We cruised the Epic March 16-23, 2013. This was our second cruise on the Epic and we had even more fun than the first time in in April 2011 (not saying we didn't have fun the first time).
On my last NCL cruise using the prepaid transportation voucher, there was a big box truck at the airport where we dropped off our luggage and then got on a bus which took us to the port. This time we were guided to the bus at the airport where the bus driver placed our luggage under the bus in the storage compartments. Upon arriving to the bus driver us to wait on the bus until the luggage was removed from the underside of the bus. I noticed that the luggage was arranged in a way so when you exited the bus you only could go in one direction; past the dock worker who was demanding a tip. You should have seen the looks on people's faces...I am all for tipping but don't demand it from me. His demands earned him less than I was going to give him prior to his antics.
Embarkation was a relatively fast. Our flight was scheduled to arrive in Miami at 11:00am and our ship boarding time was for noon. However our flight was delayed and we didn't get to the ship until 1:00pm. By 1:30 we were on board; not too bad considering the amount of people arriving at that time.
As we boarded the ship, the announcement was given that all the staterooms are open. At this point we were excited to see the room. One week before the cruise, we were watching the NCL website to see if the prices dropped on the mini-suites. At this point the suites were all sold out. Mini-suite prices dropped so we called our travel agent. For a few hundred dollars more we were able to upgrade from a balcony stateroom (deck 12) to a mini-suite on deck 14 forward, right off the elevators. On our past Epic cruise we had a mid-ship balcony room and it was fine. However, since the cost of the upgrade was still cheaper than if we booked the mini-suite originally, we decided to go for it. Great decision! The extra room makes a difference. If and when we return to the Epic, we wouldn't book anything smaller than a mini-suite.
We opted for Wasabi as soon as we got on the ship. Not a bad deal at all...5 different rolls (8 -- 10 pieces per roll) (1) martini and (1) beer: $35 w/tip. That would cost us $100 at home....
For breakfast/lunch we would hit the either that main buffet or the ones by the pools. We also eat at O'Sheehan's for breakfast and lunch. The corned beef hash was really good and the omelets were decent. We also had the pot pie and the wings. The wings were a little soggy. However, I stopped back there for wings late at night and there were perfect.
As for the upcharge restaurants, we book Monderno and Le Bistro. Once again they were both outstanding. At Monderno, my wife request some lamb. When the server arrived with the lamb she asked for pieces that were rare to medium rare. The pieces on the skewer where beyond that; within a few minutes he came back with a plate of rare lamb and said more was on the way! They did the same for me with the garlic fillet and the sirloin. What service!
Le Bistro's standouts are the Filled Cones (Les Quatre Cornets) and Escargot for apps, and Duck, rack of Lamb or Pork tenderloin for a main entree.
We also had dinner in the Manhattan Room, Taste and the buffet. All are decent but nothing over the top. Manhattan Room and Taste both serve the same menu. One side of the menu stays the same and the other has the specials for that day. Only other difference is that shorts are not allowed in the Manhattan Room and they have a band. However, if you go to the upcharge restaurants you will notice the difference in the quality of food when comparing it to the inclusive main dining options. Don't be cheap; try the upscale restaurants, well worth it. We even tried Shanghai and I was surprised. Pretty decent; the calamari, spring rolls and the Cantonese scallops we good as well as the combination fried rice. The rice was nothing like the mushy rice you get from your local neighborhood Chinese takeout joint.
We did Blue Man Group last time on the Epic so this time we wanted to see the Cirque show, especially since they are no longer serving meatloaf (no joke, two years ago the dinner was meatloaf). The show was entertaining and well done for a venue of this size. We had premium seat and were seated on the balcony. Speaking of "well done" that is how the fillet was served along with coconut shrimp. The wait staff will ask if anyone has food allergies. I told them I did and I was allergic to coconut. I really don't I just hate coconut on my shrimp. None the less they brought my shrimp out and it was sauteed in garlic and butter... Anyway, I guess you are paying for the entertainment, not a quality meal. I don't know of any place where you can get both for $40 p/p. So all in all it is still worth it.
We also participated in the martini tasting. What a deal, (4) martinis for $15 (and they are not the small martini glasses). Pay attention to your Freestyle Daily. There were also margarita tastings, wine tastings and beer tastings, all of which are a great deal.
