My wife and I flew into Fort Lauderdale the day prior and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. We flew from Nebraska where it was a wonderful (haha) 11 degrees and we must admit, 75 degrees in Fort Lauderdale sure felt amazing! It was very breezy but we had a great time wandering around the grounds of the hotel, marvelling at the larger than life private yachts that surround the property. Seeing those yachts really put into perspective how large the cruise ships were. From our balcony at the Hyatt Regency, we had an amazing view of Port Everglades, the Atlantic Ocean, and Fort Lauderdale. You could even make out the cityscape of downtown Miami. It was interesting to the nerd in me to watch HAL Noordam, and Carnival cruise ship leave port. It only enhanced my level of excitement for out cruise ship. The next time (and there will certainly be a next time) we take a cruise from Fort Lauderdale/Miami, we will be staying at the Hyatt again. The only negative about the hotel was breakfast was very pricey especially when you consider what you got. My wife and I spent $24 on a bagel with cream cheese, 4 turkey sausage links, an orange juice and water! We expected it to be pricey but that felt ridiculous. Other than that, the hotel was excellent in every aspect.
We used NCL's transfer service from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International to the Port of Miami at a cost of $25 per person. It was very simple, the lady spotted my wife's luggage tags, asked if we needed a lift and in 10 minutes were leaving for the Port of Miami. The process was quick and painless thanks to the military-like precision of the driver who also put your luggage on the bus and took it off at the terminal.
At the terminal, towering above the building was our home for the next 7 days. It was one of those holy crap moments. Seeing the couple of ships take off the night before in Fort Lauderdale did little to prepare me for the size of the ship. After pausing for a quick photo we made way for the building. Embarkation was very smooth. I think we arrived at the terminal at 11:45 AM and by 12:15 PM we were being welcomed onto the ship by singing crew members.
We decided to get acquainted with the ship and traversed decks 6 and 7 quickly before heading up to deck 15 for the view. Our room would not be made available until 2:00 PM, but we went looking for our room anyways with no intent to go inside. As we were meandering the deck 10 hallway to our room, several crew members still preparing rooms were all smiles and welcomed us to the Epic. Never did they seem cheesy or just doing it because they had to, everybody seemed genuine. This remained true every time we saw them. As we rounded the corner to our aft-facing balcony our cabin steward greeted us with a handshake and smile. He asked for our room number and told us we could go in, that it was done. It was only 1:00 PM! He gave us a brief tour of our room, showing us where the storage was and making sure we had everything we needed. My wife asked for a robe and he brought two down. He was very kind and spoke very well with only a slight accent, he was from the Philippines. He offered up some suggestions for the night, telling us about the Sail-Away party and the Moderno restaurant, it was his favorite. I felt a little bad that I did not tip him at this time but I think we more than made up for it, the last night of our cruise. On to the room...
We opted for an aft-facing balcony, cabin 10318. Having never cruised before, I have nothing to compare it to. With this in mind though, we loved the room. The bathroom set-up which is love it or hate it, was just fine. As you enter, the shower which was frosted glass is on the right, the bathroom with the same frosted glass is on the left and the sink is on the right but is part of the living area. We have no complaints about the set-up, but I can see how it would be different if we weren't married. The room itself was very nice, with a ton of storage. I have seen complaints about the size of the room, usually the width of the room. My wife and I are vertically challenged (short!) and both of us are in shape. We never had a problem with space, or having to wait for somebody to move to pass by. The bed though, does seem short. While we fit comfortably, anybody over six foot tall will probably be longer than the bed. While it maybe short, the bed was very comfortable...and smelled very nice! Maybe we got new linens or just very freshly washed but it's always a plus when your bedding smells great. The best part of the room is the balcony. We figured we would go in style and get an aft-facing balcony. As first time cruisers, we probably spoiled ourselves but it is worth it! When you step out on the balcony, the wake of the ship sounds just like a waterfall. In fact, I recorded about 15 minutes of the sound so I can make it into a looping relaxation audio file for restless nights. Being at the back of the ship, I believe you get the best views. As we departed the Port of Miami, we watched from one of the sun decks but as soon as we entered the ocean we hurried down to our room and watched as Miami became smaller and smaller. We were also able to watch three other ships follow suit as the Epic was the first to leave. We were also able to watch the sunset as we left and it was beautiful. We used the balcony every day, having coffee in the morning, as a get-a-way from the crowds and to watch the sunset/sunrise. The aft-facing balcony offered up amazing views of all the ports as the Epic would rotate 180 degrees and dock when in port. This made for some very nice pictures as we set sail to the next port. Now for the bad (depends on who you ask). As I said, the Epic rotated 180 degrees and would reverse into its spot at the docking point at all the ports. Being in our room, on the aft of the ship, when rotating and reversing the boat rattles and shakes pretty hard. I am dead to the world when I sleep and did not notice it when docking in St. Maarten, but my wife did. Scared the crap out of her! So if you are a light sleeper, this could be a problem. When docking in St. Thomas, I woke up to the the shaking and went out on the balcony to watch an 1100 foot ship turn and reverse into its docking point. Pretty awesome to watch if you can watch it. Now for food...
