Setting sail aboard the Norwegian Epic from Miami

The Norwegian Epic leaves Miami behind as we begin our weeklong voyage to the Eastern Caribbean. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

After a series of red-eye flights that whisked me from my homebase in Vancouver, Canada to Miami via Portland and Houston, I’m finally onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest and greatest: the massive Norwegian Epic.  At 1,081 feet in length and spanning 19 decks in height, she was easily the first thing I saw when I arrived at the Port of Miami this afternoon.

Located in Miami-Dade County in southern Florida, the city of Miami is arguably the epicentre of the cruising world. Forbes magazine voted it the cleanest city in America in 2008, and every year millions of cruisers flock here from around the world to board the cruise ships that line the harbour almost every day of the year. And rounding out the collection of ships here today is the gleaming Norwegian Epic, docked at the head of the pack.

Norwegian Epic boasts a number of firsts, like this ultra-cool (and ultra-popular!) waterslide. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Norwegian Epic’s top-heavy appearance and angular design is, at first glance, odd.  But after pouring over countless photos of her, I’ve actually grown to like and even appreciate her design.  In many ways, her Courtyard Villas complex, situated high above the navigation bridge, reminds me a lot of another Norwegian ship from the past: Norwegian Crown, now sailing for UK-based Fred. Olsen Cruises as their Balmoral.

The amazing crystal LED sculpture designed specifically for Norwegian Epic towers nearly three full decks in height, and hangs suspended over TASTE main dining room. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

In fact, the closer I look at Norwegian Epic, the more I see what the line was going for when they designed her: total uniqueness, from the structure of her top pool deck to the colourful waterslides that criss-cross the area forward of the ship’s dual side-by-side funnels. Even the lifeboats and davits look like they have been custom-picked and designed just for this ship; Norwegian wasn’t picking the base model from the Schat-Harding catalogue on this one.

Shaker's Martini Bar is just one of twenty different watering holes aboard this amazing ship. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

There’s also an array of onboard venues so vast it would give Las Vegas a run for its money. Over twenty bars and lounges and twenty different dining options – some free, some tariff-based – ensure that every day really can be an adventure.

Before beginning my own Epic adventure, I made reservations on-line for several things I wanted to experience this week, like tonight’s dinner in La Cucina, Norwegian Epic’s forward-facing, fee-based Italian restaurant. At $10 per person, I figured it was a small price to pay to have a great view with dinner during my first night onboard.

Dining n La Cucina: located all the way forward on Deck 14, thie views here are amazing. Better still, you can pre-reserve this online before you even set sail! Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I also made reservations to see the Blue Man Group tomorrow night (free) and dine in Le Bistro on Monday evening ($20), all from the comfort of my own home, pre-cruise. For the rest of the time, I’ll be feasting on the ship’s complimentary dining options, like the gorgeous Manhattan Dining Room and O’Sheehans, Norwegian Epic’s round-the-clock Pub. If you fancy Chicken Pot Pie at 2AM, you can get it here!

The inviting Hydrotherapy Pool is part of the Mandara Spa aboard Norwegian Epic. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Despite some initial misgivings about embarkation (how do you get 4,100 passengers embarked in a timely fashion?), the entire process was painless.  From the time I stepped off the shuttle bus until I stepped onboard Norwegian Epic, only 25 minutes had elapsed. This success is due in part to the fact that Norwegian has two embarkation terminals (B and C) to serve passengers coming onboard. In fact, Miami International Airport could learn a thing or two from NCL; I waited well over an hour at the airport for my luggage to roll off a carousel that had five other flights on it. I’m a fairly patient traveller; the first 30 minutes of waiting were OK, but that last half-hour was like going to some back-alley dentist for a root canal: you just want it to end.

My home away from home: one of Norwegian Epic's Category BA balcony staterooms with "wave"-style walls. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

After boarding it was just a matter of time until I was able to check out my category BA balcony stateroom. With its wavy walls and bright, pleasant décor, my stateroom actually had some features that really impressed me.  Shelves and cupboards are tucked neatly away behind the curved dark wood panelling that accents the room, and there’s even North American and European power outlets tucked underneath the desk.

