My wife and I headed to the Western Caribbean aboard the Epic during spring break. It was our second cruise, both on Norwegian. A week prior to departure, we were offered an upgrade deal to The Haven Suite that I could not pass up. Only ... Read More
My wife and I headed to the Western Caribbean aboard the Epic during spring break. It was our second cruise, both on Norwegian. A week prior to departure, we were offered an upgrade deal to The Haven Suite that I could not pass up. Only reason I wish I had is, now that we've experienced The Haven, we are now spoiled and will have a hard time going back.
Arriving at the Port of Miami and getting aboard was a breeze. We pulled up to our noted terminal, dropped off our luggage, parked our vehicle in Garage C and walked back across the street to the terminal. If you're worried about safety or security in the parking garage, don't be. There are security guards roaming around in the day and vehicles can only come and go on cruise embarkation/debarkation days. Otherwise, it's basically closed and vehicles aren't coming out. We parked a brand new vehicle there without issue. You will first go through security, just like at the airport. One difference is they let you bring liquids through as long as they have NOT BEEN OPENED. You can bring any non-alcoholic beverages you want on board, but they will toss them in the trash if they have been opened. You can also simply check a case of bottled water with your luggage (just tape a luggage tag that you print out right to the case and it will find its way to your room.) After security you get in line to check-in. We were directed to a small room for Haven customers to check-in. Once it's your turn, you show them your passports and reservation document. They will take your photo so security and ship personnel know it's you when your card is swiped. They will also ask you for a credit card to settle your bill with when you return. After that they give you your cards (used as your room key and to pay for anything on board.) At this point we waited for a gentleman to escort us up to the ship entry. For non-Haven guests, you’ll follow the line around to get your first vacation photo taken in front of a painting of the ship then reach a waiting area until they call your group number to board. Another brief wait and you get your card scanned and are allowed on the ship. For Haven customers, you get escorted up to the Haven Lounge where one of the concierges gives you a tour of the Haven Suites Area . It truly is a ship within a ship.
After the tour of the Haven, we grabbed lunch in the Haven restaurant. I often laugh at how many people on Cruise Critic get so critical of the food at various restaurants on the ships. Guess that's where the “Critic” piece comes in. I'm yet to experience bad food on a cruise ship. We had the dining pass this week that let us eat at all the restaurants. If you're debating getting the dining pass, I'd say it's great to experience the different restaurants as a change of pace, but I would say if you are on a budget, you aren't going to miss out by having to eat lesser food at the complimentary locations. We went without the dinner pass last year as a family and loved every meal we had (a bit too much I'd say.)
They announced all rooms were ready around 1pm. For you first timers, know that your luggage isn't going to show up until mid to late afternoon, so if you want to layout or swim, put a change of clothes in a carry on bag to change into. After lunch, we dropped off our carry on bags in the room and went off to explore all the floors of The Epic so we could find everything. We like the layout on the Breakaway far better, but that's why they build newer ships – so they can improve them each time, right? I read many complaints about the Epic layout, but honestly it seems simple enough to me. If you have a choice of what level you want to stay on any ship, I'd pick somewhere between decks 9-11, right in the middle. Then it's an easy walk either way on the stairs. Last year we were on 5 and always had to wait to go up top where we spent most of our time. This year we are on 17 and most of the Epic events are down on decks 5 – 7, so we wait again in reverse. Not a big deal, just pointing it out for efficiencies sake. After exploring and taking a tour of the “largest spa at sea,” we went to our room to unpack as our luggage had arrived by then. We had a ton of storage space in the room and our large suite cases easily slide under the bed. This will be true in all cabins. After unpacking, we headed up to the Haven sun deck to enjoy the sail away party as we left the dock. It was a breezy day leaving Miami, the sun was out, but the breeze was a bit cool. Sure beat the snow in the Midwest though!
We grabbed a casual dinner in the Garden Café as I didn't want to lock down early dinner reservations and not get out in time for our 7pm show. We caught The Blue Man Group, which was top notch. A great show for all and every bit as good as their Vegas routine. I believe their run on the Epic ends in the next week or two, so unless your on the Epic here in early April, you're out of luck. Afterwards we hung out at Headliners to listen to the Howl at the Moon Dualing Pianos. This was my favorite activity last year on the Breakaway and continues to be a great time here on the Epic. I could just sit and enjoy this activity all night.
Day two started late as we casually headed down to breakfast at the Garden Café around 10am. After a quick breakfast, my wife ran off to the spa for an appointment and I attended an overview of all the upcoming excursions. A bit disappointed that I didn't learn anything more than I did watching the same videos on the tv in the room the day before. Just a side note that the excursions fill up fast, so pick them before you leave or do it on the day the ship leaves. Kind of pointless for the guy to talk about all the great excursions which, “by the way”, were sold out. Next I stayed in the Epic theater for the next seminar about shopping in all ports of call. My wife joined me at that point, of course, as I certainly wasn't there for my own benefit. Every ship has these sessions and their on board “shopping consultants”. I get a kick out of all the energy they bring into these presentations and the whole shopping experience. They are far better than watching the shopping channel. :-) How do you get a gig as a shopping consultant anyway? While I am poking fun, I will be honest in telling you that these “shopping consultants” know their stuff and all the little secrets about every single shop in all the stops along the way. I make fun, but I'll tell you the ones we've experienced on both cruises are GOOD. Ask them anything. The seminar is really geared towards those of you looking to make major purchases like watches, gems, jewellery, etc. They can really help you out if you are looking to by a big ticket item. If you're looking for trinkets, etc. they can point you in he right direction as well, but their focus is on “the good stuff”.
