EPIC CHRISTMAS /NEW YEARS CRUISE
We had to book 3 cabins to fit all the children (we thought too young for the bunk bed rooms). Balcony cabins 9012, 9016 and one interior across the hall 9018. All were located on the forward port side. The ship was fully booked and I was told 1400 children on board (majority were teenagers). The crowd I would call upscale combination of American/International. Many extended families. I'll try and summarize the highlights, tips I have.
BEFORE YOU CRUISE:
- Try and plan in advance. Ask yourself what is important. Is it a certain restaurant, show, beach. It helps to be knowledgeable with options. Cruising is hectic with kids and I found it helped to have a plan.
- Western Caribbean - Costa Maya - Tropicante on Mahahual beach, Roatan - Victor Bodden tours and stop to see the Monkeys, Cozumel - Day pass at Intercontinental
- To bring - A CLEAR ID CARD HOLDER to put those ship cards in. It was a big help. They sell Epic ones for $4.50 each. ZIPLOCK BAGS (gallon size, jumbo size). Great for everything - diapers, wet clothes, suntan lotions, honeynut cheerios I brought from home. Bagels and bread for the kids (fish food) on port days. Kitchen garbage bags for beach days (helps with the kids trash). Dum Dum lolly's for the kids - Big help during breakdowns.
- Plastic card to slip into the light switch
- Plan for inclement weather. SWEATSHIRTS could come in very handy for windy/cool days. One day the Cirque shows were cancelled, the slides were closed. No biggie really but know it could happen.
- Seasickness aids - seabands, gum, ear stickers. Whatever. I find now that each cruise I take has one day "oh we never seen the water this rough before" causing many to be sick. Like me!!
- Dining Reservations - Try and book in advance. I did for Teppanyaki (kids loved it), Cirque (also great for kids), Bistro and Cucina. I DID NOT for Cagneys and was shut out. I noticed the specialty restaurants SEEMED MORE CROWDED THE SECOND HALF OF THE WEEK. Did everyone wait? By booking in advance you can cancel if you need to. Once on board they were able to cross reference my rooms. Such as for Teppanyaki that had 4 different reservations for 2 people at different times.
- Entertainment - also book in advance for the same reasons.
- Oh and YOU DON'T NEED THE CLEAR SHOE OVER THE DOOR holder for the bathroom. There was no way to put in on the glass door, TONS of storage..
- PACK LIGHT - You can do laundry. It was only $25 to fill and bag. Came back the next day hung in the closet. My 2 year olds pJs!
- No cell phone service - Prepare for this. It didn't matter because I was with my family but my iphone did not work. I saw some people with walkie talkies..
We flew from NY to Ft Lauderdale (easier airport) Christmas morning as we do celebrate Christmas and Santa visited a day earlier. On a 6 am flight which is doable but tough as you are getting up at 3am!! IF YOU CAN DEFINITELY FLY DOWN A DAY EARLIER. We booked LARRYS LIMOS for transfer to Miami port. I figured let's start the trip right with a super stretch Cadillac Escalade! Professional driver, on time. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. I found them on cruise critic. This car was huge. Given we didn't have car seats the kiddies were all safely buckled in! We arrived at the port by 10:00. No lines of course but had and had to sit in the holding room under boarding started at 12. A big disorganized as once boarding starting people started to rush toward the boarding door. Pushing and shoving.. I don't think this was the norm but they need to get a better system in place.
Tips once you board
- Do explore the ship. We really didn't and found even on the last day we were still saying, "oh, I didn't know this was here?". If you have kids, STOP AT RECESS DURING THE OPEN HOUSE. Once camp/recess starts 8pm that evening, parents are not allowed to enter the recess. We didn't actually get to see the camp because we didn't take advantage of the open house. The recess area is split into 3 groups. 2-5 yr olds, 6-9, 10-12. We had 2 kids in each age group.
- Do head to the spa to get your first pick of spa appointments and buy your $199 couples thermal spa pass. The spa books up quick and the pass sells out
- Do book/fix and dining reservations a.s.a.p. There were a couple of hostess set up with laptops right outside the Garden buffet area on deck 15.
- Do let the kids use the pools and slides. It was hot and sunny and I think this was the only day my kids actually went in the pool. The other days they sat in the Jacuzzi, went on the slides or the kiddie water park area. The pools were not crowded and the kids had a great time. Remember to pack a bathing suit on your carry on. It wasn't a problem to get towels.
