I wrote a review on our first cruise, this same itinerary on this same ship but in 2012, a few days apart from this one. We felt on that cruise that we had missed out on some of the entertainment and decided we'd rebook, along with some friends we'd made on the ship. Well I'm glad to report that not only are we happy with this decision, we made many new friends and enjoyed the time we spent with the friends we'd made the previous year.
My partner and I are a gay couple, not particularly flamboyant, just a couple of guys who happen to be gay. We aren't the type to only hang around with gay people. Straight people can't help being straight and we actually really like them. Some of our best friends are straight and we support them in all their endeavors, including straight marriage and equal rights.
We are both friendly people and we really like the Norwegian anytime dining aspect of cruising. As long as we make our reservations and have dinner at some vaguely dinner-ish hour, there's no problem with eating in most places. The only exception for us was one night when we wanted sushi but had to make the Legends show. It was a sea day and the sushi place was packed with a good long wait. Even though we rushed to the noodle bar and asked for a quick meal due to our show reservations, we had to rush with 45 mins before the show and didn't get to finish. I suppose that's our fault for bad planning though.
The quality of some of the food seems to have diminished. In particular the buffet food seemed less enticing than last year. We tended to eat in Moderno, Cagneys, O'Sheehans or one of the main dining rooms where the food was really good on the first night and slightly less enticing than last year's menu.
I know this whole review is a bit out of chronological order. I will try to leave a good, honest, thorough review, but the cost of that for me is less emphasis on the order and more details on the aspect of the cruise I'm reviewing.
When we arrived, I'd been pestering Jose to get down to the port ASAP. We'd left from our South Florida home about 1/2 hour later than we intended and all I could think of was the lines to board growing longer and longer by the second while we mosied on down the road behind somebody who thought it was a good day to take in the air at about 15 below the speed limit. Despite all that, we arrived to a seamless, streamlined and almost joyous boarding procedure with no issues whatsoever. I've got 8 bad discs and migraines and athsma and a few other medical issues which sometimes make travel a bit trying. When we arrived at the port, we drove to where the porters or stevedores or whatever they're called take your luggage away to be checked for prohibited items and delivered to the stateroom, which on this trip was a balcony midship, room 12177, the same room we'd had the year before. Anyway it's a good idea to tip this guy, he's picking up and moving lots of heavy bags. We tipped him $5 and he seemed happy with that. Jose jumped out because one of our rolling luggages was big and the luggage guy took our stuff away with a smile. We drove to the parking garage and we were early but the garage was getting pretty full. We found a spot conveniently located within view of the elevators after going up a couple of levels and off we went.
The line for us was extremely small. The group in front of us said that it was a long wait before someone came over, but she was there and just about finished with them, and we had no real wait of more than a minute. I think it was the handicapped and/or latitudes line. We were eligible for all of the lines so opted for the shortest. We provided our e-docs and our passports along with a credit card and were given new room cards with our freshly taken pictures on them. For new cruisers, the card is your everything card on the ship. You can use it for all purchases up to your credit limit, including cash advances in the casino and for the different novelty machines on the ship. It's a power which can be easily corrupted. It's very easy on a cruise with a couple of drinks in you to swipe that card for everything. I bring a cash budget for the casino and since I am a casinos at sea member we also get free casino drink cards, which we take full advantage of in order to minimize our expenses and enjoy the benefits losing your money at the casino gets you.
Anyway, we get past the signing in and paying and all that and move along to an area right next to the ship where we will board in groups of people separated into probably 4 groups. Because I had the cane with me, we were called up as one of the first groups to go on the ship. Which was nice that they went around and got us all individually instead of giving us numbers which would make it obvious that the handicapped people were all in one group. We had still arrived to that area a little after 11 and had to wait till about noon to board. I think they had some refeshments set up but less stuff than last year. And we boarded at about 11 last year, this year they made us wait. We found out later that the health inspector was on board, probably just a routine thing that is a necessary part of any kitchen. It could also be that they needed more time to prepare the rooms.
Once we got on, we wanted to eat at Taste as we did last year, along with our friends we'd made on last year's cruise, but they weren't letting us in, and were being very vague about when we'd be able to eat. I was told to come back in 15 minutes and upon our return we were still refused access. So we went up to the buffet. The buffet was simple fare, burgers and dogs and curried chicken were the main dishes upon embarkation. We had no problem getting our soda stickers affixed to our cards before our staterooms were ready and got our souvenir mugs, which I'm drinking my seltzer water out of as I write this.
