An Epic Vacation

A very thoughful client just took her extended family (14 people!) on a Western Caribbean cruise on the brand new Norwegian Epic. Here are her thoughts and feedback about the trip:


This vacation was well thought out and well organized. The destinations were beautiful and the timing of the trip was perfect. I think it was the perfect way to celebrate with a family of 14.  

Our Southwest flights were great. On the return flight I was nervous about checking in because on the way back the internet was down the last day on the ship. But we just got in line with the family group and no one stopped us. Our attendant Thomas on the way to Ft. Lauderdale was a great guy – really enjoyed him.

Overall, the transfers went well. My brother in law was not pleased with the driver from SAS transportation when we were leaving the port, though, because he was very vocal about me getting on board to leave…I wasn’t going to leave until I had the van next to me for the Miami people since my step father was so ill. He did not explain that there was a $1000 fee for standing for transfer services until I was on board the van. It was only a few minutes.  And Miami Jet felt so bad about their mistake on the arrival transfer … Obama was in town causing a mess! Had I known that, I would have been kinder when I called them. Jackie told me the driver was afraid to talk to me at the hotel. The Miami jet folks were fine…it was out of their hands.

We LOVED our pre-cruise stay at the Hampton Inn Miami Airport South!! The pool was a bit chilly but not for my kids who are part fish. They had great menus and we called for delivery from a pizza place and a Cuban restaurant. They even had beer in the lobby for sale. It was a great property!!  The breakfast was the usual Hampton Inn fare and they had waffle makers. That dining area was terrific for us all to gather and eat dinner!

Embarkation at the Miami pier was FLAWLESS…so easy!!  The only thing is that I thought I could put our room bill on one card and the others on another. They could not allow that. Fortunately I had ample credit available so there was no crisis. But had I known that I would have been more careful to allow ample credit for our NCL check out. But as I said it there was no crisis and I was able to keep an eye on our bill tally on our room TV and if I was concerned I am sure I could have gone and closed out with one credit card and but the balance on another.

The wheelchair rental worked out well, but next time I would recommend that they get a scooter. It sat in the room a lot because my Mom couldn’t push it. People on scooters were all over. I was really grateful to have it be so easy!

We all loved the Epic. We were so lucky, though, because the attendance was around 3,000 for our week. Capacity is 4,200…I can’t imagine it with 1,200 more folks. We never stood in lines, we were waited on like royalty and it was so beautiful. We loved the entertainment options. The pool area was our favorite spot and I loved how it was laid out for kids. My husband said the water slides were the perfect stair master. He ate like a lot and didn’t gain a pound! My kids LOVE the water slides!I would have preferred the larger balcony cabin, but the one we had was nice. There was a queen bed  — which I wanted to put into my suitcase it was so comfy —  and then the couch pulled out to a bed (which I slept on one night and it was comfy) and the other was a bunk.  This was great for my kids who thought that was the coolest thing EVER, but for the family with young ones, that didn’t work at all. The cool thing about the bunks is that they are in the ceiling. There was so much storage to unpack!! But it was tricky to find. I was glad we all shared the tricks we learned….Especially when I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights!! (you insert your key card.) The toilet and shower are on either side of  the door and there was a curtain. That was odd to me because it didn’t feel very private even though there was a curtain.

When we went to see the Blue Man Group they let us take over a balcony area – move  seats and everything.  It was like being the royal family. LOVED that, and the show was so amazing!! The Cirque Dreams was fun – but I have seen the big shows they do and so I was entertained but not impressed – it was vaudeville with great circus aerial acts. There was one man who did this act in a bath tub, who was a favorite of all the ladies…OMG!! Never saw a body like that so close!!

The food was delicious everywhere we went, and abundant! I told my family if they were hungry it was their fault! We especially liked Moderno – the Brazilian restaurant! Went two times and took all 14 the last night. The Garden Cafe is really super to serve something for everyone – with fun tastes to try and always a soft serve ice cream machine going. Their nightly crepe stations were so fun to think of how to make a new taste sensation.

All our meals were lovely – we ate at the Manhattan Room as a family the night we all dressed up and had our photo taken. It was so nice that when I shared that it was my mother and father’s anniversary they brought a cake and sang “Let me call you sweetheart” We shed a few tears at that since he is so sick. It was lovely!

Costa Maya was so fun to sail into.  The port is so newly done and brightly painted and beautiful. There were three ships there on the dock with us but we were well organized and really enjoyed our outings. There was even a nice bathroom in the excursion gathering area there if you need one before leaving on your adventure.

