It’s always exciting to get an invitation to go on a cruise ship and I have been lucky enough to try out several over the past couple of years. Last week, I spent 24 hours on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Escape, along with a handful of other bloggers, courtesy of Mumsnet.
Dexter and I headed down to Southampton for Norwegian Escape’s inaugural sail and we were there to learn what it had to offer families and to test out as much as we could for the short amount of time we were on board.
The Norwegian Escape is the 5th largest ship in the world and it’s a stunning looking ship. It is able to play host to an impressive 4,000 passengers and was only completed a couple of months ago. It is an impressive site as you approach it from the harbour because NCL commissioned an artist to paint the hull of the ship, something I haven’t seen on other ships before.
The embarkation process was seamless and there was minimal waiting before we were allowed to board. We went straight to our stateroom which was on one of the middle floors, and we were also lucky enough to have a balcony room. There is nothing nicer than being able to sit on your balcony and watch the world go by so I was a very happy lady. (I had forgotten to pack the obligatory gin in a tin though … bad times.)
Our room felt rather spacious with a double bed for me by the balcony door and a sofa bed for Dexter. The sofa bed hadn’t been made up because they hadn’t realized that at the grand old age of 11, Dexter was WAY too old to share a bed with his old mum. But he is apparently. So I called down to Guest Services and in less than half an hour, a porter came up and made the bed for us. Really impressive service. I was most impressed with the bathroom. Bathrooms on ships are notoriously cramped, with the shower being particularly awkward to get into, especially for someone as blessed as me in the bottom department, but this was a full size double shower – amazing! I know it’s only a shower but the whole bathroom was beautiful, as big and stylish as you’d get in a boutique hotel.
I would say that the most important thing for me when deciding on a holiday, maybe particularly as a single parent, is that there are plenty of things to keep Dexter occupied. He’s 11 going on 15 and has never really been a fan of children’s clubs, which is a shame because after being taken on a tour around the club areas on board, I think he’d really love the one for his age group – games consoles and cinema screen, what’s not to love? But upon exploring the ship, he spotted the sky rails up above us and was really excited to try them out. He’s always had a fear of heights but I’ve been trying to address it by doing things like taking him on the London Eye, so that he knows he’s perfectly safe, but I honestly didn’t think he’d go for it.
He followed Emma’s daughter Chloe (Emma from Emma And 3) up to the top, and looked so nervous I thought he would come straight back down. But he really surprised me! I could see he was scared but he also felt really safe because everyone is attached to the rail by a very secure safety harness. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t have gone up there for love nor money (and I could do with both!)
I was really impressed with how great all the staff were with him, especially when he got nervous and froze when it was time to launch himself down the zip wire! Admittedly, they just made him sit down and gave him a bit of a friendly shove, but that’s exactly what he needed.
He loved it so much that he and Chloe went back on later on that night without us, in the dark, as the ship left the port. I can’t believe how confident and fearless he was!
Meanwhile, Emma and I felt it was our duty to try out the poolside bar, which we did for an hour or two and we can report that the beer and wine were delicious! I did have a shock when I signed the bill though because all transactions are done in dollars so I initially thought the drinks were a lot pricier than they were. Phew! Were I to go on a longer trip, however, I would definitely look into buying a drinks package so that I didn’t have to pay anything extra during my trip. There is nothing worse than having to say to your child, “No you’ve had your quota of soft drinks today, you’re on the water now sunshine.” Which is incidentally what I tend to do a lot of anyway!
One of my highlights of the whole trip was whilst Dexter and Chloe were off exploring the waterslides, Emma and I ere sitting by the bar watching the entertainment team sing and dance around the pool to an array of Pitbull songs. (Pitbull is the ship’s Godfather – it’s a Miami connection I think!) But it was so surreal. The live DJ that was on the stage put a really good show and even though it was only 5.30pm, it got us all in the party mood. I may have partaken in a small amount of dancing, to Dexter’s embarrassment. It was a bit of a shame to have to go and get ready for dinner but we were really hungry by now so headed back to our room, got ready and met everybody at La Cucina restaurant.
La Cucina is just one of a vast array of restaurants and cafes on board and this particular restaurant is one that you would have to pay extra for. The standard of food and Prosecco, however, are worth every penny and the staff couldn’t have been more accommodating. There wasn’t a kids’ menu, not that Dexter eats from one anymore, but I heard the staff offer alternatives to a couple of the other parents for their children, so all you have to do is ask.
I ate a gorgeous aubergine and veal starter, T-bone steak cooked to perfection for my main course and finished with a classic Tiramisu for desert, all accompanied with the most perfect bottle of Prosecco (or three.) The one thing about being out in the sea air all day, however, is that I found myself too tired to go to the after-dinner show that was on that night, and Dexter and I retired to bed at around 10pm. After all that climbing and swimming, as soon as Dexter’s head hit the pillow he was fast asleep.
The next morning we rose early because we had to disembark by 9.30am and went up to the 16th deck for breakfast with some of the others. It is a self-service buffet style restaurant that caters for absolutely everyone. Seriously. There was fresh fruit, freshly cooked pancakes and waffles (with the most amazing banana and toffee sauce), and an egg station for freshly made omelettes … and everything else you could imagine. I was in heaven!
I was sad to say goodbye to the ship because it didn’t feel like we had been on board for long enough to explore everything that it had to offer. I was particularly interested in The Haven which is the ship’s luxurious, penthouse accommodation, where you have access to a 24 hour butler throughout your stay, a specially reserved sundeck and priority over other customers at dinner. Now doesn’t that sound amazing? And if I was ever lucky enough to go on board again, the spa would be at the top of my list for things to try out.
I know some people remain sceptical about whether cruises are a good choice for families, but I really do think they work well because there is something on board for everyone, no matter what their age. Whether that’s dancing, swimming, watching a show, enjoying good food or zipping down a zip wire, there is no doubt that you would leave the ship a happy family.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity