A little bit of background on us to start with. We are a family of 5 experienced cruisers. This was our 15th cruise on NCL. (First as Plats, 25th cruise overall) Mom (29 again..), Dad (51), 3 "kids" 19, 17, 17. Our kids were born to cruise as they were all souvenirs of previous cruises. The oldest was a souvenir of a cruise on the NCL Seaward. As a precaution, we actually stopped sailing Royal Caribbean for a period of time after we came home from a cruise on the Majesty of the Seas preggers with twins......
Pre cruise/arrival We flew in to Miami from Detroit on the morning of Friday the 13th via Delta airlines. Great weather, smooth flight and all our bags arrived!! We grabbed a taxi/van at the airport that held all 5 of us, our 7 bags and multiple carry-ons. Fare was $24 plus tip to the Intercontinental Hotel. We have stayed at this hotel before and love it.
The Intercontinental Hotel is located overlooking Biscayne Bay. Very convenient location that is close to the Bayside Shopping Mall. ~10 minute stroll to get there. The hotel has a pool and bar area with a great view of the cruise docks. The drinks and snacks are pricey but not out of line for South Beach. In retrospect, the hotel pool area reminded me of Posh but with a pool. We got the 2 rooms for ~$96 each including tax through Lastminutetravel.com about a week before we left. There is a thread entitled "hotel in Miami" about this resource in the Everything Epic board on Cruise Critic. Check in time is 4pm and we languished in the huge comfortable lobby for a while waiting for our rooms to be ready.
After we got settled in our rooms we grabbed a cab over to South Beach and were dropped off on Ocean Boulevard. After a brief tour of the beach we retreated to a sidewalk cafe to have some apps and drinks before dinner. Did I mention it was blazing hot? Full sun, mid-nineties, humid, low breeze. We had dinner outdoors overlooking the strolling sidewalk carnival that is Ocean Blvd at one of my favorite restaurants, A Fish Called Avalon. (4 stars, and pricey) I wanted the family to try it as they had never been there before. I was nervous as they are very picky eaters, but it was a huge hit. They have an extensive menu and the food was very good. Terrific seafood. After dinner we retired early as we were all exhausted and wanted to be well rested for our Epic assault on Saturday!
Embarkation We awoke at 930am Saturday the 14th and got busy packing up and checking out. We grabbed a couple cabs at 1045am for our trip to the port which was quick and easy. The arriving cab and van melee was just starting to pick up at the cruise terminal and it took a couple minutes to weave our way through from terminal B to C where we were to embark. We dropped our bags 2 feet from the steel wire cages that are fork-lifted on to the ship and then endured the typical verbal strong arming from the stevedores for tips which has always been a disappointment for us when embarking in Miami. They can be rather rude and ugly in their quest, especially to the elderly and uninformed. It just feels weird to leave your bags there unattended. I always wait around until I see them physically put in a cage.
We jumped in line to enter the terminal, flashed our boarding docs and passports, passed through security and headed to check in where we were intercepted by an agent looking for suite, villa and latitude passengers. We had an aft Penthouse Suite and a connecting aft BA on deck 10 so she took us to a private office on the left as you go down the hall to the main check in area.
This was not a big room, more like an office with two desks and seating for about 15. We grabbed some chairs and waited a few minutes (5) for our turn to be checked in, credit carded and photo'd. We were then led directly across the hall to a holding room where we sat for 10 minutes until we were escorted upstairs to the suite and villa passengers holding area. It was about 1140am.
Upstairs we met Anshuman and some of the concierge staff. After waiting a couple of minutes Anshuman escorted us aboard on the forward boarding gangway and we were then elevated to the 16th floor where we entered the glorious Courtyard area. There we met Maria and some other assts at the Concierge desk and then were led through the Epic Grill to the Epic Club where we had a nice relaxing lunch while avoiding the boarding day chaos that is typical of the dining experience in the buffet which was directly below us. The food and service were delicious and cheerful. We knew we would be back many times.
While we ate lunch we picked up a couple pop stickers for the kids at the Epic Club bar which is in the concierge lounge area of the Epic Club. This is an elegant space aft and starboard of the Epic Club dining room on deck 16 forward with very unique seating and bodacious decorations. There is also a baby grand piano in this area that was being tuned. It is located directly across from the elevator access from that space to Posh on Deck 18 or down to the pool deck on 15.
