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Norwegian Cruise Line’s arrival into Australia has been highly anticipated by cruise fans and ahead of the release of the line’s prices, Sue Bryant reveals the Norwegian experience. 

Norwegian Cruise Line has never been one to hold back when it comes to innovation and its newest baby, the 164,600-ton Norwegian Escape, brings yet more firsts to cruising with more bars, restaurants and entertainment than ever before.

Escape is the biggest in Norwegian’s fleet of 14, distinguished by the giant sailfish emblazoned across its hull, the work of marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey. This ship is not for the shy and retiring; it’s for people who like dining somewhere different every night, watching top Broadway shows, gambling in the massive casino and boozing in the many bars.

Cabins are contemporary and comfortable, done out in blues and warm browns. Singles are well catered for in the 82 Studio cabins, which are inside, and tiny, but fun for solo travellers on a budget. The Studios share a communal lounge where you can post on a whiteboard if you’re looking for an excursion buddy or a dinner companion.

If you want to get away from the crowds – and this is a crowded ship when it’s full – the 55 suites in The Haven are gorgeous. This is a private enclave with its own bar, restaurant, sundeck and pool, perfect if you are looking for luxury, but still want the buzz and entertainment of a big ship.

Dining is a big deal on Escape and all the better if you have cash to splash as there are lots of really good restaurants carrying a small supplement. Several Norwegian favourites are here – Le Bistro, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Teppanyaki and La Cucina, but it’s some of the new restaurants that add the wow. Food Republic, for example, with a grazing, sharing menu, was a revelation, especially the noodles, the sushi and the exquisite coconut dessert.

Bayamo by Jose Garces is also a real treat, offering top-notch seafood with Latin flavours, and for something less formal, Iron Chef Garces has a tapas bar on board, too. Many of the restaurants open onto The Waterfront, an outdoor dining area stretching the length of Deck 8 and perfect for the ship’s Caribbean itineraries.

Norwegian invests a lot in its shows and two award-winning musicals are showing on Escape: After Midnight and Million Dollar Quartet. I saw Million Dollar Quartet and it was superb; the story was inspired by the recording session that brought together rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and all four stars are outstanding. The only problem with the theatre is that sound carries and even through the dazzling piano solos, the floor was thudding with vibration from another venue.

On nights when the big shows aren’t playing, there’s a comedy club to try out, as well as a supper club and Howl at the Moon, Norwegian’s popular dueling piano show.

It’s no surprise that a party ship like this is stuffed with bars and I liked the fact that a lot of the brands on board reflect the lifestyle of Miami, where Escape is based. The District Brew House is a dark, craft beer hall serving up 24 draft beers from Miami’s Wynwood Brewing Company, while Tobacco Road, all that’s left of the city’s oldest dive bar, has relocated at sea with memorabilia from the original dotted around. The Sugarcane Mojito Bar does little flights of flavoured Mojitos to taste, which go down a treat. Interestingly, there’s no dedicated nightclub on this ship. Instead, a DJ spins tunes at Spice H2O on the upper deck, an adults-only venue with hot tubs, dance floor and a rather plastic grotto that’s lit up at night.

Up on deck, there’s a lot of equipment. Escape has three levels of adrenalin-boosting high ropes courses, including two opportunities to “walk the plank” out over the sea, while five zip-railing tracks allow passengers to soar through the air. There are terrifying waterslides with a vertical drop and a whole area of fountains, jets and mini-slides for kids. In fact, the whole ship is child-friendly, with the fleet’s first nursery for two-year-olds and under among its various kids’ clubs.

What I can’t imagine, though, is how there will be enough space for all 4,248 passengers on a sunny day in the Caribbean; there just isn’t enough room on deck. Personally, I would shell out for the adults-only “beach club”, Vibe, on deck 19, where US$99 for a week buys you squashy loungers, fruit skewers, water spritzes, a hot tub and a bit of peace and quiet.

FACT FILE

CRUISE LINE: Norwegian Cruise Line

VESSEL: Norwegian Escape

STAR RATING: not yet rated

PASSENGER CAPACITY: 4,248

TOTAL CREW: 1,731

PASSENGER DECKS: 16

ENTERED SERVICE: 2015

TONNAGE: 164,600

FACILITIES: Three pools, multiple hot tubs, spa with snow cave, 12 bars, 16 dining options, some with supplement, gym, sports deck, high ropes and waterslides, Aqua Park, casino, theatre, comedy club, supper club, medical centre, separate complexes for suite guests and for singles, children’s clubs, library, shops.

BOOKINGS: Seven-night Eastern Caribbean from Miami aboard Norwegian Escape, from $1,0089 twin share (inside cabin). Phone 1300 255 200 or see norwegiancruiseline.com.au

The Verdict

HIGHS: Massive choice of places to eat and some of the finest entertainment at sea.

LOWS: Noisy and, when the casino gets busy, smoky. Ship can feel very crowded.

Would suit: Younger cruisers, families, singles, anybody who likes a lively ship with multiple bars and entertainment venues.