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Norwegian Cruise Line debuted its newest and biggest ship last month when Norwegian Escape began sailing out of Miami.
“She showcases with her beautiful finishes, her decadent suites and her outstannding design how the company that began almost 50 years ago as Norwegian Caribbean line out of Port Miami has truly evolved,” said line president and COO Andy Stuart at the ship’s christening ceremony in November. “Every element of the on board experience has been elevated.”
The 4,200-passenger vessel is part of the new Breakaway Plus Class of ship, which is a little bit bigger, but also very similar to the Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway. There are several facets of the ship, though, that set it apart.
The biggest Guy Harvey painting ever
“The Norwegian Escape is now the largest billboard for the conservation of marine life bringing new awareness not only for all of those who set sail on her but also for those who just look at her,” Harvey said at the christening. “Healthy oceans make all of this beauty that you see in my artwork possible.”
Margaritaville at Sea
A new partnership with Jimmy Buffet brings the first Margaritaville at Sea as well as a Five O’Clock Somewhere Bar. Since it’s one of the free dining options on the ship, it proved extremely popular on the ship’s first sailing, meaning crowded with more than hour-long wait times, but over a seven-night cruise, there should be time for everyone to waste away at sea and eat their Cheeseburger in Paradise.
There are a lot of South Florida touches on board Norwegian Escape that you can’t find on any other ship. Perhaps the most iconic is the re-created space that pays homage to Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest bar, which closed its doors in 2014. The neon sign with the missing “5” in “til 5 a.m.” makes the space stand out. Two decidedly more modern Miami touches are the presence of Wynwood Brewing Company in the District Brew House. The 3-year-old microbrewing company that has taken South Florida taps by storm of late now offers three of their creations on board including the popular La Rubia Blond Ale. The bar has 24 beers on tap and dozens more in bottle. It’s a brand new space, taking the place of what are cabins on Norwegian Getaway and Breakaway.
“It’s a beautiful space,” said Wynwood founder Luis G. Brignoni. “I think the concept of having a lot of craft beer…it was a big undertaking and I think Norwegian has done an excellent job, the way they treat the beer, the way they take care of it.”
It pairs nicely with another Miami-inspired space, the Food Republic, a new dining concept from the 5-year-old Pubbelly Group, which has opened several restaurants across South Florida. This restaurant is about fast food, small plates, a shared dining experience and modern touches, like ordering on an iPad. Certain plates can be ordered from the Food Republic and served over in the neighboring District. There’s a bacon-wrapped chorizo date that when consumed with the Wynwood group’s Pop’s Porter is lights-out good.
“It’s a fast-paced restaurant,” said Jose Mendin. “You sit down, you share with your friends. It’s the way we like to eat. It’s an amazing experience for us to present to you. … I like to eat from my friends, take a little bit from here, a little bit from there and that’s what we want you to do. We want you to pass the dishes around the table, have fun and just enjoy the flavors we have to provide to you.”
An Iron Chef
Iron Chef and James Beard Award winning chef Jose Garces has two venues on board. The marquee space is Bayamo, a seafood restaurant with Spanish flair named after a Cuban city. It’s an extra-cost dining space and with price points that put it among the more expensive premium dining spaces at sea. For a lower price point, Garces also offers up Pincho Tapas Bar with smaller plates. Bayamo and Food Republic are the two new restaurants amid a mix of 28 dining options on board that are part of Norwegian’s freestyle concept of cruising, in which passengers choose when and where they want to have dinner. Some are free, but most cost you a little extra.
The ship has three major shows. Two of them performed in the main theater are adaptations of Tony Award-winning Broadway shows. Paying homage to the ’20s and ’30s is “After Midnight,” with an on-stage jazz ensemble and the big-band music of Duke Ellington based around Harlem’s Cotton Club. The ’50s and ’60s get their due in “Million Dollar Quartet,” a dramatic version of the time Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins spent a night recording together at Sun Records. The last show, performed in the ship’s supper club, highlights the music of the 1980s through a melded story of John Hughes films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.”
The largest ropes course at sea
The adventure quotient on board has been raised on Escape with an expanded three-story ropes course that features ziplines and pioneering obstacles plus the ship’s fear-inducing ability to walk the plank. There are two “planks” that jut eight feet out over the side of the ship and allow those on the ropes course who can brave it to walk out over the open water. There are multiple ziplines, and one of them also goes out over the side of the ship.
The largest Aqua Park at sea
Norwegian Cruise Line has a good handle on water slides across its fleet, and Escape features four. The Family Slide is the tame one with lots of twists. The twin Free Fall slides are the extreme ones featuring bomb-bay doors that open up and send you down on what Norwegian bills as the fastest slides at sea. New to Escape is a slide called the Aqua Racer, which allows for single or tandem riders going through a trippy, multicolored tube that at one point also juts out over the open see, visible through a stretch of clear acrylic. It’s on the tame side, but a visual treat. It’s all part of the Aqua Park, which has a giant area dedicated to younger children with spouts and buckets and the like.
The Mondavi family’s wine bar
Wine fans can check out some serious legs at The Cellars, a Michael Mondavi Wine Bar. If you have the wherewithal, try the M red wine. It’s a $200 bottle produced from 13 acres of land in northern California. Whether you get that or one of the more reasonably priced glasses, be sure to compare the wine’s bouquet to the vases of soil at the venue that are taken from the land on which the wine’s grapes were grown. There’s a fun, black glass game to be played as well, challenging you to guess whether you’re drinking red or white.
The Haven is Norwegian’s ship-within-a-ship concept, and Norwegian Escape’s Haven is the biggest in the line. Those who pay the premium price to stay in The Haven’s suites get their own restaurant, own pool and own lounge. It’s definitely got a solitude feel to its spaces, a welcome respite from the calamity that’s going on at the water park and sports areas on the other end of the ship.
As part of the ship’s Mandara Spa, there’s a tiny little room filled with Snow. It’s part of the largest Thermal Suite at sea, which also includes a steam room, salt room and several other rooms designed to open and close pores and/or bloodflow. The Snow Room features real snow and it’s meant to stimulate blood circulation.
The new features mix well with venues that can be found on Norwegian Cruise Line’s other ships such as Cagney’s Steakhouse and O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill. Sailing year-round out of Miami on seven-night Caribbean cruises, Escape is the largest ship to ever call PortMiami home.
“What you will find once you spend time on board is she truly epitomizes the Norwegian Cruise Line experience,” Stuart said. “She brings to life the freedom and flexibility that only a Norwegian cruise can provide with a decidedly premium experience from bow to stern.”