After lunch, we slipped out the back door of the concierge lounge which leads to the forward starboard elevator tower to go find a space on pool deck to camp out and hit the slides.
Here is a link to our photos from South beach the hotel, embarkation and the Epic Club and courtyard:
Cabins We booked Penthouse Suite 10326 and the connecting BA 10324 aft on the first day that Epic bookings were made available to Latitudes members. I thought that the Penthouse was a remarkable deal and underpriced so I snapped it up. That was the best cruise deal I have made in a while as the pricing on these went up very quickly and they sold out fast.
The aft facing location for cabins is our favorite for many reasons - 180 degree views, sheltered, no wind, quiet at the end of the halls, no traffic and with the balcony doors open the white noise of the wash is very soothing. Yeah, it was a bit of a walk to the Courtyard all the way forward, but how else were we going to get our exercise?
There are plastic doors that can be opened between balconies but we did not use them on this trip as we had a connecting room and there seemed to be reticence on the part of room stewards in our area to open them unless were in port. I always cruise with a small amount of ductape to keep the balcony connecting doors from flopping around.
Here are links to the photo and video tours that I made for each cabin: Penthouse Suite Aft 10326 http://travel.webshots.com/album/578442776boeQLo BA Aft Connecting 10324 http://travel.webshots.com/album/578445963TyfbAA
Penthouse Suite aft 10326 Mom and I slept in the Penthouse suite which was very nice. Much smaller than others we have had, but plenty of room for 2 and tons of storage space. If you wanted to order dinner in to your suite you would find that difficult to do as there really is no furniture to accommodate it, unless you want to use the bed as a table. The balcony is large, but again there is no table that would allow a comfortable dining experience. For us this was not a problem as our family of 5 dined in a different dining venue every night, hit the Epic Club and Grill regularly and filled in with O'Sheehan's and the buffet as needed.
The chairs and low glass table that were in the suite always seemed to be filled with flowers, fruit, bags etc.
The suite had lots of lights and controls, a fancy coffee machine that we did not use, a dvd player (remember to bring some dvds), a big flat screen TV with limited programming and no free movies. I am 6ft 4 and I fit comfortably on the round bed to my surprise. The bed was not very comfy and kinda hard, but I was always so tired by bedtime it really did not matter.
There are a few problems in this suite. The curtains did not fit tightly to the edges of the areas they were to provide cover for. The solution was easy for us as the girls just locked the connecting room door until they were ready. There is a design flaw in the shower/ tub as the tub has an elevated ridge around the top edge that is surrounded by a lower counter type area. The problem is there is nowhere for water that accumulates in the counter area of the tub/shower to drain so the attendants leave extra towels to sop up the excess. In addition, stepping out of the tub/shower is clumsy and needs to be better supported with a step and/or rails. The other problem is the sensored light in the bathroom. Not a real problem during the day, but at night it is very annoying as it is very sensitive and turns on and off as you sit there trying not to awake your cabin mate in the middle of the night. I solved it with a well placed band-aid over the sensor that limited the view. The vessel sink, while small, is not an issue unless you are incapable of mastering water flow rates. All in all, pretty minor issues.
BA aft 10324 Our 3 kids slept in this cabin. My plan worked well, the girls used the suite for showering, changing, storage and bathroom needs, the boys used the BA.
The BA was a standard balcony cabin, and yes it was smaller than others that we have had on NCL. Plenty of storage and we got 4 good sized suitcases under the bed. The separate lights for the shower and bathroom were non sensored so no issues there. Yeah the shower and bathroom arrangement was different but we really had no issues other than strategically placing towels and bathmats when available on the floor to catch the splashes when toweling dry. The shower was plenty large, good pressure and a wide range of temps were always available. We always travel with a multi tap and extension cords etc to allow for more than the 1 or 2 electrical outlets that are in the cabins. These were valuable on the Epic as well. My son pointed out that the couch for the third person to sleep on was hard and uncomfortable.
