I would imagine that your thoughts on cruises are very much like mine were. I never thought that I would enjoy one. I love water, and I love a ship, but cruises themselves always seem so old fashioned and dated. Right? I worried about them being predictive. I worried about feeling like I would have to do the same thing every night. I worried generally about a lack of freedom, I dreaded not having my space. I felt I might be trapped on a big boat out at sea. I worried that maybe the food wouldn’t be very good, or not to my taste. I had never actually been on a cruise though, this was all based on what I thought a cruise might be.
I decided I should give one a go, and tried a particularly food-centric one last year. And, whaddya know, I quite like a cruise. A cruise is a lovely break for a water baby like myself. They are more private than I imagined and they are especially good for someone who doesn’t know how to stay still but needs to. Because with a cruise you wake up somewhere new every day without having to do a single thing, but sit there and look out from your balcony.
Whipping open the curtains each morning to see somewhere new and dramatic is a lovely experience. It is easy, there are no suitcases to lift with each new destination, no new hotels to check into, and lots of tours that you can do (if you want to). Or you just wander off the boat and come back at your leisure, which is what I mainly did. At every port we bought some local wine and food to enjoy later on. The best part of travelling is always the journey, and on a cruise the journey is the centre of it.
Cruises vary dramatically in what they offer and where they go. On my bucket list are cruises to the Antarctic, of the Norwegian Fjords, Alaska and a transatlantic voyage. Oh, there are some wonderful ones in Asia and Australia too, if we want to go there. Some are small and focussed, some are large and offer a lot. The most recent cruise I did was a 2 day cruise on the Norwegian Escape when the ship did a small cruise from Southampton prior to its maiden voyage from Miami.
The Escape offers lots in terms of activities and spa, but I had just two days, so I focussed on the wine-ing and dining. There are 28 restaurants on the Escape (11 of which are complimentary). I flitted as much as I could, dipping in and out, sampling.
There are restaurants from James Beard Award winning chef Jose Garces (Bayamo and Pinchos Tapas Bar), Tobacco Road (a recreation of Miami’s oldest bar, at sea), a steakhouse, a churrascaria, a gelato bar, teppanyaki and several bars, one specialising in craft beer, one that is open for food and drink for 24 hours (it just happens to be an Irish bar), a few specialising in cocktails and a very decent wine bar (where they even have ice wine by the glass).
Lets start with the casual options. O’Sheehan’s 24 hour Irish bar. The menu serves Nathan’s hot dogs, burgers and items like Irish stew, round the clock. The list features craft beers and ciders as well as more mainstream options. I loved the Angry Orchard cider from the US, with a hot dog with sauerkraut and bacon.
The main dining room, Taste, is open for breakfast lunch and dinner. I had all three here, and appreciated that there was a varied a la carte breakfast menu (including pancakes, eggs benedict, granola and bircher muesli) and a classic dining menu with some higher end items that you could pay extra for. I had the beef consommé for starter and the surf and turf (peppered fillet steak and lobster tail at ¢29.99 extra) for mains. There is also a private dining area here.
The cafés in the main area are open throughout the day serving teas, coffees and a variety of cakes and macarons. Which are perfect for coasting a mid-afternoon sugar dip.
The District Brewhouse has an impressive range of craft beers, 24 on tap, and over 50 bottled beers. The lobster roll is good too, I didn’t expect that in a bar on a ship.
My favourite dining experience was the least expected, in the international fusion restaurant, Food Republic. This seemed a bit gimmicky with the menu being on ipads and the concept of international fusion leaning towards vague. Fusion rarely works well in my experience, and I was expecting not to like it, but the menu here really worked and the food was vibrant and well executed. The room is lovely and bright too, I ate at the Japanese style counter at night, during the day much of it is in daylight under enormous sweeping windows.
Mexican met Korean in the beef bulgogi tacos, Mexico again met Japan with the hamachi taquitos (basically a tuna sashimi taco), and the kimchi rice bowl was perky and gorgeous. There were lots of in house dumplings on the menu too, the chefs favourite were the short ribs but I had no room to try any at that point.
It was a brief trip, but I also fitted in a Tony award winning musical. Not usually my thing but Million Dollar Quartet was fun, based on one evening at Sun Studios when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins were all there. This night is well known and was the last time they were to play together.
Thoughts? The Norwegian Escape is fun, there is lots to do, and the food is varied & interesting, particularly when you pay a bit extra for the higher end. There was so much that I didn’t try, time being limited, but I really enjoyed the wine bar, the selection was large and the prices were reasonable. I enjoyed a dirty martini at Tobacco Road too. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and the service is very friendly and helpful. My top tip for any cruise is that it is essential to get a balcony as I had, if you can, so that you can luxuriate in your space and watch the world go by.