My wife and I have been on three previous cruises and this was going to be our first NCL cruise and the first one with our kids (DS 5 & DD 8). In preparing for the cruise, I was a little nervous for the Epic based on some of the negative reviews. Yet, I am a big believer in that life is what you make of it.
We were on the 3/26/2011 Eastern Caribbean sailing. This was a Spring Break cruise for us and many other families, so we were prepared for the crowds. The ship was absolutely packed, but never felt ridiculously crowded. Embarkment could not have gone much smoother. Our first three cruises have been on Royal Caribbean and sometimes embarkment there can be chaotic. We drove down to the Port of Miami and arrived around 11:15 a.m. We checked our bags curbside and parked in the garage. A quick trip through security and we had our key cards issued to us within 10 minutes. We had another 10 minute wait in the holding area and then we were off to board the ship. A great start to our vacation.
The first thing we did when we got on board is to register the kids into the Kid's Club. Our 5 year old and our 8 year old were going to be in different groups - which we didn't love, but it ended up just fine. Those two groups play some together as well. The first day is the only time that adults can tour and check out the Recess Kid's Club. We thought the kid's club was great. Our kids had a lot of fun, made friends and enjoyed the many different activities. Some people have complained that it could be too structured, but we found it to be just right. The counselors up there are great with the kids.
Once we got settled in with that, it was pool time. Yes, the pools are relatively small, but it is a good-size pool area. And nothing beats those slides. We did all three slides (the Epic Plunge, green & purple) multiple times throughout the cruise. And let me tell you, the Plunge (aka the toilette bowl) is so much fun. Of the other slides, green is faster and has more turns than purple. On the first sea day, the lines are at their longest with everyone trying them out. The longest line was for the Plunge, but it moved along pretty well. The best time for the slides is right when they open (9 a.m. and before they close (7 p.m.). The pool deck does get very hot in the afternoon - so be sure to wear something on your feet.
At 2 p.m., we were able to get into our cabin. We were in a deluxe family balcony cabin on deck 14. We loved the location as we were close to the Kid's Club and to the pool area. We certainly didn't mind taking the stairs or elevator to decks 7,6 or 5 where they entertainment, shopping and dining areas are. As for the cabins, they have a nice look to them, but they are small. To do it over again, I would have booked adjoining cabins and put my wife & I in one and the kids in the other. With four people in our one cabin, it was a very tight fit. Granted, we don't spend a lot of time in our cabin, but we were stepping all over one another when we were there. The kids loved the "bunk" bed set-up though (which is only like this at night and the wave couch during the day). The bed was comfortable, but was short. The bathrooms were not a big deal, but their next design should probably go with a little more privacy. Our cabin steward, Vincent, did an excellent job.
We had booked most of our dining and shows in advance and I highly recommend doing this. The wife and I are a bit of foodies, but we have very realistic expectations. For our dining, we did the following:
Garden Cafe - We did the buffet for every breakfast, as it is just easier to do with kids. I thought the layout there and the staff were excellent. Everyone there was always very friendly and helpful. In addition, we ate there for must of our lunches and for most of the kid's dinners. We only have Royal Caribbean to compare to, but I thought the food at the Garden Cafe was better than the buffet on Royal Caribbean. The choices and quality were always good.
Le Bistro - We did not book in advance, but were able to get in for a 6:30 p.m. reservation. I thought the restaurant was beautiful and the service was very good. We started out with escargot, scallops and mussels. The escargot and mussels were good, but the scallops could have used more flavor. For our entrees, my wife had the cioppino and I had the duck. Cioppino could have used more flavor and my duck was very good. The crème brulee and chocolate fondue were average. Most of the deserts on our cruise were just average.
Taste and Manhattan (main, no-charge dining rooms)- I had read reviews about the service in both of these restaurants as not being great. Unfortunately, this was our experience as well. We had food that we ordered not arrive and not a lot of attention to detail. The atmosphere in each was good with Manhattan getting the advantage based on the music. The food in each was average. I think that Royal Caribbean has better food and service in their main dining room.
Cagney's - We missed our reservation and they let us book the next night instead - no charge, no problem. We were seated at the very end at the back of the ship against the window - amazing view! The salad and the shrimp cocktail were very good. The lobster bisque was mediocre. Both of our steaks (filet and ribeye) were very good.
Noodle Bar - It was a nice, quick meal when we didn't feel like a lot of food. Potstickers were pretty good and my noodles were good. My wife had mixed fried rice and enjoyed it.
