This was our first "Suite" cruise, as we normally enjoy a balcony, and it'll be tough going back to "roughing it" in a non-suite. We are a Mom/Dad with 11 and 7 year old well-travelled kids.
EMBARKATION: We spent the night at a local hotel and hit the port around 10AM with the understanding that Haven guests would be able to board early. The ship just arrived from Spain, so there was a two hour delay in customs clearing the ship, but the Port Staff did a nice job explaining the situation. Suite guests are corralled in a little roped-off area that had coffee and finger foods. Made the time go by a little quicker. Once cleared to board, we were escorted directly to the 16th Deck and corralled again in the Lounge to await our welcome. Was surprised there were no drinks/snack that was ok, I guess. The welcome was a bit "Keystone Cop" like, as they walked us around the entire Haven area as a group of 40-50, so most of the folks in back never heard one thing we (in the front) heard. We were then led to the Haven restaurant for our first "Suite" meal. Well, it was nothing more than what they were serving in the buffet, just that it was ordered by us and delivered to our table. The service was marginal and food quality was fair. 10+ minutes waiting for sodas to be refilled while watching 4-8 staff muddle about 10 feet from our table.
STATEROOM: We were given our keys and we went to our room (16001). Wow! I'm not going to explain too much, as you can find pics online, but the layout was fantastic and the furniture/beds were all very comfy. The balcony is "enclosed", so it had tinted glass and two windows that let in plenty of sea breezes throughout the cruise.
THE HAVEN: Good: 1. The Staff was attentive and friendly, especially our cabin crew. 2. The private pool area was nice but had a very noticeable amount of mechanical ship noise.... So, it's not really quiet, but there were always big comfy chairs/loungers available and the pool was fun for the kids, and grown-ups who wanted to cool down. 3. The two Jacuzzis were nice and always had room. 4. The Haven bar on the 17th deck was always "not-busy" and the staff was always friendly. Great view of the ship from up there and lots of sunny spots to relax. Bad: 1. We wanted to give the restaurant a 2nd chance, so we went in for dinner the first night and it was terrible. The food was "ok", but the service was worst than our welcome lunch. It has room for over 150 and there were only 30 folks having dinner while we were there. We never ate there again, opting for the Buffet on deck 15, which really disappointed me, being that we paid quite a bit to enjoy the Haven's amenities. 2. There were a number of families who were letting "non-Haven" guests into the Haven, which was quite disappointing.
ENTERTAINMENT: I've read "so-so" reviews of the Blue Man Group and Cirque. Come on, these shows were great. We've seen both in Vegas and these were great reduce-sized versions of them. Great stuff. The dueling Pianos was good fun, especially late when it got a little "R" rated. The Second City show was terrible and remarkably unfunny. The crowd in our seating area were stunned when it was done in just 20 minutes and we had heard only one collective laugh throughout the show. Even the troupe failed to smile during their show. ICE BAR: Ok, pay $20 to put on a warm coat and have two drinks in a freezer. We have some nice pics from there, so were glad we did it, but don't expect anything "epic". The casino was always busy and it was often tough to find a <$20 table with space. The smoke was hardly noticable, and I had no issue with my asthma. We visited every pub/bar/club and they were all decent. We spent more of our time in Shakers, which had a decent piano player and the bartenders were really friendly and poured a good Martini.
KIDS: Our kids both really enjoyed the Kids club. Our 11 year old enjoyed the freedom of being to check himself in/out. They had a great "circus" show the last day of the cruise with all the kids doing different stunts and dances. Was really a nice farewell from the staff. One issue though is the wait to check-in/out the kids. On RCCL, they have a scanner that parents/kids wear and they simply scan both of you to make sure you match. On Epic, they had to spipe cards, type in a bunch of info (i.e. time), then call the child, then swipe their card, then wait for the same person to walk around the counter to open the gate to let the child out. Very cumbersome. Overall though, good kids club!
POOL DECK: We spent a good amount of time here, as the Haven was almost "dead", which isn't a bad thing, I suppose. Chairs in good sunny spots were hard to come by, but that's expected. Inport days were awesome! The pools were really nice and compared to Disney/RCCL, lots of room/variety. The little kids area was really cool and was great to see little tykes enjoying the water with thier parents. The three slides were excellent with only a 10 minute max wait for the big plunge one, which required a tube to ride. Kids made new friends and had a blast. The staff was very attentive and quick to serve a beer by the bottle or by the bucket full. The music was always pumping, not too loud but enough to keep people moving in the bar areas. The Adult only area back aft was excellent and very relaxing with great views.
DRINKS: Just get the Soda card.... It's worth it. Able to fill-up at any bar/pub. Beers were about $5, Martinis about $9 (good ones!). Sure, you can spend alot on booze but it's vacation, live it up.
FOOD: The buffet was really good, with a number of items made to order (Pasta/Burgers). Indian food was good, desserts were decent, and lots of fruit/veggies available. The service was "as expected", nothing great, and we were always able to find a seat, even during rush hour. The Pub food was decent but when we ordered wings, they brought out 5 in a basket.... The portions were small, so we litterally had to order 5 orders of wings, and four stews to make it feel like we were actually eating a meal. The Steak restaurant was nice, good food/service and the Asian place was really good but quite pricey. We ordered room service every morning, so we could enjoy the balcony and the quiet time.
DEBARKATION: We had an 11AM flight, so we were a little worried. Well, we chose to carry our bags off, which the Haven Concierge took us down in the private elevator (Gave us a nice hug goodbye) and we walked through customs, got a cab, and were at Miami airport 45 minutes after walked out of our stateroom. Very smooth!
SUMMARY: If you can afford the Haven, it's worth it. Seriously. Just having the option to get away from the crowds paid huge dividends. The kids having their own bedroom was a nice perk too. As we had a bloody mary at the MIA airport, my wife and I agreed that we had a great time, but we're probably going to try a suite on RCCL before doing NCL again. You'll enjoy NCL, we just want to make sure.