For us the cruise is about the people and the entertainment, and we had met up with our friends before we boarded. We were in adjacent sections and saw each other so once we boarded we found each other again and went to the buffet after we couldn't get into Taste. So we didn't mind the buffet since we were catching up with our old friends and chatting away. Once the rooms were ready we went up to our midship balcony stateroom number 12177 and went through our "mail" from the ship. We had our casino players cards, free drink cards, letters about reservations we'd made, coctail parties we were invited to, a meet and greet for the Cruise Critic Roll Call my partner had set up and stuff like that. We met our steward and tipped him $20 right away, as an incentive to offer good service. I don't think he'd have been anything but excellent anyway, but he deserved that tip as well as the additional $20 we tipped him near the end of the cruise. His name was Moday, not sure of the spelling and we nicknamed him the ninja. We spent little time in our stateroom and it would always be fixed up when we'd return, so I said he was like a ninja, in and out of the room without being spotted. He did a wonderful job and wasn't deficient in any capacity, offering us whatever we needed and asking us to contact him with any requests we had. I did ask for him to keep up on the ice, but we spent far less time in our room than I'd anticipated so didn't really use the ice. Nonetheless, each time I checked the container there was ice there for us.
The room itself is a typical balcony stateroom, dimensions and such can be found elsewhere on this site. I believe it's 216 sq feet including the balcony, has a couch which can be another place to sleep, 2 twin or one big bed, a flat screen tv more attuned to ship's services than tv watching, though there are a few channels one can watch, and of course the bathroom, shower, sink and a mini fridge chock full of things you can buy. I've read that one can ask them to remove those items so that you can use it, but we were getting both free drinks and pre paid unlimited soft drinks so we didn't really need it. I think I left a couple of yogurts in there so if you're in that room and the yogurts are still in there you shouldn't have to pay for them. The beds are comfortable, though not the same comfort as my memory foam ones at home. The balcony is a nice upgrade, but it's a bit of an upcharge to have that, and not for everybody. Your neighbors can see what you're doing if they care to and some friends we made from the 3/30 epic roll call were telling us tales of woe from smokers and drunks above them using their balcony as an ashtray and drink coaster. We didn't have those problems, and I smoked a mini cigar out there once or twice without issue. We did look around at other balconies to make sure nobody would be upset by the cigar smoke and didn't see anybody when I smoked.
We did a variety of things on the ship during the sea days, and we loved the entertainment. I spend some time in the casino while my partner spent more time at Shakers and spice2o. Starting on night one, we went to the main dining room for dinner and enjoyed the night's special sailaway meal, everyone at the table ordering surf and turf, each of us with an extra lobster tail. I've heard from one cruise critic member that her lobster wasn't as she liked it. I don't know if it's the time we went or if we or her were the exception but for us the lobster was perfectly done and delicious. They were larger than last years twin lobster tails and I ate my partners extra lobster while my friend at her partner's extra lobster too if I remember correctly. It was one of the best meals we had on the ship except for the Moderno nights and perhaps Cagneys.
Some of the cruise critic roll call had decided on "Howl At The Moon" for our first night to hang out together and we had a blast. For some reason I was chosen to go up on stage twice, both times causing a lot of laughs and some embarrassment. The pianists thought my friend was my wife which further caused us all to crack up, since a good portion of us were cruise critic roll callers and we all knew she wasn't. I managed to trip on my way back from the second visit to the stage while trying to moonwalk and that was perhaps one of the funniest moments of the night. I knew just about every song they played and my voice isn't right this week, probably from singing so much on the ship. It was one of the best nights we had on the ship, plenty of drink flowing, many old and new friends surrounding us and good times for all. I was ahead in the casino for the only time I would be this trip, so it was really a nice, fun night.
The next day was a sea day. I don't remember what we ordered or ate for breakfast, but there's certainly nothing to complain about. Room Service breakfasts are cereal, fruit, bready things like croissants and danish, coffee and tea. O'Sheehans has a good wholesome delicious typical egg meal breakfast selection with wonderful corned beef hash and good service, better service than we received last year in there. Buffet breakfasts we didn't have this year but I know from last year that the choices are good including plenty of bacon and an omelette station. I don't know if they had lox this year but last year all the typical lox / bagel choices were offered except maybe caviar.
