Vacation 2017: Western Caribbean

09 December 2017

Synopsis

Notes and impressions from our November 18 – November 25, 2017 Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Epic.


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 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.

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Copyright 2017 Gerard Sczepura