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Our cruise on the Norwegian Epic

My boyfriend and I took to the seas in February 2015 on board the Norwegian Epic – Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest ship to date. While the Epic is, well, epic in terms of size, it is not Norwegian’s newest ship and is certainly not my favourite. While we had a great time, I’m glad the Epic is the only ship in her class. Our weeklong cruise departed from Miami with stops in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.

You can also find my review on Cruise Critic.

Overall – 4/5

Flight: In the interests of saving money, we took a rather complicated route to get to the Port of Miami. Rather than flying from Toronto to Miami as we did on our Norwegian Getaway cruise, we instead decided to fly from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale. This meant leaving Toronto at 2:00am to drive down to Buffalo. The drive itself was pleasant enough considering we were driving to Buffalo in February, and we got through the border with no trouble at all and parked in the economy lot at Buffalo. There was a shuttle bus already at the lot when we got there and the driver followed us to our parking spot and picked us up right from there. The shuttle dropped us off right in front of the JetBlue entrance to the terminal. We had completed pre-check-in online, so we headed right to security where we breezed right through (I love how much faster it is at smaller airports). We had a few hours to spare, which is unfortunate in a small airport like Buffalo but overall it was a pleasant start to our trip. Our JetBlue flight left on time and we arrived in Fort Lauderdale just slightly ahead of schedule. Because it was a domestic flight, we didn’t have to deal with customs.

Ground Transportation to Ship: This trip we booked our ground transportation through NCL instead of a private company. The guide was easy to find in the airport, and after a short wait for other passengers, he led us outside to our bus. Both the guide and driver were professional and courteous. Note: both the driver and the guide who led us to the bus expected a tip. While I expected to tip the driver, it never even occurred to me to tip the man who led us through the airport to the bus.

Embarkation – 5/5: Embarkation was as expected. The process of going through security is never fun, but it was really quite quick. We waiting in line for only 5 minutes before checking in. When we arrived at our room, there was a card celebrating our anniversary, and a letter thanking me for my loyalty. What really impressed me was a letter acknowledging that they were aware that my partner was a vegetarian, ensuring him that they would accommodate him, and encouraging him to call the Executive Chef if he had any questions or concerns.

The room – 5/5: We were in room 11041. Deck 11, forward, starboard side. We were in an inside stateroom, and I have to say I was impressed with the layout. I found the felt larger and the layout was much more intuitive than on other ships I’ve cruised on. The room provided ample storage space (more than I’ve ever had on a cruise), and of course, the bathroom so infamous on the Epic. When you entered the room, rather than the whole bathroom being on one side of the door, the shower was on one side and the toilet was on the other. Both of these enclosures was surrounded by translucent frosted glass instead of a solid wall, however the section of the room housing these two enclosures can be separated from the rest of the room by a retractable curtain. The sink is located in the room proper instead of the bathroom area. While I know reviews are mixed on this layout, I personally preferred it. It allowed the shower to be larger, and the separation of each feature allowed greater efficiency. I think this feature would be especially useful for families as the sink is still accessible if someone is using the washroom. The bed was formatted as two twins when we arrived, but after a quick call to our steward, it was put together as one bed later the same day. The room steward introduced himself to us on the first day and showed genuine interest as he asked us questions about where we were from, etc.

The food – 3/5:  As expected, the food was delicious. Garden Cafe is the largest buffet with the best selection, but it’s absolutely packed almost all the time. Unfortunately, this is where my biggest complaint comes in. The Garden Cafe is a signature feature of all Norwegian ships (and indeed, all cruise lines have something similar), but on my previous cruises (Getaway and Gem), it was large enough that we never had to wait, even at peak times. This was not the case on the Epic. Nearly without exception, we always had to wait in line for food at this restaurant. The food was good with a wide variety to choose from, but the layout on the Epic resulted in lines and congestion. Taste is a casual style main dining room. It was always busy, but we never had to wait for a table. The location of it was perplexing to me because it’s location blocked the aft elevators on deck 5, making deck 5 inaccessible from those elevators. It was also open to deck 6 and 7 above it, where the casino is located. Having people watch me eat from above is not particularly enticing, nor is the noise from the casino. The food, however, was great and the service matched. We ate here several times throughout the cruise. The Manhattan Room is the main formal dining room on board. Located at the very back of the ship, it’s views are stunning, the atmosphere is great, the food is wonderful, and the service was perfect. My only complaint is that the menu was the same as Taste. While on the Gem and Getaway, both dining rooms would have a different menu every day, and different from each other. While the menus changed daily on the Epic, they were the same at both Taste and Manhattan. A little more choice here would have been welcome. O’Sheehan’s is a pub style restaurant offering typical pub style food, like wings, chicken strips, mozza sticks, burgers, etc. We’ve loved this place on past cruises as a quick place to snack on some delicious comfort food, and we expected this time to be no different. While the quality of the food was the same, the service was not as great as it was in other restaurants, or even in O’Sheehan’s on past cruises. The staff were friendly enough, but we were left waiting for a very long time. We also ate at the Great Outdoors, which is mostly a continuation of the Garden Cafe, but located outside on the pool deck. Here we experienced some lines, but not as long as the Garden Cafe. The last restaurant we ate in was the Cirque Dreams and Dinner. More on that in the entertainment section below.

