Overall Rating: Very Good
|Destination:||Caribbean - Western|
|Departed From:||Port Canaveral|
|# of Nights:||7 Nights|
|Sailed As:||Prefer not to say|
|Overall Value:||Very Good|
|Overall Rating:||Very Good|
Never having had the opportunity to cruise in winter, I jumped at the opportunity to cruise out of Port Canaveral on the Norwegian Epic with a group of 80. I flew Southwest non-stop from Providence to Orlando and stayed one night at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach before boarding the Norwegian Epic in Port Canaveral to begin my 7-night cruise to the Western Caribbean.
I was fortunate to have transfers included in my hotel stay, and as a solo traveler, it proved to be very convenient. Courtyard Marriott Cocoa Beach is a clean, modern hotel convenient to the beach, restaurants and retail stores nearby in case of last minute items needed for a cruise. There is a small pub and bar just off the lobby that serves light fare and refreshments. I was tired and hungry by the time I reached the hotel, so I satisfied my appetite with a sandwich and a glass of wine. Being the first day of December, the lobby and public areas on the main floor were decked out in beautiful holiday decor. There is a pretty pool and a welcoming fire pit, neither of which I had time to try in my brief stay. The room was large and clean, featuring a small balcony, and the bed comfy.
The transfer shuttle arrived about 15 minutes later than my scheduled pickup time, but after seeing the line of vehicles waiting to meet three different ships in port, I could see why. Carnival Magic, Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic we’re lined up like a receiving line, snarling traffic coming and going. Despite the congestion, it wasn’t too long before we finally arrived. The bag handlers politely collected luggage, loaded my bag on the cart, and pointed the way to the cruise terminal, where I quickly passed through security and made my way to the long queue to check in. The line moved fairly quickly, and before I knew it, I had my key card in my hand ready to board. After some confusion in the boarding procedure, I was on my way.
Rooms were not expected to be ready until 3:00 pm, so I decided to give myself a tour, starting with the grill by the pool, where I grabbed a burger and salad, ordered a frozen mudslide and ate lunch out on deck. I then grabbed my new camera and went to check out this beast of a ship.
This ship, as others have noted, is a weird design. I’ve never gotten so turned around on a ship before. Public areas are decks 14 and above, and decks 7 and below surround the midship atrium. The smoky, loud casino takes up most of the space on Deck 6, and to get to either the Manhattan Restaurant on one end or the Theatre on the other, there is no escaping the noise, smoke and crowds. To avoid all this, get off the elevator on the quieter deck 7 and take the stairs down on either end. Speaking of stairs, there is no center set of stairs or elevator, making for a lot of extra time and steps to get from one place to another, especially if your cabin is far forward or aft. Also, you’ll notice no Aft elevator button for Deck 5. To get to Deck 5, you’ll have to walk toward the casino and take the escalator down from Deck 6. To avoid twists and turns in the long cabin hallways and collisions with people and housekeeping carts, walk the public decks from one end to the other to the appropriate elevator closest to your cabin. Like I said - very weird.
My home for the week was balcony cabin 10292 located just a few cabins from the end of the ship. Location was onvenient to the rear elevators and the Manhattan room for dinner and our group meetings, but not so much for the buffet area, the theatre, or anything else in the front of the ship. The famous odd bath arrangement that people love or hate turned out to be okay. The shower and toilet “pods” are roomy enough, the separate sink area handy and convenient, and a curtain provides privacy, if needed. However, this unique design does eat up precious cabin space, making it smaller and more cramped than most. The sofa was by the balcony door, and with only a couple of inches between the two beds, with no room to separate them into twins, this could prove awkward for two people wanting their own space for sleeping. Storage was plentiful, but counter space was lacking. There are two outlets located inside a cabinet, which is not very convenient. On the other hand, there is room to store all your electronic gadgets in the cupboard while they charge. One nice feature was the balcony size - it was larger than those on the newer NCL ships. I just can’t understand why they provide only one tiny little square table that turns out to be pretty useless.
What side of ship is best? A lot of people ask this question, and I can only answer for this cruise and itinerary. I was port side, which was great for beautiful sunsets. Starboard or right side was best for most ports in order to see what was going on around town.
Pools: What is it about giant mega ships and tiny pools? I didn’t care much for the pools on this ship. The main pool on Deck 15 is way too small for the number of people on this ship, plus the water was hot - almost hot-tub hot! It can only be entered by ladder, which is impossible for some with physical limitations. The water in the kiddie pool nearby was cooler and has steps for easy entry. But, again, it’s small. The pool in the quieter adult Spice H20 area in the back of the ship would have been a great choice for me, but as someone who had a skin cancer scare, I couldn’t tolerate the full sun. I have to have shade, which I was always able to find mid-ship.
Thermal Suite: The assorted therapy pools felt like heaven, but I was disappointed that every lounger in the room not occupied by a person was claimed by a towel or personal stuff, leaving no where to relax. Maybe mid-afternoon was not the best time to try it out, and in the end I preferred spending my time outside in the fresh air.
