There's nothing subtle about Norwegian Escape, which you'll notice before you even board the cruise ship. The hull art, designed by artist and conservationist Guy Harvey, is a bold yet beautiful, in-your-face marine wildlife scene that spans more than 1,000 feet from bow to stern. Once onboard, you'll be captivated by the glitzy three-level 678 Ocean Place; virtually all the action at night takes place at its various restaurants and bars. Even the top decks of the ship are bold, with a ropes course and four water slides that are sure to make your heart race.
Escape is ideal for people looking for stellar theatre entertainment and variety. Broadway-quality performances, in the form of two shows ("After Midnight" and "For the Record: The Brat Pack"), are pitch-perfect. The music and performers are flawless and among the best we've seen at sea.
When it comes to the variety of activities, Escape is a winner. With 28 bars and restaurants onboard, most people will have to sail twice to try out everything. Everyone will be able to find something that appeals. Latin food? Check. An incredible brew pub that feels so genuine you'll forget you're on a ship? It's got that, too. An indoor-outdoor dining concept, called The Waterfront, which allows passengers to dine seaside? It's there. A first-at-sea Margaritaville? Yep.
With so much going on, the ship can -- and does -- get loud. Loud music, loud people, loud venues. Crowds, too, are noticeable, especially at peak periods around dinner and at show times, when everyone is clamouring for the same things at the same time.
At full capacity, the ship can hold 5,218 passengers, most of whom are from the United States. You'll find yourself sharing the ship primarily with couples and groups of friends, with families and little ones dominant during the holidays and summer breaks.
While Escape preaches a "freestyle" cruise experience, reservations are highly recommended and help reduce wait times, though expect lines to be part of the Norwegian Escape experience no matter what.
Daytime: Casual, with swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts poolside and around the ship.
Evening: There's generally no formal dress code (though there is an optional elegant night). Khakis and collared shirts are the norm for men in the evening, while women wear sundresses or blouses with capris, slacks or skirts.
Not permitted: Shorts are not allowed at some of the more upscale restaurants, such as Cagney's and Bayamo.
Day & Night
You'll find various forms of entertainment going on all over the ship at any time of day. During the day, passengers who aren't outside sunbathing or cooling off at the Aqua Park have their fair share of indoor activities, most of which are free of charge. The buzzing, glowing arcade, on the other hand, with its vast array of games, costs extra.
At night, activity centres around the main atrium and other lounges, where you'll find trivia, music, dancing, the hilarious "Perfect Couple Game Show" and live bands. Evening karaoke is another popular activity.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers some of the best theatre productions in the industry, and Escape is no exception. The two-deck Escape Theater hosts the bulk of formal entertainment options onboard, including the Broadway show, "After Midnight" and the comedic adults-only "For the Record: The Brat Pack," a musical that's based on John Hughes movies from the '80s. Reservations for the shows, which are free, can be made by visiting the adjacent box office or using your in-cabin TV or touch-screen monitors located throughout the ship.
There is no disco onboard, so dance action takes place in Spice H2O, where the resident DJ spins dance tracks into the wee hours of the morning. Norwegian is famous for its Glow Parties, which take place in Spice H2O on select nights and are sometimes family-centric.
Whether you're in the mood for handcrafted cocktails or craft beer, Norwegian Escape offers a place for every taste, each with a personality of its own.
Skyline Bar (Deck 7): Located adjacent to the Escape Casino, the Skyline Bar is a wide-open space with multiple LED screens projecting cityscapes on the walls. It is the largest of the lounges onboard and features in-bar video poker and live entertainment at night.
O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Deck 7): The centrally located pub is a popular spot for food and drinks onboard. In the bar area, you'll also find pool, darts, Skee-Ball, video games and two duckpin bowling lanes. All games require an additional fee. TVs abound in all areas, and sports are broadcast throughout.
