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bebe08

Somewhat loyal Celebrity cruisers try NCL

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We have been on several Celebrity cruises on both classes of ship (have not sailed on the Edge).  We decided to try NCL for a Caribbean cruise because we wanted something new…either new ports or a new ship (or both).  Having been to almost all the Caribbean ports Celebrity offers, the only thing new for us would be giving the Edge a try.  I priced it and was a no go for us.  So…we booked NCL Escape which offered 3 of 4 new ports for us (Roatan, Harvest Cay Belize, and Costa Maya).   We really enjoyed all 3 of these ports and would definitely return.  Cozumel was a repeat for us and there were several ships in port that day so we stayed onboard.

 

After so many Celebrity cruises we know our way around their ships so well as they are all very similar. There is a warm familiarity about Celebrity for us that we feel as soon as we board.  The Escape is the largest ship we have been on, and I was concerned we would find it overwhelming.  However, we found it to be well laid out and easy to find our way around.

 

There are way too many differences between NCL and Celebrity to cover them all so I will highlight the ones that had an impact for us. 

 

I am posting this on both the Celebrity and NCL boards and am happy to answer any questions about our experience.

 

Veranda Stateroom

-        Escape has lots of outlets as well as USB ports on each side of the bed; the Celebrity ships we’ve sailed on are lacking in this area

-        Escape has a coffee/tea maker (woo hoo!) – none on Celebrity

-        Celebrity staterooms have nicer amenities – ie shampoo, lotion, bathrobes

-        Hallways outside the stateroom seemed narrower on NCL…need to move to the side to let others get by you

-        Escape has magnetic stripe key cards (sometimes take a few tries to get it to work), whereas most Celebrity ships now have tap cards

 

MDR

-        There are 3 MDR on Escape and we ate in 2 of them – the largest one, and one of the smaller ones.  We LOVED the ambiance – tables are more private and further apart than Celebrity and therefore MDR is not as crowded.  The large MDR also has live entertainment during dinner….nice quiet background music.   Service was excellent…I wish the staff were identified on the table placard the way Celebrity does – would help when chatting with the staff and would make it easier come survey time as well.   Unfortunately , food on Escape was only average….this is where Celebrity excels.  We did have some good dishes on the Escape, but there were also several dishes that were letdowns.  They don’t miss the mark by much…seems like something that could easily be improved. 

 

Other food/bar venues:

-        O’Sheehans:  This is an Irish pub style restaurant on the Escape with no extra fee.  We ate there several times (breakfast, lunch and supper!) and for the most part the food was really good.  It is nice to have a sit down restaurant that is in between the buffet and the MDR – wish Celebrity had something similar. How I would love to see them replace the Sushi place with something like this!!

 

-        Supper Club: Absolutely loved this on the Escape!!  Nothing comparable on Celebrity.  We went twice.  The first time had no fee, was a 3 course set dinner with Elton John/Billy Joel tribute.  Second time was an upcharge for a 5 course dinner and Melba Moore was the entertainment.  Food was delicious – best dinners we had on the ship and entertainment was great.  Venue has a really nice ambiance, not too big and all tables seem to have a good view.   While reservations are required, neither show we attended was sold out.

 

-        Atrium Café:  This was a disappointment for us on the Escape.  It is where you can get Starbucks coffee and pastries (neither of which is free or included in basic drink package).  It is in a very busy, noisy spot, next to Atrium Bar and entertainment (game shows, live music) in the Atrium.  Often the chairs from the Café were moved to the entertainment area, so no where to sit.   We love Al Baccio on Celebrity, and missed having a fairly quiet spot to go to for a cup of coffee and a snack. 

 

-        Waterfront:  The Escape has a really neat area called the waterfront which is a ¼ mile promenade of restaurants and bars.  We went there a few times to walk around and also enjoyed a drink at sail away at one of the bars – we were surprised it was not crowded.

 

-        Margaritaville at Sea:  Yes the Escape has this 🙂  There is a cover charge of $15 per person, but they only charged us for one person.  We had an enjoyable lunch there.  The margaritas are the best ever!!!  Drinks are covered by the drink package if you have one. 

 

-        Specialty restaurants:  We didn’t do any on the Escape other than what was already mentioned so can’t comment.  These restaurants book up very quickly and unlike Celebrity no “deals” are offered during the cruise. 

