1st Cruise for family, Parents aged 33,30 - and DD age 3.
Overall experience was great - so much so that we already booked our next cruise on the Norwegian Gem in July.
Arrival and Hotel in Miami - Holiday Inn Express, Doral
We arrived late (9pm) and left early (11am) therefore I do not have much to say about the hotel. The room was nice and clean and great for crashing for one night, the service at the front desk was excellent, and the breakfast was typical continental fare. The only drawback was that there aren't any places to eat that are walking distance with a three year old. Make sure that you call the hotel once at the airport because the free shuttle does not run automatically. Do not use the free phone on the kiosks at the baggage claim because it calls the HI Express in Miami Springs, not Doral. We made the mistake and after waiting for nearly an hour I called the correct hotel and the shuttle arrived fifteen minutes later. It was clearly my More
fault, however, something to be aware of.
On embarkation day (Saturday), we decided to take a cab to the airport. There was a shuttle service that charged $12 per person that the hotel uses, however, the front desk manager told us that cab fare would only be $35-40 so we opted for the convenience of a taxi. The taxi ride took about twenty minutes and costed $35. We arrived at 12:30, dropped our bags with the porters, and got in line for security. We had only one small canvas bag for the three of us with essentials. The security line looked long but it only took about fifteen minutes. Once through security the line moved quicker than expected and in about fifteen more minutes we did the check in where they take your photo and issue key card. The check-in process was painless and quick. We waited in another line as people boarded the ship and had their pictures taken. From start to finish, we were on the ship in 45 minutes from drop-off.
Once on-board, had I not read tons of CC reviews, I would have not known what to do or where to go. We already knew we wanted to go to the Garden Cafe Buffet for lunch and decided to take the stairs instead of wait in line for the crowded elevator. Needless to say, that was the only time we felt the need to climb 9 flights of stairs. The buffet was jammed with people but we eventually found a seat after about five minutes of looking. They had an excellent selection from short-order foods to carved steamship beef and indian curries. We were impressed from day-one with the quality and selection of the garden cafe. While at the buffet, I went to the small bar and purchased a soda card for around $50.00 including gratuity. They gave me a small thermal cup and a sticker for my key-card that I would need to show when ordering soda for the rest of the cruise.
While eating they announced that the cabins were ready (1pm). After a delicious meal and the first of what seemed like hundreds of ice cream cones for DD we proceeded to our cabin. The cabin was immaculate but there was not much to do since our luggage had not yet arrived. We changed my daughter into her swimsuit and took her to the kids pool where she played for over an hour until the announcement for the muster drill. We went to the MDR for the drill which was uneventful. We then returned to our cabin which had an aft balcony to watch the ship pull out of port.
Because this is dragging I am going to review certain aspects of the cruise in a non-chronological order.
Cabin 9293 -Aft Balcony- B1
Upon leaving port we realized how much shaking and rumbling you can feel when the port is docking or undocking. There is significant vibration and noise in the cabin that may last on and off for about thirty minutes when in port. When in open water there was no noise or vibration in the cabin. This did not detract from the experience and we would book aft again because of the amazing views of the wake and the soothing sound as the ship moves. The couch was next to the balcony and this made it tough moving around the bed, however, we felt this worked well for our daughter because she was not disturbed by us at night while one of us went out or we were using the shower or toilet. There is a curtain between the bathroom area and the rest of the cabin so the frosted glass was a non-issue. It was hard to keep water off the floor but the shower was great. I was surprised by the good pressure. Once, upon returning to port, our tv stopped working. We called guest services and they sent a repair person. It took around one hour to replace the broken box behind the tv. I thought this was quick and guest services called back to make sure everything was good. Every night, our cabin steward made towel animals for our daughter. A very shy three year old, she warmed up quickly to Roderick. He showed her how he folds some of the animals and made here a little bird that he told her to take home with her. He kept our ice bucket filled and was generally always around if we needed something in the morning or evening. The balcony was great, although our neighbors smoked on their balcony and we didn't appreciate the smell.
Recess Kids Club
We registered DD on the first day and were impressed by the quality of the counselors. The facilities were clean, new, and looked fun. We dropped DD off several times during the cruise. Each time she said she had fun. She had her face painted one day and attended a happy birthday party with cupcakes on another day. Because DD is 3 and sometimes needs help with the bathroom we were issued a phone and they were supposed to call us if she needed assistance. Even though we never got a call, we were comforted by the fact we had the phone. We did not leave her for longer than three hours at a time and usually only for about an hour at a time.
Manhattan Dining Room
We ate here on the first night with our daughter. I had the lobster and snapper which was great. My wife had the lamb shank which she liked but thought it tasted more like beef. My daughter had Chicken Tenders. The cheesecake was good. Service was not exceptional but decent. My biggest complaint was waiting for refills which would be a common occurrence throughout the cruise.
Moderno- I highly recommend Moderno. It is on par with any brazilian steakhouse I have tried on land. If you have never been to a brazilian steakhouse then it is a must. My daughter loved it and ate from the bar and the meat.
