On March 23rd we set off from Miami for our first family cruise. Our kids (20 & 17) were very excited. We are a family who loves to be near, on, in and around water in any capacity, so we thought cruising would be a neat thing to try all together. Our rooms were perfect. I know many complain about the EPIC's rooms or shape or bathrooms etc, but really...unless you are an overindulged, spoiled brat, the rooms are excellent and have enough storage to lose things and enough room to maneuver. We were lucky enough to have a mini balcony suite and our kids had a balcony suite as well (speaking of spoiled). I feel privileged to have had the opportunity. I love nothing more than waking up to the sound of water and seeing the bluest of water, rushing by. The kids were blown away when they first walked not their room. The first of a zillion firsts on this trip and we enjoyed watching them absorb every second.
The pools on the EPIC are a little disappointing. They are much too small and littered with children all day. The one adult pool is even smaller (like an oversized jacuzzi) and littered with adults all day. So, we indulged in the evenings when no one else really was. During the day, we never had an issue finding our spot on deck. We chose the upper deck as there is really nowhere else to see view. The garden cafe even has scuffed plastic glass you have to look through to see the views. So the upper deck was best. It would get mighty hot, so cooling off with water was a tough battle. They have showers to go into to wash off, but they only have hot water. That made no sense to us. If cooling off choices are the cesspool of kidlettes or the, I must say, awesome water slides (but long line-ups), then, why not make the showers have cool water? We would dip into the kiddy, play area and dunk under the big mushroom waterfall to cool off. Ces la vies..It was what it was and we were still so happy to be there.
Food on the EPIC was fantastic, so many restaurants to choose from. It's a wonder we didn't just roll off the ship. We did find that at the restaurants, the staff were abundant, so much that it seemed like we could never catch a break to continue a conversation. They were either constantly checking on us, bringing something, or doing something. And if they weren't, they were watching us like hawks to see if/when we would need anything. Someone was always interrupting. It's their job, and they did that well. The staff were so friendly and offered suggestions and places to see at the ports. That was very helpful.
All in all, it is a massive beautiful boat. What I would prefer: is more outdoor seating areas to eat and actually see the views (NOT through scuffy plexi ). Even the Tranquility deck with amazing seating and lounge beds and chairs, the view was only through scuffed up glass or was it plastic. To see the water with our own eyes, we had to stand. I'm all about views, as you can tell.
One thing I did notice and kind of broke my heart, because I enjoy cruising so much....is the massive amounts of garbage that flies off the ship and into the water. It is obvious they try to control this. but here is no controlling the thoughtless human who doesn't seem to care. It's windy on the upper decks. Don't let your garbage blow away..SERIOUSLY!!! How senseless can you be? We watched people simply watch their garbage blow off the ship and without a blink, turn their heads or shrug their shoulders. I wanted to strangle them. One night we enjoyed some rougher water and a wee storm. We strolled up to the upper deck (after all the chairs had been tucked away for the night) to watch the lightening show in the horizon. Passengers left so much garbage and staff was trying to gather it all as best they could. I watched as big gusts of wind would pick up plastic bags and cups, before staff could get to them and off they went into the sea. Sickening. At that moment, A realization came over me... given the amount of cruise ships on these waters, just how much pollution they cause. I would pay more to use biodegradable cups and utensils. There has to something that can be done. You can't teach a thoughtless human to be aware. So what are the alternative ideas?
It was still a trip of a lifetime. I feel honoured to have taken my children to see what they saw and I wave fantastic photos to prove it. We have never tried another ship. This was my 3rd. They were my first. If I strayed, I almost feel like I would be cheating on them. I love the freestyle concept. I can't imagine any other way!!!
