Norwegian Cruise Line®

Norwegian Epic (2017)

Sail Date: November 18, 2017
Duration: 7 nights
Departure Port: Port Canaveral, Florida

Our Norwegian Thanksgiving cruise on the Epic is our third cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and our second on the Epic. Our first cruise on the Epic left from Miami, this time we left from Port Canaveral.

We made our reservations way before our cruise date, months before hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the Caribbean. Our original itinerary was to take us out in the eastern Caribbean to the U.S. Virgin Islands, but that itinerary was changed. Instead, we went to locations in the western Caribbean.

The Itinerary

  1. Nassau, Bahamas
  2. Falmouth, Jamaica
  3. Georgetown, Grand Cayman
  4. Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

If you’ve ever cruised anywhere in the Caribbean you’ve been to Nassau; many seasoned cruisers have been there so many times that they don’t even get off the ship. I always like to get off the ship so we booked the Balmoral Island Beach Break excursion at $69/person. Balmoral Island has many activities that you can participate in but they all cost extra. We brought our own snorkeling gear so we only spent $5 for one bottled water. The beach wasn’t crowded so we had no problem getting the beach chairs we wanted. No trustworthy food service was available but they did have conveniently located rest room facilities.

Falmouth was a new port destination for us although we’ve been to Ocho Rios on a previous cruise. We decided to play it by ear when it came to Jamaica since we already visited the Good Hope Plantation during our first cruise on the Epic. As soon as we left the port area through a controlled exit gate, we were met by a local who offered to take us on a walking tour of Historic Falmouth. He seemed friendly enough and very persuasive so we decided to take him up on his offer for whatever tip we wanted to give. Actually, I thought his tour was pretty good. We walked through the center of town, then to Walter Knibb Baptist Church, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, fishing village, and All Age School.

In Grand Cayman we signed up for the Turtles & Stingrays Land & Sea Adventure at $129/person. This was an all-day excursion that took us to the Cayman Turtle Farm and Stingray City. The Turtle Farm was really interesting and we all got a chance to hold a juvenile sea turtle. The boat ride to the Stingray City sandbar took about 30 minutes. The water was warm, clear, and calm, perfect for observing the stingrays that congregated around the area. An island lunch was provided after we got off the boat.

Stingray City
Figure 1. Stingray City

Great Stirrup Cay is Norwegian’s private island in The Bahamas. As expected, you need to take a tender to get to the island from the ship. For some bizarre reason, Norwegian, in their daily flyer, announced that reservations were needed for the tender. It said that we needed to use our in-cabin TV or the mobile app to make the reservation. Surprisingly, neither worked, nevertheless, we never got to the island because of delays allegedly caused by large sea swells causing issues with the tender.

The Ship

The Norwegian Epic was built in 2010 and refurbished in 2015. While appearing to be top heavy, the ship provided a stable sailing experience, it also helped that winds were light and seas were fairly calm. That being said, we did hit a patch of rough water a few hours out of Port Canaveral on our return. It wasn’t anything to be concerned about but ship movement was more noticeable.

Since our first sailing was in 2014, we’ve seen the ship before and after its refurbishment. As far as I can tell, the changes were subtle at best.

Notably, they converted an older lounge into their very own re-created Cavern Club featuring Beatles and other 60s music. The only problem with this club is that it has limited seating so you had to camp out early to get a good seat. This was a disappointment for me.

Overall, the ship had the same look and feel as it did back in 2014. Other than for its unique hull painting, I found the ship lacking esthetics and being an amateur photographer, I found the ship not very photogenic.

On this cruise, we only ate in two specialty restaurants, Le Bistro (French) and Cagney’s (Steakhouse). All three of us agreed that we had our worst meal at sea in Le Bistro. The food was very ordinary considering it was prepared in a French restaurant. On the other hand, the steaks in Cagney’s were superb.

Surprisingly, the complementary Manhattan Dining Room was our primary choice for dinner, the dress code in the Manhattan Dining Room is long pants for men which seemed to irritate a few guests. Along with dinner you get a show and your typical lounge music. Our shows were performed by the Burn the Floor dancers. We never had dinner in the Garden Café (Buffet).