 

Entertainment

Theatre Shows:  The 2 shows we saw at the Escape theatre were Broadway quality and we thoroughly enjoyed them.  On Celebrity we have started to avoid the production shows as they aren’t that great, and we just go to the theatre for the guest entertainers which are usually very good.  Reservations are required on NCL, but not on Celebrity.  However, there is a standby line, and neither show was full so would have been no problem without a reservation.

 

Comedy Club:  This is a separate venue on the Escape with comedy every evening.  While reservation are required, we had no trouble getting in without a reservation.  We went to 2 shows and enjoyed them.  Celebrity doesn’t have a comedy club, but there are usually a couple of shows with comedians in the theatre.

 

Live Music:  Escape has several bars/venues with live music throughout the ship and we saw several different performers.  We enjoyed them all.  However, we did find some of the piped in music in the venues to be extremely loud, which made conversation difficult.  Celebrity on the other hand also offers some quieter music options.

 

Pool/Spa AKA our Sanctuary 🙂 

-        On Celebrity the Solarium has always been our sanctuary.  We love that it is indoors (no worry about sunburn/sunscreen) and being a solarium you feel the warmth of the sun.  We also love the pool and hot tubs, as well as the drink service.  It is a great place to relax with a drink and book and we have spent many happy hours there. There is also a small café in the solarium.  The Solarium is adults only and there is no fee.  Celebrity also has Persian Gardens for a fee* and it has heated loungers, steam room, sauna.  *Aqua category has access included. 

 

-        The Thermal Suite on the Escape is sort of a mix between the Solarium and the Persian Gardens and became our sanctuary.  There is a fee and we felt it was worth every penny.  There are a limited number of passes sold so it is never crowded.  There is a T-Pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, salt room, snow room, and many heated loungers.  Tea and water are provided.  As this is part of the spa there is no drink or food service. 

 

-        As you’ve probably figured we avoid the main pools on both Celebrity and the Escape.  3 reasons for this:  lack of shade, very crowded, and typically noisy.  We do like to sit outside on the sundecks (away from the pools) from time to time and both Celebrity and Escape offer several options to do this.  Escape offers adults only sundeck area called Spice which has a grotto water feature for cooling off as well as hot tubs.  There is very little shade, other than what is offered by a few umbrellas.  It was quite windy when we were there so umbrellas couldn’t be used.  There is also another adults only sundeck area on the Escape called Vibe which requires purchasing a weekly pass – we did not do this so can’t comment.  The Escape also offers a waterpark and water slides which we didn’t try.

 

Other Observations

-        There was not nearly the hard sell on the Escape that we are used to seeing on Celebrity – ie do we want to upgrade our beverage package? Buy a dinner package? Get our picture taken? We weren’t afraid to make eye contact with the staff in the shopsl for fear they would try to sell us something lol. 

-        Apps by both Celebrity and NCL could both use improvements.

-        Internet was comparable on both.

-        Embarkation/Disembarkation also comparable

-        Websites – I much prefer the NCL site over Celebrity for ease of use, as well as information available

-        Drink packages: we had the basic package on the Escape and didn’t feel the need to upgrade.  It covered alcoholic drinks up to $15 as well as fountain pop.  It did not cover specialty coffee (ie Starbucks) or bottled water which seemed odd.  By comparison on Celebrity similar package would cover drinks up to $9 but also includes special coffee and bottled water.

-        Celebrity makes an effort to have Officers visible throughout the cruise, never saw this happen on the Escape.

-        We experienced excellent service on the Escape, comparable to Celebrity

 

Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed our cruise on the Escape, and the ports that we visited.  As we didn’t find the food in MDR to be as good, I would buy a dining package next time and make sure to make reservations in advance.  The only other thing we really missed about Celebrity was Al Baccio.  Perhaps a smaller NCL ship would have a quieter place to relax over coffee. 

 

In summary, I would describe NCL Escape as being big, bold and in your face, whereas Celebrity has more of an understated elegant feel about it.  We have a Celebrity cruise coming up in April and I am looking forward to that familiar feeling when we get onboard…almost like being home 🙂 

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Thank you for an interesting review. We are loyal Celebrity cruisers but starting to think about other lines. How does the sizes of the standard balconies compare? That would be important to us as we do enjoy our balconies. 