The crew that went zip lining thought it was safe and fun – they were especially happy that they took such good care to prep them, and the girls road tandem with their dads on part of the line. It was a long zip line ride too in three parts. The sandwich they got for lunch wasn’t too delicious but they really didn’t care – they weren’t in it for the sandwiches.

The group that did the beach getaway thought that it was amazing! Such a beautiful spot – there was the most spotless bathrooms with showers and a canopy where you could order food. Open bar was included and the tequila they served was just fabulous. My favorite moment from the entire week was when the kids were done with the sand and the water and I was in the bathroom with them while they showered and my mom came in to find me….she brought us shots and we sat and enjoyed our tequila and chatted….what a memory!! The bus service was amazing – there were vendors there and a few of our party got  henna tattoos and souvenirs. It was a nice day.

The dolphin experience in Cozumel was very stressful getting there with 14 people and several children who were not happily anticipating the experience. However, in the end, everyone loved it!!!! The park is beautiful and offered a lot to do from shopping and eating, sea lion shows, beach and pool. The sky grew very dark but it didn’t rain on us which I was grateful for. The pictures were very pricey, but I ended up working a deal and getting a disc of all the pics. Can’t have a priceless moment like that and no photos!

The port at Cozumel was so beautiful and so organized. I really would enjoy going there for an extended time. Didn’t get to see much but the park and the immediate pier area and it all looked so fun!!

The park at Roatan was lovely – I didn’t go see the monkeys (my son wasn’t up for it) but I had a great time in the general area. Everyone really enjoyed the monkeys and the other animals they experienced. There is a nice beach and even a beautiful pool there. We stayed under a beautiful canopy area that had a concession area and A LOT of bats in the ceiling. Of course I had everyone else wear a ton of bug spray so they didn’t get any bug bites – my family got a few and are still itchy from them…but nothing horrible by any means. A little itch relief and it’s ok.

The dock at Roatan had entertainers there that were so fun – from the moment our ship pulled up they were singing and dancing. My step father skipped this excursion (as well as the dolphins) and he was so happy to have a show from his balcony since we were facing the port. There were also a lot of options for shopping and the guide for the park was articulate and nice.

Here are my thoughts/advice for someone considering a similar cruise:

Don’t ever take 14 people on one trip! It was very stressful to be in charge. I know a lot of that is my personality being a planner person but I would limit a group size to 8-10.  Although our group size was manageable for the staff of the EPIC and the excursions we all attended.  I think that our group was special in that we had a very sick man with a desire to be independent…and several children with ADD..

We took walkie talkies….we got the cheapest ones at Radio Shack and they were worthless on the ship. That would be a service that NCL could rent for the week to large groups and it would be so worth it!!

NCL had so many options for all the age groups in our group and that made it so easy in a lot of ways. The Nickelodeon team was fun for all ages.

I was especially impressed with the Recess kids area. My son had trouble being there and instead of suggesting he not return – they gave us a phone so if he had troubles they could contact us. We only sent him there twice because it was hard for him but the 2 year old autistic child went there without issues several times. They only got one phone call for a potty issue.

Thanks for every little thing!! Without you I would have jumped overboard planning this family trip!!

Most Sincerely,


A long-weekend cruise getaway

Norwegian Sky,  April 23 – 26, 2010

I recently enjoyed my first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines (a quick 3-night Bahamas cruise out of Miami) and was very interested in comparing it to my past experiences on other cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. The verdict? It was nice, but it was not my favorite cruise ever – and I don’t know whether that was due to the length and/or the itinerary more so than the cruise line itself. Guess I’ll have to try another (longer) NCL cruise in the future! In the meantime, the trip report is below (and here are the photos): 

Because we were dropping the kids at my mom’s house in NY, we flew out of La Guardia (boy did I miss our great little Providence airport!) on a non-stop to Fort Lauderdale. There, we were met by our driver from SAS Transportation for the short (45 minute) shuttle ride to the Miami pier. This turned out to be a great decision. It was cheap ($15pp), easy, and stress-free, and saved us the hassle and expense of flying into Miami. I will be using them for all my clients in the future.

Sailing out of Miami harbor on the NCL Sky

We arrived at the pier at about 11:30 am, which is technically before boarding even begins, but were on the ship within 15 minutes and heading for Il Adaggio for a lunch of pizza and pasta. The announcement that cabins were ready was made at about 2 pm, and we headed off to find ours. We had a “Superior Inside” cabin on the Fjord deck (#9142), and it was certainly large enough for the two of us, but it was the smallest cabin I’ve had on any ship. Given that, I don’t think I would have liked the regular (smaller) inside cabins.