Our family of 8 booked Balcony cabins 9012, 9016, 9018 interior across the hall. All were located on the forward port side. The 9th floor I would consider a neutral location. The 14th floor is really the best for KIDS. We never had an issue getting an elevator. We used our strollers often. Our balcony rooms had the infamous "sheltered" Balcony. Sure, we didn't get that "floating" above the sea feeling. The balcony though was DOUBLE THE SIZE and HAD COMPLETE PRIVACY. We still had the same breeze and half of the view. BEST PART - we could CONNECT THE ROOMS THAT WAY. I repeat, you don't have to stress about connecting rooms (like I did.) The cabin Steward has a special key he can unlock a steel door and you can connect the balcony's that way. We used a chair to keep them open for the duration of the week. We had a rule that no child was to be alone on the balcony without an adult. No child was to put a chair by the window opening. Everyone obeyed!
The rooms have TONS OF STORAGE. USE IT! Organize in advance. Take the time. I mean we had 4 kids worth of clothes!! The room is tight, yes. It is MUCH narrower than the pictures but really it's no big deal. If you keep the room the neat and put beach bags and stuff on the balcony you have plenty of room. The BEDS ARE VERY COMFORTABLE. My husband is the Starwood hotel type. We slept well! The a/c was great but it was nice to keep the balcony door open to hear the sea at night (beware of the wind tunnel if you open the hallway door). Oh and the glass door baths - we had no problem. There is a curtain that can be drawn for privacy. Also locate all the light switches. There hidden everywhere and ended up leaving "a" light on.
We didn't book the family suites to save a few dollars (we did have to book 3 rooms) and were happy we used the money saved elsewhere. No bathtubs in the room but my kids are all fine showering.
NCL also could provide a pack and play but it was TINY. Made for a baby. Each evening the kids were so exhausted sleeping was not an issue. Its amazing how kids adapt. I would never think that one adult (grandma) and 3 "little" kids could sleep in the same bed. Each took turns who was on the pull out bed or in the room with my husband and I. Grandpa stayed in the interior room across the way which seemed roomy and just as cozy.
MINI BAR - I didn't empty because I really only used it for cold drinks for the adults.
ROOM SERVICE - The best. Had hot coffee brought daily. Hot milk brought for the little ones. A few boxes of cereal for other the kiddies to hold over before we went to breakfast. Hey I'm on vacation and to pack up for the day took a little time. Room service is a life saver. ALSO GREAT TO FEED THE KIDS AT NIGHT. Only did so once. Grilled cheese, Chicken tenders (ask for ketchup). Can order a pizza for $5.
TEPPAYNAKI - Highly recommend. At home we go to hibachi all the time and the "tricks" were better. The food was delicious, the service was phenomenal. Josephine our server was a gem. The kids all ate and didn't seem as fidgety. KIDS PAY HALF PRICE. MY 2 YEAR OLD DID NOT HAVE TO PAY.
BISTRO - YUM - Highly recommend. Ate here twice without the kids. Ordered Lobster both times. Delicious. Ask for the soup to be extra hot or it comes out lukewarm. Other dishes we had, the pork, Coq a vin, lamb.. all delicious.
CUCINA - Took the older kids. We had a nice meal. Great Focaccia bread. .
NOODLE BAR - just ok. I mean it was great for a quick bite,
BUFFET - HECTIC. I was there daily and the foods was fresh and beautifully presented but only go if you have to...
O'Sheehan's - tried the dip. Pretty good. Kids had a brownie sundae (it has big wanuts in though)
MANHATTAN - BUSY - always a wait during prime time. Had a nice dinner
TASTE -- *** ATE BREAKFAST HERE ON PORT DAYS - HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Same items you can find in the buffet. Service is great. Food comes out quick. Easy to debark right after as its only one floor down.
I thought the food was really top notch. We are VERY PICKY and had excellent meals and service!
'*No Lobster in the MDR - We were told only the specialty restaurants.
You have to arrive in advance for prime seats. For Cirque, we had one member of our party go 45 mins in advance per advice of some the guests who attended earlier in the week.
BLUE MAN - Went the first night and it was packed! We did have a reservation but only arrived 10 mins before. We managed to find seats to the far right and still had not problem viewing. KIDS LOVED IT. I had seen the show before in NY.
SECOND CITY - 11 pm show - Hysterical!!
HOWL AT THE MOON - Ton of un
LEGENDS - was on the list but I just never made it there. That said TWO NIGHTS IN THE MANHATTEN ROOM THEY HAD SOME OF THE PERFORMERS PREFORM A MINI SHOW. We didn't eat dinner there that evening. We showed up at 9:30 as per the Freestyle Daily, ordered dessert and coffee and were able to have a mini show.
CIRQUE DREAMS - GREAT - Highly recommend! Kids loved it too! KIDS PAY FULL PRICE. Two year old was free.
