Hoping you are comfortable, because this one will be a long one...
This year, we decided to try a cruise to see if it was 'for us.' With some destinations in mind, and only a specific date range free, we searched for options. ... Read More
Hoping you are comfortable, because this one will be a long one...
This year, we decided to try a cruise to see if it was 'for us.' With some destinations in mind, and only a specific date range free, we searched for options. We chose Norwegian because it had an excellent record for cleanliness, and high ratings for customer satisfaction, and because the Epic was going to destinations we wanted to visit. We spent a week on the Epic, departing from Puerto Rico and sailing to Aruba, Curacao, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and back to PR.
As we had not been to San Juan before, we added two days to walk the Old Town and see the sights. We both found that really enjoyable, and appreciated the warm people and learning about the history of Puerto Rico and the role it has played over the centuries.
One thing we had not considered was that the original itinerary included Bonaire, so when that was removed (prior to our purchase of the cruise), it meant we spent an entire day at sea, going in circles between Aruba and Curacao, burning fuel and going nowhere. I imagine it is the less expensive option to port fees, but it seemed a bit nonsensical to be so close to these ports and not be able to spend more time in one or both of them.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience. We selected a mid-ship cabin with a balcony, specifically on the port side to get the best views and sunsets on the return portion of the trip. The cabin was fine, personally, the split bathroom setup was not an issue. Lots of storage and closet space, two North American plugs and two European plugs under the counter, and USB access on the side of the TV. Another outlet is located inside the mirror over the sink. The beds were comfortable, and we ordered extra pillows.
We travel with a recharging kit that uses a USB hub and several phone adapters to maximize valuable outlets. In this case, we didn't need to use our European adapters for the Euro outlets. We were able to charge two phones, one camera battery and a laptop using the kit and the North American plugs with ease.
One other thing we travel with is a small USB powered fan to move air in hotel rooms. This was a lifesaver in the cabin as it was so warm outside that opening the door at night for a refreshing breeze did not work out as planned. The AC was strong and appreciated.
The ship was clean. Really clean. We booked in November and researched cruise lines and their records for norovirus issues, and Norwegian was the best. The Epic had no reported issues for years, which increased our confidence. And now with the coronavirus issue, we noticed cleaning and disinfecting underway at all times and in all the public areas. It was good to see the cruise line's prevention practices were in place.
Boarding and departing the ship at every port was quick and efficient. We spoke with others after the cruise and learned that this was unusually efficient, so perhaps we were lucky.
The ship itself is huge, and it was full, so probably over 5000 people with crew included. We eat early, and the various restaurants were always available, yet busy. We dined at the 15th level buffet for breakfast, and enjoyed fresh fruit, omelettes and perhaps a few more potatoes than we should have. The variety is good and allows for a different meal each morning. Lunch was generally light, but the dinners were where we had the most interesting experiences.
Our package included three premium restaurants, and we chose the Japanese, Brazilian and the French restaurants. In theory, these were good choices. In practice, not so good. To be fair, the Japanese restaurant was pretty good. Our chef was entertaining, the service was fine and the food was great, especially the steak and prawns. The chicken was overcooked, but I'd rather it be a bit tough than under cooked, so maybe I am being a bit critical.
The Brazilian restaurant was where the wheels fell off the cart. Having visited Brazil and having dined at one of their steak houses, I can confirm the Brazilians know their meat and how to prepare and present it. Every cut at this themed restaurant, from the lamb to the steak was saturated in salt. Some cuts were wrapped in bacon and cheese, not something one would see in a Brazilian steak house. At the end of the meal, my plate was filled with half eaten pieces of meat, a waste of food as well as a disappointment.
We had a similar experience at the French restaurant. Our inquiries on alternatives resulted in advice to plan ahead and give dietary notice 24 hours in advance, which seemed a bit of an overreaction given the concern. In the ship's defense, the Executive sous chef came out to see what could be done and was very pleasant. In fact, pretty much everyone was pleasant, they just were unable to provide salt free options. Preparing foods in advance is understandable given the number of meals made each day, but some flexibility needs to be in place as well.
Where the ship excelled was in the complimentary restaurants. We found the service and the food in Manhattan and Taste to be superior to the themed specialty restaurants, and the servers were able to provide food that was not salted. So if you find yourself not able to secure a reservation in the specialty restaurants, all is by no means lost.
Entertainment was good. The Cirque show was very entertaining, and intimate as it is a small theatre. The food at that show was pretty mediocre, and getting a glass of wine seemed to be asking too much, but the show was worth the time spent. We popped our heads in to see the Priscilla and Burn the Floor shows, but ultimately left as they were not our style of entertainment. Really enjoyed the Howl at the Moon comedy shows, with three comedian/musicians taking requests from the audience.
The included on board wi-fi was a struggle, not so much because of the coverage, which was fine but as it was a metered connection and the process of logging in and out was unreliable, so minutes were lost and stress was gained. There are options to purchase more time, but it isn't cheap, so keeping within the original allotment was our plan.
And, we were a bit surprised with how much direct sales there was on board. It was constant, everything from pre-paying your next cruise to all of the various products for sale on board. For us, it was too much, we don't appreciate being bombarded with sales pitches. And, Norwegian is persistent with their direct marketing at home, as well. We receive a solicitation about every ten days for upcoming cruises. It really is excessive and counterproductive.
The four ports of call were all pleasant. We walked around town and hit a beach in Aruba, and just walked around in Curacao. We went on two shore excursions in St. Lucia and St. Kitts. The Island Splendour on St. Lucia started out interesting, but turned into a series of brief stops intended to flog souvenirs. It became a bit shabby toward the end. We took a city tour and beach transfer on St. Kitts, and the driver was excellent and provided good information on the island and the capital city, and then dropped us off at a wonderful beach for a few hours. We learned at the beach that a cab ride from the ship was about $3.00 each way, so that is a much more affordable option if an afternoon at the beach is on your agenda. We went to Frigate Bay, just east of the port and it was very nice.
Overall, a good experience, and a good way to see several islands. Would we cruise again? Perhaps in a different environment such as a river cruise, but probably not in this format. But, you have to try everything once, I have been told. Read Less