Prime Meridian Bar (Deck 8): Sitting gracefully between the ship's two steakhouses is Prime Meridian, a compass-shaped bar. It's ideal for those looking to imbibe in a low-key atmosphere, as the space never tends to get too crowded.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 8): Next to Bayamo, you'll see the Cuban-inspired Sugarcane glowing green under enchanting palm tree pillars. It's a relatively small bar, so the wait time can get extremely long at night -- but it's worth it, for a unique-flavoured mojito such as pineapple coconut, raspberry guava and jalapeno cucumber.
Cellars Wine Bar (Deck 8): Through the line's partnership with the Michael Mondavi family, Cellars Wine Bar is an oenophile's dream, with a curated wine list that includes 35 varietals from all over the world, as well as service from a certified sommelier. The refined venue also offers tastings and courses for a fee.
Tobacco Road Liquor Bar (Deck 8): Norwegian features an at-sea version of Tobacco Road, once Miami's oldest bar -- now sadly defunct -- that's a seductive place to hang out among leather couches and try a handcrafted cocktail.
The Humidor (Deck 8): Adjacent to Tobacco Road, this aptly named venue is simply the indoor smoking area and cigar bar, which also leads out onto the open Waterfront.
5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar (Deck 8): The 5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar is part of the iconic Jimmy Buffett franchise. It exudes a laid-back Caribbean-inspired atmosphere, both indoors and outdoors on The Waterfront. A stage in the back is home to a house band that plays a mixture of reggae and up-tempo tunes.
District Brew House (Deck 8): Norwegian Cruise Line nailed the draft pub concept with District Brew House, which is complete with a keg room (though nothing is brewed on site), 24 draft beers on tap and more than 50 bottled beers, including some from Miami-based Wynwood Brewing Co. Nights see either a piano player or live band; there's also a photo booth (photos cost $5).
Norwegian Escape's outdoor offerings provide something for everyone -- and every mood, whether that's being lazy by the pool or facing your fears on the free-fall slide.
There are three swimming pools, including the main pool with a shaded hot tub on each side, a smaller all-ages pool with a waterfall feature (not to be confused with the kids' splash area) and one reserved for suite passengers in The Haven. (A quieter hydrotherapy pool can be found in the spa's thermal suite, which requires a day- or weeklong pass.)
Spice H2O (Deck 17), the line's adults-only sun deck, does not have a pool; though passengers can cool off in a walkthrough grotto, by wading in shallow water. Vibe Beach Club (Deck 19) is another adults-only sun deck, but it comes with a fee.
You'll find plenty of other spots for sunning yourself on decks 16, 18 and 20, as well as another hot tub on Deck 19.
Other recreational activities include a mini-golf course, sports courts and the hard-to-miss ropes course, one of the largest at sea. Standout ropes course features include sky rails (akin to ziplines) and two planks that jut out over the side of the ship, 172 feet above the water.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the top deck is the water park on Deck 16. The Aqua Park includes two freefall water slides, where each rider waits in a capsule for the bottom to drop, starting a twisting, heart-pounding plunge. It also includes a tube slide called the Aqua Racer, in which competitors can race side by side in tubes; there's even a clear portion that extends over the side of the ship. An open yellow slide makes for a tamer ride.
The Mandara Spa, with its panoramic ocean views, spans two upper decks. It has 24 treatment rooms, which include two fancy couples' treatment rooms (one with a bath in the room).
The spa offers more than 50 services, including facials, which start at $107 and go up to $325 for the 24-karat gold option; and numerous massages, starting at $107 for a 50-minute Swedish massage. Spa prices are subject to a 20 percent service charge.
The salon offers haircuts and styling, nail treatments and waxing, along with acupuncture, teeth whitening and cosmetic medical treatments, such as Botox and fillers. There is also a barber shop for men, with a beard trim starting at $15.
Norwegian Escape's thermal suite is huge, taking up the whole front of Deck 16 and affording stunning views from floor-to-ceiling windows. Access to the thermal area can be purchased by the day or for a full sailing; anyone who gets a treatment can purchase a same-day discounted day rate.
