There is always something special about planning to sail aboard a new ship, especially with today's technology that allows you to literally watch the ship take shape online, as well as know of the difficulties NCL had getting her out of the French yard in one piece. I, along with many other fans of NCL watched her debut on national television on the fourth of July, and since then I have read every single review posted about the Epic here on Cruise Critic. Now, having spent seven glorious days aboard the Epic, its my turn.
First things first. Our traveling group consisted of myself and my wonderful wife Waz, two of our grandsons, Payton 9 and Owen 11, our youngest son Dean, and his lovely girlfriend Madie, a pair of newly-weds on their honeymoon, and another couple who have been friends of the family for years. Because of the number of us traveling, the outrageous airline fares, the equally outrageous baggage fees, and a strict limit on our time away from our jobs as teachers, early on we had decided to drive from South Bend Indiana to Miami. We allotted a day and a half to cover roughly 1300 miles, and booked the downtown Hilton for Friday evening. I had points to burn so my suite was free, and Madie works for Hilton so their room was something like $39.00. We took the kids to Bubba Gumps that evening, and then hit the hay to rest after the drive.
Driving to the Port of Miami is a breeze, and I was totally surprised how painless, and uncrowded the parking facility (C) was. It took us 5 minutes to drop the bags off, another 5 minutes to park, and within 15 minutes of arrival we were clearing security and were escorted to the Suite check-in area. We were onboard by 1130, and were escorted to the Epic Lounge on deck 16. Drinks were ordered and served by 1135, and we were greeted by Monica, the Concierge, and then escorted by Ramona, the Maitre D on a tour of the Courtyard facilities, including Posh. Once finished, we met our Steward Celio, and our Butler Fernando, and allowed to put our carry-ons in our Villa, and the kids changed into the swimming trunks, and it was into the pool.
There have been an abundance of reviews on these boards of every category of cabin aboard the Epic, so I won't bore you with another. What I can say is that the suite was beautiful, well appointed, clean and most comfortable. Our bedding was to die for! It was, in my opinion, somewhat smaller than I imagined, and although not cramped with the boys and Waz and I, the CV would not be a reason to book the Epic, in itself. The balcony was probably the smallest balcony I've ever had on any ship I've cruised aboard. The Courtyard, on the other hand, along with the Epic Lounge, the Epic Club, the Epic Grill, the steamroom, Sauna, etc, are the reason the Courtyard Villa was perfect for us.
At this point I should mention that our son Dean, and his main squeeze Madie had a Penthouse suite on deck 11, cabin 11321. This aft facing stern cabin was sweet. Perfect for two young people, especially for Madie, who Dean would propose to later during the cruise. Although the suite had the curtains rather than doors separating the toilet and shower area from the main living area, the kids really loved the room, and especially the balcony, which was quite a bit larger than our CV balcony, and the view was absolutely beautiful. Dean did mention that there was quite a bit of vibration during docking, but for the most part their suite was very comfortable, and quiet.
Our entertainment preferences tend to be decisions on the fly. I did pre-book Blue Man Group for the first sea day, and we were escorted down to some great seats about forty-five minutes early by an assistant Concierge. Owen and Payton had front row center seats, and Waz and I were two rows in back. Before the show started, a member of the cast asked us if we would play a part, and seated us in the back of the theater. In the middle of the show, we were told to get up and return to our original seats. Of course, the camera was on us as we were the "late couple" sneaking in. The boys loved seeing us up on the big screen. The show was fantastic, however the boys were upset they didn't get any paint on themselves.
We enjoyed O'Sheean's, both for the atmosphere as well as the food, and the boys loved the pool table and the dart boards. We spent a couple of great evenings there. For whatever reason, we never made it to the main dining rooms, nor any of the speciality restaurants, despite having Denis, the Hotel Director extend to us a free dinner at any of the speciality venues of our choice. One of the couples we were traveling with ate at Moderno, and we were jealous when they described how good their meals were. We did eat in the Epic Club, and I absolutely must state, the food served to us there, was the BEST I've had on any cruiseline, ever! If fact, the one negative issue I had on this cruise revolved around how good the food was served in the Epic Club, my son's engagement dinner, and a less than personable Concierge.
