I am not going to get into alot of depth that some reviewers do as I am wanting to hit the highlights of our trip and offer some advice for parents with a child who has autism so that they can maximize family enjoyment. My family who cruised on the Epic over Thanksgiving on Eastern Caribbean which included my mom and stepdad (in 60s), my single aunt (50s), hubby and myself (30s), our 2 kids - 13 yr old girl and 10 yr old son with asperger's syndrome (mild), and my 3 nephews - ages 14,12,9. We also had another family we are great friends with join us (in their 40s) with 12 yr old son. Now on with the show...
Embarkation was very smooth. We stayed in a hotel in Tamarac night before cruise and used Premier Cruise Parking Port of Miami. My hubby and stepdad dropped off the women and kids with luggage while they parked and caught the shuttle back to the port. This was smart to do as it helped them to get on first shuttle while other families not wanting to get split up had to wait More
for one with room for all. We waited in the comfy chairs at the port until they went through security to join back up with us - took about 30 min tops. Got on boat before noon. Bought soda packages for kids at the bar in front of Taste first thing and went in Taste to eat our first meal - restaurant was nowhere full, plenty of open seating.
Dining Room summary -I now have to comment that service providers were very nice but SLOW, embarkation day lunch was our first "taste" of how slow each night would be in main dining rooms and after cruising with at least 5 different lines I can say this was the slowest I have ever experienced. Food was usually very good so I almost hate to add this comment in, but families with kids should know in order to plan accordingly. It was ROUGH trying to get to early shows (7pm ones). We thought being in line ready to walk into restaurant at 5:30 would be ok, but we learned quickly that we had to either buffet it on a show night or skip dessert in the mdr. The kids got bored with sitting and we had to stay on top of them to keep good behavior which takes away from the whole fancy dining experience. My son was particularly well-behaved despite the wait times and we used this time as practice for encouraging eye contact with wait staff while he ordered and to stretch his conversational skills. Vacation is one of the best times to help him grow in this area. AND FYI lobster night is the first night of dining and they were VERY tasty. Lots of folks missed out on it and it was only this one night. And a final comment, the dessert was not too great. Cookies and ice cream are a homeroom but not too much else. Carnival's choc melting cake is the winner in my book.
Shows/Entertainment - I LOVED the entertainment. My fav was the cirque dinner - great steak and the actors/performers were awesome. I like a variety act so it was my cup of tea. The volume was a nice level so my son could enjoy it too but he did begin to grow bored after about 45 min into the show (pretty good for him) but I was able to convince him to stay. Also, I bought premium seating and got there early to sit up top. He enjoyed the distance and not being too close to action (however they pack in the folks VERY TIGHT so expect to know your neighbor well up there). Now the Blue Man Group is another story. Holy smokes...while entertaining to most adults and kids (nephews and friend had a blast) to asperger child it was a nightmare. The sounds were too loud for him even with his earplugs and when the act started interacting with the audience when the strobe light part of the routine began (and blowing toilet paper roll over audience) it was a major meltdown. I had to grab him because he was about to take off like a rocket out of there. It was far too dangerous though for him to try to walk up steps with the light effect and moving ship so I hung onto him until that part was over and then let him go to the room (yes, I give my children some freedom to walk about ship without me every second judge if you want to but they have been responsible with it). I should have listened to my instincts to not make him try to attend but I hoped their silly slap-stick humor would win him over. Epic fail on my part and a warning to parents with kids who have sensory difficulties. I didnt even attempt to take him to Legends though myself and the other kids enjoyed that as well. The volume is very high so keep that in mind! The Nick Slime Time show was somewhat enjoyable to him since we sat at the vary back of the theater and there was no chance he would be picked for participation. My 13 yr old daughter loved the dance parties onboard and especially Murder Mystery Lunch that we attended. None of our kids would go to kids' club - no fault of NCl they just have their own little group so they wanted to aggravate each other. And the bowling was pretty fun too -our kids were terrible and it was so funny to watch. Like sitting inside the Irish pub and watching them roll gutters,lol! Also liked the movie outside under the stars on the big screen. Popping popcorn for movie-goers was a nice touch Ncl!
