Having originally booked NCL's Epic early on in 2010 and following the poor reviews after launch, it was decided that we should jump ship and set sail to the Western Caribbean with another cruise line! Having 3 prior cruises with RCCL under our belt already this year - "Brilliance" from Dubai and two short "Independence" cruises from Southampton, we decided that we should stick to the one brand (to increase the loyalty points and see if we could reach the magic number to get the free drinkies on offer between 4 - 6 pm each day - we are slowly heading to the 10 points needed)!
Celebrity's newest darling "Eclipse" was set to sail on the same date as we had originally planned to sail with NCL which fitted in with the flights we had booked from the UK to Miami, so the fun began with our UK based High Street Travel Agent and making that all important change! A mistake that will not be made again - no not changing the brand, using a High Street Travel Agent!!!
We left a rather damp and wet Edinburgh on Thursday 25th November with the threat of snow behind us! We arrived into T5 at London Heathrow and due to a slight delay, we were soon turning left on our plane en-route to Miami!
After an uneventful flight, we arrived in to Miami on Thursday afternoon and after clearing security (just, we managed to smuggle through the Tunnocks Caramel Wafers and Shortbread that we didn't declare on our Customs form - ooppss) we collected our luggage and were on our way to The Epic Hotel for a 2 night stay prior to boarding the ship!
The Epic Hotel is a great boutique style hotel with minimalistic being the key feature, although the rooms were anything but! We were on the 28th floor in none other than a waterfront suite which came complete with free internet and a goldfish which we christened "Bob" for our stay - we have Host Anne on CC to thank for that recommendation! The room had a lounge with fantastic seating, a large bedroom which was semi circular with full floor to ceiling windows and a bathroom to die for!
After breakfast at Bayside where we spied Eclipse, we took a taxi to the port arriving at around 11:00 AM. We dropped our luggage with a porter who promptly asked us for a tip (what, is that to make sure our luggage makes the ship or what)?? We headed in to the terminal and through security before entering the check-in area. Your passport is checked and your carry-on bag goes through a scanning check. We were then directed to a desk however as we were in a suite, we walked up to the suite check-in. Within a few minutes we had our room cards and proceeded to the queue to photo processing. By 11.15 am we were on board, we'd had our complimentary welcome glass of champagne, had checked out the Aqua Spa Cafe (only because we were lost) and we then proceeded to the top deck where we sat at the Lawn Club with the first of many drinks in our little hands thanks to our "premium drinks" package! This was to become our bar of choice due to the great views and fresh air (okay one side was smoking)! There was not another soul in sight at 11.15 am and we wondered if there was anyone else joining us!
S1 Suite 8336
By the time we sailed on the 27th November, we'd had 4 different staterooms on the ship! We started off in an SV aft cabin on deck 8. We then went up to a C1 aft on deck 10! As the date of the cruise drew nearer and the UK prices dropped drastically, we went up to an S2 suite on deck 12 however my very good friend who has knowledge on all things RCCL related told me that being the sun worshippers that we were, due to the overhang from the Lido deck above (Oceanview bar), we weren't going to get an ounce of sunshine, so off back down the elevator it was for us down to an S1 corner aft room on deck 8 and this is where we duly stayed for the cruise but it wasn't for the lack of trying to get up to a Celebrity Suite due to the price drops! We even managed to avoid the window washing equipment on deck 11 thanks to cruise critic!
Following a few reminders that the staterooms would no be ready until 1.00 pm, we sat firmly at the Lawn Club bar enjoying the views over Miami and at 1:00 PM we proceeded to our stateroom. Our S1 suite seemed huge and with a bottle of champagne sitting awaiting our arrival, this took priority over anything else! We opened the bottle of bubbly and toasted our forthcoming cruise then went outside to enjoy the view! The balcony was great, it was a fantastic size and had 3 chairs on it with footstools and a table! There was room for atleast another 2 or 3 chairs if needed. The storage in the room was excellent and the bathroom was brilliant with a fantastic bath with shower head and hand held appliance as well. Many complain about the location of aft cabins however for us, you can't beat the view, the privacy and lets face it, the walk to the elevator or stairs may be the only exercise some take on a cruise so it is well worth it - plus you get too look in all the other cabins on the way along if the stateroom attendants are in making up the rooms!
We had a good stateroom attendant and butler, however the butler disappeared on the last night and we never seen him again - he missed out on his extra tip! Good job we didn't want him to help us pack our cases which is one of his duties to suite guests!!
Our High Street Travel Agent had kindly booked us in to Celebrity Select Dining (as she never asked us at the time of booking what we wanted) and seeing as it was a hassle dealing with them with regards to anything we wanted to change - initially she had us down as our surnames first and Christian names as surnames, we left it at that! We hadn't tried this type of dining on any prior cruise so thought that we would go with it. We had the specialty restaurants booked for 4 of the nights - once in Qsine on our own as a couple to celebrate my birthday and the second visit was with the Cruise Critic group - 21 in total over 2 tables and we had Murano and Tuscan Grille booked also. Out of the 3, Qsine was the most fun. At our table for 2 on our first visit, we experienced different food than we did at our Cruise Critic table of 8 - really this was down to your servers interpretation of what you had selected on your ipad - and no you can't steal your ipad and don't even try and use them for anything else or they will be ripped out of your hands and a stern ticking off given!!! They are very precious of their ipads and if you do happen to break in to one and reach the outside world on it, we were told they need to be sent away to be re-set! You have been warned! I preferred Tuscan Grille out of all 3 for its ambience and the food was superb whilst my husband preferred the much finer dining in Murano! We were stuck in a corner n Murano where we couldn't see anything that was going on and I felt that whilst the waiters were very good at their job, there was no atmosphere, the diners that were in there were all sombre and very stiff upper lip! I would have eaten very night in Tuscan Grille if I could have gotten a table, it had so much more of a buzz about it.
