Epic - February 16-23, 2013
Every year I travel with a family of six for their reunion cruise and since we like the Haven on NCL, this year we returned to the Epic, which we sailed on during her first winter season in Florida two years ago.
Embarkation was smooth. As Suite guests, we were checked in at VIP check-in and then escorted onto the ship since it was ready for boarding by the time we completed the process at about 11:30. We were slowed for a few minutes while they made some repairs to their computer system, but were able to bypass the holding area which we have previously visited on other embarkations. The two oldest members of our party were taken up to the ship in wheelchairs, a quick and easy way for them to board.
Once on board, we went straight to the Epic Grill for our lunch. Since we had previously sailed on the Epic, we didn't need to take the Haven tour. Regina, the hostess , and Harold, the Maitre D greeted us and made sure we were comfortably seated in the restaurant. Much to our pleasure, Anoop Bhanu, who was our Concierge on the Pearl, was also there to greet us, since he is serving in that capacity on the Epic. I thought Anoop was the best Concierge I have ever met when we were on the Pearl, so it was great to discover we would have the pleasure of another week under his care. I called him the Stealth Concierge on the Pearl, because he seemed to be everywhere we were... always appearing when needed, and extraordinarily helpful. The Epic is much bigger, and there are many more suite guests, but I know he is up to the task.
The lunch menu has not changed, and we ordered our old stand-bys... shrimp cocktail, and smoked salmon appetizers, and the scallops and shrimp dish for two of us, and the fettuccine with mushrooms in cream sauce for the third. Dessert was enough calories for the entire week, but wonderful as always - the brownie sundae with macadamia sauce for me, and the banana pancake with coconut ice cream for the others.
We stopped back in our cabin and determined that it was identical to the one in which we sailed last time on Epic - a Two Bedroom Courtyard Villa. We like this cabin for all the obvious reasons -- it has a lovely living area, a comfortable Master Suite with gorgeous bathroom, and a second bedroom and bath in the back in which I can sail with my friends. The back bedroom is snug, but suits me perfectly and I always enjoy my week. Having sailed on the Jewel and the Pearl as well, I know from experience that the Epic back bedroom is superior to those on the older Jewel Class ships. The bathroom on all of them is quite nice with a big shower. This time I brought a flat green nightlight so I would have some way of finding the bathroom in the dark.
After lunch, we did the boat drill at 3:30. Our station was the Bliss Lounge, and it was packed with people. Because it is a school vacation week, the ship is filled with families with children, and definitely feels different than it did two years ago when we were on board. Even the Haven has many children this week, and is more crowded and noisier than it was. We are traveling at this time because of the 12 year old in our party, but would not normally choose to do so.
Our bags arrived just before the drill, so after it was concluded, we were able to unpack. I met with Elvina, the Assistant Concierge to set up the week's dining and entertainment reservations. The Epic is much more complex than other ships in this regard. You need to figure out when to make dining reservations and entertainment reservations for many venues and make sure these do not conflict with such events as the Latitudes Cocktail Party or the Captain's Party for VIP and Suite Guests and other such social activities. For our first dinner, I continued the tradition of first night in Shanghai's the Epics' Chinese Restaurant. The seven of us met at 7 for this meal, and as was the case for our first Epic cruise, we all enjoyed the food. Some started with Soup while others opted for the Stuffed Lettuce Leaves or Chinese Calamari (the winner both times!). Then some of us tried our luck with the Mahi Mahi, that was so good last time, while others ordered Cellophane Noodles. Many of us ordered the Combination Fried Rice, which was delicious. The fish was overcooked, and not nearly as good as it had been two years ago... might have been a different fish dish, but in any case, it wasn't great this time.
Following dinner, we all went off in separate directions. I spent some time in the Casino, enjoying lots of play on a penny machine, and then went to bed early to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Sunday, February 17, 2013 - At Sea
This cruise begins with two sea days... pure luxury! I am sleeping in a room with no windows so without natural light, I had no idea what time I woke up this morning, and needed to check. I discovered I had slept until 8:15...then showered and went down to breakfast in the Epic Grill. As before, the buffet contained the usual Continental items - cereals, yogurt, fresh fruits including a bowl of berries and another of melon, sliced fruits, smoked salmon and trout, sour cream, cream cheese, assorted cheeses, danish, croissants, and cold cuts. The menu had not changed and as usual, I started my cruise off with the Crab Cakes Benedict. Lucy was my very capable server ... a delightful person to start off the day.
