Tuesday 27th October 2015
Arriving by sea in Southampton was quite a novelty this morning. I can't remember when I last did that, apart from the ferry from the Isle of Wight or on the dreaded URIAH HEAP ferry from Hythe. We had berthed bow in to the new Ocean Terminal, although the ship's lifeboats hanging out made it impossible for the vessel to go fully in.
One friend disembarked early to return to work, another friend left and would be back later, so I had time to myself until another good friend arrived for the one night cruise out of Southampton.
I went to Guest Services for my new cabin card, wheeled my small suitcase to my new cabin, and after breakfast walked easily off the ship and out of the port area.
I had seen that the there was a really low tide in Southampton Water today, which was interesting. I took a local bus into the city and enjoyed a little while just wandering around the big shopping complex before going for coffee. My family back home were all well and glad to hear from me, so I returned to the ship for another little cruise - it's so odd to say that.
We were berthed in the current Ocean Terminal, and I remembered berthing in the old Ocean Terminal on the CAPETOWN CASTLE back in the late 1960s when I was a Purserette with Union-Castle Line. This city holds so many memories for me, and all of them memorable, whether of people or ships.
Back on board I decided to have a late lunch today in the O'Sheehan's Bar and Grill. A cheerful steward took my order and asked where I came from. I explained I lived in the South of England and he told me that he lived in the UK but was off to the States with the ship for the foreseeable future. He was so happy because his brother had come on board today as a guest so they might get a little time together later when he was off-duty. For now he was enjoying his job and meeting new people.
After lunch and good wishes to the efficient and happy steward I went to Guest Services to see if another of my dear friends had yet arrived on board. The lists were checked but apparently he is not yet here. I went back to my lovely new Studio cabin and telephoned to leave a message suggesting we meet in the Atrium at 3.30.
My 'Hamburg ferry' friend arrived back on board, now also in his Studio cabin, and we both headed to the Atrium to meet our one-night party-person. He told us he had been on board since late morning, which made a nonsense of me asking Guest Services to check if he was already on board. I remember being on board NORWEGIAN GETAWAY in January 2014 and there was a distinct lack of liaison between shore-side and ship-board members of staff. Ah well, he is here now and we can enjoy some tea together in the Atrium. We were able to show him the Studio Lounge before his whistle-stop tour of the ship with our Hamburg friends.
At 4 p.m. we all had to attend a mandatory lifeboat drill, even though we have been on board since Sunday and attended one then.
The ship is to sail from Southampton at 5 p.m. and by this time it was dark and raining in torrents. We had all arranged to meet on the Sun Deck to watch our departure and indeed headed up there, searching for whatever shelter we could find. I stood in my wet weather gear in the partial shelter of an outdoor shower cubicle but time passed without any activity and we all decided to meet for a drink in the Meridian Bar instead. I left the deck and through the darkness and heavy rain I could see another big cruise ship leaving her berth so I supposed that it would eventually be our turn, but suddenly it didn't matter.
Our Hamburg friends joined us and then we headed for the Manhattan Room for another Freestyle Dining experience. We were really looking forward to this as the tables were all set around a dance floor and small dais with a quartet of musicians on it. We had to queue of course but finally were allocated a table and enjoyed the ambience and music in this lovely room. The menus offered us all a good choice, and we enjoyed our meal and conversation together. Some goodbyes were said in case we didn't meet in the morning.
Wednesday 28th October 2015
I had a very comfortable night's sleep, this time in my Studio cabin, although in the early hours I was disturbed by a short broadcast telling me that the event code bravo ? was now over; this was repeated. I got the impression that someone had not shut off the correct switches to exclude passenger cabins from hearing the broadcasts. I went back to sleep immediately.
My alarm went off and the day started in Southampton. Once again the ship had berthed with her bow in, but not fully into the Ocean Terminal because of the overhanging life boats. We had arranged to meet for breakfast in the Garden Cafe up on Deck 16 aft, but that proved impossible because of the number of people there, mostly in groups. I found a space, and luckily my Hamburg friends came to claim me. We had more to eat at another table and then said our goodbyes.
Once I was allowed off the ship I headed for a taxi outside the Terminal and shared it with someone else going to the local railway station. One of my American friends had been staying overnight in Southampton before sailing on the ship and, although time pressures prevented us meeting, we exchanged messages and greetings.
I looked back at the huge NORWEGIAN ESCAPE and felt so lucky that I had been able to sail on her for three nights. I had particularly enjoyed my time in Hamburg before sailing, and it was a contrast to be on such a big vessel after that. The ship has some teething problems but these will presumably be sorted out during the coming week or months. Tomorrow she sails from Southampton for Miami and her life cruising in warmer climes but she is an interesting vessel, with much to recommend her.