La Cucina - The view is awesome from this restaurant. The shrimp risotto was great. The menu selection was a little limited for an italian restaurant.
Le Bistro - Excellent meal, highly recommended. We were worried about taking a 3 year old but the waiter treated her like a princess. We all loved the food and I highly recommend the escargo and the fondue for two.
O'sheehans - we ate here several times for either lunch or breakfast. The food was always great. I recommend the wings and the cheese sticks. The only thing I didn't care for was the meatloaf, but i'm not a big meatloaf fan anyway.
Blue Man Group - Loved it and DD loved it. A must, the best entertainment of the week.
Legends - Very fun show, Steven Tyler, Madonna, and Elvis impersonators. It was a little edgy at times for a three year old but it was very fun.
Cirque Dreams - The meal was beef and shrimp that was very tasty. We opted for balcony seats which I prefered to sitting on the floor and possibly getting picked for something as their is audience participation. The show was great and hilarious at times.
Slime Time Live - My daughter loved it. If you are taking kids it is highly recommended. Be prepared if you sit near the aisle and in front to be picked for something.
Character Breakfast- Did not care much for this experience. My daughter was overwhelmed by everything and it was early in the morning. The breakfast was so-so. It looked like food off the buffet from upstairs.
Family Activities - We went to family arts and crafts and lego building. Both lasted one hour and were facilitated by the kids crew. They were in fat cats lounge and lots of kids attended. Fun times.
Spa - My wife really enjoyed the spa. She had one of the signature elemis massage/facial services which she thoroughly enjoyed but thought a little overpriced at around $300.00. Also, she did a mother daughter pedicure which my DD absolutely loved. I think it was around $80pp.
Casino - Lots of slots. Seemed to hit like land-based casinos. It got really crowded as the evenings wore on. Drink service was spotty.
Bingo - I tried it but did not enjoy it. It seemed expensive for the amount it payed out and I did not care for the caller. She had deadpan sense of humor which did not impress me.
Pool and Sun Decks - Always very crowded. Spring Breakers got a little raunchy at times during contests and dancing but i was impressed by the staff that quickly settled them down. The kids pool was very warm and my daughter spent hours with the other kids in the pool. She was too short for the big slides which require 42" height.
NCL U Martini Clinic - 4 drinks for $30.00. An absolutely great deal that is also very fun. I highly recommend it. Held at shakers martini bar.
Debarkation - We opted not to do the Easy Walk-off or the BAGS program. We put luggage tags on and they were picked up at around 11:30pm outside the stateroom. Our tags were supposed to be called at 9am. Our tag color was not called until around 10am but once we got the call, getting out of the port was easy
Overall - Loved it. We liked it so much that we already booked another cruise with NCL on the GEM. The Epic is a great ship for families. Less
Lots of storage. Bed is next to entryway which makes for cramped moving around when getting dressed. This configuration works well when you have a sleeping child because they are not disturbed by moving around. Cabin is in the aft and has a great view and large balcony. There will be significant vibration and noise when docking and undocking on port days.
We did not enjoy downtown Nassau as much as the other ports. The shopping wasn't as great and we only had limited time because we had to be on an excursion at 2:45. Ship docked at 12:00. Be cautious when booking the 2:45 dolphin encounter with Blue Lagoon. If you go to town, you must walk all the way back to the ship to meet the group. Then you must walk all the way back out of the port area to board a boat to the island. This seemed redundant. Also, when we booked, it was for 2:45 excursion. Our tickets that were waiting in our stateroom said 3pm. When we met the group they informed us we would not leave until 3:30pm. The actual dolphin encounter was wonderful. I highly recommend it. However, it ran over on time. We were supposed to be back on the ship by 6:30pm and the boat didn't depart the lagoon until after 6pm for a forty minute ride. When we docked it was already 6:40 and we had to run through the port, go through the id check in the port, and then down the dock. We were told the ship would wait for us but this being our first cruise we didn't want to chance it.
We had been to St. Maarten before and already knew the lay of the land. We took a cab to Orient beach and rented chairs and umbrella for $20.00. The beach was awesome and gently sloped so that we didn't have to constantly hold DD's hand. We then took a cab to Grand Case for lunch at the lolo's. After lunch we took another cab, which was hard to find, to Marigot for shopping in the flea market. Then back to Phillipsburg for shopping in the downtown district. IF had to do again we would have pre-arranged transpo from Grand Case to Marigot as cabs aren't plentiful there. Highlight of the port was Orient Beach.
We took a cab to Magens Bay. The beach is beautiful but we had only a lackluster experience. Renting chairs costed ten dollars and you had to carry them down the beach and they are heavy. There were no umbrellas and the sun was very hot, which some like but not us because of DD. The beach had a dropoff close to shore that prevented DD from playing in the water at all by herself. There were five ships in port and the beach became very crowded and unpleasant. We should have selected a lesser known beach with a resort with more amenities. The shopping in St. Thomas is wonderful. We bought David Yurman designer jewelry in downtown Charlotte Amalie for DW that was 10percent less than stateside with no tax.