Sushi - The service here was excellent and the staff was super friendly. The sushi was pretty good, but we have had better.
A few other food notes:
- We didn't do Teppanyaki, but I heard great things about the presentation and the food. We have a number of these restaurants where we live and it didn't seem like a great value ($100 for a family of four).
- The sweet potato fries at Spice H2O were very good. The empanada was good and the chicken was breaded and fried to death. During the day, the bbq chicken at Spice is also good.
- The lobster (and snapper) in Manhattan was mediocre. They should save the money and offer another choice.
- The only good shrimp that we had on the ship was at Cagney's.
- Breakfast: chocolate croissants were YUMMY
- Kids loved the ice cream cones
- Indian bread located near the vegetarian hot section was YUMMY
- Beef stew in buffet YUMMY
As many of you know, the Epic was voted in USA Today as the best entertainment at sea. We can confirm that this is absolutely the case. We started out with the Blue Man Group for the 7 p.m. Saturday performance. We have seen the show before in Orlando and we enjoyed it even more on the ship. I realize that some people just don't get it, but it is fun.
The Second City was very entertaining. We have been to the one in Chicago and were impressed that they ship's actors were also very funny. Their improv skills are first-rate. We saw this show three different times - the best being the 11 p.m. show when it is 18+.
The Second City actors performed the Murder Mystery Lunch and they did a great job. I thought the show was very entertaining (they got some good suggestions from the audience), but the lunch was not very good. You got your choice between meatloaf or stuffed chicken.
Howl at the Moon was entertaining and always had a packed crowd. A bit of advice for this show at for Second City, when the place is packed there is usually open seats right at the bar.
Slime Time Live was very fun for all of the family. The Nickelodeon crew was always so energetic and great with the kids. They also did a great job with the Nick Poolside as well. We were very impressed.
The White Hot Party at Spice H2O was a lot of fun. The crew did a great job of getting people to dance and have a lot of fun. In addition, all of the random game show games were really funny. The highlight was probably the Newlywed Game. There was a couple that had been married 67 years and they couldn't have been funnier. There is no lack of things to do during the day and night. There are lots of things to do for adults, kids and families. I thought Paul Scally did an excellent job as Cruise Director. He was very engaging with people and had his British humor in full effect.
St. Marteen / St. Martin - We did the Orient Beach excursion and really liked this. We have done this excursion before and like that it is all set up for you - transportation, first rum punch, chairs, lunch, etc. Our lunch options were ribs, chicken or mahi-mahi. All were good and the service was quick. The surf was a little rough as Orient can be, but it is an absolutely beautiful beach. We did give an initial warning to the kids that they may see some topless women and it was no big deal. Next time, we will probably just take a taxi to one of the beach restaurants and do the trek on our own.
St. Thomas - We have never been to St. Thomas and I did a little research on which beach to go to. Many people recommend Magen's Bay and we took a taxi there for the day. We got there early at 9 a.m. and there wasn't much of a crowd there. At 9:30 a.m., we were able to rent lounge chairs ($7 with a $5 deposit). The water at Magen's Bay is very calm and is perfect for the kids. By noon, the beach was very crowded. The lunch spot at Magen's Bay didn't look great and we were ready for something new. We ended up leaving around 1 p.m., to have lunch and drinks at Senor Frogs. Typical bar food, but this place was a lot of fun. The servers were great with the kids.
Nassau - We did the Blue Lagoon excursion, as it seemed like a great spot for the kids. Their water playground was fun, but got old fast. Lunch was choice of burger, chicken or hot dog and was not very good. At the back of the lunch place is a beautiful beach, but it is a very rocky beach and you cannot really get into the water there. We would not do this excursion again.
All in all, it was a great cruise. However, the trip ended with some extreme drama. When we got off the ship (very smooth disembarkment), we started loading our luggage into our car when we realized that my 5 year old son had left his beloved giraffe stuffed animal (the animal that he goes to sleep with every night and has done so for the last five years). I didn't know what to do as we were already off the ship and they were in complete change-over mode with the ship. I went to information services that is located near were the buses depart. We explained our tragic situation to John at the desk and he couldn't have been nicer to my child and myself. He radioed up to ship and someone went looking for the prized giraffe. After about 15 minutes, we got the great news that he was located and that John was on the way up to go get him. He was our hero and we couldn't have been more relieved. Excellent customer service like this will always get our repeat business.
This was the perfect ship for a family cruise and our kids absolutely loved it. There were a few things that I would change on the ship, but there are always trade-offs. We would do a family cruise on the Epic again.