Butler/Cabin stewards Our Butler came by to introduce himself shortly after we got to our room. He explained his services and that he was dedicated to the aft suites. We never used his services as we were hardly ever in our cabins except for the 4 S's. (Sleeping, showering, XXXXXing and #2ing, not necessarily in that order)
We only met our cabin steward once as he never introduced himself. We finally met him on Wednesday when we went looking for him to get laundry bags for the laundry bag special that they offer as they no longer leave the bags and notice on your bed. They now put a notice in the daily and hide a couple bags in your cabin. We are at the Platinum level in Latitudes so my spouse and I each received 1 free bag. A wonderful benefit as all your dirties come back clean and folded or on hangers ready to pack or re use. If you get this benefit, or a discounted benefit at another level, remember to check your room charges the day before you disembark to make sure they do not charge you. Both times we have used this they have screwed up and charged us even though we wrote all the necessary notices on the bags and laundry slips. It was easily rectified but required an unnecessary trip to the reception desk. (Although I always drop by reception once or twice to get printouts to allow me to review our charges in advance of checkout)
Our rooms were clean and well supplied although we ran short of towels and bathmats at times so we used the beach towels instead. The steward always swapped out the old beach towels for new, even on port days which saved us a trip to pool deck.
We always changed the indicator as we left our cabins to read "make up the room" and when we returned they were always magically transformed. (I was gonna steal one of those room signs and make up the cabin indicators to take home but my wife pointed out that the magic only worked on the ship........)
Saturday and our 8 hour round trip cruise to Miami We spent Saturday after lunch hitting the pool deck and slides. Everyone carried on or wore their suits because we expected that the shortest lines of the week for the slides would be early Saturday and we were correct. (Actually the slowest day was in Nassau when everyone was ashore) We had a great time, and I was able to capture some great shots and videos of the kids and Mom on the Epic plunge.
A little after 2pm I snuck down to our cabins and took photo and video tours of them before the rooms got cluttered. I had my youngest daughter help me by opening all the closets and cupboards. She of course thought I was nuts for doing this. See the links to the photos below under the cabin descriptions.
At 230pm we went to our cabin to change for the 3pm "Mustard "drill. We were happy to find our bags had been delivered. (Priority delivery tags for suites) It was strange as there were very few announcements over the PA and no demonstrations of the correct way to put on a life vest. The drill was quick and easy, no vests and then we were free of obligation for the week!
We all retired to our cabins to stow our luggage and bags away. We also wanted to be ready to capture sail-away from our balconies as the view is magnificent.
We had dinner reservations for Cagney's at 730. When we arrived there were very few people dining but by 830 the restaurant was about half occupied. Service was good and the steaks divine, perfectly prepared to our orders. I was originally reluctant to book Cagney's on the Epic as our experiences on the Jade or Jewel were not great, but I was glad I did!
Early on during dinner we heard a code Alpha announced on the PA system. I knew this was the code for a medical emergency, and told the family. That announcement was then followed by an urgent call for three passengers with the same last name to contact reception. A few minutes later my daughter pointed out that it felt like the ship was turning but I decided it must have just been a course change. But then in the middle of dinner came an ominous announcement that because of a medical emergency we were returning to Miami. So my daughter was right, we had turned around. Every half hour the asst cruise director came back on making useless announcements repeating the same info and that he would update us again later. That got annoying as he really never had anything to add.
Our family has not been big on attending entertainment on our cruises, but Saturday night started a trend that lasted all week. After dinner we went to the Concierge desk on deck 16 where we met Anshuman and he escorted us down to Blue Man Group. We loved the show and had a grand time. This was the lightest attended BMG of the week as there were actually a few open seats on the sides.
As we left the BMG we wandered by Headliners where we were intrigued by the music and laughter emanating from inside. We ended up spending the next couple hours Howling at the Moon with our shipmates. The entertainers were tremendously talented with extensive repertoires. The later it got the more bawdy it got and the drinks were a flowin. We returned to our cabins just after 1 as we closed down Howl at the moon. We wandered through a closed casino as we were back in port.
My wife and I ran across several Dade county police coming through deck 10 aft for some reason on their way to the cabin where the emergency happened I believe on Deck 11.
