Norwegian Epic Cruise Review by NengEuis
- Sail Date: January 2012
- Destination: Eastern Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Spa Suite
We chose to stay at the Hampton Inn Miami - Brickell Downtown for our two night pre-cruise stay. Our cab from MIA was $30 with tip. The hotel has only been open since November 2011, so we understood when the cab driver didn't quite know what hotel I was talking about! Luckily I had the actual street address, which helped him. We arrived at the Hotel at about 8:30pm and were given a beautiful room on the top floor (the 16th floor). We faced south, and could even see a bit of Brickell Bay out our window, which I didn't expect.
I wouldn't hesitate to book this hotel again for a pre-cruise stay. The newness of the hotel itself is definitely a draw, and the convenience of the location makes it a ridiculously easy choice to make. The pool area is beautiful, and the Lobby bar looks out onto it. The bar stayed open until the pool closed at 11. Loved that. For dinner, we walked over to Mary Brickell Village and ate at Burger & Beer Joint. AWESOME! Excellent burgers...rare beers that I have a hard time finding where we live.
My only complaint about the hotel was the breakfast. I am HHonors Gold, and do stay at quite a few Hampton Inns. I am usually happy with the free breakfast, but even going down for breakfast at 8:30 both mornings, we were greeted with an empty vat of oatmeal, and NO bananas. Two things I eat for breakfast every morning! We actually laughed about the fact that we were in Miami and there were no bananas. We were there just before the Miami Marathon, so we thought maybe the runners bought out the whole city. :)
During our free day in Miami (Friday), we hopped on the Metromover (just steps from the hotel) and rode it down to Omni Station, where we boarded the Beach Max #120 -- limited stops to South Beach for $2. It was a quick trip out to the beach. We ate at Front Porch Cafe, strolled along the sand, did a fair amount of people watching, and then headed back out and found a bus stop back to downtown around 3:00. Traffic was horrible, and after a long slow ride back to the hotel, we repacked a little for the cruise, and walked over to Publix (there are actually TWO within walking distance of the hotel) to get things for the cruise. We bought wine, sunscreen, tonic, sour mix, COKE ZERO, olives for the martinis, and a few other things for the ship. After returning to the hotel, we arranged our transportation for the next morning. The hotel offers a shuttle service the Port that runs at 10, 11, 12, 1, and 2. The 12 noon shuttle was full, so we took the 11:00am. The cost was $8.00 per person.
We then walked down to a restaurant called Zen Sushi Lounge near the hotel and dinner was delicious. We had a few beers at Fado, a "chain" Irish Pub at Mary Brickell Village, and also visited a Cigar shop there where DH bought 3 cigars for the ship.
The next morning, we walked out the front doors with our bags, carry ons, wine, and coke, and the shuttle was there waiting! We loaded our bags in the trailer and boarded the van with about 12 other people. Everyone else was going on Carnival, and got dropped off first. Then DH and I were dropped off and the porter came right over and placed our bags in the checked area and we entered the terminal after showing our passports and tickets.
Suite Check-In was fast. We were taken into a little side room where we sat at a desk. The whole process took about 5 minutes. She also checked in another couple while we waited on a couch, and then after that, a gentleman escorted the 4 of us past the regular check-in area, and right onto the ship. We stopped briefly for our embarkation picture, and were taken right to an elevator which whisked us up to the 16th deck. We were greeted by a staff member who seated us in the Epic Club Lounge and had us wait for a few more people to come. We were then given a tour of the Concierge Lounge, Haven, Posh, Sundeck, Epic Club, and Epic Grill by a butler named Lani -- who actually ended up being our butler.
We had lunch in Epic Club after the tour and I had THE TUNA BURGER. Everything that I had read about this plate of amazing was absolutely true. Delicious choice. I ate it again. Several times. The Tuna Burger and I got to be good friends.
