OVERVIEW - Phenomenal cruise on a magnificent ship. Throughout the week on board the Epic, I often found myself wondering where the other 4000 people were. Some how, NCL found a way to design a ship with enough space for everyone so that it never feels crowded.
ABOUT US - My Dad (late 60's) and I (mid 30's) went on this cruise together. We stayed in neighboring Studio Cabins 12560 & 12562. This was my 3rd cruise with NCL, but the first time on the Epic. I've also sailed on Renaissance Cruises (now Oceania). My father has sailed once on NCL, several times on Oceania, and also on Celebrity.
TRANSPORT FROM AIRPORT - We traveled from Boston to Miami where the ship departs. Since our flight was arranged through NCL, representatives greeted us at the baggage claim and gathered us into groups to board buses that brought us to the pier. It was very efficient and the staff was friendly and helpful. During the 15 ride from the airport to the pier, our driver gave us some history about Miami and pointed out the noteworthy buildings.
EMBARKATION - It was a breeze getting on the ship. No lines or delays. When we arrived at the pier, the bus driver unloaded our luggage and the porter brought our bags onto the ship. While that was happening we walked up to the check-in counter, and after showing our passports, reviewing our health screening for influenza and norovirus, and registering our credit cards we were issued our room keys and ushered up the ramp to the board the Epic. Along the way we went through a security check point where our carry-on bags were screened then had the opportunity to have a photo taken with the ship as a backdrop.
STUDIO CABIN - We each stayed in a Studio Room (12560 & 12562) and it was delightful! I wasn't sure what to expect because I'm a bit claustrophobic and have never liked the idea of an inside cabin. Much to my surprise, the room was not confining at all. It was absolutely perfect for one person. Generous amount of storage, well lit, and easy to move around in. The shower was small, but the wonderful rain shower head had good water pressure and plenty of hot water. There was also a real hair dryer in the room - what a treat! I had a fantastic room stewardess, Lea, who was very attentive and left me towel animals each day. As for the location of our rooms, it was perfect. They were right outside the aft elevators - very convenient! It was a long walk down the hall to the Studio Lounge, but we only went there once a day for cappuccino in the afternoon. I'd rather be close to the elevator and the stairs which we used several times a day. The room was quiet - no noise from above, below, or in the hall.
ONE SMALL PROBLEM - The only problem I had with the room was at night, the light switches for the reading lamps inside the headboard glowed with a blue light that illuminated the room even when all the lights are shut off. I am the kind of person that needs it dark in order to sleep and those glowing light switches really interfered with it. When I mentioned it to my room stewardess she was not surprised and quickly covered them up with duct tape thus problem solved. There are so many lights in the room and some of the light switches are hard to find such as the one above the TV is attached to the plug inside that area and one of the sink lights was hidden inside one of the storage cubicles along the sink.
STUDIO PERKS - The Studio Lounge is a wonderful place. We have our personal bartender with 2 for 1 drinks every evening at 5:30. There is also a social gathering at that time with our own personal cruise director to facilitate events for other solo travelers. There are always snacks available and a wonderful cappuccino machine that is free! In addition there are large TVs to watch games on and a music player with a nice selection of music to listen to.
POOL AREA - Spice H2O is the adult pool area. The pool is small, but I'm not a swimmer so I didn't mind. There were always plenty of chairs available and it was kid-free. My main goal was to avoid the kids on Spring Break and relax in the sun and Spice H2O accomplished this. If I wasn't there, I was listening to the band play in the main pool area. Still plenty of seating, but there were tons of kids running around.
CASINO - I'm not a gambler so I cannot attest to the quality, but it was pleasant to walk through the casino. Not too loud and not too smoky (there was some smoke but not enough to trigger my asthma). There were endless tables and slot machines. The people playing in the casino seemed to be having a great time.
QUIET PLACES - I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of quiet seating areas available indoors, too. Decks 6 and 7 had lots of little spots to sit and read. There's even a library on board which surprised me because I had heard there wasn't one.
ENTERTAINMENT - At night, Fat Cat's Jazz and Blues club is a wonderful place to hang out and listen to Slam Allen perform. There are also 2 of 1 martinis there from 7:30-8:30. I did not get to Headliner's Comedy Club, but my father did and he enjoyed the show. Blue Man Group and Cirque Dreams were stellar. Both shows exceeded my expectations and have really raised the bar for on board entertainment. My father mentioned that he missed the traditional cruise shows, but as for me, I prefer the Epic's style of entertainment.
