Hubby & I sailed the EPIC 12/1 - 12/8 out of Miami to the Eastern Caribbean and had a GRAND TIME! To give some background: We are both late 40's, this is my 6th cruise and his 3rd. We love NCL's "Freestyle" cruising, but would consider other cruise lines offering the right itinerary and price. I LOVE to research our trips, both on sea and on shore. We have had fun on packaged tours in the thick of the touristy areas,as well as on some of the off-the-beaten-path options. We tend to be budget minded yet are not opposed to an occasional splurge. In a phrase, we are generally "easy to please" and take ownership of our own Adventures. So long as we are treated courteously and feel our environment is safe, we tend to be happy. In reading user/member reviews, we take into account the fact that some people seem to look for the dark clouds even on a sunny day.
TIPS re WHEN to CRUISE:
We have cruised 2 years in a row now in what the industry calls the "dead period" between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Despite low fares offered on the EPIC the week we sailed, she was 1,000 passengers from being full (this info according to the Captain during our Cruise Critic formal Meet & Greet). NO DOUBT our experience was more pleasurable with 20% fewer passengers sailing. We experienced ONE 30-minute wait for dinner @ the Manhattan Dining Room on our last evening. To compensate, we were given a buzzer and a coupon for 2 complimentary glasses of champagne to redeem while we waited. There was also a 20-30 minute wait for each of the water slides on the day hubby & I chose to participate. Otherwise, there were VERY FEW lines anywhere at any time EVEN while getting on/off at ports. KUDOS to NCL for managing HUGE #'s of passengers!!
A REVIEW of our EPIC EXPERIENCE:
TRANSPORTATION to/from the PORT: We used SAS Transportation @ www.ridesas.com for $15/person from Fort Lauderdale to the Port of Miami (Note: They do not run from Miami airport). $15/person + optional tip for luggage handling. These guys were friendly and prompt. I did read where a cab was $20 each way REGARDLESS of the # in your party, so the cab might be the cheaper option if traveling with family.
EPIC DINING OPTIONS: We chose NOT to spend extra $$ for specialty dining, splitting our meals instead between the Garden Cafe and Manhattan/Taste Dining Rooms. On our 2nd morning during breakfast, a fellow passenger told us that she was afraid she wouldn't be able to find anything to eat for breakfast after the 3rd day b/c they seemed to be offering the same options 2 days in a row. While it is TRUE that the breakfast offerings seemed to stay the same across our entire week during breakfast, I believe there were 200+ things to choose from --- a full case of pastry selections, sausage links/patties, made to order omelets (the biggest line was maybe 3-4 people), bagels & toast, a variety of cheeses and fruits, cold & hot cereals, granola and berries, etc, etc!! Hubby & I actually laughed as we recalled that our fellow passenger was eating a bowl of RICE KRISPIES when she shared that comment with us!
We also ordered from O'SHEEHANS one night as we watched a weekday NFL game on the big screen. I ordered Chicken Pot Pie and Hubby ordered a burger. They were both delicious, and were delivered piping hot and fast (within 10 minutes).
Our least favorite meal of the week was during Cirque. The beef was hot/tasty, but the breaded shrimp was delivered cold. WHO likes cold breaded shrimp? Otherwise, I believe EVERYTHING we ate during the week met/exceeded our expectations. Chicken Milanese, Cobb Salad, Berries with Vanilla Sauce, and Tiramisu were some of our favorites! (the latter 2 were available pretty consistently even at the Garden Cafe!)