MAGICIAN - Funny, good show. Something to do...
FAT CATS - Louie and Dusters - very entertaining
FABBA, WHITE PARTY.. all on the list but I just couldn't stay awake. Saw some of it on the TV.. seemed great.
PORTS OF CALL
COSTA MAYA - LOVED IT HERE. I listened to cruise critic and booked chairs in advance (at no cost per chair) at Tropicante on the Beach at Mahahual. I had emailed Steve the owner and I'm so happy I did. He gave me detailed instructions how to find him. Having never been to Costa Maya I didn't know what to expect. Alter a long stroll down the pier you enter the port pool, shopping area. It's quite nice. We exited immediately passing all the tour guides and to the right to the taxi stand. We ended up taking a luxurious shuttle bus to the downtown beach. Its less than 5 minutes away. Only 2 turns. I think the price was $20 for all of us. The downtown beach is only 6 blocks long! We arrived at the beach early, by 10am and it was QUIET AND GORGEOUS in front of Tropicante. IT IS PERFECT FOR SMALL CHILDREN. There are many, many beach bars all right next to each other. Tropicante's staff (mainly the server George) gave us phenomenal,. Personalized service. Oh and the Food! YUM!! Delicious, chips and salsa, quesadillas, guacamole, beef tacos, mango fish, grilled chicken salad. Cold beers. VERY INEXPENSIVE. About 20 crew members from the entertainment staff came in the afternoon to also hang there. Had HUGE portions of the fish cerviche. You really have to come here!! We met some of Steve's family visiting for the holidays. They told me it was a 4 hour drive from Cancun. Said lot of local Mexican's come to vacation here. Ours kids played on the beach the entire day. I was able to buy some sand toys at a local market. Upon departed Steve gave our entire family sea bean necklaces. Taxis were lined up right outside so an easy return to the port (make sure the taxi drops you by the gate, at first he tried to drop us off up the block by some stores). Also a ton of massage places on the beach for $20.
THIS WAS THE EMAIL FROM STEVE WITH DIRECTIONS:
"We have loungers with umbrellas and also tables under small palapas. You can look at our main site www.sandalsandskis.com and click on the Tropicante link to see more photos of our place, menu and even more info on the area. We usually reserve loungers, no cost to our customers, but can also reserve a table if that works better. If you do a lounger and you want a table for lunch, the guys can usually get you a table and hold your loungers. We only have one ship that day, but sometimes the Epic can fill our loungers so reserving is best if you want a lounger.
As for how to find us, it is reaaly very easy and should not be a problem, even with small children. Also, our beach is perfect for small children, all sand, no sea grass, shallow and gradually sloped so it is perfect for small kids. When you arrive there is a large port facility, as well as a new commercial area just outside the port that is new and very nice you'll pass through. Most of what they sell there you can find downtown in better selections and prices so you might want to skip through that pretty quick. It is about a 3 or 4 minute drive from the port area to the downtown. We are located right in the center of the ocean front Malecon/beach. You can catch an easy taxi or shuttle from the port to the downtown for $3 US per person and your return will be $2. Not sure why they are different but they are regulated rates? It's Mexico?? Ask the driver to drop you at Calle Cherna by the football field. My staff wearsyellow shirts and our tables are white with white and blue umbrellas. If they drop you someplace else it is no big deal. The downtown beach is only about 6 blocks long so you'll find us."
This was the email from Steve:
ROATAN - Hmmm.. a bit of a disappointment. I don't know why. Maybe my expectations were high. Maybe it was a bit overcast so I couldn't appreciate its beauty? I booked a private tour guide with Victor Bodden. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. I figured easier for our group. It was $150 for our party of 8. A nice comfortable van. A bargain compared to the prices of the ship excursions. I think the ship beach break was $60 per person. I did not have car seats for the little one but we held them in our lap. In NYC, people don't walk around with car seats. The car never went very fast and I never felt unsafe at any point. Ronald our guide was real sweet. Great knowledgeable guide. We really wanted the express tour so he took us to local area to see how some of the Hondurans live. Then off to see the Monkeys! So much fun! Many laughs. The Kids were only allowed in the baby Monkey cage. We just beat the tons of people coming to zipline. I wasn't sure what to expect given it was at Victors house but it is a huge operation there. I would say it took 20mins max to see everything. From the Monkeys we went off to the beach at West bay. I planned on going to Infinity Bay Resort and was quite happy to pay the $15 each entrance fee except guess what.. THEY WOULD NOT LET US STAY. I couldn't believe it. Said no day passes are being offered this week. We tried to hint we would pay more but they wouldn't budge. Our guide said no big deal we could just go a little down the road to the Mayan Princess. It was $10 each to go there. So we go. It was fine but the entire West bay beach was SO CROWDED! All the chairs are on top of each other. Short beach. Ronald said this was the best beach on the island. We did take a stroll and I didn't realize the close proximity of all the hotels. If Im at the Mayan Princess, directly to my left is another beach club with blasting club music and beds, then the Bananrama - this place had a ton of action (great with no kids), another small place, then infinity bay and after that Tabayana beach where all the cruise ship passengers were. A few slides and trampoline you can use for $10 each. Tons of Massage places. The Mayan Princess also had all cruise ship passengers. I didn't actually see any hotel guests. It was all so strange. The food was not good either. And expensive! $16 for a shot of tequila. $7 for chips with KETCHUP! Yes ketchup. Listen, we made the best of it. Ronald stayed with us the entire time. It was an easy drive back to the port. Everyone pretty much headed back by 3pm.
