I'm back from another great cruise. We were on the 4/2 sailing. A bit of background for you guys. This was my 17th cruise. I've sailed all the major cruise lines RCL, NCL, Carnival, Princess, HAL, MSC and Celebrity. I sailed with my four other family members ranging in age from four to 74. So if you want comparisons between the lines just ask.
I really enjoyed my cruise on the Epic. This was my 3rd cruise on NCL and the best yet. IMO, the entertainment on this ship and level of activity, surpasses nearly every ship out there with the exception of the Oasis class. I will also add that I am not a die hard NCL fan or a die hard of any line for that matter. I enjoy sailing a variety of lines because they each have something to offer. I'm not ashamed to admit that after my first cruise on NCL I said wouldn't sail NCL again. A good deal came along, I gave it another try and that changed my mind. Since then I will consider an NCL cruise along with any More
other line. I heard a lot of comparisons made with the Epic and the Oasis. Epic is no Oasis but it does come close and is certainly worth sailing on.
Pre cruise stay
We flew into Ft Lauderdale Friday evening. The airfare prices were better flying into FLL than MIA. We bid on Priceline and got the Best Western Inn and Suites, Dania Beach for $54 a night. (Ahhhh I love Priceline!) Their free shuttle picked us up from the airport. We are not normally Best Western people. My preference is more of the Hilton/Doubletree/Marriott ish type establishment. However, with Priceline you get what you get. We were pleasantly surprised though. The Best Western was very new, trendy, modern dEcor and free breakfast. I wanted to stay in this area because I remembered it was walking distance to a movie theater, Dave and Busters, other restaurants and shops. I knew that would be sufficient to entertain us for the night. Turns out we didn't even have to walk to the Oakwood Plaza area. There was a $2pp shuttle (my 4yr old was free) that took us there.
The next day we checked out and waited for our prearranged shuttle service to MIA with QLS. I had an excellent experience with QLS. http://qualitylimoservice.com/default.aspx?pageId=1 I would certainly recommend them. They called us about 15 minutes prior to their arrival. They showed up on time and kept their promise of making no more than one additional stop. The drive to the pier took about 35 minutes.
We arrived at the pier about 11:00. Check in was really fast, we walked directly up to the security screeners, no one was in front of us. We also walked straight up to the check in counter to take our picture and establish an onboard account. Afterwards we waited, about 10 minutes until they allowed boarding (Boarding began about 11:30). When we got on the ship, music was playing, happy smiling faces greeted us. Our cruise was off to a great start.
We stayed in an inside cabin- 9011. We went immediately to our cabins. I knew that they would still be cleaning them but we didn't want to keep our carry on luggage with us. My first impressions of the cabin were good ones. It was very stylish. They really maximized storage space at every turn. Instantly I noticed that the rooms were slightly smaller than most lines of a similar category. I'm still not sure how I felt about the separate shower, sink, toilet thing though. I've sailed in a forward cabin before but boy, the noise and vibration when we were docking was worse than I've ever experienced. It served as a wake up call but it still was annoying.
My first impressions of the ship....nice. Even though the ship was new, clean, and well maintained. I found it lacked the wow factor of the Voyager Class, Oasis Class and MSC vessels. Let's not split hairs though it is still nice. This is a ship I never really mastered. I was still taking wrong turns even towards the end of our sailing. The lifts frequently arrived full, so you had to either wait around a bit at times or take the stairs. There were about 4,000 people on our sailing, however, it was only by the pool did I really feel the number of people on board.
I had no issues here. I think it was on par with most of the other cruise lines.
I really enjoy free style cruising. With kids it is really convenient to not have to dress up or eat at the same time. That flexibility I really appreciate. I've always been pretty critical of NCL's food. In the past, I didn't feel it quite measured up to the other lines. However, the efforts to lower industry costs have reduced all lines to fewer gourmet quality meals (outside of the fee restaurants). That said, I feel the food is now on par with the other cruise lines. Some meals are hit some are misses. By no means will you go hungry. I just think the foodies will be disappointed.
The Garden cafe meals were of standard buffet quality however, I don't think the lunches and dinners had the variety that other lines do. We ate at O Sheehan's, Taste and Manhattans. Other than the music and Manhattan's being more upscale there was little difference between the two. We also ate at Shanghai's and Cagney's. The last time I ate at Cagney's (on the Jewel) I loved it. There was an additional charge of $10 for a large steak, lobster or crab. I thought the food was definitely better in presentation and quality than Taste and Manhattan. I'm still kind of on the fence whether it was worth the extra fee. Shanghai's I definitely didn't think was worth the extra fee. Children were charged half price at fee restaurants.
I can't really say too much about the kids club because DD did not want to go. That is an understatement actually. She cried like I was taking her to be waterboarded. Usually she goes so I'm not sure why there was such a protest. She was in the kids club once, a total of 3 hours, the entire cruise. I didn't like the fact that parents were not welcome back in the playrooms. We had to drop them off at the front entrance and let them head back on their own. I've never had that happen before. Usually I take her and stay with her until both of us are comfortable. Good thing I had toured the kids play area on the first day of the cruise, otherwise I would have never been able to see it. The facilities were very nice.
There seemed to be lots of scheduled activity on the kids' activity sheets though.
We loved the aqua park area and so did DD. I personally loved the slides I tested each myself. There was a minimum height requirement but not an age. They wouldn't let you slide with your child though so I didn't let my daughter go, but there were some children in the 4-5 age range that went unassisted.
