It looks an impossible feat. A 164,600-ton cruise ship in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by green fields filled with cows and sheep, and acres of greenhouses growing tomatoes. Topped by an outdoor movie screen, a double-deck ropes course, and a handful of frightening waterslides, the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Escape inches delicately through a lock to leave the basin at Meyer-Werft’s shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, and begins a 26-mile journey down the River Ems to reach the North Sea. Just to make it possible, the river’s waters have been raised by a barrage until it almost bursts its banks; bridges are dismantled and power-lines disconnected to enable the ship to pass.
Loudspeakers blast out the sound of Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman singing Time To Say Goodbye as the vessel departs from the yard where it has been under construction for the best part of three years – and where the first steel was cut this week for the building of sister ship Norwegian Bliss. Two tugs help to guide the ship, travelling backwards, and its powerful thrusters make sure it follows a safe course past thousands of watching cruise fans.
Sea trials will take place next week as workmen put the finishing touches to the ship’s interior. In a few weeks the first paying passengers will embark and the ship will visit Hamburg before sailing to Southampton to spend two days before crossing the Atlantic to its home port of Miami.
Escape has one more deck than predecessors Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway and is about two metres wider. Out have gone the IceBar and children’s favourite Spongebob SquarePants, in come the biggest waterpark at sea, a Robert Mondavi wine bar, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and a supper club featuring a show based on the coming-of-age movies created by John Hughes. Escape also introduces a la carte pricing in its speciality restaurants instead of a fixed cover charge.