After breakfast, I went to sort out a problem that developed with our reservations. One of the dining choices was the Chef's Table gourmet dinner, which was offered on Tuesday or Thursday evening. I chose Thursday, because Tuesday was full and was told that my reservation had been confirmed. When we arrived at Shanghai, the hostess told me she was terribly sorry, but she had made a mistake and the dinner was full so we couldn't dine there on Thursday night. I was surprised, but resolved to deal with it in the morning, and after breakfast I headed over to the Concierge Lounge to do that. When I told Elvina what had happened (the same news had been repeated to me by the Epic Grill hostess, Regina, at breakfast), she was shocked. She checked and said our names were still in the computer and as far as she knew, our reservation had not been changed. She also spoke with Anoop, and he dashed over to talk with the Restaurant Manager. I left it in their hands and spent some time relaxing in the Haven. Later, I was told that they had resolved the matter and we were going to dine at the Chef's Table after all. To make amends, some money was put on our on board account. I was pleased with the resolution, but still wonder about the behavior of the hostesses and how it could be that they talked to me about it rather than discuss the issue with the Concierge and his assistant, who were responsible for our reservation. Something needs to be corrected in terms of the procedure. The Concierge staff should not have been caught unaware of changes to their own reservation.
Since we had an early reservation at Moderno, the Brazilian restaurant on Epic, and one needs a big appetite to do justice to the meal, I resolved to eat a very light lunch. I went to the buffet and put some salad, a small piece of barbecued duck, and a taste of the vegetarian Indian fare on my plate. Everything was delicious, and I topped it off with ice cream... today it was Madamia Nut and Rocky Road for me, but there were about ten flavor choices in all. Lunch is always served in the Epic Grill, but I find the variety available in the buffet to be more interesting and tend to eat lunch there every day.
After lunch, I did some work, read a book, and then got ready for dinner. We had another delicious Moderno dinner, with help from the hostess, Nina, who seated us at 5:25 so we could try to get to the show on time (note to Entertainment Staff: if the shows are going to start at 7 and 10, and families with children and older folks will prefer the 7 p.m. show, the restaurants should open at 5 so there will be sufficient time to eat and get to the 7 o'clock show. We hurried, and still found seating very limited at 6:50 for the Blue Men.
I have concluded that seeing the Blue Men three times is one or two times too many. One problem with the Epic is that the entertainment is very limited. We chose not to do the Cirque Dreams show again (hated the food the first time!) so we have many evenings with no show scheduled. Later this week we will see the Second City show and the Legends in Concert show, but that's it for the week.
I spent lots of time in the Casino and noted that the noise in there was way too loud (music from assorted directions and machine noise everywhere.) When you are on Decks 6 or 7 on this ship with this many people, you really know you are on a tremendously large ship with a huge number of folks... crowds and noise everywhere tonight.
On my way to bed, I stopped off in the buffet and found a) delicous Sacher Torte and b) pretty good soft serve frozen yogurt, or perhaps it was ice cream. I only went there for some iced tea, but as usual, couldn't resist another round of eating. I did learn that the Sacher Torte on Epic is excellent, so it was a worthwhile visit.
Tonight we have to move our clocks ahead one hour as we sail into the Caribbean and change time zones. As a result, we lose an hour, but we do it on a Sea day, so it's not as difficult as it would be on a port day.
Monday, February 18, 2013 - Sea Day
Breakfast in the Epic Grill with Lucy... I am definitely settling into a comfortable ship board routine. Today I tried the French Toast -- delicious with a berry sauce and Vanilla flavoring... it's hard to go wrong with the breakfast choices on this ship, but I will pay for my week of eating next week.
