The Epic Hybrid Cruise - Hurricane Earl sent us West not East! We were already in Miami for 4 days before we joined the Epic. There were not many cruise ships in port for the 4 days we were there. However, we had a special late lunch/ early dinner at Smith and Wollensky's on Friday evening to watch the weekend cruise ships go out of port including my first ever cruise ship foray... the Majesty of the Seas! Both my husband and I were really excited about the Epic... we had read about her on Cruise Critic, commented about the various bathroom/sink issues and now tomorrow we were coming on board!
Embarkation - So we got to the Port about midday..... yes we could have got there sooner but to be honest there were not that many queues there really and we were actually processed very quickly.. It took about half an hour and that was it! However, we had a bit of a shock getting on board as I heard the words "itinerary change" from a customer service agent and he was handing out letters - we were not going to St Thomas and St Maarten but to Cozumel and Roatan instead! Ok, our UK travel agent could have told us about the change beforehand... the whole trip was booked through them... it wouldn't have changed anything, we would have still sailed but I could have done some research beforehand on what to do with the new islands.....very poor customer service. I had heard of Cozumel but it was a case of Roa - what to us Brits!? I was very happy we had an extended stay on Nassau as I had booked a dolphin encounter at the Blue Lagoon independently and it meant we had much more time on the island. I booked this independently and paid in advance. I had booked other trips but not paid anything out so that was good. We were very glad we changed hotels as according to tripadvisor our original hotel was a bit of a dump and indeed walking past it, our 2nd choice of hotel looked a lot better and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there - Marseilles Hotel. We had known there were hurricanes about and had checked UK news before we went and American TV but the last we had known was that they were not heading for where we were going... wrong! Anyway, I am digressing... we got on board and we got maps when we checked in and it was like wow..... we are here! It was pretty heaving in the Garden Cafe which is where we chose to have lunch but we could have gone elsewhere as Taste was open for sure. Whilst having lunch, we had the announcement that our cabins were ready and indeed one of the officers was also coming round telling passengers this was the case which I thought was a nice touch.... we thought the food compared very well to RCI - our last cruise, so we were quite impressed although NCL could have some variation to their complimentary drinks other than water and iced tea/coffee after the breakfast juices were taken out.RCI have a tasty lemonade too.
Stateroom - We had balcony cabin 12152... which was nicely midship positioned. We really liked our cabin and we were lucky enough to have an excellent stateroom attendant in Made.... who showed us where the secret lights were and also how to turn off the phone light! He kept the room very clean for us and amused us with cute towel animals including some swans for our first night with confetti as this was our honeymoon cruise! Our opinion on the cabin was that it was compact and bijoux.... things as have been reported are a tight squeeze to get by especially when you are trying to unpack at the same time! I liked the fact we could make tea and coffee and Made always made sure the ice bucket was stocked up. I loved the interactive TV and the fact you could get menus on the screen - genius! We liked the fact we could just have a chill in the cabin for a bit of quiet time. The sink - yep - useless... but we did like the separate shower/ toilet arrangement and we thought the shower was great, well sized and you could get 2 people in there - ahem! The storage was also great, plenty of it, so things never looked messy in there. Our suitcases went under the bed and I thought having an NCL plastic dirt sheet for when you arrive for your suitcases to go on the bed is a good idea, saves the linen getting messed up!
Entertainment - we thought this was excellent...... we both loved the Blue Man Group. Also saw Second City the late show, which was also good and saw Legends in Concert which we both enjoyed. We didn't partake much of the nightly entertainment as the heat was knocking us out by then, plus the food and a cocktail or two! Bliss was sometimes very quiet and then sometimes heaving... we ventured out to Spice H20 and that was also quiet. We didn't try the Ice Bar.. would have liked too. Cirque didn't appeal too much and we tried to get into the bowling but couldn't get in.... we tried a few times.
