A City-Size Cruise, With 4,200 Friends
To travel on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape, the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world, is to become a master of the tall tale. Except that the tales are all true.
“挪威巡航线”(Norwegian Cruise Line)公司的“挪威遁逸号”(Norwegian Escape)号是世界第五大邮轮，乘坐它旅行，会让你觉得自己简直成了吹牛大王。只不过这些故事都是真的。
How big is that boat?
So big you’re instructed to look at the fish pattern in the carpets to figure out which way is forward (they “swim” toward the bow).
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape, with its mural by Guy Harvey.
So big you can sign up for Pilates and be half the class because scores of other activities are competing for attention.
So big you can spend a week roaming the ship and rarely see the same face twice.
That happened to me. When I boarded the Escape in Miami for a cruise of the eastern Caribbean last month, I noticed a group of people in matching pale green shirts. Each shirt had the word “Shipfaced” on front and a picture of an ocean liner in a liquor bottle on back. Above the picture, a slogan was printed. A blond, middle-age woman’s shirt said, “Where’s Joe.” She was traveling with a balding man with a mustache, whose shirt said, “I’m Joe.”
I never saw them again. Or maybe I just didn’t recognize them among the 4,200 passengers, a rollicking society of families, honeymooners, retired couples and a few loners, like me. How many were blondes and baldies? How many had mustaches?
With an assignment to write about that increasingly popular species, the megaship, I made my booking two weeks before the cruise, scoring a balcony room for $1,349. The deal included an unlimited beverage package (any drink under $15, which meant basically anything that wasn’t single-malt Scotch or came in a pewter cup) and a $50 nonrefundable onboard credit. I was also offered four meals at the ship’s specialty restaurants. The catch was I couldn’t choose my room.
Norwegian Cruise Line prides itself on what it calls “freestyle cruising.” There are no dress codes, timed seatings, midnight buffets with ice sculptures or other formalities. Instead, you have a choice of 28 “dining options,” five of which are covered in your fare and the rest supplemental. Passengers are free to eat anytime, anywhere. (Room service is available 24 hours a day.) Gone is the cohort you join, for better or worse, when assigned a regular place at a table.
With its lacy white balconies, the Escape looked to me like the cake for a Leviathan’s destination wedding. The ship was only four months old, a shiny, hulking infant with 20 decks and a fuel capacity of 985,626 gallons.
As I boarded the ship, I was greeted by a few of the 1,700 crew members. They were dancing to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Then a worker sprayed disinfectant on my hands. When I reached deck 9, I followed the carpet fish up a long, dystopian corridor lined with doors. The stateroom that had been assigned to me had a queen-size bed, a sofa and balcony with two chairs and a small table that overlooked a shuffleboard court and the sea.
船上共有1700名工作人员，登船时我受到了其中一些人的欢迎。他们伴着《（我已享受过）生命中的时光》（[I’ve Had] The Time of My Life）翩翩起舞。然后一个工作人员把消毒剂喷洒在我手上。我来到9号舱，跟着地毯上的鱼儿走过一条长长的、后乌托邦式的走廊，两边都是门。被分配给我的特等客舱里有一张豪华大床，一把沙发和一个带两把椅子和一个小桌子的阳台，可以俯瞰一个沙狐球场和大海。
I loved my room. It was small but with generous amenities. The closet had 18 wooden hangers. The bathroom shelves held all my toiletries. Eventually, the reason for this abundance hit me: I was taking up twice the space of a normal double-occupancy passenger. The sliver of desk attached to the wall across from the sofa was mine, all mine. Over the week, I would spend many hours there, cursing the balky Wi-Fi connection that cost $210.
But what good was sitting alone in my stateroom? I went to explore the heart of the ship, decks 6 through 8. I found two big atria surrounded by restaurants, theaters, bars, a game room, shops, clubs, an art gallery and a sprawling casino anchored by a two-story-high ribbon-shaped chandelier lit by LEDs that changed color.
On the whole, the interior seemed to borrow a lot from casino design. Divorced from the watery, breezy world outside, each venue offered variations of faux wood-grain laminates; dark, patterned carpets; brass railings and flamboyant light fixtures. Restaurants and bars shouldered cartoonish identities. They weren’t called Irish Pub, Art Deco Supper Club, Argentine Steakhouse, French Bistro or Hipster Microbrewery, but they might as well have been. Many spilled into corridors like the places that serve food in airport terminals.
Up on decks 17 through 20 was a whole other world. Here were the sun-soaked swimming pools, the full-scale basketball court, the four water slides tangled like enormous sea snakes and the three-story ropes course with 99 different elements, including the Escape’s star feature: a pair of planks cantilevering over the ocean on either side.
I was determined to walk the plank. But first I wanted to check out the Mr. Sexy Legs Competition. It was held poolside on Sunday, the day after we sailed. Nine shirtless men with big numbers painted on their bellies twerked for the crowd before submitting to bottom-grabbing and nipple-pinching by three middle-age female judges.
Many of the contestants appeared over 40 and had soft, leathery hides. Not No. 9, a hard-bodied young man who could do handsprings.
“You clearly look like you spend time in the gym,” said Silas Cook, the ship’s cruise director and competition M.C., who came from the Casey Kasem school of extreme vocal resonance.
“I take steroids,” the man said.
By popular choice, the winner was contestant No. 3. He had closely cropped gray hair and a prosthetic leg and had made a big impression dancing with his cane to “Great Balls of Fire.”
大众评选的胜利者是第三号参赛者，他头发近乎花白，一条腿是义肢，拄着拐杖，跟随《大火球》(Great Balls of Fire)起舞，非常动人。
“Less is more,” Mr. Cook observed.
