Being that this was my first Norwegian cruise, I wasn't sure what to expect. We embarked from Miami on the first Caribbean sailing. I have sailed on two RCI and two Princess ships so this was a new adventure for me. First of all, I believe there are pros and cons to every cruise line and you have to find a line that suits your needs. I was traveling with my 13 year old niece so I selected Epic because of the fun atmosphere.
Embarkation: We arrived at the Miami airport around 10:30 a.m. on the day of the cruise, obtained our luggage, and took a taxi to the seaport. The taxis were readily available and it is a flat rate of $24 from the airport to the seaport. This price is posted on the window of the cab. It took us about 10-15 minutes to arrive at the seaport. Once there, there were several porters available who handled our luggage. They do ask for a tip. We were directed to the correct terminal and quickly moved through the embarkation process. There were several NCL associates helping you through this process. I would estimate it took a total of about 30 minutes until we were on the ship.
First Impressions: As we walked on the ship, we were directed to the "Garden Cafe" for a bite to eat. This was your standard buffet. We were told that our rooms were not going to ready until 2:00 p.m. (we were on board about 11:45 a.m.) so we decided to explore the ship. NCL employees were selling soda packages on deck 15 near the pool so I purchased 1 adult and 1 child package. The adult cost is $50 and the child cost is $32 so it was $82 for the both of us. We were given an insulated soda cup with the package. Pricey but I expected it. The ship is very modern and contemporary. This is a great time to take pictures since most passengers were not on the ship yet. I loved the look of the atrium. Even though it wasn't quite 2:00, we decided to go to our stateroom and put our valuables in the safe and set down our carry on bags. Our room wasn't ready so we went to the pool deck and enjoyed the party scene with other guests. We stayed on that deck for the "sail away" party and waved to city of Miami. We went to our cabin and our luggage was placed inside our room.
Stateroom: We stayed in a deluxe balcony room(9243)and like other reviewers have mentioned, the staterooms are definitely more narrow than other cruise lines I have been on and yes, the bathroom set up took a little while to get used to but these aren't deal breakers. By the way, the shower is the largest shower I have ever seen on a ship! The balcony was a little smaller than I expected but again, not a deal breaker. Our cabin steward, Mark, was very nice but he was a newer employee of NCL and quite often would forget to do something. (examples- empty the trashcan, leave the appropriate towels, sweep the carpet etc.) I expected better service.
Entertainment: I would have to say that this ship had fabulous entertainment options. Note- I did book everything prior to our cruise and am glad I did because many venues were sold out on the first day and there was a HUGE line to purchase tickets. Who wants to deal with that? We loved the Blue Man Group! It was a very fun show and included a lot of audience participation. We also enjoyed the Cirque Dreams and Dinner show although I paid for premium seats ($20 each) and we were seated towards the back so at times it was difficult to see. I really did not care for the set menu but we were there to see the show so it wasn't too big of a deal. I did go to the guest services desk on deck 5 after the show to register a complaint about our seats and the NCL employee asked me a few questions about where we were seated and he said that anywhere on the first floor was premium seating which is NOT true because we were seated at a table for 10 and I asked a couple of the people we were seated with and they indicated they purchased regular seats. After I offered this information to the service rep, he called the box office and they did refund me the entire amount $40 for the show. I was pleasantly surprised because I assumed they were going to just refund me the difference between the regular and premium seats which would have been $10. I did find out that if you purchase premium seats, you should be seated in the first or second row. We also enjoyed the Legends in concert show and the Second City comedy act but not as much as the other two. The atrium was usually a busy area with a floor to ceiling screen that showed sporting events, movies etc. While we were on our cruise, it got very lively when the world cup was aired. At other times, it was quiet where you could read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee and pastry, or just talk. By the way, the coffee bar located in this area is complimentary for regular coffee and light snacks. Of course you can also purchase speciality coffee drinks.
Pool Deck: I know there has been a lot of talk about the pools not being large enough but honestly, so many guests were utilizing the 3 slides that I don't think it was a problem at all. What I DID NOT like and I have not seen it mentioned on here is that the pools were salt water and quite warm. Yuck! I didn't find them refreshing at all. I did note that the slides and the toddler area did NOT have salt water so when I needed to cool off, I walked to the kid area and was sprayed with fresh chlorinated water. We always found a chair but if you want one that is out of the sun, get there early because those are not as plentiful. Also, be careful when walking on the deck as it is very slippery and I witnessed several people slip. I didn't go to the adult pool, Spice H20, but other gusets told me that was salt water also.
Food/Drinks: We loved the Ice Bar! Make sure you make a reservation and wear SOCKS!! It is $20 per person which includes 2 vodka drinks. They also have 2 non-alcoholic drinks available. They let about 25 people in at one time and you are wearing gloves and a fur trimmed parka. It is very fun and COLD. They keep it at about 17 degrees. You are in the bar for about 30-40 minutes which plenty of time. I am not a big fan of buffets but I was very impressed with the "Garden Cafe." They had many options and I thought that most of the food was very good. They had just about anything that you wanted. I loved the warm pecan rolls they had at breakfast. My niece loved the ice cream that was available from about 11:00am-11:00 p.m. They had 2 soft serve machines as well as 2 areas where you could get hard ice cream. I enjoyed the pasta station where the cook would personalize your sauce and cook it in front of you. Cagney's Steakhouse- I was disappointed! I paid $50 for the two of us and I thought that the steak was better than the Manhattan Room or Taste but not great. I had much tastier steak and sides at the steakhouse on RCI. The Manhattan Room and Taste are restaurants that you do not have to pay for and they have the exact same menu. The difference is that you are NOT allowed to wear shorts, flip flops, non-collared shirts in the Manhattan Room but you can in the Taste restaurant. Both are ok but nothing to write home about. We also visited O'Sheehans, a pub that is open 24 hours. They have a limited menu with a handful of appetizers, sandwiches, salads etc. We liked this informal type of restaurant. I was a little skeptical of freestyle dining since I have never experienced it before but I really prefer it. I liked that we could eat dinner when we were hungry and not at a set time. You could usually get into the pay restaurants if you walked to them and asked them if they had availability however if you called the reservation line, they would indicate that they restaurants were full.
Excursions: Nassau- We decided to book the Blue Lagoon Beach Break and if you're looking for a relaxing day at a beautiful lagoon, this is for you. The cost is $60 for an adult and $40 for a child. This includes a 30 minute catamaran ride to the island, a lunch pass (sandwich, chips, piece of fruit, and drink), use of a noodle, raft, or tube and your catamaran ride back to the ship. There is also a bar and gift shop/snack store. Note- the snacks are a little expensive. Lockers are available for $10 which might not be a bad idea since there will be other cruise ship guests there as well as guests from hotels. You can also rent the big water bikes, trampolines etc.
Disembarkation: This was a very easy and fast process. We had orange tags which indicated that we should leave the ship around 8:15 a.m. and they were on time. We walked off the ship, our luggage was neatly organized, we picked it up, walked through customs, and there were taxis waiting for us. Again, $24 flat rate from the seaport to the airport. We arrived at the Miami airport by 8:50 a.m.
Overall, this was a fun cruise with a lot of excitement going on. Yes, I would sail with Norwegian again but I now know that NCL is not as service oriented as RCI. There are advantages and disadvantages with every cruise line and I also realize that NCL was still working out the kinks on this new ship.