Cruise Day 1: “Enjoying” the New York Cruise Terminal

A picture of us on our balcony on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship
Us hanging on our balcony. It’s cruise time!

Like the responsible adults we are, we packed up the night before so we’d be able to get a bright and early start on Sunday morning. We wanted to get to the pier early, of course, but our main motivation was our desire—nay, need—to have breakfast like a real New Yorker. This meant a trip to one of our absolute favorite places, Zabar’s!

Only a few short subway stops away, Zabar’s offered us so many tasty treats we’ve grown to love. The bagels are great and the knish are perfect, but the most spectacular menu item is the coffee cake!!! Hands-down, it’s the best I’ve ever had. They also have versions with fruit, for those of you who want to ruin a delicious baked good with healthy crap. We managed to grab the only two available seats at the shared table, and we proceeded to eat enough bagels, knish, and coffee cake to feed a small army.

A picture of food at Zabar's in New York City
The part of me that’s a quarter Jewish rejoiced at the sight of this New York feast.

We walked (subwayed) off the calories and made it back to our hotel by about 9:45. Checking out of our room was a snap, and a short cab ride got us to the cruise terminal by about 10:15.

The Manhattan Cruise Terminal was the worst we’ve ever experienced (we’ve previously experienced Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Miami, and Rome). First, the cab driver didn’t exactly know where to drop us off. He asked us where to go, and short of giving him the name and address, we had no clue. When he arrived at a likely-looking drop spot, the driver proceeded to get yelled at by someone for allowing us to get out, which was slightly annoying for us as we were trying to simultaneously pay the driver and collect our luggage. Yet, this was only the start of the chaos.

The cab left us at the right location, or at least we thought so. There were people running in every direction with nothing in the way of guidance or instruction. In every other port we’ve ever cruised from, a porter would come over directly to assist and pick up luggage and direct you where to go for check in. Here it was just a big free-for-all. We eventually found our way to the luggage drop-off point and then successfully found our way to the security line.

Security actually went very quickly. It was when we reached the check-in line that things took a turn for the worse. The line was LONG! We were there at what I’ve always considered a reasonable time (a little before 10:30), but this line was epic; I can’t imagine what time some of these folks arrived. What’s more, there was only four or five people behind the counter checking people in, with a line of hundreds of passengers. We were definitely in for a bit of a wait.

The ship didn’t allow passengers to begin boarding until about 11:30, which also seemed a bit later than other cruises we’ve been on. This can certainly vary from cruise to cruise, not to mention from terminal to terminal, but it became a sort of theme for this cruise throughout the week: things that are typically done faster/better on other ships (or in this case, other ports), just seemed a bit off on Escape.

My favorite part of waiting to board, though, was the gentleman making the announcements in the terminal. He kept saying “we’ll be starting the boarding process shortly, but until then, we invite you to continue enjoying the cruise terminal.” A lot of us in line were getting a good laugh, and when we finally boarded, I said to Kathleen, “Do we need to board right away? I’m really starting to enjoy this cruise terminal!”

My lame wit to the contrary, we were happy to be on the ship by about noon. Before finding a place to sit and relax, we made a quick stop on deck 6 near Teppanyaki where there was a person available to make dinner reservations. We had the Specialty Dining Package for the first time, and we planned on enjoying it to the fullest. While we were able to book Moderno prior to the cruise, no tables for two were available for booking at either Le Bistro or Cagney’s, both of which we’d planned to frequent on this cruise. Thankfully, we were able to book good times for both restaurants—Le Bistro for that evening and Cagney’s on the last night of the cruise.

Having “enjoyed” the cruise terminal for nearly two hours, we really wanted to find a place to sit and relax with a drink. Still full of Zabar’s, we decided to skip lunch and hit the nearest bar. This would turn out to be a mistake.

We plopped ourselves in the atrium and had the first drinks of the cruise (thank you, Ultimate Beverage Package). The first drink of the cruise was quickly followed by the second, and the third, and quite possibly the fourth.

In another example of things taking longer than normal, staterooms weren’t made available until about 1:45, which naturally just meant we should keep enjoying the atrium and the plentiful drink selection. We eventually made it up to our balcony cabin, pleasantly buzzed and excited to see our accommodations for the next week.

Our stateroom was a Spa Balcony, number 15754. It was spacious, but more in the long and narrow way, with an extremely lengthy couch between the bed and the balcony door. There wasn’t a lot of room to walk between the foot of the bed and the cabin wall, so I would have traded a little of the length for some extra width.

