Well, I expect this may be a long review but we will see how it goes. My DH and I are in our late 50’s and retired and this is only our third cruise. Previously we were on the NCL Gem and the Emerald Princess.
We flew into Miami a day early on November 12th and stayed at the Embassy Suites with a “cruise/shuttle/breakfast” special. Worked quite well and hotel was very nice.
Took hotel shuttle to ship at 11 AM and arrived at the dock around 11:30.
Embarkation was excellent and we were on the ship in about 15 minutes. The cabins were not ready but we headed for the Garden Café to have lunch. We basically stayed there until they announced that the rooms were ready.
CABIN – We were in Cabin 12253 on the “blue” side of the ship. It was a nice idea for the cruise line to have red carpet on one side and blue on the other as it made finding things a bit easier. We had a deluxe balcony cabin which included a bathtub. We were about 20 cabins away from the back of the ship and did not notice any serious engine or ship noises.
My first impression of the cabin was good as it was a decent size and very tastefully decorated. Our cabin had the bed by the balcony and the sofa nearer to the door. The toilet enclosure and tub enclosure (sliding frosted doors) was very attractive but after using them for a few days became simply annoying. Basically, there is no “bathroom”; it is the space where you enter the room. You get into and out of the bathtub directly into the room (hallway) so there is NO privacy. There is a curtain you can pull across and since it was only my husband and I we didn’t bother with it. The problem was when someone came to your cabin door!! I guess if you were in the bathtub you would have to only open the cabin door a few inches and tell whoever was there to come back later??
The toilet enclosure is very tight and if you close the door I hope you are not claustrophobic! I certainly hope that NCL goes back to a normal “bathroom” setup with any future ships. The tiny sink which is on the counter was not a problem and worked fine. My best guess is that this “curved” room idea gave the engineers a few extra feet of space per cabin which allowed them to add more cabins and thus “more money” for NCL.
Cabin storage: There were three closets but only one of them had coat hangers and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to bring their own coat hangers with them! In our case most of the clothes we brought were shorts and t-shirts so we needed more shelves than closets. There were plenty of storage areas but only a few that had deep, accessible shelves. The baskets in the lower cupboards were a good idea.
We did not have a problem finding spots for everything but we had to put some clothes on the bottom (floor-level) shelves because the upper shelves were not very deep. Lots of room under the bed for your suitcases
Cabin furniture - The curved couch was pretty useless. It was very hard and there are no arms. The back is padded vinyl and two parts of it open (doors) where the extra bedding is stored.
The Bed – The bedding was lovely but I personally found the bed too hard. I ordered an egg-crate but I guess they had all been taken. The pillows were comfortable.
The Balcony was OK and had two regular chairs and a TINY (useless) table. The chairs were not adjustable or high-backed so they were only for sitting out and reading but not very comfortable.
TV – A good-sized flat panel but nothing to watch. Basically a news channel, one sports (for football), two children’s (I think) and the rest were NCL channels for advertising or looking at your bill. There was one regular channel with very old repeats of TV series like The Nanny and Two and a Half Men.
Room Steward – When we were on the NCL Gem we had a wonderful steward who came and introduced himself immediately, greeted us by name everyday and took care of our every request immediately.
This time we didn’t even SEE our room steward (John) for THREE days. Any request was not taken care of for AT LEAST a full day (if then) and during the whole cruise I think we saw him three times! We had to call room service to get the fridge re-stocked and the mirror and balcony were not cleaned properly for two days. Perhaps NCL is cutting down on staff or giving them too many rooms to look after but it was poor service in my books.
BATHTUB – A note to future cruisers: if you like a hot shower and start out with the water temperature at a high temperature, IT WILL GET HOTTER! It fluctuates from where it was originally set to HOTTER so be very careful. I found getting out of the tub to be very tricky and also hard to sit down in the tub as you could not hold on to the side of the tub where the sliding glass doors were. There was a convenient clothesline on the wall of the bathtub.
DINING – We ate at Taste one night and the service was excellent but I found the steak (NY Strip Loin) rather tough and chewy. We had the same meal in the Manhattan Dining room and it was better however we did not like the live orchestra that played during the meal.
Mostly we ate at the Garden Buffet and the food was very good with a large selection from vegetarian to pizza. The roast pork and spare ribs were very good. There was soft ice cream all the time and hard ice cream during meals along with hot deserts and fruit. Although it was sometimes crowded we never had a problem finding a place to sit.
I had lunch at O’Sheehan’s on the last day and the fish and chips weren’t bad.
Casino – This is a big problem as covered in other reviews. There are smokers everywhere and even if you are in the “non-smoking” area the smoke comes in.
Even walking through this area was bad and made my eyes burn. NCL really needs to make totally separate and enclosed areas for smokers.