The rest of early Sunday morning was a bit surreal. The family slept but I went down to deck 7 starboard and watched the shore activities from the small open promenade area between the life boats. There were maybe 15-20 people present doing the same thing. Several were staff and entertainers. Things were pretty somber as we watched the crime scene investigations units and teams huddle and then come aboard. Later a body was rolled off on a cart. A very sad series of events that the news has confirmed was a young man's death due to an allergic reaction and a heart attack.
I was very tired and decide to retire for the night. We left the curtains open to our balcony which left the cabin bathed in the bright lights from the sparkling night life of Miami. I was just too tired to take any night time shots as we sailed out again on our way to St Maarten.
2 Sea Days & the Posh lifestyle Our favorite days on a cruise are sea days. I could go on a 7 day cruise and never hit a port and be just fine, especially on the Epic.
We slept in a bit Sunday am and then had a leisurely visit to the buffet for breakfast/brunch. (We did the same thing Monday). Afterwards I took the family on a tour of the courtyard area to show them how to access all of the wonderful hidden areas. IE: Posh, the 19th deck forward sundeck, the private elevator, the sauna and steam rooms. We never tried the steam rooms or sauna as there was no need in the Caribbean in August.
Posh immediately became our morning and early afternoon sundeck hangout area. Posh is a spacious sundeck area on deck 18 forward on the port side. It is full of daybeds, comfy loungers, chairs, ample towel supplies etc. It has a private bar that is staffed all day by great bartenders who are bored out of their minds due to the lack of activity. Most of the time when we were there our family of 5 were the only ones present along with the occasional other couple or 2. Later in the week a few more people discovered Posh but it was a quiet sanctuary for just us most of the time. Posh actually has two floors as well as separate bathrooms for men, women and handicapped. There was lots of underutilized space.
Here is a link to a photo gallery I took of Posh: http://travel.webshots.com/album/578445366hojDvq
I spent a lot of time at Posh sitting in the shade of the bar smoking cigars and drinking beer while chatting with the various bartenders that were there. I learned a lot about the ship, it's problems etc. There were warranty reps from STX on board going around sizing up issues. I saw them in Posh one day as there are several issues that need addressing there. The showers do not work well and leaked brown water that was staining the floor and wall, the misters are ineffective and there are some very poor fixture and wiring installations that need to be redone. The theme of most of the conversations with staff about the ships problems always seemed to be "it was built in France". It was clear to me that NCL rushed to get the ship out of France and has been finishing it as she cruises, otherwise she would still be sitting there. Most of the problems are not obvious. You just have to look at the details.
Another topic that came up was a discussion about the next ship that NCL will build. As described by various staff, it will be smaller than Epic and they have learned a lot already that they will do differently in that design. It sounds like the dining and entertainment and courtyard concepts will be fine tuned in the next version. But it is clear they are working on something new and better. I am betting it is not built in France.
One thing I noticed was that there were lots of officers in white uniforms constantly touring and inspecting the ship. I ended up having almost daily conversations with Sean the hotel director in Posh each day when he visited. I had some ideas that I shared and he was always soliciting feedback and wanting to know if there was anything he could do for us. We had a nice surprise one day as a letter from Sean was delivered to our cabins thanking me for my suggestions and offering us dinner on the house wherever we wanted.(And it came with wine as well!) Very nice.
The Courtyard My best word to describe the courtyard is sanctuary. It was so wonderfully quiet and serene compared to the hustle and bustle of the pool deck.
In the afternoons we would move from Posh to the Courtyard pool area where we would hang out in loungers and enjoy the pool. Here again, there were never many people, but usually more than Posh. The pool is small and shallow and was a bit too warm on our cruise. We had very hot days and lots of sun. We were treated royally and loved the courtyard. We never used the sauna or steam rooms as there was no need based on our weather. There was easy access to the courtyard grill where you could sit and have lunch or snacks after the Epic Club closed. The bar was never busy and staffed with very friendly bartenders. You could also have food orders from the grill delivered to the loungers and chairs around the pool. The kid would get food to go from O'Sheehan's and bring it up as well.
There are 2 hot tubs located right by the pool in the Courtyard. While nice and large they present a couple issues. The first is that they are very tempting platforms for children to jump off from in to the very shallow pool. We witnessed un-chaperoned kids doing this. The other problem is evident when exiting the hot tubs. The hand rails are positioned way too low and it is very clumsy and difficult when exiting. This is also exacerbated by a heaving ship, alcohol and age.
