m doing a premium restaurant tonight. After a wee nap and cabin time, I went to La Cucina, the Italian Restaurant on deck 8. A nice space and I had a prime two-top table at the window as well as good service, This is the new dinner that comes as a Platinum guest and it includes a bottle of wine but they allowed me to have a Cocktail so I had a very nice Cosmopolitan. I ordered the Mozzarella Caprese, a custom Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, and the Filetto Di Manzo Al Pepe Verde ( Beef Tenderloin with Green Peppercorn Sauce), I am very particular about my steaks and this was a very good entree. For dessert I had a very nice Panna Cotta, the pistachio on the side was a perfect addition. I did a brief walkabout on the ship, the Pour House was hopping tonight then retired. It was a great day with a great meal on the Norwegian Escape.

Friday / February 3rd / Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas - now Sea Day  / Day 7 
Again rocky seas overnight that look to continue throughout the rainy day. Looks to be a cabin day. I haven’t watched TV on this cruise, but they do have some good selections. I mentioned sports coverage, but they have movie channels various (red & blue) news coverage, and the CNBC business channel. That's better than most cruise lines nowadays. I enjoy the bad weather on occasion. This was to be our day at NCL’s private island, the correct decision to cancel it earlier, we did get $50 in OBC, better than just the port fees. The ship seems to be doing the same trick that MSC did last month: we never changed time back to EST from Eastern Atlantic Time…this way many guests will be an hour ahead for debarkation tomorrow morning. Anything to help speed up that process. I made it to Savor before closing, although busy I had a table at the window and a good view of the huge swells and heavy seas. I ordered my Fruit, Hot Milk, and Egg order as usual but also ordered a Huevos Rancheros because as a Texan I was curious about how the ship would prepare it. It was interesting, but not how I would prepare it. My cabin was cleaned by the time I got back (thank you) and at 10:00 am the Captain gave us an update on the weather…continued high seas, rolling ship, and bad weather until docking in the morning. My laundry was returned today, it was folded in a nice basket, very impressed. Of course, I knew to only send items that will survive a cruise laundry. I had dinner tonight at the Garden buffet. They had small Sirloin Steaks and Pork Chops and they were good. Creme Puffs for dessert and I took two for breakfast in the morning. I soon retired to the cabin to start packing. It was an easy final day on board the Norwegian Escape. BTW— I have been pronouncing the name of the ship as Es-Cop-A…people smile (my goal) so they like it or they think I’m a bit touched. A bit of both is true.

Saturday / February 4th / Debarkation Day / Port Canaveral, FL
Rocky seas on our last night. I woke early to finish packing.  At about 6:45 am I went down to deck 7 and joined the line for self debark.  They started just before 7:00 am. It was Facial recognition at Customs so it went well, I was soon on the first Shuttle bus and left the parking lot at about 7:30 am…fairly smooth process. Home after a grocery stop by 10:00 am.

The ship is huge, but the lack of a larger central atrium and narrow corridors in the public areas makes the ship crowed and difficult to navigate from one area to another.  The passageways on passenger decks are even narrower making it difficult to pass guests let alone dodge cleaning carts.  Only two sets of elevator banks, but ten elevators in each bank. Art and decor is only fair IMHO although some theme areas are cleverly done.  Fortunately NCL has gone back to the easy Muster Drill, they had gone back to the standard drill after covid. The crew
 are well trained and efficient. Most of the crew are from the Philippines and there seem to be a lot of crew for the passenger ratio.  Friendly and nice.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment
Fantastic to have Tablecloths in the MDRs. I love it.  The Bars are almost always packed with guests…makes since since many passengers have a drink package as a part of the NCL booking system.  The bartenders are quick, drinks are good and the passengers were courteous.  The Choir of Men is probably the best entertainment at Sea.  Worth the cruise for that show.

HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruise
The Choir of Men
Virgin Gorda and tour of the Baths 
Moderno, the Brazilian Churrascaria
Ocean World Excursion in the Domenican Republic
La Cucina Italian Eatery
Savor (MDR) Breakfasts