Today, unlike yesterday, the sun shone all day. I went out to the Haven Courtyard area and stretched out to read and enjoy the warm sun for a while. Then it was back to the computer and several hours of work... I am already on my second 250 minute plan and it's only Monday, so it's going to be an expensive week on the computer! I don't need to use time while writing and composing in WORD, but do need to use the WIFI (which works fine in our cabin), for most of my other websites.
Because tonight is the Suite Guests Cocktail Party with the captain, we scheduled our Teppanyaki dinner for 7:30. Then we are headed to the Second City Comedy Troupe. I ended up having a "snack," which looked just like lunch, at around 2:30. As previously indicated, I like the Buffet on Deck 15 for lunch and tend to sample some of what looks good and add some Indian vegetarian fare and some salad.. Today, it was salad, fish and chips (just a little so I'll have room for dinner) and my daily ice cream sampler (macadamia, pistachio, and chocolate with chocolate sauce).
Tonight we had the Captain's Cocktail Party for VIP Guests, held in the Epic Grill Bar area. I was a little early since I had misplaced the invitation (Note: it would be helpful to have a reminder for the cocktail parties or a complete list), and had a pleasant conversation with the ship's Hotel Director, Kaj Turunen. Later I also met the Assistant Director, Carolina, and the Captain. Tonight was Dress Up if You Wish evening and some folks were quite dressy, while others were still in casual mode.
We had dinner at the Teppanyaki Restaurant and it was the usual jokes and patter as the chef cooked the fried rice, the steak, seafood and vegetables. Then on to the Second City Improv show... funny enough to make me laugh out loud.
Tuesday, February 17, 2013 - St. Martin
Sunny and warm, this morning was a pleasure. Because we had a long day in St. Martin, there was no need to get up early and no rush. After a leisurely breakfast, we took a taxi over to the French market in Marigot. This is a market with the usual tee shirts and island items, plus lovely water colors, Provencal table linens, and unusual jewelry items. I bought an inexpensive, but very pretty hand-made necklace and bracelet and also some watercolors.
We took a taxi back to the pier ahead of the rush and had a late lunch in the buffet. Later on, we had dinner in Cagney's and enjoyed all the usual steakhouse items including Crab Cakes, Shrimp Cocktail, assorted Salads, various cuts of beef, lamb chops, and for the non-meat eaters, salmon, and desserts including Creme Brulee and Cagney's delicious Brownie Sundae. Three of us were grateful to receive complimentary dinners including a bottle of Shiraz, compliments of our very kind Hotel Director.
As usual, the Casino's penny machines rounded out my evening.
Wednesday, February 18, 2013 - St. Thomas
We docked early this morning and awoke to cloudy skies. Yesterday's forecast from the ship included the possibility of showers, but it remained dry. Today's forecast called for Partly Cloudy skies, and we had two downpours... one while we were eating breakfast in the Epic Grill, where we eat every morning, and the other around noon. I headed over to the internet place across from the Havensight gate. The walk over and back was great since I have not yet enough exercise this week. It was a pleasure to see us parked behind the Norwegian Sun, a ship on which I sailed for two weeks in South America four years ago. Seeing ships on which I've sailed while docked in assorted harbors, is always a great feeling for me... sort of like seeing an old friend, the ships evoke memories of trips gone by. Yesterday we were docked next to the Celebrity Reflection, which is a ship on which I sailed in December. Also in port yesterday was the Vision of the Seas, the ship on which I first went to Alaska... lots of old friends, if you please.
Four hours of internet use at the Buddha coffee shop cost me $5, a serious bargain compared with the more than $200 I have spent on the ship for rather poor service. Since we were leaving early at 4, I went back over to the ship and grabbed a late, light lunch to save room for our early dinner. They switched the Latitudes party for Silver, Gold and Platinum to 4:00 so I went over to the Bliss Lounge for that event. The crowd seemed light, probably because it was a 4 p.m. event on a day the all aboard was at 3:30 and on the Epic, we know by now from the daily announcements, that 4 p.m. is BINGO TIME!