Lunch usually wasn't a huge issue for us. We tended to stick to O'Sheehans, the Noodle Bar or Sushi with occasional trips to the buffet for a snack or a dessert. Dinners were generally very good but we didn't have any in the buffet. On the first night we had Cagneys and that was nice. We have a lot of steak at home so it was good but not as good as Moderno for us. I had a 3 shrimp coctail and could swear I saw a bunch of 4 shrimp coctails up where they pick them up from. Perhaps one of mine fell and they didn't notice. I didn't complain about it because I fill easily anyway, and the shirmp were of a nice size. I also had the bisque and found it to be a bit more like tomato soup with a bit of lobster stock than a restaurant quality bisque. I've ordered it several times at several places and this was basically a tomato soup base with a little lobster flavor and no chunks of lobster. The steaks were very good as was the rest of the meal. Desserts were usually taken to the room to eat later on the balcony, and were always delicious for us.
Moderno is the Brazilian steakhouse and in our opinion the best restaurant on the ship hands down. We booked it twice, each time very happy, full and more than satisfied with the exceptional service. Each time we left a tip of $10 and had very informative, fun and interesting conversations with the hostess, waiter and I think the maitre'd. Tbey have a most delicious salad bar with seafood ceviche, shrimp, the most wonderful cheese and so many different choices that it's easy to fill up just on salad fixings. Don't do it. Save some room for the meats, the signature meat and all the others which will come around to you during service so long as your card remains green. When you've finally had your fill, flip your card over and the waitress will offer desserts and very gladly accomodate any who want to take it back to their room. I did kind of think the hostess had an air about her of superiority until we spoke with her and realized it's just how she behaves for her job. She was a very nice lady who was more than polite with us. The night of the captains coctail party we had only an hour to eat and they got every meat to our table very quickly to help us make that party, which we'd only found out about upon our arrival to the stateroom. I would eat there tonight if it were near my house, it's so good. And going back again is perhaps the best compliment we can pay.
With the exceptions of the specialty restaurants the overall quality of the types of food seemed to diminish since last year's spring break cruise. It didn't affect us as much as some other cruisers but we did hear multiple reports attesting to this from multiple groups of people we spoke to throughout the week. I hope this improves again as we like NCL and want to continue cruising with them. I don't drink like my partner can and really look forward to the food. So I'd like to visit the buffet more next cruise and see it improved a bit.
The noodle bar and the sushi bar are both a la carte dining establishments which have great food at a reasonable up charge and while there was a wait the night we were going to legends, on several other times/days we were able to individually or together get in with no wait for sushi and never had more than a 4-5 minute wait at noodle bar, that wait being the same night the sushi place was filled up with a wait list.
Legends was a great show and the highlight ((((spoiler alert)))) was a Michael Jackson impersonator. He was the best part of the show by far and there was such a line waiting to get a picture with him after the show that even though I really wanted one I didn't bother to wait. The show lasts about an hour and they will not let you in after it starts. I saw a cruiser out there arguing with a crew member after being denied entry because my weak bladder made me run out for the rest rooms. Speaking of which, the rest rooms are usually very clean and there's a handicapped stall in every single bathroom that has public access on the ship. There are select handicapped accessible staterooms as well, and if you need one I suggest you look into that as the regular ones will be a real challenge for those who use things such as a wheelchair to get around. I use a cane and the regular rooms are fine for those who have some mobility.
the clubs on the ship are one of the biggest entertainment methods, and there is enough variety and different ambience to keep most people happy. I meant to get to the jazz club but didn't make it there. Bliss is the most reminiscent of a true club experience with a bar, dance floor and dj every night I think. During the day other things are held there such as the trivia and other entertainment. There are also several bowling lanes there as well as others in O'Sheehans. So if you like bowling you'll find an empty lane almost any time you seek one. But for me and my back bowling is out. Dancing isn't even though I shouldn't be doing it. A few drinks and a little help from my cane and I'm happy to move to the music a bit. I can't dance as well as most, but I can damn well have just as much fun. And I did. The dj at Bliss is very good, and makes the music and lighting along with the people and the dancing come together to make it the happening place on most nights. It's the after party spot on big Spice2o nights too.
