I recently had the pleasure of staying at Belmond El Encanto…
Inaugural Cruise on the Norwegian Escape
FAM – November 11-14, 2015
I recently had the opportunity to sail aboard Norwegian’s newest & largest ship, the Escape, on the 3-day inaugural sailing from Miami, FL to Nassau, Bahamas. This was my first time sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line and the third cruise I’ve ever been on. This was my lucky guest/best friend’s first cruise ever.
We departed from LAX on American Airlines at around 9 AM on November 10th (a day early) because of the time difference and our boarding time on the Escape the next day. We landed around 5 PM at MIA and had reservations to stay at the Miami International Airport Hotel which is literally in the airport. It was really convenient to stay here, especially since we were only here for 1 night and didn’t really have any interest in exploring Miami. The next morning, we got free breakfast from the hotel at a restaurant in the airport called Margaritaville. It was nicer than your typical continental breakfast. We were seated, given menus with a few options and served our breakfast before we were off to the port of Miami to board the ship.
We took an Uber from the airport hotel to the port, a short 15-minute drive. When we arrived at the terminal around 11:00 AM, they took our bags & marked them with our room number and a corresponding color. We were given the option to carry on our own bags but preferred to have ours checked and taken to our room. We checked in through Terminal C and encountered no lines or wait time! It was an extremely efficient check-in: no hassle, and we were given our key cards to be used as our room key and onboard credit card for purchases during the cruise. After check-in, we were sent to a waiting room until they were ready to board – official boarding time was noon. Everyone was split up into 10 groups and they called one at a time for boarding. We were only in the waiting room for about 15 minutes before they started boarding our group (9 out of 10). Again, this was a very smooth process.
My first reaction to the new ship was that it was huge (I found out once onboard that it has 20 decks)! We could already tell from the outside that there would be so much to do. The first thing we wanted to do was see our room. We were so lucky to be given a mini-suite with a balcony, mid-ship on deck 12! We were amazed by how much space our room had and were so excited to make use of the balcony. While we were perusing the room, our room attendant, Delson, knocked on the door to let us know that our room actually wasn’t quite ready yet. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed the view of the harbor while he finished everything up.
Our suite had a full bathroom including a shower & double sink (so nice to have), couch, 2 twin beds, closet with hanging space, shelves & a safe, and a sitting space with a bench, countertop & mirror to get ready. There was also a blow-dryer in the room and an ice bucket that was refilled for us each night. We did not plan on using the mini-bar so Delson was nice enough to clear the whole thing out so we could store our own cold items.
We were also lucky enough to receive chocolate covered strawberries & a bottle of champagne from her in our room – such a nice surprise upon our arrival!
Once we’d seen our room and gotten settled, we decided to explore the ship while we waited for our bags to be delivered to our room. Since this was a short 3-day cruise, there was so much onboard we didn’t get to experience, but that I want to mention. Aside from the main dining rooms, The Norwegian Escape has a multitude of specialty dining restaurants, including a steakhouse, Italian, Japanese, French and several more! Many of which are located on The Waterfront, a special part of the ship where there is indoor & outdoor seating. They also had a comedy club, gambling, tobacco bar, wine bar & a special adults-only venue, H2O Spice. Our favorite spot was The District, a bar/lounge specializing in craft beers.
There were also more than enough activities for kids to enjoy onboard – water slides, bowling, mini-golf, a ropes course with a zip-line, arcade, aqua park, Splash Academy, and a kid-friendly pool. One important thing I wish I would’ve known going into this is that you must have closed-toed shoes in order to go on the ropes course! Be sure to pack sneakers if this is something you’re interested in!
After walking around, it was time to go back and get ready for a dinner hosted for the agents onboard at Taste. Our dinner was in the Private Dining Room, one of 3 main dining rooms. We walked down a staircase and found ourselves under the main dining room and unable to hear anything above us. The private dining room can fit about 50 people and seemed like it would be a great option for a family reunion. We were seated and given menus and wine. Our server took our full order for all courses at once. I had the butternut squash appetizer, salmon with rice and green beans for my entrée, and mini chocolate lava cake with strawberries and gelato for dessert. All of it was absolutely delicious! My friend had a salad, eggplant parmesan and pistachio crème brulee – also all very good!
After dinner we went to a short cocktail party that was also hosted for the agents onboard, then it was off to bed for the night.
The next morning we woke up in Nassau! We had never been to the Bahamas and we woke up extra excited and extra early for a shore excursion booked through NCL. Our tickets said to meet on the dock by 8:20 AM for our 3-hour glass bottom kayak adventure! We got there on time, but had to wait about 15-20 minutes until everyone who was part of the excursion showed up, about 20 of us total. This was a combo excursion, so some people were kayaking while others were snorkeling. A woman led us on a short 5-minute walk from the Escape to a small boat that we boarded to take us to a more secluded spot for our activities. On the way, our guide on the boat, Lenny, gave us a tour of Nassau. He pointed out celebrity vacation homes, popular spots, and historical landmarks. Once we arrived, we were given our gear and helped off the boat one-by-one.