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1 minute ago, lienf said:

Thank you for an interesting review. We are loyal Celebrity cruisers but starting to think about other lines. How does the sizes of the standard balconies compare? That would be important to us as we do enjoy our balconies. 

The balcony on the Escape was a bit smaller than on any Celebrity ships we have been on.  There were 2 chairs and a small table...I don't think there would be room for a lounger.  We had standard balcony on the Escape, pretty sure bigger balconies are available.  

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Appreciate the comparison. We have considered trying NCL with our tween/teenagers and its nice to see you enjoyed many aspects of it. 

 

Thanks for sharing.

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Great comparison 

We love the Thermal Suite  on some of the NCL ships and always get passes 

NCL does that well 😊

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Enjoyed all the details in your review.  Sounds like you had the break from X that you wanted.Sometimes we all need that.

 

How was the decor compared to X? Were there many spaces set aside for suite guests? Was the ship well staffed?  Were staff members friendly and attentive? Did you take any ship's excursion?

 

I got the impression there was alot to do on the NCL ship ...shows, bars ,  dining venues but I also got the impression it might be " too busy ". Were there any nice quiet spaces to enjoy like Cafe Bacio or little niches?

 

The Solarium area with T pool sounded nice....was it capacity controlled?

Edited by hcat

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We too tried NCL Escape this past summer and had a blast.  We are normally Princess cruisers but have decided it is time to try new things.  In fact we are going on the Reflection in less than 2 weeks.

 

To us the Escape to Bermuda was wonderful.  We thought the food, entertainment and staff were awesome.  We saw officers all around the ship and they remembered us from the meet and greet.  BTW:  NCL knows how to have a meet and greet!  We had a mini suite and the room size is a little small but the bathroom was huge with a double sink.  Balcony was average size.

 

I can’t wait to see how our Aqua class cabin on the Reflection is along with everything else.  Excited!!!

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54 minutes ago, bebe08 said:

The balcony on the Escape was a bit smaller than on any Celebrity ships we have been on.  There were 2 chairs and a small table...I don't think there would be room for a lounger.  We had standard balcony on the Escape, pretty sure bigger balconies are available.  

Thank you for the info. 

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34 minutes ago, hcat said:

Enjoyed all the details in your review.  Sounds like you had the break from X that you wanted.Sometimes we all need that.

 

How was the decor compared to X? Were there many spaces set aside for suite guests? Was the ship well staffed?  Were staff members friendly and attentive? Did you take any ship's excursion?

 

I got the impression there was alot to do on the NCL ship ...shows, bars ,  dining venues but I also got the impression it might be " too busy ". Were there any nice quiet spaces to enjoy like Cafe Bacio or little niches?

 

The Solarium area with T pool sounded nice....was it capacity controlled?

I felt that the Escape was a bit plain re decor as compared to Celebrity. 

 

They have the Haven areas which are for suite guests but I didn't even see where these were.  They do the same as Celebrity and reserve a section of the theatre for the Haven guests.

 

The ship was very well staffed, and service was fast, friendly and efficient.  Absolutely no issues with service or staff...they were a great bunch and lots of camaraderie amongst the staff.

 

We didn't do any ship excursions so can't comment on that. 

 

The Escape definitely had a busier feel than any Celebrity ship we have been on.  We found the Atrium cafe very noisy but we did find a quiet outdoor spot for coffee...on Deck 8 there is a bake shop/gelato place that also sells the starbucks coffee.  There are tables outside where you can sit and enjoy your coffee...no tables inside though.  On the deck plan there are a few outside areas designated as "quiet zones". 

 

 The Thermal suite is capacity controlled....not sure how many passes they sell tho.  We never found it crowded, and always had our pick of loungers.  

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Just to add, as an Elite + on Celebrity, that we also loved both Getaway and Escape.  One other nice thing about NCL is a MDR is open for lunch on embarkation day.  And tables for two are regular tables for four with the extra settings removed.  The Waterfront is not only a great spot for shaded al fresco sitting, but the specialty restaurants also have al fresco dining on it.  O’Sheehans offers a free dining option 24/7.  So you can get a hamburger or lots of other casual comfort food whereas the Mast Grill closes at 6 p.m. and is outside.

 

I’m not saying NCL is better than X but for those who sail X frequently new menus and new shows are really welcomed!