The courtyard pool area can be very windy while at sea. Not as bad when it is hot but in cooler months that area will be too chilly. NCL will need to engineer some way to deflect the air flow. All the plants that were in the Courtyard initially are long gone as they were shredded by the winds. Remember to bring a beach bag to toss your stuff in as the wind will redistribute them for you if left by themselves.
There are men's and women's changing rooms on either side of the Courtyard pool. There you can use a toilet, take a shower , access the joint sauna that overlooks the pool, access the men's or women's only steam rooms or take the stairwell up to the gym on deck 17, or 18th floor sundecks. The problem is that people do not recognize that these changing rooms are segregated by sex and they wander on through, especially kids. I was almost joined in the Men's shower a few times by startled females......
See the gallery below for my photos from the courtyard and all the hidden areas along with a few of the ship at large.
Restaurants I booked all our reservations online well in advance of the cruise. I left Thursday night open for dinner in the Epic Club. It was nice having the schedule set with all our dining times at 715 or 730 each evening. While this type of advance prep definitely feels UNFreestyle, I am used to this type of planning from our Disney World vacations where I always booked our dining reservations 180 days out.
Earlier I gave our review of dinner Saturday night at Cagney's.
Sunday night we had a fun and filling dinner in Teppenyaki. The Chef was not as entertaining as the chefs we have had on other ships, but he made up for it by cooking extras for our table. I ended up getting part of everyone's meal because he made so much and my son and I were very happy to help devour the 5 extra lobster tails that he cooked for our group.
Monday night we went to Moderno on the house thanks to the Hotel Director. (Thanks Sean) The salad bar was very good and I tried my best not to fill up. (Salads, breads, cheeses, soups, appetizers, sliced cold cuts) Then all the meats came by. Our favorites were the filet, the garlic beef, the sirloin and the bacon wrapped chicken. The sides brought to the table were cold on arrival and seemed odd. Fried bananas, beans, french fries and rice. Again, the restaurant was not that busy which made the delays between meats a bit annoying. In retrospect, this was the meal that our family rated the lowest, even though the meal and wine were free. Nevertheless, we left full and satisfied.
Tuesday night we went to Cirque Dreams. We met at the concierge desk at 745pm and then were escorted down a crew elevator behind the scenes and seated at "the investors" table before the rest of our fellow diners were allowed in. Most of the family thought the experience was fun and the food decent. Personally, I found the concept unique, but was totally bored as I found the storyline /plot to be odd, hard to follow and unentertaining. The bright spots were the dessert and the hunky performers that the wife and daughters really enjoyed. (Picture well built muscular guys in tights with random bulges everywhere). I was very happy to leave.
Wednesday night we dined in La Cucina which has a lovely setting on deck 14 forward below the buffet. In fact you have to go through the buffet all the way forward and center to find the stairs to descend to La Cucina. The service was great and we had a window table overlooking the bow with a view of a very dark sky and sea. The appetizers and bread were good and everyone was satisfied with their meal. My daughters and wife reminded me to warn people that the floor in La Cucina after you exit the stairs was incredibly slippery for the hard soled shoes they wore. They really struggled for a minute not to fall.
Thursday I purposely left open to eat at the Epic Club and I was glad I did. We wandered in around 730pm and were happily greeted and quickly seated and served. We had top notch service and enjoyed a leisurely dinner. It was probably the best dining experience we had on board. I highly recommend the Sea Bass main course and the shrimp/crab cake and the Ahi Tuna/seaweed salad compote appetizers. I should have left more nights open to eat at the Epic Club. Maybe next time.....
Friday night we ate at Le Bistro. My wife and I each had a letter for complimentary dinners for 2 since we were both Platinum Latitudes members. Dinner also came with 2 bottles of complimentary wine. The kids were more than willing to help us drink the wine. The service was great as expected and I believe we all had a filet that was perfectly prepared. The highlight at Le Bistro as always was the Chocolate fondue for dessert for the family. They worked on their chocolate comas as I devoured my crème brulee.