Spic2O on the other hand, is the on deck, take in the outside air, giant screen tv, mass party which you see in the ads and want to be at for at least a couple of nights. There's of course a bar, servers who come around and a giant tv screen along with a huge dance floor, plenty of table/chair setups and everyone who shows up is looking for a drink, a dance or just a good time. You'll find it hard to not enjoy yourself here. I saw people ranging in age from underaged kids trying to enjoy the adults only party to seniors and every age group in between. Everyone has a great time and the mood is a fun, party atmosphere. For us the 80s night was a lot of fun but the White Party, NCL's signature big deal party on the ship was the best. There are good looking men and women wearing angel wings, almost everyone wears white and there's plenty of people who are happy to embrace you while you attempt to dance. Some choose to be more mellow, sitting down at the tables with a small group and trying to chat over the music.
There's a nice Friends of Dorothy meeting scheduled in the early evening, usually at Shakers, which is based on whom is traveling for how good it is. Last cruise we had over a dozen people who always hung out together when we'd find each other at a party, show, etc, but this cruise there were only a few. We did hang out a bit with a few other "friends" but on the White Party night we missed the larger FOD group from the year before. However, I didn't notice anyone from cruisers to crew who treated us any differently because of our orientation. cruisers tend to not be bigoted or against anyone based on things like race or orientation so it really hasn't ever presented as a problem on any of our 3 NCL cruises.
Shakers is the upscale bar where my partner enjoyed spending his evenings while I was downstairs chasing my losses in the casino. Once again the bartenders are exceptional and remembered my name from the first time I visited. We met a wonderful couple and their son who were from virginia and invited us to visit them at one of their homes. Jose talked with them more than I did but I liked them as much as he did and they were very friendly, nice people.
Speaking of people, we spent a good deal of time with a few different groups from the Cruise Critic Roll Call. I had brought some cigars with me and passed a few out at the meet and greet, which I'll talk about next. I intended on meeting up with some of the people I gave a cigar to but we only ran into them a few times throughout the week while headed off to something else. We did share a couple of meals and 2 full day excursions with our old friends. Along with them another couple from the roll call had booked the same excursions and we found them to be quite enjoyable company as well. We shared some meals and went to legends with them as well. One of the cruise critic people ran into us in Nassau and while we were looking at stuff in a store started handing Jose things off the shelf as if he worked there. It was one of the funnier moments I recall from the trip. There was another group, a woman, he son and mom with whom we spent some time as well and they were also a lot of fun. Many of the people I ran into in the casino were also at other events and even though I lost my money there, the casino provided a lot of entertainment and even a comped dinner for us including a bottle of wine after I lost enough money to earn it. The staff in the casino were tipped on every free drink we ordered, and the dealers tipped a good amount too. The pit bosses or hosts were all very friendly as were the dealers and the servers. Gusti and Joseph were my best servers, both being very attentive to me. All of the dealers were helpful, kind and courteous. When I found out that two dealers, Charita and Jason were engaged but call themselves married I made a mental note to mention them here. Verna was one of the more entertaining dealers as well with a funny response to every line I could come up with. I liked them all and they made it a little less painless when I gave them my money.
When we stopped in St. Maarten we did, for the second year in a row, The Souliga Destinations Captain Bob snorkeling and lunch excursion. It's an all day excursion which we did last year as well. This year the water was choppy causing Captain Bob to cancel the small boat and tell us that if we felt it was too rough he'd bring us right back. I have no doubt had we opted to return we'd have received refunds. Because the water was so choppy we missed out on the stop where the turtles and sea rays congregate, but we had a delicious lunch on an island with a beach, time on the beach, snorkeling, and a trip to visit the little airport you can find on youtube where people get blown away by the jet engines. Even though the excursion wasn't as much stuff as the year before it was still a lot of fun and a much larger experience than the pricier St John champagne and snorkeling excursion we did the next day in St. Thomas. We will definitely book Captain Bob again. He takes us around the island through the water and told us the history, who was in some of the homes and yachts, what was french and what was dutch as well as keeping an eye on us and making sure we had a great time. He turned the boat into a 6 flags ride on the choppy water, making up for the stop we didn't make with a fun boat/flight around the island. We were too tired to do any more than stop and have a guavaberry rum drink on the way back at a little shack near the dock.
