I am a 41 year old female who traveled with my boyfriend and my two younger sisters. We have cruised multiple times on different lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Since sailing with NCL a few years back, we have been loyal fans ever since and take advantage of their special onboard deal by purchasing a $250 future cruise voucher and receiving an instant $100 on board credit. Nice deal and it was how we ended up booking the Epic!
As for us, we are very social and enjoy dancing, beaches, pools, good food and drinks and even relaxing! We found that we were able to experience all of this on the Epic with joyful results! Let us begin the review with:
Embarkation: Took a cab from Hilton Downtown Miami. Piece of cake getting on board. Took under a half an hour. We got there around 12:30pm.
Room: My boyfriend and I chose an inside stateroom. It was perfectly spacious for the two of us. I am an over-packer and still had plenty of storage for all of my belongings with space to spare. The empty suitcases and carry-ons easily fit under the bed. We had a single queen size bed and unlike other cruises I have been on, this was not two twin beds pushed together. It was one single, comfortable bed. On either side of the bed is an end table one of which holds the lighted telephone. It has a built-in auto wakeup call which is nice and it is very easy to contact any guest services department with this phone. You can shut the light off on the phone along with the two blue lights that are connected to the reading lights on the wall by pressing a button on the phone if it annoys you when retiring for the evening. The shower and toilet are separated and there is also a privacy curtain. The sink was fine and did NOT splash like other reviews have stated.
The only two small suggestions I can offer regarding the room is a better light at the vanity and a larger mirror or maybe a makeup mirror on a stand. I had a hard time seeing while applying my makeup and the mirror was underneath the TV shelf so I had to bend to the side a little in order to see into the mirror. This was only a minor inconvenience though. There is a hair dryer and it worked well although the cord is a little short.
Overall, it was a comfortable room that worked well for sleeping and primping.
TIP: I brought along some post-its to leave on my sisters' door whenever my boyfriend and I went somewhere so that they could meet up with us. It worked out well that way since there is no cell phone reception at sea. Another tip- you use your room key in a slot to activate the electricity. You can use any card for this. I used my library card.
Ship: In my opinion, it's a Vegas style ship. Everything is new, bright and colorful. I adored the design of each area. The ship was also very easy to navigate. One side of the ship has blue colored carpeting and the other side was orange so you could easily figure out which side your room was on. There were signs everywhere and also a digital touch screen map located throughout the ship. Speaking of the digital signage, you no longer have to keep the daily itinerary on you. You can easily bring it up on the touch screen. There is also a clock located on the bottom left which I found very convenient.
The ship has 19 floors but not all areas are accessible by everyone. Some of the space is designated for villa guests.. Posh beach club, etc. As for the casino, it stretches across the 5th floor and smoking is allowed. I was not bothered by this as I normally just passed through it but it is bothersome for some non -smokers who like to gamble. NCL has installed some additional air purifiers which has made a significant difference.
Staff: Absolutely amazing. I did not encounter even one rude staff member. All were very friendly and helpful. They were always smiling, offering to take photos for you.. true service with a smile. The $12 a day that is charged for tips is indeed worth it if not more. My cabin steward was incredible. (Rolando) Some people complain that they are bothered too often for drink requests. Well, I would prefer being asked if I'd like a drink than sitting there waiting for one. If you don't want one, just say no thanks. Not a big deal! They are there to serve you. Appreciate it!
Food: Where to even begin. There is so much variety. The buffet is so plentiful. If you can't find something you like there, then you must not like food at all. I never was able to try everything. Some people say they have the same selections every day. I noticed something new added to the mix daily. And even if there wasn't, there is so much choice to begin with! (be sure to check out my photo album for lots of food pics!) I am a true foodie!
As for the Manhattan Room, O'Sheehans and Taste, the food was good but the service slower. (mushroom quesadilla was awesome!) TIP- tell them you need to catch a show and they will get it to you a little faster. Manhattan Room and Taste offer a consistent menu on one side. On the other side, there are daily additions. O'Sheehans was fast service for us. I had the grilled chicken sandwich served with a buffalo sauce mayo and skinny fries. It was really good. My boyfriend had the fish and chips with thicker fries.
Other specialty restaurants we ate in were:
Teppenyaki- incredible show with amazing food. I could not believe the amount of fresh lobster tail meat and filet mignon we had. It was all so good!
Le Bistro- My favorite! The cream of mushroom soup is heavenly. The filet mignon in peppercorn sauce with Portobello mushrooms and au gratin potatoes was out of the world. The meat was perfectly cooked medium as requested and the outside was crispy and flavorful. The Crème Brule for desert was truly the best I ever had.
Moderno- meat, meat meat.. you start with the salad bar which was amazing! Fresh cerviche and jumbo shrimp along with seafood soups, fresh salads, etc. The meats were plentiful: sirloin, filet mignon, chicken, sausage, ribs, etc. A delicious yet extremely filling meal!
Noodle Bar- The absolute best fried pot stickers and spring rolls I ever had.
Cirque Dreams- Filet mignon and shrimp. So delicious! They also served a salad and dessert. My sister is a vegetarian so they gave her raviolis instead. All the restaurants were very accommodating to her needs.