Monday 26th October 2015
We arranged to meet for breakfast at 8 a.m. and decided to try the Manhattan Main Dining Room. The queues waiting to get in there were huge but of course they were groups waiting to be interviewed by the Immigration service; we headed for the Savor Main Dining Room instead. We had to queue to get in an almost empty restaurant and this is when we started to realise that maybe there are not enough staff on this ship to cope with the facilities offered to passengers. NCL prides itself on its Free-style Dining. We sat down with menus and after about 20 minutes a steward arrived to take our orders. He wrote them down and then went to a nearby table to take their orders too. We saw him eventually head off towards the escalators leading to the kitchens and about 40 minutes later some of our breakfast arrived. Cooked items were excellent but other items were not as ordered but we felt reluctant to wait for replacements. The tea and coffee service was slow too, but at least we could leave the Savor Restaurant and go in search of more.
I went to Guest Services (Reception) and asked about my Studio cabin and was informed that I would be moving there for my one night sailing from Southampton. It was not possible to get a new cabin card until arrival there tomorrow morning, but I should return to Reception as early as I liked then. That sounded good to me.
The ship's shops were offering lots of sale items today so we went to have a quick look. Again we noticed that there appeared to be insufficient tills and of course staff to run them. I know we were on a short cruise, but today is a sea day. In future the NORWEGIAN ESCAPE will be cruising from Miami and this will probably be port intensive, which to me suggests that there will be few opportunities at sea to buy ship gifts or souvenirs, so passengers will probably shop in great numbers when they get the opportunity.
I enjoyed walking around the outside decks both before and after breakfast, in fairly temperate weather for late October. Walking on one of the lower decks I noticed passengers in the Aqua Park hurtling through the sometime transparent tubes many decks up above me. They certainly looked as if they were out over the sea, but of course they were over those of us walking on decks many feet below.
The next morning commitment was to attend an interview with the British Immigration folk in the Manhattan Dining room. Hundreds or thousands of us had to bring a passport and queue very tidily as instructed; we moved slowly along and eventually came face to face with an immigration officer. I showed my passport, he glanced at it and then at me, nodded and waved me away. That was it, after interminable queuing, but it had to be done. We met another couple of friends in here, so at least that made the waiting easier.
Lunch was in the Taste dining room and the service was better in here, but we still feel there are not enough staff.
We wanted to see and enjoy many of the dining venues whilst on board so we decided to go for tapas and drinks before the 7 p.m. show performance.
We met our Hamburg-based friends in the Food Republic and enjoyed choosing, ordering and paying on the iPads on each table. They were very firmly fixed down. We could see that all the food was cooked to order by the nearby chefs, and we looked forward to trying some interesting things. We sat and waited, and waited, and waited some more until finally, with the start of Show-time looming, the manager was asked what had happened to our orders. It was discovered that the food had indeed been cooked, but must have been served to the only other occupied table in the room, whose many guests were all 'men in suits' and presumably employed by, or guests of, the shipping line. Apologies were made and more food cooked but it had to be eaten rather quickly. That was disappointing although enjoyable. We felt that there had probably been insufficient supervision of a new system in Food Republic.
We then headed for the Escape Theatre to see the 7 p.m. show I was really looking forward to: Million Dollar Quartet.
It is the smash-hit Broadway musical inspired by the famed recording session that brought together rock 'n' roll legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, on 4th December 1956. They were brought together then by Sam Phillips of Sun Records. I loved it! The musicians were superb and the staging wonderful.
We left the Theatre and then headed for the Supper Club. We have a booking at "For the Record: The Brat Pack" for the 9 p.m. show.
The Club room is a semi-circle of banked seating around a stage, all red plush and low lighting. Almost as soon as we were seated we had the chance to order drinks, which were brought very quickly. Moments later most of the lights went out, the show started and our first course arrived. I didn't see the menu but I don't think there was a choice - it was simply showing what we were to be served. I managed to see the first course and enjoy it. Then all the house lights were turned out, the main course was served and we could see absolutely nothing of what was on the plates. There was a slight sparkle from the stage lights onto the cutlery, so we made attempts to eat something but I really would have preferred to see what was on my plate before I put it in my mouth!
The show was American pop hits from the 1980s strung around an American high-school cheerful drama. I didn't know any of the tunes but it was cheerful and interesting to watch, and the musicians were excellent. A very large party of what seemed to be entertainment staff sat nearby and enjoyed it. It was an extra charge venue and I think we might need to mention to someone that we would all like to have seen our supper, but it was an interesting experience.
We relaxed in the Skyline Bar which we like, and then it was time to plan to meet for breakfast tomorrow, when we arrive in Southampton. We had made the most of our day at sea on NORWEGIAN ESCAPE.
To be concluded...
Sunday 25th October 2015
I woke and realised it was 'new ship day' today - what fun. Breakfast in the Hotel reception area was far less crowded than expected, probably because it was Sunday morning! I admired the blazing log fire on the huge television screen as I passed it.
Soon it was time to get a taxi to the new cruise ship terminal at Cruise Center Steinwerder (CC3) Buchheisterstrasse 16, 20457 Hamburg. We could see that a ferry pier was under construction in the barren area near the cruise terminal, so I imagine that will be very welcome for some people.