COZUMEL - Another highlight. I booked in advance a day pass at the presidente Intercontinental. You usually get a room with the day pass but because of the holiday week the room part wasn't available. The price for 6 (3 adults and 3 children) was $165 which included a $45 food credit. This place was PHENOMNAL. LUXURIOUS. We were given beach/pool towels. The POOL WAS HEATED. There was snorkeling right there off the beach. The crowd was very international and upscale. The food and service - fantastic. I would consider vacationing here. We had a great day!! Some of the kids baked holiday cookies in the kids club. It gave them a little break from the sun.
- Ship/ports stroller friendly. Saw many people with double strollers!
- Def hit the sports court. Spider web.. note the hours.. We only got in once close to closing time. Was closed other times because of wind
- Epic Bounce - line too long
- Book in advance the slime time live .. also featured a few times poolside
- Also have Nic Character meet and greets usually at 4/5pm
- ATRIUM MOVIES - Definitely take advantage sea days with inclement weather. CAN ALSO GET FREE POPCORN AND CAKE!
- Nick breakfasts - I wanted to do it but waited and it was fully booked.
KIDS CLUB/ RECESS / CAMP
YOU MUST TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS. The staff is top notch. My kids are campers already and were quite excited to go daily. My younger ones gave me a hard time at times but the counselors were always eager to put the kids at ease. We didn't register until the drop off on the first night around 8:30pm. It was super busy, long line but THIS WAS THE ONLY NIGHT it was night this. Other times the drop off was easy and the counselors knew who you were after a few days. They told me out of the 1400 kids, only 20% were registered for the club. Therefore it never felt crowded. It really was a great place for the kids. I drop them off each night between 6-7:30pm. Pick up was at 10:30 unless you wanted to pay for after hours. I thought that was late enough for mine given their age. I put them in only once during the day. The sea day the weather wasn't good. The kids loved it. I was shocked about how many people didn't utilize the club. One mom with 3 boys said they refused to go. I mean that's great but hanging with a bunch of kids from all over the world doing fun stuff vs sitting at a French restaurant is really a non brainer.... My little ones did fall asleep there a couple of times. It was an easy transfer back to the room. Long exhausting days! Oh and they give you a house phone for the 2 year olds. They never called once during the trip. The phone was great to call the rooms.
NEW YEARS EVE - Kids club had a huge party. Price after 10:30 was $10 per hour, $5 for siblings. We kept the kids in until about 12:30 that night because the begged us too.. Seriously.. the loved it here. It was also the last night. We did tip the kids crew.
KIDS SPA PARTY - they offered this Roatan night. It was a age appropiate mani/pedi, ice cream sundae party. My daughters LOVED it.
CHRISTMAS - Ship beautiful decorated. Christmas Carols with the crew. Ice skating. Christmas Story Movie
NEW YEARS - 3 Different parties, Lots of energy. Lot of fun.
SPA - Though I had a spa pass.. I only made it 2 times. Great massage.. nice to hang on the back deck
Posh - Pass was still being offered on Tuesday. Alwalys looked empty up there. If I was without kids I would say that would be a nice place to hang.
Gym - Nice but busy!
PHOTOS - many families took advantage of this. Note though if you book the photo package with unlimited photos and a photo book, unless you book the ship excursions, the ports of call pages use stock photos. They do not let you add your own photos.
Shopping - love it at home.. Couldn't find the time... lots of shops. If your forget perfume, the have testers of all the brands you can pass by and give a quick spray on your way out...
Medical emergency - A passenger had to be lifted off by them Coast Guard. Quite a site to see. I believe the captain made an announcement the passenger was doing okay.
I guess that's it...