Next, it was time for some lunch again up at the Garden Café and then some exploring in the onboard shops. I was disappointed to hear they didn't carry a large model of the ship as I had hoped to add to my collection of one. Might have to search eBay or something I guess. I ran off for a mid-afternoon “Elimis Pro-Collagen Grooming Treatment w/Shave.” I thought I was getting more of scalp, shoulder, arm and hand message. While that was part of it, it just wasn't really relaxing to me. First, I thought it would be in the spa but instead it was in the barber shop 7 decks down. The barber shop is a small, two chair shop on level 7 near the casino area. So instead of listening to soothing sounds of the spa, I got to listen to slot machines and people talking. Second, I do not like getting a message by a guy. No offense to any guy messagers out there, but it's just not something I enjoy. Third, I didn't shave that day knowing I'd get a shave in the afternoon. Bad move…he just about killed me shaving me against the grain with his razor blade. Ouch! Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the guy did exactly what he was supposed to do and he was a nice gentleman who I could tell knew his stuff. I would probably get a fantastic haircut there, but this experience just wasn't what I thought it would be.
After the barber shop experience, it was back to the room to hang out on the balcony to relax awhile. We had dinner in La Cucina, which was our favorite meal last year on the Breakaway. It was good. We then got dressed up (completely voluntary on Norwegian) and took some photos. Got to meet the captain, who seemed like a really nice man from Norway. We saw the comedy show later that evening at Headliners...wasn't really all that funny. I'd have to give it a C+.
For Day 3, we had a casual day to lounge about. We hit the spa for a message. This time it was better than yesterday's experience in the barber shop. We had an excellent dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse seated at an aft window. We also saw The Legends in Concert performance later than evening. Amazing how close to the real performers these folks sounded. We had Jimmy Buffett, Adele and Aretha Franklin. We later learned these folks come straight from The Legends show in Vegas. They do a 6 month tour on the ship, then switch out entertainers.
For Day 4, we had to get up “early” today to catch our excursion in Ochoa Rios, Jamaica. Grabbed a quick breakfast in the Garden Café and headed down to the Epic Theater to catch our tour. Today we did the ATV tour. It had been raining the night before, so we all got muddy, but it was a blast. At the end of the tour they take you to a rocky cliff-like area (volcanic rock) and let you dive into the ocean from about 15 – 20 feet up. It's a great spot for photos. This is the perfect activity if you are wanting a little adventure and still have lots of time for shopping afterwards. It had been sprinkling off and on all morning. When the tour got back to the ship the rain became harder. We grabbed lunch back on the ship, grabbed the umbrella out of our room, and headed out to find some gifts for our kids. It was absolutely pouring rain the entire afternoon. Felt bad for any of the longer excursions that were still out there. That evening we had an excellent meal at Shanghai's and wandered about the ship checking out various activities, shops, etc.
By Day 5, we figured we'd start this day by making better use of our butler by placing our breakfast order the night before. Why fight the morning breakfast crowd when you can have whatever you want brought to your room with no added cost, right? So after a fantastic breakfast on our balcony looking over George Town, Grand Cayman, we headed down to catch our excursion. This was our first experience with a tendering port, which was interesting. For those who aren't familiar with “tendering”, there is no dock in the Grand Cayman, so the cruise ships all have to drop anchor and then tender you across in small boats. For the Epic, those tender boats are the lifeboats hanging on the side of the ship. I couldn't stop thinking about how different our modern day lifeboats are versus the “rowboat” style found on ships like the Titanic. Pretty impressive.