Blue Man Group - We got in line 45 minutes prior to the show so that we could sit in the front row. I believe we could have arrived 20-30 minutes prior and still gotten in the "poncho" section. Of course, keep in mind that our ship was only about 75% occupied. I had seen BMG in Boston 2 years ago with college friends. Surprisingly, the Epic's BMG was the EXACT SAME SHOW, including the music, the pre-show LED messages, and all the "jokes" they play on audience members. Something to keep in mind for repeat Epic cruisers. I laughed as much this show as I did the 1st time because it was my husband's first BMG experience. We both HOWLED at the audience participation sections of the show. (though not EVERYONE thought it was funny... I watched a gentleman in the reserved "Haven" section scowl from beginning to end). TIP: 2 lines will form once entry begins to the Epic Theatre. Veer towards the line on the LEFT as the "handicapped" entrance is on the Right, so the keycard scanner on the Right has to stop scanning passengers if/when someone in a wheelchair needs access. There were only about 8-10 passengers that got through while our side waited, but this could make a difference if you got there early hoping to get a front row seat. Bring the camera b/c the Blue Men stay in the lobby afterwards if you want to take a photo. TIP: If you do NOT care to take a photo, you can Exit out to the Right of the Stage for easier/unclogged access. When the masses walk UP to get OUT of the theatre, walk DOWN to the stage, turn Right, and exit through the hallway. You will end up in the ART Gallery.
Cirque - The show was very entertaining ... LOTS of action, LOTS of acrobatics & juggling, etc. LOTS of shrill whistles (admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of the loud whistles) The performers were HIGHLY SKILLED and HIGH ENERGY and at times left you wondering "How'd they do that???" My favorite part again was when they involved audience members in the show (adds to the humor factor!). TIP: We paid $35 for premium seats and my personal opinion is that the show wouldn't have been worth seeing from the booths which had obstructed views for $25. Actually, if I had the trip to re-do, I would have skipped the Cirque show altogether in light of other NO COST options that I couldn't squeeze in during the week. Keep in mind, I am making this comment as someone who was VERY entertained by the kids in the FAMILY TRIVIA SHOW and by the DJ in the KAROAKE LOUNGE.
LEGENDS - Michael Jackson made this show! Did he even had surgery to APPEAR more like Michael J the Legend?? It seems so! Jimmy Buffet was also very good, as were Whoopie and Donna Summers (Though I am not a big fan of Whoopie or Donna). We got good seats for this show despite getting there just 10-15 minutes ahead of time. Bring your camera if you want to take photos in the lobby afterwards.
SLAM ALLEN - We LOVED the blues in the Fat Cats Lounge but gotta say I left the ship not so much a Slam Allen fan. He has tagged himself as the "hardest working guy on the ship" (my bets are on the waitstaff and cabin stewards!) and he got snarky with a few passengers during his shows. One guy was videotaping which admittedly we were advised against ahead of time, but there is a smoother way of dealing with it than flat out telling a guy in your microphone "you're stealing." Another passenger dropped off a request written on a piece of paper and Slam's response was "SOMEONE left a note with no money. Don't be leaving me a note with no money!" Hmmmm.... Maybe there's something TO that nickname Slam and it has nothing to do with the blues.
2ND CITY IMPROV - VERY creative and left me in awe over their QUICK WIT ! The room was PACKED during the 1 show we caught. If I had the week to re-live, I would have tried to pick up a few more of their performances.
JEFF HOBSON MUSICIAN - Another SOLID ENTERTAINMENT choice! Jeff did some slight-of-hand tricks as well as bigger stage magic, delivering it humorously and involving audience members throughout his show. The ending of the show caught us off guard. We wanted to see the more intimate "CLOSE UP MAGIC" show Jeff offered, but there was TOO MUCH to do and we missed it.
HOWL AT THE MOON - The night we saw HATM, there were 2 guys and 1 woman piano player. The guys were GREAT together and elicited LOTS of audience participation. Once the woman took the seat at one of the pianos, there were far fewer requests and the audience got noticeably quieter. She didn't seem to have the finesse that the men had in getting folks involved in the show.
KAROAKE - Generally, I wouldn't even take the time to comment on karoake, but this show came with a hidden gem: The DJ! His name was (I believe) Jovan and my husband & I found his dry humor SURPRISINGLY the hit of the night! We enjoyed his personality so much that we mentioned him on one of the NCL Special Recognition cards. If you like dry wit and have the patience to sit through off-key singers, go check out Jovan for Karoake.
Wine Tasting - Surprisingly, fewer than 10 passengers showed up for this event in the Moderno Specialty Restaurant. We were served 5 different wines for $15 by Carolina from the Philippines who has educated herself on wines for the past 10 years. I've never met a wine I didn't like (though I like some more than others), so I thought this was a great bargain while learning about wine. Hubby skipped the tasting, opting to take notes for me instead. (He is far more discrimating than I am when it comes to wine).
