Another Escape From The Past

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Peter Newall takes a tour of the amazing NORWEGIAN ESCAPE, Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest ship which called at Southampton for two overnight inaugural cruises.

All photos by and copyright Peter Newall 2015 unless otherwise noted.

 

NORWEGIAN ESCAPE is the first ship in the company’s new BREAKAWAY Plus Class. Built by Meyer Werft at Papenburg, she was formally handed over in Bremerhaven on October 22, 2015. After inaugural festivities at Hamburg and Southampton, she sailed on her maiden voyage from Southampton on October 29 for her homeport of Miami where she will be christened on November 9. Although her draft and length are the same as the two BREAKAWAY-class ships, she is slightly wider and has one additional passenger deck, boosting her passenger capacity to 4,200. 78% of cabins are outside, three percentage points more than the BREAKAWAY-class. Diesel-electric and Azipod-driven, ESCAPE is powered by five MAN V48/60CR-type engines, one more than the BREAKAWAY-class, providing a total output of 76,800kW. She is also one knot faster than the earlier ships.

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Early morning arrival at Southampton. Courtesy of Gary Davies, Maritime Photographic.

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ESCAPE was berthed at the Ocean Dock (White Star Dock) which was built in 1911 to accommodate White Star Line’s 45,300-ton OLYMPIC-class liners, at the time the largest ships in the World.

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At 164,600gt ESCAPE is the World’s fifth largest cruise ship and the largest-ever to use the Ocean Dock and the Ocean Terminal.

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Guy Harvey’s unforgettable swordfish greeted guests for the inaugural event. Guy, a well-known Jamaican marine wildlife artist, designed ESCAPE’S hull art.

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As on the BREAKAWAY-class, ESCAPE’s large Aqua Park and Sports Complex are situated respectively fore and aft of the tiny funnel.

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Unlike climbing walls where most passengers merely look on, the ropes course is more accessible and offers an exhilarating experience for all ages. Because of its success on the earlier ships, the three-storey course has been greatly expanded.

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It also has two “planks” overlooking the ship’s side. They are not for the faint-hearted!

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The number of full-size water slides in the Aqua Park has been reduced from five to four. However, the slides now include a free fall slide, a tandem slide and an open-flume body slide. There is also a colourful Kid’s Aqua Park.

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The main amidships swimming pool on Deck 16 changes colour at night.

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At the aft end of Deck 17 is SpiceH2O, an adults-only area which is also an open air dance venue at night.   The attractive tiled-waterfall feature on BREAKAWAY has been replaced by an imitation stone grotto which appears to be out of character with other stylish aspects of the ship.

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The additional passenger deck means that the Mandarin Spa and the Haven are now one deck higher and further forward than the BREAKAWAY-class ships. The exclusive Haven complex, with its pool area with a retractable roof, now covers three decks. The large suites and penthouses are situated on two decks, 17 and 18, whilst 19 is a private sun deck.

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The contemporary-style lounge remains on the Deck 17.

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The Haven Restaurant is also one deck higher and now offers indoor and outdoor eating. Seating in this beautiful restaurant has increased to 114.

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Aft of the Haven private sun deck is the adult-only Vibe Beach Club.

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The top cabin class on ESCAPE is the Haven Deluxe Owner’s suite with its private dining area.

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The balcony is enormous although its situation high up forward may be a bit exposed during windy conditions.

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The views over Southampton from here were particularly impressive. In the distance was P&O Cruises’ AURORA and the 18,340 TEU MATHILDE MAERSK, one Maersk Line’s Triple-E ships, making her maiden call at Southampton. In terms of TEU, she is the largest container ship to use the port. In the foreground is the historic, 1930-built, tug and passenger tender CALSHOT and the remains of the Southampton Flying Boat Terminal (airport!) which closed in 1958.

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At the other end of the spectrum, Studio cabins cater for solo travellers. These are inside cabins designed like railway compartments with large round windows.

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Because of their popularity the number available has increased from 59 to 82. The small two-deck-high private lounge has been replaced with a larger lounge with coffee/tea making facilities. Unfortunately the bar, which was on the earlier ships, has been removed.

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The large fitness centre and spa is forward on Deck 16. Like all ships of her type there is a substantial gym.

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There is also a barber shop.

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A new feature in the spa is NCL’s first Snow Room where guests can “enjoy” temperatures ranging from freezing to -6°C.

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This is the colourful entrance to the 600-capacity Garden Café which can be found aft on Deck 16.