I've been told by family members who have been on cruises, that you can't go hungry on a cruise. They weren't joking. There are two main dining rooms, Taste and the Manhattan Room. We chose to eat at Taste twice and the Manhattan Room once. I think the food at both is about the same in taste and presentation. The Manhattan room does have more selection, but I preferred the menu at Taste better. All the food was delicious and the wait staff, though they have their hands tied with so many customers, were reasonably prompt and served with a smile. Honestly, we felt like we were robbing the place if we didn't tip! It's so different compared to what we are used to. Because of our work schedules we tend to eat at different times so eating at the buffet or O'Sheehans better suited us. The food at the buffet was much better than I was expecting. We always had breakfast at the buffet, lunch was split between O'Sheehans and the buffet and dinner was whatever felt good at the time. O'Sheehans was a nice highlight for us. The food was similar to what you would get as far as quality from the buffet but I guess I enjoyed the bar atmosphere. Also, they had mozzarella sticks which my wife went nuts for! O'Sheehans does not charge except for soda and liquor obviously, so that was a nice plus. I would say my favorite part was the ice cream. I love vanilla ice cream cones and I swear by myself I probably ate 2 gallons of vanilla ice cream. As for specialty restaurants, we tried Cagney's and Moderno as per the recommendation of our cabin steward. Now being from Nebraska, we might not have the fancy upscale restaurants that other places have, but we know steak! At Cagney's, I had the rib-eye and I think it was 12 ounces though I can't say for sure. The steak looked nice, cut easily but I think I just got a lesser steak. It was cooked medium rare as I had asked but the steak lacked a lot of flavor. Don't get me wrong, the steak was still good and I did not complain but I guess I had my expectations little high. The baked potato served with the meal was very good though. Moderno Churrascaria was excellent! I highly recommend it to every man, woman, and child that enjoys meat. The servers bring out all types of meat to you on skewers and with a little plastic red/green chip, you determine when you are done. I sampled all the cuts and enjoyed every single one. My favorite was probably the chorizos, which are Spanish sausages. They were delicious. The filet mignon was perfectly cooked, I haven't seen my wife enjoy a steak like that. She must have had six strips of the filet by herself. The pork ribs were a little on the tough side and probably the least favorite of mine, but they were still very good. We will certainly be eating at Moderno the next time we are on an NCL ship that offers it. Now for entertainment....
Unfortunately, I can't say much for the on board entertainment. We did see Blue Man Group. We made reservations online prior to getting on the ship. This is a must because it seemed all the shows were pretty much booked within the first couple days. We have seen Blue Man Group in Las Vegas and Chicago and I'll be honest, it is the same exact show. Now do not mistake this as a bad thing. Blue Man Group is amazing and I don't regret seeing it again. It is really a must see. That being said, I guess I was hoping for a few new skits or new music to distinguish itself from the shows on land. But if you haven't seen Blue Man Group...do yourself a favor and see it. We did not book any other shows for this cruise, this was a personal choice. We wanted to have free schedules to do what we wanted, when we wanted and how we wanted...you know...freestyle! I don't regret not seeing the other shows because we were constantly being entertained. On this run of the Epic, they began Deal or No Deal. I hope they keep it going. As it was the first run of the show on the ship, attendance was spotty. It was held in the adults only (until 8PM) Spice H2O at aft of the ship. It was great and every audience member could participate in spirit or for some monetary prizes, the latter having a cost to participate. We never bought a game card and we never felt pressured to buy one either which was very nice. There were little competitions held here and there on sea days, the ones we did attend we fully enjoyed. NCL and the entertainment crew did a wonderful job at making sure there was always something going on to participate in or watch with a heaping dose of hilarity.
I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed the ship. When booking this vacation, we chose solely on the ship. We viewed the ship as a destination and it did not disappoint. From bow to stern, every crew member seemed genuine in their hospitality. The ship offered so much and I hope one day we can re-visit the ship in a few years and see how she is doing. Everything about the ship exceeded our expectations and has given us another avenue to explore in our travels. I can only hope that we were not completely spoiled by the Epic and that we have as much if not more fun on our next cruise ship. If you've stuck around to the end...thank you! If you choose the Epic, I hope you have an equally amazing time.