We met another couple from Kentucky while we were waiting to be seated in Epic Club, and we hit it off so we had lunch together. We actually dined together several times during the week, and their Spa Suite was near ours, so we were practically neighbors! They were a lot of fun to hang out with. At about 1:30 we decided to venture out and see if our Suites were ready. We had the Concierge (Ruth) check and she said it was okay if we went down.
We got to our Spa Suite, #14151, and it was everything I thought it would be. A perfect size for two people, and the balcony is just downright amazing. I picked this sailing based on when this specific cabin was available, and I had to do it 13 months in advance. It is aft-most of the 8 Spa Suites.
After a quick and painless muster (our station was one of the long bars at Maltings on Deck 7), we headed up to POSH for sailaway. The Champagne flowed and flowed! It was a beautiful sailaway. Miami is just a gorgeous port. We loved it.
We had ordered a bar setup before the cruise and I am so glad we did. We made our own drinks in the cabin. Whenever we needed ice I just called Lani and she brought a bucket.
I did pre-book all of our shows, but really only needed to pre-book Cirque. I guess I am in the mindset of "that is one less thing I have to do on the ship".
During the week, we saw Blue Man Group, which we loved. I actually have seen that show at the Venetian twice (as recently as December 2011) and I STILL loved it. Lani offered to bring us into the theater early to get choice of seats, but we decided to just go in at our leisure. There really are NO bad seats in the house. We were up by the sound booth, and I thought our seats were wonderful.
Cirque Dreams was excellent as well. We did go in early for that one, and were seated across from each other on the floor level at the end of a table that seated 14. I felt bad for the servers because they really cram people in that tent, and they were busting their butts trying to dodge dancers and simultaneously deal with the large French-speaking group seated with us, who had multitudes of requests on how they wanted their food. They were a *fun* bunch! /sarcasm. I personally loved the show. I was about a foot from the guy in the bathtub. There really are no words to describe sitting that close, on the floor. I thought I was going to be decapitated by a sword or smacked in the face with a roller skate. AND I LOVED IT.
Legends was somewhat of a disappointment for us. The Stephen Tyler was wonderful (he threw me his scarf..ROWR..) but the Lady Gaga was so-so and the Elvis was just poor. The music, video, lights, and sound were wonderful though.
We did not go see Second City, as we had reservations the last night and were just beat after a day on the waterslides at Atlantis!
We loved Howl at the Moon! We love dueling piano bars and try to find them wherever we travel. The crowd was really fun, and the performers do an excellent job.
I loved the Spa, and loved having my gold bracelet which gave me access to it whenever I wanted. The Thermal Suite was wonderful, and I spent some time in there every day. I was usually there right at 8 when it opened, or late at night. The Saunas are so wonderful, and the Eucalyptus Steam room felt fabulous. I had a seaweed wrap and massage on the first evening and it was great. The masseuse, Cheryl, fully abused my muscles and knots, and it was a great way to start the cruise.
I never found the Spa to be that crowded, but I didn't go during traditionally crowded times on purpose. I did go it at about 7 one night and there were lots of towels on tile loungers. Seriously, chair hogs -- keep your sloppy tactics up on the pool deck. I just moved towels and laid down on one. No one cared or said anything. The sign two feet from me that said "do not reserve chairs with towels or personal belongings" helped too.
The only improvements would make to the Spa Area would be to provide conditioner in the showers, and I would provide the Salon with its own check-in area. The girls at the main check in are run RAGGED by people inquiring about services, phone calls, people checking in for lockers, and then people checking in for actual services they are booked for. I checked in for a hair appointment and was just left standing there (she didn't tell me where to wait). Finally, the gentleman who was doing my hair came out to the main area and found me, surprised I wasn't waiting back at the Salon. Uhhh, I didn't know I was supposed to! The girl who checked me in was just so busy. I felt bad for her.
One other Spa note. The Spa Thermal Suite is closed from 10pm-8am. CLOSED. No passengers are in there. So WHY are there maintenance men running around in coveralls doing maintenance during the open hours? The only thing I can think of is so not to bother passengers in the cabins below the Spa? On two of my morning visits, maintenance staff were opening utility doors, banging on pipes, YELLING across the room to each other...it was a bit much. Maintenance in the Spa needs to be done during hours that the Spa is closed.