The bed is obscenely comfortable, and I don’t mind the bathroom setup -really. It reminds me of several European hotels I’ve stayed in recently where the toilet, sink and shower are all separated spatially. In all honesty, I think a lot of the fuss about the bathroom design as it was originally implemented has been corrected.  Doors are now completely frosted and they sit flush with their frame to prevent -ahem- smells from escaping. Shower Gel & shampoo are provided in pump dispensers in the shower, but beware! Norwegian doesn’t include any moisturizer cream in the staterooms.  The fact I bring this up tells you what I forgot to pack…

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

As we sailed away from Miami, the ship came “alive.” That’s the only way I can put it. The whole upper pool decks were crammed to the rafters with people, all having fun, dancing, singing, and enjoying themselves. That in itself is nothing new; people enjoy themselves on every cruise I’ve been on.  But there was something electric about this sail-away party here onboard Norwegian Epic that was…well…epic, for lack of a better word.  The whole spectacle just made me smile and think how glad I was to be onboard.

Sail away from Miami, as seen from Deck 18 of the Norwegian Epic. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

I had an interesting question from a reader: she and her husband are in their early 60’s, and want to sail aboard Norwegian Epic, but they’re concerned about the noise and crowding that has been frequently mentioned in other reviews.  While Norwegian Epic certainly isn’t staid or boring, it is most definitely busy. But the interesting thing I’ve noticed today is that the throngs of passengers are quietly dispersing. As groups find their own favorite spots, pressure on shared venues like the Garden Café drops. In fact, I had to walk through the Garden Café just before my dinner in La Cucina: it was the quietest I’ve ever seen a shipboard buffet!

But to answer their question directly, I think the bigger stumbling block for people may not be the passenger count, but the size of this ship. I’m 29, and I got winded climbing the stairs up to my stateroom. Alright, so I stupidly assumed I was in good enough shape to go from Deck 5 to Deck 11 in a single go, but even then, the stroll from stem to stern will run you almost 1,000 feet, and that’s a long way to go if you forget something.  On the other hand, if you never take the elevators, Norwegian Epic could be the best weight-loss plan ever devised.

One of the stairwells aboard Norwegian Epic; you'll get to know these quite well. They' are also color-coded for Port and Starboard. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Tonight I dined in La Cucina; for $10 per person, I figured it guaranteed me a good view as we left Miami.  Instead, I was treated to an astonishing view, great service and above-par food.  It was the most pleasant and relaxing surprise of the day. Pictures of this remarkable room don’t do it justice. It’s perched high atop the navigation bridge of the ship and extends the full length of both bridge wings, meaning patrons can have the same view the Captain has.

The view from my table at La Cucina. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Even better, it’s nice to know that even a ship this big, there’s still alternatives to the large dining rooms or more expensive offerings. Highly recommended!

Enjoying a memorable dinner at La Cucina. For $10 per person, it's also very affordable - and a good way to experience more intimate dining. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

After dinner, I wandered the ship and snapped more photos. I’m too jet-lagged to really be planning to take in any entertainment, but if I had, there would be no shortage of it. Heck, interactive TV displays even allow you to book your dinner reservations and see what the current wait times are sitting at. Now that’s clever!  Here’s just a few of the things going on this evening aboard the one-of-a-kind Norwegian Epic:

  • 6pm – Free Liquor Tasting; Tradewinds (always popular!)
  • 7 to 11pm – Music with the Apollo Duo; Atrium.
  • 8:30pm – Family Movie: The Lion King; Spice H20.
  • 8:45pm – The Dating Gameshow; Bliss Lounge
  • 10:30pm – Majority Rules Gameshow; Bliss Lounge
  • 11:15pm – Welcome Party with DJ Ross; Bliss Lounge
  • 11:30pm – Movie: Unknown; Atrium

Of course, that’s in addition to all the fantastic live music happening all over the ship, and if there’s one big reason to consider sailing the Norwegian Epic, it’s this: the entertainment is stellar, varied and nearly unmatched anywhere else at sea.  There’s lots of families onboard this sailing, and I can see why: if I had kids, this is just the kind of cruise I’d bring them on.  The kids young and old were rockin’ it out with Spongebob Squarepants & Patrick on the upper deck as we sailed away from Miami; the waterslides are a huge hit; and the kids area onboard the Epic is jaw-dropping.

