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Going on a cruise has never been at the top of our travel wish list. The idea of being confined on a ship with your whole trip planned out for you is certainly not our idea of adventure, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about the experience. After all, over 20 million people in the United States alone choose cruising as their preferred type of holiday on a yearly basis.

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So when Norwegian Cruise Line invited my sister in law, Jessica, and I to experience their brand new Norwegian Escape ship on sail to the Bahamas, we simply couldn’t say no. 

Norwegian Cruise line boats docked in Nassau. Norwegian escape. Norwegian Breakaway
Norwegian Cruise Line boats docked in Nassau, Bahamas

I’d love to say that my first cruise experience on the Norwegian Escape was amazing and go on raving about the ship, the amenities, and the awesome time we had in the Bahamas. But the truth is, I personally didn’t really enjoy it that much. Here is why…

The Good

Before I get into all the things that made my cruising experience less than enjoyable, I have to give the ship some koodos for the few things that served as the highlights of the experience.

1. Our Balcony View Cabin Offered Beautiful Views

Since the Norwegian Escape is a new ship, its brand spanking new rooms and fittings made for a really nice on board experience. I was particularly impressed with our room. Outfitted with 2 single (maybe twin) beds that could rival the comfort of many high end hotels, the room was small but big enough for us and our luggage. The en suite bathroom was surprisingly spacious as well and had great water pressure! But the highlight was definitely our balcony, or rather the beautiful views that it offered us all throughout the trip.

Nassau, Bahamas Cruise.
View from our balcony the morning we docked in the Bahamas

There was something so magical about waking up, opening up your curtains, and enjoying your morning tea overlooking the vast ocean, or an exciting new destination!

Sunset over Nassau. Bahamas. Cruise
Sunset over Nassau

Dining Options Were Plentiful

There was no shortage of restaurant options on board. With 28 places to dine, there was everything ranging from Japanese Teppanyaki, to Spanish inspired Tapas, and a basic catch all buffet. Great service and a selection of daily specials served even at the complimentary restaurants.

The Bad

Sadly, based on my experience there was a lot more bad than good.

It Was Crowded

The Norwegian Escape is a huge boat, but it also packs an enormous amount of people! Between the passengers and the staff there were over 4,500 people on board. It took us over 2 hours to check in upon arrival and everywhere we went, we felt people encroaching on our personal space.

“Don’t worry,” Jessica said (she has a bit more cruising experience than I do), “once everyone checks into their cabins it won’t feel that crowded”

Spice H20 space is filled during the day. Norwegian Cruise Lines. Norwegian escape. Bahamas
Spice H20 space was the least crowded spot on the ship during our day at sea

But it didn’t. The upper deck was almost always crowded, the restaurants had to be booked ahead of time, the shows were sold out, and people seemed to be everywhere! Sure, if you really wanted to find a quiet spot, you could, but if you just wanted to enjoy a few hours lying on a deck chair near the pool, forget it! There was no space! 

The Stops Were Too Short

Most cruises follow a very similar schedule. Cruise during the night and dock during the day, giving you 6-8 hours to explore at each destination. While it may seem like a lot of time, it actually wasn’t. By the time we got off the boat in Nassau, oriented ourselves on the island and checked out a few attractions in town, it was already noon and too late to venture out to the nice beach on Paradise Island. So we lingered around…

Colonial architecture in Nassau. Bahamas
Checking out abandoned old colonial buildings in Nassau

“There is a great conch salad place, called Dino’s that is a must for lunch! ”, a reader suggested when I asked you guys for advice on what to do in Nassau on Facebook. “… it’s a great spot! cold beers and a lovely view… very local!”. We looked it up on the map. It was 14 kms away. With only 2 hours left on land we weren’t going to risk missing our boarding time.