Entertainment - Epic, the ship that never sleeps (or Vegas at Sea) We attended more shows on this cruise than we had attended on our last 10 cruises combined. There was just so much to see and do. We attended the BMG (woohoo), Cirque dreams (gag me), Howl at the Moon 3 times (yahoo), Jeff Hobson the Magician (!), Legends (ehh), Second City (mixed reactions) and also took in some performers in other locations like Bernie Martini who was a piano player/lounge singer that was stationed with a baby grand outside Shakers. We really enjoyed listening to Bernie.
I wandered in to Bliss after leaving Howl at the moon one evening to find a very dark club full of the younger crowd having way too much fun for my 51 year old constitution. There were several intense tonsil hockey matches under way on various loungers as I passed through. I do not remember ever being that young and unabashed. I decided to leave and go back to the room and find the wife.....she was asleep of course.
It is clear that the focus on multiple entertainment options is what sets the Epic apart from every other cruise ship that we have ever been on. There was always something to do. There were always people up partying or being entertained somewhere. No wonder I came home feeling like I needed a vacation.
Ports St Maarten We arrived in ST Maarten right on time 8 o'clock Tuesday morning. We went ashore around 1030am and took the water taxi one way downtown to visit our friends that own a shop on Front Street next to McDonald's in Philipsburg called Gulmohar's. I bought some cigars, the girls bought jewelry and then we grabbed a taxi for the 25 minute ride to Orient Beach. We asked to be dropped off at Kon Tiki which is our family's favorite place to spend time on Orient beach. It is a wonderful beach bar with a great kitchen serving French food and sushi. It has changing and bathroom facilities as well as a shower. The cost was $35 one way for the 5 of us plus a tip and we arranged to be picked up at 330pm. We rented 4 chairs and 2 umbrellas (around $35 US) and then spent the afternoon riding jet skis ($50/per half hour), exploring, swimming, wandering, drinking, shopping and ogling..... (Not necessarily in that order) The water was very warm and with just the right amount of waves. The bars take US $$ readily even though many price things in Euros. Look around as some treated $1 US = 1 euro. Others did not. Our cab was ready for us when we were ready to leave and took us back to town to say goodbye and then to the ship. (Again $35 plus tip)
St Thomas We awoke Wednesday docked at Havensite in Charlotte Amalie. I ran up forward to deck 19 and caught the Freedom of the Seas as she entered port. It always amazes me how these huge ships glide silently into port and effortlessly turn on a dime and then parallel park. After a quick breakfast in the buffet we went ashore, grabbed an open air taxi ($8 ea) and headed to Magen's Bay($4 each entry fee), my wife's favorite beach. I love to go to Trunk Bay on St John's but that was not in the cards this cruise. I rented two loungers ($8 each) and a float bed ($6) left a refundable deposit ($20) at the shop at the beach and then the family spent the afternoon lounging on a very hot beach and swimming in the ocean. I spent the afternoon in the shaded bar watching the world wander by while drinking some very stiff drinks, lots of water and smoking more cigars. It was very hot.
A note on the open air taxis. There are tons of em. The drivers always try to get the load of people they bring to Magen's Bay to mutually agree on a time to meet back in the parking lot for the ride back to the ship. This is ridiculous. Have you ever tried getting 20+ people to agree on a time and then show up? We always pay our fare and walk away knowing there are tons of taxis waiting at all times ready to go when we are ready to leave.
One other word of advice, leave plenty of time to get back to the ship in Charlotte Amalie. The avalanche of taxis descending back into town traveling to Havensite can be chaotic, voluminous and slow. This time it was even worse as there is a major road construction project under way on the only road back to the port and it was the worst delay I have experienced in many trips to St Thomas. We had plenty of time to spare.
Port time in St Thomas was too short. One thing that was proven to me by our unexpected cruise back to Miami is that there is a lot of flexibility built in to the ships schedule. We lost 10+ hours and were still able to make St Maarten on time. Therefore NCL's decision to leave port in ST Thomas at 4 pm seems rather odd. We really would have liked to be in port at St Thomas 8am to 6pm like we were in St Maarten.
Nassau The family wandered ashore after a quick breakfast to do some shopping. It was very hot and they returned to the ship and Posh after an hour and a half.
