Flew out of Stuttgart, Germany on Delta 117 in first class. This flight's service level was far below the quality of past flights in first class, but still better than flying economy.
We arrived in Miami around 7:30pm to find a very long line waiting for Taxi's. We determined to use this van shuttle called American something which was two dollars less than the cab would have been which was $25 for two people. It wasn't faster we had to wait for another van which took about fifteen minutes, then two other couples joined us they were in the same general area.
We stayed in the Hampton Inn Suites in Brickell and they were very nice. We loved the unusual artwork in the lobby so captivating. Staff all was very friendly from the front desk to the kitchen staff at breakfast. Our room was tied in being the cleanest room in all the many hotels we have stayed in around the world, the other was in Romania. Not a bit of crud in the tracks of the shower or in the corners of the bathroom floor! It is unbelievably clean in today's standard of hotels. I loved the decor with all the colors coordinating. The only improvement I could suggest is a fridge would be nice. This hotel is also in walking distance of the "People Mover" which is free and from what I was told will be open to it's new connection to the airport in April 2012, not sure if free to and from airport. Just put in the title and Miami and you can see the route and schedule to print off online.
Supplies: Right out of the doors going left then turn left again at the first corner and walk to the traffic light look to the right and you will see a small shopping center with Publix. Good place to get soda or water to take on the ship, folks in this store were not very friendly and some downright rude. We also found Tastykakes, something we do not get in Europe of course and a childhood favorite or mine, what was even better they were on sale!
We took the "Miami Sunshine Transportation" shuttle from the hotel to the port for eight dollars each. Osvaldo Torres, our driver, was oh so nice and gently loaded our bags and unloaded them. We were the first ones off after riding with two groups of nice folks, Elaine from Texas' group going on the Carnival cruise and another couple going on the Celebrity cruise.With cases unloaded right by the metal luggage haulers the baggage handler employee appeared from somewhere took our tip and threw our bags on the carriers then disappeared again. Osvaldo gave us his card so we could call him when we get back into port to use him to get to our next hotel which would be different. This way the shuttle can be ready and waiting after we disembark and we would not have to wait for one. Excellent!!! You can look them up on the web the url is their name in lower case dot com. Update: This did not work and we ended using another van company when we came back.
There was a long line for security since we arrived at 11:15 am but the line moved smoothly and then we were off to the VIP lounge for suites. It appeared crowded at first but once they have a small group they escort them all up at once to be given a tour of the facilities. We filled out a quick health form, took all of two minutes, called us to take a credit card info to have on record and our photo for the ship. We then were given our ship card and whisked off to be the tail of a departing group tour. Up we went to see the lounge and restaurant exclusively for the suites where all three meals are free that includes dinner. This area requires a swipe of the card to gain access. They are active in maintaining vigilance about who is in there so no one can just tag along behind someone and sneak in. We then were encouraged to go to the restaurant when we finished seeing the courtyard with two Jacuzzis and very small pool. There are plenty of lounge chairs but when we passed the next day the place really filled up and the Jacuzzis were full.They have some very nice workout equipment like treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes reclining and regular, three weight machines which I really liked and had to restrain myself from overusing it was so easy to do and fun. There are showers, separated for male and female, but the sauna was combined. There is also the Posh area up on deck 18 just mainly loungers and beds with small wicker tables, with a bar. It is very windy up here even with the glass walls with wide slots in them for photographing thru, good place to be coming into port. Once you walk thru the concierge room to the left is the Epic Grill that we did not find right away that serves from 11:30-4:00 for lunch items.
There is also a nice lounge area where you can play games with fellow passengers, and just hang out. There is a place for the concierge that you can go there and have her help you with booking activities, but we did all of ours before boarding online. Very important to do on the Epic with so many folks it is hard to get into some of the shows at the times you want if you wait till boarding. Not sure if this is a problem for suite people but has been for the regular cabins and the line is soo very long on ship for them.
So now that the tour is over we go to the Epic Lounge for lunch and it is of course very crowded so service was a little slow; that can be expected but staff was so nice with Joel seating us and Edith serving us. I love how they have two seaters right by the windows overlooking Miami and so high up.The burger was big and good, Mike had tuna burger he said was good but we both stopped eating to have dessert, banana crÃ¨me pie....oh my so gooood!
