This was our first cruise with NCL and also our first back to back cruise. We wanted to experience a new ship so chose the Epic.
We decided to book a back to back because the itinerary was appealing and we also felt 14 days would give us maximum enjoyment out of this new ship.
We arrived at Terminal B at the port of Miami around 12:10pm. The fixed rate taxi fare from the airport was $24. We didn’t know you can’t bring food onboard so we had to eat the grilled cheese sandwich on the spot. The unopened can of Minute Maid cranberry apple was ok to bring onboard. There was a slight line but it moved pretty quickly. The agent had run out of the ship deck plan maps but we were able to get a copy once on the ship. Our entrance was on deck 6 by the Epic Theater. The map and copies of Day 1 Freestyle Dailies were readily available in several areas on deck 6.
Luggage storage was available at Headliners club for $3 each piece. We took our carry-on luggage with us to the Garden Café for lunch. It was very packed. Seating extended all the way down to La Cucina. I found the food to be too salty to my taste and the coffee a bit bland. We got used to the food after a few days though.
At 2:10pm, an announcement was made the staterooms are available and either because of that or everyone was done eating; it became less crowded at Garden Café.
Our inside stateroom can accommodate up to 4 people. Two single beds were against the wall and 2 more single beds can be pulled down from the ceiling at turn down service. Our stateroom did not have the unique “wave” feature of the walls. It was a flat rectangle. The sink was in the room on the counter with the toilet and shower stalls separated on either side of the entryway. This design made the room feel more open but didn’t make it roomier. We had to unpack everything and store the luggage into the closet as it would’ve been inconvenient to constantly go through it for stuff.
There was plenty of shelves, drawers and hangers when we split up where we want to put our stuff. For example, I used all the shelves for my clothes and my mother and sister used the closet. If we didn't do that, there wouldn't have been enough room to go around. From our cruise critic cabin crawl, I can see that the bigger the room (balcony and above), the more drawers there are built around the stateroom furniture. For those in the bigger rooms, be sure to remember to check every available drawer and shelf space when you’re re-packing on the last day.
The sink had a swan neck style faucet which deposits the water straight down. This means when you turn on the water to anything larger than a trickle, it splashes everywhere on the counter. I wrote a comment at Guest Services on whether this factor was considered during the design and the next day, the faucet was changed to one more user friendly. Along with the comment, I’d asked why solid bar soaps, lotion and hair conditioner were not available to rooms in the categories below a suite. I thought these were standard amenities. Two days later, I get the same toiletries NCL provides for the suites. Only once though, wasn’t replenished throughout the 14 days. Both reactions by the NCL staff were a pleasant surprise since I didn’t expect anything to be done.
Our room steward was a bit forgetful sometimes, he’d forget a third set of towels (we were three to a room), forget to replace tissue or even turn down the third bed. It was annoying but not too terrible.
We were on a b2b cruise and we found during the second week, the daily menu was the same as the first week. While not a deal breaker, we did get bored eating the same things over and over again.
Garden Café - I found the food to be too salty, but got used to this after a few days though. The coffee also tasted bland and I never got used to it. I ended up making iced coffee instead most of the times.
The menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner do not vary from day to day. There is a specialty section that is unique to dinner which varies day to day. I was particularly fond of the sweet crepe stand served during dinner at Garden Cafe. I’d bring the chef butter and sugar to create my own filling/toppings. They were always happy to accommodate.
Apple, orange and cranberry cocktail juices were available in the morning. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate packets were available throughout the day. Iced tea becomes available throughout the day after breakfast.
Scope ice cream and sorbets along with the two soft serve self-service machines were available beginning from lunch until closing time at 9:30pm. We did find that on most evenings the soft serve machine still worked until nearly 10pm as it was the last machine to be cleaned when the buffet closed for the night. The two soft serve machines offered chocolate, vanilla and combined chocolate vanilla servings. However, after the second or third day the combined option was no longer available (the machine broke, someone told me). The two machines became single flavors, one being vanilla and one being chocolate.