The Deck 16 fitness centre features equipment including treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals and a weight area. There are also dumbbells (up to 75 pounds), kettlebells (up to 15 pounds) and free weights as well as a Smith machine, which uses weight plates.
Fitness class studios are accessible from the weight area. Extra-fee classes include TRX suspension training, spinning, Boot Camp and Fight Klub boxing. Personal training is also available for an extra cost, but classes like stretching and abs are free.
A jogging track is located on Deck 17. Eight laps equal a mile. Be warned: The jogging track is only one lane, and it butts up against deck chairs and runs close to the entrance of Margaritaville, so if there's a line there (as is often the case), joggers could be tripping over other passengers.
Norwegian Escape offers a wide variety of restaurants; passengers who don't want to spend extra on meals onboard have plenty of choices. On the flip side, it can be hard to resist the temptation of so many eclectic for-fee options onboard (such as a hibachi restaurant, a Brazilian churrascaria and a French bistro).
The ship 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 any time the venues are open when it's convenient for them, rather than at set times.
Taste and Savor Restaurants (Deck 6) and the Private Room at Taste (Deck 5)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D)
These two restaurants, both of which are included in the basic cruise fare, sit across from one another, midship, with Mixx Bar in between. Menus are the same for both, and each layout offers a mix of seating arrangements, with tables for two to six and beyond.
Breakfast fare is simple and continental-style, while the three-course lunch menu includes a mix of eclectic options, such as Vietnamese pho soup and hummus. For dinner, options range from a rotating selection of international dishes, along with some standards that are available every night. Just remember to save room for dessert, as the spread is extensive.
For an extra fee, designated Chef's Signature Dishes can be paired with selected wine recommendations at lunch and dinner. For large families and groups, the Private Room at Taste offers a more secluded space and can be requested when making dinner reservations.
The Manhattan Room (Deck 7)
Norwegian Escape's Manhattan Room is the largest complimentary dining venue onboard. It's a two-level restaurant with a spacious dance floor taking up a large swath of space near floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the room. The dinner menu in the Manhattan Room is the same as in Taste and Savor.
O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Deck 7)
Meals: B, L, D
O'Sheehan's is Norwegian's Irish-inspired pub. The space, which overlooks the atrium, is divided into two areas (a larger bar section and a smaller dining section), but the food and drink menus are the same. In the dining section, tables and booths are available, and it's significantly quieter than the bar area. The comfort food-style fare is pretty average when it comes to quality; the plus is the venue is open 24 hours a day.
Garden Cafe (Deck 16):
Meals: B, L, D
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.
In the morning, a wide range of breakfast options is available, though they don't vary much from day to day. Lunch options, on the other hand, change each day, though the most popular (the salad and pasta bar, for example) are available every day. Dinner includes carving stations, salad bars and a variety of hot mains and sides. Dessert options abound as well.
The Haven Restaurant (Deck 18)
Meals: B, L, D
The dedicated restaurant for The Haven's suite passengers is spacious, yet exclusive. Meals are similar to what you'll find on the rest of the ship but are a step up in terms of quality. 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.
Pricing was accurate at time of review, but may have changed since.
Margaritaville at Sea (Deck 17); $14.95
Meals: B, L
This at-sea version of Jimmy Buffet's popular land-based eatery boasts a relaxing yet social atmosphere outdoors, only a few steps away from the water park. Menu items, for the most part, have either some type of island flair (Key West omelette with shrimp for breakfast) or Jimmy Buffet theme (Who's to Blame margarita or Cheeseburger in Paradise). The restaurant closes in poor weather.
Teppanyaki (Deck 6); $29.95
You'll want to book Teppanyaki early, as it's sold out most nights. The hibachi-style restaurant is more like 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 each side. The chef chops onions, throws eggs into his hat -- and occasionally "at" you -- and prepares the meal in front of your eyes. Theatrics notwithstanding, the food and quality of cooking are outstanding.
Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte
On a casual and laid-back ship like Escape, 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 into one of the mood-lit tables inside. You can also choose from a selection of wine, or one of Le Bistro's featured cocktails, to pair with your dinner, which includes French classics such as escargot, coq au vin and bouillabaisse.