My son Dean asked Madie to marry him after our first port call at Maya Chan. They rushed up to the Courtyard so we could show off her ring. They asked if I could arrange a dinner for all of us, including a couple in a regular balcony. Having been served by such well known Concierge's such as Carlos and Karan, I immediately went to Monica, our Concierge, and explained to her my request for a special engagement dinner for 8, at a time she could accommodate in the Epic Club that evening. What I perceived to be a reasonable request to the person responsible for meeting my needs, turned into a power trip on Monica's end of things. No, you can't have those people up here unless I clear it with the Hotel Director. With that conversation, my expectations for what was being offered to suite guest were crushed by Monica's negative attitude, and unwillingness to initiate any action on my request. I have read reviews here on Cruise Critic where Monica's attitude has affected passenger's cruise experiences aboard the Epic. I now know why she is not good for the Courtyard and suite passengers aboard the Epic. Thank God for Ramona, she and the Epic Club staff put together the most perfect, and romantic engagement dinner you could imagine, and Monica was nowhere to be found.
We did attend the White Hot Party in Spice, as well as the Karaoke finals our son competed in, coming in second. The nightlife was almost never ending aboard the Epic. The casino didn't take, nor did it giveth away, but it also didn't smell like smoke. The shops were the usual, however I did have an interesting experience. I forgot my shaving cream, and needed to get something to get me by. I looked through the most obvious shops, but couldn't find a can of shaving cream. Finally after twenty minutes of looking, I asked a clerk, and she informed me the shaving cream was in the "LIQUOR SHOPPE"! OMG, have you ever heard anything as crazy as that??? Who would have thunk it, shaving cream as a liquor store item. Of course I went there, and did find similar items, razors, deodorant, condoms, booze, smokes, but guess what, no shaving cream! The clerk said they ran out of shaving cream, but would have some next week?????? The Liquor Shoppe is next door to the Barber Shop, and I figured I'd at least check. The person staffing the shop wasn't a barber, but rather someone from the Spa. I asked the question, she answered yes she had shaving cream, gave me a sample in my hand, told me it was the best, and then charged me $38.00 for the can of Elemis shaving cream, and assured me it was good stuff.
Our two boys, absolutely loved the Epic, the slides, the Courtyard, food, arcade, etc. They only spent one evening in the kids club, but were not impressed with the staff. They have been in kid's clubs on the Sun and Spirit and loved it, however my guess is having only spent one evening in the club aboard the Epic, they just didn't give it enough time.
Sadly, there comes a time when reality sets in and you have to return to the real world. Our final evening was spent saying our goodbyes to those staff members who provided the best service at sea. Too many names to mention, but Ramona, Jasmine, Christine, Fernando, Celio, Ricky, etc., were hunted down and given appropriate tokens of our appreciation. Understandably, Monica was omitted. The disembarkation was absolutely flawless. Report to the Concierge desk at the appointed hour, and Courtyard passengers are taken to the disembarkation deck via a service elevator, and you swipe you card out, and that's it. For us, we found a porter with a large luggage cart, and for $50.00 took all our luggage, 8 people, over to the parking garage, loaded my truck and Deans car, and really it was no more than twenty minutes and I was on the road back to South Bend.
I do truly love NCL and its product. The EPIC is the ultimate incarnation of the Free Style concept. On a ship this large, I find the whole ball of wax comes together in a product other cruiselines want to imitate. NCL really hits the mark on this innovative ship. Are there issues? Sure, but mostly minor. There will be no other ships built to the Epic's plans, so NCL simply refines any issues on this particular ship. I feel if you like NCL's product, then the Epic becomes not only transportation to exotic ports of call, but also a destination in itself.
I will book the Epic again, it just depends on when and where the Epic travels to, but I know I will board her again.