The Great Outdoors - Same foods for breakfast and lunch as with Garden Café but with limited selections. In the afternoons, scones, jams and cream is served on the starboard side. The French fries offered here is of a thicker kind than the ones offered inside Garden Café. I found the pizza to be too doughy for my taste.
Studio Living Room – Depending on what time of the day you stop by, the small fridge contains salads or sandwiches. There were also cookies. Chocolate chip became scarce during my second week of cruising. Also offered were white chocolate chip, oatmeal and raisin and chocolate cookie with white chocolate chip. The best part was the coffee machine. You can make cappuccinos, milchkaffees, café crèmes, etc. The door to the Living Room usually remained unlocked but during our second week, we found it not to be so. You needed a Studio room key card to access it. However, the door is moot as there was an open passage on deck 11 off to the side that allows you direct access.
Taste - Opens for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dinner menu is the same with The Manhattan Room every night. I was disappointed to find the breakfast options don’t offer anything I can’t already get from the Garden Café. Needless to say, we ate here for breakfast only once. For lunch, there were sandwiches and pastas, most of which you can also get at Garden Café. There was a cheese steak sandwich and crab and lobster salad sandwich that we found quite enjoyable.
The Manhattan Room – Opens for dinner only and offers the same dinner menu as Taste but with table cloth settings and so more “formal”, so to speak. One side of the menu offers the standard items available every day and the other offers the evening’s specials. There was a prime rib night and a lobster and grouper night. I found the mushroom with sun dried tomato pasta with pesto sauce to be quite good. The roasted salmon was also delicious. I can’t recall the other meals but I do know I didn’t like the French onion soup. It tasted like I was drinking soy sauce. The desserts have 2 selections that change nightly along with items available every day. We found all the desserts to be the same ones you can get at Garden Café.
O’Sheehans – Came here for lunch once. Service was perfunctory. The chicken tenders and fish and chips were particularly good. Didn’t like the desserts. The menu remains the same throughout our 2 week cruise.
Cirque Dreams & Dinner show – The menu beginning Sept. 25 was a new one due to previous numerous complaints. You were provided a menu for informational purposes. We were asked if we were allergic to anything, otherwise, we didn’t have a choice, you get it all. The surf part of the surf and turf entrée was wasted on me since I don’t like shrimp. The steak part of the turf was too rare for my taste. I didn’t find the meal terrible. It was decent.
(Also see below under entertainment)
A line starts to form about 45 to 30 minutes before each show time depending on the timing and popularity of each performance.
Blue Man Group – We watched this show three times sitting in three different areas of the theater. New perspective. But mainly for the third time, 2 of the 3 Blue Men changed and we wanted to see how the show might have changed. I can’t say how awesome the show is. This is my first time seeing them live. The only other time was on a DVD and it did not do them justice. The content of the show was the same; the variables were the audience participation. Photos with the Blue Men were available after the show outside the theater entrance during the second week of our cruise. We didn’t think to do it the first time as we figured it would be a long line. However, after seeing how nice the photos came out in the Photo Gallery, we decided to show up for the next photo-op. We got there 8 minutes after the scheduled time assuming there might still be a line of people waiting only to find everything was done and everyone gone. I guess taking pictures with the Blue Men wasn’t as popular as I thought it would’ve been.
The Second City – We watched this show three times as well. As with BMG, the content is the same with the variables being the audience. That said the 11pm show designated 18+ is different in content from the shows at 7pm and 9pm. And just as funny.
Howl at the Moon – During the first week was John (I think), Tommy and Sydney. During the second week, it was Eric, Desiree and Sydney. It’s amazing how many songs they know to play and sing. And multi-talented too, with the bass and drums as back up. The performers tend to repeat songs they’d played in a prior night if they don’t get enough requests that come with tips attached.