*We never tried Cagneys because we had filet mignon at Le Bistro which is also a lower cover charge but I do hear it is fabulous!
Drinks: I brought on 5 bottles of wine and paid a $15 per bottle corkage fee (.750 size only) (take note- you can NOT bring on beer or liquor. Only wine!) You can also bring on your own bottled water. We brought a case and went through it all. I found a liquor store in Miami with a very good $4 bottle of wine so I bought a few of those. Overall, the price of the wine with the additional $15 corkage fee still made the bottles less expensive than what they were on the ship. NCL also provided me with a wine cork screw which was nice but I did lack wine glasses in the room. Luckily, I asked my cabin steward, Rolando, to bring me some and he politely obliged. You can also bring your bottle with you to restaurants, etc. They put a stamp on it so they know it's been paid for when you entered the ship.
As for on board drinks, they are WONDERFUL. And they will make them stronger if you request. I ordered a perfect margarita and perfect it was! Fresh lime juice, simple syrup, Patron Tequila and Patron orange liquor. Excellent as were all of the martinis. And guess what? Look in your Freestyle Daily for happy hour specials including buy one get one free martinis from 5pm-7pm sometimes located at Moderno bar. They had plenty of drink choices and lots of beers as well.
Entertainment: The best on any ship I have ever been. Here is what we experienced:
Blue Man Group- We did this the first night and there were plenty of seats left. They put on quite an interesting show. (no pics allowed during show) I can't even explain this show as it is indescribable but I will say the second half was outstanding and lots of great kid-like fun! You could pose with them for pictures after the show.
Cirque Dreams- Very colorful, active and interesting. We sat up top facing down onto the show. We were able to see everything but I have a suggestion for improvement. I would have enjoyed the show much more if the audio was better. I could not make out the dialect sitting up top. It was a bit muffled and drowned out. Had the audio been clearer and louder, I know I would have enjoyed it much more. One particular aspect that I especially enjoyed was the fact that there were a lot of men in this show. Normally you find scantily clad women so I enjoyed seeing scantily clad physically fit men for a change. (especially the man in the bath tub! I will say no more but ladies, he is a must see!) ;)
Legends in Concert- Performing were 'Rod Stuart', 'Britney Spears' and 'Michael Jackson'. All were phenomenal. It was an excellent show especially Michael Jackson's performance in my opinion. No photos during the performance but you could pose for pictures with them afterward. There is a small hitch. Only NCL can take the photos and must be purchased from them. I think this is due to copyright issues but I am guessing.
Howl at the Moon: Dueling Piano Show- These guys were great. They would take audience requests and play them but they would get crowd interaction and really make it a funny, crowd pleasing show! Very entertaining!
Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club: We watched a very talented Jazz band although I do not recall the name of the group. The band was composed of 4 members who were crazy talented. The lead singer also played a mean harmonica. Certainly worth seeing!
Paul Scally Live and Uncensored!: hahaha! LOVED it.. not for kids or the easily offended. This is the entertainment director, Paul Scally, doing standup comedy and wow, was he funny! Check him out!
The Ice Bar: Do it, do it, do it! We went in there with a rowdy, partying attitude and had a ball! There was a group of about 20 of us in there so it made for a better time! The drinks are served in ice glasses and were really tasty! You get two for $20 and can spend up to 40 minutes in there. We did about ½ hour then we were cold. Wear socks! They give you the parka and gloves.
*There were a few other shows but we did not get to see them all.
Parties!: We happened to be on board Halloween week so NCL put on a great party for adults on the outside area called Spice H20. So many people came dressed up and they had a costume contest. My boyfriend and I won for best couple! It was great! 'Michael Jackson' from Legends in Concert showed up to end the party before we all headed down to Bliss Lounge for late night dancing. Speaking of dancing, the dj on board this week (DJ Jonesy from NYC) was fantastic!! NCL also had their signature White hot party but it was pink instead for breast cancer awareness month! Another amazing party!
In addition to great dancing every night, we did karaoke every evening but the song selection is slim pickings! I am told they are updating the song book weekly which is needed since they have 2 hours of karaoke just about every night.
Tastings!: Another wonderful day time activity (because it's 5 o'clock somewhere) are the liquor tastings. They have martini, French and Italian wine and beer tastings. We did the martini tasting twice and it was nice because they made a different batch of martinis the second time around. You get 4 of them for $15 made with top shelf liquors! FUN!
Pools and slides: The pools are too small. It's been said in every review but it did not bother me in the slightest as I don't normally go in ship pools. There seemed to be enough hot tubs around. I always saw room in them. The slides were great according to my boyfriend. The lines moved quickly as well. Lots of seating and an adult pool at Spice H20. I do not like when people save seats with their towel, though, so if I see it there longer than 20 minutes, I move it. And you seat hogs out there.. you should know that if your towel 'disappears' you can be charged $20 for a replacement! ;)
Bowling: $5.00 a game.. we played and had a blast even though I lost.