Food/Drink - We had no problem with the food anywhere, there was loads of choice and if you wanted to pay for the speciality restaurants you could but you don't have to! We paid extra to eat at La Cucina, Moderno, Shanghai's and Le Bistro was included in our Deluxe honeymoon package. We enjoyed all of the food in the speciality restaurants, it was all good quality. I particularly enjoyed the Chicken Cashew at Shanghai's and the Vanilla Crème Brulee at Le Bistro was outstanding! We also ate at Taste, Manhattan, O'Sheehan's, The Great Outdoors, Garden Cafe and Spice H20. We had a room service special breakfast as this was also included in the Deluxe honeymoon package. The bread chefs must be kept really busy on the Epic as they churn out amazing different breads for La Cucina, Moderno's cheese bread puffs were also fantastic and the complimentary starter had delicious French bread with a salmon mousse. Must also give a special mention to the pastry chefs on board as the Danish pastries were probably the best we had anywhere! We thought the food tasted really good everywhere we went. We are not big drinkers but we did take advantage of the fact when they did specials like 2 for 1 Martini's... the Expresso Martini was delicious! We also had drinks like Strawberry Daiquiris and Mojitos. They were kind of the usual price $7 to $9. Customer Service - We had a very efficient stateroom attendant in Made and he was also very pleasant and friendly to us whenever we saw him. We never had a problem with anyone around the ship. There was one occasion where service was slow and that was the morning we docked in Cozumel. We decided to breakfast in O'Sheehans and the service there was pretty slow which surprised us and the waiter who took our order didn't speak good English.... therefore we didn't receive the breakfast we wanted but no worries, we still got fed! We never had a massive wait anywhere to get into a restaurant and we found the interactive restaurant time advisor on the walls in various places a great idea... also good in telling you how to get to places if you were lost!
Spa - We decided to treat ourselves and bought a couples weekly pass for the spa which we greatly enjoyed. The 2 saunas and steam rooms were great as was the hot tub and the hot tub pool. 2 points to mention in here was that if someone went under the great, big pouring water taps in the hot tub pool then water could go everywhere, some people were mindful of this and some ignorant people weren't, so if you were not careful - you could end up with an eyeful of chlorinated water which stung! Also - day beds especially the heated beds were just reserved all the time and weren't meant to be but no-one was watching this at all - never mind controlling it. Some people just seemed to live in the spa area and hog the beds which was clearly not fair! We also enjoyed some spa treatments which were part of the honeymoon package and both received a 25 minute couple's massage. They got this wrong at first and thought we were going in separately and so we had to be given another time later on that day (a sea day) they were genuinely apologetic about it but then also forgot that I wanted a scalp massage as well! Luckily, my masseur was available and I think she gave me some extra time due to the hassle so it was no big deal in the end.
Deluxe Honeymoon Package - We enjoyed the big bits of the package with the highlight being the meal and wine at Le Bistro (although I have to say the wine seemed a bit rough) and the couples massages. As it was a freestyle cruise, we didn't have that many formal pics taken of us as we always seemed to be rushing somewhere or just chilling and it was just a picture, no frame. We had chocolate covered strawberries and champagne when we departed Miami and the portion of strawberries was extremely skimpy as was the portion of canapEs one evening... there were 6 of them and they were tiny! We also enjoyed a special breakfast in bed one morning which was lovely, we had enough pastries to feed an army but they weren't special items, you could get them all from the Garden Cafe.