We had a fantastic time in Grand Cayman. We did a kayaking and snorkelling excursion in the crystal clear waters off of Seven Mile Beach. Had a little bit of time to shop before getting on the shuttle craft back to the ship. We learned about another nice perk staying in the Haven – you get to cut to the front of the tender line, which wrapped down and around the Main Street circling the bay. Must have been 200 yards long. Back aboard we grabbed a quick snack as we hadn't eaten lunch. Then it was up to the room for a shower to get all the salt and sand washed off, took a quick nap and then it was time for dinner at Moderno’s (Brazilian cuisine). It was fantastic as I expected. Loved the fried banana and the pineapple flam. Wandered about the ship a bit, catching parts of Deal Or No Deal in the Atrium, checking out our photos for the day, and checking out the big “sales” in the shops. Tonight was the White Hot party, which is a ton of fun, but to be honest, we were both whooped by 10pm. Oh to be in our 20’s again… :-)
We awoke on Day 6 to another beautiful day in the Epic, this time from Cozumel. After another excellent breakfast served by our butler on our balcony, we headed down to Manhattan’s to meet our excursion group. We were a little late into port this morning, maybe by about 30 minutes. No worries though, none of the tours were impacted. We headed to Tulum to see the Mayan Ruins. This requires taking a boat to the mainland (Cozumel is on an island in case you weren't aware). The boat ride is about 45 minutes and it's moving at a good pace. Once there, we connected with our guide who lead us to the bus to take to the ruins. The bus was a very modern air conditioned tour bus...like a Greyhound Bus. The ride is a total of about 50 minutes along a modern freeway. Half way it stops at a nice gift shop to pick up the typical touristy stuff. I recommend you get your souvenirs there rather than at the ruins because they'll take your US dollars and give you US dollars in change. At the ruins they'll take your dollars, but you get pesos back. Just something the guide helped us with. We had an excellent tour guide, I believe his name was Meto. He spoke the entire way there giving us the history of the area and other advice. Upon arrival he took us on a 30-45 minute tour. You are then free to roam. We had an hour before bus departure, so we walked down the cliff to the ocean, then headed back towards the bus for some lunch. There are tons of shops at the main entrance…they all looked like they were selling the exact same items. We had lunch at a place the guide recommended, fish tacos and quesadillas. Great lunch and they were fast. After that it was back on the bus, back on the ferry and finally back on the Epic. A lot of the tours were late today, so we actually were walking on the ship when it was supposed to depart. We had 6pm dinner reservations that we missed, but a quick stop to speak to Omar at the Haven concierge desk remedied that issue, getting us in at 7:30pm. We enjoyed Shanghai so much the other night that we had to go back again tonight. It was excellent and surprisingly quiet for 7:30pm. People must have been wiped out from their day or in the early shows.
After dinner we had to check out the big jewellery sale at Tradewinds. This had become a daily activity for us as my wife is a professional shopper. (Guys, just go with it, it's a losing battle). :-) As I've mentioned, I love just watching people. As I was standing there against the wall for about 30 minutes while my wife perused the selection (this is one of those countertop locations right in the middle of the main hall so everyone passes by) I got a kick out of how much energy and fun the employees were having strumming up business with the passerbys. One slightly intoxicated guest joined in singing songs with them on a little ukulele. Meanwhile a Russian employee down the hall was having little luck getting folks into the Ice Bar. He reminded me of the Russian guy, Drago, that Rocky fought in Rocky 4…needed to lighten up a bit there to draw in those customers or maybe just take the “get in here or I'll smash your face in” approach. :-)
After my wife acquired the goods she was seeking, we went down to the Art Gallery to listen to a session about the works of surrealist painter Salvador Dali, who was good friends with Walt Disney back in his day. I felt a bit "cultured" after sitting through the 45 minute session, it was actually really interesting. We were then off to check out more photos that had been taken in the past day and to get our photo selections organised so we can easily get them ordered on Saturday. The common package choices are 10 photos for $129 or 20 photos for $199. These are mostly high quality 8x10’s although some are 5x7’s depending on the activity or event. I add on the digital copies on a flash drive for $20 more. After looking at the photos, it was back to the room. We were exhausted having spent part of the day walking around the Mayan ruins in 95 degree heat.
Our final day at sea started again with breakfast on the balcony. We then headed down to meet our small group for a special "behind the scenes" tour of the ship. It was fascinating. We got to see one of the main kitchens, the laundry, the recycle center and best of all...the bridge. The tour itself is pretty pricey ($79), but well worth it as one of those "things not many people get to do" tours. You get a free photo put into a large book however, that you get to keep at the end. The rest of the day included another trip to the spa (probably one too many times), getting packed, dinner at Teppanyaki (which was probably our favorite meal of the week), more packing, then the 10pm show for Nadeen - Comedy Hypnotist. The show seemed a bit too cheesy to me, hard to tell if they were all real. All depends on the personalities you get from the crowd I guess. Having later researched Nadeen's work, I know she is highly recognized in her area of expertise. Just seemed like an off night for the show I guess. We put our luggage outside our door around 11:15pm and went to bed.
Finally, our trip concluded with us pulling into the Port of Miami early Sunday morning. One last breakfast from the balcony as we watched some of the early risers who wanted to carry their own luggage off the ship on their own so they could be the first ones off. Nothing wrong with that...if you want to get up early. Went down to the concierge desk where they walked us to the front of the line to exit the ship, went through customs (which has to be the easiest customs process ever experienced), and headed to the car.
In summary, we had an excellent time aboard the Epic. As I had researched the ship here on Cruise Critic in advance, I had a sense of what we would be experiencing and it honestly surpassed my expectations. We love the layout of the Breakaway/Getaway far better as there is more room to outside and away from people on multiple decks. But we had no problem adjusting to the layout of the Epic. With multiple activities every hour of the day, one cannot get bored. We were able to relax and just enjoy being together for the week without having to take care of the kids. We love the freedom to eat whenever you want and not have to worry about dress codes that you find aboard all Norwegian ships. We're already looking forward to experiencing the new Escape next year! Read Less