In the evenings if we were not in the casino we would frequent the Spice H2O bar. Same bar staff that took care of us during the day at the adult pool. Personally I think the drinks are better at this bar being an adult area. The bar staff at Spice H2O do a great job...we were on a first name basis and they remembered what I was drinking. The St. Patrick's Day Party, 80's Night and the White Hot Party all took place here. What a fun time! Again, a special thanks to the Spice H2O bar staff and especially Gede.
As soon as we hit the island we headed off to get our St. Lucian rum. After buying a few bottles we decided this time on St. Maarten we would check out the French side of the island. We took a bus for $2 p/p and headed over to Marigot. Just like all of the islands there was plenty of shopping, however on the French side was a bit cleaner and quieter. The beaches on the French side are just as beautiful as the Dutch side. The sole purpose of going to Marigot was to have lunch at La Tropicana in marina port La Royale. We heard great things about this place and we were not disappointed. It was probably one of the best lunches I have ever had. How can you can wrong with pan seared scallops and froie gras, Red Snapper Carpaccio, carrot soup and sauteed Turbot fillet? Just beware, it is not your typical French restaurant portion sizes...they actually give you a lot of food! After lunch we took the bus back to Phillipsburg where we walked back to the port and had a few Amstel Brights with our new cruise friends from Massachusetts (Bob, Barb and Derrick).
On St. Thomas we decided to head over to Megan's Bay despite the warnings of how crowed it can be when you have five ships in port. We got off the ship ASAP and within 45 minutes we were at the beach. It was and $8 ride to and from with a $4 entry fee for the beach. Understand that the entry fee is for the upkeep of the washroom-shower facilities and the overall maintenance of the beach. Loungers are available for $7 with a $5 deposit. The beach was clean and wasn't too crowded when we arrived. However once it hit about 2:00 the beach started to get packed. Keep in mind some ships don't leave port until 7:00 where as ours left at 5:00. Food is available for purchase as well as cocktails. We opted for the Bushwacked drinks which were frozen, strong and great tasting. The Rum Punch is also a good deal for $6 and it is basically all rum with a splash of punch.
As for Nassau, unless you have a planned excursion or plan on heading to a beach such as Paradise Island or want to check out Atlantis, I wouldn't bother getting off the ship. We are not big shoppers and of the three islands, Nassau's port shopping area is probably the worst. Coming from a big city, it was easy to pick out the people to be careful of. Just be aware when you are there. You always should take caution on any island but take extra caution here.
I took advantage of the barber shop for a 55 minute facial and double close shave. Guys, spend the money and treat yourself! It was very relaxing!
My wife did a seaweed wrap at the spa and loved it. If you book a spa treatment, you get the use all the spa amenities for 20 minutes before your treatment, otherwise $20 for the rest of the day. The masseuse Joann did a great job. However, the women at the reception desk should be a bit friendlier, especially when you are spending a decent amount of money on the spa services. They seemed a bit annoyed with their daily routine.
A special thank you to the fellow Cruise Critic members (lambchoplady and Elizabeth) who organized the meet and great and slot pull. The meet and great was fun. We were able to meet some the ship's crew such as the director of hotel services, customer service, food and restaurant director, Ken the cruise director and his assistants as well as the beverage directors. We did notice that Kaj (director of hotel service) was off the ship at every port welcoming the passengers as they re-boarded the ship. Not sure who had a drier sense of humor, Kaj or the Captain Sverre Soudsnes. Captain Sverre would address the guests "Good morning this is your captain, Sverre Soudsnes, Nordic Viking"....too funny! I guess some people either get it or they don't.
We noticed at the adult pool NCL finally has an attendant watching and marking pool chairs stop the chair hogging. It was funny to watch people's expressions when they came back to their chairs 3-4 hours later only to find their belonging were taken by the attendant and someone else sitting in their chairs. Priceless!
Overall we once again had a great time on the Epic. Not sure why some people have such a hard time enjoying themselves on vacation; things could be worse. You could be at work or not even have the means to take a vacation. Enjoy it while you can!
Hopefully we will be back on either the Epic or one of the new ships that will be coming out over the next few years. I would really like to see the eastern Caribbean itinerary add or change some of the ports for the Epic and the new ships coming out over the next few years. Thanks again Norwegian for another lovely cruise.