Our room was now ready so off we trotted with our carry-ons in tow with bathing suits.
Our room was a two bedroom garden villa with small balcony on deck 17. Now I had read that this floor has problems with noise overhead from the sundeck but we booked late so not many rooms to pick from. We have been on a cruise before with NCL on the Jade in a single bedroom garden villa so we expected this to be a larger unit. Hmmm well they did seem to make it quite skinny. The bed is rounded but we are under six foot so that is alright didn't matter to us. The nightstands are only about eight inches wide and that is how far the side of the bed is from the wall. When I got out of bed the first time I accidentally kicked the wall, my foot is size nine, so larger than the space. On the right side of the bed is a phone that is lit up so bright and right by your head I had to cover it with a towel to block the light. There are some adjustable reading lamps and larger lamps. Overhead there is a red light and some smaller lights that are dimmable. There is ample room for clothing with a pretty cool light in the pole that the hangers go on, I like that. We put our suitcases in the back of this wardrobe since they are the thin variety the bigger one had to go in the spare bedroom under the bed has a bar so it would not fit. There is a small TV and DVD player in both bedrooms and living room. There is a "Lavazza Blue" coffee maker that takes capsules and the ship offers a wide variety of coffee to choose from. If you find your favorite let the butler know, who for us is Lani, and she/he will stock them for you, this is free. There is a small fridge with some liquor that is not free but they do leave room for you to put small cartons of milk and oj. We like milk instead of all those little creamers; Lani kept the milk filled without being reminded, such a sweetheart. If you love your coffee I highly suggest you go to the Lavazza web site and print off the instructions to learn how to make yourself the best cup of coffee ever! Hubby has learned to steam the milk and we have macchiatto in our room sitting on the balcony. Also the balcony only runs the width of the living room so on the small side, leaving the rooms separated by the bathrooms, so you do not hear a neighbor talking or smell them smoking while sitting outside. Now one of the best things about this room is the bathroom. On the Epic the two sinks in the master bedroom are smaller than on the Jade. I really don't like how the trash can is in this wooden cabinet you have to touch and pull out to throw something away. There is an oval deep tub (that is NOT a Jacuzzi...what a letdown!) with a small TV you can watch or a huge window to gaze out at the passing sea and sky, they even provide bath salts to use. I don't do baths (Mike does) so the shower is getting my rave review. Glass walled with multi jet shower and rainforest shower head above and regular shower head below, along with multiple other water jets for the rest of the body; your choice of which heads to use , or all of them at once! Ooooh yeah! Good sized shower big enough for...two! It has a floor to ceiling window and you feel like you're on the edge when you look down at the passing water...awesome!! Next to that is the toilet also enclosed in glass with frosted strips but you can easily see inside so if a newlywed or sensitive this may prove a problem. On the Jade they had a low light on the wall behind the toilet, the Epic has a bright overhead light that comes on automatically when you open the door which wakes up your companion. There is a makeup area with lighted magnified makeup mirror, and shelves to put your toiletries on with small bar to keep them from falling out if it gets rough. There is a small curtain between the bedroom and bathroom to block the light in daytime but not very efficient, I liked the old way with the thick purple curtains tied back by the bed that could be released and did an excellent job of blocking the light. There is a sliding pocket door between the bedroom and the living room/dining room it stayed closed and only came open once from the ship rocking. The living room is very skinny but doable but what is up with the seats on everything being so deep and not the length of an average persons thighs? I guess so it can double as a single bed but you have to use pillows to support your back if you want to sit up. I hate using the throw pillows in hotels for obvious reasons, germs! I sprayed them down with Lysol. The other thing, no arms on the couch or chair??? Weird and uncomfortable. There is a small dining room table with four chairs for two more than adequate but smaller than on the Jade. You can order from any restaurant and your butler will bring it to you, no calling room service we did by mistake and they redirected our call to the butler. Our sparkling wine was waiting for us but if the seas are anywhere near rough I don't drink so Lani put it in the fridge so thoughtful. There are buttons for the lights to brighten or dim in three locations, they are a bit confusing but you get the hang of it. The second bedroom is mainly another deep seated couch and there is closet space in there with drawers and make up area, but no makeup mirror. The bathroom is smaller with a regular shower, toilet, and small sink but rather roomy medicine cabinet behind the mirror. I like having two bathrooms to get ready for going out. I like the new colors mostly beige, burnt oranges, and browns. The cabin has a dial outside to set it for no disturb or cabin needs service, or turn down service, also where they put your "tree mail" as hubby calls it. There is also a door bell, pretty cool. Update: This room is extremely noisy from above! It appears we are under a storage unit or work room for the crew. It isn't carpeted so bare metal and loud! The first night I feared someone fell overboard but quickly realized how unrealistic that could be this high up to the ocean but had heard a loud splash! Turns out they dumped a bucket of water into a sink or drain or something above us so we heard it every day. Luckily we always bring earplugs, don't leave home without them!