The balcony itself was interesting. Because deck 16 was directly above us, our balcony was under an overhang provided by the larger deck above. This slightly took away from the feeling of open sky and ocean you get with a typical balcony. On the plus side, however, it did provide useful shade from the sun and a shield from the rain, meaning our balcony furniture was never wet. On the whole, Kathleen and I agreed that we liked the extra overhang.

As you might expect, being directly under the high-traffic deck 16 made this cabin a bit noisy. If you’re a very light sleeper, or if you like sleeping at odd hours, I’d recommend a cabin on a different deck. The noise was definitely less at night, though, so I can say I was never bothered by it.

The Spa Balcony comes with a pass to the thermal suite, which we’d never experienced on any of our previous cruises. Since it was new to us, we decided to head up to the spa for a quick tour to check it out. The tour was definitely unnecessary, as they largely try to sell you on purchasing additional services and treatments. I was comforted, though, when we were told that the hair-loss treatment was “known by the FDA, and will not hurt your head, or your brain cells!” Good to know.

A picture of the spa on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship
Skip the questionable hair treatments and stick with the relaxation.

We had a bit of time before the muster drill at 3:30, so we naturally decided another drink was in order. We stopped at the Mojito Bar on deck 8, and we were surprised to find the bar almost completely empty. Weirdly, this would be our only stop at this bar this cruise, even though it was one of our favorites when we were on the Getaway a few years ago. I think this may be due to the fact that they changed the raspberry mojito I used to absolutely love to a raspberry guava mojito—a far inferior version, to be honest.

Finally pausing the drinking, we made our way down to the atrium for the muster drill. This was yet another event that ran late, not getting started until closer to 3:50. The absolute mass of people assigned to the atrium for their muster station left me in serious doubt about our ability to survive an actual emergency, but, thankfully, we never had to put that to the test on this cruise.

We attempted to grab a bite at O’Sheehan’s right after muster, but we were told they wouldn’t open up for food service until 4:45. We visited the buffet instead, which, in my opinion, remains NCL’s weakest food offering. It’s one area where our cruises on Royal Caribbean really win hands-down.

After our quick snack, we made our way back to our stateroom to grab our luggage and get settled in. It’s always a nice feeling when your luggage shows up, and you know that you definitely did hand all your possessions to an actual luggage porter and not a slick, luggage-stealing conman.

A view of the Cellars Wine Bar on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship
We hit the wine list at Cellars…hard.

Our next stop was the Cellars Wine Bar for a quick glass before dinner. Super stereotypically, Kathleen and I have really been getting in to wine as we’ve aged, so we were both very excited to try some fun wines here. The first glass I tried at Cellars turned out to be my favorite of the trip, the Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fouisse.

Our dinner that evening was to be at Le Bistro, Norwegian’s classic French restaurant, and this is where we encountered the thing that truly annoyed me the most during this cruise. When we arrived, we were told that the restaurant was completely full, and the only seats they had available were two tiny tables that are placed outside the restaurant. Now, maybe this would be alright if you’re actually eating on a sidewalk in Paris, but these tables were in the middle of an extremely noisy atrium, right below a smoky casino, and generally had the ambience of dining in a loud, smelly, Vegas hotel lobby. In other words, it was not anyone’s idea of the kind of setting where you would want to enjoy several courses and relax with a bottle or two of wine. Maybe I was a little extra sensitive following the Risotteria window ledge debacle, but I was not a happy camper.

We asked the hostess if we could be seated inside, and we were told we would have to wait until something opened up. We planned to do this, but right about then, Kathleen started feeling very nauseous. The long day of drinking combined with a lack of food hit her very suddenly, so rather than wait around, we opted to head back to the room so she could lie down. Note to our future selves: add some extra food at the buffet the next time you decide to tie one on.

While Kathleen was resting, I laid on the aforementioned super long couch and read. After a couple hours she felt a good deal better, and we finally were able to grab some food. We stopped at O’Sheehan’s and revisited some of our favorite items from previous cruises—particularly the fish and chips and the wings. Since I hadn’t eaten in something like 12 hours, I also may have thrown a hot dog in the order, as well.

Because Kathleen wasn’t feeling up to going out, we decided to call it an early night. The always comfortable NCL bed was calling our names, and we knew we had an entire week of fun ahead.

Up next in cruise day 2: living the dream by doing absolutely nothing.


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