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We have been on both Escape and the Eclipse. They were both great. We prefer the laid back style of Celeb. And our biggest complaints about the Escape are the number of people and the elevator situation on that ship is horrid. 

You are packed in like a sardine compared to the Eclipse. Our biggest negative on Eclipse is the lack of late night snacks. Osheehans is awesome at 2AM!

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I am sailing Celebrity for the first time in May on Solstice (Alaska).  I've sailed NCL 3 times, 2 of those were Greek Island cruises.  The food is not great on NCL.  It's their biggest flaw.  The ships are fine, staff is lovely and the rooms are OK,  BUT the food needs help.  On our Sept 2019 Europe Cruise (11 days, 10 port calls) the cruise itself was excellent, but the buffet and MDR were substandard.  We mostly ate at the specialty restaurants and only one of those I would rate as very good.  The best food we've found to date is on Disney so we are greatly looking forward to trying Celebrity.

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Thank you Bebe08 for your very interesting and detailed comparison between NCL and X. 

 

I really enjoyed reading it. 

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Thanks for your review...Far more positive re NCL than others I have read recently. Any idea how much the speciality dining is? Can you buy an unlimited speciality package?

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We tried the Norwegian pearl last april. We had a perks package that had the free airfare and choice of one perk. We had an inside cabin and chose the 4 night specialty dining. We thought the specialty dining was much better than celebrity. We loved the thermsl suite. We had bought passes and were in there all week. It was a nice break from rccl and celebrity and if price is right and ports are right we will try again. 

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2 hours ago, jean87510 said:

We tried the Norwegian pearl last april. We had a perks package that had the free airfare and choice of one perk. We had an inside cabin and chose the 4 night specialty dining. We thought the specialty dining was much better than celebrity. We loved the thermsl suite. We had bought passes and were in there all week. It was a nice break from rccl and celebrity and if price is right and ports are right we will try again. 

 

We sailed on Breakaway in 2018. We took an extended vacation to Florida and chose to spend a week on a cruise. Celebrity is our line of choice but we're not married to the loyalty program and do enjoy other lines. 

My son was with me for this vacation and I thought the entertainment would be better for him than onboard X. It's safe to say that it was significantly better. However it also had a more interesting itinerary. We'd visited every port Celebrity were visiting in 2018 and do find their Caribbean itineraries not particularly exciting at times. Breakaway was visiting Honduras and Belize which we'd never visited before so that peaked my interest. There mini suite which is a little bit bigger than a regular Celebrity S class balcony was just under 50% in total cost than the three of us sailing on Equinox and this included the 'Free at sea' package too so we had internet, beverage pack and specialty dining thrown in too. 

The room was spacious and intelligently laid out with plenty of storage space and felt modern if not particularly stylish. 

With all that in mind it was an easy decision to try NCL. I had read on this very Celebrity forum that NCL offers the worst food at sea. Other reviews meant I set foot onboard with pretty low expectations. It's certainly not as good as X in the MDR and the buffet. But specialty dining I thought was on par with the Celebrity restaurants in terms of service. 

Breakaway had been refurbed in 2018 and so was pretty fresh. It was in much better condition than any M class ship at the time and in better condition than S class ships IMHO. Though I appreciate our trip was before the 'revolution'. 

Service onboard was good, perfectly adequate. I was acutely aware that Breakaway isn't a six star luxury ship but all of the staff we meant were perfectly pleasant and helpful and I couldn't fault the service at all really. Bar service might have even been slightly better than what we're used to on X. 

So, although I don't actively watch NCL cruise availability I would also sail with them again if the price and itinerary were good. On a value for money basis NCL can offer very good value for money in some circumstances. Having the third person sail free made a huge difference when comparing prices to X. 

The down sides are foodies won't be impressed with the included restaurants although nothing was inedible. Entertainment can be loud. Those who prefer to sail without children onboard should avoid too. Though the same could be said for many other lines and ships.  

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5 hours ago, chemmo said:

Thanks for your review...Far more positive re NCL than others I have read recently. Any idea how much the speciality dining is? Can you buy an unlimited speciality package?

We could have purchased a 3 dinner package for around $115US pp.  You could also purchase more than 3, not sure about unlimited though.  That is a much better deal than paying as you go.  Only 2 restaurants have a set fee (I think $39) and the rest are a la carte.  We checked the menus for the a la carte and cost would quickly add up.  