Beer Tasting - The Maltings Bar was PACKED for this event despite the fact that the bartender was far less educated about beer in comparison to our wine tasting facilitator. He was super friendly and a HARD worker, but literally read to us from a book while teaching us about beer :-). He also seemed to grab things randomly from behind the bar for "prizes" to award for correct answers to beer trivia. It actually was quite humorous. :-) Hubby & I both did our tasting of 4 beers for $15. I somehow ended up behind the bar with a Red Stripe beer at the end of the tasting, in a "chugging" contest with another passenger. Not a fan of Red Stripe OR of beer chugging, I surrendered quickly to my competitor. :-)
NFL Football on the Big Screen - We watched THREE NFL games during our week onboard the EPIC! I mean, if you're gonna watch NFL, what's better than a theatre-sized screen, cold beer, hot bar food, and the slow rocking of an NCL ship?
**** SHIFTING GEARS ...
CABIN LAYOUT - Okay... I gotta admit I am NOT A FAN of the split shower/toilet area. Let me just say this: If YOU are the type of person that needs "buffer space" in the bathroom once or twice a day (trying to word this delicately), you will probably be in my ranks. There was only a thin, translucent door between you and your roommate/spouse... NO fan! NO "noise-reducer"! NO privacy!! As a solution (I trust some of you will understand), I occasionally sought out some of the nicer public restrooms throughout the week as an alternative to my cabin toilet. Husband liked the design, touting that it gave us flexibility when one of us needed to shower.
Otherwise, the room had AMPLE storage, SUPER COMFORTABLE BEDS/PILLOWS, a TV where you could check your account balance, make reservations, etc, and several EXTRA TOUCHES (like a thermostat that simply read "warmer" in red or "cooler" in blue or a sign outside the stateroom that had a simple dial "do not disturb" or "please make up cabin" etc) that made our stay more enjoyable.
SMOKEY (sp?) CASINO - I hate cigarette smoke. The casino certainly was smokey... moreso at some times than others. TIP: STUDY the ship's layout! Once we familiarized ourselves with the layout, we simply avoided the casino area as much as possible. Granted, the casino seems to have been situated (by design, I'm sure) in a central/key location that is difficult to avoid, there ARE ways around it.
LONG WAITS for ELEVATORS - We can't speak about the waits for the elevators because we usually opted to walk the steps for extra exercise. We did overhear folks complaining, particularly as we were disembarking on the last day, but I think realistically that is to be expected.
EMBARKATION / DISEMBARKING - NCL seems to have this down to a science. In fact, when we were embarking, I was asked to wear a lanyard which stamped my time entering the line. When hubby & I were completely registered and about to enter the ship, they removed my lanyard and noted the time. You can only improve what you measure and it was great to see that NCL was taking the time to measure this. It took only about 20 minutes from the luggage area to board the ship --- a HUGE improvement over earlier days when it could take hours. Considering this ship is TWICE as big as many others, I consider this quite a feat! At the end of our trip, we disembarked during Easy Walk Off, carrying our own luggage off the ship and outside to wait for the SAS van to take us to the airport. We packed lightly this trip (though I still didn't wear HALF of my clothes!) so we even used the stairs (5 decks!) with ease. As I read on this board somewhere before this cruise: "Bring twice as much money and half as many clothes" :-) Sound advice! :-)
All in All, this was a FANTASTIC CRUISE! One thing I haven't commented on above was the fact that we met SO MANY NICE FOLKS from ALL OVER THE WORLD! Despite a few complaints expressed here and there, we found the clientele on this ship to be LAID BACK, FRIENDLY, and ACCEPTING of fellow passengers. Last year, we sailed on the NCL Sun. On that trip, the entertainment options dropped off significantly after 10pm, which was FINE... that trip was RESTFUL and RELAXING. In contrast, on the EPIC, there were SO MANY OPTIONS that we couldn't squeeze them all in.
HOPEFULLY this review will help you in your cruise decision or in helping to make your EPIC trip as AWESOME as ours was. In any case, HAPPY SAILING to each and every one of you, regardless of the ship you choose!