Where were the children? Mostly secreted away in other parts of the vast ship but soon to reappear in giggling clusters. Not to slight the obvious enjoyment of adults, the Escape was a child’s paradise. I ached to have my 10-year-old daughter with me. She would have found all her favorite things: miniature golf, French fries, bowling, an aquatic playground, gold. This last was displayed on counters in the shopping area, coils of decorative chains that were sold by the inch, like grosgrain ribbon.
The guide to my week was “Freestyle Daily,” the activity bulletin. Every evening, it appeared on my bed, along with fresh hand towels that my thoughtful steward, Ahmad Riyadi, folded into the shape of a bulldog, elephant, bird, and frog — or maybe crab? Tucked under my arm, this bible led me to cupcake decorating demonstrations, karaoke performances and a lecture by the ship’s port shopping consultant, Rita Mantoura, on finding tax-free bargains where we docked. “If you see it and you love it, buy it!” Ms. Mantoura chanted in call-and-response style. “Who has heard of a company called De Beers? Hands up!”
我这一周的指导手册名叫《自由自在日报》(Freestyle Daily)，是船上的活动快报，每天晚上都会和新的毛巾一起出现在我的床上，体贴的服务员阿迈德·里亚蒂(Ahmad Riyadi)会把毛巾折成斗牛犬、鸟儿和青蛙的形状——也许是螃蟹吧。我把这本圣典夹在胳膊底下，让它指引我去参加纸杯蛋糕装饰展、卡拉OK表演和船上的港口购物顾问丽塔·曼图拉(Rita Mantoura)的讲座，内容是如何在港口发现免税的便宜货。“如果你看到什么，觉得很喜欢，那就买下来吧！”曼图拉女士用对唱般的声音说道。“谁听说过一个名叫‘De Beers’的公司？举起手来！”
I also found out that solo travelers had their own social hour. They even had their own section on the ship, with 82 small staterooms, a lounge and an activities program.
I joined the solos one evening, as they were about to head out to dinner together. Robert Zitsch, a retired mechanical engineer for the oil and gas industry, who lives in Louisiana, told me he had taken cruises regularly since the death of his wife 18 months before. As a frequent customer and dedicated gambler, he had secured a mini-suite with balcony on the Escape for $432, plus credits for purchases on ship and at ports.
Mr. Zitsch, who is 76, added that he liked enormous cruise ships because the masses of passengers required more staff, which translated into better service and a greater variety of live entertainment. He was planning to take another Norwegian cruise in June. “I don’t know where that ship is going, and I don’t care,” he said. (When I encountered him again at the end of the week, he was less happy with the experience. He said he found the food and service disappointing and had had to correct the dealers’ math more than once.)
The Escape had other exclusive meeting places. The Thermal Suite Spa, a feature of other Norwegian ships, was a glassy area with saunas, steam room, “snow room” (a walk-in freezer with occasional flurries), “salt bath” (a temperate booth furnished with glowing pink crystals) and the thalassotherapy pool, the biggest hot tub I ever swam in. Yes, swam. The seawater tub was more than four feet at its deepest spot and had a curved sculptural element in the middle from which gushed a fountain that massaged my back.
Let me be clear. I didn’t pay $219 for one of the 120 Thermal Suite Spa memberships available. Instead, I took advantage of the $54 day pass that could be used only when the ship was at port. On Tuesday, while other passengers scooped up duty-free bracelets and watches on St. Thomas, I hogged a cushioned chair intended for couples, with a many-pillowed backrest. From there I watched yachts in the bay at Charlotte Amalie looking feeble and small.
Two days later, I had another exclusive opportunity: a behind-the-scenes tour of the Escape ($79). My 15 tour mates and I soon learned to our disappointment that the bridge and engine room would be off limits because of security concerns. Instead we were treated to a history of Norwegian Cruise Line, followed by a visit to the biggest of the ship’s 20 galleys, an antiseptic steel warren overrun with drones. We were declared kings and queens of the kitchen and invited to pose for free photos wearing a chef’s toque and holding a giant whisk.
In the provision area, which extends through three decks, we were told that the ship stocks 60,000 pounds of meat, fish and poultry a week and 4,000 pounds of bananas.
In the laundry area, we saw jaw-dropping technology. One machine pressed shirts on an armature that puffed up and steamed the garment. Another folded and stacked 200 towels in an hour. So many linens require washing on a ship this size that their journey down a chute from the passenger floors must be scheduled to avoid traffic jams.
“What happens when someone dies on board?” a woman in the group asked.
Smoothly, as if he gets this question all the time (which is probably the case), our guide explained that the ship has two landing places for helicopters to remove bodies.
“You don’t prop them up on a deck chair with a hat and drink?” the woman asked.
Indulgent smile. “No.”
“Or put them in the meat locker?”
Indulgent smile. “No.”
But now the time had come. If I procrastinated any longer, the winds might rise, or the rain might fall, and I would never be able to walk the plank.
At the ropes course, I donned a harness and got in line behind a man who looked to be in his late 60s. Climbing a ladder, I found myself about 15 feet above the deck with a view of the ocean many feet below that. An attendant attached one end of a rope to my harness and the other end to a sliding element in a metal track above my head. Now, all I had to do was walk along a beam that was maybe the width of my foot, with nothing to grasp except that dangling line.
From there, I needed to scramble over various single- or double-stranded cables and horizontal rope ladders before reaching the plank, which I now could see was hinged to the structure. In other words, it swayed.
It’s not that I feared for my life. If I fell, I would merely dangle helplessly while people below shot videos and posted them to YouTube.
Or the rope might indeed break, and I would have to be airlifted off the ship by helicopter or — worst-case scenario — stored in the meat locker.
Blessing the many options the Escape offered, I turned tail and headed for my favorite venue, the 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar. It was in fact 5 o’clock. Right there.