March 2016 - 7 Night Eastern Caribbean (Miami Roundtrip) Cruise on Norwegian Escape
As the title states, we sailed each ship during it's inaugural season, and enjoyed each one to differing degrees. Norwegian is renewing it's fleet, which is great, but there appears to be a slight shift in their policies as well, so this review will highlight the ones we noticed. GETAWAY 2015: We sailed in February, the best month in our eyes, weather-wise and fellow-cruiser-wise. The Dining package was open ended, no set amount of meals. We made reservations most times, but also found that we were accommodated, and quickly, when we did not have one. Great! The restaurants were not swamped, and the experience was great. Food great, service great. The cruisers seemed to be an average age of 40 or 50 years old, very well-behaved, no sloppy dressing seen, very nice! No real mayhem on the ship other than the central pool area every day, which we avoid like the plague! Spice H2O was a blessing, but still it was quite packed to capacity every day, and we sadly had to eventually play the "save a chair" game every day. Our steward Marcel from St. Lucia was fabulous, and we became friends. All in all, our best cruise ever, having sailed three different lines. ESCAPE 2016: The first complaint here came right out of the gate - we are Bronze Latitude members, and were supposed to have priority boarding, which, I took that to mean just that, "we board first." We sailed specifically WITH Norwegian because we enjoyed all the things mentioned above, and wanted to start building points up WITH them. I was then notified that Norwegian now does set boarding "appointments", 11:30 to 12:30, 12:30 to 1:30,etc., and the earliest I could board was 1:30. NOT cool. When arriving at the terminal, I asked where the Bronze Priority line was and was guided to one. It was the same line as everyone else! So we board and then discover that march is NEVER a good time to cruise unless you have children. The ship was swamped. Mistake noted, "NEVER sail later than February 28." To be fair, the following conditions probably apply to ALL cruise lines during this time of year, but I will note them just the same, as ship policy should be adjusted/monitored a bit better. There were children running, in the buffet, in the halls, late at night and during the day. There was door slamming galore, late at night as well, as the Teen Club curfewed at 1 a.m. I believe. There were french fries on the elevator floors, popcorn scattered on the atrium floor, kids pushing all the elevator buttons, kids were roaming in Spice H2O and playing in the water grotto, which is SUPPOSED to be adults-only....you get the picture. NOT a Norwegian only problem, again, and they did issue a written page of suggested conduct with our first daily papers, but it did no good. The problem now was "how quickly do these things get cleaned up/cleared up?" Also, the adult clientele seemed to be much younger, less disciplined. (We had a group of obviously drunk patrons yell-singing a Jimmy Buffett song roaming through the ship.) So the adult crowd during THIS particular week seemed to have "missed their Carnival cruise." Next, the Dining package rules have changed. it is no longer open-ended. You buy each meal separately, and the Flamingo Cafe, which we LOVED on the Getaway, was replaced by a Margaritaville, which was pay-to-play, which made NO sense. Who wants to pay $15 for a cheeseburger? The place did not appear to be doing well. Also, there is no longer free room service, it is now $8.50 plus 18%. Some people refer to this as nickel-and-dimeing, and I was hesitant to believe it, but now I do. The percentage of pay restaurants seems to have risen, they have a limit to number of meals now, they did not in 2015, and the rules governing what you can order has gone that way as well, sadly. Moving on, the entertainment on the Escape has lowered from the Getaway. Some shows had apparently just been changed, and one we saw with "Vocal Overdrive" in the theater was atrocious! "After Midnight" and "The Brat Pack" were very good, though the meal in the Supper Club was a bit sub-par. And also new to The Escape, you must BOOK to go to the Comedy Club, BOOK to go to the theater, etc., and everything seemed over-booked from Day 1. it took us 3 days to get into Cagney's. These things cast a pall on "Vacation mode" - you do NOT go on vacation to have to stress over appointment times every single day. It all felt like the staff was overwhelmed in general. Synopsis? "Over 50?" Never sail during Spring Break. "Norwegian in general?" Slipped, in general, in my mind. I know you have to pay for these new ships, but...? We are re-evaluating going ON Norwegian again and trying to build points with them. I was SO Norwegian gung-ho after last year, but now, it looks like Celebrity or Royal will get our biz next time. A great ship, don't get me wrong, but the Getaway cruise got a 10, and the Escape, for the reasons above, garnered a 5.