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Trip Report Back from Epic cruise

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Our cruise on NCL Epic ended on Sunday - already wishing I was back on the ship.
After getting advice from you guys and much worrying about which cruise, ship, etc. I choose NCL Epic for a 7 day Caribbean cruise. It was a gift to DD and nearly five year old GD. It came down to a ship that offered lots for the little one, limited smoking areas and direct, affordable flights to the port.

Reviews of this ship on CC ranged from fabulous to terrible on every level from food to service, so I had some concerns. My experience:

Highly recommend this ship for great family activities, good service, entertainment and excellent food.
Personal pref: I like more traditional ships with true promenade decks and open central spaces. I would do this ship again, however, for great weather and food.

Ship: This is a ship for families, not pretty from the outside, and not an elegant ship.
OK inside, but no wow factor like the beautiful stairways and atrium on Crown Princess.
Great water and play areas for kids and families! Water slides, hot tubs, rock climbing, etc.
Variety of seating for buffet was very nice.
Bands and music near pools was loud for me.
Dinning rooms: fewer large tables, so you could be seated just with your own family, but somewhat crowded feeling.
Top deck of ship had huge area with lots of beds and seating for adults desiring quiet or napping outside.
Many parts of ship seemed like one, long connected room surrounding casino. It did not seem open and spacious.
Very little smoking anywhere.

Cabins: we had inside. Did not mind the layout. It gave the feeling of spaciousness, but was small by any standard. Storage good, beds, OK. Liked having cotton duvet covers rather than bed spreads. Felt softer and more sanitary. Everything white - nice.

Some things, like deck chairs, are looking worn and need sprucing up.
Carpets and other chairs looked fine.

Embarkation, etc. efficient and fast at all times.

Staff and service:
the hardest working staff I have seen on any ship. They were too busy to have any chatting time, but they were courteous and helpful. By the second day, many knew my GD's name and said "Hello, Princess Grace," every time they saw her. The cabin stewart made towel animals for her every day and let her keep them. By the end of the trip, she had a rabbit, elephant, pig, dog, etc.

There were complaints about slow service in the main dining rooms, but we did not find it so. As a matter of fact, they asked if we were going to a show, and offered to rush things.

Food:
Complaints were totally unfounded. There was a great variety in buffet and main dinning rooms. As a matter of fact, I thought the food was better than on Princess or Celebrity! There was a different specialty meat station every day at the buffet: prime rib, roast turkey, lobster tails, etc. many wonderful salads, and ethnic specialties every day. Indian (which DD said was as good as her favorite NYC restaurants), Asian, Mexican, etc. Ice cream was especially good, with many flavors and toppings, plus soft serve. Fantastic yeast breads were served in the main dining rooms. We had several different steaks and prime rib in main dinning rooms, and all were excellent. If your children are terribly picky and do not eat salads and veggies, it may be harder. GD lived on watermelon, steaks, pizza, Broccoli, hot dogs and ice cream.

Entertainment: very much dependent on taste.
I prefer more classical music, especially piano.
Loved Second City - clever and fun
Hated Legends - too loud and except for the Elvis, who I did like, not my taste in music
Blue Man - boring to me, but little GD loved it, so it appealed to a five year old.
Cirque d'Dreams - absolutely loved it and worth every penny. Beautiful space, fabulous costumes, exciting up close, creative, etc. food was perfect: filet mignon with peppercorn sauce. Excellent service.

I would prefer not to have to make reservations, but it did insure you had a seat.
Be aware, you should make them before the cruise, not wait until you are on the ship, although most of the time, there was still space when we did not reserve or were late.

Many people complained about some things costing extra, but I did not see anything unusual except for specialty restaurants and Cirque. That was fine by me. If I did not want something more, I did not have to pay for it.

Kids program: I had read one review of it as being horrible, so was concerned. Well, that was so not true. At least for children age three to about ten, this ship does a fantastic job! The staff was kind and loving and fantastic. Little GD had a great time. Every evening they had a different theme with face painting, games, dances, parties, etc. We paid extra for a pajama breakfast, which we would not bother with again. The free things were actually better.

Ship stores: basics like deodorants, etc. expensive. Clothes and other things were reasonable. This was the first time I bought things on a ship, but got birthday gifts and jewelry.

Photographers: not nearly so intrusive as on other ships. Crazy thing, I did do a private sitting of little GD, and the photos were so outstanding, I bought a huge package. Both of the studio photographers had been graphic designers and were real pros, especially with a child.

Ports: We just went to beaches and relaxed.
Really like Paradise beach in Cozumel. It is pretty, with a beautiful pool, lots of shade, many large floats in the water, good food, worth the cost of taxi to get there, beach is free.
Margaritaville in Ochios Rios is tacky and not too clean, but we made some nice friends and hung out with them during rest of cruise.
Too windy to dock in Costa Mayo.

Quote from GD. "I do not want to go to the Ocean. There are sharks and things to hurt me. I only like ships and beaches. On my cruise next year, I will do room service." She is already a confirmed cruiser.
She never quite understood that the ship was actually floating in the ocean, and her Mom did not want to eat in the cabin, so did not do room service.

DD said not having to worry about buying food or cooking was the best part.

All in all, the cruise did exactly what I hoped, gave us a lovely break together. I could ask for nothing more.

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