We cruised Feb 19-26 President's week and school vacation for many in the northeast. Although the ship did have some empty inside cabins avail, it was basically filled up because of the number of people (i.e. more families). There were 1100 kids < age 18 on the ship this week. With 4000+ guests on board, the only time it felt very crowded was by the pool while at sea.
This is about my 10th cruise, previous ones on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean; we had 3 generations traveling, 15 yr old, 50's, and 89 yr old. I don't know if it was ship's size or we hit calm weather and water but it was absolutely the smoothest ship we've been on. I usually have to wear the 'seabands' but didn't even have to put them on.
It was a great cruise on a beautiful new ship. I will re-post tips I've gotten from this board which provided me with the most help, along with some new ones that I added.
a. people got on board by 11:45 am - quick and easy check-in, plenty of reps to check you in and you are given the "Freestyle Daily" which lists the day's activities.
NOTE: your give a credit card for each room key, including children. One teenager racked up $400 in charges in the arcade. If you do not want a similar situation, you have to remove the credit card from your kid's room key or not even put it on initially.
b. if carrying suitcases onboard yourself, you can drop off of bags at Headliners then have lunch
c. if buffet too crowded, go to Taste (deck 5 midship) or Spice H20 (deck 15) but we had no trouble finding a table in the buffet.
Very easy to navigate, actually easier than some smaller ships I've been on. I didn't find any wow factor here as there was on the Norwegian Pearl - the dining room, bowling ally, glass elevators on the Peal had the wow factor for me. Found all the staff to be very friendly and helpful.
I liked the informal atmosphere, some people dressed up for dinner while others wore casual clothes. My mom thought it was a bit too informal because she is used to ships having formal nights, but I personally liked this better. There was 1 dress up or not night listed.
a. We had a standard outside balcony room on the 8th floor. While I read the issues with the bathroom set-up being an issue, I found it to be fine because we were family members. If I was sharing a room with a friend it would be a bit awkward but since this ship has 200+ solo cabins for about $1,000 a week, I would suggest singles opt for that instead of sharing a room. The toilet and shower are opposite each other, each in its own compartment with a sliding frosted glass door, both separated from the rest of the cabin with a curtain. The small sink is within the cabin.
b. Take a power strip with you if you need extra outlets. There's one outlet with two plugs in standard balcony room and also another outlet in medicine cabinet.
c. The ship doesn't supply hair conditioner.
d. Some find the cabin telephone to be bright. On the upper right of the screen there is a light bulb, touch the bulb and the phone goes to sleep
e. You need your key card to or any card to keep the lights and a/c on.
f. On the outside where your room number is there is a wheel that you can change between Welcome, Do Not Disturb, Please Make up Room, and Please Turn Down Room.
g. Pull your bed out from under the headboard if you want a few more inches in length.
h. There are 2 drawers for clothes (or shoes) under the couch bed!
i. - Vanity Mirror: The light was just underneath the medicine cabinet. You just have to find the switch!
j. Have room steward take all of the stuff in our fridge out and take it away so you could use the fridge for whatever.
k. Loved the nightly towel animals especially the monkey on the wall.
a. up to 45 days before, you can book shows on-line - nice feature.
b. Best time to see Blue Man group without reservations is Saturday night. First two rows is a "splash zone" where they provide ponchos. (note: on the night we went there were sufficient seats 10-15 min. beforehand as walk-ins without reservations for Blue Man Group and also Legends in Concert)
c. some say to get to the shows about 30 minutes before it begins in order to get good seats (although the Epic Theater didn't have a bad seat in the house, the comedy club had some terrible sight lines).
d. Fat Cats Lounge for major blues (amazing show)
e Howl at the moon - dueling piano players 9PM - 1 AM
f. Certain shows were cold so bring sweater.
g. Legends - week of Feb 19th was Janet Jackson, Neil Diamond, Aretha. Excellent show for all ages.
h. In the beginning of the week, there is a 9:30 show called "Legends Unplugged" in the Manhattan Dining Room. Here the 4 Legends singers will give you a preview of their show and each sing 2 songs. Then there are 4 singers who perform Motown songs. We thought this show to be excellent as well.