We mainly ate in the Epic Lounge with Joel, Edith, and Kelly who provided fantastic service, always with a friendly smile and welcoming words. The food was excellent, Mike loved the Snapper, I loved the Beef Filet, so tender and juicy. We sat at the same table next to the window, again chair was long seated but Joel was so sweet and saw I wasn't able to sit back so brought me a large pillow from the lounge and remembered to each time we returned, what great service!!! Some one complained the menu is limited never changing but they do have daily specials which we took advantage of.
We did eat in O'Sheehans, I loved the meat loaf, very moist served with gravy and large serving of mashed potatoes, so much so, and I gave half to Mike. Mike got the chicken potpie he said nothing special about it to him. We tried them at lunch time for hotdogs with chili not good! Young man did not appear to want to be there. He failed to bring two so had to go back and get the second meal, but did apologize. Then when I went to ask for dessert he just said the next person would get it and went on break. Tables were left just as they were full of dishes and he trotted off with his friend leaving the new server in the weeds right off the bat. She took it in stride and even smiled. To eat in O'Sheehans it is very noisy, there is bowling noise from the right and the atrium on the left, also it is the main walkway so crowds always walking thru.
We did the Murder Mystery luncheon, hmmm...the salad was greens with several seasoned cold shrimp my husband said he loved them, I don't eat seafood. The main course was a choice between salmon and chicken thigh...on the bone no less....wasn't particularly pleased with that selection. Dessert was mini eclairs which were excellent! We loved the show; there is a paper on the table with explanations of the characters so you can bone up on the clues. You converse with your table mates on whom you think did it. Also seating very cramped from end to end of long table. No we were all wrong...no I give no spoilers...haha.
Loved, loved, loved the Blue Man Group! Suites are given the option to meet 50 minutes before the show start time in the Concierge Lounge on deck 16; Ruth was our concierge who was EXCELLENT of course! She would escort us down and we would go in thru another entrance past the long lines waiting to get in. We were then given our choice of seats. We sat in the second row and wore the clear plastic ponchos. The show is loud and full of amazing things. Then go back out the special entrance and back up to the Epic Theater to do a photo op with the Blue Man Group members.
Legends to me personally were a waste. We sat in the front row and the dude supposedly who looked like Elvis looked like Patrick Swayze impersonating Elvis. Madonna sounded odd at times more like she had helium in her voice. She was funny though running around in undies and grabbing the old men including my husband. Steve Tyler did not look like him to me but was quite energetic with tossing the microphone around. The most enjoyable part of the whole show was the music before the show! There is a photo op for this show also.
Slots they have all these penny slots so one night while waiting on something we sat down and put in a buck each, it provided entertainment for a little while but I would not promote it in hopes of winning big bucks. We used non-smoking area slots; they did not have the cool white lights that come on when you win on top of the machine. In the evenings it got smoky in the card playing area of the casino when it is so crowded but most the day not a problem. I would say the perfume area is more offensive, man I hate those areas it burns the sinus!
The ship had the coolest "Onboard Activities" function on the TV. You can check your account to make sure all billing is accurate, to check your excursions or new excursions & ports, you can even order pizza on there...not for the suites though, yeah, we messed up again and ordered a pizza which are sixteen inches wide and our butler called right afterwards; she also delivered it to us again repeating we are not to order thru anyone but her or they will call her. Note: one person on CC said it was the best pizza they ever had... our opinion, they used some other type of cheese it wasn't mozzarella and very salty, not good and definitely not worth the extra $5 pp, but we had to give it a try so we could give our thoughts on it. Update: After this cruise we went on the Pearl to find their pizza is made to order and FANTASTIC! So depends on the ship your on. In the suites you have access to free movies. There are movies you can order on the TV but their new releases and cost $9.95. You can check on what activities are going on about the ship including dining. I think this is very innovative.