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13 hours ago, bebe08 said:

There are way too many differences between NCL and Celebrity to cover them all so I will highlight the ones that had an impact for us. 

What a comprehensive comparison - thank you for sharing your impressions.

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9 minutes ago, bebe08 said:

We could have purchased a 3 dinner package for around $115US pp.  You could also purchase more than 3, not sure about unlimited though.  That is a much better deal than paying as you go.  Only 2 restaurants have a set fee (I think $39) and the rest are a la carte.  We checked the menus for the a la carte and cost would quickly add up.  

 

Thankyou!

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Thanks for your report.  We also mostly sail on Celebrity, and tried the Haven on the Breakaway.  Found all but the Haven area crowded and as busy as Disney World.  The speciality restaurants were very disappointing IMO.  We wouldn't sail again on NCL I  would only recommend the Haven.  We walked around the tiny pool deck and couldn't even find a place to sit- and walking through the mob wild- thought I would step on people as I tried to navigate the space . No real theatre or good spaces to sit and relax.

 

If you want a ship IMO that is great for the young and old, with excellent entertainment, try the Oasis class RC ships- they knock the socks off of NCL.  Even Carnival a better choice.  

 

However that is my opinion.  

Edited by Cruise a holic

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We tried NCL again about a year and a half ago, after a long break from them after a horrendous cruise on the Star. We sailed on the Bliss and loved it. We found pretty much the same thing as the OP.  The Bliss being newer had the tap cards on the doors and I didn't notice the balconys being smaller on our cabin. And the decor of that ship is much classier than the old NCL barges. The observation lounge up front is beautiful. Totally agree about the food, the MDR food is pretty weak and much of the Buffet food was not great either.  We did like the Indian/Asia food on the buffet.  We also loved the Local for lunch, late night snacks.  The burgers there were great much better than the mast grill and most of the other stuff we tried was very good too. I think my wife had wings there every night before we headed to bed. Breakfast in the MDR was also decent (although the coffee was not very good). We did get a meal package which covered 5 nights in specialty dining and those meals were good with 2 of them being fantastic. Specialty dining is the way to go!  We didn't like the beverage package as much as Celebrity though. No water included, and it's $7 a bottle (really NCL??), no speciatly coffees, etc. And the drink prices are higher on NCL so while it covered up to $15 the drinks were basically the same as the classic drink on Celebrity. They also charge $20 a day gratuity on the "free" drink package. But, we liked it so much we sailed it again in October and have a Panama Canal booked for Nov this year.  We are not upset or done with Celebrity, but NCL seems to have upped it's game a bit so Celebrity will certainly see less of out vacation $$ for the time being.

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21 minutes ago, Cruise a holic said:

Thanks for your report.  We also mostly sail on Celebrity, and tried the Haven on the Breakaway.  Found all but the Haven area crowded and as busy as Disney World.  The speciality restaurants were very disappointing IMO.  We wouldn't sail again on NCL I  would only recommend the Haven.  We walked around the tiny pool deck and couldn't even find a place to sit- and walking through the mob wild- thought I would step on people as I tried to navigate the space . No real theatre or good spaces to sit and relax.

 

If you want a ship IMO that is great for the young and old, with excellent entertainment, try the Oasis class RC ships- they knock the socks off of NCL.  Even Carnival a better choice.  

 

However that is my opinion.  

 

Cruise A Holic you have my sincerest sympathies. You must be the unluckiest cruiser I know in the real world or online. You seem to have such terrible experiences that I can't relate to based on my own sailings. I hope things improve dramatically going forward for you. 

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We sailed on Escape a few months after she was deployed. NCL has changed their dining, entertainment and pricing structure a lot since then (2015). I was in my early 30’s at the time and still thought the ship was a little too much frat party for us. The entertain was just bleh and the need to pre-book a lot of it doesn’t work for us. However the variety of venues and restaurants is very nice and the Water Front is a fun concept. The ship itself had the worst layout we’ve ever seen. The main pool is tiny and feels like you’re in a pit. With all of the water slides and activities stuffed onto the top decks, it just had a very claustrophobic feel. Lounge chairs were packed in every nook and cranny they could find. Without comparing very broad categories such as food and drink to one another, I find the two lines pretty difficult to compare. 

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