i. 2nd City improvisational show - enjoyable
j. $20 pp CIRQUE DREAMS SHOW and DINNER - arrive 45 min and ask for balcony, dinner is a set menu
k. Nathanial Reed piano man in Shaker's Martini bar 8:30pm - 12:30 am. Please stop by and enjoy this phenomenal pianist who plays and sings without any music a wide repertoire of music (Broadway tunes, Elton John, Al Jolson, etc). It's a shame the week we were on he didn't get the audience he deserved.
l. Every night at the Spice H2O deck 15 (front of the ship) there is a dj party, each night a different theme. The NCL's White Hot Party was on Tuesday and basically it is dress in white (optional). The FABBA (ABBA songs) theme night was on Sunday, also a Latin night and Caribbean theme.
m. Comedy Magician Dana Daniels entertained starting day 5 (Wed) .
n. Other shows included "The Dating Game" although it was a bit ridiculous as the bachelor was in his 20's and the bachlorette's were in their 50's, "The Weakest Link," "Battle of the Sexes,", karaoke, etc - all in the Bliss Lounge which has an interesting "wow factor" entrance way.
o. 11:15 PM and sometimes during the day In the atrium area, on the gigantic screen, movies are shown (our week was Iron Man 2, Chronicles of Narnia, Prince of Persia, Toy Story 3, The Bounty Hunter).
p. A couple of nights on the gigantic outdoor screen in the Spice H2O area, they showed concerts - James Taylor's, U2., Beyonce.
FOOD - RESTAURANTS
a. Garden Cafe (Buffet) - try the Pretzel Rolls or pretzel balls during lunch and dinner.
? the largest assortment of breakfast and lunch items I've seen at any buffet
? 4 places to get made to order omelets at breakfast
? fruit juices here only until 10:30 - cranberry, orange, apple
? if only 1 side of buffet open, go to opposite side to find a table
? for breakfast and lunch, there is always available seating on deck 14 in La Cuccina. The entrance to La Cuccina is all the way forward in the Garden Cafe.
? Great Outdoors is the outdoor extension of the Garden Cafe and has a buffet line with less of a selection than the inside buffet.
(note: I was there Feb. vacation week and had no trouble finding seats at any meal in the Garden Cafe).
?- Scones and big cookies are offered in the afternoon from the outside (Great Outdoors) buffet.
? ice cream - If both sides of the buffet are open, sometimes they serve different hard ice cream flavors on each side. Soft service ice cream always available on the inside and outside of Garden Cafe.
? crepes - available at 5:30 when Garden Cafe opens for dinner. One day it was avail at 4:30.
b. O'Sheehans Pub (included) - Fish and Chips, wings, chicken pot pie, corned beef sandwich, Strawberry pound cake, Apple Crumble or Brownie Sunday, milkshakes (extra fee) the only 24hr venue
c. All menus for all specialty restaurants are available for viewing through interactive in cabin TV
Also menus available at desk at entrance to Garden Cafe. For Taste and Manhattan menus which change daily you have to ASK to see the menu as they keep those in the drawer !!
d Try having dinner earlier or later than the 6:30 - 8:30 pm that most people opt for. We went between 6:30-7:00 every night to either Manhattan or Taste and had no wait.
e. Atrium Cafe (included except for specialty coffee) - pistachio cake, assorted pound cakes (lemon, orange) and regular coffee.
f. Manhattan Restaurant (included) - live music (singer and band), flipflops not allowed, long pants for men,
g. Taste Restaurant (included and no dress code) and Manhattan have the exact same menu, left side of the menu changes daily. Taste sometimes has a keyboard player.
h. Lobster Night in the Mahnattan and Taste Restaurants is actually called lobster and seafood medley and was Tuesday night the week of Feb 19th but it was the worst meal in my opinion. It was basically a tiny piece of lobster with a bad taste, along with a couple of shrimp and a fish filet.
i. Specialty restaurants have various covers charges, for extra special items they ask for an additional $10. So if you want the same 32-ounce porterhouse steak at Cagney's, you can have it at Le Bistro and save yourself $5
j. pizza available delivered anywhere (except the pool) for $5. charge.
k. Room Service included.
l. You can order as many appys and deserts as you like in the specialty restaurants.
m. Free Snacks and Sweet Potato Fries at the Spice H2O bar -at the actual bar side. Can't get them until 6pm, but they are worth the trip to the back of the ship. You can get them to go and they are served with a lime cream sauce. I didn't get to try them ?