Ports of call - I have to say I understood of why we had to change itinerary due to the hurricane but I was pretty disappointed not to be going to St Thomas and St Maarten. As we didn't have advance info of this, we decided to bite the bullet and sign up with NCL excursions ASAP as people would no doubt be booking them up. We got a brochure and joined the massive queue that was building up at the shore excursions desk but then someone told us we could book the excursions at the interactive kiosk by the desk so we did! We decided to book island tours of both Cozumel and Roatan. I knew about Cozumel having been to Mexico before but nothing about Roatan. The Cozumel tour consisted of a coach drive to Channakab, a visit to El Cedral and a drive along the beach/sea and a stop for a margarita at a restaurant/bar... the food smelled good there but we only had a 20 minute stop. The coach could then drop you at the Cozumel museum and some shopping there or take you back to the shopping centre/ port area so we opted for the later. I managed to buy some more jewellery after a massive haggling session with a shop so we left happy. Roatan is a stunning looking island but is very poor and again we picked an island tour. We could go in the morning or the afternoon and opted for an afternoon tour. Apparently, there is a difference in these tours and in the morning, you can get dropped off at the beach and then picked up again or make your own way back and this was not broadcast by NCL so there were a few of us on the minibus that felt this tour wasn't value for money due to that as we had been expecting to see some of the beach resorts. The tour took us on a boat ride where you could see the coral reef in the sea, the mangroves and 2 shipwrecks. We were then taken to a high point of the island near the zoo where you could see the coral reef from high which was a great sight. Everywhere we stopped, there were retail opportunities... in fact we ventured off the Epic into the Town Center in the morning and deciding we needed some liquid refreshment went to a bar on the water and there were young boys swimming in the sea wanting their pics taken for a dollar and then a guy wanted to take us on a tour even though we kept explaining we had already booked one... he then wanted us to buy him a drink! Back to the tour, we were taken to the Garifuna village where we had a traditional song and dance session by the local people and were shown local traditions. Another stop took us to more Garifuna artefacts and the local soup was being sold for $5 a bowl! It was a relatively interesting tour but a bit of beach time would have been great. We were very pleased to be spending more time in Nassau. I booked an independent trip to the Blue Lagoon resort on Salt Cay and saved about $60 dollars off the ship price. Took a taxi to the ferry terminal which cost $8 standard set prices and then off we went. The ferry boats back took us straight back to the cruise port so that was great. We did the Dolphin Encounter which was a great experience as we had never done it before but I didn't find the trainer too sympathetic with me being a non swimmer (it does state very clearly on the website that you don't have to be able to swim to do this) and she got the dolphin to blow raspberries at me! We also booked a debarkation tour with NCL to the Everglades with a drop off at Miami airport. We had a good tour guide with us and we enjoyed the tour. It was quite a quick tour and we still had to wait 6 hours at the airport... they are insistent that your flight leaves after 3.30pm which makes you think you will have a good 5 hr tour. Not so. They like you to be on the bus by 9.30 and then at Miami airport for 1.30! We had an airboat ride at one of the safari parks which was a good experience, and then we saw a gator show which was the first time I had seen one and thought it was pretty cool to have a guy go into a cage with 5 alligators. You could then have your pic taken for $3 with a baby gator which my husband did! We had some free time then which was good as they had a good restaurant on site although it was busy since we were there with about 3 other coachloads. You could go on a jungle trial if you wanted to but it was a baking hot day so we just wanted to keep cool!
Ship Decor - I thought the decor on the ship was very good. I have to say I don't like very garish decor and I think other NCL ships could do with it being toned down! The ship looks very elegant and classy from the stateroom areas to the public areas. The LED chandelier is spectacular and the shopping area is the best I have seen on a ship. Some of the carpets are still loud but they are funky not garish!
Debarkation - wow how quick! We were off the ship and on a bus in half an hour. We had a quick breakfast at the Great Outdoors and then went to the Epic Theatre as we had booked an Everglades Tour which meant that our luggage would come with us and we would be dropped off at Miami airport as our flight back wasn't till 7.25pm! We were beeped off the ship using our sea passes for the last time, got our luggage, went through customs/passport control and that was it. It was very well managed by NCL/port staff to ensure that lines were kept flowing and generally was very impressive.
Overall Experience - Both of us really enjoyed the Epic adventure (we have the luggage tags that say so too!), it was also our first NCL experience and hopefully it won't be our last. There are some issues that have been already widely reported thanks to the Cruise Critic forums, the useless sink which we called the polo mint. It would prevent a lot of splashing if they just altered the tap design. We didn't mind the toilet/shower set up. Deck 15 is noisy and loud. We found a cool area on decks 17/18 - we went up in the lifts designed to take Courtyard Villa guests to their areas... we would stay there when sunbathing and it seems a few people had cottoned on to that fact too! You cannot swim in the pools; they are not designed for swimming at all! I think the space at Spice H20 could be better utilised here for a bigger pool for adults. We did attend the CC party where they laid on some food/drinks etc which was a nice touch and the Captain did come too (as another CC poster said we didn't hear too much from the Captain but he was fond of talking about the Code Alphas -medical emergencies and the weather) there didn't seem to be too much going on though, was hoping for a cabin crawl as I was up for that but there didn't seem to be one!