Who could have predicted that NCL Escape would bring some Miami heat to Southampton? Into The Blue’s Marketing Team spent a night on board and rediscovered the meaning of the word ‘fun’.
The morning we arrived in Southampton was a wet one, with driving rain blighting the whole of our journey. Having grabbed our cases and readied our passports, we stumbled across an American couple on our way to the ship. They were set to travel on board the NCL Escape the following day for her inaugural cruise to Miami and said that they envied us for getting to see it before them. We couldn’t help but secretly envy them for setting sail towards the sun, when conditions at home were oh-so-English.
Then we were on board. The clouds broke to reveal a glimmer of sunshine, the DJ hit the decks beside the pool, children slid through the tubes of the Aqua Park, groups chatted over margaritas and nachos at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Sea and the party was in full swing at the Waves Pool Bar. Suddenly, without so much as hoisting the anchor, we felt like we were in Miami. Whilst the beach and heat were admittedly missing, the party was right here, and that set the tone for our night aboard the newest cruise ship in the world.
Family cruising has seen an explosion in popularity and Christmas had come early for the kids; Splash Academy kid’s club, record-breaking waterslides at the Aqua Park, an enthralling rope course enticing far more fearless kids far than daring adults, graffiti-themed crazy golf, the ‘Entourage’ teen lounge (complete with one heck of a dancefloor), basketball and bowling alleys to keep youngsters entertained while the ‘rents enjoyed a drink in O’Sheehan’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill, and an enormous video arcade overflowing with more slot machines than Brighton seafront. Cruising became cool in recent years and NCL Escape is like the popular kid at school, who throws all the best parties and has all the best gadgets.
For all that NCL Escape is unashamedly fun, the balance is wholly restored in The Haven; a veritable nirvana that will appeal to those who prefer to retire to a peaceful retreat once they’ve had their fill of excitement. Hidden away at the top of the ship, this exclusive enclave resembles a luxury spa retreat. Crystal wall lights glisten behind fresh orchids, velvet sofas are accessorised with plush cushions in shades of champagne and teal, and an air of sophistication lingers in the fine dining restaurant. The Haven Spa is serene, with the only sound coming from the water that trickles along the surface of a floor-to-ceiling water feature and into the pool below. The luxury continues in the Haven Suites, where impeccable attention to detail left us longing to soak in a polished marble bath tub with views across the ocean, before dressing for the evening in our walk-in wardrobe and spending the night entertaining on our expansive balcony. If you have found yourself tempted by the peace of a five-star beach resort but longing for the exploration aspect of a cruise, The Haven could be the answer to your prayers.
Having experienced visions of grandeur in The Haven, we opted to get a taste of the ship’s public spaces; no mean feat when faced with 28 different dining choices and 21 bars and lounges. If there is one thing NCL Escape does better than fun, it is food.
The Garden Café served a substantial buffet spread that pleased those digging in and the open-air seating proved very popular. Elsewhere, the Bake House was stocked to the rafters with cupcakes, sweet pastries and multi-coloured macarons, much to the delight of sweet-toothed travellers. Cagney’s Steakhouse omitted a dark and sultry vibe, enhanced by an entranceway lined with charcoal walls, glimmering steel and smoked mirrors, whilst Moderno Churrascaria’s hot orange décor reflected its Brazilian menu. The laughs started to spill from the Headliner’s Comedy Club early in the evening and a congregation of dashing modern-day dandies added to the gentleman’s lounge appeal of Tobacco Road Liquor Bar. Raspberry mojitos were served with a side of Cuban flair at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, their enjoyment factor further enhanced by the smell of Spanish tapas wafting from the nearby Pinchos Tapas restaurant. The Supper Club had its name up in lights, channelling a sultry French sense of occasion with reams of red velvet and gold accents, as did Le Bistro restaurant, where all that was missing to complete the Parisian ambience was a view of the Eiffel Tower.
We dined at Teppanyaki, enjoying course after course of authentic Japanese hibachi fare. Fillet mignon steak was cooked to perfection and served on a filling bed of rice and noodles. Those who opted for seafood were treated to perfectly cooked lobster and squid, along with the biggest scallops we had ever seen. Defeated by the sheer volume of incredible food, we reluctantly refused a dessert of Green Tea Cake with Peanut Brittle Ice Cream. The main dining rooms, Taste and Savor, were busy but well-received, offering a menu so tempting that it would be impossible to order any less than three courses.
Norwegian Cruise Line promises that NCL Escape will ‘keep you up all night’ and we don’t doubt this bold claim for a second. We listened to raucous renditions of hits including Empire State of Mind in Howl at the Moon and the Escape Theatre rocked to the beat of the Million Dollar Quartet musical, with the Tony Award-winning show garnering rave reviews that resonated across the ship the following morning. Craft beers, cocktails and live bands kept the party going late into the night at The District Brew House, its too-cool-for-school interiors befitting of its dive bar theme. The two-tier Waves Pool Bar, complete with DJ and enormous screens playing the videos to match the music, wasted no time in convincing us that pool parties will abound on sultry Caribbean nights.
Come morning, it was time to wave goodbye to our Balcony cabin. It had been a great home for the night, with a private balcony, substantial wardrobe space and bright bathroom. The best bit of all? A USB charger incorporated into the bedside lights – something that will bring a sigh of relief to technology buffs.
Having ‘escaped’ for the evening, we disembarked with a brochure in hand and a plan in mind. We were already planning our return, only this time we’ll be Caribbean bound.