BARS - CLUBS - LOUNGES - ALCOHOL - SODA
a. Fat Cats for major blues (fabulous show by Slam Allen Blues Band)
b. ?Ice Bar: $20 per person, which includes 2 vodka drinks from the special Ice Bar menu. Reservations are for 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 p.m. etc. They ask you to arrive 15 minutes ahead of time so you can pay and get your parka and mittens. You are escorted in and can leave at any time during the session. Wear jeans and tennis shoes with socks and you are given a lined poncho to wear.
c. Free liquor tasting the first night starting at 6:00 PM - shots of all types of Bailey's, Scotch, etc...great special prices that night on liquor purchases but don't forgot (as we did) if you buy bottles than you'll have to check your luggage instead of carry-on when you go home.
d Soda - soda sticker for the week is $50. Vending machine in the Arcade for $2.50 /bottle.
CHILDREN AND TEEN ACTIVITIES
a. Nicholeon theme for kids with scheduled activities.
b. Arcade - kids swipe their room key card which then gets charged to your credit card. .
c. Entourage Teen Lounge - No adults allowed. Air hockey and scheduled teen activities with counselors. Ship's curfew is 1:00 AM so many teens hung out in the hot tubs at that hour.
a. water slides- best time embarkation and before they close. green slide is the fastest and scariest, but go purple if you want short lines
b. shaded lounges... under the sports deck starboard aft
c. quiet zone sundeck on deck 18 - access only by the 1 marked elevator opposite Great Outdoors Cafe. Seating for about 100 people up there. Also, on that deck there are stairs leading to an "adult only free-style deck" with about 25 more lounges. But be aware 'free style' means you may find as I did topless women and bottomless men, but hey, there were always lounges avail here.
d. Pool towels: There are pool towels in your room, and a card stating that you have to return them to your room every day otherwise you will be charged $25 per towel
e. Spice H20 area (keep walking past slides) is for adults only and has separate pool.
f. On "Sea Days" go to decks 15, 16 or 17 in the morning and "save" your lounge chairs by 7:30 AM. By that time, ½ were already taken. By 9:30 the only lounges avail were on the 'adult only free style' area. However, there are always chairs avail. at the outside tables near the bar and outdoor garden cafe area. I bring my own towels and magazines so it is then easy to re-find where I reserved my chairs. Everyday I would see lounge chairs 'reserved' but then no one showed up until hours later only to remove their towels and never using the chair - how inconsiderate is that !
g. Enjoyable Caribbean band by the pool.
GYM & SPA
a. Little hard to find but easiest way was to walk past the pool and slides and take elevator or stairs down 1 level.
b. Large number of treadmills, bicycles, exercise equipment.
c. The water fountain in the gym is small and warm because they want you to buy water. Take your water bottle to the buffet or by pool, and fill it with cold water before you hit the gym.
d. hand towels are provided.
a. On the last sea day they have a big sale on Epic stuff in the marketplace shops on deck 15 by the slides. 2 shirts for $10 are a good deal for gifts - some nice sweatshirts, jackets, hats and other items for 50% off. The main gift shops don't have sales the last day but do so during the week.
a. The carpets on the port side of passenger decks are orange. On the starboard side, the carpets are blue. lights on the elevator buttons and the signage near the elevators are also orange on the port side, and blue on the starboard side. In addition, if you are not sure which was is fore or aft, look at the map of the ship, the front faces front everywhere you are. If the carpet in the hall of your cabin is blue...use the elevators with the blue lights and you will be on "your" side of the ship to get to your cabin quicker
b. Feeling ill, go to the front desk for FREE sea-sick pills.
