Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest ship boasts contemporary design and extra touches that make it ideal for cruising the Caribbean. Liz Jarvis tests it out…
It’s 9.30pm, we’re somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean sea and on stage in the Illusionarium a magician’s assistant has just disappeared. There isn’t any smoke and there aren’t any mirrors, or at least none that any of us can see, and we all have a good look. When she reappears a minute later from the box she vanished from there are gasps of genuine amazement and rapturous applause. Now that’s the way to grab attention.
The Norwegian Getaway experience is full of surprises like this. From simple touches like the coffee maker, thoughtfully provided in the staterooms, to the excellent entertainment and huge range of dining options, there is extraordinary attention to detail throughout.
Our Caribbean cruise from Miami included calls at Saint Martin/Sint Maarten (two islands in one) and St Thomas, but we started off with two full days at sea, which gave us a chance to discover all that the ship has to offer.
The beautiful, colourful livery decorating Norwegian Getaway’s hull gives you a taste of what’s to come on board. This is a glamorous but laidback cruise ship, with lots of cool bars (not including the Ice Bar), and plenty of spaces to hang out on sea days. There’s an impressive pool deck, and the ambience is friendly and relaxed; no unseemly battles for the buffet or towel wars on the sunbeds here.
For me, though, the biggest revelation was The Waterfront, the open-air promenade that wraps most of one deck. The chance to sit outside on a balmy Caribbean evening and enjoy first cocktails and then dinner al fresco, lulled by the warm ocean breeze, is an absolute joy. At a quarter-of-a-mile long The Waterfront is also ideal for strolling round first thing in the morning with a cup of coffee and admiring the ocean views (who needs to go to the gym?)
If you’re travelling without kids then it’s worth paying the $79 a week to enjoy the relative seclusion of The Vibe, where you’ll find hot tubs, an assortment of sun beds and a bar; you’re also served complimentary fruit on sticks and cold towels, very welcome in the Caribbean heat.
For those who want an even more exclusive experience, The Haven is a ship-within-a-ship, with its own restaurant, swimming pool and suites. In fact, you could probably stay in The Haven and never see any of the other passengers.
My ocean-view balcony stateroom had plenty of space, a good-sized balcony and was tastefully furnished in turquoise and glossy mahogany-coloured wood. The bathroom was roomy, too (shampoo and body wash provided); my room was cleaned almost as soon as I left it to go out in the morning and at night the turndown service included a satisfying succession of hilarious towel animals and chocolates.
We were all intrigued by the Studios – single cruisers even get their own two-storey hangout with drinks available so they can mingle freely (although they’re not allowed in each other’s staterooms, apparently).
Of course we tried the Ice Bar (for about 10 minutes – you’re given furry ponchos and gloves to put on but it is seriously freezing in there) but preferred Sugar Cane Mojito on The Waterfront, where we could enjoy being outside while sampling the mojito menu.
My friends, braver than I, ventured on to the ropes course and The Plank, which juts out to sea, and declared it the most terrifying thing they’d done in their lives (they loved every minute, of course). They also hit the gym, where they joined in with the various yoga and spinning classes on offer. I preferred lounging in The Vibe and watching the waves, but that’s the beauty of Norwegian’s freestyle cruising concept: you never feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do (or don’t want to be photographed doing).
The room service menu is fine, if a little limited: for breakfast you’re better off getting dressed and heading to Savor or Taste where you can choose from delicious pancakes with fresh berries, waffles, bacon, and omelettes made to order, with table service at no extra charge; or simply helping yourself in The Garden Restaurant. The Flamingo Bar and Grill rapidly became my favourite lunch venue. It offers Cuban/Miami-inspired food; excellent empanadas (stuffed pastries), plantain and yucca chips, and again you can sit outside.
There are several speciality restaurants (booking with Virgin Holidays Cruises gives you complimentary dinner in one of these), including Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue, which serves excellent seafood including moreish calamari, and the French-themed Le Bistro. The food in the complimentary Tropicana Room is less impressive, but with 28 onboard restaurants you’re never going to run out of places to eat.
Kids’ clubs are spacious and well thought-out, while for grown-ups, the spa has restorative sea views, a pool and whirlpools, and a good menu of treatments.
Entertainment on board is of a high standard. Apart from the magic of the Illusionarium (there’s a $29.99 cover charge for this, which includes dinner), we saw Burn the Floor, a Latin American dance extravaganza which will have you signing up to the onboard salsa dancing classes first thing the next day. There’s also the Grammy Experience, a nightclub and a slightly bizarre duelling piano bar (held in the comedy club).
But even with all the attractions, it was a great feeling to disembark and get out and about on St Martin/Sint Maarten, where we joined a visit to a rum ‘factory’ (more shop, less factory, a lot of tasting) followed by a cookery class from a local chef at a restaurant on Grand Case beach, and then swimming in the clear warm water.
On our final evening we enjoyed the fireworks at sea. Norwegian is one of only two cruise lines currently offering these and for sheer spectacle, there’s nothing quite like watching bursts of gold, ruby, emerald and silver glittering against the night sky while you’re in the middle of the ocean.
The next morning we were able to enjoy an excursion to the beach at St Thomas, before catching our flight back to Miami. We were sad to say goodbye to Norwegian Getaway – our stay had been as short and sweet as a passion fruit mojito, but it gave us a real taste of what this fabulous ship has to offer.
An 11-night Miami Stay & Caribbean Cruise from £999pp (£899 for children) including three nights in Miami on a room only basis, before joining Norwegian Getaway for seven nights from Miami to St Martin, St Thomas and Nassau. Price based on two adults travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis and includes Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow. Based on 26 Nov 2014 departure (virginholidayscruises.co.uk/0844 488 3084).
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