Going on a cruise has never been at the top of our travel wish list. The idea of being confined on a ship with your whole trip planned out for you is certainly not our idea of adventure, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about the experience. After all, over 20 million people in the United States alone choose cruising as their preferred type of holiday on a yearly basis.
I’d love to say that my first cruise experience on the Norwegian Escape was amazing and go on raving about the ship, the amenities, and the awesome time we had in the Bahamas. But the truth is, I personally didn’t really enjoy it that much. Here is why…
Before I get into all the things that made my cruising experience less than enjoyable, I have to give the ship some koodos for the few things that served as the highlights of the experience.
1. Our Balcony View Cabin Offered Beautiful Views
Since the Norwegian Escape is a new ship, its brand spanking new rooms and fittings made for a really nice on board experience. I was particularly impressed with our room. Outfitted with 2 single (maybe twin) beds that could rival the comfort of many high end hotels, the room was small but big enough for us and our luggage. The en suite bathroom was surprisingly spacious as well and had great water pressure! But the highlight was definitely our balcony, or rather the beautiful views that it offered us all throughout the trip.
There was something so magical about waking up, opening up your curtains, and enjoying your morning tea overlooking the vast ocean, or an exciting new destination!
Dining Options Were Plentiful
There was no shortage of restaurant options on board. With 28 places to dine, there was everything ranging from Japanese Teppanyaki, to Spanish inspired Tapas, and a basic catch all buffet. Great service and a selection of daily specials served even at the complimentary restaurants.
Sadly, based on my experience there was a lot more bad than good.
It Was Crowded
The Norwegian Escape is a huge boat, but it also packs an enormous amount of people! Between the passengers and the staff there were over 4,500 people on board. It took us over 2 hours to check in upon arrival and everywhere we went, we felt people encroaching on our personal space.
“Don’t worry,” Jessica said (she has a bit more cruising experience than I do), “once everyone checks into their cabins it won’t feel that crowded”
But it didn’t. The upper deck was almost always crowded, the restaurants had to be booked ahead of time, the shows were sold out, and people seemed to be everywhere! Sure, if you really wanted to find a quiet spot, you could, but if you just wanted to enjoy a few hours lying on a deck chair near the pool, forget it! There was no space!
The Stops Were Too Short
Most cruises follow a very similar schedule. Cruise during the night and dock during the day, giving you 6-8 hours to explore at each destination. While it may seem like a lot of time, it actually wasn’t. By the time we got off the boat in Nassau, oriented ourselves on the island and checked out a few attractions in town, it was already noon and too late to venture out to the nice beach on Paradise Island. So we lingered around…
“There is a great conch salad place, called Dino’s that is a must for lunch! ”, a reader suggested when I asked you guys for advice on what to do in Nassau on Facebook. “… it’s a great spot! cold beers and a lovely view… very local!”. We looked it up on the map. It was 14 kms away. With only 2 hours left on land we weren’t going to risk missing our boarding time.
So instead we popped into a few shops and climbed back on board. Don’t ask me how I liked Nassau, and definitely don’t ask me for advice on the best things to do in Bahamas. I barely saw anything…and for a traveler who likes to get off the beaten path and hates crowded touristy places, not having the time to explore was a huge disappointment.
The Activities on Board Weren’t For Me
Cruise ships always boast about the variety of activities they have on board. Award winning entertainment, new and exciting experiences, 2,356 ft log ropes course, 21 bars and lounges…the list goes on. For some, this may be the perfect recipe for an amazing holiday on board.
But in my opinion, unless you are a traveling with kids and want to roam around ropes courses and water slides (which by the way didn’t even go into the pool), or are happy spending your days at sea drinking $10 cocktails (there were 98 of them to choose from apparently), shopping for expensive jewellery, or gambling at the 24/7 casino, I’m not sure that you will find your days at sea all that stimulating and exciting. I certainly didn’t. After 2 hours of sunbathing, a few cocktails, and a tour of the ship, there was nothing else that sparked my interest on board.
Complimentary Restaurants Left Much to be Desired
Maybe it was our own fault for not splurging on some non complementary restaurants. Maybe, if we had dined at the Bayamo by Iron Chef Jose Garces or at the authentic Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, my thoughts on the cuisine on board would have been different, but we didn’t. As a budget traveler, I choose to dine at the complimentary restaurants instead. I thought that since there were 3 different complementary restaurants on board, we would have enough variety without having to spend $100/night on dinner. Well turns out, the brochure doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, there were 3 different complementary restaurants on board the ship, but the menu at each one of them was the same. So it really was like dining at the same restaurant 3 nights in a row. The specials on the menu did change every night but it was all the same type of cuisine without much variety. And the quality was just ok. Certainly nothing to rave about.
And unfortunately, my first time cruise experience came with a bit of an ugly side.
The Pool Was Tiny
The Norwegian Escape website raves about their 12 hot tubs and pools on board! But to our huge disappointment, this turned out to be nothing more than marketing spin. Yes, there were 12 pool and hot tubs on board. Precisely 10 hot tubs (each one suitable for 4-6 people….please remember there were over 4,000 passengers on board), 1 main pool that could barely fit 15-20 people, and another pool tucked away inside the private Vibe Beach Club that you could only get into by paying a cover charge.
My dream of spending the day at sea lounging around a pool and reading my book quickly faded away….Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.
The Internet Was Non-Existent
First of all, the internet on board wasn’t free. It cost us an exorbitant $90 each to purchase an internet plan for the duration of our cruise (3 days). In hindsight, that was a HUGE waste of money! The internet connection was so incredibly slow and unreliable that I struggled to send an email, let alone upload a photo to Instagram.
Now I expected the internet on board to be a bit slow. Afterall, I knew that we were going to be connected to satellite internet which is known to be much slower than the typical high speed wifi, but I can honestly tell you that I have never experienced internet this slow EVER. It was frustrating beyond belief!
See the thing is, it’s all about managing expectations. I have no problem disconnecting once in awhile. Remember that time I spent in Mañana, an off the grid resort with zero internet and zero cell phone reception in Sabah, Malaysia? I loved it! But as a digital nomad, whose next paycheck is directly correlated to the number of hours spent online, I just couldn’t disconnect…and sadly I couldn’t really connect either.
I Experienced Some of the Worst Customer Service
Our experience on board started off with the worst case of customer service experience, particularly when trying to deal with our internet issues. It took us over 2 hours to sign up for internet in first place, because our names weren’t on the manifesto. The staff didn’t seem to care about our issues and kept telling us to go sit down and wait for the manifesto to be updated. It left a very bitter taste in my mouth from the start…a feeling that unfortunately carried over for the duration of the trip.
I know I probably made it sound like I hated my first time cruising. With so many bad, and even a few ugly, experiences during our time on the Norwegian Escape, it certainly wasn’t my favourite trip. But the truth is, I simply don’t think cruising is for me. Or more specifically, cruising in the Caribbean with Norwegian Escape is not for me. Perhaps one day I’ll give another cruise line a chance to convince me otherwise (I hear Princess and Royal Caribbean are much better) or, perhaps, cruising as a couple with Max, will be a different experience. We certainly are willing to give it another try.
But if you ask me right now, I would much rather spend my money a different kind of travel…the kind that teaches, the kind of travel that opens up my mind, the kind of travel that allows me to explore beyond the glossy photos of the travel magazines. I want to learn about cultures, people, food, traditions…and based on my experience on the Norwegian Escape cruising to the Caribbean simply doesn’t do that.
If you are looking for an easy, worry free holiday, with lots of food, drinks, and just a little taste of new culture, then perhaps a cruise might be exactly your cup of tea.