c. Officers Q & A session. Day 7, a ½ hour morning session was held with the Captain and other officers which was interesting. I would have loved the opportunity to take an 'inside' tour of the ship and learn more. I only realize "now" when I am looking thru day 3 of the "Freestyle daily" there is a small blurb "Behind the Scenes Tour avail that one morning for a fee - see the Guest Services Desk."
d. A great addition to this ship is the availability of 200+ solo cabins and each night they had a get together in their solo lounge area and I'm told a bulletin board where you can post events to join other solos. All the rooms are interior and have a double room and not much storage.
e Photography - of course there are photographers everywhere especially at dinner. What's interesting is you no longer have to find your photos, but in the photo gallery just insert your room key in the kiosks and through face recognition, your pictures instantly appear.
f. Cruise Critic "Meet and Greet" - there was a scheduled meet and greet which probably had a good turn-out, but I got there late (my fault). I did run into Simon the entertainment director who said the ship's officers were there and he gave me a list of their phone #'s which they handed out to contact them for any problems.
g. The room stewards and waiters work 7 days a week for 9 months. They do get blocks of time off during the day but no full day off.
h On the last sea day they have a big sale on Epic stuff in the shops on 15. It's not their nicest stuff from the Latitudes shops, but 2 shirts for $10 is a good deal for gifts. You will also find watches for $10 each, perfect for teens. 'marketplace' is between the pool deck and spice h20.
HOW TO AVOID CASINO CIGARETTE SMELL that people complain about? It's unavoidable within public Decks 5,6,7. The casino is on Deck 6. The smell comes up through open areas to Deck 7. Deck 5 passage is short. It ends up right under EPICenter of the casino. The way through outside corridors of Deck 7 (boat deck) is not perfect .The only way to effectively avoid the casino is to go up to one of "hotel" decks and walk all the way down to the second bank of elevators/staircases. Note: on our cruise I didn't notice much of a casino smell - guess it depends on the crowd that week.
Costa Maya - an array of shops that was obviously built for the ships. There is also a big pool with a few lounge chairs.
Roatan, Honduras - one of our favorite ports. We hired one of Victor Boden's drivers (see my separate write up for that) and had a very enjoyable day seeing the monkeys, zip lining, going to local supermarket for coffee and vanilla, and driving around the island and learning the culture.
Cozumel - lots of shopping ! Since the last time I was here 3 yrs ago, they now built a pedestrian shopping area that after you get off the ship, you must walk thru to get onto the streets. Once on the streets, there are plenty of shops. We kept walking and on the right we found an area with lots of flea market type vendors with one woman having a $1.00 booth. Also found a store that had silver items for $10 and $20 so I didn't have to hassle with prices.
Debarkation Day - go for breakfast in the Garden Cafe before 9 AM as it is scheduled to close by then. Everyone had to be out of their rooms by 9am and off the ship by 10:15
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
1. I personally was disappointed in the Cruise Director Paul Scally, I found his announcements to be annoying and I didn't see him interact with the guests, only showing up for scheduled activities. I liked Simon who was the Cruise Director on the Pearl much better as he was more personable and approachable but he is now Epic's Entertainment Director, so more behind the scene.
2. Coffee was not hot several days in both the Manhattan and Taste dining rooms. On the 3rd day, I bought it to the attention of Daniel, the maitre'd who apologized and brought us hot coffee.
3. I was told there were teens that were running and doing flips into the shallow, narrow pools at night. Although I did notice a security officer posted by the pool during the day, where was security at night to prevent an accident waiting to happen.
4. All the desserts in the 'free' restaurants, while looked very attractive, tasted bland.
5. Senior citizens complained there wasn't much for them to do. Entertainment is geared towards families and younger generations, although piano man Nathanial Reed would appeal to them. Besides the art auction, there should be some lectures for this age group and organized card games.
6. Bingo is expensive. Overhead someone saying they walked out since it was $29 for 3 cards and 3 games. On the announcements, you're told kids play for free when the adults pay.
7. Interestingly, comment cards are left in the stateroom to write about an exemplary crew member. And several days after the cruise, I got a survey on-line. However, no where was I asked to write down any problems encountered or room for improvement so I guess the only venue to vent those is here or writing directly to NCL.