Manhattan (Main Dining): Set up like a supper club, it’s not as fancy as some main dining rooms, but jazz playing during meal time is a nice touch. I found my meals to be excellent, with service being better with earlier dining times than later.
Taste (Main Dining): I had breakfast here one morning, which was nothing special and not much better than anything available at the Garden Cafe. Dinner with our group the final night of the cruise proved much better, with my prime rib prepared perfectly. The restaurant is strangely located just off the busy atrium. Fortunately, once inside the restaurant, much of the noise above can’t be heard - except for maybe those dining in the area visible from above.
Shanghai (Asian): Excellent spring rolls but not-so-great sweet and sour pork. My dining partners did not care for their entrees. The space is small and cramped, and anyone with a rolling walker will have a tough time getting to a table.
Garden Cafe (Buffet): Same as all the NCL ships, featuring the usual fare - just ok. The Grill out by the pools served up good hot dogs, burgers and all the fixins’.
Bar Service: Good - never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a drink, and there was always a server roaming around. Not that I drink much - and I never buy a beverage package for that reason.
I didn’t try any of the specialty restaurants this time around.
Reservations are highly recommended and required for some shows. Make them in advance through the NCL website, onboard through your cabin TV, or at the ship box office.
"Burn the Floor": If you attend one show, let this be the one! I loved this performance, with its fabulous costumes, set, music, high energy and choreography. I was left wondering how human beings can dance so fast!
"Priscilla Queen of the Desert": This is one of those love or hate shows, and is bound to offend some people. It’s a show with outlandish costumes and some raunchy humor, but when all is said and done, it’s really a simple heartfelt story with a big message about tolerance and acceptance. I liked it; so much so, that I’ll even forgive the writers for borrowing others’ music instead of creating their own.
"Beatles" Tribute: Their performance happens in The Cavern, appropriately named for the place where the Beatles got their start. It’s small and gets packed well before the scheduled performance. To assure a seat for a 10:30 pm, I noticed most guests arrive for the earlier event at 8:00 pm and stay the night. I was able to grab a chair at the bar at 9:30; others weren’t so lucky. The band is a popular act on board, and they really do look and sound like the real deal.
"Cirque Dreams Epicurean": I bought the premium seat which includes dinner, as opposed to the regular seats which are a single row of seats circling the stage on the upper level. Honestly, if you don’t care about dinner and don’t want to risk being selected for audience participation, then purchase the regular seats - you’ll have a better view. The floor premium seating consists of rectangular tables surrounding the center performance area, and if you’re sitting at the end of a table, you’ll be stretching your neck to see over the heads in front of you to see ground level aspects of the performance. The pre-fixe meal was okay if you like your steak rare. The performance itself is spectacular with some nail-biting moments and well worth the cover charge. Make reservations before you leave home because seats sell out.
I didn’t bother with Howl at the Moon, which I’ve seen before, and didn’t catch the comedy or magic shows either.
Nassau and Falmouth - Members of our group planned day passes to Sandals Resorts in both ports. Since I had been there, done that in Nassau, and none of the excursions in Falmouth appealed to me, this was a great way to spend the day. Sandals and other destinations can be reached by taking the local bus for just $1.25. Sandals in Montego Bay was nearly an hour away and so we arranged for a private shuttle.
Grand Cayman. I booked the gotta-see-at-least-once Turtle Farm and Go-to-Hell tour with Captain Marvin. I joined a group of other cruisers who were going on to Stingray City following the land portion. I’d already swam with stingrays twice, so just went for the turtles and Hell. The turtles were interesting, fun to watch, and I even got to hold one. Hell? Well, It’s basically a shack that sells t-shirts and postcards to mail home to your friends and family saying Greetings from Hell. There is some nearby blasé volcanic rock at, but other than that, a few roosters roaming the property were the only excitement. Now at least I can say I've been to Hell and back!
Great Stirrup Cay. The weather was a mixed bag. I took the second tender over, and by the time we were under way, it started pouring. Then the sun came and brought a beautiful rainbow with it, followed by more showers, more sun, more clouds and so on. At least it was warm. I grabbed a chair under a palm tree and read and slept. There is a bar nearby, and they started their BBQ around 11:30. There is also a taco place as an alternative to the BBQ. Loved the fact that it was December and much cooler and comfortable than the last time I was here in mid-August.
The process of getting off NCL ships, in general, is better than most, including this cruise. Guests are called by the color of their luggage tags at an assigned time, and it all goes smoothly. However, unlike the Pearl I was on in July, guests needed to be out of their cabins by 8:30 a.m., which was fine, as there are plenty of public areas to wait. They were running ahead of schedule, and I was off the ship about 20 minutes earlier than planned. I had to wait about 20 minutes for my pre-arranged shuttle, but got to the airport in plenty of time for my 1:10 scheduled flight home. Unfortunately, for some, there were snow storms forcing delays and cancellations of many flights. Gladly, mine was not one of them, and after some stomach churning turbulence, Southwest got me home safely.
Edited by sunluva7