We've been back about two weeks from our week-long cruise aboard the newly christened Norwegian Epic. Good times were had by all. As always, we owe a lot to Granma, and we would not have been able to experience this adventure if it wasn't for her generosity. Thanks, Mom! We love you...
We are 'experienced' cruisers, having been multiple times on Disney, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, and were excited to experience a different cruise line. During the last cruise we went on (about 2 years ago), I remember all of us standing on the pool deck of a Royal Caribbean ship, looking across the dock at the ship parked next to us, the Norwegian Gem, and marveling at how cool that ship looked. Pink Elephant slide, you say? How could one say no to that?
When Granma heard about the Epic, she wanted to book us on their maiden voyage. The Epic was officially christened on live TV in New York on July 4, 2010 as part of the Macy's Independence Day celebration and it was cool to see it on TV before we got to sail. I think Norwegian ended up changing the dates or something, and our voyage ended up being the second trip out, which was still pretty awesome. We departed from Miami on a Saturday, had two days at sea, docked in St. Maarten on Tuesday, St. Thomas on Wednesday, another day at sea, Nassau on Friday, and home sweet home (Miami) the following Saturday.
The Epic is freaking HUGE. It is a floating city and holds 4,200 passengers. It may not be the biggest ship out there, but it's the largest ship we have ever been on. The obligatory casino (that all ships except Disney have, which is the one thing I dislike about Disney cruises) takes up 90% of one full deck. Other amenities included an art gallery, internet cafe, two three-lane bowling alleys, rock climbing, ice skating rink, arcade, shopping mall, water park (with an enormous water slide), spa, fitness center, 20 different dining options, and about as many bars, including the only ice bar at sea. Yes, you read that correctly....an ice bar. Entertainment on board consisted of the Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams & Dinner, Second City and Nickelodeon among other things to see and do.
The drive to the port in Miami wasn't too bad. Let's just say my iPod makes everything better. That and I had some good reading on the way down (thanks Steven!) - Roasting in Hell's Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F Words, and the Pursuit of Perfection. What can I say? I'm a Ramsay fan. And I had Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain (thanks again Steven!!) to look forward to on the way home. And only two bathroom stops to boot!! Overall, the car ride lasted about four hours total.
View of Miami from our stateroom balcony
The lines to check in and board the ship were long but expected. There has been only one time that we were able to board a ship without waiting 30 minutes or more, and that was because we happened to be some of the later arrivals to the dock.
Let me take this opportunity to share my views about Personal Space. By standard or universal definition, it is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. My definition? If I don't know you and can smell you, back it up, dude. I do not want you touching me...Anywhere. Apparently, I have serious personal space issues because I so do not enjoy people standing on my shoes, knocking into me or standing close enough to me to get snagged in my hair. Most people are...putting it delicately...gross. When you're packed into a line of hundreds, sweating, carrying multiple bags of luggage larger than your children, one would think people would be more aware of the personal space rules and be more apt to obey these rules. Not so, my friends. Not so. I think I may need to buy one of these...
Once we boarded, we headed straight for the staterooms, which were both right next to each other on deck 14. We even had an adjoining door between them that proved convenient. Both staterooms had balconies, which is one of my absolute favorite things on a cruise ship. Especially since there was nowhere to smoke on this boat except the casino. I can remember when you could smoke just about anywhere on a cruise ship except the elevator; but I can also recall smoking in the grocery store and the mall...
|216 glorious square feet of cabin fever|
The staterooms were sleek and curvy, but they were smaller than any rooms we've ever had. They looked bigger in the pictures on the Norwegian web site, but that didn't surprise me. Granma, Crazy Artist and Drama Queen shared one cabin, while Papa Bear, Little Lawyer and I bunked in the other. First thing I did? Why, check out the room service menu, of course! I was really disappointed at the variety on the menu. There were about ten choices of standard-type menu items (BLT, Caesar salad, etc). The ship did offer pizza 24/7 via room service (and charged $5 a pop for it...but you can't beat a $5 pizza), but I am not what you'd call a 'pizza person'. I like spinach, goat cheese and artichokes...not really a pepperoni and cheese kind of girl.
