Since we disembarked the Epic from an Eastern Caribbean cruise on Saturday morning we stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Doral overnight. It was $25 from the dock by Taxi to the hotel; it was extremely hard to get a ride if not going to the airport. The hotel staff was very helpful, the hotel was clean but if your room is facing the front it will be noisy early, internet connection horrible. There is a grocery store a mile away thru a neighborhood; not a bad walk for water to take on the cruise.
Rising early we ate the free breakfast which is limited to the normal fare. We sat outside waiting for the van to come costing $10 pp to the dock. We rode with another group who were going on Carnival Cruises. Our driver dropped us off and the luggage man appeared and tossed our cases up on the metal carrier and waited for his tip. We then joined the long but fast moving line thru security. Once thru we saw the V.I.P. lounge for suites on the left where our ship card was issued and we joined the group departing to the next lounge since we were too early too board. This new area was up the escalator and larger with beverages, cookies, and chocolates.
About 12:30 p.m. we were escorted up to Cagney's and offered lunch but we declined having packed our suits in the carry-on we went down to the public restroom and changed then put our carry-on's by our chairs and headed for the hot tub, ahhhh so nice. Many folks were sitting in the shade eating burgers and hotdogs since the cafe was now open along with the pool area eatery. When we had our fill of the hot tub we took turns getting our food. Had our hunger satisfied and now, 1:30 p.m., it was time to see if our room was open. Sure enough it was ready and in comes the butler to introduce himself; Roland. We make our requests for three cartons of milk each day to make cappuccino using the room coffeemaker, and asked for fruit instead of meat/fish snacks. Roland was outstanding especially when we ordered the in room pizza (16 inch across) delivery at the cost of $5, cheap for how great it was, also one day after walking in the heat, sandwiches were waiting for us in our room. Next we met the concierge, Anoop, he was very helpful in changing out one of our pre-booked excursions and ordering two more. Anoop is the person you contact to get priority disembarkation in all ports and when tenders are used, unless you have an excursion booked and must meet in the theater. We didn't do this on one port and we were very sorry standing in the long hot line, going down the stairs for nearly an hour. Anoop takes you down an interior freight elevator and takes you right to the scanning podium. This is what makes NCL stand out above all the other cruise lines in suites, in our humble opinion. Randolph was our room steward and he kept the place in good order with a few animals to boot.
Cabin: I love this style of Courtyard Villa it is so cozy, the bed is sectioned off with a thick curtain to block the light. There is so much space to store things many were left empty and we had three packed suitcases. The bathroom is very spacious and love, love, love the multi jet shower with floor to ceiling window. There is an oval shaped tub with small TV over it but we never used it (would be nicer if it had hot tub jets). There are two sinks with plenty of counter space. There is no way to improve on this design; I wish it was on the Epic. The toilet area is a bit smallish with telephone that I clipped repeatedly with my elbow until I accidentally hit the panic button and a voice started talking to me from the ceiling asking if I was alright.
The living room is a bit tight but comfy and we enjoyed a couple of movie nights since movies are free for suites. There is a nice sized balcony but sadly there is an awning below this room that blocks the water view so you do not see the wake from the ship. Also while sitting outside you constantly hear voices below under that cloth awning since it is the main walkway. We could hear noise from above from the public sundeck and one night at 11:30 p.m. someone was jogging around in circles, note always take your earplugs.
The dining area has a good sized table with four chairs, two of which we stored in the spare bedroom. Each time they serve you a meal they put down a white table cloth and set the table so nicely. Much easier than sitting in the noisy dining room waiting for 90 minutes for lukewarm food. Next, the counter which has all your glassware and cups albeit small ones, we brought our old NCL mugs. They use capsules in the Lavazza Blue
Coffee machine, if you like foo foo coffee, such as cappuccino, ask the butler how to steam the milk. There is a small fridge, items are NOT free in here but they leave enough space to store items like yogurt if you take them in the morning at breakfast and eat them at night.
Spare bedroom was good sized had a bed and a pull down bed on the wall someone said a child has to be ten to use it. The bathroom was quite large in this room and there are three drawers and two hanging areas for clothes.
