For our 25th anniversary we went on our first-ever cruise. Overall, we had a fantastic time. We flew to Miami a few days before embarkation, which helped us have a relaxing start to our adventure rather than rushing to get from the airport to the port. One tip: we rented a car from Alamo, which included a free shuttle from the airport to the cruise terminal. Alamo upgraded us plus ended up giving us a discount when we went to pay when we returned the car. Their shuttle was quick and reliable, and we met our first "cruise friends" on the shuttle on the way to our ship! We stayed the first night at a Days Inn near the airport. It was cheap, but definitely on the lower side of the quality scale. We're pretty simple folk, so that was okay with us, but I didn't want to stay there again on our way home. We spent our second night in Key Largo - amazing! Loved Key Largo. Our final night we wanted to be sure we were back on the mainland to minimize any delays in getting to the ship on time, so we stayed at another (better yet even cheaper) Days Inn in Homestead.
We booked an outside ocean view cabin. We expected a porthole - the little 12-inch kind. What we got was a beautiful 3-foot diameter window. The cabin was small, but we expected that. It's not like we spent a great deal of time there. The bathroom is basically like one in a camper trailer. That was a bit small. Next time I think we'll see what the price difference is to move up to a suite with a larger bathroom. Everything was great in our cabin, and our stewardess was fabulous.
Overall the ship was lovely. Friends who had cruised before advised us to book a longer cruise on a ship with less amenities, in keeping with our budget, instead of booking on the Epic for a shorter cruise. They said that since we'd never been on a cruise, we'd be in awe of the ship even if it wasn't "top of the line," and they were absolutely right. We were delighted with the ship and enjoyed exploring all it had to offer. There were way more activities than we could participate in. In the end, we mostly spent our evenings relaxing in one of the many lounges, playing cards and listening to the amazing music. (Yeah, I know that sounds lame, but hey, it's what we enjoyed doing! That's the joy of cruising - you can do as much or as little as you like.) We did enjoy some of the shows onboard. We didn't care for their Broadway-style shows put on by their own singing/dancing group. They definitely weren't Broadway quality. We did like a couple of the singers, and the cruise director's magic show was very good. Our favorite entertainers were off the main stage - a singing duo that performed in several of the lounges over the course of the cruise.
We visited five ports - St. Thomas, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Maarten. We went ashore in all of them. We booked excursions through NCL in Dominica and Barbados. In the others, we explored on our own. Dominica was our favorite port. It is less developed than the other ports, and we loved that. We were the only cruise ship in town. We visited Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Falls, along with a driving tour around the island. It was definitely worth it to take the tour, as the price included transportation and the entrance fees to the falls. I don't think we could have arranged our own "tour" to those places for any less.
Our most surprising excursion was in Barbados. We didn't know there was a Concorde airplane on display there until we read the excursion brochure. The tour of the Concorde included being able to go on the plane and sit in the seats, and view the cockpit. Photos were encouraged. As we traveled to and from the Concorde, we got quite the commentary from our bus driver, and we stopped at a "rum shack" out in the country somewhere (be aware that the amount of alcohol in the free rum punch is likely not regulated by the government like it is in the U.S. & Canada! I was dizzy for three hours!).
The dining was the one thing we were actually a little bit disappointed in. We were intentionally trying to keep our costs down on this vacation, which is one of the reasons we chose a cruise, where (almost) everything is included once you've paid for your holiday. We therefore chose to eat in the complimentary restaurants for all but one meal (our anniversary dinner, which we booked in the East Meets West Steakhouse). After a while, the food in all of the complimentary restaurants became repetitive. We never came across something that actually tasted bad; it was just that we exhausted most of the options we liked by the seventh or eighth evening. I also found the desserts disappointing. They were mostly dry. I think they needed to cook with more butter.
Freestyle cruising was one of the main reasons we chose Norwegian. We very much enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, the casual attire, and the freedom to eat at whatever time we wanted. We often chose to have "company" for dinner and ended up being seated with some great people and having stimulating conversations. There were two "dress up or not" nights on board. We hadn't brought any really dressy clothes; I think next time we would. I felt perfectly comfortable dressed in capris while others were wearing evening gowns, but dressing up looked like a lot of fun! It was nice to have the choice, though.
We carried our own luggage off at disembarkation, so we were able to sleep in just a little, enjoy a nice breakfast, and leisurely leave mid-morning. If you're able to do that, I'd recommend it. Very low stress, and no waiting around on or off the ship for your call time or luggage.
The one thing that consistently made our cruise fabulous was the service. The crew on the ship were superb. The highest officers on the ship were often wandering around the ship, engaging guests in conversation. The staff were smiling and friendly and helpful to us, but I also noticed that they all seemed to enjoy each other's company and get along well with their co-workers. In their conversations they spoke well of each other and about each other. They seemed genuinely happy in their jobs, and their joy spilled over into the way they treated us as guests.
We would absolutely do this same cruise again, and we also look forward to checking out other cruising options in the future.