Speaking of shows, our favorite was Burn the Floor, very high energy with live guitar music. The other show we attended was Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical. In reality it turned out to be Priscilla Drag Queen of the Desert. You get the picture.

Again, what annoyed me as a photographer was that no photography was allowed during the shows.

As I recall, the lounge entertainment was lacking. On our first cruise on the Epic, they always had some good bands playing almost continuously in the Atrium. On this cruise, it was hard to find a band playing anywhere, even in the Atrium. Instead of music, they had lots of those audience participation game shows.

We also felt that the shops in the Tradewinds on Deck7 were not very enticing. Nevertheless, as usual, we managed to buy a few things. We weren’t in the market for gemstones but if we were, they were pushing Zultanite almost every night.

As is common on most if not all cruises, Park West held art shows, and auctions mostly on Deck5. After dinner, while we were hanging out on Deck5, we decided to walk through the art gallery. I happened to notice a circuit board art piece by Gregory Arth named Empire State. I thought it was so cool that I had to buy it at almost 50% off, shipped and framed.

The Port

Port Canaveral is probably one of the easiest ports to get in and out of. Parking was a breeze if not expensive.

Since the ship was completing its repositioning trans-Atlantic crossing from Barcelona, Spain, NCL sent emails out informing us that we shouldn’t arrive at the port for embarkation until 2 p.m. Since we knew we were going to miss lunch on the ship, we decided to have lunch at Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill at the port. It’s a good thing we did, because we didn’t board until nearly 5 p.m.

It seemed that they couldn’t get the ship cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard for some reason so we had to stand in line outside in the sun for about 2.5 hours. Norwegian tried to accommodate us by handing out bottled water. That gesture really didn’t pacify anyone.

Once we got through the line, check-in went rather quickly. Given that boarding was late, we had to go directly to our mandatory lifeboat drill.

Debarkation went smoothly since NCL scheduled our departure by color-coding our luggage tags based on a set debarkation time.

Norwegian Epic (2014)

Sail Date: December 21, 2014
Duration: 7 nights
Departure Port: Port of Miami, Florida

This year, instead of doing our usual thing of hanging around the local area during the Christmas holiday, we decided to book a Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Epic sailing out of Miami.

Since we really enjoyed our last cruise on the NCL Getaway in April of this year, we decided to give the Norwegians another go.

Planning

For this cruise, our stateroom was located mid-ship on Deck 9 while our daughter booked her own studio stateroom on Deck 12. The studio staterooms are perfect for single travelers since they are half the price of a normal stateroom. In addition, these staterooms are located in a keycard access-controlled area which also includes a shared private lounge for guests.

As was the case on our previous cruise, we signed up for the Ultimate Dining package which allows you to eat in any of the specialty restaurants on-board including: Cagney’s (Steakhouse), La Cucina (Italian), Le Bistro (French), Shanghai (Chinese), Teppanyaki (Japanese), and Moderno (Brazilian Churrascaria). In order to simplify things, we opted to pre-pay our tips when we booked our cruise.

While this was our second cruise out of Miami, it was also our second time using the Port of Miami Cruise Parking facility on 150 NE 7th Street. The Port of Miami Cruise Parking is an outside, fenced in parking lot providing 24-hour onsite security. You can’t beat this for $6.00/day. I also reserved shuttle service to and from the pier. As far as the shuttle service goes, they have really gotten their act together since the last time we parked at the facility because now the shuttle service is run by KSA Tours. KSA uses 28 passenger minibuses which are new and clean with plenty of room for luggage.

Boarding

As might have been expected, the boarding process was organized chaos. Security went fairly quickly but check-in took about 30 minutes.

After we got on board, we were able to find our stateroom rather quickly. Since our luggage hadn’t arrived yet, we decided to hit the Garden Buffet before the mandatory lifeboat drill held at 3:30 p.m. Upon leaving our stateroom for the first time, we discovered that our door wasn’t locking. Our steward tried to help but he was unsuccessful. I called guest services to report the problem. Later, I returned to our stateroom to check on our luggage and to see if our door lock was fixed. Our luggage was there but the door was still not locking. So, I went down to Guest Services on Deck 5 and reported the problem in person. The issue was then promptly resolved.

