I flew into Miami on April 1st, arriving in spite of Mother Nature's cruel April Fool's joke across New England. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Miami Airport and used their $10 shuttle to the port on Saturday morning.
Embarkation: For a first timer, I must admit arrival at the port was hectic and daunting. This wasn't NCL's fault. Once I got my bearings and asked someone, things moved quickly. Between security, check-in and boarding, I was on the ship less than 45 minutes after I arrived, which I thought was impressive.
Once on-board I went straight to Guest Services to finalize some things with my on-board account and buy a pass to Posh. At $59 for the week, it was the best money I spent all week. More on that later. I also have to say that I could not have been more pleased with the staff at Guest Services. Friendly and efficient.
Stateroom: I stayed in the Studio Cabins. My cabin was the perfect size for one person. I had plenty of storage space. The bed was incredibly comfortable. The much discussed shower wasn't much of an issue. It reminded me of a college dorm shower (that was see-thru). Small (ladies: good luck shaving your legs w/o some creative maneuvering), but with great water pressure.
Staying in the studio cabins gave me access to what is called "The Living Room". Aside from Posh, this was my favorite amenity. It was a great place to meet up with people, read, watch tv and grab coffee any time of day.
Solo travelers: Whether you stay in the studios or another part of the ship, you can meet up at 5:30 for a solo's gathering and happy hour. I ended up meeting some great folks and a large group of us would do dinner/shows/bars later in the evening. For a solo traveler it was great- I could hang out with people when I wanted to, without having to travel with them.
Dining: I ate at one specialty restaurant, Noodle Bar, during my vacation. I ate there on Friday, in part because I almost felt guilty that I hadn't tried anything else yet. It was delicious. That said, I enjoyed the other main dining/included options just as much. I loved the variety and quality offered by Garden Cafe. I ate there mostly at breakfast and lunch (once for dinner) and never had a bad meal. I ate at Manhattan twice and Taste twice, for dinner. Again, like Garden Cafe, I never had a bad meal at either the MDRs. Something I learned from another cruiser was that you could order as much as you wanted (read: more than one app/entree). I also ate at O'Sheehans (usually late at night). At all of the included dining options I found the food good, if not great, and the service impeccable. Note- if you are eating in one of the MDRs at a peak time, your meal may take a little longer than you'd like. Was it gourmet dining? No. Was it like a decent sit-down restaurant? Yes- if not a little more.
Entertainment: I went to Second City (late night), Blue Man and Slam Allen (at Fat Cat's). Second City was ok. It was supposed to be the more risque adult show, but someone felt it prudent to bring their children. Blue Man was great, almost the same as they are in Boston. I went to see Slam Allen nearly every night and I cannot say enough about what a great entertainer this guy/band is. If you like blues, go to Slam Allen!!
I will also say, I did not book anything in advance. I always just showed up about 10-15mins before the show and got in. Likewise with dining options. I never had to wait more than 10 minutes.
Main Pool: It's true, it's true. The pools are small. The sundecks get crowded. That said, although I was up in Posh, I saw empty chairs. Chair hogs are out in full force, so my suggestion is to ask the person sitting next to the saved chair if the chair is open. Chances are, they'll tell you they haven't seen anyone there all day. If so, I say, be nice to the saver stuff and sit down! Beware, if you're looking to be in a kid free zone, you won't find it here. I felt that kids were in charge of the main pool area. (Please don't think I don't like kids, I do, just giving a perspective of someone traveling w/o them!)
SpiceH20: With the good number of kids on my sailing, I loved that they had adults only areas on the ship. This area, sundecks on 18 and Posh, were all kid free (and relatively quiet). I did think they could have done a better job keeping certain venues and events 18+ (as promised) at night, but I thought they did a great job.
Posh: The sundeck for folks staying in suites is available for purchase by the peons on a first come-first serve basis based on occupancy. And boy, am I glad I snagged a pass. The loungers and beds are so comfortable. It has its own bar. And while it doesn't have a pool, it does have mist showers. Also, umbrellas for shade. And a waiter who walked around taking orders and spraying you with water if you asked. I thought it was worth the $$ and had a great time up there.
Water slides: Prepare for a long wait on sea days, but a lot of fun. Really, no different than going to a water park.
Costa Maya: I read so much about how people recommended skipping this port and staying on the ship. I am so glad I got off the ship! I took the bus (with others-- wouldn't do it alone) for $3 and went into the village of Mahahual (I got off the bus at the 2nd stop) and walked to a bar, sat at their tables at the beach, and enjoyed the day. I went to Tropicante and had $3 Margaritas, excellent salsa and fish tacos. The beach here is clean and beautiful. I have to confess, this ended up being my favorite day of the entire cruise. It's a $2 cab ride back and there are plenty of opportunities to shop here (cheaper than the port area) if you want.
Roatan: I was booked for an excursion here, but changed my mind after the amazing (and cheap) day I had in Costa Maya. The Shore Excursion desk was helpful and gave me my money back. Once off the ship, however, I learned that Roatan is no Costa Maya. Things, including cab rides, are much more expensive. Round trip cab ride was $20pp. We went to Bananarama, where there was no entrance fee, and we just put our towels on the sand and enjoyed the water. This, I felt, was the best beach of the entire trip. Just gotta keep on your toes w/ regard to where the cab driver is taking you, etc.
Cozumel: I did the Mexican Cuisine excursion, where I went to Playa Mia resort and cooked a meal and then got to enjoy the beach. It was a great, great day. I also enjoyed shopping here and barterers will have a field day. (I know I did).
Disembarkation: I purchased an airport transfer and was off the ship at approx. 9:30AM (when those with transfers were scheduled to depart). I had put my luggage out the night before, so once I was in the terminal I had to pick up my luggage and go through customs. From leaving to customs, it took approximately 20 minutes until I was on the bus for the airport.
And, it was about 5 minutes after that when I realized I wish I was still on the EPIC. It was an amazing vacation. Glad I decided to take the plunge and go on a cruise. I'm now trying to see when I can go on another, and I have to say, after this excellent experience, it will probably be with NCL. Hopefully on the Epic!