Shopping lane in Nassau, Bahamas
A few shops in Nassau
The only beach in downtown Nassau. Bahamas
The only beach in downtown Nassau, Bahamas

So instead we popped into a few shops and climbed back on board. Don’t ask me how I liked Nassau, and definitely don’t ask me for advice on the best things to do in Bahamas. I barely saw anything…and for a traveler who likes to get off the beaten path and hates crowded touristy places, not having the time to explore was a huge disappointment.

The Activities on Board Weren’t For Me

Cruise ships always boast about the variety of activities they have on board. Award winning entertainment, new and exciting experiences, 2,356 ft log ropes course, 21 bars and lounges…the list goes on. For some, this may be the perfect recipe for an amazing holiday on board.

Kids aqua park on board the Norwegian Escape. Photo credit: Norwegian Escape
Kids aqua park on board the Norwegian Escape. Photo credit: Norwegian Escape

But in my opinion, unless you are a traveling with kids and want to roam around ropes courses and water slides (which by the way didn’t even go into the pool), or are happy spending your days at sea drinking $10 cocktails (there were 98 of them to choose from apparently), shopping for expensive jewellery, or gambling at the 24/7 casino. I’m not sure that you will find your days at sea all that stimulating and exciting. I certainly didn’t. After 2 hours of sunbathing, a few cocktails, and a tour of the ship, there was nothing else that sparked my interest on board.

Complimentary Restaurants Left Much to be Desired

Maybe it was our own fault for not splurging on some non complementary restaurants. Maybe, if we had dined at the Bayamo by Iron Chef Jose Garces or at the authentic Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, my thoughts on the cuisine on board would have been different, but we didn’t. As a budget traveler, I choose to dine at the complimentary restaurants instead. I thought that since there were 3 different complementary restaurants on board, we would have enough variety without having to spend $100/night on dinner. Well turns out, the brochure doesn’t tell the whole story. Yes, there were 3 different complementary restaurants on board the ship, but the menu at each one of them was the same. So it really was like dining at the same restaurant 3 nights in a row. The specials on the menu did change every night but it was all the same type of cuisine without much variety. And the quality was just ok. Certainly nothing to rave about.

One of our meals at the complimentary restaurant on the Norwegian Escape. Bahamas
Salmon, rice and beans – one of our meals at the complimentary restaurant on the Norwegian Escape. Nothing special!

The Ugly

And unfortunately, my first time cruise experience came with a bit of an ugly side.

The Pool Was Tiny

The Norwegian Escape website raves about their 12 hot tubs and pools on board! But to our huge disappointment, this turned out to be nothing more than marketing spin. Yes, there were 12 pool and hot tubs on board. Precisely 10 hot tubs (each one suitable for 4-6 people….please remember there were over 4,000 passengers on board), 1 main pool that could barely fit 15-20 people, and another pool tucked away inside the private Vibe Beach Club that you could only get into by paying a cover charge.

Aqua park and main pool area, as per the brochure. Norwegian Cruise Line. Norwegian Escape. Photo credit: Norwegian Escape
Aqua park and main pool area, as per the brochure. Photo credit: Norwegian Escape

My dream of spending the day at sea lounging around a pool and reading my book quickly faded away….Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

The Internet Was Non-Existent

First of all, the internet on board wasn’t free. It cost us an exorbitant $90 each to purchase an internet plan for the duration of our cruise (3 days). In hindsight, that was a HUGE waste of money! The internet connection was so incredibly slow and unreliable that I struggled to send an email, let alone upload a photo to Instagram.

Now I expected the internet on board to be a bit slow. Afterall, I knew that we were going to be connected to satellite internet which is known to be much slower than the typical high speed wifi, but I can honestly tell you that I have never experienced internet this slow EVER. It was frustrating beyond belief!

See the thing is, it’s all about managing expectations. I have no problem disconnecting once in awhile. Remember that time I spent in Mañana, an off the grid resort with zero internet and zero cell phone reception in Sabah, Malaysia? I loved it! But as a digital nomad, whose next paycheck is directly correlated to the number of hours spent online, I just couldn’t disconnect…and sadly I couldn’t really connect either.