Where we didn't eat: The MDRs or the Buffets. We had planned to eat at Le Bistro but never made it... one week on the Epic is just not enough time!
We were huge fans of the Epic Club. All the meals we ate there were spectacular. Loved the service, loved how they knew our names, loved it ALL. We would give Lani one of our bottles of wine in the afternoon and it would show up at our table for dinner. The cocktails were generously poured, and the ambiance was just unbeatable. It's also hard to believe there were 4000 people floating on the ship with you when you are up there. Loved it. Probably one of the best parts about the Epic. I filled out S.T.Y.L.E cards for three people just in the Epic Club. May I just reminisce for a moment? Beet Salad, Tuna Poke, Asparagus Soup, Tempura Mushroom, Duck Breast, and that freakishly awesome Chocolate Mocha Mousse which undoubtedly had a large part in my 8 pound vacation weight gain!!! I am still having dreams about that darned tuna burger.
We had our breakfast en suite on three different mornings. I wrote down what we wanted for breakfast (oatmeal, poached eggs,bagel, lox, capers, etc), and Lani had it there at the exact specified time, set it up on the balcony, and we just made a coffee from the Lavazza and enjoyed. I loved that. We also told Lani that we were banana addicts, and she made sure our fruit bowl had 3-4 bananas every day. This more than made up for that Hampton Inn in Miami!
We ate at two specialty restaurants. No, we didn't eat at Cagney's -- the filets in Epic Club were delicious so we didn't think $50 would be worth it. We ate at Moderno's one night. The salad bar really is as wonderful as people say! I am pretty sure I could live on beets and bananas, so the beet salad took up half my plate. I make no apologies for my beet addiction. The dinner itself was just so-so. We ate at a beautiful Churrascaria in Dallas in November with Gouchos twirling all around with whole legs of lamb and enormous Ribeyes, and I think that experience spoiled us. I think for what it was, a cruise ship floating in the ocean, it is a great experience, though. There was also a ridiculously cute baby sitting right in my line of sight this whole dinner, and he was reminding me about my 16 month old at home. I was really having "I miss my kids" problems at that point. Ugh! I went over to the Mom after dinner and told her how adorable he was. I know being a Mom with a little one on a ship is not easy.
We ate at Shanghai's one night to celebrate the birthday of one of our new friends from Kentucky. We were pretty disappointed in the food. It was not even as yummy as the local chinese take-out. Also, the waitstaff was plentiful, but the food took forever. We were there for two and half hours. Luckily we had lots of great conversation, and sucked down a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Syrah while we were waiting. I was surprised by this because I saw the Restaurant Director and the Food and Bev director in the restaurant (I recognized them from the M&G). There were also only about 5 tables occupied. Lots of folks were up at the Noodle bar, though. I wanted to go back and try the food there, but we never made it.
Martini Tasting. Just do it. The best $15 you'll spend all week!
The Ice Bar was fun. We went after spending the day at Orient Beach on St. Maarten, and the cold felt so great on my slightly crispy face. :) We were quite comfortable in the 17 degrees and enjoyed both the drinks we were served.
We usually do not take part on any ship excursions, and like to venture ashore on our own. On this trip, I booked shore excursions at all three ports. This was mostly because I knew that St. Maarten and St. Thomas were going to be pretty crowded, and I just didn't want to deal with any hassles. We also had never been to any of these ports before, so I just wanted to relax and enjoy myself and let people tell me where to go.
