I am going to be upfront with you, this is not going to be a raving review. I have seen NCL receiving spectacular reviews lately and I recently (in December) took my family on the Norwegian Escape in hopes the reviews were accurate. Before I go into the review let me just say, I have cruised with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess and Celebrity and I worked on the Norwegian Sky a little over 13 years ago. Having said all of that, this is the first cruise I took my entire family on, before it was just me and my spouse or a friend on the other cruise lines. In this review I will be comparing the cruiseship to others I have been on, the comparisons will only be done on the logistics, not the experience as I cannot compare the experiences.
For starters, what is the most important thing on the cruiseship to most people? Food, of course! That’s the first thing anyone mentions when they talk about a cruise they went on. This review is no different. I would love to say we tried all the restaurants and I could give a great review, but we didn’t. We didn’t make reservations before we got on the boat, because we wanted to see if the kids had any desire to try a fancy restaurant. They decided on the first day of the cruise they did want to try one and we headed down to the reservation desk to take care of it…or so we thought. Just try to get a reservation at ANY restaurant for more than four people. That didn’t happen. We asked, begged, and pleaded because we had the dining package, but we couldn’t get ONE reservation for six people ANY night. So we didn’t get a chance to use the dining package. Now onto the good stuff about the food. The buffet was AWESOME! They even had a kids night at the buffet where is was all kid approved food (think fish sticks, mac and cheese and chicken nuggets) and the kids LOVED it! We ate at the buffet for most of our trip and the food was fantastic. The other part of the trip, we ate in the main dining area, which was really small in comparison to other dining areas on other ships, but the food was exceptional there as well. For this category, I would have to say NCL’s Escape is not a family friendly cruiseship.
My next topic is going to cover entertainment, starting off with the shows. I loved all the shows on Royal Caribbean’s Allure and I told my kids all about the shows we could see. While they looked awesome, we didn’t get a chance to see any of the shows. Not because we didn’t want to, but because the shows were held in small theaters, that seated maybe 200 people and the tickets were sold out immediately for the most part, and only had a few two seaters available for the rest. TWO seats. We again didn’t buy the tickets ahead of time because I was used to huge theaters where you could just walk in and see the shows. I have never had to get tickets to any of the BIG shows before on other ships so I didn’t really think any thing about it. That, I suppose, you can chalk it up to being my mistake, but I will still say the shows aren’t family friendly because again try to get tickets for a bigger family. Other forms of entertainment on the cruiseship included a ropes course, which my children adored, and water slides that both my children and I had a blast on. I will say the downside to the waterpark area is it’s almost always crowded. Wait for a port day where you can’t get tender tickets for early departure (more on this coming) and hit up the water park around noon. There is no lines and it’s a blast! The kids club and teen club were a huge hit as well. This area of the cruiseship was most definitely family friendly!
Onto the tenders! Oh my word, this was the most disorganized, not child friendly design I have ever seen. Tenders, for the people who don’t know, are the boats you take from the ship to port when the cruiseship is unable to pull into port. There is always along line, no matter what cruiseship I have been on, and I honestly don’t know if any cruiseship is family friendly in this area, but I will describe what this ship’s process was and I will let you decide. First off you have to order tender tickets (this is new process for me, usually you just get in the line whenever you want). If you do not order tender tickets you are not allowed off the ship till after 2 pm. If you want an early time slot please book this the moment you walk on the cruiseship! When they called our tender ticket number, we headed to the theater, only to find they were calling the numbers, but it wasn’t time to leave yet. We proceeded to sit in the theater for an additional 45 minutes (listening to my kids complain they could have still been playing) before we boarded the tender. We made it to shore and headed back to the tender two hours before the last tender, and proceeded to stand in line (again!) for another 1.25 hours. By the time we made it back to the ship, we had made a lot of enemies with the people who had to stand around us in line for that long because they were mostly couples trying to get away from their kids and they had to listen to mine for so long.
My last topic to cover is the cabins. I get it, we are six people going on a cruise together as a family. It’s going to be difficult because everyone (including cruiselines) still assumes the average family size is four people. I called the cruiseline and booked directly through them (not receiving the best deal, but I wanted an expert to help with the cabins due to us being a “larger” family) and she assured me the easiest way to do this was to book two side by side rooms that sleep four people. Again she assured me the easiest way was to assign one adult to each room and two kids, but don’t worry because they will make up the rooms anyway we want and we can put whoever we want in either room (like the adults in one and kids in the other). This is what we did as I believed the expert. Let me just say if anyone tells you this lie, run!! If you have ever been on a cruiseship you know your room key is life. Well due to the way they assigned the rooms (Drew in one room with the boys and me in the other with the girls) no one in my family had the right key on them at any time! Once you are assigned to that room, that’s the only door your key will open, so Drew had to carry one of my daughter’s keys so he could get into “our” room and the girls had to carry Drew’s key so get into the kids’ room…it was a mess! Just try ordering an “adult beverage” with a 10 years old room key! The whole cabin situation was such a hassle, half way through the week we begged our room steward to open the balcony door connecting the two rooms’ balconies so we could just go in each other’s room that way. Again we received a “I am sorry we don’t do that”.
My whole week onboard the Norwegian Escape, one thought kept resurfacing. This cruiseship was designed for couples, not for families. While the few kids activities they had were great (ropes course, waterpark, etc) just the layout of the cruiseship was not made for families. Would larger dining rooms with less options be better for families?Yes, but not for couples. Would larger theaters and less show variety be better for families? Yes, but not for couples. Maybe one of the other ships in the NCL fleet is family friendly, however, for the Norwegian Escape, I would definitely say it is not worth it for a family cruise.