We originally had booked a catamaran Snorkel tour, however the tour was cancelled due to rough weather. They let us know via a message to our ship room as well as on the port. Unfortunately, we had departed the ship early to get some time on a beach that one of our servers had suggested (so glad he did...go to Iguana Beach, #4, last one via $5 bus, $15 massages on the beach, cheep beer, great food no ridiculous prices like the Costa Maya port resort). We were enjoying the beach so much,, but had to eventually leave to catch our tour we did not yet know was cancelled. When we arrived back to the Costa Maya port, we found out about the cancellation. We then decided to cop-a-squat on the rocky beach area and watch the poor tortured dolphins in their unfair cement cage (someone someday should do something humane about that and educate the people who take poor care of them). Anyway...I had sustained an injury (to myself...like a fool) and needed ice. We decided to grab a bite and a bag of ice from Senior frogs or one of the highly over-priced, tourist gauging restaurants at the port resort. The 4 of us shared a plate of nachos (approx $30.00) and i had one tiny frozen by machine, margarita on a plastic glass ($17.00). Even drinks at the pool bars were 3 times the price of anywhere else even the ship. What astounded me is that people were paying it! If they can charge $10 for a bucket of beer at the beech we cabbed to and offer free tequila sample shots, and wonderful food at a reasonable rate, why is anyone bothering with being financially raped by the port resort. DON'T do it! Take a cab and see the island, meet the people, give them your money. You can see they are trying to make a go of it on Costa Maya, it has potential. Either way, the people were friendly and the outer beeches were wonderful...Skip the port for pool, drinks and food. Some stores were ok. What is it about ports of call that think selling the same, exact thing in every store, is a good idea? How many tacky shot glasses does one person buy...in every store? We want some sense of authenticity, PLEASE! Are tourists really that daft?
Norwegian was extremely helpful in helping us change our excursion, since the day before's was cancelled. They refunded our money and helped us re-book and re-jig our day in Cozumel. We enjoyed some time walking the stores and restaurants in the morning. Much better shopping in Cozumel (but they still sell the same stuff, store after store after store). We did stumble across some unique, authentic (i think) delicious stores with beautiful art and clothing. The people were great, although you could see the wear'n tear and frustration for unfriendly/gracious tourists. We were witness to some very pushy and rude tourists ourselves. I felt for the people at each port. Anyway....we had fantastic walks and then awesome drinks at a cafe ("Cougars" I believe, great waiter!). We then set off to catch our catamaran for some snorkelling fun with our kids. Neither of them had ever snorkelled before, so we were excited to show them beautiful fish and reef or coral or some semblance of nature? Unfortunately, they took us along side land for quite owe time. We never went "out" far and we could pretty much see our cruise ship the whole time. At our "dive" spot, they basically said "here's your gear", no training really, just rules. "Oh well" we thought. we're here, lets make the best of it and it's a first time for our kids. We jumped in with the other 200 people and the other 4 boats with the same amount of people. We noticed we were maybe 200-300 feet away from a bar and it's patio. We were not allowed to venture very far from our boat at all and ALL the coral and reef was dead. There was really only one kind of fish and they are there for whatever it is the guides feed them to entertain us. Sad and un-environmentally sound for sure! We didn't want o dampen the kids experience with what we really knew was going on, so we enjoyed their faces and watched them dive for the fake things that humans put on the ocean floor (so that there was at least something to see and fish to hide in). If you have any sense of true snorkelling and an appreciation for underwater nature...don't do this tour. We again, made the best of it and enjoyed the crew and their dancing and free drinks on the boat and the views as we sailed past resorts and bars along the port. They also took us to a private beach where there were floating slides and obstacles and sea-doo's to rent. Our kids couldn't wait to get out there. Our son rented a Sea Doo and we played a bit int he very dirty, bad smelling water. Turning again that blind eye, we made the best of it. (Still worthy of noting however). There is potential for change, I don't know about their knowledge or infrastructure to make it happen though. It would be nice to see.
We enjoyed the Chukka ATV tour throughout a sugarcane farm. Our guides were thorough, funny and took great care of us. The tour ended with a little cliff jumping on a picturesque location on their land. I would love to back and visit them again some day.
Our ride to the excursion was at first entertaining. Our driver Cheap Charley was kind and made us laugh. His van could not keep up with normal traffic speeds, so we lost some time and he was quite abrupt and angry with "us" that we were not finished when he arrived to pick us up. He insisted that he had to go as he had another tour to pick up, however, when he did drop us off...he told us he had to by law, take us back to the shit first, then he could take us to where the shops were. We all said we would walk to the shops and he would not let us out at the port. Instead, he turned the van around and was trying to take us to some shopping area where he had friends (for good deals). We insisted he let us out, and he then followed us, yelling that he had the places we should go. It was getting uncomfortable and he was pushy. What happened to that "group" he was in such a hurry to pick up? we couldn't seem to shake him. Fun at first, serious anger and attitude at the end. Don't go with Cheep Charlie. But DO go on the ATV tour. It's safe, fun and beautiful. You will love the Chukka guys. Definite sweethearts! Side tip...if we had purchased ourselves from the port, we would have saved a lot of money. The excursions are much more expensive booking with the ship. I wouldn't do that again.