Sailing away from Miami; a cruise ship lingers over the setting sun. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Finding seats in bars and lounges has also been a pleasant surprise; not once today did I have to go and seek out another lounge to kick my heels up in – something I had serious doubts about given the passenger count.  It’s also worth noting the remarkable diversity that makes up the passenger base here.  Everyone from toddlers to octogenarians are present, and then some, so certainly the appeal of this gargantuan ship isn’t constrained by age. In fact, most of the passengers I spoke to today have already sailed two and even three times aboard the Norwegian Epic.

Through the looking glass: Le Bistro, Norwegian Epic's French specialty dining room. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

For me, though, I intend to take in all I can during my first voyage onboard Norwegian Epic. After my first afternoon and evening onboard, I have to admit I am more impressed than I thought I would be; this is one ship that really works better in person than in photographs, particularly on the outside. It also seems to me that many of the issues that plagued the ship’s inaugural voyages have been rectified splendidly. Personally, I can’t wait to see what the next seven days bring!

There's no getting around it: nighttime aboard Norwegian Epic sure is cool. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

!Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Norwegian Epic continues tomorrow, as we spend an entertaining day at sea en route to Philipsburg, St. Maarten!  Looking to book your very own Norwegian Epic cruise? Get all the details from our friends at Cruise Experts Travel, or better yet, enter their Norwegian Epic contest!


15 Responses to Norwegian Epic Live Voyage Report – Day 1

  1. Danielle says:

    I’m so jealous of you right now. I really want to be on that boat now, but I have to wait to December. Your pictures are wonderful and I’m looking forward to reviewing each day. What deck is your balcony on, we will be on the 8th deck

  2. Kim says:

    Very nice report. Makes me wish I was onboard. I hope you take in the spa, it looks wonderful!

  3. Brandy says:

    Thank you for the pictures and comments, I absolutely have to dine at La Cucina now…very nice view.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      The view is stunning – even moreso if you’re seated on one of the extreme sides (port or starboard) – then you can look out almost 180 degrees.

  4. Jane says:

    Wow.. I just got off with NCL who helped me navigate the very confusing entertainment reservation system.. so I think we are set to see all the shows. I’ll be curious to read your feelings about the entertainment as well. I’m glad you enjoyed your meal at La Cucina and I’ll put that on to-do my list too.

    BTW – I took some time to look at your older blogs.. you are an interesting guy with a lovely fiance and cute dog!

    Your comments are very informative and down to earth … like an email from a friend. Your pictures are spectacular. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Enjoy your day!

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Thanks kindly, Jane! Once you get the hang of the reservations system, it’s really quite ingenious. The entertainment on the whole was fantastic, and a refreshing departure from what is considered to be “normal” cruise ship entertainment. After nearly 30 cruises, I found it invigorating!

  5. Geoffrey Conwell says:

    My wife and I are going December 8th-15th for our one year anniversary. I’ve been reading a lot of negatives with this ship but after reading this and a few others I’m a lot more optimistic. Thank you.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Glad to know my report could be of help. Epic’s a really neat ship, and I think you will both enjoy yourselves – there really is something for everyone!

  6. Rita says:

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures. We are doing the TA on the Epic-October 21, 2012. Getting exited and seeing your pictures helps make it real!!

  7. lorna westcott says:

    Thanks Aaron, that’s the most interesting review I’ve read about the Epic. We live in France and I was wondering which type of power-adaptor to take when we go on the Barcelona-Miami cruise in October and was delighted that you even mention that there are European-type sockets.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      So glad you found it helpful, Lorna! I like to mention those little details because they’re so often overlooked on many sites. Please enjoy your transatlantic crossing in October!

  8. brent starling says:

    I cannot find out about the lobster dinner on the first night and how to ensure that we can take part. You were in La Cucina but did the people in manhattens get lobster first night.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Hi Brent,

      The best advice I can give would be to check with either the Maitre’D once onboard, or guest relations, as the lobster schedule may have changed since I sailed aboard Norwegian Epic. To be honest, I never once ate in the Manhattan Dining Room, or Taste, so I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to when the lobster dinner was served!

  9. doug says:

    What was your room number? We are leaving on a cruise next week on the epic and trying to get a feel for where our room is and the view. Great Blog!!

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