The Supper Club (Deck 6); $24.99
Meals: L, D
The Supper Club embodies the slick ambience of dinner theatre with velvety blacks and reds and intimate seating. Here, passengers indulge in a three-course dinner with a show. Shows vary by cruise, with rotating guest performers. One show that's consistent is "Wine Lovers the Musical," a comedic afternoon lunch theatre and wine-tasting experience, held on select afternoons.
Cafe at The Atrium (Deck 6); a la carte
The cafe serves a variety of speciality coffees, teas and pastries.
Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 8); a la carte
Norwegian's signature steakhouse, Cagney's offers indoor and outdoor seating in a traditionally designed setting with dark tones and booth seating. The menu, likewise, offers classic steakhouse dishes spread out among starters, main courses, sides and desserts. Couples looking for a more intimate dining experience should snag a seat outside, at sunset.
Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 8); $29.95
Moderno Churrascaria, the ship's Brazilian steakhouse, gives diners a great bang for the buck -- with a massive hot and cold salad bar, myriad sides and the popular pao de queijo (cheese bread), all in addition to roving meats dished out by passadors. You'll be lucky if you can save room for dessert. While there is plenty of seating spread out inside, those looking for a more intimate setting can enjoy the outdoor seating.
Bayamo (Deck 8); a la carte
This elegant yet relaxed eatery offers a variety of Spanish delicacies -- and views of either all the action from inside, or the ocean outside along The Waterfront.
Pincho Tapas Bar (Deck 8); a la carte
Traditional Spanish tapas are available at Pincho Tapas Bar, a casual spot, adjacent to Bayamo. Dishes like calamari and imported ham are prepared on an authentic la plancha grill, tableside, as diners watch.
La Cucina (Deck 8); a la carte
Norwegian Escape's Italian restaurant, La Cucina, is the place to go for a long, relaxing meal. Savour traditional Italian by choosing from several starters, main courses -- including a whole menu section dedicated to pasta and risotto – and, of course, dessert.
Food Republic (Deck 8); a la carte
Food Republic offers cruisers the chance to splurge on international gourmet dishes. The emphasis is clearly on Asian cuisine, and portions are tapas-size, making the plates great for sharing. Diners 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.
District Brew House (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: L, D
Light gastropub-style snacks are available at this brew pub venue during lunch and dinner hours.
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.
Norwegian Cruise Line has opted for a contemporary, sophisticated design with the 2,175 cabins on Escape, giving the rooms on the ship an upscale feel, similar to that found in a modern business hotel in a city centre. That said, standard cabins are just that; Norwegian opts for uniformity over wow factor and reserves any surprises for the suites and above.
All cabins (except studios) have two lower beds that can be converted to a queen-sized bed and are outfitted with a safe, hair dryer, desk with a small stool, three power sockets above the desk and a large flat-screen TV. Each room also has a wardrobe and bedside cabinets, with plenty of shelving to help reduce clutter. There is a small reading light above each bed. All cabins, other than studios, include mini-bars, as well.
Bathrooms have a shower with a glass door and shaving bar, as well as a single sink and toilet. A small fixed cabinet underneath the sink houses the trash can and additional storage. The shower has a drawstring for drying wet clothes. Toiletries are generic in the standard cabins, with soap from a dispenser over the sinks and gel and shampoo dispensers in the showers. Suites and above enjoy Bulgari products.
Interior: There are 408 inside cabins on the ship, which each run between 135 and 201 square feet. Many are connecting and sleep up to four passengers. The inside rooms on Deck 5 are near the children's facilities, so they're ideal for families.
Studio: For solo travellers, Escape offers 82 inside cabins of 100 square feet, all located in a complex on Decks 10, 11 and 12, complete with an exclusive lounge with a bar, tea- and coffee-making facilities and wine-dispensing machines, as well as plenty of seating. (Tea, coffee and snacks are free; booze costs extra.). The cabins are small, but they're well laid out to maximize space, and the entire complex is only accessible by keycard.