Legends in Concert – A Motown tribute had a plug featuring the cast of Legends during dinner in The Manhattan Room several nights. We had on board with us Rod Stewart, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. We watched the Legends show once. It’s a great show and the performers did a great job impersonating the singers. Photos with them were available after the show outside the theater entrance.
Cirque Dreams & Dinner show – We booked the standard seating (upper level) for 5:15pm. We were seated slightly before 5pm. It looked about 45 seats on the upper level. Our seats were right over the sound booth which was where they start to seat everyone first as it was the furthest from the entrance/exit. It was an ideal location as it seemed more often than not that the performers faced us. The stage on the lower level was also clearly visible to us as sometimes it was used for the acts. The performers ran around the upper level as well. The acts were clearly visible when it “took to the air”. I didn’t find the humor too funny but I guess they tried.
Slime Time Live – I didn’t know what this show was when I booked it. It appealed to families with kids. Two families were previously chosen to play games on the stage with audience participation throughout.
Bowling at O’Sheehans – There were three lanes right by O’Sheehans (three more lanes were located inside Bliss Ultra Lounge). $5 a game per person. The balls range in weight from 8 to 14 lbs. Shoes were provided; just bring your own socks. I didn’t notice any sanitary sprays or cleanings between each shoe’s uses.
Rappelling wall – Shoes provided; just bring your own socks. Before you are fixed up with the helmet, shoes and harness, you sign a waiver that will apply to all other physical activities you do during the week. The straight ladder climb up to the top was the hardest part. The rappel portion was over too quickly.
Rock climbing – Beginner, moderate and advanced walls on one side. There was also the rappelling wall, studded with “rocks” that look to be the expert wall.
Epic Plunge and water slides – The lines get long for the Plunge as it takes awhile for the ride to be complete. (The next person doesn’t go until the person below exists). Three sizes of inner tubes are provided (red-small, yellow-medium, blue-large). The Green slide is faster with more twists and turns and opens in the end. The Purple slide is slower. Both of the slides are in complete darkness. I think it would’ve been so much cooler if it was see-through. There usually were no lines to the green and purple water slides.
Animal Towel demonstration – Our room steward was one of the demonstrators. Several animals were prepared, some I’ve seen before as our room steward made them for us in our stateroom. I think this was mostly a plug for them to sell demonstration DVDs, which was $9, each DVD containing 10 animals’ demonstrations each.
Meet the men behind the Blue – This was a very interesting Q&A session in the Atrium to see the performers without the blue make up. The audience was encouraged to ask questions.
2 Week Cruisers Farewell Reception – On the last Friday evening of our b2b cruise, we were invited to a farewell reception for all b2b cruisers. The Cruise Director said a few words, a few senior officers mingled with us. Free alcohol.
All passengers continuing on their second week were provided an in transit sticker to affix to your chest. We lounged around the Atrium until about 10am where we disembarked and went through customs. We then exited and re-entered terminal B and were led all the way to a separate waiting area in terminal C. We were the first to re-board at 11:30am when the ship began embarkation for the second week.
Our room steward had not fixed up our room yet. I guess the priority here is for the new passengers. Didn’t really bother us. Though the large doors to the cabin hallways were closed, we snuck into our room to change into our swim suits. Our room steward was ok with this. Embarkation day was the best time to use the water slides since there weren’t a lot of people using them yet.
Our stateroom was on deck 13 forward so the purple tag was our color and would disembark at 9:30pm. Since the timing is perfect for our flight, we stuck with purple. You have until 1am of the last night to set out your luggage. We were at breakfast the Garden Café around 8am the next day. It wasn’t crazy packed that you couldn’t find a seat. However, purple tags were called to disembark at 8:40am. We didn’t stroll down to deck 6 until about 9am and it was a mad house. The line stretched all the way from the Epic Theater exit past Headliners club. Once down in the terminal, we located our luggage and lined up to go through customs.