In St. Maarten, we did the Orient Beach Rendezvous. The bus loading was fast, and the trip up the beach took about 20 minutes. We had about 2.5 hours at the beach. We spent almost the whole time in the water. The beach chairs were crammed together in a large area. If you wanted to keep the umbrella that was there, they collected $3 from you. We just used our chairs to hold our stuff so we didn't need it. The ocean was so fun. Big surf...we just swam and dove under the waves and tried out our new underwater camera. We walked up to the restaurant and had our included lunch. I had the fish, a grouper, which was delicious! DH had the ribs, which were a little dry. My only tip here is to hang back a little on the lunch. They tell you to go up and eat between 11:30 and 12:30. Of course, in true "cruiser fashion", 75% of the people at the beach with us start marching up to the restaurant at 11:25 and GET IN A LINE AND WAIT. It's so amazing to watch. We waited until 11:55, got out of the water, dried off and walked up to the restaurant. Most of those folks who had bumrushed the place were crammed at big tables together, and we had a lovely private table for two that a couple had vacated just as we walked up. Ahhhh...love little things like that. The bus back to the pier was fast, and the narration was really informative. We were back to the ship at 2:30, so we had loads of time to get back on and ride the slides. No waiting, and we rode all of the slides multiple times. I took a video while riding the Epic Plunge to show to my oldest daughter (a promise I made to her). We went up to Posh and got a beautiful view of St. Maarten, and watched the pool deck fill up for sail away.
In St. Thomas, we chose the Champagne Snorkel and Sail to St. John. It was a great excursion. The taxis took a while to leave the port (each one holds 25) but the trip to the marina only took about 15 minutes. Traffic was not bad at all. We loaded a catamaran called the Adventurer and took the 45 minute ride over to St. John. We were issued our snorkel gear and after a quick tutorial we were set free. We have snorkeled a lot, so we just jumped off the boat and swam around. Honestly, the snorkeling is nothing that knocked my socks off, but I was in the ocean with my honey and I hadn't changed a diaper in days. So hey -- I was a happy girl. The beach is nice, and they offered a ride in a Zodiac to shore if you didn't want to swim. On the way back to St. Thomas, they cut the engines, raised the sails, cranked the music (luckily we had a crew that loved the Rolling Stones) and they walked around pouring loads of Rum Punch and Champagne. There were snacks -- just fruit, cheese and bread -- but it was a nice touch. Overall, I wouldn't hesitate to book this excursion again. It was so easy, and I couldn't believe there were 23,000 passengers in port that day. We got back to the ship at about 1:45 and all aboard was at 3:30. We had a little time shop at Havensight before hopping back on the ship for sailaway.
In Nassau, we did the ship's Aquaventure excursion to Atlantis. Originally, we were going to do this on our own, but had read several reviews from people who had gotten themselves to Atlantis only to be told that there were no more 1-day admissions to Aquaventure being sold. So, I decided to play it safe and do the excursion. Big mistake. I would not book this again through the ship. There was a lot of time wasted on this trip. It took them forever to load the buses, and then we were left in a group of 39 people who had to wait 20 minutes for one last bus to come. It was ridiculous. Especially because we knew that the water park closed at 5:00pm. We were still waiting for our ride to Atlantis an hour after we had gotten off the ship. Just stupid, poor logistical planning of the tour operator's part. Once at Atlantis, we were corralled by a tour guide, who gave us a tour of the resort. UGH! She was stopping a lot, and pointing out shops, and telling a lot of anecdotal tidbits -- it was frustrating. I finally told her that we had waited along time for the last bus and asked her to expedite her narration. At that point, she headed right toward the park, and we just took off. We rented a locker (surprise! Had to wait in a nice long line for that!) and put our IDs and shoes away. Once we got in the water (at 1:45pm) we had a BLAST. We rode all the slides, there were no lines, no waiting, and we really had a great time. If we ever go back to Nassau, I'll pay more attention to how many ships are in port (it was just the Epic and the DCL Dream that day) and will just get to Atlantis myself. We met several people enjoying the park with us who had just gotten a cab over and bought wristbands.
The Haven Experience
The Epic is huge. There are people everywhere, especially on sea days. It is a ship that is hugely an INDOOR experience for the passenger. It is an entertainment-based ship, and I think that NCL does a fabulous job producing that caliber of entertainment at sea. Because of the lack of outdoor space, a lot of the outdoor public areas are very crowded. That is, unless you have Haven Access. We loved having a suite on the Epic. There was always an escape from the crowds, and we never had to think about getting anywhere to stake a spot for anything.