Once we checked out the rooms and put our carry-on stuff away, we took off in search of lunch. We could do the buffet offered in the Garden Cafe which was conveniently located one deck above us, or go to one of the two standard dining rooms for sit-down service on the ship: Taste (deck 5) or the Manhattan Room (deck 6). I am not terribly fond of the whole buffet scene (or food) so I suggested one of the dining rooms. We ended up having lunch at Taste, which is one of the 'inclusive' eateries on board.
Most other cruise lines, or should I say the lines we have sailed with, are 95% 'all inclusive' as far as food goes. Other lines may have one or two specialty restaurants that have a $15-$25 cover charge you had to pay to get in, but once there you could order everything off the menu for no additional charge. We never really bought into that because usually those restaurants were steak houses or Italian eateries, and those are on the bottom of our must-eat-at kinds of places. With any other cruise line, all you pay anything additional for is soda, alcohol, souvenirs and gambling money - everything else is indeed included in your fare price. This is how it should be. The Epic is a whole other animal in this regard. Out of the touted 20 different dining options, only five were without a cover charge. The other fifteen places charged anywhere from $15 to $25 to get a table. To me, that's not what I would call included at all.
Norwegian doesn't see it that way apparently. They even had cover charges for some of the entertainment! All of these cover charges are my biggest gripe about the whole Norwegian cruise experience. If that's what they mean by "Freestyle" (which, silly me, thought that it meant eating when and where you wanted to without having a dress code...like they describe it on their very own website) then they need to think of another term that does not include the word free.
The selections at Taste for lunch were pretty good. I was beginning to get hopeful and excited. You see, Papa Bear and I are not sun worshipers, swimmers, bingo or newlywed game players, exercisers or joggers, spa goers...we do five consistent things on a cruise: eat everything, play slots, drink, explore the ports we stop at, and see the shows. That's it. Food plays a huge role in how much we enjoy a cruise. We also tend to skip the 'formal nights' on other boats because we are not ones to get all gussied up. We are a poly-cotton blend kind of couple. Needless to say, this "Freestyle Dining" thing Norwegian offered was very appealing to a couple who are rarely out of our shorts long enough to put on a pair of jeans...
Taste's Starters and soups were:
Roasted Eggplant Dip and Olive Tapenade with Crispy Pita Chips
Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Chili Lime Dipping Sauce (no picture)
Portobello Mushroom Baked with Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts and Basil
Fried Calamari with Cilantro Mayonnaise
Farmhouse Chicken Noodle Soup
Roasted Corn and Potato Chowder (no picture)
Shrimp Caesar Salad
Sandwiches and Burgers:
Club Sandwich (Turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato) with Chips (no picture)
Philly Cheese Steak with Fries (no picture)
Salmon and Shrimp Salad Sandwich with Avocado on Whole Wheat Roll
Veggie and Black Bean Burger with Lettuce, Tomato and Onion (no picture)
Angus Burger with Bacon and Cheddar on Sesame Bun with Fries (no picture)
Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Provolone and Tomato Jam on 6-Grain Bun with Fries (no picture)
Spaghetti or Penne Pasta with Alfredo, Bolognese or Marinara Sauce (no picture)
Wild Mushroom Omelet with Shoestring Potatoes (no picture)
Fish-n-Chips (no picture)
Chicken Milanese with Arugula Salad and Olive Oil & Lemon Dressing (no picture)
Grilled New York Strip with Mushrooms, Garlic Butter & Fries (no picture)
With six of us ordering all different things and with us having 4 cameras, you would think I'd have ended up with more photos of the food we ate...
I had the Portobello Mushroom with Goat Cheese (really, really good), Shrimp Caesar Salad (your standard Caesar with some shrimp thrown in....eh), and the Salmon and Shrimp Salad Sandwich that came with Sweet Potato Chips (let's just say I enjoyed the chips more than the sandwich...way too heavy on the mayo for my taste).