Entertainment – 5/5: The main shows we saw in the theatre included Legends in Concert, a tribute show, and the Blue Man Group. Some might expect the Blue Man Group to be a watered down version of their land based shows. I don’t believe this to be the case. The show was fantastic and far exceeded my expectation. Legends in Concert, while fun and entertaining, left a little to be desired. There were only three acts: Jimmy Buffet, Adele, and Aretha Franklin. All three singers were very talented and did a great job, but I think the show could have benefitted with more variety and a higher number of acts. The entertainment in other areas of the ship were great, particularly the Second City comedy shows. They’re improv, so each show is different. Go to as many of these as possible if you like improv. On past cruises we really enjoyed Howl at the Moon, a more intimate and interactive show where pianists play and sing songs as requested by the audience, but this time we found that our fellow cruisers were of an older crowd, and thus the music was a bit before our time. Still a great time though. We also paid extra ($30 each) to experience the Cirque Dinner and Dreams show, by Cirque de Soleil. I would definitely recommend this extra – the show was really good, way beyond my expectations, and became a highlight of the whole trip. The food was excellent in quality, but there are limited options – just a meat option (steak) and a vegetarian option (eggplant parmigiana). If you pay for the standard seating your view will be obstructed. We sat there and couldn’t see maybe 15% of the show. We still really enjoyed it. The premium seating has unobstructed views.

Amenities – 4/5: There are three pools on board, one of which is designated as adults only in Spice H20. As is standard on a cruise ship, they’re a little small for the number of people trying to use them. Tip: go after 7pm and they’re deserted – perfect time for a swim. The water slides were a lot of fun, and because they don’t empty into the crowded pools, they make an excellent alternative if you need to cool down during the day. The biggest slide (a bowl slide and the only cruise ship slide I’ve been on that requires using a tube) was excellent, but when the slide spits you into the bowl, you run out of momentum on your third slingshot around and have to use your arms and legs to propel yourself to the mouth of the next section. We never had an issue finding available loungers on the Epic, though don’t expect to be near the pool during the days if you don’t get there in early morning. We didn’t mind as we preferred quieter areas anyway. The front area of the ship, the “quiet zone” had much better lounge chairs and furniture, but arrive early if you want to get one. If at first you don’t get one, check back often as they will become available as people move on.

Shore Excursions – 4/5: As a sign of (silent and only symbolic) political protest, we didn’t get off the Epic in Jamaica. Jamaica has terrible human rights violations against the LGBTQ community (members of the LGBTQ community can be imprisoned for up to 10 years) and I didn’t want to support a government like that. We enjoyed our day on board as it was significantly less crowded. In Georgetown, Cayman Islands we didn’t book an organized shore excursion. Instead we walked to the famous Seven Mile Beach – a 10-15 minute walk. We had a fun time at the beach, finding that if you keep walking until you get to the resorts, the beach is much nicer. In Mexico we visited the Tulum archaeological site. Because the ship berths in Cozumel, we had to take a 45 minute ferry ride to Playa del Carmen. The water was very rough and some people got sea sick. I never get sea sick on a cruise but I was pretty close on the ferry. I highly recommend taking Gravol with you. From Playa del Carmen it was a 40 minute drive to Tulum. We stopped at a Mayan shopping centre on the way, the proceeds from which support actual Mayan families. The vast selection of souvenirs were beautiful and reasonably priced. Our guide was great. Really knowledgeable and quite funny. He gave us a short tour of Tulum, talked to us about Mayan culture, and then pointed out the best sites for us to explore on our own. The beach was one of the best beaches I’ve ever been to. Crystal clear water and completely sandy – no rocks. Overall, this was the best shore excursion I’ve ever taken on any of my cruises and I highly recommend it. I only wish we had a little more time.

Debarkation: Fairly standard. No issues and nothing of note to mention.

Ground transportation to airport: On past cruises, I’ve arranged for our transportation through private companies, like SuperShuttle. This time I booked it through Norwegian, and because our flight home wasn’t until 8pm, I booked up a shore excursion in Miami. We did the Everglades Tour by Airboat, and I could not be happier with out choice. It quickly became one of the highlights of our cruise. Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, talked to us about Miami and pointed out some sights on the way to the park. The park was great. After our airboat tour, which was about 20 minutes in length, we attended a show where staff talked to us about alligators and crocodiles, and introduced us to some alligators including a baby. Then we were given the opportunity to hold a baby alligator and get a photo (for a small donation to the park). The park included a dozen other exhibits and trails for your to explore on your own. I would highly recommend this excursion if you have some time to kill in Miami.

Return flight: We flew JetBlue out of Fort Lauderdale to Buffalo. The airport was a decent size and had several options for us to eat and shop while we waited for our flight. Nothing of note happened in Fort Lauderdale and our return flight was smooth. It was absolutely freezing when we got to Buffalo, but the shuttle driver drove us right to our car in the economy lot.

Summary: The cruise was great, although admittedly I enjoyed my cruises on the Getaway and the Gem even more. I found the Epic to have a poor layout, and perhaps too many people. I would try it again if only to see if the latter improves on a different itinerary with a different crew, but I would choose a Breakaway class ship (Breakaway or Getaway) over the Epic any day.

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