The quantity and variety of activity that was family friendly was comparable only to the Oasis. I was really impressed. Usually I feel that my daughter is forced to attend activities that I want to go to or vice versa. NCL had a lot of activities that were fun for all ages. I can't say enough about it. Slime Time Live was a lot of fun. We enjoyed the Pizza making party, the Who's the Boss game show (think the newlywed game for a parent and child). There were many activities for kids who didn't want to participate in the kids club. I felt welcome with her in the fee restaurants and the majority of other activities (of course the obvious exceptions of the casinos, adults only areas and bars.)
This ship really excelled here. We had so much fun. I just don't see how people can say there wasn't anything to do. We loved the Blue Man Group. Dancing with the Stars had me laughing so hard I cried. The Mystery Murder Lunch was entertaining as well. Aretha Franklin's impersonator at the Legends Concert was outstanding. The magician/comedian Jeff Hobson was the funniest I've ever experience on a cruise. On and on I could go. The entertainment was great. If I had it to again I'd skip the Cirque show. That was overrated. I think any true fan of Cirque de Soleil (which we are) will find their attempt pretty sad. I didn't get the story. The food wasn't all that great. It was a waste of time and $20.
We are never in any rush to disembark a ship. We lingered awhile and about 9 or 9:15 we grabbed our things to leave. There was a short line but we were off the ship in about 15 minutes. Our luggage was already there. For the most part it was an uneventful disembarkation.
QLS called before we even got off the ship to let us know that they were there early and we could go on an earlier shuttle if we wanted. We shuttled back to FLL airport. I had heard a lot on these boards that I wouldn't be allowed to check my luggage unless my flight was < 4hrs out. We arrived at the airport about 9 hrs before our flight departed. (We flew Air Tran other airlines might be different.) We couldn't check our luggage upstairs, but they sent us downstairs (near baggage claim) where we could check luggage for later flights. Bags to go, also held any luggage for $6 a bag.
Ports of Call
We seldom take ship sponsored excursions. We prefer the flexibility and the savings of doing it on our own.
I couldn't find any info of someone who went to Chacchoben Ruins without using a ship tour or Native Choice. We took a chance that we would find a taxi tour when we debarked and I'm glad I did. When we first debarked we found a tour stand (inside the pier area). We asked if he had any tours going to Chacchoben. He said he did. Then he asked which ship we were travelling on. When we told him the Epic he said, I'm sorry you have to book through her. He pointed over to an NCL rep and sent me to her. I asked if it was a ship tour and she said yes, so we declined. Apparently they are trying to force people to tour through them. I figured there had to be someone around who would give us take us independently and there was. In the breezeway, leading to the parking lot/taxi area were the independent tour guides. He (chacchobentour.com) offered $50 pp, (my four yr old free) for RT to Chacchoben and a dropoff at Mahahual for beach or shopping. That was exactly what we wanted to do. We negotiated until we got the price down to $35pp and we were off. (The tour departed at 11:30am) We were with about 20 other cruisers in a huge tour bus. The ruins were nice, not as impressive as Tulum, Lamanai, or Chichen Itza but they were worth a visit if you had been to the others already as we had. When it was time to go, some of the others were late returning. As a result, we all had to wait for them to get back. We decided not to stop in the Mahahual area because we would have not had time enough to make it worthwhile for us. We were a little disappointed but all in all it was a good day.
While I was there I picked up other independent tour information and prices in case anyone is interested. I got handouts from the following two independent tours.
Some of the other independent tours offered by Shark tours were an Explorer ATV tour $80single $120 double, flyfishing, Mahahual Beach Party $35pp (including beach facilities and all you can drink), Reef snorkel expedition $30pp, Jet ski rental $60 half hour $90 hr, horseback riding $50, scuba diving 1 tank $70 2 tanks $95. Under 5 free. Sharktours1@gmail.com
Tequilabeachtours.com was running a beach party tour $35pp, snorkeling tour $30pp, sport fishing, wave runner rentals (1/2 hr $60, 1hr $90), horseback ride $50, Scuba tours $75 (1 tank)& $95 (2 tanks) parasailing $65pp
We'd never been to Honduras before so we wanted to do an island tour. We did a van tour for $20pp. It was Bodden tours that took us out. However there were at least 3-5 other vendors there selling tours as well. We toured both ends of the island. We stopped at several look out points. We stopped by a place to view the monkeys and our group opted not to do the iguana farm. The tour concluded at the beach (Bananarama beach front resort) but most of our group decided to return to the trip. Roatan was a nice place to visit once but I don't think I'd want to go back.
We'd all been to Cozumel many times before so we decided to make this a beach day. I noticed that the area was even more developed than it was the last time and we also docked in Punta Langosta. I liked this location better than the other pier. We grabbed a taxi for about $25 each way to Palancar. This was a beach with a lot of amenities. There were a few shops, massages, a bar and a few restaurants. Places to rent snorkeling equipment, kayaks, jet ski's etc. My brother went parasailing $45pp. They also rented snorkel equipment $10pp and snorkeled nearby, but the people who went on the snorkel tour that was advertised there saw a whole lot more than my brother did. I think I liked Panchos beach area better but it was a still a nice day in Cozumel. When we returned to the pier area we shopped for a few hours and then returned to the ship.
That's it! I brought back the fitness schedule (I did try a Pilates class while I was onboard)
Link to Epic Fitness Schedule http://i1210.photobucket.com/albums/cc412/queenl3/Norwegian%20epic%20fitness%20schedule/epicfitnessschedule.jpg
Link to Epic Spa Price List http://i1210.photobucket.com/albums/cc412/queenl3/Norwegian%20Epic%20spa%20list/Spapricelist.jpg
Link to Epic Dailies