Pirates, Ships and Sun in Nassau, Bahamas

The beautiful, imposing Norwegian Epic docked in Nassau, Bahamas on March 9, 2012. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Sadly, our final day aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic has arrived. When I first boarded last Saturday, I thought to myself, “I’ve got all week!”  Yet it’s amazing that after seven days onboard, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible aboard this ship.

Today we arrived just before noon in the Bahamas. I’ve travelled to lots of different places in the world, but today marks the first time I’ve set foot ashore in the Bahamian capital of Nassau.

Nassau, today. Blackbeard might be gone, but plenty of stores still sell "treasure." Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Before being invaded by throngs of cruise ship passengers on a daily basis, Nassau was repeatedly invaded, burned, sacked and pillaged by both the French and the Spanish. All that constant turmoil allowed an enterprising fellow by the name of Edward Teach to set up camp in Nassau. History would remember Teach as the infamous “Blackbeard”, and he and his peg-legged buddies quickly seized control of the city, dubbing it a Pirate republic.  It wasn’t until the arrival of the British and Captain Woodes Rogers that the pirates were brought under control and driven out in 1718. With Blackbeard gone and a street named after Rogers, the Spanish immediately returned to sack the island once again. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

Entering Nassau harbour. Note the amazing color of the water. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Our arrival into Nassau harbour was in spectacular fashion. With five other ships in port, we were the largest vessel by far, and attracted a good crowd of onlookers from every ship. Even Norwegian Epic’s own passengers were crowding the rails of the pool deck as Captain Frank negotiated a tight, 180-degree turn in the basin.

Keep Going: Captain Frank manages to turn the 1,080 foot long Norwegian Epic on a dime in the turning basin of Nassau Harbour. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

While the spin to back us into our berth probably looked more white-knuckle than it actually was, there was much murmuring amongst the passengers I was standing next to about how swiftly and deftly the Captain executed that tricky maneuver, and how well the Norwegian Epic responded. Plus, you could tell there was a sense of pride onboard that everyone shared in knowing that we were on the largest and most eye-catching ship there.

There's our berth - and Norwegian Epic's skilled captain makes backing this massive ship up look effortless. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Once again, going ashore was effortless, as was coming back on, making my experiences getting on and off Norwegian Epic in port better than any other mainstream ship I’ve ever sailed. Having those forward and aft gangways might be more work for the crew, but it pays off hugely.

Norwegian Epic's friendly Hotel Director Kaj and yours truly in Nassau. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Speaking of Norwegian Epic’s capable, friendly crew, Hotel Director Kaj (pronounced Kai) Turunen has been out on the pier at every port, standing away in the blazing sun, wishing every passenger a nice time ashore. He disappears for a bit and then re-emerges pierside later on in the day, greeting every guest as they pass and come back onboard. It’s a decidedly personal touch, and one you might not expect to see on a ship with this many passengers. But it’s really just the first in a long line of little elements that really make the service on this ship stand out; as a matter of fact, it’s also been one of the most profound surprises to me on this voyage: that service on this 4,000-plus passenger ship can be as good as it is.

Shore excursions to nearby Atlantis were a popular option for guests spending the day in Nassau. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Earlier, I wrote I’d never been to Nassau before today. With six ships and roughly 12,000 people in port, Nassau was a hot, dusty, crowded madhouse. Cars and taxis block exits, traffic zig-zags down side streets, and like the French and Spanish invaders centuries before, today’s modern pirates ambled in and out of air-conditioned brand name stores.

I was ashore for 45 minutes before running the gauntlet back to the Norwegian Epic.

Like St. Thomas, I probably should have taken an excursion here (NCL had plenty to choose from), but I am not unhappy to have the unexpected chance to spend another afternoon onboard the Norwegian Epic, relaxing and taking in the sun.