Dining

All Norwegians do “Freestyle” cruising. Basically, that means you can eat where and when you want to 24-hours a day.

Since everyone has breakfast in the Garden Café on Deck 15, it pays to get there early, especially on days when the ship is in port. My favorite breakfast is a made to order omelet with ham or bacon, onion and cheese and maybe one or two croissants. I found the best time for breakfast is between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. It may be difficult to find seating if you arrive later. If you do arrive late and seating is scarce, just make your way forward to the staircase leading down to La Cucina on Deck 14 for a quieter experience and nice views.

All the specialty restaurants are very good but our favorites on this cruise were Le Bistro and Cagney’s. I highly recommend the mussels and the four mushroom soup at Le Bistro. At Cagney’s, I recommend the sliders, wedge salad, and the 8oz. fillet, prepared rare with Dijon mustard—superb!

Men must wear long pants (jeans allowed) when dining in Le Bistro.

The Noodle Bar is a good place to take a break from the buffets or if you are in the mood for a light lunch. This restaurant is à la carte but very reasonable. I highly recommend the Thai noodles.

Entertainment

On the Getaway, we found our niche in the Sugarcane Mojito Bar. On the Epic, we usually spent time in the Atrium listening to the Manhattan Band or in Maltings on Deck 7. Maltings had a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. so it was a popular spot. We usually hung out poolside mid-days at sea.

We attended the following two special shows during the cruise: Legends in Concert and Blue Man Group. Legends is a tribute group that performed music from Adele, Jimmy Buffett and Aretha Franklin. Blue Man Group is well…Blue Man Group. I’m glad I was able to catch this show on ship because I wouldn’t want to spend extra money just to see it. Blue Man Group does have a certain allure for some folks, but I just don’t get it.

For our last day at sea, we thought it would be interesting to take a Behind the Scenes Tour of ship but they were asking $89 per person which took the wind right out of our sails (pun intended). No wonder they had openings. We decided to consider other options.

Since the Behind the Scenes tour was so expensive, we chose to try bowling at O’Sheehan’s on Deck 6. I was all psyched up until I tested the lane and couldn’t perform my usual slide on the last step. Either the problem was with the shoes or the lanes weren’t waxed properly. It was fun anyway even though I didn’t quite hit my average.

The International Crew Show on Day 7 highlighted the many unexpected talents possessed by many of the ship’s crew which included: dancing (hip-hop and traditional); Elvis impersonation; sand art; and vocals.

Excursions

Our cruise made ports of call at Nassau, Bahamas; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Cozumel, Mexico. We signed up for the following shore excursions:

  • Athol Island Snorkel
  • Good Hope Cultural Explorer Pass
  • Mayan Ruins, Beach & Island Overview

The Athol Island Snorkel is a good choice for an excursion in Nassau. The excursion included a 40 minute or so boat ride to the snorkel site. The crew was very helpful and friendly and everything went smoothly. Great place to see lots of fish and coral. The crew provided a narration of the many points of interest around the harbor on the way back.

The Good Hope plantation excursion on Jamaica consisted of a 1.5-2 hour drive from Ocho Rios to Falmouth and included a tour of the main house; rum tasting at the Appleton Estate; and a buggy ride around the area. This is a good tour to take if you have never been to Jamaica because you get to see much of the local color as you drive through many towns on the way to the plantation. I recommend trying some of the jerk chicken for lunch while at the estate. The entire excursion took about 6 hours.

Our final excursion of the cruise was a tour of the San Gervasio Mayan ruins on Cozumel. Since this was our second time to Cozumel, we opted for San Gervasio since we had already visited Tulum during our Carnival cruise in 2000. Our excursion also included a tour around the island and a beach break at Playa Chen Rio.

Conclusions

Even though the Epic is the largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, bigger isn’t always necessarily better. We were definitely spoiled after our last cruise on the Getaway which featured The Waterfront, a quarter-mile oceanfront promenade on Deck 8 which has access to restaurants, lounges, and shops—very nice. Don’t get me wrong, the Epic is a nice ship, and we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise, but we really missed the Getaway.

