I would like to first start out discussing something I see in many other reviews that down right gets my goat - "nickel & diming". How many times have we all read on these boards about NCL nickel & diming like crazy with all of these extra charges? I have sailed once on Carnival, once on Royal Caribbean, and now once on NCL. For those of you who have sailed on these other mainstream lines, have you ever had free specialty coffees or specialty restaurants? Have you had free in-room movies? Do any other ships offer bowling? The answer most likely is no. Specialty coffees and restaurants all have a fee, regardless of the cruise line when sailing mainstream. Since you've lived without bowling on these other lines, is it mandatory to bowl when on NCL? Or do you have the right to save your $5.00? Can you live without watching an in-room movie? Are you forced into the Ice Bar for $20, or Cirque Dreams & Dinner for $20? Of course not. So folks, let's please ease up on the nickel & diming thing when it comes to NCL. They are no different in this aspect than the other lines. When booking your cruise, if you find a good price, and especially OBC, this could allow you to indulge in a few extras, if you choose to.
Now, about the Epic and my cruise. My sister and I sailed together. We're 51 and 52 (I'm the younger one!). Eastern Carib - St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau. We both completely enjoyed everything about this ship. We live in South Florida, so no flights/hotels were necessary. Boarding was easy. We were on board by around noon. One of the best services I have ever seen offered on a ship is complimentary storage of your carry-on until the cabins are ready. Drop it off at Headliners, pick it up at 2:00, or have it delivered around 3:30. And sure enough, at 2:00 on the dot, the announcement was made that all cabins were ready.
We had an inside cabin on D-10. Small, but functional, with very comfortable beds and pillows. Sink was not an issue. If we got water on the counter, a towel very easily cleaned it up! They also replaced the faucet mid-week with a shorter one that doesn't go over the entire sink, which made it easier. Next to the shower, there is a towel. This towel is meant to be used as a bath mat. Vanity area and lighting were the only issues we both had. Men must have designed the vanity area. When you sit at the vanity, there's no place for your legs to go under, and when you look in the mirror, the top of your head was cut off by the cabinets above it, and the lighting was very dim. Every night after putting on my eye make-up, I asked my sister if I looked OK, or as if I belonged in Cirque Dreams! The full length mirror was directly opposite the vanity mirror, so with the use of an extension cord, I was able to swing around and see my head in it's entirety to blow dry and curling iron my hair. There was also a medicine cabinet mirror, but same lighting issue.
We went to the Cruise Critic Meeting the first sea day. To my surprise, after having attended only one other CC meet on a different cruise line where only one staff member attended, an assistant cruise director, on the Epic, not only did all of the top brass attend, but so did the head cruise director (Silas) and the Captain as well. I was very impressed by this! Then they all mingled about the group. I chatted with Simon Murray, Entertainment Director, who I had seen on a tv show about NCL aboard one of their ships a year and a half ago which was hosted by NBC's travel correspondent. We had over 100 people. Over 85% of who signed up attended. Both Silas and Simon were very visible throughout the week.
The ship is beautiful, and the pool deck is like one big playground with all of the water slides, which I really enjoyed! I tend to think of a cruise as a "playcation". I certainly got to play on this ship! Deck chairs were easy to find, although in the shade was a challenge, unless you didn't mind being up a deck away from the pool area. I remember seeing somewhere on the sports deck, I believe, a large covered area. There were no serious problems with crowded elevators. Now and then, maybe we had to wait 2 minutes. The gym is state of the art. Loved using the equipment.
Entertainment was non-stop. We booked in advance, and confirmed a few things when we boarded, as well as booked the Ice Bar (which literally was a cool experience!). Right off the bat, on the first night, we saw Blue Man Group, had dinner, saw the comedian/magician, Jeff Hobson in the Spiegel Tent, then went to the Welcome Aboard party at Spice H2O. We got to bed after 1:00, which we did every night. We caught all of the shows and such during the week (Blue Man, Legends, Second City, White Hot party, FAABA party, Legends Unplugged in the Manhattan Room, Cirque Dreams, Ice Bar, Howl at the Moon, Slam Allen at Fat Cats). Jeff Hobson was sooooo funny, we went to see him a second time, this time in the Epic theater. If you catch the Legends Unplugged show in the Manhattan Room, make sure to take pics/video at that time, as you are not allowed to at the main show in the theater, nor of Blue Man Group. If you do the non-premium seating at Cirque, try to sit upstairs. That way you'll see everything, rather than being tucked away in the back of the first floor. The best part of Cirque were the aerialists. The story line itself was so-so. But still, it was fun to have dinner and watch a show. The Spice H2O parties were fabulous. Very high energy, especially the White Hot party. Be sure to attend this. FABBA was a whole lot of fun as well. The crew puts on a little show, then gets people up to dance, while both the people on the dance floor, as well as the words to the Abba songs, are shown on the huge screen.