The glass bottom kayak was so much fun and definitely the highlight of our time spent in the Bahamas! Lenny had fish food in his pocket so he was throwing it out while we were kayaking around. We saw all different colors of brightly colored, striped fish and also vibrant purple coral! It was amazing and definitely worth it. I wish I had pictures of the kayak itself, but I didn’t have a waterproof camera – something I will definitely bring next time. The view from the kayak was so clear all the way to the bottom that even though we planned on snorkeling too, we didn’t feel it was necessary. The water was the clearest and most beautiful turquoise color I’ve ever seen.
Once we were back to shore, Lenny pointed out where the closest beach was and we asked him for a local restaurant recommendation. He said we definitely had to try the fish fry at the end of the road. The restaurant was called Frankie Gone Bananas and was a bit of a walk, but definitely worth it once we were there. The food was great. We tried the local grapefruit beer, jerk chicken and surprisingly – conch! I had no idea conch is edible, but it is – and it was delicious!
After eating, we walked around town for a couple of hours and looked at local churches, statues, and monuments. We found iced coffee on the beach and saw the straw market where local vendors sold gifts/souvenirs. It was a really productive and fun day in Nassau.
We got back on the ship around 5 PM, went to our room to shower and then headed to get some dinner. We decided to try O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill – a free, more casual dining option outside of the main dining rooms. I ordered a black & blue burger with fries, and my friend ordered an open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes & mixed veggies. Their menu had a wide variety of options outside of typical “bar food” – including fajitas and salads. Again, the food here was great! We both loved what we ordered and wished we’d had time to try this for breakfast.
After dinner we went to see one of the onboard musicals, Million Dollar Quartet. It was so much fun, we loved it! It’s a Broadway musical showcasing the talents of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis & Carl Perkins. The music was great, it was extremely funny and the actors were wonderful too. There are no assigned seats, so if you want to be close to the stage or in the middle, I would recommend arriving a bit early. We made it just as it was starting and had to sit on the far left & a bit toward the back. I would definitely recommend this show to anyone who loves the golden oldies.
Once the show ended, we went to The District to grab a beer, where we were informed about the Glow Party. Everyone was told to wear white (we didn’t get the memo), there were black lights everywhere, and a DJ playing dance music. We stayed for a short time and decided it would be a really fun place for teens to hang out and dance during the cruise.
The next morning I had to be up early again for a meeting hosted by NCL for all the agents onboard. I decided to grab a cup of coffee and put a couple towels on pool chairs to save us spots for later that day. The meeting was about an hour and a half and they overviewed the upcoming changes for Norwegian. After the meeting, I went to grab some breakfast at the buffet in The Garden Café. They have a huge selection with all your typical breakfast foods – eggs, waffles, pancakes, yogurt, fruit, cereal, bacon, pastries, etc. There really was something for everyone.
Next, I went on a tour of The Haven. The Haven is a secluded space on the ship on decks 16 through 18 and passengers can only enter with their key card. When I walked in, it felt like I was on a completely different ship! First we toured the lobby and pool area. The lobby was very elegantly decorated and had its own private bar. The pool is also beautiful with nice cushioned lounge chairs and a retractable atrium roof (weather permitting). They also had cabanas, 2 jacuzzis, a shower, a snack area with fruits, pastries & coffee, and their own private sundeck. We also took a ride in The Haven’s glass elevator that goes between the private decks. Passengers staying there have access to a private massage room, sauna, and restaurant. We took a look at the menus and they really were a huge step up from their main dining room menus. The only areas we didn’t get to tour were The Haven Suites. Since this was a revenue cruise, all the suites were booked. The Haven really made it feel like we were isolated from the rest of the ship. It was much quieter; there was more space and fewer people. It seems like such a great option for clients who usually like to cruise on luxury lines because when you stay in The Haven, it becomes an all-inclusive experience and there is really no reason to leave that part of the ship!
The last tour I went on was through the studio cabins and The Studio Lounge. Again, you must have a key card to access this part of the ship. These seemed perfect for solo travelers looking for a less expensive option rather than paying the full price for a regular inside cabin. The studios were well arranged and made it feel much larger than 100 square feet. They have different colored lights you can turn on while in your room, or you can just use standard lighting. I thought it was awesome that you could have a blue or purple light on if you wanted. The cabins also have a window facing out to the hallway, which made it feel like you weren’t stuck inside. Another great feature studio guests receive is exclusive access to The Studio Lounge. Guests must have a keycard to access the lounge and receive complimentary coffee, espresso, and snacks. There are also a few items to purchase, like wine and other special beverages.
After the tour, I went back to the pool where I had laid out our towels earlier that morning and I was really glad I had done that because most of the chairs were taken by that time (it was a sea day). We spent the day relaxing by the adult-only pool before our final dinner in one of the main dining rooms.
Overall, we had the best time and experienced so much, but there was still so much we hadn’t seen. The cruise felt much longer than 3 days in the best way possible. You won’t run out of things to do on the Escape, that’s for sure!