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Open from midday until 1530 and from 1730 until 2200, it offers a wide choice of food including rolls and sandwiches.

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On the deck above is a new complimentary dining venue, Margaritaville.

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It serves American-style offerings including hamburgers. However, as it only has seating for 100 guests, expect long queues for what is bound to be a very popular place to eat.

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Like the BREAKAWAY-class, the main bars, restaurants and entertainment areas on Decks 6, 7 and 8 are connected amidships by a three-deck-high atrium which has a large chandelier.

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The Guest Services lobby on Deck 6 is reminiscent of one of the large pre-war ocean liners.

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ESCAPE has 28 dining options and 21 bars including Mixx between the Taste and Savor restaurants on Deck 6.

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Two new bars are Tobacco Road and the District Brew House. The former is based on a famous Miami bar.

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The Brew House boasts 50 different bottled beers and 24 draft beers.

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The wine served in The Cellars, NCL’s first wine bar, is poured from a variety of weirdly-shaped decanters. A musical tune can be played on this one which appropriately is called the horn.

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One of the new à la carte restaurants on ESCAPE is Food Republic on Deck 8. Whilst the ambience of this attractive restaurant was excellent, I found the fare rather bizarre and confusing. Described as a “culinary journey via small plates, with flavours ranging from Asia to Central Europe and the Mediterranean” the food was not well presented and certainly did not blend well together. I also found the use of iPads instead of menus gimmicky and obtrusive on a small table.

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The Waterfront, first seen on BREAKAWAY, is an open air promenade on either side of Deck 8.

Norwegian Escape35It has two bars and four restaurants where passengers can choose between dining indoors or alfresco if the weather is good. Unfortunately for non-smokers one of the starboard side bars, situated at the start of the Waterfront, is usually jam packed with smokers so it is difficult to avoid cigarette smoke.

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The Waterfront promenade wraps round the stern and is a good place for aft views of the sea. The sailing ship, pictured here, is the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s TENACIOUS.

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One of the three complimentary main restaurants is the wonderful 600-seater Manhattan Room with its two deck-high, floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows overlooking the stern.

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The other two stylish, main restaurants are smaller and cosier. On the portside of Deck 6 is Savor.

Norwegian Escape39Taste is on the starboard side. This restaurant now has a lower level for private functions.

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The French restaurant Le Bistro is a standard feature on NCL ships. However, as with a number of speciality restaurants NCL has moved from a flat rate cover charge to à la carte dining. It has also increased the service charge for drinks and dining from 16% to 18% whilst most room service meals are no longer free. In addition to these charges the company has also increased the daily discretionary service charge to $13.50 per person for most cabin types. All these extra costs can add up to a sizeable increase in the overall cost of the cruise for people with limited budgets.

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Teppanyaki, the Japanese hibachi restaurant with its rich wall coverings retains its cover charge.

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Another first on ESCAPE is Bayamo, a Spanish and Latin America-style restaurant with an adjoining tapas bar.

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Each of the new generation NCL ships has an unusual dining and entertainment experience forward on Deck 6. BREAKAWAY had Cirque Dreams whilst GETAWAY had the extraordinary Illusionarium which featured some of the World’s finest magicians. On ESCAPE there is the Supper Club which includes a cabaret retrospective of coming of age films of the 1980s such as Weird Science.

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To cope with additional passenger numbers, the Theatre, with its perfect sight lines, has had its seating capacity increased to 900.

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One of the shows is Million Dollar Quartet which is based on a recording session in Sun Records which brought together four of the giants of rock and roll, including Elvis Presley who appears to be alive and well and living on NORWEGIAN ESCAPE!

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Courtesy of NCL

NORWEGIAN ESCAPE is based year-round in Miami and mainly offers week-long cruises in Caribbean waters. NORWEGIAN BLISS, the second BREAKAWAY Plus Class ship, under construction at the Meyer Werft shipyard, is designed for the Chinese market and will enter service in 2017.

Peter Newall

Peter Newall

A well-known shipping writer, cruise journalist and cruise ship lecturer,
Peter Newall is a former British Airways executive who has, in the past 57
years, visited and travelled on many famous ships.  As well as numerous
articles he has written seven highly acclaimed books including the
definitive histories of Union-Castle, Orient and Cunard Line.  He also owns
the Newall Dunn Collection, the extensive collection of historic merchant
shipping images.
Peter Newall
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