Two "EPIC" weeks in the Caribbean - Thanksgiving

Published: December 5th 2013
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Saturday 16th – Saturday 30th November

Including Thanksgiving holiday week

Norwegian Epic - Eastern Caribbean cruises

Two weeks of mostly fine and sunny with some rain – averaging 29c

The colossal Epic has been our home for two weeks. The first week was spent with friends from New Zealand and the second on our own. We had a balcony cabin and experienced the unusual curved walls and bed for the first time. Also, the bathroom configuration is different to the typical ship cabin. On entry into the room the shower is on the left behind a glass sliding door and the toilet on the right behind another glass sliding door. The small basin is positioned on the counter top within the main bedroom. A curved couch is between the bed and the balcony. The wardrobe space is very generous. This layout appears to save space and although it is attractive and quite contemporary it did feel somewhat cramped and possibly not an ideal layout. The balcony is large though – so that’s great! Passenger feedback on the cabins since the ship’s launch in 2010 hasn’t been very complementary, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that their new ships the Getaway and the Breakaway (launching soon) will be reverting back to a more traditional layout. Our friend’s cabin was slightly different with the bed closer to the balcony and the wardrobe space split with the couch and counter top between. It seems these two alternative layouts are such to accommodate the curved walls.

The ship is the third largest in the world at 155,873 tonnes, after the Royal Caribbean ships the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas. Its passenger capacity is 4,100; and with the crew of 1,753 – it makes for quite a small city on board. The small city is diverse – many languages being spoken but with most announcements still being delivered in English.

This 19 story vessel has wonderful amenities including 7 complimentary dining options with another 7-8 additional restaurants with small cover charge. We really enjoyed sampling the menus of La Cucina, Moderna, Le Bistro and the Teppanyaki specialty restaurants over the two weeks. The night of the 28th was Thanksgiving and we enjoyed the festive atmosphere, decorations and traditional roast turkey dinner – complete with pumpkin, mashed potato and gravy with a sprinkling of grilled corn kernels. One lovely touch we noticed by our waiters was the offer to have black napkins rather than white when we wore black clothing to the specialty dining rooms. This was a first for us and added a nice sophisticated touch.The unique entertainment includes the Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams and dinner, Legends in Concert, live comedy including the Second City and a comedian/magician, Fat Cats jazz club, Headliners dueling piano bar, and a good number of other bars and lounges. Naturally we attended almost all venues and shows. On the final night we even went into the only ice bar at sea – the Svedka & Inniskillin Vodka Ice Bar – it was a lot of fun with the passengers coming from the warm Caribbean air into the -10'C below freezer that was the bar. For our $20 we got two drinks – Vodka cocktails naturally or a non-alcoholic slushy. We were also provided with quilted ponchos to keep us warm. Taking some earlier advice, Jennie decided to wear her long boots, beanie and merino gloves – this did prove to be very helpful in keeping frostbite away. Typically people can only stay within the cold environment 45 minutes or so – and almost everyone had to take a break by entering a chamber between the bar and the bar’s entrance out on the ships entertainment deck. As far as the evening shows go we did notice the absence of the typical Broadway type shows in the theatre but seeing the Blue Man Group and the Legends in Concert was a nice change and we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. The Manhattan Room dining option also had live entertainment during dinner in the form of singers, dancers and musicians. On formal night we scored a great table on the edge of the dance floor which gave us a prime viewing position. The Hot White Party held on the 6th night of the cruise was held around the Spice H2O pool area. The pool floor lifts up to become a dance floor. The poolside DJ and activities staff led the dancing and threw glo sticks out into the crowd as they danced in their white clothing.

On the active front the ship offers a large fitness centre, Mandara Spa, sports court, climbing and rappelling wall, a number of bowling alleys, pool tables, shuffleboard, and an aqua park with huge slides, pools and hot tubs. Certainly can’t get bored on this ship!

The atrium has a massive screen where guests can play gigantic Wii, watch NFL, screen the staff variety show direct from the theatre on board, screen feature movies and show a very interesting documentary about the Epic itself.

Our ports of call included Philipsburg, St Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas; and Nassau in the Bahamas. We went to all three islands twice and the weather was wonderful. On the three sea days each week we occupied ourselves with the gym, pool, sleeping in, eating, drinking, attending some activities selected from the daily planner the “Freestyle Daily” and general socialising with the other guests. On the second week we discovered the “Quiet Zone” sundeck on deck 18 at the very front of the ship. Access was through the 15th floor stairway up three flights past The Haven – an exclusive area reserved for guests in that elite area of the ship. The Quiet Zone was surprisingly open to mere plebs like us, so we made the most of this new found area and settled in to the plush rattan loungers soaking up lots of vitamin D on our final sea day! The view from this 18th floor sundeck above the bow was spectacular. Just one more deck completes the height of this huge ship – but when Shaun went exploring it he discovered it was clothing optional-it will take him some time to recover from the sights he saw!

The interactive TV in the room provides an excellent way to book shows, make dining reservations, even view regular TV, watch port information channels and movies, along with checking our slowly growing on-board account! We were fortunate to have a few free dinners and bottles of wine due to us through obtaining the Platinum status on this line. It was great arriving on board to chocolate covered strawberries and bubbles waiting in our room. A lovely welcoming touch. Even better was getting our laundry done free of charge once each week!