Water slides - Awesome. I didnt ride as I can NOT take closed in tubes but son and hubby rode off a layer of plastic,lol The best time was a night party they had and the slides were wide open. I sat in the hot tubs and watched them run around getting on it. The pool is too small IMHO but it seems none of the ships have larger pools for amount of guests. The kids swam mostly at evening to have it freed up from crowds. And at least one adult from our group made sure to be hanging around them to ensure safety.
Room - We were able to find a deal for small rooms on Expedia where the cost of 2 rooms with 2 in each of them was less expensive than all 4 of us in a single room ;) We enjoyed that and so did the kids. We did have to keep dropping by to ensure clothes were picked up and son wasn't spending all of his time on tablet games. He enjoyed slipping off the buffet a good bit to nibble as he felt hungry and then return to room or meeting place that we designated. Our room steward was awesome and we appreciated Rita looking after kids and letting us know when 2 of our nephews were cutting up and ended up losing some freedom as a result.
Passengers Onboard - Some of you may laugh at this but here goes...The kids onboard were 100% politer than the adults. The kids would hold elevator doors, smile, and involved us with some of their youth games (scavenger and dare) while adults would break in front of you in any and every line you could think of. I was shocked as I expected the opposite. I have taught school for almost 20 years so I am no stranger to kid behavior in different settings and what I saw was very complimentary to the next generation of our country. Shame on the adults that would cut in line at the elevators, gripe about silly things at dinner, etc... Just my 2 cents..
Casino - Lots of fun but no big winners in our crew. My mom and aunt had a great time walking around and people watching as they played. My hubby loved the quarter game and we met some nice folks who had their own strategies for winning (none seemed to be enough for big winnings) but we did win a bottle of bubbly,lol! The kids were dying to play and the crew politely kicked them out. I totally understand but don't really see how we gamble is much diff than the arcade where they gamble for prices...hmmm...lol
St Maarten was awesome - loved our tour guide Dennis with Amigo Tours. Enjoyed an air-conditioned customized Chevy van for our family of 10. He took us all over and made sure to stop for beach time. Warning alert - Maho Beach was a great time with airplanes so close to you and rough surf for older daredevil boys. I should have known better to bring earplugs but son insisted he didn't want to wear them. He goes through spells when differences bother him and he wanted to try to overcome noise sensitivity. However, this is NOT the place to experiment! The smaller planes didn't bother him but when a big one was roaring for take-off - Good Grief!! It took myself and middle nephew to grab him to calm him down or he probably would have run straight up bank into the road. I almost dropped my camera in the whole process and ended up soaking wet in the ocean. After that one had passed, my son quickly calmed down and went back to swimming and having a great time. Children with more severe forms of autism probably would not have bounced back at all. I am so thankful our day wasn't ruined by that as it could have. It shows that my son is growing in his ability to soothe and roll with the punches and I also learned that I need to follow my gut and over-prepare to be safe.
St Thomas was ok. It was about to rain so it was very muggy and my son was aggravated at how uncomfortable and thirsty he was. We went to Senor Frogs and he did fair, we have gone before so he knew the noise level to expect and we ate outside so it was more tolerable there. The food was good but service was sooo slow. The kids and adults loved the balloon hats, it is fun to act silly sometimes and the cool drinks coupled with the fun helped to pep up the fun again.
Disembarkation - It was fine. Breakfast was so good and relaxing to eat at a later time since we drove. We did have to wait in line for about 20 min to walk off ship (and yes we had our bags taken off so no self-assist but we weren't in a rush either) so that had my son acting up some. He still struggles with change and instead of talking about feeling different it results in him making some strange looking faces and flapping of his arm to show he is not dealing well with change. He also wanted to act a bit extra neg toward his sister who in turn gave it right back to him so we had to put out that fire. We were happy to see the porter who quickly gathered our bags once off ship and had them walked outside for hubby and stepdad to get car from parking garage.
Summary - A fantastic time. Lots of GREAT entertainment, fun conversations, beautiful island scenery, and relaxation. And all in all my son had a great time and grew more in learning to overcome the obstacles that he faces socially. The Epic is a great boat to vacation on and make memories. Less