I did not leave the ship. I went to the Epic club after noon, had a leisurely lunch (damn the Sesame encrusted seared Ahi tuna sandwiches are good!) and then went around the ship taking video tours and snapping some photos.
Here is a link to my videos posted online: http://travel.webshots.com/album/578450564Mtozmw
After the family returned from shopping I found them in Posh and then encouraged them to go ride the slides as there was virtually no one aboard and there were tubes waiting for them not being used. One word of advice - bring pool shoes as the ground was unbearably hot to walk on to get the tubes and to head back to the stairs to go up for another plunge. I saw many people carrying their shoes on the slides so they had em when they got off. Others left them under the stairwell and braved it. The blue tiles on the pool deck are blazing hot if not kept wet.
After several trips up the stairs and down the slides we retired to the Courtyard pool for the remainder of the afternoon.
Casino I spent very little time in the casino compared to all my other cruises. I played some blackjack but hated the auto shufflers and the 6-5 BJ payoffs on the low end tables. I also played some Craps as there was at least one table humming most nights. There always seemed to be plenty of poker players for the poker tables. Overall I won a few dollars. The entire casino was smokey to some extent. We always wandered down deck 5 or 7 when going to a dinner location and avoided the deck 6 casino area.
Bingo My youngest daughter loves Bingo and has won at least once on the last few cruises. (She won on the Epic but had to split a paltry jackpot with 2 others) Bingo is conducted in Headliners. It is an expensive and slow moving game that requires copious amounts of alcohol to survive. NCL recognizes this as there are lots of bar staff and on Port days they offer 2 for 1 drinks to increase attendance. The card packages were generally $30 or $70(with some crackits)!! Bingo on NCL is the worst gambling that you can undertake at sea. The house edge/skim is nearly 70%. Nice touch on Epic, kids (ie under 18) play for free. They can win, but a parent or guardian must be present to collect.
Cigar Lounge: The Epic has a well appointed cigar lounge with a very attentive waitress who was constantly tidying up, emptying ashtrays and bringing libations. There was room for about 20-25 in comfy chairs and couches. Saw one group set up their own poker game with chips they brought along. The lounge did not have any TV screens which was a major deficiency.
My big beef with the cigar lounge was that there was no enforcement of a no cigarettes rule. There were constantly people slinking in to have a cigarette and then quickly exiting. This ruins the smell and ambiance of a cigar lounge.
O'Sheehan's This venue was a terrific improvement over the 24 hour restaurants on the Jewel class ships. Entering O'Sheehan's I always felt like I was stepping into a typical shore side sports type bar or bowling alley. The menu selections were limited and fixed but they served pretty darn good comfort food. The all day breakfast was a nice touch as well. My youngest daughter loved the chicken tenders and the fried mozzarella sticks but she did complain about inconsistency in cooking for the cheese sticks. I liked the wings and it was always fun to watch people bowling on a calm sea blaming their ineptitude on the ocean.....
Pool deck The pools on sundeck were way too small and too hot. I never used them, but the kids did and they witnessed what was happening. There were too many people in the pools and too many kids not under their parent's immediate control jumping in and impacting their fellow bathers.
The pools were fresh water or better treated seawater than on other NCL ships. The slides were definitely fresh water. The poor cruise staff tried their best to get people to participate in pool games but most people just were not interested.
We witnessed the usual chair and daybed hogs on pool deck. This is inevitable near the pools. What was strange is that there were public sundecks on Deck 18 that were always empty or sparsely populated.
The pool decks were blistering hot and they were also very wet and slippery in various areas. NCL had deck attendants wandering around with floor squeegees moving water but that was a never ending battle. They have also resorted to placing long carpet runners in a few aisles. It helped but looked odd.
Sushi The sushi bar was wonderful. I stopped by a few time during the week to have a few pieces of sushi or sashimi as an appetizer or snack. Quick service, very reasonably priced. Always came with a cup of Miso. One nice touch was the seating around the rail looking at the opening to the deck and traffic below.
