GETTING IT RIGHT Norwegian Escape launches in Miami

By Jen Savedra for Travel Industry Today


20 NOV 2015: I confess up front to not being a frequent cruiser, and when I do cruise it’s been small ships and river cruising – both of which I enjoy. The launch of the Norwegian Escape, the fifth biggest cruise ship in the world (and the largest I have ever sailed on) gave me an opportunity to see how the big boys do it.

Well, they do it BIG TIME!

First there was the launch/christening/naming of the ship. It was a blisteringly hot afternoon and thankfully cold water and Coronas were being liberally distributed.

Miami’s own music sensation Pitbull was the godfather of the 4,200-guest vessel – the first in Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus Class – and everyone was anticipating his performance.

But before that, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings chief executive officer Frank Del Rio, described as “the premium luxury guy” kicked off the proceedings, followed by a number of special guests including artist Guy Harvey who provided the hull artwork which depicts a sailfish, coral reef fish, a whale shark, frigate birds and other sea creatures familiar to the waters of south Florida from where the ship sails. A store on board offers Guy Harvey products for sale, the proceeds of which go to his Ocean Foundation which raises funds for research and ocean conservation.

Also on hand was Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, along with the ship’s builder, the captain, and a priest and rabbi who both blessed the Escape. Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line’s popular president and COO said, “the Norwegian Escape represents a major moment for us – this is a true evolution of our brand.

“Not only does she offer high calibre entertainment, quality dining and luxurious accommodations that significantly raise the bar for our fleet and puts her in a class of her own, but she exemplifies our renewed commitment to offering unparalleled freedom and flexibility to our guests.”

And then came the fun part. Before the Godfather made his appearance, guests were treated to a taste of the onboard entertainment – and it is excellent.

After Midnight is a Tony Award winning Broadway show that recreates the music and shows of Harlem’s Cotton Club. For someone who grew up in a Jazz besotted household where members of the Ellington band were actually dinner guests, this was a huge treat.

It was followed by a second Tony winning show – The Million Dollar Quartet – inspired by a single recording session in 1956 with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. If I loved Jazz – I adored rock n’ roll – and these highly talented (and energetic) musicians had the crowd on their feet.

The arrival of Armando Christian Pérez – better known as ‘Pitbull’ – was eagerly anticipated by the crowd and after the naming ceremony he didn’t disappoint. I confess I had no idea what to expect, and was delighted with the Latin-rap-hip-hop sound that again had the crowd on their feet dancing and singing along.

Dinner that evening was at the intimate Supper Club venue where we saw a show called the Brat Pack. Based on the classic John Hughes’ films of the 1980s such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s fun and familiar and even has the wait staff showing off their dance moves.

Every executive commented on the cuisine on board the Norwegian Escape, which offers guests a variety of cuisines and venues to choose from. The menus at all the restaurants are new and upgraded at the ship’s 11 complimentary dining offerings and signature specialty restaurants Le Bistro, Cagney’s and La Cucina.

There are also two new specialty restaurants from James Beard Award-Winning Iron Chef Jose Garces, Bayamo, a Latin seafood specialty restaurant, and Pincho Tapas Bar.

Also new to Norwegian is Food Republic, developed by Miami-based The Pubbelly Restaurant Group and Jimmy Buffet’s first Margaritville at Sea which was decidedly popular and seldom had less than a 45 minute wait (we never did manage to try it).

In our two days on board, we dined the first night at the Supper Club as mentioned and the next night at Le Bistro. We lunched at the Garden Café and at Taste and had breakfast at O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill. All were good and Le Bistro was excellent.

There were also stops at The Cellars (Michael Mondavi wine bar) and The District Brew House – where Luis C. “Pops” Brignoni, and his son Luis G. offer 24 draft beers on tap including some excellent ones from their own Wynwood brewing company. I wasn’t there for the live evening entertainment (unfortunately) but Andy Stuart told me it was a popular and busy spot and that the various entertainers on board often stop here after they had finished their own shows for lively ‘jam’ sessions with District Brew House musicians.

Recreational activities were plentiful. The pool area was always busy with swimmers, sunbathers and the pool bars did a bustling business. Then there is the stuff I wouldn’t go near – planks, Sky Rails and a zipline that spins out over the water – who does this stuff? Quite a few by the look of it! The water park is the largest at sea and there is also a Kids Aqua Park and a Splash Academy Youth Centre. Norwegian also offers a nursery for the two and under set.

At the other end of the spectrum the Casino will also have something new to offer – both smoking and non-smoking gaming. They are working on the logistics of air purifying systems and expect to be able to offer smokers a casino experience within six months.

Del Rio says the “three vices go together – drinking gambling and smoking. Take smoking out of the equation and gaming drops by 20 percent.”

The Haven on the Escape is the largest in the fleet and “the best one we’ve ever built” a ship-within-a ship offering a small ship experience on a very large ship. It will undoubtedly prove very popular.

There simply was not enough time to try the spa facilities– unfortunately not even to visit – a pleasure left for another time.

Norwegian certainly have excelled with the Escape – and seemingly there is lots more to come. A new ship to homeport in Shanghai s being purpose built and custom designed for the Chinese market.

“This ship,” said Frank Del Rio, “is very very special and unique to the Chinese market and culture. When this ship gets there (to China) it’s going to be a game changer.

“I like to build brands not just ships. And to build brands you need consistency.” He said.

So, in the next two years Norwegian will drydock all its ships but one – which will be done in 2018 . They will be refurbished to deliver a higher quality product in mainstream contemporary cruising – “we believe that will pay dividends” said Del Rio.

And given that the company stock is up 55 percent year over year, you can’t argue with Del Rio’s confident prediction that “2016 will be a record year.”

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