Some of you may have read mixed reviews about some of the entertainment and the Ice Bar. Word of advice - see everything, do everything. Be your own judge! If you didn't like something, so what! At least you'll be able to say you saw it or did it, vs. "well, we heard...".
We also caught SpongeBob and Patrick! One evening, just before 8:00, we happened to have been sitting in the atrium when Patrick came through! The staff took pics for you on your camera. The next night, around the same time, they brought SpongeBob through! Believe me, many adults (like myself) were just as excited as the kids!
Here we go with another touchy subject - food. I don't understand the folks that say the food was "inedible" on this ship, which has been said on the boards. They make it sound as if they were fed prison food (here's your bread and water, enjoy). It is certainly far from being inedible. I feel the food at the included restaurants far surpasses RCI, and is in line with Carnival, which also surpassed RCI. We both felt it was excellent. We had dinner in the Manhattan Room three times. Only had to wait once, for what we were told would be about 20 minutes (on the 2nd night, 8:00-ish), but we were given a pager and they paged us in 10 minutes. Beautiful atmosphere with live big band music. We had dinner twice, and breakfast and lunch once, in Taste, which has the same menu each day as Manhattan Room, so you're not missing anything from one to the other. Nice atmosphere in Taste as well. Very comfortable. The Garden Cafe was very good as well. Always managed to find seats. We did treat ourselves to Le Bistro, given the great price we paid for the cruise, along with OBC. It was $20/pp. (I noticed in another review someone said it was $25.) It was wonderful, 5-star. We also had a late afternoon snack of sushi, which was top quality. One roll and 4 pieces of sashimi cost less than a drink. When we slept in one morning, we decided to do brunch at O'Sheehans. The eggbeater tortilla wrap was very good. Our server at Cirque Dreams was very accommodating when I told him I don't eat meat and requested a double serving of shrimp in lieu of the meat. The dinner was very good as well.
The service on this ship was impeccable. And that includes any staff we encountered. Our room steward, Alex, made us feel like a celebrity with his friendliness every time we came and went. A server in Taste offered to feed me when she didn't think I was eating enough at breakfast. Cute! When I called the service desk to ask for an extra box of tissues (I had caught a cold toward the end of the week), I told them that when I called Housekeeping, all I kept getting was a dial tone. They said they would take care of it. Not 5 minutes later, someone was knocking on my door with a box of tissues. Every server we had at meals was fantastic. Apparently, it's not only Celebrity cruise line that makes you feel like a celebrity! I know there were service issues early on, but they seem to have been rectified.
Fortunately, weather held out for the most part. Late day showers on one sea day, but short-lived. Afternoon showers while in Nassau, but again, short-lived. In St. Maarten, we roamed around the shops, then went to the beach that's right by the water taxi. For $20, we got two cushioned lounge chairs, an umbrella, and one Pina Colada each. People on the beach renting chairs will find you, no need to seek them out! In St. Thomas, we did an inexpensive excursion of downtown shopping, returned to the ship for about 40 minutes, then went to Magens Bay beach. The beach was beautiful. The tour stopped at a look-out point for great photos first. Oh, and while on Magens Bay beach, beware of strong Rum Punches!!! That was fun! In Nassau, while roaming around, we stumbled upon the water taxi to Paradise Island. Only $6 round trip, running approx. every 30 minutes. So we decided to go to Atlantis. We didn't pay for any tickets, just roamed the grounds. Awesome resort! Even though it rained a bit in the afternoon, by the time we were ready to walk back to the water taxi, the rain stopped, and by the time we got back into town, the sun was out. We shopped for our usual Tortuga Rum cakes, then went back on board and hit the water slides, hot tub and pool for the last time.
This cruise had every age on board, and in the evening the attire was very mixed. The night we ate at Le Bistro, there were two couples dining together. The women were in cocktail dresses, and one man had on a dark suit and tie, the other a tux. Later in the week, we saw 2 women in full length gowns. Many of the men wore dress slacks and polos or nice button-downs. Many of the women wore dresses (and to my surprise, even on the last night in the Manhattan Room when you would expect most to be more casual), dress capris, nice slacks, etc. At the same time, you'll see people in shorts, t's and flip-flops. By the way, the guy in front of us who was dressed like this and hoping to dine in the Manhattan Room was turned away (Score one for NCL!!!). FYI for those who prefer this kind of dress, that's why they also have the restaurant Taste. You can still sit and be served in a nice atmosphere, enjoy the same menu as Manhattan Room, but dress as you please. Manhattan Room has a certain ambiance to it that to me, compels one to dress for it. It's very elegant and classy.
Then, sadly, the next day came and it was time to leave. Disembarkation was a breeze. They called our color, off we went.
This cruise was fantastic from start to finish. If you don't want a boat load of kids, don't cruise during the summer months. There were some kids around, but we certainly were not overrun by them, which allowed for plenty of room to move about in the pools, and not so long waits for the slides.
This was my first time sailing Norwegian, after having been reluctant in the past, but it will not be my last time. Thank you NCL for a wonderful vacation and a wonderful ship, the Epic!