FOOD - We ate in The Manhattan Room, Taste, The Garden Buffet, O'Sheehan's, and Cirque Dreams. Overall the food was very good. Plenty of variety to chose from. The main dining room service was good and paced well (not too slow, not too fast). I enjoyed The Manhattan Room the most because of the live music. For breakfast, O'Sheehan's was our favorite for both the atmosphere and the very quick service. They also start serving breakfast earlier than the other restaurants, so on excursion days that's a big plus. Lunches were usually at the buffet at Spice H2O or at The Garden. It's nothing fancy, but it's quick and convenient. A note about The Garden Buffet - it has the best panoramic view from the front of the ship. We enjoyed going there just to look out over the water. There are not any other public areas with this view which is too bad. There are plenty of spots to see out the aft of the ship, but nothing forward facing other than inside The Garden.
SHIP HOSPITAL - I had the misfortune of getting a stomach bug while on the ship and had to visit the ship's hospital. Not quite sure how it happened because I am a hyper-vigilant germaphobe and carry hand sanitizer with me everywhere. Anyway, the hospital was very modern and well equipped. The nurse Brian and the doctor were efficient and courteous. After 24 hours of quarantine in my room, I was free to enjoy the cruise again. Which I did for a day, but got sick again the next day - this time it was my own fault for not sticking to a bland diet. I had a total of 2 visits to hospital and received IV fluids and three rounds of anti-nausea medication. The total bill was $147. I missed out on 36 hours of the cruise including a behind the scenes tour of the ship and the island of Cozumel. I must add that, even though I got sick, it did not ruin my vacation.
INTERNET - The ship's Internet is painfully slow and expensive. The browser is IE 6 and websites with a lot of Flash or interactive features don't load completely. Gmail worked well, though.
COSTA MAYA - One word ... Chacchoben! What an absolute delight this excursion was. It was truly the highlight of our cruise. These Mayan ruins are amazing. You can climb parts of many of the pyramids. Plus there are many structures to see and they are astonishingly well persevered. You really get a feel for how the Mayans lived. The Chacchoben ruins much older than Tulum in Cozumel and more historically significant. If you want to see Mayan Ruins, Chacchoben is the one to see. Our tour guide was wonderful and gave us plenty of interesting information about the ruins and Mayan culture. At the entrance there is a great shop to find local handmade Mayan masks and other souvenirs. As for the port itself, it's cute, but there is not much going on there. There's some tourist shops, the same jewelery stores as every other Caribbean port, overpriced restaurants/bars, and a man-made beach, but there is nothing authentically Mexican there.
ROATAN - A beautiful island! I went on the Gumbalimba Park & Tabyana Beach Excursion. The park was beautiful. It was a lot of fun to see iguanas in their natural habitat and to play with the monkeys. Unfortunately, I got bit by one of the monkeys. It was nothing serious, he was just being playful and my finger got in the way, but when I returned to the USA, I went to the emergency department because I was still sick and the doctor decided I needed to get a series rabies vaccinations (although the bite is not what made me sick). Tabyana Beach was gorgeous and relaxing. Tons of sun or shade depending on what you prefer. Waiters serve you drinks in your beach chair, a lunch buffet with Latin food was available, and there are massage therapists that will give you a massage on the beach ($25 for 40 minutes).
COZUMEL - I missed out on this island because I was sick. My father did the Tulum excursion, but reports that the Chacchoben ruins were much better.
DISEMBARKATION - It was a little more hectic than previous NCL cruises I've been on. Mostly because US Customs were slow and because we were trying to get off the ship as soon as it docked so we could do the tour of Miami. They had all the passengers who were booked on morning excursions gather in the theater and then get off the ship one by one. Once we were off the ship, US Customs was quite backed up and it took us about 30 minutes to get through the line.
POST-CRUISE - Our trip concluded with a post-cruise bus tour of Miami with transportation to the airport. What a great way to end the cruise! Our tour guide took us around the city to South Beach, Coral Gabbles, and Coconut Grove. We even made a stop at the majestic Biltmore Hotel where we walked around and got to enjoy this beautiful hotel for a bit before being dropped off at the airport.
All in all, even with my illness and the monkey bite, it was a phenomenal cruise. I recommend the Epic to everyone! Don't let its size intimidate you, we never once felt crowded. There is plenty of fun to be had or quiet times to relax depending on your mood.