In St Maarten on week one, we chose a snorkeling trip on a catamaran - the Mirabella. The trip took us to a snorkeling spot where we dived three interesting sunken wrecks – a helicopter, a submarine and a yacht! In typical Caribbean fashion we had some light snacks on board and plenty of free rum punch as we sailed back to port. We also looked around the township and bought some Guavaberry Rum. Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is an island governed by two nations – France and the Netherlands. We docked in Philipsburg the capital of the Dutch side. Marigot is the capital of the French side. The island is very small – just 96 sq kms with a combined population of approx. 70,000. The second week we caught a taxi to the famed Maho Bay. This is where the locals have made an attraction out of its proximity to the international airport. Maho Bay is the island’s largest resort area and is famous for the tiny stretch of sand named Maho Beach. Jumbo jets skim overhead on their way to land and tourists are warned by signs alerting them to the danger of engine blasts. It was exhilarating watching the flights come in – the KLM 747 flight truly impressing the gasping crowds. Who would have thought that people would choose to sunbathe in jet exhausts - as a relaxing pastime. We headed back into Philipsburg for a simple French lunch at Antoine’s – right on Front Street, overlooking the Boardwalk that stretches along the beach. The dual nationality of the island adds a culinary dimension to the food offered and there is almost 400 restaurants to choose from. French and West Indian dominate with many other cuisines on offer. The traditional French nicoise salad was a must have for Jennie’s lunch at Antoine’s. Our stop at this port wouldn’t be complete without a quick look around the duty free shops on the way back to the ship.

The first week in St Thomas we hired a car and went touring around the eastern coastline and went north to famous Magen’s Bay for a swim. Adjacent to the port there is an outdoor shopping centre – the Havensight Mall. We stopped in at the café there – the “Delly Deck” for some internet time, before our ship's early departure time of 3.30pm. We celebrated two of our friend’s birthdays this week at the specialty restaurants – Le Bistro and Teppanyaki. The first St Thomas night was at Le Bistro – very impressed with the French cuisine. The second week we painstakingly took a taxi to Coki Beach – renowned for its excellent snorkeling right off the beach. The taxis are reluctant or even refuse to take just two passengers and insist on driving around the port looking to fill their safari truck taxi to maximum capacity before taking you to the agreed destination. Twice we bailed our chosen safari bus even after the driver promised they would take us straight there without filling the available seats. Eventually after an hour or so mucking around we arrive at this lovely little beach. Chairs were just $5 for the day and we settled in with our books and enjoyed some dips in the 29'C turquoise waters, soaking up the rays and the general atmosphere. The atmosphere was to change an hour or so after our arrival and down came the rain – heavy but warm we curled up on our deck chairs, brolly overhead and sat it out. Most people headed for cover the trees provided or dove into the water. Short-lived, we once again enjoyed the heat of the St Thomas sun. The big clouds often roll in and dump a lot of rain, soon to depart – reminding us we are in the tropics. St Thomas is one of the US Virgin Islands – St John and St Croix complete the three main islands. Charlotte Amalie where we docked is the capital of all three. It is one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean and not unusual for there to be five or six cruise ships visiting each day! Known for its wonderful duty free shopping there are hundreds of tiny shops crowding the narrow streets of Charlotte Amalie to explore. The stores are busy selling diamonds and other precious gems and plenty of imported liqueurs and local rum, not to mention all the typical souvenir t-shirts, magnets, beach bags, sun dresses etc. With thousands of cruise passengers crowding the streets in the heat it is quite an experience - requiring the right frame of mind to enjoy.

The first week in Nassau our friends did a dolphin encounter which they raved about. We had considered booking the same ship tour but didn’t proceed, instead planning on doing that in Mexico instead. Unfortunately for us we stayed on board due to Shaun feeling poorly – too much burning the candle at both ends perhaps! We took the opportunity to relax and pack for our move of cabins the next day. The Bahamas are celebrating their 40th anniversary of independence this year. Making the most of the second time in Nassau we got onshore soon after docking and explored the colourful downtown before heading off on a self-discovery walking tour past Government House, Nassau public library (originally the city's jail, with the cells now lined with books, historic prints and artifacts), walked up the Queen's staircase cut out of solid limestone and which climb up to the 1793 Fort Fincastle where we had a great view over most of Nassau, the 5 cruise ships in the harbour and the monstrous behemoth of Atlantis on Paradise Island.

Between cruises on the 23rd - it dawned with dark clouds threatening on the horizon of Miami as we glided into port. Since we were staying on-board for a back to back cruise we chilled out around the ship, letting the hordes disgorge from the ship before we got off at a more sedate pace. The process is that the guest relations people provide us with our new room key and escort us off the ship and back on again if we wish to re-embark immediately. It is necessary at the end of all cruises that the entire ship be cleared before anyone can board. Once off, we chose to walk into town and explore the Bayside Marina shops and stock up on some juices and soda. The switch from one cabin to the other was fairly straight forward with our room attendant transporting the bags for us. Even though we couldn’t keep the same cabin we really didn’t mind the repacking and moving all that much. The upgrades to balconies just a few weeks before the cruise was a great improvement on the originally purchased “inside” cabins – so definitely no complaining from us on the small inconvenience.

Arriving back into Miami on the 30th we were sad to get off the ship after enjoying 2 weeks but looking forward to our next adventure - crossing the border into Mexico!

Additional photos below
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5th December 2013

Oh WOW!!!
Hi Guys, WOW I am lovin your stories...What a fantastic trip and great insight into the life on a cruise ship. Haha love the nudie level on the 18th!! Go Shaun! You both look stunning in your evening the dress and shoes Jen! Where are you for Christmas? All great here and had a wonderful week at Millbrook last week...perfect weather and the most divine spot in the world! Well apart from the Caribbean of course! Keep on enjoyong and keep the stories coming! Ciao Jan

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