We decided to explore the ship a little and stopped to have a drink at Shaker's Martini Bar. Everyone got a little something to drink before the inevitable and dreaded Muster Station Drill.
|Papa Bear enjoying the Drink of the Day|
|Drama Queen with what she termed "The Nut Bong"|
One thing I loved about this ship was how the Muster Station Drill was handled. Norwegian does not require you to wear your life jacket for the entire duration of the drill. Every other ship we have been on requires that you wear your life jacket (located in your stateroom) for the whole time - which ends up being about a half an hour or so. Assigned Muster Stations are usually outside in the 100 degree weather, but since the Epic really doesn't have multiple outside decks, all the Muster Stations were indoors in the a/c. Nice! Our Muster Station was inside the Teppanyaki Restaurant. This was conveniently located less than 30 feet from where we were sitting at Shaker's enjoying a libation on deck 7. All we had to do was walk over, check in with the steward for a head count, and sit in the restaurant for about 10 to 15 minutes...that's it!! Believe me, I did not miss having to trek up to my stateroom, put on my bulky and highly uncomfortable life jacket, try to fit on an elevator (ha!) with 30 other people or mill like cattle down seven flights of stairs (barely able to see over the edges of my life jacket!) to the Muster Station on a promenade deck in the Miami heat and stand there for 30 minutes (or more if the already drunk passengers wouldn't shut up long enough to let the stewards say their spiel) and then attempt to get back to my stateroom to put my life jacket away with 4,000 other people. And, of course, that pesky personal space issue comes into play here....
We all walked around the ship some more, but the casino and the shops weren't open (until we hit International waters) so it was kinda quiet. We went back to the staterooms where our luggage had found its way to us, so we unpacked and chilled out for a bit.
Since we had no reservations for dinner in any of the specialty (read: cover charged) dining rooms, Granma wanted to hit the Garden Cafe buffet and check it out. Omelets, crepes, pasta, pizza, burgers, ethnic eats and a multitude of desserts went as far as the eye could see. The layout was quite impressive. On the TV in the stateroom, you could pull up each restaurant menu and see what dishes they had to offer that day. In looking at the menu for the buffet, I was promised a Wok Station with freshly prepped, made-to-order stir fry. (I will almost always go for the seafood first, Chinese/Japanese second, and meat third in any dining situation. It's how I'm wired.) There was no Wok Station. Only disappointment.
I've mentioned before that I'm not a willing and happy buffet patron. To me, most buffets are usually substandard Sysco food-product with the same ten to twelve staple dishes to choose from. And remember those sweaty, smelly people that invaded my personal space earlier? They're baaaaaack...and now smell of sweat and suntan lotion. Ew. Not to mention that they have to touch everything in their sight. Food in a buffet setting just does not appeal to me at all, unless it comes from a specific station where you can order it they way you want it (not like the somewhat tasteless masses want it) and only one person prepares/serves it to you before you eat it. I can't count high enough the individuals that I have seen at any buffet wipe their nose, pick their butt, rub their eyes, pick their fingernails clean (you get the picture here) and then handle food laid out on a buffet without using a serving utensil - and then put the item back! I fear for my life more at an open buffet than I do than pretty much any other scenario I can think of.
We had no entertainment prepaid/scheduled for our first night aboard the "freestyle" Epic (does that statement sound contradictory to you, too?), so we just milled about, checking it all out. We decided to check out the (free!) magic/comedy show that night, which was okay. The dude was fairly funny, but a lot of jokes were recycled (I think I watch too much cable programming for my own good...) and we had a good time.
I started to get hungry later, seeing as I didn't have much to eat at the buffet earlier, so we checked to see if we could get into Wasabi, the ship's sushi bar. They stopped taking reservations after 10pm, so they told us to come back after then and we'd be able to get right in.
Now I was excited...Wasabi didn't seem to have a cover charge, so we could chow down all sushi all we wanted!!
Er, not quite...
Instead of a cover charge, you actually had to pay for the roll/piece. The prices weren't too bad, either; but it's something else you had to pay additional for. At this point, I'm thinking: freestyle my ass... It wasn't like a 'traditional' sushi bar, either. I like to sit and watch the sushi chefs prepare the food, but all you could see behind the bar (which was a foot or so higher than the counter) was a grill. There were sushi chefs behind the counter, but you couldn't see anything they were doing.
The sushi was exceptional and fresh. Drama Queen and Papa Bear went for pieces and I opted for rolls.
|Papa Bear had salmon, tuna and shrimp|
|Drama Queen had salmon, tuna, shrimp, and octopus|
|I had the Rainbow roll (rear) and the Dragon roll (front)|
The Rainbow roll was like any standard roll: salmon, tuna and avocado. The Dragon roll was sublime; one of the best I have ever had! Tuna, mango, avocado, cucumber and macadamia nuts.
After stuffing ourselves with sushi, we went back to the staterooms full and content. Thus far, the sushi wins out for best food.
So ends Day One of our Epic adventure...save