The sight of our ship was a welcome sight under a blue sky. We had admired the hull art on Friday and now we were about to board and sail on her. The ship has a gross tonnage of 165,157 and is the first ship in NCL's Breakaway-Plus Class, built by Meyer Werft. She has 5 exhaust emission treatment units, which are known as scrubbers. She will carry 4,268 passengers (double occupancy) and a crew of 1,370. We were told the highlights are: 28 dining options, 21 bars and lounges, 24-hour room service, Tradewinds Tax-& Duty-Free shops, Spa and Salon, Fitness Center, Aqua Park, Three-Storey Sports Complex, Internet Cafe, Entourage Teen Club, Splash Academy Youth Center, Guppies Nursery. Cabins will include 55 suites in the private section The Haven, and there is the Studio area with 82 cabins designed for passengers travelling solo. I had booked in one of these, but when recently notified of my cabin number I discovered I had been 'upgraded' to an inside twin; ah well, that's fine, and I shall look forward to a Studio cabin for my one night out of Southampton.
Once in the terminal we were told that there were no luggage labels available and we would all have to take our own luggage with us to our cabins, contrary to what we had been told by NCL. No wonder people were sitting around, watching large amounts of personal luggage. I presume lots of passengers were on a back-to-back two or three cruises, and sailing to Southampton and then to Miami. I was so glad I had my usual small pull-along case.
Another friend came to join us, newly off the plane from Heathrow, and we were soon able to check in and get our cabin cards. I had booked a Studio cabin my upgrademput me in a twin inside up on deck 14. I'm sure they are perfectly fine for many people, but I was really looking forward to one with so much more light. Studio cabins are ideal for inside single use, especially as they are always located with a dedicated Studio Lounge nearby. We boarded the ship and left our bags in our cabins. That done, we could head for the top decks to start looking around.
Top deck 20 is the Sun deck forward, and deck 19 forward is exclusive for The Haven guests, with their own Restaurant on deck 18 and Lounge and Courtyard just below on deck 17. On this deck midships is the walking track, sun deck and waves pool bar. Aft of this is the sports court, zip line, sun deck, miniature golf, ropes, and below that is where we went for lunch, at Margaritaville at Sea. It had waiter service from a good menu, but we could imagine this being an extra charge venue at some future stage. After this we continued our walk along the deck until we came to the Dolce Gelato and decided it was the right time for an ice-cream.
Down on deck 16 aft is the Garden Cafe, which NCL chooses to call 'complimentary dining'. No, we thought, it is not complimentary as we have all paid for this in our fare price. Forward of this is the Garden Cafe Bar, Aqua Park, Market Place, Waves pool bar, pools and sun deck.
Cabins are on lower decks with all the other public rooms and restaurants on decks 6, 7 and 8. I had read that there are 28 dining options on board. The tinies on board have Guppies Playroom and Nursery down on deck 5.
At home recently I had an e-mail from friends in Hamburg saying they would be sailing on this trip from Hamburg to Southampton, so we arranged to meet up on board. They then said they would be sailing on the Friday party night for agents from Hamburg so we thought we had missed them; we had unknowingly waved them off from the port! In fact they were still on board and left a message with a cabin number so we were able to arrange to meet up for departure at 7 p.m.
Lifeboat drill was at 4.30 p.m., with no need to take actual life jackets, and then there was time to unpack and keep the next arrangement. We met and went to the empty 5 o'clock Somewhere Bar hoping for a fruit juice or tea, only to discover that it was alcohol only in there. The room was empty, and had no inviting appeal to us. We then headed for the Atrium Bar and I had a pot of tea there. We all like these very sociable areas on the ship, which are always full of passengers and often music too.
Time then to put on the warm clothing ready to get up on deck for 7 p.m. departure. It was dark of course, and not very warm, but the ship's ropes were removed and we gently sailed away from the quayside. There were no spectators other than a few cars on a nearby lane so we made a very unspectacular and underwhelming departure from a very obscure part of this wonderful port of Hamburg. There were one or two lights from people waving from the side of the River Elbe as we sailed towards the sea, but that was all. The ship is to be based in the Eastern Caribbean in future so will almost certainly not be seen here again, but we are now sailing on the Inaugural Cruise of the good ship NORWEGIAN ESCAPE and that is exciting.
We have a dinner booking at the deck 8 Bayamo Restaurant at 7.30 so we hurried to prepare for that. This is a Specialty Dining Room with cover charge, located on the Waterfront area on Deck 8. The service was good and my diary notes that the food was simply OK. My two friends, who know far more about good food on ships than I do, also said it was not memorable.
We had booked - without charge - for the evening's entertainment. Called 'After Midnight', it rather disconcertingly started at 10 p.m. In fact, the show was based on slow music and songs from the 1930s in Harlem, America, and was skilfully done but was perhaps not to everyone's taste. Lots of people in the vast audience were asleep, I noticed. Well, that takes less effort than walking out...
Back in my comfortable cabin I found a notice telling me that the clocks were going back tonight, so that was an unexpected piece of good news. Outside it was raining hard but inside the ship it was snug and warm and tomorrow we all have a day at sea. In my brand-new ship's cabin I had a brand-new bed, mattress and linen etc. so all was extremely well with my world.
To be continued...