There were plenty of places to hang out. We spent a lot of time on the daybeds and clamshells at Posh -- I loved listening to the Reggae band that plays poolside below. The service was wonderful. Posh was never crowded. The only time that all the daybeds were occupied was during the last sea day, when people figured out you could buy a wristband for access.
The Haven pool is flanked by two hot tubs, and we visited them a few times. We tried to lay in the courtyard area, but it felt so enclosed and small to me. If I am going to be at sea, I want to see the ocean. Luckily, there is a gorgeous sundeck all the way forward on deck 18 that was always deserted. I wonder if people in suites even know it is there? It is the same furniture as Posh, and there is a nice glass enclosed outdoor shower to take the place of a pool to dip in. I love looking out the bow of a ship. I highly recommend going up to this sundeck when the ship pulls into Nassau. The ship noses into the port and then does a 360* turn and backs in next to the Disney Dream, which is just as huge. Amazing work in not a lot of space.
The Haven has its own Fitness Center --- but it is just a small room with some machines overlooking the pool. The ceiling is quite low as well, so my husband (who is 6'5") would not have been able to use the treadmill, and certainly not with any incline. Of course, once you see the amazing ACTUAL fitness center on the ship, I'd not spend more than a few minutes in the Courtyard Fitness Room. There, you can be on a treadmill and look out over.......THE OCEAN. :)
Of course, what makes the Spa Suites such a wonderful experience is that you get it ALL. Access to all Haven areas, your very own Butler to get you anything and everything and take you in early for shows, anytime use of the Spa (which people in the other Suites have to buy Spa Passes for), close proximity to the wonderful fitness center, and one quick flight of stairs up to the water slides or Spice H20. So, the fact that there are only 8 Spa Suites makes them desirable. I truly believe they are one of the best values at sea. Oh, and there's that wonderful jacuzzi tub that looks out over....THE OCEAN. Wouldn't trade that for the world.
We placed our bags out with our gold tags just before midnight. The next morning at about 8:00, I went down to Guest Services and dropped off my S.T.Y.L.E. cards. I saw this impressive line snaking its way off the ship around the Casino, with people dragging their enormous bags behind them. That must be "Easy Walk Off". Wow -- that did not look "Easy" to me at all. I also saw Lani on my way back, and I gave her our tip envelope and thanked her for a wonderful week at sea. I returned to the cabin, and we sat out on the balcony and watched people line up for cabs and talked about what a great time we had. We also saw the National Car Rental shuttle from up there, so we knew where it would pick us up! We had a leisurely last breakfast up at Epic Club, and it was the only time it was ever remotely crowded...of course because people are saying goodbye to the staff and leaving the ship. We said goodbye to the wonderful staff we met there.
As we finished breakfast, we picked up our carry-ons (much lighter getting off, after getting rid of all that WINE!) and headed to the Concierge Desk. A staff member greeted us warmly, escorted us over to a freight elevator, and sent us down to deck 6. Ruth (the head Concierge) was waiting at the bottom, and she walked us over to the podiums, and we were swiped off the ship one last time. I would estimate that from my last sip of coffee, to walking off the ship took about 4 minutes. Amazing.
Our bags were in a priority area, and we walked through Customs and right outside and only waited about 5 minutes before boarding the shuttle to MIA to rent a car. We were driving our car out of MIA at 10:15. Crazy how fast that whole process was! We spent 3 soggy days in the Keys, but still had a great time. Hey, we're on vacation! :)
All in all, we would love to sail the Epic again. The staff truly is the best part about sailing on that ship. Everyone we met was warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and seemed to really care. Now, some of the passengers we encountered were anything BUT those last four adjectives -- but, after working in Passenger Service and Hospitality, I know that you can never please all of the people all of the time. You can only try your best. I think the crew onboard the Epic did a fantastic job, and I hope too see them again someday!
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