We only took one excursion this trip which was the Seal Swim in St. Thomas. We took the 11:20 am tour which was a bad choice of times. We got into port at 8:00 am so we did have a leisurely cup of coffee and worked out in the gym, then to breakfast in Epic Lounge with Edith and our great view of the island. We got ready and off the ship by 10:00 thinking "Senior Frog" which was right outside the port entrance with their souvenirs sign. They are a party bar establishment that is well known. Had a filthy pool out front and volleyball sand area for games. There was a small building by the street for souvenirs but closed until 11:00 am. Nothing much in there but overpriced t-shirts, stuffed animals, shot glasses, no postcards. We ended up waiting on the pier by the ship for an hour; luckily we left earlier than expected. Our driver was very nice in an air conditioned van. He takes you to the Coral World Park; there are Iguanas, birds, turtles, and touch pool of star fish, along with some tanks of sharks and sting rays. I am sure there is more we didn't have time to see it all. Don't forget to take a towel and your bathing suit. We forgot the towel it cost us $11.99. The driver escorts you to this building on the water where the woman there tells you when to come back for your tour and you sign a waiver then taken by the guide, ours was Whitney; she was so nice and patient. You are given instructions on how to interact with this huge seal if you get Franco. You can pet him in one direction and no patting, scratching, or rubbing back and forth or on the head. We were joined by a family of four one nice woman who was Nana, she loved seals and always wanted to hug one. So after our instructions we are guided to the area and if you are not wearing aqua shoes they provide a pair and a lifejacket. If you have aqua shoes they have you dip your feet in two buckets to sanitize them. No jewelry, or cameras, you may think this is a ploy to make you buy their photos but not so. You need to focus on the seal and they have such a quick pace of all the great tricks this smart animal can do there was no time to take our own photos even if we wanted to. Also the price is well worth it, all the shots came out great, and the photographer was very attentive and took so many. Normally it is not allowed to hug Franco but Nana had mentioned this so they allowed her to do it, so cool! The photo disc price depends on how many people are in your group, for two it is $39. It is such an amazing experience; the photos make it much easier to share. Upon leaving you just tack up any tip you wish to give and they split it up between the staff, cool idea I like that. Then escorted back out and you wait for your photos to be put on cd. While waiting we ate a burger and smoothie at the little eatery costing us a hefty $26 drinks were $6 non-alcoholic. Picked up our cd and walked back to the front I was amazed the driver knew us on sight; imagine how many people he takes in a week. All the local people were ever so pleasant and friendly. If you're more into shopping all the stores were within walking distance from where we pulled in to port. When we came to St. Thomas in 2001 with HAL they parked across the island making us use a Taxi to get to the stores, nice being right by them.
Our room steward was our only disappointment (other than the pizza). I am not naming him because it may not be his fault. On all our many cruises we have always had two stewards who come at the same time and clean the room and restock the towels. This time it was one person and the difference is noticable. You can see dried splatters on fronts of all bathroom counters and bathtub. In the toilet room the walls have not been wiped down and dust has formed. The caulking in the tiling of the bathroom is black where it is suppose to be white like the edges, a steam machine would clean this quickly. Needless to say bring your shower shoes and they provide slippers! The carpets are light colored so show all dirt and spills and there were spots. The second bathroom had a clump of hair that stayed on the floor three days, the balcony had toenails left from the last guest...okay that is gross! Always bring Lysol to spray door handles, remotes, throw pillows.
Disembarkation they escort you down, your luggage in the suites gets a priority tag and put into it's own area so not hard to get before heading to customs. Since the van company would not send a van we ended up nearly an hour trying to get a ride to our next hotel ending up taking a Taxi for $30 with tip to the Holiday Inn Express on Doral near the airport.
When we first started the cruise hubby was like, "Never again too many people." By the middle of the cruise he was raving about the ship. Yes we will sail again with the Epic if they have a different cruise itinerary from this one we would like more ports.