I Experienced Some of the Worst Customer Service

Our experience on board started off with the worst case of customer service experience, particularly when trying to deal with our internet issues. It took us over 2 hours to sign up for internet in first place, because our names weren’t on the manifesto. The staff didn’t seem to care about our issues and kept telling us to go sit down and wait for the manifesto to be updated. It left a very bitter taste in my mouth from the start…a feeling that unfortunately carried over for the duration of the trip.

Norwegian Escape staff. Cruise
Not all the staff on Norwegian Escape were rude, but those that were, stood out in my memory the most!

I know I probably made it sound like I hated my first time cruising. With so many bad, and even a few ugly, experiences during our time on the Norwegian Escape, it certainly wasn’t my favourite trip. But the truth is, I simply don’t think cruising is for me.  Or more specifically, cruising in the Caribbean with Norwegian Escape is not for me. Perhaps one day I’ll give another cruise line a chance to convince me otherwise (I hear Princess and Royal Caribbean are much better) or, perhaps, cruising as a couple with Max, will be a different experience. We certainly are willing to give it another try.

But if you ask me right now, I would much rather spend my money a different kind of travel…the kind that teaches, the kind of travel that opens up my mind, the kind of travel that allows me to explore beyond the glossy photos of the travel magazines. I want to learn about cultures, people, food, traditions…and based on my experience on the Norwegian Escape cruising to the Caribbean simply doesn’t do that.

If you are looking for an easy, worry free holiday, with lots of food, drinks, and just a little taste of new culture, then perhaps a cruise might be exactly your cup of tea.

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Reflections on my first Cruise: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Have you ever been on a cruise in the Caribbean? How did you enjoy the experience?

8 thoughts on “Reflections On My First Cruise: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Hi Thanks for posting your review. We did a Norweigan Pearl and would have to say its similar to your thoughts. I will always go back to Celebrity Silhouette Aqua Class. Amazing experience. I am a fussy traveller and could not fault this ship Cheers Liz

    1. Thanks for your comment Liz. We definitely would like to give cruising another try, but perhaps with a different cruise line. Will look into Celebrity for next time!

  2. I liked your blog post. I was lucky on my first time cruising as I went with my wifes parents who go on cruises a lot. They always choose the smallest ship with limited kids activities or climbing walls. We also organised our day trips ourselves which worked out really well. We did a caribbean cruise last year on a Norwegian ship it was I think the smallest in the fleet and we had a great time. What I hated the most was the constant upselling and the neverending squeeze to get an extra dollar out of you. I would go on a cruise again but would never go on one with more than 1400 passengers.

    1. Great advice, John. Thank you. I never thought that the size of the ship would make a difference, but now I completely understand. Definitely an important factor to look at when choosing a ship/cruiseline next time.

  3. Please don’t judge all cruiselines the same. My wife and I went on Norwegian cruise to Norway for 7days. Our first time. Could not fault anything. Next time try P&O cruises.

    1. Definitely not judging all cruise lines, Ian. I do understand that it all depends on the ship, on the itinerary and even your travel companions. Glad to hear you and your wife enjoyed Norwegian! I’m sure lots of other people do as well, since it is one of the most popular cruise lines in the world 🙂

  4. I lived in Eleuthera, The Bahamas (a family island) for the last year and a half. I fell in love with the REAL Bahamas – local people, laid-back living, etc. What most people don’t know is that The Bahamas is a developing nation and that cruise ports do not give the real picture. I spent a day in Nassau after living on a Family Island for the last year and a half and I hated it. I have never been on a cruise before, but seeing the cruise ports and the crowds of people, I’m not sure a cruise is for me.

    1. Oh what a dream to be living on an island in the Bahamas, Rachel! If there was anything the cruise inspired me to do is to take some time to explore the islands of the Bahamas well beyond Nassau. It looks like an incredible place (s)!

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