I chose this cruise because of the special deals available. I chose a Spa Balcony room (identical to the regular balcony rooms except different color bed covering. We were in room 14141, which has a unique larger balcony shaped like a ... Read More
I chose this cruise because of the special deals available. I chose a Spa Balcony room (identical to the regular balcony rooms except different color bed covering. We were in room 14141, which has a unique larger balcony shaped like a trapezoid. We asked our cabin steward, Perfecto, for lounge chairs and he brought two down for us. The only downside to the larger balcony was that it didn't offer as much privacy. If you stepped out of the square area you could see the other balconies next to you and below and they also could see you. It was right below the pool deck so we heard some chairs being moved around in the mornings but only if we were out on the balcony or had the door open. The room was pretty soundproof if the doors were shut.
I've always wanted to cruise on a big ship with lots of activities but most of those are 7 day itineraries and so when I saw this 3 day cruise I was intrigued and excited. I read the reviews before hand about the unusual design of the cabins and was not daunted. I was traveling with my husband but if I had been traveling with a girlfriend it would have been awkward showering and using the toilet because it's just frosted glass. There is a curtain but if someone opens the door to the cabin you are there on the toilet for the hallway to see.
Embarkation: The embarkation was pretty smooth but began the negative comparisons to other cruises I've been on. Fortunately the Epic was the only ship in port that day or it would have been worse. Took us about 30-45 minutes from the time our shuttle dropped us off to go through security and get on the ship.
Ship Design: The ship itself was underwhelming. I only felt like I was on a big ship when I got in the elevators or had to wait for them. I've only cruised on smaller Royal Caribbean ships before, this was our first cruise on NCL. I missed some of the standard things on those ships like the Atrium area, usually open to 5 or more floors with sweeping staircases and glass elevators. The Atrium on this ship was pretty small and consumed by a huge screen TV over 2 floors. There was a three story open area over the Taste dining room but it was just okay. The other big negative for me was that most of the 6th floor was consumed by the Casino and was open to the 7th floor. For some reason the 5th floor was not accessible from one side of the ship so elevators dropped you off at the 6th floor and you had to walk through the casino to get to the other side of the ship to go down to the 5th floor. The smoke smell was everywhere. If we needed to go from one side to the other on the 6th floor we'd walk up one floor and then back down again to avoid it. The pool deck was nice and slides were great. There was not really a good dance area on the pool deck for the sail away party because everyone was standing at the bar to get drinks.
Entertainment: The quality and quantity of choices was good, but getting a seat was difficult. For such a big ship they have pretty small venues and so they 'sell out' of tickets pretty quickly and only the main shows are available to book in before boarding. If you don't have a ticket you can wait in a standby line until 10 minutes before the show starts, so even if you have a ticket and you don't arrive 10 minutes in advance you may not get a seat. The main shows are Burn the Floor, a sexy ballroom show. I'm not sure what the 'plot' of this show was, it tried to have a plot but it was really just an excuse for dancing, and the dancing was really good. I don't know how they have the stamina to dance like that for 45 minutes! We did not see the Priscilla show due to it's content (drag queens) but I was glad that was mentioned up front and in the cruise daily the show was rated PG-16. Would have much rather seen the Blue Man group that was formerly on this ship. We saw a good, family friendly comedy routine but missed our reservations for the comedy/magic show because we had to wait to get a seat in the main dining room (Before the cruise I had made reservations at 6:30 originally for dinner and the show was at 7:30 so we tried to go earlier but because we didn't have reservations we had to wait to get into the main dining room and missed the show). We did get to see the Epic Beatles, which were great. There was also an 'Escape Room' activity in the Spiegal Tent. We couldn't get tickets to it before hand but we stood in the standby line and were able to get in. It was a magic themed escape room activity, about 45 minutes of trying to solve puzzles and link together clues to figure out the magic words to release us from the room. We were broken up into teams of 8, maybe about 10 teams? I'd never done an Escape Room before and it was a unique addition to the activities, especially for the day at sea. We also did a samba class led by one of the dancers, held on the atrium floor. It was crowded and hot but we had a good time. Because it was just a 3 day cruise we didn't get to enjoy some of the other activities like Rock Climbing. My husband was hoping for a basketball tournament or shoot out or something but there was nothing planned, just open play on the court.
The best part of the cruise for us was enjoying the Spa Thermal rooms. Because we booked the spa balcony room ($429 when regular balcony was $399) we were just steps away from the spa and had passes to use the whole cruise (if you were not in the spa cabins you could purchase a 3 day pass for $129, but only a limited number were available to purchase before the cruise and the first day). There was a changing area with robes, 4 saunas, 3 hot steam rooms, a large balcony on the back of the ship with loungers, flavored water and teas and fruit, heated thermal tile loungers, and a large thermal pool with different areas to rest and relax. We loved the jets you could stand under to have a massage, but didn't like how it sprayed everywhere. It was great to have a place to get away from the crowds. The pool deck was always busy and the 'pool' in the adults only area was kind of a joke. It could fit about 4 people in it without feeling awkward. I can see why people pay extra to be in the Haven suites with their own dining and pool and spa.