It may be our last night aboard Norwegian Epic, but there's still plenty to do - like maybe enjoy one last Martini at Shakers? Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Even though this is my last evening onboard, there’s still plenty to do tonight. A small look at what’s happening here this evening:

  • 6:00pm – Poolside Grooves with DJ Fly – Poolside
  • 7:00pm – Blue Man Group – Epic Theatre
  • 7:00pm – The Second City: Overboard – Headliners
  • 7:00pm – Music with Carrie Stone – Maltings
  • 8:00pm – Family Karaoke – Bliss Lounge
  • 9:15pm – Epic Karaoke Battle – Bliss Lounge
  • 10:30pm – Party Under the Stars with DJ Gary Braner – Spice H20
  • 10:30pm – The Quest Gameshow – Bliss Lounge
  • 11:00pm – Late Night with The Second City – Headliners
  • 11:30pm – A Night of Burlesque – Bliss Lounge
  • 12:15am – Farewell Club Party with DJ Ross Espi

Norwegian has also simplified the disembarkation process; rather than being assigned a tag color and a set disembarkation time, guests are free to pick up the tag that corresponds with their desired departure time from the Reception area. Everything else is done digitally; you can view your onboard account statement at any time via the interactive television in your stateroom, and only if there is any discrepancy do you have to go to the Reception desk.

Digital billing and a "pick-your-own-tag" disembarkation concept means Norwegian Epic's attractive reception area is largely empty. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

What this all means is that the typical lines that snake around public areas on the last day aboard ship simply don’t materialize here. They even have a staff member positioned in the reception area itself to answer simple questions or to direct guests to the appropriate staff member. It’s remarkably simple – and very well executed.

When I started this Live Voyage Report, I wrote that Norwegian Cruise Line holds a special place in my heart, as they were the very first line I sailed with back in 1998. Since then, I have sailed twice more with the line, but neither voyage could measure up to the greatness of that single weeklong cruise to Alaska.

It's hard to not appreciate the distinct and attractive design elements that make Norwegian Epic so unique. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

All that changed when I boarded the Norwegian  Epic, which I can truthfully say is my favorite Norwegian Cruise Line ship to date. It’s got the right mix of everything, including some true innovations like the Blue Man Group and the SVEDKA Ice Bar that are just stellar.  Sure, she doesn’t have a promenade deck in the traditional sense and the lack of windows in some public rooms can be a bummer, but the  the revolutionary aspect of the Norwegian Epic was more than evident today in Nassau, where we docked next to two older, smaller ships that were built in the early 1990’s. It is amazing to see how far the craft of shipbuilding has come in the past two decades, and it makes me even more eager to see Norwegian Breakaway when she launches.

Sailing away from Nassau this evening. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Norwegian Epic was very much a gamble for Norwegian Cruise Line, and while there were some initial bumps in the road, it’s clear that this is a ship passengers want to repeatedly sail aboard. In fact, I want to bring my fiancée, family and friends onboard to experience this ship, particularly the ones who’ve never cruised before. If you’re looking to cut your teeth on cruising, Norwegian Epic is an excellent place to start.  There really is something for everyone, all delivered with a smile and a level of efficiency that has truly surprised me. Heck, I want to come back already – and I’m not even off yet!

I grew to love and appreciate the segmented bathroom arrangement aboard Norwegian Epic. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

So if I can say one last thing to those of you who have kindly stuck with this blog and my musings for the last week, it’s this: don’t write Norwegian Epic off because she’s different or because she had a rough start. This thing with the sink being in the main living area of the stateroom? In Europe, it would be a total non-event, but in North America, it’s cause for scandal. Don’t let it be. After all, the location of a sink and a frosted glass shower door are lousy items to pick and choose your cruise vacations by.

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

And yet, when I look out over the ocean, it doesn’t matter if I am on the largest cruise ship in the world or the smallest yacht. I still see the same thing: a vast expanse of waves and water that has remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years. And although modern cruising continues to change and evolve, that one constant, the inescapable pull of the ocean, will always remain, and Norwegian Epic still offers that and so very much more.

Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The sea doesn’t just represent a vacation from the office and the traffic and the rigours of everyday life. The sea represents adventure, mystery, romance, and above all else, hope; the hope that faraway lands exist in reality as they do in our minds, and the hope that in the process of the journey, we too will find ourselves.

Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Norwegian Epic comes to a close tomorrow, as we disembark our ship in Miami, Florida and recap our past week onboard with plenty of new photos! Be sure to stay tuned Monday and Tuesday for coverage of Cruise Shipping Miami! Looking to book your very own Norwegian Epic cruise? Get all the details from our friends at Cruise Experts Travel, and while you’re at it, enter their contest to win a Norwegian Epic cruise!

 

 

12 Responses to Norwegian Epic Live Voyage Report – Day 7

  1. Kara says:

    I especially enjoyed following along this trip, just like cruises are your escape I can read your blog and escape your five or ten minutes and escape to someplace sunny and beautiful!