To make things worse, they have restaurants directly off the casino so the smoke would go there as well. Lots of “air purifiers” running but they didn’t seem to help much.
Second City Comedy Club – This was in a bar type venue so if you were not directly in the front you really couldn’t see the comedians. It was all “improv” so wasn’t all that funny. Lots of audience participation which I personally find boring. Give me a good stand-up comedian any day.
Cirque Dreams Dinner Theatre – Don’t waste your money. We paid for the “premium seating” which apparently meant nice tables and comfortable chairs but NO VIEW of the show unless you were in the front table and sitting the right way!! We were in the second row of tables on the same level as the performers so with all those other people in our way all I could see was from the shoulders up of the performers. The less expensive seating was on the second level looking down and looked like it would give you a much better view of the show. Also it is hard to watch a show and eat a meal at the same time. It is a shame because the performers seemed to be excellent. The meal was OK but there is no selection and a lot of it was not to my taste. The prime rib was very good however as were the deserts.
Blue Man Group – FANTASTIC! This group made the whole cruise worthwhile and we actually went to see them twice. If you don’t like loud music I would suggest taking ear plugs.
INTERNET – If you want a good laugh, this would be it. $55.00 for 100 minutes and I managed three short emails and got my boarding passes printed off!! Slow doesn’t even begin to describe it. Unless it is a necessity in your life I would wait until I got into a port to find a WIFI site.
POOL and SLIDES - Another problem. There are two main pool and they are usually full of children. The adult pool is in the H2O area which is full of loungers WITH NO shade! They also have a big TV monitor to watch the football games but sitting out in the hot sun for 3 hours is not part of my plan. They do have tables and chairs with umbrellas over them but they were not all that comfortable.
The EPIC slide was fun but we didn’t try the others since it is not really our thing.
There were lots of loungers everywhere and you could find quiet shady areas but unfortunately the loungers are very hard and stiff so I would suggest bringing a couple of extra beach towels as padding.
For two days we managed to get up early and get one of the “beds” on the main pool deck. At 6:30 AM three out of four of them were already taken.
The shuffleboard courts were great and we had some good games. We wanted to BOWL but the lanes in the Bliss Lounge (adults only) were closed most of the time or the Lounge was reserved for some function or other. I thought the bowling was $10.00 for two strings but it is only for one (two adults). One lane has “bumpers” for kids.
Overall the ship was very nice but the constant “big sell” was annoying to say the least and reminded me of the beach vendors except you couldn’t make these guys go away.
SHORE EXCURSIONS – We only went on two.
Roatan Sightseeing and Beach – This was a long bus ride with stops at an Iguana Refuge (really neat) and a look-off (Joe’s House) before hitting Turquoise Bay Resort. Be warned that there are NO washroom facilities at Joe’s House as it is a private home which happens to have great views and a patio to set up vendors selling trinkets. I think that if someone wants to open their home as a tourist site and sell stuff then it should be forced to have proper facilities including public washrooms. At least four people asked the tour guide where the bathrooms were.
The waters had been stirred up by a recent storm so there were no fish to see when snorkelling. The beach is crushed coral and not sand so I would highly recommend beach shoes. With all the stops and the long bus ride you only get to spend about 45 minutes at the beach. One fruit punch is free and everything else isn’t.
COZUMEL SHORESIDE SNORKEL - Not recommended. The “beach” is 8 minutes away from the ship and is called Sunset Beach except it is NOT a beach but a very rocky shoreline with a bar, washrooms and lockers. The owners (??) built steps down to get into the water but this is a man-made snorkel site (not a reef). The rocks are laid out on the sand bottom in rectangular areas with large cement beehive things places about every 20 feet. These have holes in them so the fish use them as shelters similar to coral but definitely uglier.
The main problem for me was that this turned out to be a “tour” and not free snorkelling. You had to follow your guide and then come back in. It was very windy, cloudy and off/on rain so it didn’t make things any better. There were some fish but nothing special just the regular yellow/white, white/blue and a bunch of tiny silver ones.
The best shopping was in Cozumel and I was surprised to find that all the prices were in US dollars and then shown in Mexican pesos. A t-shirt would be priced at $7.00 US and then $110.00 pesos. Considering that 100 pesos = $9.00 US (when I left) it certainly discouraged anyone from using Mexican money.
DISEMBARKATION – We used the “walk-off” option and it worked very well except that we were leaving on Deck 6 (the Casino – midship) and there was no way to tell where the line ended since people were snaked all over the place. Once things started moving we were off the ship in about 10 minutes. Lots of taxis and a taxi boss making sure things went smoothly.
Miscellaneous Notes - The lighting and A/C in the cabin were fine and the staff service in the rest of the ship (except for our Rm Steward) was excellent.
So I would not go back on the Epic and if I ever do convince my DH to cruise again it will be back to the Gem or similar ship.