Tonight we had reservations for 5:30 at La Cucina in order to make the 7 p.m. Legends in Concert performance. As usual, opening restaurants at 5:30 and expecting people to get to 7 p.m. performances makes it difficult. We wouldn't have to rush if they started serving at 5, or had the two performances at 7:30 and 10:30 instead of 7 and 10. Despite having to hurry, I enjoyed my Caesar Salad, Lamb Shank and Spaghetti Carbonara. Dessert for me was the usual Tiramisu. Others at the table liked their desserts, too, including Chocolate Cake, Cheese Cake, and Afogato (ice cream with espresso).
Tonight's version of Legends in Concert featured Jimmy Buffet, Donna Summers and Michael Jackson, with Whoopi Goldberg as emcee... debatable as "legends," but entertaining nevertheless. The Casino machines, as seems to be the case for this ship, turned very stingy tonight now that we are heading North. Last time we were on board we found the first nights to be very good ones in the Casino, and the second half of the cruise to be bad ones.
Thursday, February 21, 2013 - At Sea
This is my day to relax and enjoy lots of sunshine and leisure. We got back the hour of sleep we lost earlier in the week, so that helped get it off to a good start, and very warm temperatures and bright sunshine all day ensured an excellent day.
After breakfast in the Epic Grill, I headed out to the Courtyard, found a lounge chair, and read for a while. Because we were having a gourmet "Chef's Table" dinner, I didn't want to eat a big lunch and so just had a salad and Shrimp Cocktail in the Grill. Then, in the spirit of the day, intent on having a day of total relaxation, I returned to the Courtyard and lounged about most of the afternoon. This evening, we met for dinner at 6 and were served champagne in the bar area of the Epic Grill, then took pictures of the entire group and individual couples before sitting down to dinner. Our nine-course tasting menu began with a molecular cocktail amuse bouche, most notable for the mango puree, which looked like an egg yolk, served over a bed of vodka infused cilantro flavored salsa... quite lovely. This was followed by an Ahi Tuna Tartare with Wasabi Glaze... also delicious. A Sauvignon Blanc accompanied these first courses. Next we had a savory Asparagus Cream poured over a Cauliflower Flan (I could eat Cauliflower every day in this form!)
The next course was a Short Crust Tartlet, which was my least favorite course because I don't care for Goat Cheese, which was the primary filling. The tomato chutney was quite nice, but I didn't taste the Kalamata Olive Tapenade at all.
A very pleasant intermezzo was then served in the form of a Grapefruit and Moscato Granite.
The final course in this section was a Pan Seared Sea Bass, which was Plantain Crusted and served with Mango, Papaya & Avocado Salsa. A Lobster Veloute was poured on the side to serve as a dipping sauce for the fish, all of which was very delicious.
Accompanying the food was a Silverado Chardonnay. I should mention that the Executive Chef, Charles Fernandes explained the preparation for each course, which was quite interesting. He also invited us to a Galley Tour scheduled for 10:30 on Friday morning.
The last entree was a Milk-Fed Veal Chop, accompanied by Potatoes Anna, Sauteed Spinach, and a Truffle Veal Jus. The Veal Chop was cooked to perfection, but my favorite item was the Potatoes Anna, crispy and excellently prepared. With the veal, came a Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon.
A cheese platter including a slice of Triple Creme St. Andre, some Stilton, Port Wine-infused Figs, Bagel Chips, and Pickled Watermelon preceded the sweet dessert. On the menu were listed two desserts -- a Yogurt Mousse Dome with Lychee Raspberry Creme and Hazel Sablee in a Lime Vanilla Reduction, and a Chocoholic's Delight consisting of Spiced Dark Rum Infused Banana Cocoa Mousse. I assumed that both would be served or there would be a choice, but much to my dismay, the ladies were served the Yogurt Mousse Dome and the guys got the Chocoholic's Delight. I protested and was served my preference by a mile - the Chocolate Mousse with the Banana, but as I noted on my comment card, gender-based desserts have no place on a menu in 2013. Would they think of differentiating by race or nationality? Of course not. Then why would anyone think it was okay to differentiate by gender?
Coffee and Liquours were served in the Bar Area. Our dining companions were a very pleasant group of people from Wisconsin and Toronto, and we very much enjoyed their company and the excellent service provided by Harold, Lucy, and other servers from the Epic Grill.