  2. Antonio says:

    Great blog.. Ive read it everyday and really enjoyed it. I will be making my trip on the Epic March 31 and I hope it is as pleasant as yours was.. Is there any advice that you can give me.

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Thanks, Antonio! The best advice I can give you is to go with the flow – make sure you book your entertainment and dining in advance if possible, or using your stateroom TV. That way, you’ll know where and when you’re going to dinner or shows and whatnot. It’s really a great system. I hope you have a great cruise!

  3. Kim says:

    What an amazing blog. It brought a tear to my eye that I will not be able to read about the epic anymore after today!It took me to a place everyday away from the rain and made me wish I was able to enjoy this experience on what sounds like an amazing ship that I cannot wait to get on! Sooner rather the later I am hoping. NCL is truly lucky to have you onboard this week make us at home want to jump on the phone and book our Epic Vacation.

  4. Eric says:

    Where can we see additional photos from your cruise?

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Hi Eric – I’ll have some more photos up later on today, and a full ship tour and photo gallery of the best images will be up later this month.

  5. Don Effenberger says:

    Aaron, we loved your daily reports. We were on the Epic the week before you and thoroughly enjoyed the ship and all there was to do. It was extra fun reliving it day by day so soon!

    And through you, we got to see all the Haven private areas that were off-limits to us.

    And you’re definitely right that there’s more to do and see than any one person could possibly take in in one 7-day voyage. This was our 13th NCL cruise, and we’ve loved them all. But I got say the thought of seeing Europe aboard the Epic is very tempting for a return visit.

    To that end, I want add a word about one ship feature you didn’t mention: the marvelous art program on board. This ship has what must be the largest — and most lavish — art gallery at sea. And it’s filled with a range of works from new artists as well as many of the Masters — Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Dali et al. And the staff was busy every day rearranging the collection to feature a different artist or theme.

    We attended seven art events and enjoyed (and learn a lot at) every one — three informative art auctions, two interesting art lectures, a showing of the amazing 1946 Walt Disney-Salvador Dali animated film collaboration “Destino” (which had been “lost” in the Disney vaults for nearly half a century) and a champagne party discussion of the gallery’s Masters Collection. Each and every event was fun and informative — and worth checking out.

    Thanks again for allowing us to relive our recent week at sea so soon!

    Don

  6. Malcolm from Plymouth says:

    Aaron, Thank you for a very interesting blog; I have found so interesting that I have woken in the early hours of the morning to read your next instalment. Actually my wife and I will be setting sail on Norwegian Epic in July albeit from Barcelona. My wife and I are cruise “virgins” and, over the last week, you have whetted our appetite. We are booked into a category “BF” stateroom; what is the difference between the different categories of balcony staterooms?

  7. Jennifer Chilman says:

    Hello,

    “The sea doesn’t just represent a vacation from the office and the traffic and the rigours of everyday life. The sea represents adventure, mystery, romance, and above all else, hope; the hope that faraway lands exist in reality as they do in our minds, and the hope that in the process of the journey, we too will find ourselves.”

    The above quote totally encaptures why I love to cruise. I also loved your day by day!! I was on the fence like you talked about for a few weeks and I’m now booked!! NCL should seriously pay you to market their product!!

  8. Marsha Jonesq says:

    Aaron,

    I do not know what your entire situation is but you have the best job on the planet. I am truly a cruise addict and would love to cruise as often as I possibly can. We are loyal to NCL but have been on Princess and Carnival. I have thought of making my “retirement” into a lifelong cruise blog but really do not know how to get started. How did you get established with the lines?

    Thank you very much for your extremely detailed review and photos. We sail the day after Thanksgiving on the Epic and we are excited beyond belief. Not to waste my life away but it cannot get here quickly enough.

    Thank you again and again!

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Hi Marsha,

      It has take a long time to become established – a full three years on the web. The best advice someone ever gave me is to just write, every single day. There’s a lot to be said for trying to come up with a new idea five days a week! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But there’s truly no right or wrong way to go about starting a blog; the important thing is simply to begin. I spent nearly a decade editing children’s cartoon shows, so perhaps that made me crazy enough to try my hand at writing!

      Please let me know how your post-Thanksgiving Epic voyage goes! She’s a great ship.

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