There is a foyer from the entry door to the cabin so you can close the doors inside to make it quieter from hallway noise or privacy if two couples using the two bedrooms.
The courtyard was like our favorite place on the ship. With the glass ceiling the sun shone in and we lounged in the hot tub nearly every day and took short laps in the little pool. Sherwin was the butler in here and very interesting person to talk to. He kept the coffee, orange juice, gummy bears, M & M's, and cookies stocked till 5:00 p.m. You can also eat meals in here but we never did. There is a stairwell on the wall by the hot tub that leads to the private sundeck with hammocks and lounge chairs.
With the suites you are allowed to eat for free at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch. We were very unhappy with the cooks since they just could not cook a steak medium to save them. Burgers were dried out and way overcooked. I think they prioritize the room orders or courtyard orders over the people who are actually in the restaurant. The place was near to empty but for some reason they put my husband's plate of steak and eggs in an oven for ten minutes; of course both items were so overcooked we opted to go to the Garden Cafe the next day. Cagney's staff was blase they smiled but very little interaction other than Karin the hostess, she was always fun, happy and talkative.
We basically like to play the slots spending about ten dollars each over a few days while waiting for events to start or to fill short periods of time. On the Epic the machines are in the middle and the air is filtered constantly so not really bad unless you get between two smoking machines. Sadly on the Pearl it was stifling. We tried to play but eyes burned and sinuses acted up. Then the machines were not at all friendly and many were twenty-five cents to $10; ridiculous. We played two bucks each and left.
Dining: We ate in the Indigo the first night on board, the food was alright but the waiter seemed preoccupied constantly surveying the room like he was waiting for someone. Next night we tried Summer Palace, very opulent in design and we were sat facing the aft but it was too dark to see the water. It took so long to be served, even water, but we were patient. Then we noticed surrounding tables eating their main course when we did and they came in long after we had been sitting there. The food was nothing unusual seemed pre-plated so what was the hold up? The noise was unbelievable; much was the staff with dishes. We did have a singing with twirling of napkins which was fun. The next night we tried the Indigo again. Our waitress was very nice and smiling but again we waited forever to get served our meal by various people while our waitress was now handling a table of eight or more people. We had ordered dessert but gave up and walked out. What a nightmare! The whole evening for three nights spent trying to get a meal. We opted for dinner in our room the rest of the cruise.
One show we did manage to go to was basically the Cruise Director giving a talk about the cruise and introducing the shows...waste of time. Again the cool thing with NCL is the suites get special seating in the balcony to the left of the theater. Not the best seats in the house but if you're late you don't have to stand in line.
We loved the promenade deck for walking only with a textured surface except where the shuffleboard was and it was nice to see people still playing the sport. Down side was again the smoking. One man had a cigar and smoked for a good twenty minutes but what can you do?
In Cozumel they do this welcoming line and we really enjoyed dancing our way onto the ship. Next door to us at the pier was the NCL Star and they were in competition with us and they ended up making their own welcoming line too.
Cozumel, Mexico: The Dolphin Swim 8011 was pretty cool. They have you wear a small life vest and you just need to be able to get to the middle of this pool to do the one trick but nothing scary. If you can't swim to that point they can set you up to do another trick on the little platform we all waited on instead, water is waist high. I loved this; only down side is the photos are only their photos and they charge a very, very high price. They don't say one price for the package, they make you pick the photos, more photos cost more, and video is separate also. Take cash or a credit card it is over $100 for both. Some folks brought family to film them but observers are only allowed on this overlook and they had us facing away from that platform while performing the tricks like being kissed or kissing the dolphin, giving it a hug, or holding onto the fins and being pulled along, so the observers could not take the photos. You also can rent a locker $3, no jewelry and if you can't get your ring off they tape over it on your finger. You can't wear any type of shoes in the pool but up to the pool you can. Bring a towel. There is a changing room and when the Taxi drops you off on the main street afterwards you can go directly to the shops, but the shops are very overpriced, postcards are $1.50 each instead of 30 cents some will haggle but not too much.
