Well here we go! My bride of 30 years and I finally are ready to take a cruise. In fact it is our first couple only vacation longer than 3 days since our honeymoon in 1980. We decided to take a new ship and after long deliberation chose Epic because of the entertainment options and because we wanted to "freestyle" it on our first cruise adventure.
To give you a little demographic info about us. We are in our early fifties, and consider ourselves pretty active. After booking the Epic, we were real nervous considering all the negative comments we had read on CruiseCritic, but hey we had put the money down so we were locked in to the trip.
We flew out of Atlanta on Friday, driving down from South Carolina the day before.
Tip* - We booked a Spring Hill Suites room that connects to the airport with by train and was allowed to leave our car at the hotel for $25 for the entire trip, saving us a lot of money in airport parking, plus making our journey to the airport the next morning a five minute train ride.
Flew into Fort Lauderdale and used SAS transport into Miami. SAS was GREAT! They dropped us off at the Marriott Courtyard downtown Miami who also was wonderful with great service.
The hotel provided a $5 shuttle to the port on Saturday at 11am. We were there waiting by 11:20 and have a very easy embarkation. NCL made it very easy and we were eating lunch at Taste by 12:10pm. Taste was not crowded at all. Go there for your first meal, if for no other reason to just slow yourself down and breathe a little.
We were in our balcony room by 2pm and had our luggage by 5pm. Once again NCL was on top of everything.
Tip* - We brought two eight packs of Coke Zero in our luggage so we would not have to pay the soda charge and then be punished again with Pepsi products. Our cabin steward gladly took all the items our of the minibar for us so we could store our coke products. We also brought along a small power strip which came in handy. By the way, skip bringing bottled water. I drink a lot of water and I found the water on the ship very good. We brought our workout water bottles and then filled them at the Garden Cafe several times each day.
We were both afraid of getting seasick so my wife went with the patch and I went with Bonine. The patch actually made my wife sick. She could not even eat dinner the first night. She took the patch off, switched to Bonine, and she was good to go for the rest of the cruise.
Tip* - You can get free generic Bonine at the guest services desk!
Dining Options - Let go ahead and get my food reviews out of the way for the week. On a scale of 1-10, with one meaning please do not eat here and ten meaning do whatever it takes to eat here, and including the Cirque dinner in the mix, here are my ratings.
Cagney's - 8
Cirque - 8
Shanghai - 7
Garden Cafe - 7 (based on variety)
La Cucina - 6 (based on ambiance)
O'Sheenhans - 6
Taste and Manhattan Room - 6
Teppanyaki - 5 (based on value for the $$)
Moderno - N/A
Room Service - N/A
Restaurant Tips* - I found the food in the extra charge restaurants good but not much better than the no extra restaurants. Pick your add-ons for the experience, not for the food itself. Also, we found that you rarely had any trouble getting into a restaurant before 7pm.
Cirque Tip* - Go non-premium seats, get there early (45 minutes), and then ask to be in the balcony. We loved those seats.
Speaking of shows.....
Blue Man - I love these guys so I loved the show. If you are not into innovative and different, don't go. The people I heard who complained about the show did not know about Blue Man.
Second City - I am a hard critic of comedy shows so take that into consideration. I thought the show was average at best.
Legends - Good show but much shorter than I anticipated (45 minutes). The Aretha Franklin imitator was amazing!
Cirque - Very entertaining, and very skilled acts. It is very typical Cirque.
That is all we saw on the cruise.
Ports - We "freestyled" our port visits. We did no planned outings this first time.
St Martin - LOVED IT (Orient Beach in AM, Shopping in the PM)
St Thomas - Half Loved It (Magen's Bay in AM, Shopping in PM)
Nassau - Did not enjoy it (shopping only)
Port Tips* - Think opposite of normal. By hitting the beaches early, we avoided the crowds and it was great! We had both beaches almost to ourselves for at least an hour and by the time it got crowded, we were ready to head to our next stop. Also be at the steps on level 5, 30 minutes prior to disembark time. We were always one of the first twenty people off the boat which allowed us to maximize our time at the beaches. In St. Thomas there were six ships in port so it got very crowded as the day progressed so the early bird got the peace and quiet.
Orient Beach ALERT! - We were prepared to see topless sunbathers which we did. We also were aware that there was a section, near Pedro's where the nudist Orient Beach Club was located. We were NOT aware that the nudists are allowed full beach access until 9am. We were there at 8:30! There was no way to avoid seeing full-on nudity except to close your eyes so be warned, and know for the most part you will want to close your eyes.
Other Notes before I close -
We never had problems finding a chair on the sun deck before 10am.
We never encountered a line getting off the boat.
The rooms are a little strange but worked fine for us.
The beds were fine with the length. I am six foot and had no problems.
We rode all of the water slides. Don't miss the GREEN one!
Bring small binoculars and if you snorkel, try to get your hands on an underwater camera.
Foods I still crave off the ship - Chocolate Croissants, Chocolate Cheesecake, made to order omelets.
Foods they have not quite got right - Biscuits, grits, iced tea (yes, I am a southern boy)
What I long for in a cruise - non smoking! (but it was not as bad as expected)
GREAT fitness center - Logged 21 miles on the treadmill and they had most of the equipment that my local Gold's gym has in the center.
Time Change - On the night before St Martin you will move you clocks forward one hour and then back again the night after St Thomas.
ATT Users - Great 3g coverage in St Thomas with no extra roaming charges.
Super Easy Disembarking - We took care off our own luggage so we could leave at 7:30. We were there at 6:45 which proved very important since the lines stacked up fast. Believe it or not, we were off the boat at 7:30, on an SAS shuttle at 7:40, at the Fort Lauderdale airport at 8:05, and on a plane headed to Atlanta at 9:05. I do not suggest you try this, but it just shows you that you can plan an earlier flight if you plan well.
All in all I loved the Epic. It is not perfect, but we has a wonderful time. Don't let the negative talk scare you. If you want to find things to complain about, you will them, but why waste a good vacation.
Forgive any spelling mistakes. I am writing fast so I can get to a Super Bowl party. Fire away with questions and I will try and answer as many as possible while it is fresh on my mind.
Enjoy your trip! My bride and I sure did!