Sailing the Western Caribbean Aboard Norwegian Epic

When you receive an email that includes the words “invitation” and “free cruise”, it’s generally a good day.

You count down the weeks, you and your bestie get excited — after all, you’ve never gotten to take a vacation together…and then, finally, at last the day comes. It’s here! It’s going to be amazing! It’s going to be the best thing ever. And then it is. Well, sort of. Except the parts that aren’t.

Norwegian Epic — the latest big ship in the war of big ships (you may be familiar with Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Sea…also a “big ship”) are the latest big thing in the big world of big voyages.

And it’s a big ship, for sure. There’s lots of staterooms, that hold lots of people (albeit it on top of each other), but is bigger always better? It, like with “other things’, falls upon how you use it.

Norwegian’s  new 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic is large and in charge – it debuted this past summer, and this past week, they invited a small group of press aboard to travel the seas and discover some of the best they had to offer.

Well, there was much I loved: The Blue Man Group (who we saw late night early in our trip, and joined us for dinner later on) were amazing. I also loved dueling-pianos show Howl at the Moon (shout out to the fabulous Kristin Russo, who was my guest for the week, and had the forethought to request MANDY during the show!) , and the sketch- and improv-comedy performances by the legendary Second City comedy troupe was hilarious. (Apparently just about everyone worth laughing with came from them.)

We also attended a Murder Mystery lunch (which was surprisingly fun!) and Cirque Dreams and Dinner, which everyone else loved but I didn’t entirely get. But it’s not their fault…I just don’t “do” circuses. Except for acrobatics. Those are cool.

But still, I appreciate the concept of dinner theater while on a ship. It’s sort of…multi-tasking in the best way. If you like the show. Or the dinner.

My friend Kristin, who I brought with me, has a lot of history in design, so through her eyes, I was more apt to notice design elements of the ship. This was immediately apparent in the stateroom, which I recognized as bigger than the staterooms of previous ships I had been on, but not quite the deluxe epic balcony stateroom I expected it to be.

It’s not their fault. You watched Love Boat. These things are hard to make work! It’s a good thing we’re both little girls — the beds were a bit on the short side (and this comes from someone who CURRENTLY owns a twin-sized bed in her own apartment). But the toilet wasn’t in the shower, and that’s a step up from previous experiences elsewhere. (Not mentioning names.) Also, we DID have a balcony. And free room service. And so we enacted a ritual of a bottle of wine and a plate of cheese every afternoon as we dressed for dinner. My new favorite tradition, ever.

Previous to the trip, I had been visiting with my mom, who told me tales of midnight buffets of lobsters on cruise ships. This is what she heard, mind you. She has yet to be on one. Still, I was inclined to believe her – I have heard such rumors myself from time to time. And I knew that Norwegian Epic’s claim to fame is its myriad dining choices —   some included in your cruise, some with an up charge.

When we first boarded the ship, we were unfamiliar with the food situation and just got chicken sandwiches at The Great Outdoors — the ship’s outdoor grill, that has stuff like pizza and burgers. It was fine. Nothing exceptional, but did its job. (As in I stopped attempting to chew my arm off.)

By later that first day, we had discovered a great deal more.

All in all, there are 21 dining options, as I said earlier. Our favorite is Taste, one of two main restaurants, set in a cool space at the bottom of the ship’s main atrium, an option for breakfast or dinner, with an identical menu daily (except for a few changes depending on the region you are visiting.) The Manhattan Room is the other main restaurant, and looks fancier — but has the exact same menu as Taste. Which sort of makes it the same restaurant, right?

But it has a dance floor, and is sort of art-deco looking, and the night we ate there, took in a Legends (i.e. someone pretending to be Britney) show…so that was cool.

On day two, we attempted to lunch at O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill the only non-buffet “free” lunch spot – we weren’t very happy. It was basically a choice of comfort foods, with not a lettuce leaf in sight. (That said, for breakfast, no one does bacon better. And I don’t’ even like bacon.)

The bulk of the people will be found at Garden Cafe, the quintessential ship buffet restaurant. It’s a buffet. And it’s open pretty much all day (except when it’s … oddly…not. Like after 2:30 pm until dinner.) But their omelet dude was good, and I loved their bread and cheese section.

The best kept secret of the cruise is that freestyle dining actually stands for NOT FREE dining, and the best options for food were the ones that…you had to pay for.  Because we were with a press group, we got to try most of these options, and it included spots like Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazil-style steakhouse where servers keep bringing slices of grilled meats to you until you explode.

La Cucina is the ship’s Italian restaurant – it’s hidden away in the stern and accessed via a secret stairway in the buffet area – I loved the atmosphere, but was not super crazy about the food. (Hell, I’m from Brooklyn, you know?)  However, Teppanyaki, their version of hibachi, was AWESOME. I would have loved to eat there every single night. But I need to share one drawback to the ship having a fabulous 21 options for eating – all the free style eateries are quite small, and chances of you even getting in tend to require planning ahead (and service is rather slow, too) – meaning if you want to catch that 7 pm show of the Blue Man Group? You better plan your dinner reservations around that months in advance. Actually, same goes for those show tickets. We weren’t able to score the 11 pm Second City show until our final night…it was that popular!

Check out this at left: It’s from ICE BAR.

Yes, the ship pays tribute to the trend in freezing cold bars and now has one that is a balmy 17 degrees – with furniture, cups, sculptures, and more…all made of ice! I wore flip flops. I was told not to. Epic wardrobe fail  = me. Ice bar = awesome. (Right down to the creamsicle cocktail.) Even more awesome if I didn’t have blue toes. (Also my fault.)

There’s a lot of blue in this review…seas, men, toes…

Oh, and I went to the GYM. But that deserves it’s own post…

Read more tomorrow as I share the tales of our excursions!!! (My favorite: Culinary boot camp in Cozumel!) (And more..)


1 Response to “Sailing the Western Caribbean Aboard Norwegian Epic”

  1. April 7, 2011 at 1:13 am

    I’m glad that I’ve found this alywalansky.wordpress.com web site. I don’t have much to add to the conversation, but I’m right there with you. Your post said exactly what I have been thinking. Good to see you posting.

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