Georgetown, Cayman Islands: We did the Stingray swim. Wow, this is awesome. We first went to Hell, yes that is a place. It is basically a couple of buildings and an official post office around this sort of rocky looking lava rock pit that they call Hell. You can get your passport stamped here officially, which I wished we had known. They also have a couple of small shops nothing much, and a cute little boy with an iguana, for $1 he will let you pose with it, hubby helped out this little entrepreneur. Then to the rum cake shop and they sell these good dough meat-filled pastries called "pasties" on the left side of the shop inside, go early if you want chicken they sell out. Then the next stop is the stingray swim. You have to take everything with you on to the crowded boat from the bus so be cautioned and don't forget to bring your towel. You cannot wear any type of shoe not even aqua shoes because of the baby stingrays. Do NOT shuffle your feet like the guide on the bus tells you or you will cut your feet on conch shells, walk normal. The water was up to my chin in some places and I am 5'4" and if there was a swell it hit me in the face. They offer life vests if you cannot swim. We are told to make a circle and the guide holds this huge stingray so you can touch her or pose with her. I could not make it to the circle the swells kept knocking me backwards and I found myself surrounded by four huge stingrays. Don't keep freaking out like me just stay still if you can. You are given squid to feed them and instructions to keep from getting your thumb sucked on. We were in there a good amount of time and then he sounded the horn for all to return to the boat. We motored back to the original location about twenty minutes and then back on the buses. The ride to the ship is very short and if you take the 11: 20 a.m. tour you have very little shopping time so I recommend the earliest one. Last tender leaves at 3:15 p.m.
Ocho, Rios, Jamaica
We did the Bobsled Run. You are picked up at the pier and taken by air conditioned van a short distance, then dropped off at the ski lift which carried you up the mountain. I was quite scared due to the winds blowing us and we were above the tall trees. Once at the top there are bathrooms, eatery, small shops selling paintings, wood carvings and jewelery. There is a line for the bobsled but in no time you board your own car which can be attached to another which makes it go faster, with the front one controlling the speed using the brake. Hubby was in charge of this and let her rip causing me to scream all the way down the hill. The guys up top will take your photo with your camera before going if you ask and they also take one mid ride and sell for I think it was less than twenty dollars. If you do the zipline also they sell tshirts saying you survived all their rides. If we go to this port again I have been told we are doing this again including the zipline...oh boy can't wait (sarcasm) ha.
Great Stirrup Cay (GSC)-the island owned by NCL was fantastic! At first I thought we would stay for an hour or so and go back to the ship. I am not a sandy seaweed kinda person; give me a nice clean pool any day. Well we were on the second tender and Wow! It is sooo pretty on the island! We got a couple of chairs up front no problem under some palms. We left our gear on our chairs once we had a couple of neighbors and saying hi, we took our new casing for our camera making it waterproof now to check it out. Needless to say it was pretty rough but so much fun. I got knocked around a good bit laughing so hard from the waves. Camera worked great and hubby did some snorkeling nearby the rocks and saw a few fish photographing them. I actually did not want to go back to the ship. We had a chicken sandwich, pizza, and some salad; there were the regular barby fair and great desserts. There were a couple of small shops that require you take cash if you want to buy something your ship card does not work for them. There are bathrooms of course but no showers except as you enter the tender they have small foot showers to clean off your feet. Wear shoes because aqua shoes didn't really work if vented, sand filled them up so sandals or flip-flops might be better because there are rocks and bottle caps on the ground. Don't forget your towel.
The regular pool area on the ship, other than the very first couple of hours, is so crowded with sunbathers you can barely get thru to the other side. Hubby tried the slide the first day and could barely get down it. No it wasn't his size; we saw a child was having the same problem later.
The staff was very nice when it came to the M&G that Kathy set up, thanks Kathy. This was my second and not even half the people showed up who signed up. I don't think I will be attending anymore M&Gs due to the reaction of one member who made a negative comment when I thanked the staff for how they treated the suite guests. I am not ashamed of being in a suite, and I want to make sure that the NCL staff knows that I appreciate how they accommodate us. Also the meeting was commandeered by two women with complaints that did not need to be made; complaining about bottle caps on the ground in GSC, come on just wear shoes.
We have already signed up for another cruise with the Pearl going to Alaska but staying in another suite that does not have the awning interfering with our view of the water below.