In St. Thomas we did the other excursion, which lasted a shorter time, was through the NCL site and was still a lot of fun, just not as much stuff as Captain Bob gave us and for a bit more money. We were herded onto those open air buses and onto one of 2 or 3 pontoon boats where one may stay under shade or out in the sun. I was super fortunate. I'm friendly and offered some ginger candies to a family with a seasick prone child that forgot their seasickness medication on the ship. So when we got on the pontoon, they saved me space in the shade while my friends were out on the deck getting sun. So I had a shade and a sun spot to sit which was nice. They served rum punch, soft drinks, cheese and bread on the boat, brought us to a nice little beach on St. John where we could snorkel or swim to the beach. We had about an hour or so to snorkel, take in the sun on the beach or stay on the boat. We had our old friends and one of our new couple friends on both excursions, so we were super lucky to have had such a nice group with us. We all hung out together on both excursions, each of which was a bit of a bonding experience and the new friends will now be old friends soon whom we will hope to see again on one of our next cruises. The older friends we've hung out with on a previous cruise and also at another get together for a food festival at Epcot so we were very happy to again spend time with them. The crew on the St. John excursion was helpful, funny, and courteous. Both excursions seek a tip at the end. We tipped more to Captain Bob, but tipped at both excursions. Tipping isn't mandatory, but these people go out of their way to look out for your safety and to ensure you have a good time. They support themselves and their families on those tips, so I felt it was the least we could do. Garen on the St John excursion was a great crew member who made sure we were all safe and insisted that I give my athsma pump to the captain in case I had an attack while snorkeling. You're supposed to tell them and if you don't and have an issue, there's nobody who will know except those you're with. I got lost in both snorkeling trips watching the fish and even saw a ray both times, so lost in my own world that I didn't really hang with anyone while in the water. I have videos which i'll probably link to on the roll call for this sailing once I get them sorted out.
The NCL Epic is beginning to show her age. One can smell the spilled drinks throughout the ship and that wasn't evident last year. The service is still great but the food has diminished in quality at most of the free dining places. We had a great steward and a wonderful experience with all of the crew we interacted with, but she is beginning to show her age a bit in the rooms, in the public areas and indeed all over the ship. It's still a lot of fun but I'm glad there's a couple of new NCL ships out this year and we've already booked the getaway. I think our oldest cruising friends (in meeting time not age) are also cruising with us on the getaway so we will be happy to see them again on the getaway. I'd still sail the Epic again, but probably on a shorter cruise, maybe a 3 or 4 day.
All in all we were treated very well everywhere we went. Only one jewelry store in Nassau had an employee who was rude to us after we were indecisive and said we'd think about it and be back later. We were going to go back but he shot daggers at us when we didn't buy from him immediately and that turned us off so we decided since the prices were higher than we could pay in the US we would just skip it. The souvenir shops all had kind courteous people. We bought a coconut from a guy selling them out of his trunk and who gave us rum to put in them. A drunk guy behind us decided to lay on the street drunk, so we moved on quickly after getting our coconuts and rum. We bought our souvenirs in Nassau but the alcohol was more expensive than on the ship and the patron was more money than we pay near our home so we only took home the comp bottle of wine we received on the last night of sailing as part of our silver latitudes benefits.
The people made this trip for us. We can do most of these things in South Florida where we live. We cruise to have fun and to meet people. We were not disappointed and were lucky to have made so many new friend and spend a good deal oftime with some of them. Our old friends were wonderful to see again and we'd have liked to do more with them but we tended to stay up later than they did which affected things. Still we had a couple of meals, a couple of excursions and some entertainment with them so we did spend a good deal of time hanging out with them as well. We can't do everything with everyone and wound up spending much of our time with a few sets of people whom we shared interests with. Some old friends, some new friends, many friends from cruise critic, some wonderful staff/crew/ship members all who treated us like royalty. That's what makes me come back time after time to cruising. There's nothing that can make up for meeting people, hearing their stories, telling them yours and just sharing some really good times together worried about nothing consequential. Yes the views and the stops are great too, but without the people we met, will meet and are fortunate enough to share experiences with, we'd not have had such a good time. So here's to everyone with whom we shared an experience with on the trip, we won't forget you. Some of you we will see again, others we will hope to see again and those whom we don't we will always remember for the fun we shared together. Because indeed the best part of any cruise is the company you are priveleged to keep.