P.S. The Norwegian Epic was reimagined in 2020 and judging by the latest ship photos it received a nice facelift. The Epic offers sailings in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, in addition to transatlantic crossings.

Norwegian Getaway (2014)

Sail Date: April 05, 2014
Duration: 7 nights
Departure Port: Port of Miami, Florida

Our first cruise was in 1990 on the Premier Cruise Lines Star/Ship Majestic. The cruise was part of a Disney World Land & Sea package that included 3-night cruise and a 4-night stay at a Resort hotel. The cruise departure was from Port Canaveral and the destination was a private island in Abaco, Bahamas. Then in 2000, we took another cruise after our daughter’s college graduation. For our second time around, we sailed on the first cruise ship custom-built for Carnival Cruise Lines the “Fun Ship®” Tropicale from Port of Tampa. Again, this was a short cruise with ports of call in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. Now, since it’s been fourteen years since our last cruise, we wanted to take a longer trip. So, we decided on a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Getaway, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship during its inaugural season sailing out of Port of Miami.

The Port

Parking at the Port of Miami cruise terminal can be expensive at $20/day. So, I decided to google for alternatives. I decided on the 150 NE 7th Street Port of Miami Cruise Parking Lot. You can make a reservation with a credit card right on their website, which was very easy and straightforward. When you arrive at the fenced in outdoor lot just present your printed reservation confirmation and park your car. The parking spots are tight, so some fancy maneuvering may be necessary. The lot was fairly easy to find especially since I was able to see a picture of the area beforehand. The cruise terminal is less than a 10-minute ride from the lot and there is a van service available which costs $8 per person round-trip. So, with parking, van, and tip, I paid about half of what I would have paid if I had parked at the cruise terminal. The van driver will give you a sticker to place on your person so that you can be identified for pick up at the end of your cruise. As a precaution, I would keep the parking lot phone number handy just in case.

Preparations

For our accommodations, we decided on an Inside stateroom on Deck 10 forward. Jen picked a Studio stateroom on the same deck. The Studio staterooms are geared for singles and are located in a keycard access-controlled area. These Studio staterooms also include a shared private lounge for guests.

We also decided to include prepaid gratuities when booking our cruise. However, the prepaid gratuities didn’t include drinks; gratuities were automatically added to our bill for all drink orders.

As expected, we had to attend the mandatory life vest safety drill before the ship left port. However, instead of having to muster on deck in our life vests, we only had to attend a safety presentation in the Getaway Theater. It’s required that you participate and they do check attendance by scanning your guest card before you are seated.

Dining

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has opted for “Freestyle Dining” on its cruise ships. Gone are the days when you had to sit at the same table in the same dining room at the same time every night of your cruise. Now you have a choice; you can either eat in one of the complementary dining rooms, cafes, and buffets or you can try one or more of the specialty restaurants.

We decided to purchase the Ultimate Dining package which allowed us to eat in any of the specialty restaurants every night of the cruise for $118/person. The only restriction is that you could only order one entrée from the menu. But there were no restrictions on how many appetizers, soups, salads or deserts you could order.

In addition, jeans and shorts are now acceptable attire in most restaurants so I brought along a couple of Hawaiian tropical shirts, a few dress shorts, one pair of khakis, and a pair of Top-Siders. I wore dress shorts and Top-Siders for all dinners except at the Le Bistro where I wore khakis instead.

As far as the specialty restaurants go, we rated Cagney’s, Moderno, and Teppanyaki in the top three. Cagney’s Steakhouse has awesome sliders as an appetizer that shouldn’t be missed. The Moderno Churrascaria is your typical Brazilian Steakhouse. My favorite meats were the picanha, the signature cut sirloin, and chorizo sausage. The Teppanyaki Japanese Steakhouse not only has excellent steak and seafood, but the chefs put on a good show to boot.

From our first night on ship, we found a niche in the Sugarcane Bar. We quickly became acquainted with our server, Deana, and she took care of us whenever we dropped in—most every evening.