Ocean View: The 114 ocean-view cabins have large picture windows and range from 161 to 252 square feet. Forty are Family Ocean Views that sleep up to five people and have bathrooms with modern double sinks and bathtubs, as well as second wardrobes for added storage.
Balcony: The 1,150 balcony cabins range from about 207 to 239 square feet. The balconies are narrow (43 square feet), with just enough space for two chairs (not a lounger).
Mini-Suite: The 308 mini-suites offer more space than balcony cabins, coming in at 239 to 513 square feet. A sofa bed in the living area converts to a king-sized bed. The 40 Family mini-suites are the same size and layout, but they come with bathtubs and are nearer to the kids' club.
Spa: Spa cabins come in two variations -- Spa Balcony and Spa Mini-Suite. They share the same layout and size (208 to 239 square feet) as a standard balcony and mini-suite. The difference is the decor, which is more tranquil. The cabins offer easy access to the adjacent spa and fitness centre (all on Deck 16), and passengers receive complimentary passes to the Thermal Spa Suite.
Suites: Norwegian Escape has 95 suites -- spread out among five categories. There are 55 suites within The Haven and a further 40 suites (specifically, the Spa Suites and Aft and Forward Penthouses) outside it. Passengers in all suites receive access to The Haven, among other perks such as priority embarkation and disembarkation; priority boarding of tender boats; en-suite espresso/cappuccino machines; gourmet treats delivered each evening; Bliss Bed Collection by Norwegian pillow-top mattress; fine linens, feather duvets and pillow menus; plush bathrobes and slippers; and oversized towels and beach towels.
Spa Suite: The 13 Spa Suites (and one Deluxe Spa Suite) feature an oval-shaped hot tub in the bedroom, and a bathroom with an oversized waterfall shower and twin sinks. All Spa Suites span 309 square feet, though the Deluxe Spa Suite has a different layout. As with the other spa cabins, Spa Suites and the Deluxe Spa Suite include easy access to the adjacent Mandara Spa and fitness centre, as well as complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suites during regular spa hours.
Forward-/Aft-Facing Penthouse: Each penthouse includes a square-shaped living room and dining area with a small dining table, a double sofa bed, a chair, a coffee table and a writing desk. The bedroom is a similar size and shape with a king-sized bed. Adjoining it is a beautiful bathroom that's ultramodern with double bowl sinks, a curved oval bathtub and a separate shower. A huge balcony offers space for several loungers, a table and chairs, plus drinks tables. Some penthouses have interconnecting doors to other cabins, making it ideal for large families. The 26 penthouses (14 aft-facing, 12 forward-facing) are all outside The Haven. The aft-facing suites are larger at 534 square feet with 78-square-foot balconies; forward-facing penthouses are 451 square feet with 32-square-foot balconies.
Courtyard Penthouse: Each of the 22 Courtyard Penthouses accommodates three passengers and includes a king-sized bed and a living area with a small, round dining table with two chairs, a single sofa bed and a desk. A dressing/closet area leads into the bathroom, which has a tub/shower combo. Courtyard Penthouses range from 328 to 540 square feet, with balconies of 48 to 58 square feet.
Owner's Suite: Four Owner's Suites sleep up to four passengers each. Each measures 572 square feet and is laid out with a living/dining area, master bedroom, bathroom, second smaller bedroom and shower room. The living room leads out to a standard-size balcony, which is not big enough for a sun lounger. The second bedroom is off the living room and is ideal for kids. The bathroom has twin sinks, a standalone shower and an oval corner bath, complete with a massive picture window.
Deluxe Owner's Suite: There are four Deluxe Owner's Suites on the ship, each located at the front of the ship and measuring 1,345 square feet. Highlights include a large living/dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows running the length of the room, a dining table and chairs, wet bar, large sofa, chairs and a coffee table; a massive balcony with almost the same square footage as the suite; and a master bedroom with a marble bathroom, walk-in closet and separate balcony.