Vacation 2014: Western Caribbean

05 January 2015

Synopsis

Notes and impressions from our December 21 – 28, 2014 Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line Epic.


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.

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.

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 life boat drill held at 3:30 PM. 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.

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.

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 AM and 8 AM. 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 stair case 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.

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 PM to 6 PM 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.

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.

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.

The Norwegian Epic is now in its final Caribbean cruise season for 2014-2015. In October the “ugly duckling” of the cruise industry is scheduled to be permanently relocated to Europe.

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Copyright 2015 Gerard Sczepura

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