Entertainment

Some form of entertainment was always happening from 7:30 a.m. until 12 midnight so it wasn’t easy to get bored. The ship had two really good lounge bands, Groove International and Summer Breeze. Also available on board were a number of shows and musicals but we were only able to catch one, and that was Burn the Floor, a Latin dance extravaganza.

The very distinctive hull artwork for the Getaway was done by Miami artist David “Lebo” Le Batard who was also on board and gave an impressive live art demonstration.

Excursions

Our cruise made ports of call at Philipsburg, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Nassau, Bahamas. Since we wanted to do some sightseeing and shopping in addition to having some beach time, we decided to do the beach and snorkeling in the U.S. Virgin Islands and use the time in St. Maarten and Nassau for sightseeing. That being said, we signed up for the following shore excursions:

  • Discover St. Maarten Dutch & French
  • St. John Beach Escape and Snorkel
  • Charm & Beauty of the Bahamas

As soon as we were able to disembark at St. Maarten, we headed straight for the shopping mall area in Phillipsburg. On the way, we were stopped many times by tour operators and cab drivers wanting to take us on a tour of the island. Since we already purchased our excursion tickets, we declined. The stores were incredible, especially the jewelry stores. The sales staff were all attentive to the point of being aggressive, but in a polite way. At one jewelry store I was introduced to some watches made from parts recovered from the Titanic with prices starting around $15,000—wow!

Our tour driver took us around the Philipsburg mall area and then headed up to the French capital, Marigot. When we got there, he just dropped us off at the dock area and gave us the time when he would pick us up. His narration during the tour was kind of repetitive and the excursion excluded the airport which I was anxious to see.

Our day in the U.S. Virgin Islands started at 8:00 a.m. in the Getaway Theater. After they called our excursion, we walked to the end of the dock to pick up our water taxi for the ride over to St. John. The water was rough on the way over, but the trip still took only about 45 minutes. Once there, we got on our open-air taxi to for the 10-to-15-minute ride to Trunk Bay.

The tour operators kept everything moving along so everyone could get the maximum time on the beach. I’ve read a few reviews where people complained that the beach was too crowded or that they didn’t get enough time on the beach. On the contrary, the beach wasn’t crowded at all when we were there. If you don’t believe me, check out one of my photos (untouched) posted on OneDrive. And as far as there not being enough time on the beach, I would have to ask, “Is there ever enough time?” Even so, I had plenty of time to snorkel the entire course and even had some extra time to just hang around the beach. I would advise giving yourself an extra 15 minutes or so to turn in your equipment and hit the rest room/changing area instead of waiting until the last minute.

On the way back to St. Thomas the ocean was calmer, and the trip only took about 40 minutes. The driver slowed down while pulling into port so that we could take pictures of our ship. All in all, an excellent excursion.

If you have never been to Nassau, Bahamas, I would strongly recommend the Charm & Beauty excursion. Our driver really gave us a lot of information about the area, and the tour covered a lot of ground including stops at Fort Charlotte, John Watling’s Distillery, and Gone Fish’n, a famous barbeque place on the beach. The tour also passed through the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.

While we were walking back to our ship from where the tour left us off, we heard loud music playing that sounded like a real party was going on. Naturally, we thought it was coming from the Disney Dream that was docked next to our ship, but we were dead wrong; all the hullabaloo was coming from our ship! As it turned out, Sinan, our cruise director, along with many of the chefs and crew were out there lined up all along the gangway welcoming us back with signs saying, “Welcome Home.”

Conclusion

The Farewell Variety Showtime brought many of the cast members from Legally Blonde and Burn the Floor for the last show of the cruise. Many of the performances had members of the NCL crew spoofing other cast members. But the best was when Sinan gave his “Top 10” of actual questions guests have asked—really hilarious.

After having our last breakfast in the Garden Café Buffet, we disembarked and went through customs without incident. Outside, we waited about 30 minutes to get picked up by our parking lot van service. Back at the lot, my vehicle was just as I had left it.

In conclusion, I would definitely cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line again.

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