Dining: When we booked we got the Ultimate Dining Package 'free' (just had to pay the $20 of taxes). It came with three meals in their specialty restaurants. I booked one reservation when I booked the cruise but going back to the website a few days before the cruise there were no more reservations available to book. When we got on board at 1pm we went to the desk to book reservations and were able to get a table at Cagney's, but not until 8:45. Teppenyaki was booked up for that night. After eating at O'Sheehans (good, but just okay) we went back to the room to try and make other reservations on our TV in the stateroom, easier than standing in the line. There was not much available on the 2nd night and only a few slots available the third night for our specialty dinners. I'd booked Moderno for the 2nd night but was trying to work around the comedy show so I ended up booking Teppenyaki at 5:00 and Moderno at 8:45 for the third night. If it sounds stressful with all these bookings, that's because it is! When the third night came around we couldn't make it to Teppenyaki by 5pm and tried to get our reservation for Moderno moved up to no avail. We waited for about an hour right after they opened but they did not have any cancellations until a few moments after we'd left. We tried to get into Shanghai's but they had a 30 minute wait and so we ended up having to go up to the Garden Cafe for some appetizers because we were so hungry. So we only ended up using two of our three meals at specialty places. The pros were that they were the best two meals we had on ship. Our appetizers at Cagney's were incredible. Even though it's 'al a carte' if you have the specialty package you can choose one appetizer, one soup/salad, one main dish and two sides (not sure if dessert was included, we were too full to ask). Sadly, my filet mignon was dry but my husband liked his, but the creamed spinach made up for it. Moderno the Brazilian steakhouse was very good, hubby enjoyed all the meats. We did find out that we could have used our UDP towards the sushi place, just paying an extra $7 each for unlimited sushi, and I think it also was good towards the Cirque show because online before hand it gave me reduced prices for that show, but we did not opt to see it. Dinner in the Manhattan was just okay. Since we were having steak and meats on the other two nights I was hoping for a fish dish and was sad there was no salmon on the menu. I ended up getting the breaded flounder and hubby got the tilapia. Mine was just upscale fish sticks. Dessert was wonderful, his tiramisu and my chocolate lava cake were amazing.
Crowd: Epic's schedule offers very few 3 night cruises. They were offering a lot of specials and low prices when I booked. I think many people chose the Ultimate Beverage Package as one of their 'free' items and were determined to get the most out of it. It was also spring break time but we encountered lots of drinking and inappropriate conduct. I asked a lady to take our picture and then she went on to tell us all about the very rude people they ate with at Teppenyaki. The woman telling me the story had been drinking and told me how the family they ate with were so bigoted and were getting mad because their group was loud (and probably obnoxious), even going so far to say they had said if they had guns they would shoot them all. Yikes! Made me glad we didn't eat with either of those groups! We politely thanked her for the picture and moved on. People in the elevator were cussing and then realizing the presence of kids they tried to 'use good language because of the babies'. I felt uncomfortable leaving a 12 year old girl in an elevator on her own with four guys. One guy was vomiting on the tender boat after spending the day ashore drinking. Honestly I was glad to get off the ship to be away from all the drinking and smoking. I get that it's vacation, and we had a few drinks too, but it seemed like drinking and partying was the main reason most people were there. There were very few families or older couples.
Ports: We only had one port, Great Stirrup Cay. They were doing some construction on the end of the island near the cabanas and so I felt bad for the people who had spent a lot of money on a cabana sitting next to a construction site. I think they stopped the beeping around 10am though, thankfully. The island was nice, the self guided snorkeling was okay, nothing much to see except the wildlife. They don't have anything like on Cococay where there are rest areas and markers showing the sunken plane/cannons, etc. Food was fine on the island, the taco bar line took too long. And no shredded cheese? What kind of taco bar doesn't have cheese? Should have had two areas for the toppings.
Excursions: We booked a parasailing excursion (bucket list!) and were so excited about it. Online it looked like we needed to take an early tender and that the parasailing was from 8/9-10am. But when we got our tickets in the room it said to meet at the info booth between 10am-noon to book a time and that it was first come first served. Since we wanted to be back on the boat around 2 or 3 we wanted to get an early slot so we got to the info desk a little before 10am. We were so disappointed to find out that all the 10, 11, noon and 1pm slots were already taken and the earliest we could get was 2pm! The lady said that they had people showing up earlier and because the weather was good they had some groups go early so they couldn't tell people to wait to sign up. I pointed out that I had followed the directions and was basically penalized for it. It really messed up the plan for our day and I ended up not getting pictures of our parasailing because our underwater camera needed to dry out after snorkeling. They offered to refund our money but this was a bucket list item and we still wanted to go, just bummed that we couldn't do it when we'd wanted to.
Summary: Everywhere I saw it talked about Freestyle Cruising, 'Feel free to follow the sun instead of a schedule'. The fact is that if you wanted to be able to go to anything (specialty restaurants, shows) you needed to make a schedule and stick to it in order to not sit around waiting to get into dinner or shows. Throughout the cruise we kept saying, 'I liked how Royal Caribbean did this or that better' and so we probably won't return to this ship or NCL for future cruises. Read Less