We wanted to attend the Formal Nights on the Sunday and Thursday so made the effort to turn up in the Main Dining Room on those nights. On both occasions we were given a table for 2 however I have to say that on any future cruises we will go back to set dining as we felt that the service and lack of getting to know your servers was missing in this style of dining. Also the dining room host seating people was a bit frosty so we didn't dare mess with her seating plan when we were allocated a table!
We really enjoyed the brunch in the main dining room on day 2 (Sunday - a sea day). There was a fantastic selection of food and talking to one of the Managers, he said that they had only fed around 700 - 800 people that day! What a waste of a pile of great food!
We thoroughly enjoyed The Oceanview Cafe - the buffet restaurant. It offers a wide variety of choices for breakfast (Eggs Benedict for me was a plus as Independence didn't offer it and on Brilliance you had to get it from the Main Dining Room which is a place I don't go to for breakfast). Lunch offered another fantastic selection of just about every food you could imagine with even afternoon tea for those that had the munchies around 4.00 pm and if you are starving at 5.00 pm before your dinner, you could have had sushi as well! For those that are pizza mad, the pizzas we thought, were great!
We did visit Caffe Al Bacio every day - that is the best Latte I've had anywhere and hubbie tried all their different teas - there were a fantastic selection and the pyramid tea bags were a novel idea!
We never did get to Bistro on Five, the Aqua Spa Cafe or the Mast Grill, we ran out of days which is a shame! Every time we passed Bistro on Five, we simply weren't hungry!
Ports of Call
We only did one trip in Grand Cayman and that was the beer and rum tour! By 8.30 am we were picked up from the port and by 8.50 am we were drinking rum! By 9.15 am we were downing Cayman brew at the local brewery and by 10.00 am we were back on the rum again at a different distillery - that is some trip, not to be missed and you do actually learn something apart from how to drink illegally before the official drinking time in the UK (11.00 am for those not in UK)!! It sets you up for the rest of the days drinking if it doesn't blow your head off before then (which a sniff of a pure large vat of rum did just about to me)!
Having signed up to the Cruise Critic thread for this cruise months ago, we were posting and reading as and when, with a mad flurry of posts - most wishing Merry Shipmas before we sailed on the 27th November which was fun so we knew that there were going to be a great bunch of people on board and a few were fellow Brits! Funnily enough on our second day in Miami we met some fellow Scots at the train station trying to make sense of the timetable and they turned and asked if I was MadLotus on CC! Jan and Bo, I hope you enjoyed your second week onboard! As for the rest of the CC crew, I have to make a few special mentions - Steve and Marlene, you guys get the award for being so hilarious and we really did enjoy your humour and the time that we spent with you. The pics of you and Derek (the full length version) is really good - I do hope that your pic came out after Marlene's top half shot which was hilarious! Marlene came out with some cracking one liners and she had me in tears many a time - especially telling Lyon the pianist to "go home and practice" - that was just so funny! Marlene - I don't think you realise how funny and great company that you actually are. Host Anne and Andy - you were fantastic and as you know, we are really grateful with your help in arranging The Epic. It is a stunning hotel. You were both so great to spend time with - even though we did manage to get in to trouble for talking and we were asked to "keep it down" in Michaels Club despite it being a piano bar! Gob smacked as we both were, we couldn't think of anything to say back to the moaner!!! Nancy and Dave, I hope you enjoyed your days visiting family after the cruise and it was great to catch up with you briefly at breakfast. Frankie or Frankie's family, you are a great guy - keep cruising and smoking on the right side of the deck! Thom and Greg, hope you enjoyed your second week in your "lesser" room despite it still being a fantastic suite.
We did some great activities onboard. We thoroughly enjoyed the galley tour on day 2 whereby the English chef that was leading our group had a challenge on his hands! When asked by a rather annoying woman who never ran out of questions if the ship ever ran out of anything, he replied that they keep cows, sheep etc., up on the lawn - that was what the grass was for after all and they get extra milk, meat etc., from the animals up on the top deck! Our fellow cruiser took this onboard to which my husband said "there must be some villages missing some today" - only the Brits on the tour got the joke!!!
We also enjoyed our tour of the Bridge and we thank our RCCL friend for that one! It was most informative and I got to sit in the big seat - shame I couldn't reach the steering wheel!
We were given a time of 7.40 am however thought better of it and disembarked ourselves seeing as we were only returning to The Epic Hotel in Miami for the day! Thankfully we made the right decision as I've since read some horror stories on here!
After having spent the week watching Sky News in our room and being shocked at the amount of snow falling in the UK, we made it home as planned and on time, thankfully! The snow was horrendous and we still have huge amounts blocking the Lotus from getting out of the garage! I have to admit that despite the time difference being only 5 hours, I've been awake at 1.00 am in the morning having not been able to sleep! Think I was missing Eclipse and the many friends that we made on board.