Wall climbing and other outdoor sports: My boyfriend climbed the wall and did the expert level. They have another wall that is for descending only. They have basketball courts and some spider web climbing but the weight limit is 125lbs. I could have done that but it was filled with children. ;p
Shopping: lots of stores and even one on the pool deck that had the best specials. TIP: shop the last day. You can find the best deals.
Spa and gym: We took a spa tour the first day. I recommend you book the first day because time slots fill up fast. The spa and gym were the best I have ever seen at sea. Take the tour but be prepared for some sales pitches although never any pressure. They really do offer some nice services and it's just a beautiful environment. The gym has everything you need. It's so nice to workout overlooking the sea.
Games, etc.- Lots of pool games, also some games at Spice H20 and in Bliss Lounge. My boyfriend won one of the game shows. (check out the videos on my picture site)
*There is so much more.. movies, pool tables, dart boards, etc. Oh and Bingo... art auctions.. Internet cafe..on and on the list goes!
Let's talk Ports of Call in the Western Caribbean:
We chose our own excursion set up months before the cruise. We planned to go to Maya Chan which is a private resort about 40 minutes from the port. There were about 20 of us from Cruise Critic who booked this. The group rate was $49pp (I think) which included drinks and lunch. Once we arrived though, my boyfriend, sisters and I plus one other cruise critic member decided the place was a bit too rustic and natural for us. It was turtle egg laying season so certain areas could not be disturbed and it made the water a little murky-like. The owner of Maya Chan was very gracious and accommodating and gave us a full refund minus some cab fare. We ended up heading back to port where there is a free, beautiful and huge swimming pool with a swim up bar, hammocks and restaurants for food and drinks. We enjoyed a beautiful day there.
It was my sister's birthday so we wanted a nice beach with a pool, lots of drinks flowing and some good food. We found all of that and what I call a slice of paradise at Infinity Bay resort. It was a 20 minute cab ride away from the port. They will charge you $20pp round trip to get there. The cost of Infinity Bay for a day pass was $15pp which gave you use of the pool and lounge chairs on the beach. No reservation is needed. Just ask your cab driver to bring you there. It is located in the West end. We had the royal treatment at this resort. It was the most amazing infinity pool I had ever used. The beach was excellent. Pure white sand and crystal blue calm waters. Take note that there are beach vendors but if you give them a polite no thanks, they will let you be. We were not bothered at the pool by the vendors at all. We had bar service on the beach and at the pool. They even have a swim up bar. There is also a restaurant where we ordered some good food. Best of all, prices were very reasonable! We had a most excellent day here and it was not crowded in the slightest. Check out my photos for the gem of a place! I also posted a review on Trip Advisor.
We had a fantastic tour in Cozumel and I highly recommend it! This was another tour we set up in advance. It's the Cozumel Bus Bar Hop. It's not just a bar hop. The bus tour circles the island and provides 40-45 minutes at each beach bar along with a shot drink at each stop all for the low price of $49 per person. We met our group which ended up being a group of 20 at the Star Bucks in port. We ended up visiting 4 beautiful beaches/bar/restaurants including: Punta Morena, Coconuts, Playa Bonita and Rastas. (we ended up at Carlos and Charlies to end the day!) Along the route, our awesome tour guide named Greg filled us in on facts and other information about the island and pointed out sites along the way. I recommend this tour even if you are not a big drinker. The island is very pretty and it's a great way to see it. The food and drinks at all the stops were excellent and inexpensive as well. I have an in-depth review if this Cozumel Bar Hop also on Trip Advisor.
Disembarkation: I believe that getting off the ship is normally an easy and fast process. Unfortunately, we had a little trouble and in no way was it NCL's fault. Our last stop was Cozumel and we were supposed to leave there in the evening and head back to the port of Miami. An unexpected cold front moved in which brought 50mph winds and caused huge waves. The way the ship was docked, we were unable to leave Cozumel. We did not leave the port until early morning. The captain announced that anyone who had flights earlier than 3pm should change them. Naturally, that caused some chaos as many people scrambled to call airlines and use the free Internet provided by NCL for this purpose. The captain said we should arrive around 10am. Our flight was set to leave at 11:50am. Because it would cost an additional good deal of money to get a new plane ticket, my boyfriend and I decided to chance it. Luckily, we arrive at 8:30am. We were off the ship at 9:30am and had plenty of time to catch our flight home. I'm sure there were some disgruntled people who changed their flights so I am unsure how all of that was handled but regardless, NCL handled it to the best of their ability. Mother Nature plays strange tricks sometime and even with all the modern technology, it's still not mastered.
Conclusion: Having a wonderful vacation starts with having a wonderful attitude. I went on this ship with the intention of having fun, meeting great people and even doing some relaxing. I did not have unrealistic expectations as some do. Nothing in the world is going to be perfect. There are some design flaws as mentioned in other reviews. Also, this is a new ship. There will be some kinks to work out but overall, I think NCL did a MARVELOUS job and I would, without hesitation, recommend this ship especially if you like to party and have a good time! Food was great, entertainment amazing, activities plentiful, ship just beautiful, ports of call fantastic! It was an EPIC vacation! Enjoy!!
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