Disembarkation We were given priority luggage tags since were in a suite. We had options to be escorted off at 7:45am or 9am by the concierge staff, but we did not take advantage of these. We got up around 8 am, showered and packed the last of our carry-ons and left our cabins at 845am. We wandered down to the disembarkation portal, found a very short line, swiped our cards and were ashore in 5 minutes. We had to wander over from Terminal C over to Terminal B as the Priority bags were accumulated in Terminal B.
One tip for families or anyone needing help, just grab a porter. There are tons of them. They will move all your bags to their cart, take you and your bags right to the front of the line to go through customs and will quickly find you a cab. No last minute hassles or back strains. Well worth the tip. We were whisked through in about 10 minutes and were in a cab on the way to Miami airport by 5 after 9.
Random Thoughts: We had very good weather, although hot, and very calm seas all week. Most every day the waves were reported as 3 feet or less. Call me crazy, but I like to feel the ship move and I rarely did on Epic. One thing that we all missed was a promenade with a view of the sea. We usually took a family stroll around the promenade after dinner on our prior cruises. This was a sacrifice in the Epic's design with the life boats stowed in a ready to board position.
We had cute towel animals many nights in our cabins. The stewards were creative in using our stuff to embellish the presentations.
Good luck finding a clock. This is another Vegas type detail. There were not even the ones that you would typically see on other NCL ships on pool-deck. They are non-existent. The touch screens around the ship will give you the time if you need it. If you were desperate, they always had $10 watches for sale.
The dining capacity screens on Epic did not appear to be accurate. Out of curiosity, we would always check status before arriving for our reservations. They would frequently list the venue as full/worth the wait and we would wander in to a less than half full room. My suggestion, if you do not have a reservation, go and ask the maitre de at the venue, do not trust the screens
We had nasty aroma issues from time to time emanating from the floor drains in the toilet areas of both our cabins. I know that NCL was aware as others on our corridor had complained and were asking other passengers in our area if they were having problems and were asking them to call reception as well. This seemed to be more of an issue in port. My suggestion is to make sure you alert the room steward, the reception desk and then call the hotel director (tel # 8888) if you experience such an issue. We kept the doors to the toilets shut at all times and that helped control the issue to that space.
The suite had a few more electrical outlets than our BA. Three are located behind the coffee machine. There is another located left of the make-up mirror near the floor.
The hard ice cream available in the buffet was a nice addition. We used to love Sven's on the Norway but it was more limited in flavors and was only open a few hours a day. The scoops are small, but as I told the wife and kids, you can always get more! The soft serve machines were always running as well.
We tried the pizza delivery one midnight just to be able to say we tried it. It came in 20 minutes, piping hot and fairly good. It was much better than the pizza served in the buffet or the outdoor serving areas near the pool but not as good as the pizza in La Cucina.
A nice touch in the Garden Cafe is the addition of a real bar that is staffed with a bartender. You can get drinks, wine and for those of you with pop stickers you can get your refills more conveniently.
The kids pointed out that the bar staff was much better than on prior cruises with refilling pops for kids with the stickers. My observations matched theirs. On other NCL ships we have noted that kids were not treated as promptly or personably by the bar staff who seemed annoyed, especially in high traffic bars.
The queuing for entry into the Epic Theater needs fine tuning and more staff for flow control at peak times. The process for entry and departure was very inconsistent and unorganized. People with reservations need to be kept separate from stand bys. It was a mess. There would be a show exiting and everyone would scatter and mingle into the melee of the people waiting for the next show. They need better gaps between shows and more ropes and crowd flow management.
Another annoyance for many was the fact that they did not clear the Epic Theater between shows. Many people just stayed put in their seats or repositioned themselves to better seats before the next audience entered.
Conclusion I have tried to present a balanced review of our experiences on board the Epic. Your perceptions will be different as food and service are extremely subjective and there is always an evolution in service and personnel, especially on a new ship. Freestyle is evolving as well with the ability to pre-book dining and entertainment.
For our family this was a wonderful week. We experienced the most fun filled energetic entertainment focused cruise of our lives. We were treated royally and ate like kings and queens.
Will we go back to the Epic? You bet, not anytime soon and only if we can afford the Courtyard experience. We have been spoiled forever.
As many fellow cruisers have said on Cruise Critic, "Once you have experienced the suite life on NCL, there is no going back." We now understand that all too well.