The ship is mid-sized and fairly easy to get around, but I did think there were some strange things about the layout – like the fact that the (small) nightclub/dance club area was in a very open high-traffic spot in the middle of the ship, and the main (only) theater seemed to have a lot of poles blocking people’s sightlines.  Odd quirks aside, I liked the vibrant Caribbean/Hawaiian décor, and we did find some favorite “nooks and crannies” in which to hang out.

That first evening, we enjoyed the sailaway party on deck, some two-for-one martinis in the Plantation Club (a recurring theme for this cruise!), dinner at the buffet, and a fun and lively Rock N Roll show at the theater.

Saturday morning we docked in Nassau, and Everett was up early to take photographs of the ship and the port. We had a quick al fresco breakfast on the stern of the ship and headed off to spend the day at Sandals Royal Bahamian resort. It was great to see the renovations they’ve made to this property since we were last there (about four years ago), and we enjoyed a very relaxing day on the beach.

Sandals Royal Bahamaian, Nassau

Back on the ship that evening, we had time for a quick swim in the pool, some pear martinis at the Plantation Club, and a so-so dinner in the main dining room (Crossings). This cruise was our first experience with Norwegian’s “Freestyle” dining, and I have decided that I really do prefer a more traditional/formal dining experience. The food was not great, the service was not great, and the dining room just felt quiet and “blah”.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and the ship anchored just offshore of Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island). I had not realized that Royal Caribbean’s private island (Coco Cay) is literally right next door, and it was fun to see the RCCL ship anchored right next to us!

We took the tender to shore and claimed the lounge chairs and “clamshell” shade that I had pre-reserved through the Shore Excursions desk. This turned out to be a GREAT idea, as it was very hot and sunny, and we would not have lasted for the day without some shade. Everett rented a snorkel and fins and went off to explore, and I spend the day reading my book, people-watching, and taking advantage of the bar service and the beachfront barbecue.  As beach days go, it was just about perfect.

Norwegian Sky docked at Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

That evening, we toasted our last night on the ship with more two-for-one martinis and met a nice couple from Colorado at the bar. We had dinner together in the other main dining room (Palace), and stayed out late for drinks/dancing.

Monday morning came all too soon, and we were up and out for a last breakfast in the outdoor Garden Café before disembarking the ship and meeting up with our SAS Transportation shuttle back to the Fort Lauderdale airport. Again, the process could not have been easier. We elected to do “self-disembarkation” and walk off the ship with our own bags. As soon as we got outside the terminal we called SAS and the driver swung by within minutes to pick us up.  A few thunderstorms and a LONG airport delay later, we were on our way back to NY to pick up the kids.

So, here are some overall observations about the cruise:

  • The crowd, as might be expected for a short weekend cruise out of Miami, seemed to be very focused on “sun and fun”. Lots of activity at the pool all afternoon, lots of drinking (but nothing out of control), but there did not seem to be much going on at night. The ship did not have the variety of entertainment options that I’m used to (piano bar, movies, multiple show times, etc.) and we had a tough time finding stuff to do in the evening.
  • The food was just average. I can’t say I had any dish that really impressed me, but I didn’t have anything truly awful either.
  • The service was also not what I’m accustomed to, but I don’t know if that’s due to the short itinerary (staff does not get the time to know you), the “Freestyle” concept (no continuity with the same servers every night), or something specific with this cruise line. I’m definitely willing to give them another chance.

I will say that we got what we wanted from this cruise, which was a few days in the sun to relax without the kids. With that as our goal, we were perfectly satisfied.

Here’s another link to the photos.

Cabin for one?

Solo cruisers have long suffered the pain of the dreaded “single supplement” — a fee that the cruise lines charge to passengers who sail without a cabin mate. For the most part, solo cruisers have ended up paying almost what they would if there were two people in the cabin….but that is all about to change.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand new NCL Epic (launching this summer) features a brand-new concept in cabins — “studio cabins” — which are being aimed specifically at solo cruisers. These 100 square foot cabins have windows that look out into interior corridors, and they are clustered around a central (communal) living space called the Living Room. This social hub is available to all passengers in the studio cabins, and features a lounge, private bar, and two large-screen TVs.  Best of all, NCL is offering these cabins at a special single-occupancy price that starts at just $799!

The ship will be sailing alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, and is sure to be a very popular new addition to the cruise line’s portfolio. Give me a call and reserve your cabin today!

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)