Friday, February 22 - Nassau
Today the ship was supposed to dock in Nassau at noon, with only have six hours to enjoy this port, but as it turned out, we had no hours whatsoever. Thirty seven cruises and something new comes along... the Captain announced this morning that "someone made a mistake and overscheduled the port," so there was no room for the Epic. He said two other ships were knocked off the schedule as well, but the whole episode sounds incredible to me. Locked out of Nassau, with no other port available, we spent our fourth sea on a seven day cruise today. I lost the free internet time on which I counted and will now have to spend extra money paying for more time on board, which does not make me happy at all, and I met lots of folks today grumbling about their lost shopping opportunities. Missed ports because of rough seas are to be expected, but missed ports because someone made a mistake on a schedule that tends to repeat itself week after week after week??? Sounds fishy to me, but a godsend for the revenue department with 4700 people spending money on board for six and half hours instead of in port.
I enjoyed my morning on deck and met some Canadian college students while eating lunch in the buffet. The Computer guy added some time to my internet allotment for the Platinum Latitudes minutes and also for a missed log-out one day, so I'll now do some work before our 7:30 last dinner in Le Bistro and my last round in the Casino.
When I went down to put in my Future Cruise slip ($250 for deposit on a future cruise and they credit your on board account with $100), there was lots of complaining and grumbling in the elevator and the hallways. There are certainly issues with the Epic. Last night, some people who were at the Chef's Table dinner were complaining after dinner about their Spa Suite and the absence of doors on the toilets. Today a guy was complaining about the size of his inside cabin and another fellow was disappointed with the ship in general. Missing our port stop did not improve the general mood on the ship, and traveling with so many people can be a trial for some. Rain this afternoon, which drove many folks indoors and increased the noise and crowds, did not help the situation. Perhaps it would have been raining in Nassau, too. Others I met earlier this week were very happy with their Epic experience, so there is definitely a wide range of opinions. It's important before coming on this ship, to know the issues and to determine if it's the right ship for you, because it is definitely different in many ways. As Haven guests, we definitely have a much more pleasant situation than those not in suites, but this week even the Courtyard of the Haven was packed with people and with so many young children, was more noisy than usual, so the week you cruise also makes a difference.
As always, we enjoyed our Le Bistro dinner. Escargot was the favorite of everyone at the table. I also enjoyed the Onion Soup and Duck Two Ways (although I would prefer a fruit sauce for the duck!). We split three desserts, but my gripe for Le Bistro is always the same - Profiteroles should have chocolate options (my favorite dessert, but they ruin it by using other icing/topping) and why call a mousse type dessert a Napoleon??? It has nothing whatsoever to do with what Americans call a Napoleon and is, like the profiteroles, misleading. You have a classic French restaurant with classic items such as Escargot, French Onion Soup, Duck Confit, etc. and then destroy the great, classic French desserts. Even the Creme Brulee, which is large and tastes good, is served cold and apparently straight from the refrigerator... not what should be expected.
Saturday, February 23 - Disembarkation
Disembarkation was not as smooth as we anticipated due to the ineptitude of the wheelchair folks. We asked for two to arrive at our cabin so that the elderly members of our party would not have to walk the distance down to the street (it would have taken all day if they had!) Only one wheelchair arrived, and that fellow did not understand that we were supposed to go to the Epic Concierge Lounge for Priority Disembarkation. He wheeled the chair out into the elevator lobby and from there, it was impossible for us to fit into overcrowded elevators (the Concierge uses a staff elevator he can control with a key for a speedy exit). I called Anoop and to his credit, he came right up and got us straightened out with a second wheel chair and a Staff Elevator descent to the Gangway. Our bags were easy to locate, and a porter steered us quickly through the line and out to our waiting car service.
Next up for me is a pre-inaugural on the Breakaway and all of us will be on the Breakaway in June. I will be most curious to see how NCL addressed the Epic issues and anticipate that the Breakaway will be a great ship for NY, which will be its home port, and when not in Florida, mine as well.