Eastern Caribbean Christmas cruise From Miami 21/12/13
Like many other reviews of cruises with Norwegian Epic this one is a mix of positive and negative experiences.
The Epic is simply a great ship built for enjoyment at sea. There are plenty of creative features that really adds on to the pleasure of cruising. If moving horizontally is a problem on other ships then moving vertically is a big issue on the Epic. Such a long ship could do with twice as many positions for lifts (elevators), because finding your way on the Epic is easy. Actually getting there is another story.
Sailing on The Epic was a great over all experience. What makes her so special is that she is designed for pleasure and entertainment like no other ship we've been on. With so many options for things to do and enjoy one could say that entertainment has gone freestyle. We enjoyed the shows in the Epic theatre as well as in the Headliners comedy club, the Atrium, Fat cats and on the outdoor stages. The people running the box office are doing a great job trying to meet all the different wishes of the guests. If a place like Headliners is sold out, and you really want to go then it's quiet easy to just slip in ones they've started and still get a seat.
Sometimes it gets a little too much with so much happening all around, especially around the Aqua park during the day and on decks 5&6 at night, but one can always slip away to other areas for relaxation instead. The sun decks are marvelous, in that there so many different areas to chose from. We stayed away from the bustling centre section since we'd left the kids at home. Sometimes we were in the front section on deck 18 where it's extremely quiet, but most of the time we spent in H2O spice.
The grill in H2o spice serves delicious Indian dishes, and it is superior to other outdoor restaurants that we've encountered on other ships. It's similar to Great outdoors that also generously offers tasty zero calories-drinks free of charge.
The main dining rooms were disappointments both in quality and in service. we tried the meat a few times, but it was so bad that we had to go for fish instead. We heard the same complaints from other cruisers about the restaurants specializing in meat, Moderno churasceria and Cagney"s. The dining club Taste was really messy. Up to five waters would come up and speak to us, but no one was able to take an order. There are other restaurants worth mentioning; The buffet restaurant was impressive, apart from the meat of course. There is a really nice front section, there is a massive selection and everything is operated so well. In contrast to this impressive giant my second favorite along with Spice H2o is another restaurant with a limited menu: O'Shehan's. Great food, great service and a great location. It's a mixture of your regular British isles pub, a round the clock eatery, bowlng alley and theatre bar all at the same time and a total smash hit. To my surprise we went there several times; before an early gym class, when we were running late for a show etc. One could even eat there and watch an Atrium show at the same time.
Getting on the ship in Miami is like boarding a plane, and I've been to a number of airports that are smaller than The Epic's Terminal B. The security check is so strict that I
could not even finish my bottle of water that I had in my hand. The check-in procedure at the desk is minimal, but it doesn't mean that you can board the ship, you will have to wait for about half an hour more. First you have to wait to get a group number, and then you can move on to the next lobby. There was 12 more groups ahead of us before we could move on. This procedure is probably arranged to avoid congestion as more than 4000 people are trying to board the ship. In spite of this arrangement trying to make our way to the cabin from the entrance was chaotic. We didn't seem to be able to move out of the spot. An advice to cruisers at this point is to NOT use the lifts (elevators), because it can easily delay you for another ten minutes. With this experience I started to wonder how disembarkation would be, but it was excellent. In all the ports and back in Miami leaving the ship was amazingly easy considering the 4000+ fellow passengers. NCL had plenty of staff helping out on the piers. They also handed out wet towels and free drinks, a very nice gesture.
on the Epic is is a popular topic. We took a few days to try the odd arrangement out before we formed our own opinions. Even from our cabin a mixed report came out. I thought that it was inconvenient not to have a bathroom. The stuff that you normally get out of sight by closing the bathroom door ended up in the bedroom area, which made the cabin look disorderly the whole time. The lack of a proper door on the toilet allowed noise and odors into the rest of the cabin, in the case of the toilet, and plenty of water on the floor in the case of the shower. A visit to any one of the three functions disturbs the other person much more in an Epic cabin. My wife had the opposite opinion. She loved the design and the arrangements. One thing in the cabin that I seldom care about is the TV, but the Epic has got really smart smart TV's. You get information about everything that goes on, get all kinds of practical information, keep track of your on board accounts a.s.o. on the screen. The info-leaflet Freestyle daily is great, sometimes we misplaced it, but we never had a problem with a lost TV screen. If we still wanted a paper copy we could always pick one up at the reception. The English copies were always out of stock, but there was always a copy in an alternative language like Spanish, German or French.
The cabin was always cleaned well throughout the cruise by our steward Jose' who always tried to look after us.
The cleaning of public areas was a different story. The ship was clean from the departure, but it got gradually worse as the cruise went on. Towards the end there was pieces of food in a staircase that was left more or less the whole day without any action from the staff. Several cruisers also complained about the poor cleaning of the public areas.
Most of the time the service was good, but remarkably often it wasn't. Time after time it happened that the staff just didn't want to help out. A behavior that we just are not used to and certainly didn't expect on a flagship.
As well as the bottoms the service also had a number of peaks where crew members went the extra mile for us, like the occasion when we were given a private art class, or the night when the waiter was fighting the worst rain storm I could ever imagine just to give us shelter so that we could watch the movie.
We went to beaches as well as the capitals during all three stops. In addition to this we also toured both sides of St. Martin with public transport, a great way of meeting locals and getting a better understanding of the place. There are two sides to this one. You are really on your own if something would happen, there is no staff to take care of you, but no one knows your route or would expect you to be at a certain time at a given place, which is also good. This particular day six gigantic cruise ships visited St. Maarten including two out of the three largest passenger ships in the world. In spite of this massive tourist invasion and our extensive traveling throughout the day we didn't meet a single tourist on any of the busses. On an organized tour you are however a sitting duck
If anyone would decide to attack, and that's exactly what happened that day. Some fellow cruisers became witnesses of an attack on a group of tourists from the cruise ship. The victim got severely stabbed with a large knife and then robbed right in front of his tour group.
A tip for European cruisers bound for St. Maarten; apart from the fact that the French side is the more beautiful side, it could be worth making a loop around the island if you need or want to make some phone calls. You will only pay a fraction of the cost of making a call to Europe on the "Dutch" side. St. Maarten is an independent nation within kingdom of the Netherlands without being a part of the country of The Netherlands. This is the right opposite of St. Martin which is as much part of France as anything else and therefore also territory of the European Union and under such European regulations that puts limits to how expensive telecom charges between the EU members can be.
There was an amazing precision in the shift of tiers in the loyalty program as we after exactly the right number of nights started to receive chocolates on our pillows. There was however a number of things that we missed: There was no Latitudes party, no chocoholic buffet and no lobster night. The lobster got replaced with shrimp (!)
There is a general tendency for NCL to charge for services that used to be free. To jump into the sauna after your workout will now set you back 42 dollars!
What we did not miss was the false seminars of the past that were actually disguised "Tupperware parties" where they tried to sell you something.
N.B.This is was a Christmas cruise, which is different to any other week of the year. Cruising out of a U.S. port for the first time in a number of years we were amazed to see how fit people seemed to be. The buffet restaurant was empty and the gym was full. Crew members told us that this cruise was an exception, normally it's the other way around. We met relatively few couples, but a lot of families and large family groups and single travelers. The studios for single travelers sold out quickly, and the ship carried a large number of kids: about 1300- no kidding! Very few people originated outside of North America.
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