My family of 7 (me, my wife, 3 kids, and in-laws) went on Epic for the 12-Jan-2013 journey. We booked a non-Haven balcony room for the in-laws, and the kids and us stayed in Haven 2-bedroom suite. We had a fantastic vacation.
Embarkation was easy. We live 50 miles to the north so we drove down to the port. I'm impressed with the Miami port - orderly and there are garages near each terminal. We got there a little before 12pm, spent a few minutes to get thru Security, and then the Haven exclusive welcome room is right there. We went in, gave the info to the clerk, then sat down to wait. 10 minutes later a crew member came and escorted us all the way in and up to the 16th floor. Another 10 minutes wait, then we were introduced to our concierge, Mr. Adrian, and went on a tour around Haven area. The whole experience was very smooth and relaxed. After the tour, our room 16006 is ready (around 1:30pm at that time).
The room is beautiful and spacious. The kid's room is perfectly sized and very cozy for my 3 kids who are 4, 8 and 11 years old. They loved the pull-down bunk bed. The master bedroom is pretty luxurious, especially with the tub and shower against the window. It was quite an experience to bathe while watching the sunset! The common area is decently with a table for 4, and a nice spacious sofa - my two older kids spent most of their afternoons lounging on the sofa playing iPads. I love the Espresso machine and took full advantage of it everyday. The balcony is OK size - we didn't really hang out there too much. The only complaints I have are 1). The toilet seat is hard plastic and feel flimsy; and 2). the TV program - they just played the same clips again and again! I do like the Norwegian Conceige app on my iPhone and used it a lot. I also paid $7.95 to be able to call from the app, but never used it. Just thought that was quite convenient.
My in-laws stayed in non-Haven room, so they are not allowed in the Haven exclusive areas (the Haven restaurant, the Courtyard, etc). We gave them one room key so that they can get in Haven door and come to our room when needed. That worked out well - the crew members didn't bother them at all since they didn't linger in the public Haven areas. We also paid $25 a head to have them dining with us in the Haven restaurant once - it was a nice experience for the whole family. After that, we never dined together in the Haven restaurant again - not really worth the extra money in my opinion. However, my wife and I went out elsewhere a couple of times on our own, and left the kids and the in-laws to dine in the Haven restaurant - we had to get approval from Adrian but he was fine (I guess the total headcount is more important than the actual guest). My in-laws don't speak English so my kids took care of ordering. The crew in the restaurant were all very nice and helpful and made those meals very pleasant experience.
There are many restaurants onboard the ship. We tried out most of them.
Epic restaurant - very good. We ate most of our breakfast and a couple of lunch / dinner there.
La Cucina - very good. Be careful - the portion is big! Desserts are wonderful.
Le Bistro - quite good. Everybody loved the desserts.
Cagney - not impressed. I've had better steak in the Portofino on Royal Carribean Cruise.
Wasabi Sushi - not impressed. My local sushi joint has much better food.
Spiegel Tent - food is decent but nothing to rave about.
Garden Cafe - it's very good. My in-laws really love it since they don't speak English and can get all kinds of variety on their own here. The variety is quite good - I saw different dishes every day. Sometime we would just swing by after a show or light meal to eat fruits and Ice Cream. I feel the quality is decent for a buffet. There are plenty of seats as well as long as you don't come in the rush hour.
O'Sheehan's - food is very good. Wings, Cheese Sticks, Hamburgers, etc. It will be great if it's more accessible from the deck instead of being buried on the lower floor.
Taste & Manhattan Room - food is bland. Service is pretty bad. We tried each once and didn't go back.
Room Service - we ordered a few breakfast as Room Service. We are able to order from the Haven breakfast menu. It's really nice and convenience for excursion days. We also ordered it to be delivered pool side once and our butler happily complied.
Overall, the paid food is all great. For the free food, I'd stick with Garden Cafe. We like food so didn't mind paying extra for the better setting and taste. We feel the specialty restaurants were all worth the extra cost.
The service was just great for the Haven guests. Everybody was smiling all the time. We always have a dish of chocolate or small desserts waiting for us each time we return to cabin. The cabin is made up at least twice a day. Most of the crew members we met on the ship were smiling and professional, with the exception being those in Taste & Manhattan Room, but I don't really blame them - it's quite hard to be cheerful there.
The ship's layout is interesting - the free main dining rooms and most of the specialty restaurants and shows are on floors 5, 6 and 7. With the casino in the middle of floor 6, it does feel stuffy going down there, but it didn't bother us too much since we never lingered there. We spent most of our time in the Haven area as well as the main deck on floor 14. We loved the main deck and the water slides, but the line can be very long on the sunny sea day, especially on the big yellow slide. All three slides are fun! The last day in Nassau, the temperature was chilly (below 75F) and there was absolutely no line. We took advantage of that and really enjoyed the slides and pool that day. My in-laws wake up earlier so they usually would grab a few chairs waiting for us to join them. So we never had problems finding chairs. Per the crew, there were 4,500 guests with 300 of them being kids on our ship, but it really didn't feel very crowded. The ship's full load is somewhere near 5,200 guests. We didn't really get to try out other facilities such as Epic Bounce (will definitely try next time), sports court, or the rock climbing.
We went to Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams and Legends in Concert. My wife, I and the kids liked the first two shows but my in-laws like Legends in Concert the most. The Blue Man Group is really unique and shouldn't be missed. Other reviews talked about the Haven privilege to these shows. Really the only special treatment we got was that we were escorted to the Cirque Dreams before everybody else and were able to pick good seats. For the two other shows, there are a few rows of seats to the front-left corner reserved for Haven guests, but they are not the best seats, so we actually seat somewhere else in the common area.
Other than above mentioned shows, there doesn't seem to be a lot other activities suitable for kids. We went bowling once - it was not as nice as I thought it was. We didn't send the kids to the kids program. They were perfectly content spending time on the main deck in the morning and in the Haven pool area late afternoon. The ship isn't really tailored to kids, which is actually a blessing - when our ship docked in Nassau, the Disney Dream was right besides us. We saw swarms of kids everywhere, and long line at their water slide even on that chilly port day.
We got off the boat at St. Marteen and St. Thomas. Didn't get off at Nassau. Other than those two days at port, we spent all our time on the boat, and thoroughly enjoyed everything. I guess my view is tainted because we were pampered in Haven - I feel Norwegian did a good job providing additional value to the Haven guests. I probably wouldn't pay that much $$$ again for the Haven experience unless it is for something really special. It really is something that should be experienced once if you can afford it.
Disembarkation was super easy too. We left our luggage outside to be collected the night before. In the morning we ate the Room Service and went to the Concierge Desk around 8:45am. We were escorted down the ship thru a food-only elevator. There was no line at the custom, and it took us probably less than 20 minutes to get to our car in the garage. It couldn't be easier. I also like the fact that the garage is really close to the terminal, making it very easy to walk there with all the luggages. The experience wasn't nearly so pleasant last time in